The Streets of Paris (Part 1)

By Judy Berman

Pastries, baguettes, quiche ... oh my!

Pastries, baguettes, quiche … oh my!

We were looking for that Goldilocks’ travel experience – where everything is “just right,” and you don’t wind up in a stranger’s bed.

On our first night in Paris, however, we came uncomfortably close to the latter. Or so a hotel guest thought when he heard us try to unlock our hotel door, which was next to his. He kept saying: “You have the wrong door.”

The confusion was quickly resolved … but, poor guy! I think my husband and I woke him up.

Hotel des Grand Ecoles, Paris

Hotel des Grandes Ecoles, Paris

The next morning, we were ready to do some leche-vitrines (“lick the windows” or “window shop”). We’d bid the merchants “Bonjour” (Good Day) – although, they often were the first to greet us warmly and wish us the same as we entered their shops.

Our French is minimal, but any language barrier we encountered was easily overcome by a little patience. Also, many Parisians we met spoke English as well as French. (At Hotel des Grandes Ecoles, where we stayed, their staff is fluent in six languages.)

Breakfast and lunch was easy, tasty – and inexpensive. We just went to La Parisienne. It is a Boulanger Patissier (a bakery where master craftsmen are inside) down the street. “Café” (coffee) is understood in many languages, and the display case made it easy to point to what we wanted. The problem was we wanted it all – croque monsieur (a grilled ham and cheese, with the cheese outside the bread), quiche, baguette and pain du chocolat (a lighter-than-air croissant with chocolate).

Our dining experiences in the City of Lights have ruined me for all other food – forever. I swear!

It can be a challenge to please the palates of eight people. But our daughters, sons-in-law, and our two grandchildren were each delighted with the menu choices, prices, presentation and service where we ate.

Bon appetite (Enjoy your meal) - We all did.

Bon appetite (Enjoy your meal) – We all did.

We’d no sooner stop swooning over Le Volcan restaurant’s excellent blend of flavors in its Boeuf Bourguignon than we’d be wowed by our next meal at Bistrot l’Epoque. My chicken with carmelized onions and apples was delicious, but I couldn’t wait to try their crème brûlée. The rich custard with its carmelized top was decadently creamy. These were just two of the many excellent restaurants right near our hotel.

That look says it all - dessert was excellent!

That look says it all – dessert was excellent!

After all that scrumptious food, you’d think we’d be ready for a weight-loss program. Parisians have one built right in. It’s called walking, and we did a lot of that. We hoofed it to and from the Metro or just meandered to sites around the city. For miles. Every day.

And, at night, we had an excellent view of the Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) from the front of the Pantheon near our hotel. Our six-day stay went by too fast.

Mother and son enjoying a view of the Eiffel Tower at night

Mother and son enjoying a view of the Eiffel Tower at night

“A bientôt,” Paris, which means “see you soon”..  (I hope.)

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Pantheon

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Pantheon

(Coming June 29, Part 2, a photo essay)

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original
content.

Main photo: La Parisienne – is a Boulanger Patissier (a bakery where master craftsmen are inside, there are no premade goods). It is where we got many of our breakfasts, lunches and wonderful desserts

Photo: Hotel des Grandes Ecoles

Photo: Dinner at Bistrot l’Epoque. Every place we ate at was just excellent

Photo: Connor over the moon about dessert at Bistrot l’Epoque

Photo: Danielle and Connor viewing the Eiffel Tower

Photo: View of Eiffel Tower from the Pantheon, near our hotel

Video: Patricia Kaas – Les Moulins de Mon Coeur (The Windmills of Your Mind) – lyrics in French and in English – song is from the 1968 film “The Thomas Crown Affair.”  

One small, sweet gesture

By Judy Berman

Bad experiences often consume us, overriding more memorable moments.

I thought of that as Dave and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary. On one trip years ago, we had such a good time that we were really sad when we had to pack up and return home. On another, I felt as if we were hustled onto a runaway train straddling rickety rails and our luggage thrown on as an afterthought.

The difference between the two? The service when dining out.

We were in Montreal once before and the service, the people, and the experience was fantastic. But, on this trip … well, maybe it was something in the water.

We’d hoofed around the city, doing the tourist thing. As it got closer to dinnertime, we checked our guidebook for a good restaurant in the area.

Struck out on our first choice. The maitre d’, who reminded me of the snooty waiter in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” told us they were booked. I looked around the restaurant. It was still early. The tables were empty.

Maybe, their customers were all just around the corner, getting out of their limos, and about to rush the restaurant.

We walked a bit more and found another place that had a good rating in the guidebook. It didn’t mention a dress code. Nor were reservations required.

