Cookies And Kindness

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Paris wins September.

Hello out there! Are we really half-way through September? That’s just crazy talk. It’s still in the high 90’s here in Austin, despite the fact that I have banished all my white and light-colored cottons in celebration of fall. Good news is that the forecast teases that a week from tomorrow we may plunge into the mid 80’s, so we will plough through one more week, gnashing our teeth each time we are confronted with a pumpkin-spiced anything or instagrams of people wearing sweaters.

You know what else is crazy talk? Soooo  many of the words being spewed at us from the television during this nutso presidential race. Much of it makes my heart hurt and my stomach clench. Don’t worry- not going to use this as a platform for my political views, but I will say that I was pretty sad to see Michelle Obama’s optimistic convention proclamation that “we will take the high road” take a steep dive to the low road in a deplorable basket. Let’s all try to get through the next two and a half months without name-calling, shall we?

I did read about a campaign that made me very happy this week. Dorie Greenspan is a force of nature in the baking world, having published twelve fabulous cookbooks. Her newest, Dorie’s Cookies, is due out next month. I had the pleasure of meeting Dorie in New York City several years ago, and she is just as precious in person as she is in print (and she seems to be in print everywhere I look). Somehow Dorie manages to maintain an active on-line presence, and that is where I came across her campaign for Cookies and Kindness. In a nutshell, Dorie is sharing  cookie recipes from her new book in hopes of encouraging us to bake and then share on-line and in the real world. This month’s recipe was for Two Bite One Chip cookies. They are tiny balls of cookie hiding a chip of your choice. I couldn’t pick just one, and tucked chocolate, peanut butter, and butterscotch chips inside my cookies (but only one in each- they are tiny!).

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How many cookies can you fit in a margarita glass?

I plan to pop these babies in the mail tomorrow and send them to a family that could use a sweet surprise. There is my own bit of optimism for you- it will be an exercise in restraint to avoid eating all of these up before I make it to the post office.

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Go forth into the week with kindness, cookies, and optimism, mes amis. We could all use a good dose of each, I think.

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Filed under baking, Uncategorized

But Does It Keep The Food Cold?

We are renovating a house at the moment, which means I am paying a lot of attention to all the cool new home stuff I see on the internet and in magazines. I have puzzled over this ad for the Samsung Family Hub refrigerator on more than one occasion. Perhaps you have seen it, too.

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At first I thought the fridge had a big glass window in it, but that is soooo yesterday, and looks like this.

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because I keep my fridge, like my closet, arranged by color and expiration date

Upon closer study I realized that the large rectangle on the Samsung door is actually a computer screen, because no one gets enough screen time these days. According to the ad I saw in Bon Appetit magazine,

It has built-in cameras that take a photo every time the doors close, so you always know what you have and what you’re missing.

Oh yes it does! Three cameras, in fact, that snap photos every time the doors close. The idea, I gather, is that when you are at the grocery store you can use your handy-dandy fridge app to study the contents of your fancy new fridge. For instance, the person holding the phone in the ad is saying something like

“Oh snap! I almost forgot I have that entire pink frosted layer cake I made yesterday, so no need to pick up popsicles for dessert!”

My fridge, on the other hand, looks like this on any given day.

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There is no phone smart enough to tell me what’s lying beneath that foil, whether the milk is curdling, if that is a lime or a moldy lemon in the “no longer crisper” drawer, or why in hell there is a jalapeno in the wine bottle holder. Even if I could view the contents of my refrigerator from afar, I would be even more bewildered than by what I see when standing right in front of it. Lids must be opened. Produce must be handled. Foil must be gingerly peeled back at arm’s length. Restaurant boxes must be closely examined for any sign of life. Sometimes all of this needs to be done while donning a Haz-Mat suit. Appliances have clearly evolved beyond my own food-keeping skills. That said, I am pretty impressed that my ancient refrigerator still sports its fancy “Whirlpool Designerstyle” sticker on the door. I have always been into labels.

But wait- there’s more. This refrigerator doesn’t merely take selfies. No, for around $6000 you get A LOT more.

