Monday, May 22, 2017

Great Gifts For the Men In Your Life: Uncommon Goods

My dad was a good man, a kind man, and a very demonstrative man, but when it came to accepting gifts, especially Father’s Day gifts, he was a bad man. In fact, receiving gifts embarrassed him and he hard a very difficult time showing any graciousness when presented with a gift

“I TOLD you I didn’t need anything!” 

“Oh, now, why did you go and spend your money on THIS?”

that it took all the fun out of my gift-giving, and eventually, I complied with his requests and just gave him a card.

My husband, on the other hand, loves getting gifts, so when he became a dad, my delight in hunting for Father’s Day gifts returned. A sweater, a tie, running attire, a watch…all rather traditional (and boring) were all accepted with appreciation and relish. There were painted baby footprints and handprints, framed, for his office. There were group photos, framed, for his office. There were hand-tinted pics, framed, for his office. And so, with this being the 28th year of bestowing him with Father’s Day gifts, I wanted to really get something that showed a little more creativity on my part; something that he wouldn’t ordinarily pick for himself. (Although, I’m not sure he would exactly have picked out the baby handprints either.) And that’s when Uncommon Goods popped into my head…

I have been a longtime Uncommon Goods catalog shopper, often turning to them when I needed a great hostess gift or a grab bag or Secret Santa gift. I could always count on finding something there that was clever and unique. Once I started looking through the catalog, targeting gifts for men, I realized how many missed opportunities I had to purchase incredibly inventive things in the past.

The variety of options and the size of the audience to which the gifts would appeal is quite expansive: Sports fans…foodies…jokesters…beer and whiskey aficionados…pet lovers…techies, and on and on.


I know my husband loves maps of all types and when I typed “maps”  into the search bar, up came the perfect thing. Some friends who are major travelers have a map hanging in their kitchen that’s loaded with pushpins indicating all of the places they’ve visited around the world. Being the veteran travelers that they are, this created a great conversation piece, but a very messy pin-filled map all the same. The map I chose for the hubby is not only beautiful enough to frame (of course), but no pushpins are needed, just a coin to scratch off the places you’ve been, like a lottery ticket! The map will serve as a great reminder of all the cool places we’ve visited, and surely bring up memories of all those trips.  I’m going to let my husband scratch off all those places on his own, but as an extra surprise, I am going to uncover Portugal — a country we will be visiting in the fall, and a trip he doesn’t know about yet.

Another gift that kept me en pointe with the memory theme was  “Conversations With My Father,” a spiral-bound keepsake journal.  One of my biggest disappointments is that I never sat with my parents and discussed details of their lives with them. I know the big things, but the little details, like how old they were when they got their first job—what that job was. What their favorite books were. Who their childhood friends were. These are the things I know nothing about. Unfortunately, both of my parents and my mother-in-law are all gone, but my father-in-law, at 96, is still quite a character with a very good memory. My husband can fill in the pages as his dad regales him with stories from his past, and if they hit a roadblock, he can answer the preprinted questions, the book supplies as well. In addition to space for opinions as well as facts, some of the pages have spaces for photos, too. I see this book becoming a great source of comfort for my husband when his father is no longer with us, and I anticipate it becoming a family heirloom for generations to come.

The set of "Sculptable Collar Stays” has nothing to do with memories, but they looked awfully cool, and I am tired of finding those cheap plastic ones all around the house. These are made of flexible aluminum, and according to Uncommon Goods, they let you “sculpt the contours of your collar for a precisely spiffy look.” And can you really think of anyone who wouldn’t like to look “spiffy” these days?

