Category Archives: Food & Recipes

Desire, Anticipation, Realization

Remember the old Heinz commercial with the Carly Simon soundtrack? Anticipation has been motivating people long before it was an advertising theme. I’ll bet Mrs. Caveman found saber tooth stew more appealing after waiting all day for Mr. C to bring home the goodies. (Imagine how a little ketchup would have helped!)caveman-159964_640

I’m not a patient person. But I love pre-planning vacations: reading about my destination; researching places to explore and eat; making and revising endless lists of what to bring and wear; creating a wish list of possible purchases. Anticipation extends the trip well beyond the actual time away if I start enjoying it months in advance.

I also find anticipation half the fun of baking – the long, slow rise of the bread or waiting for some delicious dessert to come out of the oven. And what’s nicer than looking forward to a hot cup of tea or coffee after being outside on a cold, rainy day – or a frosty beer after a blisteringly hot one?

Although it can be frustrating, time-consuming or confusing, anticipation is especially useful when purchasing something expensive. When’s the last time you bought a car or house on impulse before taking the time to decide exactly what you wanted? (If you did, you have far more disposable income than I do; please buy me a Bentley!)

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Psychologists tell us that desiring something is more satisfying than actually acquiring it (scientists call this “habituation”). There’s often a letdown after getting the object, which is why prolonging the process can be so enjoyable. (Check out a fascinating article on this topic in The Atlantic.)

I’ve been thinking about this since arriving at our summer house 20 lbs. lighter than last year and discovering that “I have nothing to wear” wasn’t hyperbole. I had exactly one pair of jeans and three sweaters that fit; everything else down to my underwear needed to be replaced.

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The surprise, for a dedicated shopper like myself, is that mass acquisition isn’t much fun. I’ve pretty much had to blitz-shop online (hello, The Outnet) to compile an instant wardrobe. As a result, I’ve been denied the pleasures of anticipation, window-shopping, weighing pros and cons, etc. as part of the experience.

Years ago, on a trip to Milan, my husband and I watched a group of young women return to our hotel laden with shopping bags from every high end store you can imagine (Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior etc.) woman-1329790_640

I’ve often wondered: Did those girls really appreciate everything they bought, after the shopping high wore off? If you could acquire anything you desire without a second’s thought, would it be special?

What do you think — is anticipation more satisfying than acquisition? And what about delayed gratification… does something have more value to you when you’ve saved up for it? Are there things you bought that you love as much — or more — now that you have them?

In other words, does the “high” always fade?

Avoiding Brain Drain

In hopes of staving off cognitive decline, I’ve been refreshing my French with the help of the free online language courses on DuoLingo. Next up: brushing up on my minimal Italian (one college semester) in preparation for our trip to Sicily, Milan and Florence in October.flag-2292679_640Younger readers may think this is an issue that only affects their parents or grandparents. Not so fast: apparently the seeds of dementia can be sewn in our 30’s, 40’s and 50’s — up to three decades before the disease appears full-blown. Yowza.

Nearly two-thirds of Alzheimer’s sufferers are women. But the good news is that there’s a lot we can do to protect ourselves – at every age. Reducing inflammation, insulin resistance, blood sugar, high LDL cholesterol and vascular problems lowers our risk, and current research now focuses as much on causes as on cures.

The Big Three: Eating, Exercise and Engagement.

EATING

The Mediterranean Diet won’t just keep you slim; it’s literally brain food. Eating veggies, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry and olive oil boosts brain health. And don’t forget the wine: the resveratrol in red wine has many benefits.

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  • Protects the lining of our arteries so blood can flow freely
  • Improves the body’s ability to repair damage caused by free radicals, which helps prevent premature aging of cells
  • Blocks the production of inflammatory agents

What to avoid? Sugar. Too much can lead to obesity and diabetes, both of which increase the risk of dementia. So swap that margarita for cabernet! And watch your cholesterol: high levels can cause plaque buildup in blood vessels and keep blood from effectively reaching all parts of your brain.

EXERCISE

It’s as good for your brain as it is for your butt.

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  • Aerobic exercise builds up grey matter in the cerebral cortex (where memories live), releases chemicals thought to affect learning and memory, and delivers oxygen to your brain.
  • Regular exercise sharpens focus and stimulates nerve cells and blood vessel formation in the hippocampus, another part of the brain associated with memory. Don’t you love the word hippocampus, which sounds like a university for, you know, hippos? (I threw that in to see if you’re paying attention.) hippo-783522_640
  • Studies have shown that strength training improves blood flow to areas of the brain associated with executive function and memory. So pump that iron!
  • Stress busters such as yoga help reduce cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone that can go into overdrive, impairing memory and causing neuron-damaging inflammation.

