31 January 2015

Tiny House

The area we stayed in had no landscaping.

I get big ideas. I convince myself of the logic, the practicality, the potential of something. Some of my big ideas die a quick and riskless death. Some get filed away for later or for someone else. Some stay on my front burner for months and years, waiting for timing, opportunity, a lightening strike. Some move forward, cost a few dollars, then fizzle. Most don't soar. O.K., none have soared because by nature and by nurture I am not a risk taker. This tiny house thing has intrigued me for years. I'd almost convinced myself and had begun drawing others into conversation about the ingenuity, the practicality, the beauty of living small.

We don't live small nor do we live large. We live medium in a 2,000 sq.ft. 2-story townhouse, with full basement. We have stuff. I've spent years as a hunter-gatherer. First primitive antiques and kitchen gadgets; then dinnerware and French Country accents. Oh, I've sorted and passed on many treasures--to family, to friends, and even to strangers. Yet, the elephants(s) are in every room and our basement--I'm no minimalist. I'm someone who draws comfort and creative energy from my stuff.

I digress... We had the opportunity to live small this week; very small. Well, of course it'd work well!

Guess what? I hate it. Hate it. It's been claustrophobic and boring. The necessities are here, but there's nothing lovely to feed my hungry soul. The house's amenities are fine. Just o.k. The setting is not. It could be. The Napa River is right here, but no one has made any attempt to make the river bank inviting. The owners of this community have fallen apart when it comes to curb appeal. We won't come back.

Our weather this week has been phenomenal. Much better than we ever expected. Sunshine and 60s. All week. The area of and surrounding Napa and Sonoma are lovely. Natural beauty is everywhere in the undulating hills and valley; in the forrested Calistoga area; in Muir County Baylands. At these sights my soul is happy.

I am not an extrovert. I need solitude and quiet activity to exist. My filters are wacky; too much gets through. My brain drains; my energy wanes. Beauty is required. (As well as a decent Internet connection, or at least more than 2 lousy Cellular bars.)

Napa General Store.

We had a lovely brunch today--patio seating with umbrellas, sunshine, and lovely food. At one point a cool breeze drifted though. CA laughed when I told him I'd be oh-so-happy to pay extra for that breeze. If it'd been on my brunch menu this morning:

Filtered sunlight with intermittent gentle breezes ....................... $20.00

I would have asked our waitress to add it to our check. Hands down. Zero hesitation. Soul food.

27 January 2015

Almost Grey in Napa

The sun was missing this morning, but our day brightened as we entered Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery in Yountville for our morning coffee. This is a combination patisserie-boulangerie, and the products are as beautiful as any we've seen in France. I immediately tell CA that I want breakfast here every day we're in the Napa Valley. And, I am not kidding.

We somehow manage to poke about all morning into the early afternoon, with a second coffee at Model Bakery in St. Helena, and then lunch back in Yountville at Mustard's. A delightful ambience and well-prepared and presented food.

We're easily at Cardinale for a 3:00pm tasting. Cardinale's winemaker is Chris Carpenter, and we're privileged to spend almost two hours tasting 4 Cabernet Sauvignons and being absolutely drawn into the Napa culture by Chris' enthusiasm, experience, and knowledge. My Chris is ecstatic, although his low-key demeanor rarely gives a hint.

Today with Chris Carpenter at Cardinale is a pinnacle point for CA. Those points are all too rare in any life, but I recall another one in London when a World Soccer Official CA met at the Marble Arch Marriott arranged tickets for Chris to attend an Arsenal-Chelsea match.

Thank you Chris Carpenter for spending so much of your valuable time making your high school freshman football coach so happy.

26 January 2015

Spring-like Napa

Gorgeous sunny day--68° in the Napa River Valley. This is a dream trip. CA's, not mine, but I will find plenty to enjoy. I've already expressed contentment in driving up and down the valley, everyday will be fine. Beautiful views of mountainsides and blue, blue skies. My soul drinks it in. And, I will write and take photos--interspersed with great coffee and meals.

