Aspen Empty Nest



I’ve started blogging over at Aspen Empty Nest.  Most of my new posts will be there, so please come check it out!!



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A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools. ~Spanish Proverb

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Or even better…”Your stomach shouldn’t be a wastebasket.” -Dori Friedberg

Whether it’s an ancient Spanish Proverb, or a modern day nutritionist, we all know we need to take care of our bodies.  Some more than others.  I’ve always felt I was on the above average side in eating a healthy diet.  (Not counting during college and the years immediately following when I lived on popcorn and ICEE’s from the gas station).  But I don’t eat meat, only fish, lots of vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, very little dairy, NO cheese, and MODERATION is my key.  Any time I tell myself I can NOT eat something I love, like fried foods or chocolate chip cookies, I become COMPLETELY OBSESSED with them, and end up binging.  So the thing that works for me is move more, eat less.  I don’t deny myself anything, I just don’t eat much of the things I know aren’t the best for me. 

Now, according to more and more people, my diet is killing me.  They start talking about leptin and metabolic syndrome and my head starts spinning.  I have spent a lot of time online and talking to my very smart friends who are eating this way.  I would have no problem giving up dairy.  I pretty much already have, but even if I could give up whole grain bread, I still can’t wrap my head around the no farro, brown rice, quinoa, and even legumes.  NO BLACK BEANS?  NO CHICKPEAS?  NO GREEN PEAS?  But the scientific community has, for the most part, stayed on the fence.   For now, I’m going to keep reading everything I can about the science behind the whole Paleo/ancestral diet thing, continue listening to my very smart friends, but continue eating whole grains and legumes in moderation.

But when I get invited to my very smart Paleo-eating friend’s house for dinner and am asked to bring an appetizer and a salad, I have to get more creative.  Those who have been eating this way for a long time have no problem coming up with ideas, but other than meat and vegetables, I wasn’t sure what to take.  My dear husband can’t live without chips and hummus, but since those were out of the question, I made a yummy Cauliflower Hummus (completely paleo…no legumes at all), and for me I made my favorite Broccoli Hummus.  That does include some chickpeas, but not many, and it was a huge hit, even with my friends.  I tinkered around with a couple of old recipes and they were so successful I wanted to write them down so I wouldn’t forget.  The problem is, I was so busy playing around and taste-testing that I forgot to take photos.  The only photo I have is the bowl of leftovers…(regular hummus for J, and broccoli hummus).  You can see which was more popular!

There was basically none of the Cauliflower Puree left, other than a few bites that I ate by the spoonful the next day.

So here are the recipes.  I served with a ton of crudite’, and a few gluten-free crackers for J and I.  Easy peasy.

CAULIFLOWER HUMMUS

Yield:  1-2 cups, depending on the size of your cauliflower head 

*Click HERE for printable recipe

1 Large head of cauliflower (preferably yellow, as the parsley will give it a lovely green color)
2-6 cloves of garlic (my garlic was quite strong so I only used 2)
2 TBSP Almond Butter
2 TBSP lemon juice
1/4 cup of olive oil
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped (I don’t recommend using dried parsley, as the color change and taste from the fresh is so beautiful)
1/2 tsp of smoked paprika
Salt, to taste
Garnish with parsley, smoked paprika and olive oil

Separate the cauliflower into florets, cutting away the center core.  Steam or microwave until very tender.  While that is cooling, mince the garlic in a food processor.  Add the olive oil, nut butter, spices and lemon juice and puree well.  Add the cauliflower and puree until it is smooth.  Add more olive oil if needed to get the texture smooth.  Place in dish and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with more paprika and serve with veggies.

********************

Broccoli Hummus

*Click HERE for printable recipe

Yield:  Two Cups

1 lb of broccoli crowns
2 garlic cloves
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed (or 1 cup cooked chickpeas)
2 tsp. ground cumin 
2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt,  to taste
1-2 TBSP tahini (sesame paste), to taste

1.  Steam the broccoli for five minutes until tender, but still bright.  Refresh with cold water and drain on paper towels.  (Very IMPORTANT…don’t overcook or the color will be a muddy green).

2.  Turn on the food processor and drop in the garlic.  Scrape down and puree again.  Scrape down.

3.  Turn on the machine and slowly pour in the lemon juice and oil with the machine running.  Process until smooth.

4.  Add the tahini and salt to taste.  Blend well.

Serve with veggies, and/or pita. 

Helpful links about paleo, and a couple refuting it, so you can be as confused as I am!!

Whole Nine
Grain Brain, by David Perlmutter
Wheat Belly, by William Davis, MD
Built Lean, article by Charlie Seltzer, MD
Outlaw Fitness, by Josh Vales
Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber, from the NIH

Your stomach shouldn’t be a waste basket. ~Dori Friedberg – See more at: http://paleononpaleo.com/paleo-quotations-health-1/#sthash.dEkNPPEE.dpuf
Your stomach shouldn’t be a waste basket. ~Dori Friedberg – See more at: http://paleononpaleo.com/paleo-quotations-health-1/#sthash.dEkNPPEE.dpuf
Your stomach shouldn’t be a waste basket. ~Dori Friedberg – See more at: http://paleononpaleo.com/paleo-quotations-health-1/#sthash.dEkNPPEE.dpuf
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“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.” ― William Cullen Bryant

I seriously love autumn.  I love the crisp mornings, sunny days, and spectacular colors!  It’s been a wonderful summer, and I am feeling blessed.  Daylight savings time ended yesterday, so the days are getting shorter.  Now it’s time to start counting the reasons to be Thankful, because Thanksgiving will be here soon.  My mom has already started Christmas shopping, and time is going by so fast it’s hard to slow down and enjoy the moments.  But it has been a glorious time to be in the mountains. 


