Homemade Pesto.

IMG_4353Is there anything that smells more like summertime than fresh basil?

Except maybe tomato vines, or cilantro? Or fresh cut grass…

But basil is right up there at the top of my favorites, so I picked up a big bunch of it at the farmers’ market the other day.  It doesn’t last long, once picked, so you’d better figure out something to do with it, and quick.  You can only do so much with it fresh before it’s no good anymore.  And so, as I usually do in the summer, I made pesto.

I love to make pesto.  I understand perfectly well that pesto can be made from anything.  That it’s not limited to basil or a certain kind of nuts, or really anything.  But I like for it to taste a certain way that is familiar to me and sort of comforting.  One of my familiar tastes of summer.

Here’s what I do:  I pick the leaves from a bunch of basil and rinse them, then I bring a pot of water to boiling.  When it’s boiling, I add the leaves and wait for the water to return to boiling, then let them boil for about a minute.  I quickly remove them from the heat, turn them into a colander, and run cold water on them to stop the cooking.  This keeps them nice and green in your sauce.  Drain the water well (and by this, I mean get your hands in there and squish it out).  In your food processor, add several cloves of garlic (this is an art, not a science, people.  You have to make it taste like you like.  But I do about 3), some good quality parmesan (though I usually go for domestic because it’s much less expensive per pound.  Save the good imported Italian stuff for when you are eating it straight with a nice red wine and can savor those little crunchy crystals…).  Chop those up nicely in your food processor, then add some pecans and do the same.  Next, add the basil, then a little sea salt.  Now, the fun part:  while your food processor is running, pour in olive oil until this chunky mixture turns into a lovely paste.  One you can envision smearing onto a baguette and then toasting.  Or onto chicken thighs as they are roasting.  Or, my favorite:  mixing into a batch of roasted zucchini, summer squash, and maybe peppers… heaven.  Take that pesto/vegetable mixture and heap it onto a pile of cool, crunchy Romaine for an amazing summer salad.

To recap the ingredients:
Basil

Fresh garlic

Parmesan

Pecans

Salt

Olive oil

Yes, that’s it.

Add a chilled Rose wine, and as far as I’m concerned, you have summertime, in its essence, on your table.

La vie est bonne.

 

* You’re going to have a lot of pesto, but that’s okay.  Buy those little tiny mason jars that are so cute, and that you’ve seen and yet wondered what on earth you could possibly do with them.  The pesto that you do not eat immediately will freeze beautifully in these tiny jars, topped with a thin layer of olive oil.  This will keep a long time in your freezer, and will allow you to remember what summertime tasted like, even in January when you think that it will never be summer again.

You’re welcome.

Juneau in August.

bella cran glacierBy what crazy accident of birth am I so blessed?

This is the thought that came to my mind in June, when I was making this trip to the Pacific Northwest for the first time this summer.  As our plane approached Seattle, I could see all the way down into California to Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta, on up to Mt. Hood in Oregon, followed by Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier in Washington state.  Five perfectly formed volcanic mountains, n all their snow capped glory, for me to see.  Now, maybe for other people this is commonplace, something they are used to, but as for me, it made me catch my breath and whisper a prayer of thanksgiving.  And ask the question I posed above.

And here I am again, asking that same question.  The Pilot has been making this trip to Seattle and Juneau all summer, and while I was able to accompany him back in June while our children were at camp, this is the first time the kids have been able to come along.  For me, there’s just something about being able to share these experiences with my children.  From the perspective of homeschooling, of course, it is indeed a unique educational opportunity.  We saw salmon spawning in the rivers, bald eagles wheeling and calling out overhead, and saw the flukes of humpback whales as they prepared to dive, all from a boat on one of the channels that leads to Juneau.  We saw seals vying for our attention, swimming and playing near the pod of whales that held us enthralled.  We learned more about the natural world around us in one afternoon than we could in weeks of reading and studying.  But I think the true educational value goes beyond that.  I hope that their hearts were stirred by what we encountered yesterday in a way that will change them forever, make them more connected to why we’re here and what our place in this world is.  I realize that may not happen for them right now, but perhaps it will in the long run.  I know that I am changed by what I saw and experienced yesterday.

