It’s the Humidity, You Bimbo….

It is hot in North Carolina and it has been since we arrived.  And, being August, not only is it hot it is also oppressively humid.  My favorite, the double H’s….heat and humidity [she said with sarcasm dripping from her lips and sweat dripping from her brow]!  I cannot express to you with mere words how much I dislike the dog days of summer. And yet here I am in Raleigh in the middle of August.

We’ve been here since Sunday and I’ve been hot and sticky since we arrived.  If it were simply hot, evaporation would help me feel cooler (maybe there is something to the saying, “Yes, but it’s a dry heat”!).  But it’s not simply hot.  So my body (everyone’s bodies in humidity) must work harder to cool off, which leads to excessive sweating, increased rate of blood circulation, and increased respiration.  Hyperthermia [the opposite of hypothermia, about which we are warned in extremely cold weather] can lead to dehydration, fatigue, muscle cramps, heat exhaustion, fainting, heat stroke, and – worst of all – bad hair!

Bad hair days can make me grumpy and I’ve had bad hair for ALL EXCEPT approximately 3 1/2 minutes of this trip!!!  The 3 1/2 minutes when I did not have bad hair were yesterday right after my afternoon shower when I only had to walk 7 feet to my car on the way to meet Jeff for dinner.  So, of course, I had to snap a selfie to commemorate the “good” hair.  It was not good hair in the wow-great-hair sense, but rather good-for-August-in-North Carolina!

Strangely enough and in spite of this summer cold that is still hanging on, I haven’t been all that cranky – due in part to having a baseball hat with me at all times, in part to not really knowing a soul and in part to age/wisdom!!!  But I have had ENOUGH of the humidity.  In fact, last night I carefully and emphatically explained to Jeff that I did not want to do ANYTHING outside today.  I made him look at me while I explained it a second time to make sure he completely understood me.  Interestingly, however, I believe he was still surprised today when I asked him to drop me off and pick me up at the door of nearly every place we went. [It’s only fair that I tell you that my dad has done this for my mom for as long as I can remember so I have been conditioned to expect it.  But even with the conditioning, I don’t often ask for or expect it from Jeff].

In case you think I’m exaggerating about the heat, here are a few snaps from the last few days in Raleigh.  They don’t prove my point about the humidity, but anyone who has spent any time in the south in the summer knows I am not misrepresenting facts!

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If you’ve read my last few posts you had to know I was going to rant about the humidity eventually.  If you didn’t see it coming, you need to revisit some of the Raleigh posts!!!

Besides thinking/worrying/complaining about the humidity, what have I been up to since I last posted?

LAKE JOHNSON PARK
After finishing my post and leaving BREW yesterday, I navigated the Raleigh traffic to Lake Johnson Park.  I planned to rent a kayak and explore the lake, but since it was pouring on the way to the park (I kid you not, as soon as I got into the car at BREW it started to rain) I decided that if the rain let up I’d walk the Lake Trail instead of getting out on the water.  Well, the rain did let up and I did walk the 3 mile lake trail and it was a beautiful walk.  Rather than putting in my ear buds and listening to music or a podcast like I typically do on a walk, I used my time to talk with God and to enjoy the scenery. The rain held off until the last 1/4 mile when it began to pour again, but I was so hot [did I mention it’s hot and humid here?] the rain felt amazing!

CANTINA 18
Last night after taking the above selfie I met Jeff at Clouds Brewing.  He was having a farewell drink with his classmates while I was getting ready after my walk.  He met me outside the moment I pulled up and we had a quick conference about where to have dinner.  While he found the address of our destination and typed it into waze, I ran inside and said a quick goodbye to the guys who had graciously let me crash their dinner the night before.

After hopping back into the driver’s seat, I followed waze to Cantina 18.  If you read yesterday’s post entitled ‘Scatterbrained…,’ you know we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at 18 Seaboard on Wednesday evening.  Cantina 18 is owned by the same chef – Jason Smith – that we had the chance to meet when we visited 18 Seaboard.

I ordered a traditional margarita and Jeff ordered a Wicked Weed Pernicious IPA and we decided to share the Queso Fundito to start.  The margarita was DE-LISH – it had the saltiest salt [I realize that sounds strange] I’ve ever tasted on the rim.  And the Queso Fundito (which was flavored with chorizo, grapefruit pineapple salsa, and possibly canela) and warm chips were amazing.  If people wouldn’t have stared, I might have considered licking the bowl!!! Jeff ordered short rib tacos with pickled corn relish and chipotle crema – I ordered the short rib burrito with pickled onions & poblanos, cheese, rice, black beans and cilantro crema (I subbed the cilantro crema for the chipotle crema on the menu). Although the Queso Fundito was the star of the meal, my burrito was very good – the short ribs were cooked to perfection.

While we were eating, I thought I saw the chef walk through the front door.  Jeff asked our waiter if we had seen him and, if we had, he asked if it would be possible to speak with him.  Jason came to our table and we talked about our meal at 18 Seaboard and the meal we were enjoying.  We learned a bit about the ’18’ and about why he was at Cantina 18 – he was there to pick up 5 orders of the nightly special for the cooks at 18 Seaboard since they were starting a busy weekend and ‘tacos make everything better.’  We only chatted for a few moments, but we really noticed again and appreciated even more the spirit of humility Jason displayed during our conversations!!!  We were so full we didn’t order dessert, but were sent a little something from the chef – two delicious bites of strawberry cake!!!

After dinner we checked into our new hotel (I had loaded our bags into the car before I showered) and it is an enormous improvement over the last hotel.  We began our stay at the Hilton Raleigh North and had a less-than-stellar experience there.  Our last two nights (last night and tonight) were/will be spent at the Hyatt House in North Point.  The hotels are night and day in terms of rooms (space, cleanliness, features), service, breakfast, and overall experience!  Bear is much happier at the Hyatt House!

FURNITURE LAND SOUTH
This morning we woke up early, had a quick and tasty breakfast at the hotel and began our trek to High Point.  We arrived at Furniture Land South at around 10:15 and were amazed at the size of the “furniture store.” It was more like an amusement park for furniture lovers!  We saw some cool furniture but no great values that we couldn’t live without, so after about 2 hours of walking through the stores we hit the road for Pittsboro (near Chapel Hill).

How do you know when you’ve arrived at Furniture Land South?  You see this:

ALLEN & SON BARBEQUE
If I haven’t mentioned it previously [sarcasm again – I HAVE most definitely mentioned it previously], Jeff is a barbecue guy.  He would eat it any time of day or night and has been known to eat so much of it he gets what he affectionately refers to as the “meat sweats.”   The best definition I’ve seen of ‘meat sweats’ is as follows:

Meat sweats” is the mysterious condition whereby, after ingesting a generous helping of meat, you begin to sweat like a fat man in a cake shop. First identified by competitive eaters, for whom the malady is an occupational hazard, the meat sweats are thought to be caused by the combination of adrenaline and protein.” ~ from https://www.birchbox.com/guide/article/five-ways-to-conquer-the-meat-sweats

Anyway, as usual, I digress.  We arrived at Allen & Son at approximately 1:00 p.m. and we were hungry from all the walking we had done at FLS!  After perusing the menu, we both decided on The BBQ Plate, which included BBQ (pulled pork), hush puppies and slaw. And, of course, we also ordered sweet tea [a treat since I’ve been off tea for a year]!

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Our waitress brought us each a glass of tea and she also brought a carafe (as big as a 5 gallon bucket) for refills.  It was so tasty – sweet but not diabetes-inducing like the sweet tea we had in Texas!  Our food was delivered very quickly and it smelled so good.  I had a quick debate – add sauce or don’t add sauce.  I decided to start without sauce and go from there.  The flavor of hickory was so wonderful throughout the pork that I initially thought no-sauce was the way to go…that is until I added some Carolina-style sauce. Mmm mmm mmm!!!  It was vinegary and spicy and wonderful.  I still have not determined if the Q was better with or without the sauce.

The slaw was a bit sweet, but fresh, vinegary and peppery – just right as a side to the Q!  The hush puppies – what can I say about the hush puppies?  They were divine.  They had a hint of sweetness, the fresh-fried oiliness that turns bad quickly when food gets cold but is so wonderful in the first few minutes, and were comfortingly crunchy with the other foods.  I was in hog heaven [see how I did that there?]!  Until…….

While cutting into my last hush puppy, it rolled onto the floor!  Noooooooooooooooooooo!  I guess it was the universe’s way of telling me I didn’t need the last one!  Never one to miss a message from the universe, I also gleaned that we should share an order of Banana Pudding!!!!  And we were not sorry we did.  It was warm and had a meringue topping.  The banana flavor was great and it wasn’t too sweet.  I’d say it was the perfect ending to a wonderful Q experience.

SOUTHERN SEASON
Next stop?  Southern Season in Chapel Hill.  Jeff and I decided that the perfect time to stroll through Southern Season was when we had full bellies.  There were so many things we might have purchased had we been hungry.  As it was we meandered through the gourmet food store for about an hour and a half and ended up with A LOT of beer [not all for us] and a few goodies in our cart!!!

GUGLHUPF BAKERY
On the way back to Raleigh we made a quick stop at Guglhupf Bakery.  Jeff, who has a list of every restaurant within 100 miles of wherever we are staying, had it on his list and since we were driving past we stopped.  In addition to the artisan bakery there is a café too.  We spent a few minutes in the bakery – during which time we picked out a cheese, some bread and a sweet treat to nosh on for dinner.

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The last stop of the day was at Whole Foods in Durham for a bottle of Sancere, which we will be enjoying momentarily with our noshing dinner.  At Whole Foods we also added some fruit and a few tiny pieces of cheese to our evening menu. [A special thanks to the Cheese Monger who assisted us with picking just the right ones.]

Here we are, back at the hotel, listening to Pandora, writing the post and getting ready for a quiet evening.  It may be humid outside, but it’s cool in our hotel room and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else in this moment than with Jeff in North Carolina in the August heat!!!!

Scatterbrained…

There are so many things I’m thinking of writing about at this moment – and none of them are connected to the others.  So I apologize in advance if this post seems like one long, frightening stream-of-consciousness exercise!!! After reading the first draft of this post, I decided that section headers were definitely in order!!

The following is an abbreviated list of topics rattling around in my brain: what I’ve been doing for the last two days, my first nitro cold-brew experience, the horrific sound my laptop is making, last night’s dinner, why I hate humidity, noosa yoghurt, the benefits of iPhone reminders, what to do today…… Ugh, sometimes I wish I could reboot my brain!

LAPTOP
I’ll start with the horrific sound my laptop is making.  Approximately every 25 seconds it sounds like my laptop is slogging up the hill on my most challenging walking route carrying 500 extra pounds!  It’s kind a high-pitched whine of exertion that lasts about 15 seconds.  I fear this, coupled with the fact that the laptop no longer holds a charge, means I’ll soon [or NOW] be in the market for new technology.  New technology IMHO is a double-edged sword.  It’s exciting…..shiny, fast, light, small…..but it’s also sad….saying goodbye to this laptop that has served me well – we know one another’s idiosyncrasies, I know exactly how far I have to stretch my left pinkie finger to hit the [ctrl] key and I could identify it with my eyes closed because of the double-sided tape residue on the top!  It’ll be like a melancholy goodbye when you drop a friend off at the airport knowing you won’t see them for a long time AND the excitement/expectancy of a first date all rolled into one!

NOOSA YOGHURT
Ok….on to noosa yoghurt! I’m sure there are some of you out there that have known about noosa for years, but I am relatively noo noosa lover.  The first noosa I tasted was Key Lime and it remains my favorite; however I also like the raspberry and coconut A LOT!  Last time I went to the grocery store I bought the noo apple flavor by mistake – it’s in the same color packaging as the Key Lime.  I’d say to date, the apple is my least favorite flavor but it is good and if I had to choose between noosa apple and a different brand of yogurt, I’d choose the noosa. Although I haven’t noticed them in stores, I just discovered on the noosa website that they make two interesting flavors I’ll now be on a quest to locate – blackberry serrano and raspberry habanero!!!  So why do I like noosa? It’s sooooo creamy (mouthfeel really does matter when it comes to enjoying food), it’s not too sweet and the 8 oz. size makes a great meal that keeps you full.  But, never fear, they do offer smaller sizes as well and they offer plain noosa in a 24 oz. container!  Something for everyone.  To learn more about noosa, visit their whimsical website!

WHAT I’VE BEEN DOING FOR THE LAST 2 DAYS –  MY FIRST NITRO COLD-BREW EXPERIENCE – LAST NIGHT’S DINNER
Now I’ll tackle: what I’ve been doing for the last two days, my first nitro cold-brew experience, and last night’s dinner.  Ready?  Let’s go….

NITRO COLD-BREW
Tuesday I woke up with a craving for coffee [I am fully aware that I wake up with a craving for coffee every morning; however I do not indulge it every morning] and a plan.  I showered, dressed, ate a noosa (I’m not kidding) and hopped in the car.  I set waze to take me to BREW.  [I could go on a rabbit trail here talking about how helpful waze has been on this trip; but I’ll resist the temptation]. Incidentally, I am here at BREW again writing this post!

I arrived at BREW and was lucky to get the last available table – throughout the time I lingered at BREW people came and went, but the tables were always at a premium. There are several outdoor tables, however I did not choose to take one of those [this might be a great place for rant about why I hate humidity – but I will spare you].

Nitro cold brew (NCB) was my drink of choice.  It was my first nitro cold brew experience and was inspired by their menu, which reads, “Iced Nitro Cold Brew – Cannot be described with words.”  I’ve heard about nitro coffee, but haven’t had the opportunity to try it until Tuesday. Nitro cold brew is cold brewed coffee charged with nitrogen to give it a rich, creamy head – similar to a nitro draft beer like Guinness.  The nitrogen effect cuts the acidity of the coffee and [because of a lot of sciency stuff about the size of the nitrogen bubbles] gives the coffee a thicker mouthfeel (it is a strange coincidence that I’m writing about mouthfeel again)!  The coffee tastes sooooo smooooooooth.  So smooth, in fact, that I drank the first one without cream or sugar, which is somewhat miraculous for me.  Yes, I did write FIRST ONE.  It was so good that I had a second one, which I regretted at 1:00 a.m. when I wasn’t sleeping.  So today, I’m enjoying a nitro cold-brew again, but I’m drinking it earlier in the morning and only having one!!!

