Category: Travel

Heading to the Southern Hemisphere

March 13, 2012

(Bye bye rain.  Oh, and while I am using parentheses, my new spring classes are up!  Check them out and I really hope to see you!  And another thing, the winner of the Bialetti pan is Jentry!  She loves her Le Creuset Dutch oven.)

Every October, Randy and I go to a most amazing auction for the Boyer Clinic.  It is a cause very near and dear to our hearts.  Graham did preschool and his very first round of speech therapy at Boyer and it was a beacon of light during a very dark and confusing time for us.

Because we had such an amazing experience there, we have continued to support them in multiple ways.  We attend the auction, we donate to the auction, we ask friends to donate to the auction, and Randy is on the board at Boyer.  An event like this auction is something we don’t often experience in Seattle.  People dressed to the nines in a lovely room bidding on amazing items.  Seattle is a city that is casual to a fault, so this auction feels extra fancy.

We have been going for many years and something that is always donated is a safari in South Africa.  In October of 2010, that trip came up in the live auction, and Randy starting raising his paddle.

Now, this was shocking to me.  We had not discussed it beforehand.  Usually we have a little pow wow before the live auction begins where we talk about things we are interested in buying.  We decide on what items and how much we are willing to spend.  It almost always happens that the bidding goes out of our reach very quickly.  But there we were.  Trip to South Africa on the line, Randy raising his paddle, and me asking him, “Are you f***ing crazy?”  Everyone at our table was egging us on, promising to watch our children for us, until whatever imaginary number Randy had in his head came and went and he put his paddle down.  That was when the auctioneer came over to us and asked the magic question, “If we can get you another trip for your top bid price, would you take it?”  And Randy, again without consulting me, nodded his head yes.  I was simultaneously horrified and exhilarated.

And so, we are going to Africa.  Today.  It has been a long time in the planning.  Soon after the auction, we bought our plane tickets and also secured multiple people to help watch the boys while we are gone.  (Yes, we thought about bringing them.  But ultimately decided that they are too young and it is too far for them to appreciate at this time.)  And then we kind of forgot about it.  I would look at the calendar periodically for some far off date and think to myself, “Wow, I am going to be in South Africa in March of 2012.”

And here it is.  We fly out tonight and have a stop in London.  We arrive in Capetown the morning of March 15th.  We spend five days there and then board another plane to take us to Durban.  From there we have a 4 hour car ride to a game park where we will spend the next six days.  Considering we are flying to the country that is as far from Seattle as you can get, and considering we are spending a small fortune for this trip, I know very little about what we are doing.

I know there will be a day trip down to the Cape of Good Hope and another day trip to the wine country near Capetown.  I know, once we get to the safari part of the trip, there will be elephants, lions, and giraffes.  And many other animals.  At least I hope there will be.  I know there will be an optional trip to Victoria Falls.  And that’s about it.  I know I have some new camera equipment and I hope to take a million bazillion good photos, and I hope my kids are all right without us.  I’m feeling a bit (a lot) guilty about leaving them here without us.

So, I have one food post waiting in the wings.  And I hope to be able to eek out another post while we are in Capetown.  I also hope to be able to upload photos to my Flickr account, but we shall see.  It might be that you don’t hear from me again until early April.  In that case, I’m sure I will have some stories to tell.

My Trip to Harry and David and a Giveaway

October 31, 2011

A few weeks ago, I was invited down to Medford, Oregon by the good people at Harry and David.  Wait.  Are you thinking “Harry and David – that company that sends boxes with salami and cheese?”  Well, that was my old way of thinking.  The old way before I went down to the beautiful Rogue river valley, saw the pear orchards, listened to the horticulturist and his passion for his pear trees, met a real live Charlie who showed us around his chocolate (and other treats) factory, enjoyed a lovely dinner with paired wines from a local winery and food bloggers from around the country, and learned a lot about a good company who still does things the old fashioned way.

There were many things that impressed me on our two day jam-packed visit.  The beautiful trees, orchards spread throughout the valley and workers who are paid fair wages.

The real live people making real live things that you or I might make (like these cinnamon rolls), just on a larger scale.

The incredible variety of gifts available to send to loved ones.  The pears are grown there, the Moose Munch is made there.  The chocolates, cheesecakes, brownies, and cookies are made in Charlie’s factory.  We got to see the test kitchen where we were able to taste a toffee they are working on.  (Verdict: Delicious but needed more salt.)

One of the first things we learned is that Harry and David is trying to give a gift experience, so the packaging and the personalization of the gifts is important.  Every single bow is hand-tied.  (A lovely woman tried to teach us how to do their signature bow.  Let’s just say I won’t be getting that job any time soon.)  The few times I’ve sent gift boxes in the past, I’ve chosen companies that simply aggregate the contents of the gift from companies they work with.  You know, coffee from these people, brownies from those.  With Harry and David, it’s all made or grown by them.  In Oregon.  I like that.  I also like the community that they have created in small-town America and the jobs they create each holiday season.

