The Mexican Virginian

One of the greatest things about America is the cultural mix. Which often means that you can get great food in the unlikeliest of places. Like very good Mexican food in, um, Virginia!

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A previously satisfied customer?

Arlington, Virginia, is best known for the cemetary and a large, five-sided building called the Pentagon. (There’s lots of military people lurking in the Metro and on the streets, which feels somewhat disconcerting.)
It’s an unlikely place for good Mexican food, but I found it at Oyamel.

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It wouldn’t be Mexican without chips ‘n salsa verde
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Tacos stuffed with Carnitas ‘Cristina la Guera: Braised baby pig with tomatilla salsa, cilantro, and crispy-fried pork skin
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Corn puffs seasoned with chopped avocado leaves stuffed with…
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…guacamole!

Oyamel
2250-B Crystal Drive
Arlington, VA
Tel: 703-413-2288

Au Revoir Paris

Upon arrival at Paris’ Roissy airport, I notice that lots of people seem to be smiling and no one is trying to cut in front of me in line and many of the people are toting self-help bestsellers with semi-bald men grinning on the glossy front jackets.
Yes, I’m on my way back to the United States of America.

I got upgraded, which is like winning the lottery. I don’t know if those people at the airline check-in know how just tapping one extra key during their flurry of keystrokes can make my entire journey so much more pleasant, but there’s nothing better than sitting up in the front in the plane (instead of walking by, ruefully, on my slouch to economy). I’m able to stretch my long legs and have the possibility of a few treasured moments of real sleep (sans Ambien) before I arrive.

So here I sit, in United’s Red Carpet Club and I’m looking at a copy of USA Today. The headline reads, “Holiday sale dip, then they dazzle”. The International Herald Tribune, the paper of Europe, has the headline, “EU Warns Members of CIA Terror Camps”.
Inside USA Today, they’ve requested readers write about what they’re thankful for, and a woman writes, “….while I deeply resent the unchecked and increasing numbers of illegal immigrants streaming across our porous borders, I am thankful to live in a land of opportunity so sought after by those who don’t live in such a country.”

Note to Doris: Perhaps you might give thanks that you don’t live in a country where you live in fear for your life on a daily basis, where there’s plenty of food to go around, and you have a roof over your head, rather than using it as an opportunity to complain about immigration (something I’m sure her grandparents, like most of ours, benefited from.)

Since I wasn’t sure of my euphoria-inducing upgraded status, I packed a nifty lunch of two hard-boiled eggs from my local fromagerie, French yogurt (which I’ll dearly miss), salade de carrotte rapée (grated carrots with lemon juice, which is the national salad of France), and a split baguette smeared with butter and slices of silky jambon de Bayonne. I’m also fortified with a small packet of chocolate-covered coffee beans from Slitti, one of my favorite chocolate shops in Italy, which do double-duty for chocolate or coffee related urgencies.

On the plane, I flip through the airline magazine, which highlights some of Todays Hottest Young Chefs! Several of them have devised ways of using chemicals and stabilizers to create a celebrated new genre of cuisine.
Huh? Didn’t most of us spend the last few years trying to get people to stop adding chemicals and stabilizers to food?

So last week I had a final Paris food blow-out when my pal DL 2 came from Switzerland. We took the opportunity to visit one of my favorite traditional restaurants in Paris: A la Biche Au Bois. I’ve been eating there for years and it’s a favorite, with a well priced menu for only 23 euros and lively dining room that offers a wonderful tour de force of rustic French cooking.

I began with the salade Perigordine; a memorable slab of foie gras with a big pile of haricots vertes (freshly cooked and still a bit crispy, trés americaine). I almost couldn’t make it through the whole slice. As you can see, it’s was e-n-o-r-m-o-u-s….

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I figured since was restaurant titled after la biche herself (deer), I should sample the namesake; tonight she’s offered in a casserole as a long-simmered stew with a dark, rich sauce. Alongside comes a smooth and excellent purée of celery root. My meal was excellent and hearty and I make a mental note to eat here more often.