I can’t imagine how you could be that close to some of the earth’s most amazing creatures and not have your heart, some part at the very core of you, moved beyond words…

So I’ll back up a little to the basics of how we got to that place.  Here I am again, in Juneau, Alaska, in the summertime, tagging along on one of the Pilot’s trips.  It has a very different feel to it than last time I was here, due in part to the fact that last time there was a Native Heritage celebration going on and the town felt more connected to its native roots, with both the good and bad that come along with that.  This time, the town was quieter, more connected with the intense beauty of the natural world around it instead.  The salmon are running right now, and I saw more than one person carrying a freshly caught, freshly cleaned salmon, wrapped up and cradled like the treasure that it is.  Impossibly green, the mountains around us rose into the crystalline blue skies, which was another of yesterday’s astonishing gifts since most of the time it is cloudy and rainy here.  The cruise ships weren’t docked on a Monday morning, so I had the town to myself, without the usual press of cruise passengers hurrying to shop and dine, as I walked around looking for a place with green tea and Wifi.

We had flown in from Seattle the night before, and after spending a little time in the local saloons (yes, they call them that) and making a late night stop for tater tots (not kidding, and they were delicious), we turned in for the night and woke up early to begin a morning of hiking for everyone but me.  I chose cafe sitting and people watching instead; I love my family, but sometimes I just need my peace and quiet.  But then, early afternoon, we met back up and caught a shuttle to the docks outside the town of Juneau, where we boarded a boat called Big Mike and met our curmudgeonly boat captain.  He then took us, at a brisk clip, out into the channels around Junuea in hopes of seeing whales.  We were assured that we would see some, either humpback or orcas, possibly both.

We were not disappointed.  Whales were everywhere.  I truly had no idea what to expect, thinking that I wouldn’t really be able to experience these enormous yet gentle creatures; they are underwater and I’m, well, not.  But then I saw the telltale spouting above the water of our first whale for the day… my reaction, completely involuntary, brought me out of my seat and caused me to squeal with delight.  All of us onboard (save the captain, who was obviously very jaded to the delights of whale watching) ran outside the boat’s cabin to try to get a better look.  As it turned out, there were about five of the cetaceans, hanging out together because that’s what families and friends do.  They would surface together, and five moisture-filled puffs of air would suffuse the air above the water.  They would spend a little time milling about there, giving all of us time to ooh and ah and snap photographs, and then you would see the “hump” of their backs flex and bend, followed by their tails lifting out of the water as they prepared to dive.  This was followed by several anxious minutes (at least for me) as we waited for them to return, keeping our eyes glued to the spot where we’d last seen them but knowing that they could come up anywhere.  Thankfully, they came up repeatedly, and we were able to watch them for at least an hour.

At one point, they were so close to our boat that I could hear one of them groaning in some sort of communication with his friends.  Wouldn’t you love to know what they were talking about?  Because I know that they were talking.  I just know it.  I’m not one of those arrogant humans who thinks that we have the corner on the market on communication.  No, these guys were enjoying their day, just like we were.  Who knows- maybe they were watching us right back!

But as they moved around us in their quiet choreography, our group became progressively more hushed.  What had inspired leaping and shrieking in me initially gave way to a more meditative state of mind, and I didn’t want to talk or even really to take any more photos.  I just wanted to revel in the feeling of something larger than me, something that would get me out of the crazy swirl that my thoughts can sometimes be and certainly have been lately.  The ocean always does that for me, but this took it to a new level and I sensed my body and mind slowing down, as I felt the ocean and the whales inhaling and exhaling right along with me.

For the first time in a long, long, time, I. Just. Breathed.

The best part?  At one point I glanced at my children seated behind me, and I could see from their faces that they were feeling the same things that I was, even if they didn’t have the words to give those feelings voice.  And that is the most valuable type of education that I could ever give them.

Learning how to be.

Learning how to breathe.

 

 

 

Dinner with friends.

Caviar and Sprats.
On the left are Riga sprats with thinly sliced lemon and parsley, and I think some butter. That is not marmalade on the left, but caviar of some type. But you probably knew that. I have to take a deep breath before eating either one, but they certainly look lovely.

I put this post into the “What we’re cooking” category even though it’s not about my own cooking.  I think it counts, though, because we were very much enjoying someone else’s cooking, and especially since we were enjoying it with them.  Food is always so much better when you are sharing it with good friends, and then when you’re sharing it with friends and sharing a few bottles of really good wine- well, that takes it to another level altogether.

We are fortunate enough to have friends on many continents (I love that) and from many different backgrounds, so saying that our Ukrainian friends fall into the “Most Interesting” category is no small thing.  But they are definitely that.  They are interesting in so, so many ways, beginning with the dinners that they serve.  These people know how to host a dinner!

