Wanderlust Wares | France's Sunflower Fields

August 30, 2013

potted sunflower on windowsill sunflower field in France
You know how when you're running running running and when you finally slow down, then that's precisely when you get sick? Like your body knows it needs to hold out just long enough to get you through whatever is on your plate, then bam! It hits you like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately, that has been my week, with the flu kicking me into submission and forcing me to subsist on bland crackers and toast for days, not to mention a constant stream of Princess Bride and My So-Called Life (the latter of which I'm not really complaining about). I had grand plans for a couple other posts this week, but as it so often happens for all of us, life got in the way.

So now that I'm finally up to being vertical, I can sit here at my desk, taking in the blue skies and the lovely sunflower my husband bought to celebrate my blog launch and be reminded of our days meandering through the French countryside last month. I only hope I am up for our plans this weekend to explore more of our little part of the German countryside. As we tuck away more savings and make plans for another apartment-hunting trip - so hard to find a good apartment from all the way across a country, let me tell you - the reality of not being in this beautiful part of Germany much longer has really started to set in. And so we set out on more excursions to hungrily take in and store all the memories of the natural beauty that will no longer be just down the autobahn once we make our new home in the north.

How about you? What are your plans this weekend? With September mere days away, that unspoken urgency to go out and enjoy what is left of summer has crept into the air. I hope you enjoy whatever is in store. Happy weekend to all!

Recipe | (Easy) Sweet & Sour Chicken with Fried Rice

August 26, 2013

Chinese food close-up
Besides Mexican food, there's one other culinary treat that expats - and speaking from experience, California expats especially - miss terribly: Chinese food. And I don't mean the authentic you-ate-it-in-China stuff, I mean the bastardized, made-for-American's-palate kind. You know the kind you eat out of white cartons because somehow it tastes even better that way? The kind Kramer ordered with extra MSG? Yeah, that's the stuff.

Since discovering Germans have Thai food on every corner, but Chinese is next to non-existent, I decided to take matters into my own hands. These dishes are the perfect thing to satiate those white take-out carton cravings. While all the chopping and the whole chicken-coating process can be a little time-consuming/messy, these are pretty easy recipes for things I could imagine, when done the authentic way, might require boatloads more effort. It's like CliffsNotes for Chinese food. Like us, I'm sure you will keep coming back to these recipes time and again. They're that good.

Sweet and Sour Chicken vegetables Sweet and Sour Chicken in the pan

Sweet & Sour Chicken

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
salt & pepper
1 cup cornstarch
2 eggs, beaten
1 medium-sized onion, cut into large pieces
1/4 cup canola oil
whole pre-cut and pre-cored pineapple, cut into chunks
1 red bell pepper, cut into chunks
1 cup store-bought sweet & sour sauce

Preheat oven to 325°F/163°C and grease a 9x13"/22x33cm baking dish. Season chicken with salt and pepper, coat with corn starch and then dip into the egg. Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook chicken until browned, but not cooked through - adding the onions about half-way through to soften. Put chicken and onions into greased baking dish along with pineapple and bell pepper. Pour sweet and sour sauce over and toss very gently to coat. Bake for one hour, turning over contents of dish every 15 minutes.

Sweet and Sour Chicken from oven

Fried Rice

3 cups cooked white rice (day old or leftover rice works best)
3 tbsp roasted sesame oil
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup carrots, chopped into small pieces
1 small onion, chopped
2 tsp garlic, minced
4 green onions, thinly sliced (light green part only)
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup soy sauce

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peas, carrots, onions and garlic, stir fry until tender. Add green onions and push over to one side, lowering the heat to medium. Add egg to other side of skillet and stir fry until scrambled. Break apart the rice (if using cold leftovers) and add to skillet with soy sauce. Blend together well and cook until heated through.

Serves 4, very generously

Fried Rice cooking
Fried Rice finished

adapted from this Life in the Lofthouse recipe

Birthday Wishlist

August 23, 2013

I wish text
Birthday wishlist 2013
I have always been a bit of greedy girl when it comes to my birthday. Call it being spoiled as an only child for the first ten years of my life, I can't help daydreaming about my wishlist months in advance. But really, when else is there a day entire dedicated to celebrating you? That calls for some serious indulgence, if you ask me.

