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

Friday, September 26, 2014

Collecting wishes in my pockets...while gazing up at twinkling stars

It's Apple Season!  Time for them to take center stage...

It's been 5 agonizing months that our future has been in limbo.  My birthday came in May and our decisions were being weighed and measured and scrutinized.  Our wedding anniversary arrived in August, but then all possible decisions looked bleak and doubtful.  We decided to make a change happen in our lives...but so many factors had to come together in order to make that happen.

We decided to desperately place our wishes upon a star, but as the weeks crept by uneventfully, it seemed that it was just a childish gesture full of allusions and false aspirations.

Exciting changes were on the horizon one day and then seemingly vanishing in the shimmering humidity by the next day.

As late summer days ticked off slowly and the humidity level here seemed like it would never break its clammy grip,  we began to turn away from looking up and gazing hopefully at those twinkling stars.  Change is hard...routine is comforting.

Patrick's birthday rolled around and we were hopeful we could finalize decisions about an impending move possibility.  We have a September birthday and an October birthday and as I love these months, my mood is always upbeat and full of anticipation for seasonal changes to put on their dazzling show.

Patrick would be leaving for nearly a month of travel.  England, Italy, and California were on the roster of locations...for starters.  I wanted to celebrate his birthday with a delicious meal tailored just for him before the big send off.

Meals have been quick and easy for the past couple of months as we grappled with indecision about making life changing decisions.   

And then all the stars aligned in our favor and something special indeed happened.  We were given the job opportunity to relocate...anywhere in the U.S. This was the final piece of the puzzle that made our big picture scenario all come together.

We could scarcely believe this possibility was in front of us.  We checked in with each other daily just to shake our heads in wonderment that life could offer us the possibility to relocate to a location of our choosing.  We have moved 9 times during our marriage...and location has always been decided by job requirements.

All rational thought has been difficult to come by lately as we oscillate from one scenario such as living in an historic farmhouse to another such as living on a mountain top...or an urban condo?  Why not sell our home and be nomadic for awhile?  That in itself presents another range of possibilities.  

Dinners are unplanned and mismatched lately.  I randomly picked up some cherry chipolte sausages and grilled them until crisp on the outside. I absent mindedly added some tomatoes that were idly roasting in the oven with no particular intent and piled everything onto  thick slices of rosemary sourdough and called it dinner. 

No meal planning is happening over here at the moment...whatever is in the kitchen might land on the dinner, cold, ordered in, or thawed out.

One thing is for sure, we would love  to continue seeing an amazing sunrise or sunset each day

Maps have been open and strewn about on the kitchen table.  Our fingers have traveled from Seattle to Maine...from Portland, Oregon to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  With the decision on where to relocate literally at our finger tips, we were thrown into excitement...then panic...then elation...then self-doubt.

Penzey's Spice Rubbed Chicken Drummets with a Cilantro Green Onion Dip

Are we more of the relaxed earthy West Coast personality types or more of the salty little harbor town types of the East Coast?  We love both areas of the country and could easily see ourselves adapting to both locations.

Last November, while babysitting my little nephew Luca, I continued to fall in love with this gorgeous city here.  Just a few weeks before that trip, I rolled up and down the east coast falling in love with the small New England port towns on this trip here.

But, have we become so urbanized that if we move somewhere there isn't a Whole Foods 5 minutes away and 4 Thai restaurants vying for our Friday night contemplation...would we not be able to adapt?

Amidst all of the excitement of insecurity, change, and exploration, I decided I wanted to concentrate on one delicious meal for Patrick's birthday. One meal. One decision.  

Chicken or beef?   No, ravioli...he loves ravioli. No..wait.  He likes pork chops better.  It got to the point where the smallest decisions now seemed fraught with...indecisions!

He was about to embark on a whirlwind trek across Europe and while he was there, I planned to embark on the first leg of my own exploration for a potential location for us to call home.

Where?  Taking deep breaths and letting our fingers do the guiding, we decided I would start the search in

...New Hampshire.

Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Fresh Figs and Fig Walnut Compote

I bought several pounds of chicken drummets and wings and  seasoned them well with olive oil, salt and pepper and my special BBQ rub from the spice shop Penzey's.  It's a delicious BBQ rub that I typically use only on occasion because I never want to run out of it. they have online ordering, so I threw the spices on the chicken generously.

Soon the house smelled of roasting chicken wings alongside large plump baking potatoes.  We set out all of the baked potato toppings...dollops of sour cream, generous helpings of fresh butter, roasted garlic cloves, and snippets of chopped chives. 

Whole Foods supplied me with the most delectable goat cheese cheesecake.  Fresh figs are coming into the markets so I bought some of those and sliced them up.  I had a jar of Fig and Walnut compote from Stonewall Kitchen.  I gently heated that on the stove top and spooned it over the cheesecake alongside the fresh sliced figs.  Delicious!  I'll get around to making this cheesecake myself because it was so delicious...we were licking the plates clean!

So we're off in separate directions for the month of September after this birthday dinner.  The fun and excitement of it all is the complete uncertainty and dreaminess of it all!  Change is hard...but change is coming!