Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy (Constant) Holidays!

Here's a late Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Yule and Festivus greeting to all Constant Holiday readers! Thank you so much for keeping up with me this year.

The week between Christmas and New Years has been designated "catch up with all that stuff you've been meaning to do and I mean NOW, cuss", so the regularly scheduled post (like anything around here is "regularly scheduled") will be reduced to the Photo of the Week while I run around like a dog chasing it's tail.

Photo: view up into the glass atrium of the Galleriew Lafayette, a very fancy department store in Paris where I can't afford to do much but ogle and be spritzed by perfume ladies. Or mademoiselles de perfume, depending on how you look at it. It's beautiful nonetheless.

(This photo is from last Christmas (2008) and I sort of remember hearing that the Galleries may close. Or maybe that the Samaritain? Either way it means I am far to involved in French Department stores.)

Happy New Year to all! Be safe, and many blessings.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stir Crazy

Ever feel like you are climbing the walls? I sure do this week. And not as attractively as the flowers in this photo.

Bougainvilla, Portosissi, Crete 2009

Big News, though - I recently had some calendars designed by the fine folks at Snapfish, and they came out GREAT! I am thinking of offering them for sale on the site. Email me or leave a note in the comments - I have one for Greece and one for Spain, and I will post the photos for each to Flickr if anyone is interested.

Monday, December 7, 2009

And up we go....

It's Monday! time to start climbing the ladder again. But remember, take time to smell the flowers on the way.

(Even if that's a cheesy expression)

Stairway, Portosisi, Crete, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Great Egg Taste-Off Challenge!

First of all, I'd like to apologize for the disturbing resemblance of the eggs in the photo above to the owl in the Hooter's logo. It weirds me out too, I promise.

Second, I suppose this is the moment to out myself (Just like Meredith Baxter-Birney! Only without the cruise ship full of women) as a closet chicken-keeper, since I haven't mentioned them before on this blog (I think). I do talk about them all the time on Facebook, to the dismay of my FB friends, many of whom have helpfully suggested that the way to deal with chickens is to go down to Publix and buy them off the rottisimat. The mojo flavor is particularly good.

At any rate, we (I) bought two chickens in July, and for the last several months they have been running amok in my yard, because when I got them home and put them in the lovely chicken coop I had made for them, they escaped in, oh, aproximately 15 seconds. We never could catch them either. Wily things they are.

But over a few months we ( I like to pretend my boyfriend is anything but appalled by all this) got them accustomed to us, and eventually one of them would even eat out of my hand. They got so used to me feeding them that they will now follow me around the yard like a pair of oddly feathered, diminutive puppies. But they got a little too exploratory (I came home from Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago and found them halfway down the block, cheerily eating someone's begonias) so we persuaded them to take up residence in a NEW, improved, larger pen (a huge 6X8 dog kennel with a hutch inside). This had the additional benefit that we can finally get eggs - we suspected they'd been laying but could never find any, and now they have a special nest box for the purpose.

Amelia, the shyer of our two (Greta is big on personality, if you can consider a chicken to have a personality) promptly showed her approval of the new digs by laying an egg. My God, I was so excited I nearly laid one myself. She has since laid about a half a dozen (Greta's energy apparently goes into making lots of noise and strewing feathers everywhere) and with that first, precious egg (raised at a cost of approximately $135.74, if you include the shower curtain I bought for $1.99 at Publix and am using to keep the rain off them) we did a taste test. My Boyfriend was willing to help with that bit.

As you can see, there is no mistaking the different eggs in their raw state. The egg on the left is an organic egg from the grocery store, and the right hand egg is ours. The home-grown egg is visibly yellower, the yolk stands up sharply from the white, and the white is much tighter and rounder.

We (I) carefully cooked the two eggs separately, using the same method (scrambling), in the same pan (carefully washed between), gently decanted them in bowls, and then I closed my eyes (no peeking!) and Alex patiently gave me a sample of each to taste, and asked me a careful series of questions, including:

- does one egg taste markedly different from the other?

- does one have a different mouthfeel or aroma?

- if you had to be stuck on a desert island with only one egg, would it be sample A or B?

- can we have breakfast now?

And the results are in, and they are......

