Saturday, October 30, 2010

Seen at the Rally to Restore Sanity

I generally avoid large-scale events in Washington, DC.  Marathons, rallies, and festivals turn Metro into an even bigger mess than normal, and crowds make me nervous.  So, normally I'm more than happy to stay close to home and enjoy a little peace and quiet when a big show comes to town.  I made an exception for the day before Inauguration Day concert in 2009 (Bono, Bruce, and Beyoncé, oh my!), and I made another exception today for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.  Metro was a mess, and the crowd made me nervous, but it was all worth it for the chance to see clever rally signs. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cupcakes à la Citrouille

One of the best things about not living overseas is getting to fully celebrate uniquely American holidays.  Thanksgiving, Independence Day, and Halloween (celebrated elsewhere, yes, but we really do it up) are all more fun for me when I'm in the U.S.  Last year this time I was in Brussels, so this year I'm especially interested in making the most of the autumn holiday season.  One way to do that?  Bake pumpkin cupcakes.

I got my pumpkin cupcake recipe from a British cookbook that was written by a man who took multiple trips to the U.S., fell in love with our desserts, and decided to open a bakery in London that specializes in American goodies like pecan pie, brownies, and cupcakes.  He named his store The Hummingbird Bakery, and there are now multiple locations around the city.  I picked up his cookbook, The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, while on an October 2009 visit to London.  It's a true homage to all sweet things American, and it uses cute British phrases like "bicarbonate of soda," and "tinned pumpkin purée."

The cupcakes were a success.  My friend (the fabulous cupcake blogger) and I worried they would be too moist, and we broke an electric mixer while trying to make the cream cheese frosting, but in the end they turned out delicious and adorable and were quickly gobbled up by co-workers when I brought a batch into the office the following day.  If you'd like to try them yourself (and if you're an American you'll probably eat anything that's pumpkin flavored this time of year), I found the recipe blessedly converted into U.S. measurements on  Enjoy!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wine, Delivered

Life in Arlington, Virginia is good.  I live in a safe, walkable neighborhood filled with shops and restaurants. I have easy access to multiple forms of public transportation, plenty of green spaces, and all the excitement of our nation's capitol.  Oh, and I have representation in Congress.

Despite all that, I occasionally find myself wishing I lived in Washington, DC proper.  Discovering a DC wine shop that delivers - in the District only - is one of those times.

It's true: will now fulfill your order of beer, wine, or spirits by bringing your purchases to you.  Simply order online, select a delivery window, and remember to be home so you can sign for the delivery.  There are a few hitches - $50 minimum, no deliveries on Sunday - but really, there's little to complain about when the Bordeaux you've been craving magically appears at your doorstep. 

Unless, of course, you live on the other side of the Potomac.  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

How to Make Gratin Dauphinois

Thursday was the perfect day for making and eating Gratin Dauphinois: Rainy, cold, miserable.  On days like that, when all you want to do is stay under the covers reading a good book, few things are as comforting as a warm bowl of cheesy, creamy potatoes.

Gratin Dauphinois is a French specialty that originated in the southern part of the French Alps.  I've read conflicting things about the area of its origin, but what I can cobble together is that it used to be known as the Dauphine region (Grenoble was its main city), and is now roughly encompassed by the departments of Hautes-Alpes, Isère, and Drôme.   The dish is a frequent accompaniment to meats, and you might see it offered as a side with the plat du jour next time you're in France.  In fact, the best gratin I ever had was served alongside a half roast chicken at an otherwise unremarkable brasserie in Burgundy.  I like my homemade version as well, which I've adapted from the cookbook At Home with the French Classics.

The good news is that Gratin Dauphinois is easy to make and sinfully delicious.  The bad news is that this dish doesn’t do well as leftovers.  I’ve found that reheating makes the potatoes too mushy and turns the cream into an unrecognizable oily substance.  Beurk.  But the other good news is that Gratin Dauphinois is so sinfully delicious you won’t have to worry about leftovers.

To make your own Gratin Dauphinois you'll need:
4 pounds large potatoes (about 8), cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
Grated cheese to sprinkle on top.  The cookbook recommends Gruyère or Emmenthaler.  I've had luck with Parmesan.

1.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Butter a large baking dish.
2.  Layer the sliced potatoes in the baking dish and sprinkle with the garlic, salt, and pepper.
3.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk and cream and bring to a boil.  Pour over the layered potatoes.
4.  Sprinkle grated Parmesan on top.
5.  Bake in the middle of the over until the potatoes are brown and tender, 35 to 40 minutes.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Red Wing, Minnesota

October weather in Minnesota is simply not predictable. It can be cool, cold, sunny, rainy, cloudy, windy, or even blizzardy (see, 1991) all within the span of a few hours. What is generally isn’t, is warm. So, when I set out to pack my suitcase for a Columbus Day weekend trip home I was sure to include plenty of sweaters, socks, and long-sleeve T-shirts. Then I checked the weather forecast – 80s and sunny! Into the bag went tank tops and flip flops. Cue an I-love-warm-weather happy dance.

I spent Saturday and Sunday visiting Red Wing, Minnesota, which is a small town on the Mississippi River known for its durable shoes and pottery. It’s the perfect place for a day trip from the Twin Cities (about one hour's drive south), or for an overnight in the historic St. James Hotel. We opted for the much less expensive casino hotel nearby, whose penny slots made for a fun late night after a fun full day of boutique browsing and photo ops with brightly changing leaves.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Are You a Niqabitch?

Two anonymous female university students in France protested the country's newly passed "burqa ban" by wandering the streets of Paris wearing a face-covering veil...and hot pants.  They call themselves Niqabitch (an obvious play on the word "niqab"), and they got quite a bit of attention during their ban-mocking stroll.

Here's the video.  I think it's genius. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

French Culture vs. Gym Culture

It's official: The French do not like using gyms to stay fit.  Recent news reports have highlighted lagging gym membership numbers in France despite the best efforts of large companies like Club Med Gym and Fitness First. 

Am I surprised?  Non.  Running on a treadmill or lifting weights or partaking in a group pilates class are simply not activities I associate with the French.  But I love going to the gym, and was constantly frustrated by the lack of modern, affordable facilities in France.  Working up a sweat helps me reduce stress, stay healthy, and sleep better at night. 

Then again, so does a glass of red wine. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Grandparents Visit Paris

A lot of the travel advice out there is aimed at the young.  We hear that should travel when we're young because that's when we have enough energy, when we don’t yet have responsibilities, when we're still in good health.  It won't be the same when you're older, they say.  Tell that to my 70-something grandparents.

I met up with Grams and Gramps recently when they were passing through the DC area after a trip to Paris.  They told me about getting caught up in French protests, learning the Métro by heart, day trips to Normandy and Versailles, and their conversations with retired French soldiers using the only common language they had: gesturing.  When they visited the Arc de Triomphe, a man asked “Madame” if she would like to use the elevator to get to the top.  Non, merci!  They climbed the arc's nearly 300 steps instead.

As I wrap up a decade of traveling in my 20s, I hope I’ll still be going strong in my 70s.  Welcome back, Grandma and Grandpa!  Where are you off to next?