All posts by Christine

San Miguel de Allende 18 October 2017

We are off to a really late start. I confess I am not feeling great. Not sure what is the problem. I figure I need food in my tummy. (Whatever is wrong, feed it!) We are amazed it’s lunch time already! So off to Garambullo for a mid-day meal. I have a fabulous whole wheat panini of Brie cheese, pear, goat cheese and pesto sauce. Can you imagine that? It was fabulous! There was also a little green salad on the plate. H had enchiladas with beans. He was disappointed that it was rather bland. He should have asked for the red sauce they served on my chilequilles a couple of days earlier. We both had agua fresco made of guava and rosemary—it was delicious.

We had planned to go to Fabrics la Aurora for the afternoon, an old fabric manufacturing building that now houses individual shops. But I am not feeling great. So we decide to “veg” at home. I start a new book, drink more water and by 6pm I’m ready for dinner.

Our destination is La Mezcaleria since we had such a great meal there earlier. We can’t resist the margaritas and the grilled vegetables. H has the filet of beef in a coffee & herb rub. I’m not super hungry so I have the the grilled rib eye with chipotle and fried leek tostada. H tried the Allende (local) beer and I had my favorite Sauvignon Blanc from the Guadaloupe Valley, Mexico vintner Monte Xanic. We had the outdoors to ourselves but I think the mosquitos also had dinner while we were there.

We had a nice walk home. Tomorrow is my 65th BIRTHDAY!

San Miguel de Allende 17 October 2017

We were completely lazy this morning. I’ve been trying to connect with a man, Albert Coffee, who has guided tours to a nearby native pyramid. Finally we connect but based on his description, it may be too much for walking with my bad hip. We are emailing back and forth. We’d both like to go.

We have great plans to go first to local Garambullo for breakfast and then to Fabrica la Aurora, once a textile factory but now home to artisanal crafts. We are late to get out and find Garambullo is closed. The lady we met on the first day we tried to eat at Garambullo walked past us so we chatted. She said most restaurants are closed Tuesdays but Pegaso was open today (closed tomorrow). That was great news; we really liked Pegaso.

Before we knew it we were ordering the best margaritas in town! I had beef fajitas and H had Octopus Mexicanos. Both were excellent! Over our second margaritas we decided to go to Fabrica la Aurora another day. We went to a new bakery recommended by Les; bought wine, cheese and sausage at the grocery store; and headed home. My hip was pretty good so I sent an email to Albert saying we’d like to sign up for the tour on Saturday. I hope he believes me that my hip is well enough to walk the tour. I’m trying to believe it myself!

So here we are slugs on the sofa at “home.” I hope we don’t slime up the upholstery!

San Miguel de Allende 16 October 2017

We are happy to have a great breakfast down the street at Garambulla. This tiny restaurant is an example of San Miguel’s commitment to food and healthy food. The owners/ servers are incredibly nice. Although in typical Mexican fashion it is really hard to get the check (la cuenta, por favor) and pay.

Today I avoid the delicious but blow-your-head-off spicy chilaquiles. I go the exact opposite and order waffles with caramel sauce. It was good for a change but I really think the Mexican breakfasts are the best. H orders eggs, nopales (cactus), beans and tomatillo sauce. H says it was great but when we look at the photo I took it just looks an unappetizing green. It was better than that, I promise.

We want to retrace the Food Tour steps and take some pictures. H says earlier that he’s not sure what to buy me for my 65th birthday—so let’s look together. We pass a jewelry store that looks interesting… We come out with beautiful drop earrings—unlike any earrings I have. There are amethysts, pearls and larimar, a beautiful light blue stone from the Dominington Republic. I’m worried they will fall off since they do not have the plastic “guards.” So for my birthday dinner H must watch my earrings every second of the night!

We have lunch at the Peruvian restaurant and it is fantastic! Emergency Pisco Sours! (We were in Portland at a Peruvian restaurant for our 37th anniversary last month and the couple next to us said to their server: EMERGENCY PISCO SOURS! So that’s now our cocktail request.) We had a fabulous lunch:

I had a half avocado with green beans, corn, peas, bell pepper with garlic cream dressing. H had octopus ceviche layered with cooked spicy potatoes and cream garlic dressing. We both had Pisco sours but I switched to Mexican sauvignon blanc to drink with my main dish. Our dessert was incredible: caramel ice cream, candied walnuts and banana brûlée. At home we have a blow torch that would make the sliced bananas brûlée easy! Ask for it next time you’re coming for dinner.

After lunch we wandered around town, did a little souvenir shopping, took a few more pictures and then walked back to the apartment to relax and recuperate.

We later had dinner at Milagros. I had mole enchiladas and H had shrimp tacos. It was just OK. Of course we enjoyed Margaritas. In the next room they were having a great time with gringo bingo.

