Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It Went By So Fast...

     Where did the time go?  One minute it was July and now it is already October.  I feel as though I blinked and four months went by.  Dear Daughter stands taller than me and has entered the teens.  School started and we already have two swim meets completed.  Where did the time go?  Am I enjoying it all as I once did or am I just caught up in life?  Perhaps, it is a little of both.
     I am not complaining.  No, I am not complaining.  We spent the summer of a lifetime...almost in constant travel mode.  Four trips to France, one trip to Spain, once to Holland and twice to Italy.  I think that our backpacks stayed packed for the eight week summer holiday.  You have heard about most of the trips in one way or another.  Italy, however, was incredible.

     The first visit was with Dear Daughter on a hectic 27-hour blitz.  We flew in just in time for dinner, took an incredibly expensive water taxi ride along the canal and loved it, ran after off-duty train conductors while trying to figure out which train would take us out of Venice and to our hotel.  We laughed at our mistakes, sweated in the near 90-degree temps, searched for restaurants with air conditioning and managed to stay at a hotel that I first stayed at over 25 years ago. It was quiet, comfortable, and most importantly...had AC.  We had a marvelous tour of the city, enjoyed our tasty lunch and then boarded our bus back to the airport and home by midnight.  I learned that traveling with my daughter can be fun and it is nice that she can share in some of the duties.  I no longer have to search my purse for reading glasses, as she can work the kiosk and get our train tickets.
     The second visit was to Rome for Labor Day weekend.  We were fortunate as our apartment was located far away from the tourist crowds...in a working neighborhood of the city...known for it historical culinary ties to the region.  We shopped for food at many of the local speciality shops and enjoyed our courtyard in the evenings.  Sure, we could walk to the Coliseum and we did enjoy the Vatican but our little area...stole our hearts.

     That brought us to the official end of summer and back to school and work.  It has been a whirlwind and a little difficult getting used to the later nights, the rush to get homework completed...just the regular everyday living that occurs no matter where you live.  However, we are still very lucky.  While our trips are centered around the weekend, we continue to travel nonetheless.
     Dear Daughter's birthday trip was to Paris for a quick overnight.  We stayed in our favorite neighborhood, just near the Eiffel Tower, and enjoyed walking around the streets which have become so comfortable to us.  It was a dining extravaganza.  Saturday night, our reservations brought us to our favorite duck restaurant, where we feasted on foie gras and a plate of duck charcuterie.  Dear Daughter loved the chocolate cake with the never-ending candle.  We actually slept in on Sunday and headed to another favorite family restaurant for a long lunch.  The small restaurant seemed overtaken by the Mexican Ambassador to France and his family, who were there to celebrate the birthday of their son.  Yet, when the lights dimmed and a scrumptious bowl of chocolate mousse topped with yet another candle arrived for Dear Daughter, the entire family participated in clapping and singing yet again.  We did all that and were still home in time to have dinner.
     This weekend is another trip to Berlin and I think that this is one of Dear Husband's favorite cities in all of Europe.  I love Paris...he loves Berlin.  We had a good excuse to visit...Dear Daughter has a swim meet.  The following weekend, we show Dear Daughter Seville, Spain.  We needed another excuse to return.  Somehow, we will manage to get school work completed, clean the house and do all those other things.  Perhaps sometime in November, we will all collapse in exhaustion.  For now, we are doing very little cooking but managing to travel in our way...which isn't all that tiresome.  I write in my head constantly but it never seems to get on paper...or online.
     Oh, and did I mention that next week I begin full-time employment...no, that will not complicate things a bit!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Things I Miss...

