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Green Thumbprints - Heirloom Caprese Salad

July 30, 2015
One of the things I wanted to do after the big move to Austria was to have my own garden.  And, since our new place had a nice terrace with tons of sunlight, I started a container garden and began collecting and rescuing plants from all of our travels.  The plants were a lovely, living souvenir of our times out and about!

This is my second year of gardening here in Austria.  Let me introduce you to my extended green family!

Hen & Chicks (Sempervivum)

These are a family of Hen & Chicks, also known as Sempervivum, that I collected while up in the Alps.  These are the cutest little things... and their chicks are even cuter!  According to Garden Beautiful, these guys are the easiest to care for!

In the back right is the Zebra Hawarthia - spiky little thing with a new plant sprouting at the bottom.
According to Horty Girl, this plant is also low maintenance!

Sometimes called the Mountain Rose, this guy,  aeonium arboreum - the Houseleek Tree, was a stem cut from the arboreum tree in Munich.  After a year of sruviving, this guy has sprouted six new babies.  I'm so happy that it's thriving and doing well!  

Sedum spurium 'Fuldaglut' - This plant didn't fare to well after the dry winter months.  All of the leaves fell off and left a bare skeleton!  But, then came Spring and the tiny young buds grew into long leafy stems... and now, they are overflowing their container!

Agave or Aloe - I'm not so sure - from Gargnano

The green ones in this (very wet) container are called Gray Stonecrop Sedum Pachyclados.  These I saved from Gargnano.  The lone greyish pink one: Ghost Plant Sedum Graptopetalum - I saved from Verona, Italy.  These two plant species had a hard time this winter.  I was left with only bare stems to work with... but I never gave up.  With some love and attention, these plants came bouncing back!

Rocky stonecrop (Sedum rupestre) - Also from Gargnano, these guys have been battling it out with the aphids this summer.

Autumn Joy Sedum - rescued stems after an incident with a falling table in Gargnano.  Whoops!  According to Fine Gardening, these plants produce a lovely deep pinkish flower at the end of summer.  Fingers crossed!

Stonecrop (Sedum sexangulare 'Golddigger') - collected from Gargnano, these guys have really loved the Alpine weather this summer.  

An orphan Alpine plant somehow made its way into my garden.  It has very characteristic black markings on the leaves.  Does anyone know what this is?

This little Geranium plant is a true survivor from last year's garden.  I chucked out all of the old flowers and have reused the spent soil again this year.  I guess from some remaining bit of root this lovely plant found its way to grow underneath my Clematis plant.  These plants are very common in the Bavarian region along the balconies of houses and buildings.

Wild Strawberry Leaf (Fragaria Vesca) - I collected two small plants from Ruhpolding in the Bavarian Alps last summer.  Today, I have about a dozen new plants.  Yay!

The smallest Stonecrop succulents (Sedum brevifolium), pictured in the bottom right corner, have  the tinies 'leaves'.  They were found along a rock wall in Gargnano.

To the left at the bottom is the Small House Leek (Sedum Album) - also found on another rock wall in Gargnano.

 I have fallen in love with the determination and creativity of succulents to survive (and thrive) on full sun and dry conditions.  And, no matter how roughly they are treated (stems or leaves completely severed), these guys grow back again and again.  

They are true survivors - never say never!!!

Now on to my pride (and edible) joy!  Heirloom Yellow Pear cherry tomatoes!  These were given to me when they were just little seedling plants.  Oh, how they've grown!

Another seedling gift - the Brown Egg tomato.  Here they are before they ripen:

And here they are after I came back from a quick trip to Munich - 2 days in the heat!

But, after much watering and apologies, here is my first Brown Egg tomato!

My first harvest!

Italian Reds mixed in!

And what did I make with my first home-grown tomatoes?  Caprese Salad!!

Served with a few splashes of balsamic vinegar and along side a basic pasta tossed in butter and parmesan, these tomatoes could really shine!

They were lovely and sweet.  They were juicy and ripe.  They had great color.  Oh, what's not to like!

Success! I had captured Summer into these fine tomatoes!

Head on over to Bon Appetit for a quick recipe!

In my research, there are hundreds (maybe even thousands?) more species of tomatoes.  And, the red standards (that we have grown up with) are not the only tomatoes.  There are so many more variations in taste, color, and shape!  Known as heritage, or heirloom, these tomatoes are non-hybrid cultivars of the tomato.  Basically, they are 'in-breds or mutts' - I love them more already!  They are openly pollinated and lack the genetic mutation in standard red tomatoes that favor the color over the sweet flavor.  No wonder these tomatoes are considered tastier than their standard counterparts!

However, they have a shorter shelf life and have less resistance to disease - Better gobble them up fast!!

I have fallen in love with tomatoes all over again!

Tuesday Tidbits - Sun in My Belly

July 28, 2015
Hyper-real Oil Paintings [Credit:Link]

+ cakes with summer fruit

+ a simple pasta dish

+ celebrate strawberries

+ yummy, soy sauce eggs

+ a year in a Parisian patisserie

+ recipes for when you feel like a million bucks

+ so many ways to roast a chicken

+ show off your farmer's market bounty

+ get ready for the next 'it' ethnic dish

+ toast for dinner

+ welcome, ricotta!

+ summer sangria

+ updated potato salad

+ the last (best) remaining bits of the fish

+ how to (correctly) prepare your cake pan

+ how to use my just ripened tomatoes

+ a tip for your next flan

+ Ottolenghi's hummus recipe

+ how to make McDonald's french fries (from home!)