Saturday afternoon after a couple of quick rain showers

Yesterday was a great day.  We had NO plans, so stayed in all day.  J loves Sundays.  He sits down in front of the NFL RED ZONE at 1:00, before the first game starts, and basically stays there until he shuffles to bed and falls asleep watching the last game.  I get football by osmosis: based on what he yells, I pretty much figure out what happens.  But I can’t watch the Red Zone.  I call it football for A.D.D.  You start watching one game, and they suddenly switch to another one when you look down to check your email…I just can’t keep up. But it makes him very happy.  The leaves up here peaked about a week ago, and we’ve had a couple of rains this week so they are all coming down.  I love the way the roads look when the leaves have just fallen. 

I spent my day reading, catching up on TV shows on my ipad, and starting a new painting.  I hope I’ll be able to capture the glorious colors I saw last week.

 We celebrated my young girlfriend’s 50th last week in beautiful Callaway Gardens! 

Dressed all in pink for dinner…we don’t like to call attention to ourselves at all!
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It was a glorious crisp fall weekend, and we had so much fun relaxing, freezing our tuccas off while biking around the property, and seeing the beautiful gardens and butterflies.  We wanted to go dancing, but the metropolis of Pine Mountain, Georgia didn’t really offer anywhere to go, so we cranked up the music and danced in the parking lot!

 We never saw another guest anywhere around, since we were in between seasons, so we kind of had the place to ourselves.  And then we went inside, changed into our pjs, and continued the dance party.  Maybe since most of us are over 50 we should act more like our age, but what’s the fun in that?

Must have been a really heartfelt song!

The horticultural center with our awesome volunteer tour guide

 J and I FINALLY played golf.  It rained so much at the beginning of the summer (over 100″ before the end of July!), and J was still recovering from ACL surgery, that this was our first time of the year.  I wish I could say I played well, but I didn’t suck as much as I thought I would.  It was a beautiful day, and we had a blast.  Hoping to play a couple more times this week.

 We were invited to a friend’s sister’s house to watch the Trick-or-Treating in Brevard.  They actually close her street and it is absolutely crazy!  I miss those days. 

A live pony!!  How cool is that?

Speaking of Trick or Treating…no trick or treating in college, but parties every day of the week!  My little activist H went dressed as one of her heroines…Rachel Carsen.  (For those of you, like me, who don’t know who she was, click on her name for more info).


 She and her friend J also dressed up as Sam and Suzy from the movie “Moonrise Kingdom“.  She told me she bought the red dress and sewed the collar and cuffs on them herself.  Who knew she could sew?

So it’s goodbye to autumn, and hello winter!  Snowmass has had almost 60″ of snow since September!  It’s going to be an amazing season! 
**I went to a party this weekend and was asked to bring appetizers.  Since they eat no dairy, grain, sugar or legumes, I was lost for ideas.  I took an awesome Cauliflower puree that was delicious, and had no legumes whatsoever.  I also took my Broccoli Hummus, which does have garbanzo beans, but it is so amazing I keep eating the leftovers by the spoonful!  I’ll post the recipes tomorrow.

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Six things I wish I’d known before sending my daughter to college

It’s hard to believe, but summer is basically over.    H starts her sophomore year of college on Tuesday after Labor Day, but is already on campus, welcoming incoming freshmen.  Last year she went backpacking for her freshman Orientation Adventure, and most of the kids in her group are still her closest friends.  This year she will help lead a backpacking/kayaking trip on Catalina Island.
I’ve been thinking about this time last year.  We spent two days helping her move in to the dorm (which involved carrying a lot of boxes and making multiple Target runs, but not much unpacking, because SHE wanted to do it herself).  That was the first surprise.  I had imagined helping her unpack, putting away her things in an organized manner, hanging pictures, making the bed, etc., but in reality, she had imagined finally being able to make her own decisions about all that.  She was patient with us at first, but when I kept pulling things out of the boxes and placing them where I thought they’d go,  she finally said, between her teeth, “MOM, I’ve GOT it!”
So after a couple of meals with her, where she was obviously biding her time until she could escape to go meet her new friends, we realized it was time to go.  So we kissed goodbye, took a couple of last photos together, and watched her walk away.  Second surprise…I didn’t cry!  I actually felt excited for her and honestly, a little relieved.  We had raised an incredible young woman who was ready to take on the world, (or college, at least), and I was proud and excited for her.
I know there are lots of parents out there who are dropping off their kids for their first year away.  Whether there are younger kids still at home, or if the nest is emptying, there are many changes in store.  As the parent of an only child, it was a tremendous change for me.  Here are some of the things I learned or observed after my only child left for college.

MAKE YOUR IMPORTANT SPEECHES BEFORE MOVE-IN DAY…AND DON’T STAY TOO LONG!

Some kids might welcome your help with unpacking and moving in.  Not ours.  She wanted us to carry the heavy stuff and that was about it.  We teetered on the edge…It was so hard for me to pull back and let her unpack on her own.  We also caught ourselves giving last minute “advice” which I’m sure sounded to her like Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Wah, wah wahhh wahhhwahhhh”.  But it was evident to us when it was time to leave, so our goodbyes were loving, genuine and quick.  H’s roommate’s mom ended up staying TEN DAYS after moving her daughter in, and not surprisingly, roommate’s transition to college was difficult, tearful, and she transferred away the following semester.  But DO turn around and catch a glimpse of her walking away…and remind yourself that this is what you’ve raised her to do…spread her wings.