This refrigerator also posts notes and photos!
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What happened to post-it notes? Or tacky magnets from summer vacations? Or good old scotch tape that leaves a permanent track of grey adhesive on the door forever? If those old Kodak photos don’t go on the fridge, what the heck to do we do with them all?

The Samsung Family Hub can also stream music and order groceries for delivery, two functions that can be done on the smart phone, which takes up a lot less room in your kitchen. But when it can actually put those delivered groceries away, let me know.

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Come on, Samsung- where is the wine, the take-out boxes, the crusty mustard jars? If my fridge looked like this, I guess I would want multiple pictures of it on my phone. But until then, I’ll just have to keep guessing what I have and what I’m missing. And why the jalapeno is hanging out with the wine bottle.

Keep chillin’, friends. Someday summer will be over.

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Filed under humor, kitchen, Uncategorized

Still Here!

I know a few of you were wondering if I had permanently departed the blogosphere, but I am still here. I am on a “summer” schedule,  as I attempt to discern the future of this space. I have no shortage of time for pondering, as I seem to be spending a lot of time in my car. We are still living in our lake house, which is  twenty to thirty minutes from everywhere I regularly go (the gym, my new house, the grocery store, my mom’s, my sister’s), so I am becoming way too familiar with my dashboard.

Mark and I did what every Texan would like to do in July- fled to Colorado for two weeks. We had never done an extended road trip without a car full of kids, snacks, and frequent requests for potty breaks. I thought we did really well, although there were only a couple of long driving days because our route was dotted with hospitable friends who generously shared their homes with us.

In observance of the centennial of the National Parks, we stopped at Bandelier National Monument for a gorgeous walk through a dry canyon. We had only a few hours, but were completely wowed by this amazing park just outside of Los Alamos, New Mexico. I don’t know why it took us so long to make it there.

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We walked for over an hour without seeing another person or even a piece of trash, and returned to our car feeling calm and re-energized. Don’t drive by this beautiful place if you find yourself in the vicinity. (Another “don’t miss” is this IMAX  on the National Parks currently in theaters. It will make you feel good about America, which might be a nice change, given the current political climate).

Next stop was Pagosa Springs, where our friends had arranged for us to watch the full moon rise from atop a mountain. Sadly, we were chased down the mountain by an impending storm before the moon ever appeared, but not before we enjoyed a stunning view topped by a dramatic sky, and accompanied by Charles and his Native American flute.

Telluride was just as pretty as we remembered it. The hikes kind of kicked our flatlander butts, but they were worth it for the views. Our friends were polite enough not to ridicule our gasping for breath on the ascents.

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We spent a few days with some friends who have just built a beautiful house in Carbondale, outside of Glenwood Springs. Mark and I were so well-behaved on the river float the first day that they decided to take us on a nine-mile hike near Independence Pass on the next day.

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“Lost Man Trail”? Hmmm. We hoped to finish with both the men we started with.

 

The hike was breathtaking (literally) and we paused for frequent water breaks and photo ops.

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About two miles from the end of the hike I experienced my own Cheryl Strayed moment when I noticed that the sole was half-way off my right boot and flopping like a dying fish.

looks like a shadow but is my sole

I thought we might lose a man on the trail, but not my sole.

Luckily, my resourceful husband thought of shoving a sock onto the toe of my boot, AND he had extra socks in his pack (along with my water bottles, which he was carrying for me because I am a wimp). And that’s how I was able to complete the hike without hurling my boot off a cliff. He is a handy companion to have on the trail of life.

The sock was a bit worse for wear at the end of the hike.

The sock was a bit worse for wear at the end of the hike.

 

It felt like more.

It felt like more.

 

Final stop was Boulder. Wow! We had never been there and I am wondering why not. Boulder is such a cool town! The Farmers Market was amazing.
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We rented bikes and rode along the creek path, where people of all ages and sizes were fishing, throwing pebbles, and enjoying the gorgeous day. You win, Boulder. So cool, and yet so approachable. And there was this!

