Saturday, September 20, 2014

Paris....Revisited

As I mentioned on my Paris page of the blog, Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world. I love coming with different people and experiencing the cities in new ways. This trip did not disappoint!

It was just my friend and I, two women, exploring the city...focusing on the smaller pleasures. By this I mean, we didn't go into the Louvre, the D'Orsay or even inside Notre Dame. Instead on the first day we arrived via the EuroStar from London, we started with a quick walk through of the Marche Raspail, one of the many open air street markets that run on different days in various locations around the city. There are mainly vendors selling food for people to bring home and prepare: fresh seafood, briny olives, succulent fruits
and vegetables, meats of every cut and animal you can imagine the French savoring, and of course delectable cheeses. We were staying in a hotel, so we didn't buy any food but did stop at a few stands selling scarves and clothes.

Next we visited Ste. Chapelle on the Ile de Cite. I love going to this lovely church with new people...the reaction is always worth the repeat visit: interest in the first floor (maybe wondering what is so special) and then, once the newcomer emerges from the tiny stone stairway into the upper chapel, there are expressions ranging from awestruck to the wide smiles of surprise and appreciation for the incredible site of the gorgeous window lined room.
After the chapel we did a quick walk through of the flower market that is nearby, examining interesting garden items and lovely plants and flowers. We did a little window shopping on our way back to the hotel and rested till dinner.

I'm not sure where I found the recommendation on the restaurant, L'Epi Dupin, but it was absolutely fantastic. Very tiny, and even at the relatively early hour of 7:30pm was full, mainly of locals with a smattering of tourists. The staff was charming and the menu, which changes daily, was superb.

The next morning we were off to a tiny museum that has been on my list to visit called the Nissim Camondo. It was a mansion near the Parc Monseau that had been owned by a Jewish banking family who had emigrated at the end of the 19th century from Turkey. The son of the emigre was an avid collector of 18th century art and decorative art (furniture, porcelain etc). He donated his entire house to France to be preserved as he left it. So you experience the house as he designed it and lived in it. It was a wonderful experience. The ending is sad as his son died in WWI and his daughter was convinced that since she was a French citizen would be safe from the Nazis. She died at Auschwitz.

We then went to one of the few Parisian covered markets, called Les Enfants Rouge. It was quite small and mainly filled with food stalls selling lunch. We had some excellent Morrocan food...but it wasn't really worth the stop.

Next we went to the Orangerie, home of the huge panels of Monet's Waterlillies. It is an enchanting small museum in the Tuilleries Garden, between the Louvre and the Place de Concorde (closer to the Place de Concord end). We beat the worst of the crowd, but I think the best time to go is probably near closing, when the crowds should really thin out. It is the kind of place that you want to experience when there are as few people as possible. The two rooms containing the panels form a figure 8 or infinite sign and there are benches in the center of each room. To sit and contemplate the paintings in silent reverie is an almost spiritual experience. However when the room is full of chattering tourists, they can be a bit annoying though still worth the trip.

After briefly relaxing in our room, we went out and sat at a cafe and people watched before heading to our dinner at Cafe Constant. This restaurant used to be one of my favorites, but sadly no more. They have been ruined by success. My friend's dinner was only okay, and  though my quail was fairly good the service was very slapdash. My dessert of Ile Flotante was very disappointing and this is something I always look forward to having while in France. Plus the place was overflowing with American and Asian tourists. I don't think there was one French patron in the house. I'm quite sad to see the decline of the cafe.

Thursday was our last day as we were catching the EuroStar back to London in the evening. We went to Marche Saxe-Bretuil, another street market, this one in the 7th arrondissement. It was quite large, again filled will cheese, vegetable, fruit, meat, bread, spice and clothing and kitchen knick-knack stalls. After packing our bags, and leaving them at the hotel, we went off to Village St. Paul, an area in the Marais known for it's antique shops. We arrive a during their lunch break so we indulged ourselves at a lovely cafe, enjoying salads and sharing a half bottle of wine. We then perused the shops which were interesting but for the most part incredibly overpriced.

After that we made our way over to Ile St. Louis, stopped for a Bertillon ice cream, and worked our way to the back side of Notre Dame. The view from the back is stunning and we walked along the Seine and examined the cathedral from the side as well. Then we may our way back to the hotel to gather our bags and headed through the rush hour crush on the metro to Gare du Nord to catch the train home.

We packed a lot into 3 days! It was lovely weather and we did a lot of wandering, shopping and people watching while managing to hit a few precious sites.

Monday, September 15, 2014

London...Museums, City Walks, and Palaces!


What a fabulous city London is! The transportation system makes it so easy to get around an explore. I downloaded a great app for my smartphone before I left and it's been invaluable. It's CityMapper (free) and I just input where I am (or use GPS/current location) and where I want to go and it gives me all sorts of options, listing the tube alternatives, the bus routes or even walking (telling me how many calories I'd burn if I walked the entire way!). I prefer the interface over GoogleMaps and it go into detail with the schedules, what train platform etc.

So far I've visited the V&A Museum, the Museum of London, ambled through the garden outside Kensington Palace, walked through Harrods and Marks & Spenser, went to the Borough Market, explored the Southwark area, went to the site of the original Rose Theater (which came before the Globe), drank many pints and listened to a great band at an East London bar, spent much of a day at Hampton Court, going through the interior and then doing a "rooftop" tour! Today is a rest day as tomorrow we head for a short jaunt to Paris.

On the museums, I really loved the V&A which is focused on the decorative arts and has items from all over the world. I could come back here and spend days exploring the collections. There are incredible ceramics and furniture from China and Japan, turban ornaments from the Mughal empire, dresses from the 17th century...just an amazing array of interesting items. I find it fascinating to see so many cultures in one place and see the cross pollination of fashion, tastes and trends that the trade (and conquests) facilitated.

The Museum of London traced the history of London from pre-historic times, through the Romans then medieval, renaissance, Victorian into the modern age. I enjoy these types of museums as well and I think they are also great ones to bring kids. We visited the Edo Museum in Tokyo and the Carnavalet in Paris that are similar in scope.

I wandered on my own on Saturday, and started the morning at the Borough Market. It is a huge outdoor/indoor market place in the Southwark area of London (pronounced "Suth-ock"). Filled chock full with food stalls carrying everything you can imagine; spices, cheeses, breads, potted meats, curries, granola, chocolate covered nuts, meats of all types, beer, pastries, meat pies...I could go on and on! I got there rather early so it was nice to see it without the huge crowds that descended a bit later in the morning and over lunch. I did head back here for lunch and it was a zoo but I still enjoyed the chaos as I had familiarized myself with the layout earlier. I had fabulous fish and chips, perched in a tiny eating space at the side of the takeaway window, watching people of all ethnicities visit the market.