I can't tell you.

Not because I am sworn to secrecy, but because the two eggs TASTED EXACTLY THE SAME. I almost just wrote that "eggsactly", btw.

No kidding. My carefully raised, organic, no pesticide, specially fed chicken, whom I adore, gives me eggs that taste no different than what comes of the shelf at the market. Oh, the horror. To be so ordinary! Which is not to say it wasn't delicious, and we didn't enjoy it for breakfast. But I was stunned. They were literally interchangable. No difference at all.

This is quite a blow to "my home-made is better" philosophy. I'll have to turn in my foodie membership. And what happens if Michael Pollan finds out? He may berate me for being a bad egg-taster. And he might bite me. We'd better not tell anyone, ok?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Photo of the day...err, Week

This has been a busy busy week (when are they not, I'd like to know) so the Photo of the Week may be all you are getting. But it's a nice one - the cupola of a beautiful church on Paros Island in Greece, from my trip there a few weeks ago. The building is actually still under construction - the exterior is still pure white, rather than blue and white, and the interior frescos are unfinished. So eventually the white areas you see around the painting now will all be decorated. I kind of like it as is, though - floating peacefully in it's white frame.

Have a good weekend!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cookbook Review - Halloween Special Edition

So this it's time for this week's Cookbook Review. Where are all the OTHER week's reviews, I hear you asking. Listen, I am a busy person and not every week gets it's own review. Some weeks are not that special and some weeks I just wind up being a heavy Chick-Fil-A consumer. BUT! This week IS special because it's halloween, and so we are cooking from the book "Bones" by Jennifer McLagan, to fit in with the whole scary skeleton theme. Whooooo!

"Bones" is delicious - strictly for carnivores only, though. The vegetarians among us may take umbrage at the description of how gelatin is made (don't read before eating jell-o), how cooking with bone-in meat keeps a dish moist and flavorful, and most importantly, what a marrow spoon is for. Mmmmm. Your shins will feel weird for about an hour after you read that bit.

The recipes are great - I've eaten most of the lamb chapter, even though eating lamb makes me feel slightly guilty - and they are mostly my favorite kind of food, which is to say things you stick in a roasting pan with a half a bottle of wine and some veggies and let them cook for hours, until the house smells so good you are ready eat the furniture. Don't do that though. The book is divided up into chapters by the actual critter it came from, and in the beginning of the chapter there is an illustration that show said creature as a transparent butcher's diagram, so you can see where, say, that beef shank you plan to rub with olive oil, braise, and serve with citrus gremolata, was originally attached to the owner's body. Did you know the "picnic shoulder" on a pig is not actually the shoulder at all, but the lower end of the front leg? I had no idea. The artist who did the drawings left the head on, so to speak - it is rendered normally instead of the skeleton effect, and so as you study the diagram of the cow it seems to be looking at you out of the corner of it's eye. Maybe it wonders why you are drooling. The lamb chapter features a drawing of a full grown sheep, ostensibly because there is a mutton recipe in there but really to save the sensibilities of weenies like me.

"Bones" (whoooo!) also has a series of vingettes about uses for bones, bones in art, and the way bones and words for bones have become part of language - did you know fibula is latin for pin, becuase Romans used that bone to make clothing pins - and a great collection of expressions that mention bones - I feel it in my bones. I am worn to the bone. Rolling the bones. Hard work breaks no bones. And so on. They show how integral bone was at an earlier time in history, when there were no plastics and the flexibility of bone gave it a thousand practical uses, from buttons to tools, to pins to jewelry, yet retained its mystical significance and was used in magic, superstition, and medicine. There is an expression "bone useful", i.e. good for all manner of things, and yes, it was.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Photo of the day

Seville, Spain, Spring 2007. May be my favorite photo from that trip, and it's literally like the third picture I took after arriving.

What doorway will you walk through today?

Video Test, 1, 2, baaaaa

This is just a test to see if I can post video to my blog, as I haven't done it before. How cute is this goat, though? He's from my recent trip to Greece. (If he were talking you could tell that.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More Car Adventures

So I am on my trip to Greece, and I am driving a little two-door rental car. It's got 4,000 miles on it and runs like it has 400,000. Greek renters are not kind to the local cars. It is - this became a theme - bright, canary yellow.

