Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mastering the Art

Long time no blog.

I guess I've been chattier lately on a finer granularity, on Facebook. It's a bit easier to say something brief.

So there's loads to catch up on (and lots of pictures that I need to go through, which seems to be a recurring theme), but I won't get too into that now, except to say that we enjoyed our 2 week trip back east for my nephew Matt's Bar Mitzvah and then traveling around seeing friends and seeing the fall colors. I will get pictures up eventually...

But the topic du jour is food. After coming back from Europe we had gotten pretty excited about French food and had a desire to expand our cooking horizons a bit. But we hadn't managed to get around to it much. Seeing "Julie and Julia" kind of reminded us again and prodded us to consider it more. Reading "My Life in France" (one of the books that the movie is based on), which my sister-in-law Laura got for us, also helped.

So a little while back we checked "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" out of the library, to give it a test drive. We were pretty impressed with some of our initial efforts (Ratatouille, Garlic Soup) that we decided to go ahead and buy it.

So this past weekend we dived head first into a major cooking extravaganza, Beef Bourguignon. It's quite an undertaking. Start to finish it was about 5 hours of prep time. But it's not really that bad -- a good chunk of that it's just sitting in the oven cooking. A big enough chunk that we easily were able to sit down and watch a movie ("Whatever Works", Woody Allen's latest). And apparently the dish only gets better if you let it sit around a bit, so we made the main course ahead of time on Saturday, and didn't have that much work to do on Sunday, when we were serving.

But we didn't just stop there, and before we knew it, we were planning a 5 course meal. At times some of the minutia of our planning conversations were perhaps a little embarrassing -- trying to figure out what wine to use for the Beef Bourguignon (it takes a full bottle), or what kind of mushrooms to use (how can Julia possibly just say "mushrooms" -- I guess she couldn't anticipate the dozens of varieties that we have to choose from in Berkeley), or obsessing over what kind of bread to buy for the appetizer, and was it appropriate to use the same kind of bread for the croutons for the salad (we ended up with just one kind).

Regarding the wine, I've always been of the opinion that while it's silly to use too nice of a bottle of wine for cooking, you should also have some minimum standards, and not use anything you wouldn't want to drink. We couldn't find any inexpensive Burgundy reds at BevMo, but I found one bottle of Burgundy for $7 at Trader Joe's, and decided that that would surely be drinkable enough. We poured most of the bottle into the dish before it went in the oven, but I saved a little taste for us to sit down and enjoy with the movie. It smelled decent, and had the right color, but when we actually tasted it, I was pretty horrified -- it was not a very good wine, to say the least. Way too acidic and lacking in flavor. Definitely something I wouldn't want to drink a bottle of. Well, it was too late to do anything about it, and as it turned out, the dish was still amazing. So maybe it's a good thing we tasted it after adding it, because if we had done it the other way around, we probably would have just dumped the whole bottle. Nevertheless, next time I think we may try something else, to see if a better wine makes it even better.

There's one scene in the movie where Julie has this revelation while cooking mushrooms that she's been doing it all wrong. It was kind of neat making this soon after seeing the movie, because I can now somewhat relate to that. Although the main point of Julia's that Julie was realizing (don't crowd the mushrooms) I don't think as much applied to what I've done in the past -- but I definitely did notice a difference from Julia's other point, of using a much higher heat.

Anyway, it was a pretty epic meal, and although it was a lot of work, I'd say it was totally worth it, and we'd do it again. And it gave us an excuse to serve an entire meal on the china that I've inherited. Thanks to Julia (and Julie) for inspiration, to Todd and Ryan for being willing culinary guinea pigs, and to the librarian at the Berkeley public library for helping us pick out some French cafe music to set the right atmosphere. And to Dirk for graciously helping to lick out the sauce pan.

I had thought about adding one final finishing touch by printing out the menu on little cards, but we need more toner and I decided it just wasn't worth it. So here it is electronically, complete with the requisite amount of fancy restaurant-style modifiers:

Dry farmed Early Girl tomato bruschetta on sourdough toasts
Frisee salad with white truffle parmesan dressing
Beef Bourguignon
Oven roasted Yukon Gold potatoes
Assorted cheeses
Molten chocolate cake
Fresh raspberries

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The smoking!

