Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving a la turque

I'm back from Istanbul, the land of kebap, minarets, bazaars, and cats. Oh, and tiny cups of  strong, thick, grainy espresso, better known as Turkish coffee.

It was love at first sight (and smell and sound, really). Mark my words, I'm going back.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Note: Parts of this little blurb was written for the Thanksgiving edition of a newsletter we put out each week at the Chateau.

I love Thanksgiving. I love the pandemonium of the kitchen, the smell of turkey in the early hour of the morning, the Macy’s day parade, eating yourself silly, all of it. I even enjoy the chill of a cold Ohio November day because it makes the warmth of the holiday that much more cozy.

As my first Thanksgiving away from my family, and my country, approached, I was worried. The excitement of traveling that weekend was a little dulled with the thought that I wouldn’t be able to live all of my Turkey-day traditions. Would it even feel like Thanksgiving?

But that first Thanksgiving, in Luxembourg, was wonderful. Not only was there turkey and mashed potatoes, but I remember realizing what a wonderful family I had found at the Dolibois Center as we clamored for second helpings of pumpkin pie. Of course I missed my Ohio family, but there was something so wonderful about this new ‘family’ with whom I had missed trains, conquered cities, and discovered Europe.

A few years later I found myself in France, teaching English. Once again, I was outside of the United States on my favorite holiday, and I felt those pangs of homesickness creep in again. I had found such a wonderful family-away-from-family to share in the holiday spirit a few years earlier, there’s no way I would get that lucky again.

Well, it turns out I was wrong, but it took a little adjustment on my part. Thanksgiving à la mode française means a rather interesting conversation with a confused butcher (turkey is a dish usually reserved for Christmas holiday celebrations) and a visit to the exotic fruit section of the grocery store for sweet potatoes (strange, but true). It wasn’t the Thanksgiving celebration of my childhood, but it was wonderful none-the-less. There was mass chaos around the stove as dishes were prepared, there was a familiar November chill in the air, and pick up games of flag football were replaced with frisbee. We had invited all of the international language teachers to our celebration. The table was filled with not only turkey and gravy, but also pain surprise from France, Kartoffel from Germany, and cakes and pies from Australia. In total, there were eleven nationalities represented, each contributing a different culinary dish to the spread. And you know, it still felt like Thanksgiving. While the food and country had changed, the feeling of gratitude and family were far from absent.

The lesson I learned that year was that traditions are valuable and important for our nostalgic memory, but the true meaning of this holiday is sharing in the gratitude of the bounty of the season with others, friends, old and new. 

Looking back hundreds of years ago, to that ‘first’ Thanksgiving, wasn’t this always the true intention of this celebration? Here were people, not too different from us, confronted with a new country, new food, and new customs, taking a moment from their cultural reinvention to just give thanks. To reflect on the past, how far they’d come, and what they had learned.

And in the same spirit of reflection from those early days, there is much to be thankful for. In Europe, an incredible group of students, an unbeatable team of faculty and staff, a beautiful (sometimes freezing) Chateau, and of course, a wonderful semester. And back in the good ol' USA, the best friends and family a girl could ask for.

 The infamous France Thanksgiving (Francegiving), November 2008. 
Photo compliments of former prom king, Jon Boyette.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My little woman

I'm off for another round of travel, partially for work, partially for fun.

In the early hours of the morning on Thursday, I'll be meeting up with this lovely lady - fellow Mexican food fiend, lover of Louisa May Alcott, and free spirit.

We'll be in Turkey on Thanksgiving (Turkey on Turkey day? My seven-year-old self was super pumped). I can't wait for our adventure, but I'm pretty positive that we could just drive around near-west side Cleveland, windows open, along the lake, and it would still be as blissful.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Autume Swap, part deux

This week I received my autumn swap package!

Sarah from 'It's like she's on a secret mission' sent me wonderful little treats all the way from Brooklyn. There was chocolate, tea, a book, and the most fantastic planner (anything that has a designated section for doodling was made for me), plus a few other pretty bonus lovelies.

I'm a fan of all kinds of mail (handwritten letters, packages, bills, library fines, I appreciate it all), but this was especially wonderful. Merci beaucoup Sarah!

Speaking of autumn, the season is on it's way out here in Luxembourg. The trees are nearly bare and I can literally feel the chill of winter creeping in.

I love this picture of the Chateau because it reminds me of what's waiting on the other side of winter come April!

Autumn Swap

This year I participated in this wonderful Autumn Swap and had so much fun putting together some Luxembourgish comforts for another fantastic blogger.

Luxembourg is known for its dark, gray winters, so I became an expert on all things comfort food/drink/books/etc last Fall.

My extensive research led me to some of two of my favorite cozy haunts in the city:

 Chocolate and Company, for delicious hot chocolate in the form of Hot Choc Spoons. There are dozens of chocolatey combinations (some even with a little extra nip to keep the cold away). And if you're planning on stalking the royal family, this has the best view of the Ducal Palace!

And Oberweis, for its delicious pastries (fun fact: they are one of the official royal patisseries) and home of some of the best espresso in the country. They have a stand at the train station, and it makes early mornings that much better knowing I'll get to have some Oberweis java.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Le Pauvre Chateau

So there's a hole in the Chateau. 

The first day back after the Toussaint vacation, the Dean mentioned off-hand that his heat wasn't working in his apartment.

'Is your heat working?' he asked. Truth be told, my apartment and office are always a little chilly (the perks of living in a drafty old castle), but low and behold, this time the heater wasn't working. 

None of the heaters in the Chateau were working. 

And then there was a large puddle (lake?) in the cave

To make a long, and very technical story, short, there was a problem with the radiator, the heat was broken, pipes were leaking, and soon we were all wrapped in layers of sweaters and scarves, huddled around space heaters. I temporarily moved into the villa, a small house behind on the property, right behind the Chateau. 

