Day 2- amsterdam-it

I love this vibrant, young, picturesque city with it’s unique architecture, canals, cyclists in biblical numbers, with countless appealing shops that warrant a good face print on their dressed-up storefront windows.

Today we went to the Rijksmuseum which is only one block away.  Worth it but DO buy your ticket online to avoid the on-site ticket line. It will be an open ticket so no reservation time to be locked into later.

However, avoid any sudden burst of spontaneity after your museum tour.  When you see the ground level water fountain, a circle of revolving frigid water where people are standing in the middle, just shy of getting wet, walk away.  First of all, under most cicumstances, you would never mingle with any of these folks unless they married into the family.  Look straight ahead.  Keep walking to the cafe with the sign that reads, “wine and beer.”

Now I sit here with ice on my knee., limping on the second day of a 16-day vacation.  Nothing is broken– just a swollen knee missing a  lot of skin.  There’s a shop nearby that sells walking canes.  They open at 10 am tomorrow.  I bet I won’t have to wait in line there.

Philadelphia’s South Street, etc .

Ben Franklin garage doorWe traveled to Philadelphia, PA recently for a wedding. I worked at a client site in Philly for about six weeks several decades ago. I was on a ridiculously lax expense account so I dined like I suspect members of Congress do when they cross paths with a lobbyist. It was a fun six weeks except for the actual work I was doing: interviewing employees of our client, and ultimately making suggestions for the ones who needed to be laid-off.

I had good memories of South Street back then, so we rented an AirBnB apartment off of South Street. Like most things in life, it has changed into more of an eclectic neighborhood by day: lots of restaurants and sports bars, hat shops, sex toy shops, consignment stores (some good, some skanky), and a Whole Foods.   Continue reading

What does a Mississippi Gal do with Left-Over Grits? Make salad.

Put left-over grits in a container. Pack it down so when it is cold it will lift out of the container in one piece.  (My mom used to put the left-over grits in an open ended left-over soup can.  That way when she wanted to use the cold grits, she just pushed them through to the other side, then cut up the cylinder of grits into slices.)Grits-Houlimi Salad

Cut the grits up in slices and cook slowly(medium heat) in a combination of butter and canola until crispy. (If you do this too hot and fast, it won’t work, although you could put it into a fryer and be done with it but the grits would absorb more oil and butter – less healthy. Anyway, cook until crispy. Then cut into cubes. Allow about 10-15 minutes for this.

Another Unexpected Ingredient:  Halioumi cheese. It is a weird sheep cheese from Cyprus that you can grill and it doesn’t melt. This is the best way to eat this cheese. Served cold, well, it is like doing penance. Grill it on the grill or cook it on a high temp cast iron skillet, which is what I do. (You can also put it on a non-stick pan on high and cook very quickly till brown.) Cut up into squares and put aside.

Make your salad dressing. I did a basic balsamic vinegar salad dressing with a bit of orange zest and smoked salt. The latter is not necessary.

I cooked two slices of bacon and chopped up the crispy slices afterwards. Chopped up some tomatoes (not too much), spring mix salad, and tossed all the ingredients. (Gently put the cubes of grits on top. They tend to crumble if you just toss them with all the ingredients.)

Note: My Momma taught me not to waste. An easy enough concept since I couldn’t feed my leftovers to the poor people in China. I am referring to the mantra of our parents: “Think of the poor people in China syndrome of the 50’s generation”. I am sure that I am not the only person who silently thought that if it made sense to ship over the food we didn’t want to eat on our plate, we would have happily taken the money out of allowance to pay for it: just to not hear that phrase at the end of every friggin meal.

I don’t want to think of what my parents would say about China now.

What’s up today

Getting ready for a four-day trip to the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. We’re heading there for the wedding of Dean’s niece, Sian. We’ve rented an apartment just off South Street in the Old City area. Lots of restaurants and bars in this area and easy access to the city. Many years ago, I worked for over a month in Philadelphia at a client site, commuting from DC by train on Sunday night and returning on Friday evening. That was in the days of ridiculously lax expense accounts and I dined like a queen who didn’t carry a wallet.  Food never tasted so good.