BRUSH UP ON YOUR TEXTING SKILLS, AND LEARN TO SKYPE

Your communication with your child will definitely change.  They are navigating their new world filled with new responsibilities, new friends, and new distractions and most likely, telephone calls to mom and dad will not be on the priority list.  And when they do pick up the phone to actually make a call, it’s usually to vent or ask for specific help, like how to refill prescriptions or to please send them their favorite cowboy boots that they left at home.  When you’re aching to see her face, it’s easy to make a quick Skype call at night while she’s online, and you can get the visual fix of her smiling mug.

PROBLEMS DON’T ALWAYS BEG FOR ADVICE OR SOLUTIONS

When they do call in a tizzy because they are having a seemingly horrible problem, whether it’s relationship, academic, friends, or some other meltdown, and you instantly put yourself in “Mommy Saves the Day Mode”, slow down, listen, ask questions, and let them get it off their chests.  Nine times out of ten, they’re venting, and as soon as they hang up the phone, go skipping off with their friends without a care in the world.  This was really difficult for me.  I was the problem-solver.  Anytime she had a problem, I wanted to figure it out, and show her the way.  The first couple of times I tried to do that over the phone, she became defensive and exasperated, and finally said, “Mom, I don’t need you to give me any advice, I just want to get it off my chest.”  Not that you will never get involved…when she had a nagging medical problem that she kept complaining about but wouldn’t actually make an appointment with a new doctor, I had to step in and convince her to take care of it.  But it’s actually very satisfying when you see your child navigate through a problem herself.  That’s when you realize you are not the Coach anymore, and gladly become the Cheerleader.

DON’T EXPECT AUTOMATIC ACCESS TO GRADES OR MEDICAL INFORMATION

Your child is legally an adult, so the grades will not automatically come to you.  You also will not be able to call her doctor to find out about her health.  The grades thing was a pretty big adjustment to my husband; since he was the one paying the bills, he felt like he should be getting her “report cards”.   And speaking about paying the bills…the statements will come to your child.  So the communication between you and your child will be important in those aspects.  I would recommend having an understanding with your child before dropping them off at school about what your expectations are.

YOU WILL ENJOY THE PERKS OF THE EMPTY NEST

Flying home after leaving H in California my mind was jumbled with all kinds of memories, fears, hopes, and worries.  Watching her walk away from us to her French placement exam, I didn’t see a young woman going to college, I saw the 5-year-old I dropped off at Kindergarten, who told me that she was afraid but was going to “Face her fears”.  That became a mantra throughout her life, and I realized I needed to follow her lead.  I thought about my fears of losing control over her life, losing her in my life on a daily basis, and reminded myself that this is what we raised her for.  To be strong, independent, and her own person.  Then, miraculously,  I felt a huge relief.
Suddenly, I realized something that I hadn’t thought of amid all the planning, packing, and worrying.  I was going to have the freedom to do things in my life that I wanted to do…travel, take classes, read, and spend time with the wonderful guy I married.  We are living the life we dreamed of for the last few years, and even though I miss her,  it’s a pretty darn good life.

SHE DOESN’T LIVE WITH YOU ANYMORE

I think this is the last thing that really hit us.  And it didn’t really hit us until this summer.  During  spring final exams, when she was exhausted, stressed, and sleep deprived, we got a few more phone calls than usual.  She was SO excited to be coming home, to see “mommy and daddy”, and to sleep in her own bed.  Then she got home, and I think that lasted about 36 hours… during which she probably slept about 24.  She texted and skyped and spoke with her friends scattered all over the country, did the obligatory dinners with us, then, after three weeks of family togetherness, flew up to the Catskills for her summer job as a camp counselor.  After the job was completed, we had four days together before she happily left to go back to school.

She drove from Colorado to school in California with a friend…big step for Dad!

 J and I realized that even though “home” is with us, it’s not where she needs to be right now, and it’s a good thing.  She is discovering so many new things, about herself, about the world, about other people, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This year, I have some of the same feelings.  I still miss her.  I still think about her and wish I could see her face more often.  But now that I know what to expect, I have no worries whatsoever about what the year will hold…for all of us.

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Dinner with Eric Ripert and Fabio Viviani!

A couple of years ago, I finally convinced J to take me to Le Bernardin.  I have been a fan of Eric Ripert for many years, and longed to try his food.  It did not disappoint.  I don’t remember what everyone else at our table had, but the tuna carpaccio and dover sole that I ate are forever in my memory.  Never in a million years did I think I could make that tuna in my own kitchen, but I was reading the Le Bernardin Cookbook and the recipe for Tuna Carpaccio with Chives actually looked doable.  I had also just made a big batch of Fabio Viviani’s Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Oil, and had planned on making his Tuna with Tomatoes and Capers last night (from his new cookbook, Fabio’s Italian Kitchen), so I decided to use some of the sushi quality tuna I had to attempt the carpaccio as well.

When H was still at home, I always had to worry about preparing something for her that had protein, but was vegetarian, so I probably wouldn’t have attempted such a fish-heavy meal, but that’s one of the benefits of having an empty nest-I’m just cooking for me and J.  We just arrived in Lake Toxaway, for the first three months of summer, and I had just re-stocked the kitchen.  I got the extra large cart at Ingles, and it looked like I was buying for a family of ten! 

This cart doesn’t look too healthy, but I promise the bottom is filled with produce!

I went to the local organic food market, Food Matters, and picked up some nice tuna.  I’m still learning what types to avoid in an attempt to buy sustainable, but it’s very confusing.  For now, I trust this market, because they’re committed to sell organic food grown in the region to protect and preserve natural resources.  And I won’t ever eat or buy bluefin, orange roughy, shark and shark fin, or chilean sea bass.  All I needed for the carpaccio, in addition to the tuna, was fresh chives, scallion, extra virgin olive oil, and good sea salt and ground white pepper, which I already had. 

