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.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Adventures in France, Day 6

As I sit here, downloading the day's photos, part of me is like, "no way did all of this happen TODAY." But it did, kids. So strap in and enjoy the ride.

Thanks to this great web site, we set off this morning for a self-guided walking tour of Montmartre and Pigalle. I had spent a little time in the area before, but Scott never had. And with a truly perfect day on our hands -- a breezy, 70 degrees with plenty of shade -- it seemed like the right thing to do.

We started at the Blanche Metro stop and began the trek up the winding hills to the top of Montmartre. One of the very first shop windows we passed showcased jewel-like tartes that seemed too pretty to eat:



Next up was one of the two remaining windmills of Montmartre, which garnered a crowd as early as 10 AM:



And the last of the remaining grapevines in the city. Evidently they harvest these in October for a big festival:



The vineyard is directly across from a very famous cafe, which despite its tremendous tourist appeal, still manages to look charming:



We continued our climb toward Sacre-Coeur, where Scott took the quick tour while I took the obligatory photos outside:







From there, we wound our way down the thousands of stairs, past the colorful bar where I toasted my 30th birthday, and through Passages Verdeau, Jouffroy, and Panoramas. The passages were built in the 1800s and they make for a very interesting walk. In Panoramas, we stopped for lunch at Racines, at the recommendation of the walking tour. A tiny restaurant specializing in organic wine, it could not have been more perfect. They offered only three "plats du jour" and no one spoke any English. Since I could only translate two of the three dishes on the menu, that's what we selected -- the duck and the lamb, paired with an outstanding house red wine. Lunch was intense, to say the least:



I'm so glad we spent half of our day in this part of the city. Thanks to the wonderful self-guided tour, we avoided the awful tourist mess that I've always associated with it, and instead found so many moments of "le vrai Paris," the true Paris:





Because the weather was so perfect, we decided to walk from lunch to our Lombard ice cream spot, and then on across the river and onto the left bank for more adventures. It was surprisingly quiet for a beautiful June day, but I'm going to attribute that to the fact that most of Paris retail is closed on Mondays.

That's not to say that EVERYTHING is closed. Here I am with my newly acquired "jaunty chapeau."


Schmoopy bridge photo: the 2010 edition.


Somewhere on the left bank, a cat is so over this menu.


Scott peruses the biographies at the insanely fabulous Shakespeare & Co. before almost buying a scientific exploration of black holes. (I know.) The exchange rate may have improved, but not enough to justify buying an English language book in Europe when you can get the same thing for 50% off on Amazon.


Eight hours after we left our apartment, our feet and legs decided they no longer wanted to engage in forward motion. And so, back home to the Marais we trudged, with the promise of hot dogs and Malteasers carrying us along.

Also? For the equivalent of $5 at the grocery store, we purchased an entire bottle of decent Bordeaux and this enormous jug of beer. It claims to be the "Grand Beer of the Alsatians," but let's see what Scott thinks, shall we?



I think that's the worst picture of me ever taken is what I think. I also think that while "Grand Beer of the Alsatians" is hyperbolic at best, it's eminently drinkable and shit it was only 1.5 euros and it's not friggin' 1664 FOR ONCE. Also, let's face it: there are several nations in Europe known for their outstanding beers. France is not one of them. I've ratcheted my standards down accordingly.

There's a vast swath of walking between the colorful bar in Montmarte and the city passages where we enjoyed easily one of the best meals evar, but that's more a tale of just seeing the city shift from tourist to commercial, from old to modern. Personally, I'd like to explore the modern parts of the rue Montmarte, but suffice to say my interest in new and exciting areas of Paris is piqued.

More than that? It was just a lovely, pitch-perfect day; exactly the sort you're supposed to have on a marvelous Parisian honeymoon.