31 December, 2012

Now My Heart Is Full

(Just indulge me for a moment and allow a cheesy Morrissey title)

I sat in my dark living room this morning, sipping my coffee and watching the changing colors on the horizon hint at the sun's approach.  I realized that I've seen the sun rise and set in quite a few different places this year.  I let my mind wander back over the months and across the globe for a little while... How many wonderful places I have been, things I have seen, people I have met or missed... So many good things have been given to me, entirely undeserved.  Without a doubt, the most frequent thought I've had this year was, "I can't believe I got to do that!"

27 December, 2012

Stamps in My Passport : United Kingdom

I am a hopeless Anglophile.  I love the United Kingdom and exploring every corner of it is still the siren song of my life.  So far I've had opportunities to get acquainted with a few of Britain's loveliest cities: London, Oxford, Bath, Edinburgh, and Glasgow (actually, Glasgow has some 'splainin' to to do before it makes it onto this list -- but that's a story for another post).

Partly because a number of people have asked me for "favorites," "best-ofs," or "don't miss-es" -- and partly because I simply clutch at any opportunity to talk about the U.K. -- here are some general things to know before you go.  In a follow-up post I'll start sharing favorites...they are many...

24 December, 2012

Eat, Drink, & Be Merry

There is only one way to eat hot cereal, and that is dutifully.  The mechanical, rhythmic delivery of each spoonful to my mouth is accompanied by a military march ringing through my head and motivational thoughts such as, "Sure, it looks like something unmentionable, but it's cheap and it's got so much fiber!"  Then I wonder if I should be alarmed that I'm 25 years old, eating hot cereal, and concerned about fiber.

28 November, 2012

Good things come in twos?

This week I met my friend Joy for lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Urbana, MD.  We had a delicious meal and then were brought fortune cookies.  Usually the "fortunes" I get are something like, "Your kind face refresh others," or "Peace begins with a smile."

Understandably, I approach each fortune cookie experience with decidedly low expectations.  I'm really just here for the cookie.

You will appreciate my astonishment, therefore, upon opening my cookie and finding two slips of paper, each one bearing an actual fortune:

"You will pass a difficult test that will make you happier."

"When winter comes heaven will rain success on you."

I'm quite partial to the second one, especially if "success" takes the form of all my student loan debt instantly disappearing.  I just have to hold my breath 'til Dec. 21st to find out!

In other, entirely unrelated news, here is a shameless plug.  I'm trying to get rid of quite a few books that have been taking up space in my apartment or my parents' attic.  Proceeds are going into my travel fund for a visit to my sister in Sweden.  If you or any reading buffs you know might be interested in perusing my listings at Half.com, follow this link:

15 November, 2012

We Just Live Life

"Good afternoon, gentlemen," I said yesterday to my group of 7th grade boys.

Various underwhelmed mumbled responses.

Attempting to boost the enthusiasm in the room, I channeled my inner hype girl and said, "It's WEDNESDAY!  We're half-way through the week!!"

Blank stares.

"Oh.  We just live life!" one of the boys responded.

I suppose there was actually a period when time neither blitzed past me, nor did it seem to drag.  I just lived life.  I woke up, ate my cereal, did my chores, did my schoolwork, and then it was TV time.  Then dad came home from work and we ate dinner.  Then my siblings and I and the other kids on the cul de sac played outside 'til it was dark.  Then maybe we took a bath, or listened to dad read a story, or watched Jeopardy while folding laundry.  Then we went to bed with not very much at all to worry us.  And the next day, pretty much the same thing happened all over again.  We just lived life.

Teaching children who have not yet grown the tumor of Urgency that plagues so many of us adults is nostalgia-inducing, refreshing, challenging...

14 November, 2012

Dear Mr. McFeeley

Dear Mr. McFeeley,

This summer Maurice Sendak died.

That wasn't your fault, of course, but all the subsequent conversations about books that defined my generation's childhood got me thinking.  To be perfectly honest, "Where the Wild Things Are" wasn't a favorite that I read over and over; I don't think we even owned a copy.  But I got to thinking about the pop cultural artifacts that were a significant part of my early years, and that of course led me to "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."

21 October, 2012

To do : Say no. Bake a cake.

Yesterday was the first day of rest I have had in quite some time.  I had to fight against myself in order to keep it that way, though.  It can be difficult to say "no" to the many good things going on in this area -- or to say "no" without feeling as though you must also provide a detailed, incontestable reason for your unavailability!  This week I forced myself to say "no," to protect this one day on the calendar, though it seemed a selfish thing to do.  I didn't have any conflicting plans last night; I simply knew that my body was exhausted, running on empty.  There is no shame in listening to your body; there is no shame in lying low now and then.  After all, what can I pour from an empty cup?

A quiet day offers a choice:  to fill it with distraction, or make a true cessation -- the restoring pause between labors.  I aspired toward the latter; "restful" activities can easily become passive amusement (I'm looking at you, Hulu), providing my mind a break but not enriching it in any way.  I had a short list of things to accomplish, catching up on household chores and taking my car to the repair shop, but there were also things on the list that would rebuild me.  Bake.  Read a book not related to work.  :)  Listen to good music.  Do some calligraphy.  Write a letter.  Don't check email so often.

Busy does not always equal effective.  The days with short to-do lists are sometimes the deepest, the best.

Upside-down Apple Cider Cake

Spiced Hard Apple Cider // Great Shoals Winery
Toward the end of the day I unleashed my baking urge upon our tiny kitchen!  I didn't have much of a plan, but I knew that I wanted to use apple cider.  About a month ago I went to the Maryland Wine Festival and came home with a bottle of delicious Spiced Apple Cider from Great Shoals Winery.  We opened it last week for my mom's birthday celebration, but didn't finish all of it.  It had since lost its fizz but still had a lovely spiced taste, so I didn't want it to go to waste.  After a bit of searching, I landed on this recipe and got to work!  I prepared the whole thing in my handy cast iron skillet, and was fairly liberal with some of my favorite spices since the recipe is a bit vague in that area! I used a generous teaspoon each of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg (possibly more cinnamon...Honestly, I wasn't measuring!).  The result is delicious.  The apples caramelized beautifully, and I can definitely pick up on the bright spiced cider (don't worry, all the alcohol cooks off).  A fine finish to a peaceful day.

14 October, 2012

Festive Fall. Festival. Festive, all!

