Category: Vacation and Travel

Door County Fall Weekend

October 1st, 2014 — 4:04am

We spent the past weekend in Door County enjoying the beautiful fall colors and unseasonably warm temperatures. Door County holds a special place in my heart. I have so many wonderful memories of growing up camping at Peninsula State Park with my family, spending the weekend with friends for the Door County triathlon—and it’s also the place Larry asked me to marry him precisely three years ago. I especially love being there in the fall when the colors start to turn, the air feels crisp, it’s a little less crowded, and countless apple orchards overflow with freshly picked apples, cider, pie, donuts and pumpkins. We headed up after work on Friday and tried to fit in as much as we possibly could into our short visit. We camped at Peninsula State Park, took a ferry to Washington Island, swam in Lake Michigan, biked, ate plenty of apple cider donuts, star gazed from Eagle Tower, and revisited the very spot where we got engaged three years ago. It was a wonderful weekend—always the one I look forward to most.

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Paris in the Footsteps of Julia Child

May 22nd, 2014 — 3:53am

dehillerinI’ve been given an incredible opportunity to travel to Paris for work this week to host a travel group following a seven-day Julia Child-inspired itinerary.

In preparation for the trip, I read “My Life in France,” an autobiography by Julia Child and her grandnephew Alex Prud’homme. Julia and her husband, Paul, ventured to France in 1948 when Paul was assigned a job at the American embassy in Paris. Julia was immediately smitten. “Oh, la belle France—without knowing it, I was already falling in love!” The authors paint a vivid picture of Julia’s fun-loving relationship with Paul and their love affair with French food—-“the tastes, the processes, the history, the endless variations, the rigorous discipline, the creativity, the wonderful people, the equipment, the rituals.” Julia’s enthusiasm is absolutely infectious.

During the trip, we’ll experience many highlights of Paris, and also visit a number of areas Julia frequented during her time in Paris, like the kitchenware shop E. Dehillerin and the Rue Cler neighborhood where Julia liked to shop for meats, cheese, fruits, and produce.

I’m so excited to get to know the people with whom I’ll be traveling, and for this unique opportunity to experience the City of Light in the footsteps of Julia Child.

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San Francisco Food Adventures

April 7th, 2014 — 5:52am

I spent a week in California this past October, visiting my brother in San Francisco and attending a close friend’s wedding in Sonoma. It had been a few years since my last visit to San Francisco, and since then, I’d collected several articles and recommendations for food and restaurants I wanted to check out during my next visit. There were places that seemed to appear in every article or list, like Tartine Bakery, Zuni Cafe, and Dynamo Donuts. I came to San Francisco armed with my research, but also made room for my brother’s recommendations and, of course, the unexpected. I’m proud to say that I indulged to the fullest. And these are the places I remember most.

Most Memorable Food Experiences

Mezz Platter from Palmyra

Tacos from La Taqueria

Salted Caramel Ice Cream from Bi-Rite

Pain au Chocolat from Tartine Bakery & Cafe

Maple Glazed Apple Bacon Donut from Dynamo Donuts

Pastrami Sandwich from Wise Sons

Chicken and dumplings (on special) from Suppenküche

Secret Breakfast Ice Cream (Bourbon & Cornflakes) from Humphy Slocombe

Fried chicken, popcorn and collard greens from The Front Porch

Chicken burrito from Papalote

Coffee and toast (yep, that toast) from The Mill

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Magical Moments in Paris

March 26th, 2014 — 4:34am

It’s taken me a while to write about my first trip to Paris last spring. Almost a year, actually. When I think about past vacations, I fondly reminisce about all of the best parts of the trip. Paris is no different. Although they seemed like big deals at the time—the delayed flights, missed connections, lost luggage and rain—those aspects of the trip have faded from my memory. Instead, it’s all of the magical moments that stand out now: sipping a tiny cup of the richest hot chocolate imaginable (L’Africain) from the elegant tea room of Angelina, biting into my first pistachio eclair from Erik Kayser, seeing the Eiffel Tower light up at night, sitting around with my girlfriends late into the night laughing and drinking red wine, and waking up to the sounds of the bells from Notre-Dame. It was an incredible trip. And I realize it even more now since I’ve had time to reflect on the experience. Below are my trip notes with my recommendations in bold.

