Tag Archives: relationships

Travel Planning is Everything Until It’s Not

da Amerigo 1934 - Akasha, Alberto, Helena, and Fran

Different people plan their trips differently.  Some love to just “wing it” and decide what they will do and where they will sleep once they get to a destination. Sometimes they don’t even plan a destination past their original stopping place.  I am definitely not one of those people.

I cannot go away without making sure all of my “ducks are in a row.”  I have to have my flights and any other transportation I might need completely planned and ticketed long before I ever leave home which includes any travel between cities either by train, car, or any other method.  I have to know exactly where I am sleeping each night and what that hotel/B&B/resort looks like and which category of room I have reserved and confirmed.  I do a little research about where I am going so that I don’t miss any “must see” places or restaurants I have to try.  I’m one of those.  And, because I am one of those, I was always what I would call the travel agent in my family; maybe it was a little bit of a control issue – I don’t know.

Savigno Italy Map

Well, this last trip I was able to leave the planning to my girlfriend – Akasha Richmond – who is immensely more meticulous in her research and planning than even I.  We were perfectly matched.  I made sure that we bought all of our tickets and confirmed all of our lodgings. Akasha did enormous research about what was in the area that we were traveling to – in this case Emilia Romagna, Italy – and where we should visit and eat so that we fit in as much as possible in the time we had.

We had one day in Savigno, a small town in the Province of Bologna southwest of the city of Bologna.  Akasha wanted to eat at Trattoria da Amerigo (a one Michelin star restaurant) in Savigno and was researching what else was in the area for us to see.  She found Helena Kyriakides (a Sommelier FISAR and a qualified Balsamic Vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano taster), whose company Yummy Italy, had an amazing reputation for arranging personal visits to various artisanal producers in the area. And we even had time to meet the owner, Alberto Bettini, who was an incredible host.

Helena took us to a small Parmigiano Reggiano maker that makes their cheese by hand and produces only 14 wheels per day.  After taking us on a tour of their facility, watching the process (passed down from generation to generation), getting to taste warm ricotta that was made from the cheese production that we watched that morning, we moved on to a winemaker.  She had organized for us to eat lunch with the winemaker in his home, taste his award-winning wines and enjoy his wife’s cooking.  The winemaker kept complaining that we weren’t drinking enough!!

When he found out that Akasha preferred goat cheese, he decided that we should visit one of his friends who has an organic goat farm and makes goat cheese.  He piled us all into his jeep, and we took off.  We were really glad we were in his Jeep because the goat farm was up a narrow gravel road and it was raining.  Akasha got to see the goats and taste some wonderful goat cheese – completely unplanned!

The last stop of our day with Helena was to Il Mulino del Dottore (part of the slow food movement in Italy), The Mill of the Doctor, a 17th-century building with a very old flour mill made of four millstones and run by water from the Venola stream nearby.  From the flour that they mill they produce all the products that are sold in their tiny shop as well as at various organic markets in the area– breads, cookies, dried pastas and of course flour.  They were some of the best cookies we had ever tasted!  I bought some pasta flour to use at home, dried pasta and some honey.

Our day with Helena from Yummy Italy made one thing perfectly clear – even when you think you’ve planned for everything you have to be open to the possibility of a slight detour that can take you to a place you never knew existed.  In our case to the wonderful goat farm.  Helena was perfect and our day with her couldn’t have been any better.

By the way, our dinner that night at Trattoria da Amerigo was everything we hoped for and more, and we got a pasta cooking class with the Nonnas (grandmothers) the next morning; courtesy of my friend’s expert planning!

In the photo above (from left to right), you see my girlfriend Akasha Richmond, Alberto Bettini, Helena Kyriakides, and me.

Online Dating? Skype Before a Visit!

Dating sucks but online dating can REALLY suck. I thought, though, for a hot minute that it was a good idea for me, so I signed up for a couple of sites. I was cruising along checking it all out, finding out that I really didn’t want to go meet someone for coffee just for practice. The acceptable gene pool was REALLY, REALLY tiny!

Anyway, I started messaging with someone who lived on the east coast (I’m on the west coast) and we spent a lot of time on the phone, as well. He had me convinced that the distance was not an issue as he traveled for work and I travel to NYC, as well, so we could meet fairly often if it all worked out. He sounded pretty great on paper, his pictures looked OK and his family looked pretty stable (at least in the photos). Let’s just say that when we finally met in person, after about 6 months of communication, there was more than one reason why he couldn’t manage to send me any recent pictures of himself! My takeaway from all of this…

NEVER agree to meet ANYONE who lives far away WITHOUT SEEING HIM ON SKYPE FIRST!

