25 June 2012

Yes, We Went to Paris

Some of you may recall that last winter we abandoned planning a trip to my husband's family's hometown in Cornwall to return to Paris, following a dream I had that made waking up on a dark January morning nearly unbearable.

We traveled to Paris in May, landing on a warm and breezy Thursday. Our shuttle driver took us through St. Denis and Clichy, dropping off three other couples in various locations before bringing us to the Parc Saint-Severin near the Cluny in mid-afternoon. We loved our sixth-floor room with its tiny private deck. 

We ate at cafes in the Latin Quarter, buying provisions at FranPrix and Monoprix in between. The wheat roll above, presented on a tray that reflects the sunny Paris skies we enjoyed, was delicious. It's from Monoprix, as for some reason, there were no patisseries in our neighborhood, a rare occurrence in Paris.

We discovered some new neighborhoods (new to us), including Canal St. Martin and Place Dauphine and dawdled on St. Andre des Arts and Rue Dauphine. I shopped at Le Rouvray, the American quilt store on the Left Bank, buying fat quarters for L, my talented hair-stylist who is also an award-winning quilter.

We were in Paris the day Francois Hollande was sworn into office. For several days prior, we noticed huge police presence on Ile de la Cité and in Place Maubert. On the day he took over, the skies over Paris were filled with police helicopters.

I discovered a new scent, Bois Farine from L'Artsian Perfumeur, and ordered a bottle to mark my return to personal freedom in the fall. It smells like baking bread and peanut butter and dries down to a powdery sandalwood.

You can never get enough of Paris. It stays with you always, teasing you more on certain days and at certain times, but always with you, quietly.

12 March 2012

Weighing In, Paring Down

The kerfuffle over the Grand Forks, N.D., reporter who reviewed Olive Garden and then went viral got me thinking that it's been a while since I posted something here.

It reminded me of the time I held Biscuit Mix Baking Day after a snarky locovore made a snide comment about Rachael Ray using Bisquick. A whole lot of bloggers jumped on the bandwagon and we had a lot of fun with it. The recipes they contributed were great. I should point out that this experiment is marking an anniversary of sorts: It was five years ago this week.

Since that time, I have only used Bisquick or its clones once or twice, not because I've suddenly become a food snob, but because a whole lot of carbs have a way of wreaking havoc with my stomach (same with no-carb diets - obviously my digestive system likes balance as much as I do). I look and feel better when I limit carbs.

But I won't hesitate to use it if a recipe I want to try calls for it. Tonight, assembling some book bags to give to the Newspaper in Education book sale here, I (sadly) got rid of a few of those slender cookbooks you find at grocery store checkouts. These were recipes for muffins and items made with Bisquick. It's bittersweet, but I'm getting older and can't eat the way I could 25 years ago.

I've become a bit of a locovore myself in the past five years, joining CSA two years in a row and most summers, not missing a whole lot of farm markets. But I'll never be a snob, and I'll probably to continue to explore some new packaged food in stores. I'm addicted to certain things, like flavored cream cheeses and honey-dijon almonds and some of the interesting things they've been doing to Triscuits (a use for wheat I seem to tolerate well).

Time and space are at a premium these days. So I'm downsizing, looking for changes to make that take the stress from my life.

I've culled other cookbooks from my collection, jettisoning those that are too fancy-schmany or two focused on carbs or sugar. It's a good feeling, paring down. It's going to be an on-going chore for me over the next 2-3 years.

The photo above is from my local farm market CSA box. It's fun not knowing what your box will hold.

A little bit like taking a step towards a new life. You aren't sure what your future will hold.

Stay tuned.

08 January 2012


We were planning a trip to the remote part of England from which my husband's grandfather immigrated. Everything seemed to complicated, no matter which route and options we explored.

Then, after a particularly spirit-breaking day, I dreamed of Paris. We were there in the sunshine, my husband and I, riding lightweight bicycles that made us feel as though we were flying. We sped from the Arc de Triumph to the Pantheon on what felt like gossamer wings. Then I awoke to a dark January morning.

When we gathered in our snuggery that night, I told my husband about the dream. "Let's do it," he said. "Let's just go to Paris again. It's easier. We know how to do it. We can stay on the Left Bank again."

And so we began dreaming again. And hoping. And feeling lighter.

There are still many unanswered questions in my life.

But I can dream of Paris. What a hold she has on us!

Life forces us into decisions and roles we sometimes abhor. Falling in love with a city gives us options. There is nothing to do but submit yourself to the lure of the city. Paris...

30 July 2011

The Farm Market: Weekend Stress Relief

"Oh, lovely!" I exclaimed, digging in my purse for my camera as I encountered golden beets in a basket at today's little farm market on the bay.

Two women buying produce laughed. "She's not talking about us," they giggled to the vender.

"Me neither," said the vender, who was indeed quite lovely with a pleasant, slightly weathered face, strawberry blond hair tucked under a pink baseball cap and her change tucked into the pockets of a flowered apron.

