Thursday, August 23, 2007

Decamping to Connecticut but I'm Leaving My Heart on Beacon Hill

Decamp: To depart quickly, secretly, or unceremoniously

Tomorrow, very early in the morning, I fly home to Boston after a business trip for the last time and I'm very sad. For almost fifteen years, Boston has been home and next week at this time it won't be anymore. Circumstances of life maybe not so wisely lived and decisions perhaps made in error have sent me away to exile. I just hope it won't be forever.

I remember the very first time I flew into Boston after the end of a business trip. It was early in the morning and the sun was just coming up behind the buildings downtown and the view from the airplane as we descended over the harbor was thrilling! Logan Airport is situated out in the middle of Boston Harbor and when you are landing it almost seems like you will miss the runway and end up in the water.

So, tomorrow morning, after picking up my luggage and my car from long term parking, I am going to "pahk the cah in Harvahd Yahd" (he-he) and have one last day of fun in Boston. I am going to visit my favourite bakery on Beacon Hill, Panificio, and have the best lemon poppyseed muffin I have ever had while people watching on Charles Street. Then I'm going to wander along Newbury Street and window shop before going to the Map Room Cafe at the Boston Public Library for lunch. After visiting the John Singer Sargent murals for one last time, I'm going to go have an afternoon drink at the Last Hurrah at The Parker House (and maybe even have some Boston Cream Pie) then go visit the harbor and Old Ironsides before catching the T back to Cambridge over the Longfellow Bridge

and heading to a friend's house in Stow for a "going away" party.

On Saturday, after running a few last errands that one always has to do before taking leave, I will drive down to Connecticut. Next weekend, it will be all moving vans and directing big, burly men with heavy furniture.

But this weekend, it's all about saying "So long but just for a little while" to Boston; my hometown where everyone really does know your name...

Boston skyline at sunset from a sailboat cruise I took last summer in happier times.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Joie De Vivre: Remembering Julia on her Birthday, a Secret Bistro in Paris (and a Little Peek at Me Too!)

I was catching up on my blog reading this afternoon while I waited for over twenty full size blueprints of my project in Sun Valley to plot and stumbled upon two posts that brought tears to my eyes for exactly the same reason; they both made me think of Paris, Julia Child, the best mother/daughter trip I ever took, and my favourite hidden bistro in Paris.

First, there was this post my really dear and good friend, Sara of I Like to Cook wrote for Champaign Taste's 2nd annual celebration of Julia Child's Birthday. In her post, Sara talked about how, like so many of us, she came to love cooking by watching Julia on TV, owning MTAoFC, and most of all, allowing a little of Julia's "It doesn't matter if you make a mistake as long as you can still eat it" attitude to come into her cooking. Afterall, this is the ultimate when life hands you lemons you make lemonade sentiment. Like Sara, I too had read My Life in France. Julia lived a true "joie de vivre" and reading about her coming to France to live with Paul was some the funniest and most beautiful writing I had ever read. My favourite story from the book was about the first meal she had in France upon their arrival. Paul and she had just docked at La Havre and were driving in a rainstorm with a car whose windshield wipers did not work. They pulled into a little country bistro for lunch and Julia ordered Oeufs ala Mayonnaise. The description of her lunch is what good food in France (and any place else for that matter) is all about; the perfection of the eggs, the creamy texture of the mayonnaise, the crisp salad and baguette served and the taste of the wine. Reading about that meal made me run out to the kitchen to boil eggs the way Julia taught one to boil eggs and sit down with some fresh homemade bread and mayonnaise. (Note: To boil eggs ala Julia Child: bring cold water to boil, place the eggs in the boiling water, cover and take the pan off the heat, wait 14 minutes and you will have perfect hard boiled eggs.)

Next, I wandered over to Mimi's French Kitchen in America to discover a picture of my favourite gem of a Paris restaurant in a wonderful post about finding hidden places and taking time to visit. Not only did she find this tiny place on her last trip to Paris but she took a picture of my table. Yes, I have a table in a Paris bistro.

I stumbled upon my secret lunch spot about three years ago. I was alone in Paris for the weekend between a business trip in London and one in Berlin. It was early September and I had a room on the Left Bank that was on the top floor of the hotel and overlooked the rooftops of the 6th Arrondissement. It was the perfect place to call home for the weekend. After settling into my room, I decided to walk to Norte Dame and wander about the alleys behind the cathedral. It was cool but sunny. About 1pm, after visiting the cathedral and popping in and out of several shops, I was hungry, a bit tired and really wanted to find a place to have a glass of wine, something to eat, and to watch the world go by. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants around Norte Dame definitely cater to the tourists both in quality and price. Disappointed, I decided to walk back to my hotel and eat in one of the neighbourhood bistros I had seen on my way to Norte Dame. Walking back down the quay, I somehow got myself turned around and ended up on the back side of the Isle de la Citie, facing the Right Bank. Turning down an alley, I saw a little tiny bistro. It was tucked into the corner, almost behind a stairway up the quay and between the alley and a knicky-knacky tourist shop. The name of the bistro was La Reserve de Quasimodo.