Now I can sit back, relax, and delete all the emails I have been getting about how the clock is ticking and the Father’s Day gift-buying window is rapidly closing. My job is done…until September 20…that’s my husband’s birthday and there’s a nice set of Night-Running Headlights that I know he would love to receive…

I was compensated for this article, but all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Charoset Strudel

At first mention of the news that Ben & Jerry’s was now selling a Charoset-flavored Ice Cream in Israel, I thought the idea sounded a little like a marketing ploy. But after mulling it over I realized that while being pretty out of the box, Charoset-flavored “anything” is not so far-fetched. One of the symbolic foods on the Passover Seder plate, this fruit and nut mixture symbolizes the mortar the Jews used to build the pyramids while they were slaves in Egypt. Depending on where your ancestors were from, your Charoset might be a variation on the theme, but according to Bustle, “the Ben and Jerry’s flavor seems to be based on the Ashekanzi or Eastern European version made from apples, walnuts, cinnamon, and some sort of sweetener like honey.” And, as my mom would say, “What could be bad?”
The combo of apples, walnuts, and cinnamon is indeed, quite traditional. Frankly, if Ben & Jerry had called their creation “Apple Pie,” and offered it around Thanksgiving time, no one would have batted an eye.
I thus began to think of all the dishes one could make while using Charoset as a base—sandwich cookies, tarts, rugelach, and I even found a chicken salad and a brisket recipe that both sounded wonderful. Charoset muesli (kosher for Passover, of course), Charoset pancakes, muffins...
Of course, one could get carried away, but I played it safe and created a Charoset Strudel. I retained the traditional mixture of chopped apples and walnuts (but you could use pears and pistachios), and took a page from the book of the Sephardic Jews who favor a few more add-ins, such as dried apricots and dates, and incorporated them as well. The melange of fruits and nuts is often moistened with sweet wine, but one could just as easily use apple juice or apricot nectar.
The strudel dough recipe is an adaptation from a similar one by pastry chef Marcy Goldman. The texture is more cookie-like than filo-dough strudel, but it is tasty and haimish (homey); something perhaps a Jewish grandma might make. And if your grandma is no longer at your Seder table, this strudel will definitely bring her there in spirit.
Passover Charoset Strudel
1/2c. vegetable oil
1/2c. brown sugar
insides of a scraped vanilla bean
1/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs
2-4 Tbsp. apple juice
1 1/4c. potato starch
1/2c. matzoh cake meal
1/2c. matzoh meal
1/2c. sweetened, shredded coconut
1c. walnuts, light toasted and coarsely ground
1/4c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 apples, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
1/2c. dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/2c. dates, coarsely chopped
1/4c. preserves, any flavor
1/2 Tbsp. matzoh meal
Passover Powdered Sugar :
1/3c. granulated sugar
1/2tsp. potato starch
Grind together in an electric coffee/spice grinder until powdery
Make dough: In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, mix together oil, brown sugar, vanilla bean scrapings, salt, eggs, and most of the apple juice. Stir in the potato starch, matzoh cake meal, and matzoh meal and mix together on low, adding additional apple juice to form a soft, rollable dough. Allow dough to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. (Moisten again w/a tad more juice, if necessary.) Divide the dough in half.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Roll out dough half between two sheets of waxed paper until each becomes a very thin 5 by 10-inch rectangle.
Make Filling: Mix all ingredients in a food processor until mixture resembles a coarse paste. Spread half the filling over the dough. Lightly sift the 1/2 tablespoon of matzoh meal over filling. Using the bottom sheet of waxed paper as an aid, roll up the dough into a log. Brush the top with beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Repeat with the remaining dough, filling, and topping.
Transfer the logs to prepared baking sheet and score them into 1-inch sections. Bake until lightly golden , about 35 minutes. Cool, and sift approximately 2 tablespoons Passover Powdered Sugar over the tops. Then, using a very sharp knife, cut the scored sections into slices. (Rolls may be frozen and then cut right before serving.)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Connecting With My Father's Past

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my dad. He was not an easy man to get to know, but he could spin a tale or tell a joke with the best of them. I attributed his moods and hesitancy at revealing too much about himself to his history and being a survivor. His crying out in the middle of the night as my other tried to shush him back to sleep was evidence enough of the demons that lived in the closet of his psyche. 
I often look at my sons and see him in them: They are both strong-willed almost to a maddening degree, just like him, and also like their grandfather they are both fervent defenders of what they believe is right and just. Yesterday, January 11, I gave my dad more than just a cursory thought; it was his birthday. He’s been gone for over fifteen years, but a short while ago, while on a Viking River Cruise that sailed on the Danube from Germany to Hungary, I made a discovery that changed my life and brought me closer to him than I had been even when he was alive. The overwhelming connection I felt during that cruise somehow made this birthday seem more meaningful to me.

