Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Autumn Times

November in Philly is decidedly weirder than it was in Boston. November 1st hits New England and boom, you're locked into 40-degree-and-under weather until April. November in Pennsylvania has brought its share of cold days, but also its share of low-60s/high-50s stretches. It's very odd.

Since last we wrote, Lauren has been traveling like a crazy person. I have hosted two friends on my own, one of whom was Mason. Yes, the script is finished. First draft, anyway. I can't think about it yet. It's sort of insane that we got it done. Soon it'll be time to revise, but for the moment my brain is content to recuperate a bit. Writing is hard work; writing a 100-page script in three days total time is mind-boggling.

The two days spent finishing the draft, though, were right after Thanksgiving, which itself was cut short because I had to work on Friday and collect contractor dollars, so on Thursday we raced to Lancaster with Little Cat, ate vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner, did a puzzle, and then I had to bring Little Cat back to Philly so I could then drive to deserted Delaware on Friday. Then I had to pick Mason up from the train station on Friday afternoon and spend the weekend cranking out the script. Accounting for the fact that Lauren's week previous involved three cities in the South, plus a day trip to New York with Celia, I can see why she elected to take the Thanksgiving weekend in Lancaster while Mason and I foamed at the mouth in Philly. And then while she was in Raleigh/Atlanta, Kevin was visiting me before shipping off to L.A. and OH MY GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING??? No wonder most of November seems like a blur!

And it doesn't stop! This weekend, Lauren and I make the journey to South Florida to visit the Cohens for Hannukah times. The aforementioned weather difference between Boston and Philly means that Coral Springs isn't the shocking oasis from winter hell that it once was, but it'll be nice to see the family. (I think.) After that, though, things should be calmer. Lauren is taking advantage of her Penn-granted holiday break to take a sojourn into the Southwest, visiting Megan and going on a bit of a spiritual retreat. I'll be working in Delaware (barring a sack of money falling in my lap), alas; I might travel up Boston-way for NYE, but I'm also inclined to stay local this year...

If you know us, you know we have decidedly mixed feelings about Philadelphia. That says nothing about the fantastic friends we've made here. In a week or so, we're hosting Latkefest, and it's going to be a pretty darn big party. We've made friends here, established ties with some really great folks, and that's a huge accomplishment. The move to Philly was kinda hard on me -- unemployment, not finding my niche, having to scramble way out of my usual comfort zone -- and to be able to celebrate with friends in this new city is something I'm really looking forward to. My usual impulse is to go Somewhere Else; now I'm realizing the pleasures of Enjoying the Present.

SPEAKING OF PRESENTS. holidaysholidaysholidaysgiftsgiftsgifts. GIMMEGIMMEGIMMEGIMMEGIMME.

Sorry. Even at the ripe old age of 38, it is apparent some things are not easily changed.

MANDATORY CAT UPDATE: Coco now outsizes Bella. Coco is so large, she could no longer fit into this blog post. Coco is so big that Kanye put her in his newest album. Coco is so megagargantuhuge that it is hard to forget that she is just little.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Back In The Script Saddle

Let me take you back, friends, back to the year 2005, back to a place known as Los Angeles. A place I lived, where I met two friends, Mason and Kyle. Imagine the three of us now, in a chain Italian restaurant, enjoying fine garlic knots soaked in butter.

We are talking about movies, as most people in L.A. are at any given time. Kyle brings up a strange idea: he's always wanted to make a movie about the Battle of Fort McHenry. This is the battle immortalized in The Star-Spangled Banner, where the British shelled this fort for 25 straight hours before giving up. Now, Mason and I are skeptical. After all, this battle isn't really a...battle, per se. I mean, it technically is, but nothing much happens there. Shell shell shell, minimal casualties, Francis Scott Key sees a flag flying and gets inspired, the end. So in terms of drama, not a lot of meat on the bone.

Mason goes, "You know what would make this movie awesome? Werewolves."

We laugh...and then spend the next two hours figuring out the werewolf-at-Fort-McHenry movie. I don't know what possesed us, but we ran with it. (Improv training must have worked, 'cause we said "yes" to everything.) We decided that the protagonist would have to be played by James van der Beek. Don't ask why. He would be this American soldier who discovers he's a werewolf during the shelling, and it'd be all about horror and hidden werewolfness and WEREWOLVES???

Plainly, this is a ludicrous story. But admit it: you're intrigued. You'd watch it On Demand.

So over the years Mason has often said that he and I should get together one weekend and just churn this script out. (Kyle lives in Montana now, which is horribly inconvenient for this sort of plan.) I hemmed and hawed, because I have a complicated relationship with screenwriting, in that I basically talked myself out of ever writing a script again. Blah blah blah. When Mason brought it up again a few months ago, though, I was more receptive. I mean, why the hell not, right? What do I have to lose? What am I afraid of? I ASK YOU.

So last weekend I drove up to New Haven and Mason and I attacked this thing. We dug into the outline, figured out a completely new plot, added characters and then spent all of Saturday writing the first act. We did it. I'm still astonished. It's been years in the making, and even more years since I wrote a screenplay, and we just did it. Granted, our brains were mush for the rest of the weekend, and I had to leave the next day, but we have an act. More importantly, we have momentum! We're going to get together in November and finish this thing off.

