A few years ago, I wrote this while travelling in Paris:
Paris, and what I am currently thinking about it. . .
1.) I am writing my thoughts in a list, because I have lost all ability to think clearly and numbers give a facade of organization to my chaotic stammering sentences. This is a preface.
2.) I think I could be happy alone in Paris with a journal and my i-pod. And maybe unlimited money. That last one would make it much more comfortable, although it may not be necessary.
3.) My ankle strap sandal scraped my heel and the stap of my bag chaffed against my sunburn when I took the metro-stairs at hyperspeed thismorning, but when I stepped out into the morning, I got a deep breath of the layered Parisian air. . . and felt amazing. On my first visit, I didn’t like the air here. It felt too busy. Now, I think maybe the blend of cigarrettes, sweat, perfume, bakeries, dogs, machismo and mayhem has grown on me. It’s like a cross between a scent that would make your nose wrinkle and one that might make your eyes shut in pure relishing delight. And, amazingly, now, it smells good to me.
4.) Some people travel and they leave home behind. Others carry it with them. While I find nothing wrong with keeping home close in your heart (in a sentimental, internal kind of way), it can be a weighty bag to tote around all day and makes navigating the narrow streets quite fatiguing.
5.) People are lovely everywhere I go.
6.) I have probably said it before, but the blatant sexuality and gender confidence of French culture always surprises me. Men are handsome, in a casually affected kind of way. Women are beautiful, dripping style everywhere they go, like they’ve just emerged from some fountain of Class that Americans constantly look for, and they just can’t help themselves. While I think many people in the US are constantly looking at one type of person and finding them beautiful, people appreciate the natural beauty of the opposite sex, and there’s no age limit or body type that really limits beauty.
7.) On the same note, men do not respect personal space and any sort of eye contact can be construed as an invitation to breach all kinds of personal space boundaries.
8.) I love being American. Sometimes I like being an American tourist, but mostly I just find the whole attitude of Americans as tourists to be fairly ignorant and self-centered, even if well-intentioned.
9.) The best of a culture lives in its language.
10.) I am indeed sunburnt, the soles of my feet are pretty sore and I have probably gained like 6 pounds from eating so much! I wouldn’t trade all of the exquisite days/experiences, but I think whoever said that traveling makes you appreciate going home more was right. I will be glad for the luxury of healthy food in the pantry, my big supply of aloe and my soft bed.
11.) So far, French people think I speak french well. Yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.
12.) Homeless people everywhere make me sad.
13.) I know, I know. Why are we still talking about Abby’s random Parisian thoughts? Don’t worry, I’m wrapping it up.
14.) When you come here, eat the Macarons. Drink a cafe au lait.They’re worth it. And don’t smoke just because you’re here. That’s dumb. What happens in France doesn’t just stay in France, and if you smoke, it will very possibly be staying in your lungs.
15.) I hope I fit into my bridesmaid dress when I get back, yeeesh.
16.) I love the musée Rodin. Rodin’s sculpture is like the epitome of raw meeting smooth. It’s perfection smoothed out of a hunk of rough nothing. I like Degas’s paintings for the same reason I like Rodin’s paintings, and tapioca pudding for that matter. The textures are incredible.
17.) Everyone who is thinking of travelling to France. Honestly, Paris is gorgeous. Go. Do it. But once you have, go to the real France. Because Paris is only 85% real France. Maybe even less. You can appreciate all of its wonderful cultural wealth and experience all of its depth and breadth. You can speak French in Paris and eat French food in Paris. But it will only take you so far. And then you’re just in a beautiful, historical, hotbed of culture, which is incredible, but not quite real.
18.) That is all. I am going to take my french playlists for a walk now.
The word “beer” always makes me think of the scene from Mickey Blue Eyes when Hugh Grant’s proper English character is trying to pretend to be a mobster and really can’t fake an italian accent! Now, unlike Hugh, accents I can do, but I’m not much of a beer person. Despite that, I’m just as game as the next person when it comes to trying new ingredients . . . SO, when some friends and I decided to have a food-off, iron chef style, with the only required ingredient being beer, I knew it was time to get creative.
