Category Archives: Family

Turns out I find surly Frenchmen endearing.

I’m a little bit bitter about this post.  I worked up a draft the other night and saved it in WordPress but it has somehow managed to disappear completely.  Grrrr.  And of course I didn’t think to save a version in Word, so I’m starting from scratch.  Maybe it will be better the second time around.  One can hope….


We left Frankfurt on Sunday morning and drove down to Strasbourg, France.  Pops speaks fairly fluent and quite flawless French so its always entertaining when I try to say a French word and he invariably corrects me (usually with a sigh of disbelief that my 3 1/2 years of high school French have served me so poorly).  On the drive down I was quite entertained by the many times he had to correct my butchered pronunciations of French car companies.

View 2

When we arrived in Strasbourg I was somewhat surprised to learn that Strasbourg is home to the European Parliament.  Mostly I was surprised because with all the Economist reading I’ve done over the last 6 years this is a piece of information I feel I should have already acquired.  Regardless, I immediately fell in love with the town and began plotting an eventual career transition that will allow me to work for some member of the European Parliament.  I think the key element of this plan will be obtaining British citizenship (which actually, due to my ancestry, I think I’m entitled to).

Upon arriving in town we checked into our hotel and immediately set out for the center of town.  We were waylaid on our way there by my inability to ever feel satiated on this trip (i.e. I needed lunch).  We found a little kebab place that looked good and decided to give it a try.  I thought I’d win over the guy at the counter if I attempted to order my meal in French.  Ha!  He was not impressed and I think it is safe to say that he did not like me at all.  Unsurprisingly, I ordered wrong and was confused/disappointed when I ended up with only a sandwich and no fries.  Thankfully Pops smoothed things over and seemed to make some sort of peace with Mr. Surly.  I never did get an order of fries, but Hill and Pops were gracious enough to share (Hill, quite wisely, let Pops do the ordering for her).  Regardless, the sandwich was delicious and I’ll admit that I’m pretty easily appeased when you put some tasty food in front of me.


To make our initial introduction to Strasbourg even better we then found a patisserie nearby.  Hillary and I stuck with the tried and true – an eclair for me and a cream puff for her.  Pops, who (again) speaks the language, ordered something that looked good without asking the sales lady what it was and was subsequently disappointed. (In case you haven’t yet come to this realization it seems only fair to note that today’s post is overly focused on the food we ate in Strasbourg, as for me, that was the highlight of our time there.)


We did eventually make our way to the Cathedral which was a truly beautiful and impressive site.

Cathedral Facade

Cathedral Facade 2



American Soldiers

We decided to take a river cruise following our visit to the cathedral as we figured it would be a nice way to experience the town.  Walking along the river before the cruise Pops, in the interest of making sure I was fully informed, asked, “Schpan, do you know this is a river?”  Uh, yeah, thanks Pops.  In his defense (and I promised to include the following explanation if I mentioned this on the blog), he initially thought it was a canal that the French had built to connect the center of town to the Rhine, but in fact is a river all its own.  The river cruise was delightful, especially the nice 30 minute nap I took towards the end.  Have I mentioned that Pops and I occasionally (read: always) fall asleep at inopportune moments?  Yeah, this was another one of those.  I’m chalking it up to jet lag.  I think that’s fair when you’ve traveled between 4 time zones in just over a week.  Unsurprisingly Pops also fell asleep on the cruise which had Hill rolling her eyes at both of us.  However, we both managed to stay awake long enough to experience the boat’s trip through the locks, which I think might just be the highlight of Pops’ entire vacation.

Pops by river

Buildings on River

For dinner we found a little restaurant not far from the center of town that was truly fantastic.  Highlights of the meal included Hill’s first bowl of French Onion Soup (I also ordered a bowl) and a super thin crust pizza we all shared that I’ve been calling a Flaming Tart because that is what the French looks like to me (Tarte Flammbe).  Hill’s entree was one of the more entertaining aspects of the meal.  Basically she ended up with a big bowl of sour cream (actually quark cheese) and pan-fried potatoes.  Its apparently a regional specialty, and she loved it, but it wasn’t quite what any of us were expecting.  As for me, I was overwhelmingly happy with my big bowl of mussels in a spicy tomato broth.  Delightful.  The other highly entertaining aspect of our meal was the woman who sat across from us and had a reserved table for herself and her dog.  But you know, it just wouldn’t feel like we had visited France if we didn’t have at least one experience involving a French person’s devotion to their dog.  And really, I can’t mock because if I realize my current career ambition to secure eventual employment at the European Parliament that might one day be me.


