Category Archives: Travel

tax the lack of vegetables

July 26, 2017

It was around day three that the bread fatigue set in, but there wasn’t a cure in sight—and wouldn’t be until I’d crossed the border back to France, a request for a salade verte and some haricots verts  and anything with “vert” in it filed in advance.

Our first night in Barcelona, we went to the beach. At L’escamarla, at the Port Olimpic, just a stone’s throw from the surf, we shared a seafood paella dotted with the occasional pea. We ordered an undressed salad of iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots, and a plate of oil-bathed pimientos de padron studded with flakes of salt. We didn’t finish the peppers. At the time, we didn’t know they were the last green thing we’d see for days.

With limited time in Barcelona and a lot to accomplish, our days revolved around a strict sightseeing regimen. This wasn’t a vacation of long lunches and lazy naps in the sun—we were here to get it done, and we weren’t above the inauthentic expediency of an iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts in a pinch. Food stops were less researched and more impromptu—with some advance planning, I’m very willing to concede that our experiences might have been different—but we had things to do. We traipsed from the luminous nave of the Sagrada Familia to the bony rooftop of La Pedrera, peering at the organic shapes of the stairwells and the patterns of the parquet flooring as our audio-guide instructed us to, and, in between visits, we ate at times that were odd: breakfast at noon, lunch at three, wine starting basically then and continuing into the wee hours.

But tapas are everywhere and they are an anytime food. They can be small as a snack or substantial as a meal, and when we sat down at the bar at El Nacional—a fern- and light-filled modernist space with a collection of associated eateries all under one soaring glass roof—we were ready to order up an array. Pan con tomate—that Catalan essential of grilled bread rubbed with tomato and garlic—and a plate of parchment-thin Iberian ham were set before us, along with a glass of vino rosado for me and a  20 cl jar (caña-sized) of fizzy Estrella beer for Jill. They had pintxos, too, which on paper sounded like they might actually contain vegetables (I saw a word that I knew meant eggplant on the description of one), but which were, in actuality, open-faced toasts, topped with things like an unctuous cream of potatoes and cod. Potato toast. It was good, adorned with a tiny purple comma of octopus tentacle. But the starch factor was real.

At El Tiet Taver in Barcelona’s Eixample district, a pretty but insubstantial flower crown of microgreens topped the crackly skin of suckling pork and I pulled the grassy threads onto my plate like they were sprouts of pure gold, relishing the light crunch of uncooked plants between my teeth after the béchamel-filled fried croquetas, delighting in the essential surge of chlorophyll that I was sure I could feel in my blood. Later, on the outdoor terrace at El Viti Taberna in El Born, a swoosh of nutty romesco sauce was a bed for charred octopus, its red pigment evidence of the existence of peppers on a table that otherwise bore no traces of ingredients that had come from the ground.

As we made our way beyond Barcelona and through Andalusia, spending our days in lush courtyard gardens and under the shade of leafy orange trees, my desperation for fruits and vegetables grew. I devoured the briny olives that were delivered alongside our vino blanco at the cafes where we stopped to rest, refuel, and hop on free Wi-Fi—after a while, even their salt-preserved flesh seemed fresh and raw. Once, I saw “ensaladilla” listed on a menu and looked to Lauren, eager and excited. She shook her head. “That’s Russian salad,” she said. “It’s potatoes.”

I knew that the vegetables were somewhere. Every once in a while they’d appear—a bit of garnish curled over a piece of fish here, a tousled dry side salad tossed next to a tortilla con gambas there. Surely, they must just have been hiding in dishes I didn’t know to order. In Sevilla (at, admittedly, a restaurant that even at first glance we could tell would maybe not be offering up the most authentic cuisine), I attempted the pollo Sevillano, a dish of braised chicken on top of an herb-flecked stew. I dug into the vegetables buried at the bottom of the bowl, savoring the soft carrots and wondering at the white, rectangular pieces—were they some sort of chard stem, perhaps?—before I realized that they were French fries. I had literally been served French fry soup, and that was when I decided to give up.