After my morning stop in Borough Market I made my way over the Thames to the Monument tube station to join up with a "London Walks" tour. These are inexpensive (9 pounds) tours that last about one and a half to two hours and explore various parts of the city. I have done quite a few over the years, and really enjoy them. They give you a taste of the area you explore as well as offer advice on what else to explore on your own. This tour was entitled "Bankside" and explored the Southwark area. So we went back across London Bridge, briefly through the Borough Market (it was the guide who recommended the fish & chips place, saying it was really good fresh fish and she was right!), then past the Clink Prison (origin of the phrase "in the clink" for going to jail), onto the Rose and Globe theaters original sites and ending up at the reconstructed Globe on the waterfront.

After the tour, I visited the Rose Theater's tiny excavation site, listening to some snippets of Shakespeare, then after my fish and chips walked to the Museum of London. After a quick walk through I returned to Hampstead having walked over four and half miles!

I love traveling with my family and friends but there was something kind of freeing about wandering on my own, making up my itinerary as I went and not worrying whether or not someone else would enjoy it. I wouldn't want to do it constantly, but it was a nice change of pace.



Yesterday we took the train out to Hampton Court and walked through the palace and then did a "rooftop" tour that my friend had scheduled through her membership supporting the palace. What a wonderful experience! We walked all around the roof of the baroque part of the palace, led by two guides, Barry and Philip, a sort of Brit Odd Couple, who kept bickering and correcting each other during the tour. It was incredible to see the vistas of the gardens from on high. And there were hundreds (it seemed) of lovely Tudor chimneys, each unique. I felt a bit like I was in "Mary Poppins" up on the roof with the chimney sweeps. I was rather proud of myself as I usually have "height issues", but we weren't near the edge of the roof, and were walking on a cat walk in the center.

So tonight is a play and off early tomorrow on the EuroStar, under the Channel to Paris!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Vagabond #5...enroute to London

I'm taking a brief hiatus and traveling to London for a bit, being fortunate to have a close friend who lives there and an understanding husband. So Wednesday night I boarded a 787 British Airway flight and 'hopped the pond' so to speak.
I was lucky to get a window seat with no one between me and the girl sitting on the aisle. The flight left at 10pm, so as soon as I settled my belongings I set myself up to sleep. Stuffed the earplugs in, put my eyes shades on, downed the Melatonin and in this sensory deprived state started dozing before we even took off. The seat wasn't comfortable, with the arm rest occasioning jabbing me as I shifted position, but I slept somewhat fitfully for about 5 hours. Not too bad for a 7 hour flight. Then, as it was BA, I watched a BBC series that we can't get in the US, called 37 Days, about the run up to WWI. Only made it through 2 of 3 episodes, so I'll have to watch the last on the way home. 
As we were approaching England, the sun was rising and I noticed how much darker it appeared on my side of the plane versus the other. I attributed this to perhaps being on the west side vs the east. Then as we were coming into land, I saw the same thing, though it was now fully daylight. What the heck was going on? Why was my side in perpetual darkness? Finally I realized that the new plane didn't have a pull down shade but instead had windows that you could dim with a button, like those eyeglasses that go dark in bright sunshine. My window (and those around me) had been fully dimmed, while those on the other side had played with their buttons and lighten theirs. I only figured this out when I saw the window in front of mine  lighten up. I was relieved I wasn't going into some type of "Lost" scenario, where half of England lived in darkness, the other in light...I guess I was a bit slow on the uptake due to sleep deprivation.

After long lines in immigration, and traffic as we drove from Heathrow, we arrived in Hampstead, a village/neighborhood in London outside of city center, built up on a large hill. Who knew there were hills in London? Apparently this is where people came to avoid the grime and pestilence of the city hundreds of years ago. It's lovely: lots of old red brick buildings with unique porticos. After unpacking we walked to the High street (the main shopping street...each neighborhood and town has a "high" street). It's charming, with a bookseller, tantalizing bakeries, cute cafés, vegetable markets, and just what I was looking for: a Carphone Warehouse. Within 10 minutes, I had a new SIM card for my iPhone for 15 pounds! We picked some food and headed back home. The rest of the day was spent in keeping myself awake through domestic activity....baked cookies, made dinner, got settled and stayed away from plush furniture so I wouldn't fall asleep too early. Finally at 9:30, I slipped into bed with my kindle and managed to read for about 15 minutes before dropping off to a dead sleep.

We are off today to explore the V&A museum. Adventures await!


Friday, September 5, 2014

Vagabond Saga...number 4


Number 4 you ask, what were 1, 2 & 3? I've been all over the place since August 16th, rarely at home for longer than a week. First I drove my eldest down to Chapel Hill...what was supposed to be a leisurely 7 or 8 hour journey with a lunch stop in Annapolis, turned into 11 hours detouring down the Eastern Shore and across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Norfolk  because the bridge at Annapolis was shut down due to an accident. Of course we did manage to find a great Latin restaurant in Easton MD...Billy and I will always find a good place to eat! We established him in his first apartment (in the US) and then I returned home, only to leave two days later to take my younger son back to college and into his first (and hopefully only) off campus house. After returning home for a week and half, there was a quick trip to the beach for a night and now I'm back at the shore again.

So this morning I walked the beach. Now that schools have started, the beach was deserted at 8:30 in the morning. As I walked I thought of my dad, who would stop and examine shell after shell. I have difficulty keeping myself focused on the walk and not picking up shells as I go. As I walked, with the rumble of the waves and the shrieks of the seagulls to keep me company, I observed the detritus of the ocean...shells of all types: clams, oyster, mussels, scallops, conch...some pristine, many worn away. There were various crab fragments: sand crabs, horseshoe and blue crab. And disturbingly there were shards of glass; not the picturesque sea-worn sea glass, but scattered chunks of freshly broken glass The beach had a smattering of jellyfish, pancake sized. Not enough to make walking difficult but enough that I had to stay focused on my steps. And then there was the foot prints...tennis shoe imprints in determined lines, a few barefoot tracks and the light imprints of the birds, going willy-nilly in chaotic patterns across the sand.  The focus on my steps and what I was observing was almost yoga-like in that it took me out of myself, concentrating only on what was in front of me.

