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Le week-end à la campagne

Meaux - Paris

The first true weekend of spring just happened here. Well, there may have been some nice days when I was gone, but the weather was fairly glorious the last few days. And being a holiday weekend in France, off we went to the countryside (campagne), enjoying the clear blue skies.

painting

Drive just about an hour from Paris, the air clears and you just want to roll down the car windows and take a deep breath. (Well, it’s a little more refreshing once you’ve exited the autoroute.) There are trees, wild grasses, fields of wheat, oats, rows of barley, sugar beets and colza growing, and flowers, wild and otherwise.

rose

We did the trip not just to clear out our heads, but to help clean out an old country house, rifling through what remained, before toasting a few glasses for the final farewell. It was wistful and bittersweet. But changes are often unavoidable, and each is un passage.

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Food: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000, at the Smithsonian Museum

Smithsonian Museum

Unfortunately, book tours offer little – if any – free time. Sometimes you want to check out places that are miles away from your hotel, which are hopeless causes (although not always). But since publishers and venues are flying you around, they’re not footing the bill for a leisurely evening with friends, or with copious time to explore the city. (And I don’t blame them.) So you value every precious second you have. Your best bet is to remain within a close radius of your hotel. If you’re fortunate, you can race to a Japanese restaurant, cafe, or doughnut shop. Other times, you’re happy to lie in a nice bed and watch “The View.”

Smithsonian Museum

For the most part, the weather on my tour was spectacular. And while I can’t take credit for that, still, people thanked me for bringing sunny skies with me, wherever I went. In Seattle, I hit the city during one of the rare thirty days of sunshine (out of 365 days.) But not always. Heading to Miami, just as we were poised to take off on the runway, our plane turned around and headed back to the gate to get more fuel because a hurricane warning in Florida, which might force us to land elsewhere. (We ended up arriving okay, but we circled high above the Miami airport for a couple of hours, waiting for it to reopen.) Yet the next day in Miami, the skies were spectacular.

And for my last city and stop of the tour, I had the pleasure of sitting on a green, grassy lawn at the Washington, D.C. farmers’ market, in the nation’s capital, signing books and chatting to shoppers, who were loading up their baskets with bunches of asparagus, strawberries, and radishes as well as first-of-the-season tomatoes and excellent cheeses.

Since I miraculously ended up with a rare, free afternoon the following day, I hoofed it over to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian, to check out Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.

The exhibit highlights how American eating and shopping habits have changed during those five decades, and the museum compiled this retrospective to show the progression and evolution of the changes leading up to what shows up at the American table.

Smithsonian Museum

Continue Reading Food: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000, at the Smithsonian Museum…

Lunch at Google

Lunch at Google

I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences on this book tour, from taking in all the gorgeous produce at farmers’ markets, from San Francisco to Washington D.C,, to having someone tell me that he was proud of “my people” for the book I wrote. Wasn’t too sure who “my people” are. At first I thought it was mes amis français, but then I realized it was likely you, my dear readers.

Lunch at Google

As I pack up, ready to head home shortly, it’ll be a relief to be back in my own bedroom (and bathroom), after four weeks of gently explaining to hotel housekeepers that there’s no need to knock on my door at 7:30am to see if I need any of the fourteen towels in the bathroom replaced. I can only imagine what they would think of me if they saw my own bathroom at home, with a mere two towels hanging from the towel bar.

Which makes me wonder: What on earth do people do with all those towels, piled and rolled up, in hotel rooms? If I had my druthers, I would like the option to be able to trade some for a few more electrical outlets. Heading to the finish line, though, perhaps I should have yielded to their queries about extra towels, because I’m about to throw one in.

Lunch at Google

Lunch at Google

If I’m not making sense, you’ll have to excuse me, like the person who was surprised when I mentioned that it was October. (It was, in fact, April.) But one experience that I can still recall as clear as a lens on Google Glass, was visiting Google, where I was invited to speak to a group of Googlers, as they’re called.

(And if using the word “Google,” and linking to it, that many times in one sentence doesn’t jack up my search engine juice, I don’t know what will.)

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The Ice Cream Bar

The Ice Cream Bar

Rats! It used to be my dream to open an ice cream bar. But then again, that’s coming from the guy who thought that no one in America would be interested in bean-to-bar chocolate, no one in Los Angeles would ever buy artisan bread, and who sold his Apple stock when it was 38 per share.

As I’ve been traveling around the U.S., I’ve noticed all the artisan places that have popped up, everything from local olive oil at San Francisco airport, folks distilling whiskey in big cities, and people waiting three hours for a plate of smoked meat. Am not sure exactly how to explain this phenomenon to people who live outside the United States, but whatever triggered it, I gotta say, I’m swallowing my words.

The Ice Cream Bar

However perhaps I was ahead of the curve because after I’d written my ice cream book, I played with the idea of opening an ice cream shop (unfortunately, not with any money I made on my Apple stock), where I imagined myself churning away all sorts of flavors, using bean-to-bar chocolate (after I got done kicking myself…), artisan breadcrumbs (don’t get me started…) as well as local fruits and berries.

