Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Forest of Dean

As I mentioned earlier, yesterday we went to the Forest of Dean, one of the many beautifully green English recreation areas where you can go for walks and hikes. Apparently, these woods provided inspiration to JRR Tolkien for Lord of the Rings.

We did a 4.5 mile walk called the Sculpture Trail, and it really was extraordinary. Placed throughout the wooded trail at varying intervals were all of these different sculptures created by different artists.

They were amazing in the way that they both blended in and stood out from their surroundings. There was a mound with tree stumps artistically arranged, a giant wreath of iron leaves in the top of a tree, a swing, a set of railroad tracks carved from wood, and this giant stained glass window suspended in mid air. It was just incredible to walk from the woods into a clearing to see this.

Whoever thought up this installation and walk was one smart cookie!

England? Food?

I feel that no discussion of England is complete without a brief chat about the food.

First of all, I must ask about this fruit. What is going on here? It is chopped up apples, grapes, I think an orange or two. All very nice, but they are swimming, SWIMMING, in this nebulous liquid of questionable origin.

What is this liquid? What purpose does it serve? I tasted it, and it's not a sweet poaching liquid, it's not tart lemon water to prevent browning, it's not Pimm's, it's not Sangria, and it's certainly not fruit juice, because no amount of fruit is going to produce that amount of liquid.

What?? Why?? It baffled me. It adds nothing to the taste, if anything, it kind of ruins it, but there must be some reason they do it. What is it? Anyone?? I must know!

Second, I must mention just how bad all of the food is for you here. I don't know what people are eating at home, but in restaurants it is impossible to get anything that is not deep fried, covered in mayo, accompanied by vast amounts of potatoes, cheese, sausage, or covered in pastry or custard (or cream. They cover perfectly lovely and healthy strawberries in a bowl of cream. Do they not know how much fat is in that stuff?! My cholesterol went up 20 points just looking at it!)

And don't get me wrong, I love fish & chips and savory pies and sticky toffee pudding. And the English potato chips are divine, the flavors they come up with (Worcester Sauce, BBQ beef, Prawn cocktail, chicken and tarragon) are marvelous. And English chocolate? Yum.

It's just that I would love to be able to also get something healthy. Like an entree size salad, or steamed veggies that are still crisp, because once you've boiled a vegetable for 45 minutes, you'll probably get more nutrients from eating your napkin, because everything good in that veggie has disappeared into the water.

We went to a lovely park yesterday, The Forest of Dean, and before our walk we decided to get some lunch. We ordered veggie burgers, thinking that was our best shot at being healthy. It was deep fried, was 90% potato, and it came on a bun that was, literally, as you can see, the size of my head.

It was tasty, I must admit, though I skipped the bun and what they called a veggie burger was really a potato croquette. At least we walked for 2 hours afterward.

I don't mean to be the ugly American, it just is hard, especially when you're trying to take off a few pounds, to be confronted with no healthy options at all. Plus who could resist that wonderful English Stilton? Or scones? I'm only human, after all!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

England Winery

Today we went to Three Choirs Winery in Newent, Gloucestershire England. It is the second largest winery in Britain, and as you can see from this photo, it is in a truly beautiful spot.

They grown primarily German grapes because, so they claim, Germany has a similar climate to England (though I would imagine Germany must get more sun and less rain than England does, though I could be wrong).

I admit that I had never heard of any of the varietals: Bacchus; Siegerrebe; Phoenix; Reichensteiner; Madeleine Angevine; Huxelrebe. Bless you.

I cannot emphasize enough what a monumental task it is for them to grow grapes in such a wet and cool climate. From 75 acres under vine, in 2006 (their best year) they harvested 400 tons of grapes. In 2007, a wet year, they were only able to harvest 70 tons. In 2008, another wet year, 80 tons.

They were unable to even offer us a tasting of a red wine, because they just couldn’t harvest enough of those grapes to make one.

They make a nice non-vintage sparkling wine which my friends served at their wedding and it was perfect for a warm summer day; bright and crisp and apple-citrusy.