I took one of the two pieces of tuna I was planning on using for the entree, and cut it in half.  (I’m only cooking for two people, and I always make way too much).  Then I took the half and sliced it horizontally, to make two 1/2″ thick pieces.  Put a little olive oil on the cutting board then a slice of plastic wrap on top.  Then covered the tuna with another slice of plastic. Next, I carefully pounded the piece of tuna, starting in the middle and sliding the pounder outward, until it was very thin but still intact.  Since my piece of tuna was small, I had to make smaller circles than the recipe called for, so I found a round plastic top from a container from the deli to use as a guide (about 4 1/2″ diameter).  If you’re using a larger, 4 oz. tuna steak, you will need a guide about 9″ in diameter.  I placed it on top of the plastic covered tuna and carefully cut around it, plastic, tuna and all.  Did the same thing for the second piece of tuna.  Then, the coolest thing…I had all those little pieces that were cut away from the circles, combined them to make a little ball, put between two plastic sheets, and carefully pounded it out and I had a third circle, which after chilling remained completely intact. No waste! 
Leaving the tuna in the plastic, I stacked them together and put back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  When I was ready to serve I just took them out, carefully peeled back the plastic and gently placed on large dinner plate, overlapping in a circular shape.  Then, brushed olive oil generously over all three, sprinkled with salt and pepper, then the shallots and chives.  Squeeze lemon juice all over, cleaned up the plates and served with the toasts.   

It was surprisingly easy, I made it at the same time I was working on the entree, and it was delicious!  Download the full recipe here.

I started Fabio’s Tuna with Tomatoes and Capers while the tuna was chilling.  It was done in basically 30 minutes, since I had already made a huge batch of Fabio’s tomato sauce that morning, a really easy recipe. (saved 2 cups for dinner and froze the rest in ziploc bags).  Both recipes are here.
The only things I changed on the recipe were that I seared the tuna really quickly in a really hot pan with grapeseed oil to get a little sear on the outside, and I served it over pasta.  

There are many more recipes that I want to try in both cookbooks…they really are user friendly for home cooks!  I seriously recommend you pick up a copy of both books.  Next up, I’m going to attempt homemade pasta…

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Mangia Nashville


I’m not a foodie.  I’m a food lover.  I actually hate the world “foodie”.  It sounds like something a kid would say, like meany, or dummy, or fatty.  But I love food, I love eating out, I love watching Top Chef, I love what food represents…it brings people together, it fuels my body for long exercise sessions, and it makes wine taste better.  But, I don’t eat meat, poultry or pork and I don’t like cheese or cream, so I am a terrible restaurant orderer. I’m a little embarrassed about it.  Whenever I see this scene from When Harry Met Sally, I cringe.  It hits a little close to home.

There are those rare occasions when I can look at a menu, tell the server I’d like the “salmon, please”, hand him the menu and say nothing else.  I love when that happens.  I’d love to be Padma, or Gail, and taste dishes from 16 different contestants without batting an eye.  I’m working on it.  I keep trying things over and over, and now I love sushi, raw fish, and salmon, which I wouldn’t touch a few years ago.  I’ve actually gotten really good at picking around the things I don’t like, so when we go to dinners or parties I don’t have to be the obnoxious guest who needs a special menu.
So when a friend invited us to her birthday party at Mangia Nashville, and emailed the menu below, I figured I’d eat the roasted vegetables and keep my mouth shut. 

Lucky for J and I, she put us in touch with the owner, Nick.  I apologized profusely for being such a pain, but he said not to worry, he would take care of us.  And take care of us he did!

Mangia Nashville is the brainchild of Nick Pellegrino, a music industry guy with catering experience who came up with the idea of having a restaurant with good italian food, served family-style, in a place that felt like home.  His friend Tim Ness, owner of Cool Cafe (a meat and three restaurant),   offered up his restaurant on Saturday nights, which were closed anyway.  It opened last year and is now open Fridays and Saturday nights to mostly sold out crowds.

We were late, because we forgot that it was located in Cool Cafe, and even though our GPS took us right there, we drove around for 20 minutes before we figured it out.  We walked in to a packed room of about 10 white tablecloth covered tables.  Some were really long, like the Thanksgiving table at my mother-in-law’s house every year that she has to move furniture to accomodate.  Others were more intimate tables of 8-10.  They say that if you have a small party you will probably be seated with strangers, which adds to the feeling that you walked into Tony Soprano’s house on a Friday night.  There are two large screen TV’s silently running Godfather I and Godfather II.  Every once in awhile someone at our table would look up and quote the dialog to go along with the scene.   They had already started with the antipasti.  We missed the olives, but they were passing around the bread, deviled eggs, risotto cakes and bruscetta.  After we had stuffed ourselves the seemingly unending platters still looked full, and the server came to the end of the table and yelled, “CAN I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE!  IF YOU’RE FINISHED WITH YOUR ANTIPASTI, PLEASE PASS YOUR PLATES TO ME”.  So we took the top of the stack of four plates and passed them to her.  The rest of the meal went like that.  The server would announce very loudly what she was passing around, we would eat, and dutifully pass our plates to her when the course was finished.


