Monday, October 29, 2012

Cream of Pumpkin Soup


     I hate to admit this, but I am not a big Halloween fan.  I love Thanksgiving, love Fall but if Halloween disappeared, it really would not bother me one bit.  The other dear members of my family do not share my sentiment.

     With the holiday fast approaching and Dear Husband leaving for the States, the all important yearly ritual of carving pumpkins had to take place last Friday evening.  I raced home from school (yes, I worked that day!) and began prepping the three pumpkins.  By the time that the rest of the family arrived home, I had three pumpkins that were ready to be carved.  Given that Dear Daughter cannot yet carve a pumpkin, I wondered how long she would be interested in the event.

    What occurred that evening was another "save-it" family memory.  We turned our kitchen into Halloween Party Central.  Music blared through the IPAD and we munched on snacks while contemplating our designs.  Dear Daughter cleaned the seeds and, on her own, made three different batches of roasted pumpkin seeds. We voted on our favorites just before digging into our Chinese takeout dinner.  They were all delicious and we had a marvelous family experience.  On top of that, we now have some killer carved pumpkins.  Maybe Halloween isn't so bad after all...

     With Dear Husband departed for the U.S. early Saturday morning, we were left feeling a little empty inside.  The day was miserable; it was dark, dreary, cold and at times snowing.  Frankly, you could not have asked for better "couch" weather.  Upon arriving home from the airport, we quickly changed into our "slug" clothes, cooked up a batch of pumpkin soup and spent the rest of the day on the couch.  We watched the first race of the World Cup skiing season, recent movies and television shows that we normally cannot see over here.  The best part...we refused to feel guilty about it.  I think that we both needed the break and the bonding time.  We knew that the sun would be out on Sunday.  We knew that homework would still be there on Sunday.  We knew that the "To Do" list would still be there on Sunday.  For one glorious afternoon, we lived in comfortable clothes, nestled under blankets, munched on popcorn and watched enough TV to make our eyes pop out.  AND IT WAS AWESOME!

     But let's discuss the pumpkin soup or kurbiscreme suppe as they call it over here.  While I have made pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie, I have never actually cooked with fresh pumpkin.  While I have made soup with butternut squash, I have never used pumpkin.  While at the grocery store, I found something called Speise Kurbis - which is literally Food Pumpkins.  Armed with two of them, I decided to try making pumpkin soup.  Call it beginners luck, but it was fantastic and incredibly easy to make.

Pumpkin Cream Soup and the winner of Dear Daughter's Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Competition

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

     I am a control freak.  I admit it and there are many times, when I admit it proudly.  I come from a long line of control freaks and  at my age, it is doubtful that I am going to change.  I like order, a sense of structure and thoroughly believe that by setting out my clothes the night before and getting all of tomorrow's lunches made before I go to sleep tonight will make me a happier person come morning.

     Which is why this new endeavor of mine is testing the outer most limits of my world.  It sounded like a good plan.  With Dear Daughter back in school, I needed to find something to do with my time.  I needed to get out there, meet some people, be productive, add an entry to my resume.  So, I was accepted to be a substitute teacher at one of our local elementary and middle schools.  "Piece of cake," I thought.  I could pick and choose when I wanted to work.  The schedule worked well around the family.  I calculated just how many days a month I needed to work in order to meet my new financial goal.  This was going to be a cinch...

     What I didn't calculate was the effect of the loss of control that I would experience.  Here is why...on any given morning, I wake up at 6:00 a.m. and dress.  In "pre-sub" life, getting ready meant slapping on a pair of sweats and a sweatshirt.  In my new "sub" world, getting ready now means, putting on make-up, doing my hair and donning something remotely professional.  Luckily, the night before I have settled on what to wear and have my lunch already made.

     An hour later, just as Dear Daughter heads to the bus stop, I start watching the phone.  Is it going to ring today?  God forbid if Dear Husband calls to wish us a good day.  "Good grief, man," I growl into the phone, "Don't you know the school could call at any moment. If the phone is busy, then I lose the chance of working today."

