December 06, 2012
Paris: Absorbing the Many Sides & Moods of Her
Paris has a funny way about her and yes, I'm sure she's a her. She's all the things a her can be: beautiful, moody, complex, dynamic, essential, turbulent, pensive, fashionable, delicious and vivacious.
I've been meandering through her alleys, eating her crepes and sipping her coffee every December for years now. I've never shied away from her nor have I ever rejected her....she has that way about her of pulling you in like gravity, the force of which is so powerful you find yourself agreeing with her even if she toys with your patience from time-to-time.
This year, as I thought about her brittle wet days and nights, as she is every December, I realized I was hesitant to go. She wasn't egging me on and part of me feared: Am I done with Paris? Is she done with me? I contemplated the thought but only briefly as I realized my dismissal of her was only because I was so preoccupied with the year 2012 and seeing it come to an end.
Far too many heady reflective messages this year....the ones that call you to challenge things you once believed were crystal clear only to discover they were muddier and murkier than a pond on Detroit's south side during a lightening storm.
It's not as if I needed a 'soulful' place to visit...not that Paris doesn't have its fair share of soul. More than a soulful city however, Paris is an invigorating one, one which re-ignites lost creativity and inspires the artist within. Who doesn't need a creative light and inspiration regardless of what stage in life they're in I thought? And yet, I reflected on one insightful early December night before I boarded the plane, I want silence, not noise, warm balmy nights, not icy windy ones, clear blue skies that hurt my eyes from their brightness, not gray cloudy ones, and warm brothy soups, not sizzling duck with a glass of Bordeaux.
But then I remembered all the drizzly rainy cold days and nights with Paris below my feet and how many of them I spent with her alone. Ahhh yes, Paris alone. Most people don't think about her that way - they head there when they want to propose to a loved one, take in a romantic weekend away, surprise someone with an anniversary present, or simply to experience the allure of her magnificence, the allure Hemingway and other greats have written novels about since anyone could.
Alone is when Paris really shines, I thought to myself and I've more often had her to myself than not, so why would this year be any different? She'll surprise me in a different way like she always does, I told myself. It will rain since she's rarely given me sunshine and I will hover under some broken umbrella on a corner somewhere savoring a piece of dark chocolate that was beautifully wrapped in 3 colored foil with a golden blue ribbon.
I knew the shop, the many shops I could go to for such a delight and marvel in its decadence the moment I stepped back out onto the wet pavement. I knew Paris would be good for that or for a plate of mussels near Saint Germain des Pres. Or for her lights. Her beauty. Her mystery. Her endless cafes where you could sit for hours over a dark roasted coffee in a cup the size of a thumb nail or one large enough to be a soup cup.
I wondered about the latest boot and shoe fashion and what St. Paul's window displays would bring me, or the beer I'd have with a journalist friend who always insists on meeting near the Republique and I always say yes even though I'd take grapes over hops any day. I considered a couple business colleagues who would roll their eyes when I pleaded for old world charm when they simply wanted to take in a modern brasserie or cafe. Then, there is my friend who has lived there for nearly thirty years, who remains as enthusiastic and endearing about life itself as he was when I first met him on that Eastern African island where we were stuck for weeks because there was no boat, rig or plane that could bring us back to the mainland.
I remembered one year where I had more time than most and walked ten miles of her wet cold streets every day for two weeks. At the end of each day after I had killed two or three of those $5 umbrellas because the wind blew them apart, I'd trek back to the apartment where I was staying, which had an unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower from its kitchen. Every night, the Tower was magnificent and looked like it was close enough to touch from my balcony, the vibrancy of its lights rightfully overpowering anything else near it. Waiting for me was either a graceful or complex Bordeaux (I never knew which one I'd get) and some dark chocolate.
On the way, I'd stop at a corner near La Motte Picquet Grenelle's metro station and order a crepe with ham and mushrooms and because I was there so often, I didn't have to explain daily why I didn't want cheese, something that confuses anyone who lives in Paris, French or not. I wondered if the same man was there, the same man who'd smile every time I ordered the same thing night after night.
