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Sorting

Tuesday, 22. September 2009 11:32

As I mentioned in my last post, I had spent most of last week starting to sort items to get rid of before we move. The two moving companies that have given us estimates thought that we had about 35 cubic meters worth of stuff which fits into a 40 ft cargo container. We could fit into a 20 ft cargo container if we had only 30 cubic meters, so my challenge to myself is to get rid of 5 cubic meters worth of stuff in the next 6 weeks.

I started really strong in the upstairs guest room and the attic. I did those in the first day with no trouble at all (OK, I haven’t tackled the craft supplies under the bed, yet). I moved downstairs to the living room on Day 2 and my progress quickly ground to a halt.

Why? Because my first task was to go through the books. I did pretty well on my first pass through the bookshelves, but then I set aside a rather large stack of decorating books that I wanted to take a closer look at and see if I could bring myself to get rid of any of them.

So rather than putting all of those books in the “sell” pile, I slowly went through them and then I slowly placed them back on the shelves. I did get rid of a couple, but not nearly as many as I had hoped. Instead, I found myself getting excited about going back to our house in California. So many rooms a blank slate to start decorating! Even the rooms that I’ve already painted are waiting for me to try new colors! I can hear them asking for an update from here.

And then I started to wonder….has my decorating style changed? Would I put things back the way that they were 4 years ago? Will all of my decorating sense be based on the fact that I have children?

We’ll be moving the same furniture back into that house. We have the same artwork. There will be a few new things, of course, but the majority of our furniture and art will be the same.

Will the last 4 years feel like a dream if we move back into our old house with all of our old stuff?

Category:Books, General, Moving | Comments (2) | Autor: Erica

Present

Monday, 10. August 2009 10:13

Continuing with my musings on The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule, one of the chapters that I found particularly inspiring involved being present in family life.

I have mentioned before that I often find that hard to do. Sophia will ask me to wander the garden with her or play in her water table and, while I do it, I find that I either put it off first or that I easily wander off to the next thing on my list of Things To Do.

The author suggests that we slow down at meal times by taking a deep, cleansing breath before we begin the meal and/or by reciting a poem or a prayer. I read this passage about slowing down and connecting with the family and the meal and thought, “Yes, this is something that I need to do.” I often feel very frantic when I sit down to eat dinner — frantic from preparing the meal and the table, frantic from getting the kids to the table and hoping that they don’t make too much of a mess, frantic from watching the clock while we’re eating for the countdown to bedtime. The idea of taking a moment to remind myself that this is a good time to connect with my family was an important one and I shared it with Joe.

We sat down to lunch after our conversation and I took a deep breath (I don’t think Joe did). Joe and I started having a nice conversation when I heard…..

Sophia: Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!

Me: Sophia, please wait just a moment. Your father and I are talking.

Sophia pauses for an instant and then starts again: Mom! Mom! Mom!

Joe and I finish our current topic and I turn to Sophia: What do you need?

Sophia wrinkles up her nose, points to her lunch and announces: I don’t like this!

And I started to wonder if I really need to be present all the time….

Category:Books, Sophia | Comments Off | Autor: Erica

The Creative Family

Thursday, 6. August 2009 15:39

I recently finished reading The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections by Amanda Blake Soule. I’ve been reading her SouleMama blog for a while and wanted to see what this book was all about.

The Creative Family

What I found was a very readable book full of ideas to inspire and celebrate both creativity and the family. I was especially pleased to find that many of the activities could be done with young children and that they showed how everyday activities can really be seen as a creative outlet. I’ve been inspired to say, “Sure, let’s do that.” rather than, “Maybe later.” when the kids ask to do some activity that in the past I might have thought took a bit too much effort.

In one section, the author discusses her passion for knitting and about how she always has a project going. I, personally, have found knitting a difficult craft to do with the kids around since I never know when I’ll have to quickly put it down and then have to figure out where I was when I come back to it. Having said that, Sophia’s now at an age where I can knit around her and not have to worry about her playing with my needles or yarn. The book shares instructions for finger knitting which I thought Sophia might enjoy.

I was mistaken.

