Saturday, April 29, 2017

April in Paris

I recently made a trip to France - initially because I had been feeling a little homesick and I was eager to reconnect with friends and visit the city that captured a bit of my heart. But more so, because the plane ticket was so cheap I couldn't NOT go! And, it's Paris, in April. Need I say more?!

I spent a few days back in Rambouillet, hanging out with friends and strolling down memory lane. The apartment I rented was perfectly situated down town, right next to a pastry shop. It couldn't have been a better location for me!

The entrance to the courtyard of my apartment is tucked under the awning of the pastry shop

The courtyard behind the pastry shop - my apartment was just on the right

The Farmer's Market was always a favorite Saturday morning activity

The Chateau at the school where I lived and worked - so many memories here

A medieval laundromat!

After catching up with friends, I headed in to Paris for a week of roaming about the city on my own. This was a much needed personal retreat - a time of solitude and reflection (anonymity in a crowd can be the perfect place for this). I had researched several non-typical, non-touristy things to do, so that I would have options and some sort of destination to wander towards as I meandered through the streets. This is the way I prefer to travel and explore - having options that allow for spontaneity in the moment, depending on the weather and what I'm in the mood for. I made it to most of the places on my list, and stumbled upon some pleasant surprises along the way.

A perfect lunch spot with a view of Notre Dame

An unexpected view from the rooftop of the Galleries LaFayette 

Some lovely street music


Canal St. Martin - the "other" river in Paris, in a quaint, artsy neighborhood

There She is - always making an appearance at the most unexpected times

The square and church near my hotel

Le musee Cluny (the museum of the Middle Ages) was fantastic and full of surprises

Le Jardin des Plantes (the botanic gardens) was impressive

This was a delightfully quiet, non-touristy church with a spectacular organ

The Rodin Gardens are calm and secluded in the heart of the city

Stacks of flowers at one of the oldest markets in the city

The view from the beautiful Pere-Lachaisse cemetery
This street performance satisfied my hopes of seeing a Jazz concert in Paris

One last walk along the river
My time was filled with  plenty of sightseeing and lots of walking, interspersed with many stops at cafes, creperies, patisseries and brasseries. I mostly survived on cheese, pastries and crepes washed down with plenty of good wine.  I left with a satisfied stomach and a full heart - thankful for the time I had to see friends and reacquaint myself with the city. In so doing, it seems I reconnected with a part of myself that had gradually been muted over the past several months. A lightness and freedom has returned to lift my spirit and carry me forward into this next season of life.

So long Paris. I'll return soon.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Family Weddings

You guys, I have not one, but THREE nieces getting married this year, and I just got home from the first wedding. This was a quick trip to SoCal for a few days to hang out with family and then to celebrate, and celebrate we did!

The weather was predicted to be cold and rainy most of my time there, but the sun made a few appearances and I did my best to take full advantage of it. My brother's back yard, with the lake and the fountain, is one of my favorite places to sit and ponder life.

Back yard view
Boat ride with my Pops


The rehearsal was a great time to catch up with family, and for the bride and groom to get some last minute advice from GPaw.

Rehearsal family fun time


Last minute details

In between events, I found a new hang out partner, which came as quite a surprise. For those of you who know me well, you know that I'm not typically a "baby person",  but this little guy, my great nephew, melted my heart and became my best buddy. It's always hard to say goodbye to family, but especially to this little one who won't remember me next time I visit.

Great Auntie with my buddy

And then there was the wedding and more family fun time. GPaw officiated, and had everybody laughing and crying throughout the ceremony. Just ask him about the symbolism and significance of wedding rings and see if you don't end up in tears too.

Me and my Pops

Me and the boys 

Sisters

My niece Nichole

My niece Kara
My niece Wendy


GPaw with the ladies

The Happy Couple - Melissa & Cody

I don't have a lot to say this time around, but wanted to share some pics from the trip.  Deep thoughts will be coming later....



Friday, February 24, 2017

Red Velvet Cake

I've never been a fan of red velvet cake. I'm a skeptic. What's it supposed to be? It's chocolate, but it's not. It's bright red, but it's not fruity. And everyone says that they love the cream cheese frosting but, you can put cream cheese frosting on so many other (better) things - like carrot cake or brownies or zucchini bread or pumpkin cookies, or.......anything else really.  Anyway, I've just chosen to avoid it. And honestly, I'm much more of a pie and pastry kinda gal anyway.

Some random pies I made this winter
However, as fate would have it, I was recently asked to bake a red velvet cake for an office birthday celebration, which sent me on the hunt for a creative alternative. After much searching, trying to warm up to the idea of red velvet, I found this stunning recipe for Red Wine Velvet Cake from one of my favorite food bloggers, +smitten kitchen.  No red dye, a simple ingredient list, and, half a bottle of red wine! How could I go wrong?!

I didn't get any pictures of the process because, not only was my kitchen covered in splatters of red wine, cocoa powder and icing sugar, but my hands were too, which is NOT conducive to picture taking. So, you'll just have to use your imagination. However, I did capture the finished product. Each layer came out of the pan beautifully, and it went together surprisingly easily. I like the rustic, open sides, but was trying to make it a little fancy, only to realize that I should stick to pie crust and not cake decorating.

Red Wine Velvet Cake

As you can see, the half bottle of red wine sadly, did NOT make it a red cake. Either my cocoa powder was too dark, or my wine was too sweet?! Regardless, it tastes exactly like you would imagine a rich, chocolaty, red wine soaked cake, with whipped mascarpone frosting should taste, and it was a big hit in the office!


Cake stands are a beautiful luxury

Also, check out this fun cake stand. A friend of mine knows a lady who makes these from reclaimed dishes she finds at thrift stores. She uses sundae glasses or vases or candlestick holders, and mounts them to platters. I was delighted to receive this as a gift.

While I'm still not a converted red velvet cake fan, I'm glad I gave this a try, and may even make it again sometime!