Bagoong

It has been over two months since I last posted on my blog.  I know I said I would try to post weekly but…no excuses.  What inspired me to start up again was an exciting dining adventure last night.

Courtney had liked a post by The Stranger  about a pop-up restaurant dinner featuring the Philippine staple bagoong. It is a fermented, unfiltered fish paste. http://www.the-stranger.com/blogs/slog/2015/06/12/22376871/fermented-shrimp-paste-and-unfiltered-fish-sauce-seattle-can-you-handle-the-funk

It sounded interesting and so I booked two reservations. Then I checked with Courtney to see if he wanted to go with me and (like mother,like son) he said yes!

The dinner is hosted by Food & Sh*t at Inay’s Asian Pacific Cuisine Restaurant on Beacon Hill in Seattle. They have been hosting dinners on the third Monday of each month for over a year, but this was the first I had heard of it.

There were two seatings for the dinner, 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM. We had reservations for the 8:00 seating and arrived about 15 minutes prior to that. They were still setting up and cleaning up, so asked if we wanted to wait in the bar. Of course! It was a small area off the main dining room with one table and a counter with stools. There were only two men and the bartender in there, which surprised us since there were quite a few people waiting outside.

Louie, the bartender, was a bundle of energy, very enthusiastic and funny, like a stand up comedian behind the bar. Turns out on Friday nights at the restaurant, he becomes Atasha, a one-person drag show!

He fixed us both a mojito special. We ended up joining the two other guests at their table and immediately fell into talking and laughing with them. When they were called for seating, Courtney went with them to see if we could be seated together. Coincidentally, we had already been paired up with them so that every seat and table could be used.

Sam and Shayne had both been at the pop-up dinners before and also at Inay’s restaraunt, which they said has great food. Shayne is Filipino so knew the foods well.

Shayne, on the left, and Sam

Shayne, on the left, and Sam

The menu was: Crispy Kangkong, beer-battered fried water spinach with calamansi bagoong-mayo; Bagoongumbo, crab, longanisa, okra, bell peppers, celery, onion, shrimp & vegetable stock, mochiko roux, chives;

Grilled Pinakbet & Bagoong Fried Rice, shrimp, eggplant, kabocha squash, okra, cherry tomato, pickled ampalaya, ground chicharron, jasmine rice, bagoong guisado, fried garlic, poached egg;

Bagoong-Brined Lechon Liempo, roasted stuffed pork bely, lemongrass, chrysanthemum, red lettuce, perilla, trio of bagoong: housemade bagoong guisado, bagoong alamang, vintage 2003 bagoong terong;

Mangga’t Bagoong Cheesecake, green mango cheesecake, green mango spear, palm sugar syrup & bagoong alamang powder.

The Menu

The Menu

All the menu items were served family style instead of individual plates. Even though the menu was already quite extensive, they started with an amuse bouche of bagoong mac and cheese! It was creamy, flavorful goodness.

Bagoong Mac & Cheese

Bagoong Mac & Cheese

The Crispy Kangkong was amazing. The batter was very light and must have had some bagoong in it because it was slightly salty but very flavorful and crisp. I had never even heard of water spinach before but it was mildly flavored, perfectly cooked, and matched well with the mayo dipping sauce.

Crispy Kangkong

Crispy Kangkong

Next up was small bowls of Bagoongumbo with real Dungeness crab – Sam found a piece of shell so it had to be real! It was dark and richly flavored but not overpowering with any particular flavor, just a blend of great taste.

Bangoonggumbo

Bangoongumbo

We got skipped when they were handing out the next dish of Grilled Pinakbet & Bagoong Fried Rice. Louie happened to come out to visit us so he immediately went to make sure we got ours. The shrimp and vegetable skewer were good but the fried rice was amazingly good. Like none I have ever had before. It was very dark in color and very rich in flavor.

Grilled Pinakbet & Bagoong Fried Rice

Grilled Pinakbet & Bagoong Fried Rice

Since we were late in getting our fried rice the Bagoong-Brined Lechon Liempo was served before we finished the rice. The pork was served with a variety of greens and basil. The most interesting of the greens was the chrysanthemum leaves. They were beautiful to look at and tasted slightly of the way chrysanthemums smell.

The pork was browned and crisped on the top, and soft and fatty (in the best possible way) underneath. The fattiness was mellowed by the various greens and the bagoong. Of the three bagoongs served with the pork, we all agreed that the ‘Vintage’ 2003 one was the best. The housemade one was mild and rather watery, the bagoong alamang was very salty, but the vintage was dark and rich with lots of umami and really added to the pork.

Bagoong-Brined Lechon Liempo

Bagoong-Brined Lechon Liempo

Trio of Bagoong

Trio of Bagoong

The couple that run the Food & Sh*t dinners came out and introduced the staff and cooks, then said they had 3 special items for the first people to raise their hand. My hand popped up before anyone else had even processed what she was saying. To our surprise, the special item was balut – a 14-day fertilized duck embryo that is boiled and eaten in the shell.

