Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pomme Frites

I love fried potatoes. There. I said it.

French fries seem to be a popular snack in a few European countries & in Quebec...but in the US?  Not so much - which is a total drag if you ask me.  I am guessing with the resurgence of whole food eating, having a treat of fresh potatoes cooked in real fat once in a while has become permissible, if not downright trendy.

A few months ago, I heard about the Walloons Food Truck & have been waiting for them to start rolling.   Today, I realized they were going to be out & about in an area where I may be finding myself.  Success!!! I was able to catch up with them before they closed up.

Phil ordered poutine & I had a regular cornet with maple mayo - which tasted like the maple cured bacon my mum used to get in the 70s.  Both were SOOOOOOO delicious.  The portions were just right.  The frites were crisp & tasty and not heavy at all.  The best part? They totally validated my existence on social media:

That's me on the Twitters!!! I am the Emperor of Japan!!!

Do yourself a favor & check out their fritekot.  It's a lot of happiness for $5!

  






















Monday, September 15, 2014

Such is life for a animal lover

Until yesterday, the cats outnumbered the people at the Evil Lair.  Carl, the big fluffy tuxedo cat, hadn't been doing well for the better part of 2 months.  Looking back, he wasn't the healthiest pet I've ever owned.  After years of multiple procedures, medications, & additional care, Phil & I had a tough discussion last Sunday about how much more we should do.  We took him to the vet one last time on Tuesday & she was very compassionate about the whole thing.

Our vet is Dr. Palmer & she works at VCA City Cats in Arlington, MA.  VCA City Cats is great for us inasmuch as it's T accessible; has ample parking; is not terribly expensive; is linked up with the 24 hour vet hospital in Woburn (for late night emergencies); has convenient hours; & has a really cool/efficient/knowledgeable/dedicated staff.  Carl was one of those cats who often needed the chain gloves (:-|) but he liked Dr. Palmer & her staff. She is a bit of a cat whisperer.

Dr. Palmer recommended a vet who makes house calls - Dr. Johnson from Lincoln Veterinary Services. If Carl needed another consult or if we decided it was his time, she could help us.  As the week progressed, Carl was declining quickly.  Yesterday (Sunday), we decided not to wait any longer.    Our options were to wait until the vet office opened on Monday; go to the emergency vet; or call Dr. Johnson.   We decided to call Dr. Johnson & she was available within a few hours. She was AMAZING with the whole thing.

Side note: while we passing the afternoon waiting for Dr. Johnson, our dear friend, BGR, texted me, asking if we were up to anything devious.  Phil had been pretty upset all day - Carl is technically his cat & he made the decision.  As soon as he saw BGR's text, he started laughing, "I just hired a cat hit woman to take out my cat. Does that count as devious?".

I won't get into the details but I was unsure what to expect from the whole thing.  When I made the call, I didn't have the presence of mind to ask a lot of "operational" questions.  That's actually why I am writing this blog post - maybe somebody will stumble upon it & perhaps it will be helpful? Basically, she came to the house with her doctor bag & examined Carl.  She validated our decision & explained the procedure (3 shots). In the end, she was at our house for under an hour.  She wrapped him in one of my sweaters that he liked to sleep on & took him with her. The procedure cost $400 & she takes cash, checks, or credit cards.  Luckily, I've not had to price this out before but I *think* this was a fair rate - especially since it was a weekend & it made things a lot easier for both us & Carl one last time.

I love animals so much but this is the real downside - you rarely outlive your pets.  Oddly, while I am sad about Carl's passing, in some ways, it's a relief.  He had been sick for so long.  I can see the 2 other cats are definitely relieved...I was not expecting that.

Aside from the vet recommendations, I have a couple of other cat recommendations that have worked well for us:

Bench & Field Cat Treats - Our cats are somewhat picky & prefer to hover around the dinner table for scraps vs. eating their own food.  These are the only cat treats they like.

