Monday, June 30, 2008

Getting Ready for More Change: New York

I find myself in New York, comfortably at home at the SoHo Grand which I would highly recommend if you are heading this way.  My task, to prepare myself for just one more change in my crazy world.  My youngest daughter needed to be here for freshman orientation as she gets ready to attend NYU in the fall.  Having been accepted without having seen the campus made it somewhat manditory that we come and check things out.  The two of us arrived yesterday and spent the day getting familiar with the lay of the land.  And what a land it is!!

My hotel is on west Broadway and her dorm, Hayden Hall is about a 10 block walk.  Much takes place along that walk.   We went from Ralph Lauren and Emporio Armani to the falafel truck parked right outside Washington Square!!  Quite diverse and fantastic all at the same time.  

The hard part in all of this is more letting go.  As we walked up to check in for the 3 day program, I could sense that many kids just came on their own--meaning it might be just a bit uncool to have mom around.  So, being the kind of mom that hopefully does the right thing as often as possible, when Kylie suggested she might be alright on her own, I gave her a little wink and slowly walked away.  About two blocks away I turned around and saw my little girl looking very tiny as she got farther away from me.  And well, my heart broke.   You would think I would be use to this with all the transitions going on in my world, all the send offs and saying of good byes.  I guess it never gets easy for a mom. 

The good news is I have 3 days all to myself in NYC and plan on going back to old favorites and discovering new.  Certainly, I will pass all my discoveries along to you--like dinner last night.  The most amazing meal my daughter and I have had!!  

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Books Have Souls Too!

Today, my younger daughter and I had the rare opportunity to go and enjoy an indulgent breakfast together at our favorite local pancake house.  I say rare because she was actually awake before noon on summer vacation and was antsy to get going.  So, off we went to stuff ourselves on crepes and stuffed French toast--all things one must have when someone else is doing the cooking.

On the drive, I was telling her that she needed to go through her room as I have scheduled a moving sale in two weeks in order to weed out the things that won't fit our new city lifestyle as we get ready to move.  I lamented the fact that I had to go through our library (yes, we have a TINY library where we stash all the titles that have piqued our interest over the last 12 years) and put books in boxes to sell.  "Not the books", she cried.  We all have a deep seated love of reading and novels or non-fiction can be our oxygen.  They become friends if I have really enjoyed what it had to say and many times, find myself going back to re-read a favorite and in oddly enough, find that the same book can feel very different the second time around.  For example, many years ago, I read Madame Bovary by Flaubert and was blown away by it. How can a MAN of all things, practically 2 centuries ago write about something that I was able to relate to as a woman on a very profound level.  I picked the same book off the shelf about 4 years later, anticipating that I would be so filled by it, read it again and wasn't nearly as moved by it as the first time.  My sense of self, place whatever you want to call it was different and so was Madame.  

Another book like that for me is Under The Tuscan Sun by Francis Mayes.  I read it right when it came out and felt that it was contrived and forced and how could all that really happen to her?  Then I saw the movie which I liked even less and still thought how all that could have really happened.  BUT......

I am reading her newest book, A Year in the World, and yes, I am convinced that ANYTHING can happen if you want it bad enough.  Maybe it's age or acquired wisdom, but I understand what she is saying and this book will take you everywhere you have ever dreamed of going and while you are sitting in your armchair reading it, you just might be  motivated to get up off the seat and walk out the front door.  First one to the airport......

Photo credit:  Irina Troitskaya

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Passion for Wine: Gann Family Cellars

"Wine is bottled poetry"
-Robert Louis Stevenson-

The other day, I revealed one of my passions, music.  Can't be without it.  Today I reveal another truth about myself--wine, can't be without it!!  Well, it isn't with me as often as my ipod is but, come dinner time (or lunch hour if so inclined) a great glass of wine is right there with me, celebrating--well, just celebrating the fact that it's time to pour a glass.  

I have come full circle in my taste and knowledge of wine.  Starting off very young and sweet, I drank white zinfandel back in my 20's.  Everyone was so I can't be too embarrassed.  Moving into my 30's, a buttery Chardonnay was the call of the day.  It still can be on a warm day, nicely chilled.  Now in my, ahem, 40's I can't get enough of reds.  It's as if I am a kid in a candy store and can't make up my mind--do I want the Pinot or Barolo?  Old world, new world?  Such dilemmas but oh, so much fun!

