Friday, August 30, 2013

Things to do this summer: Visit an art exhibit

Preferably one of your favorite artists.

Preferably French.

Preferably awesome.

Preferably Toulouse-Lautrec at the Allentown Art Museum.

I was honestly very impressed with this museum. It's no Louvre or Tate, but for a small art museum it is very well-curated. The Lautrec exhibit info left out the spicy details of his life. There was no mention of Lautrec residing in a brothel, suffering from a genetic disease due to inbreeding or his supposed cause of death. But they couldn't clean up the art itself, so we got a nice glimpse of Parisian nightlife in a cafe chantant, the bohemian atmosphere of Montmartre in the 1880s, celebrity culture and decadence, and cabaret obsession in the Belle Epoque.

The collection was on loan from Herakleidon Museum in Athens, Greece. It didn't exactly include Lautrec's best-known illustrations (most of which are on display in Paris and Washington), but it did showcase his life-long friendship with chanteuse Jane Avril and his proclivity for Parisian cabaret scenes. A very nice touch was the fact that the works were accompanied by music, passages from French literature, photographs and other objects meant to recreate the original atmosphere of the era.

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Toulouse-Lautrec-Allentown-Art-Museum

There was one treasure that made it to the Allentown Art Museum, a copy of one of his most famous posters advertising Divan Japonais, one of the many café-concerts that Lautrec used to paint in. This poster surfaced a few years ago, after being hidden from the public eye in a dusty attic for over ninety years.

Toulouse-Lautrec-Allentown-Art-Museum

There are a few other paintings that are worth admiring at the Allentown Art Museum. Philadelphia native Colin Campbell Cooper's masterpiece, Columbus Circle, New York (1909), is breathtaking just by the amount of detail in a bird's-eye view of a bustling cityscape.

Colin Campbell Cooper - Columbus Circle, New York - Alentown Art Museum
Source
 Then there is Mr Darlington's Still Life (1890) by Quaker and Pennsylvania native George Cope. A trompe l'oeil so well-made that it makes you want to reach for that Harper's Weekly.

Mr Darlington Still Life by Quaker and Pennsylvania native George Cope-Allentown Art Museum
Source
And Julius Bloch's People on a Streetcar (1937), a social realist depiction of working class America after the Great Depression.

Visit this Flickr gallery for more pictures of the works on display at the Allentown Art Museum. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gettysburg Day Trip

Living in Pennsylvania has its perks. Sure, I'm writing this in mid-August and I'm wearing a cardigan, and it does seem like we're experiencing some sort of time warp, in which we skip from July to October weather from one day to another. But we are living in a historically-rich state, and we are never more than an hour away from a great day trip.

A few weekends ago, we wanted to dabble in a little Civil War history (you know, it was one of those mornings), and took a day drip to Gettysburg. We chose probably the hottest day of the summer to do this, but we had been planning this trip ever since I got here, and we really didn't want to postpone any longer. Sadly, neither did a motorcycle convention, which made the town packed and extremely loud. There were motorcycles EVERYWHERE and the streets were inundated with the noise of roving Harleys.

Gettysburg is less than an hour away from our house, and what a charming little town it is.

What gives Gettysburg its historical importance is the fact that the Union and Confederate armies chose to duel it out on the fields surrounding the town for 3 days in July 1863, during the American Civil War between the North and the South. This is also the place where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in November 1863. What I didn't know is that Lincoln's speech, considered one of the most powerful and eloquent pieces of oration in the US history, was only 272 words and 2 minutes long. Talk about concise! Even more interesting is that Lincoln delivered his short address right after the main speaker, politician Edward Everett, who spoke for over 2 hours. There must be a lesson in this.

The town delivers and caters to history buffs and philistines alike, with antique shops, small museums and a self-guided tour of the battlefields. We went into an antique shop gallery which, in a town like this, was like going into a museum. Stray bullets from the Civil War? Check. Old bottles of Coke? Check. Vintage tins? Check. Coins and stamps? Check and check.

While we were walking around town, we came across this little gem of a museum, the Gettysburg Museum of History, which is privately owned and free to visit. This was probably the highlight of our visit. We admit, it's not every day that you get the chance to see a lock of Martha Washington's hair, Eisenhower's golf clubs, President Ford's glasses, Lincoln's wallet and – the cream of the crop – Elvis Presley's underwear (plus underwear that was thrown at him by his adoring fans, thankfully all women). Oh, and if you're that much into Elvis, they also had his Graceland bidet cover on display. It was yellowish-mustard. I kid you not. But if you think this is creepy, another item on display is a prescription for sedatives for one Marylin Monroe, dated close to her death. And one of Evil Knievel's jackets. So yeah, don't miss this museum if you're in Gettysburg (and into weird things).

After closely scrutinizing hundreds of objects belonging to dead people, we decided to lift our spirits with ice cream and a walking tour of downtown. Gettysburg looks very European-like, with small cafes nestled in the ground floors of old buildings, squares full of flowers and wide sidewalks swarming with tourists. Needless to say I was homesick, and demanded to move there immediately.

