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Posts Tagged ‘food’

Renting a Paris apartment — the good, the oh…and the ohhhhh-shit!

In cities, culture, design, domestic life, immigration, life, travel, urban life on January 4, 2015 at 9:38 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The view from our bedroom window

The view from our bedroom window

The last few visits here we’ve rented an apartment. Unless we suddenly (hah!) come into millions, I suspect we’ll keep making that same choice, for a few reasons.

We stayed in a hotel for one night seven years ago. It was gorgeous but minuscule — and our own bathroom at home is 5 x 7, so I know what small looks like!

I’m also a homebody, so I like being able to laze around for hours in the morning, or afternoon, without the need to get dressed to eat or wait for a maid to come clean the room. I like listening to music on my computer (check out TSF jazz, a local station here I discovered this trip.)

I really enjoy having a home to come home to after a fun/exhausting day bopping around Paris. I love the city but — between crazy shoving crowds, the endless stairs of the Metro and the general pace — it’s epuisant!

A few thoughts for those of you considering it:

The good

You can choose a neighborhood and get to know it

We rented on the Ile St. Louis twice, a two-bedroom with a large and comfortable bathroom and super-deep bathtub. We literally overlooked Berthillon, the famed ice cream maker, and could hop across the street for a boule of mango or passion fruit. The ISL is a quiet and bourgeois neighborhood but it’s perfectly located in the Seine, with easy walking access to the Left Bank and Right Bank (the two halves of Paris.) There are plenty of restaurants.

This time we’ve been in the 7th., also quiet and bourgeois. I’ve loved every minute of it and will miss it. It’s not a spot I would have chosen, (we were offered it by friends), so it’s been a great discovery.

Every quartier is different and each has its own character. Some are staid and quiet, others funky and gentrifying, others crazy jammed with tourists.

You flee other tourists!

I fail to see the point, or pleasure, of traveling the world only to be surrounded, in a hotel or hostel, by fellow North Americans — I travel to flee my normal life and its references! By renting a flat, whether you’re alone or with your family, you’re choosing to plant yourself into the country, culture and neighborhood, not cling to the safe and familiar.

You’ll live like a Parisian for a while

Not a bad thing! You’ll shop every day or so for freshly-baked bread, produce, flowers, and the many delicious cheeses. You can stop at a traiteur offering an array of delicious prepared foods, from a roast chicken to a quiche to salads. You’ll line up at la boulangerie for your daily fresh baguette or croissant.

This salmon and spinach quiche cost about $16 from a traiteur gave us several meals and snacks. Delicieux!

This salmon and spinach quiche cost about $16 from a traiteur gave us several meals and snacks. Delicieux!

You can cook!

Maybe your dream is to fully escape the kitchen. But if you love great food, what better pleasure than waking up to a fresh croissant and some runny cheese in the comfort of your temporary home? Making a tisane from some tea you bought around the corner and settling into the sofa? Enjoying a yogurt or fromage blanc? Fresh figs, the fattest asparagus you’ve ever seen…

It’s cheaper and healthier to eat even some of your meals at home plus the added sensual joy of shopping for lovely food in the city’s many street markets…not just racing around an enormous, soulless American grocery store jammed with nasty, useless, fattening junk food. (Yes, I loathe them!)

I pigged out our first week and could barely get into my stockings as a result. The second week, alone, I ate more often at home, consumed less, and many fewer sweets and wine. Voila!

I was amazed by my friend Rebecca — one day after arriving from the U.S. this week, and using a one-burner stove, she made a fantastic meal: bruschetta, green salad, fish stew and a bakery-bought galette du roi. (See, you won’t find that classic dessert on a restaurant menu!)

OK, maybe it looks easy to you!

OK, maybe it looks easy to you!

If you speak French, allez-y! If you don’t, you’ll pick some up quickly

I speak French so I really enjoy chatting to people here, whether asking a law student at the landromat to help me figure out to open the washer door (!) to buying new shoelaces. The city gets so many tourists you’ll find many shopkeepers and retailers able to converse en anglais — but so much better if you quickly adopt the essential habit of saying, every single time, Bonjour monsieur/madame! and Au revoir, monsieur/dame! It’s comme il faut and just a more civilized way to behave.

