Not Martha

Super Natural Cooking at the Cookbook Club

cover of Super Natural Cooking

Yesterday was the first meeting of our Cookbook Club, a gathering of friends where we each bring a different dish from a chosen cookbook so we can sample and compare. Our first choice was easy, Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson, aka 101 Cookbooks.

I’ll just go ahead and tell you I liked everything. Heidi’s book is very focused on vegetarian foods that aren’t necessarily healthy (there is no shying away from butter and cheeses in this book) but aren’t trying to be vegetarian versions of meat foods. She explains very clearly the how and why of each recipe (I finally get soaking and cooking beans). Our collective criticism? Some of the ingredients can be difficult to find, even in health conscious, food focused Seattle. Though because of this conversation, half of us learned about Big John’s PFI, an imports store in SoDo.

My favorite of the afternoon I somehow didn’t end up with a picture of, it was the Black Tea Spring Rolls. They are filled with mushrooms and smokey tea leaves and the flavor is interesting and comforting and I wanted to eat more until I burst. update: You can see a picture of these taken by Maggi (thanks Maggi!) here. In fact, she is an amazing photographer so just go look at her pictures instead.

crostini with goat cheese and lentils

Beluga Lentil Crostini, with goat cheese and chives, we couldn’t stop eating these.

brussels sprouts

Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts, this picture was taken just before they were sprinkled with cheese that melted fetchingly.

Gnocchi alla Romana with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, these were delicious, and not shown was the accompanying spicy tomato sauce.

asparagus and spinach pesto

Straw and Hay Fettuccini Tangle, made with asparagus and spinach pesto, amazing.

soba noodles

Otsu, this was very satisfying to eat.


Sweet Potato Spoon Bread, so very yummy.

white beans and greens

Giant Crusty and Creamy White Beans, this is the one I made and I’ll be making it again.

raspberry curd cake

Raspberry Curd Swirl Cake, served with whipped cream. This had a delicious crusty top and we were impressed how well the whole wheat flour turned out a fluffy cake.

thin mints cookies

Thin Mint Cookies, really great, I nabbed one of these before we officially started eating.

Next up, Falling Cloudberries!

· comments [26] · 03-15-2010 · categories:food ·

Kirby Krackle at the Emerald City Comicon

Kerby Krackle at the ECCC

This weekend Scott will be doing at gig at the Emerald City Comic Con, he plays bass for Kirby Krackle. They’ll be performing tomorrow (Sunday the 14th) in Room 3AB at 2 p.m. And get this, the Marvel Comics Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada will be joining them on guitar. It must not be missed*. (And hey, you’ll have time since the Focus on Felicia Day panel was canceled as she is currently filming in Canada. (I mean this lovingly, I would have been in the Felicia Day panel too. (Shh, don’t tell Scott.)))

We visited the con today and it was packed so I didn’t get pictures. But we saw the most adorable Dahlek costume on a very small child, and we saw Keith Knight and Bob the Angry Flower in real life. And Bob, I mean, Stephen was actually wearing the flower on his head. (I have a old story that involves me seeing a K Chronicles on the wall of my dentist’s office and she mentioning that oh, yeah, he did that for her because he comes in to that office, and concludes with me excitedly freaking out for a bit. The end.) And from a middle of a pack of people slowly milling past we spotted Wil Wheaton and Lou Ferrigno.

On our way back I spotted this real (?) old red phone box from the UK outside of a pub.

And this morning I actually succeeded in making pancakes (for some reason mine usually turn out poorly). It was important enough to deserve a photo:

* Just wait until I tell you who they are on the bill with for a con in Phoenix.

· comments [13] · 03-13-2010 · categories:events ·

Liberty of London at Target

Liberty of London for Target products

In case you haven’t heard yet, the Liberty of London line for Target stores is coming out this Sunday, March 14th. It’s terribly exciting. I’m hoping to find a few of the softer goods to mail to a friend, and maybe something breakable for myself. You find the whole line, at least in thumbnail format, here on the Target website.