I liked pretty much everything about those two days.  I also liked the gift basket that I packed for myself that arrived a couple of days after my return.  And the extra pears and cheese that I bought at the company store which arrived a few days after that.  And then, just when we were starting to run low on pears, another huge gorgeous basket arrived, complete with Martha Stewart’s new Pies and Tarts book – autographed!

In short, they spoiled us.  Food bloggers get invited on trips like these, and get spoiled rotten, in the hopes that we will write favorably about the company/product/resort destination.  I did have my doubts going in to this trip but I was very impressed with all I saw and tasted and everyone I met.  Because I like to share the bounty, I asked if I could give away some pears and my question was met by a resounding “YES!”.  So, want some pears?

I’m giving away a six-pack of the famous Harry and David pears.  Just tell me what gift you looked forward to receiving each holiday season.  Leave a comment and I will pick a winner randomly next Monday, November 7th.  You have until noon that day (PST) to enter.  U.S. residents only please.  (Sorry non U.S. friends – there are funny laws about sending fruit across borders.)  UPDATE: This contest is now closed.

Finally, thank you all for being patient with the lack of food posts last week.  I will be back on track soon.  xo


Kauai 2011

March 15, 2011

I  love that the beach is endlessly entertaining for boys.

About three and a half years ago, we got a letter from Starwood.  In it was an offer for five days on Kauai at a ridiculously low price.  It was an offer we could not refuse.  Randy and I had never been to Hawaii together and we had yet to travel with Spencer.  It was time and Kauai in February seemed like a great idea.

(Yes, we rented a convertible.  We thought the boys would totally dig it.  They were a little perplexed by the whole thing.  I loved it and so did Randy.)

We knew we would get some kind of pitch to buy something while there, but it seemed worth it to us.  Five nights of cheap accommodations for a sales pitch seemed like a small price to pay.  Randy went instead of me and came back with the news that he thought we should go for it.  I was shocked.  Randy is the more fiscally conservative half of our marriage and I would never have thought a time share would appeal to him.  I resisted initially.  To me, time share meant mediocre accommodations, being forced to travel only certain weeks, getting penalized if you didn’t use your time, etc.  Life is complicated enough without stress about a vacation.

But, as it turns out, this time share is very flexible.  There are lots of different ways we can use it and so far, we have had only positive experiences with it.  Being able to travel with two young boys and stay in a place that has a kitchen, separate bedroom for them, and a washing machine takes a lot of the stress out of the picture.  It also ends up being cheaper because we are able to eat in more than out.  (Although the groceries in Princeville are no bargain.  I went for a basic shop – breakfast stuff, snacks for the boys, wine, enough food for a couple of simple dinners, and spent $400.)

Anyway, this is the reason that we went  back.  And will go back again.  After our last trip, I swore we would never go back to Kauai.  Six hours of sun in seven days was not a vacation.  In fact, when we walked in to the living area of our condo this year, it seemed so much bigger – I think because it seemed very small after being cooped up there for an entire week with a then four and two year old.  We had some rain this time but we also had sun and Kauai is impossibly beautiful in the sunshine.

Our boys ask me everyday when we can go back.  Our place has a kids pool that is only 1½ feet deep with a water slide and turtle fountains.  They played there for hours everyday.  The beach paled in comparison for them.

We fell into a nice routine.  Wake up, eat breakfast, be mellow for a bit, hit the pool.  Maybe a lunch outing, maybe not.  After hours of playing in the sun and the water, the boys would take a three hour nap – heaven!  By the time they woke up, it was time for happy hour.

(Trust me, we are not drinking the same thing.)

Randy and I had two dinners out, one with a couple who are friends of ours and happened to be there at the same time, but mostly we just stayed local and mellow.  This is something I like about Kauai.  The pace is slow and relaxed, the people are nice, the beauty is overwhelming.  We heard stories about how you have to get your towel in place on your beach chair by 9am in Maui, otherwise you were chairless (the horror!).  We never felt anything like that on our trip.  Just cruising the roads, soaking up the sunshine, drinking fruity rum drinks, and eating lots of pineapple.  I’m ready to go back.


July 1, 2010

I’m home.  It was hot.  I got a pot.  The end.

Just joking.  You’ve never known me to be particularly pithy, have you?

My trip to Europe was wonderful as you can imagine.  I had worried a bit about it being too short and that I was trying to cram too much in that short time.  But I didn’t feel that way at all.  By a good stroke of luck, I was able to get right on Cannes time without the three days of jet lag that I used to feel whenever I would fly East.  I think that helped.  And of course I would have liked more time in each of the three cities I visited but I never felt like I was running from one to the next.  The fact that I didn’t have two very sweet but very-noisy-demanding-of-my-time-and-attention boys following my every step made the whole trip feel luxurious.

