Friday, September 27, 2013

Happy Hour

Since we've become empty-nesters, my husband and I have started going to happy hour in West Chester. We like to start at Kooma ( for their excellent happy hour deal of 30% off sushi rolls and martinis and then stroll through town, stopping at D'Ascenzo's ( for a gelato, Limoncello ( to people watch (it's fun to see the people who have been there since 4pm 8pm it's not a pretty picture) and then Sidebar(  for a great beer and maybe some plantain chips. Needless to say this isn't great for my waistline but oh well...

Sometimes its nice to enjoy happy hour at home with a special cocktail. After we dropped my youngest off at Pitt, we went to the William Penn Hotel's Speakeasy Bar to toast his success and our empty nest. I had a most delicious cocktail. I need to clarify that I am not a fan of sweet drinks; I prefer slightly herbal, woodsy ones instead and the "Apple Gin Mule" fit the bill. What a drink...made of gin, ginger beer and chopped up apples with muddled mint in the bottom and a sprig of rosemary served in a copper "moscow mule" mug. I was hooked. The waitress said one of the keys was having a good ginger beer so when I wanted to make this at home, I, of course, decided to make my own ginger beer.

It was relatively simple: a half pound of roughly chopped ginger (not peeled), 2 quarts of boiling water, 2 cups of sugar, juice of two lemons and 1 teaspoon of yeast. I put the resulting liquid in a beer growler and every day, open it to let the gas escape. The weird thing is that it is rapidly evaporating! I feel like it is a science experiment gone awry! The ginger beer is quite good, though I'm not sure it is worth the effort or the potential explosion waiting to happen in my frig.

However the cocktail is excellent. I chopped up some apples (leave the skin on), muddled some mint and put them both in the mug, then added a shot of gin, added the ginger beer and rosemary sprig and voila:
 A wonderful fall cocktail. If you want to make a non-alcoholic one (can't imagine why!) try using half ginger beer and half apple cider (Ginger beer is not alcoholic). I purchased the mug on Amazon and I love it...really keeps the drink cold. These mugs are usually used for Moscow Mules, which are vodka and ginger beer.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Growing old sucks...

You read it in magazine articles...we are the "sandwich" generation: caring for our kids on one side and our aging parents on the other. I lived through this with my mom the past few years.

My relationship with my mom had always been strong...there was never any angst or resentment. We were similar people in that we expressed our emotions (ie sometimes blew up) but then got over it quickly and moved on. I am the baby of the family and admittedly spoiled, plus I think by the time parents get to the youngest of a large family (I have four siblings), they are just worn out! I was an easy kid in that I hated high school and didn't really socialize so they didn't have all the usual worries that go with having active, social teenagers, though I'm sure my mom worried about my lack of social life (I made up for this in college!) Anyways, what I'm trying to express is that my mom and I were always close. Before she was gripped by dementia, I'd call her several times a week. Often on the pretext of a cooking question but really just to tell a story about something the kids did, share a frustration, anything really.

Once my father died she moved north from Florida and lived for a couple years in an over 55 apartment community near my sister. But in 2010 she got to the point where she needed assisted living and we decided to move her close to me where there was an excellent Quaker assisted living community 10 minutes from my house.

I was panicked when she first moved in this close to me; my first son was in college, the second in high school, I was working and volunteering a lot at school and on the board of their former elementary school. I definitely felt squeezed. I cut back on some volunteer commitments (came off the board) but was still incredibly busy.

However the first few years went fairly smoothly. I would see my mom at least twice a week, usually going to get our nails done and have lunch during the week and then have her over for dinner on the weekend. She had dementia but still knew who I was. She would feel guilty that I was doing stuff for her, as she used to be the one who did so much for me. I think that is one of the hardest things for people as they grow old...the frustration of not being useful or having something productive to do. I would tell her that she took care of me all those years and so now it was time for her to let me do things for her. She had a hard time accepting this as she had always been the type of woman who took charge and took care of others. Little things helped: if I showed her how I wanted it done, she could chop vegetables for the salad and set the table when she came over for dinner.

Going out with her was actually fun. She charmed everyone in the nail salon and the local restaurants. She always had something nice to say about whoever was serving us, whether it was commenting on how nice their hair or jewelry was, or saying how much she liked their tattoos! After our jaunts, I would usually come home and have a "cute Nana" story I'd share with my husband and son, much in the same way I used to share "cute kid" stories with her as the kids were growing up.

