Friday, November 23, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

     When I was a kid, my favorite holiday was Thanksgiving.  I loved the tradition of the entire day and even though I came from a relatively small family, the entire day seemed warm and cozy.  Once an adult, the day seemed to lose a bit of its sparkle for me.  Most of the time, I was away from family and it just wasn't fun to cook an entire Thanksgiving meal for just myself and Dear Husband.  Gradually, the extended holiday weekend became a good reason to take a short vacation.

     But with Dear Daughter now a part of our lives and at an age where she can comprehend and enjoy, we wanted her to have a chance to have her own holiday traditions.  It is difficult this year as we are thousands of miles away from our family.  We decided to go somewhere that is truly our own, to our apartment in Brittany for the long weekend.  We started out from Kaiserslautern on Wednesday afternoon; taking the high speed train to Paris.  Once we arrived at Gare de l'Est, we quickly hailed a taxi and took a mad cab ride across the city (from one side of the river to the other) during rush hour.  We have done this several times and we never go the same way twice.  Many times, we exit the car at Gare Montparnasse with queasy stomachs but we still love to briefly see the sights along the way; glimpsing the Louvre, Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower as we speed by.

     Once secured on the second train, we settle down for our picnic dinner.  While normally this consists of sandwiches on baguettes (we are in France, normal sandwich bread) and a bottle of a nice French white wine, this time, I opted to go a bit upscale and made a wonderful pasta salad with grilled chicken and arugula pesto.  What I didn't bargain for was the smell of garlic that quickly wafted throughout the cabin; causing heads to turn and even waking the gentleman sitting next to me.  Oh well, we continued on with our meal.

     We arrived in St. Malo, shortly before 10pm and walked the short distance from the train station to a hotel, where we obtained our Hertz rental car.  Yes, a hotel.  The Hertz office closed at 6pm so they left the contract at the hotel next door.  The hotel manager reviewed my driver's license, decided that all was in order and took us out the back door to the alley behind the hotel.  Using my key, I pushed the unlock button and watched for a car to light up.  We found the car, threw backpacks inside and quickly made the 30 minute drive to the apartment.  As we walked in the door, each of us felt it... We were home.

     Thursday morning was a lazy morning.  We slept late, had a decadent breakfast (with a glass of is a holiday) and planned a trip to the market to buy our dinner ingredients.  Dear Husband was in charge of the stuffing; Dear Daughter wanted to make mashed potatoes and I got the green beans.  Not knowing what kind of meat we would find, this becam a joint responsibility.

     The wonderful thing about this time of year in France is that the tourists are gone.  We visited towns that we haven't been to in years because they are just too crowded to visit in the summer time.  Dinan was like a ghost town; most of the stores and restaurants were closed until April.  While our favorite beaches are typically not crowded; this time of year, they are completely empty.  We had a wonderful time visiting towns and markets that we hadn't seen in years.

     Later that evening, we begin the meal.  Dear Daughter makes the best mashed potatoes.  Dear Husband has brought a box of StoveTop Stuffing with him, but you know what?  It was perfect and his creativity with the dish made it even more delicious.  I simply blanched green beans in boiling water and then later that evening, reheated with butter, oil and shallots.  But what about the turkey?  Do they have turkey in France?  The answer is yes, they have turkey (dinde) but not in the whole form.  We found a turkey roast and it worked perfectly.  It was only about 2 pounds and quite thick.  Surrounding it was a layer of fat; perhaps to keep it most and it was bound in string.  I browned one side for five minutes in a mixture of oil and butter and then placed it in the oven for one hour.  While it was resting, I took the pan that held the turkey and quickly sauteed some shallots, deglazed the pan with white wine and then added Dijon mustard and cream.  I reduced that briefly and that served as our "gravy" - French style.

     We sat at the kitchen table and talked about all of the things that we made us thankful.  We were apart from each other last year and it was nice to be together this year.  Dear Husband told stories of his childhood Thanksgivings and you could tell that they were nice memories to pass on to us.  I remembered going to the Mess Halls with my family on Thanksgiving mornings to help serve the troops before heading home to my mom's succulent dinner.  Dear Daughter had a mental list of the things that she was thankful for and it was an impressive list. 

