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?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy 4th of July

I love fireworks – 4th of July fireworks, opening ceremony fireworks but especially "capitalist" fireworks. The light shows in the sky are magical, bringing out the kid in everyone. This year I’ll be watching our town’s annual show which is near a river. The reflection of the streaming sparkles on the water creates a lovely twinkly effect. But my favorite fireworks show to date was in the Czech Republic.

On the evening of the day we arrived, we happened upon a church holding a chamber music concert. Come to find out there are concerts everywhere in Prague. The husband was nodding off, teetering dangerously on the edge of snoring when something like cannon shots startled him from his languor. He nearly fell off the bench. Disapproving heads turned in our direction. Thankfully we were sitting in the back and it was easy to sneak out unnoticed.

Outside we could see fireworks of every color being launched from a boat in the Vlatava River. We watched from the middle of the Charles Bridge wondering what the occasion was. In a way, we felt like this was an auspicious welcome to this amazing city. Afterwards, we asked a shop owner about the reason for the event. His reply was “We are a capitalist country now. We can have fireworks whenever we want.” Here's to freedom and prosperity for all in the coming year!

Happy Independence Day!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Medieval Fun & Games

This weekend was our annual Traditional Archers Society campout. Hundreds of archery enthusiasts turn out for four days of shooting fun in Colorado’s alpine wilderness. Though I’m a city girl at heart, there is something very empowering about walking though the woods with an ancient weapon of war at the ready – though the only thing in my sites are foam targets. Unlike a gun which seems like a complicated piece of machinery to me, a recurve bow is a simple, elegant tool. Mine is made of wood, my arm guard and glove are handmade of elk hide (not by me) and my arrows are wooden and artfully hand painted with distinctive blue fletching (again, not made by me, but I’ve arranged to learn how soon. Check back on progress). With these simple tools, a bow and arrows, humankind has been storming castles (like this one in Konopiste, Czech Republic) and snagging dinner for thousands of years.

There are no sights on my recurve, so shooting is instinctive which demands one’s full attention. Breathe, visualize, shoot, or something like that. Did I mention I am ADD? Though I like to imagine I have great skill like Katniss Everdeen, fictional heroine and archer extraordinaire of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games and Catching Fire series, most of the 3-D targets and all of the wildlife are safe with me on the prowl (only rusty old cans need worry). When I participate in the battle clout event, I can easily imagine hundreds of medieval archers at the foot of a castle or maybe a walled city lifting their bows skyward upon hearing the command “Archer’s Ready” and on the “Archer’s Fire” command, releasing a terrifying shower of arrows down on their target. For our purposes a pole in the middle of wide green meadow serves as our castle.

The sport combined with the camping for four days is a real back to basics endeavor (there's a reason I'm as headless as Ann Boleyn in this picture). By the end of it my shooting arm is sore, I’m craving a cocktail with ice, I desperately need to bathe, not to mention make an appointment for a pedicure, but it’s a weekend I always look forward to. While my arrows might not always hit the mark and I may never shoot like King Henry VIII or the fabled Robin Hood, I like to think  when it comes to time spent outdoors under a canopy of aspen trees in the company of family and friends my aim is true.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jazz Italiano

It’s a week of summer firsts around here and Wednesday marked the first Summer of Jazz concert in the park. The music series is celebrating its 25th year, but due to troubled financial times; it may be the festival’s final season, so not a show is to be missed this summer.

This is a bring your own dinner affair, unless you want to eat fast food pizza, so I must share my version of muffuletta with anyone who needs easy, make ahead, gourmet picnic fare. Muffuletta is a layered sandwich of cold cuts, cheese and an olive salad that is all neatly encapsulated in a crusty round loaf of bread. A Sicilian immigrant named Salvatore Lupo is credited with inventing it 1906. The recipe is a doctored up version from an old Better Homes & Gardens recipe.

Now sit back, relax and enjoy the music. The concert featured Regina Carter’s Reverse Thread Band. Click here to listen to her vibrant African-influenced violin tunes.

