Classic Sunday Dinner

In my mind Sunday dinner equals family, gathered around a table, for a hearty meal. Perfect Sunday DinnerIdeally, the meal should be eaten at a leisurely pace, with the table cleared between courses, a tablecloth, and linen napkins.

In my mind nobody does hearty, leisurely, cuisine quite like the French.

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Casual French Cuisine

My go-to Sunday dinner:

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Shallot Carbanara

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Okay, I know, this is not technically a carbonara. Technically, a carbonara should contain pepper, egg, pancetta and a hint of cheese. But, “technically”, in order to get it right you need a perfect pancetta and a homemade noodle – and on a given Tuesday night I have neither. Fortunately pretty good and a willingness to ignore the purists can result in a damn fine dinner.

Ingredients:

Splash of white wine
1/4 stick butter
1 pound sliced portabella mushrooms
1 diced shallot
4 oz. cream cheese, cubed
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 pound cubed pancetta
1 cup milk
1 box angel haired pasta
Parsley
Salt and pepper

30 minutes, serves four

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Brown the pancetta in a medium sized skillet on high heat (or use your Le Creusette if you scored an awesome Christmas pot from the hubbs in 2009) and set aside on a folded paper towel. Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine and turn down the heat.

Sautee the butter, shallots, and mushrooms over low heat while boiling the noodles. Melt cubed cream cheese and parmesan while slowly mixing in milk (carefully adding heat so as not to curdle).

Crack an egg into the cream sauce then spoon in the noodles (do not rinse) and mix to coat noodles. Add pancetta, salt, and pepper to taste, and heat through.

Serve in shallow bowls and sprinkle with fresh parsley.

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Boozey Brunches

Once upon a time there was a lazy Sunday in May, seventy-eight degrees, a carrot-infused  bloody mary, a roasted beet and honey salad, lavender scones, and three perfect hours with my childhood best friend.

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Then there was a closet shelf of just the perfect size to become a shrine to Chanel … the perfect pumps with the baby soft lambskin soles in nearly perfect condition.

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And there were bacon jam samples at the deli where I stopped to pick up frommage D’affinois.

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My family was healthy.

My heart was full.

And for that day, life was better than I even dare to hope for.

One Day in Rome

The thing which never happens, has happened! On my upcoming trip to Italy I will have 24 full, unscheduled hours – all to myself.

No colleagues to entertain

No meetings to attend

No children to attend to

Just me, my map, and an ungodly amount of Frascati

I’ve visited Rome before, years ago, and after two weeks in Venice, Sienna, Cinque Terre, Bologna, and Florence I found it a sore disappointment: dirty, crowded, and overrun with tourists too lazy to do more than visit the big ten greatest hits.

But, Rome is the Eternal City for a reason. With a history that spans nearly 3,000 years Rome is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe. Rome is commonly considered the birthplace of western civilization and was the capital city for the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire.

So, yeah, I get that it is important … but so is Detroit; I don’t exactly want to visit every Christmas.

In fact, I’ve always kind of considered Rome the Italian city that tourists visit when they don’t really take their time to research the beauty that is Italy (hence the endless brigade of tourists marching nose-to-tail behind a flag wielding tour guide).

As for my interests, want amazing ruins, visit Turino, want breathtaking chapels – Venice, and don’t forget the art, culture, and food that is Florence!

However, I recognize that I’m sorta … well … wrong.  In 2011, Rome was the 18th-most-visited city in the world, 3rd most visited in the European Union, and the most popular tourist attraction in Italy (which is exactly the type of description that would keep me away). But, people love Rome. People eat, pray, and love their way to Rome and back year after year.

Rome is ruination and reinvention, thriving, bustling, sleepy, and special.  There is no denying that moment when you walk around a corner and come face to face with iconic ROME – the Trevi fountain, the Vatican, Hadrian’s Arch, or any of a thousand other spectacular glimpses into the astounding history of this eternal city.