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Distractingly, our waiter kept passing the table with platters heaped with homemade, and remarkable-looking, crispy French fries. They were deep-golden brown, with wisps of steam rising, served on metal platters. So naturally I wanted to get a plate, but in Paris when you become a waiter, they implant special lenses in your eyes that allow you to only look forward and block out customers who might make special requests…so we didn’t get any.

No matter.
The service was cheerful and accommodating and we drank a nice bottle of Burgundian Pinot Noir. I finished my meal with one of my favorite desserts: a towering mound of snow-white Ile Flottante, baked and caramelized meringue floating in icy cold creme Anglaise and a drizzle of dark caramel.
A complimentary glass of warming Armagnac was offered to fend off the frozen evening chill outside, and we made our way home.

The next day, we made a pilgrimage to Pierre Hermé, this time his large boutique on the rue de Vaugirard, which is less-hectic than the location on rue Bonaparte and has a tad more breathing room.

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Pierre Hermé’s newest ‘collection’ was on full display and we first chose a few macarons Plénitude, a mélange of chocolate ganache and caramel with fleur de sel fused together with disks of almondy meringue cookies.

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I’ve been looking for the opportunity to try Emotion Mahogany, but was scared of carrying the fragile little glass across Paris via the Metro (as regular readers to my blog know, I’ve had too many unfortunate experiences trying to navigate Paris, and Parisians in a hurry, while carrying a cake.)

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As you can see, I need not have worried. I guess the folks at Pierre Hermé are used to customers having to deal with Parisians walking right into them carrying a fragile cake or dessert.

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At the bottom of the glass were of coarsely chopped litchees. On top of that was a smooth layer of mango compote, then a bit of caramel mousse and topped with tender, tiny coconut marshmallows.

You’re meant to dig your spoon deep down into the glass and get a layer of each flavor in every mouthful, which is impossible without all the marshmallows tumbling off. (So don’t try to eat this on a park bench. The marshmallows are the best part!)
It was tasty, but I would have liked something a bit tangy to brighten the flavors. Perhaps a layer of dark rum or very dark caramel or citrusy lime mousse.

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The other dessert we tried was a masterpiece of engineering. Le Instant, a bittersweet chocolate shell enrobing chocolate mousse and a nugget of Earl Grey tea gelés buried within. While tasty, it was awfully sweet and after so much eating (we’d had fabulously filling savory and sweet crepes for lunch and dessert at my favorite creperie in Paris, near the Gare Montparnasse) neither one of us showed much interest in it Pierre Hermé doesn’t like very bitter chocolate desserts…but I do. So we the rest was, unfortunately, left.

It was hard to eat without making a mess.

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Sigh.
My last memories of Paris…

P√Ętisserie Arnaud Larher

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The worst thing about the pâtisserie of Arnaud Larher is that it’s too dang far away from where I live. Located on the northern fringes of Montmarte, it takes me 3 different métros to get there, and even then, it’s a hike from the métro station (which is buried very, very deep underground, since that quartier of Paris is mostly soft limestone, aka plaster of Paris, and building the métro stations at Montmarte required extremely deep digging into the earth to reach solid ground.)

The best thing, though, is once I arrive, I forget the arduous journey when I see all the terrific cakes and candies and treats waiting for me…

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I made my first trip ‘up the mountain’ a few years back to check out his Croq-Télé, round buttery cookies with roasted hazelnuts and a nice amount of salt, meant to be consumed while watching television. His macarons are a tad dense for my taste, but the chocolate-covered guimauve, or French marshmallows, are yummy.

And although they’re hard to spot tucked in between the riot of chocolates and bonbons tied in neat little bags on the shelves, the Pavés de Montmartre, golden squares of almond cake wrapped in a sheath of almond paste then briefly cooked, augmenting the almondy richness, are one of the most singularly (and simply) stunning cakes in Paris. No small feat, in a city with no lack of stunning desserts.