An optional World War II tour in Nuremberg during the cruise was high on my list because, as the child of Holocaust survivors, I take every opportunity I can to explore that horrific period of time. I’d hoped that it would give me some insight into what actually transpired there during the pre- and post-war eras. Our guide, Ingo, was a German history scholar, born long after the horrors that occurred in his country during WWII. His knowledge and level of sensitivity and morality were impressive, and I only wish I had more time to pepper him with questions. 

The Nazis chose Nuremberg as the locale for their many rallies partly because of its central location, and partly because of its connection to the Roman Empire. As we walked around what was now an empty expanse but had at one time been Zeppelin Field, the site of the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds, it was not difficult to visualize row upon row upon row of supporters shouting in unison as they saluted Adolf Hitler. An icy rain fell that morning, and it pelted our faces as a sharp wind blew through our jackets and created an atmosphere that was befitting of a group immersing themselves in that painful and evil bubble of history. We, who were alive, we who were safe, we who were merely observers, stood on what had once been the hallowed grounds of a power-hungry man and his followers who were starving for for the nourishment of his hate-filled words.

My eyes wanted to see more, but eighty years have past and there was not more to see. 

 Off in the distance stood the fuhrer’s massive Congress Hall. It built, according to blueprints that only an extreme narcissist could commission, to resemble the Roman Colosseum. Later, at the Documentation Center, we viewed photos and articles of Nazi propaganda. A visit to Courtroom 600 in the Palace of Justice, the venue of the Nazi war trials,  gave us a glimpse into post-war Nuremberg—a period that was fraught with guilt and retribution and meant to counteract some of the evil that occurred there.

My eyes wanted to see more, but eighty years have past and there was not more to see. There were no monuments—the German people intentionally did not want to create any shrines which would have given some the opportunity and the place to extol the workings of the Third Reich. The only pilgrimages made here are from the curious, the seekers of truth, the survivors.

Could he see the trees that I was seeing?

We were a somber bunch as we boarded the buses and began our trip back to our ship. And as I looked out the window I saw train tracks, and couldn’t help but wonder whether my father passed over those tracks; whether those were the very same tracks on which the trains took him and his family to the camps. Did the car where he and over 1,000 other prisoners were herded like cattle lumber by here? Could he see out from behind any slats in the wood? Could he see the trees that I was seeing? Was I looking at the same sky my dad looked at when he got off in Passau, another stop on our cruise? Gravel and dirt are mingled with the blades of grass that now grow between the railroad ties and as a modern-day train hunkers down the track, the dissonant sound of its wheels screeching—the metal upon metal—was what I could imagine him listening to. I cannot imagine the fear, I don’t dare begin to.

But on that day, on my dad’s day, I thought of him and felt him with me. I now understand…I have seen, not the worst of what he had seen, but my feet have perhaps touched the same ground he touched, I have breathed in the same air and looked at the same sky. I understand, because I was there.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Great New Jersey Pizza Crawl

As the impending arrival of Hurricane Hermine did its best to throw a wrench into our plans to participate in the “Second Annual Crab Cracking Fest” at Mud City down the Jersey Shore (yes, in my adopted state of New Jersey we say "down the shore"),  we came up with an alternate plan. 

