Monday, November 22, 2010

Ooh la la

A panhandler wearing a beret and playing the accordion is much more charming than a rather well dressed dude shuffling through the subway asking for change.

On our way to the Pompidou we noticed an outdoor market down a side street. We wound up buying olives flavored with basil and others flavored with herbes de Provence. It went on for several blocks and was inter-mixed with small restaurants full of late lunchers (it was Sunday). More than one place had a man stationed outside shucking oysters. We had planned to get a cheap(er) meal but we figured oysters are clearly what is best on this strip. The place we chose had 5 kinds, designated by number only. The waitress told us the sizes as well. I was recommended a white wine from the Loire called Cheverny. Excellent with the oysters.

I'm sure this is a typical American complaint but even though I LOVE not feeling pressured to give up my table after finishing a meal or even a drink, sometimes getting my check when I do want it can be a pain.

French people seem perfectly content to stand at a bar drinking coffee or a beer, even if there are seats available at tables. Often there are no seats in front of the bar in a cafe or a small restaurant.

Charcuterie plates seem to always come with pâté. I am picky about pâté and don't like it too strong. And Jeff is just scared of it. At lunch in a brasserie we were chastised for not eating it. I feel bad now. I guess we can't order any more charcuterie platters. I told the guy it was too strong for me and he just tsked.

On the metro, rows of seats face each other. Why would they not be row upon row? Odd. Uncomfortable.

The metro train doors open before it had come to a complete stop.

There is not much variety among restaurants. There will be a selection of salads with names like Caesar that may only vaguely resemble an American Caesar salad. There will be an onion soup and at least one other soup option. There will be perhaps a hamburger, perhaps a steak tartar, perhaps a savory tart.

Andouille sausage in France is (we found out after making the mistake of ordering it and taking one bite each) made of tripe and smells like a sewer. Relatedly, rognon de veau is not a lovely veal chop, but rather veal kidney.

There is good craft beer to be found in Paris but not easily. A couple bars serve some more unusual French beers. One small store specializes in selling French beer as well as some Belgians, but the French ones are front and center while the Belgians are near the back. Down the street from that store (which is called Cave à Bulles) is a quaint little restaurant with mediocre food and 6 French beers on tap that an American is not likely to recognize.

Based on the Cave à Bulles' proprietor's recommendation we bought 7 bottles of beer to bring home. It remains to be seen whether those will in fact be findable in the US. We thought we had discovered Mikkeler in Copenhagen last year and perhaps it began being available in the US right after that or maybe we had just never noticed it before.

Parisiennes apparently aren't privy to the power of zinc for staging off colds. A pharmacist told us he doesn't carry it and when I asked if the French take zinc at all he said no, not really.

See the rest of the photos.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

This is Halifax

There are two great candy stores here. I am such a sucker for "exotic" candy.

We have tried a number of local brews. None have blown my socks off but these are decent: Garrison Nut Brown, Stout and Amber; Propeller Pale, Porter and Pumpkin and others I'm forgetting right now. 

There are a couple of upscale, classy seafood restaurants here. Both The Press Club and Five Fishermen are excellent. Plus 5 Fish has a daily oyster happy hour where oysters are a dollar a piece. We tool advantage both days. What? Oysters are great. 

They are not bathrooms or restrooms or ladies rooms. They are wash rooms. 

There is a bit of a club atmosphere late at night on weekends but mostly everywhere is fairly casual. That is not to say that people look like they just walked in from working in the fields. People are for the most part nicely dressed. I'm glad that Jeff and I tend to not wear jeans and look especially casual on vacation because we wandered in to The Press Gang last night without a reservation. I like being able to fit in to most situations on trips so a lot of black is key. 

There's a sort of doner kebab here called a donair which is pronounced like the Don in Don Draper. I have not had that sort of thing in years so I can't say I'm an expert. But it was really good. We went to King of Donair. 

Poutine is fairly prevalent but it's made with mozzarella not cheese curds. This is not bad but I would really prefer the real thing. 

In the public garden (which was built in  the 1870s) there is no jogging, marrying or pets. No jogging?? 

