Last Minute Dinner Decisions

{On the stove}
Last night I had planned on making my lazy dinner as of late (egg in a cup) but after having tea at L. and K.'s, I was inspired by a quick glance at a Good Housekeeping One-Pot Cookbook underneath their coffee table.  Since I had all the ingredients at home (I used frozen shrimp), I decided to make quick shrimp curry.  It was hearty with a good blend of flavors and it warmed the soul during another frigid spring evening.  I would probably change the recipe next time (it called for light coconut milk which is what we had in the pantry) and use regular coconut milk or just add more to make the sauce thicker.  
{Dinner ready in less than 30 minutes}


Spring in Sevilla

{Locals dressed in their finest having an afternoon drink before heading to the Feria}
Yesterday's Sunday Times article on Semana Santa got me nostalgic about my lovely trip to Seville last April when I was living in Paris. I had always wanted to go to Spain, and Andalucian history and culture was right up my alley.  After nearly getting my flight cancelled due to the Icelandic volcano, I finally arrived and it did not disappoint.  I was there during Feria de Abril, so hotel prices skyrocketed and I ended up staying in an apartment rental during the first three days, and switching to a hotel after the conclusion of the fair.  

The Feria de Abril began as a cattle trading fair in the mid-1800s but is today  a week-long massive celebration that concludes Semana Santa, or Easter Holy Week.  Women and children dress in their finest 'flamenco' dresses, their hair done up in beautiful barrettes and flowers, and the men pull out all the stops in their finest suits.  The men of Seville were some of the most well put-together I have seen during my travels.  Hundreds and hundreds of decorated tents line the fairgrounds; we were not able to enter some as they are privately owned so we had to find municpal tents which were less exclusive but just as fun.I was also able to visit my friend K., who was wwoofing in the Andalucian countryside.  Here are my favorite things about Seville and Spain.  
{Inside one of the many tents, or casetas, at Feria de Abril}
{Adorable girl mid-twirl}
{Seville's finest}
{Fairgrounds at night}
Where to stay: I recommend a vacation apartment rental (I used FlipKey through Trip Advisor), otherwise there are many hotel options.  I stayed in Hotel Becquer, Calle Reyes Católicos 4, for the second half of my stay.  There is a nice, small rooftop pool, and it is only a ten-minute walk from the Catedral and all the main sights.  
{Rooftop pool at Hotel Becquer}
{Late night ice-cream in front of Hotel Becquer}
Where to eat: Dos de MayoPlaza la Gavidia, 6 , my absolute favorite tapas-style restaurant located in a quaint residential square filled with neighborhood children playing street soccer and grandmothers pushing strollers.  I stumbled upon it by chance and the boisterous servers behind the bar as well as the delicious food and cheap Rioja brought me coming back for more.  I was far too early the second time as they don't even open for dinner until 8pm staying true to Spanish form of late-night dining.  
Bar la Estrella, c/ Estrella 3, another tapas-style favorite where I had a late lunch on the patio across the street from the restaurant.  What to order: langostinos con aguacate (avocado stuffed with prawns), camembert frito (fried camambert cheese topped with raspberry jam).  The prices can't be beat at this place.
{Amazing fish kebab with roasted peppers from Dos de Mayo}
{Delicious plates at Bar La Estrella including fried camembert}
{Outside dining at San Marco Restaurant, set in a former 12th century Arab bathhouse}
What to do: See the famous Santa Maria Cathedral and the Moorish Giralda Tower.  Stroll the gardens at the Reales Alcázares.  Enjoy a lovely late-afternoon experience at the Aire de Sevilla, c/Aire, 15, an Arab bathhouse in the old Santa Cruz district.  Stand at a bar for an afternoon snack of churros and hot chocolate.  If you are in Seville during the Feria de Abril, you can't miss it.  Follow the crowds across the river until you see the bumper-to-bumper buses shuttle everyone to the fair.  You will know when you have arrived.  Wander the fairgrounds and pick a tent that suits you.  Inside the tents, tables are hard to come by, but once you snag a spot, do as the locals do and have the specialty fino (dry, white sherry) or a glass of manzanilla wine.
{Traditional drinks inside the caseta}
{Inside thReales Alcázares}
{Exterior of Aire de Sevilla, Arab baths}
{Courtyard at Aire de Sevilla}
Where to party: The Feria de Abril has a nightlife of its own, but if you happen to be there another time of year, Disco Catedral, Cuesta del Rosario 12, is a nice bar and lounge with a good DJ, comfortable cushions, and an international, young crowd.  You don't have to be a guest to whisk yourself up the elevator at Hotel Doña Maria, c/Don Remondo, 19, and have a late-night drink on the rooftop terrace while taking in a magnificent view of the Cathedral.