What was remarkable was how easy it was for me to just glide on the laptop and let it go. It felt precisely like riding a bicycle. It was profoundly cathartic to take up a form that I thought I was done with and realize that I wasn't. It was a really good time.

So be on the lookout for Werewolves of 1812. And if you're a producer, get in on this action early and give us a shout.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

So, I ran a race

After months of "training" (by which I mean randomly running a 5K loop around my neighborhood in an attempt to teach myself how to run), I finally entered my first race yesterday morning.  Thankfully, my dad (Tom Ha!!) is an experienced runner, and agreed to join me.

We woke up early, headed over to Greider Park, pinned on our numbers, and waited with about 75 other runners at the start line.


This is about the time I started to get nervous.  Not only was I a first time racer, I had also been sick most of the week, taking two days off of work and not running at all.  In fact, my last training run had been a lackluster treadmill session in Boston last weekend.  In other words: I was definitely not at my best.

Still, I had come too far not to at least give it a shot.  And so, there I was, surrounded by a group of more experienced, more fit, and more prepared runners.  As Scott so eloquently summarized, "It's cool to see you do something you're not good at."

And we're off!  As the pack of us left Greider Park and headed into the adjoining neighborhood, I experienced my first (and only) adrenaline rush of the race.  Although I took my dad's advice and started at a slow, sustainable pace, I'm sure it was a bit faster than my normal training pace.  It just felt so cool to be running within the group -- like a pack of wild horses, or those blue-faced Mel Gibson followers in Braveheart, before the disemboweling.  Wheee!

But my joy was short lived, as the path cut back into the park and took us down a hill and through a half mile of long, deep grass.  Ooof.  And then up a really steep hill.  Double ooof.  By the time we were back on flat, stable ground, I was already winded and was just coming up on Mile 1.

I stuck it out, relying heavily on my familiar iPod playlist to carry me to the midpoint water station... where I encountered another hill.  A quick glance at my heart rate monitor told me I was pushing 190, and I felt it.  So I made the decision to walk the hill.  It sucked.  Not the least of which because the experienced older runner my dad had pointed out at the start line, who had been just ahead of me the entire time, did not walk.  She chugged up the hill and I lost her for the rest of the race.

Fortunately, I made a new friend at the water station -- the woman who had been following me.  "That last hill killed me," she said, and I nodded my agreement while throwing my plastic cup over my shoulder.

As I started my slow jog again, I realized that I was really and truly alone.  Where once I could see a long row of runners snaking along the path, now it was just me.  Me and the woman behind me and whoever was behind her.  It was up to me to find and follow the road markers and get myself to the finish line.

Almost.  As I turned the final corner, I saw my dad jogging back toward me.  "This is the last hill," he shouted.  "Jog it in!"  And so I did.  I made it up the last hill, and finished strong.


Okay, so maybe "strong" is the wrong word.  I finished in 37:07, which is not great.  But I felt great!  My mom and dad and Scott and the dog were all waiting at the finish line, and as one of the volunteers ripped off the bottom of my bib number and taped it to the scoreboard, I felt like I had really accomplished something.

I stood on the sidelines and clapped as the remaining runners made their way in.  First was the woman I'd met at the water station, but about a dozen others tricked in after her.  Holy crap, I wasn't last!

After visiting the food tent for water and bananas, I pulled up the data file from my heart rate monitor.  To give you some perspective, allow me to share some previous data.

Here's what my numbers used to look like when I first got my heart rate monitor and actually paid attention to the alarms when I exceed my "target zone."


Here are my numbers during a normal training run, now that I no longer pay attention to the alarms.


And here are my numbers from the race.


I'm chalking this up to a combination of race adrenaline, a week of sickness/no training runs, and the fact that the course had a number of hills (my usual training course is entirely flat).  And damn if I didn't feel it for the rest of the day.  It started with a weird, wheezy cough that lasted until I took a hot shower.  (My dad informed me that this is normal when you really exert your lungs.)  And I had some noticeable hip flexor pain later in the day, which doesn't usually happen when I do my training runs, and is still bothering me today.

So, I'm giving myself a rest day today, but tomorrow it's back into my sneakers and out on the road.  I'm already planning for my next race.  You guys, my 55-year-old father beat me yesterday by 9 whole minutes!  This cannot stand.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Curried Sweet Potato & Coconut Soup

As you may know, Cohen Hall is now operating out of a vegan kitchen.  This is a decision that was made primarily for health reasons (thank you, Food, Inc.) a little over two months ago.  Eating vegan is amazing. I've never enjoyed cooking as much as I do now, and I love that the food we're making is wholesome, sustainable, and kind to our bodies as well as the planet.

Of course, eating vegan outside Cohen Hall is a very tricky thing, especially while traveling.  For that reason, I eat vegetarian while on the road, though I try to make as many vegan choices as possible. Dairy and sugar really catch up with you, and after two weeks of travel -- and far too many buttery and sweet treats -- I found myself run down and sick.  Yuck.

So, I headed to the kitchen to make some medicine.  This soup is one of my favorites, not only because it's packed with amazing, cure-all ginger, but because it's just so damn delicious.  I really could eat this soup every week...hmm, that's not such a bad idea.

