Mojito Cupcakes

I know, I know – it’s been far to long since I’ve posted, but don’t fret, I’m still alive! It’s just been a crazy few weeks…

In the last few months I’ve returned to the United States after more than 7 months abroad, I moved to a new apartment in the awesome Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn and I started my senior year of colleges. It’s been quite the adventure these last 2 months settling into a new place, a new routine, a new life. So in the spirit of this new life, I am working on a new banner with my roommate and I am planning on posting a lot more in the future!! I promise! In fact, I already have many posts a brewin’ in my head, especially as the leaves turn and my favorite ingredient – PUMPKIN! – is starting to hit the shelves!

So to start things off, here are some cupcakes that I made a few weeks ago.

It was my friends 21st birthday, and in the spirit of all things alcoholic, I made some mojito cupcakes! I think I’m going to start adding alcohol to everything I made now as the addition of rum made these super tasty. Now all my roommates and I are big fans of mojito’s. So much so that when we walk into a party, we bring everything that is needed to make them – rum, limes, mint and sugar! We are walking bar. The cupcakes and the frosting both had copious amounts of rum and lime and I added some crushed mint to the frosting to give it the classic mojito taste.

MOJITO CUPCAKES

(Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

INGREDIENTS:

Cupcakes:

  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup mint leaves, bruised
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • Zest and juice of 1½ limes
  • 2 tablespoons white rum
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting:

  • 1½ cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4¼ cups powdered sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons white rum
  • Bunch of crushed mint

DIRECTIONS:

1) Combine the buttermilk and the ½ cup mint leaves in a small saucepan over medium heat. Warm until just starting to steam (do not simmer), then remove from the heat and cover. Let steep for 15 to 30 minutes. Once finished, strain the milk into a bowl using a fine mesh sieve. The milk may appear curdled or clumpy, but don’t worry, it will come back together. Press on any milk solids and mint leaves to extract all the liquid possible. Give the milk a quick stir to smooth it out and set aside.

2) While the mint is steeping in the milk, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners; set aside.

3) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

4) In an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter and sugar together until pale, light, and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

5) Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the eggs one at at time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.

6)  Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the lime zest, lime juice, vanilla extract and rum. Mix until combined. (The mixture may start to look curdled at this point, but don’t worry, it will all come back together, power on!)

7) Reduce the mixer speed low. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk in two batches. Mix only until just incorporated, using a rubber spatula to give it one last mix by hand.

8) Divide the batter between the muffin cups. Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until just slightly golden and a skewer shows only moist crumbs attached, rotating the pan at the halfway point.

10) Allow cupcakes to cool for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack. B

11) To make the frosting, whip the butter on medium-high speed of an electric mixer using the whisk attachment for 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually add the powdered sugar, mixing and scraping the sides of the bowl until all is incorporated. Give it a mix on medium speed for about 30 seconds.

12) Add the lime juice, rum and mint and mix on medium-high speed until incorporated and fluffy. If the frosting appears a bit too soft, add some additional sugar, one spoonful at a time until desired consistency is reached.

13) Frost cupcakes and garnish with a lime wedge and sprig of fresh mint.

To the Blue City: Chefchaouen

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to venture up north to the blue city of Chefchaouen with some friends. Given that I myself had absolutely no idea where we were going, I thought a little map might be useful. Where I am in Ifrane is A and where we went is B!

Now according to google maps, this trip should in reality take about 3 and half to 4 hours. What I have come to learn quite quickly here in Morocco is that time is a relative term. You say the bus leaves at 1 when in all likelihood it won’t leave until at least 2 if not later. A trip that should take 4 hours really is going to take 5 or 6 when you factor in all the tea breaks and driving skills of the driver. That being said, it was still a fun ride up, albeit a little bit hot and perhaps just a few minutes too long. 

We arrived in Chefchaouen Friday evening and it is indeed a blue city. All the buildings are painted different shades of blues, lilacs and purples. It reminded me a lot of Santorini, which has a similar color pattern. After finding our hostel, the first order of business was food. I was super excited as I had yet to try any authentic Moroccan food!! I was not disappointed as I munched on a delicious chicken tagine along with some traditional mint tea. 

