Friday, December 28, 2007

Paris Thursday

OK, so Thursday we tried to go to a certain boulangerie recommended in our Pudlo Guide. The croissants were allegedly so good, they'd make you weep. It was closed (or possibly under new management), so we decided to skip it. We went on to Poilane boulangerie and bought their legendary cookies. They're called Punitions (Punishments). They're buttery and no too sweet. If that's the punishment, then I'll have to misbehave more often. (ba-dum-bum)

We also got croissants at Poilane and they were meh. I suppose they do the cookies so well that people don't come to them for other pastries.

We walked around looking for an ATM and would up all the way over by the Tour Montparnasse. From there, we hopped the Metro to the area around my old school. It brought back a lot of memories. The school is still there, and someone has finally opened up a shop of American goods right around the corner from one of the school buildings. In my day (1990), there was a shop like that somewhere in Paris, and I think I may have past it once in a Taxi or something. It was too out of the way to visit regularly. Fortunately, there was a supermarket near my apartment that carried chips and salsa for when my munchies were homesick. I bet that shop is very lucrative. Familiar food goes a long way towards curing homesickness and your first few months living in a new country are nothing but homesickness.

Our reason for going there was to get pain aux raisins from the boulangerie right by the school. They're big, custardy raisin buns and I've never found better. I still don't know the name of the shop and I can't swear I'd be able to give directions, but if you're going to Paris, let me know and I'll look at the map and try.

Since we were full of pastries at that point, we had a quick taste and saved them for later. My second trip to Paris, I got that pain aux raisins and one bite made me feel 19 again. It was so exhilarating that I saved some to share with the school friend I was staying with instead of gobbling it all down myself.

When I tasted it this trip, I wasn't transported, but it was good.

We stopped in a cafe to buy cocoa so that we could use the bathroom. I love doing that in France--standing at the bar, next to men drinking beer, wine or liquor and I'm drinking cocoa. I drink alcohol, but my sweet tooth is stronger than my alcohol tooth. Especially around lunchtime.

We walked through the Invalides and took the Metro to Montmartre (where Amelie is from and where all the tourists go).

We climbed these stairs

past this graffiti

to see this view

and this church/cathedral/tourist attraction.

There were a lot of tourists and tourist traps. Trying to maneuver past the artists who want to sell you a sketch of yourself can be daunting, since they all descend upon you at once. I declined in French and one of the artists gave me attitude. The last time I was there, one of those artists hit on me. I'm not sure which encounter was more annoying.

We grabbed hot dogs for lunch. Hot dogs in baguettes, smothered in cheese, with some dijon mustard. So good. They served those at the bar in my school and we'd scarf them down for lunch during the break our of double-period Existenialism class.

HA and I hit the tourist shops to buy some presents. Montmartre is an artsy area, so the quality of the souvenirs is slightly higher than elsewhere.

And then we walked down those steps. At the bottom, we were accosted by some guy who had some sort of scam going on and just walked past him without saying a thing. (The only 2 places I've ever lived are NYC and Paris--being rude when necessary is not a problem for me). We went into the Salon du The I mentioned the other day (where the American woman was speaking very loudly outside). I had fancy tea--The Madagascar, with vanilla and nut flavors and His Awesomeness had some juice.

After the afternoon caffeine fix, we went in search of the Passage Jouffroy, which is a passage full of interesting shops. We got very lost, but stumbled across a chocolatier, A La Mere de Famille, where we bought some caramels for us and some chocolates for HA's mom.

We eventually did find the Passage Jouffroy and did some more shopping.
There were several fantastic toy stores and a great shop of movie books and posters. HA bought a book about Barbarella.

We went back to the hotel to rest for a bit and then headed out to dinner. We stopped into Dalloyau, a patisserie that was founded in 1802 to buy our dessert for later. We ate at a Moroccan restaurant. I had the chicken and lamb couscous and HA has the chicken and merguez couscous. My notes say, "So good!" My memory also says that.

We went back to the hotel to rest up and eat dessert.


On the left is chocolate, raspberry, caramel cake and on the right is chocolate cheescake. My notes here say, "Soooo good". Again, my memory agrees.

We watched some TV, including Naked Gun 33 1/3 (dubbed into french, of course) and some 1996 movie with Jean Reno and some guy who looks like Adrian Zmed that took place in the amazon.

And so ends Thursday.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


I tend not to make resolutions for the new year because I make them at other times. If I decide to do something, then I need to get started on it, otherwise I'll get distracted and forget about it completely.