If you live in the UK some of the items are available for pre-order through the Liberty of London website, though I’m curious to see how the prices on those will compare to the goods in the Target stores.

stainless steel stockpots

While I’m talking about Target I’ll mention that I found myself staring at the Giada De Laurentiis products and I like the look of her stainless steel pots with metal lids. The 2-quart saucepan and 6-quart stock pot looked nice, and thankfully come without any sort of rubber of plastic on the handles. (As I say this, though, I should mention that the pots I find myself using most often are my 1-quart and 4-quart sizes, both celebrity lines that I found discounted at TJ Maxx.)

stainless steel sauce pots

The extra large slotted spoon (more like a pasta strainer) looked great to me too, but I didn’t buy it because none of the utensils come with loops on the handles for hanging. It looks like they had to go to some effort to design packaging to allow it to hang it for display:

handles of loop-less utensils hanging in the store

· comments [18] · 03-13-2010 · categories:shopping ·

I’ve been seeing my little camera everywhere

Canon S90 and leather case in the J Crew catalog

I spotted my camera (the Canon S90) and it’s nifty leather case in a recent Men’s J. Crew catalog. It reminded me to let you know that after dragging it all over Paris I am thoroughly happy. The case was easy to get into and out of, and the camera is small enough to stay with me all the time and it takes pretty good pictures in low light situations. And, it takes pictures in RAW. Awesome.

· comments [10] · 03-12-2010 · categories:shopping · technology ·

Immortal Dog, in Seattle

Immortal Dog wall, with photographs of her dogs

I stopped into Immortal Dog, a fabulous independent pet supply store in my neighborhood, to say hello to Nicole. I first met Nicole when she came to speak at the Grassroots Business Association about what goes on behind the scenes in opening a retail store. (She is one hard working lady.) The next time I met her was when we bumped into her in Paris (of all places).

Immortal Dog logo

The shop is at 1712 S Jackson St.
Seattle, WA in the Central District and is open Mon – Fri 11am to 8pm and Sat – Sun 11am to 6pm. Phone number is 206-323-9112.

I don’t have dogs, but I really want them, so I spent some time looking around.

small dog biscuits in a large glass jar with a scoop

Nicole bakes her own dog treats “all baked with human-grade ingredients without corn, wheat, sugar or salt” and offers them at a biscuit bar. You can buy them by the bag and she carries lots of flavors, peanut butter, parmesan herb, gingerbread, garlic cheese, sweet potato bacon.

felted dog toys

knit dog sweaters

She carries as many eco friendly products as possible, but that doesn’t mean the style isn’t happening. The items above are made from recycled fibers.

a clever wooden dog puzzle

On of my favorite things in the store were these wooden dog puzzles. In this one you put a treat inside the cup, then fit it into the hole there and slide to the other end. Your dog has to work to get it out. So cool. She carries six puzzles total.

dog beds made from colorful fabrics

These are dog beds that you stuff with old clothing or towels.

colorful leashes

tiny mouse toys

a skull and cross bones chew toy

There are tons of varieties of pet foods, dishes, grooming tools and even pet spa products.

big, wet doggie nose

And of course, her dogs come to work with her. Hi there!

· comments [10] · 03-11-2010 · categories:seattle · shopping ·

My Vacation Slides: Paris, the bit about the mangosteens

buying mangosteens at La Grand Epicerie

While we were in La Grand Epicerie we came across some mangosteens. I’d heard of these before but was most intrigued by Maggie Mason’s report about finding a stash in Chinatown. They had been illegal to import into the US for a long time, and at the time I bought these I thought they still were, but Maggie updated her entry to say: “they were cleared for U.S. import in 2007 and small quantities are grown in Puerto Rico, mostly for gourmet restaurants.” You know what? Thinking they were sneaky commodities in the US made buying them in Paris thrilling. I’m glad I got to taste them as forbidden fruit. We took them to us when we went to go visit our friends Laura and Andy in Nottingham.

mangosteens, exteriors

mangosteen cut in half, fat white fruit in cloves

mangosteen cloves separated, they have veins and look like a small bodily organ of some sort

They look strangely organic inside, and it was hard to get Scott, let alone Laura and Andy, whom are vegetarians, to try it. But once they did we all agreed, delicious. If a little difficult to get the fruit off of the seeds present in the larger sections.

That said, here I thought I was being all fancy buying rare fruit at an upscale grocery store. A few days we found them much closer to our apartment in Paris. How close? We could actually see them from our living room window. Here, let me zoom in on them for you:

the view of the intersection from our apartment

the fruit stand just across the street

aaand the basket of mangosteens at said fruit stand, right across the street

Previously: Day One arrival and beating jet lag; Day Two big impressive monuments, unexpected meetings, needing to pee; Day Three The Metro, a museum, and French onion soup; Day Four dogs in paintings, startlingly large arches and towers; Day Five pastries and scoldings.

Next up: Day Six trains and vegetables

· comments [23] · 03-10-2010 · categories:travel ·

My Vacation Slides: Paris Day 5, pastries and scoldings

real egg shells, allegedly filled with chocolate, broken ends covered with a sticker

This day was filled with going to visit fabulous chocolate and food shops, and being scolded for taking the photo above (more on that later). I made ourselves a route through the city that involved the closest Metro stops (my feet were tired). It was ambitious and we skipped a number of things, but everything we saw was amazing.