So, I am putting on my rose colored glasses (they fit quite nicely after a catastrophically shitty trip to Bali, strep throat in Istanbul, and a July heat wave in Shanghai) and prepping for the next great adventure.

My itinerary for one day in Rome:

1. Skip the Caesar Shuffle and the Vatican, I’ve been there and done that. Instead I’ll start the day with a leisurely stroll and cappuccino in Trastevere.

2. Then, I’ll continue across the Tiber to the Parthenon, a visit to the daily markets of the Campo De’ Fiori, and a stroll through the Piazza Navona .

3. After a full day of wandering, I’ll end the afternoon with the Dolce Vita stroll (as coined by travel guru Rick Steves) starting with a glass of wine and snacks at the Piazza del Popolo then a saunter down the Via del Corso and up Via Condotti to the Spanish Steps to surround myself with smooching lovers and that feeling of being painfully alone … for just long enough to make a Skype call home to my family as they settle in to their day.

And, hopefully, this time Rome will leave me aching to return, understanding what those nose-to-tail tour group tourists have been raving about for years.

Zen and the Art of Sightseeing

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I am one of the fortunate souls who doesn’t get jet lagged. Perhaps that’s just my biology, but I think it’s probably my approach to International travel.

My Routine for Avoiding Jet Lag:

1. Sleep En Route: While people will encourage you to avoid alcohol when travelling I am a strong advocate for a glass of wine, or two, to help ease into sleep while flying. Every hour of sleep you can get while flying is one less hour of sleep lag when you land; and wine makes me sleepy.

2. Hit the Ground Running: According to travel Guru Rick Steves (and one of the toppers on my Five List ’cause I’m kinky like that) one tip for avoiding jet lag is to start your vacation on local time. “On arrival, stay awake until an early local bedtime. If you doze off at 4 p.m. and wake up at midnight, you’ve accomplished nothing. Plan a good walk until early evening. Jet lag hates fresh air, daylight, and exercise. Your body may beg for sleep, but stand firm: Refuse. Force your body’s transition to the local time.You’ll probably awaken very early on your first morning. Trying to sleep later is normally futile. Get out and enjoy…”

3. Limit Caffeine: On day one, avoid using coffee to keep you awake. Instead, use your body’s natural rythyms to rise as close to sunrise as you can and then call it a night early.

4. Sleep with The Curtains Open: To aide that “rise with the sun” idea sleep with the curtains open so that your body can adjust to the new sleep schedule more naturally.

5. Imbibe, But Just a Little: In a recent article for The Daily Mail, Orlando Bloom gave his tips for avoiding jet lag, and that included avoiding alcohol. Now, while I agree you shouldn’t go on a minibar binge of Tequila and Tobblerone, two glasses of wine before bed on the FIRST night in a new timezone, followed by an early lights out is my proven method for getting a decent night’s sleep in a new environment and waking up on local time. I do the same thing on my first night home.

6. Don’t Bring Your Pillow: It makes you look like a travel noob and subconsciously reminds your body that you’re not at home. But, mostly because it looks ridiculous.

7. Pack Sleepwear AND Loungewear: Change out of your day clothes and into your lounging clothes to tell your body its time to relax; then change again when its time to sleep. Set new routines in hotels to teach your body what to expect, and when.

8. Triple Alarm Clocks: Nothing will mess with your sleep like tension that you might miss a critical appointment. Solution: set your cell phone, the room clock, and request a wake up call so you don’t wake up worried that you missed your alarm clock.

9. Water, Water, Water: Dehydration will make you fell run down. Stay hydrated to avoid wearing yourself down which will leave you feeling slugish.