{View from rooftop bar at Hotel Doña Maria}
{Couches at Disco Catedral}
{Interior, Disco Catedral}


Simple Lunch

{One of my favorite cookbooks, Barefoot Contessa at Home}

As much fun as it is to get a sandwich from from a favorite local bakery, sometimes there is nothing better than putting one together yourself.  Last month I recreated an Ina Garten recipe, and once the weather starts warming up around here, this sandwich would be a great addition to a picnic basket.

Notes:  I roasted the peppers over the gas burner, but if you don't have one, you can cook them whole on a sheet pan in the oven for 35 minutes until they are charred.  The recipe says to use either plain or garlic and herb goat cheese- I highly recommend using garlic and herb which just adds more flavor all around.  I used my Modena balsamic vinegar for the sauce mixture which took it up a notch.  I also omitted the capers as I am not a fan, but feel free to include them as the recipe states.


Easter Decorations

{Easter egg wreath}

Easter in our house is always used an expression of spring and new life.  Here are some of this year's decorations brightening up our home.
{Left- Homemade Easter egg tree
Right- Edible Easter eggs and decorative hollow bunny eggs from Paris}

{Easter egg, rabbit, and carrot lights}
{Spring flowers in flower pot purchased in Bruges, Belgium}


Thursdays with Fred

{On one of his many blankets}
Fred has a new favorite activity.  There is a bird-feeder on the outside of the TV room window, and lately rats have been coming there at night to steal the food (yes, unfortunately you can never really escape rats when you live near the lake).  Once Fred caught hold of this, his attention has never been more focused to the window.  Now when we're watching our DVR programmed-shows at night, Fred will come in the room start, meowing and sit in his prepared stance, waiting for "Rat TV" to start.  Sometimes we have to tell him it's not showing that night (i.e. there is no bird seed in the feeder to attract the rat).  But once he gets his first glimpse of the rat he becomes extremely antsy and even starts pawing at the window and meowing to be let out (which we completely ignore in regard to his safety).  He really is a character.
{Watching Rat TV}



{Peekaboo view of Notre-dame de la garde}
Last March during our trip to Provence, we decided to take a day-trip to Marseille.  It included a walk around the old port, an unexpected but wonderful lunch, wandering the winding streets of Le Panier, and finally a long bumper-to-bumper journey in traffic (reminiscent of Tunisia) back to the autoroute at evening rush hour.  Marseille deserves far more than a simple post such as this, and I hope to be able to return there to see much more of the city.
{Exterior, La Passarelle}
I love nothing more than finding a memorable place to eat while traveling.  Often times it happens when you least expect it.  We discovered the lunch spot, La Passarelle52 Rue Plan Fourmiguier, 07ème, while walking down one of the hills from the Notre-Dame-du-Mont church.  The interior was so unique and fun, and the food was one of the best and freshest meals during our trip.  There is even a vegetable and herb garden on site.  It was definitely a place where locals went during their lunch hour and the servers were charming and friendly.

I loved the bowls and plates the food came on- our server told us the bowls were Moroccan, purchased from a Marseille market.  The Mexican oil tablecloth and colorful cutlery were added delights.  They even had an old record player providing background music.  I highly recommend eating a meal (or two) here if you should ever find yourself in Marseille.  The BBC and Lonely Planet published an interesting mini-guide on Marseille several months after our trip there that mentions La Passarelle as well, so if you don't want to take my word, take theirs.  You won't be disappointed.
{Tarte aux carottes}
{Vegetable soup}
{Mismatched chairs and fun interior of La Passerelle}
Marseille often gets written-off as a gritty city that should be skipped over in favor of France's other tourist destinations but I would highly disagree.  It is not as glamorous as Paris or Cannes but the history, food, and people are what make this city so electric and vibrant.  In many ways it reminded me of another port city, Naples.
{Cathédrale de la Major}
{Port view}
{Door of la Major}