Target Brand Unscented Cat Litter - It's no worse - and quite frankly, no better - than any other cat litter on the market. We've tried ALL of them.   For $6, it's the best deal in town.

Cat Box Mat - I got a really cheap shower mat that looks like this; cut it in thirds; & placed a third in front of the cat box.  The webbing seems to trap any extra litter as the cats step out of the box.  It's been super helpful with keeping the area clean.

Hypno Mice - I have NO clue what's in these...but one cat carries this toy around in his mouth like it's an actual mouse he caught.  Ridiculous & hilarious.

As always, if you have any cat recommendations, I am all (pointy cat) ears in the comments.
















Sunday, September 14, 2014

Music Movies

Last night (Saturday), exciting person that I am, made myself a big salad & turned on tv.  JACKPOT!!! Never Tear Us Apart, the INXS miniseries was on Showtime.   INXS was band I've always loved. If "Kick" came out today, it would not sound out of place.  Aside from the music, they had a really charismatic lead singer who had a whole load of lady drama.  While the miniseries didn't get into the whole J.D. Fortune/Terence Trent D'Arby era of the band, their early history is more than enough fodder for 3 hours of engrossing entertainment.

One thing that strikes me about music movies - most of the time, the actors don't actually look like the musicians. However, all you really need is some strategically worn accessories and everybody knows who you are.  In this case, the guy who played Michael Hutchence had long curly black hair & a lot of flowy shirts.  The guy who played Bono appeared to be short with a goatee, military style hat, & red sunglasses.  In The Runaways, Kristen Stewart wore a pink blazer when she was "solo" Joan Jett.   Problem solved!

Anyway, watching the miniseries made me want to compile of list of my favorite music movies.  Here goes:

Dramatizations
1. The Runaways - Based on Cherie Currie's book, "Neon Angel". Floria Sigismondi put a lot of thought into how she wanted the movie to look, i.e. very shiny for the Japan scenes, etc.. This is one of my favorite overall movies.

2. Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life - This could also be put on my favorite movies made from graphic novels list. While it's based on a comic book (Hello, Brigitte Bardot!), it's a live action, irreverent take on Serge's life.  It did leave out his infamous appearance on the talk show with Whitney Houston but it was outstanding.

3. La Vie en Rose - Edith Piaf's music was very reflective of her life - very sad, lots of highs & lows, with the backdrop of Parisian cabaret.

4. 24 Hour Party People - Rise & fall of the Manchester scene in the 80s.  This is a movie where most of the actors didn't look like the musicians but they all had defining haircuts & accessories.  They did an especially good job giving the Ryder brothers bowl cuts & boxy sweaters.

5. Hillary & Jackie - File under: Family secrets are stranger than any fiction

Documentaries
1. Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon - In the early 2000s, I had multiple tickets to see this band & they never showed for any of the concerts.  After watching this, honestly, I am surprised they were even functional enough to form a band.  It was an accomplishment to transcend their upbringing & get it together.

2. Anvil: The Story of Anvil - This is what happens when you never stop chasing your dreams.

3. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart - Behind the scenes look at Wilco's recording process and a peek into how bizarro being signed to a major label can be.

4. Lemmy - He seems like such a nice, regular guy!

5. Dig - Comparative documentary of the Dandy Warhols & Brian Jonestown Massacre.  How do the fates decide who gets the buzz & the attention in the moment?

Matt Phipps, our afternoon DJ, recommended the Big Star documentary to me.  I need to put in my Netflix queue. If you have any recommendations, please post them in the comments!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Housewarming Gifts

Last year, a very dear friend of mine recommended the book, Happy Money. So, now I've been recommending it to anyone who will listen.  The basic tenet of the book is that money inherently doesn't make you happy but how you use it does.  Buying experiences is often more fulfilling than buying things. Spending money on others also brings deep satisfaction.