ENGAGEMENT 

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  • Learn something new and keep doing new things (at least an hour each day).
  • Spend time socializing; it helps build new brain cells.
  • Protect your heart (and not just romantically!) The better it pumps, the more blood can circulate throughout your body, nourishing the neurons and blood vessels in your brain.
  • Feeling bored at work or in a social situation? Wiggle your toes — it snaps you back to the moment.
  • Hit the sheets for at least seven hours. The slow-wave stage before REM sleep is thought to be the time when cognitive function strengthens and consolidates.
  • Take time to relax. It lowers blood pressure to help reduce strain on blood vessels.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my new fitness regimen: lifting several heavy glasses of wine while reading Italian travel guides and researching restaurants. Gotta start someplace, right? Salute e ciao!

Rosemary Redux

Time got away from me this week.  We traveled to the west coast to open our summer house and it’s been nonstop errands.  So, no time for a long post but here’s a wonderful recipe to kick off summer: sweet, salty shortbread with an herbal kick.

ROSEMARY SHORTBREAD adapted from epicurious.com

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Ingredients

  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon honey (2 tsp if you prefer less sweetness)
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar (cut back a bit if you prefer less sweetness
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 1.5 teaspoons dried rosemary, crumbled
  • Optional garnish: small rosemary sprigs if using fresh herbs

 

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and generously butter (or spray with Baker’s Joy) a 9-inch cake pan or 9-inch round shortbread mold.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat butter with honey and sugar until light and fluffy. In another bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and chopped or dried rosemary. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until just combined.
  3. On a lightly floured surface knead dough until it just comes together (about 8 times). With floured hands press dough evenly into pan or mold. If using cake pan, score dough into 8 wedges with floured tines of a fork and press edges decoratively with flat sides of the tines. Press small rosemary sprigs on top.
  4. Bake shortbread in middle of oven 20 to 30 minutes or until pale golden, and let stand in pan for 10 minutes.
  5. While shortbread is still warm, loosen edges from pan with a small knife and invert onto your hand covered with a kitchen towel. Invert shortbread onto a cutting board and cut halfway along score marks. (If using a cake pan, let it cool in the pan until easy to cut and remove.)
  6. Cool shortbread on a rack.

YIELD: 8 large wedges.  IMG_1910

Note: I prefer smaller pieces and this recipe works well in a square 8×8 pan too. Not as pretty though!

 

 

“Got Your Goat” Quick Bread

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance” wrote Shakespeare in Hamlet.  Unfortunately I don’t remember where I first saw the original recipe and I’ve made a few changes to it along the way.

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Being blessed (or cursed, as the case may be) with abundantly-growing rosemary in our hot climate, I’m always looking for a new way to use it. This tangy, crunchy, slightly sweet loaf is super-easy to make. It’s also very versatile.  Substitute any of your favorite herbs or nuts, or add raisins, chopped figs or kalamata olives for a different flavor.

Savory Quick Bread

Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup lowfat milk
  • 4 tablespoons softened butter (unsalted)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried and crumbled)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose unbleached white flour
  • 2 ounces goat cheese (very cold), cut or crumbled into small chunks

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Directions:

  • Heat the oven to 350℉.  Butter a 9″ loaf pan (or use Baker’s Joy spray).
  • Beat the egg in a medium bowl and whisk in the milk and butter. Don’t worry if you still have small lumps of butter after whisking.
  • In a large bowl, stir together baking powder, rosemary, lemon zest, pecans, salt and flours.
  • Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and stir everything together with a wooden spoon until barely combined.
  • Sprinkle goat cheese pieces over the batter and fold in gently with 2 or 3 strokes.
  • Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake about 50 minutes or until a tester or toothpick inserted in the middle of the bread comes out clean.

Yield: about 12 servings

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Travel Diary: London/Paris

Whew! I’ve finally unpacked, done the laundry, and gotten a decent night’s sleep, having just returned from a quick 10-day visit to two of my favorite cities.

Rather than a full travelogue – most of you are quite familiar with these locations – here are some random impressions/moments from this trip.

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Arrival Day (Hooray for British Airways Austin-London direct flight!)

  • Caught the last day of the history of underwear show at the V&A. Not as titillating as one might have expected, except for the bondage-y innerwear-as-outerwear trend pieces. Grateful I don’t live in an era of wool drawers (itchy!), cone bras (remember Madonna’s?), 18” corsets that played havoc with women’s internal organs, or paniers.
  • Discover I’ve forgotten melatonin. Crap. Turns out, you can’t buy it over the counter. Will tough it out with red wine or vodka before bed.

High points:

  • Dinner with local friends (helps one feel less like a tourist), noting as always that Brits are wittier than Americans. Sorry, but there it is.

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  • Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at Tate Modern. Don’t miss if you’re in town.

