Beer and the Great American Beer Festival

My husband likes to joke that they kicked him out of France because he knows nothing about wine. This is not entirely true – he knows more about wine than the average male, but perhaps not the average French male. He enjoys a glass of wine and can comment intelligently on the parfum and the subtleties of the flavors.

Truthfully, though, he’s a beer guy. He loves beer. Especially IPAs – which makes sense because San Diego, where he developed his taste for beer, has made a name for itself in the world of brew in large part through IPAs. Me – I can’t stand them. Just thinking about hops results in bitter beer face for me. But give me a good Belgian Trippel and I’m in heaven.

My Frenchie hubby loves the freedom that beer is allowed. Wine making in France follows strict rules: for example, fields cannot be irrigated – they must rely on the weather, the wines that have a “good” reputation tend to come from a single grape, and the land the grape comes from is often more important than the grape itself – it’s all about the “terroir.”

But with beer, if someone feels like throwing in banana or coriander, it’s fair game. Beer is a place where creativity is admired, sought after.

We got lucky this year – we got to go to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. For those who don’t know, GABF is an annual, three day event that draws over 50,000 people from around the world to sample the thousands of beers offered. When tickets go on sale online, they are gone in about 30 minutes. It all started with Charlie Papazian, nuclear engineer, teacher, founder of the Brewers’ Association, writer of The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, and overall awesome guy. With an equally awesome family who we’re lucky to be friends with.

Both San Diego and Colorado are meccas for beer, which works out well for us, as beer fans. I tasted the best beer I’ve ever had at GABF, and it was in the amateur section where home brewers pair with a brewery to develop their own home brew. This one was a Trippel, aged in a barrel that had hosted port wine and bourbon. Heaven.

So – here’s a few photos:

The line around the back of the convention center to get in

The line around the back of the convention center to get in

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So psyched to have tickets!

The crush to get in

The crush at the entrance

Going up the stairs ... so exciting...

Going up the stairs … so exciting…

We're in!

We’re in!

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Cheers!

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Random…

Next year we need pretzel necklaces, like this guy!

Next year we need pretzel necklaces, like this guy!

 

Photo Day: Antibes (Part 1)

Here’s the conversation I had with the guy at the bike shop yesterday:

Him: “Are you ready for the snow on Sunday?”

Me: Jaw hits the floor. “Wh- the- snow? Are you kidding me?”

Him: Big shrug and amused smile. “It’s only May. Welcome to Colorado!”

I don’t want snow. I want flip flops. Sunburns. I want the Riviera. I’ll have to live vicariously through my own pictures and memories. Maybe I’ll crank up the heater, don a tank top, close my eyes, and drink a glass of rosé.

Here’s Antibes:

A few years ago, we spent part of our summer in Antibes, France. For me, I got to attend a French immersion program and explore the south of France with the friends I met there. Fabulous. For my hubby, he was working. Hard. Sophia Antipolis, located in the south not far from Antibes, is a mini-Silicon Valley, home to a growing number of software companies. Stef’s job had a site there, so we thought: great! Summer in the south of France! It’ll be like an extended vacation! For him, not so much. Poor guy put in some serious hours and left our “vacation” exhausted. I made sure to take one for the team and did extra exploring and extra rosé drinking. I’m a good wife like that. Here are some photos from that adventure:

Looking over Antibes from the cape

Looking over Antibes from the cape

Centre International d'Antibes - my school (and inspiration for a YA novel I'm working on!)

Centre International d’Antibes – my school (and inspiration for a YA novel I’m working on!)

Healthy petunias partout

Healthy petunias partout

Cap d'Antibes - the oldest part of the village

Cap d’Antibes – the oldest part of the village

Swedish students celebrating the summer solstice

Swedish students celebrating the summer solstice

Funny story, this photo (above). Apparently, a group of Swedes comes to Antibes each year to welcome the summer solstice. We were eating at a pizzeria across the street and the owner was watching them, arms crossed over his chest, shaking his head. Inevitably, a couple of girls needed to use the facilities and made for his restaurant. Their blond locks decorated with leaves and flowers and their innocent young faces alight with mother earth goddess energy, they asked him if they could use the toilet. Reality crashed upon them. He chased them off with harsh, “Non!”s and “Only for customers! Buy my pizza if you want to use my toilet!” Crushed and desperate, they begged, but elicited no sympathy. They finally gave up and left, and he turned to us and complained about the crazy Swedes who do this dance every year and line up for his toilet. I was almost scared to ask where it was, because I actually needed to use it too, but he told me, “You, I don’t mind. You ate my pizza.”

