Back From Abroad!

Back From Abroad!

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We’re home!! And it was wonderful, magical, challenging, expensive, enchanting, familiar, exotic, and as always, life-changing and perspective-changing. It was a terrific adventure.

But first things first, my apologies for being extremely quiet over the last two months. The updates dwindled because of extremely challenging, very precarious events taking place at work which came to a head, spilling fourth drama the likes of which I have never seen in my professional life before. It caused anxiety and stress that I also have never experienced in my professional life, and a lot of uncertainty regarding the future. HOWEVER. It seems the storm is passing and things are really looking up, so now that the flurry of crazy has died down, I’m looking forward to directing my mental energy back to the things that make me really happy, this blog being one of them!

OK. With that out of the way…

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It was marvelous, guys. I could write about the wicked financial hangover we’re nursing (…we knew it was coming, and feel it was worth it, but it still hurts!), or the inevitable let-down of returning to every day life (not as bad as last time!), or the very real challenges that the three of us encountered that make up the experience of travel…but I won’t bother, because all of those things pale in comparison to the graces upon grace that we were given daily, and the seeds that have been planted in our souls from these experiences, preparing to bloom and ripen over the coming months and years. I sincerely hope you don’t get terribly bored of seeing travel pictures and hearing travel stories, because that’s going to be a major theme of my blog for a long time to come!

We started our trip in London, staying in a beautiful apartment in an award-winning, eco-friendly building in Elephant and Castle, a vibrant and diverse neighborhood that won our hearts immediately. This was the view from our bedroom:

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We stayed in London for four days, and it was fantastic! We did a lot of sightseeing, catching up on sleep, walking, riding the busses and the underground…but the downside was that London was in the middle of the the worst heatwave they’ve ever had and we were hot as HELL. Poor London just doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with heat like that, and our apartment, the busses, the tube, basically everywhere, didn’t have adequate air conditioning. We were sweating buckets and remained sticky the entire time. Still, we did the best we could and saw some glorious sights:

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Possibly our favorite London experience was getting to eat at St. John, a Michelin-starred restaurant owned by renowned chef Fergus Henderson. Who I met. Who I got to thank. Who I kind of fangirl-fawned over as I gushed to him, and who graciously thanked me and told me he hoped we enjoyed our lunch. Guys…it was basically the highlight of the entire trip. I almost cried several times after returning to my table, but forced myself to hold back the tears remembering I was wearing mascara. Oh, the food was outstanding, by the way! I’m planning to do a second food retrospective post for this trip, so you’ll get to see what we ate!

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We visited Stonehenge and Bath:

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Both were lovely. This was the most touristy thing we did, and it was fun but I wouldn’t do them again (at least not by chartered tour bus). This was a challenging day because we were all very tired and Sister was worn thin, but we still got many fun memories out of it and I will definitely remember it fondly.

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Husband and I got to do a day exploring London on our own while Sister rested, and we had the best time! We visited ancient tea shops and ancient perfume shops (surprise, surprise, Husband bought his very first grown-up cologne and it’s MAGICAL). We visited the London Transport Museum, to Husband’s delight, and we visited my beloved Twining’s tea shop, to my delight.

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Then in the evening we ate at this lovely place, a beautiful pub. There is so much beauty in the U.K., it’s almost unbelievable. Everywhere you look there is something ancient, eternal and charming looking back at you. The details make all the difference, and we were constantly looking at each other and saying things like “This is REAL! It isn’t Disneyland…it’s REAL!” It sounds so silly, but the beauty, the details…they fed us. They fed us right up, filling starving parts of our souls that we didn’t even know needed nourishment.

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After London we took the train to Holyhead (home of the Holyhead Harpies, for you Harry Potter fans!) and stayed in a lovely B&B. I took an evening stroll by myself and was rewarded with these vistas.

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The next day we took a ferry to Dublin and, after a near-disaster regarding return-ferry scheduling that Husband heroically solved, we spent seven hours in this remarkably and stunningly beautiful city.

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We decided immediately that next time, Dublin is where we’ll be coming, sorry London! We’ve had enough of you! Dublin was just…comfortable. Next to the hustle and bustle of London, Dublin was like your grandpa’s easy chair…we felt we could sink into it with a hot drink (a real Irish coffee, perhaps) and just stay indefinitely. Alas, we had to return to Holyhead…but thankfully we got a stateroom on the return journey, and one with a fantastic view:

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Mostly we slept, though. Then, of course, we got to Conwy. OH, CONWY.

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If you read my (long) post about Wales you’ll know my love for Conwy. I can’t possibly reiterate it here, but suffice it to say, Conwy is my most favorite place on earth. If any place feeds the starving parts of my soul, it is north Wales, and Conwy might as well be the capital.

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Of course, there are other stunning towns in north Wales, like the almost absurdly picturesque Llanwrst:

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We spent a few days in the north just taking in the splendor, and then said goodbye to Conwy at it’s lovely little train station:

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Now we are home, jet lagged, still needing to do laundry, unpack, prepare for the work week (I return tomorrow!). But I’m going to ease back into the grind, and I have a handful of changes that I’m going to be making to improve my quality of life. Last August I wrote a post called “First Fruits,” discussing the “fruit” that travel bears in the weeks after returning home. I’m already seeing these first fruits, but I’m looking forward to the harvest, which will come in time. Of course, it feels so good to be home. Traveling is exhausting and it’s wonderful to be in my own bed again, with my own sweet kitty curled up next to me. We are so lucky and so grateful, and we’ll definitely bask in this glow for weeks to come.

 

 

Remembering Anthony

Remembering Anthony

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We were bumping down a mountain road, bracing ourselves in the back seat of my aunt’s car as she and my uncle screamed at each other in English and Spanish. The day was overcast, the road was decrepit, and my stomach was rumbling, ready for the treat that awaited us. This was my husband’s first trip to Puerto Rico and his first time eating this particular island specialty. As we pulled down the main strip (such as it was) of Guavate, we began to spy whole roasted pigs in lechoneria windows.

A few minutes later the four of us sat at cement picnic tables, our Styrofoam plates piled high with lechon, morcilla (blood sausage), plantain, rice and avocado. I was thrilled. I had wanted to visit this place (the “lechon capital of Puerto Rico”) since I’d seen Anthony Bourdain visit it on his show “No Reservations.” Now I was there enjoying the food he talked about, sitting amongst the people he spoke warmly of…I was following in the footsteps of someone I respected, and finding the “good stuff” was a tiny dream come true for me.

“Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals of one’s life.”