Flamin Tart

Hills Onion Soup

Sour Cream and Potatoes


Monday morning we woke up early (at least for us, which really, isn’t very early at all) and did a little more exploring.  Hillary was determined to find a Christmas store we saw advertised during the boat ride and I was hoping to locate a little gingerbread store recommended in our tour book (gingerbread being another regional specialty).  Success was ours as we found both shops in addition to a sable (French butter cookie) shop and a bakery where I was able to buy a pain au chocolat for breakfast and a baguette for the road.  The baguette incited a somewhat heated argument between Pops and I over whether to buy salted (him) or unsalted (me) butter to go with the bread.  My position was that in France, you should always buy unsalted butter for your baguette.  Really, he has more experience in this realm than I do, but as I was the one with the Euros, I bought the unsalted variety and was very, very happy with my choice.  After breakfast Hillary and I burned a few calories climbing to the top of the Cathedral to admire the view, and we then hit the road for Munich.

Pops and Schpan 2



Surprisingly, I do actually have a recipe for you today.  Its even somewhat French.  Amazing, I know.  This has been one of my favorite recipes for about a year and a half now and has been making a regular appearance on my family’s table at holiday meals.  Its incredibly easy and super delicious.  It comes from my favorite food blogger, Molly, over at Orangette.  If you try this recipe I think you’ll see why I love her blog.  Her recipes generally focus on simple, fresh ingredients with incredible results.

Broiled Asparagus with Vinaigrette

1 bunch of asparagus


2 T. fresh lemon juice

1 T. white wine or champagne vinegar

1 T. Dijon mustard

½ t. fine sea salt

5 T. extra-virgin olive oil

scant 1/8 t. pressed garlic (I like using a garlic-flavored olive oil instead of fresh garlic in this recipe)

1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped

Zest of half a lemon

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.  Spread asparagus out on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil (again, I like the garlic-flavored oil here), and toss to coat.  Roast for 10-12 minutes and then transfer asparagus to a serving platter.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and salt.  Add the oil, and whisk well to emulsify.  Taste, and if necessary add a bit more oil.  Add the garlic and whisk to combine.

To serve, drizzle the vinaigrette over the asparagus and top with the hard-boiled egg and lemon zest.


Starting our Christmas shopping early this year.

On Saturday we took our third, and sadly, final day trip with our cousin to the fantastic town of Rudesheim.  On our way there we stopped off in Wiesbaden to make a pilgrimage to a gummy bear store our cousin recently discovered.   It was definitely worth the detour.  Their gummies are delicious!  In addition, they’ve been helpful on our recent long drives.  They’ve come to my rescue more than once when Pops and Hillary have been asleep and I’ve needed a little something to help me stay alert.

As we were walking to the gummy bear store we passed the Wiesbaden farmers market.  I made everyone walk with me through the market, and then when I realized I had forgotten to take pictures, I made them wait so I could run back and snap a few shots.  I was feeling a little pressed for time, so the shots below don’t really do justice to the market.  It was amazing.  I could easily have blown all my spending money for the trip sampling meats and cheeses there.  Good thing I knew we were hitting the road on Sunday and there would be no time to sample purchases before our departure.




After our little excursion into Wiesbaden we drove to Rudesheim.  Hill and I didn’t realize we were running low on cash until we arrived in Rudesheim.  Being a tourist town one might expect to come across an occasional ATM.  Unfortunately, ATM machines were somewhat elusive in Germany, so our quick trip to find an ATM turned into something of an excursion.  Happily, we did find a crepe stand on our journey, and yes, an ATM machine.  Cash was a key element of our trip to Rudesheim because there is a Kathe Wohlfarht store there and our cousin suspected (rightly) that Hill and I would appreciate the opportunity to pick up some Christmas-themed souvenirs.  I had the hardest time deciding what to buy.  I finally settled on a nativity and a little Santa Claus smoker.  Can’t wait to break them out this holiday season.