Monday, September 13, 2010

The life list, in part

1. Have a really clean apartment all the time.
2. Own a dog.
3. Learn to drive stick shift.
4. Live abroad (again).
5. Be a mother.
6. Get better at cooking through practice.
7. Write a book.
8. Publish a book.
9. Be someone's role model.
10. Be able to say, "I'm a runner" and not inwardly say, "liar" because I don't stick with it.
11. Have toned biceps.
12. Learn to use a sewing machine.
13. Make a cute skirt on the sewing machine.
14. Invest properly.
15. Study French again.
16. Continue to take at least one fabulous trip per year.
17. Live in a 2-bedroom 2-bathroom house/apartment.
18. Run 10 miles.
19. Have a proper bar in said larger living space.
20. Get involved in homebrewing with Jeff and make some delicious beer.
21. Complete the toastmaster's certification and become a competent public speaker.

I'm a pragmatist. All my items are very much attainable. I think some people put things on their lists that are huge stretches, but that seems to be setting yourself up for failure.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Master of toast

This is the first speech I gave in Toastmasters. My feedback was that I should never apologize and I should try to do my next speech without the whole thing written out. I'm sure that is a good idea, but I'm so afraid my mind will go blank. Also, it was suggested that I get out from behind the podium and to gesticulate more. I could have sworn we were told we could do our speeches in the front of the room, if we were comfortable doing so, or at the podium if we preferred. I know for a fact that I would have been shaking like a leaf if I were not behind the podium. I have a lot to overcome, that is for sure!

Good afternoon Madame Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters, and guests.

I hesitated to do my first speech on the topic of beer because I plan to do a future speech on that topic. But there's quite a bit I can say about beer, so I don't think it will be a problem.

This story is also not about me alone, but anyone who knows me knows that beer is a big part of my life. There is no way that I could tell you my whole life story in 5 minutes (and a lot of it is boring anyway -- I was a normal kid, I went to college, I had some jobs, I got married, blah blah blah), so I chose this particular aspect of my life to focus on.

This story begins in November 2003. I was visiting Canada for the fourth time and Montreal for the second time with my boyfriend Jeff. Jeff had proposed to me (I said yes) and we were floating around Montreal on our excitement.

To escape the cold, we stopped in a Tin Tin-themed bar, which turned out to be a beer bar. We didn't recognize any of the beers on offer so we went with the one called La Fin du Monde. Who could resist a beer called The End of the World?

La Fin du Monde is named after European explorers' belief that they had reached the end of the world when they discovered a new world, which turned out to be America. That Belgian style golden ale, similar to a Belgian triple, opened up a new world for Jeff and me.

It took us a little while to become fully ensconced in beer culture. But with our eyes open to the craft beer scene, we discovered that almost everywhere in the world has locally made beer. Some are certainly better than others and a lot are not available for export.

Yes, there are beers made in Austria, for example, that you are not likely to find here, but my advice to you would be that if you travel to Austria you might want to stick with the wine. And there are some lovely Austrian wines.

Some people travel to scuba dive or to collect antiques or just to get away from it all and lie on a beach. Jeff and I travel for beer. We started off by combining trips to Pennsylvania, upstate New York, Virginia, or California with side trips to famous beer bars or breweries.

And then in 2005 we took our first trip to Belgium together. At the time, we were heavily into Belgian beers and to us, Belgium was mecca. If you've been to Belgium, you know that it has a lot more to offer than just great beer, so we fell completely in love with not only the beers, but also the people and the food. It was on that trip that we went to THE Belgian brewery to trump all breweries.

Westvleteren is one of seven Trappist monasteries in the world that produces beer and their beer is believed by many to be some of the best in the world. We rented a car expressly to drive out to this monastery because you could only buy their beer on site. It was the dark ale -- the Westvleteren 8 -- that they were selling that day so that is what we got. We bought a whole case because heck, when were we going to be back?

Jeff and I HATE to check luggage, so bringing back 24 bottles of rare beer was an experience I hope to never relive. This was before the 3 ounce liquids rule had come into effect, so we wrapped all the bottles in our dirty laundry and split them up between our bags. I had most of the bottles in my bag since mine was the one with wheels. I got caught at the gate and was told to gate check it. I did not want to give up my bag, so I took it on the plane anyway. The gate agent then came looking for me! On the plane! All the way in the back! The last row! And took my heavy bag of beer away from me. I was certain at this point that my bag -- and all that beer -- was going to wind up in Timbuktu.