Last night my family gathered to celebrate my beloved mother's birthday!  There never has been, is not, and never shall be a way to express to her how much we cherish her and appreciate her selfless love for us over the years.  Nonetheless, we tried in what way we could to make her feel special for the evening!  We pitched in to prepare a menu of her favorites:  salmon, jasmine rice, broccoli, fruit salad, and carrot cake.  I followed Mark Bittman's recipe for salmon roasted with olive oil and herbs, and I used Smitten Kitchen's carrot cake recipe (sans raisins -- ick!).  The cake turned out nicely, though I must admit I found myself thinking, "This would be even better with chocolate..."  The evening was capped off by s'mores around the firepit in the backyard.  I love family evenings at my parents' house!

Carrot cake! 

I wanted to decorate the table in some way that would tie in the colors and textures of fall.  Fall is my mom's favorite season, and I associate its beautiful colors and golden sunlight with her.  I created a little center piece with a few different elements:

I found these great candle holders at Michael's Arts & Crafts and filled the base of them with layers of different beans, peas, lentils, etc.  They naturally have an interesting variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.  I then tied some twine around each one to add to the "rustic" feel. It was inexpensive, easy, and beautiful!

I also scattered up and down the table 12 of the paper balls you see in the photo, using cardstock in a range of fall colors.  These are really fun and easy to make, though they take a little bit of time between tracing, cutting, and locking together each of the sides.  My older sister taught me to make them, and I plan to make them for other occasions; they'd make really fun garlands and Christmas ornaments!  If you're interested in trying your hand at them, templates and instructions are here.

Happy birthday, mom!

22 September, 2012

Elbird, Maryland's Own

To all my classy Northern Virginia friends who still recoil in horror when they hear I'm living in Maryland -- in MoCo, no less! -- let me assure you, the Old Line State has its share of creature comforts.  Take, for instance, the cozy trailer from which I write.

I am spending this sunny Saturday morning submitting my vehicle to the state safety inspection.  After handing my keys over to the inspector, I was escorted to the "waiting room."  "Waiting room" is a rather broad term, I suppose.  In this context it refers to a tiny trailer permeated by a questionable odor, filled with a sectional couch from 1993, 2-year old magazines, a record player and tape deck (all in one!), and a dusty computer and TV.

Oh, but the highlight is the bin of toys to entertain the kiddies while you wait!  It's faithfully guarded by a miracle of modern toy medicine: Elmo's face and hands transplanted onto Big Bird's body!  Elbird is very disturbing, to be honest, but I commend the creativity at work here:

18 September, 2012

In Which I Miss People, Disappoint a Student, and am Monitored by a Dutch Master

A lot has happened in the last month.  My best friend (coincidentally, my big sister) moved to Sweden.  I could wax lyrical about that, but I'm not going to.  I'm just going to remind her that we can't wait to read about her fascinating, adventure-filled new life in a beautiful country on her blog!  (hint hint...)
"There were never such devoted sisters"
After sniffling about that for a few days, I picked myself up and dove further into the new world that is teaching.  Reader, behold, for you are about to marvel at my remarkable German efficiency:  I've already succeeded in losing the respect of one young 9th-grade lad in just one sentence.  Here's how it went down on the playground:

Student: "Hey Miss Heidel, Bears or Packers?"
Me: [Thinking: Crap!  He's speaking Football!] "Ohhh, I don't really follow a team...but I guess I'd say the Packers because my dad's from Michigan."
[Pregnant pause; speechless horror covers student's face and my eyes widen as I realize my mistake]
Student: "[Despairing sigh] -- the Packers -- the Packers are in WISCONSIN!"

What can I say?  I never got into football (or Midwest geography, apparently).

One of my first projects at work involved purchasing, framing, and hanging some new fine art prints to spruce up the main building.  One of the nicest pieces is a large poster of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring.  Upon returning to my desk after completing the installation, I sat down and discovered that I'd hung the Vermeer precisely in my line of sight from my seat.  The Girl is watching me.  Always, ever watching me.

"Are you intimidated yet?"
Come to think of it, she has the harried and long-suffering look of a woman who has been forced to watch hours of football.  Perhaps she and I will get along after all.

11 September, 2012

Hi, have we met?

Coming off of what was, for me, a fairly prolific fall and winter of blogging, I had high hopes of incessantly writing various and sundry witty, winsome, and wise posts as the year continued.  But then I started teaching.  And now apparently more than a month has elapsed since I had something worth sharing with the few, the proud, the Fledgling Things Readers.  I hope you've not forgotten me in the interlude.  In case you have, though, I'm Ginny, and I like long walks on the beach...  My email correspondence has been equally anemic.  Mental energy and free time don't have the courtesy to show up at the same time.  What can I say?  Being a first year teacher has introduced me to a whole new realm of Tired that I didn't know existed.  Oh, it is most definitely rewarding, fun, interesting, etc etc etc -- but I have not worked this hard since college, and by the time I get home at night the most exertion I wish for is to pour a glass of wine for myself and my roommate and watch a sufficiently fluffy period drama.

In all seriousness, it is delightful to be putting my degree to use at last; I am teaching art and art history to middle- and high-school students (roughly ages 13 to 18, for those of you in other countries).  My not-so-secret devious scheme is to raise up a new generation of art history majors!  I am not aware of any actual converts as of yet, but they scored well on the first test so I am not completely without hope...

These are the things that have been brightening my free time, when I have it:

- Of Monsters and Men "King and Lionheart"
- Turtle brownies (Oh NO! as my friend Marianne would say)
- Pinterest (Sad, sadder, and saddest -- but true)
- PG Wodehouse
- Nothing But Bonfires

05 August, 2012

Bites : The Dessert of Champions

The other night the foodies amongst my circle of friends gathered for an annual competition called the Golden Rolling Pin.  It is a prestigious contest entered by only the bravest and judged by only the most discerning.  The previous year's winner serves as the host and selects the theme or category within which we must work to stun with our culinary prowess.  This year the theme was Dips.  What better than a hearty chip dip to snack on while watching the Olympics?  I'll tell you what: a DESSERT dip.

I decided to enter the competition for the first time this year, and I was not messin' around; I breathed deep of all the Olympic inspiration that's been floating in the air and channeled it into the creation of a delicious dessert dip.  There was a fire in my eyes and confidence in my step; the only thing missing was Bob Costas's voice narrating my quest for victory.

(I should perhaps mention that the winner would receive bragging rights and have their name inscribed on a "golden" rolling pin.  Was my passion disproportionate to the winnings?  That is a matter of opinion.)

Anyway, after deciding that a dessert dip would set me apart from the savory competition, I decided that I should go the extra step of connecting it with the Olympics.  I wanted to create a nod to the host country, and this was my basic thought process:
1.  Something British....TEA!
2.  I love Earl Grey.  Earl Grey is the BEST.
3.  These are really good.
4.  But they're not a dip.  You have to make a dip.
5.  And you should serve it with shortbread, because we mustn't forget about the Scots.