Rudesheim 1

Rudesheim 2

After we concluded our shopping we sent our cousin home with our purchases and sampled a little bratwurst.  So good!


Rudesheim is a wine-making town, which yes, is completely wasted on me and my family.  However, we can definitely appreciate the beauty of the surrounding countryside.  After filling up on bratwurst we hopped on a cable car that ran from the center of town to the top of a nearby hill.  We were treated to amazing views of the area, which we all felt were magnified by the fall colors.  One more reason to love traveling at this time of year.

View From Lift 1

On the Lift


Final View

As though the day were not already perfect enough, we got to come “home” to the two cutest pirates to ever make a girl walk the plank.

Little Pirate 2

Big Pirate

I came all the way to Germany and you won’t hike a little hill?

(Hillary is guaranteed to roll her eyes when she sees the title of this post.)

On the Bridge

Day 2 in Frankfurt and its environs took us to Wurzberg, the start of the Romantic Road.  My cousin hadn’t been there yet, so it was something new for all of us.  My greatest amusement over the course of the day came from my fascination with the various toilet seat disinfectants in German restrooms, although the town was pretty great too.

We arrived in Wurzberg early in the afternoon and parked next to the Residence.  When I’m on vacation it turns out that I can, and often do, eat all the time so unsurprisingly, I was already hungry.  We decided to walk towards the Main River and stop at a place recommended in the guide book for lunch on our way down (the Ratskellar for anyone who might be curious).  The restaurant served traditional German fare, so I tried the sauerbraten with potato dumplings and red cabbage.  It was pretty tasty.  And as an added bonus, I was highly entertained by the automatic toilet seat cleaner in the women’s restroom.

Following lunch we walked down to Old Main Bridge and admired the sight of Fortress Marienberg up on the hill.  I was more than a little disappointed to learn that our visit to Wurzberg would not include a visit to the Fortress.  I tried to convince various members of my family to hike up to the Fortress with me, but they were all more interested in visiting the Residence and as my cousin pointed out, we really only had enough time to visit one historic site that day and Frommers rates the Residence more highly than the Fortress.  For some reason though, I’m always more interested in older, less adorned buildings/structures than in the highly ornamental, over-the-top constructions of later ages.  After taking way too many pictures on the bridge (and becoming completely smitten by the most adorable German girl ever) we turned around and headed back towards the Residence.


Statue on Bridge


Cutest Girl

Cutest Girl 2

One of the many nice things about traveling with my cousin however is that while there may not be enough time for hiking up to random old fortifications there is always enough time for dessert.  We made our second food stop of the day at a little cafe where we each ordered a slice of cake and I enjoyed another German bathroom that provided a little dispenser of toilet seat sanitizer in each stall.  I told Hillary she had to check out the toilet seat sanitizer if she used the restroom, but she didn’t initially understand the illustration on the dispenser and as a result, got a shot of sanitizer in the eye… which because I’m an unfeeling older sister, only added to my general amusement that day.

We made a quick stop at the Wurzberg Cathedral following dessert and then visited the Residence before calling it a day and heading back to Frankfurt.  I have to confess that I was incredibly impressed by the Residence, so I’ll concede that my family members probably made the right call to forgo the Fortress in favor of the Residence.  I don’t have any pictures of the inside of the Residence because photography was not allowed, but it was incredibly beautiful.  I was also very interested in the fact that the building, and the city itself, sustained extensive damage during World War II so a great deal of restoration work has been done to restore it to its former state.  They had some photographs of the damage and then the restoration process and it was very impressive seeing the lengths  they’ve gone to to restore the building to its former glory.  Following our tour of the building Hillary and I couldn’t resist goofing off a bit in the gardens.  Based on the majority of photos we’ve been taking (most of which will not be posted to this blog, thank you very much), you’d think we hadn’t matured at all since our family trip to Europe in 1986.