Speaking of courses.  I should have paid attention to the structure of the meal.  Nick came out to tell us that he was going to prepare a lemon risotto with lobster for J and I since we couldn’t eat the beef and chicken entrees.  After the salads (two, HUGE, served separately so everyone ate both), they brought a gigantic bowl of pasta with sun dried tomatoes and asparagus (yum) between J and I.  I thought he must have changed his mind about the lobster and filled my plate with the pasta.  It was really tasty so I stuffed myself.  In between courses the wait staff would come out and pull us out to the middle of the restaurant for a conga line, or italian line dancing, with lots of italian mambo music and yelling and clapping.  The chefs would stop what they were doing and either come out and dance or dance around the kitchen.  It was all very festive.  After lots of dancing I was waiting for dessert when the roasted vegetables and two different pasta entrees started being passed around, as well as the promised risotto and lobster.  I couldn’t eat much, but I tasted it and should have saved room because it was light and delicious.  Then, more dancing, passing plates back, dessert, and when we paid our checks ($45/per person), they brought little bags of hot doughnuts for the road.

It was a fun evening.  Their facebook page describes Mangia as an authentic New York family-style Italian dining experience every Friday @ 7:00 pm and Saturday @ 6:00 pm.  Make reservations, because they sell out frequently.  And come hungry! 

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blvd nashville…like an old friend in a new dress!

People who know me know that I judge restaurants by the bread.  Give me a basket of warm, delicious bread and something yummy to spread on it and I instantly fall in love. On that basis alone, Nashville’s blvd is my new favorite spot.  My friend and I sat down last night and ordered the signature cocktail, the “Pinky Lee”  (Mine with gin, hers with tequila)…a pink grapefruity concoction with a sweet/salty rim.  It was the perfect way to start a girl’s night out.  Then our waiter (who was so good-looking it was hard to look away) plopped down this.

Who can pass up a soft, steaming, just salty enough pretzel with stone ground apricot mustard?  But the cornbread waffle underneath was my favorite.  Just slightly sweet, with a little salt, it almost didn’t need the soft, creamy vanilla butter served along side.  Almost…but a small smear of butter melted into the edges and it was pure heaven.  We could easily have devoured the entire basket but wouldn’t have had room for the rest of the menu, which consisted of french bistro food with a uniquely Arnold Myint southern flair.

Myint is a Nashville native whose parents own the local International Market, which introduced Nashvillians to Thai food back in 1975.  As a college student down the street in the early 80’s, I have fond memories of stopping in to grab inexpensive noodle dinners, which were very exotic at the time.  Arnold hit the restaurant scene hard here in Nashville, after a stint as a professional ice skater and a little time in NYC, and many people know him after his WAYYYYY too early exit from Top Chef season 7.  (He was way too nice to point fingers, but his partner on his final competition refused to cook the pasta early enough, and although the judges loved the taste of their dish, they were both eliminated because the pasta was too al dente. )

Arnold has a passion for international food, as is evidenced in his four Nashville restaurants…PM, Suzy Wong’s House of Yum, AM@FM (Arnold Myint at Farmer’s Market), and now blvd nashville, the metamorphasis of Cha-chah, which he closed last fall to renovate and transform into a bistro/bar/market.  I loved Cha-chah, but Myint recognized that the concept wasn’t a perfect fit for Nashville, thus the reorganization, and in my opinion, it’s a home run!

Thankfully, our friends joined us before I ate the entire basket of bread and we began ordering.  The warm brussels sprout salad…thankfully kept on the menu from Cha-chah, “le french fries”, a perfectly crisp stack of hand cut fries with six choices of coatings (We opted for the hickory salt and pepper, but I can’t wait to try some of the others, like the truffle oil and chive, or madras spiced curry), and the lamb meatballs.  The portions are large enough to share, so we plopped them down in the middle of the table and enjoyed.  And enjoyed.  When the waiter came to take our orders, we were stuffed, but still ordered the salmon and grits (rare but crispy, with grits and a drizzle of Tobasco gastrique), mashed parsnips (a parsnip/potato mash that I was happy to see on the menu after trying it at a fundraiser at Cha-chah last year), and wilted greens (yummy arugula, lightly wilted, highly flavorful). 

Photo from The Tennessean

I honestly loved every bite.  We ate until we couldn’t eat any more.  But I will be back.  There were many menu items I still want to try…Walnut Gnocchi, Quinoa Falafel Wrap, Tuna Nicoise sandwich.   There were many yummy looking dishes for you meat eaters out there as well, Cassoulet, Shepard’s Pie, Steak Frites, Croque Monsieur,  etc.  Also, it’s nice to know that their food comes from many local artisans and vendors. The only negative I could possibly say is that they were out of the premium chardonnay by the glass.  But to be honest, the house chardonnay was just fine.

I wish I had taken photos of the interior…the warm picnic tables with cushioned chairs, the cozy seating area in front, or the exterior wood, which all combine to make a very inviting, stylish, charming atmosphere.  I wouldn’t expect any less from Arnold. 

Posted in Empty Nest, Food, Top Chef | Leave a comment

Cruising with Top Chef!

I am a Top Chef fan.  I’m talking, big, HUGE, annoyingly fanatical.  I own all 10 seasons of Top Chef, 4 seasons of Top Chef Masters, and 2 seasons of Top Chef Just Desserts (eh, not nearly as good, but when there are no new regular shows, I watch it).  I watch them over and over again.  I listen to them when I’m jogging.  I can’t explain it.  I just love the show.  I love the personalities in the kitchen.  I learn something new every time I re-watch an episode.   But unfortunately, none of my close friends watch it with me.   I’ve had to turn to bloggers and recaps for my after-show discussions.

So last fall, when I saw there was going to be a cruise, not just any cruise, but  TOP CHEF THE CRUISE!, I started working on J to go with me.  After multiple discussions (begging), he finally cracked.  He had no desire to a) cruise, or b) cruise with me dragging him to Top Chef events.  So in order to get me to shut up, he offered to pay for me to take a friend for my birthday/anniversary present.