This is how it goes:  You arrive at around 6:30 and are nearly immediately seated at the dinner table, which is laden with cheeses, a platter of cucumbers, tomatoes, and chopped fresh dill, a plate of cold cuts from an Atlanta institution called Patak Meats, cooked mushrooms of some type- either cooked in sour cream and covered with cheese, or wrapped in pastry, a platter of Olga’s homemade pickles, another piled high with Olga’s homemade bread, and if you’re lucky, that beet salad made with unrefined sunflower oil that might convert even the most diehard of beet haters.  Sometimes caviar and smoked fish.  And of course there’s wine.  There’s always wine.  I’ve learned to sip very, very slowly and remain constantly vigilant against Oleg and his stealthy pouring; apparently, he is opposed to empty wine glasses and takes his job as glass filler quite seriously.  And for the next 2-3 hours, you will sit and eat all the delicious things that have been piled on that table, and you will talk.  World politics is a favorite topic, with the Pilot and I often playing the role of avid listeners as Olga delivers passionate discourse on topics such as the state of the Ukraine.  She had me in tears the other night over the current situation; they have family still in that country, after all.  Olga’s passion is countered only by Oleg’s calm, quiet demeanor as he gently suggests that she take a moment to calm down with a cigarette (they are Europeans, after all) out on the balcony.  She always takes his suggestions.  This time, I joined her.  Sans cigarette, of course.

Literature and history are also favorite topics.  Did I mention that these friends are highly educated, both having trained as engineers at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute?  And then immigrated here when the Soviet Union fell apart, where they worked hard to learn not only a new language but a new career, or two?  They are both brilliant and fascinating, and this makes for incredible conversation when you add my equally brilliant husband into the mix.

After you’ve spent 2-3 hours enjoying the cold cuts, vegetables, and cheese, it’s time for the main course.  Yes. The main course, at 9 p.m.   I learned this when I traveled to that part of the world back in the 90s:  Don’t be fooled by the copious quantities of food in front of you that this is all there is.  And certainly don’t fill up, because there will be more food, and lots of it.  And you will miss out if you’re already full.

The other night, the main course was a stuffed cabbage dish called golubtsy.  It’s a classic Ukrainian dish that’s also made by Russians (but PLEASE do not mention that around Olga these days) and it is filling and delicious.  It consists of cabbage leaves filled with meat and rice and then cooked in a pot on the stove till everything is tender and the flavors blended.

Served, of course, with more wine.  And more conversation.  And then, usually by around 1 a.m., when I can’t even imagine eating another bite and can barely keep my eyes open, I manage to get the Pilot’s attention and suggest that it is quite possibly time to head home, against the pleas of Olga that “It’s early still!  You can’t go!”  coupled with the hint of a dessert that is yet to be served.  I have yet to be able to eat dessert at their home.  But I always leave completely satisfied, filled to the brim with friendship, good food, and the promise of the next time that we will see this lovely family.

 

Summer reading.

“Is it really possible to detect talent in fourteen-year-old children?” Bernard asked.

“Yes, but it’s rarely possible to predict whether the divine spark will keep burning with enough steadiness to survive the world.”  From “Clara and Mr. Tiffany,” by Susan Vreeland.

Our summer reading menu has been a bit paltry thus far, I’ll admit.  Who has time to read with all the traveling we’ve been doing?  It’s been especially hard since the kids and I do some of it by listening to books on tape in the car, and we haven’t been doing much driving these days.  There’s been a lot of flying, but little driving.  In fact, we’ve been listening to the same two books for over a month now, and that is unusual for us.  Ordinarily, we finish them quickly.  We can’t stand not to, even if that means sitting in the car in the driveway while the neighbors wonder about our sanity.

But one of the books that I have managed to read this summer stands out.  This book spoke to me in such a way that I can’t bring myself to return it to the library yet; it feels like I will be losing a friend when I do so.  The overdue fines are racking up along with the guilt at being a book hog; this unwillingness to return it isn’t coming from a logical place, I assure you.  Since I’m finally writing down what it meant to me, though, I should be able to let go soon.  Maybe today…

In any case, the book is called “Clara and Mr. Tiffany,” by Susan Vreeland.  It’s historical fiction, which is a favorite genre of mine.  The author has done an excellent of job of fleshing out the characters, so much so that I really did feel like they had become my friends by the end of the book.