One of the interesting things with her dementia was that most of her memories were from the time before she got married. She remembered her childhood quite well but had to be reminded of my father, whom she had been very happily married to for over sixty years, and with some prompting could say her kids names. The grandkids, she forgot which is so ironic as she was the BEST grandmother...always baking their favorite cookies, making their visits so special and being there at a moment's notice to help out with them. Someone in geriatric care described the memory issue as "first in - last out"..think of it as packing a large truck: the memories that have been there the longest are the last to be forgotten. This was particularly evident when we passed by a mirror in a restaurant. She was always shocked at her appearance, and would ask who that old woman her mind she was still the lovely 18 year old.

Starting in the fall of 2012, she took a turn for the worse. As I was returning from a trip, she had to be taken to the hospital. This was the second time in about a month but because they had the EKG from the first visit (an ER visit that she insisted on cutting short), they noticed that she had had a very mild heart attack. The cardiologist wanted to operate on her but I wouldn't let them as she was 86 and with her dementia, I was worried about what the anesthesia would do to her. It took us 4 or 5 days to get her out of the hospital and it was a terrible experience. She had to have someone by her bed side constantly because she was so disoriented and agitated. She kept wanting to pull her IV out and get out of bed. My sister and I took shifts being with her. When she finally left the hospital, she went into the rehab side of the facility she was staying in but again was so agitated because she wanted to be back in her own place. She was able to walk and feed herself without a problem, so they moved her back to the assisted living side quickly and she calmed down.

However I really couldn't take her out anymore so our routine shifted. I would bring meals into her and we would sit and talk or listen to music. When she was in the hospital, we would go through photobooks that I had created on Shutterfly of the family. Now back in her own room we continued to do this. But her world kept getting even smaller.

When she returned from that trip to the hospital, I told the assisted living staff that I did not want her taken to the hospital unless I was consulted first. I felt that going to the hospital has set her back so far, and at her age and capacity, I didn't want her sent for something minor. This may seem cold but the hospital experience was so awful for her, I felt it best to be avoided if at all possible.

In February of this year, she had another set back and finally had to be moved into the skilled nursing side of the facility and was put on hospice care. We were incredibly fortunate that my mom had the resources to be able to afford all this. The care she received both in the assisted living and the nursing side was incredibly loving and caring. Again, my routine shifted to now visiting her there several times a week. By now, she really didn't know me, but she was always glad to see me. She would ask me why she loved me so much? I would explain that I was her daughter, the baby and that would make her happy. I had trouble staying long on these visits. Sometimes she couldn't communicate with me, though at times she could and every once in a while I'd see a sparkle of her old self in her eyes.

I had planned our two and a half week trip to Italy as a graduation present for our boys (one graduated from high school, one from college) for over a year and when I left in the middle of June, I kissed my mom good bye and told her to hang on for me. I told my siblings who were nearby not to contact me about my mom while we were on vacation. I felt I had been the first line of care for her the past 3 years and I had been there for my mom.

Well, as we landed home in Philadelphia, I received a text from my sister to call immediately. My mom passed away while we were awaiting our connection home  in Toronto. Apparently my mom stopped eating a week or so after we left for vacation and as requested, my siblings didn't tell me. I know it's silly but I kind of feel like she decided that since I stopped coming to see her it was time for her to go. That makes me sound more important than I am, but you get crazy guilt feelings like that.

I didn't cry until my sister and I went into her room to clear her stuff out. Seeing her room without her in it, smelling her scent, was too much and I sobbed like I've never cried before. On the one hand, I had really lost her years ago to dementia but the reality of losing my "mum" hit home.

Growing old sucks...I have so many friends who have lost parents during this past year or are going through trying to figure out how to care for aging parents. When my mom was in assisted living, I felt guilty to an extent because I felt like she would be much happier if she was living with us. But I knew this would take a toll on me and the rest of my family that she wouldn't have wanted if she was in her right mind (and she herself did not take this on with her own father). I was fortunate in many ways, in that we had time to plan the next steps with my mom, and she had the resources to be in high quality care facility.