I can't take credit for this original recipe (I found it online somewhere -- sadly, I can't remember where!), but I've tweaked it along the way to make it my own.  Good food was meant to be shared, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Curried Sweet Potato & Coconut Soup
makes 5 servings

Ingredients
Two medium-sized sweet potatoes
just over 1 cup uncooked farro or brown rice
1 T coconut oil
1 large onion, diced
1 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 T red curry paste
1 15-oz can unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups (1 can) vegetable broth
water
juice of one lemon
1 t salt
toasted sesame oil for drizzling
fresh cilantro for garnish

Directions
Preheat your oven to 400.  Put your sweet potatoes directly on the rack, and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove to a cutting board.

While the potatoes are cooking, start your farro or brown rice on the stovetop.  Farro will take about 30 minutes, rice will take about 45.  Follow the directions on the package and keep an eye on it.

When your potatoes have about 15 minutes remaining, start your soup.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan over med-high heat, and then add your onion and ginger.  Cook for about 5 minutes, and then stir in your curry paste.  Once everything is well mixed, add the coconut milk, vegetable broth, and 1 cup of water, and bring it all to a boil.  Then reduce your heat to low, cover, and simmer for another 5 minutes or so.

Skin your potatoes and cut them into chunks.  Toss them in your soup and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in your fresh lemon juice and salt, and then remove the pan from the heat. Use a immersion blender in the pan (this is the easiest way), or process the soup in batches in a blender or food processor.  You want your soup to look rich and creamy when you're done, although a few remaining chunks are okay.

By this point, your farro or rice should be done.  Spoon about 1/2 cup of your grain into a large soup bowl, and then cover with about 3 ladles of your soup.  Garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil and as much fresh copped cilantro as you'd like.  Best of all?  This delicious vegan meal clocks in at under 350 calories!



I'm starting to feel better already.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Yoga Times Are Awesome Times

Folks, can you believe it was MONTHS since I did yoga? Well, of course you could, because you probably didn't know I did yoga. I have many layers, like many-layered dip, and I could understand if the potato chip of your knowledge did not dig far enough into the dip bowl of me to reach that particular strata of rad. Fair enough. This is what this blog's all about: getting every flavor of us that we offer, for your consumption.

The best yoga studio in Philly -- and really, one of the best I've encountered everywhere -- is Dhyana Yoga. They're spiritual without being crystal-waving, they're together without being overpopulated, and they're casual without being too flaky. Plus, the instructors are good, which is key: you need a patient instructor who is nonetheless going to challenge you and make necessary adjustments. The atmosphere is simple and encouraging. It's a really good place. Might be the only game in town, in fact.

I think the last time I went to a yoga class there was before the wedding. With wedding/honeymoon expenses, job uncertainty and general chaos, it seemed an extravagance I could do without. Friends: I was wrong. My body was crying out for yoga, demanding it! "Give us yoga!" Just like that! So I had to answer that call. Lauren got a link to a special, bought two of them for us (yes, she's now trying yoga -- more on that from her later, I hope!), and off I went to a Vinyasa Plus class. (This particular flavor of yoga emphasizes the flow between poses -- other types of yoga focus on other aspects.)

An hour and a half later, I was drenched in sweat, every muscle trembling, renewed and released. I forgot how much of a purgative yoga is for me. I carry all my stress and my emotions in my muscles, and yoga does an outstanding job of purging those and allowing me to relax once more. I probably should have started with something a little simpler, but I was proud that even after months off, my body remembered the poses and flowed into place. I was much less stiff than I expected to be. (No headstands, although there were attempts at handstands, which I just don't have the strength for yet.)

What's really remarkable is how my strength training, both through weights at the gym and through the Lithe routines that Lauren taught me, made yoga SO much easier. Normally, downward dog is my worst pose, because I have lacked shoulder strength. Not anymore: I could maintain my pose much longer than before. And let's also talk about engaging my core, people! I bitched at first, but core strength is AWESOME, especially if you don't even know you're doing it! And added flexibility is always welcome to this stiff.

Yoga occupies a strange space in my fitness routine. It's definitely exercise, but it's an effect quite different from cardio or strength training. The spiritual aspects of yoga (what we know of as yoga is one prong of a multi-disciplinary practice that would take us years to get the hang of) inform a lot about myself beyond the studio. Yoga is a necessary component of my life, offering a space for me to release everything that tends to cripple and inhibit me and remind me that life is about flow and breath.

Yeah, I'm part hippie.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thank you for being a friend...

I dare you to read that headline and not burst into song.  Oh, Golden Girls.  You were ahead of your time and still outclass 95% of network programming.

But that is not the theme of this post.  Mais non!  Cohen Hall has been surrounded by fabulous friends of late, and we have many adventures to share.

Earlier this month, we traveled to California for a long weekend that was so much fun, it should have been illegal.  We booked a fabulous bungalow on Venice Beach, piled into Fran's two-door car with 4 friends, 3 guitars, and far too much luggage (I'm looking at you, Johnny), and proceeded to do Many Things Which Were Awesome.

Here is the bungalow.  I want to move in permanently.

 


Here is the garden at the Getty.  I want to move in permanently.

 


Here is the view from Malibu Beach.  I want to move in permanently.