Space Invader mural spotting #4

On our way to the fist stop Scott spotted this Invader at about knee-height. It was near this alley, which I really wanted to explore, and housed this, um, Tex Mex restaurant.

a Paris alley, a Tex Mex restaurant

chocolate ballerinas in the window of Roger Patrick

First we headed to Roger Patrick simply because Clotilde’s Edible Adventures In Paris listed it as having fabulous window displays. They were kind enough to let me take some photos but I didn’t get many before other customers came in, and I didn’t want to get in the way.

Here are the dancing ladies from inside the store:

chocolate ballerinas, from inside the chocolate shop

I loved how the chocolate on their tutus was so transparently thin:

light showing through the thinnest part of a chocolate tutu ruffle

pistachio topped chocolate bars

sugar covered fruit jelee

We bought a few things and on the way out they gave us samples of thin chocolates with a layer of lime ganache which was amazing. Not too sweet, and so fresh tasting.

Next to Pierre Herme. They were also kind enough to let me take some pictures but again, I was feeling timid and only got a few.

macarons from Pierra Herme

The people behind the counter were all wearing chocolate brown clothing and different colored aprons that matched the various colors of macarons. It was a nice touch.

deserts on display at Pierre Herme, one is a layered jelly treat, topped with corn kernels and flecks of gold leaf

Kernels of corn and gold leaf. Why didn’t I buy this dessert to try?

chocolate desert domes

Inside Pierre Herme I found a whole bar of Porcelana chocolate. I did a little excited hop (I hope nobody noticed). I first heard about Porcelana chocolate on The Splendid Table. It’s made from beans which are very good, and in short supply as they come from tiny region, you can read more at Chocolate Speak, and find a reivew of the Pierre Herme bar, which it turns out was made by Valhrona!, over at Choqoa. I had not tried Porcelana yet simply because I was too lazy to order it from the internets. I really liked this chocolate bar, but Choqoa found it to be not as good as other Porcelana. I’ll have to seek out more to taste.

Pierre Herme Porcelana chocolate bar

Today we took our own advice and stopped for lunch with glasses of rose. It was our first time ordering on our own and luckily we got a patient waitress who didn’t seem to mind our jumble of shopping bags and umbrellas. I loved these small, wide glasses that we sipped our liter of bubbly water out of (turns out, a liter isn’t too big for two unexpectedly thirsty people).

small water glasses on our lunch table

After lunch we traveled down to La Grand Epicerie at the Bon Marche. First we slipped into Bon Marche to do a little bit of furniture gazing, and passing the cafe I found the sugar cubes that hang on the edge of a mug, these are the things that inspired my tiny gingerbread house project.

a heart shaped sugar cube with a slot that allows it to hang on the edge of a teacup

They had a few other kinds displayed, I really liked the black and white options:

black and white sugar cube rounds, stacked

stacked flat sugar cubes

La Grand Epicerie is a large gourmet store with lots of everything. I was, of course, most attracted to the candies:

display of all sorts of brightly colored dragees

clear plastic shake cups filled with layers of colorful candies

a box of sugar cubes shaped and colored to look like random buttons

bird shaped sugar cubes that also perch on the edge of a mug

I love the perching birds. I tried to get bird or butterfly shaped cookies to do this but couldn’t get the slot width quite right. I think I’m going to take the cookies on again soon.

silver jimmies

a candy colored sugar rose, on an adjustable metal ring

These sugar rose rings were stunning. Wish I’d bought one.

hand rolled tea leaves

there was lots of champagne on display

real egg shells, allegedly filled with chocolate, broken ends covered with a sticker

On the end of the confectionery counter I spotted this flat of real eggshells with shamrock stickers covering what I’m assuming was a hole in the bottom where they’d been filled with chocolate. About .002 seconds after I snapped this picture I heard someone hissing “mademoiselle” and I looked up to see the face of the counter lady looking at me with an amount of angry disapproval that I have not seen since the nuns in my Catholic school years who had successfully hunted down somebody chewing gum. Luckily she was helping somebody else who was standing between her and me so I slipped away. Oops.

I suspected they were perhaps chocolate and praline filled eggs, but I dared not go back inquire. I had seen these real eggshell treats on the Dean & Deluca website ages ago and was always intrigued by them, wondering how they sterilized the eggshells. (You can find a picture of the Dean & Deluca ones here at Blue Badger.) I figured it must be something like an autoclave. Then a few years later Martha Stewart made chocolate filled real eggshells and simply boiled the emptied eggshells. Duh.

