Category Archives: Living well

autumn plate

It feels like fall outside. It’s feels like fall online too, inside the community of travel, culture, literature, home and garden bloggers. So I bought a new cashmere sweater today in pale pink, thanks to these tips for fall travel style from This is my Happiness.  And trusty Ciao Domenica has offered this inspiration for delicious recipes including a pumpkin-spice cake with pumpkin cream-cheese frosting.

The start of a season presents an empty plate, ready to be filled with fall’s favorite things, like slipping on a new warm sweater, brewing up tea, settling down to a new book or catching a movie.


For me, that means reading Caleb Crain’s debut novel  “Necessary Errors.” Set in post- Iron Curtain Prague in the early 1990s, after the ’89 Velvet Revolution, the book is described as coming of age for idealistic young expat Americans abroad (for longtime BTH readers, no surprise this book is top of my list!).  I’m looking forward to learning more about Eastern European history and Czech culture. The Slate review writes “it recalls the dreamy pacing of Henry James or Elizabeth Bowan.”


I’m also looking forward to returning to our wonderful local art deco theater this season. I’m still recovering from Woody Allen’s tragic Blue Jasmine and am ready to enjoy a lighter comedy this fall. Enough Said  stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Eva) and James Gandolfini  (Albert) who meet and a romance quickly blossoms, but Eva befriends – and gets an earful from – a woman about her ex. The twist is that she finds out that “the ex “is Albert.

What’s on your autumn plate?






Several items caught my eye this weekend when reading my Sunday morning indulgence,  The New York Times. These are my top 3 picks:

Courtyard at El Convento, Puerto Rico

Courtyard at El Convento, Puerto Rico

36 Hours, my favorite part of the Times Travel Section,  finds itself in San Juan, Puerto Rico this week. Featured in the piece is Hotel El Convento, a beautiful example of Spanish colonial architecture and design and a European-style alternative to glitzier properties. It has almost convinced me to put Puerto Rico on the top of the travel list, particularly because my husband has insisted we go somewhere tropical before returning to Europe. Hotel El Convento  is an Old San Juan institution right on the water. It was founded as a convent and housed Carmelite nuns for 250 years. Since then, the structure was rebuilt in 1959 on the foundations of the original. Check out its grand open-air courtyard and more on the hotel’s photo gallery. Looking for a hand-fitted, customized Panama hat? The article also suggests the best hat maker in town.

lotionIn the Arena section, where readers are treated to highlights from, I took notice of a piece on the Stockholm-based beauty brand called Sachajuan because of its simple packaging and my love for many things stylish and Swedish like Ikea. A cult favorite, its products – which include body washes and lotions made from a soluble fiber from oats called beta-glucan – is debuting in the States and carries a reasonable price tag. The article quotes Misha Anderson, its American distributor, as saying “In Swedish culture, they have a word called lagom – the idea that things should be chic yet understated and functional. This line embodies that in every way.” Learn more about Sachajuan products at


Sunday Review’s cover article “Relax! You’ll be More Productive” offers another nudge of convincing research in making the case that more naps and vacations – and less frantic juggling of overwhelming demands at an unsustainable pace –  lead to better output in the work world, and that the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. The “work when you work and rest when you rest”  philosophy, accepted much more in Europe, has no patience for the American pastime of guilt associated with vacation or the drive of “more, bigger, faster”.  This article suggests that working long hours and skipping vacation days is not equivalent to positive outcomes and results in the workplace. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal (longer sleep hours, more frequent vacations, more time away from the office, etc)  boosts productivity, job performance and – of course – health. A recent survey found Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012, up from 6.2 in 2011. Maybe this research can turn the tide of the oddly placed bragging rights that accompany unused or working vacations and frantic schedules,  and introduce the idea that a siesta (even short) is nothing to laugh at.


Summer is getting its last laugh this week with temperatures in the upper 80s. But today’s forecast shows rain next week so I’m getting giggly pulling out all my favorite rain gear. There are two items I can’t live without.

Number one on my list is my favorite pair of rainboots by Kamik, a  family run Canadian company making outdoor footwear in Canada and the USA for more than 100 years.  My boots are many years old but still so much fun to wear. For my next pair, I have my eye on the “Stella” and “Eliza.” I’ll be in Quebec next summer (where Kamik’s headquarters are located) so I’ll be on the look out for them.

