Sunday, December 18, 2011


Santorini, Greece
Dear Friends and Family,

It's been awhile hasn't it?

I suppose I owe you an update.

Corfu Architecture
My last update was supposed to be a little overview of my summer vacation - part two.   Given that we're decorating Christmas trees, wrapping gifts and sending holiday cards at the moment, I feel that the summer vacation ship has long since sailed.  I'll say briefly that I treasure the moments I was able to spend with family new and old.    Memories that I will cherish for a lifetime.

Dubrovnik, Croatia
It has been a season of transitions of almost every variety.    I'm still in the midst of it all at the moment, but once I get my new rhythm back, I hope to begin posting again on a more regular schedule and share a little more about what I'm up to.     Thanks to all of you who have expressed concern about my disappearance.   I promise I'm still around, just temporarily diverted.

Green Door in Greece
Before life took some turns this fall, John and I spent ten wonderful days cruising in the Mediterranean.    I like to think of it as the calm before the storm.  (Isn't it funny how life is often like this?)

Plaka Street Art, Athens Greece
I've sprinkled some images from this trip throughout this post, many of which are available (shameless plug) at Vita Nostra on etsy.   I'll be back soon to give a more comprehensive update for any of you who many be planning an upcoming trip to the area.

See you soon... meanwhile, enjoy your final preparations before the holidays!  

Cafe in Athens, Greece

Monday, September 12, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Vacation - Part One

My little summer break extended into an unforeseen but welcomed long summer break.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation  

(In the style of a back to school report as I feel like writing in short sentences and showing you lots of pictures.    'Tis the season.)

Part One

First, I took a fun road trip from Wisconsin to Saint Louis.

Roadside oddities made the long drive fun.

The road food was interesting.

We had some of the merely edible variety...

And the.... this is so good I think about it often variety but eating too many of these would make me fat and unhealthy so I will just cherish the memory variety.

(In case you are wondering, that is a bratwurst burger on a pretzel roll with sweet potato fries.)

I went to the zoo and felt sad for this bear.   Despite the fact that he might be smiling.

I visited the town where my dad grew up.

And took bad pictures of cows from the car window.

I saw the only five arch bridge in the United States.    There are two in the entire world.

It was kind of a let down.  (We had more fun building a mock up while sitting in the cafe eating mediocre soup.)

We played hours of roadside bingo.    I did not take any pictures of this, but it was fun.  

In between all of this excitement on the road, we spent a lot of quality time with family old and new.   It was a very special visit.   I loved seeing everyone.  

(Next time, I won't wait so long to go back.)  

A big thank you to everyone who made our visit so special and fun!   Next time you are in North Carolina... I'd love to do the same for you!

I would show you some of the family pictures I took, but that might take away from my fun roadside attractions.    Maybe in part two.  

Do you like road trips?   What's your favorite part?    

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blueberry Clafoutis

I cheated.

I peaked in at around 40 minutes.  I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't this.

Living, breathing, sighing, heaving.

My clafoutis was alive.    Billowing sheets of yellow custard.   Breathing in and out.   Hot, heavy breath.

I closed the oven door and walked away.  Tried to forget what I just saw.

Five minutes more.   The buzzer.

One more heaving sigh and then silence.    A lone blueberry exuded itself through the now thin crust of  golden yellow.

This is one hot little dessert.

A classic french dessert, traditionally made with cherries, it is a cross between a baked custard and an airy puffy pancake.   Very easy to put together and the results are subtly sweet and light.   (Makes great leftovers for breakfast.)  

Do you have a favorite blueberry recipe? 

Blueberry Clafoutis


1 pint blueberries, rinsed
3 whole eggs
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
2/3 cup flour

mint for garnish


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter your baking dish and layer bottom with blueberries.   Set aside.  I used a 9 inch cake pan.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, cream, sugar and almond extract.    Mix in flour to form a smooth batter.

Pour batter over blueberries and let settle to reach all sides.  

Bake for 40 - 50 minutes or until you reach a golden topping.   Remove from oven.  The clafoutis will naturally puff and deflate.   Let sit for 10 - 15 minutes before serving.   Garnish with fresh mint before serving.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

What's with the red hot dogs anyway? 

Is this a southern tradition that I need to know about? 

With bright red casings and sawdust like filling, I am not a fan.

