Friday, November 7, 2014

When Life hands you lemons, you go have a good cry...and then you go roast a delicious duck and stuff tortellini...

About a month ago, I traveled to New England to begin our search for a home out East.  I was pretty giddy with the anticipation of exploring such beautiful country, rolling up and down narrow windy roads, and peeking into one farm house after another all while imagining possibilities for our future.   

The trip did not disappoint.  Covered bridges stretched across babbling rivers, turkeys ran wildly across tiny country roads, farm stands lined up their plump pumpkins to announce the arrival of fall.  

Little did I realize that the whirlwind trip would end up presenting us with 4 beautiful as well as very diverse home options to dream about after returning back to Texas.  

I was originally only going to scope out and hopefully lock in an apartment location so that we could get a foothold in the NE before winter covered the land in a sweet white blanket of snow.  After settling into a temporary spot, we imagined ourselves slowly beginning the journey of traveling from different villages and towns searching for our dream home.

Surprisingly, after seeing handfuls of homes on the market, I ended up assembling  4 definite home scenarios that would easily fit the criteria of dreeeeeamy "dream" homes.  

At dinner back home, while wrangling with spindly crab legs dipped in melted butter, I described to the family the first house and how it left me nothing short of breathless.  This rambling salty Cape Cod shingled home, at the end of a seemingly innocuous dirt road, opened up to the most gorgeous mountain views that yawned from west to east.  

Standing out back of the house and looking across the vast mountains just took my breath away.  At the time, I tried to imagine not only the possibility of owning but the thrill of living in this special location.

During another meal back home of succulent honey smoked wild salmon and roasted smashed potatoes, I carefully described the second "dream" house scenario. This one is oozing with early New England history.  This dark smokey grey center chimney cape was built by two brothers post Revolutionary War, was lived in by a famous American artist, and is tucked deep into a cozy cluster of pines, maples, and birches. A most enchanting pond out front shimmers with reflections of the old maple trees that sway their branches overhead. It wouldn't be out of place to imagine Thoreau contemplating life under one of the bowing tree limbs.

Little did I realize that the unfolding downside of seeing such tantalizing real estate and returning home with visions of dream homes dancing in my head every night...would end up turning into rather nighmare-ish unfoldings of one disappointment after another.

The ill-begotten moral of this story, that I've now painfully learned, is never NEVER look at real estate until your current house has a SOLD sign on it.

Now, back in Texas, with closets cleaned out, with the house scrubbed ready for showings, with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in the oven to entice buyers to buy our house simply on the aroma of cookies alone...we sit, and sit...and sit.

I'm sure I have mentioned that the virtue of patience is a quality so elusive to me that there might be more chances of seeing a shooting star every evening upon gazing at the midnight sky.

Gathering ingredients: anise, juniper berries, and wild mushrooms

What might be the culminating climax of this personal journey that contains one moral to be painfully suffered after another?  

In Helen Keller's words, "We could never learn to be patient, if there were only joy in the world."

Yes, ...only joy in the world.  And...that joy in the world is apparently not to be had over here until we do a bit of suffering beforehand. 

Fresh Sage, Rosemary, Juniper berries, and Anise

Back home, we have been waiting and waiting for house showing appointments to come pouring in.  We sat...and sat...and sat...waiting for that delicious sounding "ping" on the phone to announce a booking appointment.  Nothing.  I became obsessed with hearing imaginary "pings" as I went about my day.

"Good things come to those that wait...and wait...and wait..."

I kept reminding myself that this was all a test of my patience and the sweet fruit at the end would be dream house #1 (mountain top), or #2 (oozing history), or #3 (gardens galore), or....#4 (cozy and quaint).

Isn't one month long enough to wait??  

(Just don't answer that)

One particular fateful email from our New England realtor slipped into my inbox with a swooshing sound of despair, a suggestive title of dread...and an unpalatable delivering "ka-ping" on my phone...all as I was innocently contemplating  Sunday Supper ideas. 

"...went under contract" was all I could make out in the damning title. Hilda, our realtor in the NE, couldn't believe it and cringed to have to deliver the news, but dream home #1 was gone...gone...gone...  




After feeling the air deflate right out of my lungs, the information slowly sunk in while the moral of my quest for the dream home began to painfully take shape.

Slow Roasted Duck spiced with Juniper Berries, Anise, Sage, and Rosemary

I'll just cut to the chase...

The long and short of it is...while waiting for our house in Texas to sell, we have now lost not one dream house option but three. Indeed, we went through hearing a series of melodramatic words like "sold", "under contract", and "taken off market by seller" to remind us that there cannot be joy in the world without presence of that unwelcome middle emotion called  "suffering".

Caramelized Pear Sauce for Roast Duck and Wild Mushroom Tortellini

Somehow I had to throw my energy into something that would symbolize the melodrama that was drowning out the crooning sounds of what was supposed to be lullaby tunes playing in the background of my pinterest boards of dream homes, dream bedrooms, dream porches, dream mudrooms. 

Melodramatic...emotional...sentimental...histrionic!  I felt strong inclinations to stomp into the kitchen and take my frustrations out.  It didn't take long before I knew just how I would do that.  I would roll, pound, and poke ingredients into little innocent looking...tortellini.

Italian food would be the food remedy to cure my tangled angst!

I would drown my histrionics in a beautiful, tedious, painfully prepared Italian meal.

In the back of my mind, I knew just a saved menu that would be resurrected to balm the sting of thrice received bad news.  I would make a hearty dish that would be accompanied by a robust bottle of full bodied Italian red wine...and glug the whole damned bottle too.

...painstakingly roll plump pillows of Tortellini...each stuffed with a slow roasted duck and wild mushroom mixture...all  glazed over by a sweep of caramelized pear sauce.

The sting of bad news would be bathed in a mind numbing salve of all things from the land of verbose melodramatic emotions that celebrate, mourn, and contemplate life with drama and flair...all things Italian.

For dessert...nothing short of cannoli!! (this must be said with fingers and lips pursed together and thrown up to the sky)  Cannoli, with its sharp crunchy pastry shell would symbolize the harsh realities of plans that crack and shatter.  

Pastry cream...soft, lush, and gently sweetened with hints of fresh vanilla would be pillowed inside the hard shell and symbolize a balm of soothing blissful satisfaction that will hopefully end the meal with happy contemplation about all things sweet and joyful in life...just quite elusive at the moment.

I assembled all of my ingredients, oblivious to the realization that the clean up would be unavoidably painstaking.  

But, making this Sunday Supper was just the cure for how to spend my afternoon lost in the world of pasta sheets, aromas of roasting duck, slices earthy mushrooms, and squirts of creamy thick ricotta cheese.

We decided to embark on this journey knowing it wouldn't be an easy one.  Little did we realize that it would prove to be more strenuous just getting out of the starting gate!

This certainly was a supper full of labors of love.  From generously rubbing and seasoning the duck with juniper berries and lovely crushed the sauté of wild mushrooms in hot butter, preparing dreamy dishes in the kitchen would prove much more doable than our bigger feistier plans could be prodded and poked into igniting.

Sitting down to a sumptuous meal of tortellini with caramelized pear sauce, torn chunks of chewy french bread, a bold bottle of sassy red wine, and crunchy cream filled cannoli was going to have to be just the right level of dreaming for the month of October!

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.

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...

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.

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"!