It made it just fine. Not a single bottle broke.

Belgian beer was a good entry point for Jeff and me. The Belgians tend to adhere to a couple of standard styles. But after a while, seeking out Belgian beer was not enough for us. For one thing, the more we searched, the more we found that many of those beers we thought we could only find in Belgium are available in Belgian bars and beer stores around the world.

Our pilgrimage to Westvleteren will probably always remain one of our top experiences, especially since now you have to make an appointment weeks in advance -- if you're lucky enough to get one at all. When we went back to Belgium in 2008, we called and called, trying to get one of those elusive appointments in hopes of scoring one of the other two types of beer they make, but the phone would just ring and ring. As it turns out, the Westvleteren beers are sold (not for cheap, mind you) in at least one beer store I know of in Bruges.And on eBay, too, of course.

Now that we have learned a bit more about beer, we don't have to go as far as Belgium to try new beers. What we seek now is on the opposite end of the spectrum. We look for start-up breweries that are crafting something unusual, maybe using a unique combination of spices or aging the beer in certain type of wood barrels.

This is not to say that I would ever diminish the experience of being invited to stay after-hours at a bar in Belgium and getting to share some bottles of Belgian beer that had been aged 20 years. I still seek new and unusual beer-related experiences. I don’t suppose I will ever again discover a whole new world in craft beer, so to speak, like when I first tried a beer that was not a Bud Light or a Heineken.

And, as it turns out, we did not have to travel to the end of the world to find great beer. There are plenty of amazing beers to be found right here at home.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lunch Explorations

I have always had trouble bringing my lunch to work. A bento box is adorable and we almost always have enough things on hand to make a bento lunch. But it requires a considerable time investment. And I simply do not have the wherewithal to devote a half hour plus to making bento lunches. And yes if I make one for myself you know Jeff will want one too.

Once I went on Weight Watchers and during that two week period I made turkey sandwiches on whole wheat almost every day. Those are certainly quicker to make than bentos. And they are pretty tasty. But there is a reason I only lasted two weeks. I could not keep up with eating the same thing every day. And even more: I could not stand not going out for lunch. It was simply not the same to take a mid-afternoon walk and try to buy no snacks.

So yes, I failed at Weight Watchers. And I'm 20 lbs heavier than I was when Jeff and I were married. But by golly if there is one thing that makes my work day easier to get through it's lunch.

I really like the salads at Fresh & Co. and the sandwiches at Pret a Manger, but they are chains and I live in New York after all. We New Yorkers scoff at chains, even our own chains.

So what I've decided is to pretend like I'm a temporary resident of the NYC area because you know if I were only living here a month I'd be eschewing all chains like the plague.

When I'm able to escape the office for a full hour I make a beeline for an eatery that is new to me and which gets good reviews on Yelp. I should probably expand my searches to chowhound and the like but for now Yelp is sending me to plenty of interesting spots.

It helps that for some reason (lack of math skills or ability to plan ahead?) I have quite a surplus in my my flexible spending transit account so I do not feel the pinch of hopping on a subway for a quick ride. This is especially useful in the summer since I don't always realize my limitations. On my first foray I decided to walk over a mile and back again on a 90+ degree day. (Not a good idea.)

A friend jokingly (I think!) suggested I make this the Craige Moore Eat and Workout Tour because I said that to do this I would need to work out more. Or, you know, at all. Despite my failure on that first day I have tried to incorporate a walk when I'm able. But I'm still going to have to up the working out. I'm back with Jillian, but still only on level one. And I have yet to get out of bed more than twice a week even for those short workouts.

I am I inherently lazy and I love food (not a great combo). I read online recently (the internet told me so it must be true) that people have better success losing weight if they have fewer food choices. I knew a guy once who was so uninterested in food that he admitted he'd often open a can of beans for dinner and eat it only because he knew he needed to eat something. It's no wonder he's no longer my friend. If I am presented with limited food choices I am likely to cry. So that won't work for me. My only option is a treadmill desk.

