Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter's Light

Ernest basset does Rudolph. 

Does a week's absence from writing makes the heart grow fonder? I know I missed writing, did you miss reading?

I'm still battling a cold I picked up somewhere over the Atlantic. I'm very glad it is nearly over. For the first time in a long time, I decided to forgo all social activities and lay low. It's amazing how that helps.

I missed the longest night. I missed decorating many cookies. I missed shopping.

I'm not sure how much I missed shopping.

I hate the frenzy of shopping that happens this time of year.

The panic that sets in because you think you need to pick up a present for someone.  I used to be a person who was completely afraid of offending someone by not buying an extravagant gift or forgetting every possible permutation of relative or distant friend I might run into during the festive period.

I have long given up on such things and I hope as we all get older and hopefully wiser, this is happening to you as well.

Panic, anxiety and guilt are things we don't need to box up and present to others or put ourselves through this time of year.

I'm trying to relax, breathe, not jump to conclusions and stop being my own worst critic when it comes to holiday cheer.

Perhaps being in a good mood and being present is the best thing you can give to anyone this year.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Wrap Up

Penguins - all of them are mine. Patrick Roger, St. Suplice, Paris, Dec. 2014.

Discovering the joy of chocolate shavings on buttered toast made with Pain Polaine
Not seeing the top of Tour Montparnasse due to heavy fog
Seeing the Christmas decorations in all the shops without shopping
Stocking up on punitons and salt (that I guess is shopping)
Watching a movie in English with French Subtitles
Being happy to go home because I get to return soon

Friday, December 12, 2014

Happy Friday

Went Paddington hunting -- 

and was marginally successful. 

I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Too tired to even type.

Musee de l'art modern, Paris July 2014.

I'm off to London tonight.  Wish me luck.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Patience and the Parking Place

Sometimes all I need to do is stand where I am to be blessed. - WORD. May 2014. 

This time of year is a test of my patience and I'm sure yours.

Lines are long, people are desperate to get things right, expectations can be high because the holidays are supposed to be perfect. Right?

I can do without all that. I am impatient and I like to get things crossed off my list.  Mainly, I just want you to finish your shopping, go to the car, drop it off, take your shopping cart back, get back into your car, start the engine and drive to your next destination. It is that simple - shop, load, return, leave.

It just doesn't happen like that any more.  Now we do our shopping usually while taking a phone call, pay for our groceries without interacting with the clerks or cashiers,  dump our stuff in our car, get in our cars and .... JUST SIT THERE checking our mail, tweets, stocks and snap chats until we're happily caught up with the world that we just interacted with 10 minutes ago.

There are others who need that parking place.

There are other shoppers who would love to move freely around the store without you blocking the aisles talking about what you are having for dinner.

I have now given up any hopes of getting a parking place by stalking a driver with bags going to their cars. I figure I'll just earn a few more fitbit steps by parking further in an already vacant stall and save myself the aggravation of watching your fiddle in the blue glow of your screen.

I'm not immune to this either, but watching others has made me so much more self aware.

You can either let it go or be like me and just go further.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Top Ten gifts for your dog - From Ernest

Ernest basset esq. and his chicken. 

E is guest blogging today - He dictates and I type.

We are pet crazy here in the USA. Annually,we spend over $500 per household on our pets. I think in Seattle we're especially fond of dogs and my devotion to Ernest the puppy is pretty evident in the number of toys I seem to be tripping over in the middle of the night.

Every year, E gets a stocking full of treats, a squeaky and a small check that goes towards his college fund from my parents.  He has a stocking at home as well and it is always fun to fill it.  There are lots of cool things out there for dogs these days beyond the Nylabone and Chuckit toy to outfit your dog for the year.

Without further ado, I present Ernest's Holiday gift list for your well-appointed hound of a certain age.

1. Bassets get cold in the winter - here's my favorite lounging around the house outfit  - The Teckelklub Fuzzie, its way nicer than your Snuggie. 

2. If you are going to force me to go out in rain, I might as well stay dry with this cool Ruffwear Jacket.   

3. I love a good bed including yours, but you snore.  This bed is as comfortable and the cover comes off for you to throw in the wash - Memory Foam dog bed.

4.  Thanks for keeping me itch free  by bathing me with this awesome shampoo.

5. And safe with a  Buka-lite collar that lights up for those dark mornings and evenings. 

6. Now you are making me eat kale too? Kale treats from our friends at Wet Noses. 

7. 30 minutes of day of lap/cuddle time without you staring at your phone/tablet, its better this way.