Saturday morning we made our was to Akchour, a small village that sits at the base of a beautiful ravine. Little did we know that what was supposed to be an easy hike would turn into an escapade over rocks, through the water and up a waterfall. I’m not complaining though because it was amazing! The water we waded through was crystal clear and so cold – the perfect relief from the heat of the sun. We made our way up to the top of the river to a natural bridge known as “Gods Bridge.” Since we were in the water so much, I ditched my shoes and did most of the hike barefoot. My feet were feeling pretty sore at the end!!

After Akchour, we continued further north to Oued Laou, which apparently is one of the most beautiful beaches in Morocco. If that is considered the most beautiful beach, there must be some pretty low standards here because it was awfully dirty. Even with the litter and many dead fish in the water, it was still fun to hang out in the water and lay on the beach for a few hours.

Back in Chefchaouen, we had dinner up on a terrace overlooking the city where I had the most delicious couscous in the world. I don’t even remember what was in it, but it was glorious! We headed into the shops of the old medina to do some last minute bargaining before they closed up for the night and I think it’s safe to say that my bags are going to be a lot heavier going home!

It was such a wonderful weekend and some of my friends who have been here a month said that it was one of the best trips they have been on so far!

Welcome to Morocco!

I know I know, I haven’t updated in ages. But hopefully you’ve been following my adventures on another blog that Charlotte and I updated during our recent whirlwind European adventure. Check it out hereThe harbor in Split, Croatia

Onwards to new things now!!!

After finishing out the semester in Paris, which included approximately three days of school and four days in New York, Charlotte and I jetted off to Budapest, which was the the launching pad of our six weeks of training, busing, and boating through Europe. After a fantastic and unforgetttable trip, you’ll find me now in Ifrane, Morocco, a small town nestled in the Atlas Mountains. What am I doing here you might ask? Well, I ask myself that same question, but I suppose the simplest answer is that I’m here for the month to study some Arabic.

I was feeling very reluctant to come at first. After spending 6 months abroad, I was really starting to get a little homesick. My little side trip to New York in May made me realize how much I missed New York, but I’m trying to suck it up and make the best of my time that I have here in Morocco.

I was picked up at the Fes airport on Friday and pretty much dropped into my room with little instruction except to be at class at 8 am on Monday. Since I came in the middle of the summer, most of the students who have been here since May had taken the weekend off to go to the beach. Had I known I didn’t need to be here until Sunday, I probably would have stayed a few more days in Paris, but alas, here I am! 

The university I am at, Al Ahkawayn University, is a Western style school where most of the classes are conducted in English and the campus has a very American style campus feel (although obviously not like NYU! I tried to describe the concept of NYU being in and of the city of the New York and I was faced with some very confused looks). Honestly, this is the closest thing to a campus I have ever really been on since I did college tours back in 2008. My roommate Sofia is from Meknes, about an hour from here, and is studying International Relations. There are about 600 regular summer school students here now and around 1800 who are here during the school year. I’m not quite sure how many people there are in my program, but I guess I’ll find out tomorrow morning!

After spending my first day holed up in my room, catching up a Mad Men and venturing to the gym for the first time in months, I went out into Ifrane today. I really can’t tell you that much about it because unless there is a whole part I missed, it’s quite a small town. It actually snows in this region during the winter, so many of the hotels cater to skiers and many of the houses have a chalet type feel to them. At first I felt like the only person dressed in shorts and t-shirt, but in the center of town there were definitely some tourists dressed in the same garb as me, making me feel not quite as self-conscious. So that’s about all there is to say so far of my two days here! I feel like I speak more French here than I did in France, which is quite comical. After going weeks on a travelers budget, it’s nice to have a dining hall fully stocked with everything to eat, especially salad! Hopefully I’ll have some good updates in the coming weeks. I’m hoping that I’ll find some good tagine or couscous somewhere. It’s Morocco, so it has to be somewhere, right?

Starting Spring Break: Venezia

Spring break time!!

Yes, I know, it’s the end of April already but for some reason NYU Paris seems to think that this is the perfect time for a two week break so that we can come back and have 10 days of school until the end of the semester. It’s pretty crazy in my opinion but I don’t have any say in the schedule making.

