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In March I traveled to London and Oxford to visit friends, wander through museums, and do a spot of noshing and shopping. Last week, I went to Berlin for three nights with friends to take in the art scene and dance the night away. I thought I’d share some of the best things I saw, ate, and did with you.  Since both cities are anglophone-friendly and have good public transportation, I’ll stick to the most delicious and dazzling highlights rather than dwell on the nitty-gritty.

LONDON & OXFORD

ArtBetween the two cities, I enjoyed some of the finest curating and most beautiful collections of art I have ever encountered. I was particularly blown away by the conservation of textiles, and the display of decorative objects, manuscripts, and medieval treasures. I hope the links below will give you a little virtual tour.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (London): This is one of my favorite museums in the whole world, probably because of its emphasis on the decorative arts. The medieval objects they had on display were staggeringly beautiful, including the Marnhull Orphrey and the Soissons Diptych. In the brilliantly curated British wing, I was impressed by how seamlessly didactic elements were woven into the presentation. My favorite pieces included a miniature of the portrait of  Anne of Cleves, the Bradford Table Carpet, the Pasfield Jewel, Martha Edlin’s Embroidery, Abigail Pett’s bed hanging, and Anna Maria Garthwaite’s textile designs and paper cuttings.

The Courtauld Gallery (London): This pocket-sized gallery has an impressive permanent collection and small temporary exhibitions that have often been thoughtfully curated by lucky students from the Courtauld Institute. Some of my favorite paintings there are Lucas Cranach I’s “Adam and Eve“, the “Virgin and Child with Angels” by Quentin Massys, Rubens’ portrait of Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Family, Van Gogh’s “Peach Trees in Blossom“, and Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.”

Van Gogh’s “Peach Trees in Blossom” at the Courtauld Gallery

The Wallace Collection (London): This collection was bequeathed to the British Nation by Lady Wallace in 1897, and it holds an impressive array of armor and oil paintings. In size and layout, it reminds me of the Frick in NYC. As a dix-huitièmiste, I particularly enjoyed stumbling upon Fragonard’s “The Swing,” and Boucher’s “Madame de Pompadour.” Other favorites were still lifes by Jan Weenix, and portraits by Reynolds and Gainsborough.

Tate Modern (London): I struggle to embrace most postwar art, but I “force” myself to go to modern and contemporary art museums to broaden my horizons and educate myself. The two temporary exhibitions at the Tate were retrospectives of Alighiero Boetti and Yayoi Kusama. For Boetti, all I can say is thank goodness he moved beyond arte povera, otherwise I would have been out of that exhibit in a flash. I have mixed feelings about employing Afghani carpet-makers and art students to do you dirty work, but I did come to appreciate the look of the Biro pen and the beauty of monumental maps. As for the Kusama, I was particularly tickled by her room installations, early surrealist paintings, and stuffed “organic” sculptures. I ended walking away with a souvenir: her illustrated edition of Alice and Wonderland.

Ashmolean Museum (Oxford): This is the world’s first university museum, and it houses the collection of Elias Ashmole. I had to run through the place before it closed, but I did enjoy seeing still lifes by Jan Van Kessel and Giovanni Battista Ruoppolo. I was also tickled by this finger ring collection and a commander’s collection of miniature teaware from c. 1800. Getting a sense of the scale I’m drawn to yet?

Bodleian Library (Oxford): I have fallen in love with illuminated manuscripts this year. Seeing the Les Belles Heures du duc de Berry at the Louvre and the exhibition on Flemish miniatures at the BnF has been an absolute dream. The Bodleian put together an impressive array of manuscripts and printed books called “The Romance of the Middle Ages.” I fell in love with the illustrated Gawain and the Green Knight and Romain de la Rose they had on display.

Food: 

Borough Market (London): This is my favorite market in the entire world, so it’s no surprise my friend Jenna introduced me to it a few years ago. I love the energy, the products, the variety of vendors, the sights, the smells. Grab a tumbler of Pimm’s Cup or a flute of Prosecco as you walk around. Fish! Kitchen has absolutely scrumptious fish and chips, but be warned: the servings are ginormous. A fan of Spanish food? Get in line beginning at 11 AM for chorizo, piquillo, and arugula sandwiches at Brindisa. Want something super traditional? Buy a savory treat at Mrs. King’s Pork Pies. A mild, sturdy pork pâté surrounded by a deliciously salty pork gelée, enrobed in a beautiful pastry: crisp, tender, great mouth feel. Slice it up and eat it with crudité, pickles, olives, and a glass of rosé. If you’re looking for something sweet, there are a million excellent options, but an exceptionally good product is the Victoria sponge cake at Konditor and Cook. Clotted cream and strawberry jam are sandwiched between two moist, towering sponge cakes. I hope to recreate it for my ladies tea next week.