Food & Sh*t Staff

Food & Sh*t Staff


I have seen Andrew Zimmern eat these on Bizarre Foods many times, but never had the opportunity to eat one before. Courtney was game to try it too. With Shayne’s coaching, I cracked the top of the egg and peeled the shell away to expose the egg, then slurped the juice off the top. Courtney took the first bite and got most of the ‘developed’ part. I ate the rest and it was really just like a hard-boiled egg. The bottom was tough, however, and Shayne said that was normal.
Balut

Balut


We were all a little leary of what a bagoong dessert might be like but were willing to try anything at this point. It was the perfect mix of sweet and salty. The mango cheesecake was subtly flavored and the bagoong alamang powder added just the right kick to balance the sweetness.
Mangga't Bagoong Cheesecake

Mangga’t Bagoong Cheesecake

It was a wonderful evening of food and making new friends. We exchanged contact information with Shayne and Sam and plan on attending another dinner together. Courtney and I also want to go to the restaurant on a Friday night to see Louie do his show.

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Bee Update

After getting stung under his eye, I had Courtney take a double dose of antihistamine, ibuprofen, and put ice on it. It seemed to be holding it’s own before he went to bed. He went to bed early for him, but antihistamines can do that .

I heard him get up this morning, vaguely, and then after a while I realized my door was open and figured he had poked his head in my bedroom. I got up and checked on him and he said he had called out at work. Then he told me to turn on the light so I could see his face. His left eye and surrounding area was totally swollen.

He went back to sleep and I got up and went to Costco. I realized later that I should have called Group Health and made an appointment for him, but I didn’t have his ID# or SS# (both in the room he was sleeping in.) By the time he woke up, there were no appointments at any of the clinics around us. Off to Urgent Care on Capitol Hill in Seattle!

Traffic was good and we made good time up there. I dropped him off and went to find parking. I lucked out to find a 2 hour spot just before the entrance to the Group Health parking garage.

I walked into the UC waiting room just as Courtney was being called in. He was processed and put into a room very quickly.

The doctor came in a short wait later. I remembered him from one of Darrel’s visits to UC (he is a real cutie!) He asked Courtney what kind of bees and Courtney said, honey bees, the doctor asked what he did to make them mad.

Courtney said he was moving the hive and it came out that we had 11 hives. I said that his dad had died recently so Courtney was taking over the bee keeping.

He asked us how we were doing, touched my hand, and was genuinely interested. Courtney said it had been hard at first, but we were doing better.

I was sitting there with tears gathering in my eyes. It amazed me that this urgent care doctor who sees so many people every day, took the time to talk to us about it when my normal doctor didn’t when I saw her in December!

Back to Courtney…he got a big dose of prednisone orally. The doctor sent a message to Courtney’s regular doctor to see about getting a prescription for some more steroids in case of future issues. Plus, he put in a prescription for an EpiPen…just in case his allergy to bees gets worse (which it probably will.)

We were in and out within about an hour which was nice as we missed the traffic both ways!

As we were driving home, the neighbor down the street, who has a couple of our hives in his yard, called Courtney and said he had a swarm at his house!

I dropped Courtney off and went to the store. He bravely donned his bee suit and put together another hive box and went down and captured the hive.

A while later, I looked out into our back yard and told Courtney, there was another swarm starting. (You see thousands of bees flying around an area.)

Courtney went out and put another hive box under the swarm (in his suit) and waited for them to calm down a bit. He managed to get the swarm in the box and closed it up. Then he checked to see if it was the same swarm from the day before.

Nope. It looked like the other one was still in the box.

I made up some sugar water for the new hive so Courtney didn’t have to steal more honey.

If all of the swarms stick around (they don’t always like their new homes) we will have made up for the two that died over the winter.

No pictures since Courtney didn’t want me to post his swollen face! But I have them if you are interested. Ha, ha!

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Bee Swarm ‘Mis’Adventure

I have heard from a lot of friends and family that they miss my daily blogs. I don’t think anyone is interested in my normal boring day-to-day life, but will try to add a blog at least once a week or so. Or, if something exciting or different happens like today!

Yesterday, I went to the Mariners Opening Day Game with my friend, Yvonne Wake. We have been going for many years and it is always exciting. The Mariners won, so that made it even better.

Mariners Opening Day

Mariners Opening Day

Mariners Win!

Mariners Win!

Tonight, I was just getting ready to leave for a meeting at the club and saw a bee swarm in the apple tree in the back yard. This is the time of year when bees swarm. There are several reasons why bees swarm but basically it is because the hive is crowded and they have produced a new queen. We all know you can’t have two queens, so off they go.

Bee Swarm

Bee Swarm


These went to the apple tree in the back yard. Darrel originally got into keeping bees a few years back when we came home and found a large swarm in one of the apple trees in the front yard!

This was the first big test of Courtney (and me) at bee keeping. We had to put together a new hive box from the mess in the garage. Then Courtney suited up and stole some brood and honey from our other hives.

Son of 'Beeman of Seatac'

Son of ‘Beeman of Seatac’

Once he had the hive ready we set up two ladders under the tree with the hive box on one. Courtney climbed up the other ladder and knocked the swarm off the branch into the hive box.

Capturing the Swarm

Capturing the Swarm

We then ran for cover since the bees were buzzing around like crazy. Typically, they are pretty mellow when swarming since they gorge themselves on honey prior to leaving their hive. We didn’t want to take any chances.

We weren’t sure if the queen was in the hive box or still on the branch where there will still quite a few bees. We waited and watched for a while and eventually all the bees were gone from the branch. It was also getting cooler and bees tend to go to ‘bed’ as it gets cooler.