I didn’t really care which chefs were going to be on board, to be honest.  I just thought any kind of Top Chef related events would be really fun.  But I have to say, the chefs that participated couldn’t have been better.  Not sure if Bravo hand selected them, or if their schedules worked out to allow them to come, or they had new cookbooks they wanted to promote (it was probably a combination of the three), but hosts Tom and Gail, Masters Hubert Keller and Tim Love, and past winners and contestants Richard Blais, Chris Crary (Malibu Chris), Tiffany Derry (“I’m from Beaumont, Texas”), Mike Isabella, Kristen Kish, Spike Mendelson, Paul Qui, Hosea Rosenberg, Angelo Sosa, Casey Thompson, Fabio Viviani, Brooke Williamson, and Top Chef Just Desserts winners Yigit Pura and Chris Hanmer were on board with 2,000 other top chef fans...just like me!

Me and C 24 years ago and now

It’s hard to explain, but when my girlfriend, C (who I last cruised with as a single girl 24 YEARS ago) and I joined a dinner table with eight other Top Chef fans who became our new best friends for the duration of the cruise (well, 6 fans and 2 ‘drag-alongs’ like C who had never watched an episode), I felt like I had been dropped into heaven.  We spent the first night talking about the chefs, the seasons, the episodes, their restaurants, their drama…all while C and the other drag-alongs looked at us like we were speaking Greek.  I was surprised that the chefs were mingling with us, enjoying the cruise (some of them really enjoying the cocktails!), taking photos, signing books, dancing, etc.  I thought they’d stay in their VIP quarters, come out to do quickfires and other events, but stay away from all the fans.  But they were out there, lapping it up.  Someone pointed out to me that they were huge celebrities to us, but maybe not to most of America, so maybe they were enjoying the attention. I still think it must have been tiring, or annoying at times, but they were always very gracious. 

After dinner the first night we attended a Cocktail Party and DJ set led by Hubert Keller…and there’s no way to explain the pure joy on his face as he played Electronic and Top 40 songs until the wee hours.  It was so cool to see this master of cuisine (who hosted the first quickfire of the first season of Top Chef, by the way) relax and enjoy himself like that!

Thanks to the Hollywood Reporter for this pic

As we tired of dancing we made our way to the bar for a drink and snapped some photos with Fabio, Mike, and Angelo, who were also definitely enjoying themselves.

 


Something weird happened to my biological clock that weekend, because we didn’t make it to bed until 3 a.m….and that was the earliest we made it back for the rest of the cruise!   Thus began our pattern of going to bed late, getting up early to squeeze in a workout (a necessity because of the sheer amount of food we ate!), relaxing during the day, and starting our adventures at night.  Since we had late seating, we normally attended the Top Chef “entertainment” at 6, then whatever was going on after dinner…we were there.    The dinners were, for the most part, incredible.  We had our choice of selecting items from the regular cruise menu, or dishes that were designed by three of the chefs onboard.  As the cruise progressed, and we realized how good the Top Chef recipes were, we all started ordered two or three each of the appetizers, entrees and desserts…just to make sure we didn’t miss anything.  Thanks to Tim Love, whose lobster cake was my hands down favorite.  I could have eaten that every night!
The first night’s quickfire was with Casey, Richard, Hosea, Malibu Chris, Spike and Kristen for our group, and the next night we had the much rowdier group-Fabio, Angelo, Mike, Brooke, Tiffany, Paul and Chris H.  The second day our quickfire was AFTER dinner which, according to Fabio, “…having this quickfire at 11:30 after our captain’s dinner, was a BIG mistake.” 
Fabio at the late night quickfire

They had obviously enjoyed their captain’s dinner, but Fabio, Mike and Angelo had started their celebration around lunchtime surrounded by their closest fans all day at the pool.  I had decided my mission was to be selected to join one of them on stage (they chose audience members to “sous” with the chefs during the quickfires).  So thanks to C cheering me on, I made a fool of myself, jumped up and down in the aisle and Fabio pointed to me and said, “OK, sparkly dress, YOU.”  So me and my sparkly dress joined Mike at the quickfire table, where he gave me a giant can of dented artichokes and an old rusty can opener and I spent most of my time onstage opening a can.  So much for showing off my mad kitchen skills.

That evening was filled with so much heckling (the chefs who weren’t cooking were sitting in a box above the stage), f-bombs, and questionable actions that they never aired it on the in-cabin TVs, which they were doing 24 hours a day…just re-ran the calmer, less fun group’s challenges.  I laughed so hard I don’t even remember what Mike cooked.  I think I chopped a few things, but I honestly don’t remember.  I do know I’ll probably never forget that night!


  Angelo was having so much fun in the lounge, dancing to Salsa music.  I was standing at the bar, watching, kind of moving to the beat, when he came over, and grabbed my hand.  I proceeded to try to follow him, but since I have NO ability to salsa,  I looked pretty stupid.  Oh well.


The third night was a deck party with Tom Collichio’s friend Milton and his band.  They were great, but it was even better when Tom came out and joined them wearing a Panama Hat and looking cool.  He strapped on a guitar and played and sang a few songs to the crowd of adoring fans, whose cheers rivaled those for any major rock star.  He was actually really good!

