Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving, Extended Edition

The wonderfully welcomed view that we woke up to on Thanksgiving morning
I heard that Wellsboro woke up to the same view, it made me feel closer to home which is also a good thing on Thanksgiving day. 

 Thanksgiving Day, American-style fun at GTL

Full on tackle football
Thankfully it was too muddy and slippery for many big hits, mostly people were just sliding into each other and the snow and mud made for a softer landing. 
I can't wait to do that laundry!

I was unaware that Michael had been home until I walked into the bathroom to find this. He was kind enough to rinse it all out and hang it to dry at least.

 We enjoyed an excellent, as usual, meal at GTL complete with plenty of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes along with many, many interesting dishes from any number of cuisines. After dinner was the "talent" segment. The blurry picture above is of Katrina and Jessie (hope I'm spelling that right) during their "GTL Ballad: 21 going on 22". It was a hysterical re-mix of the ever popular "16 going on 17" from the The Sound of Music that confronted the trials and tribulations of being a GTL scholar. 

After their little ditty...we performed. Well, not Michael and I; any of you that know Michael know that he wouldn't be caught dead on a stage performing. No, the day before the dinner our friend Peter asked me if I would be willing to do a song with him and I agreed...reluctantly. We practiced all that afternoon and ran through the song a few times with the mic that day. I would be lying if I didn't tell you that I was incredibly nervous, but that's what happens when you haven't been on a stage in nearly 7 years I suppose. I'm even nervous about posting hands are sweating. But, here you have it. Peter and I singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside".

Oh, and if anyone with any power at GTL is reading this, please do not hold the performance portion after dinner, I thought I was going to explode. Oh, and a big thanks to Michael for putting up with hearing this song on constant repeat for 24 hours and for recording the song.

On Saturday we got a little out of order (you'll see why later); we made ourselves some yummy eggnog (for the record, eggnog with cognac=amazing!) and lit up our little palm tree thing.

Since we'll be leaving in a mere 2.5 weeks, it'll have to suffice until we can get home to enjoy our parents' full-sized Christmas trees.  

We struggled for a long time that night to come up with something to make for dinner. We ended up settling on an epicurious recipe for Veal Cacciatore mainly because we have a lot of polenta in our pantry to use up in the next few weeks. On top of everything else, I feel like our time in France has opened up my eyes to new meats that I never really considered eating in the states and veal is certainly at the top. Veal has always had a bad rep in the stated because of some particular farms that were confining and abusing the animals and the market has never really returned. Here in Europe however, people care about their food in a way I have never seen before (OK, the Culinary Institute of America did have a high respect for food). There are very strict regulations in place for animal treatment and food safety and everywhere you look, there are these incredible looking, incredible tasting meats readily available in the supermarket (rabbit, quail, guinea fowl, lamb, veal, horse even?) and you know that it didn't live in the horrible conditions that we see in US factory farms. Sorry to get up on my soapbox but in short, if you have access to humanely kept veal, it is a delicious, lean, and tender meat, and it was oh so yummy in this particular dish.

Despite our wonderful Thanksgiving meal at GTL, I felt that I had missed out. I missed stuffing myself with stuffing and potatoes and lots of gravy. I missed the leftovers. So, Michael being the wonderful husband that he is, agreed to help me make a second Thanksgiving feast just for the two of us. 

And because there was only two of us, and because I frequent the food section of the New York Times all too often, we decided to try a new turkey breast method and recipe. The turkey breast is first brined overnight then it is tightly wrapped in seran wrap and tin foil before being effectively steamed in a low oven until the internal temperature is 135°.

I can't even being to describe how strange the turkey breast looked and felt after coming out of the oven. 

Seriously, it was gross!

The turkey turned out to be delicious although we weren't too sure about the honey and roasted garlic glaze that went on at the very end, it never really set and although it tasted delicious it was just kind of slimey. On the whole though, we loved the steaming  method and plan to use it again but perhaps with a different glaze at the end.

The meal was rounded out with a green bean casserole and stuffing (both from The Pioneer Woman blog, her food always looks amazing), basic mashed potatoes, gravy and my family's uncooked cranberry relish kicked up a notch (1 bag cranberries, 1 entire orange (skin and all), 1-1" piece of ginger and 3/4 c sugar blended in the food processor until finely chopped). Oh, and we drank one last bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau for the year with the meal. Really, everything turned out perfectly and even though we've done our first "married" Thanksgivings at GTL, it was really nice to have a night and the dinner just to ourselves.

Less than 3 weeks people...!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Home Again

After our lovely trip to the Black Forest (which was mostly spent with me trying to convince my parents to retire there) we headed back to Metz for our final 4 days together before that sad trip to the Luxembourg Airport.

The weather in Metz wasn't particularly agréable but we found ways to fill the time and our stomachs.