Courtney went back out to move the hive up to the bee yard. I heard an ‘aarggh’ and he came running in without his shirt. He hadn’t put the bee suit on since it was getting dark and was cool and he expected the bees to be calm. Well, one nailed him just under the eye and he has developed a bit of a reaction to stings the last year or so!

I put an ice pack together and gave him some ibuprofen and allergy medicine. Hope he doesn’t swell too much!

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Home again, Home again, Jiggety-jig!

I have been home for almost a week. It has been great to be home again, jiggety-jig!

I have caught up with friends, got some housework done, did a bit of yard work, and still feel like I am behind the eight ball!

I figure I will post at least once a week now, but maybe more often. It all depends on what I have going on.

I have done some cooking but haven’t always remembered to take pictures. So, here are a few things I have done in the past week.

I made Ragú alla Bolognese, a recipe I made with Francesca in Florence, to share with a friend who recently lost their daughter. Courtney has never been a fan of ‘spaghetti’ sauce, but thought this was awesome.

I am not sure if it was because I made it with the ‘only’ type of puree that Francesca recommended or because he has ‘grown up!’

The sauce is not available at just any grocery store but I found it at PFI (Big John’s.) I had gone along with Marilee to be her carpool ‘dummy’ last week and we came back across I-90 and stopped at PFI. They had the Mutti tomato puree that Francesca used.

Ragu alla Bolgonese with Papparadelle

Ragu alla Bolgonese with Papparadelle

On Sunday I had a few friends over for a fish fry. I have so much fish, both salmon and white fish, left from last year’s trip to Alaska that I need to start using more. It was a fun afternoon with good friends and I hope to do more of them soon

I didn’t take pictures of the fish fry but will post the awesome beer batter recipe from my friend, Judy Bryant.

Beer Batter Recipe for Fish or Other Seafood or Whatever!

1 Egg
1/2 Cup Flour
1 T Cornstarch
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Cup Beer
About 1 lb Fish

Beat egg well. Add flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, and beer. Mix well to a smooth batter. Cut fish into small portions, wash and pat dry, place between paper towels.

Add fish to batter. Deep fry at 375 degrees for 3-5 minutes.

This is a light and easy batter for fish that fries well and doesn’t come out greasy if you make sure your oil is hot.

On Monday I worked in the yard a while and also washed my filthy car. I can’t believe how banged up the car is even though I had work done on it in the past 2 years. Those areas that were fixed, the paint is peeling away and cracking even though I had no problem for the first 14 years!

Being back in Costco land, I bought some beef short ribs the other day. I cooked them last night using a similar recipe to the one for osso buco.

I browned the meat well on all sides. Added chopped onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. After sautéing the vegetables for a while, I added a cup of red wine. I cooked that down then added the ribs back in along with a pint and a half of home-canned tomatoes and more wine. Put the lid on and put it in the 350 degree oven for about 3 hours.

Braised Short Ribs with Onion, Celery, Carrots and Tomatoes

Braised Short Ribs with Onion, Celery, Carrots and Tomatoes

I also made Risotto alla Milanese (Risotto with Saffron.)

8 oz. Risotto Rice
1 small onion, chopped
1 liter broth, heated with 1 package saffron (I used 2 good sized pinches)
1/2 Cup White wine
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

Sauté onion in butter until soft but not brown. Add rice and stir for several minutes. Add wine and cook until evaporated. Add broth a little at a time and stir constantly. Continue until broth is gone and rice is creamy and smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. When rice is ‘al dente’ stir in another pat of butter and the parmesan cheese.

Risotto alla Milanese

Risotto alla Milanese

For a vegetable, I sautéed broccolini with shallots and red paper flakes in olive oil.

Broccolini with Shallots and Red Pepper Flakes

Broccolini with Shallots and Red Pepper Flakes

The short ribs were topped with chopped parsley and grated lemon zest which add just the right amount of zing! And a little grated parmesan on the rice added a little more richness. It was quite a good dinner and Courtney was most appreciative!

Braised Beef Ribs with Risotto alla Milanese and Broccolini

Braised Beef Ribs with Risotto alla Milanese and Broccolini

Posted in Cooking, Uncategorized | Tagged | 8 Comments

Taste of Marias Food Tour

In the Nice apartment there was a magazine, I think called France, that had an article about a food tour in Paris. I read it, of course, it was about food! But I didn’t expect to go to Paris so that was the end of that, right?

Since Paris wasn’t originally on my radar screen, I hadn’t done my usual in-depth research job. Once I got there, however, I started looking into things to do and happened upon a reference to the same food tour by Paris by Mouth.

I checked out the website and then the event calendar. Well, there was one open spot for the next day at 3:30 for the Taste of Marias tour. Hmmm, sounded good but I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to fly out that day or not.

I checked the flights and realized I would be there at least one more day, so I made my reservation for the tour. Great decision!

The tour is guided by an ex-pat from Spokane, Jennifer. There was another couple from Mercer Island, a couple from Toronto, and another from San Diego. They only allow eight people on each tour including the guide.

We met in front of a small cafe in the rain. After introductions and a small preface about the tour by Jennifer, we took off.

We started at Jacques Genin chocolate shop at 133 rue de Turenne. The shop was on a corner in a very nondescript building with no name above the door or anywhere. But, when you walked in you were surrounded by beautiful chocolate Easter “sculptures” and displays. We had samples of three different chocolates, a creamy caramel, and pâtes de fruits.

