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Category Archives: Culinary

(Non) Rev’ed Up: A Trip Recap

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Paris Light

Paris Light

Despite almost not making the CDG–JFK flight last night (overselling is such an attractive practice), I’m back in the states and already down in Florida. JetBlue didn’t waste any time assigning me a trip. I landed and had a 5:00 a.m. report. Oh well, I commuted in from Paris for work; things could be worse.

Paris was like an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. With no real agenda to speak of while I was there, I kind of just walked around and did whatever I fancied. While I never got around to taking any cooking classes, I did manage to eat my way through the city and visit some restaurants that have been on my list for some time, and one that is just a perennial favorite. Take note: Verjus, Reed, and Fish La Boissonerie are three restaurants you shouldn’t miss in Paris. Just don’t. Take the time to make a reservation and find them, and then sit back for a culinary fireworks show. And yes, if you read my last diatribe, I did make it to Fish on my last day for lunch.

Tuesday, I spent the day in Strasbourg, which was an easy and excellent day trip from Paris. The TGV whisks you there in two hours, and it was this amazing collaboration of French and German influences, almost like they had a child together. I had lunch in an Alsatian restaurant (Le Gruber) that was outfitted in what looked like Bavarian décor, yet, I was ordering my food in French. It was great. I also managed to locate the historic wine cave under the hospital, which was something I had read about prior to arriving. While I wasn’t able to taste any wine that day, they do have a wine shop, so I procured three Alsatian wines (a rosé, a pinot noir, and a Chateauneuf du Pape) that I lugged back on the train to Paris, and then on the plane to the U.S. Despite carting my flight attendant costume with me, I wasn’t permitted to bring the wine through security with me. So, I checked the bag and prayed I wouldn’t be met with a soggy suitcase tumbling down the luggage belt like it was on a water slide. Lucked out there.

Cave Historique Hospices Strasbourg

Cave Historique Hospices Strasbourg

So, what’s up with this whole non-rev business? Well, for one, I now get why people tolerate the measly flight attendant salary. I paid $92 for my ticket over (JFK–LHR) and was put in first class on American. No, not business. First class. Pajamas, champagne and all. On the way back, the ticket was more expensive (maybe $150), but Air France was gracious enough to give me Premium Economy, which is almost like a junior business cabin. Yes, flying standby is not for the faint of heart, but if you are flexible like every good flight attendant is meant to be, you can see the world for pennies on the dollar and giggle about how much the person sitting next to you spent. I did that.

I don’t have any plans for my next trip (yet), but doubt it will be long before there’s something on the books. Any suggestions?

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Lessons Learned

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Fish La Boissonerie Paris

Fish La Boissonerie, Paris

Paris is: so far, superb. I found the new apartment easy as pie, my French flooded back to me, and the weather is perfect. Could the winning streak continue?

The day started with me eating lunch at a café around the corner from Fish La Boissonerie because I believed the internet that said it was closed on Sundays. Mistake #1. And instead of walking the 10 extra feet to investigate it firsthand, I gave into my craving for a croque and the cute overalls the servers wear. Mistake #2. After lunch, I walked by to snap that photo on the left and saw people coming out the door. There are people dining inside as I’m simultaneously taking the photo and kicking myself. The internet lied. Lesson learned.

Full from Bar du Marché, I stopped in for a glass of wine at a restaurant that was recommended by a friend on another trip. It gave me the chance to decide if I should brave the cold for the night time bike tour or go back to Fish for dinner? I picked up the phone and called them to be sure they were open, and yes, they were. Settled: dinner at Fish. If you’ve eaten there before, you know why the decision was simple. But here comes mistake #3: not bothering to inquire about their hours and just assuming they would be open when I was ready for my early supper. I walked back past the restaurant at 5pm, and they didn’t open back up until 7pm. Oy!

After hoofing it back to my apartment in the 2nd, I couldn’t bring myself to walk all the way back down there. I was exhausted from catching the early Eurostar this morning and going to bed late in London (this morning). And I really did walk quite a bit today. Now, in a cruel twist of fate, I’m up writing this at nine minutes to midnight because I can’t sleep. I could have doubled back to Fish four times over by this point. I guess inter-Europe jetlag does exist.

