Archive for March, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup

Here is Sunday night’s dinner.  I went through a phase (about 10 years!) where I couldn’t even look at pureed soups, because of an unfortunate incident involving carrot soup and morning sickness, but I’m over it!

Here’s a super simple recipe for a velvety, healthy soup.  Serve just a little for an appetizer, or a big bowl for dinner. We had ours with a salad and gluten free cheesy corn muffins.

Butternut Squash Soup:

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks

3-4 cups chicken broth or vegetable stock

1 onion diced

1 clove garlic minced

1 chunk of ginger root minced (about a tablespoon? maybe a little more)

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Put the chunks of squash into a big soup pot, and cover with broth.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, sautee the garlic, onion and ginger at medium heat in 2 tablespoons olive oil for about 8 minutes, or until the onions are soft and translucent.

When the squash is tender, add the  onion mixture and sugar to the broth, and let cool for a few minutes.

Put the soup into the blender in batches and process.  Be sure to take out the little plastic handle thing in the lid of the blender to allow hot steam to escape, but don’t forget to cover the hole with a dishcloth before you start it up!  Add a bit of salt and pepper.  Yumm!

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Flowers

As you can imagine, it’s been hard to find a blog-worthy subject since getting home from France.  Ahh, what a trip.  I hereby vow to NOT let 20 years go by again before I get there next. It will certainly fill my thoughts for a while, but now, on to spring!

Look at these lovely wildflowers the kids brought me after walking the dog the other night:

Aren't they sweet? And I've always loved this little vase - it just has one little hole with a frog inside, and you can stick in one flower or a few - very simple.

On the other end of the spectrum are these store bought mums that were stuck in a bigger arrangement.  The showy flowers died, but I clipped these out and I just love the color on their own:

They would be pretty printed onto fabric, wouldn't they?

It’s supposed to warm up as the week progresses – I can’t wait for more blooms!

Mont St. Michel

For our last day in France, we took a bus out to Mt. St. Michele.  This is a truly brigadoon-like structure – a monastery that was built during the 8th century, and still exists.  It was fortified and built into a tiny town in the 15th century.  Today there are 25 residents, 7 of whom are monks and 8 are sisters, still conducting 3 masses a day in the church.  There is an elevated road that leads there now, but you used to have to wait for the tides to get out there.  They have the second strongest tides in the world here at Mt. St. Michel.

Here it is as we approach at low tide. We are lucky to have a (relatively) warm-ish day (ok, it's quite cold, but I know it could get sooo much worse!) and no rain.

Check out the sheep crossing the road! They graze here because the grass is so salty, and so the meat is pre-salted! Clever french....

Aren't they cute?!  Hundreds of these - I've never seen sheep on a beach before.

These little "windows" are for shooting arrows.

Standing on the drawbridge. They needed good protection because Brittany tried to claim the monestary from the Normans. William the Conquerer and all that....

One is forbidden to wash one's feet in this basin, OK?

In the 8th century, one would shoot arrows out of this, in the 21st, we just stick a surveillance camera there.

Incredibly steep ramps and steps up to the monastery up top. 80 meters high.

View from the ramparts about half way up. Looking out into the bay at low tide.

View of the only route in and out - at high tide the parking lots are underwater.

Up on top - the colored doors were once the monk's dorms, directly next to the main entrance to the church.

Up on top of the monestary, looking down at the granite flooring of the plaza outside of the main church entrance. The workers only got paid for the number of stones they laid, so they carved their initials into them to keep track. I found a bunch of As!

Lovely shot looking down on the bay

Sua in a big fireplace. Of course, the monks couldn't have heat, this was only in the quest room for when the kings came to visit.

Pretty little garden up on top of the mountain.

From the ramparts looking down into the main street of the town.

The only two British canons left on the beach from when they tried to take the monastary during the 100 yrs war in the 15th century.

A very cool modern coat in a very old place.

Back in Bayeux for the evening, we walk the streets and spend our spare Euros on amazing treats from the bakery. J got a chocolate coconut confection.

I got the Sainte Eve - a specialty of Bayeux. It has no wheat flour in it - I negotiated that one pretty fluidly I must say. It is the best thing I have ever eaten, I think. Like a meringue, but with almond cream inside and ground almonds dusted on the outside. I went back and bought another with the rest of our change for tomorrow.

Sitting in the window of our little hotel room - finally warmed up enough so I could wear the shirt I made before we left without a big old sweater on top.

One of our students turned 16 today, so we had a big group dinner for our last night. Here we are after we ate, in the quiet streets.

Sadly, we must get up at 4:30 tomorrow morning to take a long bus ride back to Paris, then a 9 hour flight to Chicago, then back to Asheville.  It will be a long hard day.  Can’t believe this trip is ending so quickly!  I must find a way to come back more often.  I’m thinking international Pilates teaching????!!!!  Off to bed for a few hours.  Au revoir!