Jacques came from a difficult childhood and started his culinary career in a slaughterhouse, opened his first restaurant when he was 28, then became a self-taught chocolatier. He only sells from his stores.

Beautifully Painted Easter Chickens

Beautifully Painted Easter Chickens


Chocolate Easter Egg

Chocolate Easter Egg

Chocolate Seashells

Chocolate Seashells

Next stop was a bakery, 134 RdT owned by Benjamin Turquier at 134 rue de Turenne, 75003. Benjamin is another self-made and taught person. There is an annual contest to see who makes the best baguettes in Paris and his are #3. His croissants have ranked in the top 10 for about 8 years.

Baguettes are pretty sacred in France and during WWII, they were made with anything and everything available. Sometime in the 1990’s a bread act was passed that regulates what goes into the baguette, stipulates that the product must be made on premises, and the bread or the products that go into it cannot be frozen. So, if you are ever in France look for a shop that says boulangerie, boulanger, or artisan somewhere on the outside. That is one that has made the product on site following the rules of the act.

Some of the Wonderful Breads at the Boulangerie

Some of the Wonderful Breads at the Boulangerie

The Boulangerie

The Boulangerie

Jennifer purchased a baguette, some croissants, and something called a chouquette. We walked to a beautiful nearby park that had a covered pavillion so we could be out of the rain while tasting. The baguette was crisp on the outside, chewy and delicious throughout.

Baguette

Baguette

Next we tried the croissants. Croissants are made by rolling out a yeast dough and putting a slab of butter on it, folding the dough into thirds, then rolling again, and folding, and repeating, over and over. When the croissant is baked all that butter creates steam which creates flaky layers. They were the best I have ever eaten. Flakes of lighter than air goodness floated off at every bite. I am sure the birds loved us after we left for leaving them such a feast!

Flaky, Buttery Croissants

Flaky, Buttery Croissants

Interior of the Croissant. Look at all those layers of flaky goodness!

Interior of the Croissant. Look at all those layers of flaky goodness!

The chouquette is made with pâte à choux. That is the ‘dough’ that you use to make cream puffs. These had thick ‘pellets’ of sugar on them and were quite scrumptious. Didn’t get a picture, though, as they were eaten so quickly!

We went to Maison Ramella which was a charcuterie but also a place that makes all kinds of foods for takeout. There was a name for it that I don’t remember, but basically they are like a caterer with ready to eat meals. Jennifer picked up rillettes de canard and rosette de Lyon from there.

Rillettes de cunard is similar to a confit but instead of a whole duck leg or other part, it is shredded meat that is then mixed with the fat of the bird. The rosette de Lyon is a cured pork sausage similar to a salami.

Ready to Eat Foods.  Like nothing you would find in Seattle.

Ready to Eat Foods. Like nothing you would find in Seattle.

More Lovely Ready to Eat Foods

More Lovely Ready to Eat Foods

Charcuterie

Charcuterie

The next stop was the Jouannault cheese shop at 39 rue de Bretagne. This shop was not just a cheese shop that sells the cheese out of the case, but an Affineur. Affineurs receive the cheese from the producers and have a cave (cellar) under the shop where they hold them until they are just á point (perfectly ready to eat.)

Jennifer chose the cheeses we would try based on her discussion with the staff about which cheeses were ready to be eaten at that time. When Jennifer first arrived in France, her objective was to try every cheese in France. She hasn’t made it through them all yet, but she sure knows her cheeses!

Caractère de Cochon at 42 rue Charlot, was the next shop. I could have stayed there and tried one of everything if there had been time. It is a tiny little place with meats from all over in the cases, hanging from the ceiling, and covering every space of the shop. We tried samples of Italian “Drunken Pig” ham and 3 year old French l’Ibaiona ham. They both were melt in your mouth awesome. It is just too bad the US won’t allow any meat products to be brought back! But then I would have had to buy another suitcase.

Slab of Bacon, Sausages, and other Meaty Goodness

Slab of Bacon, Sausages, and other Meaty Goodness

The Friendly Meat Guy

The Friendly Meat Guy


Three Very Long Sandwiches for a Party.  Every few inches there were different meats and spreads.  You tear the sandwich apart, not cut, just like you would a baguette.

Three Very Long Sandwiches for a Party. Every few inches there were different meats and spreads. You tear the sandwich apart, not cut, just like you would a baguette.

Our last stop was at a new concept wine shop, Bibovino at 35 rue Charlot. The owner has worked with wine makers who are mostly ‘organic’ and receives the wines in 3 liter boxes. Not your Franzia type wines in a box, but excellent wines from all over France. Packaging them in this way saves a lot of money for the winemaker and the consumer.

In the back of the shop there were barrels with boards on top to make tables with stools around them. We all sat down and Jennifer started breaking out the cheese and charcuterie purchases. These were paired with wines from the shop.

Jennifer and the couple from Mercer Island at Bibovino

Jennifer and the couple from Mercer Island at Bibovino

The following is the list of cheeses we tried and Jennifer’s descriptions:

Rocamadour AOC (goat, Midi-Pyrénées, 1-3 weeks) – tender and creamy pate, it tastes mild and milky with a nutty aftertaste.

