Thursday, December 31, 2009

Left Bank

Paris, lovely Paris. We have arrived. After checking into our hotel, Relais St.Sulpice, we headed to lunch at Cafe deux Magots. I had a Croque Madame, an open-faced ham and cheese sandwich topped with a properly cooked fried egg. Frank had a great salad of smoked duck breast, foie gras, and green beans. It was very good. We then went for another Rick Steves' guided walk through the Left Bank. It was an interesting introduction to this area of Paris. The weather is cool, but no rain since we have been here. Tonight, we will celebrate New Years Eve at the Eiffel Tower, where we were exactly 10 years ago tonight for the Millennium celebration. What fun!  

St. Pancras to Gare du Nord

We are traveling at over 200 mph, backward, through the English countryside on our 2 hour, 22 minute journey to Paris. Backwards, as for some reason, we seem to have reserved seats facing the rear of the train. Regardless, we arrive in Paris at the same time as the forward facing seats. It is New Years Eve, and we will be in Paris by 1PM today. While I am blogging on the Eurostar, I will not be able to post this until we get settled into our Parisian hotel on the left bank. The check-in process at St. Pancras station in London is very similar to airport security, with baggage scanners, passport control, etc, although we were only required to be at the station 30 minutes before departure. It is really amazing that we can travel on the ground between these two great cities in such a short period of time and in the comfort of the Eurostar. So civilized I say.
We are approaching the chunnel taking us under the English Channel, while our fellow passengers enjoy their full (and free) English breakfast. Frank and I enjoyed our "included in the room rate"  full breakfast buffet at our hotel before we left for St. Pancras. The Hilton Green Park was very centrally located, with excellent service; and the price was very reasonable for central London. The only negative was the lack of water pressure in the shower on our first and last day. Otherwise, the hotel scored a very solid 3 to 3.5 out of 5.
Next stop Paris Gare du Nord station, and a taxi ride to our hotel on the Left Bank. Ooh la la !

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

L. D4

London, Day 4, Wednesday
Today is our last full day in London, but we spent is outside the city along the English Channel, in Worthing, with our friends John and Shirley. They live in Worthing and in Mount Dora Florida, and we were lucky that they were  at their English home for the Holiday. After a 90 minute train ride to West Worthing, we had a lovely day touring the area around Worthing, including the South Downs, Arundel Castle, and some very quaint old villages in the area. We stopped for lunch at a very old pub, The Black Horse Amberley. There was a nice fire burning in the fireplace next to our table. At the next table was a group of 6 including a large dog quietly laying under their table. It was a pleasant stop on our journey. John and Shirley were great hosts today, and we got to see a section of the country we would not have seen without them. Thank you both for your hospitality.
Tonight after a quick dinner at the hotel, it is early to bed, as tomorrow, we have reservations on the Eurostar to Paris via the Chunnel. 
I am anxious to go to Paris, but I am also not ready to leave London. I definitely could stay longer. We hit some of the highlights, but there is so much more to see in the very friendly city. 
Weather Update: After the first two days of sunny, and cool weather, the rain fell yesterday and today. We make a wise decision to go to Greenwich on Monday, the best day we had for outdoor activities. But, even the past two days of light rain did not stop us from enjoying London. 
That's all I'm Saying.

Ramses II (British Museum)

L. D3 (A Day Late)

London, Day 3, Tuesday. 
If the whole of London was out yesterday to see the Queen's Guard (or whatever was going on at Buckingham Palace), today, the entire tourist population of London was at the British Museum, or so it seemed. Who knew that the Christmas holiday season is a busy tourist season in London. We heard a lot of Italian and French, some English, both British and American, but no German. Wherever we went today, it was elbow to elbow with the crowds of happy travelers and locals.
The British Museum was another art overload experience. But what amazing art/artifacts they have. Here the plunder (sorry to our Brit friends) of the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Assyria, and Greece are on display. But it was wonderful being able to see all of this in one spot. The highlights are the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, large busts from Egypt, winged Lions from Assyria, and much more. We had lunch at the Court Restaurant in the museum. I had a wonderful pappardella with venison ragout. Frank had a just OK sesame salmon.
After a quick stop at our hotel, we next ventured to Harrods for more mingling with the tourists and locals. Crowded it was, especially the food hall, which was an experience in itself. What would you like... they have it. The chocolate section was so busy, we had trouble making our way to the next room. But I am not complaining about spending time around so much chocolate. 
Dinner tonight was at The Narrow, a Gordon Ramsey gastro-pub in the Docklands area of East London. So, check off one more star chef from the list. The "pub" sits directly on the Thames, in a non-touristy area, with very little commercial activity. As expected, the food was very good, although the service was a little slower that even we like. I think Mr. Ramsey needs to tighten up the ship just a touch, just like he does on TV for other restaurants. I ordered Rump of lamb and confit shoulder, creamed celeriac, potato cake with mint sauce , very yummy. Frank had Glazed pheasant breast, braised red cabbage, prunes and granny smith apple. This too was very good, as were the appetizers and desserts. 
We had an interesting ride back to the hotel, but that is a story for another day.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Masala Zone

