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Four Cheese Tortelloni with English Peas, Roasted Beets & Baby Broccoli

Nobody has ever accused me of holding back when it comes to eating. Obviously, I love food. What I don’t like is when things become too complicated, in life or food. Complex is good, unique is interesting, complicated in usually unnecessary. As it is, life throws stuff at us when we least expect it so as a rule, I keep things as simple as possible.

When it comes to food, I’m often miffed by the culinary experiences that others may swoon over. What really bugs me? Foam, air, eggs inappropriately on/in everything, charcoal in my ice cream (you heard me right), ramps and pretentious cuisine in general.

Beet-Salad

Chefs have run amok with pricy dishes plated in complex artistic arrangements with nary a forkful of food . I look at food as a source of sustenance, pleasure and natural beauty and while cooking can be artistic and creative, a slice of beet, a slash of pesto and a spinach micro green does not a salad make.

My husband and I once went to a very upscale restaurant in Frederick, Maryland owned by a celebrity chef where I was served large bowl with about a four teaspoons of creamy butternut squash soup topped with “sage air”. We actually giggled when the bowl of air with a side of soup was placed in front of me. What did that teensy dollop of light green bubbles taste like? Air. How much did that bit of nothing cost? I can’t remember, but really, can it get much more pretentious or silly? Probably.  There will always be something new on the horizon in the name of innovation, but cutting-edge doesn’t always equal excellence.

Foam is best on a head of beer…

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…in my bubble bath…

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…or lapping at my toes as the sea rolls in, not on my plate.toes

Truly, this is the most unappetizing trend in a long while.

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When my brother told me I had to try the smoked vanilla ice cream at a local restaurant that serves fantastic farm to table fare, I was suspicious. When I tasted it, I was convinced, it was awful. Why adulterate the beauty of the creamy delight that is vanilla ice-cream with the ash and charcoal bits that were scooped up from the bottom of a brick pizza oven? I was told by our server that this was the most popular desserts on their menu. Maybe it’s just me…

What I do appreciate are unusual pairings that taste amazing and are not there for the shock value. I love going to a restaurant and trying something unique, maybe a combination of ingredients that I would never dream of, and having my taste buds pleasantly surprised. pasta-squares-wb

So in the name of simple deliciousness, I made these grande four cheese tortelloni. The homemade pasta is made with flour, olive oil and egg and a touch of water. The pasta is filled with a creamy rich blend of cheese.

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The veggies are no more than a blanched and roasted mix of organic goodness topped with a fruity olive oil seasoned with just the essence of fresh garlic, salt, pepper and a sprinkling of herbs just snipped from the garden.tortelloni-2-web

Four Cheese Tortelloni
 
Author:
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 4 beets, roasted with skin removed
  • 1 cup shelled English peas
  • 1 bunch baby broccoli
  • ½ cup assorted fresh herbs such as basil, parsley and oregano leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch hot pepper flakes (optional)

  • For the Tortelloni:
  • 1 batch of pasta dough
  • 1 cup fresh whole-milk ricotta
  • ¾ cup grated mozzarella
  • ¼ cup mascarpone cheese
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • ¼ cup plain breadcrumbs
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt, plus 1 teaspoon to season boiling water
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
Instructions
  1. Roll the pasta dough out until it is very thin (I roll mine to the #4 gauge on a pasta roller). Cut the dough into 4½ inch squares.
  2. Place the olive oil into a small bowl or cup. Crush the clove of garlic under a large knife so to bruise it and release the flavor. Place the garlic into the olive oil and set aside.
  3. Mix together the ricotta, mozzarella, mascarpone, ½ cup Parmesan, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, salt and the pepper.
  4. In a small bowl, mix together the egg and 1 tablespoon water.
  5. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the edges of the pasta squares with the egg mixture and then place a 1- 1½ tablespoons of the cheese mixture into the center of the square.
  6. Fold the opposite corners of each pasta square over to form triangle shapes. Seal the edges firmly, pressing out any air around the filling,
  7. Take the two points of the triangle that are connected along the fold, brush one side with the egg mixture and then pinch the points together (dust the pasta with flour, cover with foil and refrigerate if you aren't going to cook it right away).
  8. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt to the water. Carefully add the tortelloni to the water and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but still firm, about 4-5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, gently remove the tortelloni and keep warm in a large bowl or platter.
  9. Cut each of the beets into 4 to six wedges, depending on the size of the beet.
  10. Place the broccoli and peas into the still hot water used for cooking the pasta. Allow them to cook for a minute or two until bright green. Pour out into a colander and drain.
  11. Place the tortelloni in shallow bowls or on plates. Distribute the vegetables amongst the dishes and season with salt and pepper.
  12. Remove the garlic from the olive oil and drizzle the oil over the pasta.
  13. Garnish with the fresh herbs and grated Parmesan.

