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This, That, and The Other Thing

Hello, it’s me!!

I am starting my own blog because even though I am retired I feel I still have plenty to offer. I have a couple clues how to do this and I will make up the rest as I go along. I want my blog to reflect not only how I feel about four of my passions – books, art, food, and travel –  also a little about this new chapter of my life.

I want this to be enjoyable for me to write and for anyone who happens to read it. Although I have to warn you, I have opinions, informed or otherwise, and look forward to expressing them.

In my blog posts, I will write about “this and that” and end the posts with “the other thing,” which is the unique element that enhances or detracts from my overall experience. I wanted to end this introduction with “I hope you enjoy my pithy bon mots,” but my son thought that sounded too pretentious, so I’ll leave it out. Happy reading!

Barbara

 

Featured post

Café Gazelle

 

 

An uassuming store front on a residential street in Belmont Shore, Café Gazelle is a treasure. It’s a tiny place with a kitchen so small you can’t imagine anything of consequence being prepared there. You would be so very wrong! Their menu is filled with Italian delights. I think if I had closed my eyes and pointed, it would have been delicious.

Our lunch began with the traditional Caesar Salad, but it was not so traditional to me. It had the yummiest Caesar dressing I have ever tasted. I could have drunk it, it was so good!!

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Julie and I hadn’t seen each other in a while so we had some catching up to do. That always calls for some wine. That was the easy choice – choosing an entre not so easy. Julie ordered Eggplant Parmesan. It was Linguine with Artichoke for me. There was lots of garlic, but that was OK with me. It was a just right blend of flavors and the artichoke heart was very tender. Julie’s Eggplant was cooked perfectly and not overpowered by the sauce.

Our shared dessert was Limoncello Cake which we thought should be accompanied by a glass of Limoncello. That was not to be – only beer and wine served here. We did learn to our delight that there is another Café Gazelle in Huntington Beach – and they have a full bar!

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River Cruise – Day 7

MONDAY, OCTOBER 21 – DAY 7           LYON

This is the final day of our cruise. It has been a whirlwind of activity – tours, tastings, food and more food. After a bus tour of Beaujolais wine country, we stopped for a tasting at Chateau Ravatys. The tasting itself was nothing outstanding but the tour of the facility was the big draw. We were led down into a stone cavern with narrow passageways – kind of the way wineries used to be before all the modernizing.

After lunch was the optional tour for the Taste of Lyon. I had high hopes for this one as Lyon is purportd to be the food capita of France. Kathy and I were both disappoint as it was nothing special. It was a walking tour through town with stop at 4 shops. The first stop was Café Comptoir where we sampled 3 types of salami accompanied by a local red wine. Second stop was for cheese at Bistro Martine that had an interesting history. It seems that French philosopher, author and journalist Albert Camus enjoyed his wedding feast there on December 3, 1960. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature at 44 in 1957 – the second youngest in history to do so. Third stop was at Les Delices de Charlie where we had a taste of a fruited bread similar to Panettone. The chocolate shop was Voisin, a chocolatier since 1897. We sampled chocolate truffles covered in a blue gum. I bought a pound of French style coffee (with a hint of chocolate) for a friend’s birthday.

I expected to sample some actual French cuisine. I guess for that to happen, the cost for this tour would have been a lot more money. I looked up these places to discover that they serve amazing food. We did not get any of that!

Captain’s Cocktail Party tonight with champagne and appetizers. We sat for our final dinner with our favorite couples we had met on this cruise (Dominic and Marcie from St. Louis and Dick and Jane from Ontario, Canada).

Salade Lyonaise – frisee salad, bacon, croutons, poached egg, walnut vinaigrette               Roasted Chicken – herb mashed potatoes                                       Poire a la Beaujolaise – pear in red wine sauce, vanilla ice cream

There was a port talk and final farewell – instructions were given for luggage handling and bus assignments for trip back to Marseilles airport.

Photos, hugs and farewell promises for Facebook friending, etc. Our room steward Petar deserved an extra tip for his special service this past week. Victoria, the head of housekeeping so thoughtfully made copies for me of the week’s menu for my blog. Extra tip to her for sure!