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Boulder Books was amazing, sitting so pretty right there on Pearl Street, a lively pedestrian area bubbling with activity on a sunny day in July. Of course I showed this wonderful inde bookstore some love, because places like this are gems.

Speaking of books- what are you reading? I am almost finished with this

and oh my gosh it’s so good! I also loved its companion, Life After Life, but you don’t need to have read it to enjoy this fabulous novel set primarily in WW II England. Kate Atkinson kills it with both of these novels. Anyone else read them?

In other news, this wall of flowers at a wedding reception I attended totally blew me away.

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And this wall of knobs brought me great joy. Because who doesn’t love picking out jewelry for the home?

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I’ll take them all please.

That about wraps it up here at sunny Lake Travis, where it is threatened to be 104 degrees tomorrow. I think I will stay inside and finish my book. And maybe daydream of cooler days in Paris.

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Filed under books, Eiffel Tower, travel, Uncategorized

Lawdy But It’s Hot

Bonjour from Austin, Texas, where the second full day of summer finds us wondering how many more days until fall, and will it rain again before then? The answers are “too many” and “sweet baby Jesus I hope so”. Until then, we spend most of our daylight hours inside, venturing out only mornings and evenings, which are cooler but still make our sports bras and Nike shorts stick to us like cling wrap. And by “we” and “us” I mean “I” and “me”- not sure why I am gravitating toward the third person today.

My house is currently redolent with the sweet smell of the double batch of granola I just removed from the oven. IMG_7168

This is my go-to granola, and I have gifted some of you with your very own portion, casting me forever in your good graces. I will be bringing this crunchy Nirvana In A Jar to friends who are hosting us on our Colorado road trip next month. If this moves you to invite us to stop by your mountain retreat, feel free to leave a comment below. Or you can make your own, but that’s not as much fun for me.

Can you guess what this lovely concoction is?

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This, mes amis, is the beginnings of lavender and honey ice cream! My good friend and I went to the Lavender Festival in Blanco, Texas the other weekend, and I bought a jar of cooking lavender specifically so I could attempt this ice cream. When we ate at Chicon recently, one lucky person at our table ordered lavender and honey ice cream, to which I sneered and opted for the coconut cake, because who wouldn’t? The ice cream turned out to be the clear winner over the cake, which was the only weak link in a delicious meal, and I have been thinking about that ice cream ever since. I used this recipe, but with one cup of cream and two cups of whole milk and a tad less honey. The loose lavender is strained out of the batter after steeping for ten minutes, so you do not end up with purple bits in your teeth after dessert. But it would be worth it, even if you did. We liked it with a sprinkle of that heretofore mentioned granola (did you know I was a lawyer in my previous life?) because the granola makes everything better. I think you can buy culinary lavender at Whole Foods, in case you happened to have missed the Blanco festival this year. I didn’t ride this to Blanco, but someone did. Lest you think Lavender Festivals are for sissies.
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It hasn’t all been lavender and unicorns around here. We moved all our stuff that had been in storage from Paris into the rooms not being renovated in our new house. Fortunately, everything appeared to be in as good shape as it was the day it flew out the window of our Paris apartment almost a year ago. Those Frenchies know how to pack.

We also moved out of our Houston home and have stuffed boxes and belongings into our lake house until it is groaning with the strain. But whew. Glad the heavy work is done and that our treasures weathered the sea passage and storage.

What else? I finally finished Queen Of The Night, a delightful tome by Alexander Chee. I loved all six-hundred pages of this story about a star soprano of the Paris opera who discovers that someone has written a novel of her life, including secrets that few people know. As she tries to figure out who the author is, she tells us of her amazing life as a circus performer, a courtesan, an assistant to the Empress, and a starving orphan. This book was enchanting from beginning to end. And did I mention Paris?

We had Martha all to ourselves for Father’s Day, which we ended with a nice dinner with a view.

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Cheers to dads and sunsets everywhere.

Stay cool, y’all.

