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Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

So, in awkwardly timed news, the husband and I are heading to Paris this week to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.

Am I scared? No more scared than I’ve ever been traveling to a major city.

I came of age in the ’80s and early ’90s, and I paid attention to the news, meaning that I knew England was potentially still a hotspot for IRA bombings when I traveled there in 1993 to take a World War II history class for the better part of a month.

I paid attention, but I also roved the city like a … well, like a girl who was raised in rural South Mississippi her whole life only to discover at age 21 that she BELONGED in a big city like she had never belonged anywhere else. I endured a couple of subway station evacuations, kept an eye out for abandoned knapsacks, as instructed, and went about my day, like you do.

European countries have dealt with more terrorist bombings and shootings than Americans can even imagine (hit up Wikipedia’s page for terrorist incidents in France – this isn’t the first day at the rodeo for Paris).

I fell in love with New York City a few years after 9/11, traveling there repeatedly with the knowledge that Manhattan is the quintessential American city, meaning that it’s a juicy target for terrorists. Again, I watched for weirdness and went where I wanted to go.

I realize that “See something, say something” only goes so far, and watching for abandoned backpacks in the train station seems like a very 1980s model of protection. At the same time, however, I won’t live in fear of the unknown.

I live in Atlanta, another major American city, albeit without the cachet of New York City. We have a pro football team, a pro baseball team (for now), several concert arenas and TONS of people – in short, Atlanta could very well be a target, too. Any place on the planet could be a target, frankly, if we’re including incidents of mass shootings that have nothing to do with international politics.

Paris is a lovely city, a lively city, a city that feels REAL. Unlike New York and London (and Atlanta, as long as we’re naming names), it hasn’t succumbed to to the outbreak of EveryCityLookstheSame that is rapidly spreading all over the globe.

To paraphrase Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Joann Sfar, Paris is music, champagne, kisses, joy and life.

So, I’m heading to La Ville Lumière, a city that I love, with the man I love, to fearlessly, if cautiously, eat, drink, talk and perhaps weep with its citizens. More than hating the enemy, more than demanding violence in the name of peace, celebrating life, love and freedom is the ultimate revenge on those who would like the world to cower.

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After ditching the terrible kitchen that I gladly left behind in Mobile (huge room, no counter space, two outlets on walls spaced some 20 feet apart), I enjoyed the large expanse of a kitchen built in the late 90s, complete with tons of cabinet space. Pure suburbia.

I didn’t exactly get along with pure suburbia, however, and ended up in a medium-sized condo in Midtown Atlanta with a decidedly NOT medium-sized kitchen.

I like it. I donated the china that I’ve been packing around for nearly 20 years (china that was meticulously packed away in my paternal grandmother’s home, so don’t worry that I’ve thrown away some sort of beloved family legacy). I need one more smallish cabinet to keep my own wedding china, which is actually pottery, but other than that a smaller kitchen is definitely working for me. Less to dirty, less to clean up. Less cabinet space to attract stuff that has nothing to do with food prep.

On a recent trip to London and Paris (I’m not going to call it a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, because I fully intend to go back, but yeah, it was a big deal), I realized how much less kitchen I could live without. We stayed in apartments in both cities, beginning with a laughably tiny kitchenette in Chelsea:

kitchen

It really took the concept of “no counter space” to a whole new level, but it worked. We boiled pasta and heated sauce for Christmas dinner, and we scrambled eggs one morning. We also had a water kettle, microwave and toaster, meaning we could easily make coffee (via French press) and tea, plus warm up the occasional sandwich or other bakery treat.

In Paris, we added a dishwasher and slightly more counter space to our cooking area:
kitchen2

I think the most complicated thing I made here was oatmeal (dozens of authentic French bakeries within walking distance does not prompt a girl to break out the pots and pans). I also enjoyed the kitchen’s Nespresso Senseo coffeemaker, which I was disappointed to learn is no longer sold in the United States. While I hold anything involving K-cups in utter disdain, I could live with coffee made from those little filter packets every last day.

So much more to talk about from this trip later. Right now, I have to go enjoy the wide-open spaces of my tiny condo kitchen.

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One of the clandestine pleasures of visiting New York City, Vegas or Orlando is the ability to make a quick visit to M&M’s World.

Don’t get me wrong — the store is full of ridiculous tchotchkes that no one over 9 should ever openly display, and I can’t think of an event that would call for me to wear M&M-themed clothing.