10. Whitenoise: Find something that masks the unfamiliar noises and helps you relax into sleep. I’m fond of leaving the TV on, at a super low volume, so that it drowns out the street sounds, and those frisky neighbors

Lunch with King Ding and Snotting Cat-Beef on a Shanghai Lazy Susan

When Kingful Ding of Shanghai, China (no, I am not making that name up) asked me to be the guest of honor at a lunch in his villa I accepted the invitation with enthusiasm. It’s not everyday I get asked to lunch at a villa in Shanghai, and there wasn’t really a polite way for me to get out of it anyway. So off I went, head full of optimism, suppressing that inner voice that nagged about this being CHINA, and my palate being about as refined as a four-year-old’s.

Throughout the meetings preceding this invitation I was suppressing a giggle every time I called him “Mr. Ding” with his bulbous face and puffy hair he looked a bit like a fat penis head, so I thought “Ding” was particularly fitting.

Yeah, about that palate … now would be a great time to mention that I don’t eat anything that lives in the water, and really prefer not to even look at the ugly little critters, especially shrimp, the cockroaches of the ocean.  I’ll make an exception for steamed crab legs on occasion, only as legs, but that’s really just a vehicle for melted butter.

I walked into the King’s “villa,” which was really just a private upstairs dining room at the clubhouse for his gated housing complex, and discovered a room full of dark heads – none of which were ever introduced to me.  I was the only woman in the place except for the lovely serving girls in their skin-tight cheongsam, but that comes up often enough as a woman doing business in Asia, so I was amused but not intimidated.

The table was pre-set in typical Chinese style with small plates on a Lazy Susan in the center and water goblets and wine glasses at every seat.  I was ushered to a seat next to my generous host Mr. Ding.

Now, I am traveled enough to know there are a lot of customs and expectations when dining in China (there are social mores for everything) but I am NOT traveled enough to know what those customs and expectations are … but I do know one thing: when the host is drinking, one is expected to drink as well.

But does this apply to women, at 11:30 in the afternoon?

Unsure of what would be required of me, I took my seat, set my napkin on my lap, and smiled and nodded through the first round of toasts, taking small sips between each speech that were translated for me to basically mean, “We’re excited to work together. Mr. Ding is basically awesome, and we like your yellow hair.”

All was going well until my host began the dining portion of the meal. The sheer number of plates sitting before us was a bit staggering, and the fish eye that was winking at me from across the table kept creeping precariously closer than I’d like him to be.

“Kindly” Ding picked a few morsels on the plates closest to us and placed them before me: vegetables, pickled cabbage of some sort, and a beef-ish looking thing, all fairly innocuous even for my childish finickiness. I somehow got the first bite to my mouth just as another toast started, took a sip of the worst red wine I’d ever tried, and looked down in horror just in time to see Ding place the fish head on my plate.

The King of Ding seemed a fairly traveled fellow, or at least his translator had told me that the big Ding had visited Hawaii a few times, so I had to wonder, “Is he having a laugh at my expense, surely he knows Americans don’t eat fish heads!”

The rest of the food on my plate was fairly inoffensive, so, undeterred by my American girl in the foreign city (pretending that everyone in the room wasn’t watching me) I dug in, “accidentally” moving my food around the plate to cover up my gill-breathing dining companion and contemplated spilling my wine on my plate.

Lunch continued for a few moments, and then another batch of serving plates came out, another round of toasts, and the small rice bowl beside me was filled with a gelatinous stew of hairy crab.

I resisted the urge to Snapchat a quick “Help!”  when I looked down at the ugly little fellas and was relieved that it was time for another toast, which by this point the translator had stopped explaining to me, having decided to fill his mouth with every manner of imperial cuisine presented.

I discovered a great benefit to chopsticks … dropping.  Anything I didn’t want to put in my mouth accidentally got “dropped” a little at a time, and my serving girl swept it away before Ding noticed I had disposed of it.

But, the wine was trickier.  The toasts and resulting gulps that followed them were getting more frequent, and lasted longer. We toasted the crab, we toasted the lunch, another toast to my yellow hair, if all this celebratory drinking didn’t stop soon I was at serious risk of falling off my chair – or taking off my top.

