Monday, October 27, 2014

When the wild winds blow...and the tumbling leaves fall..tis the seasonal cue for all things... Pumpkin-y

Setting the table for a fall inspired Sunday Supper

Are we tired of all things pumpkin-y yet?  I most assuredly am not.  I usually have an entire mental list of dishes that I would like to cook at this time of year involving the adorable chubby bulbous pumpkin...but I usually only scratch the surface of all the dishes that I dream up.

Fall favorites...roasted brussel sprouts with rosemary fig balsamic vinagrette and maple cookies with pears for snacktime

Being that fall is my favorite season, I feel completely rejuvenated to get in the kitchen and pull together all of my seasonal favorites.  I've wanted to make pumpkin sage stuffed ravioli, pumpkin scones, pumpkin cheesecake, etc.

One huge casserole of Fisherman's Stew coming up

It must be pretty hilarious for the rest of the world that does not put this odd orange bulbous orb of a vegetable up on a pedestal at this time of the year.  The internet has exploded with recipe after recipe for all things pumpkin.  We must be giving the world a good chuckle!  But, we're obsessed for sure!

Deep Purple Roasted Eggplant, Fall light...Fall moods

This is part of what I love about blogging.  When these explosions of recipes wave through the internet blogging world, I enjoy feeling part of the crowd...going through similar motions and traditions throughout the U.S. and even the world.

October Sunrise

I particularly enjoy when I am unfamiliar with certain holidays or festivals going on in other countries.  I've been  noticing articles on the Indian celebration of Diwali.  Not only do I see recipes that I've never seen before, but I learn about how that culture celebrates their festivities and religions as well as what they eat at these get-togethers.

Lately, I've been craving everything seafood...particularly shellfish.  While on the first house hunting trip to the Northeast, I had a delicious seafood casserole at this little café in Greenfield, New Hampshire, The Riverhouse Café

I enjoyed every bite and scooped up the last of the creamy sauce with my sourdough bread.  I was not expecting such a delicious meal so I was doubly delighted!

Getting ready for the pitter patter of little feet for Halloween night!

With the house being up for sale, I've been haggling with myself over how much to mess up the kitchen.  The first few weeks were filled with preparing mess-free meals that could be swept away a moment's notice if we got that little ping on the phone alerting us to a "showing".

October afternoons and the beautiful fall light

But, with this being my favorite season of the year and drooling over all things pumpkin-y on the well as craving seafood kitchen ban didn't last long.  It was time to mess things up!

Into the kitchen I plunged...I would satisfy my cravings in one yummy Sunday Supper meal.  I was flipping through my Irish Pub Food cookbook and I came across a divine looking Fisherman's Pie.

I have also been eyeing that Spice Pumpkin Bread Loaf pan that William Sonoma featured in their catalog last year.  The one that looks like a field of chubby pumpkins.  I passed on it last year but kept lingering over the cuteness factor. 

When I saw the catalog featuring it again this fall, that was it...all resistance gone..."click" "click" basket and straight to my front door.  Way too easy to shop online these days...

Fisherman's Pie with Scallops, Shrimp, and Cod in a Creamy Dill Sauce

This seafood stew is quite delicious.  I used tiny sweet scallops, peeled shrimp, and chunks of soft cod.  Lots of sliced mushrooms get sautéed in butter until nice and golden brown before being added to the seafood mixture.

The sauce is creamy with a dash of white wine, juices from the seafood, cream, and fresh dill.

I mashed some potatoes until thick and creamy and spooned  them all over the top of the pie.  Into the oven the pie went (@ 15 minutes)...not for too long so the seafood doesn't get overcooked.

Delicious!  A hearty meal and one that left us with wonderful leftovers for the week.

Last week, we had our house "staged" by the realty firm.  One has to have thick skin to go through this "staging" process, but it was great fun.  

Basically, a team of people trained in how to make your house look good to buyers move from room to room rearranging furniture, accessories, etc. and give you critiques on how to make your home more presentable.

"Put this away in a closet"..."that area is too cluttered"..."rearrange the pillows this way"..."move that chair over there out of the room".  