If you have fantasies of living here more permanently, (as we do), you’ll quickly get a better feel for the place

The sun rises here in late December at 8:43 a.m. Seriously. This city is much further north than you might expect, so days are short and often very cloudy. If you take the bus and Metro as locals do, you’ll experience the utter insanity of rush hour and can enjoy getting lost within the bowels of Chatelet Les Halles mid-renovation — all joys you’d miss if you cab everywhere.

The apartments I’ve been staying in here are both on the ground floor. Easy for luggage and shopping — but they don’t get much daylight. I now realize how essential it would be to rent or own on a higher floor to access the maximum precious sunlight as winter days here also tend to be overcast.

Rue Cler, around the corner from our borrowed apartment...filled with shops

Rue Cler, around the corner from our borrowed apartment…filled with shops

You’ll feel the rhythms of the neighborhood and the city

Almost every building has a concierge or gardien, a man or woman, (like a superintendent), who keeps a careful eye on the building and its inhabitants. In the 7th, our gardien was Marie, a lovely African-American woman with a rocking collection of sneakers, (les baskets!), who also delivered the mail.

You’ll see when shops open and close, and get to know your local merchants a bit as you buy your food and drink. You’ll see dog-walkers and babies in their carriages and kids on their way to and from school.

The oh…

Don’t expect to find a washer, dryer or dishwasher

Most Paris apartments are small, and appliances and furniture scaled accordingly. Many homes will have a small washing machine for clothes, but fewer will also accommodate a dryer and I would never expect to find a dishwasher. Bring enough clothes and/or be prepared to spend an hour at the laundromat or do some hand-washing.

Things will look different — like electrical outlets!

French appliances use a two-pronged plug whose prongs are rounded. Be sure to bring a set of electrical converters with you. I’d also inquire before you arrive about how much power you can safely use before blowing a fuse. (See below!)

Don’t forget — you’ll be thinking and shopping in metric!

So if you want a small portion of meat or cheese or loose tea, think 100 grams, (cent grams, s’il vous plait!); a kilo = 2.2 pounds.

Also, in euros!

So don’t forget that it’s not $10 you’re spending but $13 or $15 or whatever the rate is that week.

Is there an elevator?

I made the mistake on a prior visit of taking a friend’s advice to stay in a flat he had enjoyed. I didn’t even think to ask…and it was a sixth-floor walk-up. Make sure, if you dislike hoofing it with tons of luggage up a narrow staircase, there is un ascenseur.

Is the flat properly heated/cooled?

I’ve been wearing a lot more clothing than I expected to sleep in.

Beware of minuterie

This oh-so-French invention is lighting that only stays on for a few minutes, saving costs for the building. You have to find the hallway and/or stairs light button outside your apartment, (not easy), push it, and move fast! Best to carry with you a mini-flashlight or headlamp.

How good is the apartment’s lighting?

We had only one small bedside lamp. Bring a mini-flashlight — (how to unlock that unfamiliar door in a dark hallway?) —  and a headlamp, available from any camping supply company.

The ohhhhhhh-shit!

Don’t lose the keys!

Don’t forget the door code!

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Remember your address and memorize the nearest Metro stops; functioning while jet-lagged and disoriented and non-French-speaking, (let alone drugged or drunk), is not a great combo.

Bring a large, light, capacious bag for food-shopping. You’ll need it.

Carry a Metro map and Plan de Paris, (or whatever app suits you), so you can always orient yourself quickly. You do not want to be the hapless tourist whose bag is snatched, backpack plundered or pockets picked while you dick around on the Metro or street corner. It happens!

And don’t — as poor Jose did — bring a power strip and try to plug it in. Nope. Blew a fuse and that introduced us to the (very nice) people at our local electric supply shop…after photographing the fusebox, which we did not understand, and emailing the image to our friend whose apartment it is…

Bienvenue a Paris, mes cher(e)s!

Ohlalalalalalala....

Ohlalalalalalala….

Paris snapshots…(mostly food!)

In beauty, cities, culture, design, food, life, travel, urban life on December 25, 2014 at 9:24 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Paris is a city I know and love. I first came here in my early 20s, returned for a year when I was 25 on a journalism fellowship, and have come back as many times since as time and budget allow. I speak fluent French, so I love having the chance to use it and hear it once more.

