Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Emma's world

This morning, before heading off to "school" Emma and I played with her painted blocks.

I named what she pointed at while she held each block before passing it on to me. There was a striped zebra, a green alligator, a white duck, a yellow giraffe, colorful flowers and birds, autumn leaves, a pink rabbit, red and black lady birds, etc.

After a little while, Emma pointed at the Lion and said "Emma", pointed at the rooster and said "Papà" and then, looked up at me while pointing at the butterfly and said "Môman".

Ah, the love tinted eyes of a child. Nothing like it to make you feel like a million dollars!
...and uh, honey, it could have been a lot worse (pink piggy, the mule...)

Come to think of it though, she does see herself as the king of the jungle!

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Vienna-Take-2" two month round-up

It's been roughly two months since we've moved to Vienna for "take 2" after many months in Geneva (or nearby Geneva in our pad in France). As luck would have it, this little milestone will be celebrated by a little urlaub as we head back to our pad and Geneva for a week.

It's going to be great to see friends and family and I'm interested in seeing Emma's reactions to them; does she remember them? does she remember her room there? and our little routines and trips to the local market?

I know they are all really looking forward to seeing Emma and I'm sure she will impress everyone with how much she has learned and grown and how much more she can do and how well she communicates. (Well, I'm her Mom, I'm bound to think she's the dearest, smartest, cutest little toddler ever!)

Anyway, back to the point of this post. Since it's been nearly two months after "Vienna take 2" I just wanted to take a look at how much better this time has been than last year (thank heavens!) and consider a few things I'm grateful for in Vienna and elsewhere:

  • our home here is solid and not undergoing any kind of construction, it's warm and comfortable and I enjoy seeing our colorful carpets and chachkas brighten the window sills and keep the autumn chills out. Our flat is in a leafy area, near a beautiful park where Emma can play and we can pick up kastanien and I can access some shops on foot which makes a huge difference!
  • Emma has joined the sunshine group at her kindergarten and is happily doing what toddlers do in perfect normality (although of course she is exceptional to us!)
  • this also means I have a bit more time for myself after 14 months of 24/7 I really appreciate it
  • my state of mind this time around is much more open to enjoying Vienna (not totally unrelated to having a bit more time and less chaos at home but also the ever important timing, timing, timing...)
  • my Dad has successfully undergone a fifth operation in two years as part of his ongoing battle against cancer (tests, op, chemo, tests, op, tests, chemo, more tests, good news, and less good...). I am very proud of his spirit and courage and am so happy he manages to remain his usual self (voracious appetite, stubborn and all) malgré tout.
  • the above point, more than ever, makes me thankful that apart from my Dad and my cousin L., and some pain in the butt thyroid issues that run in the family, we are all pretty healthy and kicking
  • Steph is happy in his position here and manages to travel a bit less and come home in time to bath Emma. I'm also grateful that he is such a great Dad, getting her up in the morning, bathing her in the evening, playing with her at the park and feeding her soup while I prepare dinner so we can all be together in the kitchen in the evenings.
  • I guess all in all, in these times where the stock exchanges worldwide are diving and according to French TV, people are really struggling to pay end of month bills, medical expenses and even fill their fridges, I am thankful that we are ok.

Ok, well that's it for now- there's lots more I could write but I have to pack our bags and close up before leaving.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

First steps

Emma is now standing totally on her own and finally taking more a few steps (with my help). I say "finally" because she really weighs a ton and I can't wait until I no longer have to carry her!

Anyway, "first steps" mean that we're going to have to get her some outdoor shoes pretty soon (apparently a baby who has just learned to walk takes around 176 steps a minute) and I have absolutely no idea where to do this (in Vienna or Geneva!).

Apparently the fitting process is very important (it still amazes me that people can order shoes on the Internet!) and I have to say I am not looking forward to that.

Here are some tips on baby feet, fittings and shoes.

As much as I'm appreciating the lovely autumn in
Vienna, there are times I really wish we lived in a hot climate with no need for tights, gloves, hats and shoes...

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Yummy creative endeavors (recipes)

As I was recently saying to someone, if I'm creative I'm happy. Or at least I'm not in the doldrums. However, my creative juices can be directed towards different endeavors and it seems I am a serial monogamist. At the moment it's cooking. Yeah, cooking.

