12 November 2009

red alert!

Someone please throw a party where I can wear this:

(via VintageBox1947 on Etsy!)

I think it would be amazing and magical with some crazy curly hair!
However, I will be wearing this amazing plume to a wedding in Mexico over Thanksgiving:

(via stylesmith on Etsy)

Along with this hotness:

(never fear - the dress is black and simple!)

30 September 2009

baking my face off

Whoa - didn't realize it was so long since my last post! Yeah - I've been busy - pie contests, sewing gigs, wedding bbq's in Kansas, as well as baking, like, all the time. Well some of it is baking, and some of it is keeping up with our CSA by making soups, canning, ice creams, etc.

Anyway - just wanted to take a quick sec to tell you about this other blog I'm contributing to, the Easy Bake cOven - it's a 'club' where we bake a different recipe each month and then post about it. It's a good way to add some variety into your baking routine. And to get new ideas. My dear friend, Christina, aka the Lovely Lady Baker, started it.

September's endeavor was pretzels.

August was a rich chocolate cake.

July was my first contribution, chocolate chip zucchini bread.

So, consider this the first of more intensive baking posts to come. And perhaps a new direction for this blog (like it had any real direction before)...

29 August 2009

The French Nantucket

The church tower in the center of Ars en Re

Our main destination in France was a small island in the Atlantic called the Ile de Re. A scenic train ride took us from Normandy to the Bordeaux region, where we caught a taxi to take us to Ars en Re, the village on the island where we would be staying. You may recall this as being the 'free spa' portion of our honeymoon. Something like that. The timeshare spa didn't quite work out as planned... Long story short, it was actually more of a medical clinic instead of a spa. So we 'exchanged' our travel arrangements and stayed at an amazing courtyard hotel in the village.*

Hotel le Senechal room

On to stories of the French Nantucket, a charming little place. The Ile de Re is a series of small fishing villages that have been filled in with salt flats over time to make one island. A few years ago, a bridge was built to the main land, but before that, bicycle was the main means of transportation around the island. Many places are still only accessible by bicycle. The locals ride around conducting their errands - complete with wicker basket filled with baguettes. We rode to the beach. We rode past salt flats where natives were farming sea salt. We rode past wetland marshes full of waterfowl we had never seen before. Black swans, several types of ducks. We rode to adorable little shops and restaurants. We rode to the harbor and watched the sailboats. We relaxed. We reflected on our good fortune for finding this amazing place.

We ate amazing, incredible food (which totally made up for the terrible stuff in MSM). I've never had so much fresh seafood. It was delicious. Everything was local - fresh mussels, amazing tarts and cakes, wines, beers - we were quite pleased. Every morning the breakfast in our hotel consisted of fresh squeezed orange juice, a buffet of cereals, yogurts, fruit, and most impressively a basket full of fresh baked french breads. Chocolate croissants, rolls with raisins, brioche (Don's favorite), baguette, regular croissants, and the most amazing bread with pinched ends and a crispy exterior with a soft middle. Best of all, the bread was served with butter. One dish of plain, one with crunchy sea salt on top of the butter. And you know how I feel about butter!

The island had the cutest architectural hardware. The shutters were held open during the day by these little brackets shaped like a woman's head. After a great effort trying to figure out what they are called and where we can buy them (so amusing to the locals that we noticed/cared), we tried to find some to bring home with us - the hardware store didn't quite have enough (next time). The shops were full of great housewares and lights. We brought back some beautiful slate grey towels, salted caramels, and sea salt, as well as some cute clothes.

lady's hand door knocker

'Tete a bergere' - the head of the lady shepherd. Holding open the pastel shutters.

Another highlight was the last lunch we had in Ars - a wine shop/bistro that we had been trying to go to the whole time was finally open. We went in and asked if they were serving lunch - the husband and wife owners decided they'd go ahead and cook for us. The husband was the chef, the wife was our waitress. He spoke English, she sort of did. So we had a very animated Franglish conversation trying to order food and wine. She picked a wine for us - the best we had in France. We started with some rustic country pate (amazing). I don't remember what Don ordered for lunch, but I had a pound of stinky melty delicious cheese. That was an actual dish. Baked camembert with new potatoes and green salad. I ate the whole thing. It was fantastic and legendary. Don was disgusted and impressed all at the same time. (And no, I didn't even have a stomach ache after. It was that good.)

Although it started off both rocky and amusing, our stay on the Ile de Re was fantastic. We were so glad we went and stayed to enjoy all the island had to offer. Around every corner was something new and charming. The people were so kind and helpful (as well as relaxed).** We really improved our French and were able to get along in a few situations only in French! We also learned a lot about the region and it's food, as well as the people. It was absolutely lovely.