This year, seeing that we're on a bit of a Berlin-saving budget, I'm trying to be a little less of a dreamer and a little more realistic. Those black riding boots I've been on a multiple-year search for? Maybe next year. The downright drool-worthy Clare Vivier with its peek of red zipper and personalized gold monogram? It will just have to wait. And that Comme des Garcons wallet with the quatrefoil pattern (my favorite!)? Yeah, fuhgeddaboudit.

So with a few weeks to go, I have gotten a hold on my expectations and been forced to think about what I really want this year...

1 | The more I tote it around, the more I realize that something to protect our investment of a camera is a necessity. Since I change bags often - and sometimes even make my husband lug the heavy thing around - I figured this bag insert would be a win-win.

2 | I'm addicted to my Burts Bees, but mixing it up with some new, naturally-flavored balm sounds like just the treat for the impending chapped-lip season.

3 | My current love of tomato red is still going strong and this dress practically called my name when I first spied it in Boden's fall lineup. It reminds me a bit of the Madewell sweatshirt dress that has been all kinds of popular, without being proportioned for someone in her adolescent years or of non-Sasquatch-esque height. Although, the striped version is pretty amazing as well...

4 | When I first realized Garance Doré was collaborating with Swedish brand, and a German favorite, Marc O'Polo on several pieces featuring her sketches, I actually squealed out loud. This sweatshirt, while overpriced in true M'OP fashion, is almost a bargain when you consider that it's a wearable piece of art.

5 | After being on a kick of bold, statement pieces, delicate jewelry has really caught my eye lately. Incredibly affordable pieces like this deep blue stone pendant, string of coppery beads and a pretty cluster of charms so perfectly named the seastone flag necklace would be a perfect little birthday surprise.

6 | I used to have so many pairs of pajamas, it nearly rivaled my shoe collection. Somehow, I have now gotten to the point that the few I do have are becoming so threadbare, they rip if I toss and turn too much. I think it's about time for this classic pair I have yearned for since they first showed up in the J.Crew catalog all those years ago.

7 | Oh shoes, you are never far from my thoughts (or wishlists)... This year, I'm all about the classic shapes I know I will get plenty of wear from. These Atheist Berlin shoes (don't you just love it?) might turn me into a proper Berliner (not of the jelly-filled variety) and are claimed to be 'like wearing kittens on your feet'. Um, yes please! Also, I love love love my Minnetonka mocs, but the park and post-snow gravel that sticks around for months gets up in those nubby bottoms like you would not believe. The adorably classic Thunderbird version with the boat soles sound like just the solution.

8 | Ridiculously over-priced on the US site, somehow this Zara stunner from its August/September lookbook is a lot more reasonable over here in Europe. Still a splurge, but nothing says autumn quite like richly-colored leather.

9 | With boot season just around the corner - and set to last, oh, the next nine months here in Germany - it seems I can never have enough pairs of skinny jeans. But day after day of blue denim can wear on even the most loyal jean fan. This year, I'm hoping to add to my boot-friendly pant collection with something a bit more eye-catching, like these deep fig-hued ones or the Gap camo pair that blissfully made a comeback after selling out in record time last year.

I would also be happy with just the biggies I really need: a computer that doesn't require daily forced shut downs when it freezes (hello? blogging here!) and a fabulous Berlin apartment. Speaking of, if anyone has any leads on that last one (2-3 room, 80+sq m, preferably Prenzlauer Berg or Charlottenbug, no Provision), let me know! You might just make my birthday wish come true.

Die Rheingauer Weinwoche / Wiesbaden Wine Festival

August 22, 2013

Wiesbaden Wine Fest 2013 Cheers
I look forward to the Wine Fest here in Wiesbaden all year long. I mean, there were art and wine festivals in California, but somehow, they are just so different. Here, the fest spans a whole week and two weekends (usually the second full week of August), operating every day and into the night. With well over 100 stalls of food and wine from all over this region of vineyards packed into the beautiful Marktplatz and Dernsches Gelände, it is easy to find something new with every visit. But it's not just for wine connoisseurs or tourists. The whole town comes out, from teenagers to the much older generations, gloriously dressed in their suits and good shoes, to sit out at tables under the strings of lights and share a bottle (or two, or ten) amongst friends. Stopping for a glass on the way home from mid-week afternoon errands in town is not unheard of.

