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So, in awkwardly timed news, the husband and I are heading to Paris this week to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.

Am I scared? No more scared than I’ve ever been traveling to a major city.

I came of age in the ’80s and early ’90s, and I paid attention to the news, meaning that I knew England was potentially still a hotspot for IRA bombings when I traveled there in 1993 to take a World War II history class for the better part of a month.

I paid attention, but I also roved the city like a … well, like a girl who was raised in rural South Mississippi her whole life only to discover at age 21 that she BELONGED in a big city like she had never belonged anywhere else. I endured a couple of subway station evacuations, kept an eye out for abandoned knapsacks, as instructed, and went about my day, like you do.

European countries have dealt with more terrorist bombings and shootings than Americans can even imagine (hit up Wikipedia’s page for terrorist incidents in France – this isn’t the first day at the rodeo for Paris).

I fell in love with New York City a few years after 9/11, traveling there repeatedly with the knowledge that Manhattan is the quintessential American city, meaning that it’s a juicy target for terrorists. Again, I watched for weirdness and went where I wanted to go.

I realize that “See something, say something” only goes so far, and watching for abandoned backpacks in the train station seems like a very 1980s model of protection. At the same time, however, I won’t live in fear of the unknown.

I live in Atlanta, another major American city, albeit without the cachet of New York City. We have a pro football team, a pro baseball team (for now), several concert arenas and TONS of people – in short, Atlanta could very well be a target, too. Any place on the planet could be a target, frankly, if we’re including incidents of mass shootings that have nothing to do with international politics.

Paris is a lovely city, a lively city, a city that feels REAL. Unlike New York and London (and Atlanta, as long as we’re naming names), it hasn’t succumbed to to the outbreak of EveryCityLookstheSame that is rapidly spreading all over the globe.

To paraphrase Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Joann Sfar, Paris is music, champagne, kisses, joy and life.

So, I’m heading to La Ville Lumière, a city that I love, with the man I love, to fearlessly, if cautiously, eat, drink, talk and perhaps weep with its citizens. More than hating the enemy, more than demanding violence in the name of peace, celebrating life, love and freedom is the ultimate revenge on those who would like the world to cower.

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So … it’s been awhile. I’m back in Atlanta, this time with the husband and the cat, and I’ve returned to the job that I loved but had to leave last year to return to Alabama.

Everything is pretty awesome, overall.

We’re renting a two-bedroom condo in a very walkable part of the city. I can’t walk to work, mind you, but I can walk to a huge park in addition to several grocery stores, museums and restaurants. We have so many entertainment options that I barely know where to begin.

It’s the life-changing adventure that I wanted last year, but I guess I was too early.

Best news: Yang, pictured above, settled right into his city digs. I was afraid he would be too high up to really see anything, but it turns out that he likes to watch the cars driving around below. At night, he perches on his cat condo and watches the city lights, near and far.

Snowmageddon arrived on the third day I was here; like any survivor of multiple hurricanes, however, I was prepared. I stocked up on groceries well before the snow started falling and kicked back to watch the traffic build (I didn’t start work until this week). The husband faced a two-hour commute instead of his usual half hour, but once he was home we unpacked, caught up on “Justified” episodes and drank a lot of coffee (me)/hot chocolate (him). We attempted a romantic walk in the snow, but our trek was foiled when the snow quickly turned to slippery ice. That’s just how snow rolls in the South.

I feel like I’ve finally found  my home planet — not Atlanta itself, per se, but an escape from Suburbia.

This is huge. This is FUN.

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Allergies knocked me out cold last week, inflaming the apparently permanent and usually innocuous nodules on my left eye to the point that I couldn’t even open it without shooting pains and copious watering.

Yeah, it was an awesome drive home from work.

After a long nap and a trip to the eye doctor, I settled in with my steroid drops for a couple of days of not injuring myself further. Meaning almost no computer time and little print reading. Meaning naps. Meaning Arrested Development on Netflix. Meaning surreptitious push-ups when the husband wasn’t looking, because I’m doing the Warrior Dash in October and a girl’s gotta train, eye patch or no eye patch.

And about that eye patch … I don’t look nearly as awesome with an eye patch as I thought I would, although I have to hope that one-eyed push-ups gave me some pirate street (ocean?) cred.