The book is about the history of the Tiffany Glass Co., but from the viewpoint of one of the women artists who worked for the company back at the turn of the last century.  What a beautiful perspective it offers on so many aspects of New York in the late 1800s:  the plight of immigrants, the difficulties faced by women, in particular single women who needed to support themselves.  A main point of the book is in fact the main character Clara Driscoll’s singleness; a Tiffany company policy doesn’t allow women to work once they are married.  Early in the story, Clara marries, leaves the company, and then comes back a short time later after the death of her husband.  She is an artist, and finds so much fulfillment in the work that she pleads for her job again so that she can go back to doing what she loves.  I find it hard to imagine a time when a woman would have to choose either marrying or continuing to have a career.  Oh, wait, maybe I can imagine it…

But I digress.  In the end, the choice in many ways is made for her.  I won’t spoil the book, but when the man she has been friends with for years finally admits his feelings for her, she describes it thus:

“Breathless and half frightened at the prospects, I glimpsed my larger self shining in his eyes, and I loved him for showing it to me.”

Isn’t that what we all want, even if we don’t realize it?  Someone, friend or lover, to show us the best in us, our larger selves?  And yet, for someone who has kept the divine spark of artistic talent glowing within herself, what a terrible thing to be forced to give up. Ah, the beautiful dilemma of it!

Okay, now that I’ve shared about the pleasure that this incredible book gave to me, I feel better.  I think I can now quit being a library delinquent and finally give it back so that others can enjoy it as well.  If you live near me, here in Atlanta, Georgia, go check it out at once.

I just happen to know of a copy that will be available later this week.

 

Vreeland, S.  (2012).  Clara and Mr. Tiffany.  New York:  Random House.

 

 

PS-  I did finally return it and pay my overdue fines on all our books from this summer.  It was an all-time high $8.50 for me, but my debts are now paid.  I can sleep at night.  But I probably should have just bought a copy of it!

Juneau, Alaska.

IMG_4325 Before this past month, I’d never been to Alaska before.  Now, I can say that I’ve been twice.  Twice in the span of 4 days, but twice nonetheless.  When you’re tagging along with aircrew, flying along on their routes, you get a lot of time in the air and enough time on the ground to feel rested before you’re back in the air again.  As for that time on the ground- you’d better make the best of it.

But the time in the air, coming in to Juneau, is something spectacular.  The route goes from Seattle, up over the mountains of British Columbia, and then in to the Juneau airport.  If you’re lucky enough to have a clear day, you have a view of the most pristine expanse of snow-covered peaks that I’ve ever seen.  Untouched by humans, or at least untouched for a very long time- it’s a true wilderness that you fly over, and it lifts my heart to know that there are still a few places that we humans haven’t messed up yet.  For the two hours it takes to go from Seattle to Juneau, you get a macro view of this extraordinary stretch of the Coast Mountain range of British Columbia. And then, as you begin the approach into Juneau, you can start to see the details of that expanse of wilderness- a glacier here, a waterfall there, the channels along this coastline where the ocean cuts into the landmass.  It is these channels that make Juneau so remarkable in many ways; the word that comes to mind is extreme.  The mountains are high, the channels are deep and narrow.  There are no roads in or out.  You do not go to Juneau accidentally- you have to want to go.  It gives the place a strange energy, this isolation.

So, what do you do with 30 hours in Juneau, Alaska, which is what we had (twice)?  You get out and enjoy nature, whether that is through hiking, whale watching, or glacier walking.  You do not try to stay in town, because you will run out of things to do long before your 30 hours is up, I promise. There isn’t much to this town, and most of what there is caters to the many cruise ships that stop here each and every day.  Imagine the daily ebb and flow of people arriving, and then leaving, via these huge ships that pull into port.  Many of the shops cater to these people coming in- resort wear and sandals in a place that rarely gets above the 60 degree mark?  And I don’t need ANYTHING made of fur… Yes, nature is the reason you come to Alaska, not the shopping or the coffee.

And so seeking opportunities to enjoy nature is what we did. Fortified by a lunch consisting of the freshest halibut and salmon I’ve ever tasted, paired with a view of the mountains and the seaplanes coming and going, we took the tram to the top of Mt. Roberts for some hiking.  Mt. Roberts is just one of the many mountains that cradle Juneau, and the word extreme does indeed describe them all, so taking the tram up to 1800 feet and then beginning your hike is the way to go.

I thought I was in shape before attempting this hike.  As it turns out, I am not.