Joining us are Alex and Caroline, Dean’s brother and sister-in-law, who we adore. They also live in Austin (which is one of the reasons we moved here). Anyway, looking forward to exploring the city together. First on my list, the Barnes Foundation, which is believed to be the greatest private collection of post-impressionist and early modern art in America.

I’ve been reading menus of restaurants and have zeroed in on a couple, most within walking distance of where we will be staying. Not certain if everyone will be on board with me, which is OK. There’s a bourbon pub/café nearby and I’m betting Alex (Mr. Bourbon) has already found it on the Web. Although, Alex is in China right now and arriving after we get there.   Perhaps he should be sipping warm water and not alcohol while recuperating from jet lag. Nah….

Yum Yum. I say num-num – Bon Appetit?

What the hell is going on with Bon Appetit magazine?  I have been a subscriber for decades.  (My yearly subscriptions was actually a tax write-off when I was a food critic in Ann Arbor.)  Now, I am questioning whether to renew my subscription, although I probably have paid ahead into 2030 because of the incessant renewal requests.

All of the sudden, the font is size 8 (or less) and often is almost the same color as the friggin background.  Yeah, I know.  BA is going after the younger audience, but hey, I still cook using new recipes.  I still want to crawl in bed at night with my foodie magazine and get so hungry I find myself in the pantry with a flashlight.

However, the most irritating and unjustified offense of the magazine:  size 8 font and often close to the same color as the background.  Right now, I’m looking at directions for making a classic martini.  Under Do the Twist (like in a lemon), the font is size 7, medium gray ink, with a similar background color.  I need a magnifying glass.  I need a martini.

I’ve always enjoyed going to the magazine’s r.s.v.p section.  This is where readers request the recipe of a favorite dish they had in a restaurant, and BA gets the restaurant to let them publish it.  It’s a good way to see what people are eating when they dine out.  This month’s r.s.v.p. section has recipes for stuff like  Tofu Yum-Yum Bowl (I say Yuck-Yuck), Lentil Croquettes with Watercress and Kefir  (Keifer Sutherland?),  Ham and Pea Pies, ….and this month’s dessert,  Miso Doughnuts.  For the love of God, where is this country headed?

More grumbling to follow.  There’s Food & Wine magazine…

The Easter Bunny is a Fraud but It’s OK. He’s the One with the Chocolate.

I’m kind of a grump when it comes to the Easter Bunny. At a very early age, my mother was instrumental in curing me of that holiday myth.  I was around 6 years old. A few of my friends in the neighborhood were over and we were getting ready to decorate eggs in our kitchen. While we were all waiting for the boiled eggs to chill down, my mother motioned for me to follow her out into the hallway. She put her hands on my shoulders, leaned in and said, “I want you to know something. There is no stupid Easter Bunny. It is just one more stupid American tradition that gives kids a bunch of candy.”  (I should also mention that she hated Halloween.) She was angry now, and said, “It’s when Christ died on the cross for our sins.  Americans always have to make religious holidays into something commercial. So, just remember, Christ on the cross, no Easter Bunny. Now. Go back to your friends, and don’t tell them what I said.”

So when I tell you this story, imagine a wide-eyed, curly-haired, skinny kid looking up at her mother who had a very thick Mexican accent. (I often had to translate to my friends what she was saying.) I accepted what my mom said. I had already become suspicious about the whole bunny story, but wasn’t quite ready to give up on an Easter basket full of chocolate. The hardest thing for me that day was going back into that room. Would they be able to tell what had happened by just looking at me? Would they pry out the ugly truth, burst into tears, then run home to their moms crying? My God. I would forever be known as the kid who killed the Easter Bunny.  My mother, well, she would have to leave town. Continue reading

I came for the powdered sugar and the butter.