As I was knitting the other day, she asked to play with my yarn. I instead gave her her own yarn and tried to show her how to finger knit. She wasn’t interested at all since it didn’t involve the needles. And here’s where I found some inspiration from the book. The week before, I probably would have put away my own knitting and been disappointed that this craft didn’t work. This week, I decided to go ahead and let her play with a set of needles (since Julien was asleep) and her own yarn.

Knitting

She had a great time. I got to keep knitting. We were both happy.

Knitting

Category:Books, Sophia | Comments (1) | Autor: Erica

New Foods

Thursday, 7. May 2009 13:28

I can tell that it’s Spring because of the lovely fruits and vegetables that are appearing at our local produce stand, many of which I have never cooked before. I’ve been trying to become more aware of what produce is available during which season. I grew up in California and the fruits and vegetables that I grew up eating were just always there. I was never concerned about where they came from or if they were in season. If I wanted an apple I could get it at the supermarket — no matter what time of year.

And then I moved to France and noticed that it was a little harder to get some produce that was out of season. And then I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan and realized that it really made more sense to eat local produce and that meant produce that was in season as well.

Omnivore's Dilemma

Fortunately, our produce stand labels where all of the foods come from and, of course, the local produce is less expensive than produce that has been shipped halfway across the world. I’m not militant about it — the kids love bananas and there are a few other items that just aren’t grown around here — but I try to be conscious of what I’m buying and where it comes from.

Of course, I’m also having a hard time explaining to Sophia that she can’t have any pears now because they come from so far away.

So in the interest of eating local and in season, last week I picked up rhubarb, fava beans and purple artichokes. I’ve had rhubarb before but never cooked it myself. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten fava beans (and I always think of line from Silence of the Lambs where Hannibal Lecter talks about eating someone’s liver with a side of fava beans). I have, of course, had artichokes before, but I couldn’t resist the lovely purple color they had available at the produce stand. From these I made a Rhubarb Raspberry Crisp (yum!), a Spring Harvest Soup (with the fava beans, not entirely convinced yet) and just steamed the artichokes and ate them with the sauce from a Scallops Baked in White Wine recipe.

We ate pretty well last week, and I have to say that I’ve been having fun experimenting with these new foods (OK, new-to-me foods). I’ll have to see what’s new at the produce stand this week, too!

Category:Books, France, General | Comments (1) | Autor: Erica

The Reader

Friday, 3. April 2009 18:48

I read. A lot. I have even been accused of reading, for pleasure, books that others would only read for an assignment. I’ll reread the cereal box five times if that’s the only thing that I’ve got in front of me.

My husband? Not so much. While he is often reading the latest technology news on the computer, he rarely picks up a book to read for pleasure. He will pick up whatever book I have left lying on the table and start to read wherever my bookmark is, but seems content with reading what he can during his breakfast and doesn’t need to read any more. When he does read for pleasure, it is either a biography or some philosphical essay. (I find the philosophy interest a little strange because I’ll read just about anything except philosophy.)

On occasion, I will read a story that I think he would really enjoy. The last few times that he has gone on a business trip, I tried to get him to take The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by Deborah Cadbury. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book which chronicles both the modern day science of matching the DNA of a heart found in Paris and the story of the royal family during the French Revolution. It’s very well-written and I thought that Joe might enjoy it — in fact, I highly recommend it to everyone.

The Lost King of France book cover

He wouldn’t take it on his trips, but asked me about it one day. He sat down to read it, got into the first chapter and asked, “So, is it his heart?”

Me: What do you mean, “is it his heart?”

Joe: Is it his heart?

Me: But that’s the whole point of the story. You have to read it and find out. I’m not going to tell you the ending.

What does he do? He goes online, finds out the answer, and puts the book away.

So, I have given up. I don’t bother to recommend anything and I pass my books along to others who will enjoy them. It’s not really a big deal to me, we each have our hobbies — I’m cool with that.

But I was surprised to come back from dance class the other night and after getting ready for bed, I opened my latest book and Joe asked, “Do you want to know how it ends?”

Me: Huh?

Joe: Do you want to know how it ends?

Me: No. How do you know how it ends?

Joe: I read the book club questions in the back.

Me, perplexed: Why would you do that? The whole point of reading the book is to enjoy the story, not just to know how it ends.

Joe: No. I just want to know how it ends. The rest is just fluff.

Me: But….what….how can you……Oh My God!

Joe: Yep, it’s just fluff. No need to know the rest.

