(Jennifer and I spent two weeks in the south of England and then in Paris in the fall of 2011. This journal, posted on a daily basis, followed our travels, with a definite emphasis on the culinary.)
By Larry Levine –
November 4-5, 2011
The real hero of this trip is Jennifer Levine, my wife. She did this whole thing with the lingering effects of a dropped foot that resulted from her hip replacement surgery and with an injured right knee that has swollen to the size of a melon. She did this whole trip using a walker and a cane. Yet she wouldn’t give in to it. She walked through Paris, refusing to let the pain and the discomfort ground her. Jennifer is one of the strongest people I’ve ever known. She accepts life as it comes and keeps on going. She hates flying, but sucks it up and says, “It’s the only way to get there, so I do it.” When life deals her a bad hand, she simply says there are people worse off than she is. I offer this paragraph as a testament to how much I appreciate her for all the things she is.
I haven’t been in enough of the world’s airports to speak with authority. But I can say it would be difficult to conceive of a more poorly designed, more user unfriendly airport than London’s Heathrow. Terminals are far flung and at great distances from each other. Walking from check in to security is a major hike; the walk from security to the gates, or the first class lounges could be and Olympic event. On arrival at Heathrow the distance from the gate to immigration feels like a walk to downtown London and that’s just the beginning. After immigration, there’s another great hike to customs and yet another to the exits. If there’s any upside to Jennifer’s cane and walker it’s that she gets door-to-door wheel chair transportation, arranged by the airlines and/or airport passenger assistance desks. I get to jog alongside her.
We camped out in the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Lounge before boarding the plane by virtue of having purchased a premium economy ticket and upgraded with American Express points. Jennifer’s first question was how they can make a profit as an airline if all this food, booze and other amenities are free and there are all these employees around to help. I told her the actual cost of an Upper Class ticket. She asked, “Who can afford that.” Then she looked around the room and added, “I guess a lot of people.” It’s a commentary on the state of the world’s economy. A facebook friend of mine, who I never have met personally, just got thrown out of her house this week after having lost her job a few months ago. Yet, just as it is in L.A., the best and most expensive restaurants in Paris were full every night and the Upper Class Virgin Atlantic Lounge was teeming with passengers, most of whom were waiting
for long distance flights. Are we part of the one percent? If so, the one percent consists of many segments.
At the Virgin lounge ate one of the best pieces of pork pie I’ve ever tasted. Pork pie is a distinctly English thing. You can get it at many English restaurants in the states, but it isn’t like the real thing in England. The only time I can recall tasting pork pie as good as this was when it was served to me at lunch at my sister-in-law Sylvia’s home in London many years ago. When I went back to the Virgin deli counter to get a slice for Jennifer, I spotted some pickled herrings and pickled onions. I tried a piece. It was as good as what my mother used to make at home – a taste I thought was lost to me forever. I can’t find mom’s old recipe.
I’m going to wrap up this blog with the subject of the first entry two weeks ago – airline food. A look at the main courses on the dinner menu in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class might be encouraging to anyone who doesn’t have a whole lot of experience with airline food: grilled fillet of beef, Thai red chicken curry, or pumpkin risotto. But here’s a dose of reality. When was that beef grilled? There is no grill on the plane. It was grilled before it was taken on board – probably a long time before – and it was kept hot on board. No way could it be served anything less than medium-well. Thai curry needs to be served freshly made to have any kind of true flavor. Risotto is very difficult to prepare properly under the best of circumstances. An air plane galley is nowhere near the best of circumstances. This is the best of the best. It isn’t the buy-a-box dinner of economy class, or the completely inadequate offerings of premium economy. It’s Upper Class, a term which may be accurate for the ticket price and leg room but has no relevance to the food.
So, what’s the solution if you are going to fly long distances? Larry Dietz, one of the co-hosts at the online restaurant
recommendation web site atLarrys.com and a frequent contributor to this magazine says the answer is to bring you own food. Just make sure it’s something that will clear security.
And there you have it – the last entry in this travel journal. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. And remember, if you’re heading for Paris for the first time and want some tips give me a call or drop me an email.
November 3, 2011
Our last full day in Paris. After breakfast tomorrow it will be back to London for an overnight at the Sheraton Heathrow and Saturday back to Los Angeles.