Normandy

Today we spent the day touring the Normandy coast.  Quite a pilgrimage for an American.  We were lucky enough to have a French guide who drove us around from beach to beach, and to memorials and german bunkers.  Really phenomenal.  I don’t know the details, but I do know that my grandfather was on those beaches and in these towns right after D-day, helping to liberate these little french villages, and so much more.  There is a wonderful museum where we started to get a good overview of the lead up to and the aftermath of WW2, then on to the tour.  Here’s a photo overview, because I’m not enough of a writer to do the day justice.

First, our morning:

A HUGE sycamore tree in the middle of the courtyard of the cathedral in Bayeux, on our way to get un cafe this morning.

A little geranium in someone's window, also on our morning stroll.

The window of the bakery where J got his croissant - look at the little frog and pig shaped confections!

The front of our hotel

Onto the WW2 tour:

this is Gold's beach, the British landed here and built a break water out of sunk ships and concrete. The floating pontoons were all melted down for the metal after the war.

We are up on a cliff looking down onto the beach.

Part of the break wall on the beach.

The little French village on Gold's beach.

J in a German bunker. It took 30 men to operate this gun. Yuck.

At the American memorial and cemetary. This statue represents an american soldier rising up out of the water. 2 trees are planted on either side to represent peace.

Omaha beach. Many thousands died on this wide beach. We saw a horse and rider galloping across the sane. Lovely.

J studies the map.

Crosses and stars of david in seemingly endless rows. Over 4000 graves here, including 4 women.

Here we've come down off the cliff to walk on Omaha beach. All the sand in the road is from the big storm last week you heard about on the news.

Us on the beach at low tide.

My wet boots on some very historic sand.

Rocks at the high tide mark. We were allowed to take one, so I picked out a beauty to take home to add to my rock collection.

More German bunkers dug down deep. What a miserable existence this must have been.

From here, we traveled to Mere St. Eglise, a little village on the coast:

Our whole group with a French couple in front of their house. They made friends with an American soldier who was the grandfather of one of our students. They have stayed family friends and we were so lucky to have been in their home. They were 14 on D-day.

Madame showed photos and made us cake with eggs from her chickens, and 4 different kinds of fruit jams. Also coffee, juice, candies, etc. She was so gracious. I told her the cakes looked amazing and I was sorry I couldn't eat them because of the wheat, and she assured me there was only 50 grams of wheat! Surely I could eat just a little! Her husband made her back off - it was a pretty funny conversation to be having in french!

Back to Bayeux for a late dinner. Walking through the streets at night, we came across this old old structure. At the hotel they explained that it was a tavern, and check out the next picture...

See how the one flat stone sticks out farther than the others? It was a drive through for you and your horse and carriage!

A very full day.  Off to bed.

YSL – What a day!

So remember how Versailles was our last day in Paris? Well, I had done some looking around and discovered that the first retrospective of Yves St. Laurant’s work would be shown at the Petite Palais in Paris, starting TODAY!  Well, this is heart stopping news for me.  So off I go, stand in line for over an hour, only to find that one must have an invitation for opening day.  No invitation for me.  I had asked all the right questions of my fellow queue-rs, “no, you don’t need a ticket in this line” they assured me!  “Yes, this is the right queue!”  Well, no, you don’t need a ticket – you just need an INVITATION!  The tears ran freely, I can tell you.

After that heartbreak, I decided to let the group go on to Normandy without me, and I would spend the day in Paris by myself, go see the YSL show, putter around, and buy myself a train ticket later to meet up in the North.  Well, it was a day of redemption, because it went beautifully, and I saw my first couture up close.  Over 300 pieces of his couture work, sketches, videos, 10 pieces that were worn by Catherine Denueve – just insane.  A dream come true to see such a show, in the city where he worked.

I found out that one is not supposed to take photos, but I had already snapped a few (without flash, of course! That was ok in the Louvre, but not for YSL – whoops!), so I’ll share just the few I took.  Hope no one important reads this.

Outside the Petite Palais. There he is!

The iconic logo inside.

I just can NOT believe I saw this Mondrian dress in person.

Guess who inspired this dress?! Matisse, yes...

3 hours in this exhibit – how lucky am I?  Good choice to go my own way today.  Besides, it made me really use my french quite a bit, because I was alone, and needed to get things done.

Then I strolled down towards the Louvre through the Tuilleries gardens…

not a bad place to walk.

… and on towards the opera house to find the grand department stores for more window shopping.  Also, the train station is behind all of this, and I needed to buy a ticket, so the Printemps was right on my way!  Here are the windows I was greeted with:

Can you guess what the window displays will be?!

This white rabbit is completely encrusted with roses!

They're late! late!

House of cards...

The big mushroom. Ahh, Alexander McQueen. So lovely. So sorry he's gone.

Time for tea.

Don't drink it!