Recently, thanks to very generous friends and lovers of wine themselves, I was introduced to Gann Zinfandel and can't get enough of it.  Made by a small, family owned winery in Healdsburg, California, Gann Cellars is a dream in the making.  The story of Gretchen and Michael Gann reads like soul mates coming together and asking all the "what if" questions and then making it all come true.  Their Zinfandel is pure pleasure.  I am not a wine writer but would tell you that it subtly fruit forward with blackberry and spices and is velvety smooth if that helps.  Honestly, as I write this I wish I had a glass. Have to make the big, old sad face :-((

So, you must go forth and find yourself a bottle.  If you are truly generous, which I am sure that you are, you will find someone to share this fabulous experience with.  If no one is around, you can always count on me!

Additional information:  Gann Wine Shop


Monday, June 23, 2008

Fortuny Museum: Venice

In 2006, my family was fortunate enough to spend Christmas in Venice.  Not the most popular destinations for the holidays but easily one of the most magnificent.  We had the entire city practically to ourselves.  It was much colder than I had anticipated and as we stood in front of Saint Mark's with the sun streaming down, there was the slightest hint of frozen mist suspended throughout the square creating the feeling of being in our own snow globe that glittered wildly.  Certainly a memory forever.  

Earlier in the day, we split up as a family and headed off in the directions that were calling to us.  My husband and two of our daughters took a tour of La Teatro Fenice, the beautiful opera house destroyed by fire and laborously rebuilt to its original splendor.  We all had just finished reading John Berendt's, The City of Fallen Angels, which describes the events surrounding that incident and they were curious to see it for themselves.  My third daughter and I opted to take a different route and ended up at the large Gothic palazzo in Campo San Beneto that is home to the Fortuny Museum.

The interior is set up as it was when Mariano Fortuny lived and worked there.  Spanish by birth, the son of an artist, Mr. Fortuny moved to Venice when he was 18 after completing his studies as a painter.  Here his focus shifted from painting to set design and stage lighting--being influenced to do so after seeing a Wagner opera. (I like opera, but Wagner??)  Admiration for his work spread throughout Europe, taking him deeper into the design world that lead him to fabric, printed textiles and clothing.  Home decor and color photography took hold of him prior to returning to Venice to take up painting once again before his death in 1949.

My daughter and I had a beautiful afternoon visiting the home of this very talented man.  His paintings, photography and fabric design were so ahead of his time,  as was his fashion.  We had the whole place to ourselves and the docent that greeted us, toured with us and in very broken English wove a passionate story of Mr. Fortuny's life.  All in all, I would have to say it was one incredible day!!

Additional information: Fortuny Museum, Mariano Fortuny

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Weekend Edition

I scour the internet looking for and reading great articles that either take me to far away places or speak to something that I am passionate about.  There is so much out there to take advantage of and since I write two blogs, a good portion of my online work is research.  For both The Paris Traveler and this blog, I have decided to share some of the most interesting reading and pass it on to you as you relax on Sunday with a cup of coffee and your computer screen.  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hot Fun in the Summertime

It is here, finally.  The time of year where we move outdoors and celebrate the warmth of the sun with friends and family.  I am still a kid at heart and have to stay outside until I see the sun go down.  As a little girl, I would stay out as late as I could, playing flashlight tag or catching firer flies in glass jars and then letting them go.  Or how about lighting sparklers or those creepy "punk" things that didn't do much of anything  What were they exactly??  

My daughters lament the fact that summer doesn't feel like it did when they were little.  Not too difficult to figure out since they are either busy working their summer jobs or pounding the pavement looking for full time employment.  Things change--even how summer "feels".  The good news though is I can open a bottle of chilled sauvignon blanc with them out on the deck and enjoy their company in a much different way.  No more running after them and getting them in the tub to scrub off all the accumulated dirt from their play.  Sad in a way to have that behind us but what lies ahead is shaping up to be so much more exciting.  

I hope your summer is filled with fabulous things!!

Photo credit:  Wayne Huzzey

Passion for Music: Matthew Schoening

One of my passions that I haven't shared is music.  I love all kinds and need to have it surrounding my either in my tiny ipod headphones or as i make my way through my chores at home.  I tend towards jazz, new age, classical and lately anything that is slightly other worldly that doesn't have lyrics.  I can escape into the sound and let it take me wherever it leads.  This artist and his music that I have gratefully found does just that. 

Matthew Schoening has been a musician forever, being raised in San Francisco by parents who are both musicians themselves.  Matthew started playing cello in middle school and has set it aside and picked it up again numerous times through his 27 years bringing him to his current relationship with his musical skills.  