Our day at sea was spent recovering in a lounge chair by the pool while the chefs rotated all day long, doing cooking demos, and Q&A sessions.  Their banter with each other is really adorable.  They seem to all get along and respect each other, but it’s funny when they give each other s&*t!  I managed to oversleep and miss both autograph sessions, but lugged the six new cookbooks I bought on board with me all day (some of them not released yet) and snagged an autograph whenever I could grab someone.  On the last day I had all the signatures except Angelo’s.  I was walking down to shower after working out and spotted Angelo (a beautiful man, by the way) sitting in the jacuzzi, all by himself.  He looked at me, nodded, and said hello.  So I promptly pulled his book out of my bag to have him sign it.  I was struggling to act cool, because I don’t normally do well with celebrities.  I thought I did OK, though, until I walked into the cabin, glanced in the mirror and realized I had something hanging out of my nose.  So I’m sure I made a lovely impression on the lovely Angelo!

Of the cookbooks I purchased, Fabio’s Italian Kitchen, Mike’s Crazy Good Italian, and Tim Love’s Journal  were the ones I read from cover to cover.  Angelo’s Flavor Exposed is beautiful and his passion for food and flavors shines throughout, and the recipes are sophisticated and easy to follow.   The chefs were all very gracious and accommodating, and other than the ones who brought their small children with them, spent a large amount of time socializing and enjoying the cruise.  I’m not a huge cruise fan, but have done a few of them through the years.  I think being on board with so many like-minded people made all the difference in the world.  I would do it again in a heartbeat!

Hosea

Tiffany…love her!

Malibu Chris
Richard

Paul

My beautiful friend who now might watch Top Chef with me!

Posted in celebrities, Empty Nest, Food, recipes, Top Chef, travel | Leave a comment

Life Changes, and New Experiences

The last few months have been a time of introspection for me.  My days have changed so drastically and I am still trying to figure out what, exactly, I should be doing with my life.   J and I are spending much more time in our two favorite places (Colorado and North Carolina), now that H has graduated and flown the nest.  J works wherever we are, so we have a freedom that years ago, we only dreamed about.  Here in Colorado, I try to go to the gym as little as possible, getting my exercise in the great outdoors.  Snow skiing, snowshoeing, uphill hiking, running with ice cleats…it’s so exhilarating that the benefits go far beyond the physical.  It also gives me lots of time to think.

Spending time in Colorado is like a dream.  But it also removes me from the day to day activities that I always have in Nashville.  And now that H is not home, I also don’t have the school volunteer responsibilities that occupied my time for the last 13 years.  But starting all over in a new community, and one that has a large percentage of part-time residents, has a lot of challenges.  We’re meeting people…mostly people who work in the art galleries, restaurants, and other businesses that we frequent.  But to them, since we’re not full-time residents, it’s hard to make lasting connections.  I miss meeting other parents of kids H’s age…something that is more difficult than ever.

Being an empty-nester is definitely a paradigm shift for me.  If I am completely honest, I have good days and bad days.  I have shifted from full-time mom to part-time mom.  On one hand, J and I have the freedom to live our lives in a way we had only dreamed about for the last 19 1/2 years.  Going from micromanaging someone else’s life to watching from afar is kind of like a breath of fresh air.  Some days I can go all day without wondering if she has done her homework, gotten enough sleep, brushed her teeth, or made it home before 2 a.m.  Some days.  Other days, I see parents with their little ones on the mountain, or in a restaurant, or at church, and I ache inside for those days.  Those days when she couldn’t go to sleep without “cuddling” with me, when she wanted to ski with us, or when we sat at the dinner table and shared our “highs” and “lows” of the day.  Last night I watched “Les Miserables” and all I could think (as I cried my way through the entire thing) was how Cosette changed Jean ValJean’s life.  His quote “To love another person is to see the face of God” resonated throughout my body. 

SO…all that is to say that I have been thinking about this blog, and what it really is, now that my job description has changed.  Even though I’m not doing Mommy things full-time, I will always be her mom.  I will always worry about her, pray for her, think about her, try to guide her in little ways, and most of all, be here for her.  But in order not to wallow in the wistful, lonely moments that can creep up on me, I have to STAY BUSY.  I thank God every day for the life I am able to live.  J and I are closer than we’ve ever been.  To be married to my best friend, and share most of our hobbies, is amazing.  I don’t want to look back in four years and think I wasted an opportunity to grow, make new connections, and give back to my community.

So that’s my focus, in life and in my blog.  I haven’t written in awhile because I wasn’t sure exactly what to write, or if my life without H at home was worth writing about.  I started this as a journal of things I was going through as a parent.  That won’t change.  The things I do might, though.  Instead of living my life around H and her schedule, I have the freedom to do new things.  So I will write about them and share with you my journey as an empty nester, and hopefully you’ll stick with me.  Feel free to comment with your own experiences, questions,  worries, or success stories about kids who’ve flown the nest.

Today I signed up for a photography class at Colorado Mountain college.  J and I signed up for a locals ski clinic on Saturday.  And yesterday I took my stairmaster workout outside!  It’s been so very cold here…about 5 days of negative double digit temperatures, and no sun.  It’s hard to explain just how cold -22 degrees is.  But yesterday, the highs reached almost 20 degrees on the mountain, and the sun was shining.  So I grabbed my Icetrekkers, a traction cleat that straps onto my hiking boots and hiking poles, and headed out to the mountain.  From our back door we can hop onto a groomed ski run and go multiple different directions.  I like to have a destination, (like LUNCH!) in mind, so I headed towards the Lower Alpine lift where I could take Coffee Pot up to Gwen’s High Alpine restaurant.

I turned around on my way up and this is what I saw!

Going down…this photo doesn’t do it justice.  I wanted to sing!

View from 11,775 feet!