Al-Shami (Oxford): At Jenna’s recommendation, I had a lovely meal at this little Lebanese restaurant in Jericho. Since its meze are so delicious, I’d recommend going with at least one other person (yes, I found myself dining alone, once again…). Every meal comes with a huge platter of raw vegetables and a basket of pita bread, both of which are welcome nourishment to a tired traveler. I enjoyed the creamy, spicy Hommos Beiruti; the lemony Al Rahib salad of grilled eggplant; and the Arayes, a flatbread filled with ground lamb, parsley, and pinenuts.

BERLIN

Art: For two of my best art historian friends, Alex and Kiersten, Berlin is the best city in the world. I arrived with an excellent list of recommendations, thanks to them. Let me tell you: besides Pergamon and the Ishtar Gate, Museuminsel is not “where it’s at.” One thing that shaped my art experience in Berlin was the fact that Gerhard Richter was on exhibition in three museums, and he is my favorite living artist. Seeing so much of his work within such a short space and timespan was magical.

“Reader”: a photo painting by Gerhard Richter. When my brother saw this in the MOMA when he was 10, he thought it was of me.

KW Institute for Contemporary Art: This gallery occupies a whole compound in Mitte, and while we were there it housed the politcally-charged seventh Berlin Biennale. One area was “occupied” by a camp of resident artists in various states of undress and costume. Halls were lined with the defiant cartoons of an artist from Belarus, or pasted with the front pages of newspapers from Juarez. The flags of the world’s most feared terrorist groups filled one room, while in another people could take home birch saplings collected from clippings of a forest on the grounds of a former concentration camp. I imagine this institute is an amorphous, palimpsestial site of creation and contemporary art. I couldn’t tell you what you’d see in a few months, but that’s the thought-provoking fun of a place like this.

me Collectors Room: Next door to KW is this small museum, home to a Wunderkammer (a cabinet of Renaissance curiosities) and two temporary exhibitions. One of these was the Olbricht collection of 150 separate Gerhard Richter editions (original works of art that are not produced as unique pieces but in a certain number of impressies, i.e. prints, and photographs). Once again, I was astonished by Richter’s virtuosic variety and color palette.

Neue Nationalgalerie: This museum building was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and it houses mostly 20th-century art in the Kulturforum. Here I enjoyed the panoramic retrospective of Richter’s oil paintings and glass-steel sculptures. It was an impressive exhibition, and I look forward to seeing its final manifestation at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Gemäldegalerie: With paintings by Dürer, Hieronymus Bosch, Jan van Eyck, Petrus Christus, Pieter Aertsen, Chardin, Brueghel the Elder, Vermeer, Lucas Cranach, and Caravaggio, I was in art-historian heaven. If you love old master paintings, this museum is a MUST. Also, there was almost no one there, so for the first time in as long as I can remember, I got to enjoy gazing upon great works of art without feeling like I was in a mosh pit.

Food:

The Barn: At this café I enjoyed my first flat white, an Australian version of a café au lait or cappucino. The coffee here was truly delicious. We also shared a decadent slice of the house-made carrot cake. I haven’t had cream cheese frosting in a long time, and boy did it taste divine.

Schneeweiss: This restaurant has an all-white interior that makes its young, hip, well-heeled clientele pop. We enjoyed a crisp riesling, which paired nicely with my main course: crisp veal schnitzel with white asparagus and hollandaise.

Baumkuchen: This cake is baked on a spit onto which thin, even layers of batter are painted on as it rotates. What you get is something that looks like an angelfood cake with tree rings, only much denser and perfumed with almond. At the tea house we went to, it was cover with a thin, glistening layer of dark chocolate. A very special treat worth the train ride way up to the northwest of Berlin.

Mustafa’s Kebab: This is a delicious kebab. Spit-roasted chicken, grilled veggies, sumac-dusted cucumbers, lettuce, and tomatoes make their way into a ciabatta-like roll. Then this is topped off with a squeeze of fresh lemon and sprinkling of feta. The best part is possibly the delicious sauce options (in a moment of confusion, I told them to put them all on): a spicy red pepper emulsion, a garlicky yogurt sauce, and dill-curry mayonnaise. Excellent with a bottle of cold pilsner and eaten on a bench, because in Germany, you can imbibe in public!

Chocolate-covered baumkuchen

Nightlife:

Neue Odessa: As my friend aptly described, “it’s super hipster.” But then again, wasn’t everything in Berlin? We lingered over drinks, and I especially relished the Gin Gin Mule I had, packed with fresh mint and ginger. We enjoyed our candlelit corner and handcrafted cocktails. But beware: cash only!

Bar Tausend: Under the train tracks and unmarked: this was a theme in Berlin. Go inside and you feel like you’re in a swanky silver space ship. Order a delicious cocktail, such as the Earl Gray Gimlet I enjoyed while catching up with theater friends.

Golden Gate: Again, unmarked and under the train tracks. This time around though, we found it because of the throbbing bass that went all through the night. The bouncer was gruff and the interior low-budget, but with 2 euro shots and 3 euro beers, one expects things to be a little rough around the edges. At 4 AM on a Sunday night/Monday morning, we were the first to leave the still pumping dance floor.

