19 April 2016

LaCrosse, WI: The Charmant Hotel: For (real) sweet dreams

Located in a former candy factory in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, The Charmant Hotel salutes its sweet history in all sorts of ways. The best?  A 24/7 chocolate candy counter.  Adjacent to the check-in desk this means even if you wake up at 2 a.m. craving, say, a chocolate covered caramel, you can satisfy it.

25 October 2014

October in Transylvania

Transylvania is a magical place--especially in the fall when the leaves are turning, the haystacks are gold in the fields and the air begins to cool. Then it's time for tea or coffee and a pastry or cake in one of the lovely old-fashioned tea rooms in a medieval fairy tale town like Sighisoara. At the Coffee House Cositorarului (it's also a bed and breakfast), the setting is charming, the coffee is served in china tea cups adorned with roses and the room is a mix of pink velvet settees and old-fashioned upholstered chairs where kitty cats snooze. In Sighisoara "every step is filled with "poetry and mystery" says their website.   It's true.

26 June 2014

Summer means "Still Life with Rosé"

Daydreaming about another June afternoon when I was in Marseille, France and fellow friend, travel writer, and partner in pastry (thanks for the rhubarb strawberry tart recipe!) Anne Banas. and I decided to meet for a "rosé and cookie" break (cookies: Marseille's special navettes-- those boat-shaped biscuits faintly touched with orange for which the city is known) on one of our private room terrace's at the Intercontinental Marseille. First, we got "into" photo shoot mode though! Loved the models.  There was nothing left of them when we finished.

I could not find the Triennes rosé here in the Twin Cities, but I was recommended another very lovely rosé wine at Surdyk's -- a nice dry one--and a good price (about $12): the Domaine de Paris Cotes de Provence Rosé 2013. Yes, I know this is a photo of an empty bottle.  (I drank it before I decided to take the photo. It happens.)

I will  be buying more.

11 April 2014

Friday Favorites: Best of Boston (A baker’s dozen plus)

Boston’s Italian North End: I love this area—lots of great Italian food shops and
stops!   One year I brought home this decorated Marzipan Lamb (it was Easter time) from **Maria’s PastryShop. A must stop no matter what season. (Tip: Chocolate edged cannoli shells--they only fill them when you order them....)

**Polcari’s Coffee: Another North End institution I never miss. Friendly guys, fresh roasted coffee beans, a ton of tea, spices and oils and Italian candies, recipes, advice and more in this very cool shop that’s been here since l932.

**Mike’s Pastry: There’s rivalry between pastry shops in the North End for who makes the best cannoli --but I don’t think you can go wrong at any of the sweet places. At Mike’s, there’s always a line and a crowd of people, but the women behind the counter have plenty of experience packing up any and all of your sugar fix buys in Mike’s signature white boxes, tied up with string suspended from above—just like old country general stores you see in the movies.

**Trattoria di Monica: This is the quintessential trattoria in my book, cozy
(only 25 seats), candlelight, exposed brick walls and fabulous food and wine.
(and they take reservations!)

Another year I did one of Michele Topor's  food tours of the North End which covers many of these North End places plus lots more (including tastings!). It’s super fun and a good way to cover ground if you don’t have a lot of time. 

Boston tourist-y stuff:
**Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: This beautiful and romantic museum is one of my all-time favorites.  Built around a Venetian Palazzo styled-courtyard (the museum was designed by Gardner whose favorite art city was Venice). It opened in l903 and has all sorts of nooks and crannies. It feels more like someone's personal home/mansion than a museum.

If you visit right now (April) you can see the Hanging Nasturtiums display. Every spring, hundreds of nasturtium vines are hung above the courtyard, cascading down in a colorful curtain. (Vines are planted the previous summer and wintered in the museum.) The display is annually set to coincide with Isabella's birthday April 14 and/or the week before Easter. The first time I visited I timed it so I would be there to see it. At that time, the Gardner Cafe, now called the G Cafe also prepared a special "nasturtium focused" menu. When my daughter-in-law, Danielle and I ate there after our visit, we oohed and ahhed throughout our meal--each course was not only delicious but as pretty as a painting. (Be sure to make a reservation.) 

Security is very tight at the museum (no doubt due to the famous art heist that took place here in 1990) so it sometimes feels abit constraining (you are scolded if caught taking any photos--ahem).  If you find Gardner as interesting as I did, you may want to read the book, "Mrs. Jack". It's a fascinating look at the woman who amassed this collection. With a reputation not always befitting the socialite of Boston's best society, one favorite story about her goes that she attended a formal Boston Symphony Orchestra event wearing a headband with "Oh, you Red Sox" emblazened on it--which apparently "almost caused a panic" at the time. The museum does charge a fee-- unless your name happens to be Isabella. True.