Wednesday, April 10
• Arrive in Paris; took the train to our first apartment (Rue Huchette). Booked through Airbnb.
• Wine and appetizers at Relais Odéon – 132 Boulevard Saint-Germain
• Dinner at Café Le Conti – 1 Rue de Nuci

Thursday, April 11
• Pastries and L’Africain hot chocolate at Angelina – 226 Rue de Rivoli
• Stroll through Jardin des Tuleries
Bateaux-Mouches boat ride along the River Seine
• Botanical gardens at Musée du quai Branly
• Eiffel Tower
• Lunch at Le Café du Marché – 38 Rue Cler
• Nutella crepe from vendor on Rue Huchette
• Pink Martini at Le Grand Rex
Fromage crepe at Deli’s Café
• Drinks at Chez Georges – 11 Rue des Canettes

Friday, April 12
• Pastries at La Boulangerie de Papa – 1 Rue de la Harpe
Lock bridge
Musée d’Orsay
• Lunch at Le Colibri Café – 8 Place de la Madeleine
• Desserts at Ladurée – 21 Rue Bonaparte
• Fauchon – 24-26 Place de la Madeleine
• Hediard – 21 Place de la Madeleine
• Walking and shopping along Avenue des Champs-Élysées
• Arc de Triomphe
• Talking and drinking wine; late-night dinner of pizza and crepes on Rue Huchette

Saturday, April 13
• Breakfast at La boulangerie de Papa – 1 Rue de la Harpe
Notre-Dame Cathedral
French Holocaust Memorial
Shakespeare and Company – 37 Rue de la Bûcherie
• Checked into our second apartment (Montorgueil/Sentier area). Emile Zola was born in the building in 1840. Also booked through Airbnb.
• Walk through Montmartre neighborhood
• Lunch at Le Sancerre Café – 87 Rue des Archives
I love you wall
La Basilique du Sacré Coeur
• Dinner at Le Refuge des Fondus – 17 Rue des 3 Frères
• Moulin Rouge
• Drinks at Glass – 7 Rue Frochot

Sunday, April 14
Rue Montorgueil (street in the 1st arrondissement and 2nd arrondissement, in the Montorgueil-Saint Denis-Les Halles district)
• Breakfast at Boulangerie Blouet – 4 Rue des Petits Carreaux
• Purchased cheese and fruit from market vendors
• Coffee at café
• Lunch at Le Soufflot Café – 63 Boulevard Saint-Michel
• Picnic at Jardin du Luxembourg (second largest public park in Paris; also the first warm day of the year in Paris, so the park packed)
• Pierre Hermé – 72 Rue Bonaparte
• Stopped to see the outside of the Louvre
• Wine and dessert buffet back at the apartment

Monday, April 15
• Pastries from Stohrer – 51 Rue Montorgueil, oldest bakery in Paris (1730) and Eric Kayser – 16 Rue des Petits Carreaux.
• Walked by the Opera House
• Shopping at department stores: Galeries Lafayette – 40 Boulevard Haussmann, and Printemps – 64 Boulevard Haussmann
• Drinks on the rooftop terrace of Printemps (great views of Paris)
• Dinner at Frenchie Wine Bar – 5-5 Rue du Nil
• Second dinner at restaurant on Rue Montorgueil

Tuesday, April 16
• Pastries from Stohrer – 51 Rue Montorgueil and Eric Kayser – 16 Rue des Petits Carreaux.
• Tour of Jill’s old neighborhood (12th arrondissement) – walking path, old apartment and program building, crepe stand, etc.
Marché Beauvau Market et Rue d’Aligre
Le Marais neighborhood
• Lunch at L’as du Fallafel – 34 Rue des Rosiers
• Walked to Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
• Drinks on the rooftop terrace at Printemps
• Dinner at Café Constant – 139 Rue Saint-Dominique
Eiffel tower at night – light show at 10pm and 11pm, while enjoying a bottle of champagne

Wednesday, April 17
• Fly to Chicago; bus from Chicago to Madison
• Larry and Ryan with welcome home sign (MSN > Paris, Pourquoi??…Les Hommes!)