The maitre d’ at the second restaurant eyed us disdainfully when we said we didn’t have a reservation. He sniffed as he ushered us to a corner table and said we had to be done by 7 p.m. It was 5:30.

We should have taken the cue and left. But our hunger outweighed our good sense. When we got the menu … trouble.

It wasn’t in English and there were no prices next to the food. I have no idea what we ordered for dinner as we ate with one eye on the clock.

We asked about dessert. The waiter glanced pointedly at his watch. No time. Not even for a leisurely cup of coffee.

The last American to get good service there was probably Princess Grace.

Franco-American relations took a brief tumble after that trip. Fortunately, we recovered our sense of humor. We lived near the U.S.-Canadian border at the time and made several more trips there that were delightful. That helped put that distasteful experience in our rearview mirror.

About a year later, we were headed to Watkins Glen State Park. We stopped at the Showboat Restaurant on Seneca Lake.

At the restaurant, the bartender discovered it was our anniversary. After a teensy bit of prodding, he found we loved Boston cream pie.

A short while later, the bartender (and part-owner, Larry Jenkins) emerged from the kitchen. He had a slice of that cake and the candle on top was lit. Then he encouraged the rest of those dining and drinking there to join him in singing us a song to celebrate our special day.

Little did he realize, he had me at the cake. That small, sweet gesture was just the right touch. My husband and I sat around eating, chatting and swapping stories with the other customers.

The next morning, there was no question where we’d go for breakfast. We headed back to the Showboat Restaurant and made some new friends and great memories while we were there.

One gracious gesture built good will, and a sweet memory that I replay again and again.

—-

This post marks the first anniversary of my blog. A special thanks to my husband, Dave, for editing my posts. Thank you to all who have left thoughtful and/or funny comments, who “follow” me, and who have given me your support and encouragement.

—-

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

—-

* Main Photo: Montreal – A fountain lit up by colorful lights at night in Old Montreal. Taken by Jacquie Atamanuk in July 2006. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9d/Foundtain-Old-Montreal.jpg/450px-Foundtain-Old-Montreal.jpg

* Photo: Watkins Glen State Park – taken Sept. 2007 by Amerikaan314 at en.wikipedia   http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ad/Watkins_Glen_State_Park_pano_6.jpg/640px-Watkins_Glen_State_Park_pano_6.jpg

* Video clip from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” – the snooty waiter (played by Jonathan Schmock)  and Abe Froman (Matthew Broderick posing as the sausage king of Chicago to gain entry to the upscale restaurant, Chez Quis Maitre D’)

Summer’s Last Hurrah, the Fair

By Judy Berman

The death of summer … and the dismal prospect of a long, hard winter … were overshadowed by what happened in between when I lived in Syracuse, N.Y.

Twelve glorious days to roam the New York State Fairgrounds. Its last day falls on Labor Day. This venue is just a stone’s throw from where we lived. Every year, I lobbied to work it when I was a reporter for WHEN-AM radio. It was never boring. The people-watching and time to chat with them were always great fun.

There was free entertainment provided by top celebrities just inside the main gate. Hoof on down to see the farm animals and their offspring, gape at death-defying aerial acts, and wander thru building-upon-building of exhibits – something I never appreciated when I was growing up. My goal then was to get to the rides and the food.

Oh, yeah, it was the highlight of my day … but, sometimes, for all the wrong reasons.

So much food. So little time.

Pizze fritte – a 2-foot-long twist of fried dough and sugary goodness. Peppers and onions smothering a Carmen Basilio’s sausage sandwich … or a Gianelli sausage sandwich. I could never make up my mind. For dessert, sweet-potato pie.

It’s a wonder I didn’t go into a sugar-and-fat-induced coma.

This time of year, when it’s Fair time, I wish I could be there. I’d love to traipse around, mingle with the crowds as they line up for a baked potato (at one time, it was free) or a cup of chocolate milk.

But talk of all this food is making me a little queasy. I’d better head to the first-aid station for some Alka-Seltzer and a good lie-down.

—-

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

—-

* Music Video – Eat It, Weird Al Yankovic 

* Main photo – Butter sculpture at the N.Y. State Fair, taken by our friend, Rick Moriarty, in 2008.

Photo – Pizze fritte, taken by Rick Moriarty in 2008

* Photo – New York State Fair – “Pirates of the Sky” aerialists act, performing on the Wheel of Death at the New York State Fair, taken by Dave Pape on 9-1-08 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9b/Pirates_of_the_Sky_29.jpg/320px-Pirates_of_the_Sky_29.jpg

The Case of the Missing Lunch

By Judy Berman

Loss is something we all have weathered, whether it’s a defeat in a game, keys you can’t find or the loss of a friend.

