Traci Anello

Food is art


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Nice to meet you Mother Nature

Yesterday’s storm was more than a typical New England storm. It was an opportunity for Mother Nature to introduce herself in a very dominant way.

One of the reasons I chose to move in town was because after living in the “boon docks” for 7 years, I realize I’m a city girl at heart. Not that the place I live is in the city nut as long as there’s a traffic light, police department and a post office, you’re in town. That means when the power goes out, it’s usually for a couple of hours not weeks. I learned quickly during those 7 years to operate a generator and drive on some of the worst snow-covered roads in Maine. Thanks for the experience but now I’m ready to be back in civilization. That’s not to say I’ll miss the fox pups at night and their little cries, the frogs in the Spring and the fire flies in July. The goof news is I know how to get there so I can always visit in the summer.

So back to yesterday. I had been watching the news and happy that I chose to move in town. I’m close enough to the emergency management buildings that how long can the power ever really go out? I have a friend who lives one street over and she said you’ll be so glad you’re here. I’ve never lost my power more than two hours. Sounds good. Until 5pm hits and I decide to leave work a little early to beat the worst. The wind had picked up as I drove from inland to the coast, that beautiful Maine coast. I finally got home and checked on the cats. they were fine. They were sitting in the window trying to catch the falling leaves. What a life.

Now this might be getting a little personal but it’s part of the story. I took a quick potty break. Suddenly I hear a loud crack. I look behind me and I see large tree falling. Now I don’t know about you but I shot off that potty so fast I think I did the long jump into the hallway. During my olympic jump, I heard a very loud crash. I checked the cats first because they were in the window. By then they were long gone under the bed. After washing my hands (because I know someone is wondering if I did…yes), I grabbed my phone and headed outside. My porch was gone. It looked like the kindle wood we used to scrap for camping. My new little porch. My future herb garden was reduced to camp wood. My neighbors came out with cameras. She was taking a picture of me taking a picture of the mess. Weird but a conversation piece non the less. A quick call to the landlord and back in the house I went.

Now the strength it took Mother nature to knock that tree down was incredible. I couldn’t help but say,”It’s nice to meet you Mother Nature”. As we speak the wind is picking up again. I have seen the devastation that other states endured. I wish them all peace and safety for their families. The one thing I have learned from this storm is that when the warnings are shared, respect them. Always be prepared is important. About a year ago I purchased a battery charger for my car. This particular charger has a USB connection to it as well as a 12 volt connection. This is perfect for my house in a situation like I had last night. One problem…I never charged it. Today I did and from now on I’ll be sure to do so.

Regardless of which region you live in, you have to deal with Mother Nature. Sometimes you know her, sometimes you don’t. In New England, she has begun to take on a different personality. We have dealt with everything lately from more tornadoes to hurricanes to earthquakes. The lesson is to have an emergency plan ready to go. Gas up the car. (Pre election gas prices make it easier). Package and label your meds. Don’t leave your pets behind. Make a suitcase with their food, water bottles and their meds if needed. This isn’t our first trip to the storm so to speak. I believe common sense prevails.

The good news is my landlord told me that I’ll be having a beautiful new porch in the Spring. That’s good news for the herbs and mini garden. After all, Spring is only 5 months away.

 

 

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Friendship and food

Tonight I met my new neighbors.

I was invited to a friend’s apartment to meet everyone. To my surprise there was a card on my door inviting me to a gathering. It turns out it’s a woman I used to work with. I was so happy to hear she lives in the same building. So I got home from work, did a quick laundry and headed over to her apartment.

Everyone was there. A few I recognized from seeing around the building. A few I had not met. It felt a little awkward at first but then my instincts kicked in. Say anything about food. So I did and the conversation took off like wildfire.  There was some really nice appetizers on the table so it wasn’t hard to talk about. Now my friend was very kind and let the other guests know about some of my past accomplishments. This too will open a quick door. I’ll share those in another blog.

The food looked wonderful. The wine was perfect and her apartment was just beautiful. I didn’t stay too long but long enough to feel comfortable with everyone I met. There’s a much older man who lives downstairs from me that apparently met my cats in the window. I’m glad to see even my boys are hospitable. Now give them a little food and you have a friend for life.