Later, we would find a French-inflected restaurant called Tata Pila where I would order the most beautiful bowl of lightly steamed white asparagus, draped in tendrils of greenery and plated meticulously with perfume-ripe strawberries and inky globules of roe. At Bar Alfalfa, for our last lunch in Sevilla, we would sit in air-conditioned splendor as we shared plates of crisp griddled eggplant and—praise be—a spinach salad. It is, as they say, when you stop looking for love that you find it.

I should say that I am not, by and large, a picky eater. I have no qualms about white bread or gluten, I will always help you share the side of fries, and, while I flirt with vegetarianism once a year or so, ultimately I am all too happy to try anything from land or sea. But at home, with my kitchen, my familiar restaurants, and my grocery store and market, I can balance the intake, and I can moderate. It is unlikely that I would have a hand-sized loaf of bread slathered with tomato for breakfast, and then a sandwich of ham and tomato for lunch, and then a dinner of pork and roasted tomatoes with a piece of bread on the side. I definitely would not be likely to replicate that eating pattern for multiple days on end, my food-group intake boiled down to just flour, tomato, and cured pig. But we wanted to eat Spanish food while in Spain, and this was the Spanish food that we found, and in time we accepted that it was what it was. As difficult a country as Spain must be to navigate, restaurant-wise, for a vegetarian or vegan, or even someone who, like me, just feels best when their sustenance is mostly plants, I couldn’t help but think of the self-imposed constraints of paleo dieters, or those macrobiotic adherents who steer clear of nightshades (a category into which potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes all fall). How frustrating it would be, I thought, to be limited even beyond the limitations of the menu, and so I was grateful for my lack of food allergies and for my lack of belief in nutritional claims not supported by science.

Robert, who can flick a fan open with such flamenco flair you wouldn’t be surprised to hear he moonlights as a dancer in one of those touristy tavernas, explained it thusly: “Spain is very poor. We keep the tomatoes. Everything else, we send out to other countries that pay more for them. So we have no vegetables.” Whether or not that statement was true, he’d also later coin the instant idiom, “Not meat, not sweet: it’s a vegetable!” which generously allowed us to group everything from fried, aioli-drizzled patatas bravas to wine (why not) under the header of healthful verdure.

In Granada, I drank gazpacho out of a pint glass, thrilled to have something refreshing—and (caveat: tomato) vegetable-based—in hand. “It’s so creamy,” I noted to Lauren. “Yeah,” she nodded, “they thicken it with bread in the south.”

It’s been a while, right?

September 17, 2013

Actually, it’s been such a long while that I didn’t remember my login or my password for WordPress. Suffice it to say that it has been quite the busy summer around here. The last six weeks have been full of visitors and presents and champagne and parties and moving and puppies and flowers and friends and a whole lot of Seattle sunshine. I got married, I went to Yellowstone, I watched my best friend get married, we got a puppy, we didn’t sleep for three weeks, we drank too much wine and didn’t watch nearly enough Jeopardy. We went on lots of hikes, refinished a dresser, made and ate some amazing food (Hello, Joule! Hello, Spinasse!), and have been assembling a whole lot of furniture. All in all, it’s been a pretty good run. While I’m contemplating changing the name of the blog since, well, I’m not actually IN France anymore, for the time-being it sticks, and in that spirit, here is what I did with my last weekend in Paris.

The sun was out, and so we picnicked. In a park with a pretty decent view.

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The park was also home to this little fellow, so that was fun:

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We had lunch at the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the oldest covered market and maybe my favorite place in Paris. 

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We strolled around the center of town in the sunshine, baking amongst throngs of tourists and waiting in a long long line for ice cream at Berthillon. Note: however long the line for ice cream at Berthillon, it is worth it. So worth it. Then we wandered through the Marais with all the other Sunday shopper and strollers, including a one Jean Dujardin on his way home from a run.

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And we ended the day at a little table next to an open window at Glou, a bottle of wine in a bucket of ice and a table full of amazing food in front of us, and it felt just right to say “au revoir” to Paris on that sweet and sunny note.