Rouelle du Tarn (goat, Midi-Pyrénées, 2-4 weeks) – this is an ash covered, donut shaped cheese with a hole in the center. It’s mild with a milky flavor and hazelnut note.

The Goat Cheeses

The Goat Cheeses


Abbaye de Belloc (sheep, Basque Pyrénées, 3 months) – nutty and sheepy with flavors of caramelized brown sugar.
Basque Sheep Cheese (my personal favorite)

Basque Sheep Cheese (my personal favorite)

Brie de Meaux AOC (cow, Ile-de-France, 6-8 weeks) – can taste of mushrooms, earth, wet leaves, oysters, mushrooms sautéed in butter or mushroom soup. Some longer-aged versions have a strong ammonia smell which a few connoisseurs like. Hand ladled using a perforated ladle (dates back to 12th century) that allows the curds to be transported to the mold unbroken in order to achieve the smooth, voluptuous, custard-like interior.

Brie

Brie de Meaux

Mont d’Or AOC (cow, Jura, 1 month) – technically a washed rind cheese, but not at all strong in flavor. This creamy cheese has a delicate taste accented by the spruce band that binds it and helps it to keep its shape while maturing. To be eaten with a spoon or melted in the oven like fondue. Produced only from September to April.

Mont d'Or

Mont d’Or

Comté AOC (cow, Jura, 30 months) – has a firm and supple texture that melts in the mouth and leaves a sweet taste (95% of cows used for this cheese are Monbéliarde, known for their sweet milk; the rest are Simmental). Can taste of melted butter, milk chocolate, hazelnuts, toast, leather, pepper, butterscotch, sweet orange. Strong salt but balanced with a nutty tang. This cheese has the highest production figures of all French cheese. Graded on a scale of 1-20. Those that score 15-20 wear a green band, those from 12-15 wear a red band. Below three can’t be labeled Comte. Aged for a minimum of 3 months but can be aged up to five years, although 18, 24, 30 and 36 are more common. (I must have forgotten to take any more pictures so don’t have this cheese or the meats.)

The wine we started with was Touraine AOC (100% Sauvignon Blanc). Then a Côtes du Rhône AOC (Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault) and finally a Vin de Pays d’Oc (50% Syrah and 50% Merlot). They were all very nice wines and went well with the cheeses. Jennifer said that you always want the cheese to be stronger than the wine when pairing. Or, just open a bottle of sparkling wine and drink with all of them!

It was a fabulous tour and I will go on the other tours provided by Paris by Mouth next time I am in Paris.

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Beautiful Seattle!

I made it home on Wednesday after a very long day of traveling. I left Paris at 1:30 PM on Wednesday on Icelandair and flew to Reykjavik, Iceland. The flight was a little over 3 hours. Barely saw any of Iceland from air or ground since I was in a middle seat and the woman by the window had the shade down.

I didn’t get a seat assignment for the flight to Seattle in Paris, so I went to the information desk in Reyjkavik and, luckily, got assigned one there. Another middle seat but at least I was on my way home. It was a 7 1/2 hour flight to Seattle. Icelandair does not offer any extras like Delta does but it was better than I expected after reading some online reviews.

I don’t think I ever posted why the flights got so full. When I left in late February there were a lot of open seats on multiple days in late March. Then when I started looking again a couple weeks ago, they were booked up. European flights are not usually booked at the last minute so it was really strange.

Well, come to find out, Lufthansa pilots went on strike for 4 days, starting around last Thursday and ending on Monday. They ended up canceling something like 700 overseas flights. So, people were being re-booked onto other airlines. I also read that they were planning to strike again over the Easter weekend. However, it will be interesting to see whether they do after the horrific crash in the French Alps earlier this week. Especially after finding out it was intentional on the part of the co-pilot. What a horrible thing to happen. I feel so bad for the families of the victims.

I got into Seattle about 5:15 PM and Courtney got off work at 5:30, so he was able to go pick up his car and then get me. Made it nice not to have to wait at all.

It was interesting going through the new immigration and customs at Seattle. For US and Canadian citizens there are now kiosks where you scan your passport and answer the customs questions online. I also had filled out the custom form on the plane.

That went fairly smoothly except I knew I was going to be rejected because I had cheese and was over the dollar limit with my ring purchase. So, I then had to stand in another line to talk to an actual agent.

He saw the cheese part and I told him it was hard cheese over 60 days so he was like, okay, see ya. I asked about the ring purchase. Then he looked at the form a little closer and asked me how much I had spent. I said around $1100 (the official amount you can bring back is $800) and he said it was within his discretionary limit so, Welcome, Home! And off I sent.

It was cloudy and had rained recently, but it was still fairly warm. I was shocked at how much everything had grown, especially the weeds in the front flower beds! I had them all cleaned out before I left but it is unbelievable how much they have come back.

The tulips are up and blooming, the forsythia is covered in yellow flowers, the blueberries, Italian plum, Asian pear, and cherry trees are in full bloom.

Italian Plum Tree

Italian Plum Tree

Not many of the seeds I planted before I left came up. A few radishes, a collard green, and one fennel. I hope to get the rest of my seeds started indoors and/or planted outside in the next few days.

Today, Thursday, is a beautiful, warm day. It is 70 degrees now and I am sitting in the sun on the patio, writing this and communing with my chickens.