Anyway…it has been a long awaited spring break and at last this morning, my friend Jess and I touched down into rainy Italy. I have never been to Italy (unless you count one run down a ski slope on the border of Switzerland) so I’m really excited to be here officially for the first time. I figured I’d try to update the blog as we go along every few days or so instead of writing up some big posts at the end. Unfortunately the pictures will only be iPhone quality, but don’t you worry, I’ll have some better camera shots upon our return. 20120413-222909.jpg

Getting into Venice was easy as pie (or should I say pizza pie?) from the airport. Venice is composed of many islands with the main one beings famous for its snaking canals and gondola boats. We are staying right off the main island on Guidecci in an adorable little guest house. All we had to do was jump into the water ferry and we were here! Unfortunately it’s been pouring rain all day and there doesn’t appear to be any let up in the forecast, but we’re trying not to let that keep us down. 20120413-222701.jpg

Everything is Venice is accessible by boats, which is amazing!!! You just pop on and off the boats like you would a bus or metro. There are no cars allowed on the main island, so boats are really your only option in addition to walking. As cliche would have it, the gondolas are everywhere, with men standing on every street corner trying to get you to buy a ride. Somehow I don’t think we’re going to pony up the 50 euro, but they are fun to look at. I still don’t quite get how they move with such a tiny little oar. 20120413-222138.jpg

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We went to Basilica San Marco this afternoon, probably one of the most famous destinations in Venice. I’m still amazed by how different the architecture of cathedrals varies from country to country. From the gothic cathedrals in France to the grande churches in London, the Basilicas here are much more colorful, decorated with millions of tiles depicting different biblical scenes with lots and lots of gold! The marble used out front is just stunning. Standing in front of the Basilica San Marco, even with all the tourists milling about was amazing.

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Of course what post would be complete without a food update. Keeping it light for lunch, we just had some sandwiches, but I had the most amazing gelato in the afternoon. It’s no joke the the Italians know what they are doing in that department. After an afternoon nap (we were up at 5 this morning) we did some more wandering before getting, yes, you guessed it some pizza!!!! And then even more gelato. I think I can say that Italian GROM puts my beloved upper west side GROM to shame.20120413-221917.jpg

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First impressions of Venice – beautiful and colorful, although PACKED with tourists! I heard French, German, Chinese, etc… I guess this is only to be expected in all european destinations, so I’m trying not to let it mar my experience and rather am accepting that I to am a raincoat wearing, camera toting, guidebook reading tourist myself.

One year ago today…

It’s been one year to the day since I heard some pesky nurses whispering about me as I sat in the waiting room at Dr. Krevitt’s office. One year since Charlotte assured me they were just whispering about my awesome vest. One year since I was seated in the doctors office to hear the fateful words – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I think I could tell you every single thing that happened to me on March 8th, 2011 except perhaps for the feeling I had the exact moment that the doctor told me my diagnosis.

After perhaps 30 seconds of what I guess was pure and complete shock, even having a moment of not knowing what Hodgkin’s was, I obviously burst into tears. My next thought was “Oh shit, I’m leaving the country on Thursday!” I think this might have actually been the first thing I said to Dr. Krevitt after I calmed down from my initial outburst of tears. He assured me not to worry and that I could probably still go as it didn’t seem I would have to start treatment right away. In retrospect, it was pretty pathetic that all I could think about in that moment was my ski trip to France and not the fact that I had just been diagnosed with cancer. But alas, clearly my mind works in strange ways.

By a stroke of luck, my Uncle Peter happened to be at a meeting in the neighborhood and was by my side in 20 minutes. Charlotte met me within the hour and by that evening, my dad had flown in from North Carolina to be with me. Another defining moment of that day – seeing perhaps one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life – The Adjustment Bureau. Even though I was clearly in a state of shock that day, I think I was lucid enough to recognize what an awful movie that was. Matt Damon, really? I thought you were better than that.

To say that it was a whirlwind week would be an understatement. Perhaps what I remember most about that week is that after being diagnosed on Tuesday afternoon, I had a surgical biopsy neck on Thursday morning and by Thursday evening I was on a plane to Geneva. I was so lucky to be able to go on my planned spring break, even though I was battling a stomach bug and the side-effects of the post-surgery drugs. Going to the Winter X Games in Europe for a few days erased any remnant of the fact that I was headed back to New York to start chemotherapy.