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Field Trip: Le Somail and the Canal du Midi

June 21, 2013

At the top of my things-to-do-before-leaving-France list was to head south to see Hazel on the Canal du Midi, my favorite part of France, the place that made me want to move here. So I took three days off this week and hopped a train to Narbonne, arriving with only a one hour delay in the the sunny, beautiful country of the Languedoc region. Life doesn’t get much better than it was over the last three days. I got to play with a cute dog, who happens to be the mom of my little Mac back home. Here she is sporting the new Swiss jewelry I picked up for her in her hometown of Appenzell, Switzerland.

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I got to hang out on a boat, on a UNESCO world heritage site. They haven’t yet cut down the trees on the bit of the canal that curls through picturesque Le Somail, so the winding green waterway is still shaded and scenic. (Check out a video interview of Hazel about the Fandango and the Canal du Midi at the 20 minute mark on TF1 here!)

photo 4_3 I got to go running in the morning through vineyards, next to eleventh century churches, and through circular hilltop villages.

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I got to play Scrabble, even though I didn’t get to win. I got to buy olives at l’Oulibo and drink rosé with grapefuit syrup, grocery shop at Métro (a sort of miniature Costco for French restaurant professionals), and spend a few hours reading about cheese.

photo 2_3I got to help cook. A lot. Hazel and her chef Katie were recipe testing for the weeks to come, so we brainstormed and shopped and whipped up everything from mackerel rillettes to a chocolatey hazelnut dacquoise. There were pizzas, caesar salads, peach cakes. There was bourride and fried monkfish and pasta with tomato sauce, brown bread and croissants, potato salad and smoked trout rolls, salmon with buerre blanc, spinach from the farm, cherries from down the road, and risotto with fennel and chestnuts. We bought brindade de Nimes and tarragon plants, and Katie even got the hang of driving on the non-English side of the road. Daniel took a break from tending his new vines to come share some champagne and an apero, and we drank a lot of coffees accompanied by dark chocolate and caramel Michokos. For more on the dacquoise and the rillettes and the cooking that’s to come on the Fandango this season, check out Katie’s blog: http://madamoisellekatiesfoodandtravelblog.blogspot.co.uk/

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Fennel and chestnut risotto in the works

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Produce shopping with Katie in her chef’s whites

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Chocolate hazelnut dacquoise, from a Rick Stein cookbook

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Getting our dacquoise in a row

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photo 2 Rillettes de macquereau, to be Mediterranean-ized on the next go with olive oil, anchovy, and black olive

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Fried monkfish and tartar sauce

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Hazel’s famous pizzas in the making. This one was eggplant, cured ham from the mountains, black olives, and arugula.

The three days flew by. And you know what? My little taste of the south almost made me want to stay in France forever. The consolation: we will definitely be back.

The source of the "Cant' Wait Cake," slightly modified by Hazel to make peach "Hurry Up Cake."

The source of the “Cant’ Wait Cake,” slightly modified by Hazel to make peach “Hurry Up Cake.”

Field Trip: Grenoble

March 18, 2013

With all the snow in Paris making life miserable, a weekend was in order where winter weather conditions were a fun thing. So Saturday was spent in the sun on the slopes at Les Sept Laux in Grenoble.

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(check out those sweet Vuarnets!)

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Post-skiing, we were wiped, and so the rest of the day pretty much looked like this…

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… followed by a rambunctious Saturday evening that looked a lot like this.

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On Sunday, it was stormy and snowy in the mountains, so we left our skis in the garage and went into downtown Grenoble to visit  a brocante, or antique market. We didn’t find much, except for this goat, which I promptly put in my purse and kidnapped.

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(This market stand was selling cheese and diots, which is not an abbreviated form of ‘idiots’ but is a sausage from Savoie cooked in onions and white wine.)

Speaking of goats, we also spotted a taxidermy dahut, a legendary creature that lives in the Alps whose right legs are 7 cm shorter than its left. That means it can only go around the mountain one way, and that it can be hunted just by whistling, since it falls over as soon as it turns around.

