Archive for July, 2013

Tour du Mont Blanc – The Refuge Dining Room

Posted on July 31, 2013. Filed under: France, Italy, Switzerland, Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Travel - TMB Refuge Dining Rooms

An interesting dynamic can happen in the refuge dining rooms along the Tour du Mont Blanc.  Here we are in the Refuge Bonhomme after dinner.  You can see the terra cotta pichet of wine on the table readying everyone for a great chat!  Within a short time we had about 6 people all from different countries exploring world views well into the night.  It was like an impromptu united nations meeting!  There were some uncomfortable pointed questions at us as Americans, but we found the whole experience very interesting.  Keeping a respectful approach while explaining when we disagreed worked to allow conversation to flow and everyone ended with a clap on the back, a handshake and big smiles.  If this happens to you take the opportunity to learn about other peoples’ views, just remember to be pleasant. Just think about how incredible the Tour du Mont Blanc is that it brings people from all over the world together for one purpose, if just for a short time.

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The Image Thief at the Musée d’Orsay

Posted on July 30, 2013. Filed under: France, Paris, Photography | Tags: , , , , , |

Travel - Musée d'Orsay 1Ok, so l have no beef with the Musée d’Orsay as far as the building and the collection goes.  How could I?  This museum houses some of the most important works of the period 1848 to 1914 especially of the impressionism movement in a refurbished train station designed in 1900.

You want to know my beef?  No photography.  Ok, I get that a lot of people are really stupid with their cameras and they don’t know how to turn off the flash.  I used to work in an art museum and I know that people don’t understand the harm that can be produced when millions of people flash a super bright light at artworks, if only for a split-second.  It’s a very destructive force over time.    But a flat-out ban on photography turns people like me into an image thief.

So here is the best I could do with the over-the-top beautiful clock at The Musée d’Orsay.  I had to stay somewhat behind the wall there to be out of view of the guards.

Travel - Musée d'Orsay 2This was a bit better because the sculpture was already behind this wall.

Taking pictures in museums is great fun and I understand the rock and hard place museums are in.  I just protest the stance of no photography!

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Clear Focus with a Macro Lens

Posted on July 29, 2013. Filed under: Art, Health, Photography | Tags: , , , |

Photography - blurry frogI struggled with my macro lens last summer.  I could get incredibly close and focus in, but then only the center of my photo was clear as you can see with Mr. Toady here.

I finally checked some online sources and discovered the fix was to never use a wider  f-stop than 16.  I still forget sometimes that the internet has so much information!

Photography - clear frogMr. Toady 2013 is looking better!  I’m very amazed at macro photography.  When I get into my camera lens I see the world in a completely new way.  I was intrigued here by the gold-flecked black eyes of this little fellow.  There is something very meditative about seeing the details in very small things.  I can lose several hours if I’m not careful!  What a great way to de-stress.

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Posted on July 28, 2013. Filed under: Photography, Poetry | Tags: , , |

Cowgirl boots

Toni, Taylor and Tess

Strutting along

Wearing their boots

At the county fair

Pose for a picture?

They form a toe-tap triangle

Then saunter off


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Quick Suppers Made Simple

Posted on July 27, 2013. Filed under: Food Made Simple, Health | Tags: , , , |

Food - Quick Supper

Pork chops in the crockpot, frozen French beans quickly steamed with a squirt of lemon and butter, leftover cucumber salad

Ok, so the other day I complained about food manufacturers manipulating people by producing food-like products that make consumers think they are cooking.  But the reality is many people don’t want to take the time to cook and there are days I feel this way too.  No, don’t tell me people want to cook but they don’t have the time.  I just don’t believe that.  We make the time for the things we find important and most Americans don’t find cooking to be an important activity for themselves and their families.  I’m sad about this, but it is reality.  So, what do I recommend for these people and for us home chefs who need an easy night?  Here you go, a list of ways to make healthy and tasty suppers as quickly as the boxed and frozen garbage they are trying to sell you in the store!

1.  Plan to make leftovers.  Many dishes are actually more tasty the next day.  The cucumber salad, above, I made double the first night knowing it would make a great side dish the next night again.  This gave the cucumbers and onions time to wilt and absorb the mayo/vinegar dressing – delicious!  To make a big batch of something saves time for the next few days.  You don’t have to get all the equipment out again and you can rest easy knowing one part of the meal is already done.

2.  Know what is in your freezer (put something good in there!) and pull something out a day in advance.  A whole frozen chicken is a treasure, but impossible to work with the same day.  Throw one in a pan in the refrigerator so you can cut it apart and bake it the next night.  This way you can pick up extra items and have them available within a day without having to run to the market.  By the way, fish defrosts super fast in a pan of cool water in the sink.  If I’m having fish the same night I put it in water right when I get home, then go get into comfortable clothes, make salad or other vegetables, then cook up the fish which is usually already defrosted (depending on thickness.)

3.  Make friends with a crockpot.  It doesn’t work for everything but for something like pork chops or soups it is the way to go.  For easy, tender pork chops just take them right out of the freezer, squirt both sides with a little organic ketchup, sprinkle with garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  It falls apart, it’s so good!

4.  Frozen vegetables count.  Most nights I make a big salad, but it is a lot of cleaning and chopping.  Last night I grabbed a bag of thin French green beans, steamed them for about 10 minutes, put 2 pats of butter on them with a squeeze of fresh lemon.  This was so easy, healthy and good.  It’s my go-to quick veg for an almost-no-cook night.  Frozen vegetables, while usually not as good as fresh can have a place for work-averse people!  It’s better than having no vegetables.