This also helped contribute to the feeling of luxury.  That would be the view from our hotel room.

You know how every family has stories that get told over and over again?  Every time we all start to talk about American ideas of what European hotels should be, my mom brings out the one about me biting into a bar of soap in Cannes.

In 1971, Europe was impossibly cheap for Americans and because my parents were young and insane, they decided to take me on a whirlwind trip to five different countries.  I was just under a year old.  In Cannes, we stayed at a very posh looking hotel called the Carlton.  The rooms all had toilets but no baths or showers and if you wanted to bathe, you had to call for a maid who would unlock the room with the bath located on each floor.  After a day of playing in the sand, I was filthy and my mom decided she would just get in the bath with me to wash off.  For one second she turned her back and in that time, I managed to get a hold of a bright white bar of soap and take a big bite – a foodie even then.  As soon as I actually tasted what I had bitten into, I started to scream.  And because that little bite of soap got stuck behind my brand new front teeth, I continued to scream.  My mom, horrified, tried to hook her finger behind my teeth to get the soap out and I bit her.  Imagine my poor mother, 25 years old, naked with a screaming baby and a bleeding finger in a hotel where she barely spoke the language, just waiting for some gendarme to come and bust down the door to save the screaming baby.  One of those funny now, so not-funny then stories.

Anyway, the irony is the Carlton is where Randy and I stayed.  I assure you, we had a bathroom with a tub.  And we had that view.  I don’t remember one second of that 1971 trip, so I will tell you that this was really my first trip to the Côte d’Azur – the beautiful Riviera.  I am always amazed by the diversity of landscape in that incredible country roughly the size of Texas.  This view has nothing in common with the rolling hills of Normandy or the Kansas flat of the region right around Paris.  It is a beach very different from the wind-swept wild sands of Brittany and the food, accent, and look of the people is completely different too.  Cannes would probably not have been on my life’s itinerary if not for a conference which brought Randy there.  And we certainly would not have had the room with its king size bed, soaring ceilings, and incredible view, so I am grateful to have experienced it.

But on to Paris and the list of kitchen shops I had crunched in my fist.  We walked into the first gleaming gorgeous shop and I got that huge flutter of excitement in my gut.  Like the proverbial kid in a candy shop – where do I start first??  I want one of everything!  (Incidentally, I later found myself in an actual candy shop on the Île St. Louis and I got precisely the same feeling.  I walked through the shop, running my hands over the gorgeous sweets on offer, and was too overwhelmed to actually buy anything.)  As my eyes flicked around the shop and as I wound my way up three floors of beautiful things for the kitchen, I started to realize something a bit disturbing.  I have most of this stuff.

There are those people who say that all you really need in the kitchen is a few good pots, a frying pan, a trio of sharp knives (chef, paring, bread), and a cutting board.  While I appreciate the simplicity of that claim and can certainly tell you that those are the only things I use without fail every single day, I am the person who will also tell you that having a citrus juicer and an egg slicer, several bench scrapers and pastry cutters, 9, 10, 11, and 12-inch fluted tart pans, all manner of palette knives and offset spatulas, countless wooden spoons, and an egg poacher – not to mention drawers and cabinets full of other things – is a joy impossible to describe.  Until you find yourself on a trip six years in the making and realize that all those things you thought you might purchase?  Well, you already have purchased them.

Not everything of course.  I bought some tiny tartlet pans and a loaf pan in a size you never see in the States.  I got a couple of serving forks and a spatula with a wooden handle, and a bread knife from Poilâne.  I bought a copper ladle that I will probably never use because it’s too pretty.  I also got this guy.

On my search for a brand of copper pot well-known in France but impossible to get in the States, what I found is that everyone sells Mauviel.  The type you can get in any Williams Sonoma store.  The exact brand of the gorgeous risotto pot that my parents bought me for Hanumass last year to start me on my collection – the pot that I returned because I was going to find my boutique brand of pot in Paris, and I wanted them all to match.  No need to kick me, I am doing it to myself as I type.

Anyway, the prices were better in Paris than in the States and I couldn’t come home pot-less so I decided on this beauty.  As someone who bakes, I actually have use for a double boiler.  Yes, putting a bowl over a pot of simmering water works just as well – but isn’t this pretty?  My dad, ever the scientist, asked me about the chemistry of this decision.  Why do you need copper if you are trying to tame the temperature?  Don’t you buy copper for the heat conductivity?  Silly dad.  No,  you buy copper because it is gorgeous.

Speaking of gorgeous.  Look at my mom.  I have that to look forward to.

Anyway.  I got all kinds of food treats and ate some yummy things.  All to come in the next post.