Food is a wonderful way to meet people. It’s the perfect conversation piece. Where I work, I can’t tell you how many conversations I have about food everyday. Every conversation is different for various reasons. I work with serious food people who love organic food and are self sustainable. I also talk with people who love to bake and tell you what and how they make it. And I work with a woman who has been an absolute God send. Each week a beautiful item from her garden. Today she gave me these beautiful black radishes (pictured here). Behind is a daikon radish as well. I have never seen a black radish. They are gorgous!!! I can’t wait to work with them. I was going to juice them but they’re too amazing for that. They need to be in a salad so they can showcase their incredible colors. Friends who share their home grown produce are good friends. They’re giving you something that they put time and care into. You will receive that from the food you make with it. Love in is love out.

The thing I do enjoy is there’s always something new to see and talk about when it comes to food. Food is the gateway to knowledge. If you’re open to it, you can learn everyday and never know it all. There are so many different cultures and regions. The produce alone grown in our country (non GMO) is impressive. Go to a farmers market some day and I guarantee you will find something you’ve never seen before. It gets me every time. And every time I see that, I have to buy it and try it. But not before a million questions to the grower. Well, maybe not a million but at least two. Farmers love to talk about their produce. It’s like their tender little offspring. They start with their seeds, nourture it and carefully harvest. Then it’s transported to the market, purchased by someone who cares and is sent to a good home. It’s always a good thing to get to know your farmers. They’re good people growing good things for all of us. Farmers are our friends.

I can’t emphasize enough how important food is in our society.  It’s more than just survival. Food is art.  Food creates friendships. Food is love.


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Hosting an appetizer social

Tonight I was giving some thought to hosting an appetizer social.

The beauty of making appetizers is they are generally pretty quick to put together. You can make one specific base and then add different ingredients. This will accomplish two things. One, you will be able to make a fair amount at one time and two, you’ll save yourself from spending your rent money for the month.

One appetizer I find very simple is crostinis. Crostinis start with a baguette cut into thin slices (on the diagonal). Then they are brushed with olive oil and either grilled lightly or toasted in the oven. There’s your base. And you can get at least four dozen pieces per baguette.These can be made a few days ahead of time.

The best part about crostinis is what you put on them. The sky is the limit. Depending on whether or not your social has a theme will dictate the toppings. Here are a few examples: Honey goat cheese with caramelized onions, Cranberry walnut goat cheese with roast chicken, sun-dried tomato and basil with fresh mozzarella, curried chicken salad, fresh salsa with Monterey jack cheese, roast duck with lingonberry cream cheese and brie. Here are 6 examples. That’s six completely different apps. Do you just happen to have some soft-boiled quail eggs from dinner?? You never know? Add that with a fresh dill aioli. Simple appetizers that look expensive. Crostinis are also good for dips like spinach and artichoke.

I like to make chicken tender bite size pieces. This is probably going to be the best recipe I ever share. I swear I get more letters from this recipe and I really don’t get it. I can make swans out of sugar and cream puffs like the French but a simple chicken tender is the best requested recipe. All you have to do (and gluten-free friends, no one will ever know you’re serving GF) is take two gallon zip lock bags. Well, that’s not all you have to do. In one bag add 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, ranch dressing or even caesar dressing. In the other bag add 2 cups of panko style breadcrumbs (yes, even Gf breadcrumbs like Panebelle work the best), 1/4 cup Asiago cheese, salt pepper and I like to add a teaspoon of Cajun seasoning but that’s optional. Cut your chicken into bite size pieces and add to the mayo zip lock. Seal and toss to coat. Then in small batches, add to the breadcrumb bag and toss to coat. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 400° for about 10 to 15 minutes. That’s it!! Throw the bags away and easy cleanup too! I’m not Heloise but I will find a way to eliminate the dish step if I can. Remember the parchment blog?? Easy cleanup! Serve these with a ranch dressing, southwest style dipping sauce or even coat with a buffalo sauce. heck, do all three and combined with about appetizers, you have nine to choose from! And this party is just starting!