No. The draw is the wall of M&M’s that you can purchase by the pound. It’s like the huge crayon box of M&M’s, with candies on display in every hue you can possibly imagine.

I go for the special flavors at the end of the wall. I don’t know if they’re limited edition or available in stores — frankly, I don’t spend a lot of time in the candy aisle at the grocery store. (And on a side note, when I do pay attention to areas like the cookie aisle, I am utterly appalled. Have you SEEN the ridiculous number of Oreo varieties lately?)

Anyway, I was in Orlando for business last week, and the husband joined me for a day at Universal Studios and a weekend with a longtime friend. On the way to the airport, we serendipitously passed the mall holding the M&M’s store, meaning we practically HAD to stop. We emerged with coconut and raspberry M&M’s.

I honestly can’t pick a favorite. The raspberry candies pack an intense berry flavor, while the coconut variety was slightly reminiscent of a Mounds bar, with a pronounced coconut essence. Both varieties are almost the size of Peanut M&M’s, but without the peanut inside, meaning you’ve got a pretty big serving of creamy chocolate in each one.

I wish I had bought more.

Visits to M&M’s World don’t always turn out this well. We bought the Strawberried Peanut Butter variety a couple of years ago in New York, and they were completely meh, with neither the flavor of strawberry or peanut butter really standing out.

And yes, I’m completely ignoring the fact that I can buy limited edition M&M flavors on Amazon.com.

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Not that I’ve spent my life in search of the perfect Bloody Mary, but I found it at the Todd English P.U.B. in Vegas.

A mix of tomato juice, horseradish root, sriracha sauce and olive juice, Todd’s Sssinful Bloody Mary had the perfect amount of kick to it. Meaning that it’ll be too spicy for some people.

The few Bloody Marys that I have consumed inevitably got their spiciness from a dash of Tabasco sauce. The flavor never made me come back for more, perhaps because Tabasco is the go-to hot sauce of the Gulf Coast and the flavor simply begins to blend into the background after a while.

The sriracha sauce (better known as rooster sauce to many fans) in this concoction, however, gave it a bold, unapologetic heat that I am compelled to try to reproduce. I haven’t been able to find any Todd English-specific Bloody Mary recipes, so I’m going to start with the Sriracha Bloody Mary Recipe published on the White on Rice Couple blog.

Since the Bloody Mary is, after all, a breakfast drink, I ordered a brunch dish to go with it: corned beef hash, poached eggs on toast and asparagus. (Full disclosure: I ordered the brunch mostly because it came with the Bloody Mary, which would have cost $15 by itself. For only $7 more, I got food too — a bargain basement price on the Strip.)

Delicious. The eggs were poached to perfection (again, compelling me to tell myself that I should really learn to poach eggs), and the corned beef was surprisingly delicious. Apparently, the corned beef that I had several times as a teenager, which was so overseasoned that it almost made me gag, is NOT the norm.

Even the asparagus was delicious. (And I say “even” as if properly cooked asparagus isn’t one of the tastiest things ever.)

I will test and update. In the meantime, if you have any tips on making an awesome Bloody Mary, send them my way.

And be sure to check out The Oatmeal cartoon illustrating the glory that is sriracha sauce.

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So taking pictures of framed artwork hanging on the wall? Nearly impossible. Between reflections and off-color lighting, I’m sunk.

This is a postcard from EN Japanese Brasserie in Manhattan. We went there for the sake tasting and stayed for the fresh tofu and black sesame ice cream.

Usually, restaurant postcards feature a photo of the restaurant from the street or maybe a shot of a few dishes — maybe something for the scrapbook, but nothing you want to frame and hang on the wall.

I had plans for this postcard the minute I saw it. No writing, no photos. Just a vivid 4-by-6-inch image.

Believe me when I say that its bright red lines contrast brilliantly with the deep olive walls of my downstairs bathroom. I don’t know why this camera wants the walls to be beige.

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A drive to New Orleans isn’t complete without a plate of beignets. And a week at Mom’s house isn’t complete without a drive to New Orleans.

Before.

After.

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The “Do One Thing” series chronicles my yearlong effort to tackle one project every day to organize my life and home.

So first there was spring break, and we took the mother-in-law to New York City for her 75th birthday. Then there was an academic conference, where I presented a paper. Then there was the week after that, which inexplicably left me off track for this project.