In fact, I started one on Christmas Eve. I've resolved to spend at least 15 minutes a day working on my novel. In the past, I've made bursts of progress writing every day for at least an hour, and then I'm sidetracked by illness. I'm knocked on my ass by a cold and all novel progress comes to a screeching halt. A couple of days away from writing, and I'm out of the habit, so I stay away from my writing desk even longer.

But even when I'm feeling sick, I can put in 15 minutes. I squeezed it in on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so this looks do-able. I won't be reporting on this daily, but I did print out a calendar so I can put a check mark on each day when I do it.

Another resolution I made a while ago is to really get a handle on sweater knitting. I want to be able to turn out sweaters for myself that fit me perfectly and thrill me to no end. This goes hand in hand with my desire to knit up my stash to make room for more stash. I can't justify the expense of a sweater's worth of yarn when I have enough alpaca to make 4 of them. Plus all those thrift store sweaters I bought so I could recycle the yarn. I should be able to crank out about 10 without doing any shopping.

I've started on #1, a top-down, set in sleeves shrug I designed myself with the help of Barbara Walker's Knitting From the Top. Knitting on it annoys my sinuses sometimes, so I'm hoping that it's something they treated the yarn with that's bothering me and not the alpaca itself. It could also just be all the fluff that the yarn is shedding as I work with it. I'll know for sure once it's finished and washed. If it's OK to wear after that, then I'll just pre-wash all my other alpaca before using it.

So expect to see lots of sweaters here. I'm not sure I'll be resolute enough to keep from buying more sweater yarn before I finish up what I already have, but I'm hoping to be a sweater maven by this time next year.

Resolution #3 is crochet-related. I finally started to get the hang of crochet on the flight home from Paris. I received the Amigurumi book for Christmas and my plan is to work my way through it so I can learn the technique and make lots of cute little toys. I'll just stockpile them for giftgiving. Every kid I know is likely to be getting a crocheted cheeseburger in 2008.

What are your crafty resolutions?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Jen's Dave's Lasagna

That's what my cousin/godson used to call my lasagna. Until I told him that if he kept calling it that, he couldn't have any.

My brother and I invented the recipe for Overkill Lasagna one evening when my mom was about to start making one. We kicked her out of the kitchen and got to work. Not that her lasagnas were bad, but they left enough room for improvement that we had no choice but to stage a coup. Hence the alternate name, Anarchist Lasagna.

The recipe?

Make lasagna the way you usually do, but use more sauce and cheese than seem entirely necessary. And then add more sauce.

Our meatless version has mozzarella and ricotta. The meaty version has ground beef and sausage (removed from the casing and cooked the same way as the ground beef). I've been known to have trouble lifting the meatarific version because it's so damn heavy. And delicious.

Somehow my brother got most of the credit for the recipe. In all fairness, he was the instigator of the massive sauciness. Our lasagna is so legendary, that he even mentioned it in his Gentleman of Honor toast at the wedding. He added at the sauce, but I was the one encouraging him. And handing him more cans of sauce.

Many years ago, we started a tradition where the churchgoers would go to 5 PM mass on Christmas Eve while us heathens (me and the bro) made lasagna. Then some of the extended family would come over to eat said lasagnas before heading home for last minute gift wrapping.

(There had been much drama over the bro and I ceasing to attend weekly mass. But I knew that my mom had made peace with it when I offered to attend Christmas Eve mass and she said that she really needed us to stay home and cook.)

This year will be the first where HA and I are spending Christmas together. (He always headed out to the midwest to see the folks--I would get him the rest of the year, so no biggie.) So he's never had my lasagna. The things take way too much effort and contain way too many calories to make for just 2 people.

We used a pound and a half of mozzarella and most of that container of ricotta. It woulda been the whole container, but some of it had already been used for something else.

Being married means that you can make someone else grate the cheese.

(I've been making this solo since my brother moved away from NY. When he does come home for the holidays, we make it together (like last year), but usually it's just me. And since I moved away from my old neighborhood, I've been making it at my mother's house, since having to drive an hour would negate the quick dinner after church thing. My parents remodeled their kitchen a few years ago, so I usually have to do a lot of cursing because I don't know where they keep anything anymore.)

This year, we decided to try something new. Instead of making 2 lasagnas (one meat, one cheese), I made a cheese lasagna, and served meat sauce and sausages on the side. I liked doing it this way because we only had 3 pieces leftover instead of 2 half lasagnas, so I may take this approach again, even though it seemed like blasphemy when it was first suggested.