Dinner tonight was at Masala Zone. While it is a local chain, it was highly recommended, and rightfully so. I had Lamb Korma, and Frank had Butter Chicken. We shared a combination appetizer, which was unlike anything we have had in Tampa. Everything was great, very tasty, and freshly prepared. When we arrived at 8PM the waiting line was almost out the door. It was worth the wait. 
That's all I'm saying.

L. D2

London, Day 2 Monday
Today is a bank holiday in London, and the whole of London was on the streets today. Since we woke to clear, sunny skies, we decided to go to Greenwich and the Royal Observatory. On our way to Westminster Pier we passed Buckingham Palace and noticed that everyone in this city was congregating in front of the Palace, we assumed for the Queens horses, and/or changing of the guard. We opted to pass, and walked on toward Big Ben. The direct boat ride to Greenwich was very pleasant, passing all the major sites of London. In Greenwich, the Cutty Sark was under wraps for renovation, so we headed to the Naval College to view the Painted Hall and Chapel. Impressed, we were. Then we made a short, but steep, hike up the hill to the Royal Observatory, and some great views of the Thames and London. It really was a lovely day to be out and about. We had one unplanned misstep on the return to London, as the Jubilee Tube line was not running. So, we hailed a famous London taxi for the ride to Tate Modern museum. Here we saw more amazing art, much more contemporary than the National Gallery, but all the big names in modern art are represented here. Following the Tate Modern, we walked across the Thames on the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul's Cathedral. It was a great view with St. Paul's lite by floodlights. In a few minutes we are heading to an Indian Restaurant for dinner. Can't wait! Observation: The sun never reaches very high in the sky this time of year. All day it seemed like it was never more than 30 to 40 degrees above the horizon. And, by 5PM it is dark in this fine city. And a fine city it is... we are having a wonderful time. 

L. D1

London - Day 1 Sunday (Yesterday):
After an uneventful 6 1/2 hour flight from JFK to Heathrow, we landed at 6:30 AM, (as in 1:30 AM EST). By 8:30 we were having breakfast at our hotel, the Hilton Green Park. Since our room was not ready, we headed out to start our first day of seeing London. We followed a Rick Steves suggested West End walk, which took us to Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Carnaby Street (still lost in the 60's) and more. We then went to Trafalgar Square, and the National Gallery. First, the large Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square is donated to the British by the Norwegians, however, they must not like the British, as they did not send one of their finest trees, and you know Norway must have some mighty fine Christmas trees. The National Gallery was amazing for the depth of the collection. It was art overload almost. We were extremely lucky in that we had a partially sunny day, with NO rain. That was unexpected, and much appreciated. Dinner was at a Paul and Libby recommendation - Porter's English Restaurant, serving a traditional English menu. I had Sheppard's Pie, and Frank had a Lamb and Apricot pie. Both exceeded our expectations. We had traditional puddings for dessert, I went for the Spotted Dick (no wisecracks please) and Frank had the Sticky Ginger Pudding. Thank you Paul and Libby for a great recommendation.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

P & L

Paolo & Lucia?
Profit & Loss?
Paris & London?

Actually London first, then Paris. We are currently at JFK in New York
waiting on our flight to London. What fun, I say!

Watch for future blog from the trip.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fishy Feast

The Feast of Seven Fishes is finished. We started at 3 PM and finished around 8 PM. It was a fun day preparing all the various dishes. But we came up short, we just couldn't make it to the seventh dish, which technically would have been the 8th fish (seafood). Can you say "stuffed". So, here is a brief recap, with photographs of each dish (not all of good quality).
1. Tomato crostini with anchovies:

2. Tuna Crudo - raw ahi tuna served on a pool of lemon juice, topped with olive oil and course sea salt, and baby gherkins on the side.

