Beachcombing interlude

I traveled to San Luis Obispo last week to participate in a career fair at Cal Poly. There I met two of my previously-unknown-to-me co-workers, who quickly became my new best friends. The career fair was a blast, and the morning flew by! The event ended at 1:30 pm and our flights weren’t scheduled to leave until after 8 that night. I had a rental car, they had ideas of things to see, so off we went to exploring.

IMG_2831We drove about 20 minutes north on 101 to Morro Bay. Morro, Spanish for the crown, is part of the Morro Rock State Preserve, one of the California State Parks. This 22-23 million year old rock is one of Nine Sisters of rocks that extends from Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo hills. We drove onto the causeway connects it with the shore, which make it a tied island, and parked on the south side of the rock. Ha, rock! It’s pretty big for a rock. So, what’s the big deal about this rock? Turns out, it’s a volcanic plug formed when magma from a volcano solidifies in the pipe or neck and the surrounding sediment is eroded away. Essentially, I was standing next to the remains of an extinct volcano. Cool!

IMG_2835It was peaceful, and for a while we watched otters doing their otter things out in the bay. They were quite active and entertained us for quite a while. Once they settled down on their backs to float around for a while, we began exploring the area. We took the path for a while, and then braved the boulders and climbed down to the beach. I am happy to report, none of use twisted ankles or broke anything near and dear to our hearts.

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It was late in the afternoon and we could see the marine layer inching its way inland. I became chilled and hiked back to the car for my jacket while my buddies searched for sand
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On the South-West face of the rock we found caves, on was large enough for a mountain lion. I was curious what critters might inhabit the various spaces. Not curious enough to climb the rock to investigate, which is not allowed.

IMG_2831We wandered over to the north side of the rock and watched the surfers catch waves and wipe out, undaunted by the cold (aided by wet suites).

While I enjoyed people watching, the was quite a bit of activity on this side, I preferred the other, quieter side.

After watching the surfers for a while, we decided to get a bite to eat. We headed to Marisol at the Cliffs in Pismo Beach. Even though it was chilly by then, we opted to sit on the terrace where I enjoyed a glass of wine, coconut shrimp and fried calamari with sauce that was d’bomb! I enjoyed good conversation with my new friends, good wine, and good food – for what more could a girl ask?

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View from Marisol’s terrace

Sated and hydrated, we had a couple more hours to kill before we needed to head to the airport. What to do? Apparently, the Farmer’s Market on Thursday nights is the place to see and be seen.

Before long, it was time to make our way to the airport, where we said our good-bys and made plans to keep in touch.

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You oughta be in pictures

One of the cool perks of my new job is the fun activities in which they encourage us to participate. Last week they chartered a bus to take us up to LA where we took part in the Sony Pictures Studio tour. After enjoying the sights, we were served lunch in the VIP area of the Plaza lobby. It was so much fun!

While waiting for the tour to begin, we wandered the lobby and explored the various displays of movie memorabilia.
GodzillaOff in the corner, I found a reptilian-looking fellow (nobody puts Baby Godzilla in a corner!). While I thought he looked pretty cool, lots of details went into his creation, he wasn’t all that massive. Perhaps Godzilla, like many of Hollywood’s stars, was required to diet? Maybe his next feature film will be titled “Godzilla, Hungry and Grumpy.” It could happen. Bolyn

I loved the costumes on display, I especially loved the fabric choices and exquisite details of the dresses and tunic from the movie The Other Boleyn Girl.

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After watching a short film on the history of Sony Pictures Studio, we began the walking tour of the lot. The first thing we notice after passing through the gates is a massive rainbow. Now, it would be really cool if the rainbow sculpture had been used in the production of The Wizard of Oz, but it wasn’t. Nonetheless, it’s still pretty impressive.

Weighing in at 100,000 pounds of steel, “Rainbow” is a multi-colored arc 188-feet across and 94-feet high, created by American sculptor Tony Tasset, and greets visitors beyond the Madison Street entrance.

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Apparently, Sony Pictures Studio wanted to build a couple of office buildings and a parking lot, and in exchange for these new additions to the studio lot, Sony partially funded the project via the 1% for Art requirement.