But I’d been thinking about these praline eggs for years, which means I really, really wanted to get closer to them. I wanted to own one! But I could change my clothes, bleach my hair and draw a mustache on my face and I suspect that counter lady would recognize me and not let me near.

We formulated a plan over coffee:

shopping bags and bags of sugar on a cafe table

Scott, my ever willing assistant, circled back to spy on the eggs. He reported that she was placing each in a bag, closing the bag, then packing them into cardboard boxes and, gasp, putting the boxes beneath the counter. They were out of my reach. Darn.

shot of a us in line with a mysterious bags

I was a little consoled by our ultimate purchase, mangosteens, which I’ll talk about more tomorrow.

Then we headed to Fauchon. Again, they were nice enough to let me take pictures. At this point were too tired to do much but gawk.

a cake a Fauchon with twists of what appears to be marshmallow on top

Such cute little knots.

a black truffle the size of a baby, seriously

They had this HUGE truffle in the window.

praline confections on sticks

These praline pops nearly had me looking around to see if Bakeralla was in the shop.

We stopped at the nearby flower market on our way home:

my feet and buckets of colorful flowers

That night we met Cakespy and company back at L’As du Falafel for dinner. They told us about Versailles, ice cream, which pastries we should seek out, and a vegetarian restaurant they had stumbled across:

a plate of hummus

You can find a review for Le Potager du Marais at Living on the Vedge. Jessie and company reported the food was great, but unless you’re vegan go ahead and get dessert in one of the amazing patisseries around Paris.

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· comments [31] · 03-9-2010 · categories:travel ·

A Good Weekend

a blueberry muffin and coffee mug at Curio

Breakfast and knitting at Curio Confections.

small white scissors sitting on my knit hat

I like these little white scissors from Muji, the cover means I can throw it in with the yarn without worry.

a small sewing kit with scissors and three colors of thread

And while I’m at it, it amuses me that the Muji travel sewing kit only comes with white, gray and black thread.

cherry blossoms and blue, blue sky

a cherry blossom, close up

Then a stroll through the Arboretum to look at blossoms.

my bamboo tongs in front of the open oven, with a slice of bread under the broiler

And Sunday we decided that despite how much I like my bamboo tongs*, we really should get a new toaster.

* Dwell recently asked me about my favorite kitchen item and I went on and on about my bamboo tongs.

· comments [11] · 03-8-2010 · categories:mumbling ·

My Vacation Slides: Paris Day 4, dogs in paintings, startlingly large arches and towers

Today we went to see this:

the Eiffel Tower, lit in front of a not dark yet sky

But first we had coffee in the apartment. Here is Scott in the morning, in Paris (I still find it exciting):

Scott with a coffee cup, Paris apartments seen through the window behind him

Then we were off with our handy museum passes to the Louvre. We came up through the Metro stop to find ourselves in an underground shopping mall. Turns out, one of the ways into the main lobby of the Louvre is through the mall. The downward facing pyramid is just outside the Apple store:

the downward pyramid at the Louvre entrance, Apple store just behind

At the museum I headed straight to the section for Georges de La Tour. In college one of my art history assignments was to go stare at The Fortune Teller for at least twenty minutes and then report on what was going on in the painting. It was fun to discover all the eye lines and triangular arrangements on my own. When I see that painting now it’s pretty obvious that the guy is having his pocket picked, but at that time I wouldn’t have known to look at a painting that closely, or even that (what I still considered boring old) artwork would have such exciting stories inside them.

We got to see the candlelight through the fingers effect up close:

candlelight peeking through the fingers of a child, detail of the painting

And examine The Cheat:

de La Tour's The Cheat

And find out the de La Tour wasn’t such a nice guy:

The life of Georges de La Tour is still a mystery but what has been discovered exposes a grasping, violent, unlikeable character, scarcely resembling the deep and moving humanity of his paintings.

We finished walking around that wing taking note of all the dogs in paintings:

dosg in paintings amuse us

Nicole of Immortal Dog (whom we bumped into two days previous to this one) will be doing some reports of dogs in the paintings there, I’m looking forward to learning more about them.

Afterward we did the basics. The Venus de Milo:

the Venus di Milo, from the back

People were crowded around so we went around to the back. Scott wanted me to get a picture of her plumber’s butt, I complied.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace is huge and impressive

The Winged Victory of Samothrace statue was huge (much larger than it looks here), and really lovely. Nearby they have a sketch of what it would look like with a head and arms. I think I like the broken version far better.