Last night, my husband and I dined in the kitchen of the wonderful French restaurant and bakery, Artisan Bistro. http://artisanbistroaustin.com/  We weren’t alone. There were ten of us who signed up for a cooking class on a night when the restaurant is normally closed. Seating was set up around the wrap around bar facing an open kitchen. The area was intimate, cozy and romantic, with low lighting and beautifully arranged place settings. Most importantly, we all had a bird’s eye view of the chef at work.
The Executive Chef, Cesidio d’Andrea, is also the receptionist, chef, owner, sommelier, waiter, and busboy. I’ll get back to the reason for why Chef Cesidio is wearing so many hats in his restaurant, but for now, just know that he can multi-task as efficiently as any soccer mom caring for a family of five.
As our group arrived, D’Andrea was quietly taking care of final preparations, cutting slices of bread, bringing out bottles of chilled water with slices of lemon or fennel, checking off people’s names from the reservation list, all while we took seats at the bar and obediently waited to find out what was happening next. I was beginning to think this was going to be a mime performance, but, finally, he broke the silence by asking if any of us wanted to order wine. Expressions of relief appeared on everyone’s faces.  (No one likes a mime.) Continue reading

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

It seemed like a good idea, taking the Copper Canyon Train to Chihuahua.  The brochure said it had a glass-topped roof. I imagined myself watching the splendid gorges while sipping rice water in clay mugs.

The train was overbooked and I felt lucky to find a seat. An elderly woman, with hips that spilled over onto my seat, ate raw radishes and grilled onions. ChicharronesShe offered me crispy Chicharrónes with fried hair that glistened in the sunlight. I declined. She looked offended, heaved a sigh and her hips multiplied by a factor of ten. She had been holding back.

I tried to imagine being somewhere else, but it wouldn’t work. I got up and looked for the glass roof. My body moved between the swaying cars like a drunken crab. I asked about the glass roof. No one had seen it.

I started regretting giving up my seat. Where was this stupid glass roof.

Then I saw a man greedily sprawled out on four seats, one arm tucked under his head like a pillow. I approached the man and demanded he sit up like everyone else. Looking around at no one in particular, I yelled, “He’s taking up four seats”.

A woman leaned forward and placed her hand on my shoulder with the grip of a rock climber. Her eyes were so far apart that it was hard to stay put on just one. Maybe nature had made room for three, but somewhere in the womb, the Cyclops eye had been forgotten. I heard her say, “Leave him be. The poor soul fell over dead half way across the canyon.”

At that moment, not being able to look this woman directly in the eye was a blessing. All I could think was I had just yelled at a dead man. Someone needed to give me a hat with “jerk” written across the front.

I never found the glass roof that day and I don’t recall much about the train ride after my encounter with the dead guy. I do remember that I never found a seat again but, at that point, I didn’t think I deserved one.

Note to Reader:  Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) is located in the southwestern corner of the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico.  It is larger than the Grand Canyon in Arizona and deeper in some areas.  The canyons were formed by six rivers which drain into the western side of the Sierra Tarahumara (a part of the Sierra Madre Occidental.)

Why I hate traveling with a purse (Part I)

I was running along the road leading to the airport’s parking structure, and the cold air was making my lungs ache. Snow was steadily falling, and I didn’t want to think what my hair looked like. Earlier, when I arrived at my gate, I realized my purse was in my parked car in the airport’s massive parking structure. The airline clerk told me I had only ten minutes before boarding.

I had brashly decided I could make the quick dash in time. So here I was pushing my middle-aged, out of shape body along a slippery roadway, my keys in my hand, ready to unlock my car, grab my purse and make one more dash back to my departure gate. A friend was waiting there where we had a flight to Chicago.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the white van coming from behind. Too late, ice cold slush and mud slapped one side of me as the driver carelessly drove too close to the curb. I cursed insanely but kept running. A pain in my right knee was quickly starting to creep up my left buttock. I was almost there, but to my horror, when I looked down at my keys, I realized they had slipped off the holder. I thought about crying but opted to retrace my steps. Half way back I found the keys where they had silently fallen in the snow.   No time to spare now.  The pain in my buttock was becoming debilitating. Some of the sludge had crept down my sweater and was melting into my bra.  The snow in my hair had long ago melted.  Lovely.

