Sunday, September 30, 2012

What I did this summer vacation: Things I ate in France edition

Welcome back, everyone! It’s now time to conclude our two-part miniseries, told in two parts, this being the second, on first Wales, and then now second, France—land of the incredible all-inclusive meal special and ornate knockers.
For more eloquence, and less introduction, I’ll switch over now to myself, via travel plog.
“Bonjour! Writing this update from the base of the Eiffel Tower. What happened:
  1. Landed in France and caused immigration official to worry about my safety, advising, “Keep an eye on your wallet. Especially on the subway.”
  2. Thought pushy illegal taxi men were planning to kidnap and ransom us.
  3. Convinced mom our apartment was not “in the red light district.”
  4. Had dinner at café on corner of our street. Trouble ordering, ended up with caesar salad + glass of champs. Not bad, not great.”
“This morning we slept late. Mom and Mer went to the patisserie on the corner for pain au chocolate and coffee, which we consumed quickly on our balcony.”
“Walked down to see the Louvre, then crossed the river to head down Saint Pere to Cuisine de Bar and Poilane… Ordering food is very stressful but we managed to all get what we wanted, save one glass of rosé for red. Cuisine de Bar’s “lunch set” includes a salad, a tartine, a glass of wine, and coffee or tea.  Sold. I chose the tartine for’bon—melted Saint Marcelin cheese w/ broiled jambon de Bayonne and marjoram, and infused oil on toasted sourdough bread from poilane. Delicious with a cool glass of Rosé Cotes de Gascogne. Tea was mint, served with a spoon-shaped butter cookie. Nice way to end a meal… It was nice to sit at the restaurant for a while. Even nicer to use my new phrase, “C’était délicieux!”
“We went under the Eiffel Tower and joined the line snaking up to the ticket counter… Mairead went to find ice cream, but it was all soft serve. Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
“We stopped at a café on the way back to our apartment. It was not good. All I wanted was some damn moules frites. Non. Non moules frites. So I got frites. Only. Frites alone. Mom didn’t finish her cheese, so she put the leftovers in a plastic baggy she was carrying, then Mer dumped the rest of her bread into the closest baggu.” [#keepitclassyAmerica.]
“Today started with breakfast, as all good days do. We had stopped briefly at a grocery store to pick up essentials, including milk and cereal. So I had a nice bowl for breakfast. Then we checked the weather, looks cooler than yesterday. Sweater up.”
“The plan today: Notre Dame, tower tour, farmers’ market, lunch, boat tour, dinner at a place with moules frites.”
“Writing this entry from a café on an island near the Notre Dame… Enjoying a glass of rosé, … er… bottle…, had a croquet monsier—c’etai delishyoo—and will be moving on to famous ice cream next… Our dining companions to the right are from Chicago, but their French is better than ours.”
“This morning on the way to Notre Dame we stopped at an open Paul for a pain au chocolate—wonderful rich chocolate—like chocolate jam. Best chocolate moment until after lunch today, when, after a spot of shopping, we went down to Berthillion for ice cream. Mom got vanilla + licorice, Mer had pistache + Mirabelle (cherry plum) and I went chocolate/pistache. Yum. Now we await the Bateaux Parisien tour boat while sitting under Notre Dame on the cobbly Seine walkway. Pigeons, like a scene from The Birds flew by in a pack, and back up to the Notre Dame plaza. Horrifying.”
“We had dinner at Au Trappiste—moules frites! And another bottle of rosé. Then crème brulee to finish. A good meal to be sure. I’m deciding that my normal, high-quality food program is making to difficult for me to be blown away by just anything in Paris. Would like to hit Laduree for macaroons before we leave.”
“On the train this morning, heading out to Giverny and the Monet Gardens, with a bike tour… My bike was called Twinkle Toes.”
“Our first stop after setting out from the garage was town center in Vernon. We had half an hour to collect picnic supplies and meet back, [our guide] Dave explained. He gave us the lay of the land, pointing out bakeries, fromageries, patisseries, and butchers—as well as his preferences from each. Then we were off. Mom, Mer and I went to the butcher’s first to secure charcuterie. “Pour la picnic?” asked the nice lady behind the counter, then slicing us three peoples worth of salami. We also picked up a nice bottle of local cider at this shop, which turned out fortuitous, when we later realized the store had closed just after us for the lunch hour. As had the fromagerie, forcing me to venture into the dreaded Monoprix in search of Neufchatel—when in Normandy. We also picked up a fresh baguette and 2 macaroons a piece—which later turned to pieces. Delicious pieces.”
“All our fellow riders were running around town at the same time—collecting items and hurrying back—it was like the Amazing Race.”
“[We rode] over a bridge to a picnic spot by the river and an old remnant of a bridge house/mill. I ate more than my fair share of salami when Mom tapped out early. And it was delicious. The picnic ended with a breakdown of impressionists… according to Dave, Monet was “bold as brass.” The ride to Giverny was lovely. A small path along the hillside of France—sunny, warm, delightful. The town streets are picturesque, and studded with cafes, B+Bs and ice cream shops (one scoop of pistachio post garden was my poison.”
“Came back to Paris, deciding to eat at a bistro a few blocks from our apartment. We had passed it before and were impressed by the atmosphere of diners inside as well as the prix fixe menu. It was easily the most “French” meal we’ve had. I started—after aperitif—with an artichoke salad with smoked salmon, cucumber (wrapped around to hold the salad in a mold), and a poached egg. For my main plate: sole (of Uncle Georges) cooked in brown butter, served with lemon and parmesan risotto. I ate a whole fish last night. Careful to avoid the bones, but whole. For dessert, profiteroles—pastry puffs, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce. Round it out with a bottle of rosé (as has become our custom) and a cup of weak earl grey. Ooh la la!”
“This morning we went in search of the last few French food-speriences we were missing. First: we found a creperie. Josselin’s. The buckwheat crepes were nutty and crispy—and mine was stuffed with an entire sausage. We shared a more familiar treat for dessert: an eggy, soft lemon crepe. Oh yes. That hit the spot.”
“Next a trek down the road to Laduree—famous for macaroons. We had tea and sat quietly for a while… sampling the jammy raspberry, mellow pistachio bold chocolate, and salty caramel.”
“Finally we picked up “sandwichs” at a boulangerie that had smelled wonderful when we passed, which we plan to eat for dinner tonight. I’ve been perched on the balcony enjoying the breeze as I recount these events this afternoon and I’m thinking now might be a good time to get a head start on my jambon et fromage.”