Stella by Kamik

Eliza by Kamik

Number two on my list is a unique umbrella that receives a ton of attention – and smiles – each time I use it (especially from kids). Rain will never get you down when you open up this umbrella. One like this was given to me as a corporate gift many years ago by the director of advertising at a local newspaper.  I reach for it every winter and it gives me a smile no matter how gray the clouds are.

open up the funnies

I’m now on the hunt for a similar umbrella but would love to find one from an international or foreign newspaper like Corriere della Sera, Le Monde or the International  Herald Tribune.

 What are some of your favorite finds to live well in cooler weather?

i dolomiti

The Dolomites, or i Dolomiti in Italian, the breathtaking mountain range in the Trentino – Alto Adige region of northeastern Italy, is  one of my favorite places to visit. While not what most North Americans expect in Italy, this region feels most certainly its geographic position on the crossroads of Italy and Austria. When we lived nearby at Lago di Garda, we took day trips to Trento or weekends up to Bolzano. We hiked near Canazei and took in the panorama of the alps at the Sass Pordoi.

I have sentimental reasons for loving this place too. My favorite wine of the Dolomites is maker Mezzacorona .  I like their white wines, particularly their Pinot Grigio which I can find in my local market in Northern California. If you are in the area, take their informative – and fun – wine tour where you can learn about winemaking in the region, and have the opportunity to taste a wide range of their quality wines. The facility is modern and artistic.

In fact, it was this entertaining  wine tasting experience at Mezzacorona followed by a carpaccio dinner in the nearby city of Trento, that has become a memorable family story. (I found out the next day I was four weeks pregnant with our daughter. I can assure you that sparkling wine and raw meat didn’t harm her!).

Trento is never far from my heart and mind. My wedding band is from Trento’s historic city center by a  jeweler founded in 1872, Gioielleria D. Cortelletti.


During the winter Trento has some of the best known and beloved Christmas street markets. We especially loved to visit during this time. There we found a wide variety of sausages (like what you’d typically find in Germany or Austria) and delicious soup mixes for sale.

Bolzano farther north, was well worth the extra time in the car to visit. Its mediaeval city center, churches and castles – and mix of Italian and Austrian influence -give the city a unique flavor.


One of our all-time favorite trips was staying at an inn at Cortina d’Ampezzo near Canazei – long known as a winter sports center – in the northern region of Alto-Adige and hiking the upper part of Val di Fassa.

Cortina d’Ampezzo

We visited off season and hiked in unbelievably remote and beautiful parts. We rested our feet at an outdoor cafe clinging to the edge of a mountain. We took the funivia (cable car) to the unforgettable Sass Pordoi, called the terrazza or terrace of the Dolomites , at 2,950 meters. (We purchased jackets from a wise man selling them before our ascent.) It has one of the most spectacular panoramas of the alps!

At almost 3,000 meters at sass pordoi overlooking the alps.

The Trentino – Alto Adige region of Italy – its people, food and culture – may not remind you of the Italy you are accustomed to visiting or hearing about – but it is well worth adding to your itinerary. In fact, it couldn’t be more what Italy truly is, a mix of diverse cultures and history.

home garden inspiration at the french laundry

A wrong turn in search for an outdoor spot to eat our picnic yesterday dropped us into the outdoor kitchen garden of  3-star Michelin,  award-winning restaurant The French Laundry in Yountville, Napa Valley.

My husband is a home gardening enthusiast – and I, a garden-eating enthusiast – so we were thrilled at our luck at this chance encounter to experience world-class methods and perhaps take a few tips home. With a mix of garden envy and awe, we wandered through the carefully laid out plots in between grass pathways. They are producing unbelievably beautiful vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs.

I’ve read that in addition to being a professional test garden, the garden supplies around 30 percent of the The French Laundry’s produce. The restaurant is housed in a beautiful historic building that was once – you guessed it – a french steam laundry.


The restaurant’s organic garden grows many different kinds of vegetables and fruit and also tests unique plants. I walked past artichokes, lettuce, corn, eggplant,  three different kinds of basil and other herbs new to me, a variety of peppers and white strawberries. There were chickens and a bee house.

And then there were the tomatoes. We needed to find out what was in this soil to produce those tomatoes. The staff we talked to said they utilize crop rotation and organic compost – with chicken manure. There are perfectly placed drip tubes and tapes.

Enter the greenhouse where tomato vines are giant and tomatoes works of art.

The vines show off their supersized health.

The method of planting close together and meticulously stringing the vines up from top (see white string above)  are ideas we will take home.

The ice lettuce with hints of purple is beautiful covering.

The vegetables make room for flowers – many edible and used in the menu.

Freshly picked heirloom tomatoes, presumably for customers that night.


 Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry has earned its title as one of the  world’s best restaurants. The gardens, without doubt, are world class. Visiting them,  you will return home with fresh inspiration for your own garden.