Chillin’ on the slopes: 

This is the most delicious steak that was never eaten because I was too nauseous: 

These past few days and weeks I have been thinking a lot about those initial weeks after my diagnosis. The scans, the doctors, the hospitals, the thought that I might have a ulceror or a hernia, the incessant questioning as to whether I was pregnant or not (no joke, I was tested more time than I can count!), the chopping off of 15 inches of hair, the surgical cleaning of our apartment to rid it all of germs, and most especially, the people who stood beside me the whole time. There are so many things that happened it’s hard to remember them all, but I do know that I couldn’t have done a single one of those things by myself.

My oncologist – Dr. Moskowitz: A wig party never seemed more appropriate: 

Throughout the past year, I had 12 rounds of chemo, 3 surgeries, 4 PET/CT scans, 80 thousand viles of blood drawn and throughout it all, I always had someone with me. My dad, Charlotte, my uncles, my goofy roommates, my brothers, my step-mom, my friends from near and far, my aunts and cousins, etc… I am so thankful to all the people I had in my life. They helped me through all my fears, all my worries, all my sleepless nights and all my chemo cravings. Most especially to my best friend Charlotte, who was at more chemo treatments, doctors visits, and scans than anyone else. The few times that I showed up to see Dr. Moskowitz without her, he would always inquire as to where she was. I think she heard me complain about my hot flashes and red pee more than most people would like to know. Yes, if you must know, after each chemo treatment, you pee red from the adryamicin in the cocktail of drugs. I myself was always giddy at the prospect of knowing I would pee red 😉

First chemo: Charlotte’s 20th birthday party, a mere 24 hours after my first chemo: The night that eating half a cow was the only right thing to do: 

So what’s changed since last year? Well, quite honestly, so much and not so much all at the same time. I still got to go to France, although a semester late. I couldn’t eat sushi for 6 months, but now I can eat it anytime I want. I got to see Daniel Radcliffe in the flesh, not once but TWICE! I had more than my fair share of chemo brain moments, not even remembering what I’d had for dinner the night before. I can really only laugh at people who complain about nausea now because they really have no idea what true nausea is really like. I was radioactive a few times – ya, no big deal – and somehow managed not to turn green. I still have scar on my chest from where my port was that I like to play off as a shark bite sometimes.

No more hair!! 

Yes, Dan Rad and I had a moment 🙂 Charlotte says I baked this pie. I don’t even remember how I made a lattice top: 

Watch out!!!! 
I still try to live my life like I would have 366 days ago, but I will always have had this experience in my life now. Would I have wished it to have never happened? Obviously. But now that is has, I can’t imagine life any other way. It’s kind of this love hate relationship. On the outside I absolutely hated being a cancer patient, but I learned to accept it and now realize it will always be part of me, even if not outwardly visible. Sure, pulling the cancer card every now and then was nice (I always got the front seat) and somehow people tend to give you nice things when you’re sick (iPad anyone?), but it’s pretty nice to remember that right now, I’m really no different than anyone else. Maybe a few less lymph nodes in my body and this awful baby hair that is to damn soft, but then again, can one really complain about having soft hair?

It’s just so easy…

PS – In case you were wondering, yes, everything from last year was blogged in great detail. Where you might ask? HERE! Check it out if you feel like it 🙂

Creamy Spinach & Tomato Pasta

Back in the States, I was very much an eat dinner around 7ish type of person. In high school I ate dinner with my family just about every night around the table (or counter I should really say) and in New York, I would either make a meal for myself or to share with my roommates. In Paris, I’ve found that eating anytime before 8 seems to be quite taboo. I walked into a pizza place on one of my first days in Paris around 7:15 and they said it was too early to order. How crazy is that? I guess eating later goes in line with the whole mentality of taking a much longer and enjoyable lunch here, so you’re satiated until an 8 o’clock dinner.

Trying to be the best Parisian I can while I’m here, I find that I’m falling into this pattern of eating later myself. Last night, after having a lunch around 1:00, I looked at my clock and saw that it was already 8:15 and I had yet to start making anything to eat. I had bought these tomatoes earlier in the week and didn’t want them to go bad, so even though it was late, I was still hungry and this was an easy, yet very delicious recipe to whip up in about 20 minutes. By 8:45 I was back at my computer watching some Breaking Bad. (Side note – everyone needs to watch this show. It’s so good!)