The house is relatively clean, but the do-one-thing-every-day streak has been broken. Anyway, there’s nothing like starting over. Tomorrow, progress.

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The “Do One Thing” series chronicles my yearlong effort to tackle one project every day to organize my life and home.

I was out of town on Days 15 and 16, but I’m happy to say that within two hours of returning home on Day 17, I had completely unpacked the suitcase and put it back in its proper storage place. This level of post-vacation organization is simply unheard of here.

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The “Do One Thing” series chronicles my yearlong effort to tackle one project every day to organize my life and home.

Day 2: I labored over whether I should include purchases in this challenge. As the sole board member, I voted “yes.”

When we were in New York City in early December, I saw this nifty little device in Pylones that allows you to stack up to 10 bottles of wine safely and efficiently. I realize that other people have wine racks on their countertops and walls and even on top of their kitchen cabinets, but proper wine storage demands protection from light and temperature variations. Thus, most of our everyday wine (“everyday wine” … we sound so sophisticated) is stored in the bottom of the pantry, far away from the stove and other sources of heat.

The bottles, however, tend to arrange themselves in a mishmash, no matter how carefully they’re initially placed. Any stacking at all requires something extremely heavy and unneeded to prevent rolling, and unstacked bottles rolling around on their sides waste a tremendous amount of vertical cabinet space.

Thus, when I saw the incredibly neat pyramid of wine bottles enabled by the Wine Stack, I pointed it out as just the thing we needed to fix the wine problem back home. My husband looked at it and declared that we would definitely figure something out when we got back.

I should have picked up the Wine Stack and carried it to the register, but what I didn’t realize at the time (yep, still learning after 15 years) was that his comment could be translated as follows: “I do not recognize this wine problem you describe; therefore, I shall forget this discussion in approximately 3 minutes.”

So, when I was trying to put the pantry in order last week after a round of holiday baking, I mentioned this solution we were going to figure out. The husband paused for a couple of seconds, and said, “I guess we should have bought one of those wine things while we were in New York.”

Sigh.

I ordered my Wine Stack on Sunday night, and I’m counting it as my second Do One Thing act of the year.

Day 3: I cleared off the piano bench, a hotspot for downstairs junk like books, magazines, gloves and scarves. Every house has a spot like this. Of course, now that I’ve swept it clean, I need to maintain a subresolution of keeping it clean.

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From Jean Georges in Manhattan: Warm sweet potato cake with a cranberry compote and cranberry foam.

 

When the husband and I go on vacation, we tend to plan our itinerary around food. We’re not the only people who do this, but I get mixed reactions from a few folks, some of whom apparently expect to hear more about the shows we’ve seen in New York City (most recent count: 0) than our sake-tasting and evaluation of the freshly made tofu at EN Japanese Brasserie (evaluation: awesome).

Some people get it: After a recent photo documenting our pilgrimage to the Doughnut Plant, one Facebook friend noted, “You take the best doughnut vacations ever!” Indeed, we do.

So what’s with our vacation food obsession? Honestly, we eat like monks at home. We have old-fashioned oatmeal (or steel-cut oats, if there’s time) with walnuts and raisins for breakfast every day. I almost always have a fresh salad and quinoa or hummus for lunch, while the husband consistently has a ham-and-cheese sandwich. Dinner might be homemade lasagna or something easy, like a cheese sandwich pressed into submission on the Foreman Grill with a bowl of leftover Cowboy Stew. We rarely go out to eat. We’ve found that one of the consequences of cooking your own healthy, delicious food at home is that your average restaurant food doesn’t measure up anymore.

What does measure up, however, is your above-average restaurant food. And this is what turns our vacations into the pursuit of destination dining. So while I can’t be bothered with a 10-minute drive to Krispy Kreme for Hot Doughnuts Now (trust me when I tell you that growing up with a Krispy Kreme within easy driving distance makes their doughnuts way less of an attraction later), I am perfectly willing to make a 15-minute hike to the subway station, stand on a crowded car for five minutes, make a 10-minute hike to the Doughnut Plant and stand in a long line for a Valrhona chocolate doughnut. I deem the calories worthwhile.

And that’s how my photo albums end up filled with pictures of doughnuts, ice cream, cheeseburgers and steamed shrimp, while we forget to take pictures of ourselves. Sorry, Mom.

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