This particular meal was one of the few we made at home. It's a duck confit salad that was the product of a whole duck that we bought a week back, cut up, and used for multiple different meals. It's a very economical way to enjoy this scrumptious and usually expensive meat.

We went on multiple walking tours of Metz and as it turns out, there is much more to show that I had realized. I think we managed to walk off a good portion of the deliciously high calorie meals that we were ingesting every night by going out to dinner. Mom and dad are pictured here in front of the Knight's Templar Chapel (whom you might remember from The Da Vinci Code).

We also showed them the normal sight of St-Pierre-aux-Nonnains basilica which is widely believed to be the oldest church in France right in our beautiful little city.

As expected, Dad made more friends with the local fauna.

And across the river we found and explored more about the Temple of the German Garrison which has a very interesting story. It was built around 1880 during the occupation of the region by Germany solely as a Lutheran church for the German soldiers. The locals though it was ugly, being of the Gothic Revival archetural design and all, and they were offended by the bell tower which rivaled the Cathedral in it's height. After Lorraine was returned to France in 1918, the church was abandoned and day dormant for decades. During WWII it's nave was badly damaged by allied bombs and in 1946, the roof of the nave caught fire. The locals could ignore the church no longer as it was now a safety hazard. They had the nave demolished but kept the tower as a monument that was later incorporated into Metz's Luxembourg Garden.

While exploring the other side of the river, which we rarely visit we happened upon this beautiful view of the Cathedral. Too bad they're busy cleaning it right now; I may have to photoshop out the scaffolding at some point.

After dinner one night we were walking along the Moselle river when we were bombarded with hungry swans. One minute we could see 3 and the next thing we knew, there were 11 following us along the river hoping for a morsel. Sadly we had none, we had eaten everything (and it's not like it's kosher to take a doggy bag here in France). 

The next day we packed everything, including an extra large duffel bag filled with our belongings into the tiny Twingo and set off for the Luxembourg Airport yet again. As expected, we had a wonderful time with my parents. I was so happy to see them  in the flesh after over a year of not seeing them and while it was sad to leave them at the airport, we've made it over a year without seeing them in the past and at this point, today, we have only 3 weeks (eek!) here before we will see them again. And just for a tiny plug: I can't say enough how much skype and other voice/video calling has made this year and a half away from family more bearable. Thanks to it, I never felt too far from home. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

La Forêt-Noire

(back to the chronicles of the Vogler Parents' Visit)

After our brief stay of recuperation in Metz we jumped in the Twingo yet again for a trip to the "motherland", so to speak (lots of German ancestry for us Voglers and Reindls). 

We drove 2.5 hours and arrived in the beautiful German city of Freiburg in the Black Forest. We dropped our things off at our beautiful farm B&B which was an adventure in and of itself. You see, when I booked the B&B online the information clearly stated that the owners spoke English. In France this isn't a problem; we know enough French to converse but German? Not one of us speaks a lick of German. And as it turned out, the daughter speaks a bit of English (think of your junior year of high school level of foreign language) but she wasn't home so we were out of luck. Really though, the woman was so nice and trusting, just leaving us with a key to their place without ever taking our name.

 After getting settled we hopped in the car again and headed back into Freiburg. We had a great lunch in the Cathedral square (goulach, pasta, wiener schnitzel and sausages) and spent the rest of the cold afternoon walking around the city and browsing in kitchen stores to warm up. At dinner time we filled up on more German food and beer and shortly after, crashed back at the B&B.

We woke up to this the next morning. It was rainy and dreary but the colors were so vibrant that even the rain couldn't dampen the day. 

We set off in the car on tiny winding roads through the mountains of the Black Forest. The views were spectacular but thanks to the rain, capturing them on camera was not an easy feat. After a bit of driving we pulled off into a parking area. Dad though he heard something but he was the only one...we didn't really believe him (sometimes his hearing isn't the greatest, and I've acquired the trait). But he insisted that I open the door and when I did, lo and behold, there was a horn playing clear as day.

We walked around a shelter at the end of the parking lot where we saw the Ricola man  himself putting on a concert for...well, for us I suppose. He spoke no English and again, we speak no German but we did manage to ask for a picture and he kindly obliged.

As you can see in the picture with the horn player (I really need to look up what that is), the rain turned to snow as we traveled higher until at one point, I was going about 5mph and trying to keep the sliding under control on the yucky slush. It did, however, make for some beautiful sights. I can't tell you how much I would love to live in that house. I'll soon be posting more pictures from the trip on Facebok and will be sure to share them with you all. I'm also hoping to get a hold of some of the pictures that my Mom took on her sleek and shiny camera that I spent the entire trip drooling over.

Up Next: More time in Metz

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I Heart Mirepoix

 (And now, for a break from our regularly scheduled program; we'll come back to the Vogler Parents' trip soon)

 I really do, I <3 mirepoix. For those of you that didn't go to culinary school, here is a little lesson from Wikipedia. Pay attention to the the pronunciation, you'll need it later.