The First 10 Minutes, Why They’re So Important

I’m reminded regularly of one of my basic truths. A person will tell you who they are within the first 10 minutes of meeting them. It’s funny but we all do the same thing when we meet someone for the first time – we make assumptions about their character, how nice or angry they are, if they seem genuinely happy in their life, if they’re rich or bright. Listen carefully. You know about assumptions.”

This is the thing. That’s why it’s so important that in those first 10 minutes when you first meet a person. You have to listen to what they are saying – truly listen and not assume. This means not only listening to what they are saying but also to what they aren’t saying. When we don’t listen carefully, we either miss the red flags that are waving wildly in our faces or, just maybe, the fabulous person in front of us.

How Many Full Moons Do We Have Left?

It’s funny. We all find ourselves getting cranky over something that someone else has said or done to us that we perceive as mean. I know for a fact that I’m guilty of that. I’ve always said that I may forgive but that doesn’t mean that I forget – mind of an elephant and all that.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I was complaining to a really wise girlfriend about just that – a slight that I thought I had received from someone else and what I thought I would or could do about it. She looked at me kind of funny and then she asked, “How many full moons do you think you have left in this life? Is this worth the 5 minutes we are talking about it, much less spending any time actually doing anything about it?”

Her answer stopped me COLD and at that point, I decided I was going to let “it” go. I’ve been reminding myself of that ever since. I think it’s a pretty good thing to remember.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

There are days when we all hate the mirror. I agree that whoever said that the mirror doesn’t lie was actually telling the truth. I’ll look in the mirror and think I’m either “fat” or my skin doesn’t look good that day or I REALLY need to put makeup on or…or…or. We all have those days and sadly the mirror is always telling the truth at that moment. The thing that I’m most grateful for though is that it CAN’T LAUGH!!! That would be awful…

Relationships and Love: The Only Constant in Life is Change

For this Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to bring up Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher who said that the only constant in life is change. He was SO right – thank goodness!

I have found in my life that for all of the things that seem to stay the same; family, kids, friends; it all can change, and in a blink of an eye too. In fact, if you really look around, you find the old philosopher’s perspective everywhere. It seems then that for me to keep a healthy outlook on living means that I have to be open to these changes. Right? Several of them have happened to me in the last several years: divorce, moving (three times), and a major career change. This is not to say that these changes came easily: they did not.

Most of these changes (except moving out for 3 months due to a flood) were my choice but just because I chose to do them didn’t mean they were without pain or sadness, some of which still comes and goes. It probably always will just to lessening degrees (I hope).

The point is that even though change is inevitable, it’s how we deal with the change that will define how we move through this life.  If we choose to wallow in the sadness and become stuck instead of acknowledging it, accepting it and moving through it, however slowly the moving may be, we will walk around with the proverbial rain cloud over our heads and be perpetually sad.  If this sounds like a great idea to you, have at it.  Personally, I don’t love the look. I don’t have any shoes to go with it for starters, and I hate carrying an umbrella wherever I go.

People have said to me that I have moved through these multiple transitions with grace.  I’m not that good, I just choose to do my screaming and internal struggle out of the public eye-behavior strictly reserved for close friends, but if that’s how they see me who am I to argue?  I say thank you as humbly as possible and put one foot in front of the other moving forward.  My theory is that if I continue to move forward then, the change I didn’t like will change again, and I hopefully will like the new one better.  Doesn’t that sound like a better idea?

Valentine’s Day for Singles?

Fran Berger

Valentine’s Day is less than a week away and when it does come I will have been single for the last three of them.  It’s not exactly the most fun day- evening thing to look forward to if you don’t have a significant other in your life. But U.S. retailers really push the holiday anyhow.

February 14th is one of the busiest days at restaurants; at least, it always was at mine and if anyone has ever tried to get last-minute dinner reservations anywhere for that night you’ve seen that I’m right.  We are bombarded by “reminders” to get a gift, card, flowers – whatever – for the other person in our lives. What about all of us “singles” out there who (by choice or otherwise) are alone on that day?