     Honestly, I do not miss much about living in the States.  But I would not be telling the truth if I said that there was nothing I missed.  Right now...I miss air-conditioning.  I miss walking inside and getting that blast of cold air.  I miss cranking the temp down just before I go to bed so that I can sleep with my heavy duvet.  Right now, I am in a battle with my house.  In the early morning, I race to open windows to allow the cool air into the house.  By 10:00 a.m., I am racing around again but this time closing windows in hopes of trapping the cool air inside.  By bedtime, I am cursing that it is still 79 degrees Fahrenheit in my bedroom...who can sleep in temps that warm?   We have fans blowing 24-7.  I have taken to sleeping on the floor on the first floor because it is the coolest room in the house.  All of this because the temps have been about 80 degrees Fahrenheit for the last two weeks.  
     I can hear you now.  "She is complaining because it is 80 degrees Fahrenheit! That isn't hot!  She is getting older...maybe she's going through the change."  Well, when you have no circulation system in your house, anything over 75 degrees Fahrenheit outside can make it uncomfortable inside.  So there....I miss AC.  
Zucchini Trio:  Zucchini Blossom Quesadilla, Zucchini Fritters and Zucchini and Carrot Salad with Chickpeas and Spicy Peanut Dressing

     Yes, I stumped Dear Husband with a zucchini dish.  For Sunday lunch, I served him a trio of zucchini delicacies (my word, not his):  Zucchini blossom quesadillas, Zucchini Fritters and a Zucchini Salad with Chick Peas and a spicy peanut dressing.  Since then, I have been zucchini silent even though Dear Husband asks daily what zucchini inspired menu will appear for dinner.  I think he is just goading me.  Oh...just a slight break for now.  Currently, I have seven growing in the garden and by the time we return home from vacation, we will not only be in zucchini heaven (or h___) but also cucumber heaven!  I found a bunch growing this week while I was harvesting the remaining carrots.  
     With the higher temperatures, I have been trying to keep out of the kitchen as much as possible.  However, I have had this urge to cook.  Take a look at this salad...a friend of mine sent me a packet of nasturiums and they finally bloomed!  Did you know that you can eat the flowers and they are super tasty!  I started off with this salad...

     And then continued by adding a super grilled chicken with a cantaloupe salsa.  The chicken was a great recipe and I loved the technique.  Crush two cloves of garlic into a saucepan and add some olive oil.  Heat gently and let the garlic infuse the oil.  Take some chicken breasts and pound to flatten them.  Season with salt and pepper.  Brush some of the garlic oil on the chicken and place on a grill.  When placing on a grill, put the thickest part towards the hottest part of the grill.  Continue basting every few minutes and turning until the chicken has finished cooking.  Let it rest and place on your salad.  For the cantaloupe salsa, combine cantaloupe with red onion, jalapeño (seeded), cilantro and  a bit of lime juice.  


     Lastly, I made (on another morning), sweet potato chips.  Dear Daughter, now home from her trip to the States, suggested that I make these in the morning as it would be too hot in the kitchen around dinner time.  I did and they turned out pretty good.  Although,  I did have to place them in the oven for just a few moments to crisp them back up again, which kinda defeated the purpose of cooking them in the morning.  These were pretty easy and although they were cooked in oil, I have to believe that they are still better than supermarket brands.

     First, thinly, thinly slice one sweet potato.  If you have a mandolin, use that.  I do not (hint, hint). So, I painstakingly sliced the potato as thinly as I could it get it.  That is key.   In a pan, add vegetable oil (about 1 inch).  When sizzling, drop in a few slices of potato at a time.  You do not want to crowd the pan.   Swirl them around carefully and turn over so that they cook evenly.  It good about three to four minutes a batch but you have to watch them closely.  The sugars in the sweet potatoes will begin the caramelize quickly so you do not want them too brown.  Take out with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Once drained, I moved them to another baking sheet to cool and added a bit of salt. I continued until they were all cooked.  Pretty tasty...

Sweet Potato Chips
     I have been planning several trips this week.  Dear Daughter and I are taking an overnighter to Venice.  Hopefully by this trip, she will have stopped staying up until 2am and sleeping until 10am!  We will continue the Italy theme with a trip to Rome for Labor Day and I just booked what looks to be an incredible food tour of one of the neighborhoods.  For now, it is nearly 10am - so time to wake Sleeping Beauty!  Ciao!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Spain: Seville - Food, Food, Food and Maybe a Monument or Two

