Bacon-wrapped dates will be my downfall

Bacon-wrapped dates will be my downfall

I am a foodie.

I think you know that by now. Pretty much every conversation I have ends up, at some point, being about food. It’s not that I am hungry all of the time. It’s more that I like talking about the marriage of interesting flavour combinations or how velvety a piece of cheese can feel in your mouth and the memories or reactions it can evoke.

I’m also a foodie who had weight loss surgery.

Which means I can only eat very small portions now and my tastebuds are developing new likes. It also means I haven’t gone out to dinner in a while. I was on a nasty pre-operation liquid diet (which was HELL) for a month prior to the surgery. Then I had to continue the liquid diet for ten days post-surgery. Well, at least I am able to eat solid food again, but my stomach can’t tolerate everything at the moment. It’s not easy, but the health benefits outweigh the cons.

Anyway, a few days ago, I had one of those memories evoked by food. It wasn’t because of something I ate. It was because of something I smelled–namely, bacon. Just the aroma of one of my neighbours making bacon took me back to Palma de Mallorca, Spain and sharing a plate of bacon-wrapped dates with my husband. If you’ve never had bacon-wrapped dates, it’s to die for. It’s probably not at all healthy, but it’s good for the soul.

The deliciousness that is bacon-wrapped dates.

We had this bit of deliciousness at a tapas bar called La Taperia, which if you’re ever in Palma you’ll find it on Carrer de Montenegro.  In Spanish, the dish is called Dátiles con bacon–at least, that’s what it’s called on their menu. Tord and I have been to Palma several times. Whenever we’re there, we end up having dinner at La Taperia at least three times during our stay and we always order the bacon-wrapped dates. And we can’t get enough of them. We vie for the last one, which we inevitably split and then we long to have it again.

We’ll probably go to Palma again to celebrate my husband’s birthday. He’s one of those lucky people whose birthday is celebrated during the summer. I am pretty sure we’ll end up sharing a bottle of wine and a plate of dátiles con bacon at La Taperia. And, considering the surgery I’ve recently had, tapas is great: small dishes that you can linger over and share. It’s a feast for the eyes that isn’t too heavy on the belly (as long as you don’t choose anything too rich).

The staff at La Taperia also make it a restaurant worth visiting. They are also foodies and when they describe the various tapas dishes on the menu, you can tell they are passionate about the food they create. You will never hear them say, “I don’t know. I haven’t tasted it.” They’ve tried everything and can tempt you with the most tantalising descriptions of the flavours and textures.

I’m pretty sure that bacon-wrapped dates will be my downfall. On my deathbed, I’ll be hoping that a plate of them will be waiting for me beyond the pearly gates, preferably with a glass of red wine. I should probably write sonnets about these dates, paint pictures of them and have them make an appearance in every book I write. But for now, I will content myself with knowing that the next time I am on the island of Mallorca, I can walk to Calle Montenegro and order a plate. I’ll even be nice and share it with Tord.

Grammy-bound!

Grammy-bound!

by Xio Axelrod

Next month, the music industry will descend upon the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles to celebrate what they consider to be the best releases from the last year. There’s always some controversy, but opinions are subjective. And like belly buttons, everyone has one.

One of my favourite bands, twenty one pilots, performing one of my favourite songs from 2016, “Heathens” – a Grammy nominee. [Read more…]

Globetrotting, fab events, and can I sleep now?

Globetrotting, fab events, and can I sleep now?

by Xio Axelrod

If you could see me, you might notice dark circles under my eyes and a sort of bewildered look in them. Traveling 11,000 miles in one week will do that to you. I think I mentioned before that 2016 has been the year of Xio flying all over the damn place, lol. It’s been a blast! But it’s also been…well…pretty exhausting.

Let’s recap:

Back in April, I flew to Las Vegas for the 2016 RT Booklovers convention. Which. Was. Awesome. I live in Philadelphia, so that’s 4400 air miles roundtrip.

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The RT Book Fair is HUGE!