Category:Books | Comments (2) | Autor: Erica

Dilemma

Thursday, 18. December 2008 14:41

A friend of mine recently came over and dropped off this:

Books!

I now own over 30 book from the French masters of literature — Hugo, Flaubert, Balzac — in matching bindings, with illustrations, ribbon bookmarks, and did I mention that they’re in French. I also have a 16 book series of the History of Europe, also in French.

I now have a bit of a dilemma. The Book-Lover part of me is thrilled to have all these books. The Organizer-I-Already-Have-Too-Much-Sh*t part of me says that they don’t belong here.

Book-Lover: Oooooo, wow, aren’t they beautiful.

Organizer: Yes, they’re beautiful, but are you really going to read them?

Book-Lover: I might. I’d like to. How cool would that be to be able to say I read “Les Miserables” in the original French?

Organizer: But seriously? You couldn’t get through the unabridged version of “Les Miserables” in English, what makes you think that you’re going to read all 4 volumes in French.

Book-Lover: I know, but I am starting to enjoy reading in French more.

Organizer: Oh, please. You just finished reading Petit Nicholas,* you’re upgrading to Balzac next?

Book-Lover: Maybe….

And the conversation with myself continues.

* Petit Nicholas is a character in a series of books aimed at 9-year-old boys. I know how to call someone a dirty liar (sale menteur), crazy (dingue), and a sneak (cafard) in French now. Pretty cool!

Category:Books, French Language | Comments (3) | Autor: Erica

Quiet Dogs

Wednesday, 3. October 2007 19:44

Doggies

Ryan and Carolyne gave Sophia a copy of Doggies – A Counting and Barking Book by Sandra Boynton for her birthday back in April. It has become a favorite in our household with Sophia often taking the part of the little “yap yap” dog. Our readings often go something like this:

Me: One dog. Woof. Two dogs. Woof.

Sophia: Yap Yap!

Me: Three dogs. Woof.

Sophia: Yap Yap!

Me: nnnn…nnnnn…..nnnnn (the third dog is a whiner)

and so on, and so forth. But once you get to the number six, the book calls for Six Quiet Dogs. Sophia often points to her dog and whispers, “yap yap.” I always thought that was pretty cute, but didn’t consider how useful it could be until we were in Paris last week.

We walked into Sainte Chapelle and were greeted with signs saying “Silence”. That’s normally our cue that one of us will have to make a quick exit with Sophia as soon as she starts making noise. This time, however, she started to ooo and ahhh over the stained glass and when we asked her to be quiet she replied in a whisper with, “Quiet dogs. yap yap.” and was relatively quiet for the rest of our time in the church. I was amazed!

Category:Books, Sophia | Comments (3) | Autor: Erica

Popcorn Chickpeas

Friday, 9. March 2007 14:08

You’re right Cara, I’m probably not supposed to, but I’ll post the recipe for the chickpeas anyways (although I would still recommend buying the whole book).

Popcorn Chickpeas
one 15 oz. can chickpeas
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp coarsely chopped rosemary
1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
3/4 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Drain and rinse chickpeas in a strainer. Turn them out onto paper towels or a clean dish towel and pat dry. Pour the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and toss in the chickpeas. Cook them for 5 to 7 minutes, shaking the pan often. They won’t really brown, but they’ll turn several shades darker, shrink a bit, and form a light crust. Pour the chickpeas back into the strainer to drain the excess oil and return them to the pan. Lower the heat to medium and add the rosemary and garlic. Stir for another minute or two until the garlic begins to brown. Sprinkle with the salt and a few grindings of pepper. Toss again and pour them into a serving bowl. Serve warm.

From The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor by Jerry Traunfeld

Category:Cookbooks | Comments (2) | Autor: Erica

Cookbooks: The Herbal Kitchen

Thursday, 8. March 2007 15:14

So for my second cookbook review in a random series I’ve got The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor by Jerry Traunfeld.

My aunt gave me this one for Christmas and it comes with tips on herb gardening including what to grow and how to harvest it. The book is also interspersed with lots of information and pictures on specific herbs and their varieties. Most of the herbs called for in this book are supposed to be fresh. That being said, I often substituted dry herbs if I couldn’t find the fresh ones and I still had pretty good success (although I used about half the amount of what was called for in the recipe). Here’s what I tried:

Popcorn Chickpeas – This is an appetizer recipes that calls for canned chickpeas, rosemary and garlic. It’s super-easy. In fact, I have now taken to always having a can of chickpeas in the pantry because it’s something that is so simple to just whip together and yet seems pretty fancy.