Quiet Street - Seville

     At precisely 9:38 p.m. last Friday night, I died and went to culinary heaven.  On Saturday, it happened again around 1:15 p.m. and again at 8:45 p.m.  This continued, twice a day, until lunch was completed on Tuesday.  I have found that I base the success of the trip primarily on my dining experiences.  I need to connect to the location and the culture and I find that if I do so,  there has been some WOW factor in the food.  We are happy if it is just one meal and we will remember it for years to come.  Two meals?   We are ecstatic.  However, what happens if nearly every meal is incredible?  Well, then you spend your non-eating hours planning how you can live in this wonderful place.  That is exactly what happened in Seville, Spain.
     See, you go to Paris and remember the Eiffel Tower or a particular painting at the Louvre.  I go to Paris and remember the French restaurant where they had individual toasters at the table so you could toast your bread before you heaped a large piece of foie gras on the top.  You go to Prague and remember the Charles Bridge; I go to Prague and remember having my first taste of Prague ham in a small restaurant next door to the American Embassy.  You go to Venice and remember strolling along the canals.  I go to Venice and remember the quaint restaurant right near the Rialto Bridge that had air conditioning and where I had my first proper Italian meal.  I could go on and on...and on.  Sure, I think back fondly and remember the views from the western tip of France.  But, I also remember the grilled lobster drenched in warm cream.  Even with the sour memory of our last trip to Burgundy, I still smile when I think that it was on this trip that we discovered Epoisses cheese.
     Seville may have become my favorite European city.  It has such a unique vibe.  In the mornings, you find lots of activity...people out exercising or shopping or heading to work.  Lunch doesn't begin until 1pm and could last an hour or two.  By 4pm, no one is on the streets - nor will they be until 8pm or so when everything comes back to life until well past 11pm.  Perhaps, it is the heat of the summer that drives everyone to take a daily siesta.  In our four days there, we definitely adopted the Andalusian way of life.

Real Alcazar

Plaza de Espana - Built for the World Expo

A view of the Cathedral from the Alcazar

     The food...let's discuss TAPAS.  No one really knows the origins of Tapas, or small plates.  It is derived from the Spanish word, "taper", which means "to cover".  There are lots of legends surrounding the origins but here is one plausible one.  One of the kings was concerned with the amount of alcohol his subjects were drinking and as a result, the loss of productivity.  So, he decreed that bars had to serve little plates of food with each drink and the little plate fit like a lid on the top of the drink.  The plate covered the wine...hence, TAPAS.
     Tapas are huge in Seville.  While in its simplest form, it could be a small plate of cheese or chorizo, we also sampled more complex and the most imaginative cooking that we have seen in years.  We stumbled across this quite accidentally.  As we travel through Europe and wanting to learn as much as we can in a short amount of time, we have begun to hire guides to take us on private walking tours.  When researching possible tours of Seville, I came across an advertisement for a Tapas Walking Tour.  What could be better...food and history?
     We met our guide, Shawn, outside the cathedral of Seville at 1pm on Saturday.  (Let me digress...the cathedral is spectacular!  It is one of the largest in Europe and currently houses the remains of Christopher Columbus...really cool.)  Anyway, Shawn is Canadian and moved to Seville twenty years ago.  She is wild about the Andalusian culture and its food.  Throughout the afternoon, she floored us with her tidbits of information, her selections of food and her passion.  She goes the extra mile...even providing us with a list of recommended restaurants and responding throughout the weekend to my impromptu text messages asking for more information.  Without a doubt, taking this tour was a highlight of the trip and enabled us to continue having an experience long after the tour was over.

Now those are some legs!

Jamon Iberico de Bellota with Sherry

     Let me tell you about the food and show you some pictures.  Some of the places we visited were quite old and belonging to generations of the same family.  At our first place, sitting next to huge old wine barrels, we sampled chorizo made from wild boar, a carpaccio of salt cod and ham.  Not just any jamon but Jamon Iberico de Bellota.  This melts in your mouth like butter.  The ham comes from black pigs, which have been allowed to free range for several years - they feast on acorns and the result is quite unique and flavorful.  As a result, we had jamon at nearly every meal and I loaded up my backpack with vacuum sealed packages of it to take home.