San Miguel de Allende 15 October 2017

I was awakened at about 5:30am by several gunshots! H did not stir so I lay there waiting to hear what would come next. More gunshot sounds, sometimes in rapid fire; it sounded close by. I slowly realized that it must be fire crackers. The firecrackers continued for about 2 hours. I’m thinking “What on earth is going on?!”

H finally wakes up and we finally decide its time to get up; the firecrackers are not going to stop any time soon. While drinking coffee we see our wildlife camera at home has captured two foxes. They are chasing each other, jumping in the air and it is hilarious!

We have a food restaurant tour scheduled for noon. The walk to the meeting area is about a mile. We pass through beautiful old sections of San Miguel—houses painted in lovely colors with neat gargoyle downspouts and rooftop gardens. Most of these homes have engraved dates of more than 100 years ago. The streets are cobblestone and it is quite a climb to our destination. I’m worried about my hip and knee—can I go the distance?

Our meet-up point is at Paseo Del Chorro, the hilltop where an ancient spring still gushes and where San Miguel was founded because of the water. There are “lavaderos” (clothes washing basins fed by the spring) that even today are used for that purpose. A chapel tops the hill and there are beautiful gardens fed by the spring. This walk has made me realize how magical San Miguel is!

Our tour leader, Les, is there when we arrive about 15 minutes early. We have him all to ourselves for the day and we tell him we want to hear all about San Miguel. So we set off on the tour with Les telling us all about San Miguel’s history, architecture, culture and food.

Our first stop is a restaurant we had on our list to visit: La Parada, a Peruvian restaurant. It has a beautiful outdoor space with rock walls covered in succulents. We sample their bass, corn & mango ceviche. It is delicious! The name was of the restaurant is “bus” in Spanish. This restaurant is supposed to be the bus stop. All over the restaurant are vehicle related items: bus tickets, license plates, a coffee table at the entrance had all sorts of nuts, bolts and other automotive items under glass. Speaking of nuts and bolts, those were the only indications of the restroom genders!

Here is a list of the other stops:
La Casa Del Diezmo, a Yucatán Restaurant: slow roast pig tostada
La Cocina, Café Del Viajero: mole enchilada. Such a wonderful chocolatey flavor!
Nieves de Garrafa: street vendor with great ice cream
Los Milagros: tortilla soup
Baja Fish Taquito: fish tacos on a roof top terrace with great views
San Agustin Churros y Chocolate: churro stuffed with cajeta (goat cheese caramel)

As we walk between stops, Les gives us all sorts of local information such as:
1. In Mexico whatever I have is yours. If a door is open you can just walk in. The bars on the windows have no relation to safety; there are there to keep your friends and neighbors from lifting items out of your home.
2. “Manana” here does not mean tomorrow it just means “not today.”Les says in Mexican culture no one wants to say NO. So they say anything but NO.
3. The streets are sooooo clean! Les says there are citizens that will litter purposely because they know their actions result in someone having a job! There are very few dogs loose on the street and virtually no evidence of dogs on the run.
4. Fire crackers: in Mexico when there is a celebration (and there’s always a celebration) the louder the better. And firecrackers are the best way to make that noise. Although music and yelling are also good ways to make the celebration better. That can happen any day of the week and all night long. Dogs and roosters contribute to the festivities. Les says “Get used to it!”
5. Only family is invited for meals at home so the town squares, restaurants and bar are really important for getting together. Any night people will meet up with friends until the early hours of the morning.
6. Les says the best restaurants are rated BBB: Bueno (good), Bonito (pretty) and Barato (cheap).
7. Les showed us a comparison of traditional Mexican cuisine (Milpa Diet) to Mediterranean cuisine. He advocates the TRADITIONAL Mexican food/cooking may be even better than the Mediterranean diet. Here are a few differences between the two (Mediterranean vs Mexican): olive oil vs avocado oil; mediterranean beans vs fava beans; Mediterranean seeds and grains vs new world seeds and grains including chia seeds. He says corn treated with lye is better digested and an important ingredient in Mexican cooking and should be an important ingredient in a healthy diet.
8. The Mexican people include in their lives “milagros” (it means miracles), medals, charms, paintings, alters, etc., that they believe protect the people who wear/have them. These Milagros ask God, the Virgin or saints to protect them or to answer their prayers. When we were in Puerto Vallarta decades ago I found a very interesting Milagro painting that I bought and gave to my mom. She liked that sort of thing and she was Catholic. Now that I think about it, it was a painting in gratitude to the Virgin for her help in healing someone. Les was wearing a corn Milagro pinned to his collar. He offered us a variety of Milagro medals so we could choose a charm that might be particular for our petition to Heaven. I chose a leg since my hip and leg have been particularly bad (I’m praying for a hip replacement soon after we get back!) H chose a pig because he thinks pigs are great creatures.
9. Les is very happy with the healthcare provided here and the low cost of living. He and his wife have lived here about 13 years (prior to that in La Paz, Mexico) and live about a 40 minute walk from town. (That means a good bit of hill hiking.) He would never even think about driving into town because there is no place to park and too many cars in the narrow streets. Besides walking and the traditional Mexican diet have resulted in him losing 57lbs!