While the images of Dorothy clicking ruby slippers, flying monkeys, and munchkins might come to most people’s minds, I was thinking more along the lines of hey, it’s the end of the rainbow, where’s the pot of gold?  Alas, no matter how hard I willed it, no pots (of gold or anything else) materialized.

TicketBoothA short walk past Rainbow led us to our first glimpse of buildings used in a variety of films. For example, we saw the ticket booth were Frank Sinatra buys movie tickets in the musical Anchors Aweigh. While I was never a Sinatra fan, I adored Gene Kelly, and this film is one of my childhood favorites, and not just because Jerry Mouse made an appearance. The animation segment featuring Jerry took two months and $100,000 to produce because someone noticed that although Kelly’s reflection shone on the floor during his dancing, Jerry’s did not; therefore, Hanna/Barbara productions spent a couple of months revising the animation.

Studios

There are many different kinds of studios on the lot. We passed by the Foley studios, the place responsible for supplying noises for a film, like the swishing of clothing and the tapping of footsteps to squeaky doors and breaking glass. I always thought that would be a fun job. Can you imagine the kind of stress related to finding the right sounds? For example, what sound might the breaking of bones make, or the tip-toeing of animated elephants? I imagine a Foley technician listens to the sounds in the world differently than the rest of us.

Stage6Some buildings had a shabby mystique to them while others were adorned with the Art Deco touches reflecting the era in which they were built.

No matter what they looked like on the outside, all the buildings had me wondering what was going on inside, and if maybe there might be a celebrity beyond the closed doors.

IMG_2728Of particular note among the various building on the lot is the Barbara Streisand Sound Stage. The stage was originally located at the MGM shooting stage until the late 1920s. One of the first film scores recorded there was The Wizard of Oz in 1939. The studio remains unchanged over the years because of the exceptional sound it produces; no one knows why the building has the incredible acoustics is does, and nobody wants to do anything, like paint the walls, in fear that such a change will alter the magnificent sound the room produces. I must confess the space wasn’t particularly spectacular, yet there was something fantastical about knowing you were standing in the same place as John Williams, who did the soundtracks for movies such as Jaws and Star Wars, Michel Jackson, and (of course) Barbara herself had performed. The artists who contribute to musical scores are gifted sight musicians. Get this: Many of the movies they work on are so hushed-up, the artists don’t even know the title! The players see the score for the first time about a 1/2 hour before they begin performing – that’s just amazing! Usually, the movie score is complete in one run-through and is finished in 2-4 hours, depending on the film.

StageWhile we weren’t allowed to go into any of the stages, there were several with doors wide open where we could get a glimpse of the interior. We passed by one large studio where the set builders were enjoying a lunch break.

Of particular note were stages 15, 27, and 30.

Stage 15 is the second largest studio in the world and was home to movies such as A day at the Races, Air Force One, Rocky, and Stuart Little, among others.

Stage 27 was once transformed into Munchkin land, the Emerald City, and the Witch’s Castle, although the yellow brick road, (painted plywood) has long since been lost in the annals of time. (Where exactly are the “annals of time” located, anyway?) Other memorable sets include the Spaceship Interstellar, and the Sistine Chapel.

Stage 30 was once owned by Esther Williams, which had her swimming pool and underwater tanks, and now this stage is where many water-themed movies are filmed (think Jaws and Hook).

There are many other things to share, for example, the Ghost Busters cars and their “storefront,” Stages for Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy (which are interesting, even though I don’t watch the shows). There are oodles of other tidbits and behind-the-scenes lore to explore. Instead of me blathering on, the next time you find yourself in LA, I urge you to take a studio tour or two. It won’t spoil movie magic, and it is most definitely educational, informative, and tons of fun!

Accidental photographer

I’m not an accomplished photographer. I have taken photos I like, but I’d be the first to admit I’d never win a prize for my compositions. I’m always especially pleased when photos I’ve taken come out, well, better than my usual. A few weeks ago, I found myself in San Francisco with extra time to explore the city. I’ve been there so may times I wasn’t interested in going to the usual tourist attractions. I was thrilled when my friend, whom I was visiting, suggested we explore Civic Centre. Someplace I’ve driven by but hadn’t yet had an opportunity to explore.