 

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The Veggie Cuban Sandwich

We were out to dinner a couple of nights ago with some serious foodie friends – one of them being an accomplish food writer of many years, and the conversation made its way around to movies we had recently seen. One film in particular had us all gabbing, Chef. Have you seen this gem of a movie starring, written, directed and produced by Jon Favreau? You should.

There were so many things that I loved about this movie; the characters and the incredible casting of the perfect actors for the parts, the killer Latin music, the unbelievable riffs of food preparation that had my mouth-watering and my stomach growling throughout the movie, but most of all, it was the simple passion for food, life and love that spoke to me. If you have ever dreamt about telling your boss to go stuff it and starting a business of your own, you’ll find this film inspiring.

Check out the film’s trailer here:

We walked out of the theater wishing there was a food truck waiting for us with a messy, dripping, hot off the grill Cuban sandwich, only vegetarian style for me. After discussing the movie again with our friends, I found myself craving a Cuban again so I decided to make my own vegetarian version which turned out amazing. I served it up with some plantain chips and fresh fruit and it was all that I had hoped for. Now all I need is the truck.

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Veggie Cuban Sandwich
 
Author:
Recipe type: Vegetarian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 4 sub rolls, ciabatta, or French baguette cut lengthwise
  • 4 Portobello mushrooms
  • 4-6 Swiss cheese slices
  • 1 red onion, sliced thin
  • 1 red pepper, roasted, skins removed and julienned
  • ½ cup or so yellow mustard
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 8 dill pickle slices
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
Instructions
  1. Over medium heat melt 2 tablespoons butter in a sauté pan. Place garlic and mushrooms in the pan and sauté for 7-10 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside and wipe pan out with a paper towel.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon butter to the pan and add the onions. Cook the onions until they begin to brown and caramelize.
  3. Spread one inside of each roll with a teaspoon or so of butter and the other side with yellow mustard.
  4. Layer the Swiss cheese, mushroom slices, onions, peppers and pickles on the bottom half of each roll and then cover with the top half.
  5. Place the veggie Cubans on a hot and heavily buttered griddle, grill, panini pan or pan. Press the tops of the sandwiches down firmly and hold for a minute or so and then do the same to the others. When the bottoms begin to brown in a couple of minutes, carefully flip them and press them again. The pressing will give them a nice crispy crust while keeping the inside soft.
  6. Remove from heat, cut in half and serve.

Enjoy!

Finding My Center

I wonder sometimes why people feel they need to travel to the ends of the earth to “find” themselves or their spiritual center. Why do they believe an ashram in India to be more enlightening than their backyard or kitchen window? I’m not judging because I believe we all have different paths to wander, but I do question if sometimes we miss what is right in front of us.

At the moment, I’m happily living in a distinctly beautiful and serene setting in a rustic cottage amongst tall pine trees and the majestic mountains of the Rockies, but that hasn’t always been the case. It wasn’t too long ago when I lived in a miniscule apartment in Santa Monica overlooking a very busy street. SM1

My life was far from ideal, as a matter of fact, my life was all about taking care of somebody else’s needs, that’s what I was paid to do. I had a window into the privilege that celebrity and wealth brought and then I would go home to my tiny and noisy  apartment. The contrast of abundance and excess and the lack thereof, was a striking reminder of my place in life at that time, often painfully so.

Still in the process of grieving over losing a parent and recovering from the nineteen years of the off-and-on caretaking that proceeded my mother’s passing, I felt very much alone when I came home at night. I often pondered how I came to be at this particular point on my voyage at an age when what I had imagined earlier in my life, had look so different.

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My constant companion and emotional lifesaver was my adorable dog China, who always greeted me with a round of jumping up into the air and a few rolls on the ground. It was an exuberant display of joy at just the sight of me. How could that reception not give way to a smile on my face and a lift to my heart?

Most evenings China and I would head to the beach for a walk while the sun was setting. It was during those walks when I would find my center and I could once again hear myself breathe. Each day I would have a conversation with my soul. It was a heart to spirit discussion about the purpose of my life, which at the time, seemed void of serving an objective at all other than to attend to the desires of others.

My life was an exercise in complete humility and grace to serve in the way that I did and still remain completely clear that wealth and perceived power was no indicator of integrity, or the lack of either, a measure of a person’s worth, my worth.California-Sunset
It was during those conversations on the beach, when I would look out at the endless ocean where  I would see the phenomenal elegance and size of life. The perspective that the vast sea and sky brought to me was that nothing that I witnessed throughout my day really mattered. The haughty behavior, mansions, clothes, private jets, the importance of “things” that held value in someone else’s world, at the end of the day, had no bearing on my life.