The farm market has grown these past five summers, and I have come to know the vendors. This is not the market I visited when I began writing here in 2006, but a newer one across town. There is no CSA this year, sadly, and not all the produce is organic, but the market is back to a grassy spot near the marina, and the light is much better for photographing produce and flowers.

I envy these microbusiness owners for their independence, and I love how nicely they display their wares. They are primarily women with a keen sense of merchandising.

The half hour or so I spend at the market each weekend is as essential to my sanity as a bedside novel, an occasional massage, and regular hair trims.

Here are more images from today's market. Aren't the colors fabulous? The photos below look like painted postcards to me.

03 July 2011

Grilled Mediterranean Salmon

It took decades for me to appreciate salmon, which with its distinct tangy taste is nonetheless extremely versatile though not the blank canvas that is chicken.

When I was a kid, salmon came from a can and was consumed at Lenten lunchtimes with mashed potatoes and creamed peas. It was only when as an adult I began eating lunches and dinners at good restaurants that I fully understood this fabulous fish. Being good for you was an added attraction; always buy wild-caught.

It also took me years to fully grasp the male fascination in firing up a grill as soon as the weather hits 45 degrees. I've never been a huge beef eater so, well, it seemed like a big fuss about nothing.

Then, almost 22 years ago, I married a grill guy and suddenly building a fire and cooking something over it became a pleasant ritual. He was so enthusiastic about experimenting with marinades and seasonings that I got caught up in it. We've gone through a hibachi and a couple of Weber Grills. I can't see investing in one of those fancy-schmancy gas grills, because I like all the trappings of a big old black Weber and its rituals.

Recently, I've been experimenting with grilling vegetables and fruit. A few years ago, I grilled peaches that were luscious but not photo worthy. This summer, I'm going to play around with vegetables wrapped in foil packets.

But I digress. Last night I made Grilled Mediterranean Salmon, using a recipe from the Mayo Clinic Website. (I should note that I always buy wild-caught.)

Fabulous! I used it in a salad along with olives, almonds and Asiago cheese for today's lunch.

What's your favorite way to eat salmon? What's the tastiest meal you've ever made on a grill?

14 May 2011

Of May and Mothers

"Just stop the car for a minute so I can get a picture of the virgin," I begged my husband as our rented Mini Cooper hurtled down what was surely the wrong road away from Montcuq, southwest of Cahors.

There was road work everywhere - not unlike Wisconsin - and we had gotten lost. The tight little voice inside the Garmin (I swear it's Joan Holloway from Mad Men) was nearly shouting "Recalculating! Recalculating!" but I wanted to photograph this charming little village and the pristine statue of the Virgin Mary.

Like every little Catholic girl of my era, I was taught to revere her. Because my name is Mary Virginia, I truly believed for a time that we had a special bond. Perhaps for a time we did.

May when I was a child meant great ceremony at church, much singing, and dozens of little girls in white dresses - all to honor the memory of Mary.

It was, of course, my mother who took the care to make sure my dainty little white dresses were ironed and crisp, who plaited my hair and made sure the blue bows were fresh and perky. And then after raising two sons, she did the same things for my sister.

This week, my sister and I had the sad and bittersweet experience of placing our mother in assisted living. We looked at the best facilities in town, and finally settled on one near the hospital, in our own doctor's park neighborhood.

My mother has Alzheimers Disease, which I have learned in the past 18 months, is so commonplace that you can be in a business meeting of 10 people, each of whom have parents or grandparents with this slow, killing disease.

It has broken our hearts, even though we know this is best for her: That she is around people, has on-site care, healthy meals, gets her medication on time and has few opportunities for catastrophes, like falls, now that she is no longer so steady on her feet.

The confusion in her eyes grabs at our hearts. We want to hug her and hold her and we do. She is now so tiny and vulnerable, this woman who once strode down luncheon catwalks, modeling dresses and hats for women's clubs and Rotary wives; who gamely played in the backyard wading pool with the neighborhood kids, and who served potato chips and beer to their mothers at late-night gab fests in 1960.

She is safe now, if not from the ravages of age and disease, at least from some of the frightening possibilities that have kept P and I from sleeping nights this last year.

It is finally spring. Winter here in northern Wisconsin extended into April, and was followed by rain, rain and more rain.

The air is sweet. The forsythia blooms outside my dining room window and the flowering crab may well bloom by May 24, as it always does.

Life goes on.

26 February 2011

A Kind and Gentle Memory in Cruel Times

I often dream of Grandma Annie's house in Frenchtown, and I still drive past it when I need reassurance in these crazy times. My heart catches and I whisper that I miss her.

I miss her wisdom, which she probably never knew she possessed. She judged no one, understood boundaries, and knew her place in the world. She was light a light that we all rallied around in darkness.

Here she is with me. As she is now.