Cleo, my Easter Egger

Cleo, my Easter Egger

Blackie is pecking at my fingers and toes. None of them have ever done that before.

Blackie , the toe pecker

Blackie , the toe pecker

I will be posting about my Paris food tour later and then will have at least one more post of Random Observations from my trip.

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Rainy Day in Paris

What a difference a day makes. I woke up to cloudy skies and could see that it had rained sometime in the night. It was not, however, raining at that time.

I wanted to see the Notre Dame and Louvre today and had thought about doing a bus tour. There weren’t any pickup locations very close to me so I decided to take the Metro down to Notre Dame area.

After wandering around trying to find the Metro station, I finally found one. I then ended up backtracking probably 2 blocks underground until I got to the stop I meant to go to in the first place! I have been able to find my way around here much easier than Florence. That was the first time I got a bit out of place.

By the time I got down to the area of Notre Dame and the Louvre it had been at least an hour, what with my wandering and dithering. I got off at the Hotel de Ville, which to my surprise I found a mall! Then I wandered around again trying to find Notre Dame. When I finally found the place where the buses were taking off, I wasn’t sure I would have time to do that and make it to my food tour. So, I decided to walk around and look at the places as best I could. I had a Rick Steves download on his app this time, but forgot about it until I was already past most of the places! Duh!

Notre Dame was quite a sight to see. It is amazing to think that construction started in 1160. Actually, so many of the buildings I have seen are just incredible when you consider there were no cranes or power tools to assist in the building of them.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Notre Dame


The Louvre was also quite an amazing structure as were many of the other buildings I saw as I walked around. It started raining again and I had a food tour at 3:30, so I went into a cafe to sit and get out of the rain.

Palais de Justice

Palais de Justice

Panoramic of one part of Louvre from Interior Courtyard

Panoramic of one part of Louvre from Interior Courtyard

Louvre

Louvre

Louvre

Louvre


By this time, it was raining and I was a bit hungry and wanted to sit for a while. I went into the Cafe Blanc which was very close to the Louvre and to the Hotel Louvre where I figured I could catch a taxi to take me to the start of the tour. I had no idea how to find it on my own.

I ordered a salmon quiche since I didn’t want to eat too much as I was going on a food tour, but wanted something. Well, it was quite a large piece of quiche and came with a nice salad. I tried to stretch the eating out so I could go straight to the meeting place for the tour, but I still got there almost an hour early. And, it was raining pretty well by that time.

Cafe Blanc

Cafe Blanc


Salmon Quiche and Salad

Salmon Quiche and Salad

I had a great food tour and will post more about it after I get home. I am almost ready to leave for the airport and, hopefully, get on a flight to home! Can’t wait to see you all. Will do a brief post if I do not make flight to let you know.

Bon Voyage!

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Springtime In Paris

I am staying at the Hotel Bradford just off the Champs Élysées. The hotel is pretty nice, rooms a little small, but that is to be expected. Staff is friendly and helpful. My room even has a window that looks out onto the street and sunlight comes in at times! Woo Hoo!

My Hotel Room

My Hotel Room

Bathroom

Bathroom

There was even a little card on the shower/bathtub controls with instructions on how to use it. Believe me, it was needed!

Breakfast was included in my room price so I headed down to see what they had. Not your typical Holiday Inn Express or other American hotel breakfast.

A waiter serves your coffee. I found this out after I poured my own and he came in and got me a little pot of coffee and cream. There were croissants and other pastries, breads, juices, little crepe/pancakes with all kinds of things to go on them, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, sausage, bacon (limp), potatoes, lunch meats, vegetables, yogurt, fruit, and then my kind of breakfast – about 8 different types of cheeses and about the same number of salumi.

Breakfast of Parisians

Breakfast of Parisians

Breakfast Room

Breakfast Room

I then got ready and walked to the Champs-Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, Arch of Triumph of the Star. It stands in the Place de Charles de Gualle at the Western end of the Champs-Élysées. It honors those who fought and died in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Quite impressive.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe


It was funny, though, walking down the Champs-Élysées after having just read a book about WWII called The Nightingale. It talked about how when the Nazis took over Paris there were Nazi flags flying all along the street. I almost expected to see them. There were a lot of flags flying, but not with swastikas!

I then walked to the Eiffel Tower. It was a nice sunny day but lots of smog. I had read that just a couple of days ago that they had implemented emergency measures to combat the pollution. Only allowing cars with 3 or more passengers into the city, for instance. I did see one intersection where they were flagging cars over, and I expect ticketed. I didn’t know what was going on at the time I saw this, however.

There were a lot of people waiting in lines to either climb or take the lift up the tower. Those who know me well, know I am no fan of heights, so it didn’t even cross my mind to do either. I did sit down and enjoy the view for a while and walked all around it.

'Artsy' Picture of Eiffel Tower from across the Seine

‘Artsy’ Picture of Eiffel Tower from across the Seine

Looking up from beneath the Eiffel Tower at people on the first level

Looking up from beneath the Eiffel Tower at people on the first level

Me and the Tower

Me and the Tower

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

I then rambled around through neighborhood streets just soaking up the atmosphere and the sun. I came across a construction area where it cracked me up. There along the fence were a bunch of push scooters, no doubt belonging to some of the workmen, all locked up along with bikes. You don’t see many people commuting on these in Seattle. But, I saw all ages and genders on them in Nice. Not so many yet here in Paris, but they are obviously used.