We ended our visit with the self-guided auto tour of the battlefields, which is 24 miles long and includes 16 tour stops. It would have taken us about three hours to complete the tour at the optimal speed, stopping at all the memorials along the way. But it was too hot and too sunny for this kind of a history lesson, so we took the short route, cut corners, and promised ourselves we'll come back for a complete tour and a visit to the Gettysburg Ciclorama - a sound-and-light show of the spectacular 377-foot painting by Paul Philippoteaux.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Things to do this summer: Learn to make veggie dips

We spent our Sunday making a very delicious vegetable spread called zacusca or zakouska or zakusca or however else Google might like to index it.

This is probably my favorite vegetable spread, aside from my newfound love of guacamole, and it is quite easy to make. It doesn't require over-the-top cooking abilities, but it does take a lot of time and patience. 

This Sunday we found we had both, and on top of that we had fresh tomatoes from our own garden, so we ventured into the unknown territories of canning. 

These are the ingredients for 5 big jars of zacusca:

2 medium eggplants;

2 medium white onions;

14 medium tomatoes, the juicier the better;

4 bell peppers (we used one of each color: green, yellow, orange and red);

3 table spoons of olive oil;

a tablespoon of salt;

3-5 bay leaves;

pepper. 

All of these ingredients will end up in a large pot, so be sure to have one before you start. 

This method requires roasting, broiling, sauteing and boiling, so arrange with friends to check up on you every once in a while to make sure you didn't set your kitchen on fire. Or let them know in advance that they'll be getting phone calls in which whimpering and the occasional cursing of your burners are the only things they'll hear. It's ok, that's normal. 

There are a lot of ways to make this dish, but we chose one that is suitable for a healthy diet. This means that we reduced the oil substantially, we used fresh tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes or paste, and we broiled the tomatoes instead of roasting them. The key to a good zacusca is roasting some of the vegetables, so they get a smoky aftertaste. 




 Put your hair up so you're not tempted to pull it all out. Here it is, in 20 (twenty!) easy steps:

1. Roast the eggplants and the peppers on the grill. Blacken their skins, but don't burn them. This requires the same skills as parallel parking: hand-eye coordination and lateral vision. So I've heard, I can't parallel park.

2. Peel their skins off while they're still hot. It's easier if you do it under cold running water. 

3. Let the juice seep out of the eggplant. Your liver will thank me for this later. 

4. Remove the stem and the seeds from the peppers. Remove the stem of the eggplants, but don't bother with the small seeds.

5. Finely chop the peppers and the eggplants. My mom says that if you use a metal knife to chop the eggplant, it oxidizes and looks really ugly in the final mix. We chopped it with a wooden spoon (yes, it is possible).

6. Do you remember we had tomatoes on the list of ingredients? Good, now it's time to broil them. 

7. After the tomatoes are broiled, skin them and remove their stems. Do this in a bowl, not a sieve. You don't want the juice to seep out, we need it in the zacusca.

8. Finely chop the tomatoes. 

9. Julienne the onions. Amaze yourself with the fancy cooking terms you're using while your husband is crying his eyes out because he is the one in charge of the onions.

10. Saute the onion in the olive oil. Just a little browning should do. Do this in a large pot, this is where all your ingredients will end up.

11. Have a glass of wine. This is the time you'll probably realize that you're 10 steps and only 50% into this recipe.

12. Add the chopped eggplants, tomatoes and peppers to the onion you were sauteing in the big pot. Stir and add 1 tablespoon of salt, about 3-5 bay leaves and as much pepper as your weakest link can handle. In our family, I'm the weakest link, and I have the final say when the pepper stops.

13. Cook all this for about 30 minutes. Stir often to prevent it from sticking to the pot. 

14. The 30 minutes are up; you've probably had some more wine; sober up 'cause it gets tricky. Now you have to transfer the mixture to glass jars. Don't let it cool, we're not done with it yet.

15. Once your zacusca is in jars, it's time to seal them. We'll use the same big pot that you used for cooking it, so go ahead and wash that. I know, tedious!

16. Put a kitchen towel/napkin/rag on the bottom of the pot. (Really important step! I'd put orange cones around that sentence if I could.) Fill half of the pot with water. Bring it to a boil.

17. Wrap you jars in paper or newspaper. Or use this unexpected opportunity to get rid of old bank statements.

18. Place the jars in the boiling water and boil for another 10 minutes. Don't worry, they won't crack, as long as you didn't forget step 16. 

19. Let the jars cool in the water. 

20. That's it! You're done! Do a celebration dance and drink the rest of the wine. Yes, I do mean that second bottle.

You can eat it as a spread or as a dip. 


Linked at Frugally Sustainable, My Humble Kitchen, Living Well, Spending Less, and Serving Joyfully.  