Seriously, though. Didn't you just gain 3 pounds looking at that plate?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Craft Challenge Completed

Once I had made enough gifts to fill out my gift-giving list, I lost steam. I'm more interested in the finished product than the process, so I didn't feel like turning my stash of craft supplies into a stash of future gifts that might never find the right recipient. So no drawers have been emptied in the course of this challenge, but many cool and well received presents have been made.

First up, the initial ornaments. I've made these in the past and they're always a big hit. Little kids like their initials.

To make them, just shape some Sculpey into the recipient's initial. When forming them, if you can't just wrap a hook around the letter itself (like with that letter M), then make holes. Bake it, let it cool and then start mixing up paints. I have a set of acrylics that I use. I mix up the colors in the plastic containers my disposable contact lenses come in.

In the past, all the ornaments have been for girls, so I've gone with pinks and soft blues and so on. We have a baby boy in the family now, plus 1 baby girl and an adult woman I'm giving ornaments to, so for the boy, I used the primary, unmixed colors, or mixed, but masculine-looking colors, and then combined with other colors to make more feminine shades.

You need to paint one side, let it dry and then paint the other. I was able to store some paint over night in old contact lens cases. But mostly, I had to mix fresh colors. Here's a look at the back so you can see the differences.

Then I took some wood and craft paper ornament shapes I had left order from a few years ago. Or, 7 years ago, in fact. I have one half-painted one that says 2000.

I painted them up and added the recipient's initial and the year. (I'm all about the initials because most of these are gifts for kids and some are siblings. Which ornament belongs to which kid is not a fight I want to leave the parents with.)

I actually cheated a bit on this one. The round ornaments had one side painted ages ago. I never got around to painting the flip side.

There was no hope of my matching the paint colors, but I tried to stay in the same neighborhood.

Then I had a little more fun with Sculpey.

We've been needing one of those Clean/Dirty magnets since we moved into our apartment (which comes with a dishwasher). We've been making do with words from my Magnetic Poetry kit, but it's not quite the thing. I made 3 squares, baked and painted. One is for us, and 2 are gifts. I had a bare magnet on the fridge, cut it into quarters and attached to the sculpey with double sided mounting tape. I only did the one for us at first, in case the tape wasn't strong enough and it fell apart under use. So far, so good and I attached the magnets to the other 2. I'm looking forward to making more magnets this way.

I'm glad I did this, even though I didn't use up as much stuff as I'd hoped. I'll remember to dive into my non-knitting stash when I'm thinking of gifts in the future.

Friday, December 21, 2007

It's Not Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

I'm not really feeling it this year.

I don't know if it's because of the whole wedding brouhaha, or the lack of Christmas knitting. It could be the social isolation. Not working (and no longer needing to go on job interviews) means that I don't leave the apartment much. It could be that I'm immune to the holiday cheer since our tree was up in November and I've been hearing Christmas songs in stores since October. And no Hanukkah songs. What is up with that? How I am supposed to get in the mood without Adam Sandler?

It could be because the money situation prevented me from buying myself little treats while shopping for presents. (I love the stuff they sell at Holiday fairs, like the ones in Bryant Park, Union Square, etc., but no one who gives me presents shops there, so I usually pick myself up some fancy soap or something.) It could be that I squeezed in shopping along with job interviews. The day I hit the Bryant Park Holiday Fair, I had been to 2 interviews and did the shopping while I was waiting for it to be time to meet my friend for dinner.

It could be that HA is working on a writing project with a tight deadline, so his time for dealing with holiday preparations has been limited. As far as buying each other gifts--we agreed on a dollar amount, e-mailed each other suggestions and did the shopping online.

I've been eating ham and latkes all week--leftover from my parents' Christmas Hanukkah party (that's right bitches, I've been celebrating Christmukkah since before the O.C. ever did), but I'm still not feeling it.

It could be that I'm so caught up in my usual non-holiday to do list that the things I usually look forward to doing are just one more thing to do. Like today. I made 2 of Alton Brown's Free Range Fruitcakes. One for my mom and one for us. We even ate some tonight. Still feeling meh. Maybe I should've been listening to holiday tunes instead of podcasts.


I just smacked myself in the forehead. Because I know! That's it! Eureka and all that!