And so it goes.  We also ate some amazing food, celebrated Frannie's birthday, wrote the longest stream-of-consciousness song in the history of the world, and met up with Scott's LA crew from back in the day.  It was a jam packed trip with not nearly enough time to do and see.  sigh.  West Coast, why so far away?

Fortunately, there was no time to get too emo about it.  The equally friendtastic Mason and Carie graced us with their presence the following weekend, and we proceeded to do Many Other Things Which Were Awesome.  There was delightful food and wine at Garces Trading Co.  There were laugh-out-loud al fresco drinks with the ever-fabulous Charles & Celia.  There was a Zoolander movie night.  (That Hansel, he's so hot right now.)  But perhaps most importantly of all, there was the PA Renaissance Faire.

Let me back up a moment.  You need to understand that this isn't just any Ren Faire.  It's hands down the best one on the East Coast.  I know this because NYC actors willingly make the trip to middle-of-nowhere PA just to attend.  And that's saying a lot.  Also, this is the Ren Faire of my childhood, where I would return multiple times each summer to flirt with 35-year-old ponytailed men who spoke in Ye Olde Dialects.  In other words, it was the most fun $15 could buy in Lancaster Country circa 1992.  Or probably ever.

Twenty years later, so much has changed.  The rustic, almost-legit Faire of the 90's is gone, replaced by a gigantic, over-the-top theme park where 90% of the actors don't attempt dialects, and everything costs too much.  There are live elephant rides, for crissakes!  But somehow, it was still a lot of fun.

Behold Mason the Wizard and Harold the Owl!



Buttercup and the Dread Pirate Roberts!



The gathering of bumper stickers you don't often see in Lancaster County!

 


Bless you, PA Ren Faire.  Long may ye reign.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cohen Hall Sports Club

Cohen Hall has gone fitness crazed.

This morning, I arrived home after my 5K run to find Scott on the yoga mat, doing the Lithe sequence I taught him.  (His form was excellent, by the way.)  Both cats were watching intently, and Coco was especially interested in assisting with tricep dips.  Come to think of it, now that she's grown a bit, she'd make an excellent five pound free weight.

But back to running.  I broke a 12 minute mile today, ya'll.  This means two things: 1) I am making progress and 2) I am still embarrassingly slow.  I have decided to enter a local 5K race on September 11th, and I WILL complete it in under 30 minutes.  Or, you know, die trying.

With that in mind, I devised a training plan for my 5K loop.  It goes like this: run a mile, walk two blocks, run a mile, walk two blocks, run a half mile, walk two blocks, sprint the final quarter mile.  This morning was my first time trying it, and I actually made it through in just over 36 minutes.

Lessons learned:

1) Sprinting is still the best thing ever.  I wish I could sprint for longer than a quarter mile, but considering this short distance nearly made me puke today, I don't think that will be happening any time soon.  On the plus side?  I am wicked fast when I want to be.

2) Again, I was reminded of what a mental sport this is.  I told myself I would run a mile without stopping, and I did.  When it was time to walk, I didn't really need to stop, but I did anyway because I had told myself I would.  Hmm.  Maybe I need someone other than me telling me when to walk and when to run.

3) God bless Springsteen.  He shows up in my playlist somewhere in the final mile and just kills it. 

A marathoner at work told me that I need to add one longer (say, 5 miles or so) run into my weekly schedule so that when it comes time to do the 5K race, it feels short to me.  That doesn't sound like bad advice.  I'd have to walk more, for sure, but I think I could handle it.

Is anyone else training for a race?  Do tell!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cohen Hall Presents: A Tragicomedy in Five Acts (with apologies to Samuel Beckett)

Act 1


Coco: Let's go.

Bella: We can't.

Coco: Why not?

Bella: We are waiting for Godot.

Coco: Ah!

Act 2


Next day.  Same time.  Same place.

Coco: You again!

Bella: Don't touch me.


Act 3



Coco: What'll we do, what'll we do!

Bella: Will you stop whining! I've had about my bellyful of your lamentations!


Act 4

 
Bella: Moron!

Coco: Vermin!

Bella: Abortion!

Coco: Morpion!

Bella: Sewer-rat!

Coco: Curate!

Bella: Cretin!

Coco: Critic! 

Act 5

 
Coco: Well? Shall we go?

Bella: Yes, let's go. 

They do not move.

Curtain.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cat Dynamics

Since the introduction of the wonderful Coco Chanel Cohen-Hall to our lives, I've been a little......nervous. It's not necessarily anything that Coco does. She is an adorable bundle of joy and energy. (We'll see if that holds after her spay tomorrow -- eek!) She is personable and snuggable and delightful and just wonderful in every respect.

If only Bella shared our feelings.

Since bringing Coco home, Bella has gone from neurotic needy cat to Superbitch. Hissing constantly at Coco, being a worried noise machine, refusing to let anyone come near her, and generally being an unpleasant feline. Obviously, her world has been disrupted. Obviously, this will take time. But it's driving me crazy. If only I could talk to the animals, I would explain that Coco is here for her, to cure her loneliness. But of course she does not understand such elevated concepts and just spends her time being way too emo for her own good.

This offends my very Libraness. Conflict in my house? HORRORS! So I've tried to go out of my way to show Bella that she is still loved, that she is still #1 cat, to be a Feline Diplomat. It's not working. I don't understand cats. I don't know their ways. I don't think I can do anything except get pissed at Bella when one of her slaps is especially egregious.