A few hours later, it was like I had a completely new house!  I'm going to have to keep this type of advice handy in the new house.  It is so revealing to see yourself through the eyes of others. I think of myself as a very "uncluttered" person but the word cluttered sure was used quite a bit!  

So after squealing when I unwrapped my new pumpkin loaf pan, it was time to mess up the kitchen.  Because most people want to look at a home with hardly anything on the  countertops, I had to haul out my heavy mixer.  I lined up all of those "dirty" ingredients on my sparkling clean island...flour, powdered sugar, eggs, spices...and goopy dollops of pumpkin!

Oh, what a lovely mess this was going to be!  

So I decided to push the limits further by not only making a huge casserole of Seafood Fisherman's Pie and not one loaf of pumpkin bread...but three.

Loving my new William Sonoma Pumpkin Patch Loaf Pan

I was planning to drive up to Austin the next day to see Madeleine.  I thought I would bring her a fall loaf of pumpkin bread.  And then there is her sweet friend who loves to bake.  Yes, I'll bring her a loaf as well.  

Speaking of college visits, I had a wonderful time spending the weekend with my daughter and her friends.  They have decided to apartment hunt for their senior year of college.  I was the designated chauffeur.   

How fun to spend the day with young 20 year olds.  I was pounding the pavement of New York City at that age reveling in absolute freedom.  I remember feeling the sky was the limit of what I would do in my future even though I really hadn't a clue at the time.

We carefully inspected a handful of apartments.  I tried hard to fade into the background so the girls could run the show and ask their questions.  

We lunched at a sandwich shop on  grilled panini's and spoonfuls of roasted squash soup.  They were so grateful to be easily whisked around town for a day without having to fret over public transportation time tables and traffic jams.

Back at home, I scrubbed down the kitchen once again.  I stowed my heavy mixer and my items of  "clutter" neatly in the cabinets.  

Of course, during all of the cooking and baking before I took off for Austin, we had a "showing".  At that point, the pumpkin bread was in the oven.  I left it baking in there as we scuttled out of the house.  My husband and son now can't wait for future showings because I mentioned the bright idea of baking cookies or cakes in the oven whenever we get a showing request so the house smells delicious.  

I may have to live up to that notion!  We'll have cookies and cakes galore around here.  Not a bad thing perhaps...

Friday, October 17, 2014

While We are Waiting...remembering last summer while asking "In what time period are we?"

We have now entered the worse phase of moving.  The... waiting...phase.  The.WAITING.phase. The...w  a  i  t  i  n  g phase.  I am convinced I am supposed to be learning the lessons of patience.

I am trying to bravely face each day with renewed hope for a potential buyer to come to our home, fall in love with it immediately, make an offer within an hour, and free us to continue our pursuit of our long dreamed of abode in the lands of distinct 4 seasons...that being somewhere in New England.

However, it takes mere seconds for those thoughts to come to a screeching halt.  To quickly put life into its proper perspective, all I have to do is open any news outlet.  Right there, in twenty or so news stories, I am humbled over and over again that we have the luxury to even contemplate pursuing such dreams in life.  

The Ebola epidemic is so frightening.  The people who are fleeing the terror of ISIS and have completely lost their homes humble me yet again.  I was in a pool of tears reading about the young bride who moved to Oregon so she can pursue the "die with dignity" right in the state because of a brain tumor, which was removed and has now returned...again.

The fields of openness driving to "La Foire des Hérolles" market in France

Life quickly comes full circle with access to so many harsh stories of life.  Several times during the day, I have to turn off the feed of desperately sad world events, sip a good strong cup of hot coffee, stare out the window at nothing in particular, and just remind myself that sitting here waiting for our house to sell so we can move to another house...should be just about the least of my concerns.

Scenes from the HUMONGOUS market "La Foire des Hérolles" in France

So, I pause yet again...but this time, I'll force my thoughts to a happier time...last summer's time spent in France.  

Forever grateful to spend any time in this lovely country, I had the fortune to attend an incredible event that takes place in the deep countryside of France.