If you are planning a trip to Paris and have not been here before, know you will receive tips and advice from all of your friends and relatives who have been here. Listen carefully and take notes. We did and they – as well as Rick Steves’ Paris guidebook – have saved us from wandering blindly. It was a tip from our friend and graphic designer Lenn Grabiner that led us to dinner this last night in Paris at aux Lyonnais. It turned out to be the most authentically French menu and meal of the entire trip in a totally authentic French neighborhood restaurant filled with local residents. It’s an Alain Ducasse restaurant, which should be enough said. But once again, without the input of a friend we likely would never have come across it. Because we listened to our friends Carol and Gene Bregman and to our cousins Barry and Beverly that we wound up staying at the right hotel in the right neighborhood and our friend Amanda Susskind steered us to the best hot chocolat in the history of the universe and a 325-year-old restaurant. And, of course, Richard and Joelle Davis, our Paris friends who hosted us for a wonderful lunch filled with great conversation.
Don’t misunderstand: it’s not that we haven’t done our share of wandering and exploring. But there has been a cohesiveness to this visit that has come from the information others provided.
I’ll add a bit of our own thoughts now for your possible future use:
Don’t worry about breakfast. Just order the Petite DeJeuner at any place that’s open. You’ll get orange juice, a nice piece of baguette with butter, a croissant with jam, and a choice of hot chocolat, tea, espresso, café noire, or café crème (coffee with milk). You didn’t come here to eat ham and eggs.
There will be plenty of places recommended for sit-down lunches. They all will be good. Some of the meals will be larger than others and on those days you may want to go light on dinner. Sit-down lunches come in three basic varieties of fixed prices – a three-course meal including entrée (appetizer), plat (main) and dessert; a two-course choice of entrée and plat, or plat and dessert. You also can order al a carte.
If you don’t want a full lunch just stop at any street front brasserie and have a pastry or a sandwich, which come in small or regular sizes and are likely to be either just cheese, or ham and cheese. Various places might offer other options. It doesn’t matter which place you select. If you’re unsure of yourself, get in line at one that looks busy – that’s where the locals will be. You’ll find the bread will be excellent and the filling equal to the challenge.
Whether you are going to some of the tonier restaurants, or dropping in at some bistro, you will be happy with your dinner. Just make sure over the period of the days you are here you try a variety of things. Foie gras here is likely to be duck liver pate instead of the seared liver to which we are accustomed in the states. I’ve had the frogs legs here even though I have them often at Le Sanglier in the San Fernando Valley (see http://www.atLarrys.com for a full recommendation) because the French gave this dish to the world.
Entrée and plat portions at dinner will tend toward the large size. My entrée of charcuterie the other night would have been enough for a full main course, or could have been split two or three ways as a starter. The pot of boeuf bourguignon put on the table for the two of us could have served three with ease. I love the custom of putting both portions in one pot to share when two people order the same thing. It’s wonderfully social and the tables tend to be small.
Don’t worry about the wine selection. At home I have a pretty good familiarity with California wines and some knowledge of Italian wines. I almost always make my own selection and feel that if I leave it up to the restaurant they are going to pour from their highest profit bottle. I have very little familiarity with French wines. So, I let the waiters make the selections all week here in Paris and I haven’t had a bad one yet. The pours here are smaller than at home because they expect you will be having different wines with each course and the prices are appropriately lower per glass.
Most of the rest of what I could pass along – things like tipping and how to get a taxi – you can get from any good guide book or the staff at your hotel. If you’re planning a trip to Paris and want the comfort of a conversation in advance, I’m open to an email or phone call. I hope I can provide the perspective of someone who has just enjoyed a wondrous first visit. Don’t let yourself become one of those American tourists who arrives here unprepared and complains to the hotel staff that the Louvre is too big. That really happened here at our hotel yesterday.
I’m planning one more posting in this journal. It will be after we arrive home. I know it will include comments about the plane trip – we’re fly upper class this time instead of the premium economy that got us here – and whatever else seems important.
November 2, 2011
Many years ago my son Lloyd watched a tourist with a point and shoot camera trying to take a picture of some building. Seconds ticked by as the tourist held the camera at arms length, looking at the display screen and not taking the photo. After what must have been 30 seconds or more, Lloyd said to me, “Take the picture. The building isn’t going to move.”