Do you have a favorite public garden?

market day mementos

Inspired by ciao domenica blog’s recent post on bruschetta, I went to our local farmers market early yesterday morning to pick up some heirloom tomatoes and country bread for a batch of bruschetta I made for a party last night.

I have a confession to make. I can’t remember the last Saturday morning I was at our town’s excellent farmers market with its line up of local Northern California growers.  Why? Maybe when the weekend rolls around and I don’t have to take the kids to school,  the morning slips away. Or , with numerous local fruit stands,  picking patches and quality grocery stores, it would actually be hard not to buy fresh, local and organic.  (I know I’m lucky, my Canadian readers.)

In fact, I love visiting market days so much that when I’m traveling, I research the surrounding town market schedules and plan my itinerary accordingly. And, yesterday, somewhere between the heirloom tomatoes and the peaches, I was reminded of some of those market memories.

Earlier this summer when we were back in stunning Lago di Garda, Italy, we visited our favorite lake market in the town of Salo’.

prosciutto crudo at a good price at the market in Salo, Italy

It’s really a combination flea and food market. You can find underwear, Bialetti Mokas (we got one for 23 euros), cycling jerseys (husband got one), airplane gliders (son got one), a variety of meats and cheeses.

buying our mozzarella di bufala for the day’s lunch

Although we were nowhere near Campana in the south of Italy where fresh mozzarella di bufala comes from, we couldn’t help buy it to pair with tomatoes for lunch that day. (Northern Italy is closer to Campana than California at least and it was delicious.)  Back in California, my coffee poured out of our new moka each morning reminds me of our recent visit there.

I’ll also never forget visiting the Vucceria fish market many years ago in Palermo, Sicily.  This is a bustling market filled with smells and sounds including a dialect of Italian I couldn’t fully comprehend or speak. But the Vucceria is an exhilirating experience! Randomly, I have a hair bandana headband I picked up there that is stuffed in my closet and comes out from time to time at the beach. This great article describes Sicilian open air street markets.

Then there is my tablecloth from  Aix en Provence, France – which also has the most amazing open air markets. Olives, cheeses, meats, breads, housewares, linens, flowers, lighting, antiques and more.( The market at l’Isle sur la Sorgue is also well known for antiques). I have been to Aix twice and I would go back just for the markets. When I set our table – as I am about to in the above picture –  and lay out my tablecloth, I can see Aix!

olives in aix en provence

Market days are, for me, an essential part of exploring a village or city and an essential part of slow travel. Do you have a favorite market ?

wanted: italian tapparelle stateside

When in Italy a few weeks ago, I took note of some of my favorite Italian things that, for some reason, have not become popular culture on this side of the ocean.


I sleep the best when in Italy. I owe it to the efficient tapparelle that cover the windows (they go up and down either by pulling on a cord manually or pushing an up and down switch electronically which, from experience, is a celebratory way to start a day) and make a room pitch black. At home, blinds and curtains – even black outs – don’t keep the sun out and I wake early, particularly during summer. Italians transplanted here or on vacation will complain of rooms that are too light and how they are prevented from a good night sleep.  I am convinced, like the bidettapparelle is an item searched for stateside, but I have yet to see one dressing a house window. For a country that invented the personal computer and put a man on the moon, my neighborhood’s decorative, can’t-shut shutters on windows blasted with the hot California sun are an embarrassment.


I was as excited to see an Autogrill off the autostrada again as the Duomo in Florence. Seriously.  I almost cried. It’s a consistently quality restaurant off the autostrada (or highway) that will serve you a fresh, delicious prosciutto crudo and rucola panino and one of the best espressos in all Italy. While we have Subway for fresh sandwiches, this all-in-one, easy-exit-off-the-autostrada restaurant & store has also been our go-to place for replacing lost sunglasses or picking up the latest newspaper.

Latte Vending Machines

This trip is the first time I stumbled upon a vending machine for fresh milk. I found one just outside the train station in Desenzano on Lago di Garda. Stepping out of the train, my kids plugged their noses and I smelled what I thought were cows. My guess was right. The milk, we were told by a local, comes from the cows in the area. We have 24 hour convenience and grocery stores but I’d choose the fresh, local latte vending machine any time.

Finally, the machine used at the Italkmark grocery store deli to cut meats like prosciutto crudo is different than here, and I continue to wonder if it’s operator error or the machine that cuts of prosciutto just plain wrong, even in the fanciest American grocery store.  There’s nothing worse than walking out with fifteen dollars worth of too thickly sliced proscuitto crudo. But I’ll save that for another day.