CAMERON VILLAGE
After the second NCB and a shot glass filled with salted mixed nuts I embarked on a shopping adventure.  I strolled through several shops at Cameron Village, the first shopping center between Washington D.C. and Atlanta which opened in 1949.  Of course it has evolved over time, but it has always included apartments, homes, retail, office buildings and grocery stores.  Although it was really hot and humid [this might be a great place for rant about why I hate humidity – but I will spare you] I enjoyed a leisurely afternoon at Cameron Village. I was not, however, done shopping.  I took a quick ride to the North Hills area (where I walked on Monday) and hit a few shops there too.

POOLE’S DOWNTOWN DINER
Although I was invited to join Jeff and his cronies for dinner, I opted to keep shopping and find dinner on my own.  And I’m glad I did.  I took the opportunity to try Poole’s Downtown Diner.  ‘Diner’ alone is not a fair, complete description so I’ll borrow the description for their website and hope that it gives you a truer glimpse into Poole’s…’A modern diner with reimagined comfort food.’

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Poole’s started as a pie shop in 1945 and due to customer demand quickly began offering savory options. Eventually the pie shop moved out and the location morphed into Poole’s Luncheonette.  Although Poole’s still embraces its double-horseshoe lunch counter, it has a modern, hip, dark vibe. And I love that “Don’t forget kindness” is stenciled on their front window!

I read the chalkboard menu (I wish there had been a handheld version of the menu, but understand the kitsch) with an open mind, but the review that I had read about their macaroni au gratin repeated in my memory.  Ultimately I decided on a glass of Albarino, the macaroni au gratin and haricot verts with shishito peppers, lemon and fried garlic.

I enjoyed a book, some people watching and my wine while I waited for my food.  And by the time the macaroni au gratin and haricot verts arrived I was really hungry [no, the food didn’t take too long, I took too long to decide where to eat].  The first thought that went through my mind when the waitress set down my food was, “I’m going to eat every last bite.”  HA!!!!  The portions were generous, but the reason I couldn’t eat every last bite was the richness of the macaroni au gratin.  It was incredibly comforting, smooth, and gooey with a just-right crispy cheesy crust on top. The haricot verts were the perfect complement to the mac-&-cheese, although I thought they would have been better without the butter.  In fact, had I known they were finished with butter I likely would not have ordered them as my side – I would probably have chosen the roasted beets with summer melon.  But they were DELIGHTFUL – the garlic was fried to perfection and added a wonderful nuttiness to the dish, while the lemon added a periodic burst of freshness.  I would have liked more shishitos because they added an unexpected flavor to the dish. My glass of Albarino was cold (but not too cold) and crisp with the perfect sharpness against the creaminess of the macaroni au gratin.

Poole’s was an excellent choice!

By the time I got back to the hotel, Jeff was there.  He was tired from a long day of training and a yummy, filling Italian dinner.  So he decided to read and I, after taking a little time to digest, made my way to the fitness center to walk off some of the creamy goodness of my dinner at Poole’s. About an hour later I returned to the room, showered and fell into bed – only to toss and turn for a while with my eyes wide open and my brain spinning from the NCB!!!!!

RALEIGH STATE FARMERS MARKET

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Yesterday I did not indulge the coffee craving…..I needed to detox from the caffeine overload on Tuesday.  But I did have a noosa for breakfast!  After breakfast I threw on some workout clothes, a baseball hat and sneakers and jumped in the car for a quick drive to the Raleigh State Farmers Market.  My first stop was Market Imports – a large shop on the market grounds that sells everything from garden art and planters to furniture, reclaimed architectural pieces and home and garden accessories.  I had fun wandering through the “aisles” and looking at all the interesting offerings.  Then I went through the market stalls and enjoyed the aroma of fresh peaches and other produce in the air.  I admired lots of native plants and relived a frightening memory of the pineapple peppers I purchased at the RSFM last October.  The signage on the pineapple peppers indicated in October (and still does today), ‘sweet and spicy.’ I take issue with that description.  In fact, if I had to describe them I’d choose, ‘lip-meltingly hot…hazmat suit required.’  But, as usual, I digress!!!

HISTORIC OAKWOOD CEMETERY
Wanting both a nice walk and a bit of local culture, I opted next for a stop at the Historic Oakwood Cemetery.  It may sound strange, but Oakwood Cemetery is listed in the guidebooks as a must-see in Raleigh and it was the perfect place for a peaceful walk. And as an added bonus, Tom Unger and Mark Shuey, it is an historic confederate cemetery!!!  I spent about an hour at the cemetery – sometimes briskly walking and others studying the tombstones and snapping pics of the beautiful surroundings.

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After my walk I was craving something nutritious so I typed the address from the Cold Off the Presses website into waze and began my short drive – or what I thought was my short drive.  When waze announced, ‘you have arrived’ I was in front of a pile of rubble.  I drove around the block twice but wasn’t able to locate my destination.  So I pulled over and typed ‘Cold Off the Presses’ into waze and found a different address.  So I followed the path and again was promised, ‘you have arrived,’ which I had not.  Again I circled the block to no avail and finally gave up (not my usual MO), drove back to the hotel and ordered what turned out to be a sadly ordinary (maybe even less than ordinary) room service salad.

I was again graciously invited to join Jeff and his cronies for dinner and decided to do just that!  I spent the rest afternoon reading in the air conditioning and taking my time getting ready for dinner.  I even took the time to do my nails, which ended up bubbling [this might be a great place for rant about why I hate humidity – but I will spare you] but at least were polished.

18 SEABOARD
With the address for the restaurant in waze, I left to meet the guys for dinner and arrived moments after they did (had it not taken so long to make a left onto Peace street I would have arrived at almost exactly the same time)!  Interestingly enough, 18 Seaboard (our dinner destination) is right across the street from BREW.

18 Seaboard serves contemporary Southern-style dishes with over 60% of ingredients sourced from North Carolina farms, ranches, fishmongers and dairies. And it does so quite well!  The group shared several appetizers including: Crispy Pamlico Sound Shrimp with Texas Pete Aioli, the Heirloom Tomato Sampler with goat cheese and balsamic drizzle, Fried Oysters with a delicious herb pesto, and Fried Okra.

Everyone in the group tried the Sneads Ferry She-Crab Soup, which was really yummy, but not nearly as good as the she crab soup at the now defunct Market Inn in D.C.  Oh, what I would give for a bowl of that soup and a tiny pitcher of sherry!!!!  Anyway…..for my entrée I had the hardwood fired trout with charred peach vinaigrette, cheddar grits and grilled asparagus. Oh my goodness!  Not only was the restaurant perfumed with the aromas of oak and hickory (two of my favorite scents), but the trout was enveloped in those flavors as well and the smoke profile was just right….I could easily identify the smoke, but could still taste the freshness of the trout.  The grits were cooked to perfection and the asparagus was grilled exactly to my liking – still al dente, but definitely not raw – also had a hint of smoke and tasted great with the peach vinaigrette.

Jeff ordered a wonderfully chocolately dessert…..a chocolately chocolate cake in a mug, with a warm fudgy sauce and a scoop of bruleed marshmallow fluff!  Since I was already so satisfied from my meal, one bite of dessert was enough.

The service at 18 Seaboard was spot on – attentive and friendly, but not intrusive.  Our group was visited and modestly thanked by chef/owner Jason Smith, who also sent out a plate of tiny chocolately brownies dusted in powdered sugar and topped with a drop of caramel sauce.  I enjoyed the food and getting to know some of the guys from Jeff’s class and am humbled to have been invited to join them.

Note: Being with a new group, I did not feel comfortable snapping my usual pics during dinner.  

THE ENDING
I am happy to report that my laptop did not die…YET.  Although I didn’t cover all the topics whirling through my brain when I started this post, I do feel less scatterbrained.  I still haven’t decided what to do today, but my knee is stiff from sitting so long and my coffee is precariously low [perhaps I can attribute the ‘less scatterbrained’ to the low coffee] so it must be time for a long walk.  While I’m walking I’ll think about how I’ll spend the afternoon after a refreshing shower!  There’s lots of Raleigh that I haven’t seen yet.  And there’s Durham.  The world is my oyster……did someone say oyster? Maybe still a little scatterbrained!!!

Taking Time to Smell the Roses….Sort Of

If you read yesterday’s post, you know I’m fighting a summer cold.  I don’t want to belabor the point, but I remind you of this so you can understand why I had much more trouble than usual getting moving yesterday morning….and I did!

I woke up between 8 and 9, but felt absolutely ghastly.  I thought about spending the day in bed, ordering soup from room service and feeling sorry for myself; but that thought was fleeting because I’m in a new place and there is much exploring to be done!

So I indulged my inner child and stayed in bed long enough to write yesterday’s post and watch a few episodes of NCIS, but then I got up and decided I’d try to sweat the cold out.  I threw on some workout gear and a baseball hat, brushed my teeth and headed out in search of a nice, safe neighborhood to take a walk and gawk at southern-style houses.

I decided to try the North Hills area, which was a short drive from our hotel.  I explored the area and finally decided on a beautiful neighborhood called Reedham Oaks.  Since there was nowhere safe to park in the neighborhood, I found a nearby church with an empty lot, parked the car and walked from there.  It wasn’t too hot and although there was rain in the forecast I had time to get in some steps and sweat out some of this cold.

While I was walking I listened to a podcast that Jeff and I recently discovered.  It’s called Marriage to the Max (MTTM) and is about healthy marriage – something to which Jeff and I certainly aspire!!!  Not that we have an unhealthy marriage; but anyone who has been married for 24 years (last week was our anniversary – happy anniversary, baby) understands that if you aren’t working toward improving your marriage, you may be giving satan a foothold.  I find MTTM very informative and encouraging.  There are some ouchy moments listening to it, but those are the moments I really need to pay attention and adjust my course.

I worked up a good sweat and a little bit of an appetite, so I started to head back to the car.  And incidentally, it was just in time as it began to sprinkle as I was making my way back to the church parking lot.  Next stop, Target.  Our cooler leaked on the way down so I wanted to replace it and I thought I’d pick up something other than the Sudafed I’d been taking since Saturday night – since it didn’t seem to be helping.

My quick stop at Target included a brief conversation with the pharmacist, who – after asking about my symptoms – steered me toward a quick release, extra-strength pain reliever rather than the Sudafed. And boy was she right.  I feel oh so much better taking the pain reliever rather than the Sudafed.

The long walk and shopping trip to Target turned ‘my bit of an appetite’ into a ‘wow, I could east something substantial.’  Knowing that Jeff was having dinner out I decided to get some takeout to bring back to the room so I could eat in comfort and then get a shower.  I opted for The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar.  Although I love sushi, it was not calling to me in the moment, but a burger was.  Sitting in the Target parking lot, I pulled up The Cowfish menu online and began the difficult task of choosing a burger from their extensive list of burgerliciousness.

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After much deliberation, I opted for the The Local Yokel.  The menu describes The Local Yokel as follows:

“Half-pound beef burger.  Goat Lady Dairy goat cheese, fresh basil, fried cherry peppers, Abbott Farms F.R.O.G. (fig, raspberry, orange, ginger) jam reduction, brioche bun.  Choice of side.”

I used ChowNow (an online ordering system) to order my food and then put The Cowfish into Waze and navigated the late-afternoon traffic to The Cowfish.  I parked in their convenient 10 minute parking and waited for my food at the bar.  In no time, my order was ready and I was on my way back to the hotel.

I dug into my food and was treated to a taste explosion.  The beefy burger was nicely balanced with the tanginess of the goat cheese, the slight sweetness of the F.R.O.G. and the occasional spiciness of the peppers.  The fries were well seasoned and, had I not transported my meal for 15 minutes, would likely have been just the right crispness. I must confess, I was so hungry when I got back to the hotel that I didn’t take any pics of the food…….so sorry!

After I ate, I decided that I didn’t want to be holed up in a hotel room for the remainder of the evening so I set off for the JC Raulston Arboretum at N.C. State.  Parking was easy and there is no admission per se – but donations are appreciated. And you’ll want to make a donation when you see how pretty the grounds are.

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I wandered through the arboretum for about an hour – taking this windy path and then that.  And as I wandered, I realized it is true what THEY say….”not all who wander are lost.”  It was so relaxing just soaking in the beauty of nature.  After walking the grounds, I took some time to sit on a glider near a lovely fountain wall and listen to the water as I watched the evening light change my surroundings by degrees.  Evening light is my favorite – it’s golden and what I call “juicy.”  At this point in the post, I wish I could tell you about the epiphany I had or the philosophical thoughts that went through my mind; but in truth I enjoyed a few moments of NOT thinking.

Finally, as the light began to change from golden and juicy to fading, I made my way back to the hotel and to a well-deserved, much-needed shower.  Although it had felt good to sweat out some of the yuck, it felt even better to wash it away and slip into clean pj’s.  By the time I was done drying my hair, Jeff was returning from his dinner and we spent some time talking about our respective days and just enjoying one another’s company.

I got my pics into yesterday’s post and published it.  And I got my pics ready for this post too – even though I hadn’t written it.  Then we climbed into bed with our books.  I pretended to read for about 5 minutes and gave into the heaviness of my eyelids.  I don’t know how long Jeff stayed up and can only assume he left this morning around 7:15 a.m. since I wasn’t up to say goodbye (sorry honey).  But I did get up around 9:00 and got ready for my day.  First stop, BREW….stay tuned for more!

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Recuperating in Raleigh

I don’t often accompany Jeff when he travels for work…..mostly because his travel is usually to exotic places like Williamsport, Scranton and Wilkes Barre and partly because the timing often doesn’t fit with my schedule.  But this week is an exception.  Jeff’s travel takes him to Raleigh, NC and my schedule allows me to tag along.

