September 25, 2011

A Little Piece of Paris in the Center of DC

Other than chocolate and sweets, one of my favorite foods to eat while in Paris is a camembert or brie baguette sandwich. In typical French fashion, the bakeries and boulongeries make even the simple cheese sandwich more decadent. They add butter.

While I normally prefer independent, local businesses when I used to travel to Paris for work I would often stop at one of the Paul Bakeries for a pastry or sandwich. This European chain has bakeries scattered around Paris and other European cities. I found it be a reliable place to go for good bread, a flaky croissant, or a delicious sweet pastry. And, yes, they serve wonderful camembert sandwiches.

So, I was excited when I heard that one of the first Paul Bakeries in the USA would be in DC, only a few blocks from my office. I was curious to see if this new American store would have the same selection and quality was grew accustomed to in Europe.

After walking by the "Coming Soon" signs for a couple months the bakery finally opened! The first thing I bought from the new Paul Bakery was a raisin pastry. I was thrilled to find it was flaky and delicious - just like in Paris! Next I tried a croissant and hot chocolate, and again both were very good!

Finally, I stopped at Paul Bakery one afternoon for a sandwich. I selected a camembert baguette and took it back to my desk at work. The camembert sandwich was made with an excellent sesame seed baguette and contain camembert cheese (of course), lettuce, and butter! As I sat there munching on my sandwich as I worked I began to smile - it tasted like I was back in Paris!

In addition to baguette sandwiches, Paul Bakery also makes lovely pastries (including macaroons) and serves French style hot chocolate. Yes, visiting the bakery is like taking a mini trip to Paris! Bon voyage!

September 18, 2011

A Perfect Birthday Celebration for My Husband...

How do you plan a perfect birthday celebration for someone? Recently I was wondering what I should plan for my husband's birthday. The celebration was to be on a Friday evening and the details were to be secret until the time arrived. I know my husband's favorite restaurants and other places he likes - but I wanted to pick some place special, some place not everyday. I know he enjoys French cuisine and jazz so I decided try to include these elements in my plan for the evening. After a bit of research and a few telephone calls I decided to take him to dinner at La Chaumière and then to Blues Alley for a jazz concert. (My only challenge was keeping these plans secret until it was time to go out.)

Finally my husband’s birthday arrived and after work we headed to La Chaumière in Georgetown for dinner. This was my first time dining at this restaurant so walking down the sidewalk I was hoping it would a be the perfect spot for a birthday dinner. I was delighted when we arrived and were seated at our table. The interior of the restaurant is rustic, old school French and the atmosphere is romantic and relaxed. We brought a bottle of wine that Jonathan had purchased at Ansonia Wines to drink on his birthday. Our waiter brought us glasses and opened the bottle while we faced the difficult decision of what to order to eat.

Then menu at La Chaumière is classic French - salads, onion soup, escargot, mussels, stews, and more... After much mental debate I decided to get Palourdes Farcies à la Provençale (baked clams) for my appetizer and Fricassée du Pêcheur (fish stew) for my entrée. Jonathan ordered Boudin Blanc (housemade chicken and pork sausage) to start and Tripes à la Mode de Caen (tripe stew) for his main course.

Boudin Blanc

After ordering we were served warm bread. (Unfortunately the butter was not European-style cultured butter, but the bread was very good.) Soon after our appetizers arrived. My clams were baked with butter, parsley, and garlic - similar to the traditional preparation for escargot - and were very good. And like with escargot there was plenty of melted butter and herbs to soak up with bread. Next came my entrée, the fish stew. In addition to fish, the stew also contained a variety of other seafood and vegetables- clams, shrimp, mussels, scallops, potatoes, and carrots. The broth was richly flavored and delicious. I was very happy Jonathan enjoyed both his dishes (as well as tastes of mine) immensely. The meal was wonderful and comforting - a perfect birthday dinner.