[Read more…]

Last Chance For Summer Fun

Last Chance For Summer Fun

Don't Go!

Don’t Go!

Summer is fast coming to an end (for goodness sake, school’s about to start). I’ve always had mixed emotions about this time of year. Pumpkin spice everything is right around the corner, but I always worried whether I provided enough summer fun for our kids.

So, every year, we’d load the kids up in the car and go in search of adventure. One of my favorite trips was when we drove to Vermont in search of Larry, Daryl and Daryl from Newhart (Remember those guys?).

We loved that show and were eager to see Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. We stayed at a country bed and breakfast, The Bailey Mills. We drove up after getting lost on ‘the scenic route’ and drove up around 11:30 at night. We were all a bit creeped out by the fact the front yard was a revolutionary war cemetery. And, the room we rented came with a ghost. Now, I’ve never professed to being afraid of a ghost, but knowing I’d closed the closet door in the bathroom before I went to bed, and finding it open the next morning was…in a word, spooky.

Photo Courtesy of The Bailey Mills Inn

Photo Courtesy of The Bailey Mills Inn

But the grounds were awesome, and the journey together as a family is still a memory we discuss often. School started about a week after we got home and I sent my kids off on that first day, knowing they’d enjoyed the adventure.

I’m curious what you’d do if confronted by a ghost at a bed and breakfast?

My Traveling Circus

My Traveling Circus

As you may already know, we’ve lived in several homes over the 17 years I’ve been married. Last count was around 13. What I don’t always talk about is the menagerie that came with us. Our two Golden Retrievers, Rosie and Jack, have been with us for ten years now, and shared at least nine of those homes.

 

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A young Rosie in Johannesburg

 

They’ve been flown from South Africa to Amsterdam, uncrated in Amsterdam, and then re-crated to resume the flight to Vancouver (where we were waiting for them.)

 

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Both dogs were a big fan of all the water in Vancouver

They were sent ahead of us and flew from Vancouver to Montreal. While we lived in Montreal they joined us on a trip to Maine and another one to Prince Edward Island.

 

 

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Jack disgraced himself in our Vancouver neighbor’s garden

When we left Montreal for Utah, the size of the cargo hold doors on the planes traveling that route meant Rosie and Jack were driven across the States from Montreal all the way to Utah. And finally, when we moved to Colorado, I loaded Rosie and Jack, the new rescue cat, Pepper and my two teens into my car and drove them from Salt Lake City to Denver. So these are some well traveled dogs

 

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Hiking the trails in Utah

 

Why, you ask, would you travel your pets all over the place with you? It’s simple. Like most pet owners, we love them, and more than that, they have provided a sense of stability and normalcy that is so hard to find in a peripatetic lifestyle. Wherever we went, there were the dogs, making whatever house we moved into home. My girls drew a tremendous amount of comfort from having them around. For me, this life can be lonely. We never really stay in one place for long enough for me to put down real roots. But with Rosie and Jack by my side, I have found it easier to settle and never lacked for company.With them lying around the writing cave, they’ve helped me pursue my dream of being a published author. Often, they were the only ones around to share the bad news and the good news.

Last week, in one of those horrible occurrences of Murphy’s Law, both Rosie and Jack were diagnosed with cancer in one week. It’s doubtful if they’ll live through the summer. So, Colorado will be their last trip with us. Devastatingly, they take their next journey without us. I can only send them off with all my love, and so much gratitude for their unequalled friendship.

 

SarahSig

 

 

Going the Distance

Going the Distance

by Xio Axelrod

Next month, I’ll hit the road for the first time this year. And what a doozy of a trip it will be.

The Strip at night, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States of America - getty creative

First up, Las Vegas where I’ll join some of my fellow Spice Aislers at the annual RT Booklovers Convention. It will also be a research trip for me, as I start preliminary work on a new series. I’ve been to Vegas a number of times and every time is different. Not only because there seems to be a new hotel, restaurant, or hot spot for me to try, but because each visit has been for different reasons. The last time, I was there for a mini-writing retreat after the 2014 RWA (Romance Writers of America) conference. And I got my first tattoo.