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Bastien bought some limited production yellow Chartreuse, since he’s stocking up on his hometown elixir of choice before we distance ourselves from the Alps. I recently read an article entitled something along the lines of Why Chartreuse is the Hipster’s Jägermeister. Chartreuse is made in the mountains by monks, supposedly only two of whom know the entire list of herbs it’s made up of. It’s wonderful, and it really doesn’t need be appropriated by any subculture, hip or otherwise. It’s an easy find in lots of Seattle bars (so maybe the hipster thing is true) but if you don’t know Chartreuse and you see it somewhere, give it a try. Just be careful; it’s potent.

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Post-Chartreuse and pre-lunch, some foie gras and late harvest wine from Alsace seemed like a very prudent snack option.

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In keeping with my new habit of not missing trains, I did not miss my 7:20 train back to Paris. Even though I really wanted to.

Field Trip: Nancy

March 9, 2013

This weekend was a get-out-of-Paris weekend, and after work on Friday I took the train (barely made it, per usual) to visit Bastien in Eastern France.

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(This is me sprinting for the TGV. It is rarely my fault– I swear!– but I am chronically late for and/or missing trains, which is an expensive mistake to be in the habit of making)

On Saturday, we took advantage of a break in the clouds to go to Nancy, where Bastien went to school and a city that I had only visited once, and that was in the pouring rain so we spent the majority of the day in a bar watching rugby.

This time, we went to a park that had a little zoo. There were monkeys. There was this peacock, who was giving us all his business.

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There were deer, which made me think I’d like some antler decor in my next apartment. Is that a terrible thing to think about when you’re looking at the living animal?

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Place Stanislas, widely touted as the most beautiful plaza in Europe by people who are from Nancy, was packed with a group of students dancing in costume. The Harlem Shake is alive and well on this side of the Atlantic.

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We walked, we got rained on, we drank coffee.

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And then  we found the central market, and in keeping with my new resolution to spend the rest of my time in France in as many markets as possible, we went in and did what the French call craquer and what WordPress wants to autocorrect to cracker. It basically translates to “splurge” and it started at the dried and candied fruit counter, where we walked away with dried strawberries, candied kumquats, dates with almond paste, and, weirdly, candied aloe vera. It got worse at the Italian counter (saucisson and ham and cheese tasting), and then climaxed at the cheese counter (truffle butter, the end).

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This is a radis vert and this was the first time I had ever seen that little tuber before.Image

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eat some truffle butter with a spoon.

Transatlantic flights are fun!

September 18, 2010

Well, well, well and ho la la, here I am, en route to France at last. The past few weeks have been noteworthy, between:

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selling my car

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riding a duck

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the window installers finding my passport

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an amazing amazing surprise going away party at Via Tribunali

My last morning in Seattle started with poor Mac throwing up ALL OVER my bed four minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off. I think he was distraught that I was leaving. Or that he was going to be left out of Peso’s breakfast, which was our plan for Taylor’s birthday… until we got there at eight and found out they don’t open until nine. We improvised and made our own breakfast, with some seriously spicy habañero hash browns. Right around the time we finished breakfast, the boys were on their second football game (and accompanying beer), and I realized it was 10 am on the day that I was supposed to leave for France and had a minor panic attack.

Yesterday (Friday), Dave lifted up my suitcase and confirmed my suspicion that, yes, it was significantly over my 23 kilogram Air France limit. So this morning’s task was to reappropriate the 90 pounds of belongings to which I had whittled my life down across several bags, rather than one. This was easier said than done. Thank goodness Dave was there, because I emptied my suitcase and then sat in the middle of the floor staring at all of my things and feeling overwhelmed. Somehow, and with shockingly perfect timing, we managed to get to the airport and check in two bags that clocked in well under 23 kilos.

After intermittently napping and crying my way across most of the continental United States, I decided to watch a movie. Halfway through said movie, I got the Air France blue screen of death, which kindly informed me that the system was partially inoperable. Specifically, the part that I had been watching.

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Granted, Sex and the City 2 is neither the most riveting nor suspenseful film in the world, but I’m now faced with the prospect of another six hours sans entertainment, save these mini bottles of wine and some food magazines.

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I suppose it could be worse. At the very least, my lack of entertainment got me to draft my next blog post, so that’s something. It’s just too bad the internet doesn’t reach this high, otherwise I could be posting in real time from (almost) space.