For the past several years, I've listened to Patrick Stewart performing A Christmas Carol while decorating my tree. (I saw him do it on Broadway back in the day--great stuff.) Since it was a team effort* this year, I didn't put on the CD, so we could talk to each other. If I can find the freaking thing, I'll play it while I wrap the presents or something.

My other holiday tradition is to read A Midnight Carol, a fictionalized telling of how Dickens wrote and published the book. I skipped it this year since when I read it last year, I remembered it so well from the previous year that I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped.

I'll administer the Patrick Stewart and if that doesn't do the trick, then maybe I'll try the Midnight Carol. If that doesn't do it, then I'll put on Handel's Messiah and sing along to the Hallelujah chorus at the top of my lungs.

What do you do to get in the spirit?

* I loathe the phrase "team effort". Said loathing began when I was in grad school and teaching english as a second language for minimum wage. The woman who started the school did so to raise her personal standing in the community. (Part of some master plan to which I was not privy. Maybe she was planning on running for local office.)

She spent months complaining about how she was having to go into selling real estate to make enough money to keep the school afloat, and then went on a week long ski vacation. She made sure that her brother was there to open up every day and collect the student's fees while she was gone, but she didn't bother leaving him any money to pay us.

When she got back, a teacher who was leaving before me asked to be paid and the boss lady told her she'd have to wait another day because she was busy interviewing new teachers. I put my foot down, threatened to quit on the spot if she didn't pay the other teacher. (It don't take long to count out a few bills and write it the fuck down.) She didn't budge and I left my class of 3 students high and dry. And she had to pay me while the interviewees sat there taking it all in. While wearing suits. To interview for a job that paid $5 an hour.

I've mellowed in the intervening years, and wouldn't pitch a fit and just up and quit anymore, but life's too short to work for crazy bitches who have the money to make payroll, but just can't be bothered.

I believe she used the term "team effort" when she was trying to talk me into standing on a freezing sidewalk handing out flyers for the school. For $5 an hour. When I had taken the job because I wanted teaching experience on my resume. And I hated her guts. So yeah, I wasn't going to freezing my ass off to raise her standings in the community. Too bad I don't remember her last name. I'd be interested to google her and see who she's screwing over nowadays.**

**OK, that has to be the world's longest footnote. But sometimes a gal's gotta digress and there's no point trying to hold it in.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


This is what I do with the tiniest bit of encouragement. (Thanks, Code Purl!)

I'm at sixes and sevens over what I shold be doing at any given moment, since I have a lot of irons in the fire at the moment and I'm starting a new job on January 2. Do I work on this project or that one? Should I be cleaning my office so I can get all these projects done? And what about my To Do list? So many little things I could be doing.

So what do I do?

I take time off from doing all the things I NEED to do or SHOULD be doing to do indulge my ego.

After many years of patting myself on the back and telling myself that I should find a way to sell my photos, I've opened a cafepress shop.

We gots notecards! We gots postcards! All the pictures are ones that I took in this last trip to Paris. If anyone actually buys any, then I'll see about adding more images.

Sadly, I can't offer assortments through cafepress. In theory, I could print them out myself and sell them in any configuration I want, but that would mean I'd have to drop everything else I was working on whenever I made a sale. Or I'd have to spend a bunch of time now printing some cards to build up some stock. But momma's got a novel to write and eleventy jillion other things to do.

If I don't make enough to cover the CafePress fees, then I'll close it. But for now, what the heck, right? Please have a look and let me know what you think. Suggestions and custom requests are very welcome.

Rug Revisited


You too can have your own cushy floor mat or rug. I'm planning on using the rest of my calamari t-shirt yarn to make a rug to go next to the bed to cushion my sleepy feetsies when I get up in the morning. (Inspiration from the Mason-Dixon Knitting book. I have no idea how it got wider at that one spot. I think the yarn in that row was just thicker than the rest.

Step 1: Gather old t-shirts. Mine were mostly long-sleeved solid tees that I used to wear to work. I lost weight and couldn't donate old t-shirts to the Salvation Army. I didn't think anyone would get much use out of them and I wanted to use them for this project anyway.

Step 2: Cut off the sleeves and top of each shirt so that you have 3 tubes. Discard the excess fabric or save for to use as scraps or rags. (I'm learning to use my sewing machine, so I'm hoarding fabric for practice.)

Step 3: Follow this tutorial to cut your yarn into loops.

Step 4: Join all the loops with slip knots, forming into a ball as you go.

Step 5: Take a picture showing that you now have a ball of yarn bigger than your head.