Guess not everything that happens in Vegas… [Read more…]

When a man is tired of London…

When a man is tired of London…

London is still my favorite city. I love Paris, and New York as well, but London is the one I can revisit time and time again. Maybe because I was born in England, or because I lived there for a couple of years in my early twenties, but I’ve always felt at home in London.

Of course, like most big cities, it’s great to live there if you have the money to take advantage of all it has to offer. As many times as I’ve been there, every time I go, I find a new treasure. On my last trip, I went to the National Portrait Gallery. I’d been to the National Gallery plenty of times. How can you miss it, right? There it sits, perched at the top of Trafalgar Square and entrance is free. If you duck down to the side (toward Convent Garden) you’ll find the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery (also free).

If you like galleries, this is a real treat. I spent hours going from portrait to portrait. What I found fascinating is the range of work. It starts way back when when portraits and likenesses were done by anyone who fancied making a sketch. The perspective is so horrible on some of them, I roared with laughter. You have Madonna images, where her breast is positioned somewhere nature certainly didn’t put it. As art develops and time went on, the portraits move into the ‘grand masters’ and huge elaborate canvasses. All the way through to modern works and modern faces.

It’s a trip through time, one face at a time, and so well worth a visit. Next time you’re in London, check it out.

Here’s a little trip through some royal faces.

 

Catherine, Wife of Henry Vlll

Catherine, Wife of Henry Vlll

 

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I

 

Elizabeth ll as a younger woman

Elizabeth ll as a younger woman

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Elizabeth ll, more recent

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Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge

A Blistered Gypsy

A Blistered Gypsy

I had to smile when I saw it was my turn on “Eating Out”—things travel and travel related. I’ve travelled a fair amount, and moved even more. I’m writing this post from my 12th home in 16 years (I think it’s 12, but you get the picture anyway, even if the math is dodgy). I’ve just moved my family from Utah to Colorado. Not a big move as Hegger moves go. The biggest one we did was from South Africa to Russia. Not just in terms of distance but logistics. Some countries love their bureaucracy, and like to turn it into an intricate code. Both South Africa and Russia excel at this.

Christmas in Moscow

Christmas in Moscow

Anyway, as the title says, this gypsy is worn out with moving. It’s not the just the admin and the exhaustion of actually packing up your life and moving, it’s the emotional wear and tear of ripping out roots and replanting them somewhere else. This move my girls are 13 and 14, and feeling the separation from friends they made in Utah. They know the drill, that they’ll make new friends and all that. But they are struggling just the same. Your teens are not the time you want to be in limbo. And I know they’ll be fine, eventually, but I really can’t think of anything new to tell them to make it all feel better. It’s never easy as a Mum when you can’t make the bad thing go away with a  kiss and a popsicle.

First Day of School, South Africa

First Day of School, South Africa

On the other hand, despite being the perpetual ‘new kid’ at school, they have learned some amazing things, and seen all sorts of people and places. They view the world around them with a wonderful sense of tolerance that makes me very proud, and they are always ready to embrace the new.

Hiking in Vancouver

Hiking in Vancouver

 

My new home in Colorado is beautiful, perched right on the edge of a wonderful hiking trail. We’ll build happy memories here, and make it our home. The unfamiliar will become old hat and maybe, if I keep my fingers very tightly crossed, I’ll get to drift into  a rut here. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

 

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Halloween in Montreal

SarahSig

I’m in Punta Cana and you’re not.

I’m in Punta Cana and you’re not.

by Xio Axelrod

Did my title make you a wee bit jealous? It should because the Dominican Republic is awesome and everyone should come here.

woman in punta cana

Wheee! See, she’s having a blast. Come on down.

I took this while riding on a cable car in Puerto Plata. Down is far.