When it came time to tip Les for his wonderful tour, I got completely mixed up with the exchange rate. I was going to give him a couple of dollars. Fortunately H stepped in and figured out the correct amount for such a wonderful tour.

Back home we relaxed; we were completely satisfied and had no interest in having more food.

We sat at home (with a glass or two of wine) with a renewed understanding of the neighborhood noise. We now were having the experience of a new sound outside our window: a man who was making a god-awful noise apparently hoping to advertise whatever he was selling. He walked slowly down the street as his incredible sounds flooded the neighborhood! H thought it was an animal…dying? in distress? The mariachi music is echoing from the square a few blocks away. Fire crackers now! Lotsa noise til 9pm.

San Miguel de Allende 11-14 October 2017

Here we are in San Miguel de Allende Mexico! And we ARE in Mexico: loud mariachi music at all hours of the day and night; nonstop barking dogs; trucks, ATVs, motorcycles, and autos zooming by our bedroom window at all hours; narrow cobblestone streets and sidewalks that threaten our safety (it will not surprise me to return with a broken bone from falling); lots of churches; questionable architecture and lovely architecture; GREAT MARGARITAS; friendly people and lots of them; delicious food; and many expats and visiting Americans.

So let’s start at the beginning of this trip. We felt a little stressed in the lead up to our departure. We are in the midst of a modest kitchen renovation. While we are away the flooring throughout most of the house will be removed. So that meant that we needed to move all the smaller furniture and knick knacks to the bedrooms. We also unloaded a very full and big china cabinet. There were renovation decisions to be made and carried out in our absence. And of course packing for our trip to be done. And we got through it all.

The night before our departure we enjoyed a fabulous dinner with our wonderful neighbors, Gail and Larry, at our favorite restaurant, Ostras. It was perfect in every way: tasty cocktails and small plates to share including paella, braised pork cheeks, skirt steak with a delicious sauce and cheesecake (shared) to end the evening. Gail even mentioned that the music played over the sound system was perfect…and it was! Those two lovely friends are dog-sitting Toby and Lucky along with their daughter’s two dogs for a total of FIVE DOGS while we’re gone. They are saints!

Our first stop was San Francisco for the night prior to our departure from the SF airport. We stayed at a Best Western with the capability to leave our car for the duration of the trip. The area was incredibly smoky from the horrible fires in Napa and Sonoma. What a terrible tragedy in an area we love! We were pooped after the 6+ hour drive and decided to eat at the hotel. There were nothing but OLD PEOPLE in the dining room! I guess we added two more people to that group description. Our dinner was surprisingly good although maybe a little overpriced. H had a beautifully cooked steak with roasted potatoes and grilled squash. I had chicken and pasta with crème pesto. The pesto would have been nicer without the cream but it was just fine.

The next day we had a 8:30pm departure so we were off to the SF ferry building for oysters at the Hog Island Oyster Company. A very nice uber driver took us there. He was from Columbia and had been here for 16 years. We did not want to hear too much about his time with the Colombian police! It was a pleasant ride nonetheless.

We arrived at our destination at about 11:00 and were at the front of the line at Hog Island—yippee! First on the agenda were two Bloody Marys. One sip and there was smoke coming out of my ears. H says I just haven’t had a Bloody Mary in a long time; they are now always super spicy. I was able to cut mine with water so that I could have a few sips but H finished it off. Second up were a dozen Hog Island Earthquake Bay oysters followed by mussels and fries for me and clams & pasta in a chorizo sauce for H. Fabulous bread from the Acme Bread Company was served nonstop til you said NO. I had Hog Island Oyster white wine and H had French Pic Poul, a favorite wine in France to accompany oysters. We needed dessert so lastly we ordered a dozen Island Creek oysters from the East Coast—haha. That was a GREAT meal.

We wandered around the ferry building but resisted buying anything. We stepped outside into the hazy, smoky sun and weren’t sure what to do next. My wrecked hip was bothering me so we knew we could not walk very far. As we were slowing walking we passed a pedicab. We sat down to look at my iPhone for suggestions. Quickly I said, “I’m going to talk to that man on the pedicab.” We had a wonderful pedicab trip to Pier 39! The young man pumping the bicycle was so nice pointing out interesting sites to us. And boy was he working hard—I was telling myself that I should really lose that extra 20 lbs. The $25 was well worth it and it was a nice adventure.

