Category Archives: Travel

Evolution

I started this blog four years ago. I spent a long time trying to come up with the name, and chose Fresh Era for two reasons: because I was invigorated about big life changes and because I was really learning how to cook.

I’m pleased to realize that even though I’ve jostled through three apartments and three jobs to a place where I’m tethered by a mortgage, a boyfriend and (the biggest surprise) a kid, I still feel like the title applies.

Home

My house was built in 1900 (in a neighborhood that’s seen hard times I didn’t weather) but I’ve never lived so wholly in a place, or experienced such depth of humanity. Last weekend I ate El Salvadorean food with former peace corps members to my right and Hells Angels to my left. The next morning I waved a paper fan from the back of a local Baptist church I should have been embarassed to even enter; African drums playing just outside the door. I can only comprehend a tiny fraction of Baltimore: past, present and future. But even on its worst day, I still feel a warmth and light that is new and hopeful.

Heart

Questionable advice from someone who met their boyfriend on Tinder: You can’t always get what you want, and the internet might not be helping you find what you need. I got lucky and fell into someone who fits that bill (honest, eternally patient, not afraid to dance in public)…  in a package I could easily I have refused. My plans did not include former-delinquent racecar drivers and their rambunctious 5 year olds. In the last 18 months I have been to a three racetracks, a gymnastics party and PTA meetings: on purpose!  Luckily, I love a meaty challenge. Dig in.

Hearth

My first month in France I had one pot, one knife, a few plastic utensils and some leftover yogurt cups. I miscooked chanterelles (it was fun!), learned how to cook anything on a stovetop, ate an unidentified cheese every weekend, and came back to the States with my own cooking style and some snobby ideas about the price of wine. You can expect light, veggie-heavy, fresh and spicy when eating at my house. Unless I’m tired–then you can expect egg and cheese sandwiches.

Era

This time four years ago I was living on my friend’s basement futon. I miss that. I miss the costume parties, the poorly conceptualized booze parties, and the total inappropriateness of being 25 and single in America.

But we’ve already been there and all of this—weddings, promotions, family vacations, ailing grandparents, creakier joints and sensible shoes—keeps us guessing, and keeps us fresh.

New Orleans: That Which Cannot Be Named

IMG_1017In my head, New Orleans is wide streets under balconies full of Spanish moss, with 24-hour jazz funerals parading down the street.

This is slightly true. My friend Carly and I spent our Thanksgiving  in the Marigny, four blocks up Frenchman street from piles of jazz bars and the cry of street-band trumpets. New Orleans also has economically disparate neighborhoods, no laws against open containers, and a transient-friendly climate. You can sense that something is not quite settled under the town’s skin. But you can also sense that it’s cultural quicksand–it could suck you in for good.

We met people who had only left New Orleans for one month in their 50 years, and transplants from Texas, Seattle, Chicago. Musicians, glass blowers, baristas, bartenders, and shopkeepers. It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed in Baltimore as well. What makes a city addictive? It’s hard to pin it down but …

IMG_1069Rhythm.
It’s a Big Easy legend that every citizen grows up playing an instrument. Frenchman street featured a full jazz band that, if seen in Baltimore, people would make “The Wire” jokes about. Dancing in the road creates joy.

History.
New Orleans has 300 years of history so diverse that almost any American can feel a connection. The roots are deep, and the feeling of being a part of something seeps into the air.

IMG_9228Signs of life.
Coming from the north, the packs of purple, orange, and yellow houses look like they’re smiling at you. A jeweler told me 100 percent humidity means people chill. People seem to be whom they want to be, whatever they are.

Spirit.
Every skycap in the airport had on a Saints jersey. A woman who sold me a wooden wine stopper was wearing two-inch tall Saints player earrings. If you live here, you’re on the team. Baltimore gets this drift, too.

IMG_1072Because you have to.
Probably because of Katrina, New Orleans still feels like an underdog. There’s no facade hiding this, and an underdog with tradition and life is irresistible.

The Travel Buddy Checklist

3499_10100229988228615_847782171_nIt’s a new year! New resolutions, new to-do lists, and twelve whole months full of open calendar just begging to be filled.

