Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pumpkin Bars

While Halloween may not be my favorite holiday, I do enjoy an excuse to cook with pumpkin. This time last year, we made Roasted Pumpkin and Bourbon Ice Cream.  My husband always craves ice cream when it gets cold out. But I prefer something warm, so this year I made pumpkin bars!  Based on a cookie recipe from Joy the Baker, these are delicious! If pumpkin bread was turned into a cake and had white chocolate chips stirred in, this is what it would taste like. Enjoy, and happy Halloween!
(P.S. How pretty is this towel?? I snagged at an antique market in France!)

2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup fresh pumpkin puree* (canned would probably work too)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 F, and position a rack in the center of the oven.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon into a mixing bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer (I think a hand mixer should work too), add the eggs and sugar and beat for about 1 minute. The mixture should be smooth and light in color.

Scrape the sides of the bowl, and then on a lower speed, mix in the oil, pumpkin, and vanilla until incorporated. Add in the dry ingredients and continue to mix until combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed. 

Add in the white chocolate chips and stir to combine.

Pour the mixture into a greased 8"x8" baking dish, and bake for around 40 minutes, until the top has browned and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

*To get pumpkin puree: Using a sugar pumpkin, slice off the stem, and cut the pumpkin in half. Discard the seeds (or save them to roast!). Rub the skin with a little oil and place cut-side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast at 350F for about 50 minutes, until a knife easily pierces the skin. The skin should be darkened some, and the flesh will be soft. Remove the pumpkin from the oven when done and let cool for a few minutes. Scoop the flesh out of the skin, using a spoon or ice cream scoop. Add the pumpkin and any juices that accumulated on the baking sheet into a food processor and puree until smooth.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


As I mentioned last week, we're back from a much needed vacation. We spent most of the two weeks in Nice, but we arranged for a long layover in Dublin on our way home. We only had a night and two full days to explore the city, so we tried to squeeze in as much fun as possible.