Le Pizza Français...Green Peas, Hazelnut dried Sausage, Carmelized Onion, and Goat Cheese Pizza

First things first, I do need to note that pizza in France became a mainstay for us during our summer.  As we were coming and going in between the castles of the Loire Valley, we would often stop and pick up a pizza, either at a café or at a grocery store.  Pizza is one of those foods that changes from country to country.  I can remember having pizza in Japan that was served sprinkled with corn kernels and handfuls of basil.  Interesting combination for us.

Our initial intent in trying out french pizza was to keep our food budget in well as my giving into the whiny whims of a teenage boy.  Well, that isn't really fair.  I, too, do love a good doesn't take much for me to cave in when the aroma of a freshly made pizza is around.  

However, as we moved from sampling pizza to pizza in France, we couldn't help but begin to rave over and really enjoy the flavor combinations of many of the pizzas.

While trying to keep the house in tip top shape for showings and not wanting to turn the kitchen inside out cleaning up after  each meal, we have again been resorting to the flexibility and ease of making quick and easy pizzas.

As I was fretting over how to cook in my kitchen and cope with being ready to clean up at a moment's notice, it was Riley who mentioned how delicious the pizzas were in France and perhaps we should rotate making some of the types that we enjoyed last summer.

Good idea, I thought!  Our favorite happened to be a pizza that had an artichoke spread, green peas, caramelized onions, and thick creamy slices of goat cheese.  Certainly, this was a flavor combination that we don't see too often in the U.S.

So, while we have been making pizzas that remind us of our many pizzas enjoyed in France, it also reminded me, while waiting for our stalled life to move forward in the direction of a sold house, that it would be fun to collect my photos from a very special day spent in what was seemingly the middle of nowhere in France.

I was chatting with Sylvie one day, my summer host of the little gite that I rented, and she asked me if I had ever heard of a market event in France called "La Foire des Hérolles".

She thought it would be a great event to enjoy as well as to witness how animals big and small are traded, bought, and sold during one of the largest markets in all of France.

Beautiful produce and baked goods trundled back from the Loches Market in France

I was certainly interested indeed and felt fortunate to have Sylvie mention this huge market to us because I don't think I would have come across it otherwise.  No, after having been to this market, I know I wouldn't have found it otherwise.

We drove about 1.5 hours south from our tiny town of Genillé, right outside of the more bustling market town of Loches in the Loire Valley, to the market town of Hérolles.  

Trying not to think of rabbit stew while admiring the adorable bunnies

Along the drive, I began to wonder if we had the wrong day for the market.  We had been told that thousands and thousands of farmers from all over France attend this market.  However, we hardly passed or met up with anyone on the little winding country roads during our hour and a half drive towards Hérolles, France.  Where was everyone?

Much of the scenery along the drive from Loches, France to the market in Hérolles

The mood from village to village seemed so sleepy.  How could there be thousands of people all headed to this huge market in France if we weren't passing anyone?

As we neared where the little pinpoint on my GPS was indicating, I realized we were in the middle of huge farm fields.  These fields seemed to be in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

We kept driving a little further and a few scraggily hand written signs said "La Foire des Hérolles" and had squiggily arrows pointing straight ahead.

I felt a few pangs of annoyance that perhaps this was the wrong day, wrong month, or wrong century for the festival and that my french understanding of Sylvie was at fault.  Perhaps she was describing a market that took place years ago...and my french couldn't keep up with the market no longer exists...n'existe pas non plus!

Unbelievably, in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, there stood a little apron clad lady smiling and gesturing for us to pull our car into a barely noticeable grassy lane that led somewhere equally unnoticeable somewhere over to the right.

I asked her, "Est-ce que c'est ici La Foire des Herolles?"  "Is this the Herolles festival here?"

"Mais, bien sûr, Madame...ici!" she grinned with a big toothy smile that beautifully wrinkled her entire face as she continued to gesture somewhere in the vicinity of what appeared to be vast fields of ...grass.  

So Riley and I forged ahead, bumping up and down along the uneven fields with tall wild grasses slapping each side of our  midget rental car while bees buzzed and poked at our windows.