So here I am on Paros Island, happily tooling around in my cheery yellow rental car, and I decide to explore Paros Town - the main town on the island, also the port - on foot for a while. It's a cute little town, I highly recommend it. White washed walls, cats everywhere, bougainvilla to make you weep, it's so pretty. I spend most of the afternoon walking around the pedestrian-only section of the town, all tangled walkways and narrow steps up to surprise views of the sea. It's perfection, really.

And eventually, I get tired and head back to my car, which is right where I left it in the public parking lot. But something is wrong. My key won't turn in the lock. In fact the key doesn't really even want to slide in smoothly. What the....?

I am getting a little flustered now. I turn the key upside down and try again. Still no luck. Crap! what is wrong??? I'm getting hot, and frustrated now as well. (Given that I am writing this back home in Atlanta where it has been 50 degrees and raining for four days, the mental image of that sunny, blindingly bright parking lot comes back to me like the wave of a hallucination). Okay, I am really close to the rental agency, thank god, I can walk over there and explain that I somehow broke the key, or the lock, and hope they don't charge me a million euro to fix it....

Just as I am running this worst-case scenario through my mind, I realize there is a german woman calling to me from across the street. Has she been trying to get my attention for long? She must have been, because she and her friends are looking at me with concern and hurrying across the street. I catch the last few words they are saying..."our car?"

Oh, my god. "Our car." THIS IS NOT MY CAR.....

I look up and see MY car - a virtually identical, bright yellow two door (the rental agency must buy them by the gross) exactly where I had left it... one row over.

I look back to my right and see the nice german ladies in stitches, laughing at my confusion. At least they had a sense of humor about it. It's probably not everyday some clueless American woman tries to steal your rental car... by mistake!

The Joy? of Cooking

How'd you like to make dinner for the people at THAT table, hmmmm? It seats, like, thirty per side I think. It's actually in the "Emperor's Rooms" in the Louvre, which I highly recommend, even though it's about seventy-five miles from the Mona Lisa. Seriously, you should go see it. These people lived LARGE.

I wouldn't want to cook for them though. Have you ever heard of the famous French chef Flauvel? He was a cook in the 1700's (assuming I am remembering this story correctly) and when the fish he ordered arrived late for a banquet he was so distraught he stabbed himself in the stomach and died. I don't ever want to take my cooking that seriously.

I do love to cook, though. I am a very process-oriented cook; I love the stirring and the mixing and the chopping as much as I like the eating, which is saying quite a bit. I own a food processor, but it languishes under the counter while I dice onions contentedly by hand. It's almost a meditative act - if one can meditate while messing up the kitchen and weeping from onion fumes.

This is not to say that all of my kitchen experimentation goes swimmingly. I read a lot of food blogs - A LOT - and I love when people talk about how they just grabbed a bit of this and a bit of that and next thing you know they have dinner from the Cordon Bleu. That never happens to me. When I decide to experiment in the kitchen - even if I am making something I've made before - the timeline usually goes something like this:

- decide to make, oh, chicken with raspberry sauce over pasta, something I have made approximately ten thousand times.

- cheat completely by buying one of those rottisserie chickens from the Publix. Seriously, are those things the best invention since sliced bread or what? If I had to pick the greatest invention of all time, and was given the choice between Publix Rotisserie chicken, and Dr. Salk and his pesky vaccines, I know which way I'm leaning. You can't eat a vaccine.

- decide to have bread and cheese for appetizer, since even a poodle could put that together

- realize the cheese I plan to use has mold growing on one edge.

- scrape mold off. It's cheese, right? It's not like it can go bad. It IS bad.

- open some wine. alcohol content will protect us against dodgy cheese, surely

- usually I make the raspberry sauce (equal parts rasperry jam, mustard, and butter, if you must know) in the microwave, but tonight I think I will make it on the stovetop, just for kicks. I don't know why I don't make it that way all the time, really.

- decide to grill veggies to go with chicken. Shoot, that means I have to light the grill.

- grill filled with ash. Wet ash, since it's rained since we last used it and we left the vents open. Ugh.

