Sunday, August 1, 2010

Salad Nicoise To End The Week

The last week of the month is always hectic for me. At the end of this one I wanted a yummy, healthy meal that could be dinner one night and lunch the next. After pondering several choices I decided on salad nicoise – I haven’t made this in years, but a friend recently gave me this recipe and I thought I’d try it. If you chill the dressing overnight it tastes even better. The olives are key! Really good Mediterranean ones. And the tuna must be oil packed for the yum factor.


Adapted from the The Silver Palate Cookbook

8 small red potatoes, cooked in salted water until tender but not mushy
2 lbs green beans, trimmed, blanched in boiling water until bright green but still crispy
10 Italian plum tomatoes, quartered (I used the grape tomatoes)
1 small purple onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup olives (I used Kalamata olives)
pinch of salt
1 tsp pepper
3/4 cup dressing (recipes follows)
6 hard boiled eggs, quartered
12 oz oil packed, white tuna
2 oz anchovy fillets (can be omitted, for anchovy-phobes)

Assemble all ingredients, except eggs and tuna, in a large bowl or on a serving platter.

1 tbs dijon mustard
4 tbs red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp sugar (don't omit)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley (don't omit, it makes a difference).

Whisk the mustard and vinegar until smooth. Add the olive oil in a slow steady stream, whisking steadily until it thickens and emusifies (I stop adding oil as soon as it thickens, as I like my dressing on the sour side). Add sugar, salt, and pepper. Mix to blend. Incorporate chopped parsley.

Gently toss the salad ingredients to mix. Pour almost all of the dressing over, toss to blend. Arrange the eggs around the outside of the dish, the tuna in the center, and drizzle the remaining dressing over the tuna and eggs, making sure to moisten each yolk. Top with additional chopped parsley.

Serve chilled, with french bread for sopping up any extra dressing. Preferably al fresco, during a late spring or summer evening.
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Under the Tuscan Sun (film)Image via Wikipedia
There are so many scenes I love in the movie Under The Tuscan Sun; one of them is what I call Normale, when Francis goes to sign the papers for the house without having ironed out all the financial details and other arrangements that go along with purchasing a new piece of property. The real estate agent simply hands her the key and waves off the paperwork, saying “es normale.” Having had her entire life turned upside down by a nasty divorce, Francis slowly adjusts to what “normale” means for her and by the end of the movie she finally learns that she is the one who determines what “normale” looks like in her life. I love how the word normale is used in such an off-handed, carefree way in the movie, like of course why would it be any other way – go on Francis, it’s only natural that you enjoy your new house and new life.

The phrase I’m sick of hearing and reading is: The New Normal. This conjures something entirely different to me: economic woes, restriction, propaganda, lack, limited thinking, in general all pretty negative stuff. There is nothing carefree about the phrase The New Normal. While I have come face to face with a change in economic circumstances, I don’t want to refer to this period in my life as The New Normal. My reluctance is not about hanging onto the way things were, in fact, many wonderful things have become part of our life as a result of a change in circumstance like regularly eating delicious, home-prepared meals, cherishing time with friends and family, and taking advantage of the many events and activities available in our valley. I dislike the phrase, The New Normal, largely because it implies finite possibilities while normale, as it’s used in the movie, implies the opposite.

One of the things I hope to accomplish with this blog is to sort out what normale means for me. How to be more carefree, follow my intuition, my heart and be open to the many possibilities and opportunities that are everywhere. Es normale, no?

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Eres Bikini Makes Poolside Debut

Like most of the women I know, I hate shopping for a new swimsuit. All the usual dressing room angst combined with the jaw-dropping price tags on these skimpy fabric swatches help to keep me far away from the swimwear section IRL and online. But today a friend asked me to go with her to the pool where she recently became a member. “Sure, I’d love to,” I said, but only after hanging up with her did I realize I hadn’t shopped for a swimsuit in over two years! Shit. The ones I wear in the hot tub are destroyed; I have a couple I used to wear for swimming laps but they are inherently hideous. I tried on some old tankinis and quickly realized this style does me no favors. Still rummaging, I found a couple of orphaned bits of lycra at the bottom of the drawer -- an Eres bikini I had bought several years ago on deep, deep discount. I have only ever been brave enough to wear this in my backyard, but I tried it on anyway. It was pretty much how I remembered it. No padded bra, no shaping underwires, no girdle-strength fabric to hold in the unwieldy parts. It’s a truth in advertising kind of suit – no gimmicks, just covers up what needs covering and does so in an understated way without covering up or revealing too much.