"Poivre?" he asked the first time. "Beaucoup, beaucoup," I responded. As he was about to fold the crepe from the piping hot skillet and scoop into a paper plate, I stopped him and said, "plus de poivre s'il vous plait." He looked at me in disbelief as if to say that any more pepper atop his perfectly crafted crepe would destroy the flavors inside. Perhaps he thought, "damn yank, she doesn't have a clue," on that one cold December night, the first time I bought a crepe from him. Over time, the smiles increased and he even helped me navigate a very long walking route one day on my crumpled damp paper map and although he kept reinforcing that it was too far to walk and why wouldn't I take the metro, he gave me advice anyway. And, we never had to talk about "poivre" again for he sprinkled the perfect amount on my ham and mushroom crepe with no cheese every day until I left.
Why was I fighting her I thought? Reflection time aside, doesn't Paris always take me in whether I am in a state of chaos, glory, beauty or solitude? Doesn't she always give back even if there are some cuts and bruises along the way? You know, the side that many foreigners complain about. The French "attitude," they receive because they aren't sophisticated enough, cultured enough, educated enough, polished enough, fashionable enough, French enough or French at all.
We've all been there and yet, a variation of it exists in many cultures, albeit more common in cosmopolitan cities. Yet, with the exception of Buenos Aires and Tokyo, I've been to all the other major cities around the world and truth be told, Paris does have more attitude. It's France's New York, posing the same directness and attitude but with more charm unless of course if you happen to be British or American.
New Yorkers feel the same way about their city, as if there is no other city greater in the world and why would you go anywhere else, even for a weekend for crying out loud?
I was no longer worried about why I brushed Paris aside this year. Once my flight was booked, the hesitation went away and even after looking at the 70% rain weather report, I moved forward packing warm socks, waterproof boots, mittens, hats and scarves and one of those many mini $5 umbrellas I was due to destroy in the coming days ahead. I wondered as I thought about the cloudy gray skies that would meet my gaze when I landed at Charles De Gaulle, what she had in store for me at the end of this very long year.
February 18, 2012
Is What I Crave Connected to My Heritage, Where I Live or Both?
It always seems to take over a month for those post holidays sugar and fatty food cravings to disappear. I’ve noticed that those cravings are often more prevalent during certain times of the year and when I visit certain parts of the world, and it’s not just because those “cravings” are the only things that locals eat.
I currently live in northern California and have lived in 10 countries, including more than my fair share of cold-weathered cities. There’s no question that colder climates can make you crave heartier dishes and hotter temperature foods, even though Brits argued that soups and curries helped them cool down in India during the colonial years.
Since living on the west coast, I crave more sushi than when I lived in Boston. When I visit northern European cities, I crave more red meat even if there’s fish or chicken on the menu and the weather is warm.
Culture contributes to those cravings and may explain why my Italian-born friends prefer a crisp Sauvignon Blanc over a buttery Chardonnay and how I developed such a tight bond with South African biltong that it’s hard to convince natives that I wasn’t raised there.
That said, there are some dishes I crave that feel like they’re “part” of who I am, such as squash, kobasa, duck, and toast for starters. Call it comfort food but I wonder, is it a craving for “comfort” or is it connected to heritage, where generations of eating certain things gets passed on, embedded in our DNA if you will?
When my grandfather sat down for lunch, his staple to-go plate included cold meats, pickles and onions. My grandmother would add a bowl of onions to the table since he added onions to more dishes than I’d care to admit.
Observing this behavior was subliminal at best, yet here I am years later craving many of the same things my grandfather ate, and have noticed a “craving” increase of some of his favorite dishes as I get older.
There are examples of this across the globe, such as the thousands of banana varieties in Africa alone, not to mention vegetables and fruits not that plentiful in the west like guava and okra. Whatever we have an abundance of, we eat, another reason I’m thrilled the holidays are over.
When we lived in Florida, oranges were a regular sighting in our kitchen as was coconut juice when I hung my hat in Kenya. I lived on curries in London and ate French fries with peanut butter sauce in Amsterdam.
But, how much of our cravings are connected to other factors such as our body chemistry and general health?
Rest assured, there are lots of foods that make me feel better, such as fruits and vegetables. And, when I eat healthier, my body chemistry changes as do my cravings. When I used to juice regularly, I’d find alcohol and low-alkaline foods hard to stomach. Our bodies adapt just as our ancestor’s bodies adapted to different kinds of foods as a result of changes in climate, food availability and the economy. (Think The Depression).