What I did discover is that my apartment is a pitching wedge away from Rue Montorgeuil, so I mustered up enough energy to go to dinner at Little Italy Caffe. Italian food served by a guy from Brooklyn in Paris. It was good, but it wasn’t Fish. And now I feel like I squandered the only chance I had to eat at there on this trip, which is exactly the case (my eating trail is already paved). If you think you can’t plan an entire trip to Paris around eating, well, then you obviously have never been to Paris.

Looks like I better start planning a follow-up trip for the feeding frenzy!

Order Up: London, Paris and Strasbourg!

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Cheeses of Paris

Fromagerie in Montmartre

To celebrate making it past the six-month probationary mark with JetBlue, I’m heading to Europe next week! At least I think I am. This will be the first time I tempt the non-rev’ing Gods internationally, so I’m hoping I can get a seat on one of the three non-stops from JFK to Heathrow. Then again, I’m just hoping I can get back to JFK for work at this rate. With Europe involved, I will find a way!

It always amazes me how quickly my trips come together. Brady encouraged me to go last Thursday, so I contacted my friends in London, rented an apartment via Airbnb in Paris, and bought train tickets to Strasbourg for a day trip. I’m also taking the Eurostar/Chunnel for the first time, and I can’t wait for the experience. It only cost a bit more to book in first class, so I figured, “Why not?” They give you a three-course meal, there’s free wi-fi so I can use my phone or laptop, and the seats are bigger. Perfect.

As far as culinary things go in Paris, I’m booked in for two great dinners at Verjus and Reed, and I’m definitely visiting The Gallery Museum Baccarat this time. Evidently, it’s a sight for sore eyes, and there’s a particularly eye-catching bathroom that shouldn’t be missed. I’ve booked myself in for lunch there too at the Crystal Room restaurant. I’ve been on the hunt for cooking classes, but haven’t been able to match anything with my schedule. If you’re up for a hilarious story regarding a cooking class inquiry gone awry, you can read about that here. A word of advice: learn the difference between “forward” and “reply” when it comes to business emails.

There’s still time for a class to work out, but if not, there are dozens of other culinary-related items I can get myself into. You can make a day of snacking on delicious cheeses like the ones in the photo, chatting with bartenders about wines, and eating a Berthillon ice cream cone as the world walks by. I’ll report back as the trip rolls on.

Portland Visitor’s Map

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It’s literally been forever since I posted on here. I’m still overdue on my Portland, ME food walking tour, which I did do, but the summer got away from me. Seriously. It’s hard to believe I was just bidding for my October work schedule, and that we’re already talking about Thanksgiving and Christmas. Where do the years go?

I’m back in Left Coast Portland for about two weeks, and in between working and walking Henri, I’m trying to get organized for my parents’ impending visit. They’re headed up to house- and creature-sit for about 10 days at the end of the month while the mister and I head to the Florida Keys. Between doing copious amounts of laundry and enjoying the NFL season starting, I just realized it would be nice to hand them a map of our favorite restaurants, where they can find the grocery store, and also where the vet and emergency animal hospital are located (although I really hope they don’t need that last bit).

I started looking online for a map I could print out, but it’s actually easier to just create a Google map and pin all of the locations there. So here’s a little overview of all the places we think they should frequent as they live life as Portlanders. While it looks like a jumbled up mess, it’s actually a pretty handy map. It’s interactive, so just click on the pins to see details about the places.

Legend: 

  • Fork/Knife: Restaurant
  • Coffee Cup: Coffee/Breakfast
  • Martini Glass: Bar
  • Shopping Bag: Market/Store
  • Cross: Vet/Animal Hospital
  • Dollar Sign: Bank

<iframe width=”600″ height=”700″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” marginheight=”0″ marginwidth=”0″ src=”https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msa=0&msid=206017250814233052645.0004c961d43ed315211a7&hl=en&ie=UTF8&t=m&ll=45.530102,-122.693295&spn=0.021045,0.025792&z=15&output=embed”&gt;
View Portland Visitor’s Map in a larger map

Can’t Get Enough Portland

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Foodie Walking Tour in Portland, MaineI’ve been trapped in New York for nearly three weeks now. You may think “trapped” is a little dramatic, but being on reserve with an airline feels a little like Riker’s Island. It’s partially my fault because I arranged my schedule so that I can be home longer later this month. But doing that has meant long blocks of reserve days with only a few orphan days off in between.