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When I used to teach garden-based curriculum at Collective Roots, one of the cooking classes I often taught kids centered on lentils. When I made lentils with the little ones, we made a delicious Ethiopian spice mix that they toasted and ground up with a mortar and pestle. The lentils were warmed by these flavors and bulked up with greens and new onions from the school garden. They learned that lentils are legumes, like peanuts! Lentils grow on a bush! They are rich in protein and fiber! They are cheap and you can store them for a long time!

I have a hard time mustering this level of enthusiasm about lentils when I’m alone in my kitchen. The downside about the long shelf life of lentils is that when I buy them, they haunt me for months. It takes me forever to get through a package, because while I experience many food cravings, lentils are rarely the culprit. That said, Heidi Swanson’s recipe for a creamy, spiced red lentil soup gets me super excited to eat lentils. The soup’s flavors are layered with sweetness and spice and the richness of coconut. I have slightly modified her instructions, but the below recipe is very much derivative of hers. Also, I have found that this soup makes excellent leftovers and freezes well.

Not to neglect the French talent for preparing lentils, I have also included my “go-to” lentil preparation. Like so many things I cook, it starts with smoked bacon, mirepoix, wine and herbs. If you threw a hamhock into these lentils, it wouldn’t do any harm. These lentils have a traditional, savory flavor that makes for a nice soup. Excellent with a hunk of a tomme-style cheese and crusty bread. On the other hand, if you are looking for a side to serve up alongside pork or game, just reduce the amount of liquid you start with and you’re good to go.

Curried-Coconut Red Lentil Soup. Photo by Heidi Swanson.

Curry-Coconut Red Lentil Soup

2 tablespoons butter

8 green onions (or 2 small leeks, or 4 small spring onions), thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh peeled and minced or grated ginger

2 tablespoons curry powder

1/4 cup tomato paste

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

1/3 cup currants or golden raisins

1 cup  yellow split peas or mung beans

1 cup red split lentils

6 cups water

1 14-ounce can coconut milk

2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt

1) Rinse the lentils and split peas. Set aside.

2) In a large soup pot, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the green onions, and sauté until they are wilted, about 3 minutes. Add curry powder and ginger, and sauté for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the tomato paste and saute for another minute or 2.

3) At this point, add the carrots, raisins, split peas, and lentils. Stir to combine, and then pour in the coconut milk, salt, and water. Simmer, uncovered, for about 40 minutes or so. the soup is done when the split peas have completely broken down and the red lentils are very tender. Adjust the seasoning and amount of liquid to your taste before serving. I enjoy this soup with a big dollop of plain yogurt or crème fraiche.

French Lentil Soup

1/2 cup lardons fumés or chopped applewood bacon
1 large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tb. tomato paste
1 cup du puy lentils

1/4 cup red wine
3 sprigs thyme and a bay leaf if you have one
Salt and pepper
3 to 4 cups chicken stock or water
Sauté lardons in a pot until golden on medium heat. Add onion, celery and garlic. Sauté until onions become translucent, and then stir in tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.  Stir in carrot and lentils. Add wine and cook for about 2 minutes. Add 3 to 4 cups of water or chicken broth, depending on if you want to make a soup or a side to serve with sausage, duck etc. Add herbs and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. The lentils are done when tender. Adjust seasonings before serving.

In Paris, I often have a sandwich for lunch that I purchase at a boulangerie. This basically means I eat half a baguette with butter and a few whisper-thin slices of ham and cheese. I do make a concerted effort to pack salads, fruit, and crudités for myself when I got to the library, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen, and I have a starch bomb for lunch. In no way am I against carbohydrates (au contraire!), but I am interested in achieving some semblance of a balanced diet. So, when I find myself having had a sandwich lunch, I try to make myself some real protein and a generous helping of vegetables for dinner. The following is something I’ve made for myself several times this year, and I continue to enjoy it: chicken piccata and fennel salad. The chicken is piquantly flavored with capers and white wine, and the fennel is lightly dressed with lemon and gussied up with parmesan, parsley and pinenuts.

The two take me about 15 minutes to throw together, and I almost always have the ingredients on hand. The only special piece of equipment I use to prepare this is a Japanese benriner, a cheap version of a mandolin. I actually brought mine with me from San Francisco, but you can purchase it for about $20 at an Asian kitchen supply store. With this little guy, I can slice everything from potatoes to beets to zucchini to cucumbers to an even thickness, which is great for when I make gratins and salads that incorporate raw ingredients.

Though I often eat this meal solo, you could certainly multiple the below ingredient to share with friends! And so as not to deprive them of their due starch, it wouldn’t hurt to include some roast potatoes.

Lemons play an important role in this meal, just as they do in this still life by Dutch painter Willem Kalf. "Still Life with Lemon, Orange, and Glass of Wine," 1663-1664, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe.