I was so impressed by the vineyards and the overall production of the place that I was really rooting for the wines before I tasted them. But here is the problem: the wines had almost no nose and almost no taste.

They tasted a bit like white wine which had been watered down. A hint of herbal grassiness and lychee on the nose, but not much else. And I realized that what we were tasting was what this climate is able to produce: waterlogged fruit that has not been able to ripen enough to really produce any real depth or complexity.

It could be that the particular varietals they have chosen produce very light-tasting wines, I don’t know. It will be interesting to get to Germany and try those same varietals and compare.

On the tour she also mentioned that when the vines reach 30 years of age, they get rid of them and re-plant with baby vines. The tour guide stated that the vines when they hit 30 years produce incredible fruit, but that the yields go way down.

In my opinion, herein may lie another of their problems: they are worrying too much about yield and less about quality. Right now, they make one sparkling wine, nine whites, one rose and two reds.

Maybe that's just too many. It seems like if they focused on fewer varietals and kept more of the older vines which are producing superior fruit and then made just one or two whites and reds and really got the best fruit they could, they would be able to make much better wines.

I don’t know anything about winemaking so I might be talking completely out of my ass.


Monday, June 28, 2010


Today we went to the lovely city of Bath. I was expecting another little quaint village, but Bath is actually quite large. But because of the old buildings and narrow streets, it still retains a measure of quaintness that no city its size in the US can match.

Bath has wonderful shopping and residential areas as well as the beautiful River Avon, but what really makes it special is the Roman bath that is there.

Normally, I don't get too excited over baths; ones I have seen in the past have tended to just be an oblong of old crumbling stone with an area that the plaque tells you was once a changing area and plunge pool, but just looks like a wall that fell over, but these baths today were really amazing.

To begin with, the complex was started in the 1st Century AD, which I have trouble wrapping my head around, and it is enormous. Even today, the excavation is not complete, and they think the bathing complex continues on even further under the street.

One of the most wonderful fun facts given to us by the audio tour was that the water that is naturally bubbling up from the earth into these baths is believed to be rainwater from 10,000 years ago. Wrap your head around that.

Like so many places, this roman bath was built over completely and had, for all intents and purposes, disappeared. In the 1800's there was actually a residence on top of the baths, and the residents of it kept having trouble with water leaking up through their basement. When they investigated the source of this troublesome water, it was discovered that the house, and in fact most of the area around it was built on top of this major bathing complex.

The initial impetus for the building of this massive complex was the discovery in the 1st Century AD of this magical spring of water bubbling up, hot from the ground. Believing this was a source directly from the goddess, they erected this amazing spa around it.

No one was allowed to bathe directly in the bubbling pool, but it fed other pools which people could bathe in. This spa contained changing areas, massage rooms, cold and tepid plunge pools, a pool with benches inside it so that people could sit up to their necks in water, a room that was essentially a sauna, a temple, and the main bath, where presumably business was conducted by naked bathers.

I know they had their issues, but those Romans, my goodness they were innovative. They tempered iron and created pipes to direct the flow of water into the different chambers; they created pulleys that made the weight of what was being pulled feel significantly less; they created some system of piping air into one of the pools so that they essentially had a whirlpool; they stacked layers of tiles in different rows and then laid a floor on top of it so that the warmth from the furnace (they created a system of furnaces within the stones) flowed through the spaces between these tile stacks and heated the floor so much that the room essentially became a sauna; they used large round stones with holes in them to vent steam; and they developed a pump room to deliver water to different chambers.

It really was astonishing, as was their belief in the power of this hot water of the goddess to heal and protect. They were unbelievably ahead of their time. This recent movement we have been having to incorporate massage and other more "alternative" therapies into our lives, the Romans already understood. They believed that things like massage, hot water, sweating, cleansing and relaxation were an important and in fact pivotal part of life, one that was spiritual as well as physical.

Of course, they also liked to sacrifice living things in their temples, so I don't want to idealize them too much.