Christ with Angels


Staying Alive

Curried Cocunut Chicken with Rice

I wish I had a Germanesque recipe to leave you with tonight, but unfortunately, I was not quite (or even close) to that organized prior to this trip.  However, as we’ve been reminded again and again on this trip, Europe is an international land, home to people from all over the world.  For that reason I figure a recipe that plays with the flavors of Southeast Asia is a fair substitute.  I tried to make this a few weeks ago for a couple of friends but they declared that they didn’t like curry.  I was like, “Who doesn’t like curry?”  I mean, that seems like blatant discrimination against a pretty important spice blend.  But then, Hillary won’t touch Indian food and I’ve never been a fan of mushrooms (but I am at least trying to change), so to each his own…   Should you also not be a fan of curry, let me encourage you to give this recipe a try anyway (just dial down the curry to maybe 2 T).  Personally I think any recipe that uses coconut milk can do no wrong so I feel fairly confident that this recipe might just make you a believer.

2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
4 T. butter
1 lg. yellow onion, finely chopped
3 T. curry powder (you can use a little more or less to taste)
1 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 14 oz. can of whole tomatoes
1 14. oz can coconut milk (unsweetened)
1/2 – 1 t. salt

Cooked Rice

Melt the butter in a large saute pan and add the onion.  Cook on medium heat until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add the curry powder and continue cooking on medium-low heat for approx 10-15 minutes, stirring regularly, as the curry forms a paste.  Add the lemon juice and stir.  Add the tomatoes, breaking them down once they are in the pan (I usually kind of mash them with a spoon until they are chunky).  Add half of the juice from the tomato can and reserve the remainder.  Continue cooking the tomatoes and onions another 10-15 minutes on medium-low heat.  Add half of the can of coconut milk and stir.  You can continue adding coconut milk and/or tomato juice until you are happy with the consistency of the curry (I think I added about 3/4 of the can of coconut milk).  Simmer mixture for another 10 minutes, then add the chicken, add cook for another 5-10 minutes.  Serve over rice.

Curried Chicken

For My Mother…

I’ve been meaning to get this post up for, oh, months now.  But life has been incredibly busy for the past two months and at the end of the day, I find I’m often lacking in the motivation department.  The topic of this post (my mother) quite possibly contributes to my lack of motivation.  Its been hard to decide what I want to say, and yet for many reasons, writing this post has been incredibly important to me.


As noted above, my life of late has been incredibly busy, and I’ve been feeling a fair amount of stress, uncertainty about the future, doubt about my current life path, and a general discombobulation caused by the current unsettled nature of my recently very nomadic life.  Partly as a result of all that, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom… calling on her to help me meet life’s pressures.  In the few moments where I have felt hopelessly inadequate and unable to meet the challenges ahead of me, the thought of failing her, of not living up to her legacy, has helped renew my determination to move forward.


My mother passed away in January.  Her passing, while more sudden than our family had anticipated, was not unexpected.  She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in August 1999.  She had a lumpectomy, radiation treatments, and chemotherapy that lasted until May 2000.  In May 2005 our family breathed a collective sigh of relief as we passed the all-important five year mark without any recurrences.  Two months later the pain in my mother’s shoulder that had been bothering her since January was re-diagnosed, correctly this time, as metastasized breast cancer that had moved into bone.


Never one to admit defeat or accept limitations that lessened her ability and freedom to enjoy life, my mother put up a truly epic fight.  Up to the very end, when hospice was the only remaining care option, my mom was calling her radiologist for a second opinion and planning future family vacations.  Teaching, one of her greatest passions, sustained her up until the final weeks of her life.  Through her last few months of life, while enduring massive pain as a result of fracturing her hip, she continued to teach four days each week.  No longer able to drive and having no choice but to use a wheelchair, she had a member of our family drive her to and from school each day.


She loved life and she refused to let the cancer, its resulting pain, her impending death, or her family’s lack of faith impede her enjoyment of all that life offered.  She gardened.  She traveled.  She renovated her kitchen, redecorated the living room, and redesigned her bedroom.  She played with her grandkids.  She cooked.  She shopped.  She ordered books from Amazon on new subjects that caught her attention, like the Turkish Empire and the Silk Road.  She went to concerts.  She visited with friends and family and continued serving in our church.


I miss her all the time.  About a month and a half after she passed away, I went to LA for a weekend with a friend.  I felt her loss keenly over the course of the weekend.  I kept wanting to call her; to ask her for directions or recommendations, to tell her we were eating at her favorite fish place in Malibu, to share my shock at how much the Santa Clarita valley had changed in the past 8 years.