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In the early-2000s, Mom came home from the library with a book-on-tape. She popped the first cassette into the tape player (yes, it was literally a book-on-tape) and listened to it while she single-handedly renovated our entire home like a one-woman army. One afternoon, as she was making dinner, I wandered into the kitchen and heard a New York accent issuing from the old, grey boom box that had once been mine.

“This is a great book!” Mom told me, “It’s about a chef who travels around the world in search of the perfect meal!” Intrigued, I perched on a step stool, soaking up “A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal.” Some stories were exciting, some disgusting, some enthralling…but what struck me was the fervor with which this man wrote. I was in my mid-teens and came from a family that appreciated good food, that cultivated my adventurous palate. But I hadn’t heard anyone outside of my family speak with such palpable excitement about food…food and other places. Other cultures. The way Anthony spoke about Vietnam, the reverence, the love, the obsessive level at which he described eating phở for example, was totally fascinating and exciting to a teenager just about to embark on the great adventure of leaving home.

“The world is amazing,” he told me. “The great big world that you are about to step into— it is full of incredible foods, and people, and adventures. I demand that you enjoy it.”

“If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

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When I moved to San Francisco, I listened to this book (again, on cassette) as I painted my new bedroom. His enthusiasm was infectious. I had never sampled much of what he rapturously spoke of. I’d never eaten Vietnamese food, never had a bowl of phở. I’d never eaten Indonesian food, and didn’t know what bun cha was. Until now, I hadn’t cared. I was planning to enroll in the local community college, complete two years of general ed and then transfer to U.C. Santa Cruz to study environmental science. My family members are currently laughing, I’m sure, but as an eighteen-year-old with zero self-awareness, that was what I thought I’d do. My first semester at City College was a disaster. I hated academia, and knew immediately that pursuing a four-year degree wasn’t for me. Eyes streaming, I stood on the steps of the science building, talking to Mom on my cell phone, explaining that I just couldn’t go on.

“Well what DO you want to do? You can’t do nothing,” she said, in a sympathetic tone. I gazed over to the cafeteria, to the buildings that housed the award-winning culinary arts department.

“I want to join the culinary program.”

“But I do think the idea that basic cooking skills are a virtue, that the ability to feed yourself and a few others with proficiency should be taught to every young man and woman as a fundamental skill, should become as vital to growing up as learning to wipe one’s own ass, cross the street by oneself, or be trusted with money.”

And so I embarked on my culinary journey which was life-changing, formative, and essential for the person I would become. Part of that transformative experience was formal education, but part of it was something happening in my personal life which I attribute to Anthony. After “A Cook’s Tour,” I received “Kitchen Confidential” as a birthday gift and devoured it. It was overblown and full of bravado, but I loved what he had to say about restaurants and I loved hearing the story of his life.

I kept returning to “A Cook’s Tour,” though. Again and again I returned to chapters Anthony wrote about finding “the good stuff.” Until then I had been intimidated by a lot of the good stuff. I hadn’t tasted dim sum, Vietnamese food, or Korean food (which I was convinced I’d hate). I had no memories of eating Indian food. I didn’t want to eat offal, I wasn’t attracted to stinky, sinewy or weird things. I didn’t like oysters, and I hated blue cheese. And I didn’t think any of this was a problem.

But Anthony, in his strident, sarcastic, and genuinely buoyant way admonished me. With my attitude, I’d be the schmuck eating McDonald’s in France. Ok, maybe not that bad, but almost. I was never a picky eater, my parents saw to that. But I wasn’t as adventurous as I’d thought, either, and I didn’t yet see a reason to be. I hadn’t yet fallen deeply in love with food, and Anthony was changing that. He was teaching me chapter by chapter what the good stuff was, where to find it, and why.

“Bad food is made without pride, by cooks who have no pride, and no love. Bad food is made by chefs who are indifferent, or who are trying to be everything to everybody, who are trying to please everyone… Bad food is fake food… food that shows fear and lack of confidence in people’s ability to discern or to make decisions about their lives.”

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After reading the chapter on Vietnam in “A Cook’s Tour” about seven times, I ventured out into the city alone one evening, ending up in a Vietnamese noodle joint on Clement street where I had my first bowl of phở. It clicked. I got it, Anthony. You’re right. Chase the good stuff! The real stuff. It is always worth it. The stuff that grandmas make. The stuff that poor people feed you if you visit them in foreign lands, offered with a generosity of spirit that underscores the emptiness of corporate greed. The stuff that white Americans shy away from. The things you’ve never heard of. The good stuff! Make your life rich with it! Share it with others! Don’t settle for anything less.

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”

This moment in a relatively dingy Vietnamese noodle shop on Clement street didn’t just change me, it changed my family. Case in point: every time my Dad would visit San Francisco, and I’m talking every single time since we moved to the Sierras in 1998, he’d make a lunch stop at a beloved burrito place. This ritual was iconically Dad. We teased him about it, his burrito obsession, feeling that we could all never eat another burrito again and die happy.

Anthony changed this. The next time Dad visited, I asked him if just maybe we could get Vietnamese noodles instead of a burrito? Dad was gracious. We drove to Clement. He had never had phở, and instantly adored it as much as I did. The next time my sister visited, we took her. She too fell in love. And just like that, the decade-long burrito ritual was usurped, wholly and completely, and Dad has seemingly never looked back. We developed a new ritual, a new tradition for the three of us that lasted for years…it continues to this day! It was Anthony who urged me to try the good stuff, and to share with bubbling, surging enthusiasm the joy of the good stuff with the ones I love.

There are many things I began to love because of Anthony, and many things I learned. I learned to love blue cheese, oysters, and Korean food. I learned to love the challenge of surprising or intimidating foods. Yes, kimchi smells like compost, but I learned to devour it. It was the good stuff. I learned the names of chefs, like Fergus Henderson, who had changed food culture. As I planned an imaginary trip to Wales, I penciled in a stop at St. John, Henderson’s London restaurant and the birthplace of nose-to-tail eating. I learned why nose-to-tail eating was significant, and that Henderson’s bone marrow and parsley salad revolutionized food. This summer, along with my sister and my husband, I will eat at St. John because of Anthony.

“I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime ‘associates,’ food, for me, has always been an adventure.”

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In 2006 I flew to Philadelphia for a trade show with Mom and our family friend, Abby. On the flight, I had the (somewhat breathtaking and intimidating) fortune of being seated next to a tall, blonde, very long-haired, astonishingly handsome man in his twenties. In her bubbly way, Abby introduced herself to him, shook his hand over my lap, asked what he did, and was delighted to discover he was a chef. “OH! Vanessa’s in culinary school! You should talk!” Heart aflutter, I acknowledged that I was indeed in culinary school. With some prompting from this kind and stunning man, I admitted that my current inspiration was Anthony Bourdain.