To me, eating crabs, salad, and drinking beer sounded like an activity that would not prevent me from getting into a bathing suit, post-eating fest, but I knew the alternate plan of going on a pizza crawl and consuming copious amounts of dough, cheese, sausage and olive oil would have the exact opposite effect. Regardless, and since it was Labor Day weekend after all, and summer bathing suit season was as good as dead anyway, I acquiesced.

The drive from Jersey City down to the areas we were targeting, Robbinsville and Bordentown, all in the vicinity of Trenton, did not take nearly as long as I anticipated. The dark clouds could be seen above, but my hubby assured me that we were not in the path of the storm. We were on a mission to find the “best” version of “Tomato Pie,” that mysterious delicacy that the area was known for. (I say that lightly, since, I imagine there are other things the area is known for, but they were not on our itinerary.) Our first stop was Papa’s, a very homespun-looking place in Robbinsville, complete with Tiffany lighting and low-maintenance decor. They claim to be “oldest family-run pizza restaurant in the USA," but since we were on a tasting tour and not on a fact-checking tour, we couldn’t validate the accuracy of the claim…and we didn’t care to. We came for the pizza! 

We’d heard Papa’s made something called a Mustard Pie, and that was what we ordered, along with one called Italian Flag—ricotta, spinach, roasted peppers. Both came out of the oven piping hot: The Mustard Pie was a traditional plain pizza with a distinct bite of mustard hiding beneath the cheese. It was different, and while there might be a place for it in the annals of pizzadom, I think I’ll stick with mustard-less pies in the future. The ricotta on the Italian Flag was the creamiest ricotta I had ever tasted. Not spicy at all—probably could have used some hot pepper, but that was my fault, not Papa’s. Bottom Line: The crust on both varieties was excellent; crisp, not too thin. Had I lived closer, the Italian Flag, with a few sprinklings of hot pepper flakes, would be a regular favorite.

Our next stop was Palermo’s. It is off the side of the highway in Bordertown, and so nondescript that we overshot it and had to backtrack to get there. Their Tomato Pie had the thinnest (but not the crispiest) crust of all we'd tasted. The sauce was a bit sweet, and the cheese “layer” was barely discernible, but the combo worked. This was what I envisioned a “tomato pie” would be like. It was not your standard cheese-laden slice, and it was quite good.

De Lorenzo’s in Hamilton was our next stop. It came highly recommended and it was there that we encountered our first glitch. The place did not open until 4 pm and it was only 3 pm. It could be dangerous getting in the way of some die-hard pizza tasters, but in the interim we walked around Bordertown, and brushed up on some Revolutionary War history. When we returned to De Lorenzo's  a little after four, the place was jumping! As unslick as Papa’s atmosphere was, De Lorenzo’s was the exact opposite. We’d heard that they've been in business since 1947, but this was obviously a new location, trying to attract a different crowd. We took our pizza (half sausage and black olive and half plain) to go. 

 I read that De Lorenzo’s “burns” their crust if you don’t warn them, and since we didn’t, they did. I however, like my crust well done, so no worries. I am a fan of this type of pizza. The crust was closer to the Neapolitan-style pizzas you find in Italy; rough and bubbly and alternately flecked with burnt spots. This pizza was more artisanal than the old-school types. The sausage was tasty, but not well-done enough to my liking, which was so ironic since the crust was way past done.

As we toyed with the idea of venturing on, we decided to visit a place hubby had read about that was closer to home: Satillo’s in Elizabeth; known for its Sicilian—And while comparing Sicilian to thin crust is akin to comparing apples to oranges, we rationalized that this was a rather unscientific study anyway (and besides, it's the hubby's favorite). Around a corner, down something like a driveway, Satillo’s had a lot of, shall we say, “character.”  The pizza was huge, and well-done at our request. I am not a real fan of Sicilian—too doughy, but as Sicilian goes, this one was okay. Very saucy, very cheesy. The crust was not as crisp as I liked it, but the melted cheese was nice and stringy when you bit into it. and pulled away. (Pizza mavens will know just what I'm talkin' about.) 