Arnaud Larher
53, rue Caulaincourt
Paris
Mètro: Lamark Caulaincourt

Pistachios, Citron…and Chocolate

Recently I’ve been thinking a bit about pistachios for a couple of reasons.
Pistachios are wonderful and tasty nuts that not so long ago were considered unusual and exotic. Now they’ve become rather common and are easily available. When I was a little boy, my Syrian grandfather used to always have on hand big 5-poundsacks of pistachio nuts, sometimes vividly-colored red (am I the only one who remembers those?) They were the best and I ate so many I’m surprised that my fingers aren’t permanently stained.

Then during the 1980′s, products from Iran were banned from being exported into the US for political reasons and my beloved pistachios disappeared. Eventually some crafty Californians came along (like the ones who decided that kiwis were going to be the Next Big Thing and planted rows and rows of them) and American-grown pistachios are the result; now pistachios are relatively cheap and plentiful. But here in Paris, I prowl the Arabic markets in neighborhoods off-the-beaten-path, and often come across Iranian pistachios which are delicious; the split shells easily snap off, and I pop the plump, lightly-salted nut kernels into my mouth. Before I know it, I’ve consumed a good half a kilo and want more.

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I was lucky to get a wonderful gift from my friend Anne of some chocolate treats from a recent trip to Caffé dell’ Arte in Sicily. If you didn’t know it, Sicily is famous, mostly amongst pastry chefs who seek these pistachios which are brilliant green and sans the grey, papery and unattractive husk that covers the nut. Sicilian pistachios are wonderful for decorating since the color is indeed magnificent. (In spite of what recipes tell you, I don’t advise toasting normal pistachio nuts since they tend to lose any of their green hue, and they’ve likely been roasted before packaging.)

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Anne advised that the aroma of pistachios was the first thing she noticed when she opened her bar, and sure enough, when I slipped mine out of the wrapper, the delicious nutty scent of fresh nuts filled the air, along with the aroma of deep, dark chocolate.
And the taste…Wow!

This was one of the best bars of chocolate I’ve ever had.
The chocolate was smooth and dark, rich and roasted like a sweet Italian espresso, with a lingering bitterness tempered with a perfectly balanced amount of sugar. Just enough to take the edge off, but not enough to be sweet: truly a fine balance of flavors. And the crispy, Sicilian pistachio nuts were whole, brilliant-green, and full of the flavor, reminiscent of a sunny and earthy Mediterranean climate.

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Another treat were these thick slices of candied citron dipped in pure dark chocolate. Hardly anyone knows what citrons are anymore and they’re rarely found (the ones below that I saw in Italy at a villa and the owners insisted that they were “strange lemons, but with no pulp!”…)

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Unusually-Shaped Buddha’s-Hand Citrons in Tuscany

Unless you’re lucky enough to know someone with a tree, citrons are a rarity in produce markets. They’re notable for their musky, aromatic smell and barely any pulp. But the beauty of a citron is in the noble, aromatic peel and rind, which is candied in halves or big slices, then chopped into Italian fruitcakes like pan forte or pan pepato, its spicier cousin. Of course, many American use them when baking their holiday fruitcakes as well, commonly referred to as “those icky green things”, an unfortunate designation, since as you can see, they’re lovely and delicious, especially coated with Sicilian chocolate!

The Worst Cheese in the World

Perhaps it’s wrong to blame the cheese.
But cheese doesn’t have any feelings, it’s just exists for our pleasure.
So for once I don’t have to worry about offending anyone on my blog. Now that’s a relief.

A friend of mine came for dinner the other night who’s on le regime, a diet. While shopping at the supermarket I spotted this reduced-fat cheese, checked out the short list of ingredients on the reverse (which listed no icky ingredients), so I tossed it in my handbasket and headed to the checkout.