Our first stop was for fish and chips (with salt and vinegar, of course) from Leo Burdock. As there aren't any seats at the restaurant, we took our paper packets across the street to Christ Church and found a bench under a spotlight. It was dark out, and the area was deserted, but we made ourselves comfortable and dug in.
After we ate, we wandered over to the Temple Bar area where things were lit up and bustling. 
Down the street from The Temple Bar, we ducked into the quieter Farrington's Pub. We lucked out and found a couple bar stools and sipped on pints while listening to a local musician.
The next day we got started with breakfast at Brother Hubbard. It's an adorable place! The first thing you see is a counter overflowing with beautiful baked goods. We made our way to a table on the covered, heated back patio where benches were draped with wool throws in case you get chilly.
While we didn't need the throws, we did need steaming bowls of traditional Irish porridge and coffee! It's served along with honey, brown sugar, and cream, and I got mine with dried fruit and nuts mixed in as well. I wish we had this place back at home in Boston!
After breakfast, we got out our umbrellas for the walk to The Old Jameson Distillery. I think this was my husband's favorite part of the trip!
After the tour, he was one of the lucky volunteers to participate in a guided whiskey tasting, earning him a certificate as an official Jameson whiskey taster!
Our original lunch plans fell through (the place we wanted to go was closed), so after wandering around in the rain, a little place called Dublin City Food caught our eye. It's kind of a weird spot (for example, my husband's meal came out on nice dinnerware while mine was on a cafeteria tray), but the food was good. I really enjoyed my Reuben made with in-house cured pastrami, a cup of curry vegetable soup, and my beer, a Knockmeal Down Porter from Eight Degrees Brewing.
Down the street from the restaurant, Bewley's Coffee caught our eye, mainly because we saw they were doing pourover coffee. After twelve days of French espresso (not their strong suit), we needed a real cup of coffee! We cozied up at a table, read a little (James Joyce's Dubliners seemed like an appropriate choice), and enjoyed some people watching.
Our next adventure was a visit to Trinity College.  We could barely see the lovely campus from underneath our umbrellas (the rain was only getting harder), but we were happy to duck inside The Old Library for The Book of Kells exhibit (a beautifully hand-written and decorated copy of the gospels from the 800s) and the Long Room.
The Long Room, a library with books stacked clear to its long arched ceiling, featured a music exhibit (including a hand-written score from the premiere of Handel's Messiah's in Dublin) that was fascinating, but the real draw was the sheer beauty of the library. I would live here if they would let me! It's a book lover's dream.
From Trinity College, we walked to the home where Oscar Wilde grew up, along the way admiring some of the grand and colorful Georgian doors.
Across the street from his home in Merrion Square Park is the Oscar Wilde Statue where he can be found lounging in a smoking jacket. After paying him a visit, we were wet and cold, so we trekked back to the hotel, changed into dry clothes, and hung out there until it was time for dinner.
Dinner at Green 19, where we managed to snag the last open table, was worth venturing out into the elements yet again. The staff was warm and friendly (as most Irish people seemed to be). While my burger was a tad overcooked, the fries and homemade ketchup were really good. And my husband's Irish Beef Stew was outstanding. They also serve good cocktails -- our favorites were their Mojito and the Mexican Green with tequila, Maraschino, lime, grapefruit, and chiles.
We then walked along St Steven's Green to get to O'Donoghues for a couple after dinner pints. This place is maybe the perfect dive bar. It's crowded and noisy, but they don't bother playing music so you can still talk. The counters are sticky, and the walls are covered in framed paraphernalia. Folks are there from seemingly every walk of life, and everyone is happy to have a pint in their hand. In the back, my husband said the entire room joined in to sing Irish drinking songs at one point!
We began Day 2 with a visit to the Guinness Storehouse. It's quite an operation -- a self guided tour up seven floors of displays about the brewing process and the history of Guinness. There are vintage ads, models of beer tankers used to deliver beer across the ocean (and a bomb that the Germans dropped on one tanker during WWII), an exhibit showing how wooden beer barrels were made by hand, etc, etc, etc. At the top of it all is the Gravity Bar, a circular glassed in room overlooking all of Dublin. Here you can grab a seat and sip a free (and properly poured) pint of Guiness .
Here's my husband staring in his very own Guinness ad!
After finishing our beer, we went for lunch at The Winding Stair. Along with The Long Room, this was my favorite stop in Dublin. Upstairs is a restaurant dishing up Irish fare made with local ingredients, and downstairs is the cutest bookstore.
For lunch, I had locally smoked haddock poached in milk served over cheesy mashed potatoes. It sounded weird, and the waiter recommended it, so I had to try it. Boy am I glad I did!  After clearing our plates and downing another cup of coffee, it had started raining again. What a great excuse to check out the bookstore! It's a small space whose walls are lined with new and used books, locally made odds and ends, and a few armchairs where you can sip tea, coffee, or wine while you read.
Once the rain subsided, we crossed the historic Ha'penny Bridge into Temple Bar where we wanted to check out the weekly Used Book Market and the Food Market.
The Temple Bar Book Market was pretty small, possibly due to the weather. We poked around a lbit but after not finding anything too tempting, we walked over to the Temple Bar Food Market. It's a small covered (thank goodness) market. Folks were selling produce, local cheeses, baked goods, spices, wild game, and butchered meats. There were several food vendors cooking up crepes, sandwiches, sausages, tacos, and even platters of raw oysters. We passed on food, but since it was chilly and damp, we got a cup of mulled apple cider with a little apple brandy stirred in to sip as we sat and people watched.
From the market, we grabbed a Guinness at The Temple Bar. It was pretty touristy, but hey, we can say we went.
For dinner, we went to Porterhouse Brewing Company, a restaurant brewing their own beers and with a good selection of imported craft beers.We found a table in front of a big screen showing a rugby game. Their beers were good (though not great), and it was solid bar food. I really enjoyed trying Aspall's (a dry cider from England), but what we enjoyed most was the rugby! Y'all, that game is tough. Following the Irish team's win, a local band set up. After a few songs, we headed back to the hotel to pack for our flight in the morning.

Dublin was a fun adventure for us and our first visit to a country where many of our ancestors were from. Here's to hoping for another visit someday, a visit to see some of the beautiful countryside, maybe the coast, and more whiskey distilleries for my official whiskey taster.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Cote d'Azur

We're back from vacation!  After two weeks in Nice (and a couple days in Dublin), it's back to the real world. We had a wonderful time, but boy is it nice to be home, back in our own bed and back in a land where we can get pizza delivered to our doorstep. 
When deciding where to go, we were tempted to choose somewhere new and exciting, but honestly, that sounded exhausting. We needed somewhere low maintenance and slower paced where we could eat, drink, sleep in, and get some sunshine. All signs pointed to Nice, smack dab on the beautiful Cote d'Azur.  After enjoying a few days there on our honeymoon, we knew it was the perfect spot.  Now I don't have it in me to recount our daily activities for two weeks (and I doubt anyone wants to read that), so here are the highlights (I'll cover Dublin in a separate post).