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When I tell people that I’m traveling to New York City, they inevitably ask if I’m going to see a show. Apparently I’m supposed to hit up Broadway every time.

Instead of a list of must-see shows, however, I have a list of must-eat foods. Thanks to a reading habit that includes a lot of New York-centric publications (Serious Eats New York, the New Yorker, Time Out New York and the New York Times, among other random finds), I never get to check everything off the ever-expanding list. Also, there’s only so much food that the husband and I can eat in three to four days no matter how many subway stairs we climb.

On our latest trip, my great find was Melt Bakery, which makes some fabulous ice cream sandwiches. I stumbled on the Melt stand at the Hester Street Fair, an event that I suggested we attend because it was just a few blocks from our hotel and I knew that it featured at least one culinary treasure that I simply had to try. I just couldn’t remember which one.

After we each enjoyed a meatball slider from Mighty Balls, we split an Elvis from Melt — banana ice cream on peanut butter cookies. It was the freezer attendant’s favorite flavor, and the husband has a thing for peanut butter, so it was the obvious choice.

Delicious. The folks at Melt have somehow produced a cookie that doesn’t harden into a rocky, crumbly mess in the freezer, and their homemade ice cream isn’t the frozen-solid puck that it resembles.

Each bite — firm but not tough, creamy but not prone to quick melting — was a delicate combination of peanut butter and banana. Neither flavor overwhelmed the other, and it was just big enough for two people post-lunch. I think Elvis would approve of this treat, despite its blatant lack of bacon.

So, don’t weep for my lack of Broadway attendance. Instead, celebrate one more delicious delicacy checked off my list.

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This month’s Rocket City Bloggers’ shared carnival topic — “your favorite tool” — was a gimme.

It’s the set of screwdrivers that my grandmother gave me for Christmas the year after I got married.

One of the first realizations I had after moving in with the husband was that our organizational styles differed. He could live with items in any number of places, whereas I enjoyed finding the same items in the same places time and time again.

Screwdrivers, for some reason, were an early ongoing issue. I would find them on the kitchen counter, under a bathroom sink, on a bookshelf or in the car. Anywhere but the toolbox. And I would NEVER find the model I actually needed. Sure, it was nice to know that the medium Phillips head was on the end table, but that knowledge wasn’t helping me tighten the flat-head screw on the top bookshelf.

My grandmother heard my laments and came to the rescue. Christmas morning, I was the envy of all the men in the room, with my full set of Craftsman screwdrivers (complete with a bonus pair of RoboGrip pliers that have since met their demise).  The tools were packaged in a vinyl organizer, so it was easy to keep track of them, and keep track I did. I all but made the husband sign a checkout card when he needed to use one for a project.

The vinyl organizer disintegrated a couple of years ago, so the screwdrivers now reside in a plastic box that formerly housed jewelry. I had to steal back the favored medium Phillips head from the husband’s office for this photo, so obviously my efforts to keep them all in one place aren’t always that effective.

It would be too simple to say that these screwdrivers are my favorite tools because my grandmother gave them to me. I mean, she made sure I had the BEST screwdriver set that she could find. What could have been a throwaway joke gift was, instead, a well-planned purchase that I’ve used time and time again.

The woman who had given me a toaster and a mixer at my wedding shower was perfectly content with the idea of her granddaughter wielding a screwdriver in the name of DIY. Awesomeness personified.

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This meal was full of so much win that I don’t know where to start.

First of all, I found the recipes on Pinterest, a “virtual billboard” that lets you point people to interesting products and ideas you find online. Yes, other sites let you do the same thing, but Pinterest does it with pictures. Pretty, pretty pictures.

I have a Pinterest board called Enticing Eats where I pin links to foods that I actually plan to make. Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? Not so far.

Two recipes caught my eye within a couple of days of each other: Slow-Baked Mac and Cheese and Baked Zucchini Fries. The macaroni and cheese called for the slow cooker, a promising release from using the oven or stovetop on these 90-plus-degrees days. The zucchini fries had to go in the oven, but I used my small countertop convection oven, which gives off less heat. Best of all, I got to use up some zucchini from the CSA box.