Here’s one that takes a little longer but let’s class it up a bit. You’ll need small wooden planks or boards. Four ounce canning jars (see the picture) will be perfect for adding condiments. You’ll also need small butter knives and those annoying little lobster picks with the tiny fork on the end. I say annoying because when I do the dishes, I stick myself every time but on a display like this, it looks nice and functions well. Now the fun part:

First you pick a main ingredient. It can be duck sausage, thinly sliced roast turkey, smoked salmon, italian sausages or even vegetarian with roast vegetables…whatever you have or want to use. Then you pick a nice homemade cracker or flatbread cracker but choose a good one. No place for Ritz here. Now the canning jars. It should complement what you have for the main ingredient. So the smoked salmon could have capers in one, pickled red onion in another and maybe a nice herbed cream cheese with dill. The roast turkey could have a pesto mayonnaise, caramelized onions, chilled cranberry sauce, some chutney and maybe some of those caramelized onions. Do you see where I’m going with this?? It can be as easy or as intricate as you want. It’s elegant and it gives people choices. It’s a great way to please the guest because they get to choose what they want. It’s also a great conversation piece. Remember, people eat with their eyes first. If it looks good, the brain has already conversed with the belly and it’s going to taste great.

Sometime picking a theme can be fun. I had a friend who called me and asked me to match up some wonderful wines he purchased during a trip to Africa with the appetizers. I made a barbecued ostrich empanadas as one of the main appetizers. I have to tell you, it was the conversation piece of the party. No one had ever eaten ostrich and couldn’t believe it was even possible to get. Believe me, there are specialty shops where just about everything is possible. I’ve been doing this for a very long time and after many years, you learn the right people to contact even when it’s ostrich. By the way, empanadas are a cream cheese pastry dough similar to pie dough and all you do is roll the dough out and place your filling in the middle. Fold it over like a half-moon and seal. I’ll share with you the recipe for the dough a bit later. Send me a message asap if someone happens to ask you for ostrich empanadas this weekend. I hardly believe it’ll happen but I’m here for you if it does.

You can see that an appetizer social can be done quite simply. I call it a social because a party sounds like too much work. A social implies maybe some relaxing beverages and great conversation. A party is anxiety. It will show in your presentation. A social is relaxing. The host should never be too busy to be social. Preparation should be simple and easily executed.

If you have some appetizers you want to recommend, feel free to post them here with pictures! I’d love to see them and ofcourse share them with everyone.

For those interested, I’m available for socials. Feel free to contact me and I’ll take the stress away from you so you can relax and socialize.

 

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You need that cake when??

One of the most common lines I’ve had to say repeatedly on the phone. Usually at 3pm, when the kitchen is cleaned and I was getting ready for the next day. Or finally getting a chance to sit with a customer and have a nice cup of well deserved tea. The phone would ring and on the other end, a frantic caller with the request,”Can I pick up a birthday cake in about an hour?? I hope you have what I want because this person is specific about what they like.”. Nice cup of tea just became the 7pm iced tea. With a deep breath, my reply would be that I don’t have that actual cake (or maybe I did by a stroke of luck) but I’ll make something that will work. The answer was never “no” but options. Hey, when you wait until the last-minute, options are better than no.

Important questions are: What’s the occasion, favorite colors, and flavors and the most important question absolutely ever: Are there any allergies. Once you have this information you can start your game plan. This is equivalent to overtime at the Superbowl. You have to think fast, work quick and deliver on time.

Cupcakes are a great way to make something quick and come as close to the requested flavor as you can. They can look very festive, decorative, simple or elegant and in a flash. Generally they take 15 to 18 minutes. While they are in the oven, prepare the frosting, icing or ganache (ga-NASH). so it’s ready to go once the bailout cakes are cooled. Put them in the freezer for a quick chill.

I always have ganache on hand, everyday all day. It’s your kitchen duct tape. It will fix everything. Here’s a nice recipe I’ll share:

1 cup of 1/2 and 1/2 and 1 cup of chocolate chips (semi sweet). That’s it! Place the 1/2 and 1/2 in a 4 cup microwave safe bowl. heat until just before the boiling point. Remove and add the chips. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Whisk together. When you first start to whisk, it looks like you’re getting no where but keep going. It’ll come together. This liquid gem is ready to use. Just dip the cupcakes in the ganache and let the excess drip off. Place on a plate and repeat until they’re all done. They will look decadent and shine. You will be the master chef of the day. Sometimes after they set, I’ll add a sugared violet or other flower. You can also frost the cupcake and then drizzle the ganache.