Coco doesn't help matters, because she is constantly following Bella around. I feel for Bella, because moments of peace are few and far between, and if I had a smaller person nagging me constantly, I'd be angry as well. (This is why I'm not a parent!) It's an adjustment period, and Lauren tells me this integration is actually going quite well. I don't buy it. I want hugs and love and lollipops now. I want delights and Bella snuggling that kitten IMMEDIATELY or there will be Consequences, damnit! Alas.

Oh, kittentimes, you are complicated times.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Coco

Sup, Cohen Hallers. HALLER.

MAJOR announcement re: additions to Cohen Hall. Ladies and gents, please meet Coco Chanel Cohen-Hall:



She is an adorable Maine Coon kitten, about nine weeks old. We found her through the marvelous people at PAWS. She was being fostered with her littermates, and when we went over there to check out the advertised long-haired female, this one stood out immediately. She was playful without being aggressive, fearless, and super cuddly.



"Why'd you get a new kitten?" Well, when we returned from France, Bella had lost her damn mind. Imagine a week of endless mawing, complete neediness, obtrusiveness to the point of stalking, and so much emo poetry that she could have started her own record label. The cat was just damn lonely. So we got Coco partly because we'd wanted to for a while, but mostly as a friend for Bella.

Not that she's actually aware of our intent, for Bella has become Princess Hissyface ever since Coco's arrival. It's been a little frustrating. See, last Sunday we picked her up and actually went directly to the Hall enclave in Lancaster for Father's Day (where Tom HA!! nearly kept her for himself). Coco was relaxed, playful and handled Livvy the Yippy Dog with aplomb. Then she gets home, has Bella hissing at her every two seconds, and is confined to the office until her vaccinations are done. WOMP WOMP.

Actually, it hasn't been that bad, it just seems like a lot when ou have a tiny tiny kitten squeaking and crying because she can't run around and play. Now that we're introducing the two of them, they are getting on...well, better than expected. Coco pounces on Bella, Bella hisses and bats her on the head, Coco runs away to regroup...and then pounces on Bella again. She's learning, slowly but surely. It's the best entertainment money can buy!

From my (Scott's) own perspective, it's been enlightening. I've never really had puppies or kittens this young, so to have this tiny tiny creature in my hands was moving. Folks: I cried. I did! Like a little baby. It was really something. I have a feeling this kitten is a bit of Daddy's girl. Except that she keeps trying to nurse from me. Disconcerting, to say the least.

And we keep singing the song from Coco Before Chanel.

So life is still a bit topsy-turvy as we not only still recover from Not Being in Paris, but adding a new and adorable kitten-daughter into the house. Cohen Hall is nothing if not exciting.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Remember when we promised you wedding photos?

Well, now you can watch an entire slideshow, courtesy of our awesome wedding photographer, Angie Gaul. Check it out here!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Adventures in France, The End

We’re approaching Nova Scotia, or so the plane GPS tells me. We’re alternating between awful comedies and halfway-decent flicks, trying to entertain ourselves during this eight-hour flight home. We’re two and a half hours out from Philly. Someone in front of me is watching New Moon, and try as I might, I have to steal peeks at it.

Nope, we’re not in Paris anymore. I won’t lie; it’s pretty sad. Sad that we’re not in Paris, but mostly that such an amazing honeymoon is winding down. It’s going to be a strange adjustment for sure.

But our last night in Paris was probably our fave. We’d been looking forward to dinner at Gaspard de la Nuit the whole week. Lauren got a recommendation last time, and everything about the experience blew us away. We had to make it the last stop on our last night. It’s this wonderful family-owned restaurant with ten tables right in the Bastille area. So after getting dolled up and having a few pre-dinner glasses of wine at the bar across the street (another fave: it’s called Bubar, check it out the next time you find yourself in Paris), we finally began!

Most of France was occupied with their first-round match against Uruguay in the World Cup, so the restaurant was only half-filled, mostly with tourists. Fine with us! We got the seven course tasting menu with the wine pairings, and a complimentary glass of honeymoon champagne. So, for those keeping score: before a bite of food entered our mouths, we already had three glasses of wine in us.

First course: foie gras. It’s impossible to overstate how much I love foie gras. Lauren’s not the biggest fan, but even she agreed it was amazing. We had a wonderful sweet white wine to match it.

Second course: amazing tiny pesto raviolis. Amazing and succulent. Another white to match this.

Third course! Perfectly-seared scallops. Deeeeeeeeelightful. Another glass of white! Are you keeping track now? That’s six glasses of wine apiece. We were beginning to -- well, Lauren, how were you handling this?

Um, I may or may not remember this evening from 11 p.m. onward. Back to you, Scott.


The fourth course: a marvelous sorbet. Made with vodka. Oooooooh boy.

Fifth course: a marvelous steak and potato, paired with a great red Bordeaux. We had recovered by this time and gotten our second wind. THE PARTY RAGED ON.

Sixth course: cheese! FROMAGE, oh France how I adore your bounty of fromage.

And finally: warm raspberries in vanilla ice cream and an apple tart with cinnamon ice cream. Paired with something amazing. I am finding it slightly hard to remember.

I think it was port.