     I hope that we have given some memories for Dear Daughter.  For me...I stocked away lots of memories to keep for a rainy day.  But for now...I am on a mission - to discover why all of the major restaurants in town are serving Tripe tomorrow.  What in the world is Tripe and why is it so popular?  Maybe I will figure it out!
     For now, I have written this in record time and will go back tomorrow and correct all of my grammar.  I hope that you have created many wonderful Thanksgiving memories!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sausage, Bean and Pasta Soup

     It was an early, rainy, grey Saturday morning as we entered the old, dreary aquatics center at a NATO Airbase in Holland.  Luckily, we had arrived the previous evening, opting to drive up and do a bit of sightseeing with friends rather than take the team bus, which had left that morning at 3:00 a.m.  While many of the team members seemed a bit bleary-eyed, Dear Daughter and her two friends were well rested and in good spirits.

     It must be noted that Dear Daughter is a good swimmer.  Naturally, as her parents, we think that she could be great.  Missy Franklin great?  Perhaps not, but she does have talent.  As parents, we struggle a bit with her motivation and competitive spirit.   She is far more into the social aspect and therefore, we (to include her coaches) are never really quite sure of her potential.  This season has not been easy for her as she jumped an age category after the second meet of the season.  The qualifying times for the league championship seem (to her) very far out of reach and quickly she went from a strong 10-year old swimmer to an average 11-year old swimmer.

     So, it is sad to say, but I wasn't expecting much this meet.  An hour after the meet started, she headed to the platform for her first event, the 100-meter Individual Medley.  As the buzzer went off, she dove into the pool for her weakest stroke, the 25-meter butterfly.  As she touched the wall and began the backstroke, I realized that she was in second place and was just behind the leader!  I started yelling and clapping, and yelling.  Did I mention that I was yelling?  She held her own and was still in second place when she began the third leg and her best stroke - the breaststroke.  She was clearly putting out the effort and was so, so close to overtaking the leader.  But in order to win, I knew that she would have to have a very clear lead going into the final leg, the freestyle.  She didn't have that lead.  I continued to cheer (that sounds better than "yell"), when I heard another cheer for Dear Daughter.

     Well, it wasn't exactly a cheer.  It was the loud booming voice of her head coach, yelling one word...her name.  While this probably doesn't seem like a big deal to you, it was a huge deal to me.  I had never heard Coach Bob say her name, much less yell her name.  I doubt he even knew her name until the second before it left his mouth.  While he is the Head Coach, he spends most of his time with the Varsity swimmers, not the JV team.  If he has said her name, then he must be impressed!

     But I digress...we were in the final leg of a race that seemed never ending.  My voice was getting hoarse and my hands stung from clapping so hard.  She was still just behind the leader when suddenly she kicked in a final burst, overtook her and won her heat!  She had never displayed such effort before, never displayed such a desire to win...and I forgot to film it!  She came over to me with her Heat Winner ribbon and was clearly proud of her accomplishment.  Later that morning,  she saw the final results, Second Place overall.  What was she proud of most?  That she had earned her team 8 points.

     But it doesn't end there.  Her final event after seven hours at the pool was her strongest event, the 50 meter breaststroke.  I tried to have no expectations - it had been a very long day.  As she and I looked over her placement, it occurred to me that she had no idea why she was swimming in Lane 3.  "Your time is the fastest for this heat and the fastest swimmer always gets Lane 3," I explained to her.  She processed this information and became very quiet.  Oh no, I wondered.  Perhaps, she was getting too stressed out about this fact.  She slowly went over to her swim bag and pulled out another swim cap and put it on.  This swim cap was given to her earlier in the season when she qualified for the championships as a 10 year old.  But since the championships will be held when she is 11, she must re-qualify as an 11 year old.  So, while it is a nice cap, it is meaningless as far as I am concerned.

     There she Lane 3...wearing her Championship  Qualifier cap.  Her look was of total concentration.  She even began to swing her arms a bit in an effort to warm up (or shake off the nerves).   At the sound of the whistle, she stepped onto the platform.  She dropped her head, reached down and prepared to dive.  The bell sounded and she left the platform.  She quickly established a commanding lead and never let it falter.  She shaved off over four seconds from her best time and came within one second of qualifying...ONE SECOND!

     "Effort."   "Be all that you can be."  "Do your best."  Dear Husband and I have been repeating these over and over to her for the past several months.  I was sure that it was going in one ear and out the other.  We saw the eyes roll - received that "tween" look.  But as I watched her walk across the stage at the school awards ceremony last week, receiving her Highest Academic Achievement Award for straight As, I also remembered her recent swimming moments.

Perhaps, she did hear us just once.

    So here is a wonderful healthy soup that is easy to make and helps to get those brain cells working and those muscles building.

Sausage, Bean and Pasta Soup