     If I get the call, I am out the door immediately.  Past 7:15, the more time that passes, means the less chance that I will get called.  No call by 7:45,  means that I can head back upstairs and change clothes once more.  Then I go through a period where I am totally ticked off that I didn't get called.  I exerted the effort to get ready - the least that school could do is give me an assignment!  "Why did they call so-and-so for that class instead of me?  I bet this is because I had a doctors appointment on Monday when they called and now they are paying me back."

Then I switch gears and think, "Yeah!  I get a free day!"  However, then I realize that it is not really a free day.  I have to decide what needs to get done today because tomorrow, I could be called.  What errands have to be run?  Does the house need to be cleaned?  When was the last time I washed my hair?

     So you see, for a person who craves structure and control, this is driving me crazy!  Really, I have lists for everything.  I know that on Mondays, I clean the house.  On Tuesdays, I go to the Farmers Market, etc.  In my calmer moments, I tell myself that this is a good experience.  I need to be less of a control person.  I need to just go with the flow.  I have created a master list of things that have to be done so if I do not work, then I can refer to my list and give my life some purpose.

     That is exactly what happened this morning.  I just knew that I was going to get called.  I could feel it.  But I didn't.  So I changed clothes, stripped the sheets off of the beds, did some laundry and worked for three hours on a program for the end of year swim team awards banquet - that will occur... in March 2013.  Hey, what if I start working a lot and then I do not get the program done?  I might as well start now.

     But the house is smelling really good right now as I have some comfort food cooking in the oven.  Slow-roasted roma tomatoes have become a favorite of mine and I make them at every opportunity.  These little morsels are downright addicting and so incredibly easy to make.  I think that the aromatherapy is doing me some good.  Perhaps, there is a reason that I am not working today.  Perhaps, I just need to let go of the things that are completely out of my control.  Tomorrow, I won't care if I do not get called....yeah, right!

No post complete without a photo of Dear Daughter - this one taken in Bad Krueznach last Sunday

Slow Roasted Roma Tomatoes

Monday, October 15, 2012

France: 23 Hours in Paris - Pizza San Daniele

     We have taken other European cities by storm, arriving on a Friday and leaving on Sunday or Monday.  But with Paris, we have adopted another approach.  This has become our "go-to" city and with each visit, our fascination increases.   Despite less than ideal conditions, we managed another incredible visit to this magnificent city.

     As these visits are incredibly short, we have a fairly structured agenda:  arrival, museum visit, light lunch (for the parents), free time, dinner, sleep, departure.  Within three hours of our departure from home, we were standing at the entrance to the Musee d'Orsay.  Having purchased tickets online, we entered without a hitch and quickly made our way to the fifth floor without even taking in the magnificence of the museum itself.  A converted train station, the Musee d'Orsay sits on the banks of the Seine River and houses the most impressive collection of works from the Impressionist era.  Room after room, we were overwhelmed by the works of Degas, Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Renoir, and the list goes on an on.  Even with the growing crowds, to be in the same room with these works of art was truly spiritual.  I wish that I could be alone in one of galleries and just sit and look and absorb.

     Dear Daughter managed about 2 1/2 hours in the museum, which was better than expected.  Since it was lunch time, we headed to Le Petit Cler for lunch.  Rue Cler is an incredible street located close to the Eiffel Tower.  Cafes and stores spill out onto the mostly pedestrian only street.  It is a food lover's paradise and with each visit, I wish that I had a kitchen close by, which would justify all of the purchases I dream of making.  From the various tourists clutching guidebooks, I know that it has become a certain tourist attraction but it is still a quintessential Parisian street.  We visit the fish market, the cheese shop, the bakery, the wine store, the italian deli...all the while - our appetites increasing.

     We manage to grab a table at Le Petit Cler and enjoy a wonderful lunch.  Dear Daughter picks the flank steak and baked potato.  She loves the sauce that accompanies the potato and when I explain that it is sour cream (which she has always detested), she doesn't believe me.  Finally, she gives in and explains that it is French sour cream, so she likes it.  Dear Husband and I both get the plat du jour, which on Saturdays is Carpaccio.  Lovely thin slices of raw beef are dressed with olive oil and topped with arugula and parmesan cheese.  Scrumptious!

