Tuesday, February 28, 2006

blueberry matters

It is said that blueberries have great health value. I vaguely hear the words “antioxidant” bla bla bla and I imagine I am prolonging my life by ten years by sprinkling them on my granola. There are foods that cause such reactions in me: carrots, grape juice, salmon – I am convinced that if I only remember to ingest some I will have done my duty, thereby keeping screaming ambulances away for a few more years, lessening the anxiety of family members and loved ones.

Of course, the few times I have ridden an ambulance, food could not have stopped the episode leading to it, even had I devoured that day a pound of salmon liberally covered with shaved carrots and dried blueberries. Still, one likes to pretend.

About ten years ago, I had recovered from whatever emergency lead to the ambulance run and I packed up my family and left for a week on Martha’s Vineyard. We stayed at the Inn at Blueberry Hill. We dished out more money per night for two rooms than I ever remember dishing out before or after. It was not a complicated or posh place, but it was Martha’s Vineyard and Martha has got herself one pricey Vineyard.

Still, one evening, before dinner, I poured an aperitif for the adults among us – Dubonnet on the rocks, with a twist – and all four of us sat out on the deck adjacent to one of the rooms and we watched the sun sink lower and lower, until it gave that golden glow to everything and everyone.

The women among us painted toe nails and we all watched bunnies scamper in the way that bunnies scamper.

I thought then that it was a perfect moment: not even the day my high school boyfriend in Poland first put his arm around me felt as perfect.

A less perfect but significant moment was some 40 years ago, when I sat with my grandmother on a bench in front of her house, deep in the village environment of rural Poland and we picked through a bucket of blueberries together. I wonder if she would have answered questions had I asked them. She was not a big talker. A doer who loved through her hands.

In a few days family members are descending on the loft (spring break for them) and the blueberries will multiply. It’s not the season here, but it is in Chile and I always thought that airplanes are meant to transport food as well as people and the whole concept of eating “regional seasonal” foods was obviously invented by Californians.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

blog me tender

I had a phone call from someone who wanted to do stuff tonight.

Wanna play pool at the Union?
I’m not good at it, I am tired from the demands of the day, I don’t think so.
You don’t have to be good… you probably are good
(the suck-up statement of a desperate person who wants company playing pool).

I dunno… so cold outside… A DVD at home, me on the couch, sipping wine.. mmmm.
Have you done your blogpost for today? Do you know of the photo opportunities at a pool hall?

I’m thinking: you’re right. Let’s go.

Except tonight, more than any other night, I really do not want to play pool. It has as much draw as the lake out there with the half-frozen fishermen, sitting, waiting, hoping not to crash down under. There’s a pool for you, a pool of dirty post-winter water, just what I want. That or a pool hall.

No one on this planet really cares deeply if I post daily or not. No one. I do it for myself. And I will continue to do it in this way. Only the deal is such: I will not structure my actions to conform to blogworthiness. If my day does not produce a photo or an event, then I will reach within myself and blog about the clutter inside.

Comments have been disabled for this post. Tonight, it is a statement, not a conversation.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

after dinner clean-up notes: palate cleansers

It’s an excuse: I often make granitas and call them palate cleansers but really I just like the way they taste. Like the shaved ice that they are, subtly touched by fruit.

But not today. Today my palate cleanser, served between portabella soup, the stuffed tomato with salmon and capers, the chicken rolled with apricots and mushrooms and the desserts, there it will be, a celery salad with nothing more than flat leaf parsley, bits of cheese and lemon vinaigrette added to it.

I am tired of the sweet upon sweet. I want fresh and crisp and pungent.

Yesterday morning I was asked if all my sadnesses, the ones that show up here and there, if they have one source these days. I said yes. There aren’t many times that I can answer with a yes because days can shake out any number of thorns and waspy moments.

Is the idea that if I deal with this one source, then I will coast? My own plate will be clean of sadnesses and I will bask?

In the meantime, I stuff myself with good and interesting foods. They possess me and I them and truthfully, they temper that which comes to the surface now and then.