I almost didn't go in because frankly I figured a bistro in the shadow of Norte Dame with the word "Quasimodo" in its name had to be the proverbial tourist trap but I was hungry and ready to sit for a bit. I wandered in and was shown to a table directly under the chalkboards with the menu written on them. Looking up, I saw a prix fixe lunch of smoked salmon quiche, salad, dessert and a carafe of house wine for about sixteen Euros. After my wine and a glass of water was brought, I settled back and observed that I was the only tourist in the place. There was a group of friends who must have met in the bistro at the same time every day. They were lively discussing politics and other local events while they drank bottles of wine and chain smoked Marlboros. The only other customers were a pair of elderly ladies, friends of long standing I surmised, who were leisurely sharing a late lunch and from the pieces of conversation I could overhear, delicious gossip. My salad came and the waitress opened the door to let some fresh air in and told me how much she hated that group of smokers. We shared a few quick comments, me with my poor French, she with half French/half English, and then she scurried away to get "la Addition" for the smoking friends. When she brought my quiche, she sat down and asked me about where I was from, what I was doing in Paris, and helped me with my French. As the two elderly friends and I were her only customers, we chatted for about 20 minutes. She even brought me another carafe of wine and poured herself a glass. She told me where to go have dinner that night and the trick to getting into the Louve bright and early on Sunday so I could see the Mona Lisa before the bus loads of tourists descended upon that wing of the museum. Then she brought me my dessert (creme brulee), my bill, and wished me a joyous stay in Paris. When I returned to the bistro a few months later on another business trip, she remembered me and greeted me warmly and sat me at the same table as before. I came back for lunch three times during that trip and sat at the same table. The waitress and I shared a glass of wine each time and caught up on the events of the day.

Last spring, I took my mother to Paris for our annual mother/daughter trip. The very first day we were there, I took her to La Reserve De Quasimodo for lunch. I hadn't been back for over six months but as soon as I walked in the waitress rushed over, kissed both my cheeks and started (in rapid fire French) to ask how I was, where I had been, how was America, how long was I staying, oohing and aahing over my mother and then immediately sat us at "my table". She didn't have to ask what I would have and told my mother that she was happy to have "her American friend" back home in Paris. Mom and I went back for lunch the last day of our stay. It was the waitress's day off but the cook behind the counter told the young girl who was working the tables, "She knows where to sit and she will have a carafe of red". I had become a regular it seemed.

I did a touristy thing that day. Sitting at the table next to us was another mother/daughter having lunch and they asked me to take their picture. I said "Sure, as long as you take ours".

It is nice to come home to a glass of wine, good food, good conversation and most of all to share these things with loved ones.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Another Type of Box....the Moving Box!

In the previous post, I told you all about the contents of my Blogging By Mail box and hinted a bit about some upcoming big changes happening in my kitchen. You know all that stuff about sailboats heading out into Long Island Sound and a new coffee maker for my espresso cups. So, seeing how there hasn't been a whole lot of cooking going on lately, I figured it was probably time to let you in on all the fuss!

In September, LB and I are moving to Connecticut.

I've already packed up all my baking dishes and cake pans. This past weekend I taped the last lid down on my rolling pin, my mixer and at least a ton of cookbooks. The only thing left to do is pack up all the flour and sugar. So, for the next few weeks, there won't be a much coming out of my kitchen that isn't already cooked (and probably eaten) somewhere else. But never fear, I've got a few things to tell you about. Like a super special cake I made a couple days ago (but forgot to take pictures of...DOH!) and a few restaurants I've had some pretty spectacular meals at while on a business trip to Sun Valley . ( really was "work" but sometimes even "work" can be fun!)

To say the past month and a half have been crazy would be an understatement. But sometimes, life just happens that way. The path you started down ends up a dead end at a cliff and you just have to hold your breath and jump off that cliff to find a new path.

I told you this was going to be an adventure...

Monday, August 06, 2007

Blogging By Mail: A Jolly Good Package!!