You see a lot of that in Paris at the popular tourist attractions. And when it becomes large groups of tourists all doing the same thing it gets more than bothersome. Then there are the ones who think they have to step back a few steps or move forward a few steps to get a better picture – forgetting all about the zoom feature on the camera. These are the ones who bump into people and then look annoyed. They have no idea what’s going on around them. One of them almost knocked Jennifer over at Versailles today.
Surprise of surprises. The restaurant at the Chateau at Versailles is run by Angelina, the place where we had the greatest hot chocolat in the history of the universe a couple of days ago. We had lunch there today and ended with another hot chocolat.
Memo to my cardiologist: Stop reading my entries in this journal. I’ve had more butter in the last week in Paris than I had eaten in the 40 months since my quadruple bypass surgery combined. And tonight I had more fat in one first course than I had eaten in that same 40 months.
Dinner tonight was at Chez Fernand, right down the street from the hotel. I had been craving a plate of charcuterie all day. Tonight it was on the menu as an entrée (in France that means a first course). I had no idea I would be served eight slices of four different pork pates plus some jambon (kind of like prosciutto). There was enough food on that plate for two people, or even three. By the time the main course hit the table – boeuf bourguignon – I was stuffed. I downed one small potato and two small pieces of beef. Just to drive the rich food meter over the top, the beef was short ribs.
To get a perspective on what all this really means, you might want to read “BUT I STILL LOVE TO EAT / the journey back from the operating table to the dinner table” in the Healthy Dining section of this magazine.
Chez Fernand is a place where locals eat. The owner and staff seemed to know everyone who walked into the place. Lots of laughing and friendly chatter – in French.
Memo to Rick Steves: Your Paris book is an invaluable aide for a first time visitor. You have saved us endless hours of standing in line for admission to museums and you have saved us some money also. There are, however, a couple of thoughts regarding handicapped access you might consider for the next draft: getting on and off the Metro is extremely difficult for people with a handicap – the stairs are very unwelcoming and the step up or down between the train and the platforms are very difficult at many stations; Versailles is next to impossible for a handicapped person – the crowds make it virtually impossible for a wheel chair to get through and the way people jostle as they attempt to take photos of the ceilings while listening to the audio tour is a danger to anyone walking with a cane or on crutches; the Gardens at Versailles are out of the question of a handicapped person and the tram is not for sightseeing, it is more like a bus that makes only three stops. In addition your explanation of the ticketing system for the trains could use a bit of clarity.
November 1, 2011
A few years ago we learned that our friends were correct when they told us it was virtually impossible to get a bad meal in Italy. Now, we have learned the same is true in Paris. There are so many bistros and brasseries it’s a wonder they haven’t run short of names for them. Tonight we stopped at a brasserie near the Eiffel Tower. It was just one among dozens and dozens in the area. I don’t even know why we picked this particular one. I had a fabulous onion soup and then a wonderful entrecote (rib steak) with fries. Jennifer had avocet vinaigrette and moules Mariniers (mussels) which she proclaimed as excellent. My St. Emilion Bordeaux by the glass was perfect.
Now for a dose of cynicism. If you are sensitive regarding the subject of religion you may want to inhale deeply before reading the next two paragraphs, or skip them altogether.
We started the day at Notre Dame. I figured we could go there because USC tromped the Irish this year. Jennifer was more impressed with the exterior of the building than I was. I found the history of the construction more of note than the architecture. It took nearly two centuries to build and it was constructed by generations of devoted laborers – Catholics who slaved to raise the huge blocks into place, back breaking work, and none of them were paid for their work. It was done out of devotion, the same kind of devotion that makes intellectual slaves out of so many in the political arena today.
As we neared the Cathedral the bells began to toll for 10 a.m. mass. We were approached by several infirm, ill, and halt individuals who were begging for coins. Admission to Notre Dame was free and visitors were permitted to tour the interior perimeter of the building while mass was in progress. I particularly wanted to see the monument to Jeanne d’ Arc (Joan of Arc). Somehow, I’ve been able to separate the heroism of her role in history from the religious aspects of what she did. Now, think of those people begging on the outside of the church as I tell you that visitors inside the church could light prayer or memorial candles 2 Euros or 5 Euros depending on the size of the candle, for 2 Euros you can get a memorial coin stamped with the figure of a religious icon, and the cost for a look at the treasury was 5 Euros. I wonder if any of the treasure in the treasury ever went to reward or compensate the
descendants of those whose labor built the place. True, some of the stained glass was impressive, the sound of the choir singing mass was beautiful, but I could not let go of what I know of all the evils that have been committed in the name of religion, the church and church leaders throughout history and continuing today.