Many doctors and health experts may argue that our cravings have nothing to do with heritage whatsoever. There’s certainly no shortage of doctor-blessed diets that promise to reduce your cravings, decrease your “bad” cholesterol and add years to your life.
D'Adamo suggests that the human blood type is key to the body's ability to differentiate self from non-self. Lectins in foods, he asserts, react differently with each ABO blood type and to a lesser extent with an individual's secretor status.
One source suggests that orange juice is bad for my blood type whereas grapefruit juice and I should shine. The truth is that while I like both, I prefer grapefruit juice and “feel” healthier drinking it.
One of the noted symptoms of adrenal fatigue, a condition where your adrenal glands become “tired”, is a craving of salty, fatty, and high protein food such as meat and cheese. Some blood type diets observe that Type O’s don’t find dairy products and grains as ‘body-friendly.” It makes you wonder what percentage of people from northern Europe are Type O’s versus those who hail from Africa or Asia?
Chinese Medicine for Maximum Immunity by Elias & Kethum suggest that I should add more “cool foods” to my diet and avoid red vegetables such as tomatoes and red peppers which can make you feel more “irritable & off-balance” and bitter foods and beverages, which are considered more ‘healing.’ They focus on five elemental types: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. After doing a questionnaire, they recommend certain foods based on your results and tell you to avoid others, with the goal of getting your body into balance and harmony.
Albeit not new, Dr. Barnet Meltzer has written about something he refers to as “food swings”, the reactions in your mind and body to what you eat, a link between your diet and your emotional and physical well-being. Female friends have admitted that they may eat more at times when they knowingly don’t want to attract men into their lives.
Those who have tried the Atkins Diet know that it makes you forget about carbs after the first week and soon, its promise to drop the pounds becomes a reality, for a price that is and not necessarily a healthy one.
A highly alkaline and juice diet made me enjoy raw foods in a way I never thought was possible. Being a vegetarian for awhile made me despise the smell of meat for a few years and Rosedale’s diet argues that Leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells, tells the brain when to eat, how much to eat and when to stop eating.
The time of day you eat is also a factor. When I returned from Italy several years ago, I craved pasta in the mornings and it wasn’t until I avoided carbs until late afternoon that those sharp cravings disappeared.
The Telegraph’s Science Correspondent Richard Alleyne unveiled research in 2009 that examined how the time of day you eat affects how much weight you put on; eating high fat foods during the day led to a 20 per cent weight gain.
This is just the beginning of an exploration of how cravings are connected to heritage, location, time and health. If you have ever documented your cravings and have insights to share, let’s evolve the conversation. Over to you, health afficiandos, doctors, researchers, experts and those who are as genuinely curious as I am about this topic, to offer your opinions and data.
September 15, 2011
August Capital Food Porn: Bring it On
August Capital held their annual bash this week at their Silicon Valley's Sandhill Road headquarters. They did a fabulous job curating the best of the best in the industry, which equated to a wealth of interesting conversations.
Of course, they are notorious for making sure the food and wine is top notch and as always, they didn't disappoint. Below is a visual journey of what was on the menu, thanks to Taste, based on Third Street in San Francisco.
While I typically have spent my time capturing photos of attendees and fun, social group shots, this year, I only focused on food porn, likely due to the increased time I've been spending covering food, wine and culture over on We Blog the World. (besides, food is a whole lot more fun to cover than gadgets even if I am a part-time geek).
Starting with the fresh peach prosecco spritzer, we then moved onto white wine (chard and sauvignon blanc) to go with some of the lighter appetizers.
They also had an oyster bar with two different kinds to choose from - both from northern California's coastline.
Passed plates included tamarind glazed marin sun farms pork belly, sauteed okra with pimento peppers and sweet corn, roasted local sea bass with compressed melon and cucumber salsa cruda and fried green beefstaeak tomatoes. (yes, time to move onto the Merlot and the Cabernet from Napa).
I loved the hand cut (homemade baby) pasta with summer chanterelles (very fresh), the sungold tomatoes, peas & marjoram and my two favorites of the savory dishes all night: the chilled corn soup in demitasse with chive and la tourangelle avocado oil on the top and the smoked spanish paprika flank steak with arugula and salsa rossa.