- sauce is simmering away merrily on the stove. In fact, it's spattering all over the stovetop. THAT's why I always make it in the microwave. Ugh.

- Shoot, forgot to start the pasta water

- drink some more wine

- slosh the marinade for the veggies on the counter

- get veggies on grill, come back inside just in time to prevent sauce from burning. Whew!

- "taste sauce for seasoning", burn tongue. Soothe with more wine

- set table with appetizer. Realize my boyfriend has been eating the bread while we cook and now there is only cheese.

- eat cheese. still good even w/out bread

- go to drain pasta, find colander is full of peaches meant for last week's jam project

- eeww, they are all soft now

- plate chicken, drizzle artistically with sauce. Sit down to eat. Why yes, I will have more wine, thank you....

Monday, October 12, 2009

I can get it for you Wholesale...

My favorite story so far from my trip to Greece -

I got off of the ferryboat in Santorini (on Santorini? Whatever) and wandered down the street looking at the rental cars. I picked the place where the guy out front seemed the most enthusiastic. If you can't reward enthusiasm, what have we become, really?

The conversation goes like this:

Me: "What's the cheapest rental car you have?"

Rental Dude: "I can give you that Jeep Suzuki for 30 Euro a day."

Me: "Do you have anything cheaper?"

RD: "Well, I have this little two door car for 25 Euro... it's yellow. (points to a photo on a chart) But the Jeep is nicer."

Me: "Yes, but I'm on a tight budget, so I think I'll go with the car for the 25 Euros."

RD: "Are you sure? The Jeep even has the convertible top. It's VERY nice."

Me: "No, I'm good. I'll take the yellow car."

RD: "You are clearly a nice person. You deserve to have the Jeep. I am going to give you the Jeep for 25 Euro a day."

Me: "Really?"

RD: "Yes."

Me: "You don't have to do that. The car is fine."

RD: "No, you are a nice person and you should have the Jeep. And, also, the yellow car is already rented. Enjoy your stay in Santorini!"

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cuba Madness, or Dinner tonight will be partial take-out

Nine Thirty PM. Just home from Dance Class. Did something to my neck while talking on the cell phone to my mom. While driving, natch. There will Be. No. Cooking.

Except to fry some plantains, quick, and melt some butter and add orange and lime juice to it. Pour it over some leftover chicken. Listen to Ricky Martin. (Ok, he's Puerto Rican. I can't find my Buena Vista Social Club CD.) Eat.

Aaaahhhh... Much better.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Favorite Purchase

I am not an enormous souvenier person. I actually tend to buy most of my souveniers in the grocery store, so even though I am a carry on person on the way out, I inevitably have to check my bag on the way back, because I am laden with bottles of olive oil, honey, fancy syrups and jams, whatever. My purchases never stray far from the kitchen. I went to Paris (god, I love saying that, it's so worth getting ripped off at the currency exchange) last fall, and I even came back with two mini-bottles of champagne in my bag, because I had bought them at the grocery store across from my apartment, and I was too cheap to throw the two I didn't drink out. I spent the entire (endless) flight worried that they were going to explode in my luggage from the pressure changes in the belly of the plane.

My favorite souvenier, though, is a tiny green tube. It's a lipstick that I bought on a one-day tour of Tangier, in Morocco, on a day trip from Spain. It's made of the cheapest green plastic imaginable, and the lipstick inside is BRIGHT GREEN. This is not because Moroccan women have a Kermit the Frog fetish. The lipstick is made of henna, and it reacts with your body chemistry to turn bright fuschia pink. It is, in fact, slightly reminiscent of what a drag queen might wear. I mean, we're talking VIVID.

I love it though, even though I almost never wear it (and then the lightest possible application), even though it sits, like a tiny green monolith, on my dressing table. I pick it up and remember that day - riding a camel (briefly), seeing a snake charmer, watching the men in their Arab robes walk with their hands clasped behind their backs, walk in the classic, contemplative manner of the Arab world - was I really that exotic person? Did I really go to AFRICA?

And then I put it back on the table and put on something more subtle. Something that suits my everyday life a little better. But I see it there, in its cheap green plastic finery, winking at me from behind the lip gloss. It whispers to me. You are not so ordinary, it says...

I choose to believe it.