I think I wanted to share this because I know a lot of people are going through it, and the feelings of frustration, guilt, the feeling of being squeezed on all sides: wanting care for your parents but being pulled by your primary love and commitments to your own kids is sometimes almost more than you can bear. The only thing I can say is that it doesn't last forever, you can only do the best you can and make sure that you don't sacrifice your relationships with your siblings, your kids, your spouse.Your parents wouldn't want that.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Olfactory flashbacks...cinnamon

I tried coming up with a catchier title but nasal memories sounds kind of gross. Anyways, do you ever catch a whiff of a smell and it brings back memories? This happens to me quite a bit...maybe that's why I love food so much; instead of being a visual person, I'm a nasal one!

Freshly sawed wood makes me think of my dad: whenever he'd have a building project around the house, I would help him lead the wood through the circular saw. Probably why I love that smell plus love old fashioned hardware stores. The scent of Chanel No 5 is my mom...I can feel her giving me a kiss, as she is all dressed up to go out to a party when I was young, looking very glamorous and "Mad Men" styled.

And brings me back to Japan when I was six and we lived for 3 months in the Hotel Okura. Instead of Eloise at the Plaza, it was my version: Lee at the Okura!  Every day, when I would get off the school bus, I'd head to the coffee shop and they would have my hot cinnamon toast waiting for me! It was that type cinnamon toast where the sugar and cinnamon have been put under a broiler and they caramelize to a hard, crispy layer on top of fresh, slightly toasted thick white bread. I've never had cinnamon toast that tastes so good!

But let me back track a bit. When we moved to Tokyo in 1966, we came from a small suburb outside of Pittsburgh and with the exception of my dad, had never left the States before. So when we arrived at the Hotel Okura, it was like heaven: a five star luxury hotel, with the most wonderful service, staying in a 3 bedroom suite...who can blame my mom for not wanting to leave?! It took her 3 months to find just the right place for us to move to and I think they still had to drag her by her feet while her hands clenched the suite door frame attempting to stay.

While we were living there, I learned origami: the housecleaning staff would leave an origami crane on the pillow each night and the ladies taught me how to fold the paper birds. I passed this skill onto my sons (what a great airplane activity for kids! ) and now my 22 year old still practices it, though he has moved onto "modular" origami which is way beyond my skill.

All sorts of famous people stayed at the Okura: the Beatles (stayed there after we left), Peter, Paul and Mary were there when we were (my teenage brother and his friends knocked on their door and discovered how embarrassing it is to violate someone's privacy) and John Glenn, the astronaut. This was in 1966, not long after he had orbited the earth and John Glenn had rock star celebrity status. One afternoon, my mom and  I were in the suite, my mom helping me with taking a bath. My sister ran in, all excited and informed us that John Glenn was checking into the hotel and was still in the lobby, giving autographs. My mom gets giddy as I've never seen her and tears out of the bathroom, grabs some paper and a pen from the hotel desk and she and my sister take off to the lobby.

I remember sitting there in the bath, a bit shell shocked..."Mom? Cathy? ....anyone?" They were gone! and here I was, left naked in the tub while they pursue the astronaut. Fortunately I was six, not in danger of drowning in the tub but still...I used to bring that up to my mom, how she abandoned me for John Glenn.

The princess of Japan had her wedding reception at the hotel while we were staying there! My brother and two friends almost caused an international incident at the time. My parents got a call from the hotel management saying that it appeared that someone was dropping those "cracker-balls" from an upper floor down onto the royal entourage as they were entering the hotel and they traced it to our balcony. Turns out my brother and two other boys who were also living in the hotel, were out on the balcony and thought it would be fun to drop them down on the cars as they pulled up to the hotel. These were those tiny pea-size fireworks that when you threw them down would emit a loud BANG when they hit a hard surface. Can you imagine if that had happened USA? We would have had the secret service banging down the door! But in Japan in 1966, we received a polite but very concerned call from the hotel management asking my parents to control their children!

Anyways, back to cinnamon...I love it and that is why it reminds me of Japan! It is the one ingredient I rarely adhere to the proscribed amount in recipes. My philosophy is that you can rarely get enough cinnamon. I have it in my greek yogurt, on my oatmeal that my husband makes me for breakfast, even in the macarons that we made last friday! I'm including a recipe here for cinnamon chip cookies. These are adapted from an online "tasteofhome" recipe. The dough is a slight variation of the tollhouse chocolate chip recipe. They are delicious so try them:

Cinnamon Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 package (10 oz) cinnamon baking chips 
Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy with a mixer. Beat in eggs and vanilla. 
In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, then gradually add the dry ingredients to the sugar/butter mixture and mix well. Fold in the cinnamon chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Busy, busy, busy....