But anyway, I've just landed in Portland, Oregon. So more on this later.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Make my city

Today is the first day of a great new initiative called Make My City, a weeklong event during which residents of Jersey City are encouraged to spend their dollars right here in our town instead of going into Manhattan or to the big box stores. To encourage people to take advantage of JC, many businesses are offering deals and discounts.

We're leaving for Portland, Oregon, later this week, so I wanted to be sure to take advantage of Make My City today, not only because it's a great idea and I do really love my town, but also because it was started by my friend Cara Birnbaum.

Jeff and I got brunch at the Hamilton Ale House and I thought we'd be able to take advantage of their deal (a free app with purchase of 2 entrees), but unfortunately their deal is only good on dinner. Also unfortunate: the server had no idea what we were talking about when we mentioned the event.

We decided to order an app anyway and I'm glad we did because everything we got was delicious, especially the app (pierogies with truffle sour cream and caramelized onions).

Next stop: Smith & Chang to look for a gift for Jeff's mom. They are offering a 10% off deal. Inspiration did not strike in the way of a gift for Jeff's mom, but I still love that store and am glad the event got me to stop in again.

Jeff then took off to do some work on his movie and I continued on to Deen in the Powerhouse District. I got a scarf for 10% off. Yay for the deal, plus getting me to check out a store I've been meaning to seek out for a long time.

Right next door is a cafe I had never even heard of called Warehouse. I got a delicious iced tea for a somewhat steap $3 and listened to the DJ spinning some good tunes. I discovered they screen movies there. Possible local screening option for Jeff's movie...

I walked past the Grace Van Vorst church and noticed a sign for a book sale going on right then. What the hell, I thought. I bet it will suck, but it wouldn't hurt to look. Turns out their parish hall is set up to be easily converted into the sale. They have these large built-in cabinets with doors along the outside of the room. They have a great selection, actually. I got 9 books for $4.50.

As I was walking I saw a sign for a new ice cream and sandwich shop called Tommy Two Scoops, so I went there next. They have gelato -- hooray! The garden out back is probably a little more pleasant on a slightly cooler day, but still a nice respite. And iced tea is only a dollar. A dollar!

I checked out a women's clothing store called Tia (not my style) and then went to get a much-needed pedicure. Not a lot of places are open after 5pm on a Sunday, but Nail Tek is open til 7:30 every day and they were really nice and did a great job.

All in all, I'm really glad I braved the heat to walk around my town, discovering new things. I also saw a bunch more graffiti like two interesting pieces that appeared near my apartment a few weeks ago.

I hope the event does well because like the hostess said to me this morning at Hamilton Ale House, "people seem to be really proud to live in Jersey City." Yes. Yes, we are.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Growing box, growing beer belly

I'm super late on planting my Grow Box because of all the travels. We're never home!

Jeff is away tonight, which meant I could eat dinner later than we normally would. I left work right at 6, made a quick stop at the Jersey City farmers' market (got a jalapeno & cheese empanada from Made With Love Bakery) and immediately upon arriving home, changed into shorts and pulled out all the Grow Box stuff. And then I realized I need two bags of dirt and I only had one. Dammit.

I had to move the car anyway, so I hightailed it over to Home Depot. Their garden section is finally fully operational, which means I can drive right up to the roof deck and put the dirt directly in my car. I love that.

Upon pulling out of Home Depot, I looked across Grove St. and there was the Buy Rite Jeff and I had heard about in Philly. Yes, a Brooklyn-based importer at a Philly Beer Week event told us about this new(ish) alky store. Well! Let me tell you, the beer selection is PHENOMENAL.

The beer manager is a really nice, young NJ native. He steered me toward an Old Rasputin Bourbon barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout that he got specially from North Coast and which was not otherwise sold commercially. How could I pass that up? Yes, $21 a bottle and we already have tons of beer, but there was no turning that down.

I can't believe I'm even drinking a beer right now. We have rather a lot of beer on hand right now. But somebody's got to drink it.