But in addition, I can keep trying out palate cleansers until I strike gold and I will not then taste anything but the dessert that follows. In this case, the celery salad wipes out traces of everything that came before it, making room for lemon soufflés along with the pine nut tart.

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fresh and crisp

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delicate and dreamy

Saturday, February 25, 2006

ms. dilly-dally-the-time-away goes out to buy flowers

All these people to feed tonight and what do I do? I spend the morning in conversation, then I search for candles and then I take the time to fiddle with flowers.

Thank God for last night’s Olympics. I became so agitated with those skiers and skaters that I had to bake. So at least I have one of the desserts, an almond tart with pine nuts, ready. Between it and the hot nuts for the r&r rounds (ricotta and radicchio), I am well on my way, no?

I would be even more on my way if I did not pause to blog. Cursed blog of mine, sitting there, tempting me in the worst possible way, like an indulgence, a puffed-out pastry. Oh! I have to get to those as well. Theme of today’s dinner: Sicily with elements of France, in celebration of my forthcoming travels.

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almonds and pine nuts and lemons and of course, the flowers

Friday, February 24, 2006


A friend asked me this today:
Why do you like to cook?

It’s not a difficult question, but I was stumped.
So he persisted: is it the smells as you prepare foods? (no) the prettiness of the presentation? (no)

So I said: it’s because there is great joy in having people sit around a table in my home, laughing together, over dishes prepared in my kitchen.

But it sounded lame. I mean, if there is such “great joy,” then how come I haven’t done much of it in the past year? I have cooked for a bunch of people exactly once since I moved to the loft, October 2nd. Sure, there was my family during winter holidays, but I would cook for them whether I liked it or not. They’re worth it.

And the thing is, people have been food-nice to me. They have cooked for me, taken me out, all those things that would typically cause me to bring out my Polish apron and rolling pin in a flash. In the past.

I think, like all things in life, my love of cooking for others has had to take a pause..

Not any more. For the next two months, while I am still on this side of the ocean, I want to cook. For you, you and you. For people who have fed me, food wise (and otherwise). I know, we are not even yet, but just you wait.

I begin tomorrow. About time, say those who have worked hard to make me food-happy this year.

Look: my beginnings, for you. Tomorrow, you get to find out what it is that I am playing with. All new foods, of course. I hardly ever repeat.

Madison Feb 06 135
hot nuts

Thursday, February 23, 2006

notes from tuesday's flight home

I have no moral fiber.

But come on, consider this: you are a lowly person who can never break into the inner circle of men who inhabit first class (on flights). But by some fluke and rather unusual circumstance (whereby you go so far as to travel to Japan via Paris, just to get the miles, and have several other overseas flights which you deliberately bunch in one calendar year), you get yourself for one year and one year only platinum plus status on Air France. The elite of the elite (and there are 5 gradations of elite status on Air France).

Then Air France merges with Northwest. Voila! This past week, I am flying with Ed to Canada on Northwest. On international flights, platinum plus bumps everyone and anyone. If the pilot wanted my seat, s/he could not have it. I am boss!

And so on each leg of the journey, I have been given first class seats. And each time I have said: no, if my companion cannot be with me up there in super stardom, then I will join the sardines in the rear of the plane.

Until this last, the fourth flight.

I mean damn, what would you do? Your super elite status is about to expire at the end of the month. You will never ever again be sitting among men who all wear conflicting scents of aftershave.

Would you not say YES! to that final upgrade, leaving your 6'4" traveling companion back there for the 56 minute flight to shift and squirm in the middle seat between two good-sized people whose extensions are more the side to side rather than up and down kind?

Still, I have such guilt. I am a weak person. I know that. As I sit in the first row, with what seems like ten drinks lined up for me to get through, I feel like an utter pig.

P.S. I have, this year alone (besides this Canada fancy), given up three business class upgrades on across-the-ocean flights just to be back there with friends. Does that gain me points?