Cooking for myself if often challenging, which is why I love to bake, as baked goods are easy to transport the following day to give as gifts. Last year I at least had the option of giving my leftovers to my roommates. Now that I’m all by myself, I try to remember that whatever I’m going to make I’m probably going to have to eat for 3 or 4 days depending on how big the servings are. I guess in theory the answer to all this would be to make food in smaller quantities, but sometimes it’s easier to just use a whole onion or a whole pack of spinach instead of having small amounts of these ingredients left over, which I often find go bad before I get the chance to use again.
This is really simple pasta dish that I will not mind having in my fridge for a few days. I’ve been on a soy kick lately, as I was trying to limit my dairy intake a few weeks ago when I was feeling sick, so instead of half & half, I used soy and some ermante cheese I had in my fridge. I did notice that my cheese tended to clump up a bit, so using parmesan cheese (and possibly cows milk) the cheese mixture might combine with the pasta a little better. Cooked spinach is so delicious, especially when you add cheese. I still have some leftover, but it’s mostly pasta now, as I ate most of the spinach last night 😉 In the end, the leftovers somehow always manage to get eaten, but I can’t wait to have roommates again next year to eat it fresh!
Creamy Spinach & Tomato Pasta 

(Adapted from Eat Yourself Skinny)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3/4 lb. whole wheat pasta (I used penne)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 (5 oz) package baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth broth
  • 1/4 cup milk, half & half or soy milk
  • 1 oz. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 (8 oz) container grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

DIRECTIONS:

1) Cook pasta according to package directions.

2) While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add your sliced shallot; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes or until translucent.

3) Add spinach and broth; cover and cook for 1 minute.

4) Add milk, 3/4 of the Parmesan cheese and the black pepper.  Stir to combine; cook for 3 minutes and remove from heat.
 
5) Combine spinach mixture, pasta and tomatoes in large bowl.  Garnish with parsley and remaining cheese.

6) Enjoy 🙂

La Passage du Grand Cerf

I’ve written about the flaneur before – a person who walks the city in order to experience it – and now am genuinely starting to feel like one. I’ve been in Paris for just about 2 months now and no day goes by that I don’t think for at least a few moments of how lucky I am to be able to walk along the streets of this amazing city. I think I can safely say that I’m past the honeymoon phase of my stay here in Paris. I still love it, but I’m feeling more comfortable, more at home, less touristy. I don’t feel the need rush to go out and do everything all at once, which is exactly how I felt when I first arrived. Of course, my to do list is still ten pages long, so if I plan on checking it all off before the end of May, I’d better keep the pace up.

A glass covered arcade in the midst of the busy 2nd arrondisment, La Passage du Grand Cerf transports you back in time to the 19th century, right to the heart of the time when Baudelaire was writing about his famous flaneur. I can only begin to imagine what it must have felt like to walk down this alleyway 200 years ago with the huge arching glass windows letting in so much beautiful light and the abundance of little shops and restaurants that line the way. 

Today, it’s home to some small boutiques, including this amazing one that sells all sorts of knobs. I kind of have this weird obsession with knobs. Last year I spent over 50 dollars at anthropologie buying new knobs for my dresser. It might have something to do with the fact that I want to own everything in the home section of that store. Either way, I spent a solid 15 minutes checking out these ceramic little balls until I realized it was going to be silly for me to buy them as I don’t even have a dresser here to put them on and I have 10 perfectly good knobs waiting for me back at home in New York. They’re still so pretty to look at!

After my stroll through the passage, I took a rest at a cafe right across the road and sat drinking my coffee and gazing at the people who happened to go down through the arcade. It somehow manages to vanish within the busy landscape of present day Paris. Many people didn’t even seem to notice it as they walked down the main drag, while a few happened to turn their head upon seeing the cherry red carpets and stopped to take a peak inside, much like I did.

Recently, I have been coming to grips with how much of a spectacle Paris is. Everything has such intense meaning and importance to the tourists who come to see it, but I often feel that the magic that made Paris so wonderful in the early 20th century has somehow been lost behind all the pomp and pageantry of 21st century Paris. It tries so hard to cater to the many millions of tourists who pass through its borders every year and sometimes the original significance of these places is forgotten. Le Passage du Grand Cerf, to me at least, is a reminder of what the splendor of Paris used to be like, before it became glossed over. Sure, the stores and boutiques are not hundreds of years old like the passage itself, but the archways and windows contain a secret history that only those who search for it will find. So many people come to Paris today and only hit up the big landmarks and sites. While that’s a valuable thing to do, one must go beyond the sheen and find places like Le Passage du Grand Cerf in order to be a true flaneur.