We spent an hour or so wandering around Pier 39. It’s rather like Disneyland. We tried to convince ourselves to visit the aquarium but it was $50 each and got not-so-good reviews on TripAdvisor so we passed. Instead we thought more alcohol might be a good idea. So off we go to enjoy a lichée mojito (me) and mango margarita (H) at the Eagle Cafe (established in 1928).

We strolled a little bit more but fairly quickly decided to return to the hotel. Uber was there when we needed it! We spent the couple of hours reading in the hotel bar before our departure to the airport (no service so the drinking stopped momentarily) along with four OLD MEN (get the picture?) playing cards.

It was a very easy check-in at the airport. When I booked the tickets I realized that first class was not much more in price than economy! We would be flying smaller planes so first class meant: bigger seats, drinks before take-off and FIFO (that’s accountant inventory talk for “first in, first out”) and access to the United Club. The United club was not a big deal unfortunately. They did have a nice salad bar and delicious tomato bisque. Well drinks were free but we wanted real champagne! We enjoyed a nice half bottle of a French rose champagne. We reminded ourselves that the last time we had champagne in an airport was in Paris 2015. The server there gave us a thumbs-up when we ordered it.

When we landed in Leon, Mexico we were the first to deplane, get through immigration and our bags came out almost immediately—thank you United First Class. Our driver was not there yet but several other drivers were concerned for us and called the agency to make sure someone was coming. That was our first experience with the kind and friendly Mexican people. “Benito” was, at that moment, making his way to the terminal. Then we were off for the 1 1/2 hour drive to San Miguel de Allende.

San Miguel de Allende is located in the Bajio region of Mexico (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baj%C3%ADo) a 6500 ft semi-arid plateau located in the very center of the country. The hills are covered with dry grassland and desert studded with thistles, sweet acacia and mesquite trees. It is a colonial town with Mexican baroque architecture. The town is noted for its great food, artisan community, incredible architecture & historic sites, and hot springs (damn, we didn’t bring our bathing suits—naked springs maybe?!). Ashland, Oregon’s sister city, Guanajuato, is a travel destination too. It’s about one hour to the north. The main attraction of the town of San Miguel is its well-preserved historic center, filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. This and the nearby Sanctuary of Atotonilco, were declared World Heritage Sites in 2008.

We arrive at our apartment in San Miguel about 8:30am (central time) and fell into a comfortable bed. We’ve had about one hour of sleep in the past 24 hours. After four hours of glorious sleep we were ready to meet San Miguel! But first let’s describe our beautiful apartment.

We are a very easy walk to the central part of town. Our street is cobblestone and very narrow. The apartment was renovated last year and is beautiful! The lower level is the bedroom and bathroom with all the amenities we hoped to have. The 2nd floor has a perfectly appointed kitchen and a comfortable sitting room. There is also a great outdoor space—a nice patio adjacent to the living room.

Every thing is beautifully decorated. The owners have been here 16 years. Before they purchased and renovated this spot they lived on a large ranch in the area. There are so many expatriates here. At breakfast today we overheard a woman saying she had been here 3 years but still was not proficient in Spanish. I am at a loss to respond to that kind of mentality.

On our first day we made our way to Garambullo, a restaurant within a very short walk on our street. However we arrived 5 minutes before their closing time at 5:00pm. Two  American ladies seated at the restaurant give us a couple of suggestions for dinner and so we were off to wander the town in search of a good Mexican restaurant.

We somewhat followed the map to the general vicinity of their restaurant suggestions. And we were surprised to see we are in front of Pegaso, one of their favorites. It’s a small place with very nice and attentive waitstaff. We began with two incredibly delicious margaritas (and we couldn’t resist another round when those were gone). H had braised tongue with olives and vegetables and I had Chilies en Nogata, poblano chilis filled with shredded meat, fruits and spices topped with a walnut-based cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. Both dishes were “muy rico” (delicious). When I asked about dessert, the waiter indicated “come with me.” In the next room was a pastry case with at least 10 desserts. When in Mexico we must have flan—and it was delicious. The total cost of the meal was about $50.

We had a restful night in spite of the noise. The bed is super comfy.

It’s our first full day here! For breakfast we return to Garambullo. Their menu makes our mouths water. Everything is freshly prepared and looks beautiful. H orders polenta with poached eggs and vegetables. I order chilaquiles with a fried egg. Our server asks if I want green or red sauce. I say “red sauce.” She mumbles something about “picante.” Soon I understand what picante really means! It was hotter than the Bloody Mary! OK so I need to get some water…quick. H says “big mistake” as I gulp down the restaurant’s water. But I am a trusting kind of person so I’m sure the water is OK. NOTE TO SELF: next time get the waffles. Total cost $14.