Photo Credit: Glenwood Springs Summer of Jazz

Muffuletta Ingredients

1 large round loaf of bread

2 kinds of lunch meats like roast beef & salami
Provolone cheese
Artichoke hearts
Kalamata olives (I buy the pitted kind)
Prepared pesto
Sun dried tomatoes
Fresh tomatoes
Roasted red bell peppers
Red onion
Romaine lettuce
Balsamic vinegar

Assemble Sandwich
- Slice off the top third of the bread and scoop out the soft insides from the “bowl” and the “lid.”
- Using a spoon or spatula smear pesto on the interior and lid of bread.
- Place a layer of meat (either one), then cheese, roasted peppers, more cheese, more meat (the other one), red onion, lettuce, and tomato slices.
- Drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar.
- Add artichokes and olives.
- Cover with lid and press down to compress ingredients. Add more if you feel like there’s room.
- wrap sandwich tightly and completely in plastic wrap. Refrigerate.
- Bring along a cutting board and serrated knife. Cut into serving size wedges and eat at room temperature.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

To Market, To Market …

Today was the first farmers market of the season. Compared to the outdoor markets in bigger cities in the US and abroad, it’s tiny, but thoroughly delightful. I was pleasantly surprised by all that was on offer being so early in the growing season. There was plenty of spinach and an assortment of lettuce, but also turnips, beets, mushrooms, garlic, green onions, heirloom tomatoes, fresh dill and other herbs.

For the market, the city closes the street to traffic and white tents materialize in the place of parked cars. Every week a local string band or folksy singer lends a festive vibe to the event, something that is unique to our little market I think. I don’t ever recall seeing a band or musicians of any kind at markets in Europe. It seems like everyone there is seriously engaged in shopping for dinner, haggling over prices and getting on to the next errand at hand. I am happy we have a farmers market at all.

Photo credit:Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association

I can walk to the market from my house, just like my 86 year-old great-aunt Hedwig in Gerolzhofen, Germany continues to do to this day. I’ve been to the Marktplatz with her and she is the model of marketing efficiency. She knows the sellers, knows what she needs, doesn’t get distracted or pulled off-task by chatty neighbors. I am the opposite in every area – easily distracted by people and produce. With no plan in place here’s what I bought – an heirloom tomato, an English cucumber, ½ pound cherries and ½ pound assorted mushrooms. Assessing my haul, I think a Greek salad is on the lunch menu tomorrow.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

When A Rose Is More Than A Rose

Even though I’m feeling like my travel opportunities are grounded for a while, I continue to strive to keep a little of Europe in my everyday life. As I’m writing this, my first real post, I’m sitting in my back yard. One of the things I have been keenly aware of on my trips to Germany and France have been the profusion of flowers everywhere – hanging from the windows, decorating the entrances of restaurants and buildings, growing lushly in back yard gardens and for sale at markets everywhere.

My grandfather was a farmer and expert gardener. Along with vegetables that he grew to feed his family, his greatest joy was pampering and fussing over his beloved roses that flourished in his care. Unfortunately his gardening gene didn’t make it into my DNA. Though my own garden appears verdant; it is rife with weeds and pests. My roses battle aphids, underground rodents eat the tulip bulbs, a raccoon dealt a killing blow to my ash tree and even though the demonic campanula is easy to yank out, like a bully I know it will be back with friends to gang up on the lilies and penstamons. I’m sure my grandfather fought these same battles. I can only think he had a better battle plan and a lot more time.

Even though my roses and other flowers manage to survive with little thanks to me, this space makes me extraordinarily happy. When the shit hits the fan, and it has, it reminds me that things will return to normal and beauty endures. Having been displaced from his home on the coast of Poland (then Prussia) and relocated to a refugee camp near Hamburg, my grandfather and his family endured plenty of hardships. Growing things was practical, it provided food. However, the only reason for growing a rose or any flower is to enjoy its loveliness – something Europeans have known for centuries and something I intend to do all summer long.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hello and Welcome

Some people are Anglophiles, others are Francophiles, I’m a Europhile. My dad emigrated here from Germany in the 60’s and from a very young age I flew back and forth to Germany to visit relatives on a regular basis. This may sound like quite a privileged life I led, and it was in a way, but the travel was due to my father’s employment as a mechanic for Lufthansa, not a big bank account. We sometimes went for extended weekends and once, my parents dropped me off there for the whole summer. Looking back now, perhaps that three month stint qualifies me as an ex-pat of sorts. Even then I knew these times abroad were special and I appreciated the smells, colors and tastes of that Teutonic land.

Later, in my early 20’s my boyfriend (now husband) and I set off on our own trans- European adventure that lasted six months and even included northern Africa. Since then we have traveled about in the Caribbean and explored more of Europe. In 2005 we fell in love with the Czech Republic and in 2007 we took our girls there for their first trip overseas.

These trips taught me many things which I hope to explore in this blog. Our travels however have come to an abrupt halt as the economy stalled and daily it seems to get harder to make ends meet. Perhaps feeling like I can’t travel has made me nostalgic for more robust days and this blog will help me remember all I have to be thankful for and maybe even lead to new uncharted adventures.