The great thing about Gaspard is the atmosphere. The meal wasn’t the most cutting-edge or super-gastro we had, but it was happy happy happy food. It was amazing. It brought big stupid smiles to our face.

Full, happy, and quite quite drunk, we stumbled home for our last night in Paris, just beating the torrential rain by mere minutes. The next morning, we gathered all our stuff, hopped a cab and said goodbye to the apartment, the neighborhood, the city.

We waited in many many lines at Charles de Gaulle. We have been served unsatisfactory snacks. We are not ready to land; we are completely ready to land. I don’t want it to end. I’m trying to be eloquent or profound, but I can’t. I just don’t want it to end.

Yeah. What Scott said.

P.S. There would have been photos of all of this delightful food, except we accidentally left the camera on the plane. If we ever see it again, we'll update this post accordingly.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Adventures in France, Day 10

One thing is for certain, mes amis: the French version of weather.com LIES. Today was supposed to be a non-stop thunderstorm, but instead we were treated to a cloudless sky and 75 degree sun all day long. Not a bad way to spend our final day in Paris, bien sur.

We had a few vague destinations in mind -- a couple of shops in the Marais that we wanted to peek into, a menswear place for Scott near Chatelet, some gifts we needed to buy in Saint Germain des Pres, a final ice cream cone at that fabulous place that makes the frozen roses -- and we decided to do it all on foot. Which, according to Google maps, puts us at around 8 miles of walking today. In flip flops. We are totes hardcore.

Of course, Paris being Paris, there were several surprises along the way. First off, the free exhibit at Hotel de Ville was actually open! Without a line! It's been a running joke that I NEVER seem to make it into the HdV exhibits, which always look so cool. One time it was Grace Kelly, but the day I went the line was wrapped around the building in 90 degree sun. Another time the exhibition had something to do with theatre, but the building was closed for "unexpected reasons." This time, magically, we go to go inside. And guess what the theme was?




Yup. Wedding photos from all sorts of different weddings across Paris. It was super cool and unbelievably honeymoon appropriate.

We decided to cut across to the left bank through Tuileries, mostly because it was convenient, but also because we hadn't yet paid a visit. Here are a couple of photos:













One of the photographers from last night had told us that she often sees Lagerfeld in his home neighborhood of Saint Germain des Pres, so we made it our mission to have a Karl sighting while running some errands. Alas, we did not see the man himself. But we did see about 1,000 images of him plastered around the 6th.





After a quick crepe lunch on the run, it was back over to the right bank and our favorite Paris ice cream spot for one final cone. I went cherry and vanilla this time, and they topped it with an actual cherry! LOVE.




Once we made it back into our neighborhood (the Marais) we grabbed a cafe table for some cold drinks and people watching. Here are some of my favorites:

These guys are SO Marais. The one in the front is carrying a legit Birkin, and the one behind him has an enormous Chanel logo splashed across his t-shirt...in black sequins. Which I sadly did not capture on film. le sigh. Marais, j'adore toujours.




Action shot of a biker. At home, he'd be a hipster. Here, he's just French.




This one came out super blurry, but I kind of like the "painting" vibe of it. Also, this girl was tres French and we both carry the same bag.




Okay, so you guys know by now how much we love this city. So it's okay if we now call it out on a few questionable choices, right? Consider it tough love, if you will. We're calling it:

PARIS, WTF?

Item #1: Why all the signage for this straight-to-DVD film starring Richard Gere and what appears to be Mr. Winkle?



Item #2: Is it really necessary to place condom dispensers in public places? Don't get me wrong, safe sex is a great thing. But please consider your audience. THIS IS OUTSIDE A GROCERY STORE.



Item #3: No one likes a frou-frou McDonald's. You're missing the point here.



Item #4: Black pantyhose have not been stylish since 1989. I don't even know where you manage to find them anymore, but clearly half the women in Paris do.



Item #5: While we're on the subject of fashion, I am very concerned about the prevalence of giant, puffy pants. As if it is constantly Hammer Time in your country. Alas, Paris seems to have embraced these with great affection, which does not bode well for what we'll be seeing in the U.S. circa 2011.




We would also like to take issue with the questionable renaming of A-Team characters (seriously, who the hell is "Looping?"), but we still need to take a photo of the offending poster, so that will have to wait.

As will the rest of this blog. We're off to final dinner at our favorite restaurant, Gaspard, so we'll see you all back on the Stateside. A bientot!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Adventures in France, Day 9

Ya'll, I'm starting to get sad about the prospect of leaving La Belle France. We only have one more perfect day in the world's best city, and I'm kind of at a loss. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

It rained today. We thought: well, what to do in the rain? How about the d'Orsay? Which is exactly what 30,000 other people were thinking. So, we waited in the rain. And then we went in. And it was very pretty and impressionistic and Mandy Patinkin kept singing "Color and Light" in my head the entire time. After about an hour or so, I hit my museum limit (I have notorious museum ADD) and we walked out to find a bright, sunny day. Go figure. Scott consulted the oracle:



And the oracle advised us to seek out Joël Robuchon. We were like, "Well, duh, oracle. Of course we should seek out Robuchon. EVERYONE should. But there's no way..."

Except that there was a way. Less than 5 blocks from the d'Orsay, there was this:



Now, let me be clear. We were in no way dressed to genuflect at the altar of Robuchon. I mean, SCOTT WAS WEARING A HOODIE. Also, we didn't have a reservation. But in we went, fingers crossed and breaths held.