Solo Electric Cello is his first album released in 2007 that has him playing an electric cello while "looping, layering and arranging".  I am not a musician so can't speak to what any of that means.  But I do know when something sounds hauntingly beautiful....and his music does.  For me it feels very mystical: succeeding at being contemporary and ancient at the same time.  

Having this playing inside my head is like being transported to a far away land and is a gift I give myself when I need to get away!!

Additional information:  Listening Lounge

Photo credit:  Greg Gorman

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


The by-line on my blog pretty much sums up what I was setting out to do when I started writing--looking at my life as a journey up to this point and see where it is going to take me as I make my way through the choppy waters of change that are all around me.  I am not a fan of reading about individual's daily exploits about grocery shopping or laundry or what to cook for dinner that some bloggers feel the need to reveal.  So I have made an attempt to keep much personal stuff out of this one.  But I need to write this post for my own sake and for those who may have or might be experiencing something similar.  

Two weeks ago, in the middle of all my daughter's graduations from their respective colleges and high schools, I had to fly out to Las Vegas to deal with a family issue.  My dad, struggling with prostrate cancer, was hospitalized for additional health complications and my mom needed some help looking for long term care for him.  Within 48 hours of my arrival, I found myself making funeral arrangements instead. A surreal experience to say the least.  Once his body decided to shut down, it shut down at a rapid speed.  Fortunately, I was able to say my good-byes but was saying them to a man that wasn't my dad and didn't know who I was. Watching someone die, who you love, who is going through a difficult physical death is.....bigger than any words I could possibly attach to it.  There was no time for me to grieve as I had to be (or felt I should be) the strong one so my mom had someone to lean on.  

I needed to get back home for our third graduation ceremony,  so my brother flew to Las Vegas from Philly to be with my mom and pick up some of the pieces that I wasn't able to tie together. She then flew to spend some time here in Chicago with my family.  It has been odd, these last few weeks.  I feel as though I have gone from the daughter to the mother, helping this woman, my mom, become someone who overnight must take care of herself.  Certainly not an easy transition to say the least when you are 75.  But it has became so clear to me that we are never done growing.  Our journey is never over until it is over.  I saw my dad's literally come to an end which could easily be filled with regret but I will never know.  As I watched him leave, I wondered where he was in that moment and where he was going.  What was happening for him?  When I get to that moment, will I have regret or remorse?  Will there be a list of should haves, could haves, would haves left on my to-do list?  

The blessings I am left with are these.  My dad is no longer in pain or suffering, either physically or mentally.  Knowing that you have terminal cancer is hard to face day in and day out.  My dad was not a particularly strong man; he wasn't one who would have fought to overcome his illness, so there is peace for him now and we, my family, all know that.  The blessing for me, for being with him when he passed away, left me with a stronger resolve to not waste my time here.  To be authentic and true to myself.  That isn't going to be easy as some of the things I want aren't in keeping with how my life is playing out at this moment.  But my heart is heavy and knows what it needs to find joy and peace while I still have a chance.  So when I draw my last breath, those who love me will know for certain that I will leave with no regrets.    

Saturday, June 14, 2008

An Architectural Jewel Box: Prague

I am certain if the façade of my building was as beautiful as these, I might have to pitch a tent outside so I could enjoy all its beauty.

 These architectural wonders are found in Prague, a destination that has been on my travel "to-do" list for the last five years and I just haven't been able to get to.  Friends went this past February and can't stop talking about it.  Seems to be what happens when you visit this capital city of the Czech Republic.  It is widely considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, only minimally damaged during World War II so much of it's historical splendor remains.   It is home to Prague castle, the largest ancient castle in the world.....and pork, dumplings and sauerkraut!!  One of my favorite meals growing up with some Czech blood coursing through my veins.  

Let's plan a trip!  Wikitravel

Photo credit:  jamie.silva

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman, The Minimalist chef and writer for the New York Times is one of my favorite characters when it comes to talking about and demonstrating cooking.  His laid back approach and wit can influence anyone to get out of their chair and into the kitchen to recreate whatever it is he's preparing.  Today, he takes us through the preparation of baby artichokes Provençal which in no time becomes a meal worthy of any seaside café in the south of France.  