Step 1: Thinking outside the box!
When I first started scouring the internet (ahem: Pinterest) for a recipe that would function as my beer muse, I found a lot of beer-battered meats and chocolate stout cakes. . . both of which sounded delightful, but both of which I knew would already be making an appearance at the bake-off (courtesy of my deliciously talented friends). It wasn’t until I stumbled upon the concept of homemade beer-flavored marshmallows that I knew what I was going to try. Originally from a gourmet sweet shop called Truffle Truffle, I found and followed an awesome copycat recipe from Kitchn.com. I was a little nervous making my first ever marshmallows. . . but they were actually pretty simple!
Step 2: Letting them Sit (Set)
After pouring the sticky goo into a pan, complete with just under 1 cup of delicous summer lager from Cisco Brewers in Nantucket, I was ready to keep going. . . but this is the part where you have to be patient and wait. Its a good idea to crush up the pretzels at this point. I left them bigger than my source did. . . pretzel powder is just a little too wimpy for me.
Step 3: Slice and Dice
Finally, when enough time has passed, you get to slice these fluffy little miracles into the size/shape you wish. I went for smallish cubes. . . It was kind of tricky because of stickiness, and so next time I might let them sit longer or go for a better knife or something!
Step 4: Chocl-i-fy!
Melt chocolate and dip those marshy-mellowy little lumps in them. Sprinkle them with pretzel bits and let cool/harden.
Step 5: Eat and Enjoy!!
The result was fantastic! They’re perfect little mouthfulls of sweetness with a hint of savory/salty in the finish. I would recommend them for upscale football-watching parties (if those exist!) and fancy dessert-like snacks!
Other beer-inclusive recipes on my to do list:
The theme for our Prom this year is Masquerade!
So, as is the now-annual tradition, I have the privilege of planning/coordinating the aesthetic details, in all their (hopefully creative) glory! After last year’s fishy-centerpieces and Enchantment under the Sea theme, I was pretty excited at the potential for timeless elegance as a decorative choice this year! The ladies of the student council set the colors as black, white, and red, with accents of gold and silver. With those in mind, we tackled the details, and This year, we have quite the rundown as far as decor is concerned!
Detail #1: Making the Night Glitter
A few years ago (my how time is flying!) one of my favorite people of all time was planning her wedding. Being the ridiculously creative lady that she is, Kat (my roommate at the time) tackled scads of artistic details with DIY vigor. Of the dozens of creative things she did, one small detail from her wedding came to mind as we began to plan our Prom decor. . . Kat made her own colorful paper accordion wheels that added a splash of brightness to the chairs used in the ceremony. Inspired by Kat’s concept, I did a little research of my own and found these:
Despite being in Norwegian, I managed to figure out the way these bad boys are put together . . . mostly thanks to one of my students helping me over one of the folds! There are also tutorials on Youtube. . . my favorite has great visual models, but is also in a foreign language (German this time). Check it out if are making these and you get stuck! So, you start with simple paper (I used printer paper, after making sure it was a square 8.5″ by 8.5″)
I would walk you through the rest of it, but the tutorials from earlier really are better. When you have 8 of the finished pieces, you slide them together until there are 8 connected pieces!
They wound up looking pretty magical when we tied them to the back of the chairs – alternating gold and silver!!
Detail #2: Centerpieces
With a dozen cheap cylindrical dollar store vases on my hands (a combination of those from dances past and a few present-day purchased to match), I thought we might be relegated to less-than-perfection as far as centerpieces go. . . until I remembered a random spool of red ribbon I had picked up after Christmas in some sale bin.
Not perfect, but an improvement nonetheless. Fill these up with roses and baby’s breath and you are good to go! Well, baby’s breath and another little starry detail . . . I made up some gold and silver mini-stars in the same style as the big stars (only with about 2 inch square paper to start with). When they were done I hot-glued them to some slim little dowels to make the bouquet accents.