The sweet part about ganache is that’s the dipping stage when it’s first made. Let it sit at room temperature and it will solidify so you can use it as a frosting. Put it in the fridge and you can scoop it and make truffles. I’ve seen people dip bacon in it and sprinkle coarse salt on top. Keep it on hand and you’ll quickly realize why I call it sweet kitchen duct tape.

Gluten free friends, this applies to you too. Pipe some ganache in the middle and then put the top on and frost it. It’ll help make you a household name to gluten-free. Make sure the chocolate chips you are using are gluten-free of course.

So the next time you find out the night before that you’ve been nominated to make the main event for the next day’s festivities, try this option of making cupcakes.

School moms, make cupcakes and freeze them. Lots of them. Be ready. It’s going to happen. Frost them right from the freezer and by the next day they’re ready. Don’t panic. If you find out while you’re pouring that day’s orange juice you need a dozen asap, they’ll defrost by lunch time.

It’s a quick fix to a last-minute request. It works for any occasion too. You can do this and I’m here to help. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them here. If you’re a cupcake officiando, post your work. I’d love to see it and so would everyone else. Bake on!

 

 

 

 

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Food is art.

I recently finished the move into my new home. If you have never moved before let me help you to visualize what it feels like. It’s what it feels like to stub your little toe on the leg of your bed. Then when you go to sit down to rub your toe, you hit your knee on the corner of the end table next to your bed. Something like that. That’s pretty close. With that said, the worst is over.

Now the best part begins. How to express yourself through your decor. As I mentioned in a previous post, I love to collect prints from various art museums. I have one in every room. Then I build everything else around that. It’s kind of like choosing the main dish and then building your salads, appetizers and sides around that. You want taste, color and the correct presentation. So when someone walks into your home, they look at your art and start to get a good idea of who you are and what you like.

Today I was thinking that my last home was far more modern than the one I’m in now. This home was built around the 1800’s and it’s charming to say the least. I love this place. My decor from the house just won’t fit right here. This is where being a pessimist pays off. I have some boxes I never unpacked from two moves ago. Yes, equivalent to stubbing your toe twice. When I opened these boxes, I found the most incredible pieces. I had completely forgotten about them. They were perfect!! As I kept digging I saw this poster cardboard container. I thought maybe it was something I bought for the bakery like a poster of biscotti or cannolis or something like that. I was wrong! It was a beautiful print from the New York Metropolitan Museum, one of my favorites. When I unraveled it, I was just amazed. I fell in love with it all over again. I also had the perfect frame sitting in the storeroom. I went out in a hurry and got the frame and in less than 5 minutes, it was framed and ready to hang. Not so fast. I really needed to sit and look at this for a moment. I’m sure my thoughts about it were different from when I first saw it.

As I looked at this picture I thought, did the artist think that someday a woman from Maine would be needing a painting like this to complete her decor? Doubt it. I’m sure he was having his usual artist day and just started to paint what he was feeling at that moment. He used what materials he had and his thoughts for the moment and created this beautiful picture. This is how I create recipes. Some days I see what I have for materials. Then I have a seat and think about what I’m feeling at that moment and I start to create. Once I’ve created a new recipe, I like to share it much like the prints I enjoy buying. However, with a recipe, you have to recreate what you’re reading. Through this process, you too become an artist because it’s your interpretation of the recipe that dictates how the end results will come out. With the artist, once finished, it becomes our interpretation of what we are looking at. This is why food is art.

An artist mixes and matches different colors and uses a brush or other tools to transfer that color onto the canvas or whatever surface they chose. A chef (kitchen artist) also mixes and matches different ingredients and then presents them when finished on a beautiful serving platter for everyone to enjoy. Like the picture, it needs to all come together. While decorating, I chose the print first and then the rest of the decor to work with it. In the kitchen, I chose a main course and salads, appetizers and dessert to go with it. Carefully balanced, your presentation is a work of art. People eat with their eyes first. If it looks good, it’s sure to taste good.

There are just so many correlations between the two. Make sure you really love the print first. If you bring home the one you’re really not crazy about and then match it with things you thought you might like but end up hating, it’s like stubbing your toe again. Bring home the right print and before you can have dinner on the table, your guests already know the meal and the company are going to be just as good.