One final thing I loved about the baths was that in one of the pools, the excavators found all of these small rolls of tin that had writing on them. It turned out that these rolls contained curses that people had scratched into the tin with a knife and then thrown into the pool for the goddess, believing that she would enact them.

What was so wonderful about these curses was not only the literal translations, but also the grievances they were asking her to avenge. My favorite curse, literally translated, said something like: "Caesar stole my gloves. All death on him and blood from his eyes melting to his face and head falling underfoot for this." Good stuff.

If you are ever in Bath, these ruins are well worth a visit. And if you are plagued with persistent flooding in your basement, don't ignore it. Who knows what's under there....

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Cotswolds!

We are in the Cotswolds in England, and I am in love. This is my new favorite place in this country. It is quaint and beautiful, with sweeping farmland and rolling hillsides, large dark green trees, and charming villages with stone and/or wood houses and buildings, some of which date back to the 1600’s.

Churchbells chime, birds chirp, and (in what I gather is a rare occurance) the sun has been shining for the past week, and continues to do so.

Our hotel, The Close, in the town of Tetbury, has a beautiful walled garden, a four-poster bed in our room, thick drapes to block out the sun, and possibly the longest bathtub I have ever seen. The photo above is of our hotel from it's back garden.

It is, to say the least, wonderful, and relaxing, and we love it so much, we have decided to stay past the wedding weekend for an extra three nights.

Today we explored a wonderful little village called Painswick, nearby there is a supposedly amazing botanical garden, Bath is about 30 miles away, and about a 45 minute drive from here is a vineyard/winery!

I must comment, however, on what I feel to be England’s excessive use of the roundabout. They LOVE the roundabout here. On a 27 mile drive today, we encountered no less than 1400 roundabouts. I kid you not. There are more roundabouts than there are straightaways. I felt like I was on that crazy spinning teacup ride at Disneyland.

Being on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road, entering and exiting the roundabout from the wrong side just really does your head in.

We cannot have so many roundabouts in the US because, let’s face it, we just couldn’t handle them. We just can’t drive that well.

Here in the UK, people entering the roundabout actually yield to the cars already on it. They really yield-like sometimes they actually even stop. And they don’t enter the roundabout until it there is space for them to do so.

That would NEVER happen in the US. I’ve barely ever seen a car that yielded merging on to the freeway. In the US everyone assumes they have the right of way, and the other cars should just watch out and make way for them.

Growing up there was one roundabout in Newton, and every time you drove on it, you felt as if you were taking your life into your own hands.

Speaking of which, the most insane roundabout I have ever seen is the one around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. For some inexplicable reason, the drivers who are already on the roundabout must yield to the traffic coming onto it, instead of the other way around.

This leads to masses of cars suddenly slamming on their brakes inches away from the cars that are entering the roundabout. I have never seen anything like it.

Steve’s parents once wound up on that roundabout by mistake, and it was such a disordered mess, they couldn’t figure out how to get off of it and they just drove around and around it for hours. In fact, I think they’re still there.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Week in Review

I'm back and sorry for the gap-have been in The Lake District and Scotland without computer.

Here is a brief photographic overview of the last few days:

The Lake District in England, where we went with our fantastic friends Paul and Louise. This is the view from our Ferry boat on Lake Windermere. We were blessed with wonderful weather.

This is from the Motor Museum at the south end of the Lake. If you click on the image you should be able to zoom in and read the text.

These are actual statements from insurance forms for people's car accident statements. One of my favorites is: "A truck backed through my windshield onto my wife's face."

Borderlands of Scotland, along The Pennine Way, which is a 289 mile walk through Scotland.

I know even including this photo shows great immaturity, and the spelling isn't right, but i just couldn't help loving the fact that there is a Penial Revival Centre. How much would some men in the US pay to go there?!

Steve and I took a brief walk along the Pennine Way. Behold the sheep who attacked us on the path.

Ok, so he didn't attack us, exactly. In fact, the poor guy was so weighted down with wool he could barely walk. He looked like a mobile knitting store.

He was guarding a lamb behind him, and the mommy sheep and their other baby were on the hill just to the left of us.