On the first half of the trek I followed in the wake of another walker. We kept the same pace but every once and a while I would draw a little closer and I felt an almost awkward force field...how close do you get before you feel like a stalker? So I backed off.  I started getting warm so I walked through the tidepools to cool off, kicking up the water as I walked, feeling like Christopher Robin in the Hundred Acre Wood playing in puddles.

On the walk up the beach, it was clear. I could see at least a mile or two up to the pier. I turned around to return home and half way back I looked behind me and I felt as if I was in a Game of Thrones episode. A bank of fog was following me down the beach and eventually swallowed me up. I could barely see up the dunes as I made my way off the beach...

Monday, September 1, 2014

Farmers Market Bounty #4: Tomatoes and Spaghetti Squash

This is a glorious time of year in the farmer's market. The tomatoes are still luscious, the peaches sweet and finally free stone, apples are making their appearance and fall squash is sneaking in as well. It's the sweet spot of the growing season with so much produce at its peak.

I decided to experiment with tomatoes and spaghetti squash this week and the result was fantastic! I usually make spaghetti squash in the fall and winter as a substitute for pasta, sometimes putting a homemade sage walnut pesto with some sauteed pancetta on it, or if I'm really lazy, just adding a jar of Trader Joe's tomato sauce. But one of my favorite summer pasta sauces uses fresh tomatoes, soft goat cheese (like a Montrachet), fresh herbs and olive oil. I decided to try this on the squash and the result was sublime! Even better, when I made it for the two of us, there was so much left over, I was able to use it for breakfast with a fried egg on top and a dinner later in the week with sauteed spinach and corn.

So here's the recipe. Enjoy!

Spaghetti Squash with Tomato Goat Cheese Sauce


Ingredients:

  • 1 large (3#) spaghetti squash
  • 1 large farm fresh tomato or two medium, at peak of ripeness
  • 2-3 oz soft goat cheese
  • 1 cup lightly packed assortment of fresh herbs (oregano, basil, parsley, thyme, chives)
  • .5-1 T olive oil
  1. Rinse off the squash and poke holes in it all the way around, piercing the skin and into the flesh (I use a meat carving fork)
  2. Chop the tomatoes, mince the herbs and crumble the cheese, putting whole mixture into a large bowl and pour the olive oil on top and stir to combine. 
  3. Cook the pierced squash for 15 minutes or so in the microwave.
  4. Carefully (it's hot!) cut the ends off the end of the squash and cut it in half lengthwise. Holding each half with an oven mitt (as it retains its heat), gently remove the seeds with a spoon. Then using a fork, shred the squash by drawing the fork down the flesh of the squash, creating the spaghetti-like texture. 
  5. Add the warm/hot squash to the bowl of tomato-herb-cheese mixture and blend.
If you need a little meat, add some sauteed crumbled pancetta or proscuitto to the top. 
Note that I used green zebra tomatoes so that's the reason there is no red color in this dish!

Handful of herbs
Green tomatoes, goat cheese, herbs & olive oil blended

Voila! Squash is added to the mixture & dinner is served.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jasmine...my princess!

Jasmine is my 12+ old labradoodle puppy. I say puppy because to see her bound to the door to greet people, chase a tennis ball across the floor or catch her frisbee in the back yard, you'd think she was. But then when you look closely you see the clouded eyes and greying hair around her eyes, you can tell she is an old lady. Of course, since she lives in this house, she is also a foodie. She loves her marrow bones and is an absolute cheese fiend. She can be on the other side of the house and if I open up cheese, she comes running. However, she is a cheese snob. Once after a pot luck BBQ, someone had left American cheese (foreign to our house), so I decided to give her a slice. She took it in her mouth....and promptly spit out! That's my Jasmine.
She has always been a clock watcher in terms of her meals. She will let us know when it is time for breakfast and dinner (with dinner she starts bugging me as soon as I start cooking...even if that is 2 hours ahead of when she normally eats. She figures, "Lee's working in the kitchen, should be dinner time"!). About a week or so ago, she started letting her breakfast sit in her bowl and didn't eat it until later in the day. Then she stopped eating dinner. Everything else about her was normal: she ate her snacks (she gets a "treat" when she comes in the house), she had all her energy; she just seemed off her food. I put some homemade chicken broth on it and then she ate it, though she would lick up the broth and eat the food gradually over a few hours, actually taking some of the pieces out of the bowl, putting them aside, and then drinking the broth.
Now, adding the broth was fine with me, I wanted her to eat and I figured, what the heck, she's over 80 in human years, I don't blame her for being tired of this food. As reflects our "parenting" styles, I wanted to keep pampering her and my husband was more of the mindset to let the food sit and see how long it would take her to eat it. Well...she waited us out. Went over 24 hours without eating her meal. So fortunately we had our usual 5 week appointment with the vet yesterday (she has Addison's disease and needs a shot every 5 weeks). I described her behavior and he said it could be: 1) A lot of dogs as they get to this age turn away from their dry food because it hurts their teeth, so they start to prefer canned or softer food...however, she has excellent teeth..."the teeth of a 5 year old dog"; or 2) The dry food can go bad because the manufacturers do tend to coat it in fat so that it is more flavorful.
So after getting recommendations on food from my niece (a soon-to-be vet and owner of 3 dogs), dumping the remaining dry food in a giant ziploc bag, and scouring out the dog food bin, I went to our local pet store (Concord Pets) and bought both a small bag of her existing food and a small bag of a new food. When I explained to the store that I thought her food had gone bad, they said to please bring it back to them and they will refund my money as this does happen sometimes. They return the food to the manufacturer...so, good to know and what a great store!
The test came at dinner...would she shy away from the food again, or go for it. I gave her a small amount of the new batch of her usual food and hurray...she gobbled it up!
So lesson learned...trust your dog's nose and sense of taste!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Farmers Market Bounty #3: Blueberries


We are having company tomorrow night and 2 of the people can't eat gluten so I'm making my go-to summer dessert: frozen meringue cake with berry topping. Perfect since the markets are overrun with blueberries! I may add a few peaches or nectarines to the topping as well. Whenever I make this dessert I usually make creme anglais to use up the extra egg yolks.
As I was making creme this morning,and was scraping the vanilla bean seeds into the cream I starting wondering how the heck did someone discover the incredible flavor of vanilla? I always thought that the vanilla bean was stamen of an orchid, but after checking wikipedia discovered it is actually the fruit from an orchid plant and was originally harvested by Totonacs of Eastern Mexico, a tribe that was conquered by the Aztecs. So there you go...your interesting fact for the day!
In addition to the cake recipe, I'm also including a blueberry gin cocktail. We drank this several years ago and I rediscovered it the other day. As a bonus I'm also adding my mom's incredibly simple blueberry pie.So bon appetit and salut!