Because I was able to find those moments to speak with myself, my grandmother, and my mother, who I felt must surely be accompanying China and me on those walks, I was also able to appreciate the wonderful things about my life and job. The experiences that were truly unique, the people who I came into contact with, many whom still adorn and enhance my life, and the spirit of altruism that I observed which changed the lives of many less fortunate. I was privy to the process of extraordinary creativity and artistic brilliance that few get to see. Most importantly, it was the lesson of humility and self worth – remembering that we are all the same, that I was no better or worse than anybody due to my circumstances or theirs and it was in that place, with the sand between my toes, with my lovely ever-present China that I would “find” myself, my spiritual center and my place in the universe.

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Now in my peaceful oasis on the mountain nestled in my tree house in the forest, I see very clearly how those occasions on my journey that at the time seemed less than spectacular, delivered a powerful life message and gave me balance and perspective which now serves me well.

I guess my point is this; the ability to love is the source of our spiritual experience. Three times in my life I have been told by people on their deathbeds just before they have left, “all that matters is love”. I believe this to be the meaning of life, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t matter what you have, what you look like, what you have accomplished or how smart you are, it’s your ability to love that defines you. Love is something that can be found anywhere beginning with loving thyself. The ashram lies not in a building, a country or another person but within the soul. Look inside – there lies the church, the temple, the place of devotion and the center of the universe.

 

mango fennel salad

Mango & Fennel Citrus Salad

With so much rain this spring, it is a verdant paradise in Boulder right now. The mountains are as green as could be and the wild flowers are in full bloom with snow-covered peaks still in the background.wild-flowers-web

It is a time of year that I love. Working in the garden pulling weeds and picking up pine cones is a form of meditation for both my husband and me. Ric, with his constant battle with the dandelions, and me, planting flowers one day only to wake up the next morning to nothing more than dirt. It may be frustrating but at least the deer and bunnies are well fed and so much of it is really about the process, not the end result.Eva-PBH-

Quietly picking up piles of pine needles is about as zen as it gets, since for each one that I pick up, ten more probably drop but I am there with my hands in the soil connecting with the earth, and that in itself, is a beautiful thing.pine-tree

We have had lots of family visiting lately which always brings us pleasure. My son surprised me with a Mother’s Day visit, flying in from New York for a few days.

Having my “kid” in my home is so special for me. Seeing that my boy has become such a strong and beautiful man is truly the thing that brings me the most joy in life. When I look at my son, I know I did something very right in this lifetime.flowers-and-candles

Having my family all around the dinner table, glasses of wine clinking, laughter roaring and silliness all over the place, there isn’t much that could make me happier. mango fennel salad

For one our dinners I made this colorful, fresh and delicious salad.

Mango & Fennel Citrus Salad
 
Author:
Recipe type: Salad
Serves: 8-10
Ingredients
  • 2 heads butter leaf lettuce, washed and torn into bite size pieces
  • 1½ -2 cups mango, diced medium
  • 1 avocado, peeled and diced medium
  • 2 bulbs of fennel, white parts sliced or shaved very thin
  • ¼ cup red bell pepper, diced small
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup white Balsamic or red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Juice and zest from 1 lime
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • Optional: pinch of ground cumin in the dressing and a sprinkling of crumbled goat cheese on top of the salad.
Instructions
  1. Place the butter lettuce in a large salad bowl and then scatter the avocado over the lettuce.
  2. Layer on the fennel on top of the lettuce and avocado, then the mango and then sprinkle the red pepper over the mango.
  3. For the dressing, mix the olive oil, vinegar, honey, juice and zest from the lime and the salt and pepper into a small bowl or container and mix thoroughly.
  4. Add just enough of the dressing to coat the salad and toss.

Enjoy!

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pavlova

Pavlova with Fresh Berries

Because we were so close, we thought it would be silly not to make our way over the mountains to Costa del Sol where it was a sunny seventy degrees and then over to Gibraltar. Leaving the warm sunny weather on the Spanish side of the border for the cold, cloudy and blustery chill on the British side gave us a giggle – Gibraltar was literally sitting under a cloud.

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We took the six-minute cable car ride up to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar.

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For me, it was all about those wild monkeys who live on the Rock.

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The older ones with serious and wise faces and then the little young ones who behaved like mischievous children and seemed to be in nonstop play mode, only running to their  parents for a quick hug on occasion.

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And if you weren’t careful, this could happen…

…what a cheeky monkey he was!

After our fun excursion to Gibraltar, we began our trek back to the States via Seville, Barcelona, London…

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…over Greenland to Denver.

Needless to say, we had the most fabulous time on our trip but it always feels so good to crawl into our bed after a long time away. Waking up to the cool mountain air, one of Ric’s steaming hot lattes with our dog and cat at the foot of the bed is pretty hard to beat.

A few days after we arrived home this happened…

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…a foot of heavy snow fell. As Ric and I joked, in December, it was beautiful, at the end of April, we were so over it.