 

 

 

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Filed under Austin, Austin dining, books, cooking, moving, Texas, Uncategorized

Leaving So Soon, May?

Bonjour from my new “office”, and by “office”  I mean the porch of my lake house, now offering a view of a very full Lake Travis, which is a most beautiful thing. Hallelujah.

Lots going on in these parts. Spring has been sassy, bringing bounteous rain, flowers, and unexpected cool snaps. Although many folks around here are weary of the rain, we can’t help but be grateful for every drop, and hopeful that it doesn’t disappear again.

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Tomorrow we move all of our stuff from Paris into our new Austin house, even though a large part of that house looks like this.

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After ten months, we want to get our things out of storage, even if it means cramming  all the boxes and cartons into bedrooms and studies and moving it around again when we finish this project (which could be a glimpse into eternity). So that’s my day tomorrow. You?

Later in the week we make one last trip to our Houston townhouse, which we will pack up and vacate next Monday. It will be strange to no longer have a Houston landing spot after so many years. Fortunately we have friends and family there who will offer us beds occasionally. Right? Hello???

Mark and I have been exploring the Austin restaurant scene, which like many other parts of Austin is totally different from when we lived here in the early 2000’s. We are keeping lists of places we have gone and places we want to try, and both lists are getting longer each week. We have already learned that reservations and/or off-peak dining times are crucial at all of the trending eateries. Even with advance planning, the search for parking places at many cool spots can mean that you walk into the restaurant in dire need of a house cocktail STAT. But if you make your reservation well in advance and get lucky on a parking spot, you are likely to enjoy many a fine meal in Austin, Texas.

True Food  is one such place. Turns out there is one in Houston (and other places), but we never discovered it. The Austin location is in a corner of downtown that is being redeveloped and still feels a bit awkward, but no doubt will blossom into something lovely in no time.

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Def try the cocktails.

The interior was sleek and handsome, but all those shiny hard surfaces meant lots of noise bouncing around. We scored a table on the patio that suited us fine.

My favorite dish of the evening was the Mushroom Lettuce Cups. Bonkers good, and not something I would be tempted to make at home.

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Something I have been cooking lots of at home is this Roasted Broccoli. There are endless variations on this theme and all are quick and easy. I make a bit batch, and what we don’t eat that night gets gobbled up on salads or on rice or grains later in the week. Trust me- you will never let your broccoli near the microwave again.

Mark and I loved watching a six-episode show called The Night Manager on Apple TV. Lots of glamour, hard-bodies, and gorgeous European locations. And with only six episodes, you don’t have to commit to a long-term relationship. Yea.

That’s all for now, friends. Thanks for keeping me in your radar. I’ll be back. Just like the fruit flies I finally got rid of in my kitchen this weekend.

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Filed under Austin, Austin dining, cooking, flowers, Paris, Uncategorized

Austin and Beyond

And we meet again, mes amis! I seem to be unable to manage more frequent posts at the moment, but I have no doubt that you all are finding plenty of ways to fill your time. For those of you who are paralyzed in front of your computer, frantically refreshing your inbox in hopes of a new post from me, I do apologize.

I mentioned last time that Mark and I spent a week in Isla Mujeres, Mexico in April. We go to Mexico frequently because it’s an easy direct flight from Houston, and because when we go we tend to look like this the whole time.

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We so happy!

Here are a few more shots of Isla, a Mexican beauty.

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I love the little shrine on the outside of this house.

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Although we haven’t yet had much time to relax and enjoy our return to Austin, we did have a fun weekend downtown during Mark’s 30th law school reunion. We stayed at a beautiful new Kimpton hotel named the Van Zandt, after the late Texas musician Townes Van Zandt. If you know only one of his songs, it’s probably “Pancho and Lefty”, which became a hit for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in 1983. The music theme is reflected throughout the hotel, from the light fixtures to the nightly performers in the hotel’s sleek restaurant, Geraldine’s.

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love this floor

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Our eighth floor corner room was a perfect blend of comfort, luxury, and view.

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Out the window

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Tub with a view.

This happened Sunday morning.