While on book tour, I met a number of swell folks who handed me their battered copies of The Perfect Scoop for me to sign, worn down from being passed around the kitchen of visionaries who had better insight than I, and opened ice cream shops.

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Josey Baker’s Adventure Bread

Josey Baker gluten-free bread recipe

It gives me a little frowny face when people tell me that they can’t find good bread in America. But I’m turnin’ that frown upside down because the more I travel, the more good bread I see. And I love passing on the word because, really, everyone should have access to good bread – no matter where they are.

The San Francisco Bay Area has had a tradition of good bread for a while, from the golden loaves of airy Boudin San Francisco sourdough, to the earthy levain breads from Acme, Tartine, b. pâtisserie, Della Fattoria, and all the other bakeries that are pulling terrific loaves out of the oven daily, in the area.

Josey Baker Bread

People in San Francisco are obsessed with good bread, and good food – a tradition which I am happy to report is still in evidence from all the great meals I’ve been having on this trip. And like France, and many other countries, bakeries are important to the community. One bakery that is extra-special to me is The Mill, which I discovered on my last trip. And one that I was anxious to revisit on this one.

Josey Baker Bread

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I’m sorry, Vancouver

Vancouver Canada

A while back I was discussing something with a Canadian friend in Paris. Until – at one point, she stopped the discussion and said, “Y’know, I’m Canadian. I don’t have an opinion.” And while that may be true, before touching down in Vancouver, I decided to give crowd-sourcing where I should go for dinner another go, since I knew almost nothing about where to go in Vancouver. The only thing I knew was that it was known to have especially great Asian food. And it seemed a shame not to indulge in some of it.

Mexican food truck

Vancouver Food Truck

Since my plane was coming near the tail end of the dinner hour, and I had to be up-and-at-‘em early the next morning, I needed somewhere to go that was near to my hotel. After a day of flying, I wasn’t up for wandering around an unfamiliar city in my dazed stupor. And since I only have the barest minimum of free time, I needed to use it wisely – and make sure I didn’t eat any meals that were duds.

food truck

For an opinion-free culture, folks on Twitter sure had plenty to say about where to go, although many were eliminated since “near” was the operative word. I also learned that apologizing for everything was another trait Canadians were known for. And as we were lining up to exit the plane and race toward the border patrol area, which is usually a scrum elsewhere, I heard plenty of people apologizing and saying “Oh, I’m sorry” to each other. And letting them pass.

canada flag

On the food front, a few places kept popping up repeatedly, and looking at a map once I landed, and talking to the nice folks at my hotel, I saw thatShuraku was just a five minute walk away from where I was staying. So that was the deciding factor.

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L.A.

LA

I’m one of those people who loves Los Angeles. Even rarer, I’m one of those San Franciscans who loves Los Angeles. Each sometimes writes off the other, and the two big cities in California are often at odds with each other. One is serious, grey, and a little foreboding and mysterious. The other sunny and warm, with an upbeat attitude that even after visiting for the umpteenth time, I find refreshing. And it always makes me happy to be in LA.

LA

My first “Aha!” moment on this visit was when I woke up the morning after dinner at République, the stunning restaurant that took over the space of the former Campanile restaurant. I took the elevator up to the breakfast room of my hotel, on the top floor. When the door opened, my eyes took a moment to adjust after being greeted by a sky so bright-blue, I was wondering why I had spent so many years trying to stay warm under the blanket of chilly fog of San Francisco.

So a poolside breakfast it was, a plate of scrambled egg whites with kale, squash, avocados and Sriracha sauce, along with a thermos of coffee, and a terrace view. I was ready to move in.

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Onward…

Stiles BBQ in Austin

One thing vegans and vegetarians don’t have to worry about is going into a “meat coma.” But I do, as I’ve been in one twice during my week in Texas. On a previous trip, my friend Matt (who own Tèo gelato and espresso shop, in Austin – and is a must-stop) whisked me away from the airport and took me straight out to Lockhart, known for its excellent bbq joints. However since my free time was limited to little less than three hours, total, we decided to stay within the city limits of Austin (or at least nearby) and get my bbq fix there.

Stiles BBQ in Austin

Matt told me the two places that were more convenient, since I was pressed for time, and when we drove by Franklin Barbecue and saw what is said to be a three-hour wait (people were, indeed, lined up, sitting in lawn chairs, with coolers of beer), I said, “Keep going…” and we pulled up to Stiles Switch BBQ.

And once inside, I was glad we did. The super-friendly staff at the counter provided yet another Texas-style welcome, spending time telling us about the different kinds of meats, after they found out I lived in Paris. While I appreciated the introduction, I had already honed in one the brisket, the beef ribs, and the pork ribs. All were excellent, but the beef rib was especially good and if that had been my last meal ever, I would have been happy.

Continue Reading Onward……