CivicCenter0City hall, built in 1915, is a beautiful example of classical American Architecture. The ornate dome is one of the tallest in the U.S. Brides love the venue; nearly 2,000 weddings take place in City Hall each year. Get this, in 1954 Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were married there. The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake severely damaged the building, which San Francisco voters spent $300 million to restore. To protect against future earthquakes, a genius base isolator system was installed below each support pillar. Wicked cool engineering makes it so, in the event of an earthquake, the entire building, which is separated from the ground, can sway up to 27 inches in any direction.

CivicCenterCorinthianInside there are dramatic vignettes. I’m not sure why it’s called Classical American Architecture, maybe because the outside looks kinda Federalist and the inside is bedecked in what looks to me more like Neo-Classic. I’m neither an expert or aficionado when it comes to architecture; regardless, it’s still a beautiful building, inside and out.

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(In case you haven’t guessed, I’m quite proud of the Corinthian column photo.)

Across the plaza sits the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, where I had had the pleasure of visiting a couple of years ago. The permanent collections are exquisite and well worth another visit.

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I was particularly enchanted with the exquisitely crafted dragons. What’s not to love about mythical creatures who continue to capture the imagination of millions of people all over the world?

I’m glad I had an opportunity to look around the Asian Art Museum once more; otherwise I would have missed this guy. (Another photo I truly like.)

Quintessentially Québecois: Thursday

Previous: Quintessentially Québecois: Wednesday
From the beginning: Quintessentially Québecois: Sunday

Our morning began with scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee. There’s something decadent about that first sip of coffee in the morning when you’re on vacation, wouldn’t you agree? We puttered around a bit before gathering our things and heading out to spend a day in Montréal.

Along the way, I spied a cute shop I had seen before and into which I had wanted to poke around. I batted my eyes at the driver, who promptly executed a U-turn, and into the driveway we sped (well, ambled, really). The first item I spied at the Boutique Aux Mirabelles was a wonderful metal framed conversation chair. I have always adored them! We sat and conversed for a moment before moseying inside where housewares, furnishing, and home decor beckoned. My favorite item was an ornate, white key upon which one hangs their keys. I don’t know why, but I have this thing for old-fashioned keys. I have a drawer with several, why? Dunno. I digress…

By the time we reached Montréal, my tummy was rumbling. Fortunately, my host knew the city well and took us to Soupesoup, a charming soup and salad place. Caroline Dumas, the founder of Soupesoup, created a comforting, warm place featuring soups, salads, sandwiches, casseroles, and desserts, prepared with care and using local, seasonal produce.
ArtGalleries
After lunch, we wandered in and out of several of the art galleries sprinkled throughout Old Montréal. We learned quite a bit about talented local artists whose works we took pleasure in viewing.

Between art galleries and our next event, We had just enough time to absorb a bit of history, so we bee-lined to Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, where we explored the Aztecs, People of the Sun exhibit. They were a fascinating if horrifyingly blood-thirsty people. Aside from sacrificing humans to ensure that the sun would indeed rise each morning, the Aztecs produced some pretty amazing art. Carvings, jewelry, statuary, vases, were all fairly intricate considering the rough or crude tools with which they used to create offerings to their gods. Suffice it to say that I’m extraordinarily glad to be living in the present day as opposed living in a time when human sacrifice (or worse, no indoor plumbing!), reigned supreme.

Next on our agenda was relaxing massages. Upon arrival, I was offered ice water with a sprig of mint and a lime slice. How is it that something so simple as fresh herbs and citrus can make one feel special? Is it the pleasant infusion of flavors or is it the time and attention to this small detail? From the warm welcome to the scented candles and soft music, to the goodbye hugs, this was a most memorable massage. How decadent an experience it was to realize that all I needed to do was relax and enjoy a talented masseur’s exquisite touch. The truth is, I was so relaxed I fell asleep for a bit during the massage. I hope I didn’t snore, or talk in my sleep, or drool.

We slipped off the massage table and into the Noodle Factory in Chinatown. The place is small, but the food was flavorful and plentiful. Our meal was delicious, yet paying for it was a bit of comedy routine. They didn’t accept cards and I didn’t have cash. Oops! Fortunately, less than a quarter of a block away was a bank with several ATMs. Saved! I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge fan of technology, especially when it’s close and convenient.

