East of Paris Bookstore

Monday, August 30, 2010

San Clemente Vibe

Nick's is a fresh new restaurant in San Clemente with complicated martinis and a great vibe.

People are moving, talking, eating and enjoying the ocean breezes. There is another Nick's in Laguna Beach, a great town with difficult-to-find parking. So, we'll stick to the one that's closer to home.

Here is the fork tender short rib entree.  
And a photo of the peanut butter cheesecake before we demolished it!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

San Juan Capistrano

The Rios District, across the railroad tracks in San Juan Capistrano, is a slice of old California, just a short walk from the famous Mission. After ten years in the area, we "discovered" it a few months ago when taking a friend to the railroad station to catch a train. We lunched there today at Ramos House Cafe. The food was mixture of easy and sophisticated.

The outdoor setting was rustic and breezy.  Little birds few in and out of the dining area and little cats wearing bells on their collars bounced after the birds.  All the critters were too fast for my camera.  We felt like we were on a mini-vacation.

Mr. Wonderful had eggs with smokey bacon, while I opted for a crab cake salad.

We noticed the The Tea House across the street and resolved to go there before summer is over.

We also took a walk and saw old houses used as homes and as shops.  Some of the wood trim reminded us of Russian country dachas.

And, there was a house for birds too.


Two of Mr. Wonderful's nieces are expecting babies at the end of the year ... just about nine months after we saw storks and their nests in Tashkent and Khiva.
Depending on the prevailing winds and on the weight they have to carry on their long elegant bills, the storks heading to our east coast should arrive in a timely manner!

NOLA 5 Years after Katrina

Five year's after the fierce destruction brought about by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the huge affected region are rebuilding and have come back to life.  In homage to "NOLA" on this 5th anniversary, we had strong coffee and beignets.

The box mix we brought home recently made the experiment in deep frying that much easier! Store bought vanilla sauce didn't hurt either.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tea on the Bosporus

Too busy to make tea and finger sandwiches, I drank diet Coke instead and feasted on my photos of afternoon tea at the Çırağan Palace Hotel [pronounced: Chĭ-ra-an] in Istanbul.

Mr. Wonderful opted for something more substantial:

The Çırağan, located on the European side of the Bosporus and part of the Kempinski group of hotels, is one of my favorite places to stay -- sumptuous, with luxurious rooms, gardens, and pools.
A view of the infinity pool, below which is yet another pool, and then the Bosporus
The gardens by night and a gate to the boat dock

Every time I am there I am amazed at the number of ships that move north and south on this waterway and even more amazed when I realize this has been going on more than 5000 years!

Mr. Wonderful ready for dinner  

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ice Cream Inspiration

It's hot and muggy.  What better thing to assuage discomfort than ice bream. A beautiful food blog that I follow -- Prijatno -- recently had a post on Fernet Branca marinated fig ice cream.  The photos were fabulous and the idea took hold. But, not having the key flavors called for, namely figs and Fernet Branca liqueur, what to do?  Maybe invent something else.

Inspiration took me to our liqueurs cabinet where I found a nearly empty bottle of Chambord, which is made of raspberries, blackberries, Madagascar vanilla, Moroccan citrus peel, honey, and cognac. I have occasionally poured few teaspoons over vanilla ice cream. Today, I added it to homemade ice cream along with chopped walnuts. The result was smooth and satisfying.

1-1/2 cups whole milk
1-1/2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup bakers sugar
5 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup Chambord liqueur
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Whisk the egg yolks and set aside. Combine the milk, cream, and sugar in a saucepan, whisk to dissolve the sugar. [Bakers sugar has finer granules than regular and dissolves faster.] Heat to a boil. [Milk scorches easily, so stir frequently to avoid burning.] Remove a 1/2 cup of the milk mixture and in a slow stream add to the egg yolks while whisking constantly. [Following this process should prevent the egg yolks from scrambling and obviate the need to strain the mixture.] Add the now tempered egg yolks to the saucepan. Heat the mixture to a boil stirring constantly. After a minute, remove from the heat and cool completely. When the mixture is cool, add the vanilla and Chambord. Then process in an ice cream maker per the machine instructions. [I used a Cuisinart machine and processed the ice cream mixture for 30 minutes.]  Put the processed mixture into a container and freeze for at least three hours.  Then, enjoy! 