3. Smoke Salmon PIzza - with creme fraiche and caviar. 
Counting this as 2 "fish", salmon and caviar.

4. Broiled Lobster Tail with panzanella

5. Mussels in white wine and shallots

6. Seared Sea Scallops with Champaign Beurre Blanc and green beans

I am full !

That's all I'm Saying


Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to everyone. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


This past Sunday, Frank, his Mom and I went on our annual pre-Christmas dinner excursion. Each year before Christmas we take his Mom out for a special dinner. She really enjoys the attention and the food and she knows we will pick a really good restaurant for her. This year, we ventured out of the Tampa Bay area and made the drive to the Dolphin resort at Walt Disney World for dinner at Todd English's BlueZoo. Frank and I had been there before and loved it. We knew his Mom would enjoy it too. OMG... we had another wonderful meal, with superb service. For starters, I had the Jumbo Seared Sea Scallops, with Braised Beef Short Rib and a Cauliflower puree. My co-worker, Jason, who had been to BlueZoo more times than me (I am working on catching up), highly recommended the scallops, and he was spot on. Frank had the Tuna Tartar, with Crispy Rock Shrimp and Orange Glaze. While I really liked the tuna on my first visit, I think the scallop dish is the winner. Mrs. C. ordered the Clam Chowder with Salt Cured Bacon. She proclaimed it a winner too. For my entree, I ordered the Florida Grouper served with White Truffle Spaetzle. Unfortunately, they get a 1/10 point deduction for a little too much salt in the spaetzle for my taste. But the flavors were amazing, and I still enjoyed the dish. Frank ordered the Miso Glazed Black Cod, served with Warm Sesame Spinach. Yes, I sampled his entree, and it was very good, with the spinach adding a great flavor component to the dish. But... by a narrow margin, Mrs. C's selection was the winner of the evening. She ordered the Chef Pasta special, which this night was Pappardelle with chopped tomato and mushroom sauce, capped with 4 oz. of lobster meat. The pappardelle was obviously made fresh at the restaurant, and cooked perfectly, as was the lobster. Bravo! Next up, like we needed more food, was dessert. We picked two desserts to share. First we selected  a Pavlova with vanilla orange ice cream, raspberry filled French meringue, citrus segments, and more. And for dessert #2, we ordered the Chocolate Melange, five wonderful samples of chocolate, including a cinnamon chocolate sorbet, and a milk chocolate malt creme brulee. Check the website and the menu for a full list of components.
Oh, and not to go unmentioned, Frank selected a wonderful bottle of Ponzi Pinot Noir from Williamette Valley, Oregon.
What a meal and what a lovely evening. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Feast of Seven Fishes (Part One)

According to Wikipedia, the Feast of Seven Fishes is believed to be an Italian tradition, however it is not a known tradition in Italy. What? Heresy, I say. But a website on Sicilian Culture believes that it is a tradition, at least in Southern Italy and Sicily. Even Mario Batali jumps in with his menu for the Feast of Seven Fishes. Then there is the alternatives of the Feast of Nine, Eleven, or Twelve Fishes. Who knew!. Of course, the basic issue is that Catholics would not eat meat on Christmas Eve, so they prepare fish instead. Tradition or not, I like the idea - it must be in my 50% Italian blood. Frank and I get together on Christmas Eve to prepare a special dinner, so for the second time (makes it a tradition in my book) we are preparing a Feast of Seven Fishes. We will prepare each course separately, enjoy it, then move on to preparing the next course. Sure it will take all evening, but that is the fun of it. Also, we are trying to keep the preparations simple, and small; like tapas. As of now, subject to further refinement and modification, the menu includes:
1. Tomato and Anchovy Crostini (a la Jose Andres) 
2. Tuna Crudo (raw tuna with olive oil, sea salt, and lemon juice)
3. Lobster tails with tomato salad (possibly a lobster roll instead)
4. Smoked salmon pizza with creme fraiche and caviar (oops, the caviar, if considered a seafood, takes us to eight.)
5. Seared scallops with Champaign beurre blanc and haricot vert
6. Mussels in white wine and shallots
7. Seared Escolar with a light curry cream sauce, and sautéed spinach
Check back for the final version, and possibly photographs.
That's all I'm Saying !