After dinner, we wandered around McGill University; which, (according to Wikipedia), counts among its alumni 12 Nobel laureates and 138 Rhodes Scholars, three astronauts, two Canadian prime ministers, 13 justices of the Canadian Supreme Court, four foreign leaders, 28 foreign ambassadors, nine Academy Award winners, three Pulitzer Prize winners, and 28 Olympic medalists. But wait, there’s more! William Shatner was not only an alumni; he has a building named after him. How cool is that – walking the same grounds on which the future Captain Kirk once strolled.

IMG_0704We meandered from one end of the campus down a central street to an amazing bookstore. While it’s true I now read more ebooks than the paper variety, I still love bookstores, and I love the way books feel in my hands. I found myself drawn to the cooking section where I discovered several volumes featuring fantastic ideas for preparing vegetables. I wasn’t hungry, and yet the recipes and the accompanying photographs were mouthwatering. I’m not sure how long we stayed, as I completely lost track of time.

The sun had begun to set as we made our way back to the car. What did I want to do next, return to the house, pack, and prepare for my journey home, or sit on a roof-top terrace, sipping wine and enjoying a spectacular view? Be responsible or squeeze enjoyment into every possible moment? Inconvenience my host by keeping him out late and making him get up at the crack of dawn to take me to the airport, or disappoint him by passing on a greatly anticipated pleasure? I took the easy way out and made my host decide, and off to the Terrasse Place d’Armes we went.

Upbeat music and a refreshing breeze greeted us as we stepped out onto the rooftop bar. The clientele was mostly young professionals getting a jump start on their weekend frivolities. Most everyone was dressed in business attire, making one gentleman, who stormed onto the scene is a small blue v-necked t-shirt stretched taught over a well-defined, muscular chest, followed by a small statured young man dressed in dingy white shirt and jeans, seem completely out of place. They were a curious pair who came in, cased the joint, and left immediately. I can only suppose he didn’t find whomever he was seeking. We spent a while people watching, admiring the view, and chatting about everything and nothing, when I noticed I had reached the bottom of my glass. The drive back home went swiftly, and I was packed and setting my alarm not long after arriving.

I couldn’t believe how quickly the week flew by! As I drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t help wishing for just one more day.

Quintessentially Québecois: Wednesday

Previous: Quintessentially Québecois: Tuesday
From the beginning: Quintessentially Québecois: Sunday

Wednesday we took a ferry across the river and walked around Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu. There are many independently owned ferries dotting the Richelieu River shoreline.

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The capitan encouraged us to exit the car to better enjoy the view.  A fellow traveler asked me if I wanted him to take my photo. Well, I guessed he said that from his actions, as he was speaking in French.

IMG_0684The village is charming, and we lucked out because there was a fiber artist working in one of the shops in which we had wandered.  It looked like she was weaving, but she explained that she was braiding. We learned fingerbraiding or finger weaving a Ceinture fléchée, a traditional French-Canadian “arrow sash.” From Wikipedia:

In Quebec, this wool sash was used by men to tie jackets around their waists to prevent the cold from creeping in.

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Our docent spent quite a while chatting with us about the history of  Ceinture fléchée. She spoke only French, and I was glad my host was a willing and deft translator.

Her fingers swiftly worked the fibers and the design unfolding did, indeed, have an arrowesque design. Apparently, French Canadian traders learned finger weaving from the Native Americans.

Okay, so I must confess that for a moment there, I really wanted to learn how to make one of the beautiful creations. My fingers itched to figure out how she was fingerbraiding, yet somehow I managed to refrain from indulging my desire to buy yarn, dash back to the house, and then begin to make my very own L’Assomption sash. Somehow, I kept myself in check.

Debeur_BistroDeLaRive-600Wandering lovely villages is thirsty work. We wandered into the Bistro bar de la Rive to rest our tired feet and quench our dry throats. Wow, that was poetic, wasn’t it? Truth is, I was enchanted with the idea of sitting on a terrace with a scenic view of the river and sipping something a tad bit stronger than lemonade or tea.