Then up and down and around a few staircases and down a long hallway to see th Mona Lisa. This is as good a shot as I got:

a blurry Mona Lisa as seen over the heads of the crowd surrounding it

It was both smaller and larger than we expected after hearing the reports from lots of people. And of course the effect of getting to see it in person was ruined a bit by the crush of people and the poor museum employee whose job it was to sternly tell people to turn off the flash on their cameras.

After this we were suddenly hangry and headed back to the lobby to get the nearest cookie into me. Later we were told there is a little cafe just on the other side of the wall from the Mona Lisa. Good to know, it was a long way back to the lobby.

As one might expect eating in the museums was less than inspiring, but we fell into the trap of letting ourselves get over tired and hungry. It was very easy to do this and I encourage you to stop and eat every, oh say, two hours no matter if you’re in a museum or wandering through the streets. By the time we were a little bit past a mealtime we were often far from the apartment and at that sugar-low point that mean one of us was cranky, one was hyper, one was apathetic, one had blisters and none of us could make a decision on what to do next. The answer, every single time, is: find the nearest cafe and order the nearest wine. Or preferably preempt the situation altogether with frequent preemptive wine and snacks.

stading beneath the arc, looking straight up

After eating our emergency museum lobby lunch we headed to see the Arc de Triomphe. There is a walkway that takes you down below the street level and back up to the outside of the arc. Even if you have no intention of tackling the stairs it is worth going out to see it up close. It wasn’t too expensive to head up inside, but it was a lot of stairs:

spiral stairs heading up into the arc

We made a few “Look kids, it’s Big Ben” jokes watching the traffic below.

a traffic jam in the circle around the arc

The interior of the arc has a few floors with displays, restrooms, a small gift shop, and some benches where you can sit and whine about the stairs.

There is also this screen showing the live feed of the people standing just below you. That medallion in the ground is where I’d been standing to take the picture upwards that is above. Little did I know I was taking a picture of a camera that was taking a picture of me.

screen showing a live feed of the people on the ground below the spot we were standing

From on top you can walk around and see in all directions. We tried to get a picture of ourselves with the Eiffel Tower in the background and failed to do so several times:

windy pictures of us not capturing the Eiffel Tower just behind us

I loved the stairs so darn much I took a picture of them on the way down too:

sprial stairs headed down

The weather was behaving itself for the most part so we headed to the Eiffel Tower. Eiffel Tower!

look up at the Eiffel Tower

You wait in line to get tickets, it wasn’t too bad on the day we were there but the uppermost floors were closed. Which was ok because the Eiffel Tower? So much larger than we thought. Huge. No pictures do it justice. The upper floor must be terrifying. (I desperately want to go up to it!)

the sky as seen from standing underneath the massive Eiffel Tower

I think you can walk up stairs to the first floor for free. Or you can buy tickets that will take you to the second floor, where there are the usual restrooms, gift shops and benches. We saw a rainbow:

standing on the second floor of the tower, looking out towards the city, a rainbow in the distance

There were some areas closed for construction and graffiti in all languages was scrawled onto it.

graffiti on a temporary wall saying 'Jimmy McLucas was h'

I suspect Jimmy McLucas was… caught by his parents writing on the wall.

view from a moving sidewalk in the Metro

We wandered around in the dark/wind/rain looking for a Metro stop (this is one of those moments when we turned on the Data Roaming, for some reason the Lonely Planet app was only giving us a vague idea of where we were).

yummy falafel

Then we were tired so got falafel from the places near the apartment for dinner. It was yummy. The most well known of the falafel places is L’As du Falafel, but in Clotilde’s book she mentions that the other places nearby (all within a block, one just across the narrow street) are equally good. At L’As du Falafel you can sit inside or get food from the window. From our apartment we often saw people eating falafel or crepes while walking past.

The stuff I learned the hard way

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· comments [27] · 03-5-2010 · categories:travel ·

My Vacation Slides: Paris Day 3, The Metro, a museum, and French onion soup

my feet waiting for my very first ride on the Metro

On day three we took our museum passes and headed to the Musee D’Orsay. We walked a bit then decided to tackle the Metro as it was cold and sprinkling. Except, the nearest stop was actually for the RER which you can use Metro tickets for within Paris (more on this below).

a double decker RER train, underground, it was intimidating

Some of the RER trains are double decker!

At the Musee D’Orsay we waltzed past the ticket line, flashed our passes and had them dated, and we were inside.

the inside of the Musee DOrsay

The D’Orsay is inside a grand old railway station built for the 1900 World’s Fair. There is a restaurant on the upper level that has a great view, and a terrace in the summer. I didn’t take any pictures of the Impressionist artwork here, probably because there were so many people crushed around each painting and sculpture — when we were there the museum was being renovated so the paintings were displayed in rooms smaller than, I suspect, they normally would be.