After this past weekend, our livers no doubt need a rest. We were in Philly for the end of Philly Beer week. Philly sure does appreciate its beer. Jeff attended a couple of events before I arrived on Saturday (I was off meeting internet friend Jeanne and her adorable family for the first time). At one he ran into a Danish brewer who we'd met in Copenhagen last year.

On Saturday night we went to a guided beer and food pairing dinner at a new restaurant slash beer store called Hawthornes. Apparently this is a thing in Philly. Jeff went to another restaurant slash store on Saturday. It was kind of strange to have people walking through to buy beer during dinner, but otherwise it was a lovely event. We made the store our last stop on our way out of town on Sunday and picked up a mixed six-pack to lug home. You know you're in trouble when you get a mixed six, which is 10% off, and you still spend $40.

After dinner on Saturday, we went to a new bar called the Head House (I think?). As soon as we walked in the door, we realized it was the former Zot. I liked Zot, but this one seems pretty good, too. We were kind of blitzed at that point, and we didn't try the food, so I can't give it a full review.

On our walk from Hawthornes to the Head House, we passed by this amazing mural wall. We could not tell what it was in the dark, but luckily, thanks to Yelp, on Sunday the Philadelphia Magic Gardens came up on the list of nearby attractions. So glad we took the time to check out Zagar's work.

On Sunday we also: had an extreme beer brunch (not guided) at the South Philly Tap Room, stopped in a cafe that sells an extensive array of craft beer and also prides itself on its quality coffee, had snacks and more beers at the Devil's Den, and finally ended our eating and drinking extravaganza at a Vietnamese restaurant in a little Vietnamese enclave we happened upon.

So, yes. My liver needs a break. But like I said: who's going to drink all this beer if not me??

Oh, and the empanada was delicious. A++ would eat again. The NJ blueberries are also my favorite blueberries in the world. I just ate half a box for dessert.

And in the Grow Box I planted a Japanese eggplant, 2 sweet peppers, and 2 fish peppers (not sure what these are; they are heirloom seeds I got last year and the plants didn't make it last year, so I'm trying again with them). There might be more room in the box, but the instructions indicate that's plenty, so I'll see how it goes. I also put 2 basil plants in where the carrots failed. Nothing I've planted in the ground so far has done so hot. The cilantro and dill also never came up. The hot peppers finally did start growing, but they are still teeny tiny, so I'm keeping them inside for now.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Oh bureaucracy

There was no line at the 34th St. and 7th Ave. post office just now, if you can believe that. I thought what the hell, I'll go to a human. I put my packages on the counter and the woman behind the counter looked at me and said, "how can I help you?" Um. You can mail these packages for me?

She put the first one on the scale. The package had media mail written on it. She proceeded to read me every single mailing option, including one that would cost me over a hundred dollars. I guess that one gets there yesterday. I cut her off and said, "whichever is cheapest, presumably media mail." She replied, while pointing at a sign above her computer that was too far away for me to read, "it's the law. I have to read you all your options."

She kept reading. I cut her off again. "Are you going to have to read these options for all seven of my packages?"

"No!" she said huffily.

"I thought you said it's the law."

"It is, but I don't have to if I don't wanna."

"So, are you going to read me the options on all my packages?"


Wow. What?

I said, "I thought since there was no line this would be the quicker options since you could enter the info faster than I could on the automated machine. But clearly that is not the case after all." I gathered up my stuff and went to the machine.

I have not gone to a human at that post office in a long time due to the fact that there is always a huge long line. I have no idea why there was no line today, but now I understand why there is usually a huge long line. I wonder when that ridiculous law went into effect?

Oh hey, look! I'm blogging. How about that.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Back in London

Sam Smith's are definitely my favorite British beers. With Taddy Porter, Nut Brown and Oatmeal Stout to choose from, how can I go wrong?

On Saturday we went to TKTS to see for what play we could get cheap tickets. The line was long at noon, so we went to London's so-called Chinatown (it's 2 blocks) and had a delicious yet ridiculously expensive dim sum lunch and then went back to TKTS where the line was completely gone.

We bought 2nd row seats to The Little Dog Laughed. The ticket agent warned that some might not like being that close to the stage because you have to crane your neck. He said, though, that as an actor he likes being that close. We took our chances and were glad we did.