I have a list of places to see, coffee-shops to visit, and restaurants to try.  I have 5 books to keep me company and hold my attention.  And I also have a terrible sore throat, a very stuffy head and a low-grade fever.  Ugh…the dreaded summer cold.  Which is also becoming the dreaded “tagging-along-with-Jeff-on-a-work-trip” cold.  You may not remember, but I sure do….the last time I travelled with Jeff for work was to San Antonio, Texas.  I had a list of places to see, books to read, and Mexican & BBQ restaurants to try AND a terrible sore throat, a very stuffy head and a low-grade fever.

We spent most of the day in the car yesterday and arrived at our hotel at approximately 6:30 p.m. – just in time to check in, freshen up and make our 7:30 dinner reservation.  I was feeling pretty crappy by the time we arrived, but the anticipation of our dinner buoyed my spirits. I recently read the list of Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants in America 2017 and lo and behold one of the new restaurants was in Raleigh!  After telling Jeff about the list, he called immediately to make a reservation at Brewery Bhavana.

The concept of Brewery Bhavana can sound a bit out there and make you think, “huh?” but having been there and seen it and eaten the food I can tell you, it works.  Brewery Bhavana (bhavana is Sanskrit for ‘cultivating’) bills itself as a brewery, dim sum restaurant, flower shop and bookstore/library. And it is all those things. It is also a welcoming, noisy, visually interesting place to hang out. And oh, the service was terrific!

After we were seated, we were given menus and glasses of water and told our waitress, Alex, would be with us shortly.  And she was. I asked about the wine list, which is a bit confusing as the wines are listed as W1, W2, W3, etc. with hip descriptions rather than being listed by name/vineyard.  Alex asked what kind of wines I liked and said she would bring me a few wines to sample based on what I told her.  Jeff asked about a few of their brews and again Alex offered to bring a few samples before he decided on a full glass.

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Jeff and I had looked at the menu several days before our visit to Brewery Bhavana and were excited to try several things from the “Little Somethings” section of the menu; so before Alex left the table, we put in an order for the Char Siu Bao (steamed buns stuffed with Cantonese BBQ Pork) and waited expectantly for our drinks and our bao.

Rachel (more versed in wines than Alex) delivered my wine samples and told me about each one, why she chose them based on the information I had given Alex and told me which was her favorite. Then she departed, giving me time to taste each one and make a decision.  While I was sampling my wine options, Jeff’s beer – well actually not Jeff’s beer – was delivered.  Before he took a sip, Alex came over quickly and told him he had the wrong beer.  She whisked it away and then efficiently brought him the one he ordered in a 16 oz. glass, rather than the 10 oz. glass he had ordered to make up for the error.  With the beer Alex also brought plates for our bao and a “kicked up” soy sauce.  Then the moment of truth came – our bao was delivered and we were in culinary heaven.  The bao was light and fluffy and warm and comforting and flavorful and ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. Delicious. The Cantonese pork was moist and tender and perfectly spiced. The addition of the kicked up soy sauce was perfect.

When Alex checked in to find out if were enjoying the bao, Jeff placed an order for Scallion Pancakes with oxtail in bone marrow and coconut-soy jam.  We also asked Alex if it was ok that we order in this disjointed way and she told us it was absolutely fine.  Alex left to place our pancake order and then came back at Jeff’s request to tell us more about Brewery Bhavana.  We enjoyed hearing about the dawning of Brewery Bhavana and sipping our drinks.  We enjoyed a little people watching and reading and re-reading the menu and chatting and soaking up the atmosphere.

And then we thoroughly enjoyed the scallion pancakes.  Oh my goodness…..the pancakes were soft with a crisp outside and, when slathered with the oxtail, were savory with a hint of not-quite-sweetness from the coconut-soy jam.  According to Jeff there was a hint of spiciness (but not too much), however I think my cold was slightly inhibiting my taste buds – which makes me absolutely salivate to try Brewery Bhavana again when I am not taste-compromised!!!!

Next up….Peking Duck Egg Rolls with hoisin sauce.  Delish!  Hot and crispy and savory and enhanced by the slight sweetness of the hoisin.  Of course, I am never to leave well-enough alone so I had to mix some hoisin with some of the kicked up soy sauce and it was the PERFECT complement to the egg rolls.

Although my wine was empty, I didn’t order a second glass because I knew there had to be cold medicine in my future.  Jeff ordered a second beer – Mango Peppercorn (the first was a Passionfruit IPA) and we put in our order for Soup Dumplings (which have the soup on the inside).  We continued to chat and I asked Alex if it would be ok for me to wander around a bit to snap some pics and she told me to feel free to be me!  So I did.

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Our next interaction with Alex was her delivering the bad news that the soup dumplings were sold out (the menu did warn us that there are only a limited number made each day).  Although we were sad, we had a back up plan and decided to see the lack of soup dumplings as an invitation to return!  Instead of the soup dumplings, we ordered the Shrimp & Corn Dumplings.

While we waited we talked about the next few days, I got the lay of the land on a few maps and sadly, I began to fade.  But when the shrimp & corn dumplings were delivered, I rallied.  Although they were our least favorite dish, they were still sooooo good.  They were more like a strudel than a dumpling and they had a warm, creamy filling that had a wonderfully herby hint.

Alex offered us dessert, but we were satisfied with what we had eaten and I was longing for pajamas and a pillow….so we declined. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the slices of banana cake and coconut cake that passed our table did look yummy. Before leaving we took a quick spin through the “bookstore” and “flower shop.”  And we ended the night with a walk to the car in the cooling night air.

Back at the hotel I fell into bed – happy, just-full-enough and in need of rest!!!  My plans for waking up early this morning were squelched by this summer cold and the desire to sleep late!  So here I sit, just after noon, writing this post and lazily planning the rest of my day.  The weather isn’t looking so great – heavy rain in the forecast – but I’m hoping I have enough time for a long walk before the raindrops begin to fall.  And I’m hoping that whatever I decide on for dinner is half as good as our dinner last night at Brewery Bhavana.  Bon Appetit was correct – it is one of the best new restaurants in America in 2017!  Now I wonder what the other 49 have to offer that can top Brewery Bhavana or, in my opinion, Brewery Bhavan-ahhhhhhhhh!

Being “plinked at” by the enemy

Today started out like most other days….although I am grateful to open my eyes each morning and thank God for all of my blessings every morning, I am not one to hop out of bed “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”  I hit the snooze [often more than once], metaphorically stomp my feet like a toddler in the midst of a Phase 5 Fit, and begrudgingly slither out of bed.

After I’m up, I’m usually fine and by the time I leave for work I’m usually smiling and ready to take on the day.  Today was no exception.  I only worked for a few hours today, I had a nice lunch with two lovely ladies before leaving the shop, and then ran a few errands.  I had no negative interactions with anyone, but somehow by the time I got home I was in a funk….the devil was plinking at me.  At first I didn’t even notice – he is so wily.  It started out as a negative thought here, a self-criticism there…plink, plink, plink.  By 4:00 pm I was sad and discouraged and lonely.  I watched some t.v. [because that always helps…..please read the last line as it was intended – dripping with sarcasm] and finally I remembered to tell the devil something I recently heard on a podcast while I was taking a walk, “Get behind me, devil.  I am not your business.  I belong to God.”

I gathered up my art supplies, opened my Bible and began reading and doodling.  While I was looking at different hand-lettering fonts on Pinterest, I came across a pin that I had previously saved to the “wrong” board.  [I love God’s ‘coincidences!’]  It is a page from Priscilla Shirer’s ‘The Armor of God‘ Bible study.  As I do not have her permission to reproduce it, I will link you to Lifeway’s website so that you can purchase it if you’d like and I’ll just give you the highlights…..

Now that I’ve done some more research, I’ve found that the information is from Page 33 of the study guide.  It is entitled ‘The Enemy’s Strategies’ and illuminates 10 strategies the devil uses to undermine women [and possibly men].  I will only give you the strategy titles below, but I encourage you to do what I am going to do….buy the study and find a friend who will journey with me through ALL the pages.  It is so important to understand how the enemy will attack so that we can devise defenses against this sneaky, cunning, relentless predator.

How the enemy attacks:

Strategy #1 – Against Your Passion
Strategy #2 – Against Your Focus

Strategy #3 – Against Your Identity
Strategy #4 – Against Your Family
Strategy #5 – Against Your Confidence
Strategy #6 – Against Your Calling
Strategy #7 – Against Your Purity
Strategy #8 – Against Your Rest
Strategy #9 – Against Your Heart
Strategy #10 – Against Your Relationships

I nearly succumbed to the devil’s ‘plinking’ this afternoon – I was exposed, unprepared and vulnerable.  But, I am happy to say that reminding him that I was none of his business led me to my Bible and to this excerpt from Priscilla Shirer’s study – two resources I definitely needed.  I temporarily misplaced my armor but I can now confidently [until the next time he tries to attack] report that it’s all in place.

Ephesians 6:10-18

“A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all the strategies of the devil.  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rules and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

 

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.  Stand your ground, putting on the  belt of truth and body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  In addition to all these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.  put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

 

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.  Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”

Put on your armor every day….and remember to “be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor each morning the devil says, “Oh crap. She’s up!””

Flying First Class

Ok, admit it, the title got your attention, right?  I have a confession to make….I’ve not flown first class…but I do want to tell you about my upcoming classes at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School and needed a clever way to catch your attention!

So, now that I’ve admitted to scamming you [please forgive me], I’ll get to it!

If you want to see a list of all the Fall 2017 and Winter 2018 cooking classes at KS, this will help!  If you want a brief idea of what I’m teaching, read on.  For a list of my current and past classes, this link will take you there.

My first class of the semester on September 12th is BRING A FRIEND TO ITALY and is a great value because it’s two for the price of one.  The description and menu are as follows:

Hate to fly but want to experience great Italian food? This class is your answer – and you get to bring a friend along too!Join me as I prepares a wonderful menu of quintessentially Italian foods.
  • Formaggio in Crosta (Gorgonzola Cheese in Puff Pastry)
  • Scrippelle in Brodo (Crepes in Broth)
  • Insalata di Funghi Tiepida (Warm Mushroom Salad)
  • Pollo Arrosto al Rosmarino e Arancia (Roast Chicken w/Rosemary & Orange)
  • Rigatoni con Cavolfiori e Uvetta (Rigatoni w Cauliflower& Golden Raisins)
  • Torta di Noci al Caffè (Walnut & Coffee Cake)

For more information and/or to register for Bring a Friend to Italy.

Next up are two classes on the same day – October 14th –  and these are great for anyone wanting to learn more about the Big Green Egg!  I’m teaching these with my boss, Dan.

First, BIG GREEN EGG 101:

Join us for the first class in our newoutdoor kitchen & showroomand we’ll
teach you the basics of the Big GreenEgg. Known as the “Ultimate Cooking
Experience” the Big Green Egg (BGE) is THE choice for a single appliance that
grills, smokes and bakes. In the 101class we will answer your questions and
guide you through everything you need to know to get started using your BGE.
Come hungry – there is plenty to sample for even the heartiest of appetites. Class
fee credited toward the purchase of specially priced, seasoned Big Green Eggs
and 10% off all accessories the day of the event only. Hurry, class size is limited.
Rain or shine!
  • Red Chile Scallops
  • Grown Up PB&J Chicken Satay
  • Pulled Pork 3 Ways
  • Wood-Fired Pizza
  • The Fabulous Four Seared New York Strip Steak
  • Grilled Pineapple w/ Gooey Nutella & Vanilla Ice Cream

For more information and/or to register for Big Green Egg 101.

Then, BIG GREEN EGG 201:

Join us for this class in our new outdoor kitchen & showroom and we’ll teach you some more in-depth techniques for using the Big Green Egg. Known as the “Ultimate Cooking Experience” the Big Green Egg (BGE) is THE choice for a single appliance that grills, smokes and bakes. In the 201 class we will share advanced cooking techniques and tips for taking maximum advantage of the BGE – for example: how to reverse sear and how to get your BGE from 0° to 600°F in 5 minutes. Come hungry – there is plenty to sample for even the heartiest of appetites. Class fee credited toward the purchase of specially priced, seasoned Big Green Eggs and 10% off all accessories the day of the event only. Hurry, class size is limited. Rain or shine!

  • Wood-Fired Pizza from Start to Finish w/ Dough Demonstration
  • Cedar-Wrapped Scallops w/ Orange Beurre Blanc
  • Dizzy Dry-Brined Chicken Breast
  • Thai Fresh Tuna Burger w/ Wasabi Mayo
  • Reverse Seared New York Strip Steak
  • Kahlua Chocolate Brownies a la Mode

For more information and/or to register for Big Green Egg 201.

Also in October – on the 18th – is an apple-inspired lunch and learn entitled DON’T SIT UNDER THE APPLE TREE LUNCH & LEARN.

Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me. I’ll share with you the perfect fall menu that celebrates the season’s most distinguished fruit.

  • Tangy Apple Cranberry Salad w/ Citrus Dressing and Chia Seeds
  • Creamy Maple Apple Soup
  • Honeycrisp Apple & Smoked Chicken Quesadilla w/ Bacon
  • Caramel Apple Tart w/ Cinnamon Whipped Cream

For more information and/or to register for Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.

I don’t have any classes on the schedule for November and December because I’ll be working a lot in the retail section; however never fear.  If you need a Groff fix, Jeff (my handsome hubby) will help you out.  He and Dan will be leading a CRAFT BEER TOUR on November 4th. It should be a great day of travel, tasting and talk!

If you think only of Tony Soprano, going ‘down the shore,’ and Bruce Springsteen when someone mentions New Jersey, you’re missing out on another great thing from Jersey….craft beers! Join Jeff Groff, craft beer aficionado and your emcee for the day, and explore some of the breweries that put NJ on the map as a craft beer player. Leave your cares behind and bring a cooler and a friend for a fun day of beer talk and, more importantly, beer tasting.