In the last post, I remembered that there were 3 reasons Rich and I preferred France, but I had forgotten what #3 was, so I just threw in the language thing, but I just remembered.

The real list was:
1. Public toilets
2. Tap water
3. No smoking in bars and restaurants!!

While the French have the reputation of being walking chimneys, they passed a law a few years back forbidding smoking in public places indoors. So our sojourn there was mercifully free of smoke. When we got to Belgium we were assaulted by smoke everywhere we went, which sucks as a tourist because your limited clothing supply quickly becomes repulsively malodourous.

I think it wouldn't have bothered me as much years ago before I became used to smoke-free environments, but I've become weak and spoiled in my old age.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Barhopping in Brussels

We really enjoyed our day in Brussels. We were intent on trying as many new (to us) beers as possible, and cushioning them with fries, waffles and chocolate in between. And we did some of the requisite sightseeing as well.

Here our some of the highlights:

1. Some of the most detailed stained glass we've ever seen at the Notre Dame Cathedral

2. The Mannekin Pis, a must-see tiny little statue of a peeing little cherub.

3. Our favorite Brussels bar, Poechenellekelder, where we could watch a constant stream of tourists come by to photograph the Mannekin Pis.

4. Said view.

5. The Hotel de Ville, at the Grand Place at night.

6. Our table-mate at the Delerium Pub, which is famous for its selection of over 2000 beers. This picture shows that one thing is common throughout the world - teenagers go for quantity over quality.


While we enjoyed our time in Belgium, there a three major reasons that we prefered France as tourists:

1. Few public toilets. The ones there are have limited hours and cost. A big problem in a country where you drink beer with every meal and between them too.
2. They won't give you tap water at restaurants. Not that they don't do it automatically like here - they refuse even if you ask.
3. I can't practice my French in the Dutch parts. And Dutch just sounds like fake German.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn't, so it doesn't."

Another quote from the movie, for what it's worth.

We liked Bruges. It was very cute. However, we weren't happy at the place we were staying (I had to stand on a chair in the shower to get my hair wet, and a few other reasons). Also, the beer bar that is supposed to be one of the best in the world was closed when we were there. So hopefully one day we'll return and have more success.

However, on the plus side, it was nice to wander the well-preserved/reconstructed medieval streets, and ate dinner the first night at a little cafe filled with locals with a great jazz trio. We also had dinner the second night at Den Dyver, a fancy place where they choose a beer pairing for your meal, which was wonderful. The city is purported to be jammed with tourists, but it wasn't crowded at all when we were there.

1. The view of central market from the clock tower.
2. The clock tower.
3. A windblown me in the central market.
4&5. The view along the canals.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Luberon - Provence part 4

On our final day, we drove east to the Luberon, a region made famous by A Year in Provence, which we'd both read earlier this year. We started by visiting Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, which is a town built over 5 rivers, the Sorgue being the primary one. The antiques market was going on when we arrived and the town was hopping Then we visited Gordes, one of the more famous medieval hilltop villages in the area. We finished our day by going by the Abbey of Senaque, which is famous for its lavender, although it wasn't yet in bloom.


1. Rich with his feet in the river across from where we had our best Provencal lunch - salads and white wine.
2. Lorien on a bridge over the Sorgue.

3. A field of irises on the outskirts of Gordes.

4. Gordes.

5. The Abbey of Senaque.

Day in the Alpilles - Provence part 3

We spent Saturday around St. Remy, stymied in our quest to do laundry, since the one laundromat in town was closed, and buying food for a dinner picnic at the market. We also went up to Les Baux de Provence, a hilltop village and the remains of roman and medieval fortifications high up in the Alpilles range.


1. The village of Baux de Provence, which mostly exists to provide tourist facilities to people visiting the ruins.
2. The ruins of the fortress.
3. Rich and some French women participating in a catapult demo. Minimal language skills were required for this volunteer position.
4. A view of the Alpilles range and the olive groves and vineyards of the Camargue below.
5. Our picnic back at our hotel.