Street in old Antibes

Street in old Antibes

Plage du ponteil in Antibes

Plage du ponteil in Antibes

Spices in the Marche Provencal

Spices in the Marche Provencal

This is what happens to cars parked on the narrow streets of France

This is what happens to cars parked on the narrow streets of France

Yummy pizza abounds in the South of France

Yummy pizza abounds in the South of France

The Culture of Taste

VegemiteMy first experience with Vegemite was when a friend offered me a spoonful.

“Want to try it?”

“What does it taste like?”

“Kind of chocolaty.” Smirk.

So I took the proffered spoon, chomped down, and promptly gagged, spit, then went on to do my own version of Tom Hank’s scraping off his tongue à la “Big.”

Vegemite does not taste anything like chocolate. Chocolate tastes, well, heavenly, and melts in your mouth, and makes you feel like you are floating on clouds. It elevates your psyche and instills lightness where darkness once existed, benevolence where once there was stress and anxiety. Chocolate could be the answer for world peace.

Vegemite is disgusting, foul, and doesn’t belong on any food shelf anywhere.

Yet the Brits and the Australians think it’s fantastic.

Clearly, there is a cultural component to our tastes in food. I wonder how much is nature vs. nurture. Why do American kids “have” to dip vegetables in ranch dressing (I’m holding out on this one – really hoping my son will eventually eat vegetables rather than scraping his tongue with his hand à la Tom Hanks any time I feed him veggies) yet no other culture seems to have this “need”? Why do we like the things we like?

Americans, in general, adore peanut butter. Yet ask your average French person how they feel about peanut butter and they will make the same face I made when I ingested Vegemite. Root beer – we Americans love a good root beer float, right? Yet the French find it disgusting – most will say it tastes like cough medicine.

On the flip side, anchovies. The vast majority of my American friends make a sour face and stick out their tongue at the mention of anchovies. But my French friends love to put it on pizza and Caesar salads. Anchovies rarely make the ingredient list for most pizza joints in the U.S., and when I tell my French friends that I’m not a fan, I’m greeted with a surprised, “Mais, porquoi pas ?”

Then there’s pastis. A French liquor, popular in the south of France as an aperitif, especially at the end of a hot summer day. It’s flavored with anise and tastes like black licorice to me – another thing many Americans don’t tolerate well. I sat at a restaurant table full of French people one summer evening, riddled with incredulous arguments as to the merits of pastis after I took a sip from my husband’s glass and declared as politely as I could that I’d prefer to order a cool glass of rosé, thank you very much.

That was not my biggest faux pas. We took a sailboat cruise in Greece one year, led by a ½ French, ½ Greek captain. He had an intense gaze, a fiery temper, and a fabulous sense of humor. I took notes on the trip determined to write him into one of my novels as the larger than life character he was. I was both fascinated by him and a little bit scared of him. One night, while we were docked in a charming small Greek coastal village with absolutely no nightlife, he popped open a bottle of Ouzo, Greece’s anise flavored liquor, and offered it to us. Not wanting to offend, I downed my glass full as quickly as possible. He offered another round. I drank. And again. Yet again, seriously straining my constitution. Then, thank God, the bottle was emptied, but wait, no! Let’s open another! There were seven of us on deck that night, I the lone female. My stomach started to get queasy, my head woozy, and I tried to refuse the next round, but my refusal was refused. I looked to my husband for help, but he was in ouzo bliss and reeled in by male bonding.

“Vas-y ! C’est bon !”

Me, with our boat, the Anatolie

Me, with our boat, the Anatolie

All in the name of politesse, I took my glass, closed my eyes, and downed it as quickly as I could, my seventh or eight or fifteenth glass, I’d lost count.

Another round came. I had plans for this one. When everyone tossed theirs back, I tossed mine, too. Right off the boat and into the water.

SPLASH!