This lovely dessert is my final ode to our trip and England. Not that it is really considered an English dish, I believe the Russians and Aussies are still arguing over who invented it, but the Pavlova is a sweet that is served up a lot in England and it was the dessert I had most often while I was living there.

The combination of the crunchy outside of the meringue, soft light-as-air marshmallow like inside, whipped cream topping and fresh berries makes the Pavlova a little slice of heaven.

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I use less sugar in my version of this recipe and I don’t mess with the fruit too much as I think it is the contrast of the slightly tart but sweet berries that gives balance to this dessert, however, I always use organic berries, my favorite being Driscoll’s organic berries.

Pavlova with Fresh Berries
 
Author:
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 4 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¾ cup sugar for the meringue
  • 3 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons sugar for the whipped cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 ½ pints of assorted berries (I used Driscoll's organic strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar for the fruit (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.
  2. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan. Draw a 9-inch circle on the paper, using a 9-inch plate as a guide, then turn the paper over so the circle is on the reverse side.
  3. Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or use a handheld electric mixer.
  4. Beat the egg whites on high speed for 1-2 minutes until firm. Slowly add in the sugar while continuing to whip until the mixture is firm with shiny peaks, about 2 minutes.
  5. Sift the cornstarch onto the beaten egg whites, add the vinegar and vanilla, and fold in lightly with a spoon or spatula.
  6. Pile the meringue into the middle of the circle on the parchment paper and smooth it within the circle, making a rough disk. Bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Turn off the oven, keep the door closed, and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven, about 1 hour. It will be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
  7. While the meringue is cooling, prepare the whipped cream by placing the cold cream in a bowl and whipping it with an electric mixer until it is thickened. Add the sugar and almond extract and continue to whip just until it holds peaks but don’t over-whip or it will curdle.
  8. Carefully remove the meringue from the parchment and place on a serving plate.
  9. Just before serving, very gently spread the whipped cream on the top of the meringue.
  10. Combine the strawberries, blueberries and raspberries in a bowl and toss with a little sugar if desired and then pile the fruit on top of the whipped cream. Serve immediately.

 

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Andalusia & The White Hill Villages

From Seville we rented a car and drove through the Andalusian Mountains, visiting a couple of the White Hill Villages where most of the town is painted, you guessed it, white. The color of the green grass covering the rolling mountains was almost unreal looking, as was the azure blue sky; everywhere we looked we saw a patchwork of olive and orange groves with the occasional castle thrown in.

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Winding our way up a steep mountain to our first stop, we were greeted by a vision of the picturesque town of Zahara de la Sierra. We stepped out of the car next to the wall that surrounds Zahara and landed in an enchanted world where we could hear children playing in the school yard off in the distance, birds singing, church bells ringing, the choir practicing in the church, and I kid you not, classical music that was filling the valley like some sort of Spanish Sound of Music. These hills were joyously alive.

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We walked round the immaculate town that was a Moorish outpost until 1407, captured by the Emirate of Granada in 1481 and finally taken by troops under the command of Ponce de Leon in 1483.

After a sip of café con leche at a tiny hole-in-the-wall, we hiked up the hillside that led to the Moorish castle that still remains at the top of the mountain. During our climb to the castle, we were treated to the stunning views of the valley and the man-made lake, which was created when the dam was completed in 1991 to serve the agricultural needs of the region. The hiking path was a switchback trail lined with wild fig, apricot, lavender, roses, prickly pears and rosemary trees.

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The town was tranquil and we didn’t pass a soul on our hike giving us a much-needed reprieve from the lovely but bustling cities where we had recently been.

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Next we made our way on a quick forty-minute drive to Ronda, another White Hill Village that was perched high above the valley straddling two sides of the Guadalevin River and the dramatic El Tajo canyon.

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Our trip had been fluid and changed many times while we had been on the road. That is the beauty of traveling without a guide or compass, and with someone who likes to move and explore at a similar pace. Ric and I are very fortunate in that we are well matched in how and what we like to do and see. At some point after leaving Seville, we agreed that we were both a little weary of touring old buildings and power sightseeing. The mountains of Andalusia were exactly what we needed; nature, open roads and an ethereal beauty that was soothing and inspiring.

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After a few hours walking the streets of Ronda, we decided that we wanted to soak up more of the natural beauty that came so easily here, so we decided to spend two nights in Ronda instead of driving to Granada.

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We found a sweet little hotel that sat below the canyon, where horses and sheep were grazing and lounging.

We walked into town a couple of times, one night eating paella at the edge of the gorge where the birds came alive as the sun began to set.

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It was a spectacular show as swarms of birds swirled around flying high into the sky and then dove deep into the crevasses of El Tajo. There were a couple of peacocks at a villa perched on the side of the cliffs who were parading back and forth across the walls screeching as only peacocks do. It was surreal.