It is imperative that we find a grocery store—we’re down to our last few sheets of TP. Wine and coffee are also on the list in that order of importance. We look and look for the grocery at the address we have been given but no grocery is to be found. So we are just wandering and looking in every little shop door. WOW—we find it a couple of blocks away from where we expected. We come to realize that the odd numbered addresses are not necessarily across the street from the even numbers you’d expect.

A month or so ago H installed a motion detecting  camera at the top of the slope in our backyard. We were concerned there might be coyotes on the other side of the fence. Before we left the camera caught two critters sneaking around one night. Our neighbor, Larry, who truly knows everything about anything identified the animals as foxes. Well I can tell you that the wildlife is having a ball while we are gone. One night a mama and two baby bears had great fun eating the tomatoes. The very next day several turkeys were picking through the garden. The foxes came back one night and they were either playing or fighting. How did they know the coast was clear?

After breakfast we relax, read and I start the travelogue. At about 4:00pm we are ready for more delicious Mexican food…and maybe a sip or two of margarita. It’s a tough decision on where to go. I use TripAdvisor and our landlords have a list of their favorites. We choose La Mezcalería. Google maps takes us on a new route with places we’ve not seen before so that was nice.

The restaurant is beautiful and small. Guess what we order first? Oh, you know us too well. Even though the margaritas were good, Pegaso is in the lead in the margarita contest. We share a grilled vegetable salad (sweet potatoes, zucchini and pickled beets) and a prawn dish (three big prawns with grilled cherry tomatoes and lotsa rosemary—who knew rosemary and prawns went so well together?). The salad is fabulous—we really need some vegetables in our system. And the prawns are equally as good. (Maybe I like the salad a tiny bit more, it is that good). We have a Sauvignon Blanc from the Guadaloupe Valley of Baja Mexico. Our friends Linda and Ron Grunow have been telling us how great the Guadaloupe wine is—we didn’t believe them. Well we are proved wrong. Our wine was from Monte Xanic.

We ask the server where we can buy wine and she directs us to La Europa. We leave with six bottles—that should hold us for a day or two. Across the street is a bakery, Cumpanio. We buy a half dozen sweet breads and croissants. We’re looking forward to breakfast tomorrow with our newly purchased coffee and breakfast breads.

Tomorrow is Sunday. We have a food tour scheduled for the afternoon. Can’t wait!

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Paris — 27 September 2015

Today is “A Day without Cars” in Paris. This I gotta see! I’m not sure the car-drivers in our neighborhood got the message–there are just as many cars today as every other day.

Happily the neighborhood bakery is open at about 7am. I buy several loaves of bread to eat and freeze; croissants for breakfast this morning; and tasty sweets for the next couple of days. The covered market is also open so I can buy items we need for today’s rabbit dinner. (It’s Sunday so we are looking forward to a traditional Sunday meal.) But, alas, the wine shop is not yet open. Guess we will need to count on our champagne “cellar” to get us through the day.

Howard is going home with something he didn’t have before we left: pink underwear. The washing machine and dryers take HOURS to complete a cycle. I try to limit the amount of time by washing all the dirty clothes together. Big mistake…

We both have a bit of a cold. My symptoms began a few days ago and have been VERY slowly getting a tiny bit worse. Howard feels like it has hit him all at once and woke up feeling not so good. So I have volunteered to get everything we need for our Sunday lunch. Most of the shopping was done much earlier but it’s 1pm and if we are to have red wine with our lunch (we only have champagne) I must go out now. The weather is soooooo beautiful! It is a perfect day. But there are no fewer cars than usual…

The wine shop is open! Many shops in France close at noon on Sunday. There are a couple of other people in the shop so I help myself to the wines I want rather than waiting for the proprietor to help me. I feel him cringe as the bottles clink a little as I carefully grab what I want. French shop people are so sensitive to Americans helping themselves. If it were a green grocer, I would never help myself but “I can handle wine bottles,” I say silently to myself.

On our last visit to the shop the man suggested a Cote Du Rhone Villages wine (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) that we liked and it is not too expensive. It’s Domaine Elodie Balme and it was about 13€. I also buy the winery’s Appellation wine (Rasteau: Grenache, Syrah, Carignan)) which was a couple of Euros more. When I exit the shop, I’m tempted to keep walking because it’s so nice but I return to the apartment building. Howard meets me on the 2nd floor to help with my wine burden. He feels bad that I had to go out but he’s cooking lunch so we’re even.

We have a wonderful rabbit dinner with pasta and haricot vertes. We share a Cerisaie sweet. I am trying to find a recipe for that very, very delicious treat. I hope I’m successful.

We read and relax and go to bad early.