But, I gasped and panted my way towards the peak, and the view as we progressed along the trail towards the summit was the reward for my hard work.  It was nothing short of spectacular.  From high up on Mt. Roberts, we could see up and down the channel to the snow capped mountains that are on all sides.  It was a clear, relatively warm day for hiking, a rarity in this temperate rain forest, and many others were out taking advantage of it as well, which somewhat allayed my fears of bears, moose, and other wildlife that call Alaska home (that old joke about only having to out run the other person, not the bear?  Yes, that came to mind).  The only wildlife we saw, which I am thankful for, were the bald eagles wheeling and calling overhead as they caught the updrafts coming off the mountains.  I love animals, but I don’t like the idea of riling a grizzly.

In any case, I only made it halfway up the 6 mile round trip trail.  When we got to the snowy parts, I decided that I’d hiked quite far enough, and parked myself on a ledge to enjoy the view while the Pilot hiked on to the top (he has a bit of an obsession with completing things.  You can’t stop halfway!!  I do not share this belief, thankfully, and stopping halfway suits me just fine).  From my vantage point, I could enjoy the beauty of the place, feel the sun and the breeze on my skin, and watch the canoes of the Alaska native population as they approached for a festival celebrating their heritage, which was happening while we were there.  The lupines were in full bloom, the sky blue, the air cool but the sunshine warm; what better place could there be just to sit and enjoy life?

That evening, we enjoyed Alaska in a very different way.  I’ve already mentioned the native heritage celebration that was going on, and I count myself very fortunate to have been able to watch the parade of all the different groups through town as they headed for the opening ceremonies.  Though I have no idea what was going on, really, I do know that it was all part of that very human need to celebrate where we’ve come from and who we are.  And I understand the beauty of it; the colors of each group on their button blankets, their furs, their unique adornments spoke to me.  The parade was followed by a meal of more halibut, which has now become my favorite fish.  The stuff is like candy!  So sweet and tender- just don’t get in the way of its natural flavor and you have my attention fully.  Fully.  And then some.

And then to the Alaska Hotel for its bar.  You have to have your priorities straight, you know.  I’m not much of a drinker, having a two glass limit at all times and all.  But for people watching and good conversation, and if you’re lucky, some live music by characters that look like they are straight off a movie set only they aren’t, this is your place.  Neither the hotel nor the bar have seen a remodel since, well, ever.  Built in 1913, it looks exactly the same as it did in 1913, and in my opinion, that is not such a bad thing.  If you find yourself in Juneau, go here, if for no other reason than to marvel at the beards that you will find.  I can’t say this emphatically enough.

Trust me, I will be taking my own advice when I am back there again in a few weeks.  But I will be purchasing a bear bell.*  That way, hopefully I don’t have to outrun anybody.

 

* Whether they work or not, it will make me feel a little better.  And make my mom feel better, too.  She’s even more concerned about bears than I am.

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L’été, il est arrivé.

IMG_4212Translation:  Summer has arrived.  And for me that means fresh vegetables, in abundance.  I think that this is my favorite time of year to cook!  Until autumn arrives and I get to pull out my Le Creuset and make a beef bourguignon again… But for now, this is my favorite time of year to cook!  Last night’s dinner consisted of sauteed zucchini and squash, with a little onion and garlic and bell pepper, finished off with with fresh thyme and basil from the garden.  Served over quinoa with a generous amount of parmesan, with a salad of cucumbers still warm from my mom’s garden, tomato, and goat cheese with olive oil.  I really don’t need anything else (though I’m certain that my Texas family were wondering where the meat was).  Heaven.

We followed all that with a fresh blackberry cobbler; I was actually going for a clafoutis-type dessert, but I don’t think I quite achieved it in this gluten free version.  I will have to try again- less flour, more egg.  But it was delicious nonetheless.  I should have taken a picture, but I didn’t have time.  It didn’t last that long.

Fresh zucchini and blackberry cobbler?  Yes, summer has indeed arrived.  I’m ready for my travels to be over for a while so I can get to our local farmers’ market and get into my kitchen!  My vagabond soul is actually ready to settle in for a few weeks!

I’ve got some cooking to do.

Seattle.

IMG_4194 And now, for a complete change of pace:  The west coast!  Because Europe can grow so tiresome (just kidding).  And because Atlanta this time of year is so bloody hot and humid (not kidding about that).

Either that, or the Pilot had a trip out there and the kids were at camp or at grandmother’s all week, and I got to tag along.