 

 

 

 

 

River Cruise – Day 5

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19 – DAY 5                     TOURNON

Tournon lies between the river and wine-covered granite hillsides. A settlement has perched on the hill since Celtic times. The name of its neighboring wine region is Tain-l’Hermitage, named for a hermit who planted vines here after returning from the Crusades and invited travelers to drink with him. His vines today produce a port-like wine and some stellar whites. It is an untouched region inaccessible by road. Our beautiful ride on the Steam Train followed along the Doux River into valleys lush with greenery and changing fall colors. After the ride, our bus delivered us to the next port where our ship was waiting in Andance. Then it was a leisurely cruise along to Rhone toward Vivienne.

Lunch for me today                                                                                                                        Lentil Soup – garnished with sausages                                                                                     Roast Veal – sautéed potatoes & onions, pumpkin mousseline                                            Floating Island – vanilla ice cream and crushed pistachio

Soup was especially delicious – creamy and flavorful. It had been raining all day and this really hit the spot. The veal was tender and flavorful, cooked just right for my taste.

I attended a cooking demonstration in the Lounge with Executive Chef/Chef de Cuisine Frixos Tsapopouloos and Maitre D’ Petar Nikolov. They made Tarte Tatin, complete with witty patter and general hilarity. We each received a copy of the recipe.

More food as is was French Tea Time with pastries in the Lounge. This included the Tarte Tatin which was NOT the one Petar had prepared. Chef Frixos said he couldn’t take the chance!!!! Lol

We arrived in Vienne at 4:30. A walking tour was scheduled for 4:45pm. Kathy went but I opted not to go. It was likely to rain again, and my feet said “no”. I am catching up on my blog posts and relaxing for a change.

Chef’s special for dinner does not look that appealing tonight, so I think I will have     Caesar Salad – anchovies, parmesan, garlic croutons, traditional Caesar dressing   Seared Halibut – pommery mashed potatoes, asparagus, lemon sauce                           Crème Brulee – Bourbon vanilla

After dinner, there was an evening of French Chansons from a duo from Vienne. She was lovely and so was her voice. He played the accordian and the guitar. It was very entertaining, Her facial expressions and hand gestures made you believe you could actually understand what she was singing about.

River Cruise – Day 4

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18 – DAY 4                            VIVIERS

Viviers is a typical small town in southern France. Streets lined with sycamores, the smallest cathedral in France (the 11th century St. Vincent Cathedral), the Maison des Chevaliers, or Knights’ House is from the Renaissance that stands today as the oldest house in town are some of the interesting features. Founded in the 5th century, conflicts during the ensuing centuries required the town to be fortified. Time seems to stand still in Viviers today.

We were back on board by 12:30 because the ship was casting off for Tournon sur Rhone. At 3pm we got a tour of the wheelhouse with Captain Pierre Ackermann. He explained that there is always someone to guide the ship 24/7. It is never on autopilot –especially when going through the locks. There is less than one foot on each side on the lock for the ship to pass through. Sometimes it is necessary for crew members to push left or right to keep a straight path.

Chef’s Special tonight                                                                                                                     Salade de Chevre Chaud – mesclun salad with goat cheese toast                          Seared Sea Bass Fillet – lemon, caper & parsley sauce                                                         Nougat Glace – Iced nougat, berry coulis

Tonight in the Lounge was a brief French lesson by our Program Director, Jerome Sueur, and then a little talk about cheese followed by a tasting.

 

Rhone River Cruise – Day 3

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17                DAY 3 – AVIGNON

Back in Avignon for a full day. Walking tour in the morning to the Pope’s Palace – important because it is the only pope palace in the world. In my high school French class we learned a famous song, “Sur Le Pont d’Avignon”. It is here. Built in the 12th century it originally has 22 arches of which only 4 remain standing today. Original lyric was “Sous le Pont d’Avignon” because it was too narrow to accommodate dancers so they danced under the bridge. The flood of 1668 swept most of it away. What remains forms part of the UNESCO-listed Avignon historic center.

Avignon was home to 7 pontiffs between 1309 and 1377. Sitting high above the Rhone River and circled by medieval ramparts, this walled old town has mostly cobblestone streets and lantern lit passageways.