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I got home, unwrapped it and immediately my apartment smelled rather, um, funky.
And not like that good-funky that a fabulously-ripe camembert or brie smells like, but a vaguely familiar funky, with a smell that I couldn’t put my finger on it. When my friend arrived a bit later (who’s quite refined and sophisticated, and lives in the swank place des Vosges), she removed her Hermès jacket and scarf, took a whiff then looked at the sorry specimen, screwed up her face, and said, “Ugh. That smells like a fart.”

If you happen to be eating cheese while reading this, sorry about the analogy.

And before you pooh-pooh low-fat, there’s a long list of low- or non-fat items that rock our world: pink marshmallow Peeps, dried sour cherries, gumdrops, Berthillon’s bitter chocolate sorbet, prunes, candy corn, rice, meringue, pasta, cranberry sauce, matzoh, Cracker Jack’s, dark brown sugar, Jewish rye bread, dried-out leftover turkey breast meat, sushi, and orange-flavored Chuckles.)

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But this cheese was indeed the worst cheese I’ve ever come across.
It had absolutely no flavor. But still, I kept it on my kitchen counter for a few days pondering another use for it. Perhaps macaroni and cheese? Melting it for a sandwich?
I hate throwing anything away, especially food…after all, I am my mother’s son.

That was my first and last experience with fromage allegé. Finally after a few aromatic days I suffered in my apartment, I tossed it. I’m sticking with the real thing. If you’re going to live in France, why bother with anything else?

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French Fast Food

One of my favorite lunch treats is from Au Levain du Marais, their warm Anchovy Tart with soft-baked tomatoes and oil-cured olives, all baked in a buttery puff-pastry crust.

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I try to stop in at least once a week for a quick bite, and if I’m lucky, I get to the bakery just when they’re fresh from the oven.
A perfect lunch!

Au Levain du Marais
28, Boulevard Beaumarchais
Tel: 01 48 05 17 14

other locations:

32, rue de Turenne

152, avenue Parmentier

48, rue Caulaincourt

Kugelhof Recipe

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One thing that does seem to cross international lines successfully is baking.
I never visit a country without sampling their baking. I visit bakeries and want to try everything, from Mexico’s delicious tortillas served warm with butter, to Indian naan breads just from a tandoori oven.

Here in France during the winter, the windows of pastry shops are lined with all sizes of Galettes de Rois, disks of caramelized puff pastry filled with almond paste. Alsation bakers offer sweet, doughyGugelhofs with plumped raisins and toasted almonds with freshly-grated citrus peel. And even though the world is mired in cultural misunderstandings, wars, and hostility, perhaps the United Nations might consider sending an International Baking Brigade around the world to promote cross-cultural baking traditions.

So while that ain’t likely to happen in my lifetime, I was thrilled to receive a new book from Nick Malgieri of baking recipes from around the world. I was fortunate to meet Nick years ago when I was starting my career writing cookbooks and he was overtly generous giving me advice about writing and publishing. Fortunately for bakers everywhere, Nick shares his vast knowledge of baking in his many well-written books. He perhaps knows more about baking than anyone I’ve ever met and is one of my heroes.

His latest cookbook, A Baker’s Tour, is a terrific and comprehensive overview of the world’s most delicious baked goods.

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So when last week I trekked out to Vandermeersch for their amazing Kugelhof, I was distressed to learn they’re only available on weekends. (Of course, being in France, if I had gone out, say…Thursday, I would have discovered, “Desolé Monsieur, We make kugelhofs every day…except Thursday.”)

I was delighted to find a recipe in Nick’s book and decided to bake a yeasty Kugelhof myself. It also gave me also the opportunity to use the beautiful ceramic Alsatian Kugelhof mold that I found while pickling through some neglected boxes at a vide grenier, a neighborhood flea market, a few weeks ago in Paris.