“Hah! Well, I like him. He’s interesting! He’s no chef, though. And that’s why I like him. He doesn’t claim to be.” My face fell. Talk about a backhanded compliment. It was instant disappointment. Gone was any flutter of intimidation. I wasn’t about to argue the point with someone clearly more experienced than me, so I said something like “Hah…yeah. He…doesn’t.” We went quiet for the remainder of the flight. I declined to exchange contact information.

A few days later I found myself, breathless once again, being seated with Mom and an old family friend named Ashok, at the Manhattan restaurant Les Halles, the restaurant Anthony Bourdain had headed as Chef de Cuisine for many years. Mom had orchestrated this surprise with Ashok knowing that I loved Anthony, and I was taken totally by surprise. By this time Anthony was no longer at the helm, having hit the big-time with a Food Network show four years prior. However, I thought there might be a chance that someday I would meet him, and if that came to pass I didn’t want to embarrass myself by having to admit that I ate at Les Halles and ordered a burger. How embarrassing! I scanned the menu for a dish to be proud of…and bingo, there it was. The tripe Les Halles. I’d never had tripe and Anthony himself said that he thought it tasted like “wet sheepdog,” but *this* was the good stuff! This was the kind of eating he encouraged!

It was sensational. I loved it. Five months later at Christmas, I opened a package to reveal a photo in a gold frame. It was a picture Mom took of me standing in front of Les Halles, the gold lettering shining on the window behind me, a moment of delight on a wonderful day. I still have that photo Mom kindly framed for me. I was so proud of that experience, and so grateful for it.

No relationship is perfect, and my relationship with Anthony (such as it was) waxed and waned. Around 2007 I dabbled with vegetarianism, venerating the example Mom had set for me with her two decades of vegetarianism. The strident, somewhat ignorant and utterly obnoxious opinions about vegetarianism Anthony was famous for spouting began to grate on me, and by 2010 I’d heard one too many of his hypocritical criticisms for vegans and vegetarians. A friend who was opening a restaurant in San Francisco called me offering two tickets to a talk Anthony was giving in the East Bay that evening. I refused them. Despite my gratitude for his significant influence on my life, I accepted that Anthony was just a human and that I was beginning to lose respect for him over this issue alone.

Don’t get me wrong. His vocal, often obnoxious ad hominem attacks on other food personalities never failed to delight me. Because you see, he had shaped my food values. He had taught me that good food takes time. That hard work and honesty make a good cook. That gimmicks, and corporate interest and phony people aren’t to be idolized. That chefs endorsing huge corporations can’t hold a candle to your grandmother’s cooking, and never will. And with his razor wit (or perhaps ham-handed wit) he eviscerated the likes of Paula Deen, Rachel Ray, and Guy Fieri, all soulless slaves to their Food Network corporate overlords. He refused to bow at the altar of Alice Waters, something I commend him for to this day (having myself worked for chefs who did time at Chez Panisse under Waters and confirmed his claims), wrote a blistering but accurate critique of her in “Medium Raw,” and hosted an astoundingly good documentary on the real talent behind the Chez Panisse phenomenon, Jeremiah Tower, which aired in a “Parts Unknown” time slot. He detested dishonesty, cults of personality, and undeserved accolades. He was quick to call out people he felt were phony, or who used anything other than authentic food or culture as their primary motivators. In this era of the “celebrity chef,” I applaud him for this. It didn’t make him a lot of friends, but it earned him a lot of respect.

As the years went on I, and millions of others, enjoyed his many international adventures on “No Reservations.” But his chief achievement, in my opinion, is the show that came after this: “Parts Unknown.” It is the single most beautifully produced television show of all time. Certainly the most sophisticated travel show of all time. With “Parts Unknown,” Anthony used cuisine less as a central theme and more as means through which the culture, spirit, and experience of people are made known. He is always gracious to his hosts. He is always generous with his deep, poignant commentary. He is always gentle with his questions, that in their simplicity seem to evoke answers painfully genuine, answers that could never be scripted.

Anthony made himself the go-to man for how to see, and what to see, and where to see it. Before any trip, real or imagined, his shows are the first thing consulted to ensure nothing essential is missed…to make sure the “good stuff,” the places where the locals go, is included.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

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But for me, Anthony’s spirit, enthusiasm, and values have transcended the page and the screen. They came to rest in my consciousness, speaking to me subtly in ways I didn’t even realize until today when I learned of his death. Often when cooking a beloved family recipe, I’ve caught myself thinking “If I got the chance to host Anthony for a meal, which family recipe would I make for him? Which meal best characterizes our family? Best showcases our heritage? Which would he enjoy the most?”  When enjoying a meal in a hole-in-the-wall, locals-only restaurant in the Caribbean, or eating the thing on the menu that sounds alarming at first glance, my husband and I will look at each other and say, smiling, “this is so Anthony Bourdain!” Recently I suggested we eat at Swan Oyster Depot soon, not because it’s a San Francisco institution but because “Anthony Bourdain said it’s one of his favorite places in the whole United States to eat!” When planning vacations, we shun resorts. Because of Anthony, we know that you don’t go where everyone goes…where the hoards of doughy tourists flock, drinking cocktails with mini umbrellas in them. We avoid those places. We seek out the real, the overlooked. The good stuff. That is our value, and it’s a value we hope to pass on to our children.

His New York accent and attitude, his liberal use of sarcasm, and his love of 70’s punk bands like The Ramones all contributed to making him feel like a relative of mine. Indeed, this death doesn’t feel like a typical celebrity death. It feels like a friend dying. He was a friend, he just didn’t know it. My sister put it succinctly today on Instagram: “Our family’s love language is food, and he helped us love each other even more.”

He did. Whether we were griping about his unfairness to vegans, admiring his stand against fast food (with the notable exception of In-N-Out!), or laughing at his colorful descriptions of snooty food personalities (“Pol Pot in a muumuu” comes to mind, again taking aim at Alice Waters), we were always talking about him. He cropped up all the time in conversation, underscoring the fact that no matter how we felt about him at any given moment, we cared about what he had to say. We often respected it. We wanted him to keep telling us where to go, what to see, and why. We turned to him to show us the way to the good stuff.