Before long, we were bumping up and down behind a line of other cars that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.  Within the fields of grasses, huge clearings opened up and a sea of cars, campers, trucks, trailers, motorcycles, and all manner of country farm vehicles were bumping alongside us or parked in random haphazard queues alongside one another.  

They were parked at random this way and that way.  There didn't seem to be any particular guidelines or signage on how to park...rather...just find a grassy spot, squeeze your car in, and stop there.

There were campers everywhere that had trailers attached, presumably to bring and then bring home new farm animals.  Families had portable picnic tables set alongside their campers loaded with all sorts of lunch items.  People seemed totally relaxed, enjoying lunch, and perfectly content to be parked in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of France, and in the middle of a sea of grassy fields.

Riley and I squeezed ourselves out of the car and trudged through the tall grasses, piles of mud, and who knows what else.  Like obedient sheep, we followed a growing crowd of people all heading in the same direction.  

While walking through the fields, with what seemed at first a handful of people, soon became walking alongside hoards of people and eventually tucking ourselves in between thousands of people!  

It was unbelievable!  The roads were empty the entire drive from Loches and now there were thousands of people, animals, produce, dogs, children, food, and all manner of household goods lined up along a country road that led into the distance as far as the eyes could see.

We joined the throngs of farmers moving along the small path.  There were sausages and onions being grilled on one side of the path.  On the other side were tables filled with garlic, soaps from Marseille, cookies, and more garlic!  Loaves of bread were piled waist high on other tables alongside large wheels of cheese.  

As we continued our slow plod forward, eyes wide with the sounds and smells of this incredible market, we walked up to pen after pen of farm animals.  The sights and sounds were so very different from any farmer's markets we knew back home in Houston.  Chickens were being purchased and held up by the feet for buyers to inspect and then stuffed into big boxes to be taken home to their new farm.  Pigs were squealing, turkeys were trotting around, rabbits, ducks, pigeons were everywhere...You name the animal...and it was at the market being bought or sold right in front of us.  If I may say, it was kind of like out of a scene of "Outlander"!

This market has existed for hundreds of years.  If I closed my eyes, I could try and imagine that the sounds and smells might not be too different than what we were experiencing that day.  

Riley and I tried to take it all in but this was quite an experience for us.  We bought one of the long thin baguette sandwiches, found a comfortable hay bale to rest on, and with eyes wide open took in as many sights and sounds as this experience would offer two Houston urbanites in the vast farm fields of central France at "La Foire des Hérolles"!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Stories only those walls can tell...

My head is spinning so fast at the moment.  I'm quite unsure where to begin telling the tale of my odyssey in New Hampshire a few weeks ago.

We've started our search for a new home, region, state, and most  New Hampshire was the first state at the top of our list ready for a house hunting adventure.

Patrick was away traveling for the month so I embarked solo on what would end up being a wonderfully rewarding quest.  Texts and photos of sights and sounds were passed back and forth over the Atlantic between New Hampshire, England, Italy, and San Francisco as we each made our way in different directions through the month of September, but had fun keeping each other in the loop.

After leaving steamy Houston, where at this point fall only exists at the farmer's markets and the grocery store where they pile pumpkins in the entryway, as I made my way from Boston, MA into the hills of New Hampshire, I began to add a few layers of warm clothing.

I had been pouring over maps of southern New Hampshire at home...googling, mapquesting, blog stalking, zillow'ing and website collecting as I virtually traveled along the country roads of New Hampshire...moving my finger from towns with quaint sounding names like Portsmouth, Nottingham, and Peterborough.

Little cluster of historic homes in salty little Portsmouth, New Hampshire

I decided to start on the east coast of southern New Hampshire in the salty little seaport town of Portsmouth.  Boston, universities, coastal port towns, skiing options, as well as proximity to the countryside would all be wonderfully accessible from this bustling little sea community.

Scenes from Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Portsmouth is a thriving community filled with slanting old houses dating from the 1600 and 1700's all tucked into cozy little nooks along the harbor.  Many salt box homes are jumbled together in a manner that defines the building practices of the time period when homes were built more topsy turvy, in contrast to the neat little rows of evenly spaced houses of today's modern neighborhoods.  