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For the most part, we stayed at our bucolic oasis and watched the sheep herder move his motley crew from one field to the next and enjoyed lunch at a family owned Clemente Bar & Café just up the cobblestone road.

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For all of its tranquility, Ronda has an ancient and tumultuous past with remains of settlements dating back to Neolithic times and the Spanish Inquisitions figuring prominently into its history. Both Ernest Hemingway and Orson Wells spent many a summer in Ronda as part-time residents and both wrote about the beauty and the famous bull-fighting traditions, of which many originated in Ronda.

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On our last day in Ronda we woke up to the sound of crowing rooster to which my husband mumbled something about it being “so cliché” – another morning of crystal blue skies, birds singing and temps in the low 70s.

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I took a little walk before we got in the car to head off to Gibraltar. It was early enough for most of the town to still be sleeping. No cars, motorbikes or tourists, just the soft morning sun coming over the mountains shimmering across the stream at the bottom of the gorge. It was at that quiet moment looking out at the incredible horizon when I felt a little tug at my heart – I wondered if I would come back to this place again. I reminded myself to be present and to take it all in, to keep a snapshot in my memory of our time here and hopefully someday Ric and I would return to this very special place.

In honor of our wonderful trip to Spain and the amazing food of the country, I’m reposting this delicious orange flan recipe. Olé!

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Orange Flan
 
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 4 whole eggs
  • ¾ cup milk or almond milk
  • ¼ cup cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon orange-flower water
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoons orange zest
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Over medium heat, bring the water and ½ cup of sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir until sugar has dissolved and then swirl mixture in pan but do not stir it as it boils. Continue to cook until the mixture becomes an amber color.
  3. Quickly pour the caramel into 6 flan ramekins or a round 7 or 8-inch ceramic or glass dish, tilting and swirling the caramel to coat the bottom of the dish. Allow the caramel to completely harden and cool for 15 -20 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together all of the remaining ingredients including the remaining ¾ cup sugar. Pour the custard into the ramekins or dish.
  5. Place ramekins or dish into a large casserole or baking dish that is deep enough to pour and inch or so of hot water around it creating a water bath or bain marie which will cook the flans more evenly than without the bath.
  6. Place in the oven and bake for approximately 1 hour for the large flan or 35-45 minutes for the small flans.
  7. Take the flan out of the oven when the outer edges are firm but the middle still jiggles. The flans will firm up as they cool.
  8. Cool on a rack and then chill for 6 or more hours.
  9. To serve, run a sharp knife around the sides of the flan and then dip the ramekins or dish into hot water for 20 seconds or so. Place a plate or platter over the dish or ramekin and quickly flip it over releasing the flan onto the plate or platter.

 

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The Beauty of Barcelona & Seville

One of the first things I noticed upon arriving  in Barcelona, the capital of the Spanish region of Catalonia, was the contrast between the medieval, contemporary and Catalan modernist architecture which is so striking in this city of fantastic and iconic buildings. From Roman ruins to Gaudi’s spectacular works and high-tech buildings, such as the Agbar Tower, it seemed symbolic of a culture that embraces its history and its continuing progressive vibe.

Barcelona-collage4We began our stay in this vivacious and bohemian city in the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter), which is in the heart of the Ciutat Vella, Barcelona’s old city. Many of the gorgeous buildings date from medieval times, some from as far back as the Roman settlement of Barcelona.

Barcelona-squareAfter dropping off our bags at our hotel, we met up with my son, Sean, who had been traveling around Spain and was heading back to New York the next morning.

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The three of us walked to another part of the city to have dinner with an expat friend living in Barcelona, and soon a nice Spanish Rioja was flowing and we were feasting on a delicious spread of tapas for our fun first meal in Spain.

Barcelona-CathedralThere is so much to see in Barcelona with all of the amazing cathedrals, museums and historical sites but we had limited time, so we had to pick and choose what we wanted to see most. Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia (Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia) was a stunning example of a medieval church built between the 13th and 15th centuries. Its intricate interior web of pillars, domes, archways and stained glass was incredible and the courtyard filled with palm trees and a pond was a beautiful little oasis.

barcelona3Then there was the Sagrada Família, Antoni Gaudi’s still unfinished masterpiece of a cathedral.

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When you arrive at any of the Gaudi sites you’ll see a crowd of people standing outside staring up at the exteriors in a collective state of awe. I certainly wouldn’t call the massive exterior of the Sagrada Família “pretty” but complex and interesting for sure. Only when you get up close can you see the detailed story that the carvings tell.

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Once we stepped inside the Sagrada Família with its dazzling stained-glass windows and magnificent soaring arches, we entered into a breathtaking world where geometry and design collided in the most spectacular fashion which words could not adequately describe.

barcelona-12Barcelona was just as alive at night as it was in the daytime with streets, bars and restaurants teeming with people.