Part of the shock I felt this morning when I read the headlines and burst into confused tears, feeling like a train had just run me over, was that I had believed he would continue to be there. I believed that the arc of his life was success. That the ex-heroin addict, ex-cocaine addict with previous suicide attempts, extreme depression and insatiable workaholism…I believed that the story of this man’s life was that he had transcended that. I expected that he would continue to comment poignantly on the lives the less fortunate, to turn white America’s attention away from itself and break down xenophobia one bowl of noodles at a time. I wanted that. I wanted this sarcastic, brilliant writer, teacher, and friend to keep going. It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t.

“Life is complicated. It’s filled with nuance. It’s unsatisfying… If I believe in anything, it is doubt. The root cause of all life’s problems is looking for a simple fucking answer.”

The irony is that the person who could provide the most poignant commentary on his passing…was him. That’s not true of everyone who commits suicide. He was able to cut through the bullshit and speak to the deep, dark pain always lurking in shadowed recesses of the human heart. I imagine what he would say now. There would be self-deprecation. There would be joking sarcasm. There would be commentary that makes you sit, silent for a long time after the credits start rolling. Would there be regret? It is maddening that we will never know. He has passed into parts unknown, where we cannot follow.

It’s very easy to react to victims of suicide with anger. Indeed, this cruel and misplaced response is often the reaction we turn to to protect ourselves from just feeling our actual pain..but in allowing ourselves to feel our actual pain, we remember the beauty this man brought to our lives more fully. We’ll never understand why it had to end this way, it wasn’t supposed to end this way! But it did. And I’m extremely grateful for the way Anthony shaped me, and the values he instilled in me.

“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom…is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”

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*all photo credit to NPR and CNN.

Hello May!

Hello May!

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“May and June. Soft syllables, gentle names for the two best months in the garden year: cool, misty mornings gently burned away with a warming spring sun, followed by breezy afternoons and chilly nights. The discussion of philosophy is over; it’s time for work to begin.”
– Peter Loewer

Maybe it’s just because May is my birthday month that I love it so much. I think it’s second only to October in terms of best months, in my book. May is the herald of summertime—it begins in high spring, yet Memorial Day weekend here in the States always feels like the official beginning of the summer season. People have the first barbeques of the year, the first pool parties, the first picnics (at least in our neck of the woods). In the Sierras, a common practice is to wait until Memorial Day weekend to plant your summer gardens because before that date there’s still a chance of snow. While weird weather is more and more common these days, I remember clearly as a young teenager experiencing snow on my birthday, seemingly well before the strange weather patterns caused by climate change began to plague us in earnest. Thankfully, gloomy weather in mid to late May is somewhat rare! I’ve often been lucky enough to have glorious sunshine on my birthday!

One downside to being born the third week of May is that my birthday has always coincided with finals week, or frantic studying for finals week. As I began my college career at 18 and didn’t complete it until 29 (with many years of breaks and other things in between), and as Husband is still slave to an academic schedule, I long for the day that the third week of May is just another week, and not one full of homework and anxiety.

My family loves to host get-togethers or go to dinner to honor a birthday, but we almost never do so on the day itself, because the logistics would be hard. Through a funny series of events, Sister and I have been celebrating our birthdays together one weekend in June for the last five years, and some fun traditions have sprouted up around it! I’ll tell the story behind why Sister (born in January) and I (born in May) would staunchly celebrate our birthdays in June every year next month. Meanwhile, Husband and I often go to dinner the day of our birthdays because we love any excuse for a festive meal, so I can count on that.

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Birthdays are different as an adult, but great. We aren’t children and don’t need a fuss (I don’t enjoy a fuss), but they’re still fun to mark, and to use for reflection. I remember one of my most favorite birthdays was in 2014. I was so busy with finishing a school semester and had what felt like a thousand social and academic obligations to deal with; Husband was working very hard and studying full-time. For various reasons, I had been finding myself pressured into doing all kinds of things I didn’t want to do and prioritizing things I didn’t value by a person I’ll just call Toxic Roommate for the previous several years. Toxic Roommate had been a close friend for twelve years, but I’d had an ugly break with her two months prior. I had kicked her out (she had been living with us, in addition to Husband’s brother) and the loss of her influence in my life was like an anvil of crazy lifting off me. She was someone who celebrated her own birthday like the Queen of England—a week-long parade of events of all kinds that all her friends were expected to attend and participate in. She also expected her friends to celebrate this way too. It was exhausting on many levels. We went our separate ways with much drama, and it might have been the best decision I’ve made in my adult life besides marrying Husband. About six weeks after the final goodbye, my birthday came along and though I had spent many years thinking I needed to make a fuss for the benefit of others, I pushed those feelings away did exactly what I wanted to do:

I spent my birthday alone in my house, eating tea sandwiches and reading my favorite books in bed—it was HEAVEN! I know I do that a lot these days, but back then it was a rare luxury. I was feeling so free, so content, so happy to create a little day of relaxation and alone time for myself amid the chaos of life. I still look back at that day as one of the happiest birthdays I’ve ever had, and reflect that it was precisely *because* my life was so hectic and because I had recently seen painful drama that a day alone doing absolutely nothing was the best soul medicine I could have given myself. I’m not sure what this year will bring, but I know it will bring reflection and perhaps something just as good and just as needed as that day in solitude with tea and books four years ago.

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Other fun things happen in May besides the anniversary of my birth (I hope you can hear my joking tone through the screen)! We have Cinco de Mayo, celebrated in our area with much fervor. While neither Husband nor I have any Mexican heritage, we don’t let that stop us from enjoying Mexican food…decidedly, NOT the purpose of Cinco de Mayo, but my favorite way of marking the day! This year Cinco de Mayo falls on a Saturday which is great for everyone who really celebrates it. Many restaurants and businesses in the Bay Area close in observation of Cinco de Mayo, but I have confidence that we will be able to locate top-notch Mexican food, regardless. Either that, or I’ll just have to make some. 🙂

Mother’s Day is also in May! When Grandma was alive, Mother’s Day was always about her, for better or worse. Sister and I would send Mom cards or gifts, but as matriarch of the family and mother to Mom, Mom always went out of her way to spend time with and honor Grandma. Last year was the first year Mom *could* have had the day be all about her for the first time in her life, but something came up and we weren’t able to coordinate anything. I’ve been really longing to rectify this and arrange for Sister and I to spend a day with Mom, honoring her and only her. Thankfully, this year we are planning to do just that! Dear friend M, who recently announced her pregnancy, is having a housewarming party a few hours north of Mom and Dad’s house the day before Mother’s Day, so I’ll be driving all over the Sierras that weekend. Sister and I will be spending Sunday with Mom, cooking for her and making her feel special (I hope). I’ve taken the following Monday off so the holiday doesn’t need to be marred by driving home in Bay Area traffic, and all-in-all it should be a really nice change!

