Sipping Avocado Margs in Summer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur United States home is in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. We live, seasonally, in a cabin built on a hillside outside the town of Estes Park. The backside faces the lofty Front Range—mountains towering 10-14,000 feet above sea level. Our cabin sits at a “lowly” 8500 feet under these formidable peaks. We gaze upon them from a deck in the summer, or through windows by a wood-burning fireplace in the winter.IMG_2021 There are no streetlights and roads are unpaved because this hillside community is outside the city limits. It comes landscaped with native pines, tall grasses, sage shrubs, and wildflowers. The only maintenance is digging up an occasional noxious weed or harvesting fallen pinecones and branches for kindling. IMG_1888We built a sacred fire ring with rocks from the land. Campfires are enjoyed around its’ circular border, with stories and laughter or simply the silence of a starry night. Framed by tall ponderosas, this has been our home-away-from-overseas-home since 1991.

The annual summer return to the cabin commences with the first morning wake up call. It’s early, due to a pre-6:00 AM sunrise. Coffee is made before we pull the rocking chairs onto the deck. Mountains and clouds to the south and west are pink-tinged at first light. As the sun makes its’ way gradually upward, colors shift to yellowish gold. When it finally peeks over the eastern ridge line, the sky turns robin’s egg and then lapis blue. The rest of the scenery follows with true colors. Second cup of coffee, still in bathrobes, day begins.IMG_2079

IMG_2076IMG_2085There is a different way of “being” in the mountains from our life overseas. Time is simpler, less hurried, less structured. It’s not necessary to “do” much of anything, at least for the first transitional days. We live casually in a uniform of blue jeans, moccasins or hiking boots, cotton or flannel shirts, depending on the temperature. I have been known to wear a fringed leather jacket, but only in that environment.

We eat differently too. The thinner air and long days tempt us with food and drink that somehow “belong” in the high country. Hearty breakfasts of bacon and egg sandwiches, layered with jalapeño jack cheese, tomatoes, and leafy greens are often consumed on the sun warmed front porch. Along with strong black coffee it seems to fuel the day for stacking firewood, trimming dead tree limbs, or hiking into the National Park.

When it’s time for a break, there is one place we always return. Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 8.35.49 PMEd’s Cantina is a 30-year locally owned and operated Mexican restaurant on the main street of town. The sign on the side door simply states: “Get in Here”. Equally direct is the logo: “Live Forever. Eat at Ed’s.” It’s hard to resist a slogan like that. Eventually you just have to see what is going on there. Avocado Margaritas are what we found. Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 8.36.28 PMDietician Daughter, notably savvy in combining nutrition with good taste and pleasure, showed us the way. We fell in love, one by one. It’s a great reason to drop in at Ed’s on a warm summer afternoon.

For the nutritionally minded, avocados are one of the healthiest food choices around. They are a terrific source of mono-unsaturated fat. For the uninitiated, this kind of fat is desirable for it’s ability to lower LDL [bad] cholesterol while raising HDL [good] cholesterol. The fats and vitamins [E and C among them] are good for skin tone and texture. There are documented gains for the avocado’s anti-inflammatory properties, including reducing the pain of inflammatory disorders such as arthritis. There you have it. Avocados, even in liquid form, provide a nice range of health benefits!

This summer, we ate a lot of avocados in the form of the simplest, lime-iest, homemade guacamole. Store bought jars, tubs or tubes cannot compare with the flavor of your own effort. It actually takes very little effort because “less is more” with guacamole. Allow the avocado to shine with subtlety and a light touch. By adding only a minimum of ingredients its’ innately creamy deliciousness is enhanced. Enjoy guacamole as a sandwich spread [breakfast egg sandwich, yes!] or, more traditionally, as a dip with tortilla chips. Better to keep your avo margs and guacamole dipping as separate ventures, though. Spread out the good times and the good nutrition.


esmeralda sells her wares at farmer’s market

GUACAMOLE à la Colorado

  • 2 [or more] ripe avocados
  • diced red onion
  • diced or pressed clove of garlic
  • salt
  • pepper
  • juice of fresh lime

Cut around outside of avocado and separate the halves. Scoop the meat out of the rind with a spoon and discard the pit. Mash avocado in a bowl with a fork or potato masher. Add onion, garlic, S&P. Stir together. Squeeze in as much fresh lime juice as you like, to taste. Adjust seasonings.

  • Best when served with Esmeralda’s homemade tortilla chips from weekly Farmer’s Market. Thin and not too salty. Delicious with any dip or alone.
  • Will keep in refrigerator without discoloration by covering with plastic wrap pressed down on top of guacamole, allowing no air space.

    basic guacamole ingredients


    mash avocados



add onion, garlic, S&P


squeeze lime juice


guacamole dip with esmeralda’s chips


  • ½ ripe avocado
  • Jose Cuervo Silver Tequila
  • Agave syrup
  • Limeade [they say theirs is homemade, but frozen concentrate is fine]
  • Ice
  • Lime garnish

In blender, scoop one half avocado, a shot [or so] of tequila, a generous squirt of agave syrup, an even more generous pour of limeade and lots of ice. Blend together on high setting. Serve in tall, salt rimmed beer glass, garnished with a slice of lime.