The final effect was quite lovely, if I do say so myself!
Detail #3: Tabletop Touches
Detail #4: Bathroom Baskets
We always try to keep some necessities available in the bathroom, for those just-in-case moments when students wish they had planned ahead! I happened to have a couple of baskets around, and so I decided to jazz ’em up for the masquerade theme.
Good things to put in here include: tide sticks, wet wipes, band-aids, lotion, hand sanitizer, bobbie pins, safety pins, fresh shoe-laces (for mens dress shoes), deodorant, mints/gum, hair ties, lint rollers, hairspray, nail clippers, dental floss, and sometimes even duct tape! We even put socks (animal print, because disguises are du jour in a masquerade) in the girls restroom for when they ditch their heels on the dance floor.
Detail #5: Mad-libs and Favors!
Four original mad-libs (thanks to my friend Andrew’s mad-lib writing expertise), edged with an intricate paper cutter (thanks Martha Stewart) got tucked into the napkin folds, and then our favors included a mask for everyone, as well as a little bag of red, black, and white m&ms.
Everything coordinated quite perfectly.
As cute as the favors themselves were, I think what one of our students wrote for the tag was one of my favorite aspects of the evening – what a take-home message!
You would think that, once you master the technique, writing on cakes wouldn’t be too terribly difficult. . . but there is significant evidence to the contrary.
I have done my fair share of chuckling at the cake wrecks that are posted online. I think the unintentional ones are my favorite.
But, yesterday, when I went to get some cake for my little brother’s graduation pic-nic, was the first time I’ve ever experienced the pit-falls of professional cake decoration first-hand!
The first cake wasn’t so bad. . .
. . . but the second was a little less fortunate. What did I ask for? I asked if it could read:
“Hooray! You did it!”
What did I get?
Yup, that’s right. Ho-Yay.
Really: Look closer!
Well, suffice it to say, my brother was thrilled with the message! This is him making his best “Ho-YAY” face before digging in:
And with that, my brother, the baby of the family, finished college and set off for bigger and better things (ahem: he’s getting married in 1 week!). I’m so proud of him!
What is a picnic without scrumptious food?
Not too long ago I had the chance to help host a little picnic in honor of a friend. Despite being rained indoors for the majority of the day, I managed to put together some tasty treats for the meal – because what is a picnic, if not all about the food, am I right?
The first rule of thumb is to have as many delicious fresh things as possible, because picnics are a summer privilege and should really reflect it! Thick watermelon slices and fancy cut crudités are a must. It is easy to throw together a “sauce”, or dip, with sour cream, dill, fresh ground pepper, and a little touch of mayonnaise to taste!
Cucumber salad is classic fancy-picnic food. I am still in search of my favorite recipe for this, because too often the cucumbers lose their crunch! I don’t have a recipe worth sharing, but would love it if somebody else does! I thought the cucumbers were all right in this one, but still nothing to write home about, if we’re being honest. . . The Fruit Salad, on the other hand, is to die for! Throw together a combination of blueberries, grapes, blackberries, raspberries and pink grapefruit (peeled with the skin removed so its not bitter!) and you’ll never look back. IF you want to give it a little juicy push, you can also put about a quarter cup of organic fruit juice in. ALSO, they didn’t have pomegranates at the store, but pom seeds make a nice crunchy addition, too!
Beverages aren’t hard to come by, but sometimes they make all the difference in rendering a simple picnic more elegant. Nothing screams classic style like homemade lemonade, freshly brewed raspberry iced tea and icy cold water adrift with fresh fruits for flavor! Please also notice the flowers and candles. . . any incorporation of canning jar candles can be really fun, and if you do wind up outside, it’s a nice way to keep citronella candles around to chase away any buggies.
A friend of mine introduced me to deviled egg variations a few years ago, and I was amazed at how delicious these could get. . . I”m not quite as thrilled with the less-than-stellar presentation of these particular deviled eggs (it comes out MUCH nicer looking if you pipe the filling in with a pastry tip!) but adding minced dried apricots and a dash of curry to the filling really does turn the flavor into something special!