As we headed home, the suggestion of trying just one more place was vetoed by one of us…guess which one. I felt I was supplied with enough ammunition with which to make my recs. And so, here they are:
Best crust: Papa’s 
Best sauce: Palermo’s 
Best all-around: De Lorenzo’s (They also get a star for atmosphere.)

Did I learn anything from this culinary crawl other than that my pants do get tight after eating slice after slice of pizza? Yes…Pizzeria owners are like mothers, they each claim their baby is the best. I've never met a pizza I didn't like, but I have met pizzas I did not love. I'm still partial to NYC pizza, and Motorino is my fave, but I do have to send a shout out to Otto in Harvard Square. Their Butternut Squash Pizza (probably a blasphemy here in NY) still calls my name to this day.

 I predict that I will be coerced into going on more pizza crawls in the future, but not before a few sessions at the gym. I hear they make a mean pizza in Tucson, so I'll add it to the bucket list.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Book Review: A Front Page Affair

The year is 1915. War has been declared in Europe, the US is on alert due to the sinking of the Lusitania, and there’s been a murder in New York City that needs to be solved. So begins Radha Vatsal’s debut novel A Front Page Affair, presumably what is to be the first in the “Kitty Weeks Mystery” series. 

I am not a huge fan of historical novels per se, but I can’t pass up anything having to do with New York City, so when I heard the author being interviewed as part of a “Reading With Robin” Literary Series in Bryant Park, I was drawn to this story from the start. The time period, when women surprisingly enough, were writing, producing, and directing films, as well as holding positions in many prominent fields also intrigued me.

A murder mystery set in Old New York City

The feisty Capability Weeks, better known as Kitty,  is a writer for The Sentinel who has been relegated to covering stories for the “Ladies Page.” While working at a party attended by high society, one of the guests winds up dead. Kitty becomes enmeshed in the story and soon realizes that one and one don’t add up, making for a very complicated tale that involves foreign intrigue and may even change the course of history.

The determined heroine who’s been raised in Europe and struggles to find her niche in the US, does not comply with the rules that conventional 1900’s culture tries to impose upon her. She drives, runs her father’s household, and is very much her own person. I found her to be high on the “likability index.”

Young sleuth tries to solve a murder against all odds.

The author’s skill at weaving an entertaining mystery and intertwining it among the strings of an historical setting is quite good. The story wends its way as quickly as Kitty does through the streets of Old New York in her bright yellow Bearcat. Scattered in with the unraveling of the murder are interesting details about the city, world events, and life during that period. Their inclusion is deftly handled, and seems to fit in rather well with the narrative.

Ms. Vatsal has put together a highly engaging story for her debut. I look forward to reading more of her writing and hope she has more escapades for Capability Weeks up her literary sleeve.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Book Review: Busy, Stressed, and Food-Obsessed

This piece originally appeared in
Way back when, we were young moms, balancing a kid or two (or more) on one hand, and a household and perhaps a job on the other. Our lives were hectic and we were constantly in motion running from one activity, meeting, obligation to another. There were many times we grabbed what we could and ate on the go or from off our kids’ plates.
Now that we’ve reached a “certain age” and things may have calmed down a bit more–our kids are older and possibly out of the house, and we have some more time to focus on ourselves and our own well-being–that doesn’t mean we are any less stressed internally and that our eating habits have changed for the better.

In “Busy, Stressed, and Food Obsessed!” author Lisa Lewtan sets out to help us take a hard look at the lives we lead and how to make the adjustments needed in which to create a thriving, nourishing environment. It’s not a “diet book” in the traditional sense, but it does guide us on how to approach our diets in a sane and healthful manner. It’s not really a “relationship book” in the classic sense of that genre..but then again, it is loaded with strategies on how to better handle our often very complicated relationship with food. And it’s not really a “how to book,” but the chapters are jam-packed with practical advice about how to “finally figure out what your body needs to thrive.”

“The food you eat is one of the best health investments you can make.”