  • Best when sipped with a good friend, on outdoor patio with the Big Thompson River rolling by.
  • Second best is having it alongside the veggie burrito–filled with fresh squash salsa, rice, black beans and Mexican cheese.

In blender: 1/2 avocado


add tequila, agave syrup, ice, limeade


almost ready


the pour











Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 8.37.05 PM

Live Forever at Ed’s.





You Say Jam, Nico Says Confiture

IMG_0878What to put on toast in the morning was not something I thought much about for most of my life. That is, until four years ago, when we moved to France. It still strikes me as odd how a seemingly nondescript food item can be turned into an art form once you step outside your normal way of experiencing it.

Most jams and jellies in North America are found in the supermarket aisle alongside peanut butter or honey. They can be chosen by color, flavor or, in my case, if there was seeded red fruit in it. One lone jar typically sat forgotten in the door of the refrigerator until I remembered to pull it out. It had the status of something easily ignored, possibly moldy.

Within the first year after our move, I experienced what can simply be called a “Jam Epiphany”. Students in French language courses learn “la confiture” is something to spread on the breakfast baguette or to stir into plain yogurt for dessert. Outside of class the learning curve rises sharply when you find that confiture in no way resembles Welch’s-fructose-sugar-product in a jar. Yes, it comes in jars, but the first difference is that there are shelves upon shelves dedicated to the myriad brands and flavors in every market or shop. The second difference is that you want to savor, remember, and talk about what it tastes like.


considering the options: la chambre aux confitures

One day, while wandering about in Paris, I discovered a small shop completely dedicated to “Les Confitures”. This specialty store, stocked floor to ceiling with out-of-this-world-taste-sensational jams, was not in my normal shopping district. But it is spectacular. Now I plan excursions across town to pick up a jar, or two, or three.IMG_0843

What is it about jam in France that turns my head around? For one thing, each jar tastes exactly like its name–-to the ingredient. You can close your eyes and identify the fruit from which it is made without even looking at the label. The sweetness is not overly sugary and very subtle. It tastes like pure, sweet, fragrant fruit in spreadable form.


7 perfectly arranged confitures

Sometimes confiture can even taste like flowers. At a breakfast buffet in a chateau hotel in Normandy, I zeroed in on an arrangement of seven jars in a perfect circle of color, each with it’s own long handled spoon. They bore names like Violettes de Provence, Cerise Grillotes, Oranges Améres, Lait Confiture, and Roses Confit. I tried four of them on the good fresh bread being served. Each tasted more exceptional than the previous one. Those named after flowers were exactly as you would imagine a violet or rose would taste. They even had what looked like pieces of flower petals mixed into the jellied consistency. Lait Confiture was light caramel in color and taste. It was notable for it’s exquisitely creamy texture that made you want to close your eyes and hum. This summer when my nephew was visiting from the United States, I watched him quietly stir one spoonful of Beurre Lait Confiture into his black coffee each morning. A creative tasty pleasure, indeed.

I have written before of my love for French butter imbedded with crystals of sea salt; how I spread it daily over toasted pieces of seedy baguette. On the weekends, breakfast has a different routine. My husband and I share a leisurely petit déjeuner in the small eating area overlooking the vine-covered courtyard of our apartment building.IMG_0893 He starts the coffee and begins making a plate of toasted baguette. Sometimes we have the good round bread from Poilâne bakery. On the round marble-topped table goes a clean cloth. From the refrigerator comes a special pottery container. It is filled with confiture transferred from its original jar to this more festive, colorful one. The flavor is whatever is on hand: mango, fig, strawberry/rhubarb, wild blueberry, pear, or simply “fruits rouges”, red fruits. Weekend breakfasts are when we indulge pleasurably—when there is time to sit and read, or converse quietly, without rushing out the door. It’s a sweet formula we have come to love, with a pot of confiture as centerpiece.IMG_1230

Recently I learned something new about enjoying fine confiture from a young boy. Nico, ten-years-old, lives in Strasbourg, and stayed overnight with us one weekend.

His mother and I were chatting over coffee when he arrived at the table to have breakfast. I served him a small wedge of Spanish omelet and two pieces of baguette toast. While our conversation continued, I became distracted by Nico’s approach to his food. He looked into each of the two open jars of confiture and smiled to himself. Next, he scooped a generous amount of strawberry/rhubarb jam onto a piece of toast. With patience and precision he pressed the fruit of the confiture into the larger holes of the baguette using the back of the spoon. Then he smoothed the entire surface, back and forth, back and forth, for about three minutes until it was evenly and completely covered. All the way out to the very edges. Not a millimeter of bread showed through. It looked beautiful. Like a rosy still life painting. Once satisfied that it was perfect, he began to eat. For Nico, nothing was more important than preparing his toast and confiture, just so.

It reminded me of a story MFK Fisher wrote about Lucullus, the gourmand from ancient Roman times. He was reputed to host lavish, elaborate banquets that were noteworthy in reputation. Yet even a solo dining experience was important to him. Once, when served a meal where “he was conscious of a certain slackness” in the repast, he became annoyed. When the summoned chef protested, “We thought there was no need to prepare a fine banquet for my lord alone—–“, Lucullus responded icily, “It is precisely when I am alone that you pay special attention. At such times, you must remember, Lucullus dines with Lucullus.” Now, right in front of me, it was clear that Nico was dining with Nico. With full attention and pleasure.