Blueberry Thrill

From Cooking Light
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1 1/2 cups dry gin
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • crushed ice
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • additional blueberries for garnish (optional)

1. Place 2 cups blueberries in a large, heavy stainless-steel saucepan; mash with a fork or potato masher. Place over medium-high heat, and cook 3 minutes or until berries begin to release juice. Remove from heat; add gin. Cover and let stand at least for 1 hour or up to overnight. Strain mixture through a sieve into a bowl, pressing berries with the back of a spoon to remove as much juice as possible; discard solids.
2. Combine 3/4 cup water, sugar, and cardamom pods in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Cool completely; discard cardamom pods.
3. To serve, add the ice to a cocktail shaker to come halfway up sides of container. Add 1/4 cup blueberry-gin, 1 1/2 tablespoons cardamom syrup, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice; shake until chilled. Strain cocktail into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with additional blueberries, if desired. Serve immediately. Repeat procedure with remaining ingredients.

Kate's Simple Blueberry Pie

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 T flour
  • 4 cups blueberries
  • 1 T powdered sugar
  • 1 refrigerated pie crust
  1. Follow directions for pie crust to unwrap and put in pie pan
  2. Process the almonds, flour and sugar in a food processer and sprinkle over the bottom of the pie shell.
  3. Add the blueberries and sprinkle powdered sugar on top
  4. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes
Damn this is easy! I forgot about this wonderful recipe.

Frozen Meringue Cake with Berry Topping

From Epicurious 
Ingredients:

For meringues

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
For cream

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or seeds from 1 vanilla pod

To serve

  • 1 pint seasonal berries such as strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries
  • Additional whipped cream for garnish
Make meringues
  1. Preheat oven to 200°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with aluminum foil; butter and flour foil.
  2. In large bowl using electric mixer, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until stiff and glossy. Drop 8 (approximately 1/3-cup) mounds of meringue about 1 inch apart onto baking sheets and use spoon to make indentations in centers of mounds.
  3. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven until crisp but still white, about 45 minutes. Turn oven off and cool meringues in oven 1 hour. Using metal spatula, transfer meringues to rack to cool completely. (Meringue shells can be made up to 5 days ahead and kept in airtight container at room temperature.)

Make cream and assemble dessert
  1. Lightly oil 7-inch diameter soufflé dish or ramekin (6 cup capacity).
  2. In large bowl using electric mixer, beat cream until soft peaks form. Fold in confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Chop meringue shells into 1-inch pieces and fold into cream. Transfer mixture to soufflé dish and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze until firm, approximately 8 hours. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover; keep frozen.)
  3. To un-mold dessert, fill large bowl 1/3 full of hot water. Run small knife around inside edge of soufflé dish to loosen. Dip dish into bowl of hot water for 2 seconds, being careful not to splash water onto cream. Carefully invert onto serving plate. Arrange berries on top of and around frozen cream and garnish with additional whipped cream.



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How much matcha?

I awoke at 2:30am this morning and didn't fall back asleep until 5:30am. Once I awoke I started thinking about the logistics of driving both boys to their fall destinations (college and post-grad work). Of course they will be in opposite directions and both want to leave during the same week, so I'll be spending my whole week on the road. I tossed and turned while trying to figure out whether I should be renting a car or van and how to minimize some of my driving. As a result, I'm a little foggy this morning so I needed a caffeine boost.

When we were in Tokyo over the holidays, I discovered a new morning drink: Matcha Latte. It is a latte made with the matcha tea that the Japanese use in their tea ceremonies. Unlike the green tea we are used to drinking, where the tea leaves are steeped in the hot water, matcha is finely ground powder made of the tea leaves. So instead of drinking an infusion of tea (where the leaves are discarded), you are actually imbibing the leaves themselves. You get the benefits (and caffeine) of about 6-8 cups of green tea in one cup!

When we returned, my reflux was bothering me and I've discovered that the matcha latte (when drunk in moderation, which for me is one latte every few days), gives me a wonderful boost for the day and doesn't aggravate my GERD. As I've done research, I've found that the matcha gives a sustained boost over the course of the day, instead of the one time big boost of caffeine from a coffee latte.The milk in the latte helps to moderate the acid inherent in the tea. There is even some thought that the matcha helps to heal the esophagus.

The recipe I use is:
one teaspoon of matcha powder mixed with 1/4 cup hot/boiling water
sweetener of your choice (I use 2 stevia packets but you could use honey or agave syrup).
8 oz of milk (heated and foamed)

I use the electric whisk to blend the matcha powder, the stevia and 1/4 cup of water together because the powder is so fine and the electric whisk does an effective job of dissolving the powder. Then I add the foamed hot milk.

I scoured the internet and visited tea shops and found the best price and flavored matcha at Nuts.com (a great site to get the ingredients for my homemade granola as well!). Link to nuts.com matcha powder

There are matcha latte mixes that you can buy (similar to what you will get at Starbucks if you order one), but it is so easy to make your own and avoid the additives in the commercial mixes.

1 level teaspoon of matcha powder

Add 1/4 cup of water to the matcha and stevia and blend with the electric whisk.

Add the cup of foamed hot milk

Voila! A delicious matcha latte.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Farmers Market Bounty #2: Rhubarb

I've always loved rhubarb, that curious fruit/veggie that whose stalk resembles red celery. I always think of both my parents when I buy rhubarb as my dad loved growing it in our small garden in Pittsburgh and my mom made wonderful rhubarb-strawberry sauce as well as pie.
This year I came upon a recipe on the Food52 site for a wonderful summer cocktail made with Rhubarb simple syrup, called Rhubarb and Rose Ramos Gin Fizz. I don't use their recipe for the simple syrup though, finding another that I prefer (though I can't remember which site I found the syrup recipe on).
The drink is a perfect sip of summer! Enjoy.

Rhubarb Simple Syrup

makes between 1-2 cups liquid

  • 4 cups rhubarb, washed and trimmed and cut into 1/2 pieces (about 4 medium large stalks)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  1. Combine the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a saucepan and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. 
  2. Add the rhubarb and simmer on medium-low heat for 20 minutes covered, stirring occasionally. The rhubarb will break down into thin fibers.
  3. Remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer, pressing with the back of a spoon until all the juice is released. You can save the remaining solids and serve them over ice cream or stirred into yogurt. The juice is the simple syrup. I store it in a mason jar in my refrigerator, though I'm not sure it has to be refrigerated since this recipe follows the method I've given earlier (long simmer time and cream of tartar) that has an extended shelf life.