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Spiritually, May is a really important month in Catholicism. May is a month dedicated to unique Marion devotions, the most culturally universal and recognizable of which being the May Crowning, with a procession and celebration (that sometimes includes a maypole), children crowning a statue of Mary “Queen of the May.” In some countries this is done on May 1, May Day. In others, it might be held on another day dedicated to Mary. There is a lot of floral imagery in May, particularly with the May Crowning (the crown of which is made of flowers), but also throughout the month.

“Bring flowers of the rarest
From garden and woodland
And hillside and vale
Our full hearts are swelling
Our Glad voices telling
The praise of the loveliest
Rose of the vale,”
–“Queen of the May,” Irish Hymn

Here’s what’s on for May:

May 1: May Day
May 4: Star Wars Day
May 5: Cinco de Mayo
May 10: Feast of the Ascension
May 11: “The Seagull” movie is released (Looks like a really nice period drama! Maybe I can persuade Husband to go with me)
May 13: Mother’s Day
May 17: My birthday!
May 19: National Devil’s Food Cake Day (Oh my, how am I just finding out about this now? If I have Devil’s Food cake on my birthday, I can enjoy leftovers this day!)
May 20: Feast of Pentecost—Easter ends, and Ordinary Time begins again. Also, the race Bay to Breakers takes place this morning in San Francisco—I have to remember to stay home!
May 21: Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church (This is a new feast, just announced in March!)
May 25: “Solo: A Star Wars Story” movie is released
May 27: Trinity Sunday
May 28: Memorial Day
May 31: Feast of the Visitation

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Some goals for May:

I don’t really know why I even bother thinking up these goals as I almost never meet them! No pies were made in April, I barely squeaked out two books read. But it seems worthwhile regardless of how seriously I take them, so here are a few I’ve been thinking about…

–Visit the restaurant Gintei Sushi for my birthday: http://www.gintei.com.
–Spend time with Crazy Uncle J, who I haven’t seen since before Christmas and miss.
–Take a day trip to Santa Clara to visit my relatives buried at the mission (ideally Mom would join me…hopefully we can make this happen!).
–Buy our train tickets from http://www.trainline.co.uk! This is the last expense we have before our trip is totally paid for, aside from food, souvenirs and incidentals while we are there.
–Overhaul our current budget, or lack thereof.

I think that’s plenty, and thankfully some of those MUST happen, so come June I’ll be glad I was able to accomplish SOMETHING I set out to do! What are your plans for May? Happy May, all!

“The world’s favorite season is the spring.
All things seem possible in May.”
– Edwin Way Teale

Delightful, Delicious, De-Lovely

Delightful, Delicious, De-Lovely

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Hello!! It has been a really long time since I did a “Delightful, Delicious, De-lovely,” post, so I’m taking the opportunity to do one, but I’m also using it as a mid-month update. Please excuse any rambling. 🙂

Delightful:

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It is a kombucha brewhouse over here! For Christmas Husband received a kombucha brewing kit and a big book about kombucha. Since he stopped drinking, he has been consuming gallons of the stuff, and he credits it for helping him stay on the straight and narrow, as well as providing him with good probiotics and something tasty to enjoy in the evenings. I’m not the hugest fan, but I don’t mind it. Anyway, the rate at which he drinks it does some serious damage to our wallets, so this new hobby might mitigate that. 🙂 I’m a big fan of homemade fermented foods, and consuming fermented foods for health, so watching him brew this stuff and tasting it during the different stages has been  really fun and educational. The first batch isn’t done yet, so we still have several bottles of store-bought ‘buch in the fridge, but I think he’s really getting the hang of it, and that this might be a dedicated hobby from now on. Hurray!

Delicious:

So I know everyone is dying to hear the ongoing odyssey of my diet…not. I’ll summarize as best I can. After posting a highly sanctimonious introduction to how great I’m going to do on the insane Dukan diet, pride went-eth before the fall and I really, really, seriously, badly struggled with it. I’ve done it twice before for short periods of time and both times I felt fine! Blame it on the season, the weather, my attitude…no idea, but this time around was wildly different. I felt severely nauseated for the four days I stuck to it, to the point where I just knew it was unsustainable. SO. Rather than give up (which is what I have done many times before when things got hard, diet-wise), I pivoted. I held onto my goal, and reevaluated. I had a wonderful conversation with Husband’s aunt, Awesome Aunt, who is very dedicated to clean eating and healthy lifestyle, and she shared a ton of her wisdom with me. So I’ve landed in a place that looks VERY different from Dukan…but feels really, really good and is great for both me and Husband. It will almost certainly morph and change as the weeks go by, but I’m pretty proud of myself for not falling off the wagon and eating a whole cake when I realized Dukan wasn’t working this time around, for whatever reason.

The place I’ve landed is somewhat low-carb (I’m calling it “conscious carb”), vegan plus the occasional piece of fish, low-fat but natural fat, with big fat emphasis on vegetables, and a vacation from processed sugar. AND IT FEELS SO GOOD. My tummy is full of warm food that I can give to Husband too, in good conscience knowing it won’t affect his heart health, which is a priority. We are eating the same diet again, as all last year he was vegetarian and I was rampantly consuming meat. It’s the solution to many needs, and I’m really happy with it.

Also, I began classes at my gym, and I love them! I’ve taken spin classes, TRX strap classes (the hardest thing I have ever done in my whole life), Anti-Gravity yoga classes done on fabric hammocks (so much fun!)…it has been really great. So sticking to food that I enjoy while adopting the new gym habit I find is helpful too. I have more success not doing ALLTHETHINGS at the same time.

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That’s my breakfast yesterday and today! Whole grain tortilla, hummus, sautéed spinach, roasted red pepper, cucumber, avocado, and tomatillo salsa.

Another thing I did for the first time this weekend is I sat down and meal planned for the whole coming week. I NEVER do this. What I normally do is grocery shop, buying whatever ingredients look good, then each day attempt to create something out of them, which does two things: 1. Causes stress because I never know what to cook and end up either needing to get more ingredients to make something real, or waste things I don’t use 2. Cause way more work for myself therein because food becomes a constant and expensive guessing game…which, like I said, also causes a ton of waste.

NOT ANYMORE. With this new diet/lifestyle/whatever, I know I have to have meals ready-to-go, ready to take to work, ready to be made and not agonized over before I run to the gym or wherever. Here’s how I did it.