I did a little housecleaning on the site. Hopefully you should find it easier to read on iPhones. Additionally, I added a page on packing for vacation. I started my Provence page, but there is so much I want to put in there, it's going to take some time to finish and it was a hectic weekend full of lots of friend-time!

I feel so lucky to have such great friends from so many chapters of my life...this weekend was a smorgasbord of friendship!

I spent Friday with the daughter of a close friend, having lunch, running errands and baking french macarons together. Its so special to be able to watch a friend's child grow up... to see them transform from cute, cuddly kids to self confident, interesting adults is amazing!

Saturday, I spent several hours walking, talking, and shopping my way through West Chester with a friend I've known since my oldest son went to preschool. Though the boys have gone their own ways, we've stayed close friends, sharing experiences as the boys have grown and  parents have aged and passed on.

Then Sunday and today were the days of college friends. Friends we've known for over 30 years...longer than our own children. Though we see each other sporadically, we pick up where we left off, remembering all our misadventures in college but now through the lens of parents seeing our kids starting college...worrying that they will enjoy it as much as we did!

It's funny, a common thread through all of the people I spent time with this weekend is that I've traveled on vacations with nearly all of them. Shared vacations can make or break a friendship. You really get to know someone when it rains for 3 days in a row! I've been fortunate in that all my friendships have survived!

Friday, September 20, 2013


You know how there are some books that transport you...make you feel as you finish it like you're lonely, like you've just left your best friends? Not all books that I enjoy do that to me and I'm not sure what the key is. Jane Austen always does it, others such as Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone, and lately, Tan Twan Eng's Garden of Evening Mists also had that effect. Even Louise Penny's mysteries sometimes have that effect. (Yes, mysteries are a guilty pleasure of mine). It's not location, since those novels take place in England, Ethiopia, Malaysia and Quebec respectively. I suppose it is the quality of the writing, the depth of the characters, as well as the well developed sense of place.   

Lately, I've had nearly the same feeling after watching some of the British TV series. First it was Downton Abbey, then I got hooked on Call the Midwife. Besides the excellent writing, I think I like these because I read too much Dickens, Austin and Hardy when I didn't have a social life in high school and so the British characters became my stand-in friends.

This summer, my sister turned me onto Doc Martin, which I found on Netflix and then in the library (Netflix didn't have all five seasons). My husband, who generally isn't as enamored of these series as I am, also got hooked on Doc Martin....we binged over the summer, being transported to the quirky town in Cornwall with this patient-hating yet sympathetic doctor. It's really wonderful...very funny.

The best series create interesting characters, who aren't just caricature of a "type". In that vein,  I have a new fix: Last Tango in Halifax on PBS. It started about 3 weeks ago but I just discovered it this past week. It takes place in Halifax England (not Nova Scotia) and is about two elderly people who reconnect on Facebook, and their families. The first episode is fairly good, setting up the premise and the characters, but the second episode is what hooked me. The characters are real and flawed but it is wickedly funny as well. I have my DVR set up for the rest of the series, having caught up by watching it online at the PBS site. 

I will be taking the weekend off from blogging and will do some site housecleaning...I've gotten some good feedback and will be working on making the site more readable from iPhones, adding a site email address, and hopefully adding another travel page or two. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Damn, he found my stash!

I love fresh, sun filled tomatoes. During the summer, I have them for breakfast (on my eggs with sauteed spinach), lunch (on a sandwich, sometime as the centerpiece) and dinner (as their own side or with corn, salad, zucchini).

We don't have a vegetable garden, though I do have a fairly extensive herb garden. For a few years, I grew sun gold tomatoes, the intensely sweet, orange, cherry sized variety, in my herb garden. The yield was pretty paltry so I turned that patch into mint. However for the past two years I've been growing them in one of those wooden barrel containers you can pick up from any garden store and they've taken off! This year besides the plant I purchased at the growers market, some plants grew from seeds dropped in the container from last year.

I have to admit, I can be selfish when it comes to food. Though I do use food and cooking to express my love, there are times when I am something of a hoarder if something I love is in limited supply. I can even get a bit violent. (Unfortunately, I've passed this trait onto my children. My eldest has the easiest going temperament EXCEPT when it comes to food. He once speared his younger brother with his fork, when the younger was going after something left on his brother's plate....nearly drew blood, as I remember it!)