With Mother’s Day this past month, I was reminded constantly that she is gone, that this is the first year I won’t be able to express my gratitude to her for the many ways she blessed and influenced my life.  I can’t, and won’t, claim that we always saw eye to eye.  We didn’t.  But in spite of our occasional clashes, she truly was one of my best friends and definitely my greatest champion.


One of the greatest influences she had on my life, was to instill in me a love of and a curiosity for our world.  She was my favorite travel companion.  Trips with my mom were always a fun-filled adventure.  One of my favorite memories with her was our trip to Iceland in 2004.  That year she was planning to come visit me in Boston for a week over Labor Day.  A month or so before her trip, I was talking to her on the phone, and seemingly out of nowhere she announced that she was contemplating flying to Iceland for a weekend while she was out visiting me.  I was, to put it mildly, surprised.  I think my first question was, “Alone?”  She responded by saying, “Well, you can come if you want, but if you don’t, I’m going on my own.  I’ve always wanted to go there.”  So we bought our tickets and flew to Iceland for a long weekend.  We rode horses, visited museums, saw some truly breathtaking scenery, and even spent time at one of the public pools so we could try out the hot pots (hot tubs).  We had a fantastic trip and it was just one of the many ways she showed me how important it is to make the most of every day of your life.


This past month my sisters and I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band when they performed in Washington, DC.  As always, it was an amazing concert, but in the lead-up to the concert I was a little worried that it would be a bittersweet experience.  I felt sure that seeing Bruce without my mom (truly one of his greatest fans) would just make me miss her that much more.  In the end, it wasn’t bittersweet at all, and if anything, being there helped me feel again her love.  That night Bruce played Badlands at the very beginning of the show, and as I sang along, I was particularly touched by the following words, which I feel, are a very fitting tribute to my mother:

I believe in the love that you gave me.
I believe in the faith that could save me.
I believe in the hope and I pray that some day it
Will raise me above these badlands.

Cinnamon Rolls

I probably should have mentioned food somewhere in my thoughts above, but there was never a moment where it felt right.  However, my mother was a fantastic cook and she instilled a love of food and cooking in all of her daughters.  This recipe has particular meaning to our family because when we lived in the Marshall Islands my mom would often make these for breakfast on Saturday mornings when our good friends the Ackleys spent the night.  I’ve continued the tradition with my own friends and try to make these whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Now, I know that there are A LOT of cinnamon roll recipes out there, but honestly, I think these are very hard to beat.  I’ve had multiple people who profess to HATE cinnamon rolls happily devour these.
1 c. butter
3/4 c. sugar
2 T. Yeast
1 ½ t. salt
7 ½ c. flour
2 ½ c. warm water (about wrist temperature)
4 eggs

Mix in order given (I dump it all in my Bosch and mix together).  Refrigerate overnight (can keep for 3-5 days in fridge).  In morning, punch down dough, knead briefly, and then divide in half.  Roll half of dough into a rectangle.  Spread with melted butter.  Sprinkle generously with cinnamon and sugar (you can also sprinkle with chopped nuts, if desired).  Roll up lengthwise and slice into ½” slices and place in prepared pans (see below).  Let rise about 2 hours (or until doubled in size).  Bake at 350° for 25 minutes.  Glaze (recipe below).

To Prepare Pans:
Cover bottom with 3 T. melted butter and a light drizzle of Light Karo syrup.  I usually need 2 9×13 pans, but if you cut the rolls wider, you may be able to fit them into one pan.

1/3 c. butter or margarine
2 c. confectioners sugar
1 ½ t. vanilla
2-4 t. hot water

Melt butter and mix all ingredients together in a blender.  Double the recipe if you make all the rolls
at once.  My mom usually triples it because people love the glaze.

Note: To save time in the morning, you can make the dough sometime the day before, let it raise during the day in the refrigerator, then before going to bed the night before, roll it out and make the cinnamon rolls, put them into the prepared pan, and then let the pans raise overnight in the refrigerator.  In the morning, all you will have to do is pre-heat the oven and throw the rolls in.  Because of the increased raising time, this method yields a lighter, fluffier roll (which most people like).