Friday, August 29, 2014

Time Off

Jardin des Plantes in Nantes, France

It's vacation time. I'm going to follow the bird's example and sleep in the sun, a book balanced on my chest and a drink melting beside me. Ahhhh. 

Then I'm going to go for a 3 hour walk and take tons of pictures. Do I know how to relax or what?

Back in a week!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Vacation Activities

I'm planning my vacation for the year (San Juan, Puerto Rico) and I'm trying to figure out how much I want to schedule in the way of activities. 

I'm not one of those who can just lie on a beach with a drink and sleep all day. I wish I was. It would make planning a lot easier. But I know myself well enough to know I'd be bored stiff by lunch time. So I must have activities. 
Not for me
But what activities? and how many? 

I know I'm going to spend at least a day (probably two) just walking around taking pictures - that's a given. But that falls more into the category of free time, since it's unscheduled and there is no plan beyond "that looks like an interesting street - let's go that way."

In Granada I went on an olive oil tour, which was an interesting break from the city, and the first time I'd ever seen olives on the tree. I also got to drink from a spring that promises eternal youth, so now you know my secret. 

I'm thinking of a cooking class in the local specialties, because it sounds intriguing and a way to meet like-minded people. There's a trip to a rain forest (lunch included). There's an architecture tour, a drinks and shopping tour, a tour to a remote hamlet where they roast whole pigs, and another where they take you kayaking. There's a tour of a local rum distillery, which looks interesting, and a candlelight tour of old Spanish fortifications (spooky). 

I'm going to be gone a week, so I figure three, maybe four tours will provide interest and leave me enough down time to just relax and wander about.

How do you prefer to spend your vacation time?

Friday, August 22, 2014


I drive past this sign on my way to work. 

I'm not sure if this is clever or offensive. Maybe a little of both. What do you think?

Friday Fun Video
Sticking with the theme.  Back in high school, I would have killed for the pants Weird Al is wearing at the end. Like, totally.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Unexpected Dividends: Pesto

Last November, I got take out pho from my local Vietnamese place. If you've ever had pho, then you know it comes with a lot of extra greenery (usually basil, scallions and bean sprouts) to garnish the soup. I didn't use it all, so I put the remaining sprig of basil in a glass of water and forgot about it. 

This is what it looked like Saturday.

Not bad for leftovers, huh?

This much basil means pesto, lovely, garlicky, emerald green pesto.

A little thick, but you can always loosen it up with olive oil
The basil bush is now pruned and I have a cup of intensely flavored sauce to put on everything. Pesto is the wonder condiment. It's good on meat, on bread and on vegetables. Use it to liven up a sandwich or dress up some pasta. I like it on steak. The French make a version called  pistou and put it in soup to liven things up. 

That gets me thinking. Could you put pesto in pho? Then things would come full circle. I have to go order some soup.

Basil Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed 
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan-Reggiano cheese 
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts (can sub walnuts)
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 3 teaspoons)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Place the basil leaves and pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a several times. Add the garlic and Parmesan or Romano cheese and pulse several times more. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.

2. While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady small stream. Adding the olive oil slowly, while the processor is running, will help it emulsify and help keep the olive oil from separating. Occasionally stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor.

3. Stir in some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Museum Review: Houghton Hall

Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House is the third English exhibit I've seen in the past three years.

I'm getting the feeling that there's network of people in England, all owners or caretakers of stately homes, telling each other: "If you need a money to fix this place, go ahead and get the workmen in and instead of putting your art and furniture in storage, send it to the States as an 'exhibition'. The Yanks will pay for everything."

Not that that's a bad thing. I'm unlikely to visit Norfolk anytime soon, so I might as well appreciate what they're willing to send while they are re-pointing the roof. Houghton Hall was built in the 1720's for Sir Robert Walpole, the first prime minister of England, and the house remains in the family.

Because they couldn't box up the building and ship it over, the Houghton Hall exhibit is mostly interesting from the point of view of the interior decorator. There are paintings, chinoiserie, and Sèvres porcelain, but the best part is really the enormous photos, set up with the furniture, to give you the feeling of standing in actual rooms.

Houghton was the first home in England to ever have a purpose built dining room. Before then, tables would be set up in the main hall, or a parlor, depending on how many you were feeding. To have a room set aside just for eating, how luxurious can you get? 

My personal favorite was the bedroom with the hand painted Chinese wallpaper. Of course they couldn't send the room, but they had some extra rolls of wallpaper, so they've hung those around the exhibition space. They also included a bed with the most beautiful embroidered silk hangings.  

I'm not a big fan of wallpaper, but this could change my mind. Do you think this would be too much in my little suburban house?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Summer Salad #7: Lemon Caper Salad Dressing

For my summer of salads, I should include at least one dressing. There are many vegetables that I like as they are, (celery, radishes, carrots) but when blending disparate elements a good salad dressing is like the accessory that makes the outfit. It's the common element that ties everything together. And while there is a place for simple dressings (like oil and vinegar or just a squeeze of lemon with some salt) there's nothing I like better than an aggressive salad dressing. Give me garlic and acid and spice. Anchovies? Sure! Lemons? of course! Mustard and garlic? no problem. Blue cheese? bring it on.