Step 6: Cast on about 30 stitches on Size US 15 needles. If you have bigger needles, you might want to try those. I used the biggest ones I have and it felt tight. However, you probably want a dense fabric for a rug, so Size 15s might be the way to go.

Side note: This yarn sheds like a mo-fo while you're working with it. Select your knitting location accordingly. The finished mat doesn't seem to be shedding at all. I'll report back after its first trip through the wash.

Step 7: Continue in garter stitch (knit every row) until it's long enough. I kept laying it on the spot where I wanted it to go to see if I was done yet.

Step 8: Bind off

Step 9: Get a non-skid mat and cut to size. (I bought 2 big ones on my last trip to Ikea and just cut a piece the size I needed.)

Step 10: Clean the floor. (Or skip this step. You can see form the picture above that I did.)

Step 11: Place your mat, take pictures and revel in the cushyness.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Watch This

Seriously, just watch it. I came across it on Mason-Dixon Knitting. It is so much with the funny that it's worth your 3 and a half minutes.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Paris Wednesday

I'm going to get through blogging this vacation, I swear.

And no, Veronique, there was no food photography outside of the hotel room. I don't live there anymore, so it doesn't really matter if I look like a big, honking tourist, but I just haven't been able to photograph my plate in NYC, let alone in Paris. Though when I was in a Tea Salon one day, I saw a woman sitting alone, taking pictures of her gorgeous pastry and trying to get herself in the picture. I was tempted to offer to take the picture for her, but I was feeling shy (possibly because of the American woman who shouted to her friend from outside the place, "It's a Tea Salon, but they'll have coffee!"

The French, they do not speak as loudly as Americans. At the time, I was tempted to tell the lady to hold it down because she was embarrassing the hell out of me, but after thinking about it, I realized that I probably should've told her to lower her voice so that she wouldn't be so obviously a tourist and therefore a target for pickpockets. Hell, I was tempted to mug her myself.

Anyway, OK, so Wednesday!

We started with a walk in the Luxemburg Gardens, which was right by our hotel. I'm sure there's some sort of historical significance to the place, but damned if I remember. There were many statues and a big Medici Fountain.

I took many artistic shots:
and came up with cockamamie ideas to turn them into notecards and sell them. I start thinking like that every time I spend too much time with a camera in my hand. I may try printing some myself as gifts, but maybe one of these days I really will try to sell them on etsy or CafePress or something. Or maybe I'll print them out myself, get a good look at them and decide that my head is just swollen.

Anyway, after all that walking around on top of all the walking around at Versailles, my foot was in much pain. You know why? Because I had done all that walking on shoes without excellent arch support. You know why? Because big, white sneakers are what American tourists wear and I'm a big freaking snob and refused to even pack mine.

With my many years of speaking French, and some mime, and a kind pharmacist, I was able to obtain an ace bandage so I could keep walking. If it had been warmer, we could've just planted our asses in the park all day, but it was freezing and we had the Louvre to see.

After lunch, we headed over. The Louvre is open late on Wednesdays, but we only stayed until the regular closing time anyway. We hit the big three right away and then discovered how uncrowded the rest of the place is.

What are the big 3?

#1 The Winged Victory of Samothrace

Isn't she gorgeous?

#2 The Mona Lisa
Yes, that's Eduardo from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. We took his picture all over Paris. Apparently, even my snobbery has limits.

#3 The Venus de Milo

Those are the ones that everyone wants to see and where the crowds are. Art Buchwald once wrote a piece about how American tourists just want to see those 3 and get out and that you can actually see all 3 of them in 10 minutes if you do it with roller skates.

We saw a lot of other art, including the apartments of Napoleon III (he had the same decorator as Liberace and Donald Trump).

We also saw the medieval foundations of the museum. Make time for this if/when you go because it is much with the coolness.

After the Louvre, we had dinner at a Brasserie near the hotel that had really good food. My mad french skillz saved me from ordering something with honey in it--braised short ribs. The menu didn't say what was in the sauce and I thought it was safest to ask. It did have honey in it, but 2 minutes later, I started to think that maybe it didn't and the waiter and I had misunderstood each other. I'm sure that wasn't the case, but any conversation that involves me pointing at a menu and repeating myself cannot be saved in my brain as an intelligible conversation. The steak and potatoes I had instead was awesome and didn't contain anything I'm allergic to, so I'm calling it a victory.