Monday, August 5, 2013

Things to do this summer: Make weird things

I'm not sure it's summer anymore here in Pennsylvania. I had to wear layers yesterday. I replaced my morning coffee with hot tea today, and there's a brisk breeze making the tree branches in our yard bend and curve. Having to alternate between sunscreen and a cardigan during the same day is ... interesting. Especially in early August.

We had a full day this Sunday, with cooking, concerts and two painting sessions. First, we painted a frame for a Mucha puzzle that we finished about three months ago. We put it away, forgot about it, and it's been resting on our mantel ever since. While we had the paints out, we spruced up this piece of tree branch that we had on our porch. We had picked it up last week on one of our evening walks. Now, I don't particularly go around picking up dead branches (yet), but I was looking for something to use as bookends on my new shelf.

We used the Yolo primer for the white base. Then Trevor carefully used the last scraps of painter's tape to shape out a heart which we filled in with the green paint. If that looks familiar, it's because we used the same paints for the monogrammed chairs.

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I'm thinking the heart on it makes this eligible for August Break's theme for Sunday, which was "love". 

The August Break 2013

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Things to do this summer: Make apple lemonade

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This drink was supposed to come out as a lemonade, but it turned into an appleade when I realized that the green apples were sour enough. One of our neighbors brought the apples at a potluck picnic last Sunday and we took a few home. We kept staring at them for a couple of days because we anticipated the sourness, but not all the gazing in the world could have prepared me for the grimace-inducing taste. And I'm the person who drinks pickle juice straight from the jar. (It's ok, my husband knows.)

The theme of August break for today is yellow, so I used a beautiful vintage apron as a background. Isn't that what aprons are for?


The August Break 2013


Friday, August 2, 2013

Things to do this summer: Go to a fair

I'm taking part in the August Break, initiated by Susannah Conway, a blogger that I keep going back to for her creative free spirit and thoughtful words.

The August Break is about sharing a photo every day, based on a word. But I want to do more than that. I want to push myself to write a few words about it or the story behind it in as little as a paragraph or two. I feel there is power in words, just as there is power in images and I'm hoping this will keep me close to my friends, and it will be a way to invite more people into our lives, as much as we allow it. Our tiny camera will have to do. We're not professionals, so please excuse our clumsiness.

I've already missed the start so I'm jumping right in at day two, with "circle" being the guiding word.

EuroAmericanHome: Pennsylvania-summer-fair

This week, our small Pennsylvania town is hosting a summer fair, organized by the local River Rescue to raise funds. I am continually amazed by the power of volunteer work in the United States. The River Rescue members are all volunteers and they're funded by donations, hall rentals and a handful of events that they organize each year. They do an Easter egg sale and a Halloween parade in addition to the summer carnival. The local fire department is also made up of volunteers and so is the food bank and the senior center. The power of community is at the core of small town Pennsylvania, and this city girl likes it.

The fair takes place on our usual evening walk route, so Trevor took this chance to introduce me to another Pennsylvania Dutch concoction (the pretzel and the whoopie pie being the other two that I tasted so far) and quintessential fair food, the funnel cake. I was reluctant to try it at first, especially when I saw the industrial deep fryer in the back of the food tent. I should have listened to my instincts because there's nothing fun in FUNnel cake. It is basically a deep fried dough bomb dunked in sugar. Hello, 600 calories of greasy dough! Nevermore! I said, as I felt my arteries clogging and my cholesterol level reaching the top of the Ferris wheel. They should rename it funNOT cake.

Here's a few more pictures, although that may be bending the rules of the August break.

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EuroAmericanHome:SUmmer-fair-in-Pennsylvania
 EuroAmericanHome:SUmmer-fair-in-Pennsylvania



The August Break 2013

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Expat Dilemma


























Last night, I was trying to explain to Trevor how it's like to feel trapped between two worlds. I said trapped but what I really meant is stuck. Not physically, but emotionally, although a physical metaphor might illustrate it better.

 It's like flying from one place to another and having to bear through a perpetual layover. You've left home and said your goodbyes. Your friends have gone back to their homes and jobs and came to terms that they won't see much of you anymore. You are out of their lives, for the most part, and out of their daily routine. Your bags are packed and on the plane already, but you have another plane to catch. Meanwhile, you're not getting anywhere. You're just stuck in the waiting lounge of your next flight. You know where you're supposed to be heading, but can't quite get there yet. You have no friends in the new place, because friendships take time and commitment and you don't even know if you're going to click with the people at your new destination. Because friends need to click.

So there you are, in the waiting lounge, watching some planes take off and other planes land and you have no idea when you'll be called to board. Meanwhile, you try to keep yourself busy because you know that otherwise you'll go crazy. But in the back of your mind, the same thoughts spin over and over again: What do I do when I don't belong anywhere? Who am I between uprooting and rerooting? How do I figure out which is the best way to build my life again from scratch? When does it get easier?


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