Friday, June 27, 2014

Monet's Garden - Monday, June 2nd

Monday is a good day for us to make a journey outside Paris to Giverny, where Monet's Garden is located. This is the most tourist-like thing we will do while we are in Paris. I get things all planned out. We are to take the The Metro to The Train Station at Gare Saint Lazare, and then the train to the little town of Vernon, where we will catch a shuttle bus to Giverny. This is the sort of expedition that it would be nice to be able to take a practice run! I allow plenty of time, but we need most of it to find our way through the metro and then figure out how to buy our train tickets.

The train zooms along, fast and efficient. Once we get to Vernon the shuttle bus is easy to find, but if I were to ever do this again I would rent bikes to ride from Vernon to Giverny. Giverny is touristy but charming. We do a bit of a self-guided walking tour of the village and then eat lunch. Unfortunately we inadvertently opt for a French dining experience which wastes a lot of time that would have been better spent in the museum and gardens.

Monet's garden is lovely but crowded. This area of France is more temperate than New Hampshire; they can grow roses and other flowers that are borderline viable in the southern part of our state. It's fun to take pictures of all the flowers. There is such a profusion of color, and now I have to see if I can add a few clusters of red poppies to my meadow garden too! I love Monet's house too, all the Japanese prints and the yellow dining room and the blue kitchen. The famous lily pond contains very musical frogs, and everywhere there are lots and lots of little French school kids on field trips.

Eventually, back at our apartment, we walk down the street for dinner to Ile St Louis Brasserie. This is a very old and very very good place to eat, overlooking the Seine. I have the pork knuckle with lentils, kind of like a lamb shoulder. My my my. And a caramel flan for dessert too. It's a good thing we are walking something like 8 miles a day. Amazingly, my pants still fit, but I better keep walking!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Taste of Paris Food Tour - Sunday June 1

Sunday morning I go for a run along the Seine, which is just as nice as you might think. The highway that runs along the left bank during the week is closed to traffic on Sundays so I join the other runners, walkers, skateboarders and rollerbladers. After around 2 miles I cross the Seine on a pedestrian walkway and return along the other side of the river.

Today we have signed up for a Taste of Paris food tour ( We meet just a few blocks from the apartment over on St Germain. Phyllis, an American expat that has lived in Paris for almost 13 years, is our guide. She takes us first to a bakery, where we learn to discern what makes a good baguette. We check the bottom for an irregular shape and tear the loaf open and admire the big chewy holes. Yes, it tastes divine! The bakery we go to is named Kayser. It's very close to the apartment and provides us with breakfast baguettes for the rest of our visit.

Then it's time for the cheese shop around the corner, Laurent Dubois -, where we buy The following cheeses. Phyllis was kind enough to email a summary after the tour otherwise I wouldn't be able to tell you any of this! I liked them all but the Comte and the Brie were my favorites.

1. lle sur Cher: A goat cheese with an ash coating

2. Brie de Melun (made with raw milk--not the pasteurized versions of Brie you often find abroad) Here is an article about fake Brie and why you want to avoid it:

3. Epoisse (Petit Gaudry): the stinky washed rind cheese from Burgundy with a rind washed in Marc

4. Comté AOC (cow, Jura) - Normally Comté is aged for a minimum of 3 months -- ours was aged for 3 years!

5. Carles Roquefort AOC (sheep, Midi-Pyrénées) .

Then we go to a wonderful chocolate shop, Patrick Roger. Here we try an assortment of chocolates and admire the chocolate sculptures as well.

Then it's down a narrow cobbled street to Premire Presson Provence,, a shop that sells olive oil from Provence. We taste the stuff, and feel the bite at the back of the tongue that real olive oil will cause. Of course we can't resist and end up buying a few tins.

Then we go to a cream puff shop, La Maison Du Chou, These puffs are perfect. They are made continually all day long and Phyllis tells us to eat them right away because they can't be saved and are at their best right out of the oven. They are by far the best cream puffs I have ever tasted!

Finally we end up in the back of a little wine shop, La Dernier Goutte,, where we sample some wine with the cheese and bread. We try a Francois Crochet Sancerre (2012) and a semi sweet Maury. Everything is delish. Now what should we have for dinner? Maybe a salad in the apartment.....