We stopped talking and simply watched as the second piece of toast was readied. With no less concentration, each meticulous motion was repeated: smilingly scooping out jam, pressing it in, painting in long strokes until it completely reached the edges. His mother asked him, in French, what he was enjoying more, his toast or his confiture. There was no need to answer. Nico’s contentment was visible right down to his little boy soul.


In Paris:

  • La Chambre aux Confitures
  • Specialty Epicerie
  • 9, rue des Martyrs, 75009

IMG_0798 - Version 2





Two Non Cooks Saved by the Brazilians

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 2.33.50 PM

World Cup 2014: Germany 7, Brazil 1 []

There has been plenty of press about Brazil lately. Their national depression over losses in the recent World Cup barely registered with me. Recently reported problems readying venues for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro seem a minor glitch. These things usually work themselves out. Even if, in the end, there is little hot water in the hotels, as Sochi 2014. The Games must go on.

My love for Brazil comes from another place entirely. Once, many years ago, a Brazilian recipe solved my first-dinner-party-hosting angst in Singapore. An overseas friend recently reminded me of this. She was there. As it turned out, it saved her too.

Mary [aka Mimi by her family] was part of my life in the first three of our five international settings. We met in Singapore as part of a group of friends and families who celebrated Thanksgiving and went on beach holidays together. Then, in Cyprus in the early 1990s we became better friends. cyprus-europeShe lived in the apartment above us and was our son’s third grade teacher. I loved her creative style of communication. When Mary wanted to see me, an empty coffee can was lowered from the balcony above our terrace on a piece of string. Rounding the corner from the driveway, with a tin can swaying in the breeze, I knew there would be a folded piece of paper inside: “Meet after school for a brisk walk” or “Come up for a wee dram of scotch” on her tiny balcony. Often it was both. mtaiwanLater, in Taiwan, we were part of a group of women who bonded during weekly Friday afternoons with wine and hors d’oeuvres in each other’s homes. “Wine and Unwind” sessions solved most of the world’s problems, at least during those years.

The first year in Singapore we accepted many invitations to dinners, parties and holiday events. By the next year, we were past due in repaying friends for their hosting kindnesses. At the time, I barely cooked and certainly nothing worthy of dinner party fare. I consulted cookbooks and generally worried about what to do. For the family, I tended to stick to one-dish meals, everything mixed together without all the fuss and muss of separate courses. I took MFK Fisher’s advice to heart; an in-home dinner party is best when served to no more than six invited guests. Since this would require several weekend party paybacks, the menu needed to be deliciously repeatable for us too.


singaporean chili crab, courtesy of serena foxon

Singapore was, and is, ripe with fantastically fresh seafood. It’s also known for spicy cuisine from the mix of Chinese, Indian and Malaysian cultures. In the late 1980s, we regularly dined at a seaside restaurant on Punggol Point. There we feasted on chili crab that made our lips and faces sting from layers of spiciness. It was served with thick pieces of white bread to mop up the sauce. The whole thing was so delectable that no one stopped eating until the table was a littered mess of shells, claws and sauce. It was eaten informally, with the hands, wearing a paper bib. When you finally stopped, past the point of “full”, chili sauce covered both hands, went up the arms, and was smeared across cheeks and chin. There were hoses conveniently accessible afterwards.

image (2)

laksa, courtesy of fiona foxon


walking down emerald hill road

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.13.15 PM

peranakan place, earlier days


peranakan place, now

Another Singaporean dish I adored was Nyonya Laksa. This is from the Peranakan culture, a combination of Chinese and Malaysian cuisines. It’s a coconut, curry-based soup with noodles, vegetables, prawns, and small, hardboiled quail’s eggs. I lost my taste buds to the heat of spices in this soup and never looked back. A walk from our apartment down historic Emerald Hill Road took me to the restaurant at Peranakan Place, on Orchard Road, where I learned to eat this national treasure. It’s a double whammy to be sweating from the heat and humidity of daily tropical temperatures while simultaneously sweating from spicy food in an un-airconditioned cafe. We adapted. And loved it all.

It was actually another friend who helped solve the dinner party dilemma. Knowing that I needed simple and foolproof, she suggested a one-dish wonder, Brazilian Shrimp Stew. Finding fresh shrimp and produce was easy. Mixing them all together to cook in a large pan, even easier. To serve—a portion of rice for any size appetite with shrimp stew swimming over the top, seemed like a hostess’ dream. Easy preparation, plenty of time for socializing with guests and a tasty result—I could not ask for more.

Mary was among the groups of friends invited for dinner. At the time, she was raising twin sons and a husband, all with good appetites. Like me, she was [and is] uninspired by daily cooking. This easy-to-make stew not only caught Mary’s fancy with its’ spicy shrimp tastiness, she adopted it’s crowd pleasing potential to her own style of entertaining. Since reminding me of eating shrimp stew first under our roof, then making it her own success story, I now call it “Mimi’s Brazilian Shrimp Stew”. It has saved two non-cooks from dinner party anxiety uncountable times.