A Belgian Journey: Part II – Bruges

And we continue…

Saturday morning we hopped on another train headed northwest to Bruges. (English spelling – Bruges, Everyone else – Brugge). In the completely typic cliche, I have been wanting to go to Bruges ever since seeing In Bruges almost 4 years ago now with a friend back in Raleigh. Now, as much as the film might have inspired the trip, Bruges is an amazing town that is in fact listed in the UNESCO World Heritage registrar and because of its many canals is sometimes said to be the “Venice of the North.”

Now about those canals…Lets just say I’m going to have to go back to Bruges in the spring or summer one day as the canals this past weekend were frozen over. So frozen that people were actually walking on them. Although my friends wanted to go down and try to walk on it, I was not feeling that adventurous and preferred my watching others risk their lives from the sidelines.

Another thing that we missed out on was climbing the Belfry tower, which was closed for renovation. If you have seen In Bruges, you know what tower I’m talking about. Despite the frozen canals and the closed Belfry, Bruges was still amazing.

We stayed in a the most wonderful three story house that was a 5 minute walk from the main plaza. Saturday we really just spent walking around. Although freezing, it was beautifully sunny and we were able to take in all the sights with some amazing light. After realizing that the Belfry was closed, our next stop was the choclate shop Chocolate Line that prides themselves on having chocolate paint. Yes, chocolate paint. I didn’t purchase any paint but I was almost tempted to buy some chocolate lipstick. 

One interesting fact about Bruges is that they have there very own Michaleangle sculpture, called Madonna and Child, at the Church of our Lady. We paid a paltry 1 euro to see it. How awesome is that? One thing I loved about Bruges was being able to tell where we were just by looking up. From almost any point in town, you could see the Beflry, the Church of our Lady, or Saint Salvatores Cathedral. I of course loved this as I am a bit obsessive compulsive when it comes to knowing directions and orientation. The cobblestone streets and little alleyways lend themselves to perfect walking channels and more often than not, one had to be on the lookout for horse-drawn carriages (all tourists now) rather than cars themselves.

Of course, the afternoon continued with a stop for waffles and frites. Could one have a more perfect meal? I think not. After lunch, the cold constantly being a our preferred topic of conversation we popped into another cafe for some hot chocolate to warm out hands. I don’t know how they do it, but between the waffles and the chocolate, Belgium certainly knows their sweets. Instead of premixed hot chocolate, we were given warm milk and a chocolate square on a stick to mix in. This is how hot chocolate is served at Aroma in Israel and I’m sure at some other cafes, but I have never seen such a huge chunk of chocolate on a stick like this. It was the perfect internal heater for our bodies and our cold fingers. 

As a birthday present from my uncle, we got to experience some fine dining Saturday night at the Park Restaurant. Now I don’t know if the manager was expecting us or was just outside taking a smoke break, but as we walked up to the door he said “you must be Maya,” and welcomed us inside. Door service in the middle of Bruges? Pretty cool. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but I can say it was definitely up there in my top ten list of meals I have had in my life 🙂 First course: Foie gras with fresh fig Second course: vegetable soup Main Course: beef tenderloin with potatoes à gratinBirthday tarte tatine! 

Our following and last day in Bruges was rather overcast and snowy. We ventured to the other side of town to a quaint little crepe restaurant and then went to a chocolate museum. The museum itself was a little haphazardly put together and some of the English translations were questionable, but being the baker that I am, it was very fun to see the whole process of how chocolate is made and why chocolate has become so popular in France. At the end, they had a nifty little demonstration showing how to make chocolate pralines. New mission in life – learn how to make chocolate truffles! 

All in all, I’d say it was a pretty spectacular weekend. I would have wished for warmer weather, but then again, one can’t always travel when it’s warm! The idea of not knowing the language or my way around it still a new concept that I’ve been taking in stride as I do more travel in France but it has also reminded me that in the technology souped up world we live in, travel is in fact, so easy. In away, I almost wished I had left my iPhone at home to cut me off from the world completely, although not knowing that Whitney Houston died until 24 hours after the fact was certainly disturbing 😉 I think now my nerves have been calmed at the prospect of doing future travels in even more foreign lands and I am now ready to conquer Europe! Croatia anybody??