Monday, June 16, 2014

Brussels to Paris - Wednesday May 27th to Saturday May 31st

On Wednesday we fly to Brussels. We fly into Brussels because that is the only way Lee can use his miles and let us fly business. We don't mind tacking on an extra city for a day. The flight is uneventful until I try to choke to death on a piece of chicken. I don't need the Heimlich maneuver but I can't talk and continue to cough and have the sensation that something is stuck in my throat for the rest of our trip. It's very weird and disturbing. The more hypochondriac part of my personality envisions some sort of permanent  condition, but I can walk and run just fine. It actually bothers me more when I'm just sitting around. The sensation gradually begins to dissipate. Very gradually.

Our hotel Is in a charming area of Brussels, with old buildings and cobblestone streets. We arrive at 7:30 am. For Europe I prefer to fly during the day and arrive at night but that's okay. We can check into our hotel early which is right in the center of this area. We explore a little, find a place to have coffee and a roll, make dinner reservations. We walk up to a big park and a palace, just wandering around. I haven't made us any big plans for Brussels. We are not quite ready to be tourists yet. We have dinner at a little Italian restaurant down the street from the hotel. They have very good, fresh homemade noodles.

The next day, Friday, we explore in the morning and take the train to Paris in the afternoon. It's one of those fast European trains, we are there in an hour and a half. One of Lee's business associates has a private driver and she arranges to have him pick us up. Our apartment is AMAZING! A little studio overlooking the Seine on Ile Le Cite, right around the corner from cathedral Notre Dame. It has a little kitchen, a Murphy bed, a table with flowers. Perfect. For dinner that night we walk across Ile St Louis to Jean and Louise Restaurant, a typical French bistro, where we share beef, a salad, and roast potatoes. It's a simple meal but everything done nicely, with great flavor. We walk back through the darkening streets of Paris and sleep well in our little apartment.

Saturday morning I wake up to walk down the street for bread and pastries. The pastry shop workers are friendly, teasing me about my non-existent French. It's obvious that there is a lot more English in Paris than there was 15 years ago! I know so much more about foreign travel now, and Paris only seems a little foreign. But wow o wow I've forgotten what a grand beautiful city it is. Magnificent buildings, cobbled streets, cafés, the Seine winding through it all.

We set out to be tourists around 10:30am. First to the open air market a few blocks away to buy some things for a salad, cheeses, nectarines, foie gras. Then down to the Luxembourg gardens, and over to the famous Poulaine bakery. This bakery is the inspiration for the main bread book I use. They make bread from their own secret starter. I've tried to replicate their methods with only mediocre results. Their loaves of bread are giant but we can buy part of one so we do.

We sit outside at a cafe. I have a salad nicoise for lunch, Lee has onion soup. Then we walk to the Rodin museum, and have fun wandering through the garden taking pictures. A small Robert Mapplethorpe photography exhibit compares the two artists. His pictures are beautiful, many comparing the human body to rocks, fruit, and other natural objects. We walk back along the Seine, stop for a coffee and a sorbet along the way. It's time to put up our feet and rest before dinner.

Dinner is at Au Vieux Comptor - another bistro, another bottle of French wine. Lee has foie gras for an appetizer, I have great big juicy white asparagus, which seem to be in season right now. For his main Lee has a steak, which he can get as bloody as he likes here, and I have scallops in an orange cream sauce. I'm usually not that hot for scallops but I didn't want beef and these sounded good. Very good indeed. No dessert tonight!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Minnesota Wedding Planning, With a Detour

I am only home for a few days so I leave the dogs at Diane's. I miss them but I have a lot to do and it's hard on them going back and forth so much.

On Thursday morning as I get ready for my flight to Minnesota I get a call from my mom's medical alert device. The hematoma on her chest has burst and she is on her way to the hospital. That service is amazing. It has saved her life and my sanity several times now. I called her cousin Nancy and even called my mom since she had her phone nearby and was conscious. At that point everything seemed under control so I continued with my packing and headed to the airport to fly to Minneapolis.

When I get there I discover my flight is delayed for several hours. Apparently the plane was struck by lightening! I'm alarmed by this but when I google it it turns out to be a relatively rare, and not very serious, event. Modern planes are equipped to handle lightening strikes without consequences, but they still need to check out the plane, so we have to wait for a different plane for our flight.

I am on the phone with my mom's cousin Nancy off and on. She keeps me abreast of what is happening, my mom's progress in the emergency room and her admittance to the hospital. As my flight gets ready to board, suddenly everything changes. They have decided my mom must have surgery to drain the hematoma and remove any infection. Because of my mom's other health conditions this is alarming, and potentially very serious. I must get to St. Louis as soon as possible.