Pork Cheeks...delicious

     Another Andalusian traditional tapa is pork cheeks.  These are served in a deep rich sauce with a few slices of roasted potatoes.  Pringas are small sandwiches served almost like a panini with a tender meat filling inside.  Other places that we visited were more modern and the cooking was more adventurers.  I "oohed and aahed" after tasting a small langoustine burger that was bursting with flavor.  Hands down, our favorite place was a small restaurant called La Azotea.  We liked it so much that we had two meals there and I could have dined there every day.  The husband is Spanish and his wife is American and they have three restaurants around Seville.  If you want tapas, then you sit at the bar.  The menu card is small but they always have five to six additional specials that you could have as dinner or as smaller tapas portions.  The idea is that your order one tapa per person to begin with and if you are a couple, then share the two.  While you are eating, look around and see what others are getting and perhaps, you will want to order something else.  At each place, we tended to get four items and spent about ninety minutes.  I love the fact that after sampling several items we were satiated, we were never stuffed.

Salt Cod Fritters

Baby Squid served with Migas

Forgot to take a picture before tasting! Filo with leeks, shrimp and cheese plus  jamon...always jam on!

Salt Cod Carpaccio and a Pringa

Grilled Pork Tenderloin served atop Polenta

Langoustine Burger with a Quail Egg

     I have mentioned a few of the tapas that we tried, but here is a better listing:
  • Bacon wrapped dates served with a sweet sherry reduction
  • Shrimp salad (the salad consisting of crisp cabbage)
  • Salt cod fritters
  • Pork Cheeks
  • Filo triangles filled with shrimp, cheese and leeks
  • Grilled tuna
  • Salt cod with two sauces; a basil hummus and an almond cream
  • Bluefin Tuna served with a caramelized fig and a tomato cream
  • Burrata and Mozzarella salad served with basil gummy bears and a scoop of lemon sorbet
  • Salt Cod Carpaccio 
  • And always, always Jamon Iberico de Bellota
     This was one of our best trips and while we did spend a lot of time eating, we did see carve out several hours a day for traditional sightseeing.  The city is compact enough that we could walk to everything.  Each day, we concentrated on one cultural visit, lunch, general walking around and absorbing, a siesta and finally dinner and people watching.  Super cool trip!  

     Back at home, "Adios" to peas but "Hola" to zucchini!  Not quite sure what I am going to do with them all.  First night, we had zucchini carpaccio.  Last night, we had stuffed zucchini.  Dear Husband has indicated that he has had every zucchini dish every made - to include zucchini candy!  My current goal...is to find one that he hasn't had.  I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

France: Burgundy - A Lost Weekend…Maybe Not and Penne with Peas and Prosciutto

     "Why don't we go to Burgundy?"  Dear Husband knew the mention of a French town would get me interested.  We were planning a series of long weekend trips "sans enfant".  He went even further.  "We can get an apartment and do some wine tastings.  In the evenings, let's cook.  It has been a while since we've cooked together."  I was hooked.  A weekend alone with my husband, in one of my favorite areas of France…sampling wine and cooking.  How good can it get?
     We left at 5:00 a.m. after a fitful night of sleep.  Knowing that I have to get up early, I never sleep well the night before and it did not help that we were monitoring the phones for news of Dear Daughter's arrival in the States.  However, we were out the door by 5:30 and six hours later, we were at our first destination.  The Cassisium, a museum dedicated to all things cassis, is located in the wine town of Nuit St. George, just south of the capital of Burgundy, Dijon.  Cassis is black current and in Burgundy, they make all kinds of products.  We have mustard blended with cassis.  You can buy cassis ice cream in the grocery store.  In restaurants, a favorite aperitif is a kir--a blend of cassis and Aligote, a Burgundian white wine.  I have made seared duck breast with a cassis sauce.  But our mission was to buy Marc de Bourgogne, a digestif from the region.  We entered the Cassisum and went directly to the gift shop where we promptly told the sales girl that we wanted 12 bottles of Marc and 6 bottles of Creme de Cassis.  She didn't quite know what to do and after consulting a colleague, our order was boxed up along with an extra bottle of each given to us…gratis…for the purchase.  We were giddy upon leaving.
     It was lunchtime and our plan was to drive towards the village where our apartment was located and stop when we saw an interesting restaurant and have lunch.  Just south of Beaune, we passed signs for the village of Meursault.  "Are you ok?"  Dear Husband was teasing, I think.  Meursault is the village of my favorite chardonnay and the second purpose of this visit was to purchase a case or two.  It can be an incredible wine, named for the village where these vines grow and in the States, the cost can be prohibitive.  "Let's keep heading in the direction of our village."  After such an early morning, my stomach was giving the directions more than my heart.
Fabulous Burgundy Snails