Rue Cler - Paris

     Our hotel is located next door.  It is hard to get a room for three people and this is one of the few on Rue Cler that can accommodate us. For a Paris hotel, it is cheap.   I call it the $250 Motel 6.  However, since we are only sleeping there (and it is clean),  it meets the requirement.  After a short break, we are back outside and the weather has changed for the better.  We walk over to the Eiffel and then back along the river to the Pont Neuf (new bridge).  We are booked on a one hour boat tour along the Seine.  It is a very touristy thing to do but we want to see the city from the vantage point of the boat and we want to see it all lit up as day turns to night.  Our boat was much smaller than some of the other tour boats, the commentator was engaging and we loved the next hour.

View of the Eiffel from the boat

     We finish the day at Restaurant Au Petit Sud Ouest.  This tiny restaurant located near Rue Cler and the Eiffel Tower, specializes in duck - foie gras, cassoulet, confit, etc.  We order 100g of foie gras as an appetizer.  Toasters are located at each table and with the foie gras, we are brought a basket of thinly sliced brown bread.  We toast the bread, spread on the foie gras and sprinkle grey salt over the top and then...devour it!   It is just amazing.  We share a plate of duck sausage, duck proscuitto, duck rillettes, while Dear Daughter literally inhales duck in a dark cherry sauce.  A wonderful end to a great day and shortly after the last bite, we all hit a wall.  We calculate that over the course of the day, we walked 7.5 miles and now, we need sleep!

     We sleep very well and wake up to banging noises coming from the street.  What on earth could be happening at 6:30 am on a Sunday morning?  We all try to ignore it but by 7:00 a.m., it is fruitless.  We are a little cranky over the wake up call until I look out the window and see the street coming back to life.  The was the fishmonger setting up for the day.

     Dinner on Sunday night - Pizza San Daniele

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Austria: Austria Part 2 - Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

     We ventured back into Austria for the Columbus Day weekend.  Taking advantage of an early Friday afternoon departure, we were rewarded with very little traffic and arrived in Brand just over five hours later.  Located in the Brandnertal region and close to Bregenz, it is a popular destination for the Swiss.  Buoyed by the strength of the Swiss Franc and its proximity to Zurich (2 hours away), I think that most of the country descended upon this tiny Alpine village.  We were there not only to experience one last hiking weekend but to also investigate its potential as a quick ski destination (although, I suppose that a five hour drive is not very "quick").

     Our apartment, located in the center of town, was clean, efficient and cozy.  The price was right, as well...just 67 Euros a night for a two bedroom apartment with a full kitchen.  Walking to dinner, we were astounded by the number of 4-Star hotels in the village.  From what we knew about the skiing, it didn't seem that the town was capable of supporting so many upscale hotels.  We were disappointed by our dinner that evening at a restaurant recommended by our landlord.  As a result, we decided to grocery shop the next day and make our own dinners.

     The weather on Saturday was beautiful and we took a short drive further up the mountain to the Lunersee Bahn - a gondola, which very quickly would whisk us to the top of the mountain and to the mountaintop lake, the Luner See.  This seemed too easy for us and we quickly decided to ditch all of the well-dressed tourists and hike to the top.  We looked like a ragtag group - sporting old backpacks and wearing ancient and faded hiking clothes.  For those around us, the amount of money that must have been allocated to hiking clothes and gear was staggering.  Yet, most of them did very little hiking - preferring to "look" good.

     The trail to the top took us just over 75 minutes and it was brutal - very few flat spots - straight up the mountain.  Dear Daughter wasn't exactly thrilled with her parents' choice of entertainment.  However, once we were halfway up - her mood improved and when we reached the top, we gathered together for a well-thrown, "High-Five" and a subsequent gasp at the view before us.  I use this word often in these posts, but I cannot think of another one that would give the view was truly SPECTACULAR.  The water was a shade of green that I had not seen before and its contrast with the brilliant blue sky enhanced the picture.  The mountain peaks added texture to the scene.  We enjoyed a well deserved break with beers (for parents) and hot chocolate (for Dear Daughter) at the Douglass Hutte and realized that I had missed a golden opportunity - this was a perfect picnic venue!