At the end of the museum they have a model of the city under a glass floor. It’s scratched and hard to make out, but still fun to walk on. I think we’re standing on the opera house here.:

my feet standing over the model of Paris

Upstairs is more decorative art, as well as an entire room. I like the light swags here:

a grand ballroom recreated upstairs

a detail of the lit, gilded swag, something can be DIYed out of this for parties

Apparently I have trouble taking photos that are lined straight up and down. Forgive me, I suspect I view the world a little off kilter and it only really comes out when I try to hold a camera up straight.

These spoons and platters caught my eye as well:

two serving spoons, both silver and formed to be flowers

a large silver serving platter imprinted with the veins of a large leaf, it was striking

Scott and I felt a bit naughty taking this mirror pic:

Scott and I in the mirror of a dressing table display which was for a priest or cardinal

This painting kept my attention for a while while we were sitting on some stairs resting. I only took a few art history classes in college but it turns out I learned, and dimly remember, a lot more than I expected. I think the one figure in this painting that is looking straight out towards the viewer is an image of the artist himself, but I have not had time to properly research this:

a large painting of a Roman baccanalian feast

Back home for a while, where I took these photos of what the street in front of our apartment typically looked like:

the view from our apartment window, two narrow Parisian streets, lots of pedestrians

Most people in Paris wore black or dark coats that were belted or nipped in at the waist, I saw lots of boots, and the big scarves were there as had been reported. In fact, Scott has been inspired to start wearing larger, warmer scarves in the winter because he’s seen how they can be both warm, stylish and manly. I never really noticed anybody wearing jeans, which means they must have been really good jeans. Nearly everybody had across-the-body bags, all of them looked like they’d been carefully picked out. Umbrellas were common when it rained (which was the entire time we were there). Maggi and I cannot figure out how the Parisian women manage to wear heels so often. Perhaps they stop in cafes frequently for a little sit down?

We saw lots of rolling luggage both on the street and down in the Metro and RER. Later we took the Metro to get ourselves onboard the Eurostar and didn’t feel out of place at all. (Though again, I was never fooling anybody.)

After everybody had their feet up for a while we were off to dinner, and French onion soup, yum.

French onion soup, with a slice of bread hiding under melted cheese, so very yummy

Today (this is me speaking in the present, that being March 4th) I saw a Smart Car in my neighborhood and I was struck by how tiny it looked in context here. We saw lots and lots of Smart Cars in Paris and they really only looked slightly smaller, in a practical way, than the other cars there. In fact, we took notice when we saw a full sized car, or heard a particularly loud one.

Things I learned the hard way

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· comments [23] · 03-5-2010 · categories:travel ·

My Vacation Slides: Paris Day 2, big impressive monuments, unexpected meetings, needing to pee

a cup of coffee with real cream

Cafe Creme from the place that would become our usual.

Day two in Paris we rose early-ish to eat Pain au Chocolate and use the (yes!) coffeemaker in our apartment. We were pokey in getting ready, though, so we decided to head out for a second breakfast. Thus our collective love affair with full fat dairy products began.

baguette as a butter delivery system

Growing up in the US one might not expect butter to be so worthy of being the primary breakfast ingredient. It so is.

apricot jam which was amazing

Even the apricot jam was amazing, and I’m not a jam person.

Then we were off. We spent the day walking first down towards the Seine where I spotted my first Invader just outside the St. Paul Metro station:

a Space Invader mural on a corner in Paris

Over to one of the islands, Ile Saint-Louis, where Maggi (lucky girl!) used to live.

narrow street on the Ile Saint-Louies

Then to Notre Dame, this is the back, notice how Scott appears to be texting while not staring in awe at the great cathedral?

Scott standing in front of Notre Dame, staring at his iPhone

Note: There are public restrooms on this side of Notre Dame. This can be a good thing to know.

a Notre Dame gargoyle as seen from directly underneath, daylight showing through the mouth hole

Then to the front, to confront our first crowd and go inside.

Notre Dame! exterior

Notre Dame! interior

I liked a lot of the designs I found inside:

my feet at a decorative grate

colored light on the floor that has come through a stained glass window

a pole in Notre Dame with a pleasant, almost arts and crafts decoration

As we were slowly winding our way around the interior of the cathedral with hundreds of others the PA system came on and a voice boomed the following message:


It was hilarious. Then he did it again. A small mass was starting and apparently the talking among the visitors was too much.

my feet at Kilometre Zero

When we went outside again I took a picture of my feet at Kilometre Zero, the point considered the official center of Paris.