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  • The Leopard Bar at the Montague on the Gardens hotel. I do love a leopard pattern!
  • Buying a new animal-head umbrella at one of my favorite shops, James Smith Umbrellas in Bloomsbury. It’s like stepping back in time to the Victorian era, replete with walking sticks and a “vintage” salesman.

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  • Eating (duh) and drinking “cheap and cheerful” dreadful wine with friends.

PARIS

We spent most of our time here, and my overall sense was that people are feeling edgy and a bit under siege, although everyone we encountered was perfectly lovely.

Sadly, the city is looking a bit tired and dingy. More litter and dogs*** in the streets/on the sidewalk than I recall from the last trip two years ago. The métro is smellier. There’s almost a palpable collective Gallic shrug of “why bother?” going on.

However, we had a wonderful visit. How bad can things be when you eat croissants every day? (I recommend finding your local Eric Kayser bakery.) FullSizeRender 4.jpg

Notes:

  • Love the Eurostar! So much easier than dealing with the airport. But my overlarge suitcase was very cumbersome.
  • Wonderful Kiefer/Rodin show at the Musée Rodin. A fascinating “conversation” between artists of different generations looking at the same subjects.

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  • Want to look Parisian? Wear a scarf with everything! I felt I was passing for a native when someone stopped me on the street to ask (en français, bien sûr!) if I lived in the neighborhood. It’s good to blend in, especially these days.
  • People treat you better if you carry a good handbag. Superficial but true.
  • Today’s polemic: French/British children can tell a Monet from a Manet by six years old because going to museums is part of their everyday schooling, not a special event. No wonder we’re raising generations of Philistines in our country, where the arts are considered an elitist luxury and Führer Trump wants to abolish the National Endowment! If you can’t appreciate beauty, you can’t appreciate anything. OK, I’m jumping off my soapbox now.
  • p.s., Where but in Paris does a shopkeeper recommend a museum exhibit? Does this happen in Chicago? I don’t think so.

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  • Chatting with people makes all the difference between feeling like a visitor and feeling comfortably part of your surroundings. A few moments:
    • Conversation with the proprietor of vintage handbag store (specializing in 1950’s Hermès) combining her limited English with my fractured French. A delightful history lesson.
    • Another Hermès moment: my husband chatting with a Saudi gentleman while his wife special-ordered various bags and I spent a tiny fraction of what she did. Although not in the same financial league, our husbands shared a laugh over the common experience of patiently waiting while their wives shopped.
    • Discussing politics with taxi drivers (we’re all worried!)
  • Music is a universal language. Having coffee one evening at a brasserie near our hotel, we enjoyed a playlist of Ray Charles, the late, great BB King and Tina Turner. Thumbs up all around with the owner and other patrons.
  • People dress very casually at The Opéra Bastille, where we saw a beautifully sung Carmen. Glad I didn’t pack a special fancy outfit.
  • Note to self: Buy booze at the Monoprix to avoid paying minibar prices. Who cares if we don’t finish it?

xo, Alisa   IMG_1747

Bottling Their Passion

As I’ve written before, exploring Oregon’s vineyards is one of my favorite activities when we’re on the west coast. If I didn’t have other things to do, or a lurking fear of becoming a full-fledged alcoholic, I’d be out sampling wine every week!

For winemakers Scott and Lisa Neal, the owners of Coeur de Terre  (“Heart of the Earth”), winemaking is a year-round labor of love. Scott grew up on a farm in Minnesota and has always felt connected to the land. There are very few endeavors that allow for a product to be grown, made, and sold all by the same person. Even better, he’s able to see customers actually use his product—which they do with gusto.

Coeur de Terre (CdT) is one of the wineries we most enjoy visiting, and not just because the wines are excellent. It’s the particular charm of the venue, the owners, and Jacques, the tasting room master of ceremonies, that make this place a standout. Scott explains that they’ve opted not to have a tasting room in McMinnville, alongside so many other Oregon producers, because they’re interested in attracting a loyal, more serious clientele. This makes CdT a special destination unto itself, rather than something you’ll stumble upon. As Scott says, “We’re on the way to here.”

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Scott and Lisa Neal at the winery

Scott and Lisa established the winery in 1998, starting with about 50 acres. Today, the serene hillside property totals 92 acres and the owners have planted all the vines on the estate. Sticklers for quality and consistency, the Neals make sure that CdT is farmed using organic and sustainable methods. Twenty-four acres are dedicated to Pinot Noir (each block having its own distinct character), along with small blocks of Syrah, Riesling and Gruner Veltliner.

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Future deliciousness!

In 2014, Scott and Lisa added fifteen more acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, which will see its first harvest this year. Current prices range from $19-$21 for Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Rosé to $36-$40 for heritage Pinot and Syrah, with single block Pinots and older library wines at $65+. There’s truly something for everyone, and joining their wine club produces some great savings, too.

I asked Scott to share some of his favorite memories.