Today, I rolled the dice and went to a Mets game despite being on home reserve. Home reserve is exactly what it sounds like; keep your phone close in case they call. “Mets reserve” was a lot more fun, and fortunately, they didn’t interrupt my baseball game. That little gamble also made me realize that I need to take advantage of my geographic location on my next day off.

So, next Monday, I’m headed to Portland, Maine! I’ve secured a foodie walking tour of the charming seaside enclave, and I think it will be the perfect distraction from not being able to be in the other Portland, 3,186 miles away. Strangely enough, about a month ago, I was in both Portlands the same day. I don’t think many people can claim that!

Look for an upcoming post about my one-day, culinary adventure on the mean cobblestone streets of Maine’s largest city.

Cooking at Casa de Colores

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Due to technical difficulties, I cannot get the photos off my camera. I will update the post with my actual pictures as soon as I can. In the meantime, this is the grinder at the tortilleria where we sampled the amazing Nixtomal corn tortillas!

After spending a week in Cabo at perhaps the most ridiculous house I’ve ever stepped foot in, I had an epiphany: working after a week of vacation reminds me that I’d rather be on vacation. I think I’ve been holding onto this post in my head as a way of prolonging the week we spent doing nothing. Well, almost nothing. Between Coronitas and dips in the pool, I managed to sneak in a cooking class. And boy…I’m glad I did.

If you ask an American what Mexican food is, you’ll get a different answer depending on the geographic location of the person you’re interviewing. In middle America, Tex-Mex is all the rage, but a Californian would hang you for trying to pass off  anything as Mexican that wasn’t fresh tacos or a bulging burrito. And then there’s actual Mexican food that doesn’t resemble either of these things.

My Cabo cooking class was titled “Mexican Comfort Foods.” Not having a ton of experience in the genre, short of what I filled up on at Gay and Larry’s growing up (RIP), I wasn’t really sure what I was in for. I met Donna in the parking lot of a large grocery store near downtown, and truth be told, I wasn’t sure who I was looking for, how many people were going to be in our class, or what we’d be doing that day. One of my favorite parts about taking all of these different classes around the world is that no two have proved to be the same yet. And this was no different.

Once we assembled our group, Donna had me jump into her car and she whisked us over to an authentic tortilleria for lunch. Lunch? I thought I was going to a cooking class. Smart not to argue, we pulled up to the al fresco restaurant and sampled some of the freshest tortillas this side of Oaxaca. The “Tortilla Goddesses,” as Donna so dubiously named them, barely speak English and turn out hot corn tortillas straight from the comal. They start by making their own Nixtomal, a mixture of corn, limestone and filtered water that’s passed through a grinder. That’s their masa, and this technique has been going on for thousands of years thanks to the Aztecs. There I was, literally eating history. My God, history tastes good.

From there, we headed back to Casa de Colores, or “House of Colors” in Spanish, where Donna lives. Her charming abode is perched on a lookout in Cabo and you can see all the way to the ocean. It’s also aptly named–the terracotta exterior is trimmed with colors borrowed from the rainbow, and in Mexico, this aesthetic just works. She conducts the cooking classes from the upstairs part of her house in a well-equipped kitchen that is perfect for groups of about six people. That day, there were five of us and Donna.

When we arrived, she served us a delicious Agua de Mandarinas “fresh water” to wet our whistle and get us ready for a serious dose of Mexican comfort classics. We started with a discussion of the comal, a word she uttered at the tortilleria that left all of us scratching our heads. Whether industrial sized or plate-sized, a comal is a staple in a Mexican kitchen. Put simply, it’s a disk of steel that you cook on with dry heat. We immediately put the comal to work with roma tomatoes, a white onion, serrano chilies, and garlic. We were making a cooked salsa!