Ooh, and I had plum tart for dessert. I need to bake more tarts. My notes say "sooo good". My notes then say, "held hands and made with the cuteness." I can only assume that this cuteness was made with at the restaurant. I have only vague memories of specific hand holding/cuteness incidents, but it was our freaking honeymoon. There was plenty of that sort of thing.

We planned out what we'd do for the rest of the week and we were already feeling like we were running out of time to get everything in. This coming from a couple that did Versailles, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe in one day. Paris? Has a lot of things to do.

My notes also say that we watched X-Files in French. I think it was this episode. That morning while I was getting ready, HA watched Sponge Bob and Scooby Doo in French. Have I mentioned that he doesn't speak French? My man, he loves him some TV. On the bright side, he never complains that I'm not ready yet.

Craft Challenge

What with that whole wedding thing, I promised myself no knitted gifts this year. But now that I've been laid off, at least some handmade gifts are going to be necessary. Preferably things that won't take as long as knitting.

Oh look, 6 whole drawers of craft supplies. Oh, yeah, plus that box in the closet. Hmmm, and there's that box of yarn in the living room because there's no room for it in the closet or my craft drawers*.

Hey, what if I use up some of these craft supplies to make presents? By using up this stuff, I'll have more room for yarn and I'll have more space for my stuff because I'll have less stuff. It'll be just like cleaning, but with paints and glue.

So that's the challenge I'm threw at myself this month (well, on top of that whole job hunting thing). How much will I be able to use up? Will I actually manage to empty a drawer? Let's find out!

First up, I took a page from Practical Polly's book and made some pretty notebooks.

(Instructions in the linked post above.)

I used up some wrapping paper I had in the closet, and some white printer paper that had been victimized in the incident known as That Time I Knocked Over My Coffee Onto All of My Good Printer Paper. Only the edges of some of the sheets were stained, so I held onto them for scrap. I also used up some purple printer paper that I've had lying around.

Instead of sewing like Polly, I just cut triangular notches in the spine and tied the notebooks together with a double-knot/double-bow combo. I was totally being artistic with the notches. It has nothing to do with The Great Where The Fucking Hell Has My Hole Puncher Gotten Off To Mystery. Nothing at all.

*I just realized that knitting my yarn into sweaters is really just a way of moving the yarn from one closet (craft closet) to another (clothes closet). Duuuude. Like, Duuuuude.


FInished Objects! You want Finished Objects, we got 'em right here.

First up, remember this big ball of Calamari Yarn as big as my head?

Please ignore the mess behind me in that picture. It's all done with mirrors anyway--that room is perfectly clean and uncluttered and the picture was taken months ago anyway.

Well, now about half of it is this:

I put it on the floor in front of the kitchen sink so I can stand on it while doing dishes (with a non-slip pad underneath). It is as cushy as expected. And, um, yeah, I probably should've swept the floor before taking the picture, but I was just too excited about my nifty, new mat. Besides, I totally swept that floor some time this week, so it has no business being messy anyway.

Since we got back from Paris, I've been compulsively knitting Ballband Dishcloths and Chevron Hand Towels.

More complicated knitting has also been afoot, but when I can deal with anything at all, I can rely on my cones of Peaches and Cream. A few are staying with me and some will undoubtedly be added into Christmas gifts.

The Friday after Thanksgiving, HA and I put up our Christmas tree. I am morally opposed to putting up a tree in November, but we weren't sure when we'd be able to do it during December, so we started taking things out and the next thing we knew, there was a tree with lights and ornaments and everything. No pictures of that, since it's a fake tree with baubles on it and a thing on top and since it's not in your house, you can't possibly be expected to care about the specifics.

But I will show you the first casualty of the year.
It's from a set we received as a wedding gift from a college friend of mine. Brilliant gift! We had not yet shacked up last December, so we still had His ornaments and My ornaments and His and Hers tree toppers as well. It was nice enough that we had a set of ornaments that was Ours, but we discovered that packaged in the middle was a tree topper as well. We may let the different tree toppers take turns in future years, but this year, we're using Ours.

Yes, we did turn on the lights, stand back, HA's arm around me like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, and admired our tree.

How freaking Norman Rockwell is that?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Thin French Women

So Code Purl asked in the Comments to Paris Monday how French women can eat such delicious pastries and stay thin.

I'm no expert. I haven't lived in France for 17 years (wow, I'm old) and only lived there for a few months anyway. I should've found a way to watch some TV when I there as a student. The little TV HA and I watched in our hotel room was pretty enlightening.