I tell myself: if we crash, I swear I will give up my life to save those in the back. Fact is though, with all that alcohol, I wont be much use. Damn it. I am such a loser.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

notes from yesterday's drive to montreal: camera in hand

If I drive, you can look at the world out there. I’ll stop if you want to take photos.

Generous words. Ed drives, I look. We take the side road. Rarely do we choose a highway over a back road. Snow flurries along the St. Lawrence. Much of the river is not frozen here.

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ice fishing hut on sled runners; no ice here.

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old but not without color

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out for a morning run

Please, while I’m handling the camera here, can you put one hand on the wheel? I mean, life is short enough.
It’s a habit…
I see that.

Do you know where the airport is?
I saw a sign. Montreal airport. Take the exit at 15.
Okay… even though I thought we were departing from Trudeau…
Damn. Turn around then, we’re going the wrong way. Only not here: no u-turns permitted.
Signs are there to keep sign-makers employed.

My own bad habit: getting to the gate seconds before check-in closes. This time we have four minutes to spare.

Such are the issues that accompany travel. So many people have said that travel these days is a pain. Waiting, always waiting, managing bad weather, faulty reservations, security issues. Who needs this?

I do. Just to look at a place that is different from home. Wherever home may be.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

from quebec city: comfort in food

I wake up, look out the window of the once-warehouse hotel. I seem to only inhabit century-old warehouses these days.

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Looks cold outside. Back to sleep. Wake up again. Ah. They are serving breakfast here now.

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in addition to the granola, I pick up one or two of these. I'll stay silent on how many my traveling companion can eat at a sitting.

A few steps outside and I feel I have earned the next round.

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asparagus and cheese melted over a baguette

An aperitif in front of the fireplace at the hotel. It stirs the appetite. Dinner? About time.

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warm goat cheese on a toasted baguette, mixed greens

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snails over puff pastry

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halibut with crab, over shaved fennel, in a lobster - tomato sauce

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fried ice cream in maple sauce

A walk along the river at night is de rigeur. I mean, there is great comfort in fresh and honest food, but watching the bricks of ice on the river, shifting directions with the ocean tide, is even more calming. Truly, in the end, I did not even notice how cold it is out there in the Quebec air.

Returning to Madison today.

Monday, February 20, 2006

from quebec city: do as the romans

Walk the city streets briskly, pick up foods at the epicerie, follow the side streets home.

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Near the old town, take out your blades (or rent some), turn your face away from the direction of the wind and skate. Then, because it is the ubiquitous treat around here, take a bag of maple syrup cones home.

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who is this person? wonder if she keeps a blog...

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a shack with skates and maple sugar cones

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instead of ice cream

If it gets too cold, warm up at the local café, where they are serving hot mushroom soup. Or, just sip your espresso and catch up on the paper.

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Going home, be careful. Snow removal is in full swing. Nearly every block has a guy on the roof pushing the stuff down. Step out of the way.

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And for God’s sake, enjoy the food. Post on food will follow. Tomorrow. I am off now to enjoy the food.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

from quebec city: sunday pleasures

Just north of the city, the Montmorency river shoots down a cliff, creating falls that are taller than those at Niagra.

In the winter, the world around the falls freezes.

Crazy people go out and try to scale the ice walls created by the frozen mist.

Crazy Wisconsin people go out to watch on this bitter cold day.

Crazy families take their offspring for a quick peek as well.

This kind of craziness is more than beguiling. It is thrilling.

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the falls

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scaling the frozen wall at the side of the falls

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up close and personal

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man meets iced cliff

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from the top of the falls, looking down

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from the top of the falls: looking at the next two climbers

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sunday outing: bundled up

The Quebecois will not turn their back on a blast of arctic air. Embrace the cold! Windy? Great! perfect for kite-skiing on the frozen portions of the St Lawrence! I watch one such person soar and rise and twist until I am too cold to move. He has no problem moving, I, the Wisconsin wimp, do.