End of cynicism.
After Notre Dame, we intended to visit a moving memorial to the hundreds of thousands who were deported from France and slaughtered by the Nazis from 1940 to 1945. For some reason we could not ascertain, the memorial was closed. There was a heavy police presence throughout the area and the bridge across to Ile St. Louis was closed to vehicle traffic, although other routes onto the island were open.
We walked across the bridge and strolled down Rue St. Louis, a charming and quite area very different from the other places we have seen in Paris. Ile St. Louis is mostly residential, with stores and restaurants for the locals. We stopped to look at a real, honest to goodness, old style butcher shop, with a multitude of cuts of meat and whole fowl on display as well as a wide variety of cured meats and pates. We watched butchers trim meats to the specifications of customers and we wondered if there are any such places left in the U.S. I suggested possibly the old Farmers’ Market in the Fairfax area of L.A. I’ll take a look when we got back.
The original purpose for the visit to Ile St. Louis was ice cream at a place called Berthillon recommended by our friend Amanda Susskind. We got to the right place and found a number of restaurants with the name Berthillon included on their signs. We stopped at the first one we saw, not realizing yet that there were others. We had nice crepes and ice cream that was O.K. but not great. Then we went to stroll among the shops in the area and found the place where were supposed to go. It was closed for a two-week vacation. It turns out that Berthillon is the manufacturer of luxury ice cream and sorbet. Its primary story, according to Wikipedia, is on Ile St. Louis. But, apparently it also is sold at other stores.
One of the things I said I wanted to do, before we came to Paris, was see Paris in the rain, the way it is depicted in many paintings. I got that chance today. It started raining while we were having the crepe and ice cream. It kept raining as we strolled around the area and it continued for the 30 minutes or so it took to walk back to our hotel, where we had left our umbrella this morning. Jennifer had a rain coat with a hood. I didn’t – just my leather jacket. We were soaked by the time we got back. After drying off and a short rest, it will be back out among ‘em.
October 31, 2011
Google has found me and apparently assumes I’ve moved to Paris and learned French. My Google pages have switched languages.
It would have been easy to forget today was Halloween here in Paris. We saw only three people in costume all day. Apparently the French don’t recognize it as anything and even frown on the American expats who try to celebrate it.
Now, let’s talk about baguettes. How can the ones we are getting in any bistro or brasserie in Paris be better – a whole lot better – than any I’ve ever tasted back home? You know how we are always told we can get bialys in New York can’t get them in the rest of the country, or how New York bagels are different from L.A. bagels because the water is different? Could it be just because the French are better at baguettes?
I’ve receive dozens of recommendations from friends and readers regarding places in Paris that are special to them. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to fit all of them into our schedule. I will, however, pass along some thoughts about things we have experienced and learned so far, with credits where they are deserved.
Thank you to our friend and graphic designer Lenn Grabiner. He’s the one who suggested we get the Rick Steves guidebook for Paris and it has proven invaluable. He also recommended the Joel Robuchon restaurant, where we had dinner two nights ago, and Aux Lyonnais, where we will dine later in the week.
Thank you to our cousins Barry and Beverly Wellman for recommending the Relais Christine Hotel. It is extremely nice and perfectly located – on a small, quiet street within 15 minutes walk to Musee d’Orsay, the Louvre, Notre Dame and a host of other places of interest. Barry and Bev also sent us to La Rotisserie d’en face, where we had dinner our first night in town. It’s right across the street from the hotel and the food was excellent.
Thank you to our friend Amanda Susskind. She directed us to la Procope, a restaurant that has been in continuous operation since 1686. We had lunch there with our friends Richard and Joelle Davis. Amanda also told us of Angelina, where we had lunch today. She recommended it for the greatest hot chocolat in the history of the universe. It was all that and more. I had Tartare de Boeuf with a raw egg yolk on top. It took me back to the days of steak tartare at the Brown Derby or Perino’s in L.A. It came with French fries and a small green salad. I told Jennifer the salad was to signal my heart that I haven’t completely forgotten about it. Jennifer had an excellent quiche Lorraine. Then she had a Chocolat l’Africain (mousse), I had an éclair chocolat and we each had the signature hot chocolate. Swoon. Wow. Drool. Heaven.