Being back in the motherland means I have many more people to visit, and old friends who could be new options for travel buddies. This could be a real blast… or it could end in near fisticuffs when we find out that we are completely, utterly unsuited for bus-hopping and sightseeing together.

Enter, stage left, the Travel Buddy Survey.

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The Case for Sundays

A picture is definitely not worth a thousand words.

No matter how skilled the photographer is, no image could truly capture the splendor of a beautiful Sunday in France: a day so completely reserved for time off that your body is physically forced to lower your blood pressure.

Park time.

In the city, the usual roar of traffic dulls to a rumble, leaving space in the air for the sounds of bicycle gears clicking, leaves scratching across the sidewalk, and the knives, forks and laughter of your neighbors’ rose garden luncheon. In the country, it’s the best day to go for a long, car-free run, then share a picnic by the river. You become incapable of speed beyond a leisurely stroll, you listen to jazz, cook big meals and catch up with friends and family you haven’t seen for weeks. Continue reading

Fromage Friday: Brillat Savarin

It’s BACK! Sure, there is a lot of good cheese to be eaten in the United States, but on that side of the Atlantic “fancy” cheese is more expensive and seems frivolous. In France, I feel like a criminal every time I walk past a fromagerie without buying something. That means I feel like a criminal every 15 minutes, but so be it.

The return to glory involved the 17ème arrondissement’s Alléosse fromagerie and about five kinds of cheese, but the only one I’d never had before was Brillat Savarin. The cheese comes in a square about the size of your fist, but a quarter of it is more than enough to last a few days because it’s a   “triple crème” cheese. This means that cream is added to the usual milk mixture when this cheese is being created. It also means the cheese is about 75 percent fat. One sliver of this bad boy meant I had to put some of my other cheese slices back on the plate at lunch (l’horreur!!!); I was just WAY too full. Yes, I said it. I found a cheese I can’t really eat.

According to my reader-friendly cheese book, this cheese was created by Pierre Androuët, FATHER of the master of all things French cheese, in 1930. He’s also the author of my less-than-reader-friendly “Dictionary of World Cheeses.” Good work, Team Androuët.

Brillat Savarin

Made by: Fromager/Affineur (meaning they actually mature the cheese) Alléosse, rue Poncelet. The line was 10 people long. I take the advice of travel writers and get in lines whenever I see that many people waiting.
Hails from: The northwest of France. Mostly Normandy.
Background: Not a handmade cheese, and so creamy that my aunt squeezed a piece and said it actually felt like butter. It’s a fresh cheese in that it only needs to age a few weeks, but it’s by no means light. Whoa mama. It’s also fairly strong tasting. I had been expecting something like Brie, but it’s much richer and tangy-er in flavor. Holds its own, for sure!
Can I eat the rind? You can, but it’s not necessary.
Serve it with: Veggies. Fruit. More veggies. Scant amounts of bread. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but this is not the kind of cheese I could handle eating with prosciutto or ham.

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The USA Like I’ve Never Seen it Before

“It’s so surreal! I feel like an alien! I feel like ALF!”

All this in response to… a parking meter. Continue reading

Speculoos City

Most cafés in Northeast France serve a Belgian Speculoos biscuit with every tea or coffee you order. While you can find Speculoos throughout the country, it’s more at home in Lorraine, which shares a border with Belgium as well as the holiday of Saint Nicolas, when bakeries produce giant Speculoos cookies in the shape of the good saint. Whenever I was served a coffee in another region of France and received a chocolate chip cookie, it was a bitter disappointment.

The cookie is a basic spice cookie, which sounds plain but is completely addictive. I’ll prove it!! The flavor is so popular at the moment that you can buy gazillions of speculoos-flavored treats: cereal, pudding, toasts, spreads, and pastries. The spread is at least as deadly as Nutella. I don’t drink espresso all that often in the States, but some clever friends knew that when I did I would feel sad without that Speculoos on the side, and bought me a cookbook to make them at home, along with a ton of other dishes (speculoos pie crust, speculoos tiramisu with chevre and figs, apple/almond speculoos soufflés!) made with the flavor . Continue reading

Why Crate and Barrel sells pie weights

It’s Bastille Day! The 1789 day French civilians and others stormed the Bastille and it freaked everyone out, even though there were only seven prisoners and more rioters were killed than anyone else. Vive la revolution!