Chicken Piccata

1 boneless chicken breast, with or without skin

Salt and pepper

3 tbs. all purpose flour

1 small shallot, minced

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

2 tbs. capers

1 tbs. olive oil

2 tsp. butter

3 tbs. white wine

1 lemon wedge

1) Season chicken breast with salt and pepper. Spread the flour on a plate and lightly dredge the breast in the flour. Pat of excess flour.

2) In a small nonstick sauté pan, heat the olive oil on high heat. When the oil is hot (but not smoking), place the chicken breast in the pan. When a golden crust has developed on the bottom (about 3 minutes), flip the chicken breast. Adjust the heat to medium-high. Add the butter and swirl the pan a bit to distribute it as it melts.

3) After the chicken has cooked on the second side for about 1 minute, add shallot, garlic, and capers. After these have cooked for about another minute (or enough time for the shallots to get almost translucent and the capers to crisp up a bit), add the white wine. Turn the heat back up to high, and let the wine reduce to make a quick mini-pan sauce, about 90 seconds. Check the chicken breast for doneness with your forefinger: it should feel firm but not rock hard. Chicken breasts do indeed have a small window of doneness and deliciousness! Serve the chicken with pan sauce, capers, and shallots spooned atop it. Squeeze fresh lemon on it before enjoying.

Fennel Salad

1/2 fennel bulb, rinsed and stem sliced off to form a flat surface

1 tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 tbs. olive oil

Sat and pepper

1 tbs. chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tbs. toasted pine nuts

A handful of parmesan shavings

1) With the stem side down, shave your fennel into see-through thin slices on your benriner until you get near the root. Watch out for your fingers!

2) Whisk together the lemon, olive oil and salt and pepper. For whatever reason, I like a slightly more acidic dressing than usual with fennel salads, hence the only 1:2 ratio of lemon juice to olive oil.

3) Toss the fennel with just enough dressing to lightly coat it. Add parsley, parmesan, and pine nuts. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Fennel oxidizes, so don’t make this too far ahead of time. If you want to prep this in advance, you can keep the sliced fennel in a bowl of ice water, but I find this to just be a hassle as it gets too much water into my salad.

In hosting friends and family over the last month, I have had the pleasure of revisiting some of my favorite spots for bites both sweet and savory. My preferences are largely influenced by the places I have lived (the 5th, the 7th, and the 9th arrondissements), so there is a geographical bias to my list.

Writing about the delights of Parisian gastronomy is not something that can be tackled in a single, measly blog post. It is the work of a lifetime. However, in an effort to start chipping away at this giant block of… salted butter? dark chocolate? foie gras? roquefort?… I will start with a list of some of my favorite places for sweet eats in Paris. David Liebovitz (ex-pat, former Chez Panisse pastry chef, and blogger extraordinaire) obviously has a leg up on me in this endeavor, but here is my little contribution to the delight of navigating Paris au recherche du sucre. I will post my savory musings in the coming week…

Le Chocolat Chapon: This chocolate shop, located in St.-Germain des Près, first attracted my attention because of the beautifully painted edible eggs it had in its window. The patterns seemed inspired by William Morris textile designs, and they are rendered in muted pastel shades of pink and blue. I asked what they were filled with… a praline cream, the shopgirl said. The whimsical addition to the store is the bar of single-varietal chocolate mousses for 4.50 euros per cornet. My friend Jenna and I split a decadent cup of Madagascar mousse topped with crumbled praline and cocoa nibs. Duly saturated with cacao for the day, we neglected to get any of the chocolates, which came in inventive shapes and had such daring flavors as violet-litchi, pink peppercorn, xeres vinegar-caramel, and lime-smoked salt. I went back with my parents, and as a more conservative chocolate amateur, I selected a pain d’èpices ganache, a pistachio-praline confection, a piedmontese hazelnut praline, and one of the dark chocolate eggs. In terms of texture, subtlety of flavor, and creativity of presentation, these are the best chocolates I have ever had in my entire life. There are two chocolates left from my purchase, and it is all I can do to not abandon this post and devour them right now.

À la Mère de Famille: This is my favorite candy shop in Paris, and they make damn good chocolates too. Their stores are a great place to buy gifts (I find I always have someone to thank or make amends with), and everything is beautifully packaged with their signature orange and dark brown hues. They make darling little mendiants, florentines, nougats, and the best “adult” chocolate bars you’ve ever encountered: they make a few of their traditional chocolates in 1×4-inch praline- and ganache-filled bars. They also have lovely little petits fours secs, caramels, and hard candies on hand. Above all, I love their “toucans,” which as far as I can tell are made from a milk chocolate, hazelnut, and feulletine ganache that has been hand-rolled into 2-inch long sticks that are dredged in cocoa powder. They are heavenly. Finally, La Mère de Famille has published a beautiful cookbook, so if you want to try and reproduce any of their wonders chez vous, well more power to you.