Rosemary shortbread
...And somehow I ended up with the following recipe.  I served it in a big teacup with rosemary shortbread to dip (I just added rosemary to Mark Bittman's basic shortbread recipe).  The one strange issue I ran into had to do with the mascarpone cheese, and I'm hoping any foodies (or shoot, chemists!) out there might be able to help me figure out what happened.  On its own the mascarpone is rich and smooth like cream cheese; however, as soon as I whipped it into the [completely cooled] melted butter mixture, it became strangely granulated, almost like tiny curds.  I would've expected that to happen if the cool cheese had hit warm butter, but it didn't.  Any possible explanations?  If you know, or if you try making this and get different results, I'd love to hear from you!  Texture issues aside, it was a big hit but came up one point shy of first place!  Oh well.  Next year, people.  Next year.

Earl Grey Dessert Dip // Makes approx. 1 1/2 cups
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
8 oz. mascarpone cheese
1/2 c. powdered sugar
4 t. (about 4 bags) Earl Grey tea leaves

Melt the butter over medium heat, stirring in the loose tea leaves.  Add the brown sugar and whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to bubble.  Set aside to cool, then whisk in the vanilla.  If desired, pour through a strainer to remove the tea leaves, but there's nothing wrong with leaving them in!  
Cream together the mascarpone and powered sugar for 60 seconds.  With the mixer on low, add the brown sugar and butter mixture.  Mix until combined, and you're ready to serve!
Optional variation: Add 1/4 c. (or more to taste) cocoa powder during the final mixing step to make a Chocolate Earl Grey dip!

26 July, 2012

As American as App' Pah Ah l'Mowed

This post has been in draft for almost a month...but here it is anyway, the old news, because I need to get back into the habit of writing and posting...and because the tossing together of 22 relatives in a sweltering hot old-fashioned resort is great source material.

Every summer my family retreats to the mountains of West Virginia for a week.  We leave behind the miserable masses of Washington, DC tourists and commuters and enter a land where the sun shines, the homey food just keeps a-comin', and the roads have names like "Branch of Kump."  (What exactly is a kump?  I am equal parts curiosity and trepidation.)  We go to our happy place, Capon Springs and Farms.  At Capon ("CAYp'n" or "CayPON") there is no cell-phone reception, and only one room with internet access.  This may be the only place other than an airplane where you can be completely unplugged, guilt-free.

We are always at Capon Springs for the Fourth of July.  I've never experienced "A Capital Fourth," and I'm okay with that.  I love the annual trek up to the top of the golf course (the lone spot in this vale of leisure where one may obtain a cell phone signal) at dusk.  We eat dinner at long wooden tables and then play games while we wait for the sun to slip behind the distant Shenandoah ridges.  A "pre-show" of low-flying sparklers announces that it's almost dark enough for the BIG show to begin.  We spread blankets on the ground as far down the hill as we dare; we have learned after years of Capon fireworks shows that if you lie on your back far enough down the hill, your entire field of vision is monopolized by the falling trails of fire, and you are left laughing with dizzy awe, having lost all sense of space and depth.
I look forward to this chicken all year.

Some of my favorite times at Capon are the family-style meals.  Some of the food is fantastic -- I look forward to the spit-roasted chicken all year long -- and some of it is not.  But it's all offered to you in the same wild and wonderful West-Virginia-ese:

"App'-pah-ah-l'mowed" = Apple pie a la mode
"Chockl' puddin' w'whipp c-ream" = Chocolate pudding with whipped cream
"Keenaloape" = Cantaloupe

Sometimes when I'm attempting to describe Capon to people who've never been, they say, "Ohhh, like the place in 'Dirty Dancing'!!!"  I never know how to respond, because while there are lots of little guest houses nestled among trees and the patrons are mostly soft city-folk, there is most definitely nothing like a Patrick Swayze on the premises.  Capon's still fantastic, but do NOT expect anything like this to happen:

"Welcome to West Virginia."

20 July, 2012

Stamps in My Passport

Photo booth mugshots: A rite of
passage for every traveler!
My aunt Dianne left an indelible mark on my life, the depth of which I'm only understanding with time.  After she died two years ago my family went to sort through the things in her house before it went up for sale.  There was silence as we handled the tangible things she amassed over decades of enjoying travel and art and books and good food...and then laughter as we shared with one another the intangible things we were learning about her in the process.  She was stylish, calm, collected...but then there was that one night that she drank too many G&Ts at a gallery fundraiser and awoke the next morning to discover that she'd successfully bid on a $2,000 art piece!  OOPS...  Beneath that regal exterior was a penchant for adventure.

I kept a number of things of hers that held meaning for me, but one of my favorites is her stack of passports.  Over many years as a buyer for department stores and office administrator for an interior design firm, the lady born & raised in the Midwest covered many miles of this big earth.  She began her career when it was still not entirely common to see a woman moving up in the workplace (cue "Mary Tyler Moore" theme song!); I like to imagine her in those days, globetrotting and holding her own in international boardrooms.  England, France, Italy, China, Japan, and countless other places.  I remember the fire of enthusiasm and memory that would flare up in her eyes when she was asked to name her favorite destination; the answer was Hong Kong.  She was unafraid to be the stranger in a strange land.  I think she discovered strength through experiencing unknown places.  She developed an eye for beauty and a confidence in her own taste.  

There are a lot of ways in which I hope to emulate my remarkable aunt, but one of the chief ones is to follow my travel bug.  She was a relentless cheerleader when I took my first trip abroad five years ago and followed every subsequent trip of mine with the same interest and pride.  As I begin a new phase of life on a teacher's budget, I can't count on accruing quite as many stamps in my passport as she did, but I nonetheless intend to make travel a priority (always asking "What Would Dianne Do?" of course!).  I've decided I'm going to begin putting together my own little series of guides to the places I've already been, and then for other destinations as I gradually continue my travels.  Follow along to collect tips and recommendations AND to learn from my many mistakes as a fledgling globetrotter! ;-)  

08 June, 2012

Bites : Sea Salt Brownie Trifle

If Necessity is the Mother of Invention, then I'm pretty sure that "Chopped" is its Father.  I've written before about my inordinate love for this show which challenges top-notch chefs to create three gourmet courses from baskets of mystery ingredients.  Sure, it's a bit contrived and overly-dramatic, but I learn so much from the creativity, authority, and improvisation displayed in every episode.