The enjoyment of Mimi’s Stew should be more global and far reaching than this shared history. It is for anyone and everyone who loves Brazil, her emotively fanatic football fans, and the simplicity of a scrumptious one-dish meal. Just add dessert. Bon appétit.

Mimi’s Brazilian Shrimp Stew

  • 1 kg [2.2 lbs] peeled shrimp
  • 1/4 C. olive oil
  • 1/4 C. chili oil
  • 4-5 large fresh tomatoes, diced, or 1 large can diced tomatoes [do not drain or seed tomatoes]
  • 1 large onion, chopped [or a combination of red and white onion]
  • 1 large green, yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped [or all three]
  • 3 T. parsley [fresh is always best, cut with scissors]
  • 6-7 crushed garlic cloves [or more]
  • fresh hot peppers, red or green, chopped and seeded [optional, or to taste]
  • 1 t. salt
  • ¼ t. pepper
  • ½ can unsweetened coconut milk [or the whole can because what else will you do with the rest?]

Heat oils. Add all ingredients except milk. Cook 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat. Add coconut milk. Serve over rice. Use chopped green onions and fresh lime wedges as garnish. Squeeze lime juice over the stew table side. Serve with good bread to mop up the sauce.


basic raw ingredients


ingredients ready to cook

In Mary’s words: “I have made this recipe many times. Since you don’t specify how many it feeds, I just add more of everything if it doesn’t look like enough.”

Spoken like a true non-cook, who adapts.


cooking for 15 minutes


mimi’s stew

I made this twice recently for back to back dinners and it serves six easily.

The Memorable Not-So-Great Birthday

lk-articles-Kneipp-Techniques-658x437It was a birthday to remember. Our daughter turned 22 before Christmas 2006. We were overseas in Germany; she was in Colorado. There was no opportunity to bake a cake. Instead, I invited her on a mother/daughter adventure after the holidays. It would include some fasting and detoxifying, the Deutsch way. It was an opportunity to study foreign nutritional practices before completing her undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Food Science. She said okay because, after all, I was paying. As it turned out, she would have preferred the cake.

malteser-clinic-of-weckbecker_128_2_1280_720_5_1403698681A friend told me about the Malteaser Klinik in Bad Brückenau. She seemed to know a lot about it without having been there. Her details were factual rather than descriptive. A naturopathic German physician pioneered a treatment plan to maintain, or restore, optimal health. It included many detoxifying therapies. It was medically supervised. It was located next to a forest. It had spa-like attributes—indoor pool, gym, sauna, hiking trails. There was free time to bond and have fun. However, we were underprepared.

I registered us for a five-day “Therapeutic Fasting Classic”. It was their most popular package. Normally clients stayed for 7, 10 or 21 days, under doctor’s orders. The plan [translated from Deutsch] included:

  1. Fasting drinks, fasting broths, etc.
  2. Best medical attention: two physician contacts per week
  3. One supervised ergometer training
  4. Daily Kneipp therapy
  5. Daily colon therapy
  6. Daily Kartoffelsack or feucht-heisse leberpackung [hot-humid liver potato sack]

Even with a good dictionary, not everything was entirely clear. During check-in, it was explained that fasting is an optimal way to rest and restore the digestive organs from processing solid food. Animals do it naturally, as in hibernation. Undisciplined humans [like us] pay clinics [like this] to tell them how to do what animals do instinctively.







That evening, in the communal dining room, places were already set with hot tea and one tablespoon of solid honey, served with a tiny spoon. It took the edge off since we had not eaten since that morning. Then we realized this was the entire meal. Nutritionist daughter said the honey was to give our brains some carbohydrate in order to function while fasting. Breakfast the next morning was a glass of fresh carrot juice. Lunch—a bowl of clear broth with freshly chopped herbs to sprinkle on top. Refills allowed, with extra herbs. Q4mU6.St.117Dinner was the same as the night before, except tea flavors changed daily. Between meals there were stations with unlimited water, tea or a faux coffee made from barley. Daughter suffered from abrupt caffeine withdrawal headache, not helped by sympathetic doctor’s brief temple massage and, “It will go away soon.” She looked at me crossly, but remained silent.

Each day was scheduled around “meal” times, morning therapy appointments, and an afternoon potato sack ritual. Kneipp therapy is designed to toughen the body by alternating hot and cold water to various parts of the anatomy. banner_image5After a timed soak in warm water, the targeted area is immersed in icy water for 30 seconds. Circulation is encouraged; the immune system and bodily functions are strengthened. The logic seemed sound. Reality was slightly more shocking. The first session was full body immersion in a tin bathtub filled with very warm water. Lovely. tin_bath_yorkExcept, shortly after you relaxed into the water, it was time to get out and be sprayed front and back with very cold water. Three times in the warm tub, three times out for an icy shower. kneippAfter the cold-water-hose-wielding Frau did her thing, a small lament surfaced, “WHY, exactly, are we doing this for my birthday?” Point taken, but we were already there. And we had no car.

