Tuesday, May 27, 2008

café expres, a perfect date

One of my favorite things about being in Paris is the wonderful tradition of café expres (espresso). You can pop in any old place, sit with Romance at the bar, stare at fabulous people and cool your elbows on the smooth marble countertop, while you sip a little cupful of rich, fragrant coffee. It's a very romantic, European thing—to be so grandiose, so spontaneous—to make such an event of drinking a thimble-full of anything. That anybody can accomplish such a stylish, nostalgic moment for less than $2 makes it that much more appealing.

Lately, Colin and I have been making a habit—albeit spontaneous—of popping into cafes for a little restoration. In Burlington on Church Street, there are at least two good places I can think where you can experience the inexpensive luxury of espresso, elevated to an art form. But all you really need is a bar, a good atmosphere, and of course an espresso machine (there are some really wonderful restaurants in town that, sadly, do not have one).

Lake Champlain Chocolates is perfect, because not only do they serve espresso, but they also sell what is, in my mind, the best chocolate around. The two really go hand in hand (that's why in Paris and elsewhere, they always serve espresso with a chocolate-covered coffee bean or almond). It takes the edge off the dark Arabica brew. Lake Champlain Chocolates has a little bar where you can sit and enjoy your moment while watching the passersby on the street. Colin and I dropped in the other day while we were out running errands and ordered two espressos and one square of dark chocolate (to share). The entire thing cost around five dollars, but it felt much more extravagant than that.

I know I talk about Leunig's Bistro a lot, but I can't help it. We love to eat there. And while it's true that you can get a little over-the-top with the menu, some of my favorite moments there have been the simple and spontaneous ones, sitting at the bar, with just a glass of wine and Vermont cheese plate. You could just linger there all night and really feel like a neighborhood regular by the end of it (for under $10 a person). Last night, we stopped in before a movie date for some espresso and one of their amazing maple creme brulees to share—it's the best creme brulee in town, and I'm an expert.

I don't know why I'm telling you any of this. I just felt very good when I remembered these two moments. They reminded me of other espresso moments. I love that these moments are at the same time economical, romantic, and memorable. What more could you ask for in a date?


Thursday, May 22, 2008

strange cravings: kimchi mac & cheese

Yes, that's exactly what I said. Kimchi on top of mac & cheese. Would you eat it?

I got home from work just now with a knot in my stomach—that kind of knot you get when you're starving, but can't think of anything you want to eat. Quickly perusing the meager stock in my fridge, my eyes locked on a jar of Sunja's Spicy Cabbage Kimchi. It was exactly what I wanted. I pulled the jar from the fridge, grabbed a fork from the drawer and proceeded to stuff my face with that delicious, gingery stuff.

Gosh, I really was hungry. Kimchi alone is no meal for no swashbuckler! I needed some sustenance to carry me through.

Here's where the story gets a little depressing. The only other thing I could find in the cupboards that was even remotely appetizing was a box of Annie's Mac & Cheese (that's Col's stock; I normally hate packaged meals!). But at that moment, it was exactly what I wanted.

I pulled it from the cupboards, put some water on to boil and started wondering what I would put on the Mac & Cheese to make it better (you have to put something on it to cover up the gross powdered cheese flavor). Then it hit me: what I really wanted was the kimchi and the mac & cheese together. In the same bowl. Right now.

So I did it. I really, really did it. I put my mac & cheese in a bowl. Then I poured about half a jar's worth of kimchi right on top. Then I ate it. I ate the whole thing.

Was it good? You bet it was! A seemingly disparate pair in the stomach (kimchi is praised for its digestive health benefits; dairy is blamed for indigestion) is a surprisingly delicious combo on the palate. I would do it again in a heart-beat.



Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Emi and Kevin just got a new doggie. His name is Cabot and he is very well-behaved. This is him.



There used to be something gratifying about talking to customer service. You had this feeling that everything would be okay. The woman on the other end would call you by first name and you would call her "Mary" back. You'd talk about the weather in Phoenix and she'd say, "I've always wanted to visit Vermont. Now let's get your problem taken care of."

These days, Mary has changed. She's still warm and friendly. She still says she wants to help. But she's powerless. She doesn't know how to help. She asks you to do the same thing over and over. She says things are fixed, but you have to call her back the next day to report, "No, it's still the same problem. What do I do now?" Only this time, it's not Mary anymore. It's Bob. And he has no record of your phone call with Mary. Service is a time suck.

Or is it me? Are my expectations too high?

