May 30, 2016

Book Review: The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter




Thrust into the unlikely role of professional "literary walking tour" guide, an expat writer provides the most irresistibly witty and revealing tour of Paris in years.
In this enchanting memoir, acclaimed author and long- time Paris resident John Baxter remembers his yearlong experience of giving "literary walking tours" through the city. Baxter sets off with unsuspecting tourists in tow on the trail of Paris's legendary artists and writers of the past. Along the way, he tells the history of Paris through a brilliant cast of characters: the favorite cafés of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce; Pablo Picasso's underground Montmartre haunts; the bustling boulevards of the late-nineteenth-century flâneurs; the secluded "Little Luxembourg" gardens beloved by Gertrude Stein; the alleys where revolutionaries plotted; and finally Baxter's own favorite walk near his home in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World was the perfect book to read when planning a return visit to Paris. I wanted unique insights and the perspective of someone who intimately knows this city. And how better to know it than one who walks its streets? Although he covers some famous Parisian residents throughout history, the artists and writers, it is the not-so-famous characters he writes about that captured my imagination –the somewhat sinister Hugo, the larger-than-life three Texans who in an unlikely twist ends up falling in love with French food and liquor, the rich friend shopping casually for a Matisse. Like a charming host full of intriguing facts and funny anecdotes, Baxter treats the reader, his guest, to glimpses of Paris seldom seen. There is also a very valuable appendix which lists some valuable tips for making the most out of one’s trip.

“…[E]very Parisian, and everyone who comes to know Paris, “discovers his or her own ‘most beautiful walk.’ A walk is not a parade or a race.  It’s a succession of instants, any one of which can illuminate a lifet ime.  What about the glance, the scent, the glimpse, the way the light just falls … the ‘beautiful’ part?  No tour guide or guidebook tells you that.”

May 27, 2016

Budapest

There's something magical yet haunted about Budapest. The Danube flows through the city, neatly dividing Buda and Pest like wide blue ribbon. One cannot help but hum Strauss's waltz.  But visit the Terror House museum and a chilling history unfolds, where many Hungarian Jews were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered, their bodies thrown into the icy river.  

Despite this terrible past, or perhaps because of it, Budapest was still able to cast its spell on me, with its grand cafes, its turn-of-the-last, last century Belle Epoque baths, and innumerable beautiful bridges that cross the blue Danube...
Fisherman's Bastion
Liberty Bridge
Fisherman's Bastion
Szechenyi Baths



May 25, 2016

Pulled Pork and Coleslaw


I've never been one for pulled pork in general - it was always too sickly sweet for me, with the pork drowning in a sea of barbecue sauce. So it was with astonishment that I tasted my coworker's pulled pork ensemble. Instead of cooking the pork with the barbecue sauce, she cooked it separately, moist and tender, with the barbecue sauce as a condiment on the side so I could put as much or as little as I wanted. Accompanying it was a simple coleslaw. Altogether, the pork and the coleslaw were loaded onto small round flour tortillas and eaten like soft tacos. What a revelation! 

Both recipes are incredibly simple and can be made ahead of time for an easy summer get together.  

Pulled Pork

Ingredients

1 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
¼ cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup vegetable broth
1 onion, peeled and quartered
6 garlic cloves smashed
3 to 3 ½ pounds pork shoulder, cut in half

1. Season the pork shoulder with salt and pepper.
2. Place one-half of the onion and 3 garlic cloves at the bottom of the crock pot.
3. Put the pork shoulder halves on top and then place the remaining onion quarters and garlic cloves on top of that.
4. Mix the red wine vinegar, olive oil and vegetable broth and pour over the pork.
5. Cover and turn the slow cooker on to low and cook for 7 hours until the meat is tender and easily shredded with a fork.
6. Serve warm with barbecue sauce and coleslaw (below) on top of a warm flour tortilla.

Coleslaw
Ingredients

6 cups shredded cabbage (green and red)
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
salt and pepper

1. Mix well the mayonnaise, white wine vinegar and sugar.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. Dress the cabbage and carrot with the mayonnaise mix until well coated.
3. Refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.