Grom: This Italian gelateria has set up outposts here and in NYC. Their gelati are fabulous, and though I’ve only tried three of their flavors, all were excellent. Their pistachio is dense, luscious, and exploding with ethereal pistachio flavor. The “crema di grom” is flecked with the crumbs of a nutty polenta cookie and shaved dark chocolate. Their “bacio” is a kind of deconstructed nutella, a rich dark chocolate gelato studded with toasted hazelnuts. I can’t wait to try more flavors…

Angelina: With locations in both the arcade of the rue de Rivoli and the Louvre, Angelina has no shortage of customers or tourists. However, I will say that when in Europe, it pays to try European-style hot chocolate. This is not your middle school Swiss Miss. A small pot can easily be shared between two people, as it is a sinfully rich elixir of high-quality melted chocolate, milk, and cream. It arrives at your table with a copious cup of whipped cream, and a few sips later, you will find your self swathed in the luscious haze of a chocolate coma. The desserts they serve at this tea room have always looked beautiful, but I’ve never been able to muster the appetite to order both the chocolat chaud and a pastry. Even I have my limits!

Secco: With its bubblegum pink façade and turquoise awning, this boulangerie+patisserie pops out of its place on a small street off rue St. Dominique in the 7th arrondissement. Everything I’ve had here has been delicious, but I am particularly fond of their madeleines and a candied-orange-currant short bread they make in huge, thin sheets that they then break up and put into bags. Their chaussons au pomme (apple turnovers) are also excellent, and you can taste that they’ve made the apple filling in house. They make a brioche that is flavored, like the shortbread, with candied orange and raisin, and has just the right amount of sweetness to it. In the patisserie department, I think their millefeuille (layers of puff pastry with vanilla pastry cream) and chibouste-citron (a delicate lemon tart with meringue), and flan de Paris are consistently outstanding. Secco also makes excellent savory items, to which I will attend in a later post…

Le Grenier à Pain: This bakery has several locations in Paris, and its founder, Michel Galloyer has even achieved international success with outposts in St. Petersburg, Singapore, and Tokyo. Their bread is excellent (especially their tradition aux céreales), but I have soft spots for three of their pastries. The Caroline is a cylinder of chocolate and caramel mousses on a round of genoise, which is then topped with two crunchy profiteroles filled with caramel cream. The Elysée is a rectangle of chocolate and hazelnut mousses with crispy feulletine on genoise, enrobed in a shining dark chocolate glaze. Finally, their tarte d’agrumes consists of a just-sweet-enough sablé breton with pistachio cream, topped with alternating supremes of orange and grapefruit.

Ladurée: This place is so famous that its inclusion on my list is practically superfluous, but let me draw your attention to two excellent items in their repertoire that you might overlook. A bostock is a slice of brioche that has been kissed with orange flour water and smeared with almond paste cream, and Ladurée’s bostock is the best I’ve ever had. Their kouign amann (a Breton butter cake) is also a cut above the rest. A kouign amann is made when bread dough is worked like puff pastry to include massive amounts of butter and sugar between the layers. Not for the faint of heart, this pastry is a bold meditation on the power of flour, sugar and butter to satisfy in infinite ways.

For macarons, do go to Pierre Hermè

Pierre Hermé: Again, I am traveling a well-worn path in recommending this boutique Parisian macaron establishment. Let me just confirm that these are, indeed, the finest macarons in the world. This week I took my parents and we tried three seasonal flavors. It seems good ol’ Pierre is in a very playful mood these days, as the colors and flavor combinations were exceptionally dazzling this time around. We tried chocolate-caramel, pistachio-strawberry, and cinnamon-pistachio-brandied cherry. All were sweet, delicate, and subtly inventive. I’ll have to go back soon to try the clove-vanilla-rose and saffron-apricot confections he’s concocted.

At any of these sweet establishments, you may be surprised by the price you pay for something that looks very small. But if you take a moment to observe the phenomenal amount of work that goes into sculpting each item, you will see that you are making a worthwhile investment in… pleasure! How often does spending between 1 and 8 euros get you the finest example of something in the entire world?

To celebrate (or mourn) the end of winter, I invited my friends over for a potluck-style “soirée montagnard.” In an expression of Rabelaisian excess and ecstasy, I decided we should partake of not just one specialty of Christmas markets and ski chalets, but ALL of them. I asked my friends to bring the bread, wine, beer, charcuterie, cornichons, and cheese, and then I supplied the salad and three cooked items. Our absurdly decadent menu included the following:

Tartiflette: a Savoyarde specialty of potatoes baked with lardons (bacon), cream or crème fraiche, onions, and reblochon (a soft, washed rind cow’s milk cheese).

Flammenküche: a thin pizza/tart hybrid from Alsace baked with cream, onion, and lardons.

Gratin de Crozets: small, square, buckwheat pasta traditionally baked with cream and beaufort, an alpine-style cow’s milk cheese. This is also a Savoyarde specialty.

Raclette: a Swiss, semi-firm cow’s milk cheese served melted over potatoes with an array of pork charcuterie (saucisse à l’ail, rosette de lyon, saucisson, jambon de paris etc.)