Fricassée du Pêcheur

Tripes à la Mode de Caen

Following dinner we took a walk down M Street window shopping in the warm summertime dusk. As it was getting dark we had about an hour until the jazz concert began so we decided to stop for a drink at the lounge at the Four Seasons. Bourbon Steak, the restaurant in this hotel, has a fashionable lounge are with both indoor and outdoor seating. Due to the fact that it was a nice summer evening, all outside tables were occupied, but we were able to find a nice spot inside to enjoy a glass of wine and dessert. (There were several tempting desserts on the menu at La Chaumière, however, we had wanted to take a walk and enjoy the outdoors between our savory and sweet courses.) Even though it was Jonathan’s birthday, he allowed me to pick the dessert. I chose chocolate, of course. Specifically we shared a chocolate pot de crème with crumbled cookies, ice cream, and toasted hazelnuts. It was lovely!

Chocolate Pot de Crème

Finally, it was time for the concert. This was my first time at Blues Alley and it is located in an alley off Wisconsin Avenue. Once inside it was a dimly-lit space with small tables tightly packed together. We were seated a few rows back from the stage and settled in to enjoy the show. The performer was Freddy Cole. I am not a jazz aficionado, but had a wonderful time at the show. And the best part was watching my husband Jonathan smile as he listened to the music.

September 14, 2011

Across the Cafe Table - Picnics

This is the fourth Across the Cafe Table on The Travel Belles. These posts have been a great way for our community of smart female travelers to share, learn more about each other, and give tips to our readers of our favorite travel places and ideas. So, this month's Across the Cafe Table question is:


My first reaction to this question is another question: Can I have two favorite picnic spots? After contemplating this thought for a few moments I decided that yes, I will share two favorites.

My two favorite picnic spots are very different - one is in the new world and the other in the old world, one is in the middle of the city and the other is in the countryside. That said, both picnic spots are in places where food and wine are an important part of the local culture.

The first picnic spot I would like to share is in a historic park in the middle of a classic European city - Jardin des Tuileries in Paris. This park is lovely and filled with Parisians and tourists alike. When I used to fly to Paris for American Airlines, a friend of mine and I would often buy a baguette and cheese and have a picnic in this beautiful park. We would sit on a bench, watch people stroll by, and enjoy being in the middle of this amazing city. This is the perfect place for a picnic, especially around this time of year.

My next favorite picnic spot is thousands of miles from Paris in California. Oxbow Public Market near downtown Napa is a great place to eat while visiting this area of California wine country. This market is home to many local vendors and restaurants selling some wonderful edible (and drinkable) items. My favorite vendor is Pica Pica Maize Kitchen that sells arepas (Venezuelan corn flour cakes filled with vegetables, beans, cheeses, and meats). In the row of buildings across street there are tasting rooms for some small local wineries. There is a deck on one side of the market where you can take your food (and wine) and your picnic in the California sunshine. If you are here in the evening a beautiful sunset will most likely be the backdrop for your picnic!


September 11, 2011

10 Years Later…

Ten years ago today I woke up from a nap in Paris at 2:00 in the afternoon (8:00 am in New York). At the time I was working as an American Airlines Boeing 757 and 767 pilot based out of Boston, MA. The night before I had been the relief pilot on a flight from Boston to Paris. We had landed at Charles de Gaulle airport just as the sun was coming over the horizon.

September 11th, 2001 was a beautiful day in Paris – bright, clear, blue skies and crisp fall air. I went out for a walk with one of the other pilots. We wandered through the streets and neighborhoods of the Left Bank, stopping for a café crème at a small café. We were unaware of the events that were unfolding on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean – it was just another day on the job, another layover in a city in Europe.

That was about to change. Our waiter came over and asked if we were American. He told us that the World Trade Center in New York had been bombed by Iraq. He said he heard the news on Radio France and invited us to listen with him, but the reporting was in French. Neither of us spoke French, so we politely declined. And I did not believe him; it seemed improbable. We finished our café crèmes and returned to wandering the streets. Eventually we arrived at the apartment of the other pilot’s friend. He rushed us in inside and sat us in front of the television.