Every now and then my obsession pays off by providing real-life application, like it did in a small baking fiasco yesterday.  My lovely friend Prasana was coming over for dinner, and I wanted to make some indulgent World Peace Cookies in celebration.  I re-routed, however, when I came across The Kitchn's recipe for Extra-Darl Brownies with Sea Salt and Lime.  Dark chocolate, summery lime, and a hint of sea salt sounded like the perfect end to the menu I had planned!

The result was...not nice.  Not nice at all.  I was, shall we say, generous with the sea salt.  But I am a Heidel and that means that I am thrifty (selectively...)!  I refused to throw away an entire batch of brownies, but how could I salvage them and make something edible?  The "Chopped" theme music and Alex Guarnaschelli's maleficent glare popped into my head, and my competition with myself began.  (I clearly need to get out more.)  What did I have on hand?  Vanilla yogurt.  Berries.  The broken up bits at the bottom of a bag of pretzel chips.

...Sounds like a great trifle to me!

I layered the different ingredients in a small bowl, thinking about what order they should go in.  I wanted pleasant crunch from the pretzels to contrast the soft brownies and berries, but didn't want the pretzels to touch the yogurt and become soggy.  Yogurt, brownies, pretzels, berries, yogurt, brownies, pretzels, berries.  The result was not exactly a $10,000 dessert, but a sweet "save" I was well pleased with.  The creamy yogurt perfectly countered the salty brownies, and the tangy-sweet blackberries went so well with the dark chocolate.  And the pretzels were indeed the perfect touch of crunch and texture.  The leftovers are calling to me from the fridge, but I'm trying to be strong...

30 May, 2012

Sips : Neko's Revenge

I'm going to be honest for a second:  I like the word "flatmate."  It's easier to say than "apartmentmate," which sounds awkward and isn't even a real word, and makes more sense than "roommate," which is inaccurate.  But to many of my compatriots it probably sounds pretentious.  I'm just giving you fair warning that in the name of efficiency and accuracy, I'm going to be pretentious.

My flatmate and I have been gradually settling into our new apartment over the last few weeks.  We spent Memorial Day getting inspired at Ikea, then came home and finally hung lots of artwork on the walls.  As you can imagine, all that attention to detail was pretty darn taxing ("Is it straight?  Did you hit your thumb?  Where did I put the level?") and by the time we were done it was clearly time for a refreshing cocktail.

When it comes to mixed drinks, my needs are simple.  Give me a gin & tonic or vodka & tonic, and I'm a completely satisfied girl.  But I'm highly intrigued by the weird, wonderful world of mixology, and thankfully my flatmate is equally excited about getting creative with cocktails.  If we had been all intentional and written a Roommate Agreement, the first item would have been something like, "I pledge allegiance to the Cocktail of the Month Club..."

I had been wanting to use coconut rum in something since trying it while at the beach last week.  I also loved the thought of mojitos, but we had no mint in the house - just basil.  And some blackberries.  So, as the sounds of Neko Case echoed through the apartment, I whipped up a drink we've christened "Neko's Revenge."  The coconut is a perfect creamy undertone countering the bittersweet berries.  The larger bits of blackberry sink to the bottom, so you get a few sweet bites at the bottom of each glass.  I'll probably try this with mint at some point but it's quite nice with basil.  Cheers!

Neko's Revenge - 1 serving

6 basil leaves, roughly torn or chopped
4 blackberries
1 teaspoon sugar
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup tonic water or club soda
1/4 cup coconut rum
Ice cubes

Muddle basil, blackberries, lime juice, and sugar in a glass until the berries are mostly crushed.  Add tonic water, rum, and ice.  Stir, and garnish with basil if desired.  Enjoy with your flatmate while admiring your picture-hanging accomplishments.

27 May, 2012

Bits and Pieces

I haven't been writing much lately because I've been busy doing the following:

- Moving into a new apartment
- Preparing for my new job
- Sitting in traffic
- Reading "Persuasion"
- Sitting in traffic
- Spending a blissful week in the Outer Banks with no cell phone reception or internet connection (but plenty of Food Network)
- Making up cocktails with my awesome roommate (more on that in a future post)
- Did I mention the traffic?

The mosaic shop, Ravenna, Italy
I've also been a little short on inspiration.  No - Actually, my life is ripe with inspiration at the moment; the fact is rather that it's all a bit too overwhelming to sort through.  Much of the past six months is still fresh in my mind, and I am frequently revisiting and reliving many moments, emotions, sights, and lessons.  Pardon me for falling back on a tired analogy, but they're like the pieces of tile and glass that make up mosaics like the ones that Carrie and I saw in Ravenna.  Some pieces are decidedly ugly and rough in isolation; others glisten with peerless beauty through and through.  They all eventually fall into place and make one coherent, beautiful visual story; but right now I feel like I'm at the beginning, sifting through a pile of broken and beautiful shards that have been dumped onto a table in front of me.  I don't know the master plan, but I'm trying to figure out where some of the pieces fit, and maybe the purpose of others -- even the really ugly ones -- will become clearer in the process.

12 May, 2012

More Adventures with 5, 7, and 9

7:  That's Sister Nancy, our principal.  She always says to me, "That's my man," because she thinks I am an adult, because I act like one.
Me:  You do?
7:  Yeah.  Yeah, I'm one of them.  I'm going to take her job when she retires.
(Sidenote: This is the same child who told me that he plans to get kicked out of school by age 14...But I guess he's decided that being in charge of school would be an acceptable life path.)
5:  There's Aidan!
7:  My friend Aidan is three, but he's turning four when Black Ops 2 comes out!

07 May, 2012

Adventures with 5, 7, and 9

We interrupt our normally scheduled Italy recaps with a brief detour into the alternate dimension that is a little boy's mind.  Lately I've been helping a woman I know by picking up her 3 boys, ages 5, 7, and 9, from school every day and driving them home.  It's been a while since there have been little children in my life, so I'm enjoying these daily doses of totally uninhibited curiosity.  When I was seven, I think my chief concerns in life were how to save up enough money to buy another American Girl doll, how to become an archaeologist/astronaut/dancer/teacher, and how to avoid eating shrimp at all costs.  5, 7, and 9 are more concerned with where to store their ray guns in case we're ever attacked by Zombie Nazis (what are they teaching them in these schools?), preventing the outbreak of a war in Sweden (I'm fairly confident that we can relax on this point), and the problem of Lady Gaga. 

7: "Is Jesus famous?"
9: "Yeah, duh!  He's, like, the king of everything."
7: "Well, if he's RICH and famous then he could be friends with Lady Gaga."