A Belgian Journey: Part I – Brussels

Only three days away from Paris and it feel like I was completely displaced from reality. For my first trip out of France of the semester, I went off to Brussels for the weekend with some friends and somehow it seemed so much longer. It was an absolutely amazing trip that I wish never had to end, but in a way, it’s nice to be able to call Paris home now and walking into my apartment last night after three nights in foreign beds was quite the lovely (albeit cold) feeling.

We started off on Thursday night to Brussels. I found an apartment on airBnB, which was seriously amazing. Anyone who wants to travel should really look into it – it’s cheap, easy, and instead of hostel or hotel, you have a real apartment to go back to with amenities and such. Awesome find! Anyway…

Our first evening in Brussels was spent walking around looking for a bar, but after realizing Brussels in not quite the happening on Thursday night, we ventured back to our place with some beers and cookies in hand. The beer selection here is really out of control. Even in the tiny corner bodega, they had at least 45 varieties of beer and interesting ones too. I should preface this all by saying I have been on antibiotics this week fighting a bronchitis type infection, so unfortunately, my alcohol consumption was greatly impeded this weekend, although that doesn’t mean I could look at all the pretty bottles!

Friday morning we started the day by walking towards the Mannekin Piss and a place that I heard about which great waffles. (New thought in life – only in Belgium does one find true authentic waffles). Lets just say the walk was worth it for the waffles, but not the Mannekin Piss. Seriously, I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s a little boy, perhaps a little more than 2 feet tall, peeing. No great shakes, although there were certainly enough tourists around to make you think other wise. 

More exciting than Mannekin Piss himself are all the chocolate statues made out of him…

Now to say it was cold during our stay in Brussels was an understatement. It was freezing! And there was snow and ice on the ground, making walking treacherous at times. So after our early morning waffles, after which our fingers almost fell off trying to eat them, we went into a cute little cafe to grab some coffee and warm up. 

Perhaps one of the biggest tourist draws is the Grand Place, which unlike Mannekin Piss, is actually a beautiful grand piazza with old buildings gilded in gold. We spent a few minutes ogling the buildings and trying to get some good pictures, but once again, the cold forced us to move on somewhat quickly as standing anywhere for too long was not comfortable. 

Our next stop was the Magritte Museum, dedicated to the works of the surrealist artist Rene Magritte. I really had no knowledge about who or what he did before we got there, but I left feeling a whole lot smarter about surrealist art. I don’t mangle up what he believed in completely, so I highly recommend you take a look at his wiki page and ponder this thought…

This is not a pipe:

Now once again, the lovely thing about having a nice apartment to go back to and not a dingy hostel was that at 4 in the afternoon, feeling exhausted and cold, we decided to head back to the apartment and take some well deserved naps. Of course, we didn’t make it all the way back without a stop at a chocolate shop first though!

After some lovely naps in a gloriously heated apartment, we made our way to dinner at Fin de la Siecle, near Grand Place. Now, I don’t know who here has been to Brussels before, but somehow the streets do not make sense! We were walking down towards the middle of town and then I see on the map that the restaurant is off to the right a bit, so I say, “hey, why don’t we try a new direction and walk right?” 15 minutes later, after stopping to ask for directions, I discovered we had somehow gone in the complete wrong direction even though the map seemed to say otherwise. Being a big fan of maps and having a generally pretty good sense of direction, I was incredibly distressed. All was well though when we finally got to the restaurant and had a delicious and cheap meal. 

We rounded out at the evening at a tourist trap of a bar called Delirium Cafe. They are famous for having over 2000 types of beer. All I honestly took from the place was that it was loud and crowded. Apparently I was the only one who was unimpressed though, as it was  packed with hundreds of people! 

Even in our one day in Brussels, I felt like we accomplished a lot. Although we were in a foreign country from our host home of France, and especially from home home in New York, it was nice to still be able to speak the language. I’m realizing more and more that I have not really done a lot of traveling in countries where I don’t know the language at all. Through my travels in France and Swizerland, French has always gotten me by and in Israel, I can understand and speak enough Hebrew that I don’t feel like a total stranger. As I do more traveling in Europe I guess I’m going to quickly have to accept that it’s going to probably happen more often than not that I’ll stick out like a sore thumb not knowing the language or knowing my bearings. I guess this is just another excuse to learn more languages, although French, Hebrew and Arabic are hard enough as it is now!