Breweries:

  • Flying Fish Brewing Company
  • Eight & Sand Beer Co.
  • 2SP Brewing Company

Included:

  • Full hot breakfast
  • Transportation
  • Guided Tour(s)
  • Packed Lunch
  • Bus Driver Gratuity

Considerations:
This is an all-day event where tastings are not included. In consideration of the time restrictions and expediency, the $20 tasting fee must be paid before departure. We reserve the right to change the itinerary for reasons outside of our control; see website for changes.

For more information and/or to register for the Craft Beer Tour.

I pick back up with Jeff in January 2018  when we will be co-teaching a couples class.  COOKING BAREFOOT WITH JEFFERY is our spin on recipes from Ina Garten’s latest cookbook ‘Cooking for Jeffrey.’  Not only are the recipes delish, but the class includes a wine tasting as well.

Jeff and I are back in the kitchen and this time we’re sharing our twist on recipes from Ina Garten’s latest book Cooking for Jeffrey. Additionally we’re pairing some of our favorite wines with each course. This class will celebrate food, wine and teamwork!

  • Creamy Asparagus & Fennel Soup
  • Maple-Roasted Carrot Salad
  • Seared NY Strip Steak w/ Mustard & Maitakes
  • Roasted Vine Tomatoes
  • Root Vegetable Gratin
  • Vanilla Cream Cheese Pound Cake w/ Red Wine Macerated Berries

For more information and/or to register for Cooking Barefoot with JeffERy w/ 4-Wine Flight.

Finally, I finish the semester with another fun lunch and learn on February 20th.  This class – TACO TUESDAY LUNCH & LEARN – was inspired by my recent (or maybe long-time) obsession with Mexican food in general and tacos specifically.

It doesn’t have to be Tuesday to make tacos; but since it is, why not?!? This class will show you that tacos can be much more interesting than you ever imagined…and they can even be for dessert!

  • Carrot & Goat Cheese Taco w/ Red Beet Tortilla
  • Pork Carnitas Tacos w/ Salsa Verde Marmalade
  • “Quickle” – Quick Pickled Veggies
  • Bittersweet Chocolate Dessert Taco

For more information and/or to register for Taco Tuesday Lunch & Learn.

Come on out to the Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School for one of my classes – while we may not be flying, we’ll definitely go first class!!!!

Paris Part III: Beaujolaise!

I know it’s silly; but I’ve been putting off writing this post – the last post about Paris. Somehow this last installment seems like my last connection to our trip to Paris, like if I didn’t write about our farewell we wouldn’t have had a farewell.  But, write I must.  Share I must.  I cannot keep it to myself.  It was too much fun to be the only one to enjoy it…I know you weren’t there, but you can close your eyes and live vicariously through our adventure!

So, here we go:

Day 7: Wednesday 4/12/17 (can it really be that long ago?)

We walked a lot on Day 6 and day 7 was no different.  We started the day by taking the Metro to a stop near La Cuisine Paris (LCP)- our destination for the morning.  I was excited for the day to begin before I even opened my eyes for the morning.  We were scheduled for a croissant baking class.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do; but when in Paris, learn to make croissants!! I mean, seriously, is there a better place in all the world to learn to bake the buttery, flakey pastries than in Paris?

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When we arrived at LCP, we were greeted by the owner – Jane – and one of her employees. As we were the first to arrive (I told you I was excited), we chatted with Jane and I did my best to display a modicum of patience. Finally, after Cam and Katie and Carla and Paige and Gerry and Megan arrived, we were ready to get started.

We were taken to our classroom and met Guillaume, our instructor.  We put on our aprons, washed our hands and began our four-hour tour of all things croissant.  The time flew as Guillaume walked us expertly through the process of croissant making.  We began by preparing the butter block – any pastry that has a ‘butter block’ in it is my kind of pastry! We learned that ingredients really do matter and that the butter you use for croissants should be a minimum of 80% butterfat, which is not easy to find in U.S. grocery stores.  Guillaume’s advice about butter, “use the fattest one you can find.”  Guillaume is my kind of guy!

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Next we worked together as a group as we learned to make vanilla pastry cream (which we would use later in the class).  Then began learning to make the detrempe (the dough).  It was a primitive process that reminded me of watching my grandmother make pasta dough on her countertop with a well of flour and other ingredients.  We learned how to knead the dough using a method that is different from any kneading I’ve ever seen or used.  And we learned to use the ‘windowpane test’ to make sure our dough had been perfectly kneaded.

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While our dough rested in the refrigerator and before we learned about the laminating process – adding the butter block to the dough – we worked with dough that had been previously made for our class through the laminating stage to learn about shaping different pastries.We rolled the dough and first learned about shaping croissants, which involved cutting and stretching and shaping.  Then we learned to form pain au chocolat, which have dark chocolate batons inside them. Next we shaped pinwheels and beautiful windowpane-shaped pastries that would later be filled with jam. We put our pastries into a warm (not hot) oven to proof and made some pinwheels using the pastry cream and raisins and finally used the dough scraps and cinnamon sugar to make some tiny rosettes.

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While the pastries proofed, we double-backed and learned about laminating and properly folding the dough multiple times to create the maximum amount of layers in the finished pastries.  Finally, our creations were baked and it was pure torture to watch them and wait.  I hope heaven smells just like the kitchen at LCP while our croissants were baking.  When the pastries came out of the oven, Guillaume served them with wonderful cups of cafe and we enjoyed as many as we could without getting sick.  Then our group divided the leftovers and we set out to walk off the 86 bazillion calories we had devoured.

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True Confession – I’ve tried to recreate the croissants a few times since we’ve been home with no success.   But judging from the amount of times my dad has asked me when I’m going to have more ‘rejects,’ I’d say the flops weren’t all that bad!!!  I have not thrown in the towel.  I will, most assuredly, try again!

After we left LCP, we decided to walk to some of the places Guillaume had recommended during class and Jane had recommended after class.  We went first to Le BHV / Maraiswhich is described on their website as “a luxury bazaar, where anything and everything can be found. From a Lagostina frying pan, to a SMEG dishwasher, via the latest Bultex mattress. An unmissable destination for aesthetes and hedonists alike…”  We wandered few a while, looking at the offerings and then headed to the Beer Cave that we had tried to visit on Sunday.  While Jeff talked with the owner and picked out some Parisian craft beers to take home I rested my feet and eavesdropped on their conversation.  I was stunned to learn that the Parisians are infatuated with Dogfish Head beers and that Jeff could have made some beer trades had he brought a case of Dogfish Head with him to Paris!

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Our next stop was a store we had learned about when watching The Layover with Anthony Bourdain.  He visited E. Dehillerin looking for a duck press.  We visited with no specific items in mind, but enjoyed looking at all E. Dehillerin had to offer including many gorgeous copper pots.  We ended up purchasing wooden crepe spatulas, which we had seen used in all the crepe shops/stands we’d passed.

As hard as it is to believe, after strolling through shops and making a few purchases, we were hungry despite our croissant binge earlier in the day.  With no plan in mind (I’m sorry hon, I know how much it pains you to operate without a plan), we decided to try Le Relais d’Alsace Tavern and were rewarded with a fabulous Parisian meal.  I ordered Moules a l’aioli with frites (mussels in aioli with French fries) and Jeff ordered Steak Tartar and we both ordered wine, of course!  Our meal was outstanding.  The service was attentive for Paris, we sat outside and enjoyed the warm weather and watching the world go by, and the food was incredible.  I honestly do not think I’ll ever again enjoy mussels as much unless I return to Le Relais d’Alsace Tavern. The mussels were small and so flavorful (and there were soooo many of them) and the aioli mixed in with the white wine and shallots in which they were cooked made a lovely sauce and was delicious with the frites dipped into it. Although I doubt I’d be able to pick a favorite meal from our time in Paris, this one was among the best of the trip!

With full bellies, we next went to G. Dutea for chocolate batons, which I will use once I perfect croissant making. We meandered through Paris with no real destination in mind – through the gardens at Palaise Royale and then back to our hotel for a rest and refresh.

After we caught our breath for a minute, changed shoes and picked up jackets we took the metro to the Eiffel Tower where we ooh’d and ahh’d at the magnificent structure.  We had spent the week enjoying it from afar, but there’s something to be said for standing right under it and seeing with your own eyes what you’ve only seen in pictures. It’s amazing to me how this solid, enormous steel structure can seem dainty and lacey, but it does.  After about a half an hour gazing at the Eiffel Tower, we hopped a boat on the Seine for the 22 bridges ride.  Except for the woman sitting next to us who literally took over 200 selfies and had her boyfriend take over 200 photos of her, the ride was pleasant.  The air had turned chilly so it was the perfect night to snuggle up next to Jeff.  And we snuggled while seeing some of Paris’s most memorable sites – the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, Notre Dame, Isle St. Louis, Isle de la Cite, the Pont Neuf and its locks, among many others. While we were cruising the river, the sun was setting and we arrived back at the dock just in time to see the Eiffel Tower begin to sparkle in the dark.  It was magical.

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What a great day.  The only downside (other than sore feet and knees) was the realization that we only had one day left in Paris.

Day 8: Wednesday 4/13/17

So much to do, so little time.

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We began the day at La Pain Quotidien, a ‘chain’ founded in Brussels, for breakfast.  I had a wonderful avocado toast with delicious whole grain bread and a hot chocolate (the real Parisian hot chocolate, not the crap from a mix we get in the states). Since our next activity was a walking tour, I was glad for the fuel from the avocado and whole grain bread and felt no guilt about the hot chocolate!

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After breakfast we hustled to our meeting point for our walking tour through Paris Walks. The walk we chose, which was incredibly suggested by Jeff, was the Chanel Fashion Walk. Our guide, Richelle, shared so much interesting information about Coco Chanel, Paris fasion, the rue St. Honore and place Vendome. We visited the flagship Chanel boutique (Coco Chanel had an apartment on the top floor, although she mostly lived at The Ritz) and the famous Hermes store. (No, not the dentist from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.)

When our tour ended, we were very near Lauduree, so we purchased the macarons we wanted to bring home for friends and then we strolled to/through Galeries Lafayette, where we also had lunch.  Galeries Lafayette has a food court (no, it’s nothing like the food courts in U.S. malls) – there is no fast food and all the food is fresh and delicious and beautifully presented.  We ate at Cinco Jotas, a lovely ‘lunch counter’ offering Spanish Iberico ham, delightful wines and other Spanish goodies.  We shared a salad platter with Iberico ham and Ham & Potato Croquettes, along with some delicious Spanish wines. Another heavenly meal – in part due to the food, in part the atmosphere, but mostly because of the terrific company.

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After lunch we went back to the hotel to do some packing and to have a rest for our weary legs.  I can’t ever remember walking as much as we did in Paris and our legs – especially mine – needed a little rest from time to time.  We took our time packing so that our luggage would hold all we had purchased without exceeding the weight limits and so that our carry-ons were not too heavy to actually CARRY!

After a little packing, re-packing and moving heavy things from here to there, we showered and got ready for our final dinner in Paris, at a restaurant recommended by friends who had previously spent some time in this magnificient city.  The restaurant, Aux Anysetiers Du Roy on Isle St. Louis, was small but homey and decorated with a nod to the theatrical.  Our friends who recommended the restaurant highly recommended the Beouf Bourginoine, which Jeff ordered along with a smoked duck salad and a glass (or two) of Beaujolais.  I ordered the French Onion Soup, Sole Meuniere and a glass (or two) of Sancere.  The meal was simple, but delicious.  Every bite was complex despite the dishes being made with only a few simple ingredients.  We topped it off by sharing a delightfully thick and creamy chocolate mousse. Our waiter called a cab for us and we were whisked back to our hotel, where we enjoyed a final drink at the bar and a final glimpse of the glittering Eiffel Tower before falling into bed.

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Day 9: Thursday 4/14/17

If a day can be a whirlwind and go slowly all at the same time, this was that day.  We were up and in a cab to Charles de Gaulle airport very early.  We ate breakfast at Fauchon in the airport and before boarding, I was nervously awaiting Jeff’s return from a shopping excursion at duty-free because I had been the lucky winner of a full bag search by customs, which they wouldn’t conduct until he was there to hold his own bag.  But once Jeff made it to the gate and my bag was searched, the next thing we knew we were boarding a plane bound for Charlotte.

The flight was LLLOOONNNGGG and my legs swelled like balloons despite the gallons of water I drank and the 100 trips to the restroom.  When we arrived in Charlotte we had to go through customs, get our bags from baggage claim, re-check our bags and run to our gate to catch our flight to Dulles.  Upon arriving in the D.C. area we realized how foolish it was not to book another night at the airport hotel!  But we wanted to be home and to see Macy’s sweet face so we hopped in the car and began the drive home.  We made it through Maryland into PA and were starting to get punchy.  My legs were restless and needed to be stretched or walked on, but we just didn’t want to stop.  And I know Jeff was just as uncomfortable and just as ready to be out of the car.  We continued northward and when we realized we were only at the Gettysburg exit of Rt. 15 we nearly wept.  When we reached the main intersection in Dillsburg (approximately 19 miles from our house) Jeff said, “I’m seriously considering getting a hotel room right now.”  And I knew he meant it.  And I honestly don’t think I would have objected had he pulled over and done just that!  We passed punchy and were nearly at “commit me” when we pulled into our driveway.

We had loads of fun in Paris.  We met some wonderful people.  We saw sights we’d previously only dreamed of.  We ate terrific meals and drank terrific wines and champagnes.  But there is so much truth to the famous line from the song Home! Sweet Home! ….. ‘Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.’

Au revoir, Paris.  We love you.  AND we’re glad to be home.  We will meet again!

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Mason Jar Salads – The Art of Planning Ahead

Heaven knows I am not a planner!  Anyone who has ever traveled with me knows this.  I embrace spontaneous living, serendipity….. But, when it comes to healthy eating, I have to plan or I’ll make bad choices.

Today in class we’ll be talking about mason jar salads so I thought I’d share some graphics to help you build your salad-in-a-jar and to give you inspiration for some salad-in-a-jar recipes.  Let your imagination and what’s in your fridge be your guide!