After sightseeing in Barcelona for two days, we were feeling a bit weary with the crush of tourists moving through the streets and walkways. Everywhere we went there was an endless sea of people, which became exhausting and we found ourselves yearning for a quiet nook in this big metropolis.

Barcelona1Reflecting on our time in Barcelona, I wish I had done more research beforehand so I would have had more of an insider’s knowledge of the city. Similar to New York, where you would rarely find my husband and me in Times Square, instead we would be in the fun and funky neighborhoods of lower Manhattan or Brooklyn where we know we can find cool and unique little restaurants and shops. In many ways, I don’t think we did Barcelona justice on this quick trip with so little time and without knowing the local’s Barcelona. This fall, my niece will be heading to the university in Barcelona for a semester abroad which gives us the perfect excuse to go back again to explore this amazing city.

We had been on the move for ten days and had visited four countries and nine cities so I think both Ric and I felt a sense of relief when we sat down on the high-speed train to Seville. What would have taken us ten hours to drive turned out to be a very relaxing and scenic five hour train ride.sevilla8Once in Seville, our taxi made its way through the extremely narrow streets lined with richly colored buildings. The city had a vibrant and romantic feel to it with its Moorish accented architecture, street side cafes and the very chic international crowd.

sevilla- I fell in love with this region of Spain and found the people of Seville welcoming and friendly.

sevilla-2The days were warm and sunny which was perfect weather for visiting the Alcázar Palace and gardens…

sevilla-collage4… the Cathedral of St. Mary, where we climbed to the top of the bell tower and the Church of El Salvador where they were preparing the floats for the Holy week, which began on April 13th.

sevilla1Everywhere we looked we saw the famed Seville orange trees that gave off a heady fragrance that only added to the lovely ambiance. They lined the streets, filled courtyards and my husband was on a mission to swipe a few but they were always just out of his reach.

sevilla-collage-10 This was a place where the art of the paseo (evening stroll) was perfected and in full swing so we joined in by having a leisurely walk up and down the cobblestone streets of the old city before and after dinner, which in Spain, begins after eight o’clock in the evening.

Sevilla-11Being a vegetarian in a country where meat definitely rules was a little bit of a challenge for me. While Ric scarfed up towers of meat, lets just say, I ate A LOT of potatoes in the form of patatas bravas and tortillas made with potatoes (Spanish tortillas are more quiche-like and don’t at all resemble a Mexican tortilla). Now that I am back home, I realized how much I enjoyed all of those potatoes so I decided to make a dish that combines potatoes with some lovely Spanish spices, roasted red peppers, onions and asparagus which can be served warm, at room temperature or cold.

Spanish-potato-salad

Spanish Potato Salad
 
Author:
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 1 pound red potatoes
  • ½ red onion, sliced thin
  • 1 red pepper, roasted and julienned (I used ½ red and ½ orange pepper)
  • 2 cups asparagus, cut in 1 inch lengths
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 3 small cloves garlic with paper still on
  • ½ cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sherry
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Small pinch saffron
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut potatoes into wedges (4-8 wedges, depending on the size of the potato) and boil until just tender. Drain the potatoes and place them in a large bowl to cool until warm.
  3. Place the asparagus, onions and garlic cloves on a sheet pan, toss with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and roast in a 400 degree oven until tender, about 7-10 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven and put the veggies in the bowl with the potatoes after removing the cloves of garlic.
  5. Once the garlic has cooled enough to handle, squeeze out from the paper and mince very fine.
  6. In a small bowl, mix together the ½ cup olive oil, vinegar, sherry, oregano, smoked paprika, saffron and minced garlic. Pour the mixture over the potatoes, add the tomato halves and roasted peppers and gently toss until well coated. Season well with salt and pepper.

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Next stop, the White Hill Villages of Andalusia.

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The Sweet Nest of Vence and the Magical Avignon

After our jaunt to Italy and walk through Eze, we headed to Vence, a small town near the more well-known and visited, Saint Paul de Vence.

Once home to artists and writers such as Chagall, Matisse, Duffy, Soutine and D. H. Lawrence, who spent his last days in Vence, this lovely village is as the 12th-century troubadour Pierre Vidal noted, “le doux repaire” (the sweet nest) and Nostradamus said “Garden of Vence, marvel of Provence”.

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The streets leading up to the town were excruciatingly narrow and winding so it took us a couple of tries to make it up to our hotel. One reason I love Vence is because it is an authentic provincial village where you don’t find yourself in a crush of tourists and there is something of a poetic grace about its history, people and architecture.

wisteria-frwebSince Medieval times, the town has grown and spilled over outside of the original walled village, but the charm of Vence extends beyond the walls where it is beautifully quaint and oh–so-French.

vence-ric-outsidewebDuring my last visit to Vence, I stayed at La Maison du Frene and found it and the owners, Thierry and Guy, wonderful. The rooms range from pretty to avant-guard with their amazing collection of contemporary art. This time we stayed across the street at the more traditional Auberge des Siegneurs.