8.  Walk me somewhere I can meet and greet other people and get treats and you can get some exercise.

9.  Take me the groomers on a regular basis to get my nails clipped so I can stop clicking on the floor and wake you up. I promise not to bite them.

10.  Donate a bag of dog food to other puppies who are not as fortunate as me - Mudbay taking in collections for 32 different organizations right now.

Happy Howlidays.

Ernest basset esq.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Sunday wrap up

Garden clean up is both a drag and very rewarding at the same time, January 2014.

300 bulbs planted
many presents wrapped
3 pounds of maple walnuts made
two dogs walked
one baby feted
zero naps taken

It is going to be a long short week.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Buy this now - The travel edition

Fortnum's opened at St. Pancras last year. That isn't such a bad place to shop, is it. 

What I loved about being in Bruges over Thanksgiving Weekend was the lack of frenzied shopping that starts here at  4 pm on Thanksgiving day and goes until 6 pm on Christmas Eve. While the Christmas decorations were up at the Galleries Lafayette on November 10th, Bruges and Brussels were a little calmer.

This year I am trying to stay away from the chain stores and buying from independent sellers where possible. I scour Etsy for things I think TH would like, the kids get a zoo pass (no secret) and something else fun, my parents get their AAA membership (again, no secret).  

While looking around I found these gems.

Map your city and wear it proudly on a skirt. 

Thinking about upgrading your crossbody? 

Need a new dopp kit? 

This is a cool passport case with room for your loyalty cards. 

Bamboo is just not for pandas, iPads love it too. 

There is that Sarah Morris Longchamp tote you need and it folds up for travel. 

I hate carrying more that three beauty items per trip and this fits the bill. 

We are pretty (mostly) good about keeping a journal of our travels. 

If only I was 25 years old again and liked to take selfies, Quartz will give you the low down. I can't choose just one. 

Happy wrapping.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Beating Holiday Weight Gain

Guilty of enabling many with these wicked gingerbread snowmen.  Recipe likely never to be blogged but I probably should.

If you look on the Interwebs these days - there is a lot of content about holiday eating and weight gain. Some says to enjoy  the season by having another plate of little smokies and peppermint latte because there is a juice fast just around the corner. Others may list hacks to make those holiday treats less caloric and offer coping strategies for avoiding the buffet at the dreaded holiday party.  Both camps will provide sage advice, call on expert opinions and use a stock photo of someone in a sequined Santa hat.

This year I'm trying something different.

I'm upping my cardio gym time by 15 minutes every day between Thanksgiving and New Years to see if that can keep that dreaded Rumaki3 off my body.

If you go to the gym five days a week, another 15 minutes adds up to an extra work out per week. For me, It is not so much the calories burned, but that commitment to trying harder to keep things on an even keel means that I'm making an effort and it may affect my behavior outside the gym.

What do you think? Would you wrench yourself away from a warm bed or the Good Wife for an extra 15 minutes a day if it meant you could maintain your weight throughout the festive period? If not, what do you do?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

It's starting to look a lot like Christmas

Chestnuts roasting on a 22" monitor.

I love this so much.  What a nice way to brighten up your work day - with a roaring fire, some Frank Sinatra and a ton of code reviews. 

Happy Humpday.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Sweetest Thing - Marquis de Ladurée Chocolate Workshop in Paris

Up Avenue de l'Opera is Foucher.  They do pate aux fruits right. 

A lot of people wax poetically about the pastries and cakes that they find in the bakeries and tea salons in Paris. Me, I'm all about the confectionery. I'd much rather look at caramels, those weird marzipan fruit, the fruit pastes in exotic flavors and the boxes and displays of fine chocolates.

The French love their chocolates and elevate them to a form that I have never seen before. One day a few years ago, I was walking by an abandoned storefront on the rue de Castiglione and noticed that something new was going in. Was it going to be a perfume store? Another designer handbag store? I noticed display cases and the furnishings were so ornate - it looked familiar and yet, so fancy. 

Interior shot taken by me does the store no justice, you have to go see it yourself.

Ladurée, the brand best known for lovely teas, pastries, beauty supplies and the macaron had decided to open a chocolate shop near the Tuileries. Suffice it to say, I was happy to return a few short months later to see it open and full of chocolates with little else, even the pastries were chocolate - chocolate croissants with gold foil, pain au chocolat with chocolate pastry and some of the prettiest boxes of pralines I had laid eyes on. In the back of the store I noticed a few people standing around a big table whisking away at cake batter. They were learning how to make some sort of amazing chocolate tart and I was determined to join them.

