Christmas in Spain – Granada

Christmas in Spain – Granada

You may be surprised to hear that our trip to Spain was virtually unplanned. We bought our plane tickets and booked our house, but other than that the only thing we did was book our tickets to the Alhambra in Granada. The Alhambra is on every list of must-do’s in Spain. It’s perhaps the most well-known remnant of al-Andalus, the name given to Spain during its over 700 years as a Muslim civilization. Tickets to the Alhambra tend to sell out, so I made sure to get ours early. It just so happened that some Amsterdam friends from our children’s school were also in Spain for the holidays, and had booked their Alhambra tickets on the Monday before Christmas as well. I’d like to think that my kids would have enjoyed seeing the Alhambra anyway, but having their friends there was a definite bonus.

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Christmas in Spain – Madrid

Christmas in Spain – Madrid

After a drizzly few months of autumn and winter in Amsterdam, nothing sounded better than Christmas in Spain. Axa and Raj get a whopping three weeks off of school, so we were able to take advantage of extra cheap plane flights to Madrid. We flew in Tuesday evening, and finally made it to our apartment sometime after one in the morning. Our host, Felix, graciously waited up for us to let us in. After three years of trying to understand Puerto Rican Spanish in Florida, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I’d forgotten the Spanish I learned on my mission to Chile. So I was quite pleased to find that I could communicate perfectly with Felix. Strangely, from his lips, the accent of Spain seemed effortless for me to understand. Then he told me he was from Venezuela. Oh, well. At least I still speak South American Spanish.

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Palaces and Puppet Shows

Palaces and Puppet Shows

One of the things we love about living in Amsterdam is visiting the city centre. While Amsterdam is famous for its multitude of, shall we say, earthly delights, there are also plenty of wonderful family-friendly activities here. Shortly after we arrived, we bought ourselves the Museumkaart, a card that allows you to get into most of Amsterdam’s museums and other historical sites like the Anne Frank House for free.

Our first couple of times using the cards at the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum were somewhat less than successful, due to a combination of crowds, long lines, and insufficient parental ingenuity. Today I was determined to make a better plan. We started off the morning with hot chocolate and pain au chocolat (keyword: chocolate) at De Bakkerswinkel, slathered liberally with their signature strawberry jam, lemon curd, and pineapple basil preserves.

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Thanksgiving in Florida, 2014

We’re kind of foodies at our house, so Thanksgiving is generally a gala affair. (See Last Year’s Menu and the Even More Dramatic Year Before) However, I’ve noticed that since I started working full time, I have less and less of a desire to spend my entire day off cooking when it’s a holiday. Go figure. Tony has even less of a desire to cook a big Thanksgiving, possibly due to the fact that nearly all of the everyday cooking at our house currently falls to him.

So this year we’ve decided to pare down Thanksgiving a bit. No, make that a lot. In fact, I’m embarrassed to even say what we’re contemplating, nay have actually determined to do. Suffice it to say that our plans for Thanksgiving do not involve either brining the turkey, wrapping it in bacon, cooking it upside down, or even stuffing it. In fact, they don’t involve a turkey at all. Are you ready for it? We’re going to pick up a rotisserie chicken. It was Tony’s idea, since I wouldn’t have been able to bear coming up with such an travesty. However, once he brought it up and I weighed the merits of a rotisserie chicken against the hours of preparation and the reality of turkey leftovers in the freezer for the next several months, I could see he had a point.

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Thanksgiving Menu – Florida (Take Two)

Believe it or not, real life besides books has been going on too. Last week the CEO at the company where I work said he was not opening the office on Friday, so everyone would be “working from home” (his quotation marks, not mine). I was pretty excited to have a whole Thanksgiving weekend with the family.

Our Thanksgiving menu for this year was a little less ambitious than last year’s Thanksgiving menu, considering the fact that I work full time and Tony, while he is more organized than I ever was about everyday meals, has no interest in presiding over an elaborate, three-day cooking project. So yes, instead of, for instance, making my own graham crackers for graham cracker crust (true story), I consented to comb the cookie aisle for something premade with a minimum of objectionable ingredients. Among other things.

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French Women, Tigana, Catching Fire, Mountains of Madness, and Tenant of Wildfell Hall

French Women for All Seasons: A Year of Secrets, Recipes, and Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this one up for free, and it’s been sitting in my bathroom for the past month, so I’ve leafed through most of it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t read the book that put Guiliano on the bestseller list, French Women Don’t Get Fat, although I was aware of its basic premise. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone really being able to take her seriously. Giuliano’s tone is supercilious at best. Her constant exaggerated descriptions of her own self-control (the chocolates she didn’t eat, the half of a banana she saved for later, etc.) are bizarre to the point of being red flags for an unhealthy food obsession. And her constant assumed superiority in everything from fashion to stress management (not to mention the broad and blatant cultural stereotyping) make this book virtually unreadable.

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, The Host, Prague Winter, Shakespeare in Italy, and Seven Daughters of Eve

Let’s talk books! The good, the pedantic, and Stephenie Meyer’s already-made-into-a-movie foray into science fiction.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three stars, because this book can only be described as uneven. On the one hand, I was absolutely fascinated by the Kingsolver family’s adventures in producing most of their own food for an entire year. Probably because I already had my own fantasies about moving to a farm and subsisting on my own heirloom vegetables and heritage farm animals. I loved the recipes and seasonal menus, as well as the practical information on homesteading, including hilarious accounts of things like mushroom hunting, using a year’s bounty of zucchini, and breeding turkeys. And of course I related to the trip to Italy.

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The Joys of a Liquid Diet

As I mentioned in my last post, I had jaw surgery two and a half weeks ago. No, I don’t really want to talk about it, since thinking about what my surgeon was doing while I was out still makes me queasy (if you’re absolutely dying to know, you can look up orthognathic surgery on Wikipedia and learn all the gory details. There, I just taught you a new word). Nor did I take pictures of myself after the surgery, when I looked like a cross between a gigantic chipmunk and a basset hound. Because some things are just better left to the imagination.

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Thanksgiving–the day after

Soooo . . . I was really dying to write this post, but then I decided not to because I figured nobody would really be interested in yet another post about what I ate for Thanksgiving. But then Michelle (through whom I am vicariously living in Umbria) asked me how it all turned out, and I figured, as I usually do, that if one person is saying it then there must be at least ten or twenty of you thinking the same thing. Right? So here’s a little rundown on how all those Thanksgiving recipes actually worked out for us.

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Thanksgiving Menu – Florida

It’s that time of year when I have an excuse to get the kitchen really messy. We have a family tradition of spending the whole of Thanksgiving Day cooking together. For normal everyday cooking I tend to make the same 20-or-so recipes over and over, although every time we move I change things up to reflect which ingredients are cheap and easy to find where we live. But for Thanksgiving, I like to try new recipes every year.

I’ve come a long way from our first Thanksgiving as a little family, in which my freshman sister Hannah arrived just in time to prevent me from sticking the turkey in the oven completely unseasoned and with the giblets still inside their plastic bag in one of the mysterious cavities.

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