Thankfully, daily Kartoffelsack liver detox had its’ high points. While we sipped broth at noon and tried to chew the fresh herbs, a hot, damp sack of cooked potatoes was being put into our beds. Back in the room, under the duvet, we placed the towel wrapped sack over the right side of the torso. Shortly afterwards, a dream-like state of semi-consciousness took over, with vivid imagery. It was strange and pleasant at the same time. After the first day we began to hurry through lunch, anticipating warmed bags of smashed potatoes to help our livers and fuel surreal dreams. As they cooled, we roused enough to push them to the floor. Then, without speaking, rolled over into a heavy, drug-like sleep. We did not know the principle behind this therapy, but it never disappointed. It was a good way to pass a few hours.

By the second day, caffeine headache was gone, attitudes readjusted, and therapies were at least tolerated. Open communication was important because it was necessary to do some “inner work” as well as support each other through the nonstop, aching hunger. After the potato sack nap, afternoons and evenings were a long stretch of time to fill. I brought the book Perfume by Patrick Süskind. perfumeIt’s a dark sort of story set in France in the 1700s, dealing with murder and the sense of smell. It proved to be highly entertaining, even humorous when read aloud. We played endless rounds of Scrabble, Backgammon and card games. We listened to music. I watched German game shows on TV, answering questions for the contestants. We walked to the village in late afternoon dusk to be distracted by the shops. We worked out daily in the gym before tea/honey suppertime. Comedy proved to be one of the best diversions. First season television episodes of the American version of “The Office” provided such laugh out loud pleasure that we savored two, or more, each day. By the third day, adaptation set in. Appetite diminished. We were genuinely full after bowls of broth or tea. We had more energy after “rest hour” with the potatoes.

On Friday evening we were ushered to an area of the dining room screened off from the fasting crowd. A table for two was set with linens and candles. The Clinic Director lit the candles and made a little speech congratulating us on completing the fast. We were cautioned to re-enter the food world carefully in the upcoming days. They served us soup, slightly thickened with lentils, onions, carrots and savory herbs. There was a plain piece of toasted bread. Taste buds reawakened. Every flavor was discernible. There was joy in feeling texture in the mouth. We chewed and swallowed slowly. The next morning we breakfasted on a kind of warm, nourishing gruel with a glass of apple juice before being picked up.

That evening, back in the home village, we went out for a restaurant meal and talked about the experience. We had gone there knowing next to nothing about the German approach to health. That was definitely the adventure part. The not-so-great birthday part was simply that it was not an ideal choice for a healthy 22 year-old. At the time, I thought any adventure, even an “unusual” one, would be more meaningful than something tangible. It was certainly memorable, but understandably forgettable as a gift. Since then, with our far-reaching geography, family birthdays are special when we can simply be together. With cake. Without broth.


WALDORF RED CAKE–Especially for Birthdays


  • ½ C. butter
  • 1 ½ C. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 oz. red food color
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 T. cocoa
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 C. buttermilk
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. white vinegar
  • 2 C. + 2 T. flour

Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Add cocoa and food coloring. Add buttermilk alternately with dry ingredients. Stir in vanilla and vinegar well. Pour into 2 greased 9 inch round cake pans. Bake 350F. [180C.] until done~30 minutes. Cool on racks before frosting.


  • 3 T. flour
  • 1 C. milk
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 C. butter

Cook flour and milk over medium heat until thick, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool. Cream sugar, butter and vanilla until fluffy. Blend creamed ingredients into the cooled flour mixture. An electric mixer works best. Spread frosting on bottom layer of cake. Cover with top layer and complete frosting. Enjoy with loved ones.dscn0537wald-red-sm

Fabio Meets Brownies Cocaine

French baking ingredients, except vanilla extract from USA

Baking can be a handy skill. There are several things to like about it. It’s mental because you measure and time things accurately. It’s physical because it involves beating, stirring, or folding ingredients together. It’s meditative because while things are in the oven you might as well read or mull something over in your mind. Or, just get busy and clean up the mess, which goes back to being physical. There are important sensory and emotional elements too. Whatever is in the oven smells great, creates memories, and tastes better than anything from the store.

My reasons for enjoying baking evolved over time. In the beginning, it satisfied a rabid teen-aged sweet tooth. At 16, I was baking cookies regularly, convinced it was “healthier” than Coca Cola and candy bars. Later, it was an expression of love for a growing family. There were no appetizing sweets when we lived in Asia. Imported Oreos or Chips Ahoy were available in the form of stale crumbs. Fig Newtons were an occasional purchase, but only after surreptitiously squeezing the package to make sure they were fresh. I kept the family in homemade cookies, muffins, and coffee cakes for years. Baking was also useful for saying thank you to friends for a kindness or favor.

51p4erpkBvLWhen our children were very small, there was a storybook called Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murphy. I’m not sure they even remember it. It was really for mothers, which is why I remember it. An elephant named Mrs. Large tries to claim five minutes of peace from her three rambunctious offspring. Of course she never does. They always want to see what she is doing. They follow her into the bathroom while she is bathing, into the kitchen while she tries to read the newspaper or drink a cup of tea. She never claims a full five minutes by herself because they want her undivided attention. At one time or another most mothers of young children fantasize about a bit of quiet solitude away from family routines.