And thank you to Richard and Joelle Davis for being our gracious and interesting hosts for lunch at la Procope.
All that came after a morning at the Louvre. It was crowded, but we got by just fine. We entered the gallery that houses the Mona Lisa and in less than five minutes we were at the rope boundary that was as close as visitors are allowed to the painting. We spent about 10 minutes looking at the painting and reading about it in the Rick Steves book. We also spent extended time looking at the Venus di Milo, Winged Victory, and Diana. The building itself is glorious. Not a bad life.
October 30, 2011
A week or two before we left on this trip I saw a story in the L.A. Daily News about the City Council considering some kind of landmark status for 50-year-old Henry’s Taco stand in North Hollywood. Today we had lunch at a restaurant that has been operating in Paris for 325 consecutive years.
Le Precope opened in 1686 – hundreds of years before there was a United States and 275 years before Henry served up his first taco.
Le Precope had been recommended by our friend Amanda Susskind as a place to go for dinner. We were hosted for lunch, however, by our friends, musician Richard Davis and his French wife Joelle. Richard is from the U.S. and has lived in France for 30 years. He is a preforming and teaching pianist, who works with the Paris Opera and ballet, teaches privately and at schools, and plays concert accompaniment.
Jennifer had beef cheeks followed by profiteroles. Richard and I had coq au vin. He finished with a fig tarte and I had crème brulee. Joelle had calf’s head and no dessert. Each main course came in a broth with potatoes and other vegetables. I thought the calf’s head was the winner. Joelle taught me something about coq au vin, which I make at home regularly. She said real French coq au vin is made not with chicken but with a very large organic rooster. This, she explained, gives the dish a greater depth of flavor. At first I thought I was eating a cut of beef. She told me of a kind of onion she uses in her homemade coq au vin that I’ve never seen and she described a red garlic that was new to me. A six-pound organic rooster might be a bit much for just Jennifer and me. If I can find one some friends are in for a real treat.
After breakfast today we took a long walk to the Musee d’Orsay, where we spent two hours being awed by the impressionist art of some of the great names of history – Monet, Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, Cezanne … I wandered from one painting to the next – all 150 years or so old. I thought of the artists standing at their easels, looking at a scene and painting it. I wondered if they finished a work and had any inkling that it would be celebrated through the ages. The body of work some of them turned out is stunning and the quality is inspiring. I would love to write something that people would read 140 years from now. But how would I ever know I’d done it.
By the way, we are finding the French people to be very pleasant, friendly and accommodating. We try our best to communicate in their language and they try – those who don’t speak English any better than we speak French – to meet us half way.
The only difficulty we have encountered has to do with the bistros and brasseries we’ve visited for lunch or dinner. No matter where we sit in the non-smoking indoor part of the restaurant, the smoke from those at the sidewalk tables permeates the air. As with many former smokers, I cannot stand the smell. But Jennifer is asthmatic and just can’t be around it. So, we are doing our bistro visits for breakfasts and we eat earlier than most Parisians.
October 29, 2011
Breakfast at a brassiere nearby the hotel – baguette with butter. a croissant with jam, and hot chocolat. It was 9 a.m., a bit early for real Parisians. But by 11 a.m. the sidewalk cafes were filling up. It seems that every block has at least five brassieres and restaurants – French of course but also many Indian and Italian. Even saw two sushi restaurants. Won’t be doing that.
To get oriented we took a Hop-on Hop-off bus tour this afternoon. Got off on Champs Elysees near the Arc de Triomphe and had lunch. Croque Monsieur for me and a Quiche Lorraine for Jennifer. Don’t know which was better – the food or the atmosphere. In Montreal my Croque was served on a baguette. Here it was on two slices of toast with the ham in the middle and the cheese melted on top. Jennifer’s quiche with ham and bacon was outstanding.
The sidewalks were jammed. It feels that the pedestrian traffic here is every bit as crowded and electric as it is in New York. The difference: in New York it’s like a ballet, here it’s more like a collision. Maybe that’s because it’s some kind of 4-day holiday weekend and there are lots of visitors and tourists about.