It’s a city known for the ferocious impatience of its inhabitants, especially to those who speak not a word of French. Maybe it’s me, or the holidays or something in the water, but everyone, this time, has been welcoming and patient, even when (quelle horreur!) I asked to take home the delicious left-overs from a restaurant dinner a few nights ago. They were offered to me in a tidy plastic box, and I was still enjoying them two days later…

The past few visits — the most recent October 2009 — we’ve stayed in a rented apartment on the Ile St. Louis, in the middle of the Seine, with easy walking to the Marais. This time, we’re in the 7th, a quiet, bourgeois, mostly-residential neighborhood. The apartment we’ve borrowed is on the ground floor, absolutely silent, facing a courtyard; the view from bed as I write this is of an ivy-covered wall through tall four-paned windows; it belongs to a photographer and photo editor we know professionally.

Like many such Paris homes, we enter through a heavy door facing the street, using a code on a keypad, then step through an outdoor entrance way guarded by Marie, the friendly concierge. Through another heavy door and we’re into a large, airy courtyard, faced by many other apartments, some with tiny balconies, some of which have a small tree on them.

Maybe everyone is away for the holidays. Or maybe they’re just French — but it’s soooooooo quiet! No traffic noise. No shouting or kids yelling.

I love the apartment’s so-French design details — from the wide, smooth, bare herringbone wood floors to the egg-shaped doorhandles in the middle of the door at waist height. The whoosh of the water-heater in the kitchen is the only sound. The toilet is in its own separate small room — freeeeeeezing! The kitchen floor is red hexagonal tile. (We promised no interior photos, so as to respect our friends’ privacy.)

Some images…

Carbs, carbs, carbs....

Carbs, carbs, carbs….

This is embarrassing! Butter, bread, pastry, pasta…No, we don’t eat like this at home. But a daily fresh baguette is something of a necessity here. The raisin bread at the top of the photo is from Poilane, considered one of Paris’ best bakeries. It’s sliced very thinly but is very satisfying and chewy. Yes, there is even a bar of Lindt chocolate in there as well. Sigh.

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I have never seen meringues the size of a baby’s head. No, we didn’t buy them! There was a long line-up for the bakery where I saw these.

Love 'em!

Love ’em!

Some of you may know the clothing brand Petit Bateau, whose cotton T-shirts are popular for their quality. This is their shop on rue de Grenelle, in the 7th, a few doors from where we’re staying. It also has the most gorgeous baby clothes and shoes.

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One of the many things I so love about Paris is color, and often deep, rich colors I rarely see at home in New York. Here’s a doorway in the 7th.

And the exquisite carving on some buildings….this, on Ave. Bosquet in the 7th (a bourgeois neighborhood.)

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Those of you who know Paris know well some of the designs that are typical — like these broken-tile floors, often found in bistros of a certain era. This is from Le Baratin, a well-known resto in Belleville.

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I was in a florist shop when this woman entered — wearing a long black shawl pinned atop her head, which sported a very tall pile of hair. She walked away down the street with an enormous armload of flowers and her groceries. Note the spectacular periwinkle blue of the shop exterior (a frame store.)

I love the scale and intimacy of the streets here, so very different from New York, where I live.

A street in the 7th.

A street in the 7th.

This quiche was our first food purchase, 13 euros, about $16. It’s salmon and spinach and baked within its own wooden hoop, like a culinary embroidery. One of the best quiches I’ve ever eaten! It’s been much more fun to buy and cook some of our own food at home than eating out three costly meals a day. The apartment we’ve been loaned is steps from the Rue Cler, a famous market street — with multiple wine shops, bakeries, a fish-monger and many other food vendors. Foodie heaven!

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More photos soon…

Men telling women what to do with their bodies, from FGM to lunch

In behavior, culture, life, men, news, politics, religion, women on July 25, 2014 at 12:38 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Al Araibya reports that women in Iraq now face the prospect of FGM — female genital mutilation:

The al-Qaeda-Inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has ordered all girls and women between the ages of 11 and 46 in and around Iraq’s northern city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation, the United Nations said on Thursday.

“It is a fatwa (or religious edict) of ISIS, we learnt this this morning,” said Jacqueline Badcock, the number two U.N. official in Iraq.

The “fatwa” would potentially affect 4 million women and girls, Badcock told reporters in Geneva by videolink from Arbil.

“This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed,” she said, according to Reuters.

Tired of feeling trapped by sexist, misogynist assholes!

Tired of feeling trapped by sexist, misogynist assholes!