Our hotel room this trip is spacious and it is stocked daily with 2 new packs of Walkers cookies. "Is your hotel that white concrete monstrosity overlooking Hyde Park?" asked a British colleague in NYC when I told him I had found a good hotel. Um. Maybe.

The term "tabled" means the exact opposite in the UK than it does in the US. Quite confusing really. And you don't say you have bought a house or a condo. You say you are buying it. That is, until you have fully paid it off. Semantics!

Also confusing: I thought my colleague was referring to a conference room called Island. I told others to meet us in the Island room. They were smart enough to realize I must have meant the Ireland room.

Yorkshire pudding is really delicious! All this time I assumed it would have the consistency of, you know, PUDDING. In reality, it has pretty much zero in common with chocolate or banana pudding.

(I wrote this on my phone and posted it from there, which is why I accidentally posted it on my popcorn blog first. Oops.)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

An ode to magazines

Magazines are extremely portable and easy to read on the train. There is no complicated folding in fourths involved, meaning you can actually turn the pages while hanging on to a subway pole. You can fold them in half, if you must, to squeeze them into a purse or roll them into a tube and just carry them like that. You don't need to worry about creasing their spines or accidentally ripping pages when you turn them.  

They are disposable, although I do feel a little bit of remorse about throwing them away (or recycling), especially if an issue is extra interesting. Maybe someone out there would enjoy that article on the wacky CEO of Whole Foods! (That's definitely not the most interesting article I've ever read, just the most recent. I'm actually only reluctantly subscribing to the NYer this year.)

They show up in my mailbox, all ready to be flipped through*, not necessitating a trip to the store or even powering up my computer.

*Note: I do not actually flip through my magazines. I read them cover to cover, only skipping what bores me and then turning the page to discover another wonderful and short gem. I have considered flipping through them or at least perusing the table of contents and reading the most interesting articles first, but I can't bring myself to do it. It seems wrong! The magazine was carefully laid out in a certain order on purpose, right? It was clearly meant to be read that way. (Do not dispute this method. It is my method. You stick to your methods.)

Magazine pages can be ripped out, dog-eared, cut, spilled on, sat on, wrinkled, rumpled, sweat on, and used to squash bugs, among other things. And yet we can still read on. Long live the magazine, I hope.

Unlike the newspaper, magazines do not go stale the day they arrive. Why, a monthly, in theory, lasts a month! There is so little pressure with magazines, unless you subscribe to multiple magazines. Then there is a little bit of pressure. 

Friday, January 1, 2010

Greetings from London

At Newark airport one receives a plastic (metallic colored) knife with a regular metal fork when eating at a sit-down restaurant. On the plane, we received regular metal knives. 

The veg/vegan meal on the plane always comes with a cup of water, but the regular meals come with none.

The majority of British beer is not that exciting to me. I do like the London Porter very much, though. 

I'm currently at the Cleveland Arms, near our hotel, waiting for Jeff to finish watching Dr. Who. He is SO excited to be seeing it first run on BBC while in England. They have Leffe on tap at this bar. I ordered a pint, which may not have been the wisest choice, considering I could have had a half pint. And considering that I just drank a shot of espresso before this. My tummy hates me. (note: I don't drink coffee normally.)

Our hotel room is very small by American standards, about the same size as the one we had in Kyoto, actually. The bathroom in this one is basically a shower with a toilet and a sink in it. (Things get a bit wet.)

The night we arrived, we went out to Hampton Court to meet up with a colleague of mine. We went to a cozy pub where a beagly mutty creature lifted his leg on the fake Xmas tree. An old dude with long hair, sitting by the fire, said to the dog's owner, when he came over to clean up the mess, "I'm a puppy!" The dog's owner, who half-heartedly swabbed at the floor beneath the tree, replied, "Well, I'm not housetraining you!" (Note: the dog was no puppy either.)

At a pub this evening an actual puppy made off with Jeff's hat while tahe owner sat back and laughed. 

When crossing streets in London, even after reading the signs indicating to look left or right, I cannot help but quickly glance in the direction from which my gut expects a car to appear.