I understand many people, especially those who have to do it everyday, a couple of times a day, find it a chore and nothing like a creative outlet, but trust me it can be. And it makes it better for everyone, the cooker, the cleaner and the eater(s). And, seriously, there are plenty of things you don't need loads of time to prepare either. Plus, it's another way of sharing love with those you cook for - including yourself!

Here's a selection of my latest favorites.

Waldorf salad variation
Especially loved by those who have a slightly sweet tooth. (original recipe and my version, I'll let you figure it out)

  • 1/2 cup chopped lightly toasted walnuts
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely sliced (unfortunately didn't have any)
  • 1/2 cup red seedless grapes, sliced green organic grapes, whole (or raisins)
  • 1 medium apple, cored and chopped
  • 3 tbsp mayonnaise natural yogurt to taste
  • 3 cups of lettuce didn't have any so used endives instead
  • fresh lemon juice to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
Mix the veggies, fruit and walnuts in a bowl. Separately mix yogurt, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Combine the two and sprinkle with some walnuts.

Oven-roasted ratatouille

I got this recipe from Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini

I took this picture just as I was about to place the ratatouille in the oven so as you can see the veggies are still raw, but it gives you an idea of the end result.

I have reproduced Clotilde's recipe below for convenience.

* 2 onions
* 2 cloves garlic
* 1 aubergine
* 1 zucchini
* 2 green peppers (surely, if you have red or yellow it's ok)
* 8 small tomatoes (I use the tastier olive shaped ones)
* 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
* 3 sprigs fresh thyme
* olive oil
* salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Peel and slice the onion and garlic. Rinse and slice the veggies. Rinse the herbs. Combine everything in an oven-proof dish. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.

Cover your dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. By now, the veggies should be cooked but not colored, and there should still be cooking juices at the bottom of the dish.

Remove the foil and bake for another 30 to 45 minutes, until the cooking juices have evaporated and the veggies look well roasted.

Remove the herbs and serve now, or later, or keep some for tomorrow's brunch.


Sunday brunch or oeufs cocotte

The key thing here is the oeufs cocotte. Scrumptious.
You'll need:
-a little ramequin per person,
-a larger relatively shallow oven dish,
-fresh eggs
-some sort of soft white cheese or crème fraîche, (or double cream)
-whatever veggies* you have in your fridge and an oven.

It's an easy and quick dish and very versatile so you can add practically anything to it. Plus it's yummy and filling.

I had some organic ham, some cherry tomatoes and mushrooms so that's what I used. However, you can use tuna, peppers, artichokes, onions, gouda, boursault, zucchini or whatever else you have left in your fridge.

1. Turn on your oven to 220°
2. Boil some water in the kettle
3. Place a sheet of newspaper or kitchen paper on the bottom of your shallow oven dish. This will avoid the water boiling over once in the oven
4. Pour the boiled water ("bain-marie" style) into your large and relatively shallow oven dish half way up on to the kitchen paper. This will help the eggs cook.
5. Grease your ramequin and put some crème fraîche, Chavroux, Boursault or whatever white cheese you are using at the bottom of your ramequin
6. Place diced veggies* and other ingredients (tuna or strips of ham etc.) on top
7. Break your egg (I actually use two per person because my ramequins are rather large and we have an appetite) over the top and sprinkle with salt and pepper
8. Place the ramequin in the water in the large and shallow oven dish and place in the oven for 10 or 15 minutes depending on how runny you like your eggs.
9. Once done, you may wish to sprinkle paprika, parmesan or herbs (chives are yummy) depending on what else you've used, on the top.
10. Serve with other brunch favorites (cheeses, hams, etc.) or left-overs and bread or toast.

N.B. you can of course combine steps 2, 3, and 4: just place warm water in the oven dish (don't forget the piece of kitchen paper at the bottom of the dish first) and let it come to the boil in the oven. Then place the ramequins in the dish.

* Veggies: if you are using veggies that need pre-cooking, just sautee them in a little oil in your frying pan before hand (not the case of tomatoes for example)

Favorite combinations are: cheese and ham; spinach and ham; tomato and bacon (in this case place the egg at the bottom and bacon on top); salmon and cream cheese with chives . The combinations are truly endless.