Special note:  the ice cream is made with egg yolks.  With the recent egg recalls due to incidence of Salmonella, I pasteurized the eggs I bought, just to stay on the safe side.  You can find instructions on how to pasteurize eggs here and here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cherry Strudel

One day I will pull my own dough.  Today is not that day.  Instead, I used store-bought filo dough and made three cherry strudels with walnuts and an apple strudel for Mr. Wonderful, who dislikes cherries.  This last was a sacrifice.  I am a poor apple peeler and wish I knew how to wield a paring knife as well as my grandmother, who could peel an apple in a continuous rotation leaving one long ribbon of skin.

The recipe is rather free-form since so much depends on personal taste:  your favorite apples, cherries, amount of walnuts, sugar and spices. Also, per the Julian calendar, we are still in the period of the Dormition Fast, so I used margarine instead of butter.  Here are the ingredients; no measurements are included!

One package filo dough, thawed
Sour cherries (pitted and drained)
Apples (cored, peeled, sliced)
Chopped walnuts
Bread crumbs, unflavored
Butter or Margarine (1 stick, melted)

Use 3 to 4 leaves of thawed filo dough for each strudel.  Lay them out flat slightly overlapping so as to make a longer surface to roll up. Sprinkle some melted butter on each leaf.  Take a few handfuls of the drained cherries and spread them length-wise at one end of the filo. Sprinkle the fruit with about 1/4 cup of bread crumbs. Next sprinkle with the chopped walnuts.  Shake on cinnamon and allspice.  Next sprinkle on sugar, say a 1/4 cup.  Start rolling the strudel from the end with the fruit. About half way, fold over the sides a bit and then finish rolling.  Transfer the roll to a lightly greased baking sheet [I use "Pam" and spray it on the baking sheet.]  Bake in a pre-heated 350ºF oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Today I used two jars of Morello cherries in a light syrup that I drained for an hour. That produced three strudels.  Using two apples was enough for one strudel.  As for the walnuts, I think there was a cup and a half ... since I like them so much, more is better.

A confession: I forgot to put sugar on two of the cherry strudels, but when I tasted them, the tartness was refreshing and I did not miss any extra sweetness.

I also sprinkled on a bit of powdered sugar at the end ... after all, without powdered sugar it wouldn't be "East of Paris."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Detour Party -- LA Traffic & Obama

Last night we were trapped in a nightmare, an LA traffic quagmire of previously unheard of proportions. It wasn’t even this bad after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. President Obama was in town, in an area called Hancock Park, fundraising for his party. For the rest of us it was no party, it was agony. The more than 100 comments in the LA Times tell it like it was.

Mr. Wonderful and I were all dressed up and on our way to an engagement party for the daughter of friends, who happen to live in the Hancock Park. Having been brought up on Louis XVIII's adage  that l'exactitude est la politesse des rois, (punctuality is the politeness of kings), we left our home, bearing flowers and chocolates, in plenty of time to arrive at the appointed hour. Traffic going north from Orange County was so smooth and fast that we actually wondered if we would arrive early. That was before we reached our exit off the Santa Monica Freeway.

We soon debated the wisdom of taking the La Brea exit since traffic was backed up all the way to the freeway. Mr. Wonderful zigzagged through side streets, but progress was slow since other drivers had the same idea. Things got worse as we proceeded northward toward Pico, then past Pico into a twilight zone of cars, trucks, and people all seemingly stuck in congealing concrete. Movement was minimal, tempers short. As we squeezed through to the end of one narrow street with cars parked on either side, we got to mighty Olympic Boulevard … which was shut off. The policemen at the barricade made all drivers turn back, which meant executing a multi-point turn in a tiny space and then crawling southward.

At one particularly congested corner near Pico and San Vicente, an enterprising pair of young men stood waiving their stenciled signs: “Detour Party, Hot Chicks Only.” Since we weren’t moving, I rolled down the window to ask if they had any takers on their invitation. Negative. It seems that all the hot chicks were stuck in traffic elsewhere.