I watched the images on the screen – the World Trade Center Towers in New York burning, smoke rising from the Pentagon, reporters talking, people running through the streets of New York City and Washington, DC, American Airlines and United Airlines airplanes. It seemed surreal, like special effects created an action movie. Was it real?

Minutes past and seemed like hours... It was real. There was a lot of confusion, but the initial facts started to become clear. Terrorists had hijacked two of our flights and two United flights, killed the pilots, and intentionally crashed the airplanes. Thousands of people were dead. The World Trade Center in New York City was collapsing in flames, the Pentagon was burning, one airplane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania… One of the American Airlines flights was from Boston and it was a Boeing 757. I was handed a phone – call home. I dialed the phone numbers of my family for half an hour before a call finally went through. It was my dad. The sheer gravity and sadness of the day started to weigh on me. I began realizing this day – this one day – would most likely change how my life forever.

After watching the news, talking to family, and checking online for email messages, it was time to go back out into the streets of Paris. We met the rest of our crew at a restaurant for dinner. People were crying. We talked about our fellow American Airlines crew members who were now dead – our friends. Over dinner we learned that all flights in the United States had been grounded and it was uncertain when we would be able to fly home. I went to bed that night exhausted and cried.

We ended up staying in Paris for almost a week. Every day our crew met at 10:00am in the hotel lobby to talk. After that my days were spent out in the city. I walked a lot, I took photographs of the city streets, I went shopping for clothes at Galleries Lafayette, I ate at cafes, I took a train to Giverny, I kept busy, and I drank a lot of French wine. Throughout the week I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and generosity of the Parisian people. Waiters, store clerks, and people I sat next to at cafes all gave their sympathies and tried to make those of me feel comfortable and welcome. On September 16th, we were finally able to fly back home to Boston.

Today – 10 years later – I remember that day. I was correct that afternoon, September 11th, 2001 did change my life forever. Security in my country and the way we travel changed since that day. Politics in the United States have become more polarized. Some people became afraid and there has been discrimination. The world has also changed. There have been wars and other terrorist attacks in the last ten years. Osama bin Laden has been killed.

My life is very different today. I no longer work as a pilot, but I still love to travel. I recently returned to Paris with my husband on vacation and walked the same streets.

I ask you – my readers – to never forget the victims that died on September 11th, 2001. And remember that through travel we can learn about the different people, cultures, and religions around the world. By gaining a better understanding of others hopefully we can work towards peace.

September 7, 2011

September 4, 2011

Brunch in Manhattan

After several days fun days relaxing and exploring Manhattan and Brooklyn the day we were scheduled to return home arrived. It was a rainy Sunday morning and we decided to have brunch in the city before driving back Washington, DC. After checking Yelp, we decided to go to La Grainne Cafe on 8th Avenue in Chelsea.

La Grainne Cafe is a cute French bistro with a few tables along the sidewalk. Since it was raining when we arrived we opted for the crowded but cozy dining room. The tables are packed tight together - reminding me of cafes in Paris. We squeezed into a table by the wall and reviewed the menu. The atmosphere was truly bustling - again reminding me of Parisian cafes...

I ordered a crepe and hot chocolate and Jonathan ordered a crepe with coffee. My hot chocolate came is a small cafe bowl. And I was delighted to find that is was unsweetened! I prefer dark chocolate and often find hot cocoa at restaurants and cafes too sweet for my taste. The crepes were wonderful - buckwheat crepes with egg and cheese (and ham for Jonathan). Everything was delicious! A perfect Sunday morning meal...

Having brunch in Manhattan reminded me of my continued search for a favorite brunch place in Washington, DC. Yes, I have discovered some good restaurants to go to for brunch in the district, but no favorites yet. If La Grainne Cafe was the nation’s capital instead of Manhattan it would be my favorite!