There are more smokers here than any place we’re accustomed to in the states. Indoor restaurants are non-fume; smoking is permitted at outdoor seating. We asked a waiter for non-fume outdoors. He pointed to three tables. They were surrounded by other tables with ash trays and people walking by on the sidewalk and smoking. It reminded me of the early days of separate smoking sections in California restaurants. We asked for non-smoking at a very up-scale place in the San Fernando Valley. They led us to a table and removed the ash tray. Every nearby table still had an ash tray. We left and haven’t been back in the 25 years since. Paris in much like Rome in that the sidewalks right outside
the doors to a restaurant are circled by smokers. In about 500 years some archeologist is going to discover the lost city of Paris buried under a mountain of cigarette filters.
Dinner tonight at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe by accident. I made an online reservation at his restaurant in the St. Germaine district before we left L.A. Somehow their reservation system messed up and made it for this place and there was no seating available at St. Germaine until 8:30 at the earliest. What a happy accident. We had a fabulous meal – foie gras, quail with mashed potatoes, a cheese plate and a unique herb sorbet made with mint, basil and rosemary. Jennifer had a crab salad that she said was the best salad she can remember having. Then she had the quail, followed by a chocolat desert that bordered on obscene.
An added thought on yesterday’s remark about the Nazis having been here. The resistance was here, too. And when President Kennedy visited, he was hailed as a hero. And when Winston Churchill visited after the war hundreds of thousands turned out to salute him. There may have been Nazis and collaborators and anti-Semites. But there also were proud and free Parisians. I really would love to hear La Marsiellaise, the French national anthem, played while I’m here. Of all the great scenes in Casablanca, my
favorite is when the French sing La Marsiellaise in defiance of the Nazis at Rick’s.
October 28, 2011
You can’t appreciate how musical a language French is until you’ve heard is spoken as the mother tongue. Before we left the airport we already were “bonjouring” and “merci-ing” people and explaining we really don’t speak much French.
In immigration officer told me now that Jennifer has seen him I was no longer needed in her life. He looked to be about 45.
We saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance on the ride from the airport to the hotel and drove by all sorts of parcs, monuments and fountains of which he had read through the years.
A sobering thought hit me in the car: London was bombed and bombed and bombed during the war, but the Nazis actually were here in Paris, walking the streets, shooting people, drinking in the cafes, shipping people off to death camps, flying their flags from hotel windows.
We checked into the hotel – Relais Christine – unpacked and headed for the River Seine, two blocks from the hotel. On Pont Neuf we paused to watch the tour boats and take in the scene we had seen so many times in so many movies – people strolling along the river, lovers sitting on a bench and kissing.
Dinner tonight was at La Rotisserie d’en face, recommended by cousins Barry and Beverly. It’s right across the street from the hotel. What a dilemma. First night in Paris: do I have foie gras, escargot, or frogs legs. I opted for the latter. It was served on a bed of spinach. Beautiful. Next up was calf’s liver – cooked perfectly, tender, delightful, topped with caramelized onions. Don’t ever recall a better piece of liver. Dessert? Fromage blanc … Cheese whipped with cream and served with a raspberry sauce. Light. Airy. Heaven. All around us French was being spoken – musically. The menu was in French and English. Jennifer told the waiter after finishing her main course: “Tres Bien”. He said her French was 100 percent.
After dinner, I sighed and said, “So this is how they eat.”
October 27, 2011
Camped out for one night at the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel and waiting for a morning flight to Paris.
There’s a certain sadness every time I leave England. This trip we never got to London. I guess that means we are no longer tourists when we come here; we’re visitors. And the closest we came to eating in a pub was my brother-in-law David’s birthday lunch at the Spotted Cow. Jennifer says that’s a pub; I think it’s more like a restaurant. Of course to Jennifer this is home, just as much as New York still feels like home to me every time I go back there.
This will be my first visit to Paris after a lifetime of singing “April in Paris”, “The Last Time I Saw Paris”, and “I’ll Go Back to Maxim’s”. Hard to believe. All those bachelor years and I never got to Paris. All the trips to England with Jennifer, and never a side trip to Paris.
The forecast is for rain and showers four of the six days we will be there. It won’t stop us. I shipped my low fat, low cholesterol, low sodium diet back home for safe keeping. I’ll re-join it after I finish with everything the French have to offer.
October 26, 2011
Our last day in Angmering – a small village about a mile from the south coast of England, where we’ve had a very nice visit with Jennifer’s brother, David, and his wife, Maureen, Maureen on the occasion of his 85th birthday.
