Other people’s stories are better.

The more time you spend in Baltimore, the easier it is to believe that everyone in the city knows each other. Not just because it’s a small city, but because people seem more likely to talk with strangers here than in other Northeastern metropoles. This means I hear a lot of really, really great stories, just in passing.

I work at Hopkins, and sometimes have to take a passenger van shuttle from work. I only know the driver from his right arm and what I can see in the rearview, but Larry is bald, brown-eyed, has an huge collection of glimmering silver rings, and an amazing watch.  While we sat at a stop light today, looking down the road at flashing red and blue lights, the conversation turned to accidents.

It turns out that Larry’s worst accident was on 795, which connects the city to the northwestern ‘burbs. Driving in his first car, a Chevrolet Sprint.

“Welllll… It was kind of my fault,” he laughed. “I was looking down, messing with the radio stations, and when I looked up I was looking at a tailpipe!” Larry’s little Sprint swerved across three lanes, flipped up into the air and over, and went down the embankment. Larry was working as a Macy’s cosmetic consultant at the time, and the car was suddenly filled with a tornado of department store swag.

“Can you imagine? They’d say ‘That man was killed by Hermes umbrellas!'”

A doctor and nurse driving the opposite direction turned back to the scene, but Larry was already walking up the embankment with no more than a bad cut on his finger.

“Do you know what I was thinking, when the car was just rolling over in the air?” Larry asked. “I just kept thinking… Dukes of Hazzard survived!”

Northeast Market, Middle East Baltimore

IMG_8447Northeast Market in East Baltimore is hard to miss. You can smell the canola oil frying and hear the gulls squawking from two blocks away. Inside, fried chicken, fried lake trout, and sub joints reign over the four red-tiled aisles, and the meat selection ranges from chicken breast to pig ears. But only two or three stands with fresh produce.

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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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Resurfacing in Baltimore

jigsaw_save_tempI’m a naughty blogger. One would think that being unemployed for half of fall would have meant plenty of time for cooking, writing, and exploring. Anyone who has ever been unemployed knows what it really means is all your energy and lifesource is sucked into job search websites, and it was all I could do to make it out for some exercise and errands.

Washington Monument Xmas lighting in the 'hood.

Washington Monument Xmas lighting!

The good news is that I started a new job at Johns Hopkins University in late November, and am four weeks happily employed as a web coordinator. I’m also one week moved into a great new apartment in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, which is full of theaters, historic buildings and gay bars. Despite my disappointment in not being able to return to France, I am “dead chuffed” to be living in the heart of Baltimore for the first time in my life, and getting paid enough to thoroughly navigate the most awesome spots.

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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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Pistachio O o O

I’m back in France! And eating unpasturized dairy! But until next Friday rolls around, you’ll have to read posts about what I did in the United States.

Just like the “every country has its fried dough” theory, most cultures have their chosen nut products. America has peanuts and pecans, a lot of African countries use ground nuts in soups and stews, and much of Europe fills everything with hazelnuts. In Turkey your chocolate comes with pistachios, Greeks lean on walnuts heavily for their pastries, and when  I think of pine nuts, I think of Italy.

But I’ve only ever consumed peanut and almond butters in the salty spread category. Pistachio butter’s time had come.

Caution, guys.

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