May Day in Provence - Provence part 2

I was a little nervous that everything would be shut tight on May Day, which is international Labor Day. However, at least in Provence, it seems to be an excuse to parade about in traditional clothing and put on free shows. We started the day in St. Remy, where there was a donkey parade (indeed!). Then we headed to the Parc Ornithologique, located in the Rhone River Delta which is a vast marshland and habitat for migrating flamingos. We finished our day in Arles, where we caught an Arlesian "bullfight" in the Roman Colloseum, which was more of a choreographed dance than a fight, and involved minimal conflict and zero bloodshed.

The pictures:

1. Donkey Parade in St. Remy-de-Provence
2.&3. Flamingos at the Parc Ornithologique
4. The Colloseum in Arles
5. Van Gogh's cafe in Arles

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ah, Provence - part 1

We spent 4 full days in Provence, and it will take several posts to blog it, since we had a wonderful time, and Provence is beautiful. We were based at the Hotel de Soleil in St. Remy-de-Provence, where Van Gogh was institutionalized, and we explored around the region by car. Provence was the center of Roman civilization in ancient Gaul, and the area is littered with ancient ruins.

On the first day, we went to Avignon and the Pont de Gard. During the 14th century, the Popes made their home here, feeling that Rome was too corrupt. Avignon's skyline is dominated by the Palais des Papes. And of course, there's the immortal pont d'Avignon from the nursury rhyme.

1. The Pont d'Avignon with Mont Ventoux in the distance. As you can see, it no longer crosses the Rhone.

2. The song. Rich learned it for this trip and wouldn't stop singing for days. And yes, we danced on the bridge.

3. Me on one of the windy mideaval streets behind the Palais de Papes

4. The Palais des Papes

5. The Pont de Gard (the remains of a Roman Aquaduct) near sunset.

Rich and Lorien cross the Alps

Rich may have more to say about our drive through a surprise snowstorm (it was April 29, so it was only a little surprise) but here's a picture from the drive that I really like, taken near Mijoux. This is the most dramatic snowline I've ever seen.

Cheese and Yellow Wine in the Jura

We spent 2 full days in the Jura, about an hour drive north of Geneva (in decent weather conditions...I think Rich discussed our ill-fated trip through the Alps in an earlier post). The first day we hiked in the vineyards around Arbois, center of production of the tasty and slightly bizarre yellow wine. That was the day of the cheese debacle. The next day we hiked around the Herrisson waterfalls, then I went for a walk around the village we were staying in, Montigny-Sur-L'Ain, while Rich slept off the cheese. Pictures below:

1. Rich sitting in the middle of a traffic circle in Arbois

2. Arbois seen from the vineyards above the town

3. Rich by the waterfalls

4. The cows near our village. They all creepily stopped what they were doing to watch me walk by.

5. Christelle and Pascale, the proprietress and proprietor of Au Douillet Gourmet, the B&B where we stayed.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A wine-soaked tour of Burgundy April 22-26

We left Paris Wednesday morning and took the train to Beaune, stopping off in Dijon for lunch. With the help of a hand-drawn map in "Long Ago in France", we located what we think was MFK Fisher's house for part of her time living in Dijon.

We got to Beaune in the late afternoon, and spent the next three full days bike touring in the area. We did a figure-8 route in the red wine area between Beaune and Dijon, including the "Route des Grands Crus". Because the land that is planted with vineyards in this area is actually fairly narrow (about 1 km wide), part of our ride was through canola and wheat fields. The tour company was called "Detours in France" and we were quite happy with them. The person there that arranged everything for us was actually a Canadian expat who had married a local.

Our trip included a private tour of the Hotel-Dieu, which was quite amazing. The Hotel-Dieu is a public hospital that was built in the 1400s by Nicholas Rolin and his wife Gigonde de Salon. Rolin felt that he needed to do something big to atone for his many sins. The hospital was in use until the 1970s, and its operation (as well as that of the modern hospital) was and continues to be funded by the wine grown on the prime terroir that Rolin endowed to the hospital.