With our busy schedules this month, we only managed two brief stops at the fest this year. We eagerly grabbed some of the best seasonal fest food - including crepes, Flammkuchen, the freshly-made potato chips that only make an appearance at the summer fests and a ridiculous half-meter wurst, at which my husband snickered when he handed it over, pleased with himself for getting me something worthy of adolescent jokes and incredulous stares from passers-by - and not surprisingly, discovered even more new wines we hope to stock our wine rack with. When some of the best bottles of local Riesling barely break 10€, it only makes leaving this incredible - and often overlooked - part of the country that much harder. The moody summer skies only added to the underlying sense of sadness.

So this might have been our fourth and final year at the fest, or perhaps we will have to plan a trip to visit friends back here around this wonderful wine week. It is a festival that celebrates the best of what the Rheingau has to offer and is worth every opportunity to enjoy it.

Wiesbaden Wine Fest 2013 Rathaus
Wiesbaden Wine Fest 2013 Kartoffel Locken Potato Chips Wiesbaden Wine Fest 2013 Potato Chips with Dip small
Wiesbaden Wine Fest 2013 Half Meter Wurst
Wiesbaden Wine Fest 2013 Tables and Lights
Wiesbaden Wine Fest 2013 Pour
Wiesbaden Wine Fest 2013 Grape Lights
Wiesbaden Wine Fest 2013 Weingut Hans Lang sign
Wiesbaden Wine Fest 2013 Marktkirche Rheingau Wiesbaden Wine Fest 2013 Marktkirche Night
Wiesbaden Wine Fest 2013 Nighttime
Wiesbaden Wine Fest 2013 Currywurst Stand

Recipe | Blackberry-Nectarine Cobbler

August 21, 2013

I've never understood people's love of pies. Sure, a good banana or chocolate cream is alright, but the ones with all that mushy fruit and gelatinous sauce? Might be my least favorite dessert. Ever. I can't really explain it other than I am very particular about textures. I ate cereal without milk until the age of ten and only in the last few years have I been able to stomach oatmeal. I know, I'm odd, but bear with me here.

So you might wonder why a pie-loathing person such as myself would make a cobbler. Well, when Ez over at Creature Comforts posted this compelling photo, I actually felt a physical need to make this dessert. Plus, cobbler is so much easier to make than pie, not to mention that blackberries and nectarines (oh, the white ones, like heaven...) are some of my favorite fruits. While I can't say I'm a total fruit dessert convert, this particular one has some amazing flavor - especially when paired with a scoop of vanilla Häagen-Dazs!


Blackberry-Nectarine Cobbler

For filling:
6 cups blackberries and nectarines, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp finely grated lemon peel
pinch of salt

For topping:
1-1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp raw sugar
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375°C/176°F. Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish.

For filling: In a large bowl, gently toss the berries, nectarines and cherries with the sugar, flour, lemon and salt until blended. Pour into prepared dish.

For the topping: In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, whisk the egg, buttermilk, butter and vanilla until well blended. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and, using a rubber spatula, fold gently until the flour is moistened and the mixture forms a soft dough.

Drop heaping spoonfuls of the dough onto the fruit, spacing them evenly (don't worry - the dough will not completely cover the fruit). Sprinkle with the raw sugar and sliced almonds. Bake until the filling is bubbling, the top is browned and a toothpick inserted into the topping comes out clean - about 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, preferably with a good vanilla ice cream.

Serves 8-10

blackberry_nectarine_cobbler_fruit blackberry_nectarine_cobbler_topping

adapted from this Williams-Sonoma recipe, via Creature Comforts' Ultimate Blackberry Recipe Roundup

Searching for the perfect black booties...

August 20, 2013

I have been on the lookout for just the right black ankle boots for quite some time now. I impulsively bought a pair of faux-leather, black Rachel Comey knock-offs from AEO two years ago only to realize, well, you get what you pay for. So while I can't quite afford a pair of Acne Pistols, there must be something middle-of-the-road worth investing in. You would think something so simple would be easy, but it has proven quite tricky. The wrong ankle opening and it looks sloppy. Too high a heel and it loses it's wearability. Um, hello no drivers license and European cobblestones! Or as is so often the case for me, it is perfect... only they don't come in my size (like numbers 1, 3 and 4. really, you guys suck). I thought I wanted suede with a decent heel, but the eye-catching details - like the gold on the heel or the animal accents - are really quite appealing too. Although, perhaps a simple, classic shape, like Madewell's ever-popular pair, is the way to go...