Rhubarb & Rose Ramos Gin Fizz Food52 link to recipe

The Food52 recipe recommends serving this in a tall glass but I prefer either a martini glass or my grandmother's lovely cut glass goblet as pictured above. Also the recipe says it serve one, but if you serve it in a martini glass it will serve 2 as written.
  • 2 ounces London dry gin
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 2 ounces rhubarb syrup
  • 1 ounce heavy cream
  • 1 or 2 drops rosewater (Wegmans carries this)
  • 1 egg white (I used the pasturized refrigerated egg whites, using 1/4 cup for one egg white and it worked fine)
  • ice
  • soda water
Combine all the ingredients except ice and soda water in a cocktail shaker (mason jar works well too!) and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Then add ice to shaker and shake another 30 seconds. Strain into chilled glass and top with a bit of the soda.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bon Voyage, Billy!

Billy overlooking the Forbidden City
It's been nearly six months since I've seen my oldest son, Billy. Well, I guess that's not entirely accurate since we've Skype on a near weekly basis. But I haven't been physically in the same place since January 6th, when we returned home from our holiday vacation in Asia. He's been in Guangzhou China for a year as a Luce Scholar having an incredible experience working at a university and traveling throughout Asia.
His program is winding down, and for the next 3 weeks he will be traveling throughout the western provinces of China and then going to Myanmar for 2 weeks for the program wrap up and then 5 days in Japan as he makes his way finally home.

We were fortunate to have a close friend meet up with Billy in Hong Kong and bring one of Billy's duffel bags home so he wouldn't have to lug it on his travels. This afternoon, I emptied the bag. It was full of winter clothes, lots of Chinese tea and tea making accoutrements, books, Chinese watercolor paintings that Billy created and the odds and ends that he picked up over the course of his year living in Guangzhou.
It's funny, but as I unpacked his things, I could smell his scent, and feel his presence in the items. In a strange way it made me feel his absence more acutely than I have all year. Of course as his mom, I'm worried about his travels over the next 3 weeks, as he goes into areas where there is some unrest in China. I know he will have an incredible experience but at this point I just want him safely home. Though as a 23 year old young man, I know he probably will never be home for extended periods of time again. (But it would be nice to at least have him on the same continent for a change!)
It's hard to let go of your kids, but when they are half way across the world you are forced to. At least physically. Emotionally, you never do. Distance doesn't matter, it just makes it more of a challenge. We are so lucky to have the technology available that shrinks the world. But for the next few weeks, we will be incommunicado for the most part. So I'll have to hope that he can text message when he's at transportation centers to let me know he's okay, and learn not to worry too much. Yeah, like that's going to happen!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Farmers Market Bounty #1: Cucumbers

I think I will do a series of posts this summer with recipes featuring something that is plentiful at the farmers market at this specific time. Today it is cucumbers.
Now, I know many people just consider these as salad fillers but I have two recipes that I adore featuring cucumbers. The first is a chilled soup that I eat all summer long...think of it as a cucumber gazpacho. I can't eat tomato gazpacho as I have reflux (GERD) and it is way too acidic for me. But this cucumber soup is wonderful...loaded with herbs from my garden, using up a whole large cucumber from the market and balanced with some low fat buttermilk (or greek yogurt if you like). It's low calorie and low fat and tastes like a cup full of summer!
The second recipe is from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and was mentioned in the Julie & Julia book...baked cucumbers. It is fabulous; who would know that cooking cucumbers could turn them into a succulent, sublime sensation! (how's that for alliteration?). They are great served with any meat and since you are baking them, saves space on the grill for your meats.
So here you go, two outstanding uses for farm fresh cucumbers!

Chilled Cucumber Soup with Avocado Toast

Note: this recipe was from the NYTimes. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/23/dining/chilled-cucumber-soup-with-avocado-toast.html?_r=0
To keep it low fat, I generally do not make the avocado toast or garnish with the corn, but if you want to make it special or serve as a starter for company, I encourage you to do it as written.
Serves 4
Ingredients:
  • 1 pound cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 2 cups buttermilk (or use 1 1/2 cups plain greek yogurt plus 1/4 cup water) I use lowfat buttermilk and only use 1 1/2 cups, plus 1/2 cup water
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and smashed
  • 2 anchovy fillets (Recipe says this is optional, but don't be a wuss...it adds a "umami" flavor that really enhances the recipe and doesn't stand out as anchovy explicitly)
  • 2 small whole scallions, trimmed
  • 1/2 jalapeño, seeded, deveined and chopped
  • 1/2 cup packed mixed fresh herbs (like mint, parsley, dill, tarragon, basil and cilantro)...I use fresh mint, basil, oregano, thyme, chives and parsley, basically what grows in my herb garden
  • 1/2 teaspoon sherry or white wine vinegar, more to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt, plus more to taste
Garnish (optional)
  • 4 slices baguette or other bread, toasted
  • 1 avocado, pitted, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ear of corn, shucked, kernels sliced off
  • Fresh dill, for serving

1. In the bowl of a blender or food processor, combine cucumber, buttermilk, garlic, anchovy, scallions, jalapeño, fresh herbs, sherry vinegar and salt. Blend until smooth and adjust seasoning as needed. I usually stop here.
2. Smash avocado slices on the toasted bread. Sprinkle with crumbled feta, squeeze the juice of the lemon half over the top and finish each with a drizzle of olive oil and some pepper. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
3. Distribute soup between 4 bowls and garnish with raw corn kernels and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve avocado toast on the side.

Julia Child's Cucumbers with Butter (Concombres au Beurre) 

Note: The cucumbers have to sit in a salt and vinegar combination for 30 minutes before cooking so give yourself the extra time. They can sit longer, so you can do this earlier in the day if you like.
Serves 6
Ingredients
  • 4-6 cucumbers (depending on size)
  • 2 Tb wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp sugar
  • 2 1/2 qt non-plastic bowl
  • 12" diameter baking dish
  • 3 Tb melted butter
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil 
  • 3-4 Tb minced green onions (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp ground pepper
  1. Peel the cucumbers then cut them in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and cut into lengthwise strips about 1/4" wide. Cut these strips into 2" pieces.
  2. In the bowl, toss the cucumbers with the vinegar, salt and sugar. Let them stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to draw out the moisture. Then drain and pat dry with a towel.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  4. Toss the cucumbers in the baking dish with the butter, herbs, onions and pepper. Set uncovered in the middle of the oven for about an hour, tossing 2 -3 times if you remember, until the cucumbers are tender but still have some texture. 
  5. Bon Appetit!