Commuter Scooters

Commuter Scooters

I came across this beautiful church on my walk, but haven’t identified it yet.

Outside of a Large Church

Outside of a Large Church

Lots of Beautiful Poultry in a Shop Window

Lots of Beautiful Poultry in a Shop Window

By the time I made it back to my neighborhood, I was tired and hungry. I randomly stopped at a cafe I saw, Villa Berri. I ordered the Salad Paysanne. It had ham, egg, cantal cheese, potatoes, and tomatoes. It was fine, but nothing to get excited about. Good bread to go with it, though! Back in France with salted, chewy bread!

Salad Paysanne

Salad Paysanne

I went back to the hotel and laid down for a nap. The long train ride and little sleep, plus all the walking had caught up with me.

I decided I wanted Steak and Frites for dinner. I did my research and found a couple of places nearby. I went to the one that was closest, Chez Boris. It was huge compared to most of the places I have eaten at in Europe.

I told the waiter that I wanted a good, juicy steak. He showed me a few on the menu called Entrecôte, or rib steaks. They were from various regions of France, Germany, and Angus from the States. I asked the difference between the two from France. He asked me if I like flavorful or tender. I said flavorful so got the one from Salers in middle France.

To start I was served an amuse-bouche of crostini with olive tapenade. It was very good tapenade.

Crostini with Olive Tapenade

Crostini with Olive Tapenade

All the steaks are served with frites and a green salad. The steak was dry-aged for 21 days and had a slight funk smell to it. It was cooked perfectly and tasted excellent. Just what I wanted.

Chez Boris Entrecôte

Chez Boris Entrecôte

The frites were crispy and hot and wonderful. I had read thaty they double fried them in beef fat, so why not, right?

Frites

Frites

After dinner, I headed back to the hotel. The hotel offers ‘snacks’ from 1:00 PM until 2:00 AM. There are chips, peanuts, lots of sweets, and even tomatoes. I thought about getting some dessert but was pretty full so grabbed a couple of bite-sized Toblerone to have just a bit of chocolate. Perfect!

It was a fine day in Paris.

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Night Train to Paris

As I said before, the overnight train to Paris from Milan supposedly wasn’t running. So, I had to take a day and night trip.

Starting at 1:30 PM from Florence to Milan. The train was nice and again like an airplane there was service and free drinks and snacks. Only a couple of stops before Milan, then I had about 30 minutes before the next train to Paris.

Train from Florence to Milan

Train from Florence to Milan

I was not very impressed with the second train. It was not real clean and for whatever reason, even in 1st class, you didn’t get free snacks or drinks.

There were very few people in my car leaving Milan. I was in a seat with one next to me and two across. All empty. Then we stopped, I think it was Turin, and a guy came on and was across from me by the window. Quite a few other people got on too.

The next stop, I heard someone behind me talking loudly, but I, of course, couldn’t understand a word of it. Several people around me turned around to look in surprise, amazement, not sure.

Well, next thing I know a large man came to the seat by me, still talking loudly, with another man. He motioned for the other man to sit by me and he sat across from me. The guy next to me looked nervous and unsure. The guy across from me kept talking and it was directed at me. I finally said, English. He kept on going. I then put my finger to my lips and shook my head and said, Shhhh! He did shut up briefly.

People all around were looking on in amazement and some in dismay. I had no clue what was going on but all I could think of was they both stank of cigarette smoke and I was going to have to smell that all the way.

In a little while, the ticket guy came by and said something to the loudmouth. He saluted him, and then started jabbering again. The ticket guy left.

Next thing the more ‘official’ looking ticket guy came by, and then the two guys got up to go with him. I motioned upwards to indicate they needed to take their packs with them.

Everyone around me kind of looked at each other and rolled their eyes, and/or sighed in relief. One guy that was seated further back came over to make sure they had taken their stuff with them. I was still like, WTF?

Then a young woman who had been sitting across the aisle from me came back as I was going to the bathroom. She said something like that was weird and they were why she left. I tried to see if she knew more about what happened but she didn’t say.

So, I got a glass of wine and went back to my seat to continue listening to my book and minding my own business. Pretty soon some sort of police came through looking around, then a while later some other sort of ‘official’ people came through.

There was some pretty scenery through parts of the trip before it got dark. But for the most part, especially through the towns, it is graffiti, industrial areas, and the back side of buildings. Outside of towns there are lots of tunnels and bridges with walls so you can’t see. After a while, and especially when it was dark, it got pretty darn boring. 10 hours on a train is about 8 too many.

The Alps

The Alps

A couple of hours later, the same loudmouthed guy came back into the car and sat down in another seat. He didn’t say a word. Again, my fellow travelers all kind of looked at each other nervously. At the next stop a couple got on and he was in their seat so he left. I saw him twice more walk through the car but never saw the other man who had sat next to me. Probably will never know what happened.

I arrived in Paris at 11:30 PM. I walked into the station, which was pretty much deserted, and wasn’t sure where to go. I finally found a Taxi sign and followed it. There was a rather long line for taxis (I had seen something online about there always being one) but it probably only took 15 minutes to get one.

Driving along to the hotel I saw Notre Dame, the Louvre, and then the Eiffel Tower. Got to the hotel and had a very nice reception. All I wanted was some ice for a drink, and Jacques, was nice enough to get me a bowl of ice. He then took my bag and the bowl up to my room for me.