Well, that's all for today, but I'll keep you posted soon with recently discovered soup recipes (excellent for Emma's dinner!) and my feta and tomato quiche.

Bon appétit!

Small victories, big difference

At the end of her third week in kindergarden, Emma is back to her 2 hour nap routine, although it now takes place at the kindergarden and from 11h30-1h30pm. Why is this so great? Well, for one she needs the sleep. But it also means I no longer have to spend my afternoons with Crankerella. Emma's beauty sleep means she's in a much better mood, which almost always guarantees that by sunset I'll be in a better mood too. (I'm crossing fingers it lasts!)

This week we have also made a huge progress when it comes to brushing her teeth. This is something I have been trying to do since May. On and off. Every time Emma would hate it so much I would give it a break for a couple of weeks and then try again. It's been very traumatic for both of us. I felt like I was pulling her teeth out rather than trying to brush them. Well, finally, she will let me brush them a little longer each day without it all ending in tears. We even use a little toothpaste (elmex for kids).
Every morning after popo we brush our teeth, and every evening after dinner and before the bath we brush our teeth and we even occasionnaly use a little tooth paste (Elmex for kids). Yipppeee! This is a TRULY BIG victory!!!
Also, I have now installed a step ladder in front of the sink and every day when we come back from the park or school and before meals we wash our hands! Yippee! This is also a victory 'cause Emma does not like her hands being touched nor does she like cold water, but it never caused the huge tears tooth brushing did.
At the moment I seem to be spending a great deal of time catching mugs or pepper grinders in mid-air, grasping at my mobile phone in an attempt to stop the bill from being astronomical as Emma has decided to call Asia, wiping snotty hands and noses, and basically just running around in circles trying to put out small fires. Ah, the career of a mother...at times it's just not gratifying and so exhausting - but I know in no time at all, things will have changed and I'll be discovering something else with Emma and family life... ups and downs and merry-go-rounds.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

back from beautiful Croatia

We've been back from Croatia for a couple of weeks now but got caught up in kindergarden routines, the flu etc. and so I never got around to telling you about our little holiday in beautiful Croatia.

It's grey and around 10° in Vienna and autumn has come in most of Europe, so let me indulge my desire for sun and light by sharing a few observations and some pics of holiday weather with you. Hopefully it will help combat the sniffles!

Below the gorgeous view we woke up to every morning from our balcony at Villa Izabela.
Despite the familiarity of the destination (we had been in the region of Makarska Riviera in 2005 and I have spent many a childhood summer on the very same beach), or perhaps I should say, because of the familiarity of the place, I really enjoyed our holiday. Being an expat can mean that routine and familiarity are treasured more than adventure and novelty at every step! Taking Emma to the beach and watch her discover the salty water, pebbles and seafood was part of the fun. Not having been on a real holiday for ages made it more precious.

A note to new parents thinking of going on a holiday with their young one: Unless you can afford a suite, staying in a rented flat rather than in a hotel room really makes a huge difference. Not only can you cook, eat, play or nap when you feel like it, but you can actually enjoy your evenings à deux by having dinner, a chat, playing cards, watching TV etc. while your babe is safely asleep in another room. A Baby-call can also give you a little parental freedom. We managed Mojitos across the street one evening.

It was also fun to meet and interact with the owners of Villa Izabela to the point where they made us the most delicious palačinke (crêpes) twice and we helped their daughter with her English homework. Kind of like being part of the family.

The other great thing about this region's coast is that thanks to the "Sobe" (rooms) or "Apartmani" (apartments) the locals take part in (so logically also benefit from) the tourism. This means the coast has not been spoiled by huge hotels, locals feel less "invaded" by the floods of tourists since they are actively taking part in the logistics and benefiting directly from their stay. As for guests, their stay feels more homey thanks to home made food and morning and evening chats on the stairs or the patio. What a refreshing change from big hotels where you are just another guest needing a clean room by noon. If you value anonymous travel though, Croatia is not for you. Or at least not in June or September, the quieter, more privileged seasons.

Ok, now for some pics!

We also went to Plitvice, but the weather wasn't so good while we were there as you can see in a selection of my pics below.

The scenery and colors are spectacular. I'd love to visit in the winter time when there's snow. Here are some beautiful pics of Plitvice in the summer time
by Julius Silver. Definitely worth a visit if you're in that neck of the woods.