Craziness ensues. I cancel flight to Minneapolis. Sun Country Airlines wins my love at least temporarily by issuing me a full refund. I book a flight to St. Louis later that day on Southwest, about the only airline that has nonstop flights from Boston to St. Louis. Yes it's expensive but no matter. Change terminals, go through security again, wait wait wait. This flight is also delayed but finally I'm up in the air and then in St. Louis. I rent a car because it is late and I want to go straight to the hospital.

I walk into a dark and quiet room at almost 10:30pm. My mom is sleeping peacefully. The surgery was successful and she came through it okay. She wakes up sees me. I take her hand and I'm glad I'm there.

Before I go to sleep that night I book a flight on Southwest to Minneapolis for late Friday afternoon. If my mom is continuing to do well I think I can go there so we can do the wedding stuff we have had planned for months. I also make plans to return to St. Louis in a week, when my mom is hopefully in rehab, or home, and needs my presence more.

The next morning I go for a run before heading to the hospital. It is very warm, 70F, and the half marathon pace intervals I need to do are really tough in the hills of my mom's neighborhood. I have to moderate my running plan for the day but that's fine. No need to get an injury, or heat exhaustion. And who knows what the weather will be like for the half marathon in Boston in two weeks. It could be 80F there, so thinking in terms of flexibility is important. My body always lets me know what I should be doing when I run, but I don't always listen!

I spend the morning and the early afternoon at the hospital, talk to doctors and nurses and watch my mother. She is tired, weak and uncomfortable, but she is in good hands. Off I go to Minneapolis.

I am so giddy and relieved to be in Minneapolis with Sarah and Erik! What a silly girl I am sometimes, but I was really looking forward to this weekend. I love hanging out with my daughter, and Erik is a great guy. He already seems like part of the family to me. He fits right in!

We go to dinner at a relatively new restaurant called T3Vino. It's a wine bar with small plates, and my niece Nicole is working there! We don't have a reservation so we have to sit at the bar for quite awhile until they have a table for us but we don't mind. We try some wine, and get some appetizers, talking and laughing the whole time. Once we get a table Nic gets to be our waitress. She looks great, happy, and is working hard, completing the prereq courses for grad school. What a girl, I'm so proud of her!

The next day is busy. We meet the florist at the restaurant where the reception will be. I'm very pleased with her suggestions and so is Sarah. She has some nice ideas and has picked up on suggestions that Sarah made and expanded on them. I don't want to give too much away so I won't go into a lot of detail, but it's going to be very pretty and different!

Then we do the tasting at the restaurant. The coordinator is very enthusiastic, organized and withiit! She asks the right questions and gets what it is we are looking for. They have a new chef and all I can say is wow. This reception will be fit for foodies, as they say. But I think even less adventurous eaters will be able to find something good to eat.

There are so many appetizers, entrees and side dishes to try, and of course I'm not very good at moderation, but we are all stuffed. No need for dinner that night. We stagger back to Sarah and Erik's house, and watch a documentary called Mortify. It's a production group that gets people to read their journal and diary entries from their childhood and teenage years in front of a live audience. Such brave people, to expose themselves like that. The entries were funny and embarrassing and a little heartrending too. There was the girl that made a storyboard with illustrations of her future life with her crush, riding horses, dancing, having sex (as understood by a 14 year old!). There was the guy that wrote over a hundred rock and roll songs, but couldn't play an instrument and was never even in a band. They got some musicians onstage with him to fulfill his teenage band fantasy and play one of his songs. There was the guy that ended every journal entry with what he wore, what he ate, and PEACE! ONE LOVE!

The next day is Mother's Day. When we originally made plans for this weekend we didn't realize that it would be mother's day. All I can say is that it was pretty cool since it has been quite a few years since I actually got to spend this day with one of my children. Daniel sends me beautiful flowers and sends them early so I have plenty of time to enjoy them before I have to leave. Whatever we are doing is a surprise for me, but first up, my last long run before my race in two weeks. This time Sarah tells me to go left when I hit the parkway and it does go on and on and on. It's hillier than I would have liked for the speed intervals I'm doing, but once again I'm flexible. At least it's a very comfortable 51F.