Rich has already blogged extensively about our experiences with the heavy food and delicious reds and whites, so I'll just post some of the pictures here:

(1)me in front of MFK Fisher's house in Dijon
(2)Rich in a field of canola on Day 1 of our ride
(3) me at a low-key degustasion in Nuits St. Georges on the morning of Day 2
(4) a vineyard with a wine village behind on Day 3. This picture give a sense of how the vines were just budding when were were there.
(5) the courtyard of the Hotel-Dieu. The glazed tile roof is common on important buildings throughout Burgundy. This was the only really rainy day of our trip.

Backblogging our trip - Paris April 19-21

We promised to update the blog with pictures once we got a chance. We'll be posting the full set of pictures on our website once we're done editing them.

At the start of our trip we spent 3 days in Paris. We mostly spent the time running around to museums and biking around town using Velib, the "free" bike system. There's a good article about in in the New York Times here. Favorite museums were the Musee de Moyenne Age, which has a fantastic collection of illuminated manuscripts and unicorn tapestries, and of course the Musee d'Orsay for an impressionism overload. Also, I think that Rich has already blogged about the enormous set of eight Monet waterlillies paintings at the Orangerie.

We had a nice dinner at Au Trou Gascon our last night in Paris. It featured cuisine from the Southwest of France. This is where we began our tragic love affair with Armagnac. I also ate Foi Gras for the first time. It was alright, but certainly not good enough to justify the animal welfare issues - for me anyway.

Here's some pictures: (1) me riding a Velib bike near the Bastille in a protected bike lane; (2) a gargoyle contemplating Paris, including the Pompedieu center; (3) Notre Dame Cathedral - this gives a good sense of a sunny day in Paris in the spring; (4) the spiral stairs leading up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

Monday, May 04, 2009

(At least the food and drink of) France, in a nutshell

Sorry it's been so long since we posted any kind of update. For a tiny bit we had the excuse of not having any Internet connectivity, but that was only for 3 days, and nearly a week ago. We've just been busy enough that it's been hard to find the time to blog, even with carrying our own mini laptop around.

I'm writing this a bit more than 2 weeks into our 3 week vacation, sitting in the train station in Avignon (in Provence), waiting for a train to Brussels, and then on to Bruges. (Hopefully I won't repeat too much of anything Lorien already said. I can't get the wifi in the train station to work, so I can't first read through the previous blog posting.) I'm looking forward to our mini break in Belgium, although I am concerned that a few days outside of France will interrupt the progress that I've made in picking up French (albeit still with snippets where bits of Spanish continue to come forth from me without me even realizing it).

This might have been more coherent if I had been blogging as we were going along, so I apologize in advance if this ends up coming out as a disorganized stream of consciousness. We were pondering at the other extreme what it would be like to Twitter as we went along, but silly little 140 or character less postings that may have seemed amusing to us at the time (like "Sur le pont d'Avignon") might lose sense out of context.

As I believe Lorien already mentioned, our time in Paris was fun, full of plenty of croissants, pleasant weather, bicycling around with Velib, a decent amount of museum hopping, and a fair degree of success at fighting jetlag. I'm a bit of sucker for Impressionist painting and really enjoyed our visit to Musee d'Orsay. We had made a brief visit during our whirlwind pair of Paris stopovers in transit to and from the Middle East back in Fall 2007, but this time we had the opportunity to come back at a much more relaxed pace. We also downloaded a few free audioguides in mp3 from the Rick Steves website, and while we didn't simply 100% follow that tour, it was a useful way of putting the work in context and learning a bit that wouldn't have been obvious just on our own. We had earlier viewed a small portion of the vast amount of art that the Louvre has to offer, also accompanied by a free Rick Steves audioguide. As the Louvre ends where Orsay begins, this bit of museum hopping was in rough chronological order. Too bad we didn't have the time to continue the journey into more modern works -- but I guess that leaves something for next time. Further along the Impressionist theme, we also stopped by the Orangerie museum, which (as well as having other works), has two large elliptical rooms built especially for displaying a series of huge Monet water lillies paintings. But wait, there's more... on our final swing through Paris later this week we plan a day trip out to Giverny, where Monet lived, to see the gardens that inspired many of his paintings, as well as to see a Monet exhibition that just opened up this week.