Download (XPS, 1.31MB)

Download (XPS, 596KB)

Use them in good health and to help you plan, but remember there is magic in the spontaneous too!

Paris – Part II: Bless My Heart

Hopefully you’ve had enough time to read [and re-read] and digest Paris – Part I: Bonjour, ca va?.  If not, I’ll give you a few moments to read it……..Ok?

I’ll pick up at

Day 5: Monday 4/10/17

The day began with a bit of tension.  You see, Jeff has a wonderful sense of direction; but it was failing him. [I later came to realize that this internal GPS malfunction was likely due to the Metro – travelling underground can mess with your bearings, as I believe it did for Jeff – but I digress….]. We took the Metro to Les Halles on our way to O’Chateau – a wine tasting bar.  I know, I mentioned it was the beginning of the day and you’re probably wondering why we were headed to a wine bar at that hour.

To answer the question – we were meeting up with a tour group with whom we would spend the day exploring the Champagne region.  We had this goal in mind as we were aimlessly wandering the streets of Paris before the city had really awakened for the day.  After passing a unique building for the second time [“Big Ben….Parliament” – I know, I know, wrong city] we knew we needed some assistance.  So we hailed a cab and a few moments later we were hopping out at O’Chateau – closer to our hotel than the Metro stop we used!!!  But we made it.

Yes, we made it and were sipping our cafe and eating our delicious pain au chocolat when we found out from our co-conspirators for the day that each group had been told a different arrival time and that we were the last to arrive.  So we hurried through our breakfast, made quick pit stops and were climbing into the van en un rien de temps.

As we zipped through Paris on our way to Reims [grateful for a driver with experience navigating Paris at rush hour] and then as we cruised the highway between Paris and Reims watching the scenery change from bustling city to bucolic countryside, we got to know our travel mates and our tour guide, Richard. Our group consisted of Theresa, Mark, Leslie and Larry (friends from Texas (although Leslie & Larry don’t live in Texas any longer); Tanya from New Zealand and Shyla from Philadelphia (yes, our own backyard) who met running the Paris Marathon the day before; Jeff and me; and Richard.

Richard gave us snippets of information about what to expect from the day, what we would see, where we would visit and a bit of foundational information about champagne – but mostly he saved the champagne talk for stop #1.

We arrived in Reims a few minutes earlier than expected, so Richard gave us a little bit of time to explore the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims – a beautiful structure that elicits feelings of awe and reverence as you step inside.  It is a gothic art masterpiece that welcomes over 1 million visitors each year and is the site where the kings of France were crowned.  And it was a great first stop for our journey.

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Next we headed up the ‘hill’ on our way to La Maison Taittinger – one of the big boys of champagne.  We toured the cellars – which is to say we walked through 4th century chalk mines 18 meters below ground.  As we walked through the cellars we found ourselves both transported back in time and learning about current technologies in champagne production.  We were told about bottle shapes, riddling, disgorgement, aging, fermentation, blending, etc.

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Our cellar tour concluded with a LLLOOONNNGGG trip up a spiral staircase and a glass of champagne in the tasting room.  Richard educated us as we sipped and I learned from a delightful experience that sometimes a BRUT champagne (one to which less (or sometimes no) sugar is added) can actually taste sweeter than a SEC champagne (one to which more sugar – up to 50 grams per liter in the case of a DEMI SEC – is added).

From Taittinger we made our way past Veuve Cliquot to La Maison Penet, which has been family owned for five generations.  The vineyards of La Maison Penet stretch across the villages of Verzy and Verzenay – quaint villages that your mind conjures up when you think about the French countryside.  We sipped a glass [or two] in the cellars at La Maison Penet and then were treated to a fabulous lunch in la maison.  We sat with owner Alexandre and his marketing specialist, Justine.  The dishes served [made by Martine – Alexandre’s wife] were simple but remarkably tasty – a true example of farm-to-table at its best.  I doubt they even use the term farm-to-table in rural France [maybe not anywhere in France] – it’s just the way they eat.  The food is unbelievably fresh and simply prepared in a way that makes even the most humble ingredient a star.  And when paired with Alexandre Penet Extra Brut champagne, Penet-Chardonnet Grand Cru Terroir Escence Extra Brut champagne and Penet-Chardonnet Grand Cru Cuvee Diane Claire champange the foods shined [or is it shone] even brighter!

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After lunch we chatted with Justine, Alexandre and Martine, placed our orders for champagne delivery and reluctantly climbed back into the van.  I could have stayed at La Maison Penet for much longer, learning about champagne and local culture and nibbling from the wonderful cheese tray while sipping some bubbly.

Following our delightful stop in Verzy we travelled to Vrigny to our last destination – Champagne LeLarge Pugeot.  The vineyards of LeLarge Pugeot are spread out across three villages – Vrigny, Coulommes-La-Montagne and Gueux.  In 2010, Le Large Pugeot began its shift to organic farming.

I didn’t fully understand the significance of organic farming until we were standing in the vineyard and we asked about the distinct difference between one row of grapevines and the next. We were told that the left side belonged to LeLarge Pugeot and the right to another – non-organic – vineyard.  Right then I could see the impact of organic farming!

After our walk in the vineyard, we sipped and sipped and sipped some wonderful organic champagnes and then we sipped some more!  Then, wonderfully light-headed from all the bubbles, we purchased champagne, said our good-byes and climbed into the van for our final ride….back to O’Chateau.  Along the way we talked and some of us snoozed and laughed and talked and snoozed and laughed.

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Throughout the day we learned a lot of things……some related to champagne and some not…..

  • 80% of the land in the champagne region is owned by small farmers
  • A good champagne is not produced from a single vineyard
  • The eyes should be pleased before the palate [the same is true for food]
  • The riddlers (not from Batman) can turn about 6,000 bottles per hour
  • A meal without wine is called breakfast
  • A fine Texas proverb – “it’s not bragging if you can do it”
  • Champagne makes you happy in 17 minutes, wine in 30
  • The term ‘bless your heart’ (one with many different meanings depending on which part of the American south you are from) is sooooo much funnier when it’s incorrectly changed to ‘bless my heart’ and spoken with a southern drawl by your Chinese tour guide/somelier [I’m almost positive Richard told me he was from China but I was a bit loopy so I apologize if I got that wrong] who has spent many years living in Paris and speaking French!!!!

  • You can have a marvelous time spending the day with new friends from around the globe – particularly if you add champagne!

Unbelievably, by the time we got back to O’Chateau, said our goodbyes and got our bearings, Jeff and I were hungry.  So we walked a bit to stretch our legs and found a chic Italian restaurant – Daroco – where we enjoyed stuffed zucchini flowers, pizza (Jeff), pasta (me) and a thick, decadent mousse au chocolat (Jeff…..but I had a taste…..or two).

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Still a little bit buzzed with full bellies and happy hearts, we returned to the hotel and fell into a deep champagne-induced sleep!  Ahhhhhhh…..

Day 6: Tuesday 4/11/17

After Day 5 sipping champagne and sitting more than walking, we needed a day to blow off the cobwebs and use our muscles.  We began the day with a quick ‘continental’ breakfast at Lauduree and then visited the Palais Garnier.  We strolled through the opera house, snapping pics and marveling at the opulence.

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Next we took the Metro to the Left Bank and then strolled over several bridges as we explored the islands of the Seine – Ile de la Cite, home to Notre-Dame de Paris, and Ile St. Louis.  We had lunch at another of Rebekkah’s suggested cafes – Le Petit Pontoise.

Then, as encouraged by Norb and Cam, we sauntered through the shops of the Rue Mouffetard.  And we finally took a little time to watch the world go by at a cafe [Cafe Delmas overlooking the ‘fountain’ (now under construction) at Place de la Contrescarpe] where Jeff sipped a beer and I sipped a cafe.  We sat at our little table in the sunshine and soaked in the local flavor.

On our way back to our home base, we walked with our dinner [a lovely roast chicken, roasted potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and a bottle of champagne purchased on Rue Mouffetard] through Ina’s neighborhood. Along the journey we strolled through some pretty gardens and through Place Vendome.  By the time we made it back to our hotel we’d been on our feet for 12 hours and were ready for dinner, a rest, a shower and a long sleep!

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More to come on our trip to Paris – including a day learning to make croissants!!!

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Paris – Part I: Bonjour, ca va?

I am a very musical person – no, I cannot play an instrument [and believe me, I tried 6 of them]; nor can I sing well [except in the shower and the car]. But, I love music and it seems to me the soundtrack of my life is always playing in my head. Consequently it is no surprise, that for months now I’ve been singing the first few lines of Billy Joel’s Somewhere Along the Line – both to myself and even, sometimes unaware, aloud.

“Well, it’s a rainy night in Paris,
And I’m sitting by the Seine,
It’s a pleasure to be soaking in the European rain,
Now my belly’s full of fancy food and wine
Oh but in the morning there’ll be hell to pay
Somewhere along the line
In the morning there’ll be hell to pay
Somewhere along the line”

I began singing this tune a few weeks before Jeff and I left for Paris and, every now and then, I still catch myself singing it and longing for moments from the trip.  I know it’s taken me a while to write about our journey, but truly I’ve been processing it and organizing my thoughts and savoring the memories.

I’ll tell you right off the bat that the only pics I have from the trip are from my phone.  Yes, I did take my camera; but early on I discovered that the battery (although it was charged) was dead….I took that as a sign that I was to fully enjoy the trip – being present in each moment instead of worrying about how to best frame it for the blog.  And enjoy it I did!!!

Day 1: Thursday 4/6/17

Jeff and I spent a leisurely morning getting ready for the trip and loving on Macy. I know there are those of you who are able to jump into vacation at some ungodly hour like 3:30 a.m. and hit the ground running – I AM NOT ONE OF THEM [much to Jeff’s chagrin]!!!  One of my life mantras is, “why does fun have to start so early?”

We left the house at about 1:30 p.m., ran a few last-minute errands, and drove to the DC area in the rain.  The constant thrum of the tires on the road and the rain on the windshield lulled me to sleep, which made the trip go quickly for me.  Jeff had the radio on and was jammin’ to his tunes, so I’m fairly certain the trip went quickly for him too.

Jeff consulted YELP for a dinner idea and we decided on Mona’s Lebanese Cafe in Sterling, VA.  Let me tell you, the YELP reviews were spot on.  The restaurant was so quaint, the owner and employees very welcoming, and the food [served by Mona] was delicious.  To drink I ordered a Lemonade w/ Rose Water and I still think about how good it was.  Jeff and I shared hummus and pita as an appetizer and it was one of the best I’ve ever had. For dinner Jeff ordered the Kibbeh platter and I ordered the Shish Taouk – neither disappointed.  The basmati rice with my dinner was heavenly.  We ordered desert to go – baklava and rice pudding – and ate them later at the hotel while we read ansd prepared for the day of flying on Friday.  Both desserts were great – neither were overly large so we were satisfied but not stuffed.  Both had just the right amount of sugar – enough that you knew you were eating dessert, but not too sweet – very comforting.

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Day 2: Friday 4/7/17

Nothing more needs to be said about this day other than ‘airports and flying.’

Day 3: Saturday 4/8/17

We arrived in Paris at about 8:30 a.m. Paris time / 2:30 a.m. our time and took a cab to our hotel – The Hotel Indigo Opera where we met Aruillion & Mathilde.  We had previously stayed at a Hotel Indigo in NYC and were happy with out stay.  When we got to our room in Paris, we knew that we had made the right decision relying on our previous experience.

Not only were we able to check into the room several hours early, but we were upgraded to a two-floor suite with a view of the Eiffel Tower.  In fact, our view was framed by a tiny oval window in the corner of our living room and the couch was situated perfectly that you could see the Eiffel Tower in all its splendor when you lounged on the left side of the couch.

Being able to check in early was such a blessing – we were able to brush our teeth and generally clean up after the lllllooooonnnnnggggg flight.  And the bed looked so cozy that it was quite difficult to follow the advice of so many travelers about not sleeping when you first arrive, but rather keeping yourself busy for the first day so that you can more easily adjust to the new timezone.

We fought the urge to sleep and instead used Uber to get to Cuisine de Phillipe in St. Germaine.  This restaurant was highly recommended by my hairstylist, Rebbekah.  I know I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating – you should only take restaurant recommendations from people who enjoy eating like you do. And I was sure that Rebekkah has similar taste in food, atmosphere and dining experience.  My confidence in Rebekkah’s recommendation was proven to be 100% correct!

We had a typical French lunch, which consists of a starter, a main course and a dessert.  These are usually a “package deal” – a special fixed lunchtime menu with limited choice for one price.  Often referred to as the Menu du jour, the special main dish being called the Plat du jour.  The plat du jour is often a non-menu special and often a great value.

Jeff had a red pepper and crab souffle, the plat du jour which was lamb stew, and a framboise souffle.  He is still talking about how good the lamb stew was.  I ordered the cheese souffle, beef with blue cheese, and a pistachio souffle (which had a hidden pool of dark chocolate at the bottom). We both ordered a glass of rose and we both had cafe after lunch.  I cannot say enough good things about this meal.  Each bite was a delight for the tongue and the senses.  It was so good that almost every day we considered a repeat visit!  Not only was the food amazing, but we enjoyed nice conversation with the family at the table next to us.  It was a couple and their daughter

who has been studying at The Sorbonne for two years. Her French (including her accent) was so good that we would both have thought she was a native.

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At one point during lunch I was so satisfied and relaxed that Jeff looked over at me and asked if I was ok.  To which I replied, “I think I may have fallen asleep for a moment.”  To avoid further temptation to sleep. we decided a walk was in order.  Luckily we were very close to Jardin du Luxembourg.  We strolled through the gardens, admiring nearly everything we saw.  Springtime in Paris truly is magical.  Everything is newly in bloom and the grass is bright green and fresh. And there is just something enchanting about strolling arm-in-arm with your love through the beauty of Paris.