The first part of the surprise is a visit to the Walker Sculpture Garden where the ceremony will be. We are there to pick out what area we want to use. They have rented out the whole space, even the conservatory, in case it rains. But all this means is that we will be the only wedding in the garden that day, not that the garden will be closed to the public. So we choose a relatively private area, surrounded by trees. There are some large sculptures, but they are inobtrusive and not distracting, unlike the giant cherry sculpture in the center of the garden.

There is a beautiful area with lots of flowers but it lacks privacy so we opt to use it for photos instead. With that settled we go on to the second part of the surprise. Instead of lunch or brunch, we go to high tea at a British pub! It's a great idea, lots of fun. The sandwiches, scones, fruit and desserts are all delicious, and once again we are all stuffed. Although it is similar to other British teas I have been to, the serving sizes are American so no dinner is necessary that evening either.

On my last day in Minneapolis we go to Sarah's first dress fitting. We meet the mobile bridal gown service at her house this time, along with the tailor. It so great seeing Sarah's dress again. It is even more beautiful than I remember. The tailor is excellent, knows exactly what needs to be done, and tells us how it will work. Sarah will need three fittings total, one in July, and one in August. I'm thinking I may return for the final fitting, depending on how things go.

I'm so happy that I got to spend this weekend in Minneapolis and help with the wedding process if only a little. I know it's gets stressful for Sarah and Erik and I wish I could do more, but it's hard to be very helpful from so far away. I'm willing to do whatever Sarah wants me to do and she's not afraid to ask either! I'm sure it will all come together in the end and be the day of her dreams.

My mother is improving, slowly. Tomorrow or maybe the next day, she is heading to a skilled nursing facility until the surgical site has healed enough that it is safe to go home. I'm hoping that won't be too long and that I will be there to help her make the transition. As my cousin said to me on the phone right before this plane too off, "one step at a time." Amen.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Napa and San Francisco Spring 2014

I wrote this post over a month ago, but my life has been too crazy to edit it and get it posted. Maybe now while I am waiting for my flight at the beginning of another trip I can get some work done on the editing part at least.

On Wednesday we fly to San Francisco, rent a car, and drive to Napa. We've come to California to visit Daniel, but are here a few days early so we can do some wine-tasting too. Going from rainy and 40F to sunny and 90's is a shock. We check in at Candlelight Lodge B&B, a nice house in a quiet neighborhood. There is even a pool in the back yard, but neither of us thought to bring a swim suit. Darn! We drive in to downtown Napa, have some coffee at Oxbow Market, and then walk along the river for a bit. Eventually we meander back to market, sit at the oyster bar, and have oysters and clams, and wine of course, for dinner.

On Thursday morning I go for a run in the nearby hills. I pass wineries and sheep, roses and other flowers. After a sumptuous breakfast it is time for our Winery tour. We've chosen Platypus Tours again as our guides and once again they do not disappoint. We visit four wineries, and each one is different. Our first stop is Ballentine wines. The lady at the bar is friendly and their wines are very good. We get a simple demonstration of grapevine grafting too. The atmosphere at the 2nd winery is great. There is a lovely little garden, with rustic sheds and a tractor suitable for posing. We eat lunch here under a shady wisteria canopy. After lunch we head over to Fred Razi's winery. Lee and I made a special request to visit him again. We think his wines are very special. It's great to see him and he was pleased that we had asked for him. The fourth and final winery was a bit different. It was an urban winery, actually located in the city of Napa. It had not been open very long, and was still a work in progress. Although it was fun to hear about their plans, it was late in the afternoon, and less talking and more relaxing by that point would have been good.

This was a great group for wine tour. One engaged couple, one couple from Ireland on their honeymoon. Two best friends from Canada, a mother/daughter pair from Florida. All friendly and fun, the tour actually went long cause we all got a little chatty!

On Friday we decide to drive over to the coast north of San Francisco, before making our way down to the city and Daniel's apartment. We make our way to Point Reyes National Seashore. Once upon a time, before Lee and I were married, we decided to go on a camping trip, up the coast of California, through Oregon and Washington, on into Canada, all the way to Alaska. It took us six weeks to camp, drive and hike our way to Vancouver, Canada, and once we made it there, we realized we were only half way to Alaska, so we changed our minds and headed home. We did accomplish our main objective, however. We figured that if we could get along camping and driving for six weeks in a Chevette, we could probably manage to live together as well, and so we did.