When the French cover a building to do some work, they make it look nice like:

a scrim with a decoration of the building it is covering

Next we walked West along the Seine, up by the street. It was cold and rainy and vehicles rushed by and our view of the water was blocked by souvenir sellers and I was not at all happy. When we got to the Louvre we stopped to gawk at the exterior.

an entrance to the Louvre, with a pyramid showing through the arch

Cakespy and company!

Then we walked through the Tuileries and it was only a few moments before we came across Jessie Oleson of Cakespy, her husband Danny who is a musician extraordinare of Speaker Speaker (rip) and Exohxo, Nicole of Immortal Dog and her favorite boy Ramone. I tried to get the Eiffel Tower in the background there, you know for proof. Cakespy’s Paris reports have been fantastic, you’ll learn so very much about French pastries. Start here and move forward in time to find all her Paris entries (at the point this entry goes up I believe she’ll still have lots more to post). Later we talked about the idea that none of us are the type of people who just run into friends while in a foreign city. But I guess now we are?

Jessie told us that Cafe Angelina was not far away so we went over to get lunch and hot chocolate:

hot chocolate at Angeline, dont tell anybody but I didnt like it all that much

The waiter never brought our change, meaning he thought (knew?) we were stupid Americans. (More on tipping below.) We called it a life lesson and left.

my feet outside Angeline

My feet, feeling dejected and ripped off, outside Cafe Angelina. Not far away Jeff was taking a photograph of a French man wearing a bright orange suit arguing with the traffic cops.

Next we did something smart, we headed to the tourism office and bought museum passes. It’s a little pass that gets you into many Paris museums for a stretch of consecutive days (two, four or six). If you’re dedicated to seeing museums it can save a whole lot of money. And, there is often a separate line for pass holders so you save a lot of time and get to just waltz inside and flash your pass as you enter.

Velib bicycles, all lined up and ready to rent

We started walking East towards the Marais and home. We passed so many of these Velib bicycles, and saw so many people riding them, that I stopped to take a picture. The official Velib site is here and you can download the information in English, look for the British flag in the upper right hand corner of that page. We did not rent bicycles, partly because it never stopped drizzling while we were there, and partly because we were terrified of French traffic. But, it would have been lovely had we had sun and a route we knew would be nice.

Living in a hilly city I don’t really consider bicycles a mode of transportation that is right for me, though I have a lot of friends who bike all over Seattle. But Paris is mostly flat, something I hadn’t know beforehand, so walking and biking around it is really easy. Despite the crowds on the weekends I loved how people were out, everywhere, all the time. It was energizing and I really wish more cities in the US had car-unfriendly streets and such fantastic public transportation infrastructure that would allow for this much being out and around. I found the same to be true in Nottingham (which we visited a few days later into this trip).

invader mural #2

I photographed invader #2 while standing in a crush of people.

Somebody needed to pee so we found our way down into Les Halles. Les Halles is a shopping center located inside a very old market, and most of it is in the three below ground floors. It is a terrible place and we recommend you avoid going there at all costs. Later we found one of our guidebooks call it a “pit of humanity” (or something equally dramatic). I mean it’s just a shopping mall but it’s a cramped, dark shopping mall underground. And underground in Paris means the whole place smells funny. We eventually did find the restrooms only to discover that it costs 0,50 Euros to use it. We only had 20 Euro bills. One of us (the Hero Maggi) went to buy something and get change while the rest of us attempted to get the attendant to make change for a 20, then just stared sadly at all the people going in an out. It feels not good to be blocked from a restroom by a pittance that you don’t have.

Les Halles, which we now call Les Helles

These pay restrooms are apparently common, though we never came across another one. While they may seem unfair to us Americans often they are a far preferred alternative to older hole-in-the-floor style toilets. Knowing this it’s easier to hand over your change and be grateful for something that flushes.

invader mural #3, close to home

Invader #3 is close to the Paris Muji.

Afterward we set out to find a Philips head screwdriver somewhere on the way home. I suggested Muji, and nearby spotted my third invader. Muji Encounter #1 was disappointing, they were renovating the Paris store and had a smaller selection and, gasp, no kitchen items. We couldn’t find the screwdrivers (we did find them on a return visit, though a whole set would have had to be purchased). So we consulted the Lonely Plant Paris iPhone app, about $15 and very worth it more details below, and found that the nearby BHV, a large department store with, essentially, a Home Depot in the lower level. At this point it was crowded, we were hot, our feet hurt but we still needed groceries.