After more than two hours of no progress, we crawled west to Beverly Hills to see if there was any chance of getting north to Beverly so we would back track to Hancock Park and our party. No luck. It seems the President’s party had cut the heart of the city in half. As far as we could tell, Olympic, Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards were closed from just west of downtown to Westwood. To make things worse, the ubiquitous usually useful radio traffic reports were no help.

We gave up. We telephoned our friends that we had been near their house but simply couldn’t make it. It was like that nightmare we all have of running away from something but not moving. Eventually we got on the 405 Freeway and headed south. By the time we reached Newport Beach we were exhausted and hungry. Luckily, the restaurant at the Islands Hotel  serves dinner until 10:00 p.m. And, on Monday nights everything is half price!

Having calmed down with a bite to eat and a smooth Pommard, we got on the 73 toll road and headed home. Our nightmare had one further hiccough! Part of the southbound 73 was also shut down and we had to detour once more. Thank God for GPS!

I’ve lived in LA most of my life and mediocre traffic conditions are a fact. Once we had superb traffic -- this was during the 1984 summer Olympic Games when intelligent people coordinated traffic patterns. Now it seems that cabbages instead of kings were in charge and wasted the time and patience of a huge city.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Friendly Skies?

Sunrise over Siberia 2010
I recently wrote about 10 things to take on each trip. An 11th item -- good manners -- must be added to that list.  You'd think it's obvious ...

By now millions of people have heard about the JetBlue flight attendant who slid down the emergency chute with a couple of beers.  He did a bit more than that, admittedly after some provocation from a rude passenger.  For details, go here.  He is alternately described as a disgruntled employee having a meltdown or a folk hero.  On the other hand, flying is not nearly as glamorous or nice as it used to be.

When I first began traveling, circa the days of Orville and Wilbur, even flying coach meant clean aircraft, decent airline food, and passengers dressing well.  It was smooth and efficient.  It was also expensive.  Now, flying has become the cheapest form of transportation between many cities, and a chore.  Even the first flight of the morning does not mean clean equipment, not to mention ever smaller more tightly packed seats.  The food, if any, leaves a lot to be desired.  And, dressing well has gone the way of the dodo. Then there are the security checks -- shoes on-off, jacket on-off, computer out of the case and on-off -- that leave one messy and exhausted and not necessarily safer.  Even psychologists agree that flying is a frustrating experience.

Overall, if my flight lands safely [so far, so good], I am happy.  When deplaning, I always make it a point to say "thank you" to the attendants who are standing at the door. And, on more than one occasion, simply being friendly and polite at check-in has yielded special treatment and upgrades. 

My best upgrade was on a New York to Moscow flight.  There was an extra check-in at the gate involving hundreds of passengers.  The person in front of me began loudly demanding an upgrade from business to first class and claiming that she always got automatic upgrades and so on.  The ticket agent insisted that no upgrades to first class were available.  Then came my turn.  I gave the agent a smile and said something like "tough day, isn't it?"  She smiled back, rolled her eyes, and taking my business class ticket she told me to stand near the desk for a moment.  The next thing I knew, she was handing me a new ticket for a first class seat.

I was not being polite that day to get an upgrade, I was merely empathizing with someone having the tough job of dealing with difficult people.  Saying "please" and "thank you" is easy.  Hearing nice words, whether or not they are directed to you, is, well, nice. Given the many inconveniences of travel, we should all resolve to make everyone's day friendlier in the skies and on the ground.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Eau de Wildfire

Ten years into marriage and it may well be that Mr. Wonderful and I have finally had an argument ... or, more diplomatically, a difference in views. We did not argue; rather, we danced around the key issue. Was this non-altercation about art? Politics?  Monetary policy?  Alas, no; nothing so prosaic.  It was really about cooking (or something)!!

The other evening, I volunteered to be responsible to make our dinner.  I also had a 6:00 p.m. telephone call scheduled with a fellow trustee of a non-profit entity with which I am involved.  When the appointed time came, I was seated at my desk: computer turned on and telephone at hand.  My fellow trustee did not call.  So, after ten minutes, I went to the kitchen to start dinner.  I planned to get things done to a certain point, then turn off the burner on the stove and attend to my telephone call when (if) it happened.   My colleague finally called, and I went to the library to attend to business matters.