Food is art.

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Bakers insurance that’s easy and affordable

Bakers have all types of tricks to our trade. You learn the basics from your mom, grandma (or pop) and just thoughtful people who like to teach. Some still use lard. Others use pure butter or a blend of some sort.These are used to coat the baking pan with a dusting of flour.  Everyone has their method.

Those of us in the food industry use a piece of kitchen equipment that is a multi tool: Parchment paper. Cue the music: “Alleluia”.

I love parchment paper. Now this might seem like a rather odd subject to post about but trust me, after you read it, you’ll understand why it’s the second most important tool in the kitchen besides your Kitchen Aid mixer. There are so many different ways to use it. The most common in the kitchen is with baking cakes and tea breads. It’s why I call it insurance. Your cakes will never have that annoying divot of missing cake on the bottom when you take it out of the pan. It will be neat, clean and ready to frost, virtually crumb free. Just place your pan on a piece of parchment paper and trace with a sharpie. Can’t find it? It’s in that junk drawer. Then cut just inside the circle. Spray your pan with non stick spray and place the circle on the bottom of the pan.Sometimes if I have enough paper, I’ll cut out a number of circles so they’re ready for the next cake. You can do the same for tea breads or any breads that would normally stick like cinnamon swirl or apple bread. Cut the rectangle circles out to fit the inside of the pan.

Another use is for making a paper cone so you can write on your cake or make drizzle marks on your cake or cupcakes. Just cut out a triangle and fold around to form a cone. I use a small piece of tape to secure it. I’ve been laughed at by fellow pastry chefs for using the tape but it was I who had the last laugh when they had a ganache blow out on the side. Ha!

A third and healthy use is with baking and steaming fish and vegetables. I love this method. Healthy, quick and very little if any cleanup. Cut out a circle about 12 inches. Fold the paper in half and then open it up and lay flat on a cookie sheet.Place your fish and vegetables in the center. Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice and add a few herbs (dill is nice with fish). Fold the paper over to make a half-moon and then tuck the seams under to seal. Bake at 350°. Depending on your fish I would haddock is pretty quick so a 6oz piece about 20 minutes. Salmon maybe about 30 to 35. Be careful when you open the bag because there will be quite a bit of steam. You’re going to love this method!! Just another insurance that your fish won’t stick to the paper.

Remember when you were a kid and you made snowflakes with paper?? You folded a circle in half and then in half again and again til you were dizzy. Then you cut shapes and opened it up to make a pretty (or really ugly!) snowflake. That same method can be used to make a stencil for the top of a simple cake. Spray on side of the parchment with non stick spray and lay that side down on the cake. Then dust the top with powdered sugar or cocoa. Carefully lift the paper off and what a beautiful design!!

There are so many ideas. I could go on all night. You can even wrap cookie dough logs in parchment and freeze them. I roll pie dough on this paper, cookie dough, my stained glass cookies and gluten-free pizza doughs…so many things. They will not stick. During the rolling out process you still need to flour the paper but it seriously will not stick.

There are a couple of ways to get parchment. At the grocery store which is the most expensive in my opinion. When I had my bakery, I used to sell it by the sheet to customers. Just go into a local bakery and ask if they have any parchment paper they can sell you. I was more than happy to help my customers. It was a great way to rest assured they would return but most important, if I gave them the right help to make it themselves, that’s a win in my book. What I can teach you, you can pass on to someone else. If we all work together, we can make this a baking nation again. Now I just put the words insurance and nation in the same post. That’s pretty risky. But I guarantee THIS insurance will work for everyone and is very affordable.


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Moving and the life lessons that come with it

It’s been about two weeks since I last wrote in my blog. I apologize. I was moving to a new location.

Now we all know the thrills and spills (and some pretty big spills) of moving. Finding the right location and choosing your new home (known as the thrills part). Then there’s the actual moving. It usually starts out harmless with packing a few boxes neatly and writing legibly on the box with the sharpie you found in the junk drawer. We all have a junk drawer. I bet there’s one battery and a sharpie in that drawer somewhere. Brand new tape gun and a fresh roll of box tape and I’m ready to go. Not so fast. By the 3rd box, the anxiety sets in.