From what I understand, sheep are some of the stupidest animals on the planet. This male saw us on the path and stopped, looking absolutely befuddled as to what he should do. He called up to the wife to see if she had any bright ideas.

After several rounds of "baa" back and forth to each other, he decided to stay exactly where he was and stare at us. This, apparently was the best plan they could come up with.

Sheep whisperer that he is, Steve strode ahead, waved his hands a few times and shouted at sheep Einstein to get out of the way, and both dad and lamb promptly trotted up the hill to join the others, and presumably to rehash this terrifying event.

After the walk, we did what any self-respecting person would do: we went to the local pub and had a drink.

This is Smudge, the pub cat, who was very friendly and took turns snoozing on both Steve's and my laps.

I apologize for not giving any wine recommendations lately, but this part of the world is much more the land of beer.

I discovered a love for the Lager Shandy (lager mixed with English lemonade, which is really more like Sprite) and for Crabbie's Ginger Beer. This is a Scottish delight which is alcoholic ginger beer, served over ice. Super refreshing and comes in a 500ml bottle!

Today we head to The Cotswolds for three nights to celebrate the wedding of our wonderful friends Mark and Miia. Hope to have internet access.

See you soon!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Reflections on a WC (or, My own Musee de la Poupee)

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am persnickity about my toilets. I like 'em clean, and I like 'em to smell good. Did I mention that I like 'em clean? Like REALLY clean. Nothing stresses me out more than a disgusting bathroom.

In fact, the first thing I used to do when Steve and I were checking out a campsite when on any one of our many camping trips, was to check out the bathroom. Pit toilet was fine as long as it was clean and smelled reasonable.

Some recent stories about French and Italian hole-in-the-ground toilets have made me want to cry a little bit. I'm not sure that my thighs are strong enough for that kind of a squat without anything to hold onto. I should start doing lunges tomorrow.

One thing you don't get very often in the US is the WC or Water Closet, otherwise known as the little room that houses the toilet and nothing else.

I like the idea of having the toilet in its own separate room, it makes the rest of the bathroom feel cleaner and fresher to me, and then you also don't have to worry as much that if you've just had an unfortunate incident on the pot, you are going to inadvertently gas the poor unsuspecting person who just wants to wash his hands or brush his teeth.

So overall, I would say, yes, fan of the WC. In theory.

The WC we had in Paris however, took the "Closet" in WC to a whole new level. This space was not even a closet; it was a hobbit hole. This room was so tiny, you could barely close the door without your knees going through it. Honestly I don't know how Steve managed it.

I found that, once I had completed my transaction, I was completely unable to pull up my pants without opening the door. If I stood up and bent forward to retrieve them in one direction, I would bonk my noggin against the door; and if I turned around and tried to bend over to pull them up, I would come dangerously close to dunking my head in the toilet.

My only option was to open the door first, and then pull up my britches. This would have been fine if not for the fact that the WC essentially opened up into the main room.

So poor Steve would be sitting there minding his own business, only to have me pop out of the WC like a pants-less Jack-in-the-Box.

I think after a while though, he came to quite enjoy the spectacle of his wife throwing open the door, pants around her ankles, shouting "Aloha!" "Ciao!" or "Bonjour!"

I mean really, what's not to like about that, right?!

No posts for the next few days, as we will be in the Lake District in England without internet access. But I will get back to you as soon as I can.

After all, I still have to tell you about my boob light....


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Reflections on Paris

People seem to hate the French, and in particular, Parisians.

The thing I hear most often is how snobby the French are, and since it has been 10 years since I was last there, I had kind of forgotten what it was like in Paris.

I cannot decide if I think snobby is the right word, but I agree there is definitely something grating about the overall demeanor and attitude of a lot of Parisians.

It's not that I felt that the people there weren't nice, it was more that it seemed like so many of them just didn't care about anyone else around them. In many ways, they don't even acknowledge the people around them. It is like each Parisian is his or her own personal island, in which no one else exists but them.

This manifests itself in what comes across as extreme rudeness: people don't move aside for you on the sidewalk, it is up to you to get out of their way; they never say excuse me when trying to get by people in a crowded space, they simply shove you aside.