  1. I sat down and charted out all the meals that I need for the week (“lunch on Monday, snacks on Monday, dinner Monday,” etc.) and when they need to be made based on our schedules. I skipped breakfasts, but realized that to be in total control of all meals during the week without relying on eating out, I’ll need to prepare all of Tuesday’s meals plus lunch for Wednesday on Monday night– a snafu that I hadn’t been dealing with which had been causing a lot of issues. I figured out all the days each meal will need to be made and then…
  2. I combed my favorite YouTube channels, cookbooks and food blogs for meals that meet our current food standards. This took FOREVER. Not only do the meals have to meet our current food lifestyle, they need to work together– tortillas for one night can be reused another night, or cilantro for one meal will be used again elsewhere, so I’m not buying tons of ingredients that will only be used once and then languish. Choosing 5-6 recipes that really jigsaw together like this took, no joke, an hour and half of just sitting at my coffee table only doing this.
  3. After that, I made my master shopping list. This was fun, and shopping with it was a new experience because for the first time every single ingredient I threw in my cart had a purpose! I know where it’s going to get used, and I’m not worrying about why I bought it, or that I shouldn’t have, or that it’ll be wasted. It won’t be!
  4. When I got home, I used a pre-made meal planner template in my Numbers program to plug in the meals for the week so I can refer to them in the afternoons when I get home to know what the heck to cook. Currently, there is plenty of food in the fridge. I am un-stressed. I have extra time to do stuff. We have way less waste. I am so excited. For me, two hours of concentrated foresight is helping my week go more smoothly and frugally, and I am so happy I decided to do this!

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That’s last night’s dinner– cinnamon cocoa walnut chili! Delicious and vegan!

Anywho, it will all evolve of course, but I’ve learned a big lesson, and I’m going to try to hang onto it.

De-Lovely:

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For Christmas, Mom had this chaplet rosary made for me. The big, luminescent pink beads came from a beaded necklace Grandma wore all the time. It was an iconic piece of jewelry for her, and after she died it was one of the many strings of costume beads I didn’t choose for myself, only because I felt I just couldn’t take everything.

There were lots of tears Christmas morning when I opened this. I’ve kept it in it’s box, but open and near me ever since. A woman at Mom’s parish makes rosaries, so I believe she asked her to make this. Such a lovely idea. I was so touched, it is such a useful and meaningful way to put these beads that I know so well to use, and to sanctify them, in a way.

On New Year’s Day when I was on our hike, I told Grandma that this year I would find joy. I said, “I’m still going to be sad that you aren’t here. It’s still going to ache. I’m still going to cry over you, probably often. But I’m going to find joy. Because you want me to.” And she did. She told me many times, “When I die, please don’t be sad for too long.” Honestly, I’ll be sad for the rest of my life. The space she occupied is empty and exposed, and it can’t ever be filled by anyone else, ever. So that’ll never stop hurting. BUT. Last year I was bereft. I didn’t do things, I almost never left my house on my days off except to grocery shop. I didn’t try new things, I didn’t want to. All the books I read were books from my childhood that comforted me. I regressed to a place of safety to repair the hurt. It’s what I needed.

I can’t do that forever, and I know it. And I don’t want to. Despite her absence, which colors everything, I’m pretty happy. I’m much happier than I was even just a few months ago. Time is normalizing. I’m trying new things, focusing on new things. Yesterday I went to a bookstore and spent hours poking around all by myself– something I didn’t do at all last year. It was fun! I’m moving my body again, and nourishing it again, and having fun again. And I know that makes Grandma happy, wherever she may be.

Hope you are all having a lovely January. Have any of your resolutions needed adjusting? What is brining you joy this month? Take care. ❤

A Vacation Food Retrospective

A Vacation Food Retrospective

Hi! Husband, Sister and I recently made tentative plans to visit London for a week this coming spring. We were super excited about it, but unfortunately it fell through due to various uninspiring, mundane and altogether poopy reasons pertaining to adulthood and responsibility. Blah.

So, to torture myself, I’ve been flipping though my photos from a vacation Husband I took back in 2016 to England and Wales, and I put together a retrospective of our fantastic trip…in food. Because let’s face it, food is the most important part of vacationing. The following is only a fraction of what we ate in England and Wales because not everything we ate was worth photographing (and sometimes we didn’t have the ability). Also some pics got deleted. 😦 Our goal on our 2016 vacation was to eat deliciously and cheaply, and we sure did! England and Wales– how I miss you both!

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Meringues at Borough Market.

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Cumberland sausage with chutney at the Tower of London.

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Snacks at the Citizen M hotel.

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This was in Cardiff. Sometimes I just pull this picture up on my phone and stare at it. It makes my heart flutter with joy.

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Tea time in Cardiff.

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A full English…or rather, Welsh!

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Welsh baked yummies, including traditional Welsh cakes.

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Jacket potato with tuna mayonnaise and Welsh cheddar.

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As an aside…eggs on the shelf instead of the fridge!

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Ham sandwich in Shrewsbury.

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Husband’s fish and chips in the pub in Shrewsbury.

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Homemade cakes…my idea of heaven.

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Their charming tea things!

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Egg mayonnaise on white.

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This place was basically Madam Puddifoot’s. Harry Potter fans unite!

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More fish and chips, Shrewsbury.

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Pork liver terrine with, I believe, jasmine tea soaked golden raisins?

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Deconstructed…or perhaps constructed….Caesar salad with gravlax.

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Our check for the above three came in a little cage!

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Teatime, Conwy.

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The cake that launched a thousand ships, the cake that molded to my hips– coffee walnut. I made up that rhyme, can you tell?

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Husband’s salad.

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My smoked salmon on ciabatta.

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Teatime in Llanrwst. No, I didn’t misspell that.

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Shrimp bap.

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Welsh rarebit.

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Again, another pork liver pate with toast and onion jam. I really go for the pates when I can.

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The best scone ever.

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Welsh baked goods. How would I ever choose just one?!

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Beautiful Welsh bread.

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Fancy tapas, last night in Conwy.

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Adorable individually wrapped sushi in London.

There you have it! What I torture myself with when I reflect that I will decidedly NOT be visiting the UK this year! Yaaaaaaay! Thanks for putting up with me.

 

 

New Year…New Me?

New Year…New Me?

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It is Epiphany, and the Christmas Season comes to a close. Despite my rather bleak and sorrowful last post, we had a wonderful Christmas. Our families were joyful and generous, and a delightful time was had by all. For having to have a first Christmas without Gram, this one was really the best I could ever have asked for. There were so many wonderful Baby Niece snuggles (but never enough)! There were so many presents. SO. MUCH. FOOD. Holy cow, all the food and treats and cakes and cookies! Our cup runneth over, as Gram would say.