I adore my kids, but even the most dedicated mom among us must get a break every once in a while.  And that is what I got last week:  The chance to relax, or at least relax as much as I can when flying across the country to a vibrant and fascinating city like Seattle.  Truthfully, it wasn’t so relaxing at all, tagging along and flying on every trip that my husband flew.  As it turns out, aircrew work really hard;  who knew it was’t all just glamorous?  But it was a lot of fun!  I can’t just hang around in a hotel room sleeping when I’m in a place like Seattle!!

You see, Seattle has been a favorite of mine for a long time.  Years ago, my husband and I honeymooned out there, not in Seattle, but on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound.  A few times, we came into the city by ferry to have dinner or to shop for food at Pike’s Place market.  Also, later in our marriage, he was stationed at Whidbey Island for 6 months and the kids and I came out and visited for weeks at a time.  While he hurried up and waited through Navy training, we ate raspberries and Rainier cherries and played at the playground in the 70 degree sunshine, and spent hours searching for treasures on the beaches… there are so many treasures on beaches when you are 5 and 7…

This time, however, we were right in downtown Seattle, and I got to experience this city the way that it is best seen:  on foot.

I do love a walking city, and in my opinion, Seattle is one of the best you can find in the US.  Admittedly, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to New York or Boston, and I remember that they are both indeed wonderful places, but there is something almost magical, at least to me, about this city by the water.  It’s almost always cool and misty, which is fine by me since I am a boots/tights/sweaters kind of girl, and you get not only the beauty of the ocean* but the beauty of the mountains as well.  Or, at least, sometimes you get the beauty of the mountains.  One mountain in particular, anyway:  Mt. Rainier.  I got the pleasure of seeing that rather astonishing volcanic mountain in all its glory on the crystal clear day of our arrival in Seattle.  How could you miss it?  It looms over the city, all 14,410 feet of it.

 

Ah, but you can miss it.  In fact, I’d even say that most of the time, you will miss it.  Crystal clear days in Seattle, as everyone knows, are few and far between.  So when the ranges of the Cascades are in view, along with the spectacular Rainier, take a good look, and take photographs.  I made the mistake of not doing so, of taking for granted that I would be able to take pictures the next day, and I was wrong:  the day of our arrival was the only sunny day we had the entire week that we were in and out of Seattle! Lucky for me, I got some gorgeous shots from the plane window as we were descending into the city.  And even luckier for me, I was also able to see Mt. Lassen, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and of course Rainier- all the way down into California.  Unbelievable.

But back to the wonders of Seattle.  We made a point of walking as much of it as we could, and though our mileage was not on par with my recent trip to London and Paris, we did cover some distance.  We visited Pike Place Market, which is de rigeur for a trip to Seattle.  I took pictures of food.  How could I help it, when Rainier cherries are in season?  And while I was taunted by delicious smelling bakeries that are now off-limits for me, some brilliant person had the idea of opening a stand that sells a variety of flavors of full-fat, delicious Greek yogurt.  I had lemon curd  (could someone please open such a stand in Atlanta?)  And of course we saw the guys who throw fish around;  I almost got sprayed by a shower of ice from a flying salmon.  But they do in fact sell it as well as throw it, which I must confess gave me a moment of longing for a kitchen.

Of course, there’s some pretty spectacular people watching here as well.  I know that grunge is technically over, but people still aren’t afraid to express, well, something.  I’m not sure what, exactly, but it is interesting and I like seeing it.   And then, inviting little boutiques are on every corner in the Belltown area, along with all the handmade offerings at the nearby Pike Place Market.  I came across a hand-sewn hat that I just might have to have one day- darling but also waterproof.  I wish I’d had that while I was  in England!  Look good AND keep dry- what a great idea!  And oh, the handpainted silk scarves and hand-crocheted sweaters and artist-made clocks, purses, you name it- this is the kind of shopping I like.  Plus, it’s good to support local artists, right?

And of course, we ate well here.  It’s a common theme with me, you may notice.  I don’t eat much seafood while home in Atlanta, Georgia coast shrimp being an occasional exception, but when I’m in the Pacific Northwest, I make a point of eating as much of it as possible.  There’s just nothing like fresh salmon, salmon that’s never been frozen or taken a ride on an airplane.

But I only thought the fish was the most fresh and amazing of any place in the country here in Seattle.  I thought that before I went to Juneau, Alaska, which is the entire reason that we were here in Seattle in the first place:  it’s a great place to start when you’re flying to Alaska.