And the minions of Robuchon could not have been nicer. Seriously. They hung up Scott's hoodie in a coat closet that has likely never seen anything downscale of Armani. They gave us great seats and an English-speaking waiter who congratulated us on our honeymoon and stuck a candle in our dessert. And, not for nothing, they also gave us one of the best meals of our lives.

I'm just going to let the food do the talking here...
















Truly magnificent. Scott will likely have more to say about this in just a minute. Especially with regard to a certain tarte on the plate above.

The rest of the day was spent on our wedding gift to each other -- an afternoon with a husband and wife photography team who followed us around the city and took hundreds of photos. We'll have the pictures in a couple of weeks, but we had a good time today and I think we got some good shots, despite the fact that we had to dodge passing rain showers and errant tourists the entire time.

Because we do not yet have the photos from the shoot, here's a random self-portrait of me checking my hair before the photographers arrived. I'm so vain, I probably think this blog is about me.


After several hours of finding our light, smiling with our eyes, and being our best pretty-ugly broken down dolls (ANTM, holla!), we tucked in for some steak frites in the Marais at Au Petit Fer à Cheval. The place was packed, but we still got this artsy shot in the back room:



Then we popped in for a Kir at Sophie's recommendation, La Belle Hortense. (Ironically enough, Scott and I both just finished a good non-fiction book that highlighted Hortense Mancini.) Delightful all around.



And, finally, we scored a couple of giant ice cream cones and a bottle of ridiculously underpriced Bordeaux for the walk home. Heaven.

Okay, Scott, take it away!

Well, what does one say after you've dined in one of the best rooms you'll ever find? And you basically walked in off the street looking like a schlub and -- okay. Let's put it this way: that was easily the best steak I've ever eaten in my life. Far and away. I could take or leave that tuna nicoise salad I started with, but that steak? Good lord. Lauren's quail dish? My God, they stuffed the quail with foie. The tomato salad was the essence of simplicity, expertly handled by a bunch of employable-for-life kids in the open kitchen, and it was magnificent.

It's ironic that we had just left the Musee d'Orsay right before entering high gastronomic heaven. We dutifully walked by the Symbolists and the Impressionists and saw Van Gogh's self-portrait and a bunch of other paintings neither one of us are terribly qualified to judge on aesthetic grounds, but I think it's telling that the pieces that made the biggest impressions on us were the Art Nouveau furnishings that clearly inspired the art direction of Rivendell in the LOTR movies. And then we went in and had this magnificent meal, which is a transitory experience, but was more astonishing than any of the paintings we saw. To each their own.

And seriously? The best part was when Lauren discovered that the tartlet second from the left was key lime pie. Holee shit. You may not know that key lime pie is my favoritest thing in the entire universe. It was the perfect discovery. I was so happy at that moment, to be there with my wife, in Paris, in that dining room, with those flavors on my tongue, with my nerves singing like that, with everything coming together for a perfect wave of pleasure and happiness. This is what great dining should do, and this meal succeeded in every way.

And then a bunch of other stuff happened that was not key lime pie THE END.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Adventures in France, Day 8

We had decided that one day in Paris would be designated as our "alone day" -- time to spend on our own, doing whatever we felt like doing. Today was it! For me, that meant shopping in the Marais, of course. It rained on and off, but Paris doesn't really slow down much in the rain. People just dash from store to store, covering their heads with a newspaper or a jacket. I started off in the upper Marais, visiting shops that I sadly can't afford on this trip, and feeling wistful about one-of-a-kind handpainted silk dresses that should be mine. Then, I bought a French Vogue and tucked in for a thoroughly average lunch with some thoroughly breathtaking fashion:



Feeling restored, I braved the rain for a full afternoon of bargain hunting, and came away with several new treasures. Here's the day's loot: a leather trench, a floaty pink scarf, a greige blouse, a new belt (just the sort I've been looking for, actually), a pretty necklace, a bottle of Poire, and, of course, French Vogue:



The most interesting part of the day, however, was the realization that without Scott in tow, people think I'm French. Five seconds after leaving the apartment, a French girl stopped me to ask for directions. Two different men attempted to hit on me in French. And every shopkeeper greeted my "bonjour" with a decidedly non-American welcome, followed by rapid conversation that I could only follow about half of the time. Huh. It's both fun and flattering to feel as if I can now blend into the city as one of its own...although I'll be happy to reunite Cohen Hall for another French adventure tomorrow.

Speaking of Cohen, let's see how his "alone day" went, shall we -- hey, who the hell are you?



OH LADIES, I see you have relocated to Francais looking for party times, eh? Well, you are part of VERY EXCLUSIVE PARTY, YA? PARTY FOR SEX!!!!!

You wonder why I am here and I tell you. I follow these two Americains because I know they are deeply sexy people, you see, they have much the sex of them and also the cocaines? Although personally I do not know why they come to Parie, Parie is full of gay Parisians, not ladies looking for hot Eurotrash guy to supply them with party drugs and then steal 20€ for Metro and Croque Monsieur, NO?