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Pink Martini From Paris to Madison

March 7th, 2014 — 6:27am
Pink Martini at the Grand Rex, Paris - April 2013

Pink Martini at the Grand Rex, Paris – April 2013

Nearly a year ago, I made my first trip to the City of Light with a few girlfriends. One of my favorite experiences was seeing Pink Martini at the Grand Rex. It was just so perfect for the evening, for the trip, and for Paris.

It’s hard to explain the unique sound of Pink Martini—the best I can come up with is a combination of jazz and swing. But it’s so much more than that—in a recent article bandleader Thomas Lauderdale described the music as “unusual and beautiful and almost ambassadorial in a way. It crosses generations and cultures and languages.” During the Paris concert, lead singer China Forbes performed songs in at least eight different languages, and invited on the the stage multiple collaborators from all over the world.

Pink Martini at the Capitol Theater, Madison - March 2014

Pink Martini at the Capitol Theater, Madison – March 2014

Last night, nearly a year since our trip, my Paris travel mates and I met up for Pink Martini at the Capitol Theater in Madison. It was the first time we’d all been together since our trip last spring. It seems like only yesterday we were in Paris, but clearly some time has passed—one of us is now married (me!) and another has a baby on the way.

We had dinner at Chez Nanou, a charming French crêperie and bistro on Williamson Street. It seemed fitting that we not only enjoy a French meal, but crêpes specifically. We all remembered devouring our favorite crêpes of our trip to Paris from a street vendor (Deli’s Café) immediately following the Pink Martini concert.

We were late for the concert last night (thankfully, we just missed a song or two), just as we had been late for the show in Paris. Pink Martini, crepes, and four fashionably late fun ladies—it was the perfect reunion.

Crêpes from Deli's Café in Paris.

Crêpes from Deli’s Café in Paris.

Crêpes from Chez Nanou in Madison.

Crêpes from Chez Nanou in Madison.

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A Visit to the Porkies

January 13th, 2014 — 1:23pm

We made our big getaway after the holidays. It was the perfect time to escape civilization and enjoy the beauty of winter in the great outdoors. We met our friends at Gitchie Gumee, a rustic cabin in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Our friends had already been in the area several days, skiing and snowshoeing from yurt to yurt. They’re old pros, making several trips to the Porkies each year, and we were thankful they invited us for a few days of adventure.

The cabin was spacious and comfortable, but completely dark by 5 p.m., save a bit of candlelight. The rule was that if you got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night (in the outhouse, of course), you had to put a log in the stove to keep the place warm. But I never did wake up in the middle of the night. I was so tired from our excursions, that I slept like a rock the entire trip.

Our days consisted of sleeping in, eating breakfast while planning the day’s adventure, and snowshoeing for 6-7 hours with occasional breaks at conveniently placed warming huts for tea and snacks. Our first day we even spotted a porcupine! The second day was dramatically colder than the first, and I thought my toes were going to fall off.  But the view from the escarpment (think Ansel Adams) more than made up for my cold feet. It was spectacular.

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Je vais à Paris demain!

April 8th, 2013 — 12:23pm

April 2013 020






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A Culinary Tour of Oaxaca

April 6th, 2013 — 6:11am

A two-day excursion to Oaxaca was the highlight of my recent trip to Mexico with Larry, which also included visits to Veracruz, Córdoba and Ingenio El Potrero Nuevo, the hometown of our friend, Andrés. As a whole, this trip to Mexico was very different than the two others I’ve made that mainly involved lying around pools at all-inclusive resorts in Cancun and Acapulco.

Oaxaca is a beautiful city in southeastern Mexico that is one of the most well-known culinary destinations. I was eager to try all of its many specialties—everything from moles to chapulines (spicy fried grasshoppers).