So back to the tomatoes....I had managed to keep my stash a secret from my husband last summer but this year he discovered them much to my chagrin. He almost dropped his load (of tomatoes) on the floor when I let out a loud "NOOOOOOOOO" as I saw him bringing a batch in to put on his bagel and smoked salmon.  Fortunately the yield this year has been so stupendous, there is enough to share.  I'm still able to pick several handfuls at a time, though with the chilly nights this week, I'm not sure how long they will last.

One of my favorite ways to eat them is to make almost a caprese salad but use fresh corn cut off the cob instead of mozzarella (though fresh mozzarella doesn't hurt too). I slice the kernels off the cob and put them in the center (the corn has been so sweet this year, I don't bother to even cook it). Then I surround the corn with the sliced tomatoes, sprinkle some fresh basil, and oregano over both, drizzle with a homemade vinaigrette and dig in. If I have a ripe avocado lying around I might add a few slices around the tomatoes. It screams summer! Not much more time left to enjoy this!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why am I awake at 2:39am?

I'm not questioning why I woke up in the middle of the night...that happens with annoying regularity, being a woman of a "certain" age. But usually I wake up around 4am, look at the clock and when I'm lucky I roll over and fall back asleep.

But last night I woke up earlier, so of course I started obsessing:
Why did I wake up at this time?
Was it the dark chocolate Wilbur bud I had at 9:05pm ?(just bought 5 pounds online for my husband...why buy one pound and pay more in shipping than the chocolate cost? But I digress)
Was it the wonderful walk I had at 3pm enjoying the glorious fall day? (I usually exercise in the morning).

Of course, once I started thinking then I was rolling over now. Next the worries start:
Is my youngest having TOO much fun in college?
Will my oldest blow up his new apartment in China with his giant toaster oven as he attempts to bake cookies for his Chinese friends?
What else should I write about in the blog?
Shouldn't I be moving on to the next lecture in my Networking class on Coursera?
Did I remember to practice my Hiragana today (teaching myself Japanese from an iPad course)?
Will I get another consulting contract?

Finally, I try to settle my brain, listen to the night sounds:
The distant flow of truck traffic on the highway a few miles off
My husband's steady breathing...I start to drift off...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fennel....Friend or Foe?

I am a vegetable lover...I used to claim that the only vegetables I didn't like were brussel sprouts and fennel. Then I tried oven roasted brussel sprouts and I was a convert; now I like them roasted, shaved and sauteed ...really any way except the old fashioned steamed-till-mush method.

So fennel was my last holdout. I'm not a licorice fan and taragon is one of my least favorite spices. But I had a dish or two at a restaurant that included fennel and the taste wasn't overpoweringly anise flavored but kind of intriguely sweet and complex. So I decided to give it a try by oven roasting. Honestly, I think you can oven roast your old sneakers and they might be edilbe. Well, the long and short of it is that oven roasted fennel topped with parmesan cheese is sublime. I love it for lunch, dinner, whenever.

The following recipe is adapted from one that appeared in the Philly Inquirer. I upped the spinach and added the sausage which I bought from our local farmer's market (stay tuned for another post on these).

 My favorite saugage purveyor is Maiale Deli & Salumeria ( They have an amazing variety of sausages, from the sweet italian and other standards to duck with fig and goat cheese, wild boar with caramelized apples and blue cheese, chicken marsala and the list goes on. If you check their site, you can see they are at a number of the local farmers markets as well as having their store in Delaware.  You could use any of those with this recipe, though I used the duck sausage this time and it was incredibly delicious.

Anyways, be adventurous, give this recipe a try and tell me what you think. Try the fennel...really it's amazing!

Warm White Beans with Sausage and Roasted Fennel ("almost cassoulet")
3-4 servings for those with an appetite

2 large fennel bulbs, thinly sliced (don't remove much of the outer layers, just rinse well)
3 tablespoons olive oil divided
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt divided
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 garlic cloves minced
Cooking spray
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or Trader Joes 4 cheese italian blend)
1 can (15.8 oz) Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 bag of baby spinach
1 pound of great sausage removed from casing

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Combine fennel, 1 T of oil, 1/2 t black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon salt, red pepper and garlic in a large bowl, tossing to coat the fennel. Arrange the fennel in a single layer on a jellyroll pan sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 450 or 12 to 15 minutes until the fennel starts to brown and caramelize. Stir, sprinkle the cheese over the fennel mixture and back for another 5 minutes or so. (At this point if you want to skip the rest of the recipe and just eat the fennel as a side for dinner or a quick lunch, you can stop here)

While the fennel is roasting, heat a large non-stick skillet, sprayed with cooking spray, over medium  heat and add the sausage, cooking till done. Remove some of the excess fat if it looks too much but leave some in to cook the remaining ingredients.