As you read this, I’m probably sitting in a cabana on the beach in Punta Cana, sipping freshly made mojitos underneath a cloudless sky. At least, I hope I am. Vacation weather can be unpredictable.

Take the spring of 2012, when Mr. X and I were on our second trip to the D. R., it rained. A lot. And not the “oh, this is a soft and beautiful shower” or “it’s pouring buckets, but will be over in fifteen minutes” kind of rain. It was a duck and cover rain. A run for the hills rain. At one point, we decided to sit on the beach anyway because, why not? For once, there were plenty of loungers. And wet is wet, right? Naturally, the sun decided to return on the day we flew home. Whatever, it was still quite relaxing. And mojitos!

Fortunately, most of our trips down here (this is our fourth) have been delightful and I’m hoping this one is the same. We arrived late Saturday afternoon and it’s now Tuesday. By now, we’ve settled into our daily routine.

loungers

First come, first serve.

Up by 8am to “reserve” a spot on the beach. [Read “claim.” We leave our towels and a few other accessories as unofficial notice that those particular loungers are occupied.]PC food

Then we head to the buffet for a yummy breakfast filled with fresh fruit, local delicacies and international fare. [Germans love cold cuts. I’m just saying.]

11am is mojito time. Don’t judge, it’s the D.R.

Line ’em up. Mojitos are yummy, refreshing and full of rum!

Around 1pm, we start feeling guilty for the 2 hours rum infusion and we grab some lunch, usually somewhere close to the beach.

Nighttime activities abound. You never know what you’ll find.

After lunch, it’s back to the beach until around 4, when we head to the pool for an hour or two. Mr. X is an ocean swimmer, I prefer the predictability of a pool. I like to know what I’m stepping on underwater. Also, there’s a bar. [I’m beginning to sound like a lush!]

Around 6-ish, we head up to our room, shower, change for dinner, and decide where to spend our evening. There’s always something going on somewhere: a live band, karaoke, a musical revue filled with celebrity impersonators, “Cirque de Sol” [only a hint of copyright infringement there], the list is really endless.

The real reason to come down here is the people. They’re all so warm and friendly and happy to share paradise with you, for a nominal fee. Honestly, for the food, the service, and every other thing there is to enjoy in the Dominican Republic (swim with dolphins!) it is remarkably inexpensive. We stay in moderate-but-gorgeous all-inclusive resorts, so food and drink are readily available. The only cash we carry is for tipping and souvenirs. Sure, you could go crazy and spend a mint in one of the “five star” properties, but there’s no need. Sun in the sky, sand in your toes, and mojitos on tap. What more could you ask for?

Mama Juana

Mama Juana is sweet, spicy and STRONG.

Mama Juana. You could ask for Mama Juana, and they will pour it for you. Just don’t plan on operating any heavy machinery afterwards. Salud!

I’m going for a swim.

 

 

xio sig1

Isn’t it time you visited Copenhagen?

Isn’t it time you visited Copenhagen?

Nyhavn in Copenhagen

Nyhavn in Copenhagen

One of my favourite places to go when I need a change of scenery is Copenhagen. Just an hour’s flight  away from Stockholm, it’s the perfect destination for a weekend trip–no layovers necessary. Of course, I’ve got a long-standing love affair with Copenhagen. It all started back in the summer of 1996, when I visited the city for the very first time. By then, I’d been living in Stockholm, Sweden–itself a beautiful city–for exactly a year. I loved Stockholm, but sometimes its pristine orderliness drove me insane. Things were almost too perfect. Copenhagen has a little of the same vibe, but it a more laidback way. Stockholm never really lets you see her with her hair down. Copenhagen doesn’t mind if you see her with smudged eyeliner and bedhead.

 

Yummy smørrebrød from Aamans. Photo credit: aamans.dk

Yummy smørrebrød from Aamans. Photo credit: aamans.dk

Craft beer and smørrebrød–yum!