Mont d’Or with Saucisse de Morteau: This one is from the Jura region (chez Olivier), so obviously it is a personal favorite. Mont d’Or is a seasonal, rich, soft, cow’s milk cheese. It is aged in a round box made of spruce. To eat it hot, make a small hole in the body of the cheese, and pour in about a quarter cup of white wine (preferably from the Arbois region, and/or of the savagnin grape). Then put the whole box of cheese in the oven at 350 degrees, for about 30 minutes. Serve it with boiled potatoes and saucisse de Morteau. These large pork sausages must be smoked for at least 48 hours with conifer and juniper sawdust. They are made purely with pork from the Franche-Comté region. When I went back to the States for the holidays I smuggled Mont d’Or and saucisse de Morteau in my suitcase to bring to Olivier. Shhhhh!

Mont d'Or

Needless to say we had way too much cheese on our hands, but it was a fun experiment. I am now ready to embrace spring.

Gratin of Crozets

1 400-gram box of crozets

2 tb. butter

2 large slices of good ham, julienned

1 large onion, minced

2 branches thyme

1 1/2 cups of crème fraiche

2 cups of grated beaufort cheese (can substitute with comté or gruyère)

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Put a large pot of water on to boil and season generously with salt. When it has come to a rolling boil, add crozets. Boil them until they are just tender, about 10 minutes, then strain them in a colander. Put them in a large baking dish, and mix in the crème fraiche while they are still warm. Season with salt and black pepper.

As the pasta is boiling, melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add the ham and cook for about 4 minutes on medium-high heat, until they have taken on a bit of color. Add the thyme and onions, and cooks for about 8 minutes on medium-low heat, until the onions are translucent and tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add the onion and ham mixture to the crozets and mix to combine. Mix in 1 1/2 cups of cheese with the crozet, leaving the last 1/2 cup of cheese to sprinkle on top. Bake the crozets in the oven for about 30 minutes, until bubbly and golden.

Serves 4.

First and foremost, I accidentally deleted the following paragraph from my last post on Rome as I was formatting:

The Galleria Borghese is situated in a beautiful park in the Villa Borghese Pinciana. It is home to several stunning Caravaggio paintings (including David with the Head of Goliath) and the most expressive, passionate, lifelike sculptures I have ever seen: Bernini’s David, The Rape of Prosperina, and Apollo and Daphne. At the Barberini Palace National Gallery of Art, we enjoyed seeing more Caravaggio (including Judith Beheading Holofernes) and portraits by Raphael (La Fornarina), Quentin Metsys (Erasmus of Rotterdam) and Hans Holbein (King Henry VIII), and Bronzino (Stefano IV Colonna).

I also forgot to mention a lovely coffee house Katie and I visited near the Pantheon: Saint’Eustachio il Caffe. Here we enjoyed large, steaming cups of silken smooth cappucini.

It was unbelievably easy to get to Florence from Rome. Upon arrival, I found my lovely room in the hills above the Ponte Vecchio. Once again, I chose a place on airbnb that fit my budget and my proclivity for wooden furniture and white linens. It was owned by a lovely Italian man named Flavio.

My lovely room in Florence near the Ponte Vecchio.

After dropping off my things I meandered over to Antica Noè, where I indulged in a deep-fried artichoke draped with prosciutto di parma, and a plate of fresh tagliarini with wild boar sugo. I crashed early in order to wake up to beat the crowds at the Uffizi.

It is incredibly important to fuel up on a good breakfast if one is to truly appreciate the masterpieces of Italian painting, and luckily I stumbled upon the Golden View Open Bar O’Café. There is, thankfully, no rapport between the cheesiness of the name and the quality of their cappucini and pasticceria. I ended up going both mornings to enjoy what amounted to the best viennoiserie I’d ever eaten in Italy. Everything tasted of excellent butter, was still warm from the oven, and was delicate in size. I love when things come in miniature in part because then I can taste an array of items! A little chocolate here, a little orange-scented semolina cream there… Also, I fell hard for the itsy-bitsy cannoli they sold. But let’s be honest, I loved all the cannoli I ate in my four days in Italy.

Warmed with coffee and good pastry, I was able to brave the hour-long line (at 8:30 AM by golly!) to get into the Uffizi. It helped that I ended up standing with a Stanford law graduate and formal Marshall scholar who was on vacation from his development work in East Timor (which I heard 6 times as Easty Moore, which sounds more like a shire out of the Canterbury Tales than a nation recently liberated from Indonesia. I am Eurocentric to a fault). It’s amazing how good company helps time fly.

Once inside, it was blockbuster time, starting with the room in which Duccio’sCimabue’s, and Giotto’s Madonna and Child panel icons are displayed together. Seeing Botticelli was amazing, but even better was appreciating the Hugo van der Goes Portinari triptych hung in the same room. It, unlike the Botticellis, was completely neglected by the tourists, so I had a clear view of the Adoration in all its austere Northern beauty. I also enjoyed works by Fra Angelico, Van der Weyden, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Bronzino, Guido Reni, Artemesia Gentileschi, and my perennial Dutch Feinmanler favorites: Metsu, Dou, and Van Mieris.