Wanderlust Wares | Seaside Sunsets

August 19, 2013

westelm_sunrisestripe_duvet_home sunset_dunedupilat_france_home
The places we travel to transport us, not just in the physical sense, but often in the emotional sense as well. There is a powerful pull from our memories all the way back to that beach where we felt totally relaxed, or a mountain range that left us completely in awe, or some risky excursion that still makes our hearts race whenever we think about it. Some people will fill a photo album with these reminders, others will line a shelf with snow globes or souvenir shop tchotchkes. For us wanderlusters, these relics keep us appreciative of the travels we have taken and keep us hungry for that next destination.

Since travel is such a big part of my life - though not nearly as often or as far away as I would always like - I surround myself with things that remind me of these experiences as well. Sometimes it is as literal as something bought on holiday that sits on a shelf, but other times it is a pattern or a piece of furniture that transports me back to a certain destination. While my design aesthetic plays a big part in how I decorate our apartment, having these items that satisfy my ever-present feeling of wanderlust around, can make me feel as content and happy as a well-designed chair (OK, maybe not as much as that Eames I've been coveting...).

One of my most recent acquisitions for our home was new bedding, which was chosen mostly out of necessity, as our previous duvet had faded about 10 shades on the left side - the side with the the ancient, unglazed windows - and perhaps a bit because I've been having a major pink moment and have been anxious to bring some of it into more than just my closet. While the duvet ended up having more sand tones than pink when I saw it in person, I realized that it bore an uncanny resemblance to the photos from our recent trip to The Dune of Pyla. Talk about an unintentional travel reminder! Now every time I settle into bed, I am reminded of sitting on that great sandy dune, watching the sun set over the ocean in glorious bands of pink and orange, and I am sent off to French dreamland.

Travel | Bassin d'Arcachon / Arcachon Bay

August 16, 2013

After days of cross-country travel, exuberant wedding festivities and weather much hotter and more tropical than one is used to, a few lazy days by the ocean is just the restorative stay necessary to end a holiday in southwestern France. We decided to stay in Pyla-sur-Mer to be near the Dune, as well as for some place a little quieter and less touristy than the main hub of Arcachon. The area reminded me a lot of the coastal California towns I spent so much time in growing up, with pine trees and soft-sand beaches, but the vibe was notably more, well, French. When we did want to get out and explore the rest of the Bay, even the long drives through the small, beachy towns were relaxing. It cannot be argued that the French have that slow, enjoyable way of life down to a science.

The town of Arcachon itself seems as if it hails from another era. While the renovated downtown feels a little bit 'Disneyland' in all its perfect artificial facades, the beachfront, with its information shacks and white-gated pier, though well-kept, have a sense of nostalgia about decades prior on this beautiful beach. The surrounding neighborhoods are equally charming, with stunningly detailed homes, each boasting its own name in addition to a house number.

Cap Ferret, all the way out on the peninsula, is home to smaller, quieter beaches with shallower water and the iconic red-and-white lighthouse. It is out on this peninsula where things get even quieter, probably in part to the ruling which forbids anyone to build along the side that faces the Atlantic. Here, this is not the beach holiday of rowdy children, hoards of tourists or splashy advertising at every turn. Instead, the roads are narrow and sidewalk free, the locals get around on bikes - or tractors if they are in the oyster business - and restaurants and hotels are very few and far between. There is none of the swank and pretentiousness of the Riviera coast, just the salty ocean air - and much softer beaches.

The stretch of beach where Cap Ferret starts to leave Arcachon Bay and arc around to the Atlantic feels like being on the edge of the world. Passers-by become increasingly sparse and the water in front of you turns into an unending expanse of sparkling ripples. Coming upon the massive moss- and graffiti-covered concrete gun emplacements, part of the extensive system of coastal protection built by the Third Reich in the 1940s known as the Atlantic Wall, sunk down into the sand and stranded in the shallows of the ocean, only increases the eerie sensation.  

Just a few days along this coastline was all we could do this time around, but its magic certainly left a lasting impression. The warm, relaxing days, the crystal-clear, not-too-cold water and softest sand I have ever felt will keep calling to us until we return. I just hope we don't have to wait too long.

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