For starters, not all French women are thin. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone big by American standards, but that's true of many countries. I saw an informercial for a girdle with lots of uncomfortable looking boning. It was the sort of thing that was made obsolete with the invention of Spandex. So we're ahead of the french on shapewear technology, but clearly some french women need it. Too much QuickBurger, perhaps?

Another infomercial I saw was for a diet plan. They sent you powder that you mix with water and turned into a unappealing mush. They showed it nicely styled, on a bed of lettuce and tomato slices, but damn, that stuff still looked gross.

So French women do diet.

But that food styling gives a hint as to why many french women are thin. Even their diet slop is well presented. Imagine what they do with real, actual food. If you eat over at a frenchperson's house, you'll get lots of natural ingredients, prepared fresh. From scratch, more often than not. Very healthy and very satifying.

Throughout all the pre-wedding dieting, I dreamed of letting myself go into every single bakery, pastry shop and chocolate shop in Paris I damn well felt like it. But the thing is, I didn't feel like more often than not. Several mornings, I had a beignet for breakfast. A big, honking jelly donut. Now, if I had a donut for breakfast at home, I'd be hungry again before lunch. Maybe I'm just bored at home and mistake that for hunger, but I didn't feel much need to snack in Paris.

That's an important factor. You can find loads of places in Paris to buy a pastries of varying levels of quality, but good luck finding potato chips. Or corn chips. You can find them in the American section of the supermarket, but not really anywhere else. So if the french snack, they don't snack on artificial crap.

But that's not the only reason. I hardly ever eat chips at home, but I ain't thin.

Home cooking is probably also a factor. When counting Weight Watchers points, I always give myself credit (Activity points) for cooking. If you spend an hour on your feet, chopping, sauteing, etc. you're burning calories. And stopping off to buy your ingredients every day or every other day (for freshness) means more exercise as well.

Plus, the good quality food lends itself to portion control. That hazelnut tart we had fit into the palm of my hand and we split it. But it was so delicious that it was satifying. Ever catch yourself eating cookie after cookie when they're so-so, but only a few when they're really good? (Also, food heavy in salt or sugar just makes you crave more food. Not so much of an issue with food that's made, not manufactured.)

The portions in restaurants were pretty reasonable as well. We cleaned our plates without feeling stuffed. In the States, HA can eat half his meal in a restaurant and feel full. (Me, I eat half, decide to have a few more bites, and then decide that there isn't enough left for lunch the next day, so I might as well finish it.)

There's probably loads of other factors, but I suspect that eating quality keeps you from eating quantity. That, and my parents never should've encouraged me to join the Clean Plate Club.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Paris Tuesday

My notes* for Tuesday begin with:
Slept until 9!

HA is a morning person and rarely lets me sleep that late. I'm surprised I stuck with only one exclamation point, honestly. Clearly, I need to get him sleep deprived and jet lagged more often.

We had pain au chocolat for breakfast because buttery pastry with a piece of chocolate in the middle is the real breakfast of champions.

Then we caught the commuter rail out to Versailles. First thing, we sought out the Visitor Center to ask for directions to Le Potager du Roy, a restaurant. Forget the big palace, I'd been telling HA about this place for months, possibly years. Shortly before my last trip to France, I read a review of the place in the NY Times and insisted on dragging my cousins into it, even though there was no english on the menu and that scared them.

The food. Or, dear god, the food! It's a fancy place, where even the phrase book is no help with the menu. But the waiters know enough english to be of help, especially if you throw yourself on their mercy in french. (Along with asking where the bathroom is, I think one of the most useful sentences in any language is, "I'm sorry, but I don't speak [french, spanish, whatever] well.")

On my first visit, I had chocolate lava cake for the first time. It was so sublime that it was a little unseemly, if truth be told.

This time, it was even swankier than I'd remembered. There was not one, but 2 courses of amuse-bouches before the 3 courses we actually ordered. First was pate on toast and the second was puree of green bean soup that was way too delicious to be something that they just throw in for free.

I'll spare you the full menu, but further exhibits of poshness included:
  • washcloths, actual freaking washcloths, in the bathroom for drying your hands. 
  • The most hyper-meticulous cleaning of the breadcrumbs that I have ever witnessed and I, my friends, have seen some meticulous breadcrumb cleaning in my day.

I suspect that the place is so fancy to discourage you from making the sex noises that the food inspires you to make.