And here’s a story from The Guardian about how men feel completely comfortable telling women they do not know personally what or how to eat:

That so many women have reported this frankly quite incredibly patronising experience, is testament to the strength of the myth that a woman’s physical form exists, above all else, to titillate men. It’s the same mistaken assumption that lies behind the command to “give us a smile”, or the belief that a woman in a low-cut top must be looking for male attention.

As incredible as it seems, some women actually experience moments in their lives when their entire sentient being isn’t focused exclusively on providing men pleasure. They might wear a strappy top because they are hot, for example; eat a burger because they are hungry; or drink a diet soda because they quite like the taste. Explosive revelations, I know.

You might laugh, but for some, the belief that a man has an automatic “right” over the body of any woman he encounters in a public space is worryingly ingrained.

Should we laugh, cry, get angry — or start an MGM movement in reply?

Seriously.

 

 

The great pleasure of old-school dining

In business, cities, culture, food, life, Style, urban life on December 29, 2013 at 12:39 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Fogey alert!

If you consider thick white tablecloths and enormous floral arrangements and black-clad waiters who wouldn’t dream of introducing  themselves to you by name stuffy and boring….this post isn’t for you.

But if, like me, you adore a fine, old restaurant that still does things right, here’s a lovely paean to them, from The New York Times Style magazine:

In an age of studied casualness, of competitive waiting in line and chef-stalking and meal-Instagramming, of pedigreed pigs and forced intimacy with your neighbors’ elbows, it is novel to be served by a dignified career waiter in a jacket who knows his business. It is relaxing to look at a menu and (with the exception of certain démodé concoctions) know exactly what you’re getting. And most magical of all, it is astounding to be transported to a time when people not only dressed up, but also when your chair was pulled out for you and your cigarette (yes, cigarette!) was lit before it had reached your lips.

The writer, Sadie Stein, names a few old-school spots I’ve been lucky enough to eat in as well:

"The Sower," Simon & Schuster logo, ...

“The Sower,” Simon & Schuster logo, circa 1961 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— After a meeting at the offices of Simon & Schuster, on Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, on a bitterly cold, wet winter’s day in 2002, I knew they were going to buy my first book. I was insanely excited but had no one, at 4:00 p.m., to share that moment with. My agent had rushed back to his office downtown. So I went into the “21” Club, at 21 West 52d,  and ordered coffee and profiteroles and sat by the fire and cherished this wonderful moment I had longed for my whole life. It was the perfect place to seal the deal.

Galatoire's Beer Dinner

Galatoire’s Beer Dinner (Photo credit: rdpeyton)

— I’ve been to Galatoire’s, a New Orleans institution, several times. The most recent, in late January 2012, was three days before I would lie on an operating room table to get a new left hip. I needed a good stiff drink and a delicious meal. What if they were among my last? I’d been in town to address a conference of liquor store owners, offering my suggestions how to hire, manage and motivate their workers, (the topic of my second book.) Galatoire’s was absolutely perfect, filled with elegance and celebration and fantastic food.

English: The main dining room of Galatoire's, ...

English: The main dining room of Galatoire’s, a noted restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— I’ve only eaten (so far!) once at La Grenouille, one of Manhattan’s true legends. It opened Dec. 19, 1962 in a townhouse in midtown. We ate upstairs, at L’Ardoise, and it was amazing. Here’s my post about it, from October 2009, a celebration meal in honor of my second book sale, treated by my father visiting from Canada:

Upstairs is a narrow room, with white-painted brick walls, lit by three 20-foot-tall lead-paned windows. A huge rug in the lightest shades of yellow, cream and green. A highly polished dark wood table marks the entrance. There are only five white-tableclothed tables, with another at the top of the stairs beneath a skylight, shaded by palms. Each has a small, perfect floral arrangement. There are paintings and drawing everywhere. You feel as if you’ve stumbled into someone’s private home, and you have. For many years, this was the home and studio of French painter Bernard LaMamotte — and before that, in the 1800s, the stable housing the horses of the owners of the mansion across the street, now the Cartier boutique. Those tall windows were once used to bring in hay.

It is, wrote Vanity Fair last year, “a private dining room of such beauty that one could be talked into becoming bedridden as long as one’s bed were there.”

Have you had a memorable meal in a place like this?

What was it like?

A tale of two cookbooks

In behavior, culture, domestic life, family, food, life on December 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

I love cooking, and cookbooks and folders filled with recipes clipped from everywhere.