... on the train now, just finished up with a bit of lunch. Words of wisdom -- don't try to make a salad on a train. Ok, maybe that should be obvious, but the salad was just part of what was leftover from a Saturday evening picnic, and wasn't originally intended for the train. I guess we concentrated on polishing off the bottle of wine at that picnic more than getting to all of our planned courses. It only ended up being a minor catastrophe as a mobile lunch. But still tasty.

Sitting here now watching the French countryside go by. This is just so much more pleasant than flying. Why can't there be decent inter city rail service in the US? Or decent pubic transit? (NYC excluded, that is.) But I digress.

After Paris, we took a train to Dijon, then a local to Beaune, and spent three days bicycling in Burgundy. This was self guided bicycle touring -- the idea is that your hotels (and some of your meals) are prearranged, and the tour company takes your luggage from one city to the next. You're given a map, and a suggested route, and suggestions for stops, but you're basically on your own to get to your destination, at whatever pace you want to set. It was really the perfect arrangement for us, especially in an area in which we were initially totally unfamiliar, and trying to do everything completely on our own may have been a bit daunting.

I think the most fascinating part of our visit to Burgundy for me was discovering its wines. Back when I had grandiose plans for blogging on a more continuous basis, I was going to call the corresponding posting, Like the whites, love the reds. Back when I first started to drink wine in college (I won't count shots of Manishewitz or the like from Bar Mitzvahs), I pretty much stuck to whites. I'm not sure if that's because that's mostly what there is in the Finger Lakes (upstate NY) region, because a drinkable bottle of white is often cheaper than a drinkable bottle of red, because I hadn't developed enough of a palette for wine yet, or maybe some combination of all of these. But somewhere along the way (and I really don't consciously remember this happening), the situation completely reversed itself. Back home, with the exception of sweet white wines that we pair with Thai and other Asian foods, we basically stick to red wines. My general opinion of California white wines has been that they're usually just not that flavorful, not that interesting, and if they're Chardonnay, they probably taste mostly like oak.

So what a wonderful surprise to discover in Burgundy (and this I guess actually started with a glass of Chablis in Paris) that there are all of these wonderful white wines, full of flavor, and distinct from each other. But as I hinted above, what really captured me was the red wines. I feel like I'm on the verge of sounding like some snobby wine geek any time I try to describe wine verbally, but some of the wines were just truly amazing, with kind of an earthiness and muskiness and full of subtlety -- very different from the full bodied red wines we typically drink in California. Even this light wine that we got for a picnic (which at 6.50 euros, about $8 or $9, is the best value wine I've ever had) was so full of character. I typically think of a light wine as being fruity, but this still had a bunch of complexity; it was just somehow very easy drinking that made it perfect for a stop while biking.

Another aspect that's different -- we're used to thinking about a wine primarily in terms of what type of grape it is. But in Burgundy, it's pretty much all the same grapes -- Pinot Noir for red, Chardonnay for white. And the land is divided into ridiculously small geographic regions (like hundreds of them in a few square kilometers around a town), and the conventional wisdom is that it's the land (the terroir, if we want to get precise in our terminology) that the gives the wine its distinct characteristics.

I wish we could bring more of it home, although there are various logistical difficulties involved. I've been a little bit on a quest to get a full bottle of this one particular wine that we had a half bottle of at dinner one night (I think it's the best red wine I've ever had), but unfortunately I'm somewhat resigned by now to the extreme likelihood that that's just not going to happen.

Ok, I've clearly rambled on way too long about Burgundian wine. Biking in the countryside was quite nice too. We didn't just spend our entire time drinking. Although we demonstrated that drinking and cycling don't have to be mutually exclusive, especially when the terrain is relatively flat.

Following Burgundy, we rented a car and drove up into the Jura, an area nearby and at a slightly lower elevation than the French Alps. We didn't have too much planned there in the way of activities -- saw the countryside a bit (being able to cover more of an area by car), we went hiking a bit, stopped by the town of Arbois for a bit. For our lodging, we were staying on the property of a couple (Crystelle and Pascal) who run a dairy farm in a very small village and rent out some rooms to tourists. Crystelle doesn't speak any English, and although she claims that Pascal does in theory, I'm pretty sure that the only English words we heard him speak during our entire time there were "Yes we can!" Lorien is managing to impress people with her relative competence in French, and I'm managing to pick things up at a decent rate. Some of it may be coming back from the one year of French I had in 6th grade. I'm not sure how much knowing some Spanish helps or hurts. On one hand, there are lots of similarities, although I think going from French to Spanish (like Lorien did when we were in Mexico a few years back) is easier than the other way around. But on the other hand, I keep at times confusing Spanish and French and end up coming out with a sentence that's a bit of a mixture of the two. But people still generally get the gist of what I'm trying to say, even if I can't always understand the response that I get (thankfully I have Lorien to try to assist in that case.)