Speaking of Croque Madame, this Lauren, I stalk her during her trip. Her huzz-BAND is stupid Americain man, clumsy like something that is very CLUMSY! He stumble through these catacombs. Who cares for catacombs, says I. I see dead people all the time, DEAD ON THEIR FEET THAT IS at 3 AM because they cannot handle their Kronenburg! Meanwhile I am still raging on and harding on into ladies on the floor, ya? He goes to Eiffel Tower and somehow winds up on Champs-Elysses, why he go there? At least afterwards he wanders into Marais, and at least makes attempt at looking ready for party although he buy nothing because he is spending all his € on coffee and CHEESE? And then! He goes to Montmarte, where there is no sexiness! And then the rain comes and he heads home, whatever, he is very boring man and probably goes to sleep in crib AND I DO NOT MEAN LIKE ON THE MTV.

But his lady-wife...oh, his lady-wife. She is like creme brulle mixed with Shabu. I follow her through stores and I want to approach and say HELLO YOU ARE LOOKING FOR PARTY, YA? Yet these Americain women, they do not appreciate my charms! They call me Eurotrash Guy! They mock my scarf!!! Do they know? Look around you, snotty Americain women, every man in France has a scarf! Do they also know where to score Ecstasy? NON!!! The straight ones, anyway, the gays they have their own universe and who cares because do gays have heaving large Americain --

*maced*

ACH! THEY HAVE THAT HERE, TOO??? Ah God, I need a carafe...GARCON, CARAFE!!!

Editor's note: Eurotrash Guy is a piece of fiction. No drugs were consumed in the making of this blog. I promise, mom.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Adventures in France, Day 7

Today was our first overcast day. It was a nice break from the sun, but it also made both of us a little sleepy. (Of course, that could also be attributed to the fact that we've been walking between 5-10 miles every day, and then eating and drinking more heavily than we ever have in our entire lives.) But I digress.

After a late morning start, we decided to head to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, home of two favorite shops in Paris: Pierre Hermé for macarons and Jean-Charles Rochoux for chocolate. (It would not be an ice cream day, bien sur.)

We started at a very cute cafe in the 6th for coffee and ham sandwiches on outstanding Poilâne bread. Surprisingly awesome:



Then it was off to see Pierre and his other-worldly cookies. Although we were less than thrilled with this season's flavors (no vanilla or white truffle!), the quality cannot be denied. We took them to Jardin du Luxembourg to properly enjoy them.

Here's Scott with one of the new flavors, Eden, that combines peach, apricot, and saffron:



And here I am with one of the old standbys, Mogador, which combines milk chocolate and passion fruit.



We also sampled rose, chocolate, salted caramel, and two more of the new flavors: Mosaic (pistachio and kirsch) and Huile d'Olive (olive oil and vanilla). My favorites are still the salted caramel and the traditional vanilla, which they didn't have in stock.

Here are a few more shots of the Jardin, although I have to admit that I much prefer English gardens to French gardens. I like a garden to be a lush, romantic mess that you can run your fingers through. The French prefer to chart theirs out in exacting quadrants, and then bar you from getting within ten feet of any of the plants. Ah well. They do, however, give good statue.

Here are a few photos:







We then went to visit Jean-Charles, who in addition to being a master chocolatier, is just the nicest man. I bought my usual bar of milk chocolate filled with caramel, and then he gave us a taste of his newest creation -- gourmet Nutella! Of course, we had to buy a jar to bring home. Jean-Charles joked (in French) that I could use it on bread, in crepes, or just eat it right out of the jar while Scott watches soccer on TV, unaware. Hee hee. You can (and should!) visit his shop from the comfort of your own home by clicking here.

On the walk back, we passed this building. I think it might be the senate, but regardless, it had more French flags per square inch than I thought possible:




It was suggested to us that we should pay a visit to Patrick Roger, another master chocolatier in Paris. Although I was loathe to cheat on Jean-Charles, I was definitely curious. The shop was rather intimidating -- kind of like walking into Cartier while wearing sweat pants -- but the chocolate looked lovely. Scott and I split a delicious mendiant of almonds, ginger, and dried apricots covered in chocolate. It was the size of my palm and quite good, although I'm in no hurry to return. I'm of the belief that chocolate should be fun, not snobby.

We walked back through the Marais toward our apartment, which is essentially a 5K. We walk at least this much twice a day, every day, when we're in Paris. Yesterday we walked for 8 hours and covered more than 10 miles when all was said and done. So I guess I shouldn't feel too bad that we took a nap this afternoon before dinner. We wanted to be fully on our game for our decadent meal at foodie favorite Le Gaigne.

And oh, what a meal. Here are a few of the highlights...

A delightful amuse bouche: a tiny cup of richly zesty in-season cold tomato soup:


One of the starters: it involved warm white asparagus, Parmesan crisps, pig ear tempura, and a whole lot of awesome:





A main course: perfectly prepared duck breast, with a side of duck "burgers" sandwiched in what I believe were poached turnips:



Dessert sampler: in-season strawberries in mascarpone, a coconut soup with kiwi, mango and papaya, and a rhubarb baba:



We paired all of this with an apperitif of kir fraise, a bottle of white Burgundy, and a pair of digestifs (poire for Scott, framboise for me). We're loving the bargain prices on white Burgundy.

Scott cannot believe that this meal actually happened:


And I cannot believe we'll soon be back to paying US prices for French wine.