“Wear that one,” said Hubby who was getting ready for work while I was madly auditioning swimsuits. I countered with a few arguments, but ultimately picked this suit to wear to the pool. Be brave, I told myself, plus my friend assured me “no one is ever there.” I believed her – gullible.

Here’s what I learned after I whipped off my cover-up: the fashion police did not swoop down on me, small children did not run away from me in fear, in fact no one really cared much about me and my bikini (just fine with me). Other poolside patrons came in various sizes and shapes, some bigger than me, some smaller, there was a full range of swimsuits on display, even a monokini (on a teenager) and really they all looked great in their own way. I found out that no one is spending an excessive amount of time scrutinizing me for physical flaws. I relaxed, enjoyed the view, the water and the company of my friend. A lovely day was had by me and my French bikini, although I should probably get myself to the swimwear department sometime soon. Is this suit the best for my body, probably not. Is it the worst, definitely not. Does it matter? Not as much as I thought.

"Pam", originally uploaded by The National Archives UK.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Our Empty Nest (A Preview Of Things To Come)

Well as of this past weekend, Hubby and I are empty-nesters and I for one don’t quite know what to do with myself. Both girls are away for a little over a week of learning, playing and in general exploring the new possibilities the world has to offer. As for me, I’m a little lost. My plan was to work, do some home decluttering projects - maybe figure out how to sell things on ebay, knit, read, go out to dinner with the Hubby, go to a movie or a nearby music festival, and in general do things I don’t usually feel like I have enough time for.

But my plan is falling through and it’s stressing me out. Work is oddly slow – giving me even more time than I’m used to. I know I should make the most of this rare time to myself, but I feel very disorganized, unfocused and sleepy. I feel like I’m just flitting around, alighting here and there but not really accomplishing anything. Making a grocery list yesterday was a major accomplishment, but I forgot to go to the market and there was no OJ for breakfast! This is not like me at all. I’m all about checking things off my lists, not procrastinating, etc.

Yes, I’m definitely missing the girls, but I know they are safe and doing the things that make them happy. This, however, is the first time they’ve both been away at the same time so it’s a glimpse of what is to come when they both fly the coop in the not so distant future. Last night Hubby and I went out to dinner, and you guessed it, we talked about the girls pretty much the entire time. We will be going out again tonight (using up gift certificates –love that) and I wonder if we can go an entire meal without bringing them up, and if so where the conversation will meander. I’ll ask Hub if he’s up for the challenge, if so, I know it will tough. All bets are off though if one of them calls during dinner.

This is a weird week for me. I thought I’d be so productive, but I guess I need time to adjust, shift gears, get used to a different routine – I’m slow to change, but as long as I keep moving forward however slowly, I guess that’s good enough some days. In the meantime, where was I? Oh yes, grocery list ….

photo: © Isabel M Tirado

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The No Plan Travel Plan

For me, the best parts of traveling are the serendipitous surprises that happen along the way. I’ve found the best way to ensure you find these travel treasures is to have a solid non-plan in place. Don’t have every minute of the day planned and scheduled. I generally don’t plan my trips too rigidly and never take the pre-packaged guided trip, though I do scout out the places I want to go and things I want to do ahead of time. I rarely make advance plans in case I change my mind. In the early years, before kids, my husband and I would pick a destination, pack and go. Upon arrival we would figure out where to overnight and in which direction to head first.