The food is my favorite part about France, whether it's a leisurely lunch lingering over a carafe of wine, a nice three course dinner, a picnic on the beach, or cooking back at our apartment (we rented the cutest little apartment in Vieux Nice via HomeAway). We began each day with coffee and a simple breakfast: a baguette spread with butter and jam, pastries, or yogurt and fruit. 

We packed a couple picnic lunches -- my favorite was a spread of nicoise olives marinated with herbes de provence, a crusty baguette, a black olive tapenade, ripe oozy St. Marcellin cheese, duck saucisson sec, fruit, and rose wine. With a kitchen at our disposal, we couldn't resist cooking a few dinners as well. The most memorable was an improvised batch of French Onion Soup (made with French onions!) topped with toasted baguette rounds covered in melted Comte
We went out for the rest of our meals, trying to sample as many of the local specialties as possible. Of the restaurants we visited in Old Nice, these were the standouts. 
  • Acchiardo - Wonderfully executed food, and they have a cool wine bottle chandelier. My cuisse de canard, duck thigh and leg braised with olives and mushrooms and served with homemade pasta was insanely good, and we loved their petits farcis, a Nicoise specialty.
  • Chez Palmyre - A rustic hole in the wall spot, complete with weathered wood tables, red checkered runners, embroidered linen napkins, and brick walls lined with vintage ads and kitchen equipment. My braised veal and potatoes came in a darling orange cocotte and was fall-apart tender. 
  • Bistrot d'Antoine - Great atmosphere with a friendly staff and a cozy, bustling dining area. Chalkboard menus are brought to your table along with a tin of a delicious tuna spread, bread, and olives. We started with a gorgeous tomato salad and a steaming pot of mussels and enjoyed truffle risotto and seared leg of lamb for our main course.
  • Le Merenda.- Tiny dining area where you practically share tables with your neighbors. Favorites were their fried zucchini blossoms, the soupe au pistou (vegetable soup with pistou, the Provencal version of pesto, stirred in) , and the daube de boeuf (Provencal beef stew).
  • Fenocchio - Ok, so this is a gelato stand rather than a restaurant, but it's the best gelato I've ever had. The Caramel Beurre Sale (salted butter caramel) is like a scoop of heaven in a cone.


There are so many fantastic markets to explore in Nice and the surrounding towns. I love to meander through the daily produce market (except Mondays) in Cours Saleyaadmiring stall after stall of produce, local cheeses, heaping bowls of olives, fresh-baked bread, cured meats, flowers, bins of herbs and teas, candied fruits and jams, homemade soaps, and touristy odds and ends. Purchasing items in French was a fun (and a couple times embarrassing) challenge. Then, when all that food made us hungry, we would get in line for a serving of Chez Theresa's socca, a local snack made from chickpea flower baked over a big flame until crispy. 
We also really enjoyed the antique market on Mondays where I snagged an antique coffee pot, some real French linens, and a vintage postcard. Just a short train ride away in Antibes, their covered Provencal market is great too. There we met a friendly guy selling olives who was excited to tell us how much he loves New York and Vegas.