German WWII bunkers on one of the beaches - now sinking and covered in graffiti.

spices from the almost daily market in Ars

*That's all you're going to get from me on here about that story. Hilarious account of lost in translation situation available in person.

**Contrary to popular belief, the French are not rude. We found them to be incredibly kind. Now, I don't know how they react when you don't try to speak a little French, dress sloppily, don't use proper table manners, and don't say 'bonjour' every time you meet someone, but these small courtesies got us a long way. The French are quite fond of their manners and courtesies, and are usually offended if you don't follow those courtesies. It's actually quite nice to slow down and say hello and goodbye to each person you meet on the street (or bike path) or in a shop.

the hollyhocks grow wild there - most around 10' tall

Mont Saint Michel or French Tourist Trap

When Don and I were in architecture school, our architectural history professor told us about the 8th Wonder of the Western World. Mont St. Michel, a cathedral on a mountain rising out of the ocean on the Normandy coast of France. At certain times of high tide, it is an island, at low tide, you can walk right up to the village. A true geographical and architectural wonder. How cool, we thought, since we'll be in France we could go see it.

So we booked one night at a hotel there. We told several people, including some French ones, that we were planning to go. All gave good remarks. "Is very nice" "Really beautiful" "Stay overnight" No one was honest. Although it is beautiful and a wonder and all that, we quickly discovered the reality upon arriving - it is a tourist trap full of cheesy souvenirs and terrible food. Seriously - simultaneously the worst post-cards and food I've ever experienced.

(Hi! We're disgruntled tourists.)

We decided we'd make the most of our fate, however, and do what we could to enjoy ourselves. We made a goal to find the cheesiest postcard on the island to send to my offices (both of which never arrived). We toured the cathedral & monastery (which is now functioning again). Built into the side and top of the mountain, it is truly a wonder. We ate a mediocre crepe and watched people walk through the strange muck that is supposed to be sand. We retreated to our hotel room, which gave the highest view in the village, to watch the tourists flee to their cars when a rain storm moved in.

This last part, the hotel room with the cool view was one of the only redeeming features. As the rain came down, the tide was also rising, and we were able to experience one of the coolest sights - a peninsula became an island in a matter of minutes.
View from our hotel room. You can see how the whole thing is surrounded by water - a few minutes before, it was just sand out there.

After watching some French tv, we decided to head out for some dinner and had what was hands down the worst seafood in the history of man eating seafood. Don ordered a mixed seafood plate. Since we were basically in the middle of the ocean, we thought, hey, probably a good place to order fruits of the sea. Most of it tasted like it had been floating in a bucket of stale salt water for a week. I had a baked seafood and pasta dish which was better, but still not great.

The next morning, we caught an earlier bus so we could get out of there as soon as possible. On to the next French adventure, please! I'm glad we saw it but I would not go back. Consider yourself warned. If you're stranded in Normandy, I'd recommend seeing anything but Mont St. Michel. Or go for about an hour and then leave.

inside the old monastery mess hall

from the top of the hill/cathedral

view from the bus window as we were leaving...

16 July 2009

Paris, je t'aime

Our next stop was Paris. Sweet, lovely, amazing Paris.

First, I must plug a product - we never visit any city without an eat.shop guide book (unless it doesn't exist for that city). These books are full of local restaurants and shops - no chains, no tourist traps. Just good honest local business. When I grow up I might want to write for them. We booked a room at the Hotel Verneuil, per suggestion of eat.shop.paris. After booking, I also saw that Miss Martha Stewart (or at least her staff at the Weddings magazine) also recommended the hotel. We were very excited. It was charming and cozy. It was also located in the very lovely St. Germain neighborhood on the left bank; nestled into a side street between galleries and antique shops.

Upon our arrival, we were very hungry, and asked the concierge for a cafe suggestion. Much to my delight, her immediate suggestion was Laduree. That's right - Laduree, the Parisian institution that is famous for their French macarons, and other delightful pastries. You might remember me going on and on about them a year or so ago. Well, bucket list item #1 - eat macaron from Laduree in Paris - done and done. We also ate lunch there and it was absolutely amazing. And, after a nervous start at practicing my French, I did complete the macaron purchase solely in French. Tres bien!

The remainder of our first day consisted of a walk around the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries, the National Opera, & the Place Vendome. We covered quite a bit of ground. After a short rest at our hotel, we had dinner at a creperie and called it a night.