This story, however, is about more than a missing lunch.

There must come a time in every kid’s life when they ask: “Just what were they thinking?”

“They” being their parents. That moment came for me in fifth grade.

I was not a fussy eater. Mom never had to worry about leftovers. Our cocker spaniel, Rusty, scarfed up any unclaimed meat – even if it was only unsupervised for a minute or two. I cheerfully gobbled down the remaining potatoes and veggies.

But there was one thing I hated: egg-and-olive sandwiches. Separate, fine. Together, repulsive.

I don’t know what possessed my Mom. She packed one for me for lunch. I looked at it in disgust and reluctantly plucked the bag containing the sandwich off our kitchen table.

By lunchtime, it was nowhere to be found.

I opened my desk in class and gasped, “Where’s my lunch?” A fellow student told the teacher he’d seen my lunch earlier that morning. Everyone was puzzled by its disappearance.

We had no cafeteria. So I was sent to the principal’s office, where he shared some crackers and milk with me. He looked bemused like: “What the heck is going on here?”

When I got home, I told my Mom about my missing sandwich. She didn’t say anything, but, after that, I was packing my own lunch every day.

She was on to me. Guess I wasn’t as slick as I thought.

What happened to that lunch? I’m sure the statute of limitations has run out on this one. So here goes. I ditched my lunch – sandwich and all – in a trash can on Main Street across from Harvey Brothers’ grocery store on my way to school. The student who said he saw it in my desk meant well, but he was mistaken.

Sorry, Mom.

So, what else was lost?

My little white lies, fibs, tall tales and outright whoppers … finally caught up with me.

My “ah-ha” moment happened after a really minor incident. I realized my parents doubted even the smallest things I’d told them even when I WAS telling the truth.

I knew I’d gone too far. I decided I better clean up my act to regain their trust.

Now, nothing could persuade me to tell a lie. OK, I lie ALL the time on surveys where they want to know your age, weight, income and the location of all your valuables. (Valuables? Fuhgeddaboudit! Our 12-year-old TV is the newest thing we’ve got.)

I’d make one other exception. If a friend asked: “Do I look fat in this dress?” Well, if she did, I’d sooner take a bullet than tell the truth.

Trust me on this one: The truth is out there. But, sometimes, that’s not what we’re really looking for.

—-

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

—-

Photo: Egg salad sandwich

Photo: Alley Grafitti – Lies – graffiti seen in a downtown alleyway in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada– May 18, 2008 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alley_Graffiti_-_Lies.jpg

How Sweet It Is

By Judy Berman

Every night, I run the gauntlet as I leave work. I hear the siren song of the vending machine trying to lure me in.

A seductive voice whispers my name as I slip past the huge red, white and blue soda machine.

“How sweet it is,” I hear Jackie Gleason croon, as he downs a drink. Then, off he rushes across the stage as he shouts, “And away we go.”

What energy he has. It must be the sugar rush.

When I resist the temptation of a soda, candy – anything chocolate, or pastries, I congratulate myself for not caving in and buying it. But the sweet stuff is lurking in a number of unsuspecting places such as in cereals, spaghetti sauce, yogurt and Lunchables. Just to name a few.

Sugar is addictive. Dr. Sonjay Gupta reported on “60 Minutes” that we need to limit sugar consumption because it’s taking a toll on our health. “The average American consumes 130 pounds of sugar a year.”

Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, “believes the consumption of added sugars has plunged America into a public-health crisis.” He said 75 percent of it is preventable.

“New research … is starting to show that sugar, the way many people are eating it today, is a toxin and could be a driving force behind some of this country’s leading killers, including heart disease,” Dr. Gupta reported during his “60 Minutes” report, “Is Sugar Toxic?”

Yeah, I know. Buzz kill. Check out any store. Chocolate bunnies and sugary marshmallow peeps have multiplied faster then … well, rabbits.

Sugar is everywhere. At the grocery store, I bypassed the usual suspects containing sugar. Sodas and sweets? That’s old school. You can satisfy your sweet tooth from morning until night. Just read the nutrition facts on the labels to decide which one is the better choice for your health:

  • Instant oatmeal. Once you start adding maple and brown sugar, or raisins, dates and walnuts, you can deduct nutritional value. I saw one brand that contained 11 grams of sugar in one serving.
  • Spaghetti sauce. Sure, I add a little sugar in my sauce when I cook a vat of it. But one brand in the store had 9 grams of sugar per serving. Depending on the brand, a serving is only a half-cup (4 oz.).
  • Fancy some mac ‘n’ cheese? You can have it along with 7 grams of sugar per serving.
  • Lunchables – those favorite no-fuss, no-muss lunch packs for kids. One had as much as 32 grams of sugar for an itty-bitty lunch.
  • Yogurt – healthy food, right? “Caveat emptor.” (“Let the buyer beware.”) One brand had 29 grams of sugar per serving.