You can enjoy his frequent musings on food and everything surrounding it on his blog, Bitten.  He's also a cookbook author with numerous books under his belt and regularly appears on the "Today" show.  I am certain he would wish us all, Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hotel Valley Ho: Scottsdale, Arizona

 Hotel Valley Ho has been an inviting haven from the heat in the Valley of the Sun since 1956, becoming the home away from home for Hollywood's elite while visiting this desert paradise. Catering to the "Rat Pack" during their heyday, this Scottsdale resort had it all going on and continues to exude an urban chicness that's wrapped up in it's original desert architecture.  Having gone through an extensive restoration in 2005, the old and the new come together to make it "one of the hottest spots to stay..." (Chicago Tribune).  

The guestrooms have all been redone in a contemporary version of the mid-century "hip-ness" it was known for.  Amenities abound with flat screen high definition TVs, wifi, fabulous spa bath and shower products and feather topped beds.

The restaurant has changed little from it's early days; think really nice rec room from the 60's. Nationally recognized chef, Charles Wiley, brings you right into present however, with creative cuisine both at Cafe Zuzu and the legendary Trader Vic's. 

The location could not be more convenient as old Scottsdale, with it's restaurants, art galleries and gift shops is within walking distance.  More great shopping and dining is only minutes away by car in Paradise Valley.  

Additional Information:  Hotel Valley Ho  
Photo Credit:  Hotel Valley Ho    

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Selexyz Dominicanen: Book Heaven

Wear the old coat and buy the new book
-Austin Phelps

Being an avid reader makes me a lover of all things bookish--cozy, messy stores that sell dusty, worn, 1st editions of some obscure author that has written a novel about some English village at the turn of the century.  It reads like historical fiction but in truth, was contemporary fiction and I am able to read about it through eyes that experienced it first hand.  Little things like that make me happy.  

Libraries are another source of joy for me.  We live near a university and I love going up into the stalls to find old French texts or books which the powers that be who determine what we read here in the states (the major bookstore chains) would not consider "best sellers".  This particular library is circa 1970 so lacks much in the charm catagory.  Cinder block doesn't do it for me!  

So I think I am going to have to move to Maastricht.  It is here that crumbling cathedrals are transformed into functional spaces once again.  Case in point:  Selexyz Dominicanen--a bookstore built inside a 12th century Dominicanenkerk in the center city.

Here modern technology meets its cousins from the past.  Books are housed in huge steel structures which allows for much of the church to remain exposed.  Frescoes on the ceiling have been restored to their previous splendor and one can sit and sip a warm beverage in the coffee shop while they leaf through all the treasures within.

Designed by Amsterdam architects Merkx and Girod, it won the Lensvelt de Architect Interior Prize 2007 and has been called,  "......the most beautiful bookshop of all time", by the Guardian. I would have to agree.

Photo credit:  Selexyz, Roos Aldershoff

Monday, June 9, 2008

Chicken Cacciatore: Feeding a Crowd

This past weekend was my last entertaining hurrah for awhile.  We are getting set to leave the house my family has called home for the past 12 years and settle into different living arrangements:  my twins going off in different directions to pursue life after college, my younger daughter heading to New York city for the next four years while she attends college and my husband and I downsizing from our suburban sprawl to a cozy urban space in downtown Chicago.  I am a bit of a gypsy, counting 12 different cities my home during my lifetime,  so change isn't something I balk at.  This however, isn't merely relocating--it is movement of another kind.  Life movement, letting go of much that has been required of me while I raised my daughters which created some of the boundaries of who I was during the last 25 years.  It is a major transformation, not without excitement and trepidation on all our parts!  As with other changes I have encountered over the years, once I get settled in my new skin, all will be right again.  That doesn't mean the fit is going to be perfect right out of the gate.  Some adjustments will have to be made which is how we grow and become everything we are meant to be--even if we go kicking and screaming!!  Let's hope there is little of that. 

Back to the weekend.  All three of my daughters graduated from their respective schools over the last 3 weeks and we celebrated the last of these, my youngest's high school graduation yesterday.  Family members came in from out of town and I found myself not only getting ready for a party, but runnng a mini-hotel over the weekend to accomodate all our guests.  Wanting to enjoy my company, I did some of my food preparation ahead of time so we could spend more time together.  I have to share the following recipe as it was a hit--easy to make and delicious to boot.  Whether you are cooking for a crowd like I was or just want to make your family happy on a week night, I would give this a try.