I was in the structure now and in sight of my car. Despite frozen fingers, I unlocked my car, reached in and grabbed my purse from behind the driver’s seat. I was literally screaming in my head the sole word, RUN, but my feet might as well have been bricks, and the pain in my buttock had become unbearable.  Then, I realized I was shamelessly massaging my buttock like a baker kneads his dough. I thought to myself, the IT band screwed up again. Argh. Running had now become out of the question, but if I didn’t I was never going to make it back in time. Then I discovered if I ran pigeon-toed, it didn’t hurt quite as much. I should emphasize, this was an exaggerated pigeon-toed run.  (On a scale of one to ten when it comes to walking pigeon-toed, I would say I was a #9) which also meant that my arms tended to fly around like, well, like a deranged person. I was now scaring people as I approached them. Some even gathered their children closer to them, their expressions revealing both fear and revulsion.  Others just stopped and stared.  Perhaps, somewhere on YouTube, is a video of a horribly pigeon-toed, crazed and mud-drenched woman with wet hair running through an airport with arms swinging in every direction.  In it you can hear a steady stream of profanity.

The sign read Gate 35. “Finally”, I breathed under my breath. My friend was pacing in front of the gate. The look on her face when she first saw me could have said it all, but she felt compelled to say, “You’ve aged ten years.”  Cancelled flights PixBut, I didn’t care about that. I was looking at the message board above me which read, “Flight delayed.”

Parque de Juarez, San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico

 

IMG_0572
San Miguel de Allende is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When I decided to go to school in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I made a list of all the things I thought I needed to bring with me. After two weeks here, I have learned that I should have left behind my alarm clock. Sleeping past 7 a.m. is only for the infirmed, and definitely for the hard of hearing. At that time of morning, the town’s marching band winds its way through the cobblestone streets. Some mornings, I lean out my bedroom window and watch them as they approach from the far end of my street. They look like little toy soldiers in oversized uniforms. I think every band member has been given a different exercise to practice. They couldn’t possibly be on the same note, much less the same melody. Their chaotic symphony makes me remember the time my ex-sister-in-law talked me into going to church with her. She failed to mention that it was a charismatic congregation. It was during a hymn that I first realized people seemed to be singing different lyrics. The place sounded more like a packed control room for United Nations interpreters than a church. Even remembering the scene now, I recall some degree of monotony in their voices. However, the music coming from this ragtag-marching army of musicians can be described as inextricably painful and, oddly enough, charming.

The entire town has been delegated a national monument by Mexico as well as being a UNESCO Heritage Site, which insures the preservation of the Spanish Colonial architecture that abounds here. My mother, Carmen was born in this country, but I am not a native. To my Mexican family, I am the Gringa. I have come here to study Spanish and art for six weeks. Afterwards, my husband will join me in Ixtapa, on the Pacific Coast for a vacation, but that is still several weeks away.

Each morning, I walk to school by way of the Parque de Juarez. An abundance of towering trees and vegetation make this place cool and shady. The heart of the park is a tall fountain, its waters emerald with tarnished centavos and spent wishes.  I can’t see it, but the constant, steady motion of life is thick in the air. I become like a child again. I breathe in the scent of wet clay and remember how, as children, we happily acquired grass stains and soiled-stained knees.

San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende

This lovely oasis would be a jungle if it weren’t for the battalion of gardeners who lovingly prune away with their crude scissors. These colorfully dressed workers seem very exotic to me, singing their songs in the morning as they haul off the corpses left from the rubber plants that grow like trees, the fallen orange mimosa blossoms and the decomposed boungavilla flowers. These men with their small, uncovered hands work quietly as if in a chapel. At intervals, they stop, and with their hands on their hips, lovingly inspect their sanctuary from every different angle. With a whisk broom, they might cart away a few forgotten leaves or create a pattern in the dirt. Nothing they carry in their pouches comes from Sears and I’ll bet they have never heard of Miracle Grow. I think of my power edger, my weed whacker, and my blower, Martha Stewart, and all my garden catalogs. I think of all the noise I create when I garden and then I think of how quiet it is here in this haven. There is something so unabashedly simple about it all that the memory of wet clay when I was a kid comes to mind again…and then I realize that as a child I played closer to the soil and that is why I keep thinking about how it smells. Continue reading