“Qu-est que c’est?”

“What was what?” I tried to play innocent, but I’m a terrible liar. One of the other guys looked from me to my glass and back.

“Did you just dump your ouzo overboard?”

“What? Dump it? I… uh… yeah. I did. Sorry.”

The captain’s eyes flashed. “You dumped my ouzo overboard? My. Ouzo?”

“I’m really sorry. I, just, I couldn’t drink anymore.”

An incredulous reaming, half-serious, half-joking, ensued, and it was determined that I must go on trial. The captain grabbed the broken table leg and it became his gavel, my husband pleaded my case, and I was sentenced to singing. In front of everyone.

So, drunk and determined to give the offended captain a good show, I grabbed the gavel, turned it into my microphone, and gave the most rousing rendition of “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor” that boat had ever been privy to.

I definitely can’t stomach anything with anise now.

What other flavors have you found that are popular in one country but wouldn’t fly at all in your own? I didn’t even touch on “delicacies,” like snails, frog legs, bone marrow in France, guinea pigs in Peru, or No-Idea-What-Part-of-the-Cow that was in China (all of which I’ve eaten). I’d love to hear your stories!

The wonderful crew of the Anatolie

The wonderful crew of the Anatolie

Christmas Baking

DSC01405Among the things I swore I would never do if I became a mom:

1. Be a stay-at-home-mom.

Two kids in quick succession and I stepped away from my career – albeit temporarily – to (gasp) stay at home. Don’t tell anyone, but I kind of like it.

2. Feed my kids “kids food.”

“What is this ‘kid’s food’ nonsense? They’ll eat what we eat, the way we eat it!” the old me used to say. This was reinforced when I married a man from France, where “kid’s food” doesn’t exist. I stuck to my guns with Thing 1, then came Thing 2: the pickiest eater in history. My son will boycott entire meals, toss food disdainfully to the floor, or, my favorite: spit things out then scrape off his tongue with his fingers like his mouth has been violated. I haven’t given up entirely, but I admit I experience a small panic, even indignation, if we go to a restaurant and there’s no kid’s menu. Or dip of some kind. He’ll eat it if he can dip it. “Blueberries and ketchup? Whatever.” My new mantra.

3. Allow my child to kick the seat back in front of him on an airplane.

I was once the person on the airplane who avoided kids if at all possible. Whose flight experience could be ruined by a seat-kicking child. Now – hello karma – that kid is mine. I get it, poor lady who chose the seat in front of my son. I feel your pain, really I do. But when my son’s car seat is in place (No Way can we go without it, our little Houdini will wiggle his way out of any restraints other than a five-point harness) his knees are folded uncomfortably into his chest. He’s an active, exuberant toddler, constantly on the move. When nothing else can move, he kicks. My husband and I spend entire flights blocking his feet, trying to minimize the assault on the seat in front of him. I’m forever grateful to understanding fellow passengers, and I’ve found that the most gracious ones are those who have kids of their own. They’ve been there, too.

4. Emulate, in anyway, Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart.

After all, it’s so anti-feminist. Cliché. Expected, even. I had better things to do than be in the kitchen.

Thing is, though, I like to eat. When I eat, I want the food to be good. I don’t have the wallet nor the waistline to handle eating out all the time, so… I learned to cook. To play hostess. To make a room cozy and inviting. I get giddy, even, at the thought of the wide range of things that can come from flour, sugar, and eggs mixed together.

So. Freaking. Girly.

Yet, turns out I don’t mind.

I actually love cooking. I suspect more than one person in my life decided they wanted to be my friend because of something they ate at my house. I’m okay with that.

Christmastime, the oven spends more time on than off, my hands grow chapped, and the floors have a fine coat of flour as I bake an array of treats then box them up for gifts. I love every minute of it. I even pulled a baking (almost) all-nighter this year. So I’ve gone from studying all-nighters to partying all-nighters to up all night with babies to, now, Betty Crocker all-nighters.

Here are the sweets of my labors:

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Next up: Prime rib for Christmas Eve, and classic Swiss Fondue for Christmas Day.

I really love good food.

Fondue and Mousse Au Chocolat

I turn my dinner guests into guinea pigs. My first attempts at a new meal are often when we invite friends over. So far, no one has complained. Fondue is an old stand by, but this was my first attempt at chocolate mousse.