Nick calls this a Gugelhof, which is the Austrian name for this cake. He advises to measure flour by spooning it into a graduated measuring cup, then leveling it off. I made an orange flower water syrup to soak the cake, an inspiration from Vandermeersch bakery, as suggested in Dorie Greenspan’s book, Paris Sweets.

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Kugelhof

Adapted from A Baker’s Tour by Nick Malgieri and Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan.

Sponge

½ cup milk
2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast (not instant)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour

Dough

  • ½ cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup whole blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped (see note below)
  • ½ cup sliced almonds, for lining the cake pan

One 6- to 8-cup kugelhof pan (or you can use a bundt pan)

1. Maker the sponge by warming the milk over low heat in a small saucepan until it’s tepid. Pour into a bowl, and mix in the yeast then the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until bubbly, about 20 minutes.

2. In a small bowl, stir together the raisins and the rum, then set aside.

3. In a standing electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar and salt with the paddle attachment until soft and light, about 3 minutes. Beat in the lemon zest and vanilla.

4. Beat in the egg yolks until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl, add the sponge, then beat another minute.

5. Drain the raisins then beat the rum into the dough, then beat in the flour. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes and let rest for 10 minutes.

6. Beat on medium speed until smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes.

7. Slowly beat in the raisins and chopped almonds.

8. Scrape the dough into a butter bowl and turn it so the top is buttered. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until the dough just begins to puff, about 20 minutes.

9. Butter the kugelhof mold well the scatter the sliced almonds over the inside of the mold, turning to coat it evenly.

10. Scrape the dough into the kugelhof mold and cover with a towel or buttered plastic wrap.

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Let rise until doubled.

11. About 15 minutes before the dough is fully risen, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the kugelhof until it’s well-risen, and deep golden, about 40-45 minutes.

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Cool the kugelhof for 10 minutes, then unmold.

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To make a nice, moist syrupy glaze; bring 1/3 cup of water and 1/3 cup of sugar to a boil. Remove from heat once the sugar is dissolved and add 1 ½ teaspoons orange flower water and 2 tablespoons finely ground almonds (optional, but good).
Liberally brush the syrup all over, on top of, and around the cake.

Cool completely before slicing and serving.

Note: To peel your own almonds, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the untoasted almonds and let cook for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and drain. Once the almonds are cool enough to handle, the skins will slip right off.

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Toast the almonds until golden brown for best flavor before using. I snap one in half to make sure they’re crispy all the way through.

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Most nuts benefit from being toasted in a 350° oven for 10 to 12 minutes.

Continue Reading Kugelhof Recipe…

The Book Tour

Do you know what this is?

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It’s my almost-empty peanut butter jar, which means I’m just about due for a trip back to the United States of America…I’ll be on The Book Tour!
The good part of The Book Tour is that I get to meet lots of people who bake from my books and read my blog.

This is what I’ll be doing the rest of the time…

1. 6:47 am: Wake up.

2. Figure out what city I’m in.

3. Search for remote control buried under covers and turn on TV.

4. Remove eyemask and earplugs.

5. Get out of bed and mentally think about trying to find a place nearby for breakfast that won’t set me back $37.85 (ie: the overpriced hotel dining room) for two eggs, imitation-butter-slathered toast, soggy home fries with lots of freaky-colored paprika added for no reason but to try to make them look more ‘gourmet’ but in fact they look scary and gross, and watery orange juice. Bottomless cup of coffee is $4.75 extra…since they know you’re going to order it anyways…why not overcharge?
Thankfully it’s bottomless, since you need to drink four cups before you feel anything resembling a caffeine jolt. And it comes with those little plastic containers of half-and-half that have the consistency of house paint. (Isn’t it cheaper, and better, to give you fresh milk? And who the hell uses half-and-half anymore?)