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Our room was cozy and furnished in pretty French “Indienne” fabrics and country furniture, with a wonderful view of the hillside villages.

Vence-CourtyardYears ago I had dinner in Vence by myself on the Place Clémenceau, a stunning courtyard within the walls of the old town. I had just been to Norway for my mother’s memorial, I was single and feeling very lonely. It was such a romantic place that I swore the next time I came here, I would be with someone I loved with whom I could share this experience. So to sit in the square at sunset, looking across at my husband was indeed very special for me.

Les-LavandesWe enjoyed a remarkable meal from start to finish at Les Lavandes. I just can’t say enough about the food and service here. Our meal was fresh, beautiful as could be and tasted spectacular.

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The following morning was a treat. It was Sunday and all of the townspeople were out and about at the farmers market or taking a stroll after church. There were so many chic men and women dressed in their finest for a promenade, greeting each other with smiles and kisses on both cheeks. We sat at a table at a small cafe, sipping our lattes while thoroughly enjoying the scene.

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Later in the day, we made our way to Avignon by way of Cassis. Cassis was described to us as similar to St. Tropez but without the pretense – sort of the poor man’s St. Tropez.

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The cliffs that rose straight up from the sea were a stunning sight, and in fact, the marina itself did look quite similar to St. Tropez, but for me, it lacked the charm.

Cassis-France-webI found it very touristy and while St Tropez is very ritzy and pretentious with the enormous yachts that line the marina and nightclubs that are a who’s-who of the rich and famous, the town is gorgeous, it makes for fun people watching and shopping is stellar.

AvignonThen we arrived at the alluring Avignon. Within the walls of the magnificent ancient city we were immersed in a pristine and exquisite world.

Avignon-collage1Bordered by the left bank of the Rhone River, Avignon was home to seven successive popes between 1309 and 1377.

Avignon-at-sunsetwebWalking through the narrow streets that opened up to the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) could have inspired a fairytale or two.

Dancing-AV-webI could easily imagine fair maidens and knights on white chargers, but this is also a very modern city filled with an international crowd and students from the University.

Avignon-web3The city square is a huge plaza lined with cafes, shops and hotels. We stayed at the Hotel de l’Horloge, in a room that overlooked the central square.

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Avignon has a rich theater culture celebrating the arts with the Avignon Festival which began in 1947 and draws over 100,000 attendees.

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Feeling enamored with Avignon, I hope to return here again soon as we only scratched the surface but we had an important dinner date to make with my son and a friend in Barcelona.

Early the next morning we drove to Perpignan to catch a train to Spain.

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Arriving in France – Lunching in Italy, Oo La La!

I’m not sure what it is about France, perhaps I have some old bones lying here from a past life or something, but the thing is, this country really speaks to me on a soul level. The romantic language, stylish cities, gorgeous country towns, landscape and the history intrigue me, and I feel a complete sense of well-being here.

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We took an early flight from London to Nice, where the gorgeous coastline, palm trees swaying in the breezy sunshine and the beautiful people looks and feels a lot like you are arriving into the John Wayne airport in Orange County, California. Soon we were in our rental car and on the autostrada where we encountered our first and only glitch.

french both

Pulling into the tollbooth with a car behind us, the toll machine wouldn’t take our credit card (our cards lack a microchip that the European’s have in their cards). Thankfully, there was only one car behind us who, irritatedly backed out of our tourista’s lane and then my husband backed out with a very large truck honking at him the entire time. I had to walk up to the tolls to find a booth that would take euros, I took over the driving while my husband settled down, and off we went in the direction of Italy.

ventimilia-1-webI have been to Italy and France before, but my husband had not so we decided to drive to one of the coastal towns just over the Italian border to have lunch (so he could say he’d been to Italy!). It took us forty-five minutes or so to get to Ventimiglia, a picturesque and slightly worn beach town.

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We were greeted by a huge farmers’ market with varieties of oranges, tomatoes, artichokes and other produce that you just don’t see in the States. The vendors were friendly and one teased me about being a tourist, it was all in good fun.

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After eating our slices of pizza alfresco at small café, we walked through the park where men were playing bocce ball and couples cuddled on the benches. I asked Ric, “Do you still feel like you are in California?” He didn’t, nor did I.

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We drove back into France to the small medieval hilltop village of Eze. Perched high over the Mediterranean Sea and the Cote d’Azur, if you climb to the top of the village, you will see one of the best views of the French Riviera.

eze-stair

Eze was first populated around 2000 BC as a commune situated near Mount Bastide. Not only by the Romans but also the Moors who held the area for approximately 80 years until William of Provence drove them out in 973.