+ while we're at it, homemade oreos

+ world's best restaurants of 2015

+ basic pesto

+ ideas for leftover rice

+ using Greek yogurt

+ about that morning cup of jo

+ Greek pasta salad

+ chilled cucumber salad

+ magical coffee?

+ 19 Israeli dishes (that aren't hummus)

+ drink tea for stronger bones

+ Katharine Hepburn's brownies

+ coffee stain monsters

+ porchetta pork chops

+ common cooking mistakes

+ no cooking zone for summer

+ drizzling the ganache

+ craving donut holes

+ winner, winner, chicken dinner

+ welcome, plums!

+ limoncello recipe

+ most popular recipes RIGHT NOW


Swarovski's Crystal Cloud

July 23, 2015
Ella in the Clouds

Even on a cloudy day, the recently re-opened, Swarovski's Kristallwelten succeeded in becoming a place of magic and wonder for the young and old!  All of the exhibits were well done... but one in particular took the spot at number one (knocking out my previous favorite!)

The Crystal Cloud, designed by Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot, is an outdoor installation with over 800,000 hand-mounted crystals.  It hangs over a black mirror lake that compliments the sparkle and shine of the sunlight's movement and merges it with the always inspiring reflection of the mighty Alps.  Truly magical.

Here's a behind the scenes peek at the magic-in-progress for the re-design [Credit:Link]:

Tuesday Tidbits: Fighting for Fashion

July 21, 2015
Safia Minney, Sustainable Fashion Activist [Credit:Link]

+ Meet the coolest women fighting for sustainable fashion

+ That backstage moment when it all comes together

+ Do you know the Top 10 It-Bags of all time?

+ The story behind Alexander McQueen's Deliverance Collection 

+ A conversation with Stella McCartney

+ Ali MacGraw: Preppy Bohemian

+ Some thoughts on the handbag business

+ Getting to know Cristobal Balenciaga

+ See how Chanel gets those perfect pleats

+ Protecting garment workers 

+ Catching up with the children of Comme

+ Living life the Celine way

+ The good, the bad, the smelly sides of clothing donation

+ Patagonia's Anti-Growth Strategy

Cheap clothing not so cheap; the true cost.

+ Zara's owner is very wealthy...

+ How textiles revolutionized technology

+ When worlds collide - poverty meet first-world

+ Continued worker exploitation in the garment industry

+ Why fur must not be a part of fashion

+ Steven-Alan office tour

+ The story of YKK zippers

+ The annoying, little sweater of J. Crew

+ Does fashion need to slow down?

+ Lessons from Raf Simons of Dior

+ Advice from Vera Wang

+ How does Hermès stay on top?

+ Simon Doonan on a Sunday

+ How Chanel saves craftmanship

+ What happened to the hippies?

+ Thoughts on Galliano's Margiela 

+ Behind the couture ateliers

+ Death of shopping malls

+ Don't forget linen!

Ruhpolding - Beauty in the Bavarian Alps

July 20, 2015

After experiencing an Italian heat wave, we took my parents up to the Bavarian Alps for relief... to a beautiful area called Ruhpolding.  About an hour and a half drive from Hall-in-Tirol, where I live, this is the place where my husband's father grew up... back before it became a hot spot for cycling, skiing, holidays, and spa and wellness resorts.

It is situated near Chiemsee (sometimes referred to as the Bavarian Sea), a beautiful lake that has several islands within - one with a castle (unfinished by King Ludwig II who wished for a replica of the Palace of Versailles!) and one with a Benedictine nunnery built in 782 (and famous for their booze, Kloster Liquor!).

Before we dive into the in's and out's of Ruhpolding, first things first: the Freizeitpark of Ruhpolding.  My husband's parents took us all to this fairytale world high in the mountains.  It's a fun place for kids to meet the little gnomes and step into the nursery rhyme worlds they've only heard stories about.  It also has many games and physical activities to work out some kid energy!

Ella Surveys the Map

What are those gnomes up to?


Painting Lady Bugs

Making Jewelry

Making Schnapps?


Teaching Mushroom Safety

After meeting all of the gnomes, it was time for more fun!

Lil, What's Your Favorite Ice Cream Flavor?

The park was also happy to accommodate pets, too!

Coco, Happy on the Train Ride

Feeling adventurous, Ella took on a few rides and activities!

Ella & Opa on the Bumper Cars

Ella in Trouble!

Brave Riders of the Dragon Ride!!

Trampouline Action

Ball Fun

Ella and a few other children met the Evil Witch of Hansel & Gretal.

I loved watching the children standing in awe (and a bit of hesitation) before the witch.  That's the beauty of a child's innocence... before they are hardened to the world...  It's a great gift to give - a happy childhood.

Thanks to the grandparents who made this a memory the girls will always remember!

Happy All Around!

Returning to the real world... a few snapshots.

A lovely, small barn currently under restoration


A small, personal chapel in memorium of the
son's survival after a battle with an illness.

Searching for wild strawberries in Granny's garden - yum!

A nature walk along a nearby stream - so many trout!!!

El & Ba Ngoai Skipping Stones

Tired Feet = Piggy Back Ride!

A Bavarian Classic

Nearby stands one of five notable churches in the area, The Chapel of St. Valentine.


This Romanesque church built in 1200 is the oldest building in Ruhpolding, as well as in the valley.  It is known for its net vaulted ceilings, frescoes, and a small collection of various statues/figurines from different centuries.  It is believed that this church sits on the site of a judicial building.

The Altar


The Entrance

One of the Figurines



The Steeple

Larger than life fresco of Saint Christopher (early 17th Century)

Exterior - List of Names

Detail Shot

More Figurines

Hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!