6. Reconsider staying in my hotel room and making coffee in the provided coffee-maker adding powdered-milk substitute.

7. Find nearby Starbucks. Figure out their stupid size-system that makesabsolutely no sense and just sounds pretentious and I can’t bring myself to ask for something vente when I just want a medium-sized coffee with a bit of milk. Grab a puffy, super-sized Apple-Blueberry-Cranberry Streusel Bagel and bottle of icky-green Odwalla Power Juice intended for menstruating women and head back to the room to watch Diane Sawyer interview some actress who shaved her head for a movie role.

8. Eat breakfast and switch channel to Good Morning, Springfield. Weathergal Jenni Johnanssen is interviewing a 107-year old grandma about her needlepoint fetish. Some vitally important news about Katie Holmes baby, which everyone still assumes is a product of Tom Cruise. Change channels to QVC. At least they’re honest about what they’re selling.

9. Shower and shave. Pack up clothes from night before. Smell socks and decide to throw them away. Briefly feel bad for the housekeeper, leave her $3, and wheel my luggage out the door.

10. Get down to desk and realize I forgot my shirt hanging in closet. Go back up to the now-smelly room, find out room key needs to be re-set and I need to go back downstairs to the desk and there’s now a line. Of course the person in front of me is having a problem with his credit card while simultaneously carrying on a cell phone conversation with a business associate who is probably in the next room.

11. Explain to the bellhop that I don’t need help (ie: $3) with my little carry-on suitcase.

12. Try to get someone to explain how to get to airport.
No one knows.
No one even seems to know how to get around the city they live in. Much disagreement at the hotel front desk about how to get to the airport but after a little conference amongst them, they draw me a rudimentary map
(Don’t people ask them that all the time? Why don’t they just have a photocopied map with directions?)
Go outside but can’t figure out which rental car in the parking lot is mine since they all look exactly alike. Eventually find mine, distinguishable by the York Peppermint Patty wrappers on the floor. Discover Palm Pilot is frozen and fused to the vinyl front seat.

As I’m turning onto the highway, realize I left my only razor in the bathroom and I forgot to shave.

13. Drive to airport in morning rush hour listening to Howard Stern interview identical-twin lesbians about their silicone implants which their stepfather bought them for their 16th birthdays.
Get stuck in traffic and realize that I have no idea where I’m going but it doesn’t really matter since I can’t move anyways. Watch drivers applying make-up, reading newspapers, picking their noses (they stop immediately when they see I’m looking and pretend they’re scratching their noses), and eating KFC breakfast burritos.

14. See sign for airport, find a gas station to fill up the car, and pray I don’t get shot. Drop off rental car, answer lots of stupid questions intended to try to get me to pay more money.

15. Get to airport and gasp at long line snaking around check-in.

16. Get in line and gasp when realize I need to use the bathroom.

17. Get out of line.
Find bathroom. Go in stall. Consider crying.

Reconsider that at 46 years old, I shouldn’t be crying. Go to bathroom instead.

18. Check-in, find gate and wait while some idiot yells on his cell phone to his business associate. Change seats and sit next to woman wearing a good bottle-and-a-half of horrid perfume, reading Real Simple magazine and dog-earing pages. I read a USA Today that someone left behind.
Not much news, but there sure are a lot of pretty colors.

19. Get on plane, decline the vile coffee, and fly to next city. Eat the apple that’s fallen to the bottom of my shoulder bag, resting in the detritus at the bottom along with an uncapped Sharpie and find my last, long-lost Ambien.

20. Pick up rental car. Listen while they try to talk me into all sorts of things that triple the price. I decline. Grave predictions are made by the rental car rep.
Feel guilty. Buy insurance.

21. Drive around new city in Chevy Cavalier (“Would anyone really buy this model of car?“, I think to myself.) Find hotel. (Getting better at this. I only got lost twice.) Fend off bell-hop that wants to help me with my little carry-on (ie: $3). Desk clerk tells me there’s no reservation under my name. Call cooking school. Tell desk clerk to re-check. Desk clerk finds reservation. Room isn’t ready. Won’t be ready until 3 pm. It’s now 10:30am and I’m in a strange city in the middle of nowhere.
Look for bathroom, sit in stall.