We visit our first tasting room this trip--Miner Family Winery--eventually choosing a white wine, The Iliad, 2012. CA has plans to transport 4 bottles in his checked bag, a carefully selected 4 bottles. I'm guessing a couple more will end up in my bag...

Tomorrow is our big treat--a tasting at Cardinale Vineyards, arranged by a former student of CA's. Actually, a man whom CA coached in freshman football in the years before Northern Illinous embraced soccer, and CA never looked back. He is still coaching high school soccer, to great success. 

Fine coffee today at Napa Valley Coffee Roasters--the Grapevine Blend is outstanding. And, lunch at R+D Restaurant in Yountville was excellent. My buttons got pushed, and CA exclaimed superlatively over his Thai Steak and Noodle Salad. 

Dinner is almost beside the point, but we go late to Oxbow Market and enjoy small plates.

21 January 2015

The Interval

So... We're home for a short interval, then on to Napa. I get the chance to re-center, focus, and to prepare and eat some homemade meals. CA is always appreciative when I deign to cook.

Tuesday night, I managed this...

Easy Cream of Broccoli Soup and Gluten-Free Peach Crepes.

The basis for my gluten-free crepes.

Filled with peach jam.

The crepes are a bit fragile. No gluten does that.

The Easy Cream of Mushroom Soup was a concoction I put together when we were at the beach many years ago. Just a few ingredients, and yet tasty and filling. This time, I actually did the mirepoix, but in the past I've just sautéed onions. The proportions are as follows:

Easy Cream of Broccoli Soup
1 cup Carrots, sliced or diced
1 cup Celery, thinly sliced
1 cup Sweet onion, diced
3 T. Butter
1 bag Broccoli, frozen
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
1-1/4 cup Half-n-half, or milk (as preferred)
Salt and pepper, as desired.
  1. Sauté vegetables until somewhat soft.
  2. Stir in Cream of Mushroom soup.
  3. Add milk.
  4. Heat through.
  5. Season to-taste.
  6. Blend together until mixture is still somewhat lumpy.

Gluten-Free Peach Crepes
1 egg
1 cup Milk
3 T. Butter, melted
3/4 cup King Arthur Gluten-Free Pancake Mix
Peach jam
  1. Mix liquid ingredients together.
  2. Stir in pancake mix, stir just until dry ingredients are mixed in,
  3. Measure 1/3 to 1/2 cup of batter onto oiled and heated crepe pan.
  4. When top of crepe is almost dry, spoon on 1-2 T of peach jam.
  5. Gently filed crepe in half and then quarters.
  6. Makes approximately 4 crepes.

I got a late start this morning and CA had gone about his errands and appointments, but I made this for myself...

Eggs-in-baskets. Gluten-free, Udi's bread.

Then for dinner tonight...

My Americanized version of chicken curry.
Mise en place.

I chopped the chicken while the sweet potatoes roasted in the
oven at 400º. And, this time I sautéed the apples separately.

After the chicken was almost cooked through, I added the onions.

Chicken, onions, apple chunks, white raisins, and curry paste.
About 1/3 of the jar, or to-taste.

Our curry paste, of choice.

First time I've tried this. Worked fine.

The fresh Cilantro really kicked it up.

Our chutney, of choice. Quality and price.

We've experimented with adding sweet potatoes to the sauté sometimes raw and others boiled slightly. The results were under-cooked and over-cooked. This time, I oven-roasted the sweet potato chunks in a bit of olive oil. I then placed the Jasmine rice and roasted sweet potatoes side-by-side into the bowl and ladled the  curry over.