Conversely, if you are in a crowded space and trying to move through or by people, no amount of "excuse me's" is going to cut it. No one will move until you physically push them aside, and even then, the people you physically push aside still will not pay any attention to you. And why should they? You don't exist, after all!

For me, it was very bizarre to realize that I just had to push people aside, and that people were going to push me as well. I grew up where you just don't do that unless it's an emergency. To me, it's kind of horrific, but nobody there gets upset, it's just kind of how it is.

Even at the pub where we were watching the world cup soccer matches on TV, people would just stand in front of the televisions and chat with their friends. They never once looked around to see if they were in anyone's way.

It's not that there aren't inconsiderate people in the US, because God knows there are! But there is just something different about it in Paris. And believe me, I am not one of those everything-American-is-right-and-everything-foreign-is-wrong kind of people. I'll criticize anyone, just wait and see!

Anyone out there know what I'm talking about as far as Paris goes? What do you think it is?

I will be very interested to see how other places in France will be similar and/or different to Paris.

In Newcastle now, in the very house where Steve grew up.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bordeaux in Paris

Today we walked the Paris streets for miles, started the day with tea and croissants, had a glorious roast chicken with mashed potatoes for lunch, watched the traffic insanity at the Arc de Triomphe, and visited the Galleries Lafayette.

The Galleries Lafayette, you may say, but that's a mall, why would you spend any time in Paris going there?

Well, my friends, I'll tell you:

The inside dome is stunning; there was an incredible table of herbs and spices; and then, there is Bordeauxtheque.

Mais, Jocelyn, qu'est-ce que c'est? (You have to ask me in French, or I won't answer, I'm sorry)

Well, I'll tell you what it is: Bordeauxtheque is a brand new wine store that, as far as I know, has the largest selection of Bordeaux wines anywhere in the world. And it is stunning.

It has a dark and hushed atmosphere, like a very high end bank, or spa, or jewelry store. The lighting is very low, except for strategically placed low-lit halogen lights that perfectly illuminate the wine bottle just enough so you can read the labels.

The room is designed in a circular pattern much like the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe, with shelves of Bordeaux bottles circling around a central room which contained the most extraordinary collection of wines I've ever seen:

On the cooled shelves of this low-lit room were bottles of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, and Chateau Margaux, with vintages ranging from 1900-almost present (No 2009 yet).

As if that wasn't enough, in the center of this room was a wheel of Chateau D'Yquem Sauternes (the sweet botrytis wine). The wheel was made up of bottles encased in cooled lucite blocks, going from oldest to youngest vintage. The oldest they had was a bottle from 1899. The amazing thing to see was the difference in color between the old and young vintages, with the older wines being various shades of honey-brown, and the newer vintages a light straw-yellow.

I desperately wanted to take a picture so you could see what I am talking about, but when I took out my camera, one of the sales guys gave me his best French uh-uh-non-non-ooo-la-la face with index finger wag, so I'm afraid I have nothing to share. (Damn you, Frenchie!)

Except that if you feel like buying me a bottle of Chateau D'Yquem, I will not say non.

Tomorrow we leave Paris for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, my hubby's home.

Au revoir, Paris! A bientot....

Paris Dupes

Yesterday wound up being my first real day in Paris since we arrived almost a week ago.

We managed to walk along the Seine and across the bridge to the Tuilleries and The Louvre. Walking across the bridge, I'm sorry to say that we almost fell for one of the most ridiculous cons in the world:

As we were walking over the bridge toward the gardens, a woman in her 50's bent down and picked up a thick gold men's wedding band from the ground and showed it to us, asked us if it was ours. We said no, and she looked at the inside of it and saw the markings which she claimed showed it was real gold. She also said how sad it was that someone had lost it, etc. We of course agreed.

She tried it on her own fingers and it didn't fit. We should take it, she said. She was an evangelist and therefore couldn't wear jewelry. She put it in my hand and walked away, smiling and sweet. Now all this time, all I was thinking how delighted I was to understand everything she was saying to me in French.