This morning I took down all the ornaments from our poor, long-suffering ficus tree that played Christmas Tree this year. I also unwound the lights from its branches, but we decided to keep the two strands of colored lights up indefinitely (I’m thinking until Candlemas in February, which is basically a feast of lights amid the bleakest and coldest winter days). We have them strung up over the shelves mounted above our TV console, so it’s still a lovely glowing hearth, even though all other traces of Christmas have been packed away.

Our New Year’s Eve was just splendid. No depression to speak of. 🙂 I prepared a big noodle hot pot, vegetable potstickers for Husband, sashimi for myself…and then we feasted, having fun answering a questionnaire about your 2017 experience. We ate until we were bursting, alas, uncomfortably so…

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…but after an hour or two’s recovery on the couch, we finished the final episode of Longmire (a TV show that Husband has been binging for the last two months) while enjoying pots of tea and an assortment of Christmas goodies, leftover cookies, and miniature custard eclairs purchased from the Japanese market.

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Hey, it’s good luck for a sweet new year! The candies were given to us by Sister- and Brother-in-Law, Baby Niece’s parents. They came from a special candy store and were JUST SO YUMMY and so pretty that I wanted to keep them and not eat them, but how on earth can one resist eating little bells, and packages, and stars? One cannot, especially when that one is me.

I stayed home from work yesterday due to a swelling and miserable pain in my throat which I thought was going to turn fluey, but it didn’t. It’s still swollen and painful, but less so, and I feel completely well otherwise. Currently Husband is napping on the sofa, I am in the easy chair tapping away, and we both have been enjoying quarts of tea and good books, and reflecting upon how gosh darn LUCKY we are! Gracious, me. This season in life has its share of challenges, but we certainly have more than our fair share of graces.

Yesterday I began my new diet. Yes, I’m doing the thing…the thing everyone says not to do, and tries, and fails at…a new year’s diet. A real diet, not a “lifestyle change” for the purposes of “getting healthy.” A diet for weight loss. And I’m actually really happy about it. I was going to wait until after Epiphany, but honestly…I’ve been eating so much rich food, and craving clean eating that I was chomping at the bit to get started, and yesterday  became the day. I’m doing the Dukan Diet, which was developed by a French doctor, and was always bigger in Europe than in the States. I found out about it because my former client (many years ago when I worked as a personal chef/cook) wanted to lose weight and thought it sounded interesting. He is originally from Poland, and had to special order me a copy of the book in English because it hadn’t been printed for the American market yet. At that time I was very skeptical of low-carb diets. I had many negative feelings about the Atkin’s Diet (and, frankly, still do), and shared my concerns with him…but went along with it. Well, as it turned out, he lost 30lbs in about eight weeks. It was amazing! And he was able to keep it off for a good long while, at least as long as I cooked for him.

Years later, Sister was in need of a drastic dietary change and decided to do Dukan because I had told her about it. She ordered the book, and the accompanying cookbook, gave it her all, and also lost 30lbs. Due to some really difficult personal trials over the last year, she has gained some back…but her dedication has always really amazed and inspired me, and with her example, I know I can use this tool to achieve my goal.

I have done a few weeks of Dukan two different times and found it gave me great results, but I never put enough energy into it to stick with it. I just wasn’t determined or dedicated. I did notice, however, that my constitution does really well with low-carb, high protein diets. I tend toward hypoglycemia, and notice that lots of carbs leave me franticly, faintingly famished (even when whole grain), which puts me in the great carb cycle of binging and crashing, and consuming far too many non-nutritious calories along the way. Not everyone does well with this model…in fact, I’d hazard a guess that people who would thrive on this kind of diet are somewhat rare– partially why this diet was recently given extremely low ratings by U.S. News…it tied with the Keto diet for last place, with Whole30 ranking just above them (somewhat surprisingly). I’m not terribly concerned about this. I definitely see the challenges this diet presents nutritionally, in its easy-of-use for most people, and because it is precisely the opposite of a lifestyle change. Again, I know what I’m comfortable with, and I’m well armed with actions plans against the biggest pitfalls, so despite U.S. News I’m feeling confidant.

I’ve run out of time to put off to tomorrow what needs doing today. Dukan is a short-term tool, not a long-term lifestyle. On Dukan, I eat WAY more protein than is strictly healthy, consume things that are questionable if they are used during an everyday diet (like  no-calorie sweeteners and non-fat diary products), but I’m comfortable with this knowing that there is an end. It isn’t forever. It’s just for now…and the health benefits I’ll reap from being the proper weight for my frame, I feel, outweigh dabbling with food items I’d normally pass by. I’ve eaten some delicious meals in the last 24 hours (Asian meatballs with sauce, giant pancake with cream cheese, smoked salmon and capers, chicken salad) and I’m determined to break the knee-jerk cycle of eating anything, at any time, anywhere, in any quantity. So…I guess we shall see!

New Year’s Day was fun. Husband and I took a hike at a nearby hiking trail. That’s me in the top photo leaping in the air. 🙂 When we got back, I made the below plate of goodies for our dinner, in an effort to be both festive and to use up all the fun party food I had managed to acquire over the holidays either as gifts or simply because I bought them.

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I’m enjoying starting all my wonderful books. I finished “A Betsy-Tacy Treasury” ages ago, which I received for Christmas and devoured. It was just superlative. I’m now in the midst of my annual January “Little Women” read. When that is over…who knows. I received so many good books, I have a million to chose from!

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New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day Husband and I did a BIG tidy of the house, including the closet, drawers and cupboards, the floors, the carpet, the bathroom…we gathered many things to be donated to the thrift sore and many books to be sold to our favorite used book store. We even went to Ikea and bought ourselves a second bookshelf, as all of our Giant Library Book Sale books were living in stacks on our bedroom floor. I am so happy because the house feels clean and light, and some of the deadwood was cut away. A great feeling!

So far, 2018 is treating me well, and I am content and happy. Through hard work and dedication, I believe this year will see the manifestation of the things I hope to achieve, and the things Husband hopes to accomplish. We never know what is around the corner, but we do our best always, using what we know to comfort us and what we don’t yet know to inspire us. We are moving forward, and for that I am grateful.

 

Delightful, Delicious, De-lovely

Delightful, Delicious, De-lovely

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Time for yet another DDD post– things that bring me joy, things that are tasty, and things that are just beautiful.