Monday, June 9, 2014

Adventures in Wine...



We spent 5 days tasting wine at the most wonderful places you've never heard of. That isn't so difficult these days with around 600 wineries in Napa Valley alone. The wineries we visited were mostly small batch, boutique operations selling anywhere from 800 to 5000 cases per year. And though we were in Napa valley, for the most part with a few exceptions, we spent much of our time in the mountains that range on either side of the valley: Howell Mountain, Diamond Mountain, Pritchard Hill and Spring Mountain. 
We started at Gamble Family Vineyards, where we were lucky enough to be staying in their guest house just north of Yountville because we had won this as part of a charity auction. We were welcomed so warmly: they came out to meet us as we pulled up to the winery, holding wine glasses already filled with their Heart Block Sauvignon Blanc. There was a recurring theme amongst nearly all the wineries we visited that they were producing Sauvignon Blanc that was made in more of a French White Bordeaux style rather than the tart New Zealand fashion. We had the opportunity to meet Tom Gamble, the owner, as he took us into the vines and began our education. 
We learned how the vineyards on the valley floor practiced dry farming, where they didn't water the vines, and let them draw whatever moisture is retained in the soil. This soil sits on a higher water table due to the Napa River. However for the growers that sit high in the mountains, the rain is not held in the soil so irrigation is a necessity. Peter Thompson, of Andrew Geoffrey, told us of bringing a water witch in to help site a well. The water was right where Peter was told to dig….over 800 feet below the surface! We even learned how to spot Cabernet Sauvignon vines, with their distinctive "hole" where the segments of the leaves meet.
One of the interesting facets of this trip was meeting the diverse group of owners of the wineries. Some came across as farmers who really loved and had grown up on the land, others had purchased their property back in the 60s or 70s and gradually evolved into the business, some were newer entrepreneurs who had made their money and wanted to live their dreams of owning a winery. All shared a passion for making their gorgeous, unique wines that took advantage of the micro-climate and terroir of where their grapes were grown. 

And all were incredibly hospitable. We had an unforgettable dinner on top of Diamond Mountain that started with sunset and ended under the stars, drinking a vertical of Andrew Geoffrey wines. Then a few days later, we enjoyed a lovely luncheon under the trees overlooking the vines at Clark-Claudon, sipping their fabulous wines and having amazing conversations. We enjoyed this so much we stayed and did clean up duty!
All of these producers prefer to sell direct, so if you are interested in experiencing some of the best that Napa has to offer, see the list of places we tasted below!
Wineries visited:
Gamble Family Vineyards http://www.gamblefamilyvineyards.com/
Marston Family Vineyard http://www.marstonfamilyvineyard.com/
Tamber Bey Vineyards http://www.tamberbey.com/
Chappellet Vineyards http://www.chappellet.com/
Arkenstone http://www.arkenstone.com/
Andrew Geoffrey Vineyards http://www.andrewgeoffrey.com/
Gemstone Vineyard http://www.gemstonevineyard.com/home.html
Clark-Claudon Vineyards http://www.clarkclaudon.com/
Continuum http://www.continuumestate.com/
Dunn Vineyards http://www.dunnvineyards.com/index.htm



Sunday, June 1, 2014

Here's mud in your…..

The smell was the first thing that hit me...it was a stinky dirt, slightly manure-like odor. Then the bath lady rather quickly stripped me of my robe, tossed me under the shower and ushered me into the tiled tub full of deep brown, oozing mud that was made of peat moss, volcanic ash and god knows what else. I was instructed to lay on top and then she began, with her hands, shoveling the ..."mud" on top of me. It was very warm, quite supportive and once I got past wondering what the heck was in the mix, soothing. She asked if I would like a mask on my face and I squeaked in alarm "of MUD???" "No, green clay" she reassured me as she added cucumber slices to my eyes and sprayed grapefruit scent to cover the other odor.
It was our 5th day in wine country, the third in Napa Valley and the women were ready to detox (or as one of the husbands said, “the ladies were getting mulched!”) so we headed to Calistoga for mud baths, mineral water soaks, blanket wraps and massages…we had a LOT of detoxing to do! Calistoga is known for their mud baths and ever since I'd visited this area in the '80s with college friends, I've wanted to try them.
After sitting in mud for 10 minutes, we (there were three of us sharing this experience)were instructed to slowly stand and slough off as much of the mud as we could. We rose, looking like creatures from the black lagoon, or as one of our party said, “I look like Medusa but I feel fabulous!"and wiped ourselves off. Then we were directed to the showers, where we vigorously rinsed. It was somewhat disconcerting to see the volume of brown goo coming off my body…particularly from my nether regions. I took the handheld shower off the wall and and aimed it strategically. Picture rivers of muddy gunk, flowing down your legs, splattering the walls in a Jackson Pollock pattern…not a pretty picture!
The mineral water soak was next, and we lay in our own claw tubs filled with the water, moved about by a bubbling apparatus that seemed destined to provide a happy ending.
From the bath followed the steam room, a small tiled, cave-like room into which they had tiny pass-throughs, to hand you your water. When the water magically appeared through the cubby, my friend yelled, "yeah! Dairy Queen” as that is what it felt like.
The “wet” treatments concluded, we were taken to our individual cubicles for the blanket wrap where we were literally swaddled in heavy cotton muslin sheets for 20 minutes.
A note here about the atmosphere of this place. It was built in the late 50s/60s and still retains the flavor of that age, a little kitschy but great. I had trouble remembering to be quiet in the common spaces as it didn't have so much a spa feel as a summer camp ambiance with concrete block walls and wall art of ladies swimming in bathing suits and caps which I could see as I was laying in my swaddled cocoon, peering under my cucumber slices. A persistent thought kept me from completely relaxing: had I gotten all that peat moss out of ALL my nooks and crannies?
We all ended our treatments with fabulous massages. Mine was with Jeremy, a shorter version of Mr. Clean. He beat and smoothed every knot out of me.
We emerged onto Lincoln Street, skin soft and free of toxins, muscles relaxed, and hopefully cleansed of volcanic ash and peat from all areas of our body.
As we described our experience to our husbands, there were a lot of creative suggestions for this blog title including: Mud Flaps, Triplets of Mudville, and Holy S#%t

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Breaking and Entering in the Russian River Valley

Here I was, my body half way through the small bathroom window, clad only in my plush terry cloth robe, in a Pilates bridge-like position with my feet feeling for the top of the toilet and my shoulders resting on my husband's crouching back as he knelt on the hot tub cover. 