I celebrated this historic day by making a very non-French quiche and eating it with a bunch of French speakers outside of Fort McHenry. I didn’t have enough time to make the pastry dough from scratch (though apparently I am one of very few women who even attempt one), and I turned up my nose at the idea of adding beans to my pie crust while toasting it, because I’d never done it before.

On the right, first not-so-great attempt.

Pride always comes before a fall.

The pie crust turned into a mountain. I convinced myself I could still just pour the filling in, and created an oven disaster that validates Crate and Barrel’s $7 pie weight, though from now on I’ll just be sticking with reused dried peas or clean pebbles, à la français. Attempt two came out cute and clean, though to be perfectly honest both tasted delicious.

I was aiming for a decidedly non-French quiche; a ricotta, arugula and lemon recipe. A quiche typique of ham, cheese, eggs and layered pastry dough always leaves me feeling like a human log, and this was a fantasic and EASY variation.

Even if you do it properly and make the pie crust, it can’t possibly take you more than 20-30 minutes of active work to make, and then all that’s left is to receive compliments from the resident French quiche experts at the picnic.

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Bookends

“What do Americans think of French people?” Considering the reputation of Americans, I was always surprised that French people are so concerned about what we think.

The short answer could be: they’re all fashionable but smell awful, they eat baguettes and drink wine while wearing a striped shirt and a beret, and they’re kind of snobby. In reality, I spent the last year discovering how welcoming French people can be (behind a slightly frosted façade), even in the bitter north.

Lonely loft.

When I arrived in Lorraine last September, the only people I knew were two Irish teaching assistants who happened to be arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport at the same time as me. I spent the first two nights sleeping on the floor of a hotel room using space bags full of clothing as a makeshift bed and my backpack for a pillow. Bienvenue!

By comparison, Tuesday morning a French teacher and friend got up at 6 a.m. (on a holiday) to drive me to the train station for my hopefully-not-final departure from Epinal. My temporary housemates, an Italian and a Spanish assistant who welcomed me for the weekend, not only helped carry my bags and made me toast, but came all the way to the station to see me off. Not one, but three separate people are housing my massive amount of sweaters, boots and sporting equipment over summer. I also know I have at least one bedroom all set up for me in September. I’m going to go ahead and be sappy: I have a lot to thank the French for.

It’s true that many French people will not hesitate to give their opinion, even if it’s on your weight gain or your baldness. Yet in Lorraine many locals were thrilled to meet an American and exchange ideas. And of course show me the rolling countryside, black-and-white cows, and general obsession with fatty pork products they grew up with. An exercise in how far genuine curiosity, modesty, honesty and a dusting of bravery will get you with almost anyone, in almost any place.

Around the Vosges mountains, it can land you laughing on your butt in the snow on the border of a frozen lake, a week before Christmas, as the flakes slash by you.

It can get you to a living room sofa covered with babies who can’t crawl, but eat Roquefort on crackers, or to a breakfast table with 10 kinds of bread.

It can get you into a 100-year-old iron forge run by three generations of smiths, and occupied during the Germans during WW2. Direct quote: “They ate a lot of potatoes.”

But most importantly, it can make a hell of change for you. Answering the questions of how Americans see French people, or how French people see Americans, is only going to get more complicated.

Thanks, for helping me pimp all over the world.

 

 

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La Maison Forestière

A nearby forest-bound sculpture garden.

The more idyllic the scenery, the harder it is for me to take pictures. That was the case this week when I visited one of my fellow teachers in Hennezel, France. It’s home to less than 450 people and completely surrounded by woods, but somehow cozy anyway. My host’s husband is a forestier; something like a woodsman or a forest ranger, who spends most of his days walking through the woods choosing the best trees to cut down while allowing the forest to prosper. Their house is a “maison forestière” heated entirely by wood with vegetable patches against the lean-to, and blossoming pear trees and lilac bushes.

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