After we blistered the ingredients on the comal, we transferred them to a blender and pulsed it all together. The juice from the tomatoes served as the liquid, and what we tasted was smokey and fresh. To deepen the flavor further and thicken it up, we “fried the salsa” for 10-15 minutes in a Tbsp of oil on the stove top. It really did the trick, enriching the flavor and deepening the impact.

That was our fresh salsa, but we also had a discussion and worked with dried chilies. I think one of the most common misconceptions is that Mexican ingredients like the ones we used are hard to find. Guilty of the same assumption, I was wondering where I was going to find dried guajillo chilies in Portland. So you can imagine my surprise when I flipped open the Penzey’s Spice catalog that came in the mail to find they sell them there…right up the street. I also happened to spot Nopales (cactus paddles) in our regular old Safeway yesterday too. So, there you have it…even in rainy Portland, we’re cookin’ Mexican!

Back to the guajillos. These deep red peppers are fairly mild but have a great flavor, and are very popular in Mexican sauces. Donna pulled out a few dried ones, we smelled them and felt their texture, and then we chopped them up. We reconstituted them with boiling water from the stove, and let them sit for a bit to come back to life. This “Devil Salsa” that we were putting together was a cinch. We pureed the chilies in a blender with their water, and then passed them through a sieve to strain out the tough parts of the skin that no self-respecting human would want to chew on. From there, we simmered the sauce for a bit and that was that. We would turn our salsa into a masa dumpling soup, use it later on our chile rellenos, and Donna also mentioned that we could use it to make “Camarones Diavola,” or devil shrimp served over rice. Another option: add chicken stock and turn it into a tortilla soup. “Devil Salsa:” the gift that keeps on giving!

Another enlightening part of this class was the chile relleno. I remember my Grandma Elsie always ordering this dish, but I never really knew what it was. With my childish, undeveloped palette, I never asked to try it, but suspected that it was a deep-fried chili pepper stuffed with cheese. I was sort of right. The only difference in the traditional Mexican version is that it’s coated with a fluffy egg mixture that creates an omelette around the chili when it’s fried in the hot oil. A lot of restaurants will take short cuts and bread and deep-fry a chili to pass off as a relleno. It’s a cheap knockoff though, kind of like plastic shoes that cut your feet.

If you’re headed to Cabo, take a break from the chi-chi’s and guys selling your name on a grain of rice. Make some time to venture out of the mayhem and sample some authentic Mexican cuisine.  At Casa de Colores, you’ll learn about a tortilla environment, discuss moles, and talk a lot about Mexico’s culinary culture that stretches from border to border. And you’ll also start to realize that although Mexico borders Texas, it scoffs at anything Velveeta or Rotel related.

Casa de Colores…A Tasty Corner of Cabo

Email Donna at brisasjones@yahoo.com for a schedule of classes

Cabo Cooking Class: Booked!

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Despite this pretty mild winter we’ve had in the Pacific Northwest, I’m really looking forward to our upcoming trip to Cabo. It pays to have family members who bid on ridiculous auction items like the mansion at the Palmilla where we are staying. Ok, I don’t really know if it’s a mansion officially, but it’s a grande casa for sure.

I figured while we’re there, I better scout out a cooking class, which is exactly what I did. Here is the description of what I’ll be cooking:

MEXICAN COMFORT FOODS- Foods that taste like home in Mexico include corn masa antojitos like Tlacoyos con Salsa Verde (delicate turnovers of blue masa stuffed with yellow fava beans served in a green sauce a colorful Central Mexican street favorite), Ensalada de Nopales (fresh nopal cactus salad with bright, crisp vegetables), Albondigas (savory meatball and vegetable soup) and Tortitas de Papa en Salsa Roja (crisp fried potato-cheese cakes with a red sauce)… and maybe even Minguichi (strips of roasted poblano pepper in a melted cheese sauce Michoacan style, delicious tucked into hot tortillas).  For dessert caramelized roasted Camotes (sweet potatoes) and cream.  Yum!
 

As I’m sure you can imagine, this Southern California native is dearly missing her daily dose of quality Mexican cuisine. So, in between sunning myself on the beach, catamaran cruises, and downing copious margaritas, I’ll be rolling up my sleeves until I’m elbow-deep in masa. Stay tuned for the blog about my adventure!