Our afternoon optional tour was to Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Tasting. Owned and operated by the Famille Perrin, it was originally constructed in 1366 by Pope John XXII as a summer residence for the Avignon popes. The talk at the winery was very interesting, but the tasting was a disappointment. I think Kathy and I have been spoiled by previous tastings we had experienced in Italy.

Tonight was Taste of Provence Night. The wait staff was in fancy berets and aprons and the tables were with colorful cloths and centerpieces. Dinner was a “hearty French buffet” with chicken, duck, roasted potatoes, mixed vegetables, ratatouille, with special sauces for the meat. For all the fuss leading up to this event, it was a little disappointing. The meat didn’t have much flavor even though the sauces were tasty. The best part was the desserts – especially the pear tart. We met some new people though, so it was a nice evening. The staff led the dancing in the lounge after dinner and got everyone up dancing – even me – with the traditional Chicken Dance, Electric Slide, YMCA, Sweet Caroline, Great Balls of Fire, and a conga line!! The staff made it very entertaining.

Last night in our room, the ship went through another lock, and we saw it from a different perspective out on our veranda. The walls came so close to the ship we could have touched it. This time it took almost one hour and raised the ship to above the level of the lock. We will go through 15 locks on this river for a cost to Viking of 30,000 euros.

 

River Cruise – Day 6

Sunday October 20th – LYON

Lyon, the city I have been anxious to visit. Except for Paris, our ports so far have been towns. Lyon is a city with a population of over 500,000. Lots of bicycles and scooters on the street as well as an electric streetcar. It is an interesting blend of old and new, with an emphasis on old, and not much English spoken.

We remained after the morning tour was over because we had a previously arranged lunch reservation at a Michelin Star restaurant – Auberge de L’ll Barbe.  It’s on  little island between the Rhone and Saone Rivers. It looks like a little French chateau on lovely grounds. This was an experience not easily duplicated. I am not even sure of what ingredients were in our 6 small courses. Everything was beautifully plated and so delicious looking that it just had to be good!! Most restaurants are closed on Sundays and reservations are difficult to come by. Kathy’s daughter-in-law made them for us 2 months ago. Auberge was the only one open on Sunday and only for lunch. The dining room held only about 20 people so the intimacy added much to the experience.

We chose the Menu Saison, and to the best of my ability and my memory for French (which is next to nil), this is what we enjoyed during our 2-hour lunch:  Appetizer of lightly tempura battered broccoli leaf with nasturtium and rose garnish, and finely minced mussels, tomato and eggplant with a crusty butter top Palate Cleanser was skewers of salty crusted tuna, duck pate in puffed pastry, and pork roll with pansy garnish, Main course shrimp over black risotto (Kathy), puff pastry with shrimp and vegetables (me), Homard a la Newbourg (Kathy), and Duck Foie Gras served in brioche (me), Chef Surprise duck cappuccino  (Can’t describe this – it’s not a drink!) Cheese Course (for me) 3 local soft cheeses (one cow, one sheep, one goat) accompanied by candied kumquats and grapes, then Dessert coffee quenelle on a soft prune cookie, a quartet of petit fours  followed by a red apple tart. Plus 2 glasses of brut champagne for me and some white beaujolais for Kathy.

The chef walked by several times to supervise staff and I asked if he would allow photos. He said yes “with discretion”. In doing so, my photos were quick and not my best effort.

Therefore, these are the best I could get photo-wise. The dishes looked and tasted amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhone River Cruise – Days 1 & 2

Viking Delling staff met us at the Marseilles airport and drove us to Avignon to begin our cruise up the Rhone River. Day 1 consisted of getting settled in our rooms (ours had a small veranda looking out at the river), obligatory safety drill, introductory talks in the Lounge by the Captain and staff and a brief description of the next day’s activities.