I am a fan of all beef hot dogs and evening baseball. 

Hot summer nights, cold beer, 'real' hot dogs, cotton candy mustaches...

My favorite part is trying to guess the height and weight of the guys on the field and then finding the answer in their playbook bios.  (Only during the slow parts of course.) 

Do you think they know they are being followed by a giant multicolored chicken? 

We try and make a couple of Durham Bulls games each summer.   A fun and inexpensive weeknight diversion close to home.  

Are you a fan?   What's your favorite part of the game? 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tuscan Pork Chops

The lemon makes these pork chops amazing.   It doesn't make an appearance until the very end and could be easily forgotten, but don't, because it brings the herbs and garlic and charri-ness to life.  

I asked John to train me on the grill again.   Again.

"Are you paying attention this time?"

"Yes, I swear, I'll remember."

"So turn this and then turn this and then turn that and then push this and then step back."

"Okay.   Got it."

"Then let it heat up a bit and go to town."

"Easy.  I have this.   You go sit inside and relax.   I will make dinner on the grill."

(A proud moment.)  

I put on the random assortment of veggie kabobs.  I purposely didn't put things in order.  A couple of mushrooms here, some random tomatoes there, a red onion cap on a bald mushroom.   I'm in charge tonight.  

Grilling is fun.

I put on the sweet potatoes.   Our fourth food group.

And then I put on these gorgeous pork chops which had been bathing in a marinade of garlic and lots of herbs and olive oil.     Tuscan-like, I think.

I fended off the bugs attacking me on the deck and peaked inside periodically.

When they were done, they looked like this.

The turning-on-the-grill instructions may have gone in one ear and out the other (sorry John), but I did write down this recipe.   I hope you will try it.   We both said that it was the best we'd had in a long time.   Way better (and less expensive) than any restaurant.  

(Am I the only one who can never remember how to start the grill?)

Tuscan Pork Chops
serves 2

2 bone-in pork chops
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lemon, halved
salt and pepper

Generously season pork chops with salt and pepper.   Let sit out at room temperature while you prepare the marinade.

Combine olive oil, vinegar, sage, rosemary and garlic.    Pour over pork chops and marinate for 1-2 hours in the refrigerator.

Heat your grill to medium high (hopefully you already know how to do this!).  

Place pork chops on grill.   Grill about 5 minutes on the first side.   Flip and grill the second side for another 4 minutes.   (Note - your grilling times may vary.   This timing worked really well for us.)

Let the pork chops rest for a minute or two and then liberally sprinkle each piece with juice of half a lemon.  

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Last Hurrah

Five parties, seven months and more happier moments than I can count later, the wedding season officially draws to a close.

New Hampshire welcomed us with open arms!   (Home truly is where the heart is.)

Here's to celebrating and picking up where we left off!    Time and space occur, but love and friendship remain.  

To great food prepared by great people.   (If you are in New England, check out A Day to Remember... can't recommend highly enough!   They made our day seamless and are true professionals in every sense.)

To new friends who look fabulous in black and white and whom I'd love to drag along with me on my next trip to Italy!

To two of my favorite men.    (that allowed me to pose with them and have given a permanent and unstated consent to have their pictures posted in my blog :)

To family friends who loved my mother dearly and shared this with me in a way that no one else could.   (I didn't capture pictures of all of you, but you know who you are, and thank you... your words and memories mean so much to me.   And for those that are pictured below, if you squint real hard and look to the upper right...)

To early summer outdoor dining with dear friends and neighbors, great food and lots of laughter and celebrating!

To my kitty babies, who still recognize me after all these years and even offered a pose or two. 

To my husband, who indulges my need to take cheesy pictures of myself and loves me anyway. 

Cheers to it all!  A special thanks to our parents for all of your love and support and lots and lots of fun along the way!   We appreciate and cherish each and every moment. 

I couldn't have asked for a better visit to New Hampshire.   It's been a great week, but I'm ready to return to my new home where I know I will be welcomed by another set of open arms that made all of this possible.

Hope everyone is enjoying the weekend!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Summer Quinoa Salad with Fennel, Squash, Peas, Leeks and Corn

There is something mind numbingly peaceful about shucking peas.

The tug of the string, the snap of the casing, the pop, pop, pop of sweet little peas hitting the bowl.   (Or, the floor.)