As we went on our way she suddenly came up behind us again, smiling and sweet, apologetic, asking if she could have some money. No, we said, and tried to give her the ring back. No, no, she didn't want it, it was for us, but just a little money. Again, so smiley, so sweet.

No, we said again, you can't have any money. Take the ring back and sell it. This went on for another exchange or two, where she would follow us and ask us for money and we would say no and shove the ring back at her. Finally she got the point that we weren't giving her any money and suddenly the nice sweet lady disappeared and was replaced by that crazy neighbor everyone on the block was afraid of growing up.

She stopped following us, but she hurled a few choice words our way, I can tell you.

As for Steve's and my stupidity, I can only say that, as former New Yorkers, we are deeply ashamed. We NEVER would have fallen for that when we were living in the city.

I can only blame it on jet-lag, and the fact that by that point, I had gone almost four days without really eating anything. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

This photo has nothing to do with the story I just told you, but Paris seems to have the most stunning and fragrant flower shops I have ever seen. It seems to be peony and hydrangea season, and those are two of my favorites. Who that dude is, I have no idea.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Finally! After almost three full days stuck in this room, I was able to venture outside today. I cannot even describe the joy and relief I felt, breathing in fresh air and walking in the Paris streets.

We are still a bit weak, me especially, since I have basically eaten a few bits of cereal and pretzels since all this started on Friday morning. In fact, the last real meal I had was Thursday afternoon.

Anyway, today we went out and walked over to the Luxembourg Gardens, and then sat in some of the chairs they have scattered around, and read our books and just basked in the day.

I wish I had photos for you, but since we were both a little out of it when we left, we forgot the camera. I am especially disappointed to not be able to show you the wonderful sign we saw across from the gardens. It was for a very small museum called "Musee de la Poupee".

Now as far as I can tell, Poupee means puppet or marionette, but I'm sure you can appreciate Steve's and my feeling how very on-the-nose this sign was without any translation, since for us, this apartment we're in has been our own personal Musee de la Poupee.

One note on the language front: my French is pretty good, and I can get us around, ask questions, order, and pretty much understand most of what comes back to me.

As we were getting up from our chairs in the the garden today, a woman approached us to ask if we were leaving. I said we were, and we smiled at each other. Feeling quite proud of myself, I decided to make a friendly remark as we walked away about how good these particular chairs were (they were two of the few chairs in the garden that recline).

I smiled and said: "These are the best chairs". She smiled back, though with a bit of a confused look on her face. As we walked away, I realized that I had in fact said: "These are the best shoes".

Oh well, I blame the dehydration.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Down in the Dumps

Well, I must say, this is not at all the way I wanted to enjoy Paris. Today marks my second day in bed (or at least in the studio apartment we are renting) with stomach cramps and upset.

It looks like it is a bug and not food poisoning, since Steve now has it, too.

I pride myself on being positive and looking on the bright side, but I have to say, this is just depressing. We are in this wonderful area of one of my favorite cities in the world, with the Luxembourg Gardens, Musee D'Orsay, and the Musee Rodin all within walking distance, and for the last two days I have not been able to enjoy any of it. With only three full days left here, that is incredibly disappointing.

When I was lying in bed earlier, getting, I don't mind admitting, a little weepy, I kept thinking "I want to go home", and then remembering of course, that we no longer have a home. Such a strange sensation.

It is hard not to worry, what if I get sick everywhere we go and wind up missing everything, getting only an in-depth experience of our room and bathroom? Was this whole trip a bad idea? Will I ever be able to eat more than one bite of baguette every few hours? And wine, what about my wine?!

I'm sure I will snap out of this as soon as I am able to go outside again, but for right now, I am feeling low. And crampy...don't forget crampy...

Friday, June 11, 2010

When Paris Met Colon

Well, today was the first sunny day we have had since arriving in Paris, and I spent it in bed with what I think is a case of mild food poisoning.