Chicken Curry
2 sm Sweet Potatoes, diced
Olive oil
1/2 med Onion, diced
1 med Apple, diced
1 cup Raisins, white
1 cup Peas, frozen
1 whole Chicken breast, boneless; diced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper (for chicken as it sautés)
3 - 4 T. Curry paste
1 can Coconut milk
Cilantro, chopped

  1. Oven-roast sweet potatoes at 400º until soft and slightly caramelized.
  2. Sauté apple chunks separately in olive oil, if desired.
  3. Sauté chicken breast chunks until almost cooked through; add onions and continue sautéing until onions are translucent.
  4. Add apple chunks to chicken-onion mixture; stir in curry paste.
  5. Stir in raisins and peas. Heat through.
  6. Pour in coconut milk and heat thoroughly.
  7. Serve over both rice and sweet potatoes.
  8. Sprinkle on Cilantro, if desired.

19 January 2015

Our Last Day in Colorado

Brunch-Lunch at The Silver Grill.
A tradition each time we visit Fort Collins.

Proof: the orange juice is freshly squeezed.

18 January 2015

Denver and Boulder

Denver Sheraton

The happy couple.

The Truffle Fries are divine.

After a fun evening at Highland Tap and Burger celebrating the upcoming marriage of our niece and a night at the Denver Sheraton, we had a laid-back Sunday morning at the hotel and then drove to Boulder for lunch on The Hill. 

The Sink, an historic quirky restaurant on The Hill.

The walls are absolutely covered in art--drawn directly onto the walls.

The weather this weekend has been absolutely gorgeous--sunshine and upper 50s. We couldn't ask for better. 

17 January 2015

A Winter's Respite

In Colorado. Yep! The thing is--unlike our midwestern relentless winters, the Front Range of Colorado likes to mix it up, weatherwise. We've been enjoying mild temperatures (50s) and loads of sun during this visit, while last week (prior to our arrival) the locals were shoveling snow and bundling up. DM says the key is, to choose south-facing housing. Otherwise, the snow melts during the day, but freezes over again at night resulting in icy conditions. Repeats daily. 

I've been out-and-about in a long-sleeved t-shirt layered with a light zip-up athletic-style jacket. I'm chicken enough to have my puffy coat in the car at-the-ready, but there it's stayed. 

This is a busy house, every day. Today the Fun Kids are skiing Eldora, but each day is full with school, music lessons, tutoring, birthday parties, playdates, errands, and school runs. The schedule is complex, and often consulted. 

CA and I float freely, chiming in where appropriate, and generally go with the flow. We fit in breakfasts and lunches in cute cafes and favorite restaurants, manage a school run or two, sometimes doing a drop-off or pick-up. I usually cook and bake a bit, but not so far this trip. Then, there are endless games of Tic-Tac-Toe, Solitaire, and Sudoku. My iPad is home for many, many games and entertainments. 

We always miss our Cincinnati Fun Kids when we're here and they're not. There's ongoing conversations on how we can all be together more often. 

Tonight is a special one: our niece's engagement party in Denver. We'll meet her groom for the very first time, and many of their friends. We're looking forward to the party and an entire evening with CA's sister and all. CA booked a hotel room downtown Denver for tonight, so we can stay out late (Ha!) and enjoy brunch tomorrow. 

15 January 2015

The Magic Pan Crêperie

Began at Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco by
Hungarian immigrants Lazlo and Paulette Fono.

Nostalgia for food is a pretty strong driving force in my life. Whenever anyone talks about crêpes, I reminisce over The Magic Pan. This happened a few weeks ago. I first tried the easy route of Googling for recipes, but came up almost empty-handed. There is some mention of the fact that the Spinach Crêpe was actually Stouffer's Spinach Soufflé. Love that clue.

I managed to also unearth a menu:

I finally searched through my unruly recipe collection to find two of the three recipes that I remember enjoying so much way back in the late '70s. Not sure what the source for these recipes was at the time, but I am oh-so-happy to have them--handwritten. The third recipe was for Cheese Palacsintas. I'll add that if and when I come across it.