[Confused silence]

7: "I wish a volcano would explode all over Lady Gaga.  I hate her."
Me: "Whoaaaa whoa whoa -- Now, do you think that's what Jesus wants for Lady Gaga?"
7: "..........No..........."

Other recent highlights included being told that 7 would like to be homeschooled because "when you're homeschooled you don't have to learn anything."  The 3 o'clock pickup is fast becoming the highlight of my day...

27 April, 2012

Around Tuscany : Cortona

Raise your hand if you've ever wanted to pull a Frances: quit your job, buy a fixer-upper villa in Tuscany, write a novel about your incredibly hilarious and romantic experiences, have said novel turned into every single girl's favorite guilty pleasure movie, and retire early upon the laurels of fame and fortune.

Yeah, I see all those hands.

Well, Tuscany is beautiful and romantic, but it's also a place where real people live and time refuses to stand completely still -- as we discovered upon arrival in Cortona, where visitors are shuttled up into the "rustic" hill town via shiny new escalators.

Welcome to rustic Tuscany!
Once inside the city walls, though, I enjoyed Cortona very much.  It is small and manages to not be too commercialized.  There are independent art galleries and family-run ceramics shops, and cozy restaurants serving up things like blueberry pasta.  And the view...Well, it's entirely pacifying. 

Old space, new purpose

Blueberry pasta with beef ragu and pine nuts


23 April, 2012

In the Hallway, Unfinished

It is Good Friday and we are waiting in a long line of people who have come from every corner of the earth to see one thing out of the many things housed in Florence's Accademia:  Michelangelo's "David."  I turn up my nose at tourists I overhear admitting that they're just there to check it off the bucket list - but I must be honest with myself and admit that I'm not really sure why else I'm there, either.  Sculpture has never intrigued me as much as other media, but I know I should see the David after traveling all the way here.  I am unkind and hypocritical in my heart as I wait in line.  My thoughts are rarely turned toward Calvary.

We go through the metal detectors and ticket checks.  I tell Carrie I'll go through the painting galleries and eventually find the David, and meet up with her later.  But I turn the first corner and there he is.  He stands firmly at the end of a long hallway lined with unfinished sculptures also by Michelangelo, half-formed bodies writhing, struggling, trying to break free from the solid marble and attain life.  My friend Kristin later tells that they remind her of each one of us bearing the weight of our sin on our backs, longing to break free into perfection.  Incomplete statues usher us into the rotunda where David stands, looking so alive.

Sudden awe disarms me, and I can't explain my all-consuming need to sit down and study the statue for a long time.  It demands so much more than the 30 seconds (maximum) that we usually spend in front of a single work of art.  Cameras aren't allowed, so I set out to sketch it.  I work so slowly.  Groups of tourists come in and out, blocking my view, looking over my shoulder.  I'm not able to finish before it's time to go, but the time I spend is valuable; in trying to replicate the lines and shapes in front of me I am discovering, respecting the skill this statue attests.  It's hard - impossible - for me to replicate it well in two dimensions on paper, so how difficult must it have been to carve from solid marble? 

While I sketch I glean information from passing tour guides.  David was created from a block of rejected marble; Leonardo da Vinci had refused the commission to sculpt it.  A rejected stone...  When Michelangelo completed his statue, all who saw it proclaimed it a miracle.  Perfect, powerful, ready to spring to life at any moment.  A rejected stone, now a fully-formed, beautiful thing perfect in its maker's eyes.

On Sunday we attend an English-language Easter service, and the priest reads to us of the stone the builders rejected, now the cornerstone.  I remember the David, and the statues preceding him waiting to be free.  Right now I am likewise burdened, half-formed, reaching for the realization of who I am meant to be.  I'm waiting in the hallway.  But I am not rejected; with every year my Maker chips away more of what ought not to be, inching me closer to freedom and perfection.

20 April, 2012

From the City to the Sea : Portovenere

A Room With a View

After Rome, our next stop was the coast.  Portovenere, on the "Gulf of Poets," was recommended as an alternative to flood-damaged Cinque Terre.  After a harrowing bus ride over steep, snaking roads we arrived at Hotel Paradiso and had a fun 24 hours exploring this little town full of capital-R Romance.  Dramatic cliffs, abandoned churches, a castle, connections with brooding English poets...Portovenere has it all.

Refreshing white wine and farinata at Il Timone
Lovely Il Timone
One of my favorite restaurants of the whole trip was Il Timone, near the town's main square.  It is totally charming...the kind of restaurant I'd like to have if I ever live that dream!  It's owned by a beautiful, shy and serene woman named Antonella.  She has lived in Portovenere for 40 years and serves classic Ligurian food.  The simple starter of farinata was one of my favorite things I ate on the trip.  It's a simple flatbread made with chickpea flour and served warm, usually enjoyed with olive oil.  The inside was soft while the outside was just slightly crispy...So delicious! 

The Artist in His Studio

Down a nearby side street we discovered a small ceramics studio.  The owner was perhaps 60 and has only been making ceramics for about 5 years.  He makes objects about the sea; fish, lighthouses, rowboats.  His trademark piece is an adorable rowboat painted with stripes.  Different boat sizes, different colors.  Small ones served as the sugar-packet dish at Il Timone, with the restaurant's name painted on the sides.  I loved that little example of supportive relationships between local artisans.

Although not a long stop, our visit to Portovenere was the perfect break from cities and busy sightseeing.  We paused, we strolled, we breathed deeply of the clean sea air and welcomed the sunshine on our skin, as if storing them up for the weeks to come.  Next stop: Florence.

17 April, 2012

The Emperor

We took a train north from Rome to a coastal town called Portovenere.  There was an old man, in his 80s I think, who stood the entire journey.  Rather than taking a seat he stood at the window outside the cabin, gripping the railing and studying every sight his two eyes could hold.  Mountains, trees, villages, ocean - he received it all with the disarmed joy of a wonder-struck child.  But he also had an air of pride for and familiarity with everything he saw, as if it was his and he had tended and cherished it and said that it was good.  He smiled like this was at once his first and last journey.  Discovery and offering; craving and satiation; beggar and king.

16 April, 2012

Rome: In Which There Are Many Ruins and No Gregory Pecks

What was I expecting?  Once upon a time I hoped to relive Audrey's Roman Holiday (well, until the part where she has to choose her stifling job over Gregory Peck.  GRE-GO-RY-PECK!), but I've experienced enough of Europe to unlearn my assumption that it's 24/7 romance.  More recently my expectations were of something closer to the way New York City feels to me: dirty, extremely crowded, one big money-sucking amusement park of over-rated landmarks that everyone photographs and then forgets.

(Don't worry, I'm not usually that cynical.)