Paris — 26 September 2015

It’s a day in Champagne! I slept very well last night. I woke up at 12:30; heard the kitchen commotion next door; flipped them off; and went back to sleep.

The neighborhood Metro route is direct to the East Train Station in Paris. In 45 minutes we are in Reims, a city of 200,000 in the Champagne region. Reims is pronounced “raw-ss”–go figure…

We meet Ina, our tour guide, and 6 other Americans at 9am at the train station. Ina gives us a nice overview of the region and we are off. We drive through the forest and see lots of cars by the roadside. Ina says people are looking for mushrooms. Wish we could too! One couple in the van say they will be seeing Jimmy Buffet in concert in Paris. We tell them we have tickets in October for the LA concert. I ask if this will be their first JB concert and they say No, they have enjoyed JB since they were kids when their folks were fans. So now we realize we are the “old folks” in the tour!

Our first stop is to see a vineyard; notice the chalky soil;

Premier Cru Soil
Premier Cru Soil

and get a quick lesson in the life of a grape vine. Ina tells us about Dom Peringnon who discovered how to make champagne in late 1861. God bless him!!

We stop at our first champagnery, Fernand Lemaire, and have a tour and explanation of the champagne making process. We are treated to a demonstration of the daily bottle turning (to eventually disgorge the wine) by a man with a butt crack–guess that visual is the world over! We taste 3 delicious champagnes and buy a brut rose and a premier cru (which we THINK was a third each of Chardonay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunière grapes). It is a very small vineyard–the production is in the thousands (of bottles per year). Today the third generation is involved in the champagne making.

The second place we stop is a much larger producer, JM Gobillard & Fils–the production here is in the millions. We taste 4 champagnes. For the last tasting Ina has a volunteer from our group use a saber to open the champagne! We have certainly heard of this but we have never seen it in person. I can’t wait to try it myself but maybe not in the Paris apartment…

Ina tells us that 10am is the best time to taste wine because your pallet is clean–we like that idea! One YOUNG woman on the tour decides that #10amchampagne will be the Instagram name. Wha???? (Later I am amazed that I find her photograph post on Instagram. Maybe I CAN understand all this social media stuff!)

Ina says in France the people drink the wine of their region almost exclusively. So the people in Champagne always drink champagne! (I wanna live there!) She says they are able to get to know the vintners and find the champagne they like at a reasonable price from the winery direct. The champagnes we bought were 15€ to 20€–very reasonable for such great champagne! She recommends champagne with every type of dish. If the dish is red meat, have a champagne made with Pinot Noir grapes.

Ina gives us a tour of the church. This was Dom Perignon’s church. It was originally part of the monastery but the monastery is long gone. Ina points out one interesting thing: If you see anything painted blue in old France, it means it was a precious thing. The color blue was taken from the Lapis Lazuli semi-precious stone. There is a side alter at the church that is painted blue with gold leaf accents.

Ina’s husband recommended Racine for lunch. The chef is Japanese but his dishes have a French flare. Ina says it will be no surprise when the chef gets a Michelin star and says we will love it…and we do. We have a table on the second story at the window so our meal entertainment is people watching. Here’s the guide to our 2 1/2 hour lunch:

We start with a glass of rose champagne.

Amuse Buche: The first plate is a long tray of 4 little bites (mostly seafood tastes) plus a large spoon with what looks like a red blob. The blob is gelatin filled with liquid–it is an incredible taste of gazpacho! The second plate is a beet and green apple concoction. The little beet parts look like mushrooms with little thin rounds of beets as caps. The apple is sliced paper thin and rolled up tight. (There are LOTS of labor intensive vegetable accents and garnishes during our meal. They must have many 14yo apprentices in house.)

1st course: Roasted pigeon with butternut squash made to look like those cute mushrooms and a tamarin vinaigrette. It is served with more rose champagne. It is really delicious–nicely roasted.
2nd course: Cod (perfectly cooked) served with a small cube of potatoes Daphinoise and some tasty little vegetable accents with curcuma oil.
3rd course: Smoked Iberian pork (topped with very fine toasted seasoned bread crumbs), salsify, celery with mustard seeds served with a burgundy wine.
4th course: Dessert of pear and chocolate-flavored cake and ice cream served with a nicely sweet Vouvray wine.
“Gourmet Coffee” (coffee served with sweets) with 2 small sweets, a little bit of pudding and a tisane sweet drink…plus espresso coffee, of course.
Total cost $240

We visit the HUGE church, Notre Dames de Reims (Our Lady of Reims).