We decided to skip the palace for the sake of time (I've been inside twice on 2 different tours) and just walked around the gardens, which are huge and took many pictures,

had fun learning how to use the camera's zoom feature.
admired the anal retentive landscaping,
and used my nerdvision to spot a statue that was wrapped up against the cold that looked just like a Dalek.
Good times.

We also took some FO pictures of my Green Tea Raglan, but after wearing it twice, I decided that it was too short now, after the last minute trimming. I'm lengthening it and you'll get those pictures and more soon.

We hopped the commuter rail back to Paris, and hit a few more sights. HA went up the Eiffel Tower while I waited at the base because I'm a big scaredy baby afraid of heights and I've been up it before anyway. We still weren't hungry, after that, so we walked all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, and down the Champs-Elysees.

We ended up back near our hotel eventually and had dinner at Quick Burger, a McDonald's type place. I'd eaten there when I was a student and HA was curious.

Apparently, Quick Burger now does kid's birthday parties and has chosen to advertise that fact with this guy.

Back at the hotel, we watched some TV. France has a show called (translated) "Incredible Talents". We witnessed some incredibly bad talents. One act was a duo where a DJ played some music while the other guy did tricks with soccer balls. They were not invited to proceed to the next level.

That wraps up our Tuesday in Paris. I'm starting to see why bloggers just post 1 or 2 pictures from their vacations and call it a post. If it gets too boring, somebody cry uncle, OK?

* Yes, I now keep notes on my vacations. Starting with this one. HA's mom and aunt do that and I thought it was a little excessive that they wrote down what they did and ate on their travels. Would posterity care that who had pancakes and when? But then I realized that I can't for the life of me tell you what HA and I had at Terrace in the Sky that time that we went there during Restaurant Week. I put an excessive amount of planning into the restaurants we pick, so it seems futile not to remember what we had. Besides, it was an excuse to buy a cute little notebook.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Paris Monday

Great comments on my last post. Very interesting and insightful.

Moving on to the Honeymoon. If I try to do one big post for the whole trip, I'll never get around to it, so here we go--Day 1.

By the time we landed in Paris on Monday morning, my voice was starting to come back enough that I could do the talking for us. Good thing, since HA doesn't parlez-vous the francais. We got lucky and our trip was between transit strikes, so we were able to take the commuter rail in from the airport. You can do Paris on foot without a problem, but without public transportation, getting into town from either airport is frighteningly expensive.

Vive la good timing.

We had lunch at the brasserie next to the hotel while we waited for check in time. Once we were done with gawping at how small the room was (but clean, and quiet), showering and napping, we consulted our handy, dandy guidebooks (I particularly recommend the Markets of Paris book), we decided to head out to a Salon de The in the area for some cocoa.

The street it was on is so small and quaint that me missed it the first time we walked past it. Fortunately, I had my trusty Paris map book and we found it eventually.

HA in the rue Dauphine consulting the Plan de Paris.
*Side note--this particular book was bought by my mom when she went to Paris in the 60s. It was incredibly useful to me when I lived there in 1990 and on my trips back. It's pricey, but if you're going buy one--it'll save you a load of time and will come in handy for decades. The only big differences that I've had to work around are that the Musee d'Orsay was still a train station when my book was printed, and Tour Montparnasse and the Pompidou Center hadn't been built yet. Doesn't matter--you need the map for the twisty little streets, not the giant skyscraper.

Toy shop on the rue Dauphine

We were the only customers in Haute Gourmande at that time of day. The hostess was very kind and patient with my difficulty speaking (let alone my difficulty with the language). We ordered chocolate ancienne and a plate of madeleines with berry jam. Our snack was so pretty, I kinneared it.
I also attempted to kinnear the tea salon, but I may have failed to capture the quaintness.
Since there was no one else there, I probably could've embarrassed myself and asked to take some pictures, but the 3 shreds of dignity I have left kept me in my chair.

There was some sticker shock when we saw the menu (with the exchange rate, the cocoa was $10 each), but holy crap and a half! That was the most decadent, delicious drinking chocolate I ever could've dreamed of.

Afterwards, we went for a walk towards Notre Dame:
and then wandered in and out of bookshops and comic book stores in the Latin Quarter on the way back towards the hotel. We bought a hazelnut tart for dessert and bought crepes for dinner. When I was a student, I would sometimes grab a ham, cheese and egg crepe on my way home after staying late in the computer lab. Sooo satisfying.

We watched some TV and photographed and ate our hazelnut tart.

Stay tuned for Paris Tuesday--Versailles!