 

 

 * Yes, I realize that the water near Seattle is technically a sound, the Puget, to be exact.  But to this landlocked Atlanta resident/Texas native, it feels an awful lot like the ocean.
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I love this place. The artists, the artisans, the Greek yogurt, the flying fish.
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Gorgeous AND delicious.
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A charming little calligrapher.

 

Parisian market.

Usually, travel to France for me revolves to some extent around mealtime:  the planning of the meal, the anticipation of the meal, purchasing food for the meal or choosing the restaurant, and of course, enjoying the meal.  A little obsessed, perhaps.  I’ll admit it.  But, traveling with a packed schedule and staying in hotels, as well as traveling with a group that consisted largely of teenagers whose gourmet tastes ran towards the latest iced beverage offering by Starbucks, meant that for the most part we really did not eat well.  Oh, how I hope that the adults in our group who have never been to France before do not judge French food by the odd assortment of brasseries that we dined in!  (Dear friends, please go back and try Cafe Constant, please?)  And to make matters even worse, my recent very necessary tightening of the gluten restrictions meant that patisseries and boulangeries were out of the question as well!

What???  France without a single good restaurant and no pain au chocolat?  France without a kitchen?  Quelle horreur.

But there was still wine and cheese.  Thank God for wine and cheese.  And olives, and red currants, and all of the other beautifully fresh offerings on hand at that most divine destination of food lovers in France:  the open air market.

Now, it’s not quite the same, going to a market when you’re staying in a hotel, not a house, meaning that you have no kitchen to bring things back to, and no refrigerator to store the ridiculous amount of cheese that you’ve just purchased.  But, looking is free, and (almost) as enjoyable.  And I did get that darling sun hat and hot pink blouse, which by fabulous luck was a perfect fit even without trying it on…

 

Check out these red currants.  They were delicious.  Hard to find these fresh in the part of the world I call home!
Check out these red currants. They were delicious. Hard to find these fresh in the part of the world I call home!
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Oh my goodness. Are you kidding me? Wild asparagus and this amazing selection of mushrooms? And I had no kitchen?
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I had to settle for a feast for the eyes. Not such a bad deal, really. And I must admit, a lot less work.
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Wild asparagus. I’ve never even seen this before. Gorgeous.
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Of COURSE you can get flowers, too.

 

 

Okay, that’s it. I will just have to come back to Paris and rent an apartment. As soon as possible.

 

Educational travel, Parisian style.

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Paris.  I think it’s pretty clear that I’m enamored with this place.  This hasn’t always been the case; we rarely stay here when we travel to France- we’re always on our way to someplace else in country, and I confess that I am a little crazy about the rural parts of France.  The fresh, cool air, the green fields filled with cream-colored cows, the vineyards and their grand crus… I’m describing my beloved Burgundy now.  But Paris is special, and this last trip reminded me of just how unique this city is in the world.

While in London, it was easy to focus on the educational part of our trip.  Travel in the name of education and all that.  Yes, a tour of the colleges of Cambridge, a tour of the British Museum- fabulous.  Christian Heritage!  Love it.  Please, teach me more history.  But it’s not so easy to maintain that serious educational outlook when I hit the border of a place I love so viscerally.  When my brain switches into French speaking mode, I feel like part of me has come home.  Which is strange, I know.  I’m not French.  I’m from Texas, for goodness sake.

So I’m going to have to try to reign myself in so I can describe our educational trip from a more objective point of view.  And we did learn a lot.  Oh yes, the tour of the city by bus was wonderful.  I highly recommend it.  I also recommend the tour by boat; I got some amazing photos of the Ile de la Cite, in particular Notre Dame.  It is so clear from the water that the Ile de la Cite is in fact an island.

But that same day, I got the chance to go off by myself on the pretext of needing to find a pharmacy for some headache medicine for my daughter, and that walk alone was one of those moments that make your breath catch in your throat.  Strolling those leafy streets, so residential and yet so close to the Eiffel Tower, was a treat of the best kind for me.  You walk along, and then suddenly a side street opens up a view of the most iconic image of Paris that there is: La Tour Eiffel, in all its glory. Sycamore trees, les platanes, shade these streets that are lined with cafes, bistros, brasseries, and yes, people’s homes.  And here I am, digressing into the sensual feel that the city has for me…

Okay, I can’t do it.  I can’t separate the feel of the city from what I am supposed to have learned about it.