     Two villages later, we came across a small restaurant with outdoor seating and it looked perfect.  As we walked through the sleepy town to the restaurant, we came across numerous small wine houses, many of the last names the same.  I could imagine generations of wine producers continuing to live in old family homes.  At the restaurant, we settled into chairs outside and ordered kirs while we investigated the menu.  Wanting escargots, another burgundian speciality, I ordered the three-course menu while Dear Husband settled on Beef Tartare.  Our host recommended a local white wine that was bold enough to stand up to the snails and the beef.  We washed off the stress of the drive and discussed our plans for the weekend.  Tomorrow, we would head to Beaune for an appointment to sample wine…only chardonnays.  Then on Saturday, we would head to Puligny Montrachet to visit Domaine Leflaive.  Two years ago, the vitner himself gave us a tour of his vineyards and bottling facility before we had a tasting lunch at his daughter's comfortable hotel.  We were skipping the outdoor activities and had a tasting lunch reserved for 12:30.  We were anxious to fill the trunk with a case or two of his whites.

     Following our leisurely lunch, we resumed the drive to our apartment.  About ten minutes later, we entered a small village and off the main road, took a very steep and narrow road to our place.  I heard voices in the garden as I obtained the keys from the lock box.  I opened the gate and came across a middle-aged British couple.  She was lounging in the sun while he was under the canopy of their porch sipping a glass of wine and working on a crossword puzzle.  They looked disturbed at seeing us. We briefly introduced ourselves and asked them if they knew the location of our entrance.  "It's down past that gate but your entrance is around the other side.  You can use this entrance while you unpack." Then, they went back to their activities.
     I was a bit confused.  I knew that I had rented an apartment that was part of a larger house but I was under the impression that there was a shared garden space.  I didn't give it much more thought.  We unpacked and rested a bit before heading out in the late afternoon to investigate a nearby town and find a bakery.  When we arrived back at the house ninety minutes later, the British guy was watering the plants while preparing the barbecue.  It was a strange site watching a renter water the garden as if he owned the place.  "I say there," he started.  "It was fine for you to use this entrance to unload your things but this is our garden and you have your own entrance."  I felt anger boiling up from my stomach---and in a near explosion…I managed to calmly get out, "No, I believe you are incorrect.  This is a shared garden space.  The other entrance is on the main road and we do not feel safe using it.  We do not plan to be around much over the next few days but we would like to have our dinners out here and perhaps use the bikes that belong to the properties."
     This did not go over well.  We were told point blank that they had been coming there for years and loved it for its privacy.  Our property did NOT come with rights to the garden space nor the bicycles.  I raced down to our Hobbit House, as Dear Husband was now calling it and called up the property on the website.  Yes, it indicated that we had shared garden space. I marched back up, nearly tripping on the top stair and triumphantly showed him my IPAD (ignore that my hands were shaking).  "Oh well, it is clear as day.  You do have rights to this.  But how are we going to manage sharing the barbeque and bikes," he whined.  His wife came out and hearing this, rushed back inside and secured HER agreement which indicated that the apartment had NO garden.  We were back at square one.
     Except that we knew that at this point, there was no use in staying.  We tried numerous times to reach the booking company to no avail.  We finally found the owner (in England) and she indicated that the apartment normally wasn't rented out individually and she would refund our money.  We discussed trying to find another location for the remainder of our trip, but it just didn't seem worth the effort.  After another fitful night of sleep, we were driving away…back to Belgium at 6:30 in the morning.  Just before we hit the Belgian border, the booking company finally called us - offering us another property and asking us to turn around and come back.  Nope, we were going home.
     Exhausted and feeling almost jet lagged, we collapsed on the couch, watched movies and let the day pass by us.  The next morning, we could not remember dinner nor the movie but we were better rested. However, what were we going to do with two days.?  We thought about going to Paris.  We thought about visiting other locations in Belgium.  The thought of getting back in the car was not appealing.  After a long breakfast, we decided to visit a nearby town and see what their Saturday market was like.  While we were there, it was only a short drive to the duck farm to buy some foie gras.  The market was great and we walked away will all kinds of treats: peppers stuffed with feta, two different types of cheeses that were new to us, boudin blanc stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, and fresh farm eggs.  At the duck farm, I couldn't resist two legs of duck confit and a small slice of foie gras.