April 26, 2011
Ultimate Women's Expo Hits Phoenix on April 30
The Ultimate Women’s Expo hits Phoenix next weekend, which will consist of two full days of events, giveaways and talks designed specifically for women. The conference features keynote speakers Patricia Heaton and Ricki Lake and over 550 shopping booths, along with complimentary pampering and rejuvenation for women in and outside of Arizona.
Exhibits include the very best in fashion, beauty, health, fitness, home décor, careers, financial planning, education and much more. Admission includes an amazing array of complimentary spa services, including free makeovers, haircuts, manicures, massages and facials. They'll have four stages, book signings, celebrity appearances, and cooking and design demonstrations. The Decorating Stage features renown design experts providing new ideas on home décor, while the Cooking Theatre features some of the Valley’s most talented chefs preparing the latest in new and fresh meal ideas.
Emmy Award Winning Actress, Author, Producer and bestselling author Patricia Heaton will deliver an empowering message to women on making the most of everyday and living your best life on Saturday, April 30, 2011, Susan Lucci, the vixen from All My Children, will also speak and then conduct a book signing and award winning actress, author, producer, Talk Show Host and Women’s Advocate Ricki Lake will finish off with a talk on exceeding your own expectations on Sunday, May 1, 2011.
How cool is this? They'll also have a Rejuvenation Tea Garden Lounge, which will feature over 500 trees and flowering gardens, and there within, attendees will receive free champagne, martini’s, margaritas and wine tastings throughout the weekend.
April 03, 2011
Maggie Mudd: An Ice Cream Institution Now Gone
People have been talking about Maggie Mudd's ice cream shop on Cortland Street ever since I moved to San Francisco. Truth be told, whenever there was a conversation about ice cream, someone would say, yeah, I drive from Marin or San Jose or Pac Heights or Berkeley for Maggie Mudd ice cream, which is a bit of a trek considering how Bay Area residents feel about crossing either bridge and coming into the city.
MaggieMudd is an independent ice cream parlor that specializes in non-dairy flavors - made from soy and from coconut milk.
The funny thing is that Maggie isn't the owner's name, who btw, is a husband and wife team: Michael and Changying. Maggie is in fact, a cat who moved in with them.
They have over 55 flavors of ice cream and vegan dairy-free ice cream, as well as sundaes and ice cream cakes, including ones without dairy.
They created fun names for their special shakes, such as Brooklynn's Twisted Mind, Tarmack, or Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice. I was told on the day I went in that Tarmack was a customer favorite.
So, on the day I ventured into Maggie Mudd -- April 3, 2011, I was craving a chocolate non-dairy frozen cone, and threw it into a Google search and there she was in all her glory: Maggie Mudd came up, a place which has become a San Francisco institution yet the only time I had spent time behind its doors was when I first moved to the city. What was I thinking?
It wasn't busy despite the fact that it was a sunny day (a rarity in San Francisco), yet when I asked about chocolate and other flavors, Willeda, who has been working for them for six years, smiled and said, not today. So, I asked, you have dark chocolate at other times right? Yes, she said with a smile, but not after today. Confused, she went on to say that today was the last day Maggie Mudd was open. Forever. For good. Yowsa - did I get lucky or what?
I had the place to myself until a few moms came in to order their infamous ice cream cakes for their daughters, which will apparently still be available to order even though the shop itself will now be closed. I tested the coconut, cookie dough, coffee, oatmeal dough and against my initial judgment, peanut butter and jelly, which was better than I expected.
With no chocolate in site, I went for the cookie dough...a small set me back $4.25 and a pint is $7.50, a quart over $13.00. In other words, it ain't cheap. Their ice cream wasn't fabulous to be honest, then again, they don't make their own ice cream and what their known for is their non-dairy frozen cones which they make on-site. And those my friends, are creamier, richer and yummier than any other soy dairy dessert I've had.
While you can't get an ice cream cone at their Cortland Street shop anymore, you can click on their online catalog to see what kind of a cake we can make for you, order online and schedule your delivery time.
January 08, 2011
Dining at Paris' L'Aiguiere Along Rue De Montreuil
Below are random photos from the evening at Restaurant L'Aiguiere on Rue Montreuil in Paris.