In order to not make this the longest post in history and as I’m far to lazy to edit all my photos at once, I shall post about our two days in Bruges later this week.

I leave you with the quote and the realization that I must have been born on a farm because I loved Bruges!

“Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.” -Colin Farrel in In Bruges

How Jeanne become Joan (A Day Trip To Rouen)

Doing day trips out of Paris on the train is really the best! The trains here are so simple (actually purchasing the tickets, not so much, but once you get on the train it’s easy) and within an hour you are miles out of the bustle of Paris in the beautiful French countryside. My friends and I decided to venture to Rouen yesterday which is the historic capital city of the Normandy Region and the site where Jeanne d’Arc (I’m going to go with the French version here) was burned at the stake – gruesome, I know.

We started our morning by visiting one of many cathedrals we would see during our day. Rouen is known as “The city of a hundred spires” and I would say it certainly lives up to that title. Almost all the churches have weathered fires, the 100 Years War, religious wars, extensive bombings during WWII, etc…. As we walked around, many of them were in the midst of being refurbished once again, leaving the outsides covered in scaffolding, but the insides remained absolutely stunning and beautiful.

The abbey church of Saint Ouen: Almost all the churches we saw were being refurbished and modernized: Inside Saint Ouen with its huge organ: The church of Saint Maclou:The Cathedral of Notre Dame in the center of town is absolutely huge! From the outside it doesn’t seem it, but from the inside, if really seems bigger than Notre Dame in Paris. While is doesn’t have the most intricate stained glass or embellishments on the inside that many cathedrals do, it’s vaulted ceilings are still quite impressive.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame:The 28 meter high ribbed vault ceiling: A model of the cathedral:Surprisingly, the least impressive church we saw was the church of Saint Jeanne d’Arc, which was opened in 1979. It was built on the site where she was burned, yet honestly, was not that nice. I guess in terms of modern architectural design it was interesting – I seriously think it looks like a fish – but for a building that’s to pay homage to a great French heroine, it seemed a little out of place.

You can’t really tell, but I’m telling you, it looks like a fish:Inside still had some beautiful stained glass:We had lunch at this very cute little tea shop called Dame Cakes. They had a menu full of exotic teas and drinks along with a delicious looking display of cakes, brownies and pies. I had an array of different savory cakes with smoked salmon, cheese and duck. I also had a piece of rhubarb meringue pie for dessert. I will always love rhubarb, but I’m not quite sure how I felt about the meringue on top. Regardless, it was a wonderful place for a lunch break in our afternoon.

Dame Cakes: 

A trio of savory Dame cakes: 
Rhubarb meringue pie: 

After lunch, we headed to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which was an extensive collection of paintings and sculptures representing almost ever school of European painting. Given the proximity of Rouen to Giverny, they had a impressive collection of impressionist paintings, including Monet and Renoir.

Monet: Renoir: ModiglianiThis one was just really really big!

From little bits of history I pulled throughout the day, I think I now have a pretty good idea of the story of Jeanne d’Arc. In summary, she was a French peasant girl who led the French army to several victories in the 100 Years War. She was captured in 1430 by the English, who put here on trial in Rouen for heresy. She was held in a tower, that you can still see today, until she was burned at the stake in1431 at the ripe young age of 19. One interesting, albeit somewhat gory fact I learned – her ashes and unburnt heart were thrown into the Seine so that no relics could be preserved.

Tour Jeanne d’Arc, where she was held during her trial: 
Dedication of the church built in her honor: 
The spot where she was burnt: All and all, it was a wonderful day trip. The sky threatend rain all day, but luckily for us, we didn’t feel a drop, although it was pretty chilly. I am really looking forward to doing some more day trips around France. Even though it’s so easy to travel around all of Europe, I sometimes forget how much France itself has to offer and how easy it is to explore on the train.

Here are few more pictures, and yes, I had to eat an eclair 😉

Giant clock to never lose track of time: Beautiful timber framed architecture: Quaint pedestrians streets: 
The eclair: (It was really good 🙂