Time for chess.

Alice and her books.

Oh Alice! What shoes you have!

More tea?

I just adore these windows – a very clever display.  I had to stand in front of each one for quite a while to get clear shots, because this was a super busy street, bustling with crowds.  I can thank my Nikon for the quick shutter speed and my delete button for getting rid of the many shots that had people in them.  On to the train station to find a ticket to Bayeux up north.

After I bought my train ticket - managed just fine in french, thank you very much, I sat outside on a bench and had a little snack.

After a 2 hour train ride into the French countryside, (saw lots of baby sheep!), we arrived in Bayeux, where I asked directions to our hotel at the little train station, and wandered my way into town.

There is a canal running through this medieval city.

I love these old European towns so much. You wind through a tiny street centuries old, come around a corner and Bam! Oh! Here's a cathedral!

A little street.

Something beautiful around every corner here.

Here's that canal again.

J was trying to take a picture of an old letterpress machine that was in use inside a little shop, but got my reflection in the glass instead.

It feels good to be in the country.  I was so worried to leave Paris for fear I didn’t see enough, and who knows when I’ll be back next (it has been 20 years since the last time after all), but after the satisfaction of the YSL retrospective, I’m glad we’re here, seeing a different side of French life.  Tomorrow we head to the beach- in our long underwear and fleece, of course, but the Normandy beaches will be something else, I’m sure.  Ciao for now……

Versailles – home of kings…

Spent a good part of the day at Versailles, and of course all I could think of was my favorite movie, Marie Antoinette, by Sophia Coppolla.  Oh the opulence!  This was one of those times when I’m so frustrated that a time machine hasn’t been invented yet – because I’m dying to see what that kind of life would be like!

It's a really big house!

The famous hall of mirrors. Home of the King's throne. Heavy.

Fancy little stool

Looking straight up into one of the chandeliers in the hall of mirrors. They are the original Chech glass

Our reflections in the mirror where the throne would have stood.

The canopy over the queen's bed. 19 royal babies were born in this bed over the years! My favorite room in the house - so lovely.

Detail of a tie back for the Queen's curtains.

Wall paper - actually fabric in the Queen's room. There is a secret door in this wall where Marie Antoinette escaped from the rioting masses.

The main garden. Astounding.

Detail of a statue in a fountain. So sweet.

From the garden looking up, the Queen's balcony. She has a pretty nice view.

The golden gate at the entrance.

So this was our last day in Paris.  But, tune in to my next post……..


Pere Lachaise and more, more, more…

Who knew a cemetery could be so fantastic!  Pere Lachaise, at over 100 acres, is the largest green space in Paris, and it is lovely.  Filled with beautiful tombs and fascinating stories.  We had an amazing guide from Britain who does walking tours of Paris, and what a difference he made!  I am astonished by his mind – absolutely filled with knowledge to share.  He toured us all around and we saw lots of famous graves, plus statues and stories galore.

Lovely little owls guard this tomb.

Nobody famous, just a rich ballonist - phantasmagorical!

Chopin's grave, appropriately decorated for his bicentennial.

Hey, man! It's Jim Morrison's grave! Wish I could have gotten a good enough angle to photo the 2 teens lighting up behind the stone.

Red metal door to this tomb. Most of the tombs look like London phone booths, with little alters inside.

My favorite part of the morning? When this black cat stood guard in front of Marcel Proust's tomb! Just sauntered around the grave as if he owned the place, which, he probably does!

Oh Oscar Wilde! So many kisses, you lucky man!

Stones for Gertrude.

Broken glass.

Hey kids! You can thank this man for your french fries! He introduced the potato to France!

After our romp around the graveyard, we found a little grocery, bought cheese, bread and chocolate, and went back to the cemetery to eat our lunch out of the wind, in the sun.  I had brought my rice crackers along, and we had a lovely rest.  Then, on to the Musee d’Orsay.

the Musee d'Orsay. A gorgeous old train station, refurbished by Mitterand, now housing the impressionist painters. It's astounding - ever time you turn a corner there's another Mary Cassatt or Van Gogh or Renoir.

After a brief recoup at the hotel, we hit the town at night.  The students all wanted to shop, and the rest of us just wanted to people watch.  I think this was the coldest night we’ve had yet.  One block away from Chanel (which is the only fashion house I wanted to see here, where it all started! I really wanted a picture of that store front), the kids pooped out, and would go no farther.  Alas, I didn’t get to Mecca, but I did just find out that there is an YSL retrospective in town, which I will try to get to tomorrow.  It was too cold for many photos this evening, but here’s a taste, then off to bed for me.

L'Arc de Triomphe at night.

Our freezing cold group.

Window display on the Champs Elysse. It's Naf Naf, my old favorite french brand from the 80s, all moderned up.

Must get up early to beat the crowds to Versailles!  I’ll say hello to Marie Antoinette for you……