Smoky Tomato-Bacon Soup – A hearty soup that can either be made with fresh tomatoes and beans or canned. I’ve made this twice now with the canned varieties because it’s really easy to put together for a weekday meal, and it still tastes great.

Lavender-Rubbed Duck Breast – Somehow I live in the Provence region of France and could not for the life of me find dried lavender buds to rub on this duck! I think I’ll have to keep a look out next summer after the harvest. Maybe it’s one of those things that just aren’t available year-round. No matter, I used every ingredient except for the lavender and it still turned out very well (that’s also because Joe cooked the duck for me — I haven’t quite mastered that one yet). This one is cooked with apricots and sweet onions which I will admit I was a little wary about, but I’ve been converted. It was terrific.

Tarragon Chick Breasts – Tarragon, Buttered Leeks, Chicken, yum. I made this for dinner one night when we had friends over and they asked for the recipe. ‘Nuf said.

Root Ribbons with Sage – You can use any root vegetable with this recipe. I chose carrots. The presentation is really interesting because you basically peel the vegetable to nothingness and serve all of the ribbons that you made with the peeler. I wasn’t overly thrilled with this one, although Joe liked it. Sage was one of the herbs that I had a hard time finding fresh so I think I may try it again later with fresh sage instead of dried.

I would definitely recommend this cookbook, it’s beautifully presented and has a lot of great ideas. I’m planning on planting an herb garden this spring so I think I’ll be referencing it for my garden as well as my cooking.

Category:Cookbooks | Comments (1) | Autor: Erica

Cookbooks: The Bon Appétit Cookbook

Tuesday, 23. January 2007 15:49

I received several cookbooks for Christmas this year and I thought I might try and do a review of them as I cook. I decided to start with The Bon Appétit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild, and I’ve tried several recipes that I’ve described below.

This cookbook compiles decades of recipes from Bon Appetit magazine and the cost of the book comes with a one year subscription to the magazine (which I’ve had sent to my Mom). So many dishes seemed to call to me as I flipped through the book that I had a hard time deciding where to start. I always take that as a good sign. If I flip through a cookbook and want to eat almost everything that I see listed then it’s got to be good.

Here’s what I’ve made so far:

- Pan-Fried Lamb Chops with Rosemary and Garlic — Super easy to make and there’s a little bit of crushed red pepper that gives it a nice bite.

- Scalloped Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Herbes de Provence — A nice spin on the traditional scalloped potatoes.

- Oven-Roasted Winter Vegetables with Rigatoni — Joe’s first comment was that it was too healthy. While I have to agree with him there (especially since I used a whole-wheat pasta), I still liked it, and it was easy to make.

- Greek-Style Linguini with Shrimp and Feta — I made this recipe too late and didn’t want to use the shrimp that I had bought, so we had it without the shrimp. It was still pretty good, although maybe a little heavy on the lemon juice. The feta and artichokes made a nice contrast to my normal pasta sauce.

- Turkey Chili with White Beans — Almost inedible! The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of chili powder which is either a typo, or I’ve found some seriously hot chili powder here in France. I suppose either is possible. It was so hot that Joe and I sat there with noses running and mouths hurting just trying to get through it. I had more the next day and it wasn’t as bad, but I just ate the meat and beans and avoided the liquid at all cost! It was unfortunate because if it weren’t so hot, it would have been a really nice chili. So, I’ll probably make it again, but I’ll definitely cut down the amount of chili powder.

- Beef Bourgiugnon — This one was a bit of a miss. Joe had been asking for stew so I thought I’d try it out. I followed all of the instructions, but it just wasn’t cooked enough when I was done. The sauce tasted great, but the meat and vegetables never got that really tender texture to them.

With over 1,200 recipes, I’ve got a lot of cooking to do! This cookbook has turned out to be a bit more of a mixed bag than I had expected, but since I’ve only touched the surface of what they’ve got to offer, I’ll definitely be referring to it in the future.

Category:Cookbooks | Comments Off | Autor: Erica