As an aside, when I leave Alabama, I want to move to a place where squash is not the default CSA vegetable.

I halved the recipe for the macaroni and cheese simply because the original called for 12 ounces of Fontina cheese and my Publix only sold it in 9-ounce blocks. I could live with 3 ounces of leftover cheese a lot easier than I could live with 6 ounces of leftover cheese and a bill for TWO 9-ounce blocks of fancy cheese.

Had I not halved the recipe, I would have had a lot more mac and cheese than I needed, although I guess it would probably freeze well. So far, we’ve eaten it for dinner on two nights and I have enough left for one of us to have a generous lunch. Likely me, since I seem to be in charge of consuming leftovers.

The husband gave the dish the ultimate compliment: He said he would eat it again even if the slow cooker was a pain to clean (he’s appointed himself head washer of the slow cooker vessels since they’re so heavy and I’m so [ahem] dainty).

It was creamy and cheesy, as expected, but the eggs gave it an unexpected casserole-like texture. I browned some homemade breadcrumbs (more on those in a minute) in a little olive oil and sprinkled them on top before serving. Fancy.

The zucchini fries were an excellent match. The original recipe called for panko breadcrumbs, and I didn’t even have a container of regular breadcrumbs on hand. I took a few slices of bread out of the freezer and whirled them around in the food processor until they seemed crumb-ish, then mixed them with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and Parmesan cheese, as the original recipe advised.

The breadcrumbs soaked up a lot of the egg mixture coating the zucchini fries, so I had a big mess by the end of the process. Luckily, I had sort of followed the author’s admonishment to lay out only a couple tablespoons of breadcrumbs at a time.

So, while the fries could have been prettier and crunchier and more thoroughly coated with breadcrumbs, they were still quite impressive. They were the first thing the husband smelled when he came down the stairs, and he was one happy diner. The original recipe says to serve them with pizza sauce or ranch dressing, but they were delicious without any sauce whatsoever.

So, the lessons of this post include:

  1. Head to Pinterest and request an invitation (I can probably round up a few for readers who make a good case).
  2. Follow my boards to see the cool stuff I post and let me know that you’re posting cool stuff too.
  3. Make these two dishes.

UPDATE: I made the zucchini fries again, only I rolled them in a paper towel to absorb excess moisture and tossed them in the oven while it preheated to dry them off a little more. I also sprinkled them with plain old store-bought breadcrumbs. With some of the moisture gone, they were crunchier.

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True confession: I didn’t eat coleslaw for nearly 30 nears.

For someone who grew up in the South, that’s quite an accomplishment.

The coleslaw I remember from my childhood was a gloppy, mayonnaise-laden mixture that I could not imagine eating. For one thing, it was incredibly crunchy, although I can’t tell you precisely WHY that was so off-putting to me. I’ve never been anti-mayonnaise, either, but those tiny bits of cabbage coated in it were uniquely unappealing.

At some point, however, I discovered vinegar-based coleslaw.

This. Yes. This made sense.

Flavored with vinegar and a little salt and sugar, this brand of coleslaw was more akin to a fresh salad than the heavy blob of a side dish I remembered. I was old enough by that time to be over the fear of crunchiness, too.

I still didn’t venture to make my own coleslaw, however, for a while after that. For one thing, I knew it was a dish that my sometimes-picky husband wasn’t going to touch.

When I joined a CSA, however, I suddenly found myself facing a head of cabbage every couple of weeks. I was also armed with a brand new food processor, complete with a shredding blade.

Oh yeah.

I quickly found a Rachael Ray recipe for Oil and Vinegar Slaw on FoodNetwork.com and went to work. It calls for a 16-ounce bag of shredded cabbage mix, but I just substituted 16 ounces of the head of cabbage (I just chopped off a chunk at a time and weighed it) and ran it through the shredding blade. I never looked up what else might be in cabbage mix, but what I’m making is delicious as is.

Oil and Vinegar Slaw
(Recipe by Rachael Ray)

  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 sack, 16 ounces, shredded cabbage mix for slaw salads
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Salt and pepper

Mix vinegar and sugar. Add oil. Add cabbage and season with salt and pepper. Toss with fingers to combine. Adjust seasoning. Let stand 20 minutes. Re-toss and serve.

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