Norte Dame de Reims
Norte Dame de Reims

The cathedral replaced an older church, destroyed by fire in 1211, that was built on the site of the basilica where King Clovis was baptized by Saint Remi, bishop of Reims, in AD 496. That original structure had itself been erected on the site of some Roman baths. Twenty five French kings were crowned here from about 750 to 1825AD. One noteworthy site is the beautiful stained glass window designed by Marc Chagall (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reims_Cathedral#/media/File:Chagall_windows_Reims_Cathedral.JPG) and built in 1974.

Our trip back to Paris is quick and comfortable. We stop by the neighborhood bakery and patisserie on our way to the apartment but it is PACKED with people!!! Maybe tomorrow it will be open early.
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Paris — 25 September 2015

I hate those people next door! I happened to wake up at 2:30 and moments later I hear the front door latch open. They had dinner and cleaned the kitchen. I could hear the TV for hours because I never went back to sleep!

Today we begin our day at the Petite Palais. It is a free museum and it is our first time to see it (continuing on our quest to see new sites). I’m not sure I can summarize the museum’s theme of artistic offerings. But I will say that the first couple of painting galleries just knock our socks off. (Of course we pick up after ourselves as we leave.) It is the “grand format” paintings that are so incredible. Leon Lhermitte has a painting of the old Paris market, Les Halle. There are two very erotic lesbian paintings by Gustave Courbet. Fernand Pelez’s Grimaces and Misery is particularly incredible and his Without Roof is notable because of the current refugee situation here. Charles Giron’s Woman Wearing Gloves is beautiful in person because you could see the details on her gown. George Clarin’s painting of Sara Bernhardt is soooo dramatic–as it should be! There is a Monet, Sun Setting on the Seine. And Victor Schnetz has grand French Revolution paintings. About 2/3 of the museum is uninteresting to us but the first part is unforgettable.

We next head off to the Quai Branly Museum. We have a nice lunch at the Museum’s cafe which is situated in a very interesting garden. I have a Caesar Salad and Howard has Steak Tartar.

Opened in 2006, the museum is dedicated to the civilizations and arts of Africa, Asia, Oceana and the Americas. The collection includes nearly 300,000 works dating from the 2nd millennium B.C. to the start of the 21st century. The temporary exhibition was “Tattoos.” The walk to the entrance is really neat! There is a “stream” of words projected on the floor–looking just like a flow of water. The words evoke the theme of the museum: river, family, community, art, etc. The words flow up along the edges of the walkway just like water. It is a really effective visual as we make our way to the heart of the museum.

You could spend hours in this museum! The primitive art is truly incredible. The tattoo exhibit looks interesting but our feet are aching and seeing videos of people being pounded by needles and ink just does not turn us on. We happily take a taxi back to the apartment.

In our past visits to Paris, we never considered taking taxis; we always took the Metro. But the taxis are not that expensive (normally about 10€) and it is sooooo nice to get back home quickly.

As we recuperate and put our legs up at home, we hear the sound of a non-stop trumpet player. It is an elderly man who frequents our neighborhood playing his trumpet. I think he does it because he likes it–not because he is busking. (We “enjoy” his music many time over our remaining time here.)

We originally had planned to stay at home and have a rabbit dinner. But we are too tired to make dinner and decide to visit a Greek restaurant we have been to many times while in Paris, Evi Evane. The last 2 times we were here we had our sweet poodles with us, Leo and Lucien. It is a bittersweet memory for us! It was raining really hard when we brought them in their cute yellow rain slickers. The server was welcoming and set us at a table for 4 with plenty of room. (In Paris normally we were only able to sit at a meager 2 person table with absolutely no room for the dogs.)

We arrive at 7 which is a sure indication that we are Americans–all other people arrive at 8. But we have the full attention of a very sweet young lady for our entire meal. We tell her about our last visit with the dogs. Poor thing, she asks where the dogs are now. We say in heaven and the three of us look sad.

We had an incredible meal! We enjoyed a red Greek wine that our server recommended. We started with an octopus salad for Howard and Dolmas for me. We both thought our dishes were incredible. And the pita bread is home-made!!! We both had the traditional Moussaka for our main dish. We could only finish half of our moussaka so we sheepishly ask if she could package it up for us to take home. In France, doggie-bags are unknown! And that sweet girl did just that for us.

I had baclava for dessert (it was incredible!!!) and Howard (stupidly) had lime sorbet. It was a wonderful evening. Our server helped us with her English and of course we tried with our meager French.

I hope we can make it back before we leave.

Paris — 24 September 2015

Our thoughtful neighbors were cleaning their kitchen earlier last night. The cleaning brigade was on duty from 11 to midnight night. I suppose that’s better than 3am! Or maybe not…

We make a plan for our last 6 days here in Paris. Today we are off to the Ille de Cité, the center of France and the center of Paris.