BistroSaintLaurantRiver_kHappily, Bistro bar de la Rive made real my picturesque fantasy. I would like to relate how I spent time leisurely sipping my amber ale. Nope, I sucked my beer down like there was no tomorrow. I can’t say I was in any way bothered by this because before I reached the bottom of my glass, it began to sprinkle. We moved from our spot to one better sheltered from the elements, where we could watch the scenery change from realism to impressionism. The warm, rainy interlude lasted until we were ready to mosey.

By the time we returned home, I was well and truly tired. Maybe it was jet lag, who knows? Happily, I was able to vege on the couch while my host made dinner.

Ever have one of the meals where the sauce is so amazing, you want to smother it all over you body? How does bell peppers, onions, tofu, and coconut milk go from ordinary to abso-freakin’-lutely amazing? Clearly, there was wizardry at play. Ask me if I had seconds. G’ahead, ask. Yes, yes I did.

Next: Quintessentially Québecois: Thursday

Quintessentially Québecois: Tuesday

Previous: Quintessentially Québecois: Monday
From the beginning: Quintessentially Québecois: Sunday

IMG_0672I awoke to the sound of rain. It was early, and as I was on vacation, I decided to roll over and return to sleep. I woke up several hours later, remaining in bed to read a little while. When I heard other members of the house stirring, notably the cat meowing to come in for breakfast, I made my way out to the kitchen.

We ate oatmeal for breakfast, garnished with slivered almonds and dried apricots (delicious!). It’s a relatively simple addition, yet my taste buds were doing the happy dance.

The morning was filled with assorted tasks and a gaming session, we played Fireboy and Watergirl.  The game’s theme music reminded me of a game I knew my kids had played. Upon my return, I asked my son what other game had a similar soundtrack. “Mom, we used to play Fireboy and Watergirl.” Oh, so that’s why the music sounded so familiar!

PorchIn the early afternoon, we walked to the village market, which is a few blocks away. Part way into our walk, a motorist gestured and gleefully pantomimed something to us, which we couldn’t interpret. We scratched our heads and shrugged our shoulders, momentarily perplexed. Shortly after, we felt a whisper of mist. No big deal, what’s a little mist? A few steps more, and the mist turned to rain. Should we turn around and go back home? As we were at the halfway point, we decided to take our chances. What’s a little rain? Seconds after deciding to forge ahead, we were walking through a torrential downpour. Thankfully, it was a relatively warm rain, not quite as warm as a shower, although for a moment there I thought if I had brought soap… We took refuge on a neighbors porch until the storm passed. Huddled in the corner, the only dry spot, we laughed and marveled at the intensity of the storm.

What, you may ask, was so important to acquire at the market? Strawberries! Yes, we willing to brave the elements, and become soaked in the process, to buy ripe, ruby red strawberries. Truthfully, when we started out, the sky was clear.

Evidently, we survived the storm; else I wouldn’t be writing this post. It is a treasured moment, one that brings a smile to my lips whenever I recall it.

Did I spend time wandering around the market? Yes, of course! I walked up and down the aisles, looking for regional delicacies. The walk back was uneventful. However, there was a huge puddle I kinda wanted to splash and stomp around in, like a kid trying out a new pair of galoshes. I mean, what the heck, I was already soaked through, why not? I refrained, barely.

We spent the afternoon talking, brainstorming, and taking copious notes on the ideas our conversations had sparked. Generating ideas is hungry work, and there were strawberries calling our names. We topped the strawberries with yogurt mixed with honey, almonds, and dark chocolate. Okay, it was more of a dessert than a late afternoon snack. I’m positive there’s an adage out there about eating dessert first, isn’t there? So, we were simply following Ernestine Ulmer’s advice!

After our dessert-like snack, my host treated me to a Tarot reading. He’s quite talented! If you’ve spent any time poking around my blog, you may have noticed I have long nails. I mention this because I had a difficult time picking up the cards I had selected from the cards fanned out on the table. At the beginning of the reading I slid a few cards to the table edge and then turned them over. However, had I continued with this method, I would have mussed the evolving spread of cards. I resorted to pointing to the cards I wanted, and my host/Tarot card reader turned and then placed them for me. I must confess, for the few moments spent selecting cards I kinda enjoyed being the girly, damsel in distress, and I couldn’t have asked for a more courtly knight in shining armor. (I will detail the reading in a follow-on post. Stay tuned!)