Boston first timers:
You have to follow the **Freedom Trail (it's a 2.5 mile path (just follow the brick pathway--it takes you past most of the historic Boston sites--but misses L.A. Burdick's chocolate shop--see Cambridge entry below-- for some reason)

**Stroll Beacon Street 

**Visit Quincy Market /Faneuil Hall: I was there at Thanksgiving/Christmas one year. Note the famed "Golden Grasshopper" weathervane--placed atop Faneuil Hall in 1742. (Do not ask me the meaning.) Faneuil Hall was expanded in 1826 to include Quincy Market. Lots of shops and eating areas

**Take a photo of Boston Common sign

**Wander the Public Garden (beautiful in the spring; often musicians there playing music)

Cambridge highlights:
Don’t call Cambridge a Boston neighborhood. It’s a city unto itself. And another very cool place to explore—especially if you love bookstores.
Harvard Square is the area where all the shops, restaurants are located—including some of my favorites:
**Harvard Bookstore: if you only get to one bookstore, it has to be this one: 

 **L. A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates:  A superb shop with magnificent chocolate and pastries. I recommend the “Harvard Square” chocolate pastry. When I was there it was hot chocolate weather--and their hot chocolate was delicious! Their cute signature “chocolate mice” make very nice souvenirs for your “special friends”—you know who they are I hope—back home in Minneapolis. 

**Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers (near the Harvard Bookstore): a Cambridge institution. Serves more than two dozen varieties of burgers with great names and descriptions (they change with current political and social issues it seems). Order any burger, plus a frappe (it’s like a shake—dozens of flavors) or my favorite drink: their lime rickey. People swear by the sweet potato fries (very good) but I REALLY loved the onion rings. Bring cash—they don’t take credit cards. 

**Harvard Yard: this is the 22 plus acres enclosed by fences (and gates) and the oldest part of Harvard University. Across the Old Yard from Johnston Gate is the statue of John Harvard. Note his shiny left shoe. Somewhere along the line the tradition of rubbing his left shoe for good luck started, Kevin told us.  

12 February 2014

Back from San Francisco: Guess what's for breakfast?

Just back from a trip to San Francisco and a visit with family...who happen to have a Meyer lemon tree in their backyard. I stuffed my suitcase with lemons and made lemon curd when I got home. And of course, I picked up a loaf (or three) of San Francisco's famous sourdough bread. YUM.  (Truth be told, I also had several pomegranates, a bunch of purple Gilroy garlic and a bag of almonds in my suitcase --kind of looked --and felt--and smelled-- like the produce section of a grocery. Did I mention the carton of fresh frozen guacamole? No, I did not raid the cousin's refrigerator--we stopped at the Moss Landing market coming back from Carmel.)

Homemade Meyer lemon curd (from an old Martha Stewart recipe which she has since revised) but I prefer this version. The extra steps for straining make it one of the silkiest lemon curds ever.

6 egg yolks, beaten
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice (strained)
1/2 cup unsalted butter (COLD and cut into small pieces)
1 Tbsp. fresh Meyer lemon rind

Beat egg yolks until well blended and lemon yellow. Strain into a heavy saucepan.

Add lemon juice and sugar. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 10-12 minutes until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from heat. Strain into a 4-cup container (or other bowl) and stir in the in the cold butter until it melts, then add and stir in the lemon rind.  Slather on bread. Eat. Give thanks for family who have a Meyer lemon tree in their backyard and are generous with their harvest.

Keeps refrigerated for 2 weeks.

06 February 2014

Quebec City: One Sweet Winter Festival

Quebec City's annual winter carnival (this year: January 31 to February 16, 2014) is all about embracing winter--complete with plenty of food, fun and activities for everyone--even those not so crazy about cold weather.
Bonhomme is the rockstar ambassador who makes appearances everywhere during the festival (don't be surprised if he should show up at a restaurant where you're having dinner!)
Everyone thought I was crazy to go further north during this brutally cold winter (even I questioned my sanity), but once there, it's difficult not to join the joyous camaraderie. Tip: drinking the traditional "caribou" concoction helps. (See my new Woman Vs. Drink website for the recipe.)

The entire carnival is a great celebration--and I am looking forward to attending again! Next year I want to see the ice canoe races, maybe try snow rafting....and of course, sample more sugar pie (Quebec's City's famous and delicious dessert; recipe to follow.)

10 December 2013

5 Reasons to love Paris at Christmas time!

There are many reasons to love Paris during the holiday season!
1. The lights!

2. The windows!

3. The little fair that you may find tucked away in an ancient courtyard!

4. The decorated patisseries!

5. The chocolate!

The list could go on and on ....and on...and on....

And just for fun...and a little more magic...follow the baby panther into a Parisian Hausmannian apartment...all I want for Christmas.....you guess....  a Joyeux Noel to all!