Stephanie, the domestic goddess at Dispensing Happiness has been doing just that by dispensing happiness all over the globe this month with another installment of her fantastic event, Blogging By Mail (BBM) with a wonderful theme of "A Few of My Favorite Things" . The premise behind this really fun and unique event is Stephanie pairs up food bloggers from around the world who sign up to participate. We then have a few weeks to ship our assigned food blogger a care package based around the theme! Now, I don't know about you but who doesn't love care packages? Especially when that package is put together with love and care!!

A few weeks ago, I received my BBM assignment. I was paired with of Arden at Uit de keuken van Arden (In the kitchen of Arden), a wonderful food blogger from the Netherlands and sent her a few of my favourite things in the form of "Boston in a Box". Now, it is my turn to receive a fellow food blogger's box of favourite things and let me tell you something, I have a twin sister I didn't even know about! She lives in the UK and I'm not sure how she knew this but I absolutely adore tiny cups, chocolate covered biscuits, Earl Gray tea, and crackers! My new twin sister is J of one of the smartest and funniest food blogs in the UK, Have Fork Will Travel!!!

I got back to my office late last week after a heated meeting on a hot and steamy day about a nasty project I've somehow been saddled with to find a box sitting on my desk.

After making sure the box wasn't ticking or full of more blueprints, I noticed it came all the way from Middlesex, England and had the most adorable sign pinned to the front, showing which way up the box needed to travel across The Pond.

I had grand visions of postal workers all over the world gingerly handling my package "This Way Up".

I opened up the box (J and I share a love for packing tape apparently. No package either of us pack is coming open enroute!) to find a lovely red envelope right on top.

And in the envelope, a fun card with this sinful looking cupcake (Oh, was all I could do not to eat the card).

J had written me a detailed letter about the contents of my package; each item notated with just the most adorable little cupcake to match the cupcake on my card!

Aren't they too cute!!

Right under the card were two of the most fabulous picnic plates I have ever seen in my entire life.

Now how did my twin sister, J know that I've had my eye on this picnic hamper covered in pink flowers at the store next to my office but hated the plates that came with it? Won't these plates be just perfect!!

Next was something all about the microwave cooking I've been doing the past few months in the form of "Zip n Steam" cooking bags for the mircowave!

I can't wait to try these with the leek recipe J included in the card as soon as fall comes. And right under the microwave cooking bags were a wonderful re-usable bag from Waitrose to go shopping at the Farmer's Market in Westport with this past weekend! I got many compliments about how lovely it was.

This box was like being on an archeological dig but instead of digging up old bones I was digging up incredible food finds! Each layer of the packing revealed more wondrous things...

Like all these English food goodies!!

I have such a weakness for Marks and Spencer dark chocolate ginger biscuits and so does J (told you...twins!!) that I could taste them as soon as I saw the box (and even hoped when I saw the little dark green corner of the box that was what they were!) The whole package smelled of the Earl Gray tea and I immediately brewed a "cuppa" to enjoy whilst unwrapping the rest of the package (milk and dash of suger, J since you asked). I also had to tear into the Maltesers, which happen to be my favourite chocolate, while reading rest of the card. I can't wait to try the Savoury Twists with some cheese and fruit while sitting on my deck looking at Long Island Sound. And speaking of cheese, take a look at the cheese knife and Stilton scoop in the picture below!! Those are going to be put to good use very soon at a little gathering of friends I'm throwing in a few weeks. I also think these may have to make a trip at the end of October to Rochester, NY for a super special foodie event I can't tell you about yet...

And the Magic Whisk, I've always wanted one but just haven't bought it (J!! Have you been reading my Kitchen Arts wish list?) And I can't wait to put the lovely Nigella fridge magnets on my new fridge!! I've already named my pie bird, Tux and he is just waiting for the late summer berry and peach crop to make a luscious pie. OH OH OH... aren't the ice cream and demi-tasse spoons just too adorable? They are some of J's favourite spoons and have a lovely heart shaped bowl which I'll bet that shape will be perfect to cut through hard ice cream that will come out of my new ice cream maker. The Alessi espresso cups are going to be perfect for my new coffee maker that will soon be living on my counter in my new apartment in Norwalk, CT; where I can look out my kitchen window and watch sail boats go out into Long Island Sound while I make an espresso.

J, I can't thank you enough for an absolutely jolly good BBM "A Few of My Favourite Things" package. It is comforting to know that when I stand on my deck looking out across the Sound and into the North Atlantic and munch on a cheese nibble some where right there is a lost twin sister. This box was full of a few of both of our favourite things!! And Stephanie, thank you so much for organizing this super event!