After blasting through the Uffizi in four hours, I was ready for a panino. Luckily, I stumbled upon Salumeria Verdi, home to Pino’s sandwiches. At first I was wary. There were too many loud, collegiate, legging-NorthFace-Longchamps-Ugg-clad Americans for my tastes. But then again, who am I kidding? I try to speak Italian and wear European clothes, but I’m both American and a perpetual student, so why not eat there? Also, why not eat there when the sandwiches are DELICIOUS? Casting aside my hard-earned, cosmopolitan pride, I ordered “The Best.” I tweaked it a bit and the result was roast pork loin, fried eggplant, sautéed spinach, peppers, smoked mozzarella, all smothered in a Calabrian hot sauce, nestled between two slices of focaccia and pressed. American-deli-sandwich-style decadence with thoughtfully-curated Italian ingredients. Perfection.

Before hitting more museums, I gave myself a little break by visiting the Duomo, Il Papiro, and the Biffoli Shop. Biffoli Shop is home to beautiful perfumes, lotions and soap, and there I found a rich rose hand cream. Il Papiro was established in 1976, but their products capture the colors and careful craft of another era. It was all I could do to only purchase a notebook and a dozen notecards. Later that day, I went by one of their other locations to get a lesson in marbling paper. Marbled paper, used extensively at Il Papiro, has been made and used in Europe for almost 500 years. Pigments mixed with surfactants are dropped onto a viscous mucilage called a size. They are then manipulated using small rods or rakes to create multicolored patterns. I tried my hand at it and got to keep a piece of the result!

Learning how to marble paper at Il Papiro

Somehow I had spent enough time talking paper to merit a gelato break, so I stopped at a place recommended by my hosts: Le Parigine (at Via dei Servi, 41). The small cup of walnut and “fiore di latte” gelato I had was exquisite.

Afterwards I stopped at the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. Then I went to the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi to see Benozzo Gozzoli’s Procession of the MagiBenozzo’s vivid fresco covers every wall of the small chapel situated in the heart of the palace. Luckily, I was able to enjoy the fresco alone for a solid half hour. I cherish such solitude before a work of art.

The museums closed, and I headed to Santo Spirito for an aperitivo per the suggestion of my friend Jenny. Here I settled in at Volume, a bar built in a refurbished wood shop. I got my negroni, a few olives, and opened my Benjamin, and life was good.

The next morning I squeezed in another visit to my favorite café and swung by the Palazzo Pitti before heading to Pisa to fly back to Paris.

Garden at the Palazzo Medici

My freshman roommate, Jenna, could be a professional luxury travel agent. For years she

Jenna showed a proclivity for the finer things beginning at a young age.

has culled the pages of Condé Nast, the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, Gourmet (RIP), Saveur, and sources I’ve never even heard of to find the best hotels, restaurants, ruins, camel rides, museums, spa treatments, vineyard, villas, and islands for her family’s vacations. In the nine months we lived together, we spent all-nighters writing papers, and some of these coffee- and duck-confit-fried-egg-breakfast-sandwich-charged dawns would be punctuated by Jenna dialing up a restaurant owned by a lumberjack in San Sebastiàn, seizing an online peach reservation at Momofuku, or booking her third table of the year at Per Se. Yes, Jenna, is on a first name basis with Thomas (that’s Chef Keller to the rest of us plebes), mixes the best drinks, roasts whole suckling pigs, translates entire Latin epics, and is going to make for a force of a lawyer once she passes the bar in a few years. And she does it all in heels.

Obviously, I am excited to be hosting her for a few days in Paris this month, not only because she and I are going to a ham and antiques fair she discovered, but also because I hope in some way to repay her for the times she has hosted me in her hometown of Houston (shepherding me between taco trucks, Vietnamese cafés, and barbecue pits), the time she cured my nervous breakdown with a homemade bento box and a bottle of Sancerre, and that other time her parents treated me to the French Laundry. Once again, Jenna came to the rescue with recommendations for my impromptu voyage to Rome and Florence, as she lived in Rome for three months on Duke’s Classics program.

Like Jenna, I loved a good party or picnic by the time I had teeth.

I have a history of unorthodox Italian travel plans, starting with the pre-marriage honeymoon camping trip Olivier and I took a few years back. Order-schmorder. Back in August of 2009, we did a roadtrip in Piemonte and Lombardia, camping in the Langhe mountains, Alba, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. I chose our campsites based on their proximity to restaurants I found in the Slow Food Osterie guidebook, a whimsy of mine to which Olivier (bless his heart) catered. The next time I came to Italy was on a Stanford travel grant to visit the Chardin exhibition in Ferrara for my senior honors thesis. This past weekend, my goal was to see the monuments and works of art that I had studied in so many survey courses, and all I can say is that I wish I’d done my travel homework as well as I did that of Art History 101. I am, after all, going to begin graduate studies in Art History next year.