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We decided to walk back to the hotel with no real route in mind – just to go where the music took us.  We enjoyed peeping in shop windows, keeping our eye out for The Big Wheel and Eiffel Tower, and the wonderfully warm weather. And we worked up a thirst….so we stopped for a flight of beer and a rest for our feet. Then we continued on the journey and as we were strolling back, we realized that our lunch had been big enough that we weren’t going to want a big dinner, AND we knew we were going to have to fall into bed early. With those things in mind, we strolled through a lovely market and picked up some quintessentially French items – a baguette, some Comte cheese, a bit of Bordier butter and the most beautiful, oblong Gariguette strawberries.

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We walked back to the hotel through the Jardin Tuileries and past the Louvre and while I showered, Jeff ran out for a bottle of champagne.  When he got back we assembled our picnic dinner and settled in for the night.

Oh my, what a dinner and what a wonderful way to close our first night in Paris.  Sipping champagne, nibbling on French traditions, and watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the distance.

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Day 4: Sunday 4/9/17

Refreshed and ready to go, Jeff headed out in search of cafe (coffee) and breakfast.  I showered and dressed for the day.  By the time I was awake, vertical and ready for civil conversation, Jeff arrived back at the room with croissants and pain au chocolate from Lauduree, one of THE patisseries in Paris – in operation since 1862 and best known for their French macaron.  Mmm mmm mmm!

 

On tap for the day – a visit to the Bastille Market!  We conquered the Metro and easily found our stop near the market where we spent several hours exploring the stands.  We commented often that we wished we had a kitchen so that we could cook a meal from the fresh, fabulous ingredients.  But we did the next best thing as we strolled the aisles – we shared small bites of the offerings.  The first was a crepe de jambon et de fromage (ham and cheese crepe).  Not only did it taste fantastic, but it was also fun to watch it being made.  In fact, I found myself mesmerized as the crepier easily repeated the process, filling orders at a rate I envied.  

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I should tell you that Jeff can eat about every 5 minutes and sometimes I have to rein him in.  Not wanting to spoil his good time, but also not wanting to deal with stomach issues later, I picked my moments carefully! And there was no way I was going to stop him from enjoying some fresh oysters.  I don’t dislike oysters, but I don’t crave them the way Jeff does.  He has an oyster obsession so it was fun for me to watch him enjoying a half dozen briny fresh molluscs – the look of pure joy on his face was priceless.

After the market, we walked through the cobblestone streets of Le Marais – known as “Old Paris.” When you think Paris streets, the picture that displays in your mind must be from Le Marais.  It’s quaint and historic with winding streets and pretty shops. And fortunately it’s also home to L’as du Fallafel. All our walking had worked up a bit of an appetite so we decided to share a fallafel.  Please understand that sharing with Jeff means I eat 1/4 to 1/3 of whatever we’re sharing so I normally don’t feel too guilty about snacking throughout the day when I share!  Wow!  THE. BEST. FALLAFEL. EVER.  It’s hard to say if the best part was the fallafel itself or the sauce or the eggplant or the pita.

Next we ventured through Les Halles in search of a beer store Jeff wanted to visit.  Unfortunately when we arrived it was closed. Rather than being discouraged, we simply added it to the itinerary for later in the week!  Throughout the day my fascination with the huge courtyard doors with oversized door-knockers became apparent.  I loved imagining what the enormous doors were hiding!

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We hopped the Metro back to the hotel for a quick rest and rejuvenation and then made our way to Galeries Lafayette where we ooh’d and ahhh’d over the dome, the architecture and all the wonderful offerings in the three buildings.  We finished our visit to Galeries Lafayette with a visit to the rooftop for a spectacular view of Paris.

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We strolled some more in the area around out hotel and realized that we were, unbelievably, hungry. Without a reservation, a plan or Jeff’s myriad of notes, we decided on a quick bite on the terrace at the restaurant next to our hotel – Mon Paris.  Rather then ask for menus in English or help translating – we tried out the GoogleTranslate apps on our phones. Jeff ordered the rigatoni with a glass of red wine.  I ordered the Tuna Bagel with Cilantro Cream and a glass of sancerre.  I don’t remember if I tasted Jeff’s rigatoni, but I can tell you that my Tuna Bagel was divine.  Fresh, perfectly seasoned tuna with an Asian twist on half a seeded bagel.  It was just enough to take the edge of and was soooooo incredibly fresh!

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We topped dinner off with a shared dessert of chocolatey goodness – the All Chocolate.  A chocolate sphere filled with chocolate mousse and chocolate crumbles that is accessed by pouring warm chocolate on the top to create an opening for your spoon. A.k.a. chocolate heaven.  We sat and rested our feet and watched the world go by for a while – each ordering a second glass of wine.  Finally, when we couldn’t keep our eyes open for a single moment more and knowing we had an early morning for our trip the champagne region the next day, we headed back to the hotel.  We were greeted by the sparkling Eiffel Tower and a puffy, inviting bed.  I think we both drifted off to sleep within mere moments of our heads hitting the pillow, still in disbelief that we were no longer dreaming about Paris, but living it.

Stay tuned for details of the remainder of our trip including our day in the champagne region and much, much more!

A Recipe….for Fresh-Smelling Carpeting

Thursday night Jeff set himself a difficult task….to trim Macy’s nails.  Like many dogs, Macy resists this grooming chore – not strenuously, but enough to make it difficult.  And Thursday evening was no exception.  She doesn’t squirm too much, but she burrows into whatever small space she can – hiding her feet as much as possible.

So it is no great surprise that Jeff accidentally cut one of the nails past the quick.  What is surprising is that Macy didn’t show any sign of discomfort, nor did it bleed right away.  So Jeff cut as many of her nails as he could and let her ‘escape’ when she’d had enough.  It wasn’t until several minutes later that I walked into the bathroom to see blood on the floor.  Then I headed through the bedroom and into the living room to see that our [off-white] carpeting now looked like a crime scene!

Jeff got a bucket of water and some carpet cleaner and began working on the spots.  At first it seemed like the spots were improving, but when the carpeting began to dry we could see that it wasn’t better; but actually was worse.  So Saturday morning we rented a steam cleaner and Jeff cleaned the carpets [which incidentally needed to be done anyway so although the nail trimming experience wasn’t fun for Macy it did lead us to cross an item off our To Do list].

Ok, those of you who have a dog or dogs know that when your carpeting gets wet – regardless of how frequently or infrequently you vacuum, it can smell like a wet dog in your house. And it sure did.

We opened some windows nice and wide to let the house air out and the carpeting dry.  While the drying was going on, we ran some errands and had a bite to eat.  When we returned home we both agreed that it still smelled like a wet dog, but thought since the carpeting was still damp we should wait until it dried to worry.

Sunday morning the wet dog smell was gone, but the carpeting itself still smelled ‘funky.’ [Special thanks to Jeff who took the bullet and actually got down and smelled the floor!]  We didn’t have any Carpet Fresh on hand so I decided to make a DIY version.

I put about 1 cup of baking soda into a canning jar.  I added 6 drops of doTerra lavender essential oil and 6 drops of doTerra lemon essential oil and stirred it vigorously with a fork until the oil was evenly distributed throughout the baking soda (don’t skimp on this step or your carpet refresher will clump in the jar).  Then I cut a piece of card stock to the size of jar mouth, used a mini hole punch to make my own shaker lid and secured it on the canning jar with the metal ring used to hold canning lids.

Jeff sprinkled the carpet refresher around the rooms and we let it sit for about 30 minutes, after which he vacuumed the carpets.  The scent transformation was amazing.  No longer was there a ‘funky’ smell in the house.  Just a nice freshness (almost neutral – definitely not perfumey in any way).

Here we are two days later and there is still no wet dog smell or ‘funky’ smell in the house.  Since I know you can become nose-blind in your own home, I asked my mom if she smelled anything out of the ordinary when she came into the house today and alas she did not.  I know she would tell me if she did because she is as hyper-sensitive about her house not smelling like her pets, as am I.

I’m sure oils other than lavender and lemon would work as well, but doTerra recommends those two (along with peppermint oil) for nearly everything – particularly in respect to cleaning/sanitizing your home.  I apologize to the manufacturers of Carpet Fresh and other carpet products; but I will not be going back.  I now have a chemical-free way of ridding my house of pet odors and other carpet ‘funk’ and I will be sticking to it.  It’s better for my family (two-footed members and four-footed members) and less expensive too!

Give it a try and let me know how you like it and/or if you have other chemical-free recipes for homekeeping to share!!!!

What I’ve Been Doing Lately…

Oh my goodness…..the last several weeks have been a whirlwind!  I’ve wanted to post so many times; however each time I wanted to write, it was about the surprise party I was planning for Jeff. And, of course, writing about it on the blog sort of ruins the element of surprise!

This year was a big birthday for Jeff – in fact, it was the Big Five-Oh! As in OhmygoodnesshowcanIbeturning50!?!  Although this birthday didn’t seem to hit him as hard as his 30th, he was still a bit mopey…throwing out phrases like, “this is my last shower (cup of coffee, work day, etc.) in my 40’s.”

As hard as this birthday was for him, it was hard on me too!  Just about every single sentence I spoke to him from January 15th through March 4th was a lie!  While that may sound easy [and to some it IS easy], it was pretty difficult for me.  I don’t know which was harder – thinking of the lies or remembering the lies!

And in the midst of the planning were Valentine’s Day (which isn’t that big a deal to us, but has to be acknowledged nonetheless), his actual birthday, class prep, a party for a friend, cooking for a bridal shower my niece Ashley was throwing for a friend [which happened to be the same day of the party], my regular schedule, and – oh yeah, just for fun – another kidney stone!!!  Additionally, I was trying to throw this party with 40 guests without raising suspicion that I was spending money – not easy to pull off when Jeff enters all the financial transactions into the computer!  If nothing else, I thrive on stress….

I’d like to say I took tons of pictures of the food; but that would be a lie.  I took pics of the party set up but by the time the party got underway, I was too involved in trying to surprise Jeff and hostessing.  Incidentally, the surprise part was a bit of a flop; but the party itself was a lot of fun!

Jeff’s good friend, Craig (you might remember him from my Something’s Brewing post) brewed two commemorative beers for the occasion and put together a killer playlist (which he and Jeff refer to as a mix-tape – those of you in my age bracket will giggle at this terminology)!  Having Craig take charge of beer and music was a huge help. That allowed me to focus on food and decorations.  So, I thought about what kind of food (1) goes well with beer; (2) can be prepared ahead and secretly transported to another location; (3) feeds a crowd and (4) is on Jeff’s list of favorite foods (or at least near the favorites list).

Chili bar was the obvious choice.  I decided to make my Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili (with ground beef instead of sirloin cubes as a time saver). After choosing the main food, the rest pretty much fell into place.  Rice, Fritos, Ranch Oyster Crackers (thanks, Ron), toppings (such as cheddar, pepper-jack, scallions, sour cream, and cilantro), a big salad [and not just any salad – MIMI’s SALAD], buttermilk cornbread with Honey-Cinnamon-Cayenne Butter, and for dessert – Jeff’s favorite – his mom’s chocolate cake with peanut butter icing and some s’mores bark for good measure.  Obviously, I needed to add some other beverages – wine for the non-beer drinkers, “middle of the road” beer for the less adventurous beer drinkers, bottled water and soda rounded out the beverage options.

Then came the theme – since it was a chili bar, I found some great printables on Pinterest and took it from there.  I designed the invitation and then created a burlap table banner to “match” the invite.  I also borrowed a previously used table banner reading ‘Aged to Perfection,’ which loosely related to the beer theme.  I wrapped “silverware” in brown bags and tied it with bakery twine, made some 50-related signs that I displayed in beer bottles and copied old photos of Jeff onto velum and wrapped clear candle holders with the velum for fun table decorations.  I used six-pack carriers as Frito “bowls” around the room, I put chalkboard stickers on wine and beer cups so people could personalize them and got paper plates and napkins to match the theme.  Throw in some bandanas and a Chili Bar sign and voila – a party.

Deciding where to have it was another challenge – it’s quite a complex undertaking to throw a surprise party for 40 people where the guest of honor lives!!!  I didn’t even try that.  A few places came to mind, but the clubhouse in my parent’s neighborhood was a great landing-place from a surprise perspective.  The challenge; however, was getting everything there without Jeff knowing.  For several weeks before the party I carted things from our house to my parent’s house – and I mean lots of things.  My parent’s living room was gradually getting smaller due to the pile of ‘party stuff’ I was making.

The day before the party, I prepped the food for the surprise and most of the food for the bridal shower (see above) – with help from a friend, thanks Tammy!  The day of, I had to get up early and head to my mom’s house to finalize the shower food and meet my niece for the food hand-off.  After that, Mimi and I set up the room and prepped the remaining food for Jeff’s party.  In the afternoon I raced home to get ready (there was barely time for a shower and some primping) and then met my sister to start carrying the pile from my parent’s living room to the party venue – thanks Laura!

We met up with Craig (my beer & music hero) and Chris (his lovely wife who was such a big help throughout the party). Then Laura and I raced back to my parent’s house to change our clothes in the living room – laughing and somewhat out of breath.  Then Laura went back to the party venue to greet guests while I waited for Jeff to arrive for our “night out to celebrate his birthday.”  On the way out the door, my mom asked if we could help her by delivering her food to a block party (yes, this was part of the lie to get Jeff to the party).  Jeff [carrying some the of food for his own party] and I walked through the door of the clubhouse and were about 5 feet from the door to the room in which the party was being held when he looked over at me and asked, “do you want me to ACT surprised?”

In that split second I thought about the ramifications of murdering him, but decided that 40 witnesses were too many so I did my best not to strangle him and proceeded to enjoy time with our friends and family.  Although the surprise was not a success, the party was.

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And, as it turns out, so was the bridal shower Ashley hosted.  For that I made Cornmeal Cheddar Scones (my friend Tammy’s recipe), Caramel Macchiato Scones, individual omelets in ham cups and fruit skewers with orange vinaigrette.