Our stay has been at the Angmering Manor, which was converted from a large private home to a hotel and restaurant several years ago. We stayed at the same place two years ago. Breakfast each day has been a Full English Fry Up. Dinner tonight at the hotel was roast rump of English lamb for me and Jennifer and a breast quarter of chicken wrapped in prosciutto for David and Maureen. The lamb was cooked to a perfect pink and had that wonderful lamby flavor I love. So much for the myth that the Brits over-cook their meat.
Tomorrow, it’s off for a night at the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel and then Friday we fly to Paris. I’m deeply involved in sorting through the recommendations from friends and relatives regarding what to do in Paris and reading through Rick Steves’ book on Paris.
October 25, 2011
A relaxing day driving in the English countryside with brother-in-law David at the wheel and sister-in-law Maureen seated next to Jennifer.
You know that ivy growing along the side the narrow road on which you are driving? It’s probably hugging a 400-year-old stone wall.
Driving in England is a very social activity. The roads are so narrow in places you must make eye contact with the driver of the oncoming vehicle and you must choreograph how you are going to pass each other in the opposite direction. When the maneuver is executed successfully, the two drivers wave in acknowledgement as they pass.
When I was a kid, I had a fascination for England. I even imagined I would meet a beautiful woman with a refined British accent and we would spend many years together. Sometimes childhood fantasies do come true. I was lucky enough to have met Jennifer and to have had it work out for us. We’ve been married more than 41 years and together for 43 years. She still has the remnants of her British accent. She’s a fabulous traveling companion and because of her I’ve spent more time in England and the U.K. than I would have under other circumstances and I have her and a network of relatives to show me their country.
Today we visited the Petworth House, home of Lord and Lady Egremont. It’s been in the same family for 350 years – longer than there has been a United States. In the coffee shop we tried a cheese scone, the only kind available (don’t bother). Also a unique hot chocolate – steamed milk in a cup with a lump of dark chocolate stuck to the end of a spoon. We were told to submerge the chocolate in the milk and stir it until the chocolate melted. By the time the chocolate melted the milk was no long really hot. In the display case there was a chocolate and beet root cake. What a revolting concept. But who can criticize the Brits for their willingness to try anything. They’ve been at it a long, long time. They survived the Romans, Normans, French, Germans, and sometimes each other. They have a deep sense of the ironic and an unlimited capacity for self-deprecation. So how could we deny them a dalliance with cheese scones.
October 24, 2011
“Me sniffer’s off.”
The English have their own way of expressing concepts and identifying items and sometimes it takes an American a few minutes to figure out what they mean.
Before breakfast this morning, I was in the lounge at the Angmering Manor. From the next room I heard one of the housekeeping staff proclaim, “Me sniffer’s off.” I thought about it for a while before I realized she meant she has a cold.
On the news I heard a report of an accident involving a “bendy-bus.” I got that one instantly; it’s an articulated bus.
Brits don’t go on vacation; they go “on holiday”. They don’t go to the beach as we do on the west coast or the shore as they do in New Jersey; they go to the seaside.
To hear a clerk in an English department store say “thank you” is like hearing music; she’ll pronounce it “than-cue”, with the emphasis on the last syllable.
When it comes to food, we Yanks can face the same dilemmas.
Bubble and Squeek? Left over boiled cabbage and crushed roasted potatoes, fried the next day, possibly with the addition of other left over vegetables and maybe some left over meat. Why? It’s named for the sound it makes in the pan when frying, as heard by some long forgotten ear.
Bangers? Any of a few types of sausage. The “British style” bangers sold in the U.S. are nothing like the real thing in taste or texture. Why bangers? Because those made during World War II were made with water and were more likely to explode under high heat if not cooked carefully.
And the champion of them all: a Full Fry-up. It’s a shorthand name for a breakfast that includes a banger, a slice of English bacon (not American streaky bacon and not like Canadian bacon), a fried tomato,
mushrooms, black pudding, bake beans, an egg and sometimes blood sausage. I had this for breakfast today. With the eight-hour time difference, I figured my cardiologist was still asleep back in L.A.
October 23, 2011
Jennifer has remarked often at how green England is, which makes sense given the weather, and at how much open space there is for a country so small and with so many people.