To keep it a relaxing vacation, we set a rule for ourselves: only one "big" activity per day, and that was perfect for us. There's plenty to see and do in and around Nice, and we explored little by little each day. We visited the beach (and even got in the water), watched sailboat races, took a hike to the top of the Chateau de Nice for a picnic overlooking the Mediterranean, and went to see a ballet at the Nice Opera House.
We explored the Matisse Museum, and we spent a day at Plage Beau Rivage, a private beach.  For 15 euros, we got a beach chair all day (a welcome change from laying on the rocky beach) with a front row view of the water. Waiters are available to bring drinks or snacks to your chair, and there's an open air restaurant for lunch or dinner. It was a splurge, but we loved it. Another evening, we got dressed up to visit the famous Hotel Negresco for a drink in their fabulous bar, Le Relais. The service leaves something to be desired, but gosh we felt fancy sipping our (way too expensive) Aperol Spritz and single-malt scotch. I'll let you guess who ordered what.
We took a few day trips as well. A quick (and cheap) train ride took us to Antibes where we went to the Picasso Museum at Grimaldi Castle (Picasso briefly lived and worked there). We enjoyed the sculpture garden overlooking the sea and the featured work of other modern artists, but honestly, we kind of hated the Picasso pieces. Just don't tell our artist landlord! We also loved the covered Provencal Market in Antibes and the super cool Absinthe Bar and Museum. The bar is underground -- rock walls and ceilings are plastered with vintage absinthe ads, and glass cases hold antique absinthe paraphernalia. Vintage hats are available for patrons to don, meant to inspire your artistic bohemian spirit. Each table has a urn with spigots to pour water over a sugar cube, turning your glass of absinthe cloudy as the water and dissolved sugar are mixed in. We tried a glass of white absinthe and a glass of green, and the green was hands down our favorite.
We spent another afternoon in Monte Carlo where, after arriving on the bus, we had lunch at the lovely Cafe de Paris, wandered around the parks and along the harbor, and took a quick peak inside the casino. It was gorgeous, like something out of a Bond movie where you expect to see gentlemen in tuxedos, women in long gowns, and everyone sipping  martinis. 
Another bus along the winding coastline took us to St- Jean-Cap-Ferrat. There's really not a lot to do there, but it's so beautiful. A walking path runs along the coastline with breathtaking views of the sea crashing into craggy rocks below.  After walking a ways, we turned back and got a table at one of the cafes by the port. I sipped a Campari Americano, a bitter but refreshing French aperitif while my husband tried to pick which yacht he wanted to take home with us.
Time Together

Ok, so I know it's kind of cheesy, but this was truly my favorite part of the vacation. Two solid weeks of hanging out  together! I'm saying a lot when I say that I love this man more than I love French food. We only have a few shots of the two of us together (all taken from arms reach), but I love them. What a great vacation with so many fun memories!

Friday, October 4, 2013

We're Taking a Vacation

Guess what? Tonight we're heading out of town for a nice long vacation!  We've been talking about doing this ever since my husband graduated from grad school in June. We wanted to celebrate him finishing the program, and we just wanted some time off to relax. And we're finally doing it!

Our first stop will be Nice. The Cote d'Azur! We spent some time in Nice on our honeymoon, and we've been dying to go back ever since. I can't wait to shop at the big outdoor market in Vieux Nice, cook dinner in the little Home Away apartment we're renting, sip on chilled Rose wine, soak up some sunshine on the pebbly beaches, and explore some of the little seaside towns surrounding the city.
(Print by abduzeedo)

Since we're flying on Aer Lingus, an Irish airline, we also scheduled a multi-day layover in Dublin on our return flight. We'll be spending three days poking around the city, which will be a first for us! I'm at least hoping to see The Long Room at Trinity College's Old Library, some of the beautiful Georgian doors (including Oscar Wilde's childhood home), and some Irish pubs to enjoy a few pints of Guiness.
(Print by abduzeedo)

I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend, and I'll see you back here in a couple of weeks! 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

My 10 Year Reunion

After months of planning, this past weekend was the Paris High School 10 Year Reunion for the Class of 2003. I was excited to spend a weekend at home with my family and old friends. I know everyone had different experiences in high school, but I have (mostly) very fond memories of my time growing up in Paris and at Paris High. 

And coming back for Homecoming and our reunion reminded me of what is so great about growing up in a small town: the sense of community! While growing up, was it annoying at times that everyone in town knew your business? Sure! But it also makes coming back home such a pleasure. To run into old teachers, folks from church, and your friends' parents everywhere you go around town, whether it's at restaurants, the grocery store, or the high school football game.  The smiles, embraces, catching up on your lives -- it's home. A home where many of our families have known each other for generations. But let's not get too sappy here! It was a weekend of celebration! Here are the highlights:

1. Whataburger
It's a tradition for my husband and I to stop at Whataburger on the long drive from DFW airport to Paris, one that we eagerly anticipate since we live in a Whataburger-less wasteland. Driving down the interstate with a burger in one hand and a Dr Pepper in the other, we know we're back home.
2. TexMex!
Our first lunch when visiting Paris is almost always TexMex. We have a few favorites around town, but this time we went to La Familia. After their chips and salsa and a combination plate with a cheese enchilada, a sour cream chicken enchilada, rice, and beans, all was right with the world again.
3. Seeing Old Friends and Family
This is really the best part about coming home (followed closely by the overabundance of delicious TexMex). 
4. The Homecoming Pep Rally
Friday afternoon we stopped by the Homecoming pep rally to represent the Class of '03 with some other classmates. They've built a new high school since I graduated, so things are a little different these days, but the pep rally itself was about the same as those I remember.  And it was so much fun getting to share it with my husband!
My girlfriends Sarah, Bonnie, and Carrie along with one of our favorite teachers (and mother of our friend Philip) hanging out in the gym:
It brought back fond memories of my own Senior Homecoming Pep Rally!
5. Hanging Out in Beautiful Downtown Paris
After the pep rally, we headed to downtown to grab a spot to watch the Homecoming parade go by. I really love the square (which is literally a square around a beautiful marble fountain). People have put in so much hard work to restore a lot of the historical buildings, and it shows. We plopped down on a bench and enjoyed the breezy warm day and watched kids play around the fountain until it was time for the parade to start.
6. The Homecoming Parade
We could hear the drums coming, as the band led the parade through downtown and around the square followed by the cheerleaders and drill team, the Homecoming Queen nominees, the mascot, emergency vehicles with sirens blaring, and floats full of kids throwing candy! 
7. Small Town Texas Football
After a fantastic all-you-can-eat fried catfish dinner at The Fish Fry with my parents and grandparents, we went to see the Paris Wildcats take on the Melissa Cardinals. This was my first game to attend in about 8 years! No one gets into their high school football like small towns in Texas, and even when your team is terrible (like ours is at the moment), it's such a community event and so much fun!
Welcome to Paris, City of Friday Night Lights:
8. The Reunion Itself!
Saturday was the big day for the official reunion. That afternoon we hosted a picnic at Wade Park. We took field trips to the park in elementary school when we would climb the big red rocket or see how high we could reach on the swings.
Mom packed us a picnic basket with supplies, and I made Tortellini Salad, Kale Salad with Pecorino and Lemon, and Rosemary and Lemon White Bean Dip with pita chips. Mom also threw in homemade peanut butter cookies with Reese's Pieces, some sweet Texas cantaloupe, and a jar of water with lemon and mint. Perfect for a hot summer day (it's in no way fall yet in Texas). After the picnic, we began setting up for the evening event, a semi-formal dinner.
We had TexMex catered, we brought in drinks, and we set up a couple tables around the space, one with old yearbooks to flip through, one with a map to mark where everyone lives these days, and another to record favorite memories.
In a corner of the room, my husband and I set up our very first "DIY" photobooth. Philip brought some Paris High memorabilia to pose with. And I set up a fun prop table with feather boas, straw hats, clown noses, cat ears, a paper umbrella, big silly sunglasses,sequin masks, a bandana, and a jar of mustaches and bowties on sticks! I basically bought every silly item I could find at Hobby Lobby!

Making the mustaches and bowties was super quick and easy, and they were so popular. I simply printed out patterns I found online (here and here), traced them onto glittery foam "paper" that I found at the craft store, cut them out, and hot glued them to wooden dowels (also from the craft store).
We draped shimmery blue fabric for a backdrop, and my husband took care of the technical side of things (camera on a tripod + a remote). I think people had an absolute blast dressing up, posing, and taking their own pictures.
My UT girls: Sarah, Carrie, and Jennifer!
My husband and I! Doesn't he look like Luigi with his little sparkly black mustache?
Finally the night drew to a close, but not before we all posed for one big Class of '03 picture!  It was such a fun weekend, and I'm already looking forward to our 20 year reunion (let's just not think about how old we'll be when that time comes).
After cleaning up, it was time to say goodnight and bid old friends farewell. Here's one final shot of the planning and decorating crew!
9. Barbeque
Last but not least, what trip to Texas is complete without barbeque? We arrived at DFW around lunchtime on Sunday, so clearly we had to get barbeque at Cousin's. Granted, it's airport barbeque, but even airport barbeque in Texas is 100 times better than any you'll find in Boston! Until next time, Texas!