Ironically, I think I may have gotten it from the only healthy thing I ate yesterday! Since Steve and I both had the pot au feu for lunch yesterday and he is fine, I have to assume that I got it from the strawberries I ate last night for dinner, of which Steve had none. I washed each strawberry thoroughly and one-at-a-time, but I guess it doesn't take much to make you sick.

As far as food poisoning goes, it has been super mild, and I am just happy that it didn't happen on a big travel day. I was just able to rest and relax and know that we will be in Paris until Wednesday, so there is still plenty of time.

Ah, the joys of travel. Hopefully this is my sickness for the trip out of the way.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Paris-Day 2

Welcome to Paris!!

Today is our second day here, though really our first full day since we didn't actually get to our apartment until around 7:30pm last night.

Let me tell you, 9 hour jet-lag is a bitch. Last night we went to sleep at midnight, which, for all intents and purposes was 4pm according to our body clocks. I slept until 5am Paris time, which is 9pm San Francisco time. Then we were out and about, eating breakfast and running errands during what was essentially the middle of the night for us. We ate lunch at the equivalent of 5am. After a while my body was just like, "Dude, what the hell, go to bed!!" and when I talked to Steve, I slurred my words, and my eyes went all glazed and wiggly.

Here is a photo, not of Paris, but of the pot au feu we had for lunch at a place near Place de la Madeleine. I include this photo to demonstrate that whomever started the whole European-portion-sizes-are-smaller rumor was a jackass. This was one huge friggin lunch, consisting of beef, leeks, turnip (or maybe it was parsnip; once it's cooked for 14 hours, who can tell the difference?), carrot, potato and cabbage.

Let me tell you, it was delicious, the beef so tender it literally fell apart when your fork touched it, but I only ate about one third of it, the plate was so huge. Steve and I easily could have shared it.

All around us, however, were gorgeous skinny French women, eating their entire bowl of pot au feu followed by a huge hunk of apple tart covered with cream. How do they eat like that and stay so svelte? HOW??? HOW???!!!!!

Oh, the meal also came with marrow bones. I am trying to be adventurous food-wise this trip, and so I thought I might try the marrow on a piece of bread, but once I touched it with my knife and felt that giggly/gelatinous consistency, I just decided it was a bridge too far.

I have vowed to try escargot at some point during our France travels, and I still plan to. Maybe even frog's legs. But that marrow, I just couldn't do it.

The macarons we had later at Laduree, however, those were a cinch to consume!!

One other exciting thing about our lunch today was the recycled wine. The waiter would bring over an opened bottle of house red with your meal, pour you a glass and then leave the bottle at the table. We only had one glass each, so half the bottle was still full when the waiter cleared our places.

He took the half empty bottle of wine, topped it up from a big jug or vat behind the bar, and brought the bottle to another table. We could have done anything to that wine: added a little mustard, some salt and pepper, a little arsenic, and they never would have had any idea. Well, they would have guessed something was up when the folks at the next table fell face-first into their pot au feu....

Monday, June 7, 2010

Goodbye to San Francisco

Finally, the time has come:

Tomorrow we get on a plane to London, and from there on to Paris for the first week of our European adventure!

The following pictures, taken within an hour of each other, illustrate one of the many reasons I love San Francisco:




We will miss this beautiful city and all the wonderful sights and people it has to offer.

Next post, from another continent.

A Bientot!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Wine for Teasing the Parents

As I believe I mentioned before, many members of my family have descended on San Francisco to celebrate my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

In the spirit of celebration and familial love, I am now going to tease my parents mercilessly, since no celebration is complete without a good ribbing!

My parents in their many years of marriage have, it seems, begun to share a few of each other's quirks, and these quirks often appear in abundance the moment they sit down at the table.

For some reason, both of my parents seem to have developed restaurant-water-issues of a rather bafflng nature. My mother always wants a glass of water with no ice. Now this in and of itself is not so odd, and one would think that when we sit down and the waiter says hello and offers to bring water she would simply say, "Could I have a glass of water with no ice please?"