Alliance de foie gras et pain d'épices en terrine at Restaurant L'Aiguiere
The chef is Patrick Masbatin. It is located on 37 bis, rue de Montreuil, 75011 in Paris. Tele: 01.43.72.42.32.
December 30, 2010
Life in the Drunk Lane: America's Top Ten Drunkest Cities
I'm always amused what some 'sights' do on the data collecting front. For example, The Daily Beast revealed 40 cities who drink the most in the U.S. based on the average number of drinks consumed per person in a month.
Jacksonville, Florida was last at #40, Philly was #20 and Seattle came in #30. And number one? The midwest, where else?
Stats for the #1 drunkest American city was Milwaukee Wisconsin:
Average drinks, per person, per month: 12.76
Percent of adults who are heavy drinkers: 7.1
Percent of adults who are binge drinkers: 21.8
Deaths per 100,000 residents from alcoholic liver disease: 3.9
The top ten list below.
1. Milwaukee, WI
2. Fargo, ND
3. San Francisco, CA
4. Austin, TX
5. Reno, NV
6. Burlington, VT
7. Omaha, NE
8. Boston, MA
9. Anchorage, AK
10. San Diego, CA
December 27, 2010
Who Said You Couldn't Get a Heart Attack From Vegetarian?
This year, I joined a friend's annual Christmas Day dinner in Montara, along the northern California coast. I offered to make a salad and little did I know what an excellent choice that was given that 99% of the crew of 20 or so were vegetarians.
Although I went vegetarian for a few years myself many moons ago and get all the merits of doing so from a health perspective (I may not have had more energy but my skin glowed and I felt a helluva lot lighter), I don't associate vegetarian with Christmas dinner.
I grew up with grandparents, great grandparents and tons of great aunts and uncles, all of whom spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking and eating dishes with tons of butter, not to mention bacon, sausage, and beef lasagne. And as for the holidays? Split pea soup with bacon, shrimp cocktail, and turkey and ham (we often had both).
Given that I love vegetables and could be happy with an all veggie meal, I set myself up for the let down of NOT having a traditional turkey or ham on December 25, even though I very rarely eat either. After all, something had to compensate for being away from the snow, away from New England holiday spirit and away from all the conventions I grew up with, none of which seem to have transported its way to the west coast.
Appetizers started with some fabulous goat cheese from some fabulous Mediterranean country with the perfect amount of organic cranberries. There was also spinach pie aka Spanakopita(pronounced /ˌspænəˈkɒpɪtə/; Modern Greek σπανακόπιτα, from σπανάκι, spanáki, spinach, and πίττα, pítta, pie), a Greek savory pastry in the burek family with a filling of chopped spinach, feta cheese (sometimes served with ricotta cheese, as it is less expensive, and adds creaminess), onions or green onions, egg, and seasoning.
The filling is wrapped or layered in phyllo (filo) pastry with butter and/or olive oil, either in a large pan from which individual servings are cut, or rolled into individual triangular servings (see burek). Spanakopita is golden in color when baked, the color often enhanced by butter and egg yolk. Other white, fresh, preferably salted cheeses may also mixed with, or substituted for, the feta cheese. Okay, can we just say it was all YUM and move onto the next one. I poured myself a glass of Cabernet from the southern valley and moved on.
The dishes started coming out. First there was my salad which was the least interesting of the lot but it was healthy and included almonds, flax seeds, raisins, and a tangerine olive oil dressing.
Heavy cheese dishes which I couldn't eat but looked and smelled incredible were the cauliflower leek tart and the tomato polenta that oozed with so much sauce and cheese that I had to stay away, or rather my arteries had to stay away. It's not as if there weren't at least ten other choices.
For one, my favorite was an incredible vegetarian stuffing that the host's mother made. As I was making my way through Round One and thinking, this tastes just like my great grandmother used to make, she confirmed that it did in fact have a grandmother's stamp on it and even if I had the recipe, there's no chance in hell I could repeat the same culinary experience. Seconds it was and this time with another homemade accompaniment - cranberries of course. One pound of cramberries mixed with two cups of sugar and one cup of red wine (like a merot). Scrumptious.
Corn and egg were whipped together for another delicacy that was served in a casserole-like dish and cut into squares. Did I mention the sauteed brussel sprouts, peas and bright orange squash that had so much better on it that you swore your great grandmother had returned just to drop off the dish?
