Wednesday, October 31, 2012

San Francisco + Napa: Bouchon Bakery

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I have no earthly idea where to start in describing the last 3 weeks of my life. I’ve never been away from home for that long and while I was definitely happy to see my own bed and pillow Monday night, my little 3-week adventure was one that I’ll never forget.

So instead of trying to write one big post for London and then one for San Francisco, I think I’ll just blog about some of the particularly memorable experiences – you know, like cheese. (See: Halloumi :))

We happened to be in SF/Napa for TWO Bears games and while JB was a trooper about missing the Monday night game with all of the Giants-going-to-the-World-Series madness, missing this past Sunday’s game was not optional. This meant spending an incredible Napa morning in a dark bar, so as a trade off, we headed out super early for a run through Yountville which culminated in a stop at Bouchon Bakery.

I had heard rave reviews of Thomas Keller’s Parisian bakery in NYC, so nothing could have made me happier than seeing that cute little yellow house off the side of the road, line out the door and great smells a half mile away. I did a bit of reading and Yountville was actually their first location, with locations in NYC, Las Vegas and Beverly Hills added later.

I quickly negated our three-mile run (and then some) with the coffee of my dreams and after agonizing for ten minutes over the pastry case, settled on two scones: chocolate cherry and bacon cheddar. They were perfection -- buttery, crumbly, just sweet enough.

If you have the chance to go to a Bouchon bakery, please go! Run! Or walk, but go, and have a pastry for me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Halloumi: A Love Story

It has become alarmingly apparent to me in my time in London that there are some things that just do not exist in the good ole’ U.S. of A. In particular:

- The question, “Large, or small?” when ordering a glass of wine

Flat whites

- Castles

- Credit cards with a microchip

- Roast chicken and thyme flavored potato chips

The Only Way is Essex

And today, I discovered the most devastating non-American thing of all: halloumi. I was nosily listening to someone’s elevator conversation today and they mentioned that the cafĂ© downstairs was serving a dish with halloumi. I made a note to Google that, whatever that was, then promptly forgot to Google it. Fate intervened and today while picking up some dinner at Marks and Spencer (oh yeah, add that to the list) it jumped out at me from the cheese section. I picked it up out of curiosity to snack on while making my dinner and the rest, my friends, is history.

I will not rest until I can find this at home. In a previous career, I worked in marketing at a well-known gourmet food store in Chicago so I have TRIED some cheese in my day, guys.

This was unlike anything I’ve ever tried – salty like feta but somehow mild like mozzarella, and squeaky like a Wisconsin cheese curd.

And do you know what most people do with it?

FRY IT. Or grill it, but either way, it’s this magical cheese that retains its shape when cooked at high temperatures, turns crispy and golden brown on the outside and melty and gooey inside. It’s like a self-contained grilled cheese.
Judging from the sad Yelp chains, no one has sourced it in Chicago yet, but if you can make that happen, I will give you my first born child, then the second one, and then make all of these drool-worthy dishes for you.









Sunday, October 14, 2012

Loving London

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As expected, I am totally in love with this city. It’s absolutely stunning – soaring modern architecture against castles and huge expanses of parks. It doesn’t hurt that the weather has been insanely perfect the whole time I’ve been here. There have been a few showers but on the whole, it’s been crisp, sunny fall weather; the perfect backdrop for exploring!

A few things:

  • I’ve found it less expensive than I anticipated. I am obviously very lucky to be travelling for work and I do imagine that renting a flat or hotel room would be extremely expensive here; similar to New York, space is at an absolute premium. However, I’ve found that there’s a huge range of both costs and choices when choosing food and shopping -- yes, it would be easy to go crazy and spend a ton, but it’s definitely not impossible to keep it under control, either!

  • I’ve noticed a lot of Londoners reading while walking and even reading while running. To borrow a phrase from my new British friends, "wonderful and weird."