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skiis, kite, frozen chunk of the st. lawrence

At some point, the little rented Kia is irresistible. Enough of hiking under, over and to the side of falls, enough of watching others face the winter without so much as a shrug.

We head out to the Ile d'Orleans, right there in the middle of the St. Lawrence, minutes north of Quebec City. The island is lovely. Deemed a historic treasure, it has no new development, just farms, fields, little villages, deserted now, because who the hell goes here in the middle of February?

We pick up an old guy who is thumbing a ride. I ask what he does here on the island. He rambles, but I can hardly pick out the words. The accent is too thick.

We do some Nina-things. We stop at a vineyard. Yes, they’re trying here! God knows why, but they are at it. It’s this attitude they have. Cold weather? What the hell. There’s a life, only one, and it can include this.

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ile d'orleans vineyard

One village has a chocolate shop and a café. Come on. Would I pass up a latte? Okay, a cappuccino, in a place where the snow is piled so high that they cannot open the front door… (Side door works.)

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island chocolaterie: snowed in

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...and coffee

Inside, a little girl is explaining in rapid fire French why her brother has to order something other than icecream. Women, training the men to do the right thing. Starts early.

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no, not like that

We drive to the tip of the island. Here, the villages and farms stand isolated, barren. It is how I imagine the outposts near the Arctic Circle to be. Scattered houses, farms, howling winds that make you grateful for that little Kia with the heater turned full blast.

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up island

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still blowing and drifting

Just before leaving the island I see a sign pointing to a cassis maker. I love cassis (black currant liqueur). I dump it into wine all the time as a dinner party aperitif. Cassis from Quebec would be sublime.

We pull up in front of what looks to be a private residence (with a cassis sign in front). I open the door to the vestibule. Hmmm. Looks exceptionally private. Boots strewn about, a rabbit in a cage. I walk to another door. I press a button thinking it to be the bell. Suddenly there is chaos. The garage door swings open, madame comes running out with curlers in her head. Oh! You have opened a door that will not close in winter! Oh! Ca ne fait rien, it’s fine, it’s fine! Oh! Ed, get out of the car and help me fix things here! It’s fine, it’s fine, be glad my husband is not home! (Men.) You want to buy cassis? Yes, yes, of course, I have some. I grow the currants and berries myself. You cannot see them now, they are buried in snow. Forgive me, we never have visitors at this time of the year.

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island berry fields

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This time of the year. The perfect time of the year to lose yourself in a place that never says no to the outdoors. Or to visitors who come breaking down your door to get a bottle of cassis.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

from quebec city: ice

A high of -2? Fahrenheit? With a wind chill that refuses to type itself here because it is so daunting? Interesting.

You read about how the Quebecois deal with winter and you try to copy them. Wear layers and embrace the cold. I think it’s a toss up if I embraced the cold or it embraced me, but we were indeed one today.

My answer to the question of how is it pleasurable to do a getaway to a place even colder than Wisconsin had always been – hey, I’ll catch up with my reading and writing and I’ll take a few photos in the 5 minutes I step outside and I’ll eat well. Good deal, no?

With only a short occasional pause to catch our breath, we spent four hours outside, Ed and I.

It was worth it: a search for ice pushed us to extremes.

Initially, I wanted to find the ice sculptures.

Through lower vielle ville streets, up the road to upper Quebec, sliding terribly on the planes of Abraham, peering out with tears freezing on the lids, Lara’s theme playing in my head, we search and find nothing.

Why would a city dismantle ice sculptures just because its winter festival has ended?

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snow and houses and snow

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where are they? where is anything?

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out and about: embracing the cold

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...but first you bundle up

Then came the brilliant plan to do the ferry crossing. The St Lawrence is traversable, even though the ferry has to crash through floating bricks of ice. It is nothing short of an awesome trip. The sound itself is tremendous.

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the city spills into the river

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ferries, passing each other

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St Lawrence close up

Looking out we see canoers. Nuts, these guys are nuts. I found a bunch of people even more insane than I am! I watch them get in their boat, paddle furiously…

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…and when the going gets tough and they can paddle no more, they hop out and jump between floating chunks of ice.

