Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year! Now, where are the grapes?

¡Feliz Año Nuevo! Happy New Year!

No doubt about it, Spain has great wine! And when you're a winemaker, there's bound to be a surplus crop at times. How the tradition of Spaniards eating grapes came to be on New Year's Eve, I'm sure that I don't know, but it was marketing genius to associate grape eating with the strokes ushering out the end of the year. What better way to rid yourself of extras and guarantee the need for fruit late into the season.

If we were in Spain tonight, we certainly would be readying ourselves to celebrate the birth of 2014 with twelve grapes, the tradition of Las doce uvas de la suerte or The Twelve Grapes of Luck. From our home here in New England, we have our grapes ready to go...each of the twelve, ready for our wishes, hopes and dreams for 2014.

With each chime of midnight (based on the clock tower in Puerta del Sol in Madrid, near Kilometre Zero, the center of Spain), Spaniards eat one grape with the beat of each bell. This is said to promise good luck into the new year.

Here in the States, where time is counted in seconds while the Times Square ball is lowered from its lofty perch, it's tough to properly space out your grape consumption, but as long as you eat your last grape before 12:01, you should be in good standing for the new year.  

Think about your twelve wishes. Are they for you? For your family? For the world? Visualize your perfect 2014.

As 2013 is washed away, and 2014 takes its place, what changes will you make to create a better life for yourself? For your family? For our world?

It really is a clean slate. As 2014 is born, we have a new moon. This hasn't happened in nineteen years. It truly is a fresh start. What will you do with your fresh start?

Happy New Year, friends. ¡Feliz Año Nuevo! Wishing you much joy in 2014 and always.

Muchos besos.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Unstuff...the Site for Experiences, Not Clutter

I recently discovered Unstuff Gifts. It's a dream come true for an emerging minimalist like me who prefers to travel and enjoy unique experiences, rather than be cluttered with stuff that I don't need.

Unstuff is a clearinghouse of ideas for gifts that you can "download, experience, or ingest." And they'll never clog up a landfill or end up in somebody's junk drawer.

Photos courtesy of www.unstuffgifts.com

Here's how it works:

Click on an experience and the website takes you to websites of vendors offering the service or experience. From there, do your own thing...purchase the product, like a share in a CSA, or the experience, like a Breaking Bad trolley tour.

There are ideas at every budget level, like spooning Bigfoot by reserving a campground at around $25 or un-beer-belly the one you love with a Cross-Fit membership, at $100-200/month.

And don't forget, with daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social, gifting experiences can be affordable, as well as environmentally responsible. It's a win-win.

And, if you're not interested in gifting someone, explore the site for ideas to make your own fun.

Unstuff Gifts could be one of my best finds this year. Check it out and see for yourself.

You may revisit that bucket list or plan an amazing 2014. Regardless of how you dematerialize, have fun and unstuff your life.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Quotes on Cooking and Eating to Inspire the Inner Foodie

For many, Sunday is a cooking day. Some prep meals for the week, but pay little attention to the love, care and art involved in preparing the nourishment that feeds our bodies, and at times, our souls. It becomes habit, or worse...a chore, and we lose sight of the importance and value of choosing quality ingredients, savoring flavor, and offering our heart in a dish.

Here are 10 pin-worthy graphic quotes about food and cooking that remind us of the gift we offer and are given in good food.

Buen provecho!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Easy New England Clam Chowda

If the Christmas leftovers are wearing thin and you're looking for something hot, but simple this chilly (depending on where you are) winter weekend, I have the perfect recipe for you.

I have to hand it to Rachael Ray...she ran a touchdown with this New England clam chowder recipe. It's not super thick, so, if that's your thing, add more flour. But, for me, it's perfect and creamy enough to coat the spoon.

And, like most Rachael Ray recipes, it's ready in 30 minutes or less.