Time flew. Before long, my host was making dinner.  We enjoyed pork loin cutlets with sweet potatoes and zucchini, which my host had artfully arranged on our plates. Sadly, I didn’t remember to photograph our meal. I wonder if my host/chef, would recreate our meals, and then send me photos. Too much to ask? Indeed. Sigh.

We touched on many topics during dinner. The wine paired with our meal loosened my tongue, as if I need much prodding, and I geeked out over interactive eBook ideas. I’m guessing I didn’t bore anyone too much with my plunge into nerdiness, as I didn’t notice glazed eyes, excessive fidgeting, or snoring emitting from slacked jaws, (the usual reaction I get when I geek out, so I generally refrain).

During dinner, we very lightly and very briefly touched on religion. Dane Cook’s Atheist Sneeze popped into my head, and I thought it might be a fun thing to watch. We did, and it was. We talked a moment about comedy writing, timing, and how well written and performed Atheist Sneeze is. Of course, we couldn’t stop at just one routine! We spent about an hour viewing some of his other YouTube offering, none of which I had seen before.

Alas and alack, the hour was late and the bed beckoned. As I crawled into bed, I noticed a complete lack of tension. Apparently, I had successfully left all my worries behind. Ahhh, so this is what it feels like to be stress free.

Quintessentially Québecois: Monday

Previous: Quintessentially Québecois: Sunday

I had forgotten to turn off my alarm for the week, and we were rudely awakened at 6 am. I jumped out of bed and quickly disabled the setting for the rest of the week before returning to bed for another couple of hours. Isn’t sleeping in one of the pleasures in which one on vacation indulges?

For breakfast, we had orange juice, Quinoa pancakes, and coffee. Our repast was delicious. There’s something particularly authentic about having Canadian maple syrup while in Canada. After washing up the dishes, we took a walk in the village.

On the banks of the river, we saw a muskrat. He was so cute!!!! The song Muskrat Love kept playing in my head, the version sung by America.

In a small park local fiber artists had yarn bombed a tree. What fun! There were even small, cleverly crocheted birds decorating the branches. I loved knowing my fellow fiber enthusiasts were close at hand.

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We spent the afternoon enjoying a bird watching boat tour. We saw a bald eagle in flight, he was quite majestic! We saw an immature one in flight, too. Sadly, I wasn’t quick enough to snap photos of either bird.

IMG_0637The tour guide spoke mostly in French. Happily, my hosts effortlessly translated for me.

The couple sharing our boat were definitely bird enthusiasts. They graciously lent us their binoculars whenever there were birds of interest to view. IMG_0642We watch a bird eating a fish up in a tree for a bit. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny with a cooling breeze.

I had made the mistake of not bringing sunscreen with me. I was burned to a crisp by the end of our tour.

I had the pleasure of visiting Cégep de Sorel-Tracy. The campus is lovely, and I enjoyed wandering the empty halls, not unlike a specter of lessons past. I resisted the urge to do something remarkably silly. If there had been an open lecture room, perhaps I would have drawn on the whiteboards. Maybe I would have written “Help! I’m being held prisoner behind this whiteboard!” backward. Then again, I’d be writing in English, backward, how amusing would that be? Alas and alack, the rooms were all locked.

We stopped at a grocery story on the way back to the house. I don’t know why, but I get a kick out of wandering around grocery stores, especially in far away places. I like to see what’s similar, what’s different, look at the various brands, examine the different types of packaging and labeling. I was tickled to have had lots of time to indulge my rather odd predilection.

IMG_0660That night we dined on duck a l’orange, served with whole wheat couscous, roasted turnips, and asparagus.

Seriously yummy!

I helped make the turnips (yay, me!). Here’s what I remember of the recipe:

Cubed, tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, and a pinch of sugar. Roasted in the oven until tender.

I have no idea what other spices might have been used, or the oven temperature. Hmmm, maybe I’ll need to take another journey to further research these mysteries.

Next: Quintessentially Québecois: Tuesday