This would be an easy request and would put an immediate end to the ice-free water ordeal. But this is never what happens. Instead, she waits for her glass of water to arrive, and invariably she gets the glass that not only has ice in it, but has so much ice in it that it is 99% ice and about 2 teaspoons actual water. She then looks at the glass of water as though its only purpose on this planet is to make her life a misery, and then asks whomever has brought the offending water for an empty glass.

When this glass arrives she takes her fork and proceeds to try and transfer the ice from one glass to another. This process usually takes about 45 minutes, and involves ice cubes being flung indescriminately around the restaurant, landing on the table, on plates, in bread baskets, butter dishes, and occasionally an unsuspecting daughter's cleavage.

She at least has a sense of humor about the whole enterprise, and as we watch with horror, she flings ice with abandon, laughing that we can't take her anywhere, while also seeming to be baffled that there isn't a better way to accomplish not having ice in her water glass.

My father doesn't seem to take quite as much umbrage at the presence of ice in his glass, and he seems to quite enjoy his glass of water. Or half of it, I should say. After that, he develops an inexplicable dislike of the water, and the thought of having any more water added to his glass makes him apoplectic. He therefore spends the rest of his meal with one hand covering his glass of water so that the poor water boy (whose soul purpose in the restaurant, I might add, is to fill glasses) can't add any more of the offending liquid to has glass. The mere presence of the water boy, in fact, seems to fill my father with agitation, and it is all he can do to stop himself from leaping at the offending water boy screaming "Dear God, how many times must I tell you, no more water!!!"

When we ask my father why he is so panicked about the idea of more water being added to his glass, he replies that the he doesn't know how much he drank when they keep adding more. This rationale is so baffling, none of us quite knows how to reply. Is he under some very specific water rationing program? Is he, in fact, living in his own fairy-tale world, where the wicked witch has decreed that he must not drink more than 12 ounces of water at one meal or else he will immediately be turned into a newt, thereby ruining his chances of waking the princess and living happily ever after? Will an excess of water cause him to suddenly melt? Is he concerned that drinking more than one glass of water will cause him to lose the rest of his hair?

Is he worried that, as he used to tell us when we were little and wanted water before bed, he'll "be peeing all night"? This last one might make sense to me if it weren't for the fact that we are eating dinner at 4:30, which, I would think, would give the water ample time to make its exit before bedtime. It is one of life's great mysteries, and I fear it will never be solved.

The Wine for Teasing my Parents is a 2007 Leirana Albarino from Spain. Steve and I shared this bottle with my parents over an absolutely delicious meal at Piperade, a Basque restaurant in San Francisco. The wine is bright and crisp, refreshing and juicy with a light apple grapefruit, lemon-lime freshness and a nice minerality. It was a perfect complement to the fava bean and mint salad, the roast chicken, moroccan lamb and fish stew we had for dinner.

Unfortunately, it did not go well with glasses of ice-water. Go figure.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Moving Day

Happy June 1st! When I was little, my sister and I used to say "Bunny bunny!" on the first day of a new month. I have no idea why. Did anybody else do this or was that just a part of the Rosenthal family nuttiness?

Yesterday was moving day, and I must say, it went well, and I am relieved that it is over.

We had three fantastic guys from Pat Ryan Moving Company in San Francisco, and I can safely say, we had the best moving experience we've ever had. If you live in the Bay Area and are considering a move, go with Pat. It's an Irish-run company, and our moving team consisted of one guy from Ireland, one from Wales, and one from Georgia (think Eastern Europe, not Mason Dixon). The accents alone were enough to make me smile.

I am trying to get savvy with our new camera, so here are some photos from the move:

This is a view from the door to our hallway:

The Kitchen

The Office

The Living Room

And what do you do when moving stress gets to be too much, and you remember that there is an opened bottle of wine in the fridge, but all the cups and glasses have been packed?

Here's what you do:

You drink that wine out of your camping water bottle, that's what you do!

So now, we are staying near Ghirardelli Square, waiting for my parents and the rest of the family to arrive for a week of festivities (which, in my family, means food) to celebrate my parents' upcoming 50th anniversary.

One week from today we will be on a plane heading to Paris.

The current view from our window