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Let's just say, this disarrayed, colorful jumble of mis-matched historical homes was like a breath of fresh air for this cookie-cutter weary home owner in modern suburbia.

Many of the streets near the harbor area were so narrow that it was better to park my car and walk along the tiny lanes.  Hand-written signs listing lobster rolls, clam chowder, and oysters peppered tiny ramshackle huts that were interspersed here and there along the water front.  

The signs offering an array of seafood dining options immediately did a number on my food-oriented imagination. I thought to myself that even though I had not had breakfast yet, I could easily be persuaded in having a hot bowl of thick creamy clam chowder this early in the morning.

Seagulls screeched overhead in the hushed early morning sky.  Joggers were out running and their cold frosty breath looked like speech bubbles floating above their heads. 

Pocket Gardens in along the harborside of downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire

I was captivated by the atmosphere of this tiny port town oozing around every turn with history of early America.  A few small fishing boats were chugging lazily out of the harbor but other than that everything was quiet and still in the early hours of the day.

Even though the day had hardly begun, I was surprised to see several dog parks tucked in along beautifully landscaped pocket gardens along the sea port.  Big dogs and little dogs were all running, jumping, and rolling in the dog parks looking like this time of the morning was carved out especially for them.  

Not only were the dogs fun to watch rollicking around with their dedicated doggie owners but the entire scene offered up a sense of community that left me with a wonderful sense of inclusiveness about the town.

Market shopping filled with foods reminiscent of New Hampshire menus

The mood and atmosphere of all of southern New Hampshire was wrapped in the cozy flannel feeling of the fall season. 

At this point, I had snuggled into my warm cape, switched to sturdy leather shoes, and wrapped my favorite knitted scarf around my neck.

Pumpkin stands and fruit farms dotted the winding country roads as I poked along village neighborhoods and slowly made my way out of Portsmouth, up to Durham, and then headed west from the Seacoast Region into the Merrimack Region, 

At times, I felt I was driving through the countryside of England, or even Wales.  Many towns hold on to their British origins with names like Pembroke and New London.

Completely delighted by the rolling scenes of pastoral village life from one town to another, I began to look forward to meeting my realtor and seeing the insides of some of the lovely homes that I was passing by.

It seems that I am  but a handful of women that yearn for a specific type of lifestyle offered by New Hampshire.  As I moved along with my research of the state, I became friends with several bloggers who have become instrumental in helping us understand the lay of the land there.  Each chronicled a very similar story to ours as I realized I am part of niche group of people searching...for a different path.

I am particularly grateful to Jeanne, who is the blogger behind the wonderfully adventurous website, Collage of Life. Jeanne splits her life between Vietnam and New Hampshire managing to chronicle not only her own travels but the distinctly different lives of her 4 children as well, who are scattered between these two continents.

Jeanne and I struck up a friendship and she put me in contact with the most delightful realtor, Hilda Bridgewater.  Hilda and I met...she was instantly likable and then over the course of several days, she whisked me from one side of the southern Monadnock Region of New Hampshire to another.   

Not only is New Hampshire filled with scenes that kindle memories of our journeys up and over the hills of England, Hilda happens to be from England!  

So, in addition to towns being called villages, names being decidedly British sounding, I also had the accompanying lilt of Hilda's lovely English accent to delight me as we crossed rickety covered wooden bridges and dined in small pub style eateries along the way on dishes like rosemary maple syrup chops, seafood casserole, and crispy fish and chips.

What was fun about lovely Hilda is that she made me laugh.  She had no idea where we could pick up cream filled whoopie pies or glazed pumpkin donuts (standard tourist fare), but she certainly knew where to point fingers towards the best homemade scones and delightful cups of tea!  I saw no problem with that at all...

The Hancock Inn in Hancock, New Hampshire

At the end of a long and surreal day of going in and out of one lovely historical home after another, I tumbled late at night into the delightful little inn in the village of Hancock.