The day began early in Philadelphia, as we left the house at 5:30am to catch a plane to San Francisco and begin a week long wine tasting marathon. The early part of this trip is a belated 25th anniversary celebration. I am the usual holiday planner, but my husband has organized this entire trip. I did nothing...and loved letting go (my friends and family may find this difficult to believe, but it's true!). With our son home watching the dog and the house, we were ready to go.

All the travel logistics came off without a hitch. By 12:30, we were in San Francisco, looking across the bay from the Ferry Terminal Building Market, where we stopped for a brief lunch of tea and dim sum before heading north to Wine Country.


Our first stop in Russian River was Copain Winery, where Dave had arranged a private tasting, sampling 5 wines: a Chardonnay, 2 Pinot Noirs, a Syrah and a bold blend. These were accompanied by tastes of cheeses, marcona almonds, dried figs and truffle salami. The wine maker had lived for a couple years in the upper Rhone Valley in France and was striving to make wines in that style: subtle flavored, lower in alcohol than the bold reds California has become known for. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience; our host was taking a break from his career in stage management and did an admirable job in guiding us through the tasting. And the views...outstanding!



From there we journeyed along River Road to Applewood Inn, our home for the next 2 nights. It's a lovely, terra cotta colored haven perched in woods near the river. After unpacking, we went to our couples, 90 minute massage...I love my husband! We came out well oiled and relaxed. We leisurely dressed for dinner and drove 15 miles to the Rivers Edge Inn in Jenner, which sits just at the mouth of Russian River, where it meets the Pacific. 


Our table had an excellent view of the sunset, where we spoiled ourselves eating local, just caught salmon, and duck from a nearby farm. We made our way back to the Inn and prepared for a dip in hot tub on the wall enclosed private patio.

And that's how I ended up with my butt hanging through the tiny bathroom window. When we were given the tour of our room, the inn keeper warned us of the locked door leading to the patio. But after satiating ourselves on a lovely dinner and wine, as Dave, clad in his towel and me in the robe stepped onto the patio, we forgot this detail until I heard the ominous click of the latch. We were locked out!


There was a small opening leading to the adjoining patio but the room was dark. There were lights on in a unit two down and on the upper level, so I called out "helloooooo.....help!" several times to no avail. Just as I was ready to scale the wall, Dave called out in triumph as he got the screen off the small window leading into the toilet room and the window, thankfully, glided open, being unlocked. Since he has back issues and broad shoulders, I volunteered to shimmy through the window. 

So thank goodness for all the Pilates and Yoga...I made it through, feet first, resting my shoulders on Dave as wiggled myself in and finally unlocked the door! We celebrated with a nice long and well deserved soak in the tub, prepared to start tomorrow fresh and ready for wine!


Friday, May 16, 2014

Cooking Mayhem...


By the end of the week, I'm usually tired of cooking but since it's a rainy day, and I still have some vegetables left from last weekend's farmer's market, I decided to make dinner tonight. I gave Dave the choice of a pork tenderloin with balsamic glaze or a braised chicken/coq au vin dish that I had printed off from Fine Cooking. My inclination was to make the pork but Dave said the chicken sounded good so I decided I would make him happy and make the chicken.
Well....it's taken two hours, I've just degreased my kitchen which I almost burnt it down, but the chicken is braising in the crockpot. What a nightmare!
The recipe started with frying 12 ounces of chopped bacon in a 10" inch pan. I should have known something was off, because there was no way to fit all that bacon in a single layer of the pan as directed. Then after browning the chicken in the bacon grease (yes, this is a really healthy recipe!), I was to put the vegetables in the pan to soften before adding them to the crockpot....over 7 cups of vegetables in one 10 inch pan....they were piled up 3 inches above the height of the pan and I was tossing veggies all over the kitchen as I tried to stir them. I finally gave up and just added them to the crockpot.
Next step was making a roux out of tomato paste, some more grease and flour. To this, nearly a cup of brandy was to be added and boiled down. Thank god, I'd been wiping the outside of the pan down each time I emptied it, because even though I added the brandy with the burner turned off, of course due to the heat of the grease, the brandy immediately ignited! So I had a 10 inch pan filled with bacon grease, tomato paste and flour flaming away on my stove...quite aggressively.
Now as a sidebar, Dave was working at home today, and it's always tough when either of us is working for one of us not to talk to the other (it's particularly hard for me not to talk to him). I've been working on this and so as the flames are shooting out of the pan, the thought is going through my head: "hmmm, should I say something to him about this or wait until it's a real emergency?"
Well, I decided to wait...knowing that when the alcohol burned off of the brandy the flames would die down, but in the meantime, I pulled out the kitchen fire extinguisher, and a lid for the pan, though the pan had pouring spouts and I was afraid if I put a lid on the pan, fire would shoot out like a blow torch from the spouts! As the fire started to dissipate, I gently poked at the stuff in the pan with a whisk and of course the fire flared up again. Patience and calm were called for and even though I downed a cup of espresso as I started the recipe, I fortunately kept my head (and all my hair!).
So, as I said, everything is now cooking away in the crockpot, but again, I think the quantities are off as the crockpot is filled to the brim, so who knows how this is going to turn out. We may end of ordering pizza tonight. This recipe is going in the trash...needless to say, I'm not going to provide you with a link as I do NOT recommend it!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mother's Day

It just hit me this week that this is my first Mother's Day without my own mother.

I've always felt somewhat ambiguous about Mother's Day. I guess that is because in my family growing up, my own mom never wanted it celebrated with much fanfare. It was on a Mother's Day that her own mom deserted her and her brother. As the story goes, her mom sent the two of them to a movie and when they returned, there was a letter on the mantle, saying "I've stayed with you long enough and have gone to live my own life" or words to that effect. My mom was 17 and her brother 14. Can kind of sour the sentiment of a day honoring your mom for you.

It feels to me like one of those "Hallmark holidays" ....I'd much rather have my kids call me regularly and express their love and appreciation for me in small ways throughout the year than make a big deal on one arbitrary day. Not that I'm one for turning down a brunch or dinner or a little pampering.

And I have to admit, I get confused on this day...do we honor our mothers or should I be honored?We've always lived near my husband's mom and she seems to like the day, so we will usually do something with her, which is fine with me, especially since it was never a big deal for my own mom.