For culinary inspiration, we drew largely upon recommendations from Rick Bayless in his Guide to Oaxaca. Admittedly, our first two picks from the list were a bust. Tlamanalli in the small village of Teotitlán del Valle (20 miles outside of Oaxaca, and seemingly Bayless’s strongest recommendation) was closed for part of Semana Santa (Easter week). And our second pick, El Naranjo, back in Oaxaca, has apparently been closed for three years. Clearly, the guide needs some updating. But, I get it, Rick Bayless is a busy guy. At that point, we were almost ready to abandon the guide, but thankfully held on for a few more recommendations. His suggestions for market and street vendors were particularly useful.

Our first meal was comida (main meal of the day) late Thursday afternoon at El Asador Vasco. I ordered the sopa de tortilla and shared the Botana Oaxaqueña, a platter filled with an assortment of Oaxacan specialties. The best part was  the view of the lively zócalo, or main square, from our table on the balcony. The meal was good, but I was most excited about trying Oaxaca’s market and street vendor foods.

Later that night, after exploring town and enjoying poolside drinks at the fabulous Quinta Real Hotel, we indulged in the popular Oaxacan street food at Las Tlayudas de Libres, on Libres street between Murguía and Miguel Bravo streets (hours are 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.). We ordered tlayudas, oversized hand-made tortillas grilled over hot coals served with black beans, salsa and tasajo (half-dried salted beef). We also snacked on an order of pickled pigs feet and sipped from hot cups of tejate and champurrado. Patrons have the option of eating inside the restaurant or on picnic tables on the street. We chose the latter as a way to experience the food being made in front of us. It’s also worth noting that there is another tlayudas stand next to Las Tlayudas de Libres, which appears to be connected but is not. This was one my favorite meals of the trip.

The next morning, while our friends Andrés and Leonor took a day trip to see the “petrified water falls” at Hierve el Agua, Larry and I continued our culinary explorations with breakfast at Mercado de la Democracia (located eight blocks east of the zócalo). We enjoyed empanadas with huitlacoche (corn mushroom), quesillo (shredded string cheese), and flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) from La Güerita. For drinks we wandered directly across the aisle to Jugos Petrita, for fresh orange juice and a licuado de fresa (strawberry smoothie). We wandered the market for a bit, and although we were still quite full, we couldn’t help but try a tamál de mole negro wrapped in banana leaves from Tamales Leti, and a sweeter version, a tamál de dulce (sweet pineapple), from Tamales Geno. It was an excellent extended breakfast that should have left us full until dinner, but…

Early that afternoon we made our way to the market near the zócalo for nieves (fruit ices) and aguas frescas (fruit drinks). We enjoyed four flavors of fruit ice from Chagüita—fresa (strawberry), mango, limón and guanábana. It tasted very similar to fruit ice cream and was probably my favorite sweet treat in Oaxaca. After the fact, we learned that there is very little price difference (just three pesos) between the small and large-sized cups, so I’d recommend sizing up. Afterwards, we ordered three varieties of aguas frescas at Casilda. Disappointingly, the beverages tasted more sugary than fruity. It might help to hold the sugar. Our favorite flavor was fresa. According to Rick Bayless, both stands use safe water, which helps visitors like ourselves feel comfortable indulging in this treat.

After Andrés and Leonor returned from their adventure, we all headed to Zandunga for an enjoyable cena. I liked the restaurant’s energy and vibe—a modern, open and well-lit space with colorful, wooden ceiling lanterns and tables draped in bold-patterned oilcloth. I sipped a bit of Leonor’s mescal, a Mexican liquor distilled from the maguey plant (a form of agave), enjoyed my own bottle of Montejo (a pilsner), and snacked on molotes de plátano (plantain croquettes), enchiladas with mole negro, consomé de pollo (chicken soup), and arroz con leche for dessert.