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I do love a good garnish.

If you want to treat yo-self in downtown Austin, the new Hotel Van Zandt is a pretty nice way to do it.

The weekend offered only one window of nice weather, and happily it was Friday night, which we spent on the gorgeous lawn of the Four Seasons Hotel, eating Mexican food and dancing to Bob Schneider. If you don’t know Bob, you should.

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I love you, Bob!

The Four Seasons bar is one of my favorite downtown spots for a cocktail on a summer evening. The hotel also has some of the best potted plants around.

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Just so you know, we don’t always stay in fancy hotels. We spent a night here recently and loved it.

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Well, we loved it until the thunder and lightning and rain hit about 3:00 in the morning. After that we didn’t like it so much and we left early – without any bloody marys or fancy French toast or even a shower. Some days are like that.

So that’s a glimpse of whats been happening around these parts. This time last year I took a beautiful walk in Parc Monceau. It seems like yesterday.

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See you soon, my friends!

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Colorado Dream House

Bonjour y’all! Today we are finally making it to Pagosa Springs, Colorado. It has been a slow trip, in part because I took a tropical detour to Isla Mujeres, Mexico since we last met.  It is still breathtakingly beautiful, in case you were wondering.

by day

and by noche

and by noche

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But we are not here to talk about Mexico. Today I will share with you my friend Martha’s brand spankin’ new house, located on the edge of the San Juan National Forest and just a few miles outside of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. It’s a stunner!

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The building on the left is Leigh’s (Martha’s husband) barn/workshop/overflow sleeping area, which is still under construction and not yet roofed in this photo. The middle structure is the garage, and the house is on the right.

The best thing about the house is the porch that wraps around the back, providing amazing views of the mountains and the surrounding countryside. We spent some time out there in these chairs (buried under blankets), trying to identify stars in the sparkling night sky.

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The house is designed to look as though it had evolved over generations. The master bedroom, seen at the top of the above photo, has its own little porch and is joined to the main house by this weathered red exterior wood.

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My other favorite feature of this house (I could never choose just one favorite) is the abundance of uncovered windows, allowing the views to be seen from any place you might choose to pause in the house. I felt as though I were in a theater watching day-long features of ever-changing landscape reveal new mysteries and delights with each viewing.

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The hallway connecting the master to the living area is lined with windows on both sides, and is frequently bathed in warm light.

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Yes, that IS a sliding barn door on the left, hiding the utility room.

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If Leigh is getting his dream come true workshop, Martha has surely gotten her fantasy kitchen.

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The star of the kitchen is undoubtedly the fabulous antique workbench Martha found at Back Row Antiques in Houston. Leigh added the zinc piece on one side, allowing the necessary depth for a bar. The other side of the island has wonderful drawers and cupboards for utensils and other kitchen treasures.

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The other diva of the kitchen is this very sexy French La Cornue range. Oh la la!

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Actually, there is a competing star I almost forgot about. Leigh made this gorgeous pantry in his Houston workshop and they brought it up in a trailer.

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Is that not the most stunning pantry you have ever seen? It doesn’t yet have its hardware in this photo, and it still looks simply amazing. The counter is zinc (Martha and I would both be all zinc all the time if we had the choice).

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This precious powder room flaunts a playful tile floor and will be decorated with black and white photos of Paris. If anyone knows a source for old French faucets with “c” and “f” on them, Martha would be delighted. She and I may need to return to the Paris flea markets for those.

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The house sits on a quiet piece of property surrounded primarily by trees and mountains. There are not many neighbors, but two of Martha’s closest neighbors are her mother and her sister! How cool is that? Family and forest would pretty much be my dream neighbors.

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I couldn’t be happier for my good friends and their fabulous new home in such a special place. I foresee many years of joy and lasting memories for them there, and I hope we are fortunate enough to be a part of both!

I just realized that Martha was with me in France exactly a year ago. We went to the giant flea market in Paris, where we definitely could have picked up some faucets.

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Oh well. We remember how to get there!

See you back here soon!

 

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