New England Clam Chowda a la Rachael Ray
2 tbs. butter
2 slices thick cut bacon, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 ribs of celery, finely chopped
4 sprigs of fresh thyme...this really makes a difference
2 tbs. flour
1 pint of half and half
2 cups of fish stock...or chicken stock
1 cup of hash brown potatoes found in the dairy aisle
2 cans of whole baby clams in their juice
Salt and pepper to taste

  • Cook the bacon, onion, and celery, and thyme in the butter over medium-ish heat. Don't burn the butter.
  • Add the flour and cook one minute
  • Add the stock and half and half. Bring to a bubble.
  • Stir in the potatoes and clams. Bring to a boil.
Easiest potatoes ever...I use half of a bag for this recipe.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Voila! It smells great and tastes even better. Like I said, it's not super thick, and some purists may poo-poo the bacon and celery, but they give it a great flavor. And, again, the fresh thyme makes a big difference in the depth of flavor.

Rachael serves hers with open face ham salad on English muffins (mug toppers, she calls them). We've used tuna salad, tuna melts, and plain old grilled cheese. It's a great winter supper.


Friday, December 27, 2013

A Letter to Me...5 Promises for 2014

Dear Me,
Look at this sunrise.

I know there's snow on the ground and it's far too cold, but look at that sky.

This is a reminder to you that no matter where you are in your head...in the cold, seemingly dormant recesses of your good thinking, the sun is still there, pushing through, showing you that a new day is a new chance to start over.

You've lost your way a bit. You haven't been making the best choices for yourself. You've given in to old demons who have told you that a bite here and there doesn't matter. Well, it does. You know that, and now, your jeans show that.

We also know, it's not about weight. It's about  total health. And in 2014, you're taking it back. We're chunking this one out, because you can do 5 of anything. Recommit.  So much is going right...your marriage, your career, your family and friends. Recommit to you!

Here are your 5 commitments for 2014.

1. Commit to accountability. Whether you use an online app or go old school, just do it. Write it down. If it goes in your mouth, it goes in your journal. Knowledge is power. Take it back.

2. Commit to clean. There are so many choices you can make that do not include sugar or processed garbage. Clean it up. Why are you using your body as a trash can? Would you feed a child like this?

3. Commit to move. Your excuses are just that. Excuses. Get off the computer, bundle up, and get outside. No more excuses. You have at least a half hour somewhere in your day. Use it for good...move!

4. Commit to growth. Read, learn, grow. Find a class at the local adult education center or university. Shut off the computer and read before bed. Better yet, find two...maybe there's a class you and A can do together and then one just for you.

5. Commit to mindfulness. Jim had it right... Wherever you are, be all there. Make a list...you love lists. For what are you grateful in your life? What makes you smile? What makes you happy? Reflect on those things. Focus on the assets, not the debits and enjoy the moment for what it is, not what it could have been. Be in the moment and enjoy it for what it is.

Look around you. Life doesn't look like you thought it would; it rarely does. But it's a great life, nonetheless. It is a lovely life, indeed. You are blessed.

You have two choices: you can choose how you see each day, and you choose your actions. And those actions have consequences.

So  make choices that make you proud. You tell your students that. Practice what you preach.

You know what to do. Do it already.

Happy New Year!


2013: What I Read

In addition to the blogs I follow regularly, I read a lot of books as well. Here's a rundown of what was on my nightstand this year:

And here's what's coming up for the first few months of 2014:

I'm definitely in a food writing genre rut, but so far, so good. Last year, I was reading mostly travel memoirs. 

What's on your reading list for this year?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Travel Quotes to Inspire and Feed the Wanderlust

If you said that 2014 was your year to travel, then look no further. Here are 10 pin-worthy quotes to feed your wanderlust, or maybe, to provide the inspiration you need to pack your bags and go. 

And if seeing the world is not in your 2014 outlook, try the advice of the Dalai Lama...Once a year, go someplace you've never been before. Whether that's to a new country or a new city in your own state, explore. Explore new neighborhoods, taste new foods, talk with new people. And share your experiences. Who knows, you could inspire someone else along the way. Cheers!



¡Buen viaje!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, friends!

Speak your love.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

As someone who grew up in the Muppet era and the time of Sesame Street, before Elmo, I have great affection for the old-school Christmas specials. Here is a blast from the past to tug at the nostalgic heart strings.