I knew Jose, my husband, was a potential keeper when he had the same 1989 cookbook I’ve used for years, and love, written by American ex-pat Patricia Wells, “Bistro Cooking.”

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We once had friends over for dinner and the recipe — flambeed chicken with mushrooms — contained the unforgettable phrase “Avert your gaze” for the moment when you ignite the bird. (Or singe your eyelashes and eyebrows.)

Two cookbooks I’m getting to know and enjoy are so utterly different. Even their covers and photos are as unalike — as the British would say — as chalk and cheese.

One, Tamasin’s Weekend Food, is written by Tamasin Day-Lewis, sister of the British actor Daniel Day-Lewis. I have no idea where I bought it — probably on a visit home to Canada, where it’s much easier to find books by British publishers than here in New York.

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I love everything about this book, from its silver end-papers to the way it’s structured: Friday Night, Saturday morning, Saturday lunch, Tea time, Saturday supper and Sunday lunch.

I love her elegant assumption, (so not true for us), that one has fled the craziness of city life for a weekend spent with kids and dogs in some crumbling 16th century rectory with muddy Wellies in the entryway.

It has a soft red ribbon with which to mark your place.

I love the photos of her — no make-up, lean-limbed, clutching a bunch of carrots in her blue jeans like some Celtic Scarlett O’Hara, long hair askew. Even on the cover, she’s looking down, not smiling and looks tired.

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The recipes, each quirky enough to be interesting, are a mix of humble — home-made bread — and vaguely exotic, like pan bagnat., one of my favorite French things to eat.

I recently — on a weeknight even! — when it was rainy and windy and the night air smelled of woodsmoke, tackled her salmon fishcakes with creme fraiche tartare sauce. All of it made from scratch. She insisted on wild salmon — and, indeed it had a wholly different consistency than the filets we usually buy. The tartar sauce, as promised was “moreish, the sort of thing you have to dip your finger into.” Indeed! It was light, creamy, tart and unlike any gummy, nasty bottled tartar sauce I’ve eaten.

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The other book, “The barefoot contessa back to basics” is very American, from its cover image of jolly, not-thin Ina Garten looking into the camera with its perky lime-green lettering, spine and end-papers to the photo of her gorgeous country house — a mansion in the Hamptons and super-elegant kitchen. It was a wedding gift to us from friends who, like us, love to entertain guests.

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I like that she includes recipes for cocktails, one of which we served at a brunch for friends — mango banana daiquiris.

I like her list of 10 things not to serve at a dinner party, including garlic and raw onions, nuts and two fish courses. (We now make sure to ask every guest if there is any food they loathe, having once made a fantastic salmon dish at which my friend J [sigh] sniffed: “I don’t eat fish.”)

Not the right answer!

The recipes offer a nice range of choices and the color photos are terrific. I’m looking forward to exploring it further even as, (yes, somehow), I try to shed 30+ pounds over the next few months.

Here is a review of 14 cookbooks that came out in 2013, from Time Out New York, and 12 more from The New York Times. (Several books made both lists.) The one I’m most intrigued by is “Ottolenghi”, by the owner of the London restaurant that bears his last name.

Do you have a favorite cookbook or two to recommend?

It’s not just about the calories

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, food, Health, life, work on April 22, 2013 at 12:07 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m intrigued by what we eat, why we choose it and how challenging it is to eat (and drink!) very differently if you’re trying to lose weight.

Here’s a link to a new book that explains how major food companies carefully engineer things like potato chips so they are quite literally irresistible.

English: A pile of potato chips. These are Utz...

English: A pile of potato chips. These are Utz-brand, grandma’s kettle-cooked style. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2002, I gained 23 pounds in one year, stunning both my GP and ob-gyn.

I hadn’t done anything very differently, (no entire-cream-pie-eating-sessions, for example), but two major events had happened in the same six months — I’d started research, and lots of travel, on my first book and my mother (who survived) was found to have a very large brain tumor.

I went out to Vancouver, British Columbia, (I was in Dayton, Ohio doing book research when I learned I had a few days to get there) to see her through the surgery. Oh, and, I’d discovered some cysts in one breast (turned out to be nothing) that was scaring me shitless.

My point is this — if you’d commanded me, then, to count every calorie I was ingesting, I’d have laughed hysterically. Every ounce of my energy and wits was already in play.