The plan was to spend two nights in Rome with my friend Katie, with whom I’d already traveled to Bordeaux. Then I would continue on to Florence on my own. After purchasing my plane and train tickets and booking places to stay on airbnb, I was so absorbed by my work in Paris that I neglected to do any other research. Luckily Katie looked into some museums and restaurants on-line, but Rome is a tourist-trap of a city that requires way more preparation than either of us had imagined.

Rome

We arrived at the Termini station and, exhausted, were at first happy to learn that our lodging was only a stone’s throw away. We soon realized that this also meant we were staying in an undesirable neighborhood in a building that housed at least six sketchy “bed and breakfasts.” There were beds, and there was breakfast, and the place was cheap. But the beds felt like cardboard placed atop springs, the bathroom smelled like bad breath, the towels like vinegar, breakfast was instant coffee, and the hosts were two guys in their twenties whom I wouldn’t trust to deliver pizza, let alone manage an auberge in Rome. Christian– the manager, if you will– consistently referred to me as “la bianda” (the blonde), forgetting that I spoke enough Italian to understand when he was talking about me. He and his buddy were both drinking infantilizing juice boxes when we arrived, which made it hard to take them seriously. Guy number two also hopped everywhere on one foot, as he had recently sustained an athletic injury during a track meet. He was also disgusted with the fact that I couldn’t identify all of the track athletes he showed me on facebook, and that I didn’t love Las Vegas.

After catching our breath and noshing on some pecorino (lovingly sliced into snack-sized pieces for us by an adorable market vendor) and flatbread, we went straight to the Galleria Borghese to pick up the tickets we’d luckily reserved last minute. This brings me to my most important lesson from Italy: you can reserve tickets ahead of time at most museums and tourist sites, and it is essential that you do so. We almost didn’t get to visit the Galleria Borghese, and we didn’t get to see the Sistine Chapel because we didn’t do our research ahead of time (as a seasoned traveler like Jenna surely would have done).

 

The Galleria Borghese is situated in a beautiful park in the Villa Borghese Pinciana. It is home to several stunning Caravaggio paintings (including David with the Head of Goliath) and the most expressive, passionate, lifelike sculptures I have ever seen: Bernini’s David, The Rape of Prosperina, and Apollo and Daphne. At the Barberini Palace National Gallery of Art, we enjoyed seeing more Caravaggio (including Judith Beheading Holofernes) and portraits by Raphael (La Fornarina), Quentin Metsys (Erasmus of Rotterdam) and Hans Holbein (King Henry VIII), and Bronzino (Stefano IV Colonna).

Other favorites of mine in Rome were Trajan’s Column, the inside of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, and the haunting, geometrical perfection of the Pantheon. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go inside the Colosseum or onto Palatine Hill, because both stopped admitting people at 4 pm. We found this awfully early, but so it goes! In the winter, make sure you get to these ancient sites early enough to actually go inside inside them, not just take a picture near them, as we did…

In Rome, near the Colosseum, with a bizarre Latin American parade below

On our last morning, we visited St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. We waited for over an hour in line in the rain to get in, but a pilgrim mustn’t complain, and we tried to keep our cool among the heaving throngs of tourists and their lethal umbrellas. Upon entering the basilica, we were struck above all by its size. I am not a huge fan of baroque marble interiors, but it was still impressive.

Now, on the food front, we were neither particularly ambitious nor resolute in our quests for fine dining. Art and monuments were our priority. The first night we partook of a 10 euro aperitif plus appetizer buffet at ‘Gusto. The food looked better than it tasted (little fried things, crostini, tired frittata etc.) and the music was super loud, but my aperol spritzer did the trick and we were too tired to appreciate anything better anyway. The next night we were a bit more organized and traipsed over to Travestere, where we ate at one of the few restaurants we could find open on a Sunday night: Le Mani in Pasta, where I enjoyed ricotta ravioli in brown butter with sage, and where we shared some lovely veal saltimbocca. We drank a bottle of Montepulciano and for dessert shared a semifreddo studded with amaretti and drizzled with chocolate sauce. Though not a remarkable meal, the food was tasty and comforting and the service amiable.

The best meal we had in Rome came for lunch on Monday. Per Jenna’s recommendation, we headed to Hostaria Romana, where we started by sharing a plate of mixed antipasti. This was a delicious assortment of marinated eggplant, fried cippollini onions, golden frittata, charred zucchini, mozzarella, and a salad of shaved raw artichokes, fennel, and celery with shards of parmesan. Perfection. Then we each ordered bucatini all’amatriciana, which meant we each had a huge bowl of pasta with an almost sweet tomato sauce, guanciale, and a bit of parmesan. It was delicious. My coffee came with lovely little chocolate-hazelnut biscotti, and I was happy.

After lunch Katie and I parted ways and I headed to Florence…