Merry Christmas!

Pumpkin dip...in case you're not yet sick of all things pumpkin

I love pumpkin and I never get sick of it. So last Christmas, I made this pumpkin dip recipe I found online. It takes 5 minutes and it's a crowd-pleaser.

Pumpkin Dip
8 ounces of soft cream cheese
16 ounces of sifted powdered sugar
1 can of pumpkin
1 tbs. of cinnamon
1 tbs. of pumpkin pie spice*

Mix together, chill, and serve. It's fantastic served with Stacy's cinnamon sugar pita chips or even with ginger snaps. I've seen it served with graham crackers and pretzels too. Pick your dipper and enjoy.

*If you don't have pumpkin pie spice, here's what you can do...mix 1 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. ginger and 1/8 tsp. ground cloves.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Chocolate Covered Cherries

Unlike my earlier post on the easiest peanut butter fudge ever, these chocolate covered cherries, while seemingly easy to make, are labor intensive.

But they're for my dad, and he's worth it.

Dad's Chocolate Covered Cherries

3 tbs. of butter*, softened
3 tbs. of light corn syrup
2 cups of sifted powdered sugar
2 jars of maraschino cherries, with stems
2 bags of dark chocolate chips (or your choice of chocolate)

  1. Drain the cherries and let sit in a colander to dry out a bit.
  2. Mix the softened butter with the corn syrup and then add to the powdered sugar. Mix into a fondant dough.
  3. Break off a small piece of fondant, roll into a ball and then flatten into a small disk. Wrap each cherry in the fondant and put onto a wax-paper lined cookie sheet.  Then chill for 1-2 hours, until hardened.

4. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Be careful not to splash water into the chocolate, or it will seize up and make it virtually unusable. You can also melt it in the microwave, according to the package directions.

5. Dip each fondant-wrapped cherry into the chocolate and put back onto a clean wax-paper lined cookie sheet.

6. Let them chill overnight before packaging them up.

**Butter is a necessary component. Without it, the fondant doesn't hold together and you have a sticky, gooey mess.

They're crazy sweet, but yummy! Enjoy!

Exploring Northern Spain...Bilbao & the Guggenheim

This summer, while we were in Spain, we drove over to Bilbao, the capital of the Basque Country, Pais Vasco, in the north, the 4th largest city in Spain. Located on the Bay of Biscay, Bilbao is an important port city with a thriving, proud, rich culture.

While we were there, we explored the Guggenheim and sampled some amazing pinxtos, on somewhat of a pinxtro (pub) crawl, in and around Plaza Mayor. Pinxtos are similar to Spanish tapas and ordering them is half the fun. Be adventurous and don't overthink it...just enjoy it.

Perhaps Bilbao's most famous current tourist destination, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, was inaugurated in 1997, and designed by renowned architect, Frank Gehry. It runs along the Nervion River, which cuts directly through the city.

The grounds are impressive, capstoned by Jeff Koon's Puppy, a 43-foot flower topiary of a puppy standing guard at the front of the museum.

Another Koons piece, Tulips, adorns the back patio.

From the back patio, you can see Maman, a giant bronze spider by artist,  Louise Bourgeois, measuring over 30 feet high and over 33 feet wide, with a sac containing 26 marble eggs.

Other views from the patio...


Arcos rojos, The Red Arches, by Daniel Buren, on La Salve Bridge
80 Balls Stainless Steel by Indian artist, Anish Kapoor

While we were there, we saw an exhibit entitled L'Arte en Guerre: From Picasso to Debuffet.
Bilbao is beautiful. Lovely balconies...

Interesting characters...

And delights for the most adventurous palates...

Explore the Mercado de la Ribera, built in 1929. Billed as the largest indoor market in Europe, it offers the best of Bilbao's produce, fish, meat, and cheese.

Wander Bilbao's streets and fall in love...


If we had more time, there is much more we could have done in this fun, vibrant city; however, the brief time we had was enough to spark interest in a future visit.
Eskerrik asko, Bilbao. Egingo itzuliko gara.