Nor did I have much free time to go to a gym or be intentional about weight loss. I was writing a book about women and guns in America, a topic that was sometimes so dark and frightening I got secondary trauma. I’ve never owned a scale, nor am I the sort of person who stares at herself in the mirror every day pinching every excess inch with self-loathing.

But I do live and work in a wealthy suburb of New York City, where the alpha women are all ropy arms, size 2’s in sheath dresses, their calves the diameter of my forearms. And, in America, being productive trumps everything, so we’re all running reallyfastallthetime, tending to the endless needs of our bosses, clients and families, usually in that order.
Oh…..and our needs as well.

I think this skewed order is very much a part of why so many people are so fat. When the only source of real, cheap, accessible pleasure is something in a crinkly bag you can cram into your mouth while driving/commuting/sitting at your desk, you’re going to take the path of least resistance.

If the only thing that day (or week or month) that is going to make you 100 percent happy, (without a fight or eye-roll or endless negotiation with a whiny toddler), is a doughnut (dopamine hit alert!), odds are higher you’ll reach for the easy, quick and cheap holy trinity of sugar, salt and fat than a pious, low-cal apple or pile of celery sticks.

The Thai versions of Lay's Potato Chips. Most ...

The Thai versions of Lay’s Potato Chips. Most of the flavours are seafood oriented. Why can we not get these flavours in America? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our choices are also deeply cultural. I recently interviewed a senior manager who tried to call a lunch meeting of her staff in Montreal, a city with French values (food matters!) in a nation much more committed to life balance. No one came. I love that!

We are all deeply hungry, throughout our lives, for many things — silence, beauty, kindness, understanding, stimulation, leisure, pleasure, solace. Many of us simply do not have enough of these things in our days, or lives. We under-value them, or refuse to carve out time for them or have made too many commitments to many other people. We’re lonely or bored or overworked or underpaid. Possibly all of these miseries at once!

Food becomes proxy for so many other things we really want but can’t get, often in public moments when we most need comfort or joy: Fries instead of a hug. A Coke instead of a compliment. A bag of popcorn, with butter, instead of ten (six?) hours’ unbroken sleep. A 20-ounce latte instead of 20 minutes’ walk in fresh air with a lovely view.

I’m trying, still, to lose that weight, upping my exercise routine and being more careful about intake choices. So fucking tedious!

English: Snack food (potato chips and the like...

English: Snack food (potato chips and the like) vendors at side of church in Coyoacan, Mexico City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Simply counting all those calories doesn’t address the fundamental and challenging issues of every single choice affected by our knowledge [or lack of] nutrition, our limits of self-discipline, our self-awareness, and the limited time many of us have to choose, prepare and consume affordably healthy food.

I did an eight-day silent retreat two years ago and when I re-emerged into the noisy chaotic world I was much more aware how noisy environments made me unconsciously eat more faster.

Food contains so much more than calories!

Here’s an interesting blog post about how we decide what to eat.

Do you enjoy cooking, and/or eating?

My greatest weakness is…

In behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life on April 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm
La bildo estas kopiita de wikipedia:fr. La ori...

La bildo estas kopiita de wikipedia:fr. La originala priskribo estas: Six fromages (du centre, puis dans le sens des aiguilles d'une montre) : Valençay, Ossau Iraty, Bleu d'Auvergne, Époisses, Cœur de Neuchatel, Saint-félicien. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was talking to a friend who’s a doctor who admitted he can’t be safely left near any large container of ice cream. It’s all or nothing.

Made me think what my weakness(es) might be.

Sadly, it’s a long-ish list, including:

Tabletop. Anything used to set a table, from bowls to linens to candlesticks. Yes, yes, all of it! I love to set a pretty table and entertain, so I collect anything charming in aid of same. Jose threatens often to de-bowl me as I keep bringing them into our small apartment.

Antiques. Specifically, jewelry, textiles, prints. Anything from 1860 and earlier, and 18th century and older is a big draw, if more difficult to find here in the New World.  We live in a one bedroom apartment, with very limited space to add anything new. But (yes, I admit) we also have a garage. And a storage locker. OK, several storage lockers. Small ones.

Scarves. As someone who loves to travel and pack lightly, scarves are a fab way to make the same outfit look different every day, doubling as shawls or even sarongs when necessary, adding warmth and style.

Almost anything French. My new hip even has a ceramic head made in France. Chic! Having lived in Paris for a year and traveled to France many times, j’adore les choses francaises. These include everything from my polka-dot apron and mini-juicer, both bought in Paris, to a funky little Art Deco perpetual calendar to my super well-cut black cotton jacket whose elegant proportions are so utterly not made in China.