As I mentioned, in the midst of all this craziness I was also preparing for some classes. The first class – Perfectly Provencal.  The foods and wines were a yummy tribute to the Provencal region of France.  The menu:

  • Double-Baked Cheese Soufflé w/ Parmesan Cream
  • Grated Baby Beet Salad
  • Seared Halibut w/ Spicy Mussel Aioli
  • Luxe French Potatoes w/ Lavender
  • Tian Provencal
  • Blood Orange Sponge Cake

The second class – Bring a Friend to Spain.  The foods for this were from all different regions of Spain. The menu:

  • Coca (Pizza) w/ Candied Red Peppers
  • Festive Frisee w/ Pears & Honeyed Lardon
  • Comforting Chicken in Almond & Saffron Sauce
  • Smokey Spiced Spanish Potatoes
  • Asparagus w/ Tangerine Vinaigrette & Pistachio Dust
  • Quesada Pasiega (Spanish Catabrian Cheesecake)

Perhaps my favorite event of recent weeks was the Doljanchi for our twin great-niece and great-nephew.  The doljanchi is the elaborate Korean first birthday celebration with a very interesting ritual – the doljabi.  In addition to the doljabi were tables and tables of delicious Korean foods and unmatched hospitality from Justin’s family.  We had a wonderful time and best of all I didn’t have to make anything, carry anything or keep anything a secret!!!!  I was able to be a guest and enjoy a beautiful celebration of two very cool little people who have stolen my heart!

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I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t somewhat tired from the flurry of activity over the last several weeks.  However, reviewing it all has reminded me how truly lucky I am.  I have a great husband (who is older than me), family and friends who are quick to ask “what can I do” when I say I’m throwing a party (AND THEY MEAN IT), three beautiful littles who bring joy and hope for the future to our family, and so many people with whom Jeff and I can enjoy life…one bite at a time!

Why I Fell in Love with Sammy Hagar…

I am not a fan of 80’s rock, although I am married to a man who is nearly obsessed with it [who incidentally insists, quite wrongly, that I am a closet rocker].   And until recently I would have told you that the only two things Sammy Hagar and I have in common is that I can’t drive 55 either and we both love his tequila, Cabo Wabo.  But I was wrong.  We do have at least one other thing in common.

What is it?  A love of cooking!

Last October my friend Tammy went to Cabo and brought back Sammy’s cookbook, ‘Are We Having Fun Yet: the cooking & partying handbook.’  She told me how funny bits of the book are and shared that it is an interesting read.

Fast forward to this Christmas when Jeff received ‘Are We Having Fun Yet’ [AWHFY?] as a gift.  While he was reading it, he would share snippets from the book – be it funny quotes about recipes or stories of Sammy’s life.  I listened with a new interest in Sammy Hagar, but didn’t get too engrossed until I was having trouble with a recipe for an upcoming class.  I’d been working on several iterations of the recipe without hitting that moment where I said to myself, “that’s it, that’s the one.”

For some reason I’m still not clear on I picked up AWHFY? and began paging through the recipes when one caught my eye – Papas Bravas.  I was so intrigued by the cooking method and by the sauce that gets served on the potatoes that I immediately ran to the grocery store to buy the ingredients.  After lovingly following the instructions, Jeff and I sat down to a dinner of just Papas Bravas.  OK, we had eaten a big lunch and dinner is a bit of an overstatement – we actually just had a snack of the potatoes but they were so incredible that we could have made a meal of them.

And with a little tweaking I found the recipe I’d been hoping to serve at my upcoming class, Bring a Friend to Spain.  As soon as I finished cleaning up the kitchen I sat down to make notes and type out my version of Sammy Hagar’s Papas Bravas.

What have I learned?  That although I’m not a fan of 80’s rock, I am a fan of Sammy Hagar.  I still can’t drive 55.  I still love Cabo Wabo tequila.  And I suspect that the next time I make something from AWHFY? I’ll Fall In Love Again!!!

It’s Easier Than You Think…

There’s a misconception out there that I’m hoping I can help eliminate.

On Tuesday, while at an appointment, I was asked by a fellow food-lover (FFL) what I was making for Valentine’s Day.  When I explained that Jeff had made meatballs and I was making fresh pasta to go with them, I found it interesting that my FFL raised their eyebrows in amazement and said, “oh, that takes too long – like a whole afternoon.”

First of all, if you’ve ever eaten fresh pasta you know that no matter how long it takes to make the pasta it is worth the wait; but second, if you’ve ever made fresh pasta you know it really doesn’t take that long at all!!!!  If you haven’t made it, I’d urge you to give it a whirl.  It’s really quite simple and actually takes less time than driving to the store for a box of sub-par pasta, fighting the crowds in said store, and driving home.

I went to mapquest.com and found that it takes 11 minutes to get from my house to Wegman’s.  If I take 7 minutes in the store (which is a conservative estimate at our Wegman’s because it seems there are never enough cashier lines open), then round trip we’re talking 29 minutes for a trip to the store to buy pasta.

Why did I bother to look this up? Because I wanted to see how making a batch of fresh pasta compares to running to the store to buy one.

While I was making my pasta on Tuesday, I ran a stopwatch and photographed the process of making the dough.  The results are below….drumroll please……

First, I got out the tools that I would need including the food processor and lid, kosher salt box, flour, eggs and measuring cups/spoon.

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Then I measured the flour and salt into the food processor, broke four of the five eggs into a bowl and scrambled them with a fork, and added them to the food processor.

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I checked the consistency of the pasta and realized I needed to add the yolk from the fifth egg.  So I used my Yolk Out to separate the egg and I added the yolk to the mixture.  I gave the dough a quick whirl in the food processor after adding the egg yolk and then the consistency was just right.

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At this point I checked the stopwatch and here’s where I was….

13

That’s right….6 minutes, 5 seconds to make the dough.

Next step?  Kneading.

I kneaded and kneaded until the dough was smooth and elastic and then wrapped the dough in plastic wrap to rest.

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I checked the stopwatch again and….

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During the resting period I went about my day doing things unrelated to the pasta.  Typically I rest the dough for about 30 minutes; however I wanted to roll the pasta and put it into the water just before we ate.  So I let the pasta rest in the refrigerator for several hours and pulled it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before I wanted to begin rolling it.  I also put a large pot of water on the stove to boil so that it would be ready when I had cut the last of the pasta.

When I started rolling the dough I started the stopwatch again and kept it going throughout the process of cutting the dough into quarters, rolling each quarter through the pasta machine on levels 1 through 6 and hand cutting the rolled dough into pappardelle (wide noodles).

Just before dropping the noodles into the boiling (now salted) water, I took a screen shot of the stopwatch on my phone.

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I dropped the noodles into the boiling water, waited for them to rise to the top and let them cook for 1 minute before removing them into a colander.

All total……..

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What did I learn?  And what do I hope you learned?  That while it does take slightly longer to make fresh pasta than it does to drive to the store and buy a box; the results of making your own are far superior to the results you’ll get from using boxed pasta and you’ll be proud you made it yourself when you hear your dinner companion ooh’ing and aah’ing over the meal.

Just a few notes:  A few seconds were taken up by fumbling with my phone for pics.  I didn’t include the resting time because I used it for other things like laundry, work, etc. And the 29 minutes for store-bought pasta doesn’t include the time to boil the water and cook it when you get home.  So, technically it takes less time to make it than to buy it – unless you live really close to the grocery store!!!!

The following is a fool-proof recipe for basic pasta.  If you want to get really creative (and add to your time) consider adding pureed spinach or other veggies/juice in place of some or all of the water/egg for beautifully colored and flavored pasta….but that’s a post for another day!!!

 

Basic Homemade Pasta

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: Pasta

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 – 5 large eggs (start with 4 eggs, beaten)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Instructions

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, whirl 3 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt to combine.

In a small bowl, crack four of the five eggs and beat with a fork.

With the food processor running, slowly drizzle the eggs into the flour/salt mixture through the feed tube.

Stop the food processor and test the consistency of the dough. It should be moist but not sticky. If it is too dry, add the YOLK ONLY from the remaining egg, whirl and test again – only add the egg white if necessary. If it is too wet, add 1/4 cup of the remaining flour, whirl and test again – only add the remaining flour if necessary.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 – 15 minutes.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough into quarters, roll through pasta roller until it reaches the desired thickness and cut into the noodle shape of your choice.

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Friendship, Food & Farmers’ Markets

One of my first posts was about how food connects and over the last few weeks I’ve had evidence of it!

Last week I received a text message from my friend Tracee which got me thinking about writing this post.   Her text began, “Holy early good morning!!  Sorry to message you so early but…”  OK, let’s stop here and analyze the beginning of her message – she completely understands that for me 7:48 am (her time) and/or 9:48 am my time is early!!!  She was off to a great start!  The message continued, “I am at this awesome produce market in Ft Worth Texas and I thought of you…”  Now some friends would think of you when they hear your favorite song, or watch your favorite t.v. show, or see you favorite flower; but a good friend knows – and understands that – you have a passion for produce markets and thinks of you when she’s looking at fresh fruits and veggies!  She went on to write, “…need anything you can not find in pa?”  A seriously great, true friend would travel from Texas to Pennsylvania with produce in tow if you asked!!!!

I replied to her, “Happy Friday!  You know me well….I love a good produce market!  I’m good [meaning I don’t need you to bring anything back] but send some pics!”

Her reply? “OK will do.  Great stuff!  I knew you appreciate interesting ingredients.”  She then proceeded to send me 14 pics – with captions!  You gotta love a friend like that!

The following is a slide show of Tracee’s pics (some with captions) with her permission to share!

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This text exchange also got me to thinking of a recent trip I took with a different friend (no, I’m not bragging / yes, I am blessed) to Roots Country Market & Auction.  I’ve written about my friend Tammy in previous posts (in fact, one of her delicious recipes made one of my “Best Thing I’ve Eaten All Week” posts).  Tammy is another friend that falls into both the “friend that gets me” and “true friend” categories.  She’s a gem.  In my mind, I equate Tammy with Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) [the glamorous Hungarian wife of Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert)] who is dragged unwillingly from an upscale Manhattan penthouse apartment and the city life she adores to a ramshackle farm.  You see, Tammy is a beautiful, put-together woman who at first glance seems like she might not be tough enough for life on a farm; but if you think that of her, you’d be underestimating her strength – both physical and mental.  In fact, she now lives on a farmette and raises chickens.  Anyway….as usual, I digress.

Tammy and I travel well together and enjoy the same kinds of experiences.  So when she suggested a trip to Roots Market on our most recent day together, I was fully on board.  And I was armed with a restaurant to introduce her to.  We left around 8:30 (early for me and late for Tammy) and started at Roots Market.  I’m so glad Tammy drove and knew exactly how to get to Roots.  You see, she and her hubby frequent the auction to purchase produce for “the girls.”

We zig-zagged our way through the market looking at fresh produce, baked goods, fresh meats, etc.  We plotted our purchases and had to backtrack to a few stands once we’d made our way through the whole market.  But, we’re not just about produce markets.

When we left Roots we headed for downtown Lancaster and shopped at some cute boutiques, home stores, and an olive oil tasting room. We looked at shoes, clothes, jewelry, home items, soaps, lotions, hats (lots of cute hats), coffee, tea, etc.  In doing so, we worked up an appetite.

Being married to Jeff has prepared me well to have a restaurant in my hip pocket for nearly every occasion!  On this day the restaurant was Hunger-N-Thirst Craft Beer and Provisions. I made a quick stop in the bottle shop to see if I could get any HopSlam for Jeff (alas, I could not), we made a pit stop and then made our way to the dining room.  We each ordered a glass of wine (red for Tammy  / white for me), we shared the shrimp cocktail appetizer and ordered our entrees.  For Tammy, the BLT Panino.  For me, Veggie Panino.  The shrimp cocktail was not your mama’s shrimp cocktail!    It is described on the menu as “Chilled Horseradish Dusted Shrimp / Herb Puree / Pickled Vegetables / Crostini / Tomato Jam” and it was D’lish!  I didn’t taste Tammy’s panino, but mine was an odd choice for me.  I typically would not order a veggie sandwich at a restaurant.  I would eat one at home, but would typically find many other things on a restaurant menu that appealed to me.  In this case, however, the combination of “Sweet Potato / Kale / Red Onion / Smoked Provolone / Maple-Sage Aioli” was too interesting to resist.  And it was quite yummy!!!

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We were too full for dessert and Tammy had to hit the road to make it home in time for a class so we got back on the road after lunch.  But the day of adventuring was wonderful.  A time to REconnect, REfuel and RElax!

So next time you’re thinking about a friend, head to a farmers market and send them some pics or, even better, take them along!

And a special thanks to all my friends who “GET” me!

And because they’re so darn cute – here a pic of TyDy connecting over food earlier today!!!

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Think Spring

Spring classes at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School are open for registration.  You can visit The Kitchen Shoppe website to peruse the cooking class brochure or – if you want to quickly see only the classes I’m teaching -visit the Classes I’m Teaching page of this blog.

I hope to see you at one (or more) of my classes.  I’m looking forward to each one and hope you will be too once you read about them!!!

What To Do with the Ashes from Your Big Green Egg: A Public Service Announcement

I know, I know….I haven’t written in a while.  If you’re miffed at that, you may be even more miffed at what I’m going to write about here – because it is cooking-adjacent, but only periferally.

Being the week of Thanksgiving, I’ve been super busy – cleaning (I mean scrubbing) the refrigerator, grocery shopping, making and checking off lists, doing as much ahead as I can for the Thanksgiving meal, and getting my hair colored.  Of course I’m getting my hair colored.  You don’t think I can face the holiday season without fresh hair color, do you?  That would be like asking Super Man to save someone without his cape!!!!

Today was hair color day.  This morning I got up early, returned a book to the library, stopped for my Tuesday coffee (only some of you will truly understand this), picked up the turkeys (yes, turkeyS), and made it to Rebekah’s salon (Bella Vita in Harrisburg) with only seconds to spare.  In fact, I was so on-time that I didn’t even get to sit in the waiting room – she was ready for me upon arrival!