The Colosseum, not a costumed interpreter in sight
Rome was neither of those polarities, instead somewhere safely and contentedly in the middle.  Yes, there were souvenir shops galore and a few costumed "gladiators" trolling for tips, but I was amazed by how un-kitschy the city is despite being so full of sites that could be capitalized on!  It really felt as though the Italians wouldn't even notice that these things are here if the rest of the world didn't show up in a continuous stream to remind them of it.  In the US when we discover historic ruins, we excavate them and then build a replica so that we can see, touch, and move through our past.  We often throw in a few costumed re-enactors to "interpret" it, for good measure.  We like "living history" in the good US of A; restoring what was, rather than simply conserving/preserving what's left in the condition in which it was left.

Rome, however...Aside from some supportive additions to simply keep the structures standing, nothing has been added, no attempts have been made at any of these sites to reconstruct/recreate the past before our eyes.  There are no costumed senators and servant girls, there is often hardly even any signage to explain or distinguish what you're looking at.  It's almost as if the Italians can't be bothered; their city is just going to be speckled with random ancient ruins, you'll have to use your imagination, and they'll get on with their day.

The Arch of Constantine
I found myself wishing that I could approach some of these landmarks -- the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, Trajan's Column -- with the eyes of an ancient Roman.  We have lost our sense of wonder.  I look at these structures and can't help thinking, "There are apartment buildings taller than that."  If only I could come without my contextual comparisons to fully grasp the staggering, dwarfing accomplishments they were in their time.


03 April, 2012

Siracusa, Sicilia

On our second day in Sicily, we took a little roadtrip down the coast to the ancient city of Siracusa (Syracuse).  As we drove all I could think was, "Sicily is crumbling."  Buildings are crumbling, cars are rusting, cats wander wild.  It basically feels like a second-world country.  But there is so much beauty, too, flying in the face of decay; citrus trees glow from the side of the highway, from people's yards, from behind churchyard walls.  Lemons, blood oranges.  Signs of life.

Sicily is crumbling
Lemons everywhere!
Siracusa spreads from mainland Sicily onto a small island called Ortigia.  We started on the mainland at a park of ancient Roman and Greek ruins.  Abandoned caves and quarries once inhabited and worked by slaves, now roamed by little green lizards and overgrown with lemon trees.  The Apostle Paul stopped in Siracusa on his way to Rome (it's ok, I didn't remember either until Becca mentioned it!); as I walked through the skeletons of temples and amphitheaters I liked to wonder if he ever walked where I did.
Me, Carrie, Becca, Lena, and Greek amphitheater ruins in Siracusa
Piazza del Duomo, Ortigia, Siracusa
Ortigia completely charmed us!  Elegant (though also crumbling).  We strolled the produce market and eyed beautiful Sicilian ceramics for sale.  Sometimes the only thing stopping me from a dreadful splurge is that fact that there simply isn't room in my suitcase for something like a full set of Sicilian dinner plates!! 
Pizza with potatoes, bacon, rosemary, mozzarella, and sweet gorgonzola.
We ate a delicious lunch at La Volpa e L'Uva (The Fox and the Grape) on the Piazza del Duomo.  Guys, this might be my favorite pizza ever.

The next day, after a brief stop to check out Carrie's ancestral hometown of Caltanissetta, we flew back to Rome to begin our exploration of mainland Italy!  To be continued...

Catania, Sicily

Our first three days in Italy were spent on the island of Sicily.  Our wonderful hosts were Becca, Elliott, and little Lena, who opened up their home and lives to us for a few days.  Becca and Lena were excellent tour guides and fellow explorers!  I was thankful for this sojourn on many levels...For one thing, true hospitality is a rarer but more nourishing experience than being anonymously sequestered in a strange hotel in a strange city.  Also, we learned a lot from observing how Becca ordered in restaurants, communicated with market vendors, and survived driving the Italian roads -- useful skills for the rest of our trip!

On our first day we explored the town of Catania.  The highlight was the lively (and pungent!) fish market, where Becca got fresh mussels to prepare for dinner that night.  I loved the melodic calls of the vendors, trying to out-shout each other and garner the most attention for their daily specials. 

Fish market in Catania
Mussels caught fresh that morning, and eaten for dinner that night!
That night we ate such a delicious dinner!  Fresh bread; steamed mussels in a sauce of white wine, tomatoes, and onions; and this completely addictive salad made with Sicilian blood oranges.  I can't wait to make this for my family when I get home...although our blood oranges won't be fresh and free from a neighboring tree!

From Becca and Elliott's kitchen -- nestled under a castle in the hilltop town of Motta -- we could see Mt Etna, lazily puffing a haze of volcanic ash into the blue sky.  Below us were lemon and orange trees, olive groves, the sound of many birds.  And there was so much sunlight.

Mt Etna seen from Motta
The next day we visited fascinating Siracusa -- but more on that later, as Carrie and I are about to set out in search of coffee, and then visit Florence's famous Duomo.  Ciao for now!

02 April, 2012

Eine Gute Reise

I write this from Florence, Italy, already nearly two weeks into my post-London travels and  already feeling so “full.”  Full of good experiences, sights, sounds, and yes, food.  There is so much to write… This post will begin the project of getting up to speed by telling a bit about the five days I spent in Germany after leaving London.

On March 20 I flew from London to Leipzig, stepping from one language to another in a few hours.  Suddenly I was gone from an island of soft accents and had arrived in a country of umlauts and mile-long nouns.  Two parts of my heritage, very different and very dear.

I was met by Amy, one of my very oldest friends.  We met when I was nine and, together with my sister Emily, were essentially glued at the hip and helped each other survive those wonderfully awkward teen years.  Post-high-school life took us in different directions (literally!  Amy to Germany, Emily and I to Pennsylvania) and we don’t see each other very often now.  It was very sweet to spend five days with her and her husband in Halle Saale, Germany, and get a glimpse of the life she has carved out there.

Halle’s old city is lovely; the buildings are so elegant, with beautiful wood fixtures, pastel colors, and flourishes of Jugendstil.  There is a wonderful art collection in the Moritzburg, an old castle proudly overlooking the Saale river.  [Art History Geek Alert!]  I loved seeing paintings by Die Bruecke artists and Caspar David Friedrich.  

Leipzig Wildpark
On Friday we went to Leipzig and visited the animals at the Wildpark.  I fed rams out of my bare hand.  So that makes me kind of outdoorsy, right?  But this up-close encounter with nature was balanced out by another artsy museum experience.  We visited the Museum der bildenden Kuenste, and I loved so many things there!  [Art History Geek Alert!] Highlights included works by Max Beckmann and Max Klinger.  I was happy to get a dose of 20th-century German art before being completely immersed in medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque Italian art for three weeks.