Once, an artist friend in Cyprus gave me such a gift. We lived in Nicosia for three years in the early 1990s. Most of that time, Fabio lived in an ancient stone house in a small Greek village. His lifestyle inspired him to paint oil canvases of Cypriot village life, or the countryside, or the sea. He was a good Italian cook and loved to talk about food, but he did not bake. He had quirky rules about portion sizes, particularly sweets. He always took “a bite” of sweet while drinking his strong Italian coffee. One bite. No more. I enjoyed strong coffee, with or without a bite of something on the side, so we got along fine. He knew I had a young family with the usual busy demands. He also understood I enjoyed being on my own. One time when he planned to be in the city for the week, he asked if I would like to stay in the village for a couple of days. “Yes!” was the only possible response. I planned an overnight getaway for five minutes of peace.


The house was built in old-Cypriot style. A high stonewall with a wooden door opened onto an uncovered cobblestoned courtyard. The rooms of the house were not connected to each other. Instead, they opened directly onto the courtyard. On one side was the kitchen and living room. On the other side was the bathroom and two bedrooms, one atop the other. An open stone staircase led to the upper bedroom. Olive trees, cactus, succulents, herbs and flowers were in clay pots or scattered about in earthy plots of garden.

village house courtyard

courtyard as outdoor living room

The house walls were at least two feet thick. The wide stone windowsill in the kitchen held ripened tomatoes, drying herbs and smooth rocks that looked like  eggs. There were decorations in the form of blue glass “eye” amulets to ward off bad spirits. I settled in and went exploring.


foraged baskets turn into home decor

The house nearby begged for archeological excavating. It had crumbled into abandoned ruins long before. Minor foraging produced two mud-encrusted baskets with holes in the bottom. They cleaned up nicely. I fixed a simple meal in the primitive kitchen: eggs with fresh tomatoes and herbs, village bread and wine. Before falling asleep, I stared at the stars from my bed under an open window.

Driving back to Nicosia the next day, I considered the gift of restorative time Fabio had unknowingly bestowed. In an old fashioned house in a dusty village, I had a quietly rejuvenating adventure. SONY DSCA baking thank-you was in order. Something to challenge Fabio’s portion control principles. There are brownie recipes and then there are BROWNIE recipes. BROWNIES COCAINE can sideswipe almost anyone with its dark chocolate-y decadent deliciousness.


brownies cocaine

A day or so later, I brewed some strong coffee and placed six squares of Brownies Cocaine on a small serving plate. Fabio listened as I told about grooming the courtyard garden, re-arranging windowsills, scavenging the rubble next door. He silently ate one, two, three, four bites–until, the plate was empty. This recipe became a rule breaker that day. Fabio returned to the stony village with extra brownies for other coffee mornings.

And I returned to family life with fond memories of a quaint old courtyard that offered a whole lot more than five minutes’ peace.


  • 3/4 C. butter
  • 1 1/8 C. unsweetened cocoa [A good European brand is optimal.]
  • 2 T. oil
  • Melt these ingredients together slowly, over low heat, stirring continuously. Set aside to cool.
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 3 C. sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. vanilla extract [Good vanilla is key to great baking. Spend money on this.]
  • Beat the eggs, salt, sugar and vanilla together.
  • Stir in cooled chocolate quickly using only a few strokes.
  • 1 1/2 C. flour
  • Add flour by folding in.
  • Bake 350F. [180C.] 25 minutes in greased 9×13 pan. Cool before cutting.
  • Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar, if desired.

out of the oven



au natural


with confectioner’s sugar





The Unexpected in Normandy

A small disclaimer. This article touches only on the FRANCO-AMERICAN aspects of D-Day, 70 years ago.  Other members of the Allied Expeditionary Forces landed in Normandy at the same time, assuring the success of the invasion. 

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General Dwight D. Eisenhower and members of the 101st Airborne, June 1944

Throughout military history, the most well constructed plans sometimes result in unexpected outcomes. It happened on D-Day, June 6, 1944. In the pre-dawn hours, American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were scattered all over the Norman countryside. Most of them had completely missed their drop zones. As they reached the coast of France, heavy incoming anti-aircraft fire caused C-47 pilots to turn on jump lights too quickly. Soldiers landed far from designated assembly areas, sometimes losing weapons and equipment in the hasty exit. In the Band of Brothers episode, “Day of Days”, Captain Richard Winters and a nervous private were walking through the darkness looking for orienting landmarks. The private asked, “Do you have any idea where we are, sir?” “Some,” came the answer. The soldier mused, “I wonder if the rest of them are as lost as we are.” To which Captain Winters replied, “We’re not lost, private. We’re in Normandy.” 

And so were we. Unexpectedly. Seventy years later, June 6, 2014.

Only three days earlier, the U.S. Embassy had issued an invitation for a small group from the American School Paris to attend the Franco-American D-Day Ceremony in Colleville-sur-Mer. Presidents François Hollande and Barack Obama would speak to guests and returning veterans at the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. For many soldiers it would be their last trip to the site where the tide of World War II turned. And, perhaps, their last time to honor fallen comrades. D-Day invitation

DSC_1256The embassy established a strict timetable. Our bus had to pass inspection in Caen at 6:30AM. The engine number was even registered in advance for security purposes. It was another hour’s drive to the memorial site and a second security checkpoint. We were to be seated by 9:30AM. Traffic between Paris and the Norman coast would be heavy, so an early start was scheduled. But, unexpected things happen.