I just want everything to be fixed. Right now. I don't want any more 20-minute holds with the bill payment department. I don't want to be shoved from one customer representative to the next. I want my packages to arrive on time and in good condition. And I want this to be my last game of musical cars, as I try to get to the repair shop for the third time this month.

Please and thank you.

I'll stop whining now.

Monday, May 19, 2008

just what the doctor ordered

I came home from work tonight and found a neat little note sitting on my kitchen counter. It was from Hannah (she left this morning) and I hope she doesn't mind, but I'm writing it here, just so I can have it for always.

Dear Soupy ~

I'm so glad that we got to hang out this weekend, it really was lovely, just perfect. Thanks for having me at your sweet little home, with your cute little kitties who I adore. Can't wait for the next time to see you... in CA? Or VT? Or NY? We'll see...

Love you love you love you. Just what the Dr. Ordered—a weekend with my sistawrs...

Hannah Poopy

Saturday, May 17, 2008

hannah & the birds

First of all, Hannah's here. She's sleeping right now—still on L.A. time. She got in last night. We made dinner. We saw friends. It was nice.

Second of all, our porch has turned into some kind of bird paradise and the cats are freaking out. A pair of purple finches is building their nest in our busted rattan blind. It's a budgie penthouse.

And then came the pigeon...


Monday, May 12, 2008

rhubarb & custard

I grew up thinking that rhubarb and custard was some gross mush that mummy's used to make their children eat for breakfast. Rhubarb sounded gross and custard sounded even grosser.

It wasn't until many years later that I realized custard is the wonderful creamy goodness that makes many of my favorite foods happen: homemade ice cream, creme brulee, yummy quiche. And it wasn't until very recently (this year in fact) that I tasted rhubarb for the first time in years and was reminded how much I do love it. I was hit by a wave of nostalgia with every bite.

Rhubarb and cream were meant for each other. The buttery sweetness is the perfect balance to rhubarb's tangy, mouth-puckering flavor. I'm determined to experiment and come up with as many riffs on the classic combo as I can.

On our recent trip to England, my Aunt Carrie served a delicious rhubarb fool (that is cooked, sweetened rhubarb folded into whipped cream). I was hooked. Now that it's rhubarb season in Vermont, I just can't get enough of it. I made my own variation on the fool this past weekend by cooking rhubarb with some lemon and orange zest and a little sugar. Then I folded it into maple syrup-sweetened plain yogurt. Divine!

Tonight, I'm really pushing the limits of ultimate creamy tart flavor: strawberry rhubarb ice cream. Strawberries & cream meets rhubarb & custard. And the result is soooo good. The secret is in the lemon juice. You wouldn't think that rhubarb would need any more acid but it really does help bring out the flavor against all that creamy custard.

What's next? Tomorrow, I'm having rhubarb in my yogurt for breakfast. I hope I don't get a stomach ache!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

first market & mother's day

The first farmer's market in Burlington is always abuzz with energy. And who could blame us? We've been stifled in our winter roosts for far too long. The fresh flowers, plants and spring veggies have us dreaming of Sunday brunches and garden parties.

Burlington's farmer's market always opens Mother's Day weekend and it couldn't be better that way. I've made it a tradition to buy my Mum a new plant every year for her herb garden. Usually, it's still a bit too early in the growing season to buy her a big bag of local produce.

This year, however, it seems the first market was abundant in full force. I went early this morning to get the best selection and found lovely fresh asparagus, spinach, rhubarb, scallions, and local shitake mushrooms. No sign of fiddleheads or ramps or scapes. I guess they've gone by already, which seems early to me.

I also found a little purple sage plant for my Mum. I think I'll take my plant and my big bag of veggies up to Newport and make her the best spring quiche ever!


Thursday, May 01, 2008

if you do spend it, spend it on local art

I met my friends Beth and Jewel for dinner last night at Flatbread (soooo good!). Somehow or other, our conversation turned to the stimulus package. I told them my plans for keeping it in the bank. Beth had a better idea: buy some local art. She too, plans to put save most of the money, but she's also setting aside a little bit of it to buy two prints from her favorite local artist.

Most people want to buy a bigger TV, a new game console, or go clothes shopping. The economic stimulus package is designed to encourage spending and stimulate our economy but most of the things Americans buy are manufactured overseas. And due to quality issues, most of it doesn’t have much of a shelf life. And a piece of art will last a lifetime. I know it sounds cheesy but it is true.

Please consider buying art and contributing to the artists who will build up the American culture as opposed to taking away from it."

Read her full post (and maybe even buy one of her beautiful handmade Strange Dolls!)

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