And I did. Jambon!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Let's talk about Wales... and what I ate there.

September 2012 has been a big month for me and I realize I’ve got to start covering some things on this blog. How did I forget to recount pizza at Pleasant House Bakery this summer? And, yes, then there’s the wedding (!!!), but I’ve got other fish to fry first.

I’ve recently returned from a mother-daughters holiday abroad. The itinerary included both Cardiff and Paris, and I think each deserves their own post, so let’s talk about Wales.
I love Wales. It’s romantic and magical. Really all of Britain is romantic and magical to me. I guess that’s what happens when you visit a place in your youth. Or maybe it’s what happens when you read a heavy combination of classic and young-adult British literature. Do you know The Dark is Rising and its sequels? My mom bought the first for me in a little bookshop off the shambles in York and I read it as we travelled through England and into the far north of Scotland.  Green mountains, grey skies, sheep and ruins were just the right backdrop for a twelve-year-old reading a book that was part Arthurian myth, part children save the world. Excellent recipe for adult anglophilia.
As an adult, the magic is still there. Wales was described in one poster we saw as “a holiday-land full of undiscovered charm.” I agree. The countrywide emphasis on dragons didn’t hurt either.
Like my twelve-year-old self, I kept a journal (or “plog,” according to my mother) of our journey, this time mostly discussing what I ate and drank (cheers for being old enough to booze on family vacations!), which I will abridge for this post.
Of the long flight I describe, “Disappointing cheese plate incident soon followed by hypothermia and fellow passenger vomit scenario.” And we’re off.
“We started with a spot of tea in the vineyard. Sat in the window seat to see the sheep in the garden. Are setting out from farmhouse to walk up to the castle and stop at the Tynant Inn for dinner and beer. Pub or bust. Need to learn puppy’s name. Yeah—there’s a puppy.”
“Stopped at Tynant Inn for dinner—no fish and chips compare to Pleasant House, I’m learning. Tried Brains Bitter w/ dinner—found it weak compared to my normal robust American craft beer preferences.”
“Bore da! Full welsh breakfast includes a fried egg, a sausage, 2 rashers of bacon, a broiled tomato half, and mushrooms. Toast, butter, jam, marmalade. Tea, orange juice, water. Delicious. Best meal of the trip. Loving the farmhouse.”
“It is quite hard to keep my thoughts together to write with these saggy rucksacks flapping their jacks contantly. Have just toured Cardiff Castle… Now we’re having a glass of cider and splitting a traditional Welsh rarebit.”
On traditional Welsh cockles: “No idea what those are.”
“We’ve decided to dine at the Bayside Brasserie—on the water at Cardiff Bay… a rather good dinner of scallops, beet and goat cheese tarts, and local brews.”
“Breakfast tomorrow at 7:30. I’m thinking more toast, less sausage, but I could be wrong.”
“We’re lunching now in sight of Tintern Abbey. Had a ham sandwich, salt and vinegar crisps, mom had welsh cakes—studded with yellow currants—, Mer had the cheddar ploughman salad plate.”
“Back in Cardiff we transferred to a train to Caerphilly. Upon arrival we received for the third time the man directions, “Go into town and then turn.” We took the scenic route—not for the last time in Caerphilly…didn’t manage to find place to eat in Caerphilly, and despite having eventually come back round the road to the train station—we took a taxi back to Morganstown… was pleased to find the taxi turning right, up to the Lewis Arms pub… We ordered British. Up at the bar w/ the number of the table we picked. Steak and ale pie w/ mash. Cheddar ploughman. Fish and chips. And pints. Back to Brains for me this evening. The Double Dragon last night was better than Brains bitter, but I think the Brains IPA gave a closer run.”
“Had the partial Welsh this morning, sausage only. Love the creamy yolk and salty meat combo. Saw the pup again—Marley—playing with a stick form the breakfast room window.”
“Sitting now at a table in the Departure Lounge of Cardiff airport. Just pulled together a picnic meal to polish off our last pounds. Cheese and pickle sandwich, crisps, lion bar, Satsuma. Chargrilled burger crisps available, no roast-ox. Not sure if I regret not trying those at Cardiff Castle. Don’t regret not having a jacket potato w/ beans. Bet that’s a chip flavor, too! Cheers, Wales!”