Lately, I've been seeking out cooking classes when I travel.  I have had the grand luck of having some amazing instructors and learned some great things. My experience at the Marquis de in Ladurée was in the same league.  I learned a ton about making confections and about myself.

Let's talk about the class.  The website is hard to navigate and although they tell you there are workshops held every Thursday night and Saturday morning, they don't necessarily tell you what you might be doing. It took three web browsers and two laptops to get the pdf version of the schedule to come up for me.

Bonus. Lots of lovely pastries to have for le petit dejeuner. 

I emailed the store and started corresponding Jonathan who coordinates the workshops for the store. I paid my 84 Euros (105 dollars and change) and set my alarm for early.  I wore comfortable clothes and shoes for class and enjoyed the short walk from my hotel to the workshop.  I arrived around 850, and was one of the last to arrive.  We were offered coffee and chocolat chaud and chocolate pastries while waiting for the workshop to start.

Before we set off to work, Jonathan gave us a tour of the store (en francais), but he did some translating for me.  The store is all about chocolate - it has the usual delicious stuff such as a complete range of pralines, their flagship disks with the marquis embellishments in various flavors and chocolate bars that we all covet. They are Ladurée, so expect to see macarons, however the macarons are filled with chocolate ganache instead of your typical fruit and cream flavors and the pastries are all chocolate. It is truly amazing to behold.
Our gracious hosts.

Our instructor was name Aurora and she had been working as pastry chef for a few years. Before we started work, we were given clean aprons and asked to wash our hands. Each person had a station with a recipe, pen and water and tools we would need to complete our project - making chocolates.

This was not easy - skim coat the chocolate, mush in the paste, smooth it out and then skim coat chocolate on the top before cutting into "squares".

The workshop focused on making TH's favorite thing in the world - orange filled chocolates. These were almond paste mixed with orange rind and then dipped in chocolate.  We learned to prep the work surface, how to smoothly put down a layer of chocolate as a base (think skimcoating if you do such work), incorporate the almond with the orange to form a paste and to try and neatly and smoothly set this sticky concoction into a mold.

That took patience, something I lack.

And then we smoothed chocolate on the top, sort of like a crumb coating on a cake. After that dried, the paste was cut into small squares in anticipation of dipping them in chocolate.

They were more like trapezoid or parallelograms.
The thing about the squares was they weren't very square.

The great thing about chocolate, it hides a multitude of sins. It is like the faux-wrap dress of the food world.

Tempering chocolate requires a lot of work, time and elbow grease. Like most things, it needs a little pampering. You overheat it and it is crumbly and burnt and a drop of water will cause it to seize up. Tempering chocolate requires stirring a an even rhythm to keep the chocolate melted, not splashing it up sides so it creates seed for the chocolate to grab onto and solidify. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but it also took three times of reheating the chocolate in the microwave (!) to achieve that beautiful consistency with the lovely glossy sheen.

My final product.  My team loved them and so did TH.

We then dipped the marzipan squares in the tempered chocolate and garnished them with a piece of candied orange.  Those trapezoidal attempts at neat squares started to look much more like squared off chocolates.  The base helped shape the exterior and by the time we were done, things looked pretty fancy.

Ladurée provided us with lovely take out boxes much like the ones they use to package their own chocolates. We were also allowed to keep our leftover almond paste, which I carefully carried home and hope to use soon. It was an amazing morning where I learned a little patience and a lot about chocolate.

The Chocolate Workshops at the Les Marquis de Ladurée are held Fall, Winter and Spring on Thursday nights and Saturdays in their gorgeous store at 14 Rue de Castiglione. If you arrive early I recommend having breakfast at the Castiglione around the corner on Rue St Honore or walk up to Eric Kayser on Rue Danielle Casanova for a quick bite but save room for a pain au chocolat and the chocolat chaud.

Many thanks to Jonathan and Aurora for leading this workshop and to my patient Parisian classmates. I had a blast.

Monday, December 01, 2014

One Month. Thirty Posts.

I need this. Just saying.
Dang that was fun and hard.

I loved it.

I really appreciate all the feedback.

I am not sure I can continue at the pace of NaBloPoMo. The days I was exhausted or sick, it was hard to get enough enthusiasm up to post. I was glad I could do it from my phone.

I have an editorial calendar at work, I need to do the same for this blog.

I promised a few recipes and didn't deliver. I have a bunch of ideas scribbled down and need to start writing and doing a little research.

During the month of November, I flew two Europe twice and went to California once. I am nearly done with travel for the year. I cannot wait to go and come home again. I see so much when I travel that I want to share - places, things I see and things that make me go hmm...

Thanks for sticking it out with me.