More new wine discoveries in the Jura, a type of aged white wine known as Vin Jaune ("yellow wine"). Rich and full of flavor and aroma, andunlike any other white wine I've ever had.

But with so much talk about wine, I've neglected to mention the food. It's been a little bit mixed. I'd say on average it's been good, with some of it being very, very good, and I don't think we've had anything that was really bad. Some of it (esp. in touristy areas in Paris) is a bit overpriced, but we've also had some very good food at fairly decent prices. Not too much of it has truly wowed me (although some of it has) -- I wonder if being around so much good food in the Bay area we've just gotten a bit spoiled, or I had too high expectations, or am I just starting to sound like a food snob now... My biggest issue with the food up until this point in the narration is just that in Burgundy andthe Jura it tended to be so heavy and so much meat. I can't understand how people in those areas don't get fat. It's wonderful as special occasion food, but eating it day after day was starting to get to be a bit much. And forget about the myth that French portions are supposed to be small... I think our one salvation was that every day from our arrival through Burgundy we were bicycling at least some, and then in the Jura we were walking and hiking a bit. But I finally got done in by the cheese. In Arbois we had a lunch that included fondue. Little did we know that for dinner that night (there was no choice in the menu on the dairy farm) the main course was fondue. And then, of course, following the main course is the cheese course (would you like cheese with your cheese?). That one day was a bit too much for me, and it took another full day for me to really recover.

Which brings us to Provence. After the Jura we drove down south. Since we hadn't really made it up into the Alps, we decided to take a somewhat indirect route that first headed east a bit along the border with Switzerland, hoping to get a view of Mount Blanc. That didn't really work out so well, since we ended up driving into a snowstorm, which although was somewhat pretty in and of itself, somewhat destroyed the possibility of any panoramic vistas. And, it also illustrated the risk of driving into the mountains without a weather forecast, since we didn't have internet access in the Jura. (And I was mildly worried about how well our rental car would handle in the snow.) But we made it out of the storm without too much trouble, and by the end of the day we were in the warmth (almost heat) and sunshine of Provence.

We spent 4 full days (5 nights) in Provence. We stayed in St. Remy de Provence (a small city a little south of Avigon) and used it as a basis to explore the area. We saw various Roman ruins, midaeval cathedrals, pink flamingos (real ones), charming villages, wandered around a bit with no particular purpose, and had some wonderful food (and more good wine) in an area where they seem to recognize that food also consists of fresh fruits and vegetables and isn't limited to meat and cheese and potatoes. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, and like I said above, we did have some very good food before Provence. But Provence felt more like the kind of food that we can eat every day. Perhaps it's also because it's more familiar. The food is more similar to what we're used to eating, the red wines I think were more similar to Caliornia reds (although the crisp white wines were yet another new treat), and even the somewhat Mediteranean climate where we stayed (which was a bit inland from the sea) was somewhat similar to home, although it gets both quite a bit colder in the winter and quite a bit hotter in the summer in Provence.

I worry that reading over what I fear has become way too verbose of a monologue will have little to say that isn't related to food or drink. Not all of our time has been occupied with that. Although admittedly it is a major focus of ours, and we did plan things that way. Perhaps I'll fill in other non gastronomic details later in other postings. And there's more room for that when captioning pictures. (Full sets of pictures will be online following our trip. I'm not sure whether we'll get around to posting any highlights in this blog.) But Lorien is nearing the end of her book and perhaps I should take the opportunity to end this posting and switch from writing to reading now that I've chronologically caught up with the present. We've got numerous books with us, but I don't think I've yet gotten past the preface of one. Guidebooks, phrasebooks, and either our French dictionary or French grammar book don't really count.