I approached this book as a “mere spectator,” someone who did not have any issues with food, unlike author Lewtan, a certified health coach, who admits very early on to at one time being all of the things her title addresses: Busy, stressed, and food obsessed. When she quite literally almost ran herself into the ground, she pulled herself together and began to scrutinize her lifestyle and dissect her habits, piece by piece,Lisa Lewtan book cover 
in order to figure out just what was causing her to crash and burn. This detective work and her method of self-care have led her to a more calm, stable…and healthy life. Reading about her own challenges encouraged me to take an honest appraisal of my own habits—both good and bad. (And yes, this “mere spectator” finally admitted to herself that the handful of chocolate chips she has with her morning coffee each day borders on obsession, and probably has something to do with the afternoon stomachache.)

Lisa’s methods in spurring the reader on to action involve using powerful verbs such as “investigate,” “alleviate,” and “eliminate.” In page after page we begin to learn how interdependent we are with the foods we eat, and how that relationship can be a vey toxic one. She helps us weed out the “bad” and weed in the “good,” with help being the operative word. There are no lectures as she puts us in the driver’s seat so that ultimately, the conclusions we arrive at are our own.

Identify your habits, and why you eat…Are you hungry? Bored? Happy? Sad?
Think about what you eat…Are there foods that “trigger” your patterns?
How does what you eat make you feel? Full? Depressed? Sick to your stomach? Guilty?
Judgment is thrown out the window and mindfulness is brought in. Being mindful about what we eat and why doesn’t mean being obsessive.  In fact, our obsession is what is leading so many of us on the path to ruin. Helpful charts and assignments to assist us on a better path, the one to reconnecting with our bodies, are included in every chapter. This is not a reference book filled with scientific terminology about carbs and protein, and in no way does Lewtan advocate one “diet” over another. What is provided is encouragement, with a little humor thrown in for good measure. Dancing, meditation, everything that may help you get in touch with your emotions and forge a connection with your true inner self are recommended…even encouraged. 
The author doesn’t expect miracles, and she does account for setbacks. Her message is “Stop being so hard on yourself, just be honest.” She inspires us in her mission to rid the world of the over-stressed crazy-woman. We believe her–even when she says you can maintain a healthy lifestyle while allowing yourself to stray every once in a while. The main thing is to “ditch the inner critic bitch.” If by the end of this book, you have learned how to stand up to that “bitch” in your mind, then Lewtan’s job has been done.

“Life is short and being too restrictive is not fun or particularly mentally healthy.”

The Accidental Cruiser: A Trip Through Bordeaux on a Viking Riverboat

I am "cruise liner-phobic"—I have never been on one, I’ve got a fear of the water and I get seasick. But if you had seen me just a few weeks ago, sitting on the balcony outside my room on the Viking Forseti,enjoying the view of the water and the sound of it lapping against the sides of the boat, you would have thought I was the poster girl for river cruising.
I’ve never really had the inclination to get past my cruise phobia. The thought of being on a huge floating city bobbing up and down in the middle of nowhere without seeing even a slip of land for miles and miles makes my stomach turn even as I type the words. I have never been enticed by on-board theaters, nightly Vegas-like shows or pools with waterfalls that would overwhelm Poseidon that most large ships boast about.(I can see all you cruise lovers shaking your heads and rolling your eyes, but I am my father’s daughter.Yes, him being the big burly guy who almost died of seasickness when he, my mom and my older sister sailed to this country many years ago. I keep that secret close to my vest, and if that vest is a nice, puffy orange one with straps that fit around your middle, even better.

I am "cruise liner-phobic"—I have never been on one, I’ve got a fear of the water and I get seasick. But if you had seen me just a few weeks ago, sitting on the balcony outside my room on the Viking Forseti,enjoying the view of the water and the sound of it lapping against the sides of the boat, you would have thought I was the poster girl for river cruising.