I think my favorite Mother's Day was when the boys were young, about 3 and 6 and we went to Valley Forge Park. We picked up a picnic lunch of sushi; put some kites, a blanket, and a chair for my mother in law in the car. We planted ourselves in a field in the park, flew the kites and enjoyed the beautiful weather and each others company. No hype, no stress...just a perfect sky, a simple meal and a day with those I love. Now that is Mother's Day.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

To Market, to Market....and hidden gems of Philly


I had a great day yesterday! My brother and I went into Philly and spent the morning at the Reading Terminal Market and then a quick trip to the Museum of Art's Korean Treasures exhibit.

The Reading Terminal Market is such a treasure. It contains over 80 vendors, many of them selling ready to eat food, as well as purveyors of vegetables and fruit, meats, poultry, fish, chocolate and a smattering of non-edibles such as french linens, cookbooks, "made in Pa" items and a kitchen supply store. The ethnic range of the food is remarkable and representative of the region: Amish, Italian, Soul Food, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Middle Eastern, French, Caribbean and more. You can taste your way through the Philly classics: an Amish breakfast at the Dutch Eating Place, snapper soup at Pearl's Oyster Bar, a cheesesteak at Carmines or Dinic's award winning pork sandwich, Bassett's ice cream for dessert and from one of the numerous candy stands pick up some Wilbur buds (from whom Hershey stole the idea of the kisses...buds are better!)

Usually when I've visited the market, I've rushed through at lunch time or on my way from one destination to another. Yesterday, it was my destination. We arrived at about 10:30, a perfect time to stroll the aisles. The lunch crowd hadn't arrived so we were able to go up and down each aisle and really peruse the goods. I noticed there are a good amount of new vendors that look promising as well as the old stalwarts. There is Valley Shepherds Creamery & Meltkraft Grilled Cheese (won best of Philly grilled cheese sandwich) which produces cheese in New Jersey. I didn't try one of their sandwiches but plan to bring Bobby back next week to sample. I have high hopes!

At 11am we joined a food tour of the market with our guide Betty. It was an excellent tour, giving the history of the market and a real "flavor" of the place. The tours run Wednesdays and Saturdays and for $16 are a bargain!

As part of the tour, Betty took us outside the market building and onto Market Street to look at the Terminal Head House where the Reading Railroad trains used to come into the city. It's a beautiful Victorian building but the best part is on the inside. If you go into the entrance marked "Convention Center" and up the escalator, you'll come to the original train shed. When the Reading Railroad built this terminal in the 1890's, there was an existing farmers market on the site and they refused to leave. So the company built the train shed above them and created the market space (originally for 800 vendors) below, in the space that still houses the market. The trains stopped running to the elevated tracks in the 80's timeframe, with the Market Street East Station being built underground. When the convention center was built they took over the train shed and as part of Philly's mandated public art initiative (1% of new construction cost must go to public art...how great is that!?), they added a wonderful Calder-like aerial sculpture in the beautiful hall where the shed existed. You can still see the arched structure with sky lights and if you examine the marble floor, you can also see the original tracks. I never knew this place existed...it's now on my list of hidden gems of the city.

Also on this list is Maxfield Parrish Tiffany mosaic in the Curtis building. The Curtis building is just across from Independence Hall's back park on 6th Street and is where the Saturday Evening post was published. You need to go around to the 7th Street entrance, walk through the marble atrium, telling the guard you are going to see the mosaic, and head to the 6th Street side of the building. As you come around the corner, you'll be blown away. The mosaic is huge and breathtaking...I like to sit and contemplate it. It is an oasis of calm and beauty.

My last gem (hopefully I'll find more) is the Rare Book room in the Free Library of Philadelphia. For years, I've wanted to go into the Free Library just off Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and finally did a year or two ago on another jaunt into the city with my brother. The building itself is impressive but I had read about the rare book room and wanted to check it out. It was the year of Dickens celebration and they were having an exhibit that sounded interesting. I asked at one of the information desks where the room was and was directed to an elevator and told to go to the third floor. There you'll see a glassed in room with a doorbell! You ring the bell and are ushered into an incredible collection of beautiful and rare books and a rotating exhibit space. There is the original lovely 62 foot paneled Georgian library room from the original bequester, William Elkins, who donated all the contents and the room itself. They even have Charles Dickens pet raven, Grip, stuffed for all to see! If you are one of those people who treasures books, this is a wonderful place!

I love exploring cities and need to make the effort to explore my own city more...there are so many treasures to discover!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's Spring! Time for my own creation: Lemon Lavendar Cookies...

At Christmas, my mom's Orange cookies are my sister's and my favorite cookie of the season. I don't know why I only make it then, but for some reason that's the case. A few years ago, I had been given some lavender to cook with, one of those pretty crocks from Williams & Sonoma, and hadn't used much of it. Then I went to a local tea house and they served lemon lavender scones which I feel in love with. I decided to tinker with the orange cookie base and came up with a cookie recipe with the lemon lavender combination. It was a hit! I have people who go crazy over these cookies (myself included). To me, they are the perfect spring and summer cookies. The lavender flavor is not overpowering...just a hint to accompany the lemon flavor. Be sure to make the glaze as well. It dresses them up and adds a sweet/tart punch. I also adapted the Nigella Lawson scone recipe with a lemon lavender variation....I'll post those one of these days as well.

Lee's Lemon Lavender Cookies


Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (or sour milk)
  • 1/8 cup (=2 T) lemon juice
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon of lavender
For the icing:
  • 1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • lemon juice 
  • water
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together with a mixer. 
  3. Add the egg and mix and then add the buttermilk and lemon juice and mix. The consistency may look a bit odd, but don't panic!
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients with a whisk: the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, lemon rind and lavender.
  5. Add the dry mixture to the sugar/butter mixture and blend well. 
  6. Drop rounded teaspoonful onto cookie sheets layered with silpat or parchment paper (this is optional but prevents the cookies from getting too browned around the edges)
  7. Bake for 15 minutes.
  8. While baking mix the powdered sugar with the lemon juice, adding the lemon juice a teaspoonful at a time (it doesn't take too much) until it's at a spreading consistency (not too liquidy). If you want to cut the lemon flavor you can also use some water though I stick with the juice.
  9. When you remove the cookies from the oven, let them cool for 2 minutes on the cookie sheet and then transfer to the cooling rack. Start icing them as soon as you've transferred them to the cooling rack so that you are icing while they are still warm.
Photo's below to help:

Lemon zest and lavendar
Heaped teaspoon on parchment paper or silpat
Right out if the oven!
Icing consistency
Iced and cooling (add the icing while cookies are warm)