We left school at 3:00AM. Students retreated to the back of the bus and immediately fell asleep. The three adults chatted quietly for the first two hours. I dozed off briefly, but was awakened by loud engine noises and a bad smell. The bus was not moving. Clearly the mechanical problem was serious and unfixable. It was 5:30AM. A replacement bus would arrive from Paris, in two or three hours. There was no chance of making the security inspection on time, nor would engine numbers match the original paperwork. Students woke up, but remained quiet. The possibility of missing the ceremony was unspoken and on everyone’s mind.

Around 6:15AM, a Secret Service convoy pulled up next to us. We explained our situation to the lead driver who told us that he was chauffeuring Mary Eisenhower, Dwight’s granddaughter from his son, John. Everyone perked up at the “celebrity” citing. Unfortunately, agents nixed the idea of our group hitching a ride with the VIPs. They pulled out and drove on.

One student mentioned that his father was leading President Obama’s embassy detail in Paris. We called to tell him about the broken down bus and the ruptured schedule. Awhile later, two French “Gendarmerie” [state police troopers] arrived on motorcycles.

gendarmerie escorts

The boy’s father had arranged for a personal police escort to speed us through the inspection checkpoint and on to the Cemetery! By 8:15AM, we were back on the road with “Our Gendarmes” leading the way. Moods shifted to a higher gear.


leading the way to inspection point

At the first traffic jam, our escort turned on flashing lights and sirens and led us down the wrong side of the road. We skirted a long lineup of vehicles waiting to enter the inspection area. By 9:00AM, dogs had sniffed the bus, forms were stamped, and window stickers applied. Landing at Omaha Beach was next. Closely following the motorcycle brigade, we swerved around roadblocks and through roundabouts, literally holding onto our seats. Local residents lined the streets to watch the parade into the Memorial area.DSC_1229


merci beaucoup les gendarmes!

Arrival…10:00AM! After thanking the Gendarmes, we inched forward with the crowd waiting to pass through security scanners. Overhead, President Obama arrived on Marine One with four accompanying Osprey helicopters.


the stunning backdrop

At the Memorial area, chairs overflowed with 15,000 people stretching down the grassy field between the white marble markers. More than 200 American veterans from D-Day 1944 were seated on the stage. Small French and American flags decorated each of the 9,387 grave sites. The sky and the sea, both deep lapis blue, created a stunning backdrop.

The Ceremony opened officially with the posting of the colors, French and American. The two national anthems were played, followed by a prayer. French President Hollande spoke first. He commemorated the day, 70 years before, using beautiful, descriptive language. He spoke of France’s gratefulness to the American Allies. He thanked the United States for both her help and the ultimate sacrifice made by young men. On the first day of the invasion, 4,000 American soldiers died. The Battle of Normandy lasted three months, until Paris was liberated at the end of August. The total cost was 20,838 American lives.

During President Obama’s speech there were two standing ovations for the veterans seated behind him. He said, “We are here on this Earth for only a moment in time. And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago. So we have to tell their stories for them. We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for. We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy today.” The President reminded us: “Whenever the world makes you cynical…stop. And think of these men. Whenever you lose hope…stop. And think of these men.”


missing man formation

Together, the two presidents laid a wreath for fallen soldiers, followed by a moment of silence. Three cannons poised on top of the cliff above Omaha Beach boomed a 21-gun salute. A trumpet played “Taps”. Finally, four F-15 jets flew over the cemetery in “Missing Man” formation, remembering those who didn’t return home.


D-Day veteran interview


ASP students and teacher with Normandy veteran

Of all the unexpected events that had happened so far, the most meaningful one took place when the ceremony was over. After the dignitaries departed, we approached the stage where some of the sturdier veterans lingered. We were able to listen to stories from the men themselves. I overheard an interview with a soldier, 93 years old. His hand stayed cupped by his ear to hear the questions, but he answered each one clearly and humbly.

We shook hands with veterans in wheel chairs and on walkers, thanking them. The students listened intently to stories of the heroism of comrades who did not survive. Respects were paid to the men now resting in the serenity of the cemetery. Row upon row of white marble crosses stretch across the grass, each etched with a name, rank, company, hometown, and the day of death. They stand in perfect formation, like the soldiers themselves once did.


like soldiers standing at attention

On June 6, 1944, the unexpected happened. That same day in 2014, none of us expected to feel such intense emotion and awe as we mingled with surviving veterans. But we did. Every one of these men had been there on those bloody beaches or scattered across the countryside 70 years ago. What they accomplished changed the course of history for all of us. It is an impossible debt to repay. Sharing this special anniversary with American veterans from D-Day 1944 was an honor and a lifetime memory for everyone in our group. As the older voices continue to fade, it is up to us to keep telling the stories for them, so that the next generation and the next…will never forget the legacy they left.