This ended up being one of those 'start digging and we'll see what we find' kind of projects, so as we speak, there is a large hole in the middle of the dining hall. Yesterday I saw sparks, heard drills, and sounds that led me to believe I was working next to a stone quarry instead of at a university. Turns out, all that action might have fixed the problem and hopefully by dinner time, our fingers-turned-Popsicles will have thawed out. 

Standing next to the grounds keeper as they chipped away at the stone facade, I shook my head an said 'Poor chateau.' Without skipping a beat he responded 'She's crying!'

I love my job.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


So, I have this memory.

This time, four years ago, I was traveling back to Luxembourg from Prague. I had just spent the week in Florence, seeing the David for the first time. I went to Vienna, and sipped coffee under gilded ceilings. And in Prague, I fell in love with the world on the Charles bridge.

I took the train, from the Czech Republic to Luxembourg, via Germany. I don't remember much from that marathon of a journey (I think it was a 10 hour trip), but I remember this one moment. 

We were in Germany, and the train had stopped to let more passengers on. It was dark outside, a clear night, and I sat there watching the people on the platform. People exiting the train, others getting on, hugging, kissing, laughing. I'd seen this scene hundreds of times before, but for some reason, on this particular night, I was struck by the profoundness of the joy and love that surrounded the train.

I remember watching this brief moment unfold (it lasted only minutes), realizing the excitement of adventure, while wonderful, would never compare to the feeling of coming home.

This is the time of year when that memory burns brightest. It's come to represent all of the warmth and fuzziness that comes with the holiday season: cool evenings where you can see your breath, rosy cheeks, hot chocolate, pumpkin chocolate chip bread, and, of course, reuniting with loved ones.

And just hugging the bajeezus out of them.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


In, what felt like, the wee hours of Monday morning, my partner in crime left Sardinia to re-join the real world, and I was left to conquer the island on my own. Next stop? Bosa, a small village north of Cagliari.

The train ride was magical, weaving through groves of olive orchards and pastures filled with sheep and cows. And in so many ways the journey was just as important as the destination, taking in these images and moments.

And so, I arrived in Bosa, the colorful town on a hillside, overlooked by an ancient castle.

 Beautiful Bosa

 Yellow mums, the traditional flower to place on graves on All Saints' Day

 The Castello

Now, I should mention that here in Bosa, I found my latest culinary adventure. It made cow tongue and ostrich seem like small potatoes.  You see here on this little island, a local delicacy is cazu marzu. Directly translated this means 'rotten cheese' but in reality it means cheese with maggots. Live maggots.

Ask any Sardinian and they'll tell you, with a twinkle in their eye, that this is forbidden (technically it is illegal in Sardinia), after which they'll point you in the right direction to find this local treasure.

And then I was in a market in Bosa, with a jar of maggoty cheese and bread.

It might have been the thrill of tasting something forbidden (and possibly really disgusting) but trust me when I say it was awesome.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Expat Book Club

There are no words to adequately describe the wonderfulness of this book. Just trust me and read it tout suite.
"What is the Purpose of Art? To give us the brief, dazzling illusion of the camellia, carving from time an emotional aperture that cannot be reduced to animal logic. How is Art born? It is begotten in the mind's ability to sculpt the sensorial domain. What does Art do for us? It gives shape to our emotions, makes them visible and, in so doing, places a seal of eternity upon them, a seal representing all those works that, by means of a particular form, have incarnated the universal nature of human emotions."
~ Muriel Barbery
When I read that quote to pearrier, her immediate (and correct) response was 
" little art history sensitif girl."

Sunday, November 7, 2010


The moment we got off the plane and I breathed deep the salty sea air, I couldn't help but feel a rush of nostalgia for another belle ville on the coast. How I've missed living near the sea.

Cagliari was where we got our first introduction into Sardinian culture. The beaches, the cafes, churches - all of it exuded a distinct culture, the kind that can only be cultivated by centuries of invasions and conquests.

In the mornings we explored the narrow streets, discovering 20th century apartment buildings sharing the block with old roman houses, graffiti next to ancient columns, and drank cappuccino in old cobblestone piazzas...

We strolled along the beaches, watching the wind surfers....

 ...chatted for hours, while sipping white wine...

 ...found hidden corners of the old town...

 ...frolicked in Roman ruins...

 (...really, really appreciating said ruins...)

 ...visited the Sunday market...

 ...finding buckets of live crustaceans, crawling around, for sale, of course...

 ...but never tiring of this view...

... and realizing that all Sardinians, even the cats, love pasta. 

 And, at night, we found ourselves seated at the Cagliarian dinner table, filled with squids, octopus, fish eggs, and sea bass. There were guitars, rounds of Mirto (a sweet Sardinian liquor), singing, stories and tarot cards. And you better believe there was dancing too.

Friday, November 5, 2010

"Thank you for the invite to dance on Golden Streets"

This marks the fourth time (third consecutive) that I've missed American Halloween. But Europe is good to me and compensates by offering a whole week of vacation (ten days in France!) in honor of 'All Saint's Day' on November 1. Think of it as a religious interpretation of 'trick-or-treat.' You go to the cemetery, honor your deceased relatives, and, according to my friend, show off your new winter coat.

As I have no relatives in Luxembourg, living or dead, I skipped town in search of warmer climate.

And I found myself in Sardinia, an island in the Mediterranean. According to maps and political boundaries, this is an Italian island, but ask anyone and they'll tell you it's a unique culture all on its own.

Miss Cafe Lux and I found ourselves strolling along the beach, exploring ancient ruins, singing with Sardinian guitar players and eating delicious food. It was beautiful, refreshing and so good for my soul to bask in the sunlight.