Our honeymoon was no different, we chose Guadeloupe in the French West Indies mostly because few Americans go there. We arrived in Pointe-A-Pitre in the early evening with nowhere to stay. The car rental places were closed for the day and my luggage had been lost – on my honeymoon no less. It could have been a nightmarish situation. But an inquiry to a fellow passenger who happened to be a local yielded not only a room, but a ride to the hotel. The next morning we rented a car, still no luck with my luggage though. I bought a swimsuit (turns out I only needed the bottom half) and a pareo and we set off to explore the islands: Grand Terre and Bas Terre. We found an elegantly dilapidated little place with ocean views and hammocks that shared the same coastal space as a famous resort where we got to use the sea kayaks and windsurfers for next to nothing. A travel agent would never have had this place on a roster of accommodations. After two weeks, my luggage finally showed up for the final days of our honeymoon. It had gone all the way to France before returning to me!

Now with kids, when we travel we make a few more plans – we like to arrange a place to stay the night of our arrival and departure, and have a rental car ready to be picked up at the airport – but everything in between is by the seat of our pants. And while twice we haven’t found a place to stay (both in Germany) for a reasonable rate, in general we’ve scored stays in memorable apartments, pensions, gasthauses and even in the spare room of an older couple’s house along the river in Cesky Krumlov!

Travelling this way for me is a great way to be really present in the moment, relax and enjoy life unfolding, and it forces me to interact with the locals. Almost all of my experiences have been positive. I know this is a quirky way to travel. Does anyone else have any odd travel habits or tips?

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Monday, July 12, 2010

One Very Un-Chic Habit

Of course I have many very un-chic habits – camping for one is particularly unglamorous – and another is running. I just finished reading Anne Barone’s Chic & Slim book and loved it, but apparently French women don’t like sport. Well, vive la difference! I’ve been running on and off for years, but lately it’s been more on than off and I have to admit, while it’s always difficult (to get out of bed and put on my running shoes) and often painful (on the ego when running with the daughters or the husband), I’ve come to look forward to it. I also believe that for me it’s part of a healthy lifestyle and adds to my personal joie de vivre.

I don’t live in a bustling, urban city where walking and climbing endless flights of stairs to get to my apartment is part of my fitness regime, however I do walk when and where I can – to the market and the downtown area a few blocks away – and while highly enjoyable, this is really negligible exercise compared with dashing out my front door and running for a few miles. Instead of the views of the Eiffel Tower, baroque buildings and cobbled streets, my vistas include a landmark mountain, a gold-medal fishing river and dirt paths remarkably free of doggy-doo (not so in France or Germany, even on those cobbles).

While the French woman has her gigantic and beloved Paris to entertain her visually, keep her spirits lifted, and her waist trim, I need to make other arrangements. So while I may be sweaty and wearing the most un-chic shoes and clothes, I must do what I must to get my daily dose of visual nourishment, stay off the anti-depressants and keep the fat monster in check.
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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sit It Out Or Dance? Danse, Mai Oui

Last night was a Jazz night, despite the intermittent rain showers, I’m so glad we went. John Cleary: Piano, Drums, Bass Trio was playing and they were phenomenal! Bonnie Rait calls Cleary the 9th wonder of the world. His music is an inspired mix of classic New Orleans jazz, Caribbean rhythms, and smoky vocals. He has this crazy British-Cajun accent. Lovely! I will definitely be adding him to the playlist.

Our weekly jazz outing is a great place to meet up with friends and make new acquaintances. Last night the conversation was lively, fun, a little bit raunchy and then the guys left to dance with their daughters, an activity that I feel casts men, my husband in particular, in a charming light. Being a good father is a very hot quality. Anyway the women huddled closer to make conversing easier, but the conversation went from bright and buoyant to dull and dragging, like someone had flipped a switch. Suddenly we were talking about one particular woman’s blood pressure! She was telling us her stats – this number over that number. I actually thought: Am I going to let this too loud woman bore me to death or am I going find me something more pleasurable to do? I interrupted the woman’s prattle and said something like “Excuse me, I’m going to go dance with my husband now.”

Okay, this may not be a huge deal for anybody else, but normally I feel like I should be polite, not interrupt (especially for something as base as my own pleasure), be a good girl, all that nonsense. It was a little frenchy (some might say bitchy) moment for me- but it allowed me to savor one of life’s little bon-bons – a dance with my husband.

This experience also brings up the question of whether women (and men) are more interesting in each others’ company versus in same sex groups. Do mixed groups foster more entertaining repartee?