93 year old 101st Airborne veteran parachutes into Normandy, June 2014

Libby’s Lessons in Lauzerte

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Lauzerte, France

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central square, Lauzerte

Libby is my renaissance friend. She lives in a small medieval village located on top of a hill in the French countryside. Founded in the 12th century, Lauzerte was designated as one of 100 “Most Beautiful Villages in France” in 1990.

Libby paints sheep

Libby paints sheep

Although Libby is talented in painting, writing, decorating, and starting successful businesses, she inspires me most with what comes out of her kitchen. I learn something memorable about food every time I see her. She and her husband left the hectic world of U.S. finance to retire early and bought a farm in France. Before long, they opened a “Luxury Boot Camp” in a ten-bedroom stone mansion, half a block from the central square. It’s a place where you go to exercise [a lot!], receive daily massages and eat three well-proportioned meals a day, including dessert and wine. The result is to lose weight and inches and discover hidden muscles. “Camp” is the kind of place to jump-start the way to a fitter, leaner, healthier you. But it’s not for the faint of heart.

Around Easter time in April 2009, I went to see what boot camp and luxury had in common. Advertising had put them on the map, but I was the solo guest for two weeks. At 6:30AM the day began with a glass of hot lemon water and 30 minutes of abdominal exercises followed by an hour of yoga. Then came breakfast, which was always a bowl of Libby’s homemade granola with sheep’s yogurt and freshly cut up fruit, coffee or tea. After eating, it was out the door to hike the rocky, hilly pilgrimage trails of southern France for the next three to four hours. Lunch was served at 1:00PM, in three courses, with a brief rest afterwards. Back to the exercise room at 3:00 for one hour of weight training and aerobics followed by an hour of Pilates mat exercises.

countryside around Lauzerte

At 5:00PM came the blessed massage and a post-exercise swoon. Afterwards, a soaking bath with aromatic soaps and oils, a shower, and dressing for dinner almost completed the day. The first week, I made my way to the dining room by holding onto BOTH the wall and the ancient banister, negotiating one step at a time. Pausing halfway down to admire candles on the landing gave ache-y muscles a tiny rest.

Dinner was always a fine reward.  A table set with antique linens and good china, a candlelit chandelier and a wood burning fire created warmth and ambience. Locally produced wine accompanied another three-course meal. No bread was ever served. Each meal was based on nourishing food in reasonable portions without the contents of a basket of bread to nosh on between courses. Instead, “carbs” were consumed in small glasses of wine, which was fine by me. Somehow, I kept my part of the conversation going until I could excuse myself and navigate up the stairs for the night. Over the course of fourteen lunches and dinners the three of us covered a lot of conversational territory. Libby and I became friends.

Now I sometimes go back to Lauzerte to help with organizational projects in the big stone house. A couple of years later, after reading THE CHINA STUDY by Campbell & Campbell, Libby embraced vegan cuisine and the menus at Camp changed overnight.IMG_1626 She took charge of the kitchen, planning and preparing all meals. It was nearly impossible to find a French vegan chef in the countryside. The food was still amazing and few guests complained. Online reviews rave about the meals and the hard-earned body changes that are typical after a week’s stay.

In early March of this year, I went back to help with a spring cleanout before the guest season began. Eating was informal and mostly unscheduled. We prepared a couple of delicious veggie soups, but a food epiphany was born in the middle of a sandwich. The bread spread Libby made called “Cashew Ricotta” was anything but a nutty cheese. Vegan it is and ricotta only in name. It’s inherent creaminess and spread-ability came from very soft tofu blended with raw cashews, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and basil. The first taste was transformative. Giving up sea-salted butter on my toast for the week? Not a problem. Liberally spread, Cashew Ricotta on the morning baguette fueled energy for vacuuming cobwebs, dead bugs and dust bunnies, wiping out cupboards and shelves, hauling firewood, and carting wheelbarrow loads to the garbage and recycling bins. I sneaked restorative breaks by dipping into the container of this sensational “sandwich spread” with carrots, cucumbers, bread and occasionally a finger when nothing else was available. An addiction was born.


cashew ricotta and sandwich ingredients

With a few ingredients and a food processor, Cashew Ricotta can be made in a flash. It’s a satisfyingly delicious alternative to hummus since it is also vegetable protein. As well as on sandwiches and toast, it can be used as a dip for crudités, breadsticks, crackers, as a topping on baked or boiled potatoes, even hardboiled eggs. It’s probably pretty incredible on French fries but I haven’t tried that, yet. Good-bye forever, Hellman’s Mayo and Miracle Whip! This spread could easily be mass marketed, but the best way to enjoy it is to make your own, à la Libby.




tofu, cashews, lemon, garlic, olive oil, salt, basil

CASHEW RICOTTA– Sandwich Spread

  • ½ cup RAW cashews [4oz.]
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves [or less, depending on your love of garlic!] [can be roasted too]
  • 1 lb. very soft tofu, drained [the softest and creamiest you can find]
  • 1 ½ t. dried basil [can use fresh in larger amount, but equally delicious with dried]
  • 1 ½ t. salt

In food processor blend cashews, basil, lemon juice, garlic. Then add tofu, oil and salt. [If using fresh basil, add with the second batch of ingredients. Use as much as you want until you like the color.]


C.R. comes to life



as a dip extraordinaire