Here’s what I’ve decided. This Valentine’s Day, I’m going to invite a group of my friends over, and we will laugh a lot, munch on our favorite finger foods but, most importantly of all, we will raise a glass of bubbles (maybe a few glasses) to friendship!  In many respects, my group of friends is my significant other. They laugh with me and cry with me; they support me when I need the back-up. They love me (not unconditionally but with empathy and understanding), they are always there for me.  Oh, and they tell me when I’m completely full of it (even if it’s not what I want to hear). I depend on their honesty and clear sight.  If that’s not a good part of what we all look for in a significant other, then I’m not sure what is.  It’s not everything but it’s a lot, and I’m lucky to have this group of women in my life – my friends – my sisters by choice.  Just sayin’.

Fran’s Soapbox: There’s Only One Winner

I’m going to step on my soap box now so be warned! When I was growing up, medals, trophies and awards were all things that you worked hard for, practiced hard for. It was still the case when my kids were growing up. That’s not the case anymore in so many ways and it makes me crazy. I don’t understand why people feel the need to acknowledge a child’s simple participation in an activity with a trophy -this isn’t the way of the world. What did they do to earn that trophy? Did they simply say “ok” when Mom or Dad said, “you have to play little league”? – Like they had a choice.

The world we live in is a very competitive place. People study and work hard to achieve a certain status in their field – they are not given awards simply because they thought it might be an interesting occupation or because their sibling is doing the same thing and their parent thinks it’s a good idea for them to do it too. It’s just not how it works; it has never been how it works. That’s not to say that some, very few, don’t achieve status through nepotism or because they were born into a certain family but those few know that’s how they got there and it is definitely not how the vast majority of us got where we are.

The idea that we have to be “careful” of our child’s feelings, ego or sense of self…or make sure we don’t do anything to dampen their spirit is not going to help them navigate the real world. I’m definitely NOT advocating cruelty, meanness, or bullying. Quite the opposite. Not only was I bullied in grammar school (we moved a lot, I skipped a grade, was small, etc.) but my eldest was, as well, so I’m very sensitive to how mean kids can get.

What I am saying is that we have to be honest with our children. The world around them is not going to give them anything extra just because they participated. The accolades should come from us as parents in the form of encouragement, not a trophy.

Kids are smart. They know when they deserve something and when they don’t. They will certainly know it when they have a shelf full of trophies for “participation” or being a “team member” and they still don’t get to pitch in the game when they get a couple of years older and the real competition starts.

I asked a friend who coaches a competition team of young kids his opinion. He said all of the kids on his team know that the participation ribbon they give to everyone who shows up is, in his words, “stupid and useless”. He said it was the organization that his team is a part of that has the rule that everyone gets something. If the kids know it’s bogus what’s the point?

So, be completely frank with your kids. In a ski race, there is only ONE person that comes down the mountain first. Only one who clocks the shortest time. It’s the skier that not only had the talent but also practiced like there was no tomorrow. Let your kids know that there is only ONE person who deserves that trophy – the person that did the work. Do your kids a favor – be honest with them.

My favorite recipe for a Girls Night – YAH!

I’m often asked what my favorite “girls night” recipes are. dsc_4281

I like the ones that are good for catching up and remind us of old memories. Especially once the summer and the backyard cookouts are over, I’m also more interested in making things that require a little more attention to detail. That doesn’t have to mean they are more complicated, though. When I plan a “girls night” I’ve found that it’s always more fun to munch on finger food and drink a good glass of wine than eat a full meal. This allows everyone (including me) to gather around the table and catch up on life and not have to get up to serve.

Good friends are like a great meal – they should be savored.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Always serve a simple cheese plate with 2-3 different cheeses (pick a cow, goat and sheep perhaps, making sure there is one soft, one semi soft and one hard cheese), some loose nuts, dried fruit, fig spread (I use Dalmatia Dried Fig Spread) and of course some great crackers.
  • If you are a meat eater, be sure to do a simple charcuterie board, as well. Use 3 or 4 meats that are all different. Perhaps a peppery salami, a country pâté and a good prosciutto. All of these can be found in the refrigerated section of a good grocery store and don’t have to be expensive. Simply choose your favorites.
  • A small bowl of mixed olives are also a good thing to add to your table.
  • If you like vinegary things (I do), add a small bowl of cornichon pickles.
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, don’t put prosciutto on the charcuterie, but roll small asparagus spears (that you have blanched) in small pieces of prosciutto and cook them in a sauté pan until crisp. They look very fancy but are really easy to make.
  • Swedish meatballs are always a good go-to for me on a cool fall evening. Many delis have them premade or you can use this recipe that I like.
  • Last but not least – make sure you have several mini veggies on a plate with a simple sour cream dip.