I am sure Jacques was thinking, another crazy American and their need for ice!

The room was very warm so I opened the window and turned down the heat in the bathroom. There was no heat in the room itself. I go from a freezing apartment to an overly warm hotel room! Oh well, the pleasures of traveling.

I did some email and online stuff and finally went to bed about 1:00 AM. The room has two windows that open onto the street so that kept the street noise down pretty well. However, there was some sort of noise I could hear that almost sounded like heavy furniture across tile floors, but the floors are carpeted?! I got about 5 hours of sleep then decided that was going to be all I could get.

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Settignano and Lampredotto

As I have learned, Saturdays in Florence are crowded and busy, so I decided to take another bus ride out of town.

Settignano is a small village on a hillside close to Fiesole. In fact, there is a walk you can take between the two villages. Settignano doesn’t have as many tourists and I think it is quite a bit smaller than Fiesole. Plus, there was nothing in the guide book about it so I had looked online.

Settignano Church

Settignano Church

I walked around the town a little. Again, very narrow streets with cars going in both directions. Not many shops or restaurants, but I had read rave reviews about one of the restaurants called Caffe Desiderio.

Caffe Desiderio

Caffe Desiderio

Caffe Desiderio Outside Tables

Caffe Desiderio Outside Tables


The menu had several starters so I ordered a chickpea crepe with burrata cheese, anchovies and chorizo. After a discussion with owner, Michele, I decided to finally try the lampredotto (tripe.) It is the third stomach of the cow. It was stewed with artichokes in a tomato sauce. I had said I would try it while here and he convinced me it was very good. Hope so since I will be very hungry if not!

Chickpea Crepe with Anchovies and Chorizo

Chickpea Crepe with Anchovies and Chorizo


I asked which wine and he suggested a Trebbiano from the northern Chianti area. It was a family run winery producing about 40,000 cases a year. Served in very nice wine glasses. Some places serve even the good wine in cheap glasses.

A Quatro of Trebbiano.  He opened the bottle then poured it into the little pitcher that sat in a little bucket of ice.

A Quatro of Trebbiano. He opened the bottle then poured it into the little pitcher that sat in a little bucket of ice.


It had turned into a cloudy day. It was a little cool outside but not too bad. Glad I wore my heavier sweater and scarf. I had been very hot on bus though.

The crepe was excellent. It had seemed an odd combination but the flavors went together very well. The chorizo was a hard, dried one that was a little spicy and the anchovies added that extra hit of saltiness. The burrata was creamy and delicious and the crepe a little crispy and good.

The lampredotto was actually very well done. It was seasoned perfectly, and had a tomato based sauce with thinly sliced artichokes, onions, and fresh squeezed lemon. The tripe was tender with a slight chew. No funky smell or flavor at all. I really enjoyed it and ate it all. (After watching so many Andrew Zimmern shows with him saying it tasted a little poopy, I was a bit intimidated.)

Lampredotto with Artichokes

Lampredotto with Artichokes

What a contrast this place is to Florence. Quieter, a few people walking by and quite a few cars. It was nice to just sit and look around.

The restaurant is a husband and wife team and is open like 12 hours a day. Only the two of them when I was there so not sure if they have help throughout the day or not. He waits and she cooks.

It was getting a little cool outside and I had to use the restroom so I went inside to have my coffee. Inside there were 5 tables, along with the 4 outside. I can’t understand how some of these places can make it they are so small. If not for outside tables they wouldn’t be able to serve many meals. And they didn’t have any kind of covering outside for winter or rain.

Inside Caffe Desiderio

Inside Caffe Desiderio


There was a leg of ham in a contraption for hand carving.

"Ham"

“Ham”

After asking for my check, he brought me the check and a free grappa for digestion. Very nice experience and I am glad I spent the day in Settignano.

Back in Florence it was just packed everywhere. I had thought since it was around 4:00 I might be able to get in to see David, but the place was mobbed once again. So, I headed back to the apartment.

Later, I went to Cantinetta dei Verazzano’s to get a bite to eat. I was going to have the last of the soup but just didn’t feel like it. Plus, before I left Seattle I had seen a place that had chickpea focaccia stuffed with various things. It turned out to be the place Megan had taken me to for a ‘croissant’ The place was hopping but I was seated in the ‘breakfast area with another single woman and a couple.

I ordered the cecina (chickpea focaccia) with prosciutto and tartufo. Can’t get enough of these truffles! It was topped with a little cream and pomegranate seeds. Fabulous! Courtney and I are going to have to get back on the chickpea flour train again and do some different things with it!

Cecina with Prosciutto and Tartufo

Cecina with Prosciutto and Tartufo

Verazzano’s obviously is a wine producer too. I ordered a glass of their rosé. He brought the wine glass with ice and an extra glass to pour it into so it was nice and cold, then poured a taste. Very nice.

I also ordered a salad with gorgonzola and walnuts. The basket of bread had 3 different types, one was a cheesy focaccia which was the best.

Salad with Gorgonzola, Walnuts, and Egg

Salad with Gorgonzola, Walnuts, and Egg

Bread Basket

Bread Basket


I went home and went to bed not long after since I had woken at about 3:00 AM and had not gotten any more sleep the night before.

Tomorrow, off to Paris on the train!

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