  • England’s bad rap for their food and cooking is totally undeserved -- I have eaten a ton of great food in my time here. Indian, tapas, pastries, yum. There is a HUGE food culture here too, beyond just the restaurant scene. I went to Borough Market, the city’s biggest and most notable on Saturday and was so glad I did (best “toasted cheese” aka “grilled cheese” OF MY LIFE!!) but that was honestly choosing one from a list of many, many Saturday food markets. I’ll be back for more, London!

  • On the toasted-cheese/pastries note… thank goodness London is an incredibly safe and therefore incredibly walkable city. I’ve walked to and from work every day and did a ton of exploring this weekend, walking literally everywhere. It’s not on any type of grid so I’ve relied fairly heavily on Google maps, but thanks to the River, I’ve started to be better able to orient myself when out and about and do feel that I am getting the hang of it!

Dumb American in London moments:

  • The River Thames is pronounced “Temms” – please, kill me. No one corrected me for like a week.

  • Though my head knows that I should look right first to check for cars coming when crossing the street, it has proven nearly impossible to reverse 28 years of left-right-left checking and I look like a total weirdo at every street corner, shaking my head back and forth at least 10 times. It’s habit fighting logic and I’m just a mess.

  • Speaking of things being on opposite sides of what I’m used to, the escalators are also reversed so I have tried to go up the down escalator twice.

  • I cannot work my microwave to save my life. I’m not sure if this is a cultural difference or because I’m staying in a high-efficiency green building. Either way, I definitely ate cold curry for dinner tonight.

Apologies for the short (and week late post!) but I've been trying to see and do as much as I can in the non-working hours and am therefore finding myself totally exhausted every night! In tonight's case, I had a stressful (sarcasm) day of tapas, the Tower of London and cold curry... also, Downton Abbey’s on soon and that is serious business here. :)

Cheers from London!



I've been fighting with my wireless here but will be posting lots of pictures when I get home!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Chain O'Lakes State Park


The view from the back patio

This past weekend, we got our urban sherpa on. (This is Ali's ingenious term for the plight of the automobile-free when attempting to leave the city or trek around the city without multiple trips home. Basically packing laptops, gym clothes, makeup, two changes of clothing, etc. in various bags: purses, totes and shopping bags and dragging said bags everywhere you go.) On Friday, we headed up to the burbs to celebrate our stepdad's birthday. As always, it was a great time, but I think its safe to say the highlight of everyone's weekend was the family canoeing trip.

Before we could get going, we had to make an emergency trip to DSW as our shoes were deemed "impractical." We helpfully both brought home our respective pairs of leopard print shoes, so there was a family-assisted, fast and furious hunt for appropriate boating footwear. Mission accomplished in under 12 minutes; we are champs and the fam has great taste. And yes, we are aware that we are ridiculously lucky we are to have the kind of family that feeds us and houses us for the weekend and then buys us new shoes.

Chain O'Lakes State Park is about an hour and a half northwest of Chicago, and we really couldn't have picked a better day for a drive. We admired our shoes and were there in no time flat. After a hike through the woods, some time acting like children on the swings, and a lunch of Ali's amazing chicken salad and Asian apple pears, it was time to face the canoes.

Ali and I both love the water, but were less than thrilled at the perceived high probability of our canoe tipping and and flipping, fully clothed, into the muddy water. Luckily, my sister has an eagle eye and politely demanded a canoe roughly the width of a pontoon, so flipping turned out to be a non-issue.

She also turned out to be a pro navigator and the stronger paddler of the two of us, though I maintain my half-assed paddling was to take pictures. "ITS FOR THE BLOG!"

Our parents paddled along next to us and the four of us spent the next two hours canoeing up and down the banks of the river in total awe of how beautiful the scenery was, totally alone on the water with the exception of a crane and some elusive jumping fish. It was absolutely perfect in all respects: company, weather, and a new adventure, and a day I know I'll always remember.













Ending the day with a dipped cone from Dairy Queen!