Bauhaus Dessau
Sitting in a very comfortable Marcel Breuer masterpiece.
On Saturday we met Amy’s friends Karl and Kordelia in Dessau, where they showed us around the [Art History Geek Alert!] Bauhaus buildings and then took us to their home for a meal.  The Bauhaus is one of the 20th-century design movements I am most interested in, so I’m  thankful to have seen the home of its Dessau iteration.  We also toured the houses that some of the instructors lived in; duplexes nestled amongst pine trees, flooded by natural light.  PaulKlee and Wassily Kandinsky lived in adjoining houses.  That seemed appropriate, somehow; such mutual delight in color unleashed on such orderly space.

We had a great meal at Karl and Kordelia’s home.  They live in an old schoolhouse in a village of 40 people.  They love to eat good food, drink good wine, and be free.  I learned a bit about German reserve that evening -- At one point after I thanked Kordelia for a cup of tea, she looked at me for a second and then said, “It makes me uncomfortable when you thank me so much…But I guess it would probably make you uncomfortable not to thank me, wouldn’t it?”  Cultural differences.

On Sunday I flew from Berlin to Rome, another surreal day of language limbo.  I was immersed in words I do not know and spent the day largely mute, for the only words I could possibly use with any fellow travelers are the words of children.  When, where, please, ticket, bathroom, coffee.  Do children know how much more they could wish to express?  I don’t remember feeling so handicapped or being aware of how much expression was out of my grasp.

But at last, I landed in Rome and was met by dear Carrie to begin our Italian adventure!  To be continued…

19 March, 2012

Pip-pip, cheerio, what-what!

Busy weeks = fewer posts.  Recent highlights include sharing Greenwich and Borough Market with Allie, Kristen, and Caroline; being told that I look like Kate Middleton (While this isn't true in the slightest, I will shamelessly accept this stroking of my ego.  Cue daydreams of being a diplomat's wife/arts patron/style icon...); and raspberry-chilli ice cream from Borough Market.  Never have I ever thought of such a thing, but boy, does it work.

Tonight I went into the city for a goodbye walk, because it is suddenly, somehow, The Day Before I Leave.  With a million other faces I shot through the city veins, and I realized that soon being surrounded by Finnish and Afrikaans and Italian and Spanish and Japanese conversations will no longer be a part of daily life.  There will not be this particular diversity of faces, fashion, voices all around me.  Greenwich will not be a four-minute boat ride away. 

I am thankful for six months of so much beauty.  Today as I was trying to explain to a friend what these six months have meant to me I realized that they have allowed me to rediscover and recharge my right-brain dominance (which had been rather starved for attention in analytical Washington, DC and is currently bracing for re-entry).  Turner, Morris, architecture, music, parks, cooking...In the beauty of making, ordering, delighting in creative possibility, discovering the boundless variety of raw materials upon which to unleash our creator instinct -- There, more than anywhere else, I learn the generosity, delight, patience, humility, and love of God.  Rilke's words become my prayer of praise: In all these things toward which I feel this kinship and closeness, I always find You: basking like seed in the very smallest and giving Yourself greatly to the great.

Photo: Jessica Arnold
Tomorrow I leave the Mother Country, head to the Fatherland for a few days, and then spend a few weeks under the Tuscan (and Sicilian and Roman and Venetian) sun with this beauty before returning to the homeland.  There will be a zippy little rental car and Italian highways involved, so I trust I shall return with stories.  Also wine, and hopefully a decent sketch or two.  Cheers London, you've been brill.  And I'll be back.

05 March, 2012

Sketches in a Cafe

I am sitting in a Caffe Nero while Athena is in a meeting a few blocks away.  This place is abuzz with yuppie mums (and a few "Mr. Moms").  Their strollers look like spaceships and have probably been through as many shock absorption and collision tests as any sedan to roll out of Detroit.  One dad subtly defends the validity of his Man Card by stowing a sack of wood logs in the basket under his daughter's stroller seat.  He is sharing a cookie with her and braiding her hair, but by George, he's got firewood.

The children all have names like Poppy and Freddie and Arthur and Gemma and look like they've just stepped out of a Hanna Anderson catalog.  The mums with toddlers generally seem pretty happy and contented; I think they're now used to the constant note of mild, happy mayhem that their offspring have introduced to their lives.  It's the new mums I watch with the most interest.  They sit quietly but their eyes say so very much the moment their babies finally, miraculously fall asleep.  Briefly the harried, hunted look almost vanishes from their faces and they take long, relishing sips of their lattes; they scarf down muffins that they don't have to share; they send entire text messages to friends without a single interruption.  They look lonely, body- and soul-hungry.  This is their brief respite from Baby Schedule, perhaps the only venture into the outside world that they'll have today.  They look almost relaxed, but not entirely - constantly glancing toward the sighing bundle in the pram, praying that it stays asleep and quiet just a little bit longer.  A ringing phone or the grinding of coffee beans are suddenly offensive noises, enemies that murder Personal Time.

One mum nearby is quiet, but her body language screams exhaustion, bewilderment.  I don't know what she is thinking about, but she is feeding a bottle to her tiny one and appears to be on the brink of tears.  She looks into her daughter's face and I can tell that she feels nothing.  She is numb.  I want to tell her it will all be okay.  She'll get sleep back, and time to herself, and time with friends, too.  And her daughter will be the richer for having been loved well in these early days.

The woman sitting next to me is round with child.  I wonder what she thinks as she sits in this cafe and observes the things to come.  I hope she sees beyond the tired.  I hope she is excited, when all is said and done.  I hope her little George or Jemima gets to come here on coffee dates with mum (and obliges by sleeping for a few minutes, too).

My only literal sketch of the day is this man, who sits across from me and doesn't appear to think much of the news.

03 March, 2012

Borough Market & Operation Domestic Goddess: Passion fruit Curd

As I drank my coffee this morning I tried to decide how to spend the afternoon...I only have a couple of weekends left in London, so would I spend today revisiting a favorite or doing something new? My original plan of going to Greenwich to sketch the view from the Observatory seemed dubious since the forecast called for rain and clouds.  I wasn't really in the mood for going to museums and being intelligent, nor did I want to allow myself to go be tantalized by the treasures at Portobello Road -- My budget and my suitcase are just too small.  As I was trying to make up my mind,  I spotted this announcement on Facebook from beloved Borough Market:

"Passion fruit is at the height of its season at the moment, so why not pop over to our various fruit and Veg traders in the Market to buy your passion fruit in bulk?"