Then my sister’s wise counsel from a night of too many margaritas came to mind, “If you start feeling drunk, just go boot and then you’ll be ready to rally.” Sweet, solution found! But, I was not going to waste a trip to the ladies just to rid myself of too much wine, this was too great an opportunity.

I began taking lusty bites of the items on my plate then palming them into my napkin.  By the time I excused myself to the bathroom I’d nearly emptied my plate into my emerald-green cloth serviette, and I surreptitiously dropped it into my handbag.

In the bathroom (which thankfully was NOT a squat toilet) I purged like a sorority girl, then unloaded the contents of my napkin into the toilet, cleaned up, and sashayed back into the dining room, feeling rather proud of my quick thinking.

The Horror!

In my absence an entirely new round of toasting liquids had been brought forth, beer. Chinese beer. Served luke warm. Shit! And, another round of who-knows-what had been placed on the Lazy Susan – more food than thirty people could eat, and we were only ten.

More toasts, more helpful servings from Mr. Ding, and the greasiest soup known to man slithered down my throat: sautéed eel was swallowed without a bite, abalone was accidentally dropped onto the ground, followed by more beer, white fish, stewed spinach, more beer, until I looked over at the Big Dinger and saw that he was even more phallic now. His face had turned a bright red, and a glossy sheen of sweat was dribbling from his temples down his face, reminding me a bit of … sorry, I won’t go there, we’re eating here (though the gelatinous salty consistency of our lunch also reminded me of that a bit).

The lyrics to hotel California started to play on repeat in my head, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

Here I was, surrounded by men who were not really speaking to me, all of them starting to look a little intoxicated, pretending to eat/drop ridiculous amounts of food I didn’t even want to look at, and there was no end in sight.  And then, the laughter could no longer be suppressed.  I put my napkin to my mouth and pretended to cough as I regained my composure, and focused my eyes completely on the Lazy Susan in front of me, did that fish eye just wink?

I reached out toward a plate of what in the U.S. I would call Beef with Broccoli and set it on my plate.  I took a bite and it was good!  Really! Tender, really, rich, deliciously good, what joy!

Then, from three seats down I heard it, “Meow.” quiet at first, so quietly I thought I must have mis-heard, so I took another bite, and now it was louder, “Meow!”

WTF!

I looked around and caught the eye of one of the nameless young men who had not been introduced to me and saw a twinkle in his eye, at which point the laughter could no longer be contained. I tried so hard to hold it back I snotted cat/beef up through my sinuses and a tiny little piece flew out, onto the Ding’s plate. Before I could say anything (what would I say?) he lifted the piece, along with the gelatinous detritus surrounding it, to his mouth and swallowed, impervious to what had transpired.

My second trip to the ladies for a boot and rally went down (or should I say “came up” much more smoothly having watched Ding swallow my eruption). Three hours later I made my way out of the villa and the young man who’d meowed at me rode back to the hotel with me, where he apologized in perfect English for teasing me, and explained that what I had eaten was “probably” not cat, but definitely not pork or beef.

Business travel is just so glamorous!

Date Night

The idea of a date night is to take time, unwind, and reconnect. But, with the never ending schedule of summer camp, little league, and an endless to-do list at home and the office, the only “date” I have is with my Serta perfect sleeper.

But tonight, with the laundry scales tipping toward done and my littles tucked in front of a Redbox of Forest Gump for the fourth time this summer (don’t ask me why) I am taking ME out.

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I’ve taken a page from the book of a confirmed bachelor friend of mine and I’m settling in with a glass of wine, a LUSH sex bomb bubble bath, candles, and all things girly – tricks guarenteed to drop a pair of panties in no time flat*, followed up by some trash television – a.k.a. Real HouseBitches – and my comfy socks.

I might even give myself a happy ending (which as exhausted as I am right now means a second (okay third) glass of wine and lights out by 10:30.

*Okay so the panty dropping is essential for a bubble bath, but I imagine asking a girl if she’d like to take a bubble bath is pretty damn effective, even for harried moms with hectic schedules.