As for other foods, the small picture on the right shows a tray of skewered dates-and-gruyère (a pairing that was made in heaven, I’m 99% sure) and fresh mozzarella skewered with cherry tomatoes and a basil leaf from the garden! I also baked up some fresh rolls and we did a simple chicken-salad to go with them. Presentation-wise, you can always fancy-up your chicken salad with slivered almonds and red grape halves (make sure the grapes are pretty firm if you do this!).
Don’t forget Dessert!
My mom passed on a mean chocolate pound cake recipe, as well as some homemade cherry preserves. Add to that unbeatable combination a little vanilla bean ice cream, and the result is insanely perfect and classic delicous flavor.
Blackberries are the unsung miracle of the berry world. They might actually be my new favorite particularly when it comes to baking and canning. So, it stands to reason that blackberry tartlets were also a tasty addition to the dessert party! These were also Martha Stewart inspired. . . click here if you’d like to see the recipe!
All in all, the meal was an elegant success and everything tasted excellent, which means that it fit the wonderful company of my friends to a tea!
This summer I think I’ll have to throw another picnic on a less rainy day!
Any bright ideas for adding to my picnic menu?
I am a novice gardener . . . you know, the kind that still freaks out when there are spiders in the dirt and has to repeatedly call her Dad to ask if it is finally time to plant the cucumber seeds. I’ve never had a green thumb, or even wanted one, until recently. I think perhaps the gardening skill is a recessive genetic trait, like having twins, that must skip a generation, because it’s just never been my forte. Despite my natural lack of savvy, I firmly believe you’re never too old to learn, so I am working on it. Fresh veggies are too good to pass up, and I was raised in a canning family, after all. Somebody’s got to inflict that magic on the next generation!
(Confession: The above picture is a little misleading; I’ve never driven a tractor before.)
Now that my seeds (at least some of them) are in the ground, and my seedlings are being watered daily in hopes of many future tomatoes, I decided it was also time to make my garden a little more aesthetically pleasing. Enter the rocks.
Everybody probably has access to at least a few rocks (if you’re like me, you probably cleared a whole slew of them out of your vegetable beds recently) and I decided it was finally time to give new life to some of these babies. . .
See, I was browsing Etsy not too long ago and saw some fun inspiration:
Now, these particular stones were magnet-backed and meant for the fridge, but it was the idea of fun messages via painted stones that I liked rather than the magnetic-ness. . . $28 is, however, outside of my nonexistent budget for painted rocks. SO, it struck me that, although my meager versions of them might be less polished (literally: I don’t have much in the way of sealant lying around the house currently), it might be fun to try making some of these myself! That said, I assembled the extensive list of required ingredients, rocks and paint, and set to work making some stone garden decor!
As is wont to happen, I happened to see a cute idea on Pinterest for using rocks to label plants. . . and Idecided they might add the perfect touch of whimsy to my dubious garden’s image! Nothing screams I-know-what-I’m-doing like adding a bunch of rocks to your garden, right?
My favorite use for dill: blending with a mix of sour cream/mayonnaise for a light garnishing sauce . . .
Chives can be tasty in salad or cut up thinly on top of a potato and leek soup. . . or even on pizza!
My favorite use for basil is sliced on top of fresh tomatoes. . . and sometimes the whole basil-tomato combo can really make a simple omelette transcend to whole new levels of delicious!
Speaking of tomatoes. . . I really can’t wait to get these babies in the ground! I have a deep-seated love for fresh-grown tomatoes. I made some other markers outside of those for my herb garden, but I’m not putting them out yet because the seeds haven’t sprouted up yet (it feels like they are taking forever). Labeling bare ground feels a little like putting the cart before the horse!
There you have it. Maybe I’ll keep adding to this collection over the summer if beach-walking/rock-collecting starts to be part of my regular schedule again!
Isn’t my gardin rockin?