Decision made.

Passionfruits, dragon fruit, blood oranges
Off to the Market Jess & I went.  We had so much fun feasting our eyes on all the beautiful produce.  I always come away from Borough Market full of amazement and delight over how much edible variety there is in the world!  We came back with 12 passion fruits, as well as some blood oranges and a dragon fruit.  The blood oranges will be used to make this cocktail, but I still haven't figured out how to approach this dragon fruit situation.  Honestly... I just bought it because it looked cool.  Any suggestions? 

Curd-making in progress...

I'd become fixated on the notion of making passion fruit curd, since a) I love curd, b) Nigella has a passion fruit curd recipe, and c) it had been a while since we'd revisited Operation Domestic Goddess.  Also, d) I love curd.  Oh, I said that already.  I decided to make a sort of pavlova, which is a popular traditional dessert in the British Commonwealth (apparently it's the national dessert of New Zealand?).  I bought a beautiful big meringue at the market, sliced the top off so I had a flat base, covered that with whipped cream and topped it with glorious passion fruit curd.  Delicious!

(Oh, and of course the afternoon ended up being clear and sunny, and I absolutely could've sketched in Greenwich...but then I wouldn't have ended up with passion fruit curd and a beautiful dessert courtesy of my favorite market!) 

Pavlova with passionfruit curd
Nigella Lawson's Passion Fruit Curd

11 passion fruits (I used 12)
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
150 g caster sugar
100 g unsalted butter
1 clean 350 ml jar

Scoop out the seeded pulp of the 11 of the passion fruit into a food processor and blitz for a few second just to loosen the seeds.  Strain into a jug or bowl.
Beat the eggs, yolks, and sugar together.
Melt the butter over a low heat in a heavy-based pan, and when melted stir in the sugar-egg mixture and the passion fruit juice, and keep cooking gently, stirring constantly, until thickened.
Off the heat, whisk the pulp - seeds and all - of the remaining passion fruit, let cool slightly, then pour into the jar.  Keep in the fridge.
Makes 350 ml.

28 February, 2012

Let Me Count the Ways...

You've got to love a country that:

1.  Sells "congratulations on passing your drivers test!" greeting cards.
2.  Prints Braille onto medicine containers so that those with impaired vision can shop with a little more  independence and confidence.
3.  Sells tomato paste in a tube.  This sounds silly, but in the States I only ever see it in cans, which is annoying if you just need a tablespoon of it for a recipe.
4.  Writes "LOOK RIGHT"on the road at crosswalks.  This has saved my life so many times...
5.  Produced this and this and this.
6.  "Beer ticks."
7.  Loves veggies SO.DARN.MUCH!

27 February, 2012

Egyptian Red Lentil Soup

I thought I'd share the recipe I cooked for dinner tonight, because it was really delicious, comforting, and healthy!  I originally spotted the recipe over here but made a few adjustments reflected in the version pasted below. 

I omitted the celery and added a red bell pepper and some chickpeas.  I also definitely added greater amounts of the spices than called for but didn't really measure...I just tasted as I went and adjusted until I was happy with the results.  The original recipe called for 2 quarts of stock but I reduced this simply because I didn't have a big enough pot -- but 5 cups still made quite a lot of soup for the two of us.  We'll be eating the leftovers for a couple of days, which is fine by me but just be forewarned that if you're only cooking for one or two and don't relish the prospect of soup for a week, you may want to adjust the amounts accordingly!

This soup was delicious on its own, but I bet it would be even better served with crusty bread and topped with some sour cream or Greek yogurt and cilantro!

Egyptian Red Lentil Soup
adapted from Food & Wine magazine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
3 celery ribs, diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon hot curry powder
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups red lentils (if you can't find red lentils, you can use a different color, you just won't have this beautiful color and it might change the cooking times)
2 14 ounce cans chickpeas, drained
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot or dutch oven melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots, bell pepper, and garlic and saute until soft, about 10-15 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, chili powder, and curry powder and stir to coat the veggies with the spices. Cook for a few minutes to toast the spices. Add the tomatoes and the stock and bring to a simmer. Season generously with salt and pepper and add the lentils. Simmer for about 30-40 minutes, until lentils and vegetables are very soft.

In a few batches, puree the soup in a food processor until completely smooth. Transfer back to pot, stir in the chickpeas and season with salt and pepper to taste. If you like it a bit more spicy, you can add a little cayenne pepper and more black pepper.

26 February, 2012

Anyone for Tennis?

Today Wimbledon Village presented itself as Greenwich's rival for my affections (It didn't win, of course, but should Greenwich ever do something to disappoint me I'll know where to transfer my loyalty).  Not being an avid tennis fan it wouldn't have occurred to me to make a special trip to Wimbledon, but my friend Jess was going out to the tennis club shop to buy some logo-bedecked gifts for family members.  I went along for the ride just because it was a part of London I'd never seen, and I'm so glad that I went.

An inviting detour
After poking around the shop and making our little contributions to the British economy, we decided to walk back through Wimbledon Village to the Tube rather than wait for a bus.  Despite some quickly-scribbled walking directions and a mildly consistent Maps app, we did get lost, but the best sort of lost; the intentional detours taken because the surroundings are so wonder-full that you want to delay reaching your destination just a little bit longer.  Stone churches surrounded by brick cottages with round hobbit-hole windows and wiry vines climbing up the side; artisan bakeries and local restaurants; rambling lanes and steep hills untouched and untamed by modernity's imposition.  I believe the beauty of it was amplified a hundred-fold by the simple fact that we were there at dusk, when, as my friend Vicky put it, earth seems close to touching heaven. 

Photo courtesy Jessica Arnold
Our walk reminded me of one of the things I love most about London:  It feels like a collection of villages, each with its own flavor and history and architecture but still somehow part of this one city.  This was captured in one panorama today when we suddenly rounded a bend in the road and found ourselves overlooking Battersea Power Station, the London Eye, the Gherkin, the Shard, and Canary Wharf all at once.  We were so far away, our perspective so flattened, that all the major figures in London's west, central, and eastern skylines were condensed into one view.  We were so far away...but still in London.

On a completely unrelated note, when we were about a minute away from home this evening a man on a bicycle stopped us to ask if we knew where he could find "the boat pub."  He was referring to the Wibbly Wobbly, which is anchored in nearby Greenland Dock and proudly proclaims its status as "London's Only Floating Pub!"  I gave him directions and then he said that, judging from my accent, he thought I must be from New Zealand.

Er, no...but I suppose it's nice to know I give off an exotic sort of vibe?