The Hancock Inn was a cozy spot to retreat in the evenings, turn on the heavy iron stove fireplace, have a warm soaking bath and try to collect a jumbled up assortment of sights and home tours from the day.

The Hancock Inn in Hancock, New Hampshire

The next morning, as I sat up in my antique four post bed I was delighted by the sight of a great big red rambling barn that greeted me out of my frosty window.  

At that moment, as the haze of sleep cleared, I knew just where I was...and I was starting to think...perhaps just where we are meant to be in the near future!

The Hancock Inn is complete with historical charm, creaking wooden floors, original glass panes, and a delicious warm breakfast waiting for guests in the dining room.

I could hear goats bleating in the distance.  Potters, the resident dog was lumbering from guest to guest winning them over immediately with his gentle and soulful brown eyes.  The smell of freshly baked cinnamon scones and hot coffee and tea literally lured everyone right to the back of the inn where breakfast was laid out.

The Hancock Inn in Hancock, New Hampshire

Everyone in the breakfast area was chatting with one another and I felt like I fell right into a familiar and friendly setting with people I couldn't possibly have met 5 minutes before.

There was a delightful couple from Dallas doing a New Hampshire tour of the state.  They couldn't believe I was actually house hunting all the way from Houston, Texas.  Several other couples were passing through because The Hancock Inn is situated at a perfect stopping point for their travels.

Historical home scenes in New Hampshire

After indulging in the most delicious cinnamon breakfast scones, as well as fruit and granola, followed by a toasted English muffin with a poached egg, thick slice of New Hampshire sausage, and shredded New Hampshire cheddar cheese piled on top, I was completely recharged and ready to meet up with Hilda in her delightful little village of Greenfield.

The Hancock Inn in Hancock, New Hampshire

Touring through homes in New Hampshire was a new experience for me indeed.  This move will be our 10th move, so I am no stranger to the variety of house hunting experiences in different regions of the country.  New Hampshire proved to be a new and different collection of experiences to add to all those others.

Maple Syrup Roasted Acorn Squash with Rosemary and Garlic

Home tours in New Hampshire should more likely be renamed historical tours.  Each house comes with a package of stories that range from owners that can be traced right to our revolutionary war time period.  Other homes were once upon a time long ago the village tavern where new settlers from England 150 years ago met up to have a pint between journeys.

New Hampshire homes nestled deep in the woods

Between dining on bubbling hot seafood casserole filled with scallops, haddock, and shrimp at the cozy Riverhouse Café  in Greenfield as night began to fall on the sloping lawn in front of the town meeting hall, to enjoying spoonfuls of pumpkin chile at Twelve Pines deli in the bustling quaint village of Peterborough...

I must say...not only was I completely smitten with the state of New Hampshire...but my head was swimming with fall recipe ideas to keep me busy on my return to Houston... we sit and wait...EVER SO IMPATIENTLY for our home to sell way down here... we can move...way up there!

After returning home, in between scrubbing and cleaning our home now that it is on the Houston market, I managed to squeeze in a meal that reminded me of options on so many of the menus I came across in New Hampshire.

A rustic "Beef and Stout Pie" with roasted "Maple Syrup Acorn Squash" captured the season and spirit inside the scattering of pubs and home style diners in southern New Hampshire.  

We tucked into this cozy meal at home while dreaming of 4 beautiful homes either perched up on hilltops or nestled deep into the woods along windy country roads in New Hampshire.

Could it be possible we will live in the rambling home that is filled with stories of revolutionary war heros and huge old fireplaces filled with things like beehive ovens and iron baking stoves?

Or, could it be possible that we will be fortunate enough to live in the house perched on top of a mountain with hillside views of distant mountains overlapping and cascading from west to east with possible moose, deer, and turkey sightings?  

Right now, it is all in our dreams, I'm afraid.  Only patience and time will tell.  With the snowflakes threatening to form on the horizon of winter and patience being a nonexistant virtue of mine...

...I had better get back into my kitchen and plot out more New Hampshire inspired meals to prepare while dreaming!

Rustic Beef and Stout Pie with Maple Syrup Roasted Acorn Squash