The next morning we enjoyed one final market breakfast before leaving Oaxaca. Based on Rick Bayless’s recommendation, we picked La Abuelita, well-known for its Oaxacan specialties, at the Mercado 20 de Noviembre (market near the zócalo). We enjoyed enchiladas with mole and Oaxaca’s famous hot chocolate with pan de yema (sweet egg bread). Leanor also purchased a bag of chapulines (spicy fried grasshoppers) from a market vendor, which she tossed in her quesadilla by the handful and told me I had to try. Apparently, a popular legend says that if you eat chapulines, you’ll return to Oaxaca some day. I sampled one in hopes of a return trip, simultaneously exploring the crunchiness of a dead insect in my mouth and the unexpected spiciness, while savoring the many new experiences I found in Oaxaca.

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Planning for Paris

March 6th, 2013 — 2:15pm

February 2013 189I still can’t believe I’m heading to Paris in a month. One of my closest friends and college roommates (freshman year in the dorms), Jill, is a Paris fanatic. She studied abroad there in college for a semester, and takes advantage of every opportunity to travel back. Jill invited me to join her for each of her two most recent trips, but it just didn’t work out for me to go along. But I always knew—when I do travel to Paris, it will be with Jill.

When Jill told me about the trip she was planning for this spring with two girlfriends, I knew I was going to make it work this time. A girls trip to Paris in April with the best tour guide around? Sign me up.February 2013 187

Last month we booked our flights and apartment for the 9-day trip and it all became very real. This past Sunday, Jill hosted a Paris-inspired brunch for the four of us traveling together, complete with a mushroom and fontina quiche, pain au chocolates, croissants aux amandes, and mimosas. We talked about the things we want to do and see, and our goals for the trip.

While chomping on a pain au chocolate, I revealed to the group that I’m most excited to eat in Paris (probably no surprise there). I want to peruse the outdoor markets, fritter the day away lounging at cafes, and eat endless varieties of pastries, macarons, croissants, crepes, cheese, croque monsieur, and steak-frites.

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Exploring the Sites of Houston

November 8th, 2012 — 12:48pm

I was in Houston for work last week—my second visit to Texas this year, but my first-ever visit to Houston. Thankfully, I had a bit of free time one day to walk around and explore.

First, I headed to Midtown (a good hike from downtown) to check out Sig’s Lagoon (3622 Main Street), a great little independent record store. Whenever I travel, it’s a goal of mine to visit a local record store and buy an album. That way I can remember my trip or the city I visited whenever I listen to the album.

Also in Midtown, I visited High Fashion Fabrics (3101 Louisiana St.), a warehouse filled wall-to-wall with textiles and fabrics, as well as My Flaming Heart (3622 Main St.), a unique indie boutique featuring western styles and Mexican folk art. For lunch, I hit up Mai’s (3403 Milam St.), a Vietnamese restaurant and neighborhood favorite.

Although I enjoyed Midtown, I was hoping for more. I liked the eclectic and artsy vibe, but the area also seemed slightly run down and lacking energy and cohesion. I asked one storekeeper for suggestions of other stores and places to visit in Houston, and she asked, do you have a car? I said no, and she just sort of shrugged. That would probably be my biggest complaint about Houston—it’s just so big and spread out, that it’s difficult to explore on foot.

Back downtown, a few of my favorites included Discovery Park, a sprawling and well-utilized 12-acre urban park with two restaurants, gardens, and artwork. I observed several people gather for a free zumba class one evening, and was amazed to learn that similar free fitness classes (including yoga and hoop dancing) are offered at the park each night.

I also happened to stumble upon the City Hall Farmers Market at Tranquility Park, where I enjoyed a Pomegranate Cheesecake Crepe from Malange Creperie. The Wednesday mid-day farmers’ market features 35 vendors offering locally-grown produce and a variety of prepared foods to go. It was fun to watch the professional lunch crowd pour out of Houston’s many skyscrapers to enjoy lunch in the park with friends and co-workers.

The highlight and real purpose of my trip, through, was visiting the International Quilt Market and Quilt Festival, the biggest quilt show in the world. In between appointments and other obligations, I explored the show and admired the many amazing quilt exhibits. I was floored by the creativity and talent on display by quilters from all over the world.

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