If you’ve never heard the late, exquisite chanteuse Barbara or the raspy Mano Solo, check them out.

— Cheese. Speaking of things French. My friend who loves ice cream went into a little lusty haze as he began rhyming off some of his favorite French cheeses: Brie, Camembert. I’d add Cantal, Roquefort, Gouda, Cheddar, fresh creamy Mozzarrella. Yum!

— Beer. As a Canadian, this is a legitimate weakness, as some great brews come from my home and native land. If you ever get to Quebec, try to find this gorgeous apricot tinged ale. Love Magic Hat No. 9, Hoegaarden and Blue Moon (even though it’s really made by a major manufacturer of really bad beer, Coors.)

Jewelry. Thank heaven for a husband who indulges me! I buy a ring to mark major life moments, like the silver one I bought at Saks when I sold my first book and a gold ring, with the impression of an ancient Greek coin, bought from a local designer, when it was published. I love wearing my Deco earrings from the LA flea market, my pottery ring from Mesilla, NM and my pendant charms found in Atlanta.

‘Fess up, mes cher(e)s…what are some of your weaknesses?

I Love Dinner Parties!

In behavior, entertainment, family, food, life on December 4, 2011 at 1:25 am
Dinner party at a Mandarin's house.

Image via Wikipedia

When Jose and I started dating, it was a very short time before I put him to the acid test — helping me throw a dinner party.

I love giving dinner parties!

They satisfy many urges: to make people happy, to feed them well, to set a pretty table, (candles, flowers, home-made place cards, linen or cotton napkins, colorful plates, shiny silver), and to create new connections between the people I love.

We had two couples over recently who had never met, but I knew would get along and enjoy one another, (another key to a great dinner party. No random guests!) The two women, even with a 15-year age difference, had both worked in book publishing in Manhattan. Their husbands are quieter, but both have a dry sense of humor. They all love to eat well and everyone loves to laugh.

The menu:

tomato soup (with a touch of gin!)

salmon with tangerine/butter/soy sauce glaze

asparagus

mango rice

chocolate ice cream with my invention, (what I call drunk fruit), served hot on top. (Throw blackberries, raspberries, apple, pear, butter, cloves, cinnamon, maple syrup, lemon or lime juice, scotch and/or Marsala and/or sherry into a heavy pan and boil. Yum!)

The best part was remembering that one of the women had cut a CD a few years ago, a gift from her family. So we all listened to it, and the other woman happily sang along.

We love remembering dinner parties we held a decade ago, like the one that included our minister and his wife (in their 60s), a young photographer and journalist, a Times shooter just back from Afghanistan and my web designer. One couple locked eyes across our table — and married a few years later.

The mix matters!

No boors/bores. No mean jokes. No one smokes. No one drinks to excess. We’re passionate about the news and current affairs. Aggression, whether passive or active, is deeply unwelcome; here’s a sadly accurate blog post about watching three sorts of moribund marriages across the table.

Our friends have generally traveled the world, are educated, read widely and avidly, share enough cultural references we’ve got something in common but enough (civil!) difference of opinion to enjoy talking to one another.

We’ve got it down to a science, helped by the fact I work at home and can easily make time for fussy niceties like ironing a tablecloth and napkins or re-filling the votives. I love settling in with my recipes and cookbooks to plan a meal that’s balanced, interesting and good-looking. Our kitchen is very small, so we do it restaurant-style, with prep work in advance, and plating on the kitchen counter.

I grew up in a family that frequently had friends over for dinner, and Jose’s Mom, as a small-town minister’s wife did often for family and church visitors.

It’s one of the happiest traditions he and I now continue. (I do know that having kids, especially small ones, makes this sort of thing more difficult. We don’t have kids.)

Do you enjoy entertaining?

The Best Meals Of My Life

In family, food, travel on August 4, 2011 at 11:26 am
New Year's Eve fireworks in Paris

Oooh-la-la! This is how my tastebuds felt. Image via Wikipedia

Having just survived eight days of an all-vegetarian retreat — I may never eat field greens again! — it got me to thinking of the best meals (and, yes, drinks!) I’ve ever enjoyed.