Spoiled Rotten

June 19, 2010

Six years ago, right around this time of year, Randy and I were living in London.  One day I sat in a wonderful cooking class at Leith’s – a day-long class on vegetarian food.  The teacher was swift and engaging and while I didn’t learn much in particular, it was a joy to watch such a professional work.  My eyes kept drifting up to the stacks upon stacks of copper pots on the shelves behind her.  She mentioned that the school had bought the pots and pans back in the 1950′s and they were the ones still used in the kitchens.  Dreamily I thought, “I want copper pots from Paris”.  Practically I thought, “I just got brand new stainless steel All Clad pots – there is no way I could justify buying copper”.  Dreamily I thought, “For my 40th birthday, I want to go to Paris and buy copper pots”.  The class wrapped up, I went home and told Randy about my 40th birthday plan – six years in the future – to which he said, “Got it”.

“Got it” in Randy language means many things.  Sometimes it means “please stop talking, I understand you” and other times it means “I am taking your criticism and I am moving on”.  In this instance it meant “you are making a special request of me and regardless of how frivolous it may sound, I will see that I fulfill it”.  If you know my husband, he is a get-shit-done kind of guy.  He is a tremendous problem solver, an incredibly hard worker, and he really likes to plan.  What you may not know is that he is a pretty romantic guy and he really likes to make me happy.

So, my 40th birthday is this summer (July 26th to be exact) and on Tuesday, I am flying to France.  Randy has business in Cannes so I will meet up with him there, then fly to Paris for a few days, then take the Eurostar to London for one day, and then back home.  It will be whirlwind.  I feel very lucky.  My in-laws are flying in from Atlanta to stay with my kids and I will get my husband all to myself for a whole week.  A week in Europe where I have not been in six years.

Will I buy pots?  I don’t know.  It is highly impractical.  I can’t carry them on the plane and to ship them would be ridiculously expensive.  I hope to maybe find a brand that does business online and buy them that way.  I have a list of shops to visit but our time is limited, especially since one of our two full days in Paris will be a Sunday.  Maybe I will just buy a symbolic pot (like a ½ quart butter-melter) and spend the rest of my money on chocolate.  I know that it doesn’t matter.  I will lay on the beach in Cannes.  I will have an early birthday dinner with Randy and my parents (who are joining us) in Paris.  I will get to have lunch with Ele and Hilary in London.  I get to fly on an airplane armed with stacks of books and magazines and not one single Sesame Street DVD, garbage truck, or Leap Frog game.  Parents of small children, you know what I am talking about.

Whenever I feel extra spoiled, I feel like I want to give back.  Here is where the chocolate cookies come in.  I got the recipe for these treats from David Lebovitz’s new book Ready for Dessert.  David Lebovitz, if you don’t know, is an American pastry chef and ice cream guru living in Paris.  He has written a number of cookbooks (including the only ice cream book you will ever need – The Perfect Scoop) and also a memoir about living in the city of lights called The Sweet Life in Paris.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a contest, pick a winner, and send that person to Paris?  Unfortunately, that is not going to happen.  So, I’m going to have a contest, pick a winner, and send that person a copy of The Sweet Life in Paris and winner’s choice of one his other books.  Just tell me what your favorite spot is in Paris and if you haven’t been, tell me what would be your first stop in that beautiful city.

I will pick a winner when I return from my journey.  I will have a few posts go up while I am gone.  Until then, à bientôt!

One Year Ago: Strawberry and Sour Cream Ice Cream (from The Perfect Scoop!)
Two Years Ago: Spicy Lime and Herbed Tofu in Lettuce Cups (pardon the photo)

Flo’s Chocolate Snaps
Adapted from Ready for Dessert
Makes about 50 cookies

I took the liberty of adding ½ a cup of mini chocolate chips to my batter which you could, of course, leave out.  I cut my cookies a bit thicker than he recommends and next time I will just listen to him so they are thinner and snappier.

3 cups flour
¾ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1¼ cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
½ cup mini chocolate chips (optional)

Into a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and the sugar on medium speed just until smooth.  Add the vanilla, then beat in the egg and egg yolk.

Gradually add the cocoa mixture to the butter mixture, mixing until completely incorporated and no streaks of butter remain.  If using, mix the chocolate chips in by hand using a spatula.

On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into quarters, and shape each quarter into a log about 7 inches long and 1½ inches in diameter.  Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate until they’re firm enough to slice, about 1 hour.

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  (DT: I skipped this step and had no trouble with the cookies sticking.)

Slice the logs into disks ½-inch thick and place the disks on the prepared baking sheets, spaced about ½-inch apart.  Bake, rotating the baking sheets midway through baking, until the cookies are puffed and slightly firm, 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with a bit of sugar.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets until firm enough to handle, then use a spatula to transfer them to a wire rack.  They will continue to firm up and get “snappy” as they cool.

(The dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month.  The baked cookies can be kept in an airtight container for 2 days.)

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