As I sat at my my desk in the library pontificating on various matters, I thought I smelled wonderful aromas drifting from the kitchen.  After a short time, I thought I smelled something burning.  No matter, Mr. Wonderful was in the great room next to the kitchen; and, good man that he is, he probably realized something was burning and turned off the burners on the stove. As I continued the conversation with my colleague, the smell of something burning  got stronger. Having full faith in Mr. Wonderful, I dismissed any feelings of foreboding.  I assured myself that he had handled any possible crisis and that I was only smelling residual aromas of a problem that had been solved.  Ha!

When my telephone call ended and I walked into the kitchen, I clearly saw the burner under my All-Clad Stainless 6-Quart Saute Pan was still on "high."  Clearly, I had forgotten to turn it off when I went to answer the telephone.  Equally clearly, Mr. Wonderful had ignored a potential kitchen catastrophe.  The Brussels sprouts that I was going to glaze had burned beyond recognition.  They were black and crumbled to ash as I brushed them out of the pan and into the garbage disposal in the sink. The heretofore wonderful saute pan (a wedding present I might add) was destroyed.
So, what have we learned here?  Obviously, never leave the stove when cooking.  Check that burners are turned off.  Then check again.  And, the big lesson:  do not rely on anyone else to address the first two lessons!  When I asked Mr. Wonderful why he had ignored the smell of burning ... he merely shrugged and suggested that  dinner was not his responsibility that night. When I asked what he would have done had I been on the telephone and had he seen flames leaping from the saute pan, he said that the cover was on the pan, so there would not have been any flames.  Lovely.  At that point I decided to eschew noting that with such attitudes Harvard alumni are frequently seen to be out of touch with reality.  He would not had understood ... poor man ... and I would have been wasting my breath.

Nevertheless, we had a nice dinner -- minus the vegetable course.  We made up for it with more wine.  Perhaps by the end of the week, the house will no longer bear the aroma of eau de wildfire.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


When I was growing up, I took crepes for granted.  While they were called nalieśniki in Polish [literally meaning something for hazelnuts] or palačinke in Serbian, they were just crêpes by another name.  One of my favorite blogs about food happens to be called Palachinka [the singular of palačinke] and has beautiful photos and great recipes.

Having a bit of time on my hands this week-end, I attempted to make crêpes.  Most of the recipes were similar.  The hard parts were knowing when to flip the crepes over and how to flip them so they wouldn't tear.  It was a good thing that I was making the crêpes for dessert and we didn't need that many ... about half of the batter served as practice.

There are lots of recipes on the web for crêpes, by whatever name you want to call them.  I ended up using the classic French recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking   Things worked well, except for Julia's suggestion to flip the crêpes by "grasp[ing] the edges nearest you in your fingers and sweep it up toward you and over again into the pan in a reverse circle ..." By the time I thought it was time to turn the first crepe, the pan was hot, and burning my finger tips was not on my to do list.  Her other idea of "toss it [the crepe] over by a flip of the pan" I put on the to do someday, if at all, list.  Finally, I followed here third alternative:  use 2 spatulas.

Here is a photo of a moderately good beginning.
Through trial and lots of error, I found that patience is a friend.  Once the crêpe bubbles up at bit, like in the photo, make yourself wait a few more seconds. Trying to turn it over too soon just means that it will tear or fold over on itself causing the top, as yet uncooked, side to stick to itself.  The more you let it cook, the easier it is to turn over.

In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, the are two basic recipes for crêpes.  Here is the one for crêpes fines sucrées, which I served with maple syrup and plum jam, either rolled up or folded in quarters like a handkerchief.
The recipe, on p. 650, is said to make 10 to 12 crepes 6 inches in diameter, or in my case about half that amount.