They’re all sweet talking us with James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved by You.”

Dr. Robert Lustig said we replaced one unhealthy thing with another in our diet.

“Take the fat out of food, it tastes like cardboard. And the food industry knew that. So they replaced it with sugar.”

So what’s the solution? Dr. Lustig, in a report he co-authored with the American Heart Association, recommended “men should consume no more than 150 calories of added sugars a day. And, women, just 100 calories. That’s less than the amount in just one can of soda.”

That’d be hard to swallow for most of us. A sensible solution is to have a balanced diet, reduce calories, and exercise.

And I’ll get right on that after I polish off my long-eared chocolate bunny.

———

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

* Photo: chocolate bunny (author: domenico bandiera from cattolica in 2006 – image originally posted on Flickr http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate_bunnies.jpg

* Jackie Gleason: “How sweet it is.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Eo3btT7UPA

* Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s report on sugar and the serious toll it can take on your health on “60 Minutes.”  http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7403942n&tag=api&fb_ref=belowVideo&fb_source=home_multiline

* “Is Sugar Toxic, 60 Minutes,” – An article on Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s report on new research showing that beyond weight gain, sugar can take a serious toll on your health …  http://www.alzheimersreadingroom.com/2012/04/is-sugar-toxic-60-minutes.html

* “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You,” by James Taylor http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=how+sweet+it+is+to+be+loved+by+you+James+Taylor&view=detail&mid=7CE6E14B0F46736BF26B7CE6E14B0F46736BF26B

Dining in the Dark

By Judy Berman

First, let’s put this right out on the table: I am not an adventurous eater. When I go to a restaurant, I can be counted on to order the same thing every time. It only varies depending on the type of place we’re dining at.

Boring. I know. So the idea of dining in the dark – first permanently opened in 2004 under the name of Dans Le Noir (French for “In the Dark”) in Paris and recently opened in New York – was surprisingly intriguing. Still, given a rather disastrous experience in a restaurant I’ll call “Murphy’s Law” – whose motto is “anything that can go wrong will” – I’d have some hesitation about making a reservation.

The Dans Le Noir restaurants in New York, Paris, London, Barcelona and Saint Petersburg, Russia, as well as elsewhere across the globe, are staffed by blind waiters who guide you to your table. Then you have a “surprise” menu that offers one for meat-eaters, one for fish and seafood diners, one for vegetarians and a fourth that is truly a surprise.

“Guests can choose only among a limited choice of surprise menus. The idea is that each guest should not know exactly what he or she will be eating…just the general category. It’s all about the flavors, the textures and the seasonings. It is an old principle often used in the industry, called ‘blind tasting,’ ” according to the Dans Le Noir website.

That’s where my experience eating at “Murphy’s Law” rushes in. “Are you sure? Something new?” Concern is deeply etched on its face.

What happened? Well, the night was an aberration, to be sure. We’d dined there before – no problems. This night was – to put it kindly – an off night.

First, my daughter, Danielle, ordered a steak. She asked if it could be sent back to the kitchen, as it was very rare. The waitress informed her that the heavy abundance of red juices she saw on her plate “was just the lighting.” Believe me, the meat was so rare it was practically galloping off the table ready to return to pasture. (She is now a vegetarian. I’m sure this experience had nothing to do with her change in eating habits.)

Then, we noted that the sweet potatoes were undercooked as well. So they also were dutifully returned to the kitchen and then back to our table. But the waitress at Murphy’s Law got the orders mixed up and gave mine to my husband.

How do I know? Mine had fork marks in it from where I taste-tested it. Thank goodness we’re all family. It could have been worse.

As a gag, I’m sure, we saw someone lick one of the rolls and return it to the basket at their table. By New York state law, restaurants are supposed to throw out unused bread. Apparently, that was not the case at Murphy’s. We learned later from a family friend who worked there that leftover rolls from one table are frequently recycled to other tables.

Yikes! How unsanitary. We never returned.

So, should one disastrous experience influence all of my dining decisions? Absolutely not. Time to stop being skittish. It’s comforting to have all five senses engaged when dining. But how deliciously decadent to savor your meal sans lighting. Already Dans Le Noir has drawn more than 1 million people to its restaurants.

To them, I say, “Bon appetit!” (“Enjoy your meal!”) Go for the gusto. Someday, I might be there at a table near you.

To learn more about Dans Le Noir in New York and to book a reservation, click on this link:

http://newyork.danslenoir.com/

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo credit: filet mignon (http://commons.wikimedia.org/)