We were reminded of that again on the 90-minute drive from Maidstone to Angmering, about a mile from the south coast of England. When we are in the U.K. Jennifer does all the driving because when I drive from that side of the car on that side of the road we both are terrified. It’s not that Jennifer drove that much when she lived here; she left when she was 22-years old. But she still has the instincts of a Brit when it comes to things vehicular.
The occasion for this trip is the 85th birthday of Jennifer’s brother David. The birthday isn’t actually until Wednesday, but we had a birthday lunch for the family today at his favorite local restaurant, the Spotted Cow, not far from where he and his wife Maureen live. It’s like so many other restaurants in small towns and villages throughout England – bigger than a pub with a different style of food, but far from upscale. As it was Sunday, it was the day for the traditional Sunday afternoon roast – choice of beef or pork.
What a treat – pork with flavor once again. (Read “Pork Meat Cuts and the Fall of Quality” under the heading of rants in the menu of this online magazine to learn more about why American pork is so devoid of flavor.) Our roast came sliced and perfectly cooked, with roasted potatoes, apple sauce, a piece of pre-ordered crackling (the outer skin and fat of the roast) and vegetables served family style. It was wonderful and I’m sure it will heighten my frustration with pork sold at butcher shops back home.
October 22, 2011
Today’s subject is British food and whether they deserve the bad rap they have received over the years. Much of that has been aimed this way from the U.S., the nation that gave the world the Big Mac, 99-cent hot dogs, Taco Bell and all sorts of similar epicurean wonders. So, let’s begin by questioning the taste of the rapper in this equation.
My relationship with Brits and food is somewhat informed. I am married to a Brit. She doesn’t cook, but she loves to eat. And she has relatives at whose homes we have eaten. And we have dined at a fair number of restaurants during our many visits to the United Kingdom.
Thus having established my credentials, I will say the rap is not deserved. Some British tastes may seem strange to Americans. Things like blood sausage don’t appear on many American menus. And in the land of meat cooked rare to medium-rare, the inclination of large number of Brits to prefer it cooked medium-well to well done is a bit questionable. But most of the pubs and restaurants I have visited have no problem delivering food that still has a happy pink or red center.
Remember, this is the place that gave birth to crackling and put fish and chips, and bangers and mash on the world map. When the Brits released their hold on India they were smart enough to hang on to curry as a national staple.
A home-cooked roast, particularly lamb or pork, in England has no rival in the U.S. While the Brits relish to skin and fat on the pork and eat it as crackling, Americans demand that their butchers remove the skin and fat. Want game birds? Few American homes or restaurants can match what you find just about anywhere in England.
And then, of course, there’s the real English Fry Up breakfast: bangers, English bacon, fried eggs, fried potatoes, beans, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, and blood sausage.
Several years back, Jennifer and I did a five-week driving trip through England, Scotland and Wales. We stayed at a series of Manor Houses and Castles, where breakfast and dinner usually were included. These were not steam table buffets. Some of the best chef’s in England were being recruited to cook in those kitchens. We also stopped at pubs along the way for lunches. I don’t think we’ve ever eaten better than we did in those five weeks.
And during our visit two years ago we had wonderful fish dinners at the renowned J. Sheekey and an excellent Italian dinner at L’Anima. So, from my point of view it’s time to knock off the knock on British food and dig into some Shepard’s Pie.
October 20-21, 2011
The subject is airline food. Enough said? Even in “premium economy” on Virgin Atlantic, mistakenly touted by some as the equivalent of business class, the choices were poor and the food worse. It isn’t worth lingering on this because there is nothing I can say that would add to what already has been said about airline food. Before leaving the subject, however, I can’t resist a comment on the choices we were offered for breakfast: “a full English fry up” or a vegetable frittata. I’m smart enough to have taken a pass on the fry up. There is no stove, or pan or anything else on an air plane on which to fry anything. My low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sodium diet is not at all meant for fried food and an English fry up would push the constrictions of that diet. So I opted for the frittata and had the worst airline meal I’ve ever been offered – a lump of something in the shape of a hockey puck that I guess was the frittata, another lump of something that probably was hash brown potatoes, a couple of mushrooms and a warmed cherry tomato. On the other hand, I’m anxious to treat myself to a real fry up once or twice during our time in England and to write here of the many ways in which English food and cooking gets a bad rap from Americans.