This is a hard one to narrow down. Some of the outstanding memories I have are the times that Lisa and I would walk the land when we first came here and dream of what Coeur de Terre would look like. Now, 16 years later, we do that same walk and see that what we were thinking about is actually here. Other memories are the time my mom was able to visit the winery and see the block that was named after her before her passing. More memories are our first open house in the cellar of the current winery where we sold our first bottle of wine, and lastly, the memory of all the great friends we have made throughout our years at CdT.

Besides developing their newly acquired property, Scott and Lisa have expanded distribution to Scott’s home state of Minnesota and hope to expand into Texas and Colorado as well. (Living most of the year in Austin, I can’t wait for that to happen.) Looking ahead even further, they hope to instill their passion for land and place in their two young daughters. Since the 8-year-old already loves to ride the tractor, I foresee generations of the Neal family producing wine well into the future.

MEET JACQUES

Another asset for Coeur de Terre is their charming direct sales manager, Jacques Rendu. The 2017 harvest will mark his 10th year anniversary working in the wine industry in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and his fifth year at CdT.

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Tasting Room maestro Jacques Rendu

The Oregon wine industry is a relatively small world where 2/3 to 3/4 of the wineries are family estates. A close-knit community where everyone is very supportive of each other, Jacques has built connections with his peers through volunteering with the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC), Oregon Pinot Camp and his work as a Board member for some of the industry’s non-profit organizations. Interestingly, Jacques says, “France gave me my palate education but it is Oregon that provided my technical winemaking and oenology training. Both are great assets when interacting with visitors or Oregon wine aficionados.”

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What a cozy place to enjoy a glass or two!

One of Jacques’ most memorable experiences was hosting a catered IPNC seminar at CdT with French and American winemakers and attendees from all over the world. For a family winery with a small staff, this event was not only a great honor but also a logistical challenge. Only at the end did they discover that one of the guests was the wine buyer for the White House. He had served under the last three Presidents at the time and after tasting Scott and Lisa’s wine told them he wanted to order one to be featured at the White House. Impressive.

PLANTING THE SEEDS OF FRIENDSHIP

Jacques’ enthusiasm and knowledge are as contagious as his smile. We always learn something new – such as when a particular wine will be at its peak – and get menu inspiration for what food to serve with whatever we’re buying. Jacques has hosted guests from as far away as Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Africa, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and, most recently, Japan. He says, “Wine is an amazing ‘cultural’ exchange vehicle.” Forget that old Coke jingle… imagine if the world could just sit down and have a glass of wine together!

Some of these simple tastings have resulted in long-lasting relationships. Total strangers the first time, visitors often leave with something more than a few bottles; they leave with great memories and a fondness for a special winery.

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Scott explains the fine points of Pinot

SIDE NOTE FOR TEXANS

Coeur de Terre will be part of next week’s Pinot in The City events with other Willamette Valley wineries taking place January 24, 2017 in Dallas and January 26 in Austin. Scott will be there.

Cheers, Alisa

[Not a sponsored post. Attributed photos courtesy of Coeur de Terre.]

Resolutions for 2017

Happy New Year, dear readers! I’m back after a non-vacation “vacation” spent doing errands and waiting for the weather to improve so more could get done. Hopefully your holidays were restful and relaxing, and I hope 2017 brings you peace, happiness, good health and prosperity. (And good riddance, 2016 – you were crap.)

Right now, the TV is full of ads for self-improvement (diet, fitness, financial etc.) to make us all feel guilty about the holiday season’s excesses. In the spirit of making New Year’s Resolutions — an activity I generally resist — here are some of mine:

SPEND MORE time with my favorite people

EAT MORE whole grains and fish

WORRY MORE about things I can actually do something about, and ignore the rest

PAY LESS ATTENTION to crazies on the news

EXERCISE LESS anxiety over issues that are out of my control

COMPLAIN only to people who can fix the problem

SIT ON MY BUTT and watch more sunsets

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Seriously, though, I do want to share that I’ve lucked into a weight loss program (through my husband’s employer) that actually works: Naturally Slim. If you’d like to lose a few pounds or kilos, or have ever dieted with only short-term success , I wholeheartedly recommend their approach.

Naturally Slim is not a diet, there are no special foods or potions to buy, and there are no group weigh-ins or mass flagellations. You simply log on weekly and watch a series of videos that help educate you about different topics to ultimately change your behavior and attitudes toward food. It is remarkably simple, smart and easy.

I’ve lost 17 pounds since mid-September and can tell you enthusiastically that I have never once “dieted”, felt deprived, or found it difficult to stay with the program. I can eat “fattening” foods like pizza or grilled cheese and still lose weight because of when and how I’m eating them. Miraculous! Happy to share more details if anyone’s interested.

Cheers, Alisa

(As always, this is not a sponsored post– I wish it were!)