May isn’t the best month for fondue, but it was requested by my friends back in March, then the dinner kept getting pushed down the calendar… did I mention I live in California? This is what we do. Luckily, last week was cold and rainy, so fondue turned out to be the perfect remedy.

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Two things broke me out of my Kraft Mac and Cheese habit from college. One – a good girlfriend who was a brilliant cook. I started hanging out at her house, learning what I could. Thank you, Shawna! The second – my husband. On our first “Come on over for dinner” dates, I served him quesadillas and spaghetti with packaged sauce mix. He was gracious and complimentary. So I tried something a little more complicated. He was more complimentary, even excited, and cleaned his plate. So I kept trying. I stopped using packages and started using fresh ingredients. I got bolder, more experimental. Today, my friends know me as a really good cook, and I’m convinced it’s the reason our parties are always so crowded. And to this day, my husband has never once said a bad thing about anything I’ve cooked. At worst, he’s been silent, and when I say something like, “That was horrible, I’m sorry,” he’ll pat my hand and say, “it wasn’t your best effort.” So I keep at it.

The chocolate mousse was a recipe that, six or seven years ago, I would have taken one look at and decided to buy a gallon of ice cream instead. Lots of steps, constant stirring, and temperature dependant… but it came out fantastic.

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Lost in Translation: Menus and Restaurants

I see these restaurants in France all the time:

326 Only in France

Because all Asian food is pretty much the same, right? And no, this is not some trendy fusion restaurant. Out of curiousity, I tried one once. It was a bland, fast food type of cuisine that amounted to soggy vegetables and meat bathed in either soy or teriyaki sauce. Nothing like the widely varied and often spicy dishes that could be offered from any of these countries. For a country so renowned for its food, France has a lot to learn about the cuisine offered outside its own borders!

Poorly translated menu items are part of the charm of traveling abroad. We had some classics in China; I lost track of how many times we said, “What the what!?” Here are a few gems:

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Then there was the beachside restaurant in a small Cote d’Azur village where I’m pretty sure they weren’t really serving “wolf” and where I decided to avoid the “crusty of salmon” altogether.

Here, in the U.S., we find plenty of mistakes. There’s the most obvious: the use of the word “entrée.” It means the first course, entering the meal if you will. But in the U.S. we almost always use it for the list of main dishes. Then there’s a restaurant near us called “La Café.” Decent food, but my husband gets a nervous tick every time we pass it because “café” is masculine, so it should be “Le Café.” Gender mistakes don’t bother Americans much because we don’t use them. But imagine the irritation that those of us grammar lovers experience when someone uses a double negative: “I don’t have no bread,” and you can see how my husband must feel.

At a nice, upscale San Diego restaurant my husband ordered the bouillabaisse. He used the French pronunciation, boo-ya-bais, or for the phonetically inclined: [bujabes]. The waitress asked him to repeat himself several times, then exclaimed:

“Oh! You mean the bool-a-bass-ey!”

Yes. That’s it exactly.

It can be a challenge, trying to order a croissant or any other French food here. My tongue wants to use the French pronunciation, but then I get looked at either in confusion, or I get a big eye roll because clearly, I’m being pretentious. Using the American pronunciation ensures that I will be understood, but it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

I’d love other examples people have experienced with menu items that got lost in translation. Bring them on!

Belle Ile

I can’t resist posting more photos from Bretagne/Brittany. These are from a trip we took to Belle Ile, just off the coast. Beautiful, windblown place. We rented a tiny little “Zest” and scooted all over the island, braving the wind and rain! We ate our fill of crepes, galettes, and drank plenty of cider. Great trip!

Harbor entrance at Le Palais

Harbor entrance at Le Palais

Le Palais

Le Palais

La Pointe de Poulains

La Pointe de Poulains

Sailboat at Ster-Vraz

Sailboat at Ster-Vraz

Ster Vraz

Ster Vraz

Excellent Galettes

Excellent Galettes

Mussels clinging to the rocks on the Plage de Donnant

Mussels clinging to the rocks on the Plage de Donnant

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Lunch at Creperie Coton

Lunch at Crêperie Coton