Friday, December 18, 2009

Catch Up

I feel like I am always behind with my posts, so this one will be a catch up.
First, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, (yes, that long ago), my co-worker Jason, his lovely wife, Britney, and their two children, Ian and Loren (aka LoLo), came over to visit and to see what I have been raving about for the past year plus... my city, Saint Petersburg.We had a nice lunch at Z Grill (mentioned in prior posts) followed by gelati across from Straub Park. It was a fun day. 
Next, on Wednesday, after spending the day (again) at Moffitt, Frank and I met our friends Paul and Libby for dinner at J. Alexander's. We don't get to see them often, so it was a great opportunity to catch up since our last visit. And, Paul delivered three bottles of Unti wine which he had ordered for me. I can't wait to pop the cork on one of the bottles. This small Sonoma winery specializes in Italian varietals, so you know I will like them. Even better, Paul gave me a painting which he created specifically for my redecorated study/guest room. I will post photographs once I hang it. I love it.
This evening, after work, I met Bob G (Mr. 15-minutes of fame), Bob S and Clyde at Bahama Breeze for a pre-holiday dinner. I enjoyed a paella, which was loaded with shrimp, scallops, mussels, chicken and sausage.  

Teasers: Future posts will cover the Feast of Seven Fishes (Christmas Eve Dinner) and P&L (actually L&P if we stick to the proper order of things)

That's all for now!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

One Week Later

    It has been a week since my last post, and I must say I am  feeling much better. I spent four days at work this week, so that is a good indication of my return to normalcy, or at least what passes as such in my life.
I had a busy weekend, so it was good that my energy levels have returned. Friday night found me in Seminole, on the intracoastal waterway, for another meeting of the book club. Dorothy and Joe hosted the event, and Sue prepared dinner which was a lovely rijsttafel with curried chicken and assorted sides or toppings.
The Family ManThe book was The Family Man by Elinor Lipman. It was a fun read, at least the first half, which was all I could accomplish in the week I had to book in my possession. Yes, I read slowly. I am never sure if we are a book club with an eating problem, or an eating club with a reading problem. But either way, we always have a good time, with good food and good conversation.
     On Saturday evening, Frank and I were invited to Pat and Paul's to enjoy their Christmas decoration, before heading to Restaurant BT in Hyde Park. Click the link for a sample of the French Vietnamese cuisine. (Well, not really a sample, or a taste, but maybe enough to entice you to eat there one day.) It was a nice evening so we sat outside enjoying a very good bottle of wine (doh!, do ask the vintner; but I do remember it was recommended by the bartender and was a pinot noir - granche blend). I had a wonderful bouillabaisse with calamari, shrimp, mussels, salmon, and grouper in a flavorful lemongrass and basil broth with baby bok choy. We returned to Pat and Paul's for one of Paul's homemade desserts, a Black Russian bundt cake. It was excellent, and had just a touch of kahula and vodka in the cake. Yummy !.
     Today, Sunday, Frank and I ventured to his Mom's to put up her Christmas tree and to feast on her "famous" (in my mind), Swiss steak in tomato sauce (oh so good). This is comfort food at its best.
     This evening, thanks to our friend and my co-worker, Rhonda, we attended the Christmas program at Idlewild Baptist Church. I think I felt the earth tremble as I walked in the church. Rhonda plays in the church orchestra. The program was very good. Thank you Rhonda.

That's all I'm saying.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Getting Back in the Grove

Yikes, I am finally getting back to what passes as normal, and starting to feel better after my second treatment. This one went well again, actually probably easier than the first one since I was under general anesthesia for a shorter period of time. However it seemed to wear on me emotionally more so than the first. Partly, I think, because I never got out of ICU for the entire post-treatment; not due to any complications, but due to no rooms available in the inn. So I was actually discharged directly from ICU last Friday morning. Also, as anyone who has spent even one night in the hospital understands, it isn't the place to get any rest. And, the food still sucks ! With all that whining out of the way, everyday is better, and I plan on going back to work tomorrow. I am also ready to get back in the kitchen and start cooking again... which is the true sign of recovery for me. 
I owe a special thanks to my good Mount Dora friends, Carol and John, for coming down this weekend to make sure I was getting more than sufficient care; to my dear friend Denise for providing superb personal transportation service on short notice; and to my good friend Frank, for all of his help, including taking off work so he could be at the hospital the day of my treatment, and to bring me home on Friday, cooking for me, and for being there for me always. I am so fortunate to have such caring friends, including all of you who have sent you good wishes by text, phone, email, etc. 
That's All I'm Saying