Food, of course, is always amazing on cruises and this one is no exception. in the dining room, There are so many options for dining. There will be something for every taste and dietary requirement. The Chef’s Regional Specialties Tasting Menu is offered every night – and two other 3-course menu options. There are other offerings which are available every night as pick-and-choose meals. They are —

1st Course -Caesar Salad                                                                                                            2nd Course-Angus Rib Eye Steak/Poached Norwegian Salmon/Roast Chicken Supreme 3rd Course-Crème Brulee/Fromagerie/ Seasonal Fresh Fruit Plate/Ice Cream or Sorbet

If the first night was any indication, I think it will be the Chef’s Tasting Menu for me every night. Tonight’s chef recommendation —

Crispy Vegetable Salad                                                                                                                Peppers, Red Apple, Feta; Mint & Sherry Vinegar Dressing

Seared Diver Scallops                                                                                                               Sunchoke Mousseline, Pine Nut Gremolata, Asparagus & Radish                                        (Scallops can be difficult to get just right – these were perfect!)

Clafoutis aux Cerises                                                                                                                   Warm Baked Cherry Pudding

This first night, Kathy opted for the pick-and-choose of Caesar Salad, Roasted Chicken Supreme and the Crème Brulee. She commented that the chicken was more flavorful than the roasted chicken that came so highly recommended when we were in Paris.

Cocktails in the Lounge after dinner with entertainment by the Gypsy Kings – a little Flamenco to end the evening.

After a lovely buffet breakfast of anything and everything one could want (I had a made to order spinach and cheese omelet which was a light as a crepe), we boarded a bus for our tour. Tarascon was our first port, but Arles was our destination as it cannot dock a ship of our size. It is the last town at the end of the river, then it empties into the Mediterranean Sea. So we are working backwards and will end the cruise with 2 days in Lyon – the food capital of France! The ship cast off from Avignon to Arles at 5am. Breakfast service began at 6am.

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Arles is a fascinating little town. In the last days of the Roman Empire, Arles was the capital of Roman Gaul.  Remnants from that time include an ancient amphitheater seating 20,000 and is still used today for events. Vincent Van Gogh was inspired to paint a number of works highlighting many of Arles’ sights. Narrow streets and cobblestone walks aside, Arles has a vibrant and energetic feel.  Provencal Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays feature fresh fruit and vegetables from local farms.

Free afternoon to explore the ship and catch up on my blog. Posts will probably be delayed as wifi reception onboard is spotty and my photos are taking their own sweet time to link to my tablet.  But who’s in a big hurry anyway? Its vacation time. About 5pm, I took my decaf caramel coffee into the Viking Lounge and just sat for a while looking out at the river and the precious silence of a lovely sunny afternoon in France!! I haven’t seen Kathy in a while. I think she is taking a nap. It is well deserved. Being a tourist is hard work! Experiencing new places, doing new things, and having lots of fun is not for weaklings. And this new week has just begin.

Before you know it, it’s dinner time again. Tasting Menu tonight was –

Soup au Pistou                                                                                                                Vegetable Soup, Basil Pesto

Gnocchi a la Nicoise                                                                                                                     Gnocchi Tossed with Summer Vegetables & Safe Butter

Moelleux au Chocolat                                                                                                           Vairhona Tainori Cacao (translated, this is chocolate cake in a raspberry coulee and covered with chocolate)

Music in the Lounge after dinner with our onboard pianist Benny.

Paris Shopping!!

 

This place is not to be believed. It is not a shopping mall – it is a shopping city. It consists of three 6-story buildings. If you cannot find it here, it is not to be found anywhere. This is not an exaggeration!

Each floor in each building has a specialty. Every major fashion designer is on display. There were departments for men, women and children with the largest selection of clothing I have ever seen. The Le Gourmet building has everthing you need for preparation, cooking tools and cookware spices, fresh produce, fruits, chocolates and their famous macarons. It was a dizzying array of everything to tempt your pocketbook.

There was a lovely wine and food bar where we had a glass of Puissy Fume and shared pasta with truffles. This dish didn’t look appetizing, but it was completely and entirely delicious!!

The piece de resistance is the dome ceiling in one of the buildings. When you go to the 6th floor, you are outside with an incredible view of the Paris sights.

I now know the meaning of shop til you drop. We Ubered with our bags back to the hotel to pack for tomorrow. We fly to Marseilles to start our river cruise.

Nightime on the Seine

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