Pasta Recipe: Bucatini With Tomato, Guanciale, And Chile

Bucatini With Tomato, Guanciale, & Chile

Original Recipe by April Bloomfield & Josh Evan

I love a good Pasta Carbonara, but sometimes the combo of the bacon and eggs can get a “little much”. I found this in the September 2014 issue of Bon Appétit. It looks amazing and simple AND they use tomatoes instead of eggs – it’s going to be my next pasta with friends!

  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 4 ounces guanciale (salt-cured pork jowl) or pancetta, very thinly sliced
  • ½ medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 15-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 12 ounces bucatini
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 ounce Pecorino, finely grated
  • Olive oil (for serving)
  1. Microwave rosemary on high in 20-second intervals until leaves are brittle, about 60 seconds.
  2. Remove leaves and grind to a fine powder with a spice mill or mortar and pestle; you should have about 1 tsp. (Alternatively, very finely chop leaves.)
  3. Cook guanciale in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until guanciale is browned and crisp, 10–12 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
  4. Cook onion in same skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until softened and golden brown, 8–10 minutes.
  5. Return all but 2 Tbsp. guanciale to skillet and add tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and rosemary powder.
  6. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, 5–8 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 8–10 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
  8. Add pasta and ½ cup pasta cooking liquid to sauce. Cook over medium heat, tossing and adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta, about 2 minutes.
  9. Serve pasta topped with Pecorino and remaining 2 Tbsp. guanciale and drizzled with oil.


Date Night Wine from Gruet Winery

I love when I’m asked my wine recommendations because there are so many wonderful options to explore! Date night wines for a romantic dinner at home have been a popular discussion recently, so here are a few of my romantic dinner-in favorites as of late.

The old adage that the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach is, I’ve found, absolutely true. They are always so impressed with the effort and we get to make something that we are comfortable with so the evening is stress free. One of my current favorites is actually a sparkling wine (you can’t call it Champagne unless it is actually from Champagne, France) from New Mexico! The winery, Gruet, is owned by the Gruet family which also owns Gruet et Fils-a Champagne house in France. They have non-vintage sparklings all under $20 or vintage sparkling wines with the most expensive under $45. Both are a very good value. I would simply order a few bottles straight from the winery and just keep them chilled. You never know when you will need one; bubbles make any meal a party. Enjoy!

Travel Lightly and Deal With The Issue Now

wherever+you+go+there+you+are+quote.pngA favorite saying of mine comes from Confucius: “Wherever you go, there you are.” And I find that this philosophy never fails to bring out deeper meaning to just about every situation.

I was having dinner with one of my “extra” kids last week and we were talking about a mutual friend who keeps having the same personal dilemma occur in their lives. They don’t seem to be able to avoid it and they keep wondering why it happens to them again and again. My “extra” said – “This is just like what you always tell me – wherever I go, there I am.” He was right.

It really clicked with him many years ago when he was going through a very tough time and was seriously considering moving back home into his mother’s house. He was a young adult at the time, maybe early twenties, and had really struggled with just daily living and coping. He had friends here, a job and an apartment (beautiful furniture, etc.) but was so personally unhappy that he really wanted to just go back home and basically curl up and disappear. He wanted to go back to what he remembered as a simpler time for him when someone else, his mother, was making all the decisions.

He has always referred to me as his “second Mom” and fortunately has always been able to talk to me about anything that is going on in his life – good and bad, so he came to me with this. He was so unhappy he just wanted to run away. We’ve all been there.

What I shared with him, over several meals and very long talks, was that going home could be an option, but that whatever was plaguing him here would follow him wherever he went. I told him that when he looks in the mirror, no matter where he is, he would still see himself. I said wherever you go, there you are. If he truly wanted to get rid of what was burdening him he had to deal with it now. If, after working through the issue, he still wanted to go home then he should definitely go. Apparently he heard what I was telling him and to his credit dealt with what was troubling him. He decided to stay here, a much happier guy with one big weight he was no longer carrying around because he worked through the issue instead of running.

Remember, it will still be you staring back in the mirror-deal with the issue now. And where ever you go, there you STILL are.