So we went to the grocery store and had fun examining strange new foods:

Miel Pops cereal

chorizo flavored potato chips

a container of gazpacho in with the orange juice

a tube of Nestle milk and sugar, for coffee?

bacon flavored potato chips

Strange trivia: The very next day Maggi and Jeff returned to the same Franprix grocery store to find it completely gutted, empty of all but shelf brackets. The shop showed no signs at all that it would be closing.

We took our ailing feet home, bought a few ingredients at the corner shop and cooked dinner in. The boys fell asleep on the couch:

the menfolk, fast asleep

We brought an extra down comforter out to the living room to use as a big blanket. I now always want a down comforter in my living room.

The stuff I learned the hard way

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· comments [50] · 03-4-2010 · categories:travel ·

My Vacation Slides: Paris Day 1, arrival and beating jet lag

It is now my job to force you to look at my vacation pictures. I’ll try to give you as much useful information on what I’ve learned (the hard way) at the bottom. If you’re a regular traveler that stuff will all be old news, but if you are, like me, new to these things I hope it will be helpful. Ready?

the view from the corner window of our fabulous apartment

Our apartment rocked. After a long day and night traveling it was like arriving to find treasure. Above is a hastily stitched together view from the corner window in the living room. There is a horn player on the corner, which you cannot really make out. By the time we arrived we’d been up for about 24 hours. We were talking with the apartment greeter (an incredibly sweet lady) and suddenly there were horns playing. Both Maggi and myself assumed we were having auditory hallucinations, we were that tired.

The street shown above was never again as empty as it appears there. We were in the Marais, about two blocks from the St. Paul Metro station and two blocks in the other direction from the famous falafel place. The view was fantastic for people viewing as there was a steady stream of Parisians, tourists with maps looking around confusedly, bicycles, scooters, adorably tiny cars and lots and lots of people. I adored walking the streets in Paris as there are far more pedestrians than cars and you were able to wander in relative peace and gaze around.

That said, there were far more people than I expected. When I told people we were headed there in February the most common thing said was “well, it might be rainy but at least it will be empty!”. On Saturday and Sunday it was difficult to press through the streets to get home, and on any given day there was an overwhelming (watch-your-purse) amount of people about. I cannot imagine it in high season, it must be a nightmare.

There was a moment this first afternoon when my traveling companions went off to nap and I laid down on the (fabulous, huge, white, leather) couch with the windows propped open. All I could hear was the occasional scooter engine, soft conversation and lots and lots of muted footfalls. It was magical and not a sound I’m likely to hear in the US.

More views of the fabulous apartment (it was actually difficult to leave it some days):

old floor boards, exposed ceiling beams

The original floor boards were charming, but very creaky and loud, and so loose you could pinch your feet if you walked around barefoot. It was hard to get up for a glass of water at night without waking everybody up.

a kitchen far nicer than my own

The kitchen was larger and better appointed than my own. It had a six burner stove! And, as far as I could tell from warming up my first Pain au Chocolat, the oven had never, ever been used.

the WC painted a deep red

The WC was painted entirely in a glossy red and was very dramatic.

We rented an apartment through Haven In Paris, which was recommended to me by Rockin’ Poncho (thank you!) and whom I wouldn’t hesitate in the least to use again. They took very good care of us. The apartment was $$$ but split between two couples, and with an unexpected off season discount, we were able to fit it into our collective budget. The apartment had everything we needed including, and this was so, so nice, a Mac laptop to use.

Fun fact: The French pronounce wi-fi as “wee fee”.

After unpacking and giving in to a brief nap we roused ourselves and ventured out to pick up some pastries for breakfast and have our first meal in France. Notice the little pool of fabulous butter in the middle of my potatoes here, I will always do this in the future:

chicken and potatoes, in FRANCE!

Scott is a bit more adventurous than me and ordered the duck confit, which was delicious. And then we had creme brulee, it was, of course, amazing and so satisfying to crack with the spoon:

creme brulee shortly before being cracked

All of the waiters we encountered were friendly, or at least patient, with our little bit of French. We took to heart the advice to not ignore greeting when you enter a restaurant or shop, at least attempt to ask if somebody speaks English in French to show that you are trying (!), and be kind. Our traveling companions actually witnessed an ugly American moment where somebody at a different table was asking, loudly and slowly, for RED WINE which at which point their server gave up and walked away to let somebody else deal with them.

After dinner we went home along a different street and stumbled across the Muji store, which became something like another traveling companion on this trip.

mountains from the plane

Obligatory picture of mountains as seen from the plane.

The stuff I learned the hard way

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· comments [43] · 03-3-2010 · categories:travel ·