Ham Palacsintas
(serves 8)

1 lb. Ham, ground
1 cup Sour cream
2 Eggs
1/2 tsp. Onion powder
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Salt and white pepper
8 - 8" Crêpes
3 Eggs
1 cup Milk
Cracker meal
Oil for deep frying
  1. Mix ham, sour cream, eggs, onion powder, Worcestershire, salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Fill each crêpe as follows:
  3. Spread filling on 1/2 crêpe, forming a rectangle 6: long and about 1-1/2" wide.
  4. Fold filled crêpe 1/2 over to the centerline of crêpe, covering filing. 
  5. Roll up, pressing down lightly on edge so that it holds together and is slightly flattened.
  6. Mix eggs and milk together.
  7. Dip filled crêpes into egg mixture and let excess drain back.
  8. Roll each crêpe in cracker meal.
  9. Heat oil in deep fryer to 350 degrees and fry crêpes until golden, about 1-1/2 minutes.
  10. Serve with mustard sauce.
Mustard Sauce
 (2 cups)
4 Egg yolks
1 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. White pepper
4 tsp. Vinegar
2 cups Salad oil
1 T. Lemon juice
4 T. Mustard
2 T. Honey
  1. (In blender) Stir together egg yolks; add salt, pepper, and vinegar. Blend thoroughly.
  2. Pour oil very slowly into egg mixture while blender is on.
  3. Add lemon juice, mustard, and honey. 
  4. Blend until well mixed.

Potage St. Germain
(3-1/2 quarts)

1 - 1lb. Ham bone
4-1/2 cups Water
2 cups Chicken stock
2 cups Split peas, rinsed
2/3 cup Green onions, finely chopped
1/3 cup Carrots, diced
1/3 cup Celery, diced
1/2 tsp. Sugar
1/8 tsp. Marjoram
1/8 tsp. Pepper
2-1/2 cups Milk
1 cup Whipping cream
3/4 cup Ham, finely diced
1/2 cup Chicken, cooked and finely diced
  1. Place ham bone in large pot.
  2. Add water, chicken stock, and peas.
  3. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  4. Skim impurities from top.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes.
  6. Add vegetables and seasonings.
  7. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally until peas are very soft and mixture is thick. About 30-40 minutes.
  8. Remove ham bone.
  9. Gradually stir in milk and cream.
  10. Add diced ham and chicken.
  11. Simmer, stirring occasionally. About 10 minutes.
  12. Adjust seasonings.

12 January 2015

Polish Butter Cookies

Although, my friend's Polish mother told me she'd never heard of these, I've never doubted their authenticity. I've made these cookies several times in the past years--intrigued by the sieved egg yolks. The original recipe is from Sarah Leah Chase's Cold Weather Cooking.

Polish Butter Cookies
1 cup Butter
1/2 cup Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
1/2 tsp. Almond extract
1 Egg yolk, slightly beaten
2 Hard-cooked Egg yolks, cooled and sieved*
2 cups Flour**

  1. Beat together softened butter and sugar.
  2. Mix together beaten egg yolk and flavorings.
  3. Add seived egg yolks.
  4. Gradually mix in flour, until forms soft ball.
  5. Gather dough into ball, wrap with cling film and refrigerate one hour.
  6. Roll dough to thickness. Cut into small shapes 1-1/2 - 2".
  7. Bake at for 12 - 15 minutes @350 degrees.

*Press chilled yolks through a fine mesh sieve.
**I used King Arthur Gluten-Free Flour this time, and added a bit of xanthan gum--something I've picked up from the glutenfreegoddess.com

I originally discovered Sarah Leah Chase through her Pedaling Through Provence and Pedaling Through Burgundy books. I envied her adventures and her lifestyle.

This Mary Engelbreit tin is many times the perfect storage container for my homemade cookies. I was fortunate to find it years ago at a bulk foods store in Barrington, IL.