22 July 2014

France Adventure Day 3: Take Me To The Sea

It was not fun waking up the next morning but we had to get going to catch a train to Bordeaux where we had a car waiting for us at the airport. The only thing that happened that later became a big deal was a pain in my back that kind of appeared while I was sitting on the train.  I kept stretching and trying to ignore it.  More later on that...

You know you're in wine country when you see this in the airport parking lot...

A couple of lessons learned when renting a car in a foreign country -

1. Always pay extra for the navigation system.
2. Always have loads of cash on you to pay the tolls.
3. Always pay extra for the navigation system.
4. Make sure you get in the right lane to pay cash when you come to the toll booth.
5. Always pay extra for the navigation system.
6. Pay extra for the automatic rental if only one of you can kind of drive stick.
7. Start loving roundabouts. 

We took turns driving and they weren't for crazy long distances but all of it was so new to both of us.  All of the decisions we made that we didn't think would be such big deals were the right decisions.  Thankfully France drives on the same side of the road as us and there are lots of rest stops along the way.  I actually really enjoyed driving 130 kilometers and wonder why we can't do that in this country.

Meliss took the first day of driving because she took pity on me for still not being fully awake.  I was sleeping through most of that trip but I was amazed through the trip by how much the scenery changed in such short drives.

We finally arrived in Biarritz where we were staying our next two nights.  Jean-Baptiste had told me how lovely it was and I had already been kind of in the area when I visited San Sebastian a few years prior.  It was still a little too cool for me to hang out on the beach much but we just walked around our first afternoon.  It's gorgeous.  It's a seaside village where the rich and famous used to party in the 70s.  It's obvious why.

This is us being very happy to be where we were.

21 July 2014

France Adventure Day 2: I Love Paris Especially When I'm Sleep Deprived

I finally arrived in Paris around noon and went straight to the hotel.  I had that I kind of slept but I'm still not really alive feeling.  I was just so happy to check in the hotel and our room had two beds.  This was a major part of the hotel planning - two beds.  I love Meliss but it's best to just have our own beds.

I showered, rested for a second and realized my time in Paris was very short.  I started walking toward the Musée Nissim de Camondo which was conveniently near the hotel when I jumped for joy because I saw this place.

I bought a few macarons knowing that I could share them with Meliss that night.  I also ventured into the chocolates which was a very good move on my part.  This started a lovely tradition where chocolate was consumed at least once a day on this holiday. The French do chocolate very well.

Pierre Herme is one of my favorite places to buy macarons.  Such happiness.

I walked just a little further to find this museum of French decorative arts with a very sad history.  The owners were a very wealthy Jewish family.  Their son died fighting in World War I and the remaining family was killed in Aushwitz.  The house is still maintained as if it were a private home.  Looking through the photos of my first day in France I am reminded of the gorgeous colors everywhere I looked.

I don't remember the particulars of the home but I was struck by the blues in the furniture and rugs and the great care that was taken to decorate the home.

I loved the kitchen with all of the copper pots and pans.  Of course it reminds me of Downton Abbey as the dining room off of the kitchen was where the servants would have dined.

I walked through Parc Monceau where a great deal of Parisians were enjoying the sunshine.  I couldn't find the perfect point to capture just how many people were in the park.

I walked toward Rue Saint Honore to walk by Collette and a few of my other favorite stores and was surprised by the very long line at Christian Louboutin. I don't know why the line but I enjoyed checking out who was in it.

I was very happy to see the sites if only from a distance because I really wanted to get to Palais-Royal which is one of my favorite places in the city.  I couldn't sit as I had to get back to meet up with Meliss but the people watching made it perfect.

17 July 2014

France Adventure Day 1: Leaving the United States

I left for Paris on one of the hottest days in DC and a pretty hot day in NYC.  I woke up Tuesday morning after seeing Andrew Bird the night before.  I packed and walked to Union Station to catch a train wondering why I even bothered to shower.  The tickets to Paris were significantly cheaper flying out of JFK than DC so I decided to visit one of my favorite cities before going to my other favorite city.  I just didn't realize how hot it would be.