Back on that long ago trip to California, one of the first places we went camping was at Point Reyes. We drove from Kanas City to San Francisco and visited Lee's friend George. George took us to have sushi (a first), saki (another first), and suggested that we try camping at Point Reyes. After spending the night at a beautiful desolate campground overlooking the ocean, we walked down to the beach and hiked along the Pacific. There were very clear signs along this trail warning that at high tide the trail was covered by the ocean and that there was no way out. Get caught on that beach at high tide and you would spend an uncomfortable and dangerous night clinging to the cliffs above the beach. Worry wart that I am, I was duelly alarmed and watched the water and our progress anxiously.

Eventually we came to a hole in the cliff face, leading away from the beach and back to our car. George and his friends sat down to relax and admire the ocean, as did Lee. Instead of relaxing and being cool like a good little hippie chick, I walked over to examine the hole in the cliff, and the path through it. As the tide went out, the hole was clear of water and walkable. However, as the tide came in the hole filled with water. Each time the tide went out, the hole was a little less clear. Each time the tide came in the hole was a little more full. I went back to the boys on the beach and reported this phenomenon. At first they told me to relax and quit worrying so much, but I finally persuaded them to at least come look at the hole. Grudgingly they ambled over. By that time the hole was knee deep in water when the tide was out, and full to the brim when it was in. Finally convinced of the urgency of our situation, we grabbed our backpacks, and one by one ran screaming through the hole. I managed not to say "I told you so" but everyone knew what I was thinking. My worrywart behaviour had been vindicated.

This return trip to Point Reyes was very different. Those 20 something backpackers would have thought we were just a couple of old people, and I suppose we were. We visited a few beaches here and there and I had a good time with my camera. We walked the wild and windy path to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, where the 300 steps down to the lighthouse and back up made my calves sore for the next week. No hikes along a beach while the tide was coming in were attempted.

From Point Reyes we drove along the Pacific Coast Highway to Sausalito. I volunteer to drive since Lee has done all the driving so far. But I've forgotten how crazy, curvy and twisty this part of the highway can be. Lee is pointing out seals but my eyes are glued to the road, and my hands are glued to the wheel. Cliff faces approach and recede. The ocean comes into view and then disappears around another hairpin turn. We are passed by a Lamborghini when we stop to take in the view. If I wasn't such a chicken I guess it would be fun to drive this section of road.

We drive the rest of the way into San Francisco and meet Daniel at his wonderful apartment in Protero Hills, overlooking the city. Times have really changed when we can stay with our son when we visit him. We go out for sushi at a place right around the corner from his apartment. Not only is the apartment nice, but the neighborhood is too. My boy!

We take at easy Saturday morning. Once again we vote for dim sum at Hong Kong Lounge and then spend a beautiful afternoon in Golden Gate Park. We wander through the Botanical Gardens, and enter the Japanese Tea Garden just as a guided tour is beginning, so we decide to join it. This is a good tour; we learn all sorts of interesting factoids about the garden, and would not have known what we were seeing otherwise.

On the way back to Daniel's apartment we stop to sample Four Barrel Coffee in the Mission District. The West Coast certainly has really good coffee right now. It's hard to find a bad cup of the stuff, although I'm sure you could if you tried.

We have something new to me for dinner, although Daniel and Lee have had it before. We go to a restaurant specializing in Japanese small plates and ramen noodles - Izakaya. It's not fancy, this is Japanese comfort food. I would normally turn up my nose at Ramen, but isn't the stuff that comes in a cellophane packet. It's yummy and it's fun to try some new things to eat.

Sunday morning it's time for a long run, 18 miles all planned out. I run across the city through Golden Gate Park, along the ocean up to Cliff House and Lands End and then back. It's a beautiful run and frankly I am amazed at my endurance. What once would have been a great challenge went smoothly and easily. What seemed like big downhills on the way out were only gentle inclines on the way back. The hardest part were the steep hills in Daniel's neighborhood at the very end.

Then we head to Santa Rosa to visit Lee's friend George and his wife Laurie. Yes this is the same George we visited so many years ago in San Francisco. We catch up on our lives, walking around downtown Santa Rosa, and have California style Mexican food for lunch.

Back in the city we opt for a little French restaurant in Daniel's neighborhood for dinner. There is a wait so we get a glass of wine at the wine shop next door and hang out talking to the owner about making wine. Two large standard poodles come in to the store to be petted and nobody minds. Once our table is ready we have some great french bistro food. Lamb for me, mussels for Dan, a burger for Lee, and crepes for dessert.

What a great visit. Now Lee is off to Asia and I go back to New Hampshire for a couple of days before heading to Minnesota for wedding planning.


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