Cry.

22. Ask at front desk about a good restaurant nearby for lunch. They suggest TGIFridays, Bennigans, Cracker Barrel, or Paneria. (My cunning strategy of asking, “Where can I get something fresh for lunch?” invariably makes them draw a blank.)

23. Eat The World’s Largest Chicken Salad with Country Ranch Dressing (on the side) served on a pile of deep-fried noodles which I intend to pick away (but actually they taste pretty good even though I know they’re really bad for you) accompanied by The World’s Largest Glass of Iced Tea in a glass with more ice than Antarctica. There’s barely room for tea.

I drink my iced tea shivering, wondering why in the middle of December the air-conditioning seems to be operating at full blast.

Waitress asks me at minimum of three times, “How is everything?”
I want to answer, “Please leave me alone.”, but I’m too polite and I know she’s just doing her job, so I say, “Fine, thanks…” (…but please stop pouring more ice tea whenever I take a sip from my glass!)

24. Go to room, which smells like pine deodorizer. Unpack fresh socks and undershorts. Realize I don’t have any more fresh undershorts. Decide to multitask: take warm bubble bath while washing undies. Listen to television “news” about Maddox Jolie’s hair and complaints about how expensive gas is in America.
No one mentions the war.

Stop at Walgreen’s to get new razor. Am transfixed by the shampoo aisle. What does someone do when faced with a choice of 87 different kinds of shampoo? I am paralyzed with indecision and wonder at Walgreen’s, and leave with my razor and two York Peppermint Patties.
And Teen People magazine.

25. Find cooking school and meet the assistants who are lots of fun and enthusiastic. I suggest they wear nametags since within seconds after they tell me their names, I’ve forgotten them, and from then on have to pretend I remember their names.
I barely remember mine at this point.

26. Set up for class. Guests arrive. Teach a fun Chocolate Class. Great class and only one person tells me they’re allergic to chocolate. No one asks “How do you stay so thin? or “Why do you live in France?” (er“…watch the news lately?) or “What do you think about low-carb chocolate?” (See previous question, Why I Live in France…there’s no such thing as low-carb chocolate!) or “Are French people really rude?” (Um, yes some of them are, but I guess since no one is rude in America it’s quite a shock.)

People laugh at my jokes and like everything I make.
Sign books and chat with guests.
Buy a few things at the store before I leave.

Realize I’ve spent most of my teaching fee buying kitchen tools.

27. Go back to my hotel. Realize I’m starving and haven’t had anything to eat since lunch eleven hours ago. Ask at front desk where I can get something to eat. They recommend TGIFridays, Bennigans, Cracker Barrel, or Paneria. (I give up asking for fresh. Too optimistic.) And I’m too cheap to order the room service soggy club sandwich for $23 and the glass of wine for $12 (I’ll need at least 2), plus 20% service charge and the $3 room delivery fee and $5 tip they’ll inevitably linger around waiting for.

28, Take a hot shower in a bathroom with the World’s Greatest Water Pressure. God I love America.
I vow never to return to Paris.

29. Peel off poly-fiber bed covering and slide in bed. Prop myself up with every pillow available in the room, including cushions from the sofa. Turn to HBO and find a late-night show about strippers in the San Fernando Valley. More than one looks like Mariah Carey. Oh wait, that is a Mariah Carey video. Brief and miscellaneous skin shots keep me from flipping channels until I can’t take it anymore and turn it off.

30. 3 am. Try to sleep.

31. 4 am. Realize I can’t sleep.

32. 4:30 am: I need to be up in 2 hours.

33. 4:35 am: Can’t find my last Ambien. Take an Excedrin PM.

34. 5:15 am. Fall asleep.

35. 6:54 am. Wake up.

Realize I have a plane to catch at 9:15 am and I have no idea where I am.
See socks lying on floor by television and spilled bottle of Excedrin PM.

Pull the covers back over my head. Search for remote.