When we were in Portland, OR a couple of years ago, we found the Stray Boots tours. You sign up on your smart-phone and pay a minimal amount per person. The phone tours take you to places you never would have found! You answer questions as you find your way through the city and take selfies or other photos to show you have been in the places suggested in the tour. We loved the Portland tour.

Our Paris Stray Boots Tour is a disaster from the moment we start. The first 3 questions do not have accurate directions and the answer to the second question is wrong. We call it quits on the tour.

We stop back at the cooking school to purchase a few items. Cynthia and Bruce bought some cheese at the market last night and forgot to take it home. The receptionist at the school is happy we have their phone number. I get their VM and tell them about the cheese and that there are 2 slots open for the trip to Champagne.

The forgotten cheese was Mont d’Or. Chef Eric said to cut the round cheese in half crosswise; to the open side add garlic and a splash of white wine; put the top back on and wrap in foil; and cook until hot and serve with bread. He said there will be no leftovers even if 2 people share the rather large round of cheese. I hope Cynthia and Bruce got to make their cheese treat!

We decide to next visit a famous cooking shop, E. Dehillerin, in the 1st Arr. We have a bit of a walk ahead of us so we look for a cafe to eat and rest our feet. On the way we pass a taxidermy shop. The famous Paris taxidermy shop, Deyrolle’s, is on our to do list. This shop is not Deyrolle’s but we will try to get there before we leave.

We stop at the cafe we frequented on our visit to Paris in 2000, Le Comptoir Dauphine. Our server is very nice and seats us at the window in very comfortable seats. Howard has a composed salad of smoked duck breast, duck confit, chicken gizzards confit, foie gras and warm goat cheese with toast (a heart attack on a plate) and I have Croque Monsieur (essentially a ham and cheese grilled sandwich). The lunch rejuvenated me. We move on to find the kitchen shop.

Dehillerins was a favorite of Julie Child. The place is incredible; we’ve been here once before. There are dimly lit hallways with items that have not see the light of day in decades! No items are priced; there is a big printed book with all the prices at the front desk. We find a small, heavy saucepan–we’ve been looking for such a pan. And Howard cannot resist buying a kitchen knife.

Our declare our work done today! We are ready to get home and put our feet up. It’s a good thing we are here for 2 weeks because we need twice as long as anyone else to get done what we want to do!

Paris — 23 September 2015

Today is an take-it-easy day. We walk around beautiful Luxembourg Gardens, just around the corner from our apartment. Howard takes pictures with his new camera. We have a simple lunch at home: cheese, pate, bread and wine.

Four o’clock is our cooking class.

Cooking School
Cooking School

Eric is the Chef. We meet Cynthia and Bruce from Seattle right away. We are surprised to discover that Cynthia’s mother lives the next town over from Ashland; Cynthia was born in Ashland. Another couple is from Boulder and there are 2 woman who immediately are annoying and stay that way the entire class.

Eric is taking us to the street market and we will choose items for dinner. Everyone but one of the annoying women (AW) wants meat of some kind. The AW just insists on seafood. What a jerk! But Chef accedes to her wishes. We buy vegetables (carrots, romesco: a green swirly cauliflower, red peppers, leeks, mushrooms, fennel, onions, butternut squash, fresh herbs, potatoes), cod and cheese. We take a little tour around the neighborhood and Eric points out several sights. We visit the bakery he likes and he tells us about the “Meilleur Ouvrier de France,” a prestigious award in France that can be given for any trade. In the case of a bakery, the bakers compete for the award; they practice for months. The winner is able to use the designation for the rest of their life. So if you see a bakery with the “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” sign you can assume that it is an excellent bakery.

Our menu is:
1st course: Butternut squash soup topped with slightly whipped cream flavored with a little nutmeg and cinnamon and poured over sautéed mushrooms.
2nd course: Cod en papillote–cod on a bed of very small matchstick size pieces of carrots, fennel, leeks and small pieces of romansco. A splash of olive oil and wine is added and then the fish and veggies are encased in foil. It’s cooked at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes and served with a sauce of onions and red peppers (the peppers and onions are sautéed and then simmered in a lot of creme and puréed into a sauce. Mashed potatoes with chives are molded into a perfect disc and served with the fish.
3rd course: 3 cheeses–Comté, Reblochon and an aged goat cheese.
4th course: Chocolate lava cake “swimming” in creme anglais.

Eric was funny and certainly did a great job of creating the menu on the spot and making sure everything was completed at the right time. As we were leaving, Cynthia and Bruce whispered to me Should we tip him? I said I had not thought about it and did not have any cash! So poor Eric got no tips (I didn’t see anyone else tip him). But we all gave him a hearty Merci!

Before we split up, Cynthia and Bruce said they were interested in the Champagne tour we told everyone about. We exchanged phone numbers and I’ll call the tour company to see if there are two more openings.