Then to top it off, four boxes of chocolates and squares, two plates of homemade cookies (including those dangerous heavy white powdered dots), pumpkin pie, a caramel cream souffle and an apple tart followed on the main stage (aka kitchen counter).
On the table next to the couch? What else but organic gourmet dark and milk chocolate bars from an outfit called Vosges. And how could you not try them all?
Here we go: creole bar is New Orleans style chicory, Sao Thome Bittersweet and cocoa nibs, the Wooloomooloo Bar is roasted and salted macadamia nuts with Indonesia coconut, hemp seeds and deep milk chocolate, the Mo's Dark Bacon Bar (yes I did say Bacon, it's not a typo), is full of Applewood smoked bacon and alderwood smoked salt, the Gianduja Bar has almonds, carmelized hazelnuts and deep milk chocolate.
The Red Fire Bar which was everyone's favorite except for mine consisted of Mexican ancho y chipotle chillies and Ceylon cinnamon, whereas the Oaxaca Bar had guajillo and chillies with Tanzanaire bittersweet chocolate. Two milk chocolate options were the Barcelona Bar which included hickory smoked almonds with grey sea salt, and the Matcha Bar with Japanese matcha green tea and 45% cacao. Lastly, I tasted the Black Pearl Bar, which was 55% cacao and had ginger, wasabi, black sesame seeds and dark chocolate.
I had to take a double dose of extra strength Rolaids when I got home. Who said you couldn't get a heart attack from going vegetarian?
December 18, 2010
Artisan Nature Uses 33 Essential Oils In Their JuiceI had a wonderful discovery at LeWeb this year, which was the unique opportunity to chat with someone about one of my passions outside technology: holistic health and vitality.
The Artisan Nature founder (I called him the Juice Man) talked to me about his freshly squeezed juices, which was on offer to bloggers in the media/blogger lounge throughout the conference.
Since he still has family in Madagascar, he is able to tap into the vast number of pure essential oils and flower water from his home country as well as from Europe and other parts of the world. In his juice, he uses 33 essential oils, 20 of them coming from Madagascar specifically and they include oils like sage, tea, mint, lavender and others. Have a listen.
December 16, 2010
Gary Vaynerchuck on Entrepreneurship & Passion in Paris
Gary Vaynerchuck in his typical form was on the LeWeb stage in Paris last week talking about entrepreneurship to an audience of largely European start-ups, venture capitalists, media and bloggers. As always, he exuded passion and broke all the rules, asking Loic Le Meur to pull down the Twitter board during his talk since he wanted to focus on the "people who showed up" first, suggesting that the board was only a distraction from being present to the "hear and now."
I couldn't help but agree since while having a back channel is useful, I was distracted by the energy on stage with a trailing stream of comments to my left and right as well. He encouraged people to rethink how we view our customers.....he views customers and 'interested fans' as equals and says he tries to respond to everyone. When someone asked about balance, he was 'all for family/work/life balance, yet at the same time, suggested we have to be always be available to respond to the people who give us life. (my words, not his). Translation - customers give us life. Fans give us life. Without those supporters, our voice can easily be lost in the noise.I've met Gary twice (it was in Paris in fact, a year ago at the Microsoft Biz Spark party -- and once at a Tony Robbins event in Vegas) and heard him speak a number of times, and while he is always inspiring, the most interesting response to a question about how to respond to clients who want the social media ROI was this: What's the value of your mother?
While corny on the surface, here's the gist of where he was going with the comment. How do you truly value the ROI of great customer relationships? How do you value a brand who has focused all of their attention on providing great service to customers, their primary attention on giving back, i.e., Zappos? Rather than focus all of our attention on numbers (which investors and the board always want), if you do NOT value time and effort spent on engaging customers, listening to customers and responding to customers, he says, "you shouldn't "fucking be in business."
While so damn simple, here's the sad thing about how I felt about his response - it's the way I was molded and frankly, it's in my DNA, yet it's NOT in the DNA of the majority of companies I've worked with or observed over the years. And as for the clients who have been a huge success, they have either gotten that at the core OR they were simply on a road to a quick exit and didn't really care about the longevity of the business anyway.
Once again, thanks for your most authentic share Gary. Below is the video I shot from the front of the room and it's also posted on our YouTube channel.