By 1388 Èze fell under the jurisdiction of the House of Savoy, who built up the town as a fortified stronghold because of its proximity to Nice. Louis XIV destroyed the walls surrounding the city in 1706 in the War of the Spanish Succession. Finally in April 1860, Eze was designated as part of France by unanimous decision by the people of Eze.

sculpture-ezeThis is a place to wear comfortable shoes as the town is made up of narrow and steep cobblestone walkways with many stairs, leading to the garden at the top of the hill.

The Jardin Botanique d’Èze is filled with an exotic mix of cactus, succulents, bougainvillea, other beautiful foliage and blooms and a few graceful sculptures.

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The color palette of France, is made up of lovely hues of yellows, cornflower blues, pastel pinks, worn grays and whitewashed walls, topped terra-cotta tiles. Even the inside of the  cathedral was intricately painted these shades. The Chapelle de la Sainte Croix is the oldest building in Eze and dates back to 1306.

chapel-webThese colors against the blue sea, sky and rich green hillsides are worthy of the many artists who throughout history have called this region home. It is easy to see where Matisse, Van Gogh and Chagall found their inspiration in Provence.

Next stop romantic Vence.

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Honey, Lime and Cumin Roasted Chicken

Four countries with one carry-on and a computer bag, that is what I packed for our whirlwind European tour.

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Our strategy was to keep moving so nobody would notice that we were wearing the same things day after day. No divas allowed on our trip.

suitcase

Our eight-hour flight was smooth as could be but neither of us could sleep so when we arrived in London, we were spacey and slightly cranky. With our few bags in hand, we sailed though customs so we were in the city in no time.

Once checked into our hotel just across from Hyde Park…

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…we were so jet-lagged that we needed to keep moving even though we were tempted to curl up under the airy duvet and sleep. We enjoyed an afternoon tea with scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam – such a divine little combo the English came up with.

scone-with-cream

Followed up by a walk across the park to Knightsbridge, my old stomping grounds.

I showed Ric my old home a and high school…

cadogan-and-schoolPassed this in the old hood…

ferar

Seriously, a gold Ferrari? Things have changed for sure since I lived here and I had to keep checking myself for the odd emotions that were washing over me in my drifty state. The neighborhoods looked the same, but the vibe was different and I was having a difficult time feeling connected to this place that was once my home.

Halkin-Mews

We ducked into a pub that was still located below the first flat I lived in when I moved to London. The building may have been old but the food was modern. A salad of figs, roasted beetroot and endive, a warmed potted camembert seasoned with a hint of rosemary and served with toasts and greens was out of this world and then some hand-cut potato chips with ketchup.

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It wasn’t until the next day after some serious power sightseeing…

london-web1…and after seeing this pub along our way…what’s not to like – beer and pie?..

ale-pie…when we were sitting around a table with a couple of friends, laughing, toasting to the joy of seeing each other again and sharing a tableful of goodies, that I began to feel at home again.

picadilly1

On our way back to our hotel, passing through Piccadilly Circus and Soho, I was feeling the fun groove of London nightlife.

london-nightlife

This city is as vibrant as New York, but not quite as frenetic. Walking hand in hand with my husband sharing this little bit of my past with him, it felt important and fun.

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On our last day in England, we were treated to a private tour of Abbey Road Studios but skipped the obvious crossing the street photo opp and then headed for the countryside estate to visit another longtime friend.

countrysideWalking through her extraordinary gardens, the dewy air so unlike the crisp dry air in Colorado, felt delicious. Everywhere my eyes laid, they found the site of a beautiful and rare bloom or petal floating on a koi pond or down a stream running through the property.

river1I was reminded of how a karmic thread has connected me to England for so long, by the people whom I loved but who are now gone, old friends, memories and history.

Back in Colorado, my father and step-mother have found themselves snowed in at our home. As the weather is so fickle there, a surprise snowstorm may dump a few inches of the white stuff one day and then, hopefully for my Dad, the shining sun and warm weather will return the next day and the snow will be gone.

Just before we left Colorado, I made this lovely rosemary and lime roasted chicken for dinner. I served it with potato stuffed poblano chiles, which was the perfect pairing.

roasted-lime-chicken1

Honey, Lime and Cumin Roasted Chicken
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
Instructions
  1. Mix all of the above ingredients together and pour over a 4-6 pound chicken and marinate for at least four hours turning once or twice during the process.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Just before roasting, place a couple of pats of butter under each side of the breast skin of the bird, along with a sprig of rosemary and a slice of lime. Season the chicken with a bit of salt and pepper.
  4. Cook at 400 degrees for 30 minutes and then turn down the heat to 350 and continue to cook for 1½ hours or until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced. Cover with a foil tent if the bird begins to brown too quickly.
  5. Remove from oven, let sit for 5-10 minutes and then carve and serve.

 

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Enjoy!