Luner See - Brand, Austria

    Of course, if the weather is good one day, then it is probably going to stink the next.  Even though it rained all day Sunday (and I mean - all day), I managed to rally the troops and off we went on a second hike.  The ski gondola in the center of town took us up the mountain and from there we viewed the ski slopes and walked an hour hike to an alpine hut.  Needless to say, we were the only customers but we managed to enjoy big bowls of Gulasch soup before we started our trek down the mountain.  Despite the weather, we managed to have a great time - spending the remainder of the afternoon playing board games and watching Indiana Jones movies in German.

Well, at least they are out of the rain!

     So what were our homemade dinners?  Saturday night, we had Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Pan Fried Potatoes and a fabulous Leo Hillinger red wine (those of you in DC can get Hillinger wines at Total Wine).  More to follow on the Pork Tenderloin.  On Sunday night, we had a Charcuterie Night - various types of Speck (smoked bacon) from the region and local cheeses served with a tasty Gruner Veltliner, an Austrian grape.  Yes, artery-clogging but tasty all the same!

     Monday took us back home but not before we visited Crailsheim, a small town where I lived for three years after graduating from college.  I quickly found my first apartment - a fully furnished, one bedroom that cost me all of $175 per month.  It did bring back memories and it was fun to find it and share it with Dear Daughter.  However, the biggest success of the day was lunching at an Italian restaurant where I had spent many an evening.  After twenty plus years - it still looked the same and I remembered our favorite seats and could almost hear the voices of Julie, Barry, Jamie, Dave, Mark and Jim.  We learned from the waitress that Rocco, the owner in our day had left in 1995.  The food was every bit as good as I remembered it and I enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

     Now I have to mention that during lunch, I bragged a bit about the parties that I had had at my second apartment.  It took us forever to find it and Dear Husband actually made the call directionally.  While it looked the same, I still cannot get over the fact that it is now a home for Senior Citizens! Ouch!

     Saturday is cool is that!  We are taking the 7am train to Paris, hitting a museum and a possible boat tour and finishing up with a visit to our new favorite restaurant there.  We should be back at home on Sunday in time for Dear Daughter to hit the neighborhood.  Again, now how cool is that!

Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Germany: Heildelberg - Walking In The Footsteps Of Our Fathers - To Die For Bacon And Tomato Hash

     After the dreariness of last week, we needed a spectacular weekend...and I have to was pretty awesome.  It started Friday evening when Dear Husband cooked a fabulous meal.  His first course, Arugula with Bacon and Tomato Hash, is perhaps, one of the best treats I have ever had.  Recipe will follow at the end and you have to try it.  He followed that with Cornish Game Hens and Sweet Potato Fries.  We opened a bottle of our treasured Burgundy wine and the weekend was off to a smashing start.

     At mid-morning on Saturday and with the sun shining, we started our short drive to Heidelberg.  This beautiful city sits on Neckar River and is a short one-hour drive away.  Being a university town,  its Altstadt (old city) was bustling with college students, cafes and chic stores.

Heidelberg - City Gate and Old Bridge

     As we passed under the gates to the city and onto the Alte Brucke (old bridge), we all realized that we were walking over the footsteps of our fathers.  Grandpap Doc (Dear Husband's father) was stationed here just at the end of the World War II.  Poo-Paw (my father) was stationed here many years later.  We imagined them taking similar strolls - so many years earlier.  With warm fuzzies in our hearts, I took one more picture of a memorable spot and sent it to the Grandfathers.  Later that day, both had responded...providing us with little tidbits about their times in the city.

Heidelberg Schloss

     Sunday was just as nice.  After a light breakfast, we headed across the border into France (sigh!) and within an hour, we were in the small village of Bitche.  Sitting high on a hill in the middle of a valley, the Bitche Citadel is very impressive.  I think that a defensive stronghold has been here since the 17th Century and the current structure, deemed impregnable, dates back from the late 1760s.  We wandered for several hours around the fortress listening to the fabulous and informative audio tour.  For lunch, we found a small park in the town and enjoyed what may very well be our last outdoor picnic of the year.  We were back home in time for Dear Daughter to play outside and we could enjoy a beer on the patio.

     Of course, a visit to Bitche had to result in a photograph and what better person to pose for it...

Terrible picture - should have removed the headphones!
Picnic Anyone?
     If you only choose one of the recipes that I post on this blog, then make it this one.  Dear Husband found it on and easily adapted it.  It is really stinking good...

Bacon and Tomato Hash