Once the sausage looks cooked but not dried out, add the spinach and put a top on the skillet for a bit to cook the spinach down.  Remove the top and stir until spinach is fully wilted and then add the beans and stir till heated through.

Add the fennel mixture, 1/4 t black pepper and 1/4 t salt. Cook for about 2 minutes and serve in bowls with crusty bread on the side.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Friday dinner in West Chester...Roots Cafe and D'Ascenzo's Gelato

Updated my Italy page to include photos and a bit more info...more to come on restaurants.

Speaking of restaurants, on the local front we went out for dinner in West Chester on Friday night with friends and tried Roots Cafe. It is in the old Gilmore location on Gay Street. It had formally had the space next to Starbucks and was just breakfast and lunch but moved this summer and added BYOB dinners on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

We loved our dinner! It's a farm to table place so all the produce is local and the menu is small but creative, while the prices are very reasonable (I think the most expensive entree was $23) and the portions enormous.

Two of us had the arugula, apple, blue cheese salad, one had bean soup with turkey sausage and another the incredible mac & cheese gnocchi. The salads were really delicious with a light tasty dressing and the cheese sourced locally and the gnocchi was truly sinful. For dinner, we had duck with jalapeno flavored polenta, pistachio crusted swordfish with basil/portobello risotto and the pork belly entree. All were creatively prepared and delicious.

Give it a try...they don't take reservations but are just beginning to be you can still snag a table.

After dinner we went to our favorite dessert spot...D'Ascenzo's Gelato which is on the other side of Gay Street. This is truly first class good as Italy! Their flavors are so fresh tasting and artificial flavor and the gelato is made onsite. My favorite flavors are the brown sugar cinnamon as well as the sea salt caramel, while my husband is partial to the mocha chip as well as the coconut and the dark chocolate. It's getting close to the end of the season so stop in while you can. I'm not sure what we are going to do when they close for the season...we've gotten into the habit of stopping by during our Friday night after dinner strolls in WC!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Starting off...a blogging newbie

I've entered a new phase of my life..Chapter 4, I call it. Chapter 1 being childhood, 2 was my life as a young adult and early married life, 3 was the years taking care of my kids and now 4 as an empty nester. I've worked through most of chapters 2 through 4, with some time off while the kids were in elementary school and middle school, but now find myself temporarily (I hope) between consulting contracts while my youngest just left for college. Though I of course miss my kids (one at the University of Pittsburgh, one in China), I am also enjoying my less encumbered life! My husband and I are reverting to our more social lifestyle that we had "pre-kids" and loving our uninterupted life together.

One of the items on the my list of things I've never gotten around to was to start a blog. I'm a fanatic foodie and totally addicted to travel, both of which I blame my recently departed mother for. She was a fantastic cook who used food to express her love. In addition, thanks to my father's job, we moved to Asia in the late 60's and lived in Tokyo and Korea. As a result of growing up overseas, I've always loved traveling. Even with the inconveniences and lack of glamour in 21st century travel, I still get a thrill when I arrive at the airport! When we had kids, I was determined that we would start traveling internationally with them when the youngest turned eight and we have done this and created wonderful memories and world-broadening experiences for all of us.

As a result of both passions, I spend a lot of time cooking, exploring restaurants, and planning (and executing) trips. A lot of friends ask for my recommendations and advice on both local restaurants (in the Philadelphia and West Chester, PA area) as well as on trips to Europe. Besides trips throughout the States and this hemisphere, most of my travel over the past 20 years has been to Europe: France, the UK, Italy, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Austria, Greece and Spain.

I have to make a confession here....I am a francophile! I can't help it but France remains my favorite country to visit. I've never had a bad experience with the people (in fact find them some of the most charming), love the food, the culture and the diversity of all the various regions.

Anyways, my goal in this blog is to write about the restaurants I like, the places I've been (with recommendations on accommodations, restaurants, guides etc) and maybe throw in a recipe or two for good measure.

I've started with a page on Italy, since that was our most recent trip and a friend has asked for help planning a trip. So I figured now's the time to start! If you have recommendations of your own to add, or want to comment on mine, feel free!