Day two consisted of some pilgrimages to a few shops in our eat.shop guide. E. Dehillerin has been the supplier to the professional chefs of Paris since 1820. The shop has absolutely everykitchen item you could ever want or need. It was heaven. We wanted to buy so many things, but had to limit ourselves as we are strict carry-on only travelers. Instead, we purchased a small lovely little copper sauce pot, and a few mini pastry pans. I have dreams of future purchases... rolling pins, giant wooden spoons, skillets of every size. A couple of sewing and millinery supply stores were also on the days' agenda. After a lovely little lunch, we headed to the Centre Pompidou - modern and contemporary art museum, famous for it's revolutionary design. It's sort of an inside-out building. We had fun riding the escalators in tubes up the side of the building and enjoyed the Calder exhibit. We also stormed the Bastille...or that's at least what I said while we were standing on the pavement that was once the foundation of the Bastille. On our way back to the hotel after dinner, we stumbled upon a concert in a courtyard next to the hotel. One of the shops repaired and sold antique instruments - antique as in Mozart era antiques. We enjoyed the sounds of a harpsichord and flute and ended the evening thoroughly charmed.

The third day was our tourist marathon - Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, Eiffel Tower, the Musee du quai Branly & the Arc de Triomphe & Champs Elysees. We walked to all of them. It was quite the trek and a lot of fun. A lot of people make a big deal about Notre Dame, but we think Sainte-Chapelle, with it's bejeweled statues and rich colors might be one of the most beautiful churches in all of Europe. The Eiffel Tower really is impressively large, and the Champs Elysees makes Michigan Avenue look like a small-town main street. We also found some time for a bit of shopping - a French bikini for moi, some sandals for Don.

Paris is a city in every sense of the word. It seems as if the world is at your finger tips at every turn. The scale of the buildings and boulevards is so grand yet perfectly proportioned. The small streets and neighborhoods are so quaint and approachable. The people are very friendly. The food, the pastry (dear lord, the pastry), the coffee, the wine - they all live up to the hype. We found ourselves a new place to love. We'll let you know when we move there. That's how much we liked it. We plan to visit as often as possible.

08 July 2009

A European Honeymoon - Dublin

Before I blog about the wedding (which was, by the way, the most magical and delightful event I have ever attended!), I'm going to tell you about our great trip to that continent across the sea, Europe.

We started with two days in Dublin, Ireland. Aer Lingus offers cheap, cheap flights from Chicago to Dublin, so we thought we'd take advantage of the opportunity to see a wee bit o' Ireland. (Yes I did just say that with the accent of a leprechaun. Deal with it.

Our home in Dublin was the Bellgrove Bed & Breakfast, a lovely little cottage just outside the city. The first day we spent walking around Dublin. We saw the old Viking church, ate some fish and chips in Temple Bar, and spent a couple hours just lounging in one of Dublin's big, green parks. We topped off day 1 with some 'modern Irish cuisine'.

Day 2 started with a trip to the beach, where we learned that Irish people don't tan, they only sunburn. We got a bit of sun ourselves, as we didn't think to put on sunscreen. After a couple hours on the beach, we were thirsty, and headed back to the city for some of the black stuff. Guinness! The tour of the Guinness Store House ends in the Gravity Bar, with a free pint of Guinness and the highest views of Dublin. Then it was over to St. Stephen's Green for some more park time and dinner.

don't worry, it quickly turned to a tan!

We had a lovely couple of days in Dublin, and will definitely be back to enjoy and explore more of Ireland in the future. The Irish were so nice and the country was beautiful.

15 May 2009

home, part one

Many of you have asked. Few of you have seen. This is where we live.

[our office niche - almost never this clean]

[our potracks, without which we could not live!]

[dining table + our beloved tulip chairs, kitchen + tons of storage]
[yes, that is the flame-throwing gas oven]

A few things have changed since I took these pictures almost a year ago. But the gist of it is - we rent the rear, first floor apartment [1 bedroom + a small extra room] from the lady architect and the wine man that live in the second floor + attic rear apartment. They are probably the best landlady/landlord ever. We get to enjoy a lovely yard and garden that we don't have to maintain [unless we feel like helping]. If something is broken, it is fixed pretty much instantly. I already mentioned the free wine, yes? And we've met most of the neighbors, as they are friends with most of the neighborhood. And the neighborhood is lovely - lots of diversity, great buildings, wonderful location in the city. 

More images to follow...maybe within the next two weeks.*

*you know we are getting hitched in 15 days - I'll see what I can do!