Lesson learned:  You can check a bag at Penn Station for a few dollars.  But if you tip $5, your bag will really be looked after.  It's completely worth it.

Lesson learned:  Eat lunch at Momofuku Ssam Bar around 2 pm because it's nearly empty.  Ryan met me for lunch and it was really lovely to just spend time with a friend in the middle of a travel day.

He had never been there before so I let him pick what sounded good considering everything is always good.  We split the broccoli salad with crispy duck skin and the smoked salmon buns with horseradish, egg and sesame.  And also the chicken ssam. It's the best kind of burrito.   

Lesson learned:  Eat ice cream everyday.  We still had a couple of hours to kill and the weather was begging for ice cream.  We walked down to Morgenstern's on Rivington because I really wanted to try this ice cream.  I loved the interior and we admired the tile.

I had the salted pretzel caramel and Szechuan peppercorn chocolate.  This is the ice cream that I crave.

Lesson learned: You can take a shower at JFK terminal 5 for $38.  I was hot and sticky and finding a place to shower was one of the greatest gifts.  I happily showered before boarding my 9 pm flight to Dublin and then on to Paris. 

Lesson learned:  Don't think you'll be able to sleep on a flight to Dublin.  We boarded, they fed us at 11 pm est and then again at 2 am est.  They just wanted to feed us all the time.

15 July 2014

Cookbook Club - The Gramercy Tavern

I volunteered to host in May because I had been planning my cookbook for months - The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook.  I've written about this restaurant many times and my love for it doesn't wane.  I've been using the book for a few months and it reminds me enough of the restaurant to make me very happy.

Anne brought her adorable little one.  

The recipes in the book are divided by seasons and most of us were very excited to make spring/summer dishes.  May made chilled corn soup.  She used a recipe found online and there were some very important components missing.  She made the broth which was good but this is the danger sometimes of online recipes.

I made chicken with Sugar Snap Peas and Almond Milk.  The dish is supposed to have pickled ramps but I missed that very short season by a few weeks.  It would have added a great sharp flavor to the dish but even without the ramps, I loved it.  The chicken was cooked in a skillet for a few minutes and then baked in the oven.  It was perfect.

Jocelyn made the Baby Artichokes with Summer Beans and Sun Gold Tomatoes and I forgot to take a photo.  It was another dish that took advantage of the season but Jocelyn wasn't able to find fresh artichokes.

My favorite dish was the Heirloom Tomato Tarts made by Megan.  This was the one dish where we all wanted the recipe.  It's perfect.  She didn't have tart pans but rolled out the dough to resemble pizzas.  Megan said the dough was even good on its own.

And another favorite - Anne made Chocolate-Covered Toffee with Pumpkin Seeds and Sea Salt.  I very happily ate the leftovers. 

Some of the recipes were more difficult to follow but I still firmly believe in this book.  I love the photos, the stories and the instructions.

14 July 2014

Wildlife in West Virginia

I left for France on 10 June and I've been back for a couple of weeks but it's been tough to want to resume life as normal.  I came back with horrible allergies, jet lag, a major craving for French chocolate and contentment.  I felt fine when I needed to fall asleep at 6 pm from exhaustion.  I was happy.  That bubble burst last week but it's a big reminder how much I really love traveling (especially with a friend that I love dearly).

Before I start talking about France, there are a few events that I don't want to forget about.  I gathered a group to hike Harpers Ferry in West VA at the end of May.  I had no idea what to expect but we chose the most difficult and longest hike possible and just went.

The day was gorgeous and not too hot.

Jane and Athelia - we were probably talking about how much we love avocados.

Debbie and Jane posing on the rocks.

We had just ate lunch and I was commenting to Anne (a friend I hadn't seen in years) that we hadn't seen any wildlife beyond bugs.  All of a sudden I saw this deer leap out of the forest.


I also really loved the hike because it was a civil war battle site.  I had no idea but there were markers all over showing how much equipment the soldiers brought up the mountain.  Again, simply amazed by what was possible.