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...and jumping ice

Standing at the helm of the ferry takes every last ounce of warmth out of my veins. The only solution, ONLY solution is to find a creperie and order something hugely satisfying. Maybe filled with apricot puree and roasted almonds?

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hot and fulfilling

from quebec city: whiteout

Remember whiteout? How useful it was before it caked around the edge of the bottle and left clumps on your page, like snow mounds on a smooth road surface?

It’s gusty outside, the pilot says as he lands in Montreal. Are 80 mph winds gusty or are they more like a slap across the face?

Charming little Kia, waiting for us. Ed had been working all night, I had been working only half the night. I’ll drive, I say. CNN said expect snow, heavy at times, but the skies look star studded here in Montreal.

It’s less than 300 kms to Quebec City. We leave the airport at 6:30. The speed limit is 100. A breeze. In time for a late dinner. I turn on the radio. French music. Ed sleeps, I zip forward. The wind adds bounce to the drive. I’m up for it.

Fifty kilometers outside of Quebec it happens. Suddenly the car in front of me is flashing parking lights. So is the truck. A gust brings a sheet of snow from the side. Above, there are stars. Around me -- snow. I slow down to 5 mph, Ed wakes. It’s no use, I am moving randomly, I see nothing. The wind is coming from my left. Ed looks out his side. You’re too far to the left. The white shroud recedes. I am nearly off the road.

The next one comes, and the next. In between – nothing but the blown snow, now in clumps on the road. In front of us, a roll over. People get out to help. I can do nothing but move forward. The cars are crawling now. You hope each gust is the last. It isn’t.

And then, suddenly, there is the bridge, with the city on the other side. Snow-covered. Beautiful.

Almost 11 at night now. The hotel clerk guides me into the snow-covered lot. I do it for you, madame! He says and proudly spins the car into a spot. You drove today from Montreal? Brave! Bad winds.

At midnight, in a bistro across the street, pommes frites and moules, with crusty bread and Canadian wine. Heaven.

Quebec Feb 06 006

Friday, February 17, 2006


Never say to me “we should go to Quebec someday.”

The word someday does not exist in my vocabulary. I have no patience for it.

A friend (I’ll call him “Ed” – two letters, easy to type) said someday to me a month ago and learned that someday for me is right now.

I wonder whether impatience is a cultural thing: we, Poles, seize that which may disappear soon.

Or, whether I should take personal responsibility for plunging the minute a rope swings my way.

In spite of Madison snows and frosty temperatures, I am heading north right now with Ed, the now biting his tongue Ed, for, having uttered the word someday, he is keeping me company as I head north today. Tonight, if the skies clear and the planes land, we will be in Montreal, driving up even further north to Quebec City, where the ice statues lay buried in snow and the temperatures will not pass single digits.

Waiting now at the Detroit airport for our (delayed) flight out, Ed turns to me and says: You’re the maturest 52-year old kid I ever met.

Personally, I don’t know why anyone would wait until spring to head north.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


I don't really know you, a friend said today.

Oh, everyone can read me – I have a hard time hiding my pleasure and displeasure with the everyday.

Yes, that you do disclose, but I don’t really know even a fraction of who you are.

Nonsense. I write a blog, I talk to friends about my days.

But you lived in communist Poland, you were a Fifth Avenue nanny, you were in Leningrad when it was Leningrad…We here ate twinkies for lunch and took trips to Florida in winter and had chrome on our cars and thought we were damn lucky to be American, you know, ‘cause we’re better than everyone else.

So I don’t really know you. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up with questions in your head, with storms, with drama. Will you talk more about it?

No, I am not good at that. There’s Ocean and there are the smiles and sadnesses of the everyday. There is no pleasure in unraveling spins and dramas from the past. No pleasure at all. And the snow today, it's so beautiful.

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this morning, out my window

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getting to class

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finding a way to move along State Street

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pedaling. because it's Madison.