I wonder where the duck farm is???

     We had our own wine tastings over the next two days; sampling wines from our modest collection and trying new ones.  We dined on our purchases and made plans to meet friends in Brussels to see a World War I exhibit the next day.  It wasn't Burgundy but it was relaxing and we experienced a few new things.  In the meantime, we have been offered a free weekend in Burgundy and will be refunded all of our money - so perhaps at the end of the weekend, all was not lost.
     I harvested the remainder of the peas this weekend and made a pasta dish that we have not had in more than a decade.  I remember that when we used to make it, I picked out the peas before eating.  This time, I wiped the plate clean!

Penne with Prosciutto and Peas

Monday, June 30, 2014

France: Brittany - Summer Solstice and A Weekend of Food

     I am not typically a rule breaker...except when I am driving.   I always seem to be going over the speed limit; my picture has been snapped in numerous countries as I cruise down the road.  I haven't driven in the States in almost over two years and I think I may have a problem when I eventually return.
     I view recipes as rules for cooking.  I am not one of those intuitive cooks.  I cannot come up with recipes and ideas at the spur of the moment.  I make a pretty mean paella and have used the same recipe for years...never deviating from it.  So perhaps, I am not the most creative cook but my system works for me.  However, this past weekend, I stretched the boundaries...got out of my comfort zone and made some tasty, tasty food.
     It started on Friday night with something I didn't cook.  I brought back seafood from our trip to Brittany.  The typical Breton seafood platter must contain at least five different types of shellfish.  I managed to bring home four: briny shrimp, langoustines, bulots and an absolutely huge crab.  All were cooked and after the six hour drive, it made for the perfect, low key meal. 

    But, what to do with all of the leftovers?  There were a ton of shells and a lot of extra meat that could not go to waste.  So, I dumped the shells into the crockpot, added water, an onion, a carrot and a few spices and let it cook away all night long on low.  The house didn't smell particularly great but after a night of simmering and a few more additional hours the next morning, I had a very flavorful stock.  But, what to do with it?  I made a very simple seafood risotto.  I sautéed some onions in a combination of butter and olive oil and then added the rice.  I added the broth, one cup at a time until the rice was ready.  Then I added back the reserved shellfish meat and some parmesan.  Meal number two was delicious!  

     But, what to do with all of the leftovers?  With the threat of rain on Sunday, we decided to have a lazy Sunday brunch.  Very easily, I formed the leftover risotto into three patties, sautéed them in butter until they were crisp and then served them with a runny poached egg on the top!  I managed to get three dishes from my one seafood platter - and rarely had to consult a recipe.  What a daredevil I am!!!

     Here is my first batch of peas.  They are so tasty that I find myself just eating them straight from the bowl.  I thought about making a pea risotto with them but after having seafood risotto, that seemed a bit of overkill.  However, could I make an appetizer to go with the risotto consisting of my glorious sweet little peas?  You betcha!  I did follow a recipe on this one and the result was super.  

     I fanned some thinly cut prosciutto around a small plate.  In the center, I placed sliced burrata cheese (a kind of creamy mozzarella).  I blanched the peas for a quick two minutes, cooled them slightly under running cold water and added them to a bowl of dressing consisting of mint, salt and pepper, lemon juice and olive oil.  The peas were then spooned over the cheese and topped with shaved parmesan and a few pea shoots.  Not too shabby!

     But, what to do with the leftovers?  Why not another appetizer to accompany my Sunday brunch?  Taking the pea mixture, I added minced shallots, a tangy goat cheese and a bit more olive oil.  I served it on pieces of toasted bread (also a leftover) and voila!  Spring Pea Crostini.  Oops, no pictures!