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been getting grayer by the minute – and not just my hair, but my left eyebrow as well – yep, just the left one!  So sometimes when Rebekah colors my hair she also colors my eyebrows.  Even though only the left one has grays in it, she does them both so they’ll match.  The left eyebrow was desperately in need of color today so after she lovingly applied my hair colors (yes, colorS), she gently applied some of the color to my eyebrows.  Yes, before you ask – I am high maintenance!  As my dad used to say when I was growing up (keep in mind he was in a house with all women), “It takes a lot of work to be naturally beautiful!”

As my hair processed I sent some text messages, read my emails and pinned more than my share of pins on Pinterest.  When Rebekah determined I had processed long enough, she rinsed the color out of my hair and then wiped it from my eyebrows.  If you’ve ever had your hair colored, you know some of the hair color stays behind on your skin even after your stylist washes your hair.  Normally I don’t think too much about that because the next time I wash and especially condition my hair, the leftover color on my skin goes away; however, when the color stays behind on the skin behind my eyebrows, I look like a very surprised Groucho Marx sans moustache!!!

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I commented about it to Rebekah and her reply to me was “do you have a fireplace?”  When she first asked I was thinking to myself, “did she just have a stroke? She’s talking fireplaces in response to Groucho Marx.”  But I answered in the affirmative and she then asked, “Is it real or is it gas?”  I shared that it is a gas fireplace.  Keep in mind, I’m still wondering why in the world we’re talking about fireplaces; but I’m a good sport so I went where the conversation took me!  She told me that she had asked because ashes remove hair color.

If I may be honest (like that’s ever a problem for me), I thought she had finally lost it.  Ashes and hair color?  When she told me she understood that it sounded strange, I was less worried about her mental status and thought, “Hey, I have all kinds of ashes in the bottom of my Big Green Egg.  I’ll try using some of them to scrub my eyebrows when I get home.”

So Rebekah completed my color and cut, dried and styled my hair and rang me up.  I left the salon, ran a few more errands and finally made it home just a few moments ago.  As I was walking out to the deck I was wondering if Rebekah was serious or if she was just trying to get me to rub ashes on my face – hey, you never know.  Anyway, I gathered a small dish of ashes from behind the draft door of my Big Green Egg, tore a paper towel off the roll and headed for the magnifying mirror in my bathroom.

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I did as Rebekah instructed and moistened the paper towel, dipped it in the ashes and rubbed it over my eyebrows.

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It worked like magic.  Not only did I clean the skin behind my eyebrows, but I also removed the excess hair color from around my hairline.  I heartily apologize for ever doubting you, Rebekah!!!

Those of you who have been reading for a while and/or who have been to one of my classes and/or who work with me know I hate to waste things. So, now I’m thinking about how I can package and market these ashes…..hmmmm….that ought to keep my brain busy for a while!

Nutrition Information – Clean Eating Class

Thanks to all who attended my Clean Eating class last night….I hope you all learned something and enjoyed the clean food you tried.  I learned a great deal in researching for and preparing the class and I enjoyed spending time with you as we talked about this new-to-some-of-us approach to eating!

As promised, the following is a chart with the nutrition information for each of the recipes we tried last night.  As I mentioned, the recipes (except for dessert) were from cleaneatingmag.com – I used the nutrition information with each recipe where provided. If the nutrition information was not included, I entered the recipe into SuperTracker to get the nutrition information.  The ingredient list in SuperTracker does not always match the ‘specialty’ ingredients in some of the recipes so the nutrition information may vary slightly.

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Thanks again for coming to class and remember clean eating is not about dieting, it is “consuming food the way nature delivered it, or as close to it as possible!”

Sucking on Nickels & Other Summer Fun

Since fall is almost here, I thought I’d update you on my summer and some of why I haven’t been writing!

I am so grateful for the wonderful trip Jeff and I had with Nate in July.  There were lots of fun moments, many laughs, and much to look back on with a smile.  I am especially grateful because the memories of Maine have sustained me through the last few difficult weeks.

To get an accurate picture of what’s been going on, we must first go back a bit.  I’ve been having pain in my back for several months.  Of course, I’m 48 so dealing with aches and pains is the new normal!  I was also dealing with a cough that began with a cold in February and hung on through mid-June.  During the time I was living with the cough, my ENT performed transnasall esophagoscopy multiple times and prescribed several rounds of antibiotics, steroids and other drugs to combat the cough – unfortunately, the large doses of meds led to a case of oral thrush.  I never really thought much about thrush until I had it….I thought it was something babies got, not adults.

Needless to say, with all of the meds and appointments and poking and prodding of my sinuses I had my fill (more than my fill) of being sick, feeling run down and seeing docs (not that I have anything personal against my docs – they are fine people, but I like them better when I don’t have to see them as a patient!!!).

So when the sporadic backache began, I filed it under the “suck it up, cupcake, you’re getting older” column.  As it continued sporadically and then more regularly, I filed it under the “we need a new mattress” column.  But just before we left for Maine I stared having pain in my lower left abdomen.  Again, I filed that pain under the heading of “getting older” and movedon.org.  But the pain in my abdomen continued to get worse during vacation, so on the last day I called my OB/Gyn and made an appointment for the day after we arrived home.

My regular OB doc was on vacation so I saw another doc in the practice who did some tests and then sent me for an ultrasound that ultimately revealed nothing.  Because the tests showed nothing OB/G related, the doc thought the next best course of action was to see a gastroenterologist.

That takes us to August 5th.  A day mostly like any other.  I wrote a post, did some laundry and some work on upcoming classes and then turned my attention to getting ready for a short trip to NYC that was to start on 8/7.  When Jeff arrived home I was putting a second coat of polish on my toenails and thinking about what to pack so he said three of my favorite words – “I’ll make dinner.”  After dinner we sat town to watch an episode of Homeland.

About three-quarters of the way through the show I asked him to pause – I was VERY suddenly feeling ill.  I was dizzy and nauseated and feeling simultaneously cold and clammy.  I ran into the bathroom – sure I was going to be sick – and arrived just in time to look in the mirror and watch all the color drain from my face.  It was such a strange experience – like a reverse blush.  I composed myself and went to lie down only to have the pain in my back and abdomen rip through me like a boning knife.  I had no idea what was going on, but I knew I needed a trip to the ER.

And so it began.

I could not sit up at the ER and one of the last things I remember clearly is the person checking me in saying that they had nowhere for me to lie down.  I remember thinking, “isn’t this a hospital?” and then finally just saying that I’d just lie on the floor – that’s how bad the pain was.  They found a two-seater chair for me to lie on and Jeff moved another chair near it so I could put my feet up.

I remember the ER doc coming in and talking to me but I couldn’t tell you anything substantive about the conversation.  I know he asked me some questions about my medical history and family history, but I have no recollection of the actual questions or my answers.  The next thing I remember was hanging on to Jeff’s arm as he guided me to a bed where I was finally given IV fluids and pain meds, which gave me a little relief.

The doc came back in to ask some more questions after which he told us he thought, based upon my symptoms, that I was either dealing with a kidney stone or diverticulitis.  He told me he was going to have me drink some contrast in preparation for a CT scan.  The nurse came back in and explained that I’d have 60 minutes to drink the contrast – that I should not try to drink it all at once, but to pace myself over the 60 minutes – and then I’d have to wait 60 minutes before they did the scan.

The first 15 – 20 minutes were ok.  I was able to drink the contrast without incident, but then the pain and nausea came back in full force.  I couldn’t lie still for more than a few seconds.  I drank as much of the remaining contrast as I could within the hour and tossed and turned – waiting for the test – until I couldn’t stand the pain any longer.  Just before the technician came to take me for the scan, Jeff went in search of the nurse, a pan in case I got sick and more pain meds.  I went for the scan and when I came back the nurse added some pain meds to my IV, which helped me relax a bit as we waited for the test results.

The CT scan revealed two kidney stones – one still in the kidney and one in the ureter, just at the opening of the bladder.  I was sent home with a prescription for pain meds, an order to drink as much water as I could stand, and a “hat and strainer.”  Oh they joys of straining your urine each time you pee – it’s kind of like panning for gold only you’re hoping to find that you’ve passed a kidney stone.

It was obvious that our trip to NYC was not to be so we cancelled our hotel and class reservations and waited for the storm stone to pass.  On Monday, I called the urologist as instructed and got an appointment for Wednesday.  I arrived at my appointment a few minutes early to fill out paperwork and give a urine sample.  The nurse took my vitals and then the doc came in and we discussed the situation.  Because of the length of time I’d been experiencing back then back/abdominal pain and because I’d been trying to pass the stone for approximately 5 days since it had been discovered and because I had an elevated temperature, an outpatient ureteroscopy was scheduled for the following afternoon.

On Thursday afternoon, I picked Jeff up from work and we headed to Harrisburg Hospital. I checked in with a wonderfully comforting woman named Nikki – she was so nice and calm and kind -and was taken to pre-op where we waited.  Unfortunately my doc had an emergency surgery to do so that pushed my surgery back; however I was grateful that I wasn’t the emergency surgery so I alternated between talking with Jeff and surfing the web on my phone  (oh, and complaining a bit about how hungry I was). Finally it was my turn…..I was whisked into the OR, my IV had to be moved from one hand to the other because it clotted while I was waiting, and the anesthesiologist came in to get started – little did I know, the anesthesia was already started and by the time the anesthesiologist came in to talk to me I already felt that familiar “2-large-glasses-of-wine warmth.”   The next thing I knew I was waking up in the OR and the nurse told me I was done and that the surgery had taken 10 minutes.  Yes, you read that right!  I spent a little time in recovery, reviewed my discharge instructions with the nurse and was released.  I was no longer as hungry as I had been so Jeff made a quick stop at the grocery store on the way home to get some ingredients to make me a nice soup.  When we got home I changed into my jammies, took some meds and crawled into bed.

Friday was as you would expect – I was recovering, watching television, reading, moving around a lot due to the discomfort from the stent and trying not to wear out Jeff’s hospitable mood with all my requests.

Saturday morning I woke up feeling fantastic – better than I’ve felt in months.  In fact, Jeff commented that my sassiness was back (I believe much to his chagrin).  Longing for a reason to get out of the house, we called my mom and dad and decided to go out for breakfast to celebrate my dad’s birthday.

After being out of the house for a few hours I began to feel wrung out – so we headed home and I climbed back into bed.  I napped with the t.v. on and got out of bed to drink water, get rid of the water I drank and to eat a little dinner, but I wasn’t really hungry.

Saturday night I tossed and turned and woke up several times to drink water.  When I got up to use the bathroom, I felt lightheaded so I leaned against the bed and waited for the dizziness to pass.  I made it down the hall to the powder room and got dizzy again.  After I used the bathroom and washed my hands I headed back to our room – but on the way I started to get that fuzzy, black-out feeling you get just before you pass out.  So I immediately sat down where I was and called for Jeff.

He came out of the bedroom, asked me what was wrong and called the surgeon who sent us back to the ER.  As it turned out, I had an infection and required more large doses of IV antibiotics, which they gave me while I dozed and poor Jeff tortured his back in the uncomfortable chair in my room.  After filling me up with antibiotics and fluids the doctor discharged me with a prescription for more antibiotics and a snarky statement.  She said (and not in a helpful tone), “Good luck getting that stent out.  I’ve never had it done but I hear it’s painful.”  Really?  REALLY?  Did she think she was being helpful – because let me tell you when you’ve already been through the pain of kidney stones (which I’m told is worse than giving birth – since I’ve never given birth I cannot make the comparison), been poked and prodded with your most personal bits on display for all the OR staff to see, and had a stent in your ureter, I can assure you that you do not need or want snarky comments from anyone, let alone the doctor “caring” for you.

On the way home from the ER we picked up the new prescription.  When we got home, I added the new pill bottle to all the others and was completely overwhelmed by the amount of meds on the kitchen counter.  I wanted to just swipe them all into the trash and hide under the covers.

Looking back, I wish I had – because all the antibiotics led to another case of thrush.  I don’t know if any of you have ever had a case of thrush, but to me it was awful.  I felt generally run down and my mouth tingled – as if I’d been sucking on nickels for days.  My tongue was swollen with a white-ish coating.  Nothing tasted like it should and it made my desire to consume water nearly non-existent….which was not great considering I was supposed to keep drinking large quantities of water.

I made it through Sunday, Monday & Tuesday with a metallic taste in my mouth, periodic twinges from the stent and continued back pain.  On Tuesday I nervously went to the surgeon’s office to have the stent removed.  My blood pressure was sky-high because I was so nervous about the removal thanks to the ER doc’s kind words.   Again, I was feeling vulnerable with my personal bits on display, but the doc began asking me questions about work and before I knew it he said, “OK” and was done.  I didn’t feel a thing, which was a relief but made me want to go back to the ER and punch that snarky doc in the face!

I was hopeful that the stent removal would be the end of the pain, but it was not.  I still – weeks later – have a significant amount of pain in my back and still have the twinges in my lower left abdominal area.  I’ve been back to the urologist, back to my OB-GYN, and am now waiting for an appointment with a back doc.

Needless to say, it’s been a long summer.  I’ve had down days, but they’ve been very few and far between – somehow I’ve managed to keep my sense of humor through it all.  I appreciate the support of my loving husband and some wonderful friends.  They’ve kept me mostly smiling and optimistic!!!!  A special thanks to Tammy and Brittany who bought me a wonderful recovery gift – chocolate kidneys!  Yes, that’s right – on a trip to the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia they stopped at Mueller Chocolate Company and bought me this:

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So, if I have to write the proverbial “what did you do on your summer vacation” essay….I’d say I had all kinds of summer fun….travelling to Maine, kayaking the Casco Bay, spending time with Nate and Jeff, straining my pee, eating a kidney, making dietary changes and sucking on nickels – what more could a girl ask for?

Fall 2016/Winter 2017 Classes

The Fall 2016/Winter 2017 class schedule is out!!!  I have some great new classes in store for you….check out the Classes I’m Teaching page to see what’s on the menu.  I look forward to seeing you soon.

And while I have your attention, let me take this opportunity to wish my handsome husband a Happy 23rd Anniversary.  It’s been a wild and wonderful ride!