5.  When you do make a salad dress it like the Italians do:  a drizzle of olive oil and then a drizzle of vinegar (any kind you have on hand will do, but apple cider vinegar will add health and seasoned rice vinegar will add tons of flavor.)  This is so cheap, easy and healthy it is amazing to me anyone buys the bottles of chemically glop they sell in the store as salad dressing.

So there are my first 5 suggestions.  I’ll keep thinking about this and I’ll do another list as I pay attention to my own low-cooking nights.

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Mountains, Flowers, Clouds

Posted on July 26, 2013. Filed under: Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Travel - TMB mountains/flowers/clouds



Clouds in the sky



Wind in the face



Peace in the heart

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My Cleaver

Posted on July 25, 2013. Filed under: Food Made Simple | Tags: , , , , , |

Food - CleaverLook at this great cleaver I found at a resale shop.  I have had it awhile and never used it until yesterday.  I knew it was a quality knife because of its heft and its full-tang construction, meaning the metal of the blade runs right up through the full handle.  It appeared to be brand new.  It has no name on it, but for $1.99 I wasn’t going to quibble!

Well, now that I’ve hacked apart an enormous chicken leg with it, I’ve developed quite an appreciation for such a quality instrument.  I like to think about why someone would get rid of something like this.  I think many times these kinds of things were given as gifts and the recipient didn’t realize what a great gift it was!  Looking through the knife bins at a resale shop is always a category stop for me.  I have found amazing good-quality cutting implements for a song.

I never realized what a cleaver could do, though.  First, it is a heavy knife and simply dropping it onto the board produces quite a lot of chopping power.  It cut clear through the bone with about 3 whacks.  Chopping the meat was amazingly fast and easy.  I can see why a cleaver is a favorite with butchers.  This one has earned a permanent spot in my kitchen tool arsenal!

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I Must Be Cooking

Posted on July 25, 2013. Filed under: Food Made Simple, Health, Philosophy | Tags: , , , , |

Food - Cooking on the stove

The Wall Street Journal ran an article in June called, “The Art of Almost Homemade.”  The article explains that food manufacturers are “working to identify subtle cues that signal cooking.”  This is because people want to feel like they are cooking when, in fact, they are not.  At best, people who use these new food products are assembling, not cooking.

Here are the things the food manufacturers have found out through research of “constrained wishful eaters:”

  • 2 steps are better than 1
  • Include a little bit of chopping or mixing (15-30 minutes) of real ingredients
  • Use the stove or oven (no microwave)
  • Wrap in cellophane as opposed to a box (for a pizza to bake at home)
  • Pour something over a meal like a sauce from at least 2 jars over rice or enchiladas
  • Put seafood into a parchment bag (as opposed to packaging them together this way)

Don’t you hate to be manipulated?  How hard is it to really spend 30 minutes chopping actual vegetables, sautéing them in actual butter or olive oil in a pan and cooking up some rice at the same time?  Oh yes, and a splash of soy sauce?  My goodness, it’s disheartening that people have become so separated from cooking their own food that they need a box of food-like products to assemble so they are fooled into thinking they are cooking!

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Chocolate Covered Bananas

Posted on July 23, 2013. Filed under: Food Made Simple, Health | Tags: , , , , |

Food - Chocolate Covered Bananas 2

A box of 4 frozen banana halves coated in chocolate for $3.79?!  I want them, but I just can’t cough up so much cash for so little.  Instead I grabbed a bunch of bananas and headed home where I knew I had dark chocolate chips.  The hold up was that I had no sticks.  After a little hunt around I found cocktail picks which worked just fine!

I ended up with 4 times the number of chocolate banana halves for about $3.00.  It was fun to do too!

Chocolate Covered Banana Halves

Food - Chocolate Covered Bananas 11.  Empty 1 bag chocolate chips (dark or semi-sweet, whatever you like) into bowl and set above a pot of simmering water to melt.

2.  Peel and cut bananas in half.

3.  Lay out waxed paper on a cookie sheet.

4.  Roll bananas one at a time in the melted chocolate and place on waxed paper.  Insert stick if using.

5.  Roll coated bananas in unsweetened coconut, if desired.  Stick optional.

6.  Place cookie sheet with bananas into freezer for several hours to freeze solid.

7.  Pull out and enjoy for a healthy dessert!

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Zucchini Lasagna Redux

Posted on July 22, 2013. Filed under: Food Made Simple, Health | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Food - Lasagna 4

Continuing with my no-wheat project, I decided to try zucchini lasagna again, this time making some changes that resulted in a much better final product.  Above it my “mise en place” as the French call it – my putting into place all the things I need to assemble the lasagna.

I had trouble with the zucchini last time as I cut it with a knife and it was not of uniform thickness.  Also, after 1 hour of baking it was still a bit crunchy.  I broke down and bought a very cheap $3.99 mandolin at Aldi which is a surprising delight to use!

Food - Lasagna 2     Food - Lasagna 1

This nifty little gadget, which has all manner of slicing panels for other projects, zipped through my four zucchini with ease.  Then I pan-fried the slices with a little fresh farm lard and salt.  I then drained them on a tray lined with paper towels to soak up any liquid.

Food - Lasagna 3This was my method for rehydrating some beautiful shitake mushrooms.  Boiling water poured over the mushrooms creates floating mushrooms so by placing a heavy cup on top it held them under the water.  Afterward I had a nice brown liquid mushroom stock to which I blended the mushroom stems which are too tough to eat, but full of flavor.  The stems blended with the strained liquid turned into a lovely brown creamy mushroom concentrate that I popped into the freezer for a later soup.  Why throw that stuff away?

Once I had all my ingredients assembled it was an easy task to put together, bake for an hour, and enjoy.  It was delicious and the zucchini was perfect this time.  Sorry I don’t have a picture of the final product.  I did have my camera handy, but completely forgot because the lasagna was so delicious!

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