So when I heard about April Bloomfield's Lemon Caper Dressing, I had to try it.

Wow. This dressing doesn't just have lemon juice, it has whole lemon segments. It has capers, shallots and hot mustard. This is a salad dressing to be reckoned with.

I tried it two ways, on lettuce and on roasted potatoes, as a take on German potato salad. While it's not bad on potatoes, I think it's much better on lettuce. The cool herbaceous quality of the greens works better with the sharpness of the dressing.

Ranch dressing is for wimps.

April Bloomfield's Lemon Caper Dressing

Makes about 1 cup
  • 2 medium lemons
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Segment the lemons over a bowl to catch the juices. Set aside.
Squeeze the juice from the membranes into a separate bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, and stir well.

Add the lemon segments and toss gently to coat them without breaking them up. Use straightaway or chill in the fridge, covered, for up to an hour.

Monday, August 11, 2014


It's the tail end of summer, and I'm bored. There's nothing on tv, I'm tired of reading, and it's too hot to spend much time outside. Almost everyone I know has left town, or is preparing for the new school year. Even my favorite bloggers seem to be phoning it in.

This is really my problem. There must be things of interest in front of me. I'm just not seeing them.  I need a vacation to clear my head and readjust my vision. And I have one planned, but for now, I've got the internet.

Sometimes I think I'm creative, and then I see stuff like this, and I know that I am a rank amateur. None of this would have crossed my mind. What right do I have to be bored when the world is full of people doing things like this?

Extreme Ironing

World Beard and Mustache Championships

Precision Lawn Mowing Team

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summer Salad #6: Beet and Carrot Slaw

I have always loathed beets. They taste like dirt. Don't tell me how sweet they are. Sweet dirt is still dirt.
Who wouldn't want to cook with these?
But I want to like beets. They're cheap, they're nutritious, and they're so pretty. 

So every couple of years I try a new beet recipe, hoping that maybe there is a preparation that doesn't make me think of potting soil. 

Over the years, I have made boiled beets, roasted beets, pickled beets, beet salads, beet tarts with goat cheese (a particularly pretty recipe) and the only person to benefit from all this cooking has been my mother, the only member of my family who actually likes beets. 

This year, looking at the beets in the market, it occurred to me that I had never tried them raw.  It's not a totally crazy idea. Cooking can alter the taste of an ingredient a great deal. And judging from the internet (my Google search returned 719,000 results in 0.66 seconds) raw beet salads are popular. 

I read a lot of recipes, decided on an Asian version with lime and ginger, then realized that I had no lime juice and my ginger was moldy. So I winged it. 

I made a julienne of beets and carrots. And a fairly classic French vinaigrette: olive oil, salt, lemon juice and Dijon mustard, heavy on the mustard. Beets and carrots are both sweet, and I wanted a really zippy dressing to contrast that.

Not bad, and aren't the colors great?
And you know what? It's actually pretty good. Not my favorite salad ever, but it's got good crunch, the earthiness is not as overwhelming as with cooked beets and the assertive dressing tamps down the sweetness.  Plus, it really makes for an attractive plate. Nothing like a bright splash of magenta and orange to wake you up.

Beet and Carrot Slaw 
serves 4-6 people as a side

1 large beet (about 3/4 pound)
1 large carrot
Chopped parsley (optional)

Juice of 1 lemon (about a tablespoon)
large spoonful of Dijon mustard ( I used Grey Poupon)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
salt to taste

Shred or julienne the beet and carrots. If you want a softer salad, shred the vegetables. If you want a crisper bite, julienne them. Either way, a food processor or mandolin really come in handy here.

Mix up the dressing, and feel free to tinker with the amounts. I made it up as went along. Just make sure it's a fairly assertive dressing. I liked my initial dressing, but after I tried it on the beets I decided that it needed more mustard. It all comes down to your taste buds.


  • This salad would be a great time to use a mandolin. I didn't and my julienne is more like french fries. 
  • Also, beets stain like crazy, so wear an apron and gloves. Either that or be prepared for a lot of "red-handed" jokes.
  • And because beets stain everything they touch, leave the parsley (if you are using it) off until the last minute. The parsley takes on the red and begins to look brown, not a good look for a salad.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Play's the Thing

It's that time of year again: Shakespeare in the park.  Miller Outdoor Theater does two plays every summer, (one comedy, one drama) and this year the pairing is "Two Gentlemen of Verona" and "Henry IV, Part 1". 

Miller has a covered seating area, but you have to buy tickets for that. I usually sit on the hill, which is free. Just remember - lawn chairs on the left, blankets on the right and come early (at least an hour) to stake out your spot. Bring a book, a cooler full of drinks and relax. Patience will be rewarded with art.

Friday Fun Video
Falstaff's suggestion on what refreshments to bring to the play.