Chicken & Sausage Cacciatore
4 servings

3 tbsp olive oil divided
4 large chicken thighs with skin
3/4 lb. mild or hot Italian sausages
3/4 lb large mushrooms, quartered
2 12 oz containers grape tomatoes
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 large garlic cloves, pressed
1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil

Heat 2 tbsp oil in large nonstick skillet over medium high heat.   Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.  Add chicken and sausage to skillet.  Sauté until brown, 5 minutes per side.  Transfer chicken and sausages to bowl.  Add mushrooms to skillet.  Sauté until brown, about 4 minutes: add to same bowl.  
Add remaining 1 tbsp oil to skillet.  Add tomatoes, red wine, garlic and rosemary.  Cover, reduce heat to medium and cook until tomatoes soften, about 5 minutes.  Using potato masher, lightly crush half the tomatoes.  Return chicken to skillet.  reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer uncovered 5 minutes.  Add remaining contents of bowl and simmer uncovered until chicken and sausages are cooked through, turning often, about 15 minutes.  Place chicken and sausages on platter and spoon sauce over.

**To make it more my own, I added sliced red, orange and green peppers to mushrooms and sautéed until they were soft--about 10 minutes.  I also added WAY more wine than it called for because we all like wine at my house.  I also wanted a bit more "sauce" so added a can of diced tomatoes to the final simmer.  Made it a day ahead of time so all the flavors had time to work together and become yummier and served with a big bowl of gnocchi to catch all the sauce.  I think I tripled this for my needs! 

PS:  I really want a green Vespa!!

Photo credit:

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Secret Destinations

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware."
-Martin Bilber

An enchanted villa on the road to Portofino. 

Photo credit:  focalplane

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Summer Armchair Travel

If you can't actually run away to far off lands this summer, I have some reading recommendations that will get you where you might yearn to go. 

Let Julia Child take you away to Paris and Marseilles in the 1940's as she recounts her years living abroad with husband Paul and discovering her unknown passion for cooking in, My Life In France.  I thought it would read dryly as some memoirs can, but her wit and enthusiasm for her profession and life in general will certainly entertain.  I was reminded of watching her show on PBS in Chicago when I was a little girl and was captivated by her scratchy, shaky way of speaking and all the tricks she could pull in a tiny studio kitchen.

Three friends take a postwar walkabout into the arid terrain of North Africa in Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky.  The journey is more than they and the reader bargains for as all are introduced to an intricate foreign culture which draws everyone into its grasp.  Mr. Bowles was the consummate Renaissance man being author, translator, classical music composer and film scorer living much of his life in Morocco.  As that is a part of the world I find so intriguing, this story was able to make it come alive for me.  

I have just finished The Age of Shiva by Manil Suri and was introduced to life in India narrated by Meera, a woman we watch transform from teenage girl to young wife and ultimately mother; the role which provides her with the most important relationship in her life.   Yet, it is clear that all the men revolving around her world shape the path she travels down.  What was most amazing for me is that while the story was through the voice of a woman, the words were written by a man.  Mr. Suri, with prose that frequently read like poetry was able to capture so intimately what a woman might feel should she find herself in this character's shoes.    

Finally, I am currently reading The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie.  I have never read anything by him before, controversial or otherwise and am being taken on travels through the ancient Mughal empire while making our way to Rennaissance Florence.   So far, I am loving every twist and turn in this adventure and am surprised to find that Mr. Rushdie does indeed have a wonderful sense of humor.  Be forewarned:  his philosophical musings will require a good dose of concentration!

I highly recommend all of these books as they were, at least for me, the kind of reads where I would only allow myself bits at a time to prolong the pleasure!

Sherrie Wolf

I am a Libra so by nature love to be surrounded by beauty.  Tiny, insignificant things can move or inspire me like a beautiful piece of writing paper or the peony bushes in my yard which are swollen and weighed down with their own beauty, mimicking ballerina's skirts.  I see things everywhere and they can become something magnificent for me.  

These paintings by Sherrie Wolf need nothing other than to just "be" in order to fill me with wonder.  They are amazing works, still-lifes set against backgrounds of old master's paintings.  You might recognize the works of Boucher, Bierstadt, Manet or Artemisia Gentileschi peeking out behind her well-arranged fruits and flowers.  

"I have always been a still-life painter.  My images openly play with the fact that art is artifice.  In recent years, I have arranged items in front of excerpts from old masters paintings....My images have evolved from a love of art history and a desire to present multiple levels of expression to my viewer."

The few pieces that I have chosen to show you are just the tip of the iceberg.  You need to go to her website and continue to be amazed and overwhelmed by her work.  These are truly something I hope to own someday!

Additional information and photo credit:  Sherrie Wolf Studio , Artemisia