The food we ate wasn’t bad at all, and in fact beautifully presented, healthy, full of vitamins. The cheese/fennel scones were perfect little pillows; the berry crumble lovely; the crispy green beans just the right color and texture…

But still.

Here are some of my favorite meals:

In a port-side cafe in Concarneau, Brittany, cold, fresh oysters, a baguette with sweet butter, tiny hot sausages and a crisp glass of Muscadet.

Street-vendor food in Bangkok.

My late granny’s Christmas goose.

My mom’s hamburger smash — ground meat, salt, pepper, carrots, potatoes — all mixed up in a frying pan.

The sweetie’s blueberry pancakes with, of course, real maple syrup.

A spectacular fish soup I ate on a frigidly cold winter’s day in Old Montreal — in 1987! It was that good.

The peach crumble with sour cream at Stash Cafe, also in Old Montreal.

On my first visit to England, when I was 12, eating clotted cream right from the bottle.

Some hellaciously good barbecue in Fort Worth.

At a rooftop party in Paris on New Year’s Eve, fistfuls of fresh oysters shucked right in front of us.

At Los Almendros, in Merida, a fish dish so good we went back the next night and ate it again.

The tiny perfect sweet mussels our friend Celia made for us for dinner when she lived in Paris, served on her rooftop.

The stew my Dad and I made in Ireland from mussels we picked ourselves from Galway Bay.

My friend Mary’s Brooklyn roof-top open-air feasts, with a bottomless tureen of lethal/delicious caipirinhas.

Hot, fresh churros with a melting chocolate center, bought from a Mexico City roadside stand our driver Gerardo took us to.

The spaghetti carbonara, eaten at the bar, at Morandi in New York City.

The tacos al pastor and homemade guacamole at Toloache, also in Manhattan.

My first pisco sour, at Carlin, in Lima.

At Casa de Piedra, a long-gone and lovely hotel in Cuernavaca, my first and unforgettable taste of sweet chestnut paste. Not to mention their enormous, salty home-made potato chips. (Here’s a link to a replacement every bit as lovely and charming, Casa Colonial.)

How about you?

Dish!

The Pleasure Of A Four Hour Lunch

In behavior, business, cities, food, travel, urban life, work on November 13, 2010 at 1:04 pm
The Standard Grill - Meatpacking

The Standard Grill, NYC. Image by thms.nl via Flickr

I finally ate yesterday at the Standard Grill, one of Manhattan’s trendiest restaurants — the scene at the front door a dazzling blur of entitlement, of leopard coats and Goyard handbags and great jewelry and the set jaw of the people who expect everything now having to actually wait a few minutes for their pleasure.

But it was worth it. I’d made a reservation five days earlier, sitting on hold for 10 minutes, to meet a young friend there visiting from Ottawa. He’s a stylish guy and I knew this would be a good fit.

(One of the greatest pleasures of living in New York is deciding which bar or restaurant to take someone to who is visiting from elsewhere; tonight we’re heading to Toloache, our favorite midtown restaurant, which is a gorgeous room, serves amazing, fresh small margaritas and serves beautiful Mexican food.  Our guests tonight are friends from small-town Rhode Island, an artist and her professor husband.)

Our lunch was perfect, as much for the waiter’s patience as for the food and ambience — the penny tile on the floor actually was pennies. We had only met once before, last July in Vancouver, and we are still getting to know one another. Plus we’re both journos, both Canadian and love to read. I think we must have talked for at least half an hour before we even ordered.

The food was simple but good, and my martini blessedly powerful. We suddenly noticed the lights changing — and, having met at 1:00, it was now 4:40 and the sky outside was darkening.

My lunch companion was a young man half my age, someone (yay!) whom I recently found a job for through — who else? — a man who took over my Montreal apartment in 1988 and found me this summer on LinkedIn. We met on-line as bloggers for the same site, now defunct, and decided to have dinner when I visited B.C.

As someone self-employed, a long lunch and lazy afternoon are my best work-related “benefits”  — not a 401(k) match or paid sick days — but the ability, when and where possible, to savor a great leisurely meal in lovely surroundings with someone whose company and conversation I enjoy.

One new friend, who lost her job two months ago, meets me once a week at a local diner where we catch up. She is OK financially, if bored and restless, and only now — now that she has time to sit and relax and not rush off — are we finally getting to know another.

Time to enjoy one another has become the ultimate luxury.

Do you ever take long, lazy lunches? Who do you have them with, and where? What do you eat?

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