     It was the end of a marvelous week.  We celebrated Summer Solstice on the coast of Brittany - hanging out on the cliffs looking out at the sea, having a picnic, playing music and taking goofy family photos.  We had Sunday lunch at our favorite restaurant, rediscovered beaches, flew kites, stayed up late, napped on the beach and played boules.  We ended the week back at home in Belgium, well rested, well fed and just...well.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Ramblings and Arugula Pesto

     Little is going on and a lot is going on...school ended last Friday and we are either enjoying or hating the first week off...depends on who you speak to and what time of the day it is.  Dear Daughter is realizing that while it is great going to an International School, during the holidays, they all go back to their home countries!  This week, instead of going into one story, here are bits and pieces of what is going on right now.

Last weekend at the Wachenheim Wine Festival in Germany

     My cats are registered noncombatants.  I am convinced after yesterday that they somehow have some sort of secret society and have decided that other than flies or other pesky insects, they will abstain from the normal household cat duties.  Several occurrences over the past several years have led me to that possibility but given what happened last night, I am now convinced - they are noncombatants.  "What happened," you ask.  During the late afternoon, I had the back door open in order to catch the breeze.  The cats were enjoying entering and exiting at their leisure.  I was doing some research in the office when I heard this chirping noise.  I thought perhaps a bird had entered the house but that seemed unlikely.  Around the same time, our youngest cat planted herself in the doorway of the kitchen...an odd place for her.  Later that evening, we heard an explicative from Dear Husband and..."How did that rodent get into the house?"  At the word rodent, I, without hesitation,  went to the nearest chair and stood on it.  How was I supposed to know the size of this creature?  Dear Husband and Dear Daughter caught it and promptly took it out to the pasture and let the little field mouse go its merry way.  A mouse...seriously?  Isn't that my cats' job?

I bet that mouse could scamper right past her right now...

     Here is a secret... I am not a big fan of soccer (or football as they call it here).  While these players are phenomenal athletes, the sport just doesn't seem that exciting to me.  We never watch matches at home nor have we been to one.  But in the last week, we have become FIFA CRAZY!!!  Today, Dear Daughter purchased her fourth jersey so she is truly international.  She has been known over the last week, to change her jersey several times a day.  In the mornings, it may be Croatia or Germany while in the afternoon, it could be Brazil or Belgium.  We have our own family pool going and we at least watch the first match each evening.  Surprisingly, it is providing a lot of family fun and I wonder what we will do once it is all over.  Dear Daughter is already hoping that she wins and can add her winnings to what she already won during the NFL regular season!

     She now stays up later than her parents.  We have reached that stage in life.  Given that school is out and the fact that the second FIFA match each night does not end until close to midnight, she has been staying up  while we go to bed.  I am not sure how to feel about this.

Football Mania!

      I hate peas and yet I am growing them this year.  I was known for sneaking them under furniture during dinner time in order to not have to eat them.  Now, the peas are paying me back.  They are my best crop thus far this summer.  Since I am growing them, they taste different to me.  I pull a pod off the vine, shell it and gobble up the small, sweet peas - no cooking necessary.  What do you think about that, Dad?

     We also have so much arugula that I no longer have to buy lettuce at the store.  We have been having arugula salads for lunch almost every day.  I love the peppery taste and it pairs very well with so many things:  blue cheese, prosciutto, pears...lovely salads.  Knowing that we would be gone a week, I harvested the crop yesterday and turned all those glorious leaves into arugula pesto - same process as making regular basil pesto but substituting arugula for basil.  One batch I made with pine nuts and the other with walnuts.  Dear Husband liked the pine nut version better.  Dear Daughter liked the walnut version better.  After sampling it, she asked me if we had any fresh bread.  A few minutes later, she was slathering it all over a slice.  That is the best compliment in the world.

So good...it doesn't need pasta

     Today, she and I suffered from Chocolate Shock.  We headed up to the outskirts of Brussels for a chocolate adventure.  Neuhaus, one of Belgium's famous chocolate producers, has an outlet store at its corporate headquarters.  While you can purchase the same items that are sold in the retail stores for the same price, the real bargain is purchasing one kilo boxes of chocolate.  Did I mention that each flavor sold is available to sample?  We were only there about 15 minutes and probably sampled most of what was available.  We walked out the door with THREE boxes of chocolate...over six pounds of three varieties and a stomach ache.  Chocolate for everyone!