So instead, here’s a list of images of Paris:

An omelette, a galette, and a bottle of sparkling water in an underground wine cellar turned restaurant near our hotel in Bercy Village… A carafe of wine as well, of course.

Accordion players in the Metro, so quintessentially French, playing Edith Piaf just in case they aren’t already Gallic enough to make me cry.

Montmartre- even though it’s crowded and dirty and touristy, I love it anyway.  I love Sacre Coeur, perched on its hill.  A glass of wine and a dish of pistachio ice cream in a café in Montmartre with my daughter while the rest of the group shopped.

Versailles, with its over the top, crazy gorgeous gilding and painting on every possible surface… Fountains, gardens, glass, mirrors, extravagance.  Extraordinary.

The Louvre.  What is there to even say about the Louvre?  Except that it’s overwhelming and astonishingly beautiful, with its strange, modern pyramid juxtaposed against 17th century palaces and filled to the brim with art of every kind (except modern.  And those crazy Impressionists).

Market day, on Saturday, where we shopped for ripe red currants and cherries and bargained for linens and scored inexpensive yet stylish lace tops and sun hats (10 euros each, thank you very much), drooled over cheese that cannot be taken home, and then took a lunch break where we had the most amazing glass of Beaume de Venise.  If I close my eyes I can still taste it.  Who really cares about the rest of the meal when there is Beaume de Venise?

The Latin Quarter, early on a Sunday morning after seeing the exterior of Notre Dame and its sculptures for what they truly mean…  Quiet, pensive, the feeling of the serious spiritual learning that is its history not so far away.

A waiter, kissing my hand as our group departed after a good meal and a delicious bottle of wine, near the Tuileries and the Champs Elysees.  I don’t know why he kissed my hand, but who needs a reason for such things when you’re in Paris?

Breakfast in our hotel, of all places.  I’m always happy to start my day out with a slice or two of Comte.  And a café au lait.

An early morning, insomniac walk through the Paris streets, just me and the folks cleaning the streets.  Most Parisians do not wake early.  But the city was sparkling and fresh, and I’m glad I got to experience it this way.

Paris, with friends, and Paris through the eyes of young people.  And all the joy that comes along with those things.

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Faces under a bridge along the Seine.
A glimpse of the Hall of Mirrors at Versaille.
A glimpse of the Hall of Mirrors at Versaille.
Notre Dame, on Ile de la Cite, from the boat.
Notre Dame, on Ile de la Cite, from the boat.
Me and my girl, at Versailles.  I love, love, love this place...
Me and my girl, at Versailles. I love, love, love this place…

Paris. A love letter.

IMG_4154Ah, Paris.  La Ville Lumiere…

I think that, at last, I’ve forgiven you. I feel that we’ve made up, or at least a one-sided making up has occurred.  I realize you are completely indifferent to me, but I don’t care.  It’s been far too long that I’ve been annoyed with you, and I’m so happy to have reconciled.  Because even though I claim to be indifferent to your charms, it’s not true:  I am just as in love with you now as I was when we first met.

Why have I been so angry for so long?  I felt that you had let yourself go a little.  Gotten a little out of control, a little untidy and unkempt.  And while these things may be true as well, there is so much more to you that I haven’t been able to see in my headlong rush to be clear of your city limits in recent years on trips to France.  This time, though, I didn’t just drive your perepherique on my way to rural France.  This time, I took a train straight into your center, and experienced your beauty the way it should be experienced:  On foot.  Silly me, what was I thinking, judging you by your airport and your (horrific) traffic?

I should know better than that.

The things I dislike about you are still true.  You are not well-organized or efficiently run.  Your metros caused a near meltdown in my teenaged daughter when her ticket refused to work.  She took it as a personal affront, which I understand.  I’ve taken many things about you as a personal insult as well.  Many parts are crowded, and your metros take the idea of filth to new heights.  Come on, now, would it hurt to do a little sweeping up?

But your beautifully planned out streets, thank you, Baron Haussmann, are like nothing else in the entire world.  I see that now.  Your boulevards, especially when the sun is shining like it was this last week, are like no place else on earth.  I see that now, too.  The history that has happened on your soil, the art, music, and poetry that has been inspired, it all makes me feel full to overflowing.

Maybe it was seeing you with new eyes.  Maybe it was being with a group of young people and feeling their energy, or perhaps it was having a guide to walk me through your extraordinary spaces and tell me about the things that can’t be seen at all.

Whatever the reason is, I think that a serious love affair has been rekindled.  And I can’t wait to get back to you again.