When I heard that Viking River Cruises don’t offer all those carnival-like bells and whistles that so many of my cruise-loving friends adore, I considered “thinking” about it. When I heard that cruising on a river is nothing like cruising out on the ocean (hint, no bumps and land is never too far away), I was game. And I must admit, even Dad would have a hard time passing up a relaxing trip on a longship, gliding down the nice, calm Garonne, Gironde, and Dordogne rivers, to and from the city of Bordeaux and the wine region that is home to some of the most famous wine producers in the world such as Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Sauternes, and Margaux. Without much "arm-twisting, my friend Kathy agreed to join me, and our adventure on Viking’s Chateaux, Rivers & Wine cruise began.
Viking Forseti Atrium
Viking Forseti Atrium
Our first glimpse of Bordeaux was late at night, when we were driven through what looked like a lovely, quaint town, its trees drenched with white Christmas lights that appeared to be dripping from their boughs. In the daylight, the “quaint town” of Bordeaux showed its true personality: An elegant city, not unlike Paris, having been transformed after undergoing massive renovations in the late 1990s. A tour past magnificent architecture, open-air food markets brimming with local produce, regional seafood (mussels and oysters), and the ever-present signature pastry, caneles, could be done on foot or by tour bus, as it was one of the trip's included excursions. Kathy and I chose to walk that day, and our meanderings took us to some antique flea markets and the well-known chocolate shop, Maison Larnicol, where its chocolate Christmas ornaments had us in awe.
St. Louis des Chartrons - Bordeaux
St. Louis des Chartrons
Extra excursions were also part of the trip, and on one of those, Kathy and I spent the morning in the Dordogne, learning about the art of truffle hunting on the farm of “The Trufflle Master” himself, Edouard Aynaud, and his trained sniffer, Farrah the border collie. After some digging and scratching (mostly by Farrah), Kathy even found some truffles herself. (Henceforth, she will be known as “The Truffle Queen of Long Beach, California.”) A five-course, truffle-laden lunch (including ice cream with truffle caramel sauce which was surprisingly delicious), prepared by the owner’s wife as we sat in kitchen of their 17th-century stone farmhouse was included.
It’s only natural that this wine-centric trip attracted many wine enthusiasts of all ages, but the average age of the entire group seemed to be hovering around sixty-five. In addition to the wine-oriented excursions, additional ones to a cognac producer and an oyster farm appealed the the non-wine lovers. For those who were not up for the many walking tours, the long bus trips through beautiful countryside and vineyards galore, and past stately medieval chateaux were quite adequate.
Viking River Cruise
The Viking Forseti offered a welcome respite at the end of each day’s journeys. The central atrium was light-filled and we could see how inviting the outdoor decks could be in warmer weather. Our stateroom, although not overly spacious, was certainly roomy enough for the two of us, and view beyond the sliding glass doors leading to our balcony gave it a very open feel. Lovely for all while cruising, but depending upon where your room was when the boat docked, you could be looking at concrete and pylons, so that was something to consider. Staterooms with river views, French Balcony staterooms, and true suites were also on board.
Meals on the boat were always delicious, and quite often featured specialties of the region. There were options available for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. More formal meals were served in the dining room and a buffet, which we preferred for lunch, was offered in the lounge. Breakfast was also a buffet that included made-to-order omelets. Across the board, the staff was friendly, attentive, and focused on making sure we were all comfortable and satisfied.
Chocolate ornaments from Maison Larnicol
Chocolate ornaments from Maison Larnicol
Because there were no "distractions" on board, many guests took the time to read, rest, and chat. As one of the cruise leaders stated, unlike their ocean liners, Viking’s river boats are not to be thought of as destinations—the historical sites and cities are the true attractions. Bottom line, if you’re looking for fun, activity, and adventure…on a ship, these cruises are not necessarily for you. But if you are seeking rest and relaxation with some good food, interesting people, and lots of history thrown in, get on board!

This post originally appeared in
I was compensated for my review, but my opinions, as always, are my own.