May 23, 2016

Book Review: The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino



Elaine Sciolino, the former Paris Bureau Chief of the New York Times, invites us on a tour of her favorite Parisian street, offering an homage to street life and the pleasures of Parisian living. “I can never be sad on the rue des Martyrs,” Sciolino explains, as she celebrates the neighborhood’s rich history and vibrant lives. While many cities suffer from the leveling effects of globalization, the rue des Martyrs maintains its distinct allure. On this street, the patron saint of France was beheaded and the Jesuits took their first vows. It was here that Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted circus acrobats, Emile Zola situated a lesbian dinner club in his novel Nana, and Francois Truffaut filmed scenes from The 400 Blows. Sciolino reveals the charms and idiosyncrasies of this street and its longtime residents—the Tunisian greengrocer, the husband-and-wife cheesemongers, the showman who’s been running a transvestite cabaret for more than half a century, the owner of a 100-year-old bookstore, the woman who repairs eighteenth-century mercury barometers—bringing Paris alive in all of its unique majesty. The Only Street in Paris will make readers hungry for Paris, for cheese and wine, and for the kind of street life that is all too quickly disappearing.

Elaine Sciolino writes that “there are few tourists” on Rue des Martyrs … but after the publication of this book, I doubt that will be the truth anymore. With intimate detail she explores the various shops and their keepers – the colorful characters, the daily life on this one Parisian street she deems “perfect.” From recounting a storied past to a lively present (my favorite is definitely the Michou chapter), Sciolino’s descriptions will send more tourists to the Rue des Martyrs looking for the bookstore with the crochety owners and the bistrot where the bartender sets the counter on fire every night.

“Some people look at the Rue des Martyrs and see a street.  I see stories.

“For me it is the last real street in Paris, a half-mile celebration of the city in all its diversity – its rituals and routines, it’s permanence and transience, its quirky old family-owned shops and pretty young boutiques.  This street represents what is left of the intimate, human side of Paris.

“I can never be sad on the rue des Martyrs.”

May 20, 2016

Alexandra Bookcafe in Budapest

One of my favorite past-times when visiting cities all over the world is finding myself a good cafe with atmosphere, grabbing a drink and a bite to eat and spending a couple hours people-watching.
Address: Andrássy út 39, Budapest, Pest, District 6, Hungary    
Alexandra Bookcafe in Budapest is such a find, although it is so stunning that people-watching was not even on the agenda. Mouth hanging open, all I could do was gaze in wonder at the luxurious painted interiors.  Another plus, as you can probable tell from the name, this extravagant cafe is housed in the top floor of an enormous bookstore.

May 18, 2016

Smoked Salmon Crostini



Easy to assemble and elegant, I love serving these appetizers for dinner parties and brunches. As long as the bread is well-toasted, I can also put them together hours before anyone arrives and they still remain crisp and fresh.   

Ingredients:

ciabatta bread sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
2 oz. cream cheese
2 oz. smoked salmon sliced thinly
English cucumber sliced into thin wafers
capers with brine

1. Toast the ciabatta slices then let cool on a rack.
2. Spread the cream cheese on one side, top with 2 cucumber wafers, then a slice of smoked salmon.
3. Top with a couple capers and drizzle a little of the brine.

May 16, 2016

Book Review: The Flâneur by Edmund White


A flâneur is a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the streets he walks - and is in covert search of adventure, aesthetic or erotic. Acclaimed writer Edmund White, who lived in Paris for sixteen years, wanders through the avenues and along the quays, into parts of the city virtually unknown to visitors and indeed to many locals, luring the reader into the fascinating and seductive backstreets of his personal Paris.

The Flâneur is subtitled “A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris,” thus signaling that despite the title, there is very little actual walking in this book. The stroll is more of a symbolic one, as White wanders in and out of the varied histories of the City of Light. White writes about Baudelaire, Colette, the present “heirs” of the French throne and the marginalized minority groups such as the Blacks, Jews, Arabs and even gays.  At first I was disappointed that there wasn’t more physical wandering described; however, I grew to appreciate White’s perspective and insights about topics not usually covered in other books about Paris.  

“…Paris, land of novelty and distraction, is the great city of the flâneur – that aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination and goes wherever caprice or curiosity directs his or her steps.”