So you’re probably wondering why you should visit Copenhagen, aside from the fact that it’s a beautiful city on the water full of beautiful people? Well, the beer and the food, of course. Copenhagen is home Carlsberg (probably the best beer in the world–or at least, that’s what they–meaning Carlsberg–say) and the world’s best open-faced sandwiches, which the Danes call smørrebrød.

For smørrebrød, there are tons of options, but many locals swear by Aamans. And while I am not a local, I can say I’ve enjoyed every smørrebrød I’ve ever had there. I love their blue cheese smørrebrød with plum gel, hazelnut creme, roasted hazelnuts and cress. I’m also a big fan of their herring sandwich and their braised pork breast sandwich. Just thinking about it is making me hungry.

Now, I know I mentioned Carlsberg, but when I am in Copenhagen, it’s not my beer of choice. No trip to Copenhagen is complete without stopping in either Nørrebro Brygghus on Ryesgade and trying the latest brews on tap or dipping into Mikkeller & Friends on Stefansgade and sampling their brews. I’m especially partial to their dark beers.

Now if you are more a pastry type, there are plenty of bakeries and cafés to duck into. For a classic Copenhagen experience, head over to Conditoriet La Glace, just off Strøget, and try the Karen von Blixen cake,  but get there early–it fills up quickly at the weekend.

The Little Mermaid. Photo credit: visitcopenhagen.com

The Little Mermaid. Photo credit: visitcopenhagen.com

More than just the Little Mermaid

Most tourists go to Copenhagen to see the Little Mermaid (or Lille Havsfrue as the Danes call her), but I’d suggest walking around the city and discovering it like a local. Most Danes seem pretty ambivalent about the Little Mermaid–they don’t really get all the fuss around her–I think the tourists streaming to the harbor to get a look at her is more amusing to them than anything else. I usually like going to Ny Carlsbergs Glyptoteket–an amazing collection of art and a fantastic café there, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk or the Copenhagen Jazz Festival in July. And you can always check out the local music scene at Kind of Blue on Ravnsborgsgade, where you’ll hear everything from spoken word to indie rock to jazz. If you’re traveling with kids, they usually go crazy for Tivoli Gardens amusement park. Ask your hotel if they can arrange discounted tickets as it can be pretty expensive, but you can also order your tickets online

Go mad at Madklubben

A lot of people will swear to you that you need to book a table at NOMA or some other expensive restaurant while you’re in Copenhagen. I think you should save your money for shopping (yes, there is amazing shopping there) and then eat at Madklubben Bistro-de-Luxe. The concept is great–delicious food that won’t kill your budget–and the service level is top-notch. The menu is seasonal and features local produce.  I’ve eaten here a few times and never been disappointed. It’s also quite nice that waitstaff are insanely attractive.

A place to lay your head

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 22.09.48If you’re like me and you like great location, comfortable beds, and good breakfast when you stay at a hotel, then follow my lead. My husband and I love staying at the Hotel Kong Arthur on Nørre Søgade. According to Tord, their lobby bar serves the best gin and tonics in the world. I am partial to their very comfortable spa room and the inner courtyard, which is a great place to have a drink or relax during the summer. In fact, I came up with the idea for my novel, Maybe Baby, while enjoying a summer drink in the courtyard. It’s in a great location–just a short walk from Norreport Station, which means you can get back and forth Kastrup Airport very easily with either the long-distance trains or the subway. It’s also near Torvehallerne, a fantastic food hall that is a great dining option if you want a light lunch and a bit of people-watching. If the Kong Arthur is fully booked, try their sister hotel, Ibsens Hotel. Both hotels share the inner courtyard, and there are three restaurants nearby (Sticks ‘n’ Sushi, Pintxos for yummy tapas or La Rocca for Italian cuisine). I’ve tried all three–they are popular with locals and tourists alike and I really enjoyed the meals I had there.

The perfect place to relax on a summer evening.

The perfect place to relax on a summer evening.

 

So now that you’ve got a few pointers, what are you waiting for? Isn’t it time you booked your trip to Copenhagen and found your own favourite spots?

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