Feisty little things. 

I'm heading out of town again.   Visiting the family in New Hampshire.     The weather report is predicting mid 70s and sunny.    A vacation from the overly balmy 98 we are dealing with in North Carolina today.  

I told myself I'd get up early and hit the trail before the sun rose and the cicadas woke up.   (Didn't happen.)

What did happen is a sweat soaked mid-day romp through the woods, fending off gnats and breathing in warm jasmine coated air.   Sunscreen dripping from my red skin.   All the more sweeter for those little gnats.   They like me.  

I think they might like this salad also.   It's sweet.   And cool.

Given our pending escape, I did a swing through the fridge to clear out the 'forgotten'.  I was rewarded with peas, corn on the cob, leeks, baby fennel and some yellow squash.  

They came together to produce a light and fragrant summer salad when combined with quinoa.   If you've stopped by here before, you know how much I love quinoa.  

The corn and freshly shucked peas add crisp sweetness and color; the fennel and basil in the dressing add fragrance.   The leeks provide a little earthiness which together with the olive oil and garlic give this salad a little more depth.   This recipe makes a huge bowl of summer salad.    Divvy it up into sides or eat as a main if you are looking for a light vegetarian dinner.

Cool and sweet and strangely calming.

Do you do this?   The fridge sweep before traveling?    

Summer Quinoa Salad with Fennel, Squash, Peas, Leeks and Corn

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, green and white parts only, halved and sliced
1 cup freshly shucked peas*
3 ears corn, kernels removed
4 small yellow squash, chopped
1 baby fennel bulb, sliced thin and chopped

Prepare the quinoa.   In a medium pot, add 1 cup rinsed quinoa to 2 cups of water.   Bring to a boil.   Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.   Remove from heat and set aside.

While quinoa is cooking, prepare vegetables.   In a large skillet, heat olive oil on medium low heat.   Add leeks and saute for 5 minutes until softened.    Stir peas and corn into leeks and saute for another 3 - 5 minutes.    Raise heat to medium and add in squash and fennel.    Saute for another 3 - 4 minutes until crisp tender.     Remove vegetable mixture from heat and prepare dressing (below).

Combine cooled quinoa, vegetables and dressing in large bowl.    Use all of the dressing for a wetter salad.   If you prefer drier, use less.  

Basil Fennel Vinaigrette Dressing

1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, loosely packed
1 tablespoon chopped fennel fronds (the dill looking part)
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 - 5 turns cracked pepper

Add all ingredients to small bowl and whisk together until combined.  

*Fresh peas add a special sweetness and crispness to this salad, but you could also substitute with frozen.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lake House Salad with Italian Balsamic Vinaigrette

Coppertone.   Burning coals.   Oreo cookies.

Smells like Memorial Day Weekend.

Lathered in lotions to kick start our summer tans, decked out in neon bathing suits, reading the latest issue of Glamour.    If I'm honest, throw in some big hair and way too long fingernails.   True children of the 80s.

First weekend of summer.

At the lake in New Hampshire, hanging out at the kitchen counter.  Feet freshly rinsed clean from sand.   Wrapped in towels to keep from soaking the furniture.

With the Indy 500 whizzing by in the background, we dangle our feet from stools and take breaks from the sun.    Hot dogs with mustard straight from the grill.    Salads doused in Italian dressing.   Oreos for dessert.   Oreos for a snack.   Oreos... just because we could.

Sweatshirts in the evening.   Cool lake air.   Baseball with our neighbors.  Rummy on the porch.   Movies on the couch.    Sleeping like little babies.

(These days, it's a little less about the oreos and a little more about the salads and the sunscreen.)   

What is it about holidays that bring back memories from our childhood?   What smells do you equate with summer? 

Lake House Salad
serves 6 - 8

Head of lettuce, rinsed, rough chopped
2 cups baby spinach
1 large tomato, chopped
1 cup snow peas, chopped
6 - 8 mushrooms, sliced
1/4 large red onion, diced
1/2 cucumber, chopped

Add everything to a large bowl and mix.   Toss with vinaigrette when ready to serve.


Italian Balsamic Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons honey
salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to small bowl and whisk until combined.   Salt and pepper to taste.   Serve with Summer Salad or any other salad that you prefer!