When the anxiety starts to set in, it’s at this point you’re going to decided to get rid of everything…well maybe not everything…no…everything. Deep breath. You can do this. Now the cleansing begins. Do I need this? Do I need that? What is that and where did I get it? Suddenly you realize how you actually spend your money. That’s where reality takes its first positive turn. If I haven’t seen it in three months (or 7 years which was the case for most of this stuff), out it goes. That worked for the first ten minutes. Then I started to find a reason why at some point I’ll need that. If my daughter wasn’t there to redirect me, I would have reasoned with every piece. After a brief discussion, I made the choice to rent a dumpster. Not a small one either. A 10 yard dumpster was delivered that very morning. By evening, it was filled. Now we were on a roll…sort of.

The worst part about moving is opening another door and realizing you have your own retail store in the pantry. Here we go again. Now this was becoming a full fledged cleansing. I was giving things away and throwing things out. The pantry was becoming empty little by little. Each piece got heavier than the last. Time for a tag sale. The following weekend we had a tag sale and it went pretty well. The best part is having someone tell you how down on their luck they are and they want you to cut them this incredible deal. They want you to cut them a deal on stuff they’ll stick in their closet until they decide they too have to move. It’s then they hate you for giving them such a deal. Justice is served on the deal.

Did I mention I was moving a 3 bedroom ranch into a one bedroom apartment? Important piece. I had some real work ahead of me. My daughter and I worked everyday after work and on our days off. She was a real angel and worked into the evenings and her days off. We both knew what was ahead of us. Work during the day became the easy part. We decided to take a break and go to the apartment and see if we could envision where everything was going to go. My first reaction when I saw this place was “Thumblina lived here”. How was I going to do this? My place was built in the 1800’s and the mantles and wood trimmings (or moldings) are beautiful. It was a charming atmosphere and it has a beautiful fireplace. Every window has a sitting bench. We decided that my collection of prints from various Museums of art would be the perfect decor. I have beautiful prints from Boston, New York and Portland, Maine. Each room has a different picture. Now it was starting to come together. We knew exactly where everything was going to go.

When I returned with a load of boxes from the house, I saw a bottle of wine and a card by my door. The wine was red and called “Primal Roots”.That was an interesting name. I knew I was going to like this place. The card was a welcoming card from my new neighbor. With neighbors like this, it was already home. Gingerbread would be the perfect way to say hello to everyone.

Back to the move. Ugh. As the big stuff was out, it came down to the little things and the cabinets and that JUNK drawer. What is this stuff?? A caller ID from the 80’s? There’s that shoe lace! What could possibly be on this roll of film?? More wedding cakes?? Samuel Smith bottle opener? Now that’s not junk. I took a deep breath and threw the drawer contents out (except for the bottle opener). Having the dumpster dropped in a convenient location made for a great game of toss and hit the dumpster. You have to have some fun. And then you have to take time to reflect on what the lesson really is here.

My lesson in this move was material items don’t have the value I thought they once had. Hence the decision to let the house go to sale. Throwing out as much as we did and giving away brand new items to people I thought would appreciate it was much easier than I had ever hoped. I thought I needed to hang on to these items because someday I would need them. Someday. Well, in 7 years, someday hadn’t arrived. Out they went. I feel great! I feel like I’ve made plenty of room for the good energy to arrive. The energy in the new home is very good. My two cats have settled in very quickly. It’s nice of them to allow me to live here with them. They have showed me every nook and cranny in this place. Just look at the picture. Tell me they aren’t settled in.

The last box has been filled. I can’t believe it’s over. What a feeling! What an accomplishment. What an incredibly lucky mom I am to have a daughter who held me up through this process.

I had a great deal of support from a special friend that I truly appreciate. That friend who was so kind to share her beautiful parsley and Swiss chard from her personal garden. A very wise woman who knew the right thing to say and made perfect sense every time. Friends like this are very few and far between. To my dear friends who have the most interesting cat (aside from mine of course) and the perfect taste in jazz that certainly got me through the unpacking. I’m very thankful for the people in my life who did help and were there for us throughout this process. A move is when you realize who your friends really are.

A move is when you realize that you have learned the most important lesson in life. It’s not about the materials in life you acquire but the lessons about trust and love…and tossing out the caller ID from the 80’s.

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