Mirepoix (pronounced /mɪərˈpwɑː/ meer-PWAH, French pronunciation: [miʁəˈpwɑ]) is the French name for a combination of onions, carrots, and celery (either common pascal celery or celeriac). Mirepoix, either raw, roasted or sautéed with butter, is the flavor base for a wide number of dishes, such as stocks, soups, stews and sauces. The three ingredients are commonly referred to as aromatics. (source)

Mirepoix is used in any number of culinary applications.

This particular pot was used to make a simple pot of braised lentils tonight and as the heavenly scent wafted through our abnormally small apartment I was reminded of just how much I <3 mirepoix.

Some of you may have heard this story before but when I was at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) our intramural sports teams had two catchy, chefy fight songs. Regrettably, I can't remember one but I will always remember this one (oh, and roux is pronounced "roo"):

"Mirepoix, Mirepoix, Roux, Roux, Roux
Chop 'Em Up, Dice 'Em Up
Put 'Em in a Stew!"

Friday, November 19, 2010

Back to Metz for some R&R

We arrived home from our visit in the Loire Valley to find that our dear Jack (the Pumpkin King) had developed a mold problem out on our porch. If you look closely you can see it filling in his mouth on the right side. I wasn't even aware that pumpkins had the ability to mold.


We had a scrumptious lunch featuring a tourteau fromagé that we picked up for 2€ on impulse at a supermarket in the Loire the day before. We honestly had no clue what it was but the ingredient list resembled a cheesecake which is pretty much what it turned out to be. We found a good description on a favorite french food blog, Chocolate & Zucchini. If you love French food, this site will make your mouth water...profusely.

And we finally finished our homemade olives that we made somewhere around this time last year. Yay for refrigerator space!

Dad insisted that some of his baguette fetish be passed on to the local bird population. His hope is that they will remember "that nice man" that got them through the winter.

And before making the requisite Friday night pizzas we tortured mom with some goat cheese (it's a long story but the is tormented to this day by the smell of my childhood pygmy goat).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Vogler Parents' Visit: The Loire Valley

Monday: the scenic route (a.k.a.-avoiding tolls)

We came across hundreds of piles of these mysterious root vegetable on the "scenic route". What could it be? First we thought potatoes, then maybe parsnips, then it was celery root...

Until we saw large piles of them in front of this factory

In front of this sugar factory. The mysterious piles on the main [non-toll] route from Metz to Paris are sugar beets.

We arrived that night in Blois (pronounced: bla) and came across this majestic beauty while on a "night" walk (since dark comes at 5:00 already, not that I'm complaining Alaskerella!). 

Tuesday: the Loire Valley

On Tuesday morning we walked around Blois in amazement at the trees that were probably there before the Revolution.

Then we went to check out this hunting lodge. No, really. Château de Chambord was built as a hunting lodge by François I.

And because it was made as a temporary royal residence, everything was collapsible

 And beautiful.

The roof even looked like it's own city.

Dad and his baguettes, he just couldn't get enough. 

That night we walked around the picturesque town of Amboise and at dinner at the delicious L'Alliance.

Wednesday: we woke up

To these outside our B&B window. The chickens made all kinds of noise when our host, Alex went out to swipe eggs for our breakfast.

On to another Château with a tree lined drive. Excuse me while I suppress my wishful thinking...

Interesting Fact #1: This one (Château du Chenonceau) made history when in 1547, it was given by Henry II to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. At Henry's death, his wife, Catherine de' Medici reclaimed Chenonceau and forced Diane to move on to a lesser Château. (I love that story)

Interesting Fact #2: During the Revolution, while the revolutionaries were destroying all that related to power and religion, the owners filled the chapel with firewood, tricking the revolutionaries into believing that the room was just storage.

We got to see the kitchen in this Château and being a cooking family, we were all intrigued and perhaps imagining taking some things home. 

For example: Michael wanted to take this hand-cranked rotisserie (a form of punishment for our future children?) but instead, had me take many, many pictures so he can one day replicate it. 

I wanted to take home the stove but didn't think it would fit in the Twingo.

Did I mention that this Château was built over the river?

I think I also forgot to mention the labyrinth

Where you can pick escargot.

After another yummy picnic lunch we went to the Marc Brédif wine caves to sample the wine and walk though part of the 2km long storage caves.

For dinner that night we went to the beautiful town of Loche. While working up (walking up) an appetite we came across the Château de Loches, particularly it's defensive buildings.

After dinner we headed back to the B&B (here's our room, by the way) for a rousing game of hearts and a good night's sleep.


We played with the resident donkey before packing up and 

 Taking the Twingo to Versailles,

 Which was oddly filled with Japanese art (but still beautiful).

Postcard reads: "Greetings from Versailles!"