Local Shots: Grey Winter

I am now addicted to a new AMC mystery show, The Killing, after constant urging from mother to watch it.  It was shot in Vancouver, BC, but takes place in Seattle and features breathtaking aerial shots overlooking the city.  Despite the fact that it has been a nasty spring thus far, (I am already on my second cold), Seattle really is a beautiful city, even during the grey months.  Local "celebrity" meteorologist Cliff Mass even included a depressing yet somewhat accurate video on his weather blog that a Seattlite must have created after a long bout with SAD (although I wish it showed that we do have beautiful summers after July 4th).

Here are some shots I took in January around town.


Cooking with Saffron

During my crazy cooking marathon a few weeks back, I was making recipes from across the board.  I randomly decided to make a recipe from one of my favorite new cookbooks, Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home.  She divides the book into seasonal recipes, and each menu has an appetizer, main course, and dessert.  The interesting thing about my choice, is that the recipe called for saffron, which I had never cooked with before.  When I took the first bite, I was taken aback as saffron has a very distinct flavor which I was not used to, but after adapting my palate, this dish was really satisfying and well-rounded.  I decided to make the dessert as well, which only required assembling, yet it was a lovely way to round out the meal.  

{Pearl couscous with saffron broth and prawns}

{Greek yogurt, clementines, and pistachios}

I pretty much followed the recipe except for one ingredient.  We unfortunately had no golden raisins in the pantry so we had to do without but I will most definitely include them next time as they would add a nice texture and flavor to the dish.

Shrimp in Saffron Broth (From Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 2 cups)
3 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads (It's important to use good quality, real saffron. It's expensive but a little goes a long way)
1 1/2 pounds large (21 to 25 count) large shrimp (deveined and peeled)
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
Pearl Couscous (I just cook quickly over the stove according to package directions and season with salt and pepper) (If you have golden raisins, add them here)

Heat a large saute pan over medium. Add oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Cook fennel, carrots, and saffron until vegetables are starting to soften, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes.

Season shrimp with salt and pepper; add to pan and cook 1 minute, then turn shrimp. Pour in wine and stock, and cook just until shrimp are pink and opaque throughout, about 2 minutes.

Serve shrimp, vegetables, and broth over couscous in shallow bowls.


Macaron Marathon

I first fell in love with macarons during my second trip to Paris after following up on the advice of friends and visiting Ladurée bakery.  Ever since then I was hooked.  Even after I moved to Paris for a two-year stint, I returned home to the states with a little pastel green box filled with eight mouth-watering cookies to bring my mom a taste of Paris.  Despite this obsession, I always had a fear of recreating the dessert at home.  I had heard stories that they were a tough cookie to make and after my gnocchi disaster in the kitchen several years ago, I did not want a repeat.  So once I found an instructional class at Sur La Table (led by a pastry chef), my fears were assuaged and after a two-hour course, I was taking home a ziploc bag filled with five different flavors of this heavenly cookie.  Making them at home, however, was a different story.  We didn't have the luxury of already measured/weighed ingredients, a professional pastry chef guiding our every move, and the most important thing, a restaurant-grade (or at least properly functioning) oven.  This afternoon's first homemade macaron attempt turned into a 4+hour marathon that resulted in tasty (if not somewhat ugly) macarons that I think were a decent success considering it was our first attempt.  They were missing the all-important pieds, or feet, that make macarons unique, and thus I think they almost look like mini-whoopie pies instead.  We learned a lot and after we wash away the last of the splattered flour out of our hair and aprons, we just might be ready for take two of our macaron adventure.  Stay tuned.  
After 3 attempts at the macaronner process, watching this video helped immensely
Uneven coconut macaron shells after piping
Our attempt at quick-drying the shells before putting them in the oven.  Result: It worked pretty well
An unsuccessful burnt batch of raspberry macarons
The semi-presentable coconut-lemon and raspberry macarons 
Plates of macarons
Raspberry-filled macarons up-close
I had planned on making pasta alio e oglio for dinner but a nearly 4-hour macaron marathon called for Subway takeout and "homemade" iced chai using the Tazo mix from Whole Foods