Delightful:

Two weeks ago I heard, quite by accident, that there was a book sale going on for the San Mateo library. Having nothing better to do, Husband and I jumped in the car and drove the twenty minutes to San Mateo, thinking we might find one or two nice books, but not getting our hopes up. I’ve seen my friends score amazing treasures at library sales before, but I had never been to one myself. WELL. Were we in luck, because when we arrived they had just opened for their final day, and they were selling re-usable bags for $5 into which you could put whatever books you wanted for no extra cost. We almost fell over! The sale was INCREDIBLE! We had the most glorious time, each going our separate ways (me, making a beeline for the children’s books, Husband for the local history), occasionally meeting up to ooh-and-ahhh and buy more bags. In the end, we left having spent $20, the glowing owners of 73 new books. Just for fun, we added up all the sale tags to see what our loot was worth at the sale price (if we had bought them all the day before, which of course we wouldn’t have), and it came to $165.

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And these weren’t tattered castoffs, either. We got beautiful coffee-table books, immaculate non-fiction hardcovers, antique and out-of-print children’s books, funny little kitschy books from the ’60s, timeless books of poetry, nature guides…

A few of our scores are going to be Christmas presents or stocking stuffers, so I won’t share all of our finds, but I will share my most favorite! Ten seconds after finding the children’s section, I glanced into a box of hardcovers, and lo and behold, found antique hardcover editions of several Louisa May Alcott’s I’ve never read– Jack and Jill, Under the Lilacs, and Jo’s Boys, a hardcover vintage edition of A Wind in the Door by Madeline L’Engle, and an antique hardcover copy of Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maude Montgomery. I was in HEAVEN!

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Also pictured is a hardcover of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne because I’ve never read it. A few other treasures we found were antique copies of The Ransom of Red Chief and Other O. Henry Stories for Boys, and A Children’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, a beautiful edition of The New Oxford Book of English Verse, The Concise Oxford History of Music, two gorgeous coffee-table books, one on art of Jesus through the centuries, one on the saints, and Husband’s many American history, astronomy, and naturalist finds.

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We actually don’t have enough room for all these books! They are currently laying in piles in our living room. We plan to stop at Ikea soon to buy a second bookshelf to house them.

Delicious:

I’ve been on my semi-annual Nordic food binge, and having a wonderful time with it. I know Nordic food doesn’t exactly inspire rapture in the hearts and stomachs of most people, but most people don’t understand how truly wonderful Nordic food traditions are! It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized many of the foods Grandma raised me on were hugely influenced by her father being a Swedish immigrant– knakebrot (crispbread), open-faced sandwiches, liverwurst, smoked salmon, Swedish pancakes, and other delicious things trace their way back to our Swedish heritage, and my sister and I have really embraced those foods above and beyond what Grandma had patience and palate for in our love of pickled herring of all types, Kalles smoked roe spread squeezed from tubes (a Swedish household staple), salted black licorice candy, and other various Nordic treats.

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But it’s not all licorice and herring! Nordic cuisine has a long history of fresh seafood, lovingly preserved things, such as jams, jellies and pickles, and scrumptious baked goods flavored liberally with spices like saffron and cardamom to go with their fika, a word meaning both coffee and coffee break, of which they have many being the world’s biggest coffee consumers. I got this gigantic, award-winning cookbook The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson from Husband last Christmas and it is so inspiring! Flipping through takes me though renditions of vegetables so classic that they are novel simply by being nowadays so overlooked– creamed vegetables that are actually delicious and thoughtfully prepared, glazed potatoes with berry preserves, salads and greens dressed lovingly and refreshingly…and foods that are at their core simple, simple, simple and beautiful for that simplicity!

Something I’m having fun with these days is making smørrebrød, which are Danish open-faced sandwiches. I’ve enjoyed simple open-faced sammies my whole life, but I have a renewed fervor for them because they are healthy, varied, and extremely tasty. On our trip to Iceland last year, we enjoyed some really amazing smørrebrød at a Danish restaurant:

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This one is a toast with cream cheese, trout roe, white onion and dill with a side of herring tartare! The eggshell perched atop the toast contains a raw egg yolk into which our server poured a small shot of dill-flavored aquavit for shooting!

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This sandwich was Husband’s, and is made up of a toast topped with a delicious potato salad, house-made pickles, fried onions and sprouts. These were both decidedly knife-and-fork affairs.

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Less fancy were my breakfasts at the hotel in Reykjavik, at which I made myself many open-faced sammies with their European-style breakfast fixings of cold meats, cheeses, breads, vegetables, and other unexpected delicacies such as the aforementioned and ubiquitous herring, house-made sweet pickled cucumbers, etc. Also beans for the British tourists, but we enjoyed them too!

Husband and I have been enjoying making our own smørrebrød for the last few days with simple and easy-to-find toppings, a big variety of which make this humble snack really fun to prepare. I make a mustard sauce by mixing some creme fraiche with dijon mustard, and spread that liberally on rye or pumpernickel bread, then top with any of the following: smoked salmon, sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes, sliced hard boiled eggs,  sliced swiss cheese, lettuce, fresh dill, green onions, shallots, thinly-sliced red pepper rings, sliced olives, bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, and lots of black pepper. Other ideas could included smoked trout, tuna, small bay shrimp, crab, hummus, avocado, radishes, fried onions from a can, sprouts, and any deli meat like turkey, salami, roast beef or ham for meat eaters.

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I wish I had more picture of the ones we have enjoyed but they get eaten too fast!

De-Lovely:

The past few weeks have been really emotionally draining. Things haven’t been the greatest with various family members, and there was a lot of conflict that needed to be worked through. Loved ones in Puerto Rico suffered through Hurricane Maria, two of which we still have not heard from since the day before the storm. I did my last shop for Grandma’s best friend Evelyn, who turns 97 in two weeks and for whom I grocery shopped every two weeks for the last four years…she is going into assisted living two days after her birthday, leaving the house she was born in, and reminding me that the last beloved link to their generation will soon be gone. Last Friday also marked the two-year anniversary of the passing of our beloved cat, Mr. Peepers, who was adored quite beyond usual cat-adoration by our family, extended family and friends (he was pretty darn unique, you’ll just have to take my word for it!).

However, the storm is calming and things are beginning to settle. I did a family therapy session with two family members, and though I went in a ball of nerves, I left with a lot of love and forgiveness in my heart, and feeling really heard and understood. We are attending another one next week, and for that I am so grateful, so thankful to have people who care about me enough to spend money on doing this– hearing me, wanting to understand my perspective, and wanting to work through the crap. I can’t help but forgive and admit my own failures in the face of such generosity of spirit, at the very least. So although conflict, in its own way, will always tend to persist, I am focusing on looking forward, not backward.

Onward and upward, and bring on October!