So all in all we've been having a wonderful time. Keeping fairly busy, although I think we've been keeping things to a reasonable pace so that we're still having plenty of time to just relax and enjoy our vacation (the focus on food and wine clearly is helping with that). In general the people have been extremely friendly, and in general the weather has been quite nice. Other than a bit in Paris, and a bit over the May 1 holiday weekend we have experienced very few crowds and almost no other North Americans. It's definitely not yet peak tourist season -- I think we've picked a very good time to visit.

So it's on to Belgium for a few days, with an accompanying temporary switch from wine to beer. And further exploration of chocolate. :)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Today I ate snails

...and I liked them! And if you've known me since the days when I was a fussy eater you'll know that was a big deal.

Anyway, we're having a lovely time. We're doing a lot of eating and drinking and bicycling to burn it off. My French is quickly improving, and Rich's is no longer nonexistant. Everyone has also been very nice to
us - there aren't a whole lot of other North American tourists here right now.

This will be a pretty bare bones description with no pictures because its been a packed few days and I'm having trouble typing on Rich's XO keyboard. We spent our first three days in Paris. We got in on Sunday at
the crack of dawn and were intent on staying up until after sunset, which is 8:45 pm here. While, we were sucessful, our souls didn't really start catching up until some time Tuesday. Since this is Rich's
first time here, we focused on catching him up on the must-sees such as the Notre Dame tower, the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay. We had made a reservation at a fancy restaurant that specializes in cuisine from
Gascony, since that's a region we won't be visiting this trip. I'm glad we waited until Tuesday since that was the first day we could have enjoyed it. We also biked around Paris via Velib, the "free" municipal
bike system that we'd been looking forward to. I'm sure Rich will have more to say about that later.

Yesterday we took the train to Beaune via Dijon where we had lunch. This is in the Burgundy region. We're currently on a self-guided bike tour based in Beaune. We rode 45km today to Nuit-St-Georges where we'll be
staying tomorrow as well. Today's ride was through fields of blooming canola and tiny villages. Tomorrow's ride takes us up to Gevrey Chambertin and the Cotes-de-Nuits vineyards. We're fuelling ourselves
with wine, cheese and coffee, and large quantities of meat in rich, winey sauces. If the French eat small portions, I haven't seen them yet.

Anyway, in sum, we're having a good time and we'll post more later.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

And we're off again...

It's way too late and I need to get to bed b/c we leave early tomorrow morning for France and Belgium.

I'm posting this because I've been lax in captioning and summarizing and putting up a link to our Yosemite pictures. We went on the first weekend of Spring. Spent Saturday cross country skiing. Saturday night it snowed. About a foot and a half up at the elevation we were staying, but a few inches even made their way down into Yosemite Valley -- where I had never been, always fearing the crowds. Sunday was gorgeous -- we spent the time just driving around from place to place, doing small hikes around waterfalls, and taking pictures.

I will do a better job one of these days in the hopefully not too distant future, but for now the pictures are up (and somewhat edited) at http://richandlorien.org/pictures/2009-03-Yosemite/index.html. (No link from the main page yet.) There's a bunch that we like, but our favorite is http://richandlorien.org/pictures/2009-03-Yosemite/html-large/dscn4998.html.

Au revoir, tomorrow in Paris.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Happy Passover

We upheld tradition and had a very small seder tonite, for the second night of Passover. Lorien and myself, plus we invited one other person over (Leah). We tried to keep it somewhat low key, unlike the massive Penthouse seder from a few years back.

But we did get a bit adventurous on the food. The majority of the dishes were experiments, trying things for the first time -- from the lamb shank (if you need one for the seder plate, why not try serving it as the main course?) to the homemade matzo (Lorien is overjoyed that she now knows what her grandmother served with chicken soup), to the horseradish. I suppose I've made the charoseth before, but even that I experimented with a bit. And I'm intrigued that the American version isn't the last word in charoseth -- I didn't have the chance to try other variants, but maybe next time...

It felt a bit wasteful to print out entire haggadahs for what was a fairly abbreviated seder, so we went all high tech and just each used a laptop to read from a pdf.