Arugula Pesto

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Montenegro: Our Weekend in Kotor

     I hate to admit it but the best trip, thus far this year, was Dear Husband's doing.  Earlier this year, we learned that RyanAir (our local discount airlines) was offering flights to the capital of Montenegro from an airport only 30 minutes from our house.  He was so adamant that we had to visit this country that he researched apartments and found us a place to stay.  Perhaps he should plan more trips because this one was totally AWESOME!
     Montenegro, part of the former Yugoslavia, means The Black Mountains.  It only became an independent country in 2006 when a whopping 55% of the population voted for independence.  It is a tiny country sandwiched between Albania to the south and Croatia to the north.  Our destination was Kotor Bay and during our 90 minute drive from the airport, we saw not only how spectacular this country was but also how it is fighting to shed its prior communist existence.  Throughout our trip, we saw the most beautiful sights standing right next to unbelievable poverty.  However, I think that we would all agree that the people are eager to welcome you into their country.  They are friendly, they work hard and they are very proud of their heritage.
From the top of the Kotor Fortress...1,400 steps up!
     At the end of Kotor Bay lies the fortified city of Kotor.  At one time, a 4.5km wall surrounded not only the city but the fortress located high above the city.  Immediately, you can understand its former strategic position.  From the fortress high above the town, you could easily see ships making way through the bay.  The historic city is completely encapsulated within the walls.  It is unbelievably pristine...the cobblestone streets look like marble and they glisten each morning after they have been washed.  Stores open early and close late.  It was interesting to take the narrow alleyways only to walk into another wonderful square dotted with restaurants and perhaps a church or museum. 

Rambling through the streets of Kotor

One of the many churches in Kotor

     We dined on local seafood...and squid was the meal of the trip.  We had a wonderful apartment and yet, for the first time, we were not tempted to cook a meal.  We were having too much fun dining outside at casual eateries on plates of fried sardines or squid stuffed with shrimp.  We drank the local wine as the winery is State owned and you found the bottles not only at stores in the village but in every restaurant.
Dear Daughter at the Adriatic
     We took a side trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia which was about 2 hours by car.  Dear Husband and I had tried to visit this town years ago but the war prevented us.  We booked a two hour walking tour of the town and it was truly one of the best experiences of this entire adventure in Europe.  Our guide spoke a lot about the war but what came across most, was his devotion to his city.  We had a wonderful time strolling through the streets trying to avoid the cruise ship tourists.  We found a bar located outside the walls which looked out over the Adriatic and enjoyed a pre-lunch drink.  The clear blue skies and the mesmerizing sea could drain away every ounce of stress...in a matter of seconds.  We lunched outside; sampling oysters from the Adriatic and comparing them to oysters from Brittany.  We tried a Croatian white wine and found it similar to our beloved Alsatian Riesling.  We laughed at the border crossing which seemed to take forever even though there were only 7 cars ahead of us.
Dubrovnik, Croatia

We could have stayed at this bar forever!

     It definitely was an adventure...a beautiful, memory inspiring one.  The scenery was spectacular and a bit untamed.  We could already see development moving in and while we wish the best for this tiny country, we hope that it can maintain its peaceful beauty.
Church at Perast - built on a manmade island

     In Dubrovnik, we came across an outdoor food market.  We picked up a small bag of the local treats:  dried figs mixed with candied orange rinds and almonds.  The orange rinds came out to be the clear favorite, so much so that we are making them now at home.  Super easy and really versatile.  Recipe will follow in a few days along with perhaps a recipe for stuffed baby squid...which was TO DIE FOR!
Kotor Bay

     It is warm today in Belgium.  After spending the morning doing outside chores, I hope to dine outside tonight...easy grilled flank steak and sweet potato fries.  I have to be up early tomorrow to go to a large flea market in Waterloo (yes, the sight of the famous battle).  Who knows what treasures I might find.
Squid stuffed with Shrimp...delicious