3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup cold water
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoon orange liqueur, rum, or brandy
1 cup flour 
5 tablespoons melted butter

An electric blender
A rubber scraper
An iron skillet or a crêpe pan with a 6 1/2- to 7-inch bottom diameter
2 to 3 tablespoon cooking oil and a pastry brush
A ladle or measure to hold 3 to 4 tablespoon or 1/4 cup

Place the ingredients in the blender jar in the order in which they are listed. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute. If bits of flour adhere to sides of jar, dislodge with a rubber scraper and blend 3 seconds more. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hour or overnight.

Brush the skillet lightly with oil. Set over moderately high heat until the pan is just beginning to smoke.

Immediately remove from heat and, holding handle of pan in your right hand, pour with your left hand a scant 1/4 cup of batter into the middle of the pan. Quickly tilt the pan in all directions to run the batter all over the bottom of the pan in a thin film. (Pour any batter that does not adhere back into your bowl [sounds good in theory, but I could not figure out how to do  it]; judge the amount of your next crêpe accordingly.)  This whole operation takes but 2 or 3 seconds.

Return the pan to heat for 60 to 80 seconds. Then jerk and toss the pan sharply back and forth and up and down to loosen the crêpe. Lift its edges with a spatula and if the under side is a nice light brown, the crêpe is ready for turning.

Turn the crêpe by using 2 spatulas; or grasp the edges nearest you in your fingers and sweep it up toward you and over again into the pan in a reverse circle; or toss it over by a flip of the pan.

Brown lightly for about 1/2 minute on the other side. This second side is rarely more than a spotty brown, and is always kept as the underneath or nonpublic aspect of the crêpe. As they are done, slide the crêpes onto a rack and let cool several minutes before stacking on a plate [I skipped this part and things still turned out fine]. Grease the skillet again, heat to just smoking, and proceed with the rest of the crêpesCrêpes may be kept warm by covering them with a dish and setting them over simmering water or in a slow oven. Or they may be made several hours in advance and reheated when needed. Crêpes freeze perfectly.)

As soon as you are used to the procedure, you can keep 2 pans going at once, and make 24 crêpes in less than half an hour. [Or you can sacrifice the fun and go to Trader Joe's and buy a package of the perfectly frozen ones.]

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What we are reading now

Wild fires have been burning in Russia filling the air in the Moscow region with ash.  The wheat crop is in danger, especially in the Nizhny Novgorod region, and grain prices will, no doubt, rise. For more information, see thisthis and this.  The intense heat does not fit the usual stereotypes of Russian ice and cold.  Nonetheless, we are now reading books emphasizing the Russian winter.  

Mr. Wonderful is engrossed in Dominic Lieven's Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace. This book moves 
past Tolstoy's emphasis on 1812 and provides a sense of Russian campaigns against Napoleon in 1813 in Central Europe and beyond.  The author, Dominic Lieven, is a descendant of some of the Russian generals who fought in these battles.  [Ironically, my family was on both sides of this slice of history -- some fighting with Alexander I and some, like Roman Sołtyk, on the side of Napoleon.] On the lighter side, for those of us who read every Georgette Heyer novel we could find, the name Lieven is not unfamiliar.  Her high quality Regency romances sprinkled facts in the text!

In the meantime, I am equally engrossed in the reprise of the memoirs of Louisa Catherine Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, our 6th president.  Her father was an American who married an English woman, and Louisa was born in London in 1775.  She spent most of her life abroad and was the only First Lady not born in America.  Due to John Quincy Adams's many diplomatic postings, their son spoke English as his third language. [I can relate to that entirely.] 

Michael O'Brien's book, Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon, resurrects and adds texture to Louisa's memoirs of her difficult 40-day journey in 1815 from St. Petersburg to Paris to reunite with the husband, America's Minister to Russia.  She was traveling alone with her young son and servants in winter at the time when Napoleon had escaped from Elba and had not yet been defeated at Waterloo.  

This new and fascinating book about Louisa Adams is not the only book about the tangential relationship between American First Families and Russia. Julia Grant, who was born in the White House in 1876, was the grand-daughter of President Grant and married into an old Russian family thus becoming Princess Cantacuzène, Countess Speransky.  I am lucky to have two of her books: My Life Here and There (published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1921) and Revolutionary Days (first published in 1920).
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