It was amazing!  Sunny, not very crowded (thanks, January!), and STEEP!  I just put my head down and imagined I was on the stair machine.  I have to say, those hours I spent in Nashville, mindlessly climbing to nowhere must have helped me in some way, because before I knew it I was at the top of the lift!  It took me a little over an hour to go 2 1/2 miles, but the views every time I turned around were so mind boggling, that I didn’t want to stop.  I wasn’t hungry yet, because I didn’t know how long it would take me to get there, so I didn’t feel like eating lunch.  I started down Turkey Trot, a meandering blue/green trail that leads to the Elk Camp Restaurant on my way home.  But I looked up to the right at the High Alpine lift, and wondered how far up I could make it.  I didn’t want to go up Reidar, under the lift, so I headed to Cookies, a very steep groomed trail and started going up.  I gave myself a 15 minute goal.  It was so steep at times my cleats weren’t helping much and I was sliding halfway down for every step I took.  I leaned forward, and felt like I was going horizontal.  People looked at me like I was crazy.  After 15 minutes I tried for another 15.  By then I was within sight of the top so I couldn’t turn around.  I reached the top, took a few snapshots, ate a bite of my energy bar, and headed back down.

BAM!  When I turned around to go down, the views were almost heart stopping!  I had this unbelievable feeling of euphoria…The cool, crisp, clear sunny day, surrounded by wide open views of snow covered mountains, my health, my family, a great workout…I almost couldn’t contain myself.  Some places were so steep that I had to just let go, put my arms out, and run down the hill.  Needless to say, I had the best lunch of my life at Elk Camp that day.  Everything just seemed…great.

Views from Upper Alpine

I had tried not to text H all day…(I’m still working on giving her space), but before I went to bed I asked her how her day went.  Her reply to me, “Doing phenomenal!” was the icing on the cake.  I went to bed with a smile on my face.

Posted in Colorado, Empty Nest, Hiking, parenting | Leave a comment

Being Thankful

David Shatzman

I met David through my mother in law, Helene,  probably 15 or more years ago, when he decorated her house in Florida.  Fast forward to today, we have both undergone a lot of changes in our lives, and somehow both landed in North Carolina.  The photo above is his beautiful property.  He drove up to see Helene when she visited us last month.  It was nice to see him, and his enthusiasm, style, and talent were still greatly evident.  We’re Facebook friends now, and I look forward to his daily musings.  Most of them, to be honest, are a little over my head, but each of them give me something to think about.  This morning something he wrote really jumped out at me.  

“Human kindness and understanding … opens everything good in life – humor, joy, sym-pathy, love, friendship… Why live another way, when doing, so surely invites a world full of aggravation, uncertainty and competition? Imagine, missing good because of a fearful heart, manifesting as bad behavior? I think, it is, all fear, and unknowing…

Then I think, oh, of course, everyone learns and learning always dances with suffering – so, I feel better, not that other people suffer and learn, but that I am , at least in this case, normal – and it helps me to understand endless reasons to be kind and understanding.

Lately I have been thinking about being Thankful.  There’s a Facebook thing going around…20 days of thanks…starting today and leading up to Thanksgiving.  I am thankful for so many things, I don’t think I can fit them all in a list of 20.  But David’s status this morning reminded me that I am thankful that I have been fortunate to know so many wonderful, different, interesting people in my life.  People who, just like me, love, laugh, cry, feel sad, have friends, give to others, feel insecure, are sometimes competitive, desire to learn, but who might have been raised in a completely different environment than I was.  They might have different beliefs than I do, whether religious, political, child-rearing, dietary…you name it, but underneath it all, we’re all just learning to live our lives in a meaningful way.
“Human kindness and understanding” is a learned behavior  and we’re all learning.  
I grew up with a wonderful, loving family, and they mean the world to me.  I learned so many things from them.   My religious beliefs were planted when I was very young.  I was surrounded by other people who believed the same things I did, my family and my church friends.  It was easy to believe what I believed because I wasn’t questioned.  I fit right in.  Later in life I met lots of different people with vastly different beliefs.   One night after dinner, I was sitting around a table with some friends who were raised Jewish.  One person asked me a question that I had never been asked before.  To be completely honest, I don’t remember the exact question, but it was about my religion and “Why” I believed what I did.  I don’t need to get into the logistics of the actual question, or how I stammered the canned answer I had been told my whole life, but the thing I took away from the conversation was I needed to learn more about “Why?”  I didn’t need to research Bible verses…I knew that already.  I wanted to learn why I believed that was the definitive answer.  My research strengthened my faith even more.  I started thinking that the people I knew who had found their faith later in life, whether converted Jews, Christians, or something else, seemed to have a much stronger conviction in their beliefs.  They had come to it on their own.  It also made me realize that the fear I had in earlier years of anyone who believed differently than I did came from unknowing.  I was afraid someone would question me, and I was afraid of someone who had different beliefs than I did.  What I have learned is that human kindness and understanding are not qualities specific to any religion.  I know people with different beliefs who are better people than I have ever known.  And I learn things from them.  When I married a Jewish man, I worried that his friends and the jewish community would always know I was different, and treat me differently.  My experience has been anything but that.  But I know that there are probably people who do feel a little uncomfortable around me, because I have different beliefs.  Their feelings are from unknowing, and unknowing causes fear.  I represent something they aren’t familiar with.  
Underneath it all, we are the same.  We are human beings, learning, always learning, and always trying to be the best we can be.  And today, I am thankful for all the human beings I have met along the way, and appreciate that I can still learn and grow. 
David Shatzman’s photo

To see more of David’s work, visit his blog!  http://www.davidshatzman.blogspot.com/
Posted in my thoughts, north carolina | Leave a comment