Randomly, many people I know have been moving into new digs lately.  I've found myself at a bit of a housewarming gift giving crossroad.  What do you buy for people who not only have as much as they care to have but also value experiences over things? And, what about your natural inclination to use your money to make somebody else happy?

Of course, there's always wine & fancy food treats...those do a good job on the "experience" piece. What if you find that special "something" that is equal parts experience & stuff? Now, that's special!

Here are recent gifts that I've given as housewarming prezzies:


1. Yoshitomo Nara Ashtray - Remember when all good hostess sets came with a fancy ashtray? I don't know anyone who smokes anymore...but it's so ridiculous & can double as a candy dish.

2. Alessi Mandarin Juicer - I am such a fan of Alessi & Koziol - functional art!!! Plus, you can squeeze juice for your sweetie.

3. Renova Paper Products - Black toilet paper is an unbelievable conversation starter.  There are only certain friends who would really dig a few rolls of chartreuse paper towels.  So, this isn't a gift for everyone BUT for the right person, it's downright amazing - and practical!

I've found great gifts at Uncommon GoodsBliss Home, & Finn Style (oh Finn Style, I love you & your Marimekko & your Iittala & your Fazer bars).  If you have any great recommendations for gifts, please share them in the comments!




Saturday, August 23, 2014

Montreal

Since I've not blogged in yonks, I am trying to get caught up...

A while ago, Phil & I made an impromptu trip to Montreal.  Growing up in New England, going to Montreal seems to be a rite of passage where when you turn 18. Everybody piles into a car & heads towards the land of legal drinking, strip clubs, & casinos...sort of like New Orleans for the Northeast set.

I was not one of those 18 year olds so I didn't actually see Montreal until I was in my mid-20s.  I really love it there - not necessarily for the vices but more because it's a real outlier in a lot of ways.  It's fiercely French in its own way amidst a majority English speaking population - and it doesn't care.  It's mellow, local, artsy, & intellectual with loads of nice people. Also, most of the infrastructure hasn't been updated since the 1967 World Expo which gives it a real industrial, mid-century vibe (swoon!).  If you're looking for a low key, easy vacation & you like a lot of art/small local businesses/DIY vibe, I cannot recommend Montreal enough.

Logistics
It's about 5 hours by car from Boston, i.e. about 1 tank of gas.  Right now, with the exchange rate not being great, I recommend getting any refills in Vermont.  Gas in Canada is much more expensive by ounce/ml & you purchase it in litres.

Bring your passport.  You can get in with the card or just a license still...but going through customs will be quicker if they can just scan your passport.

Montreal is a walkable city & their subway is super efficient.  Put your car in a garage & leave it there for the duration of your vacation.  You can get street parking but they're uber efficient with ticketing & towing.  So, $20 a day is worth not having to worry or deal with any hassles.

Lodging
There are plenty of options.  We stayed at Le Relais Lyonnais, which is a great, small budget hotel.  It's in the middle of the student quarter (kind of like staying at the cheap end of Newbury Street). It's not posh or quiet but well located.  If I needed a hotel again, I'd stay there.  Although, we agreed that next we'd probably rent an apartment so we can cook.

Sights
At this point, I don't really do too much sightseeing...my vacations here are really all about nipping away & hiding for a few days.  However, here are some highlights I've enjoyed:
Hiking up Mont Royal - Montreal's namesake, gorgeous city views
Old Town - It's a cross between Faneuil Hall, the Freedom Trail, & Fort Point Channel - historic & repurposed - with shops, restaurants, & museums.
Musee d'art contemporain - Modern art museum with a really cool gift shop.
Botanical Gardens & Insectarium - I love that it's called "Space for life" in French.  You won't see vastly different things here since we share the same basic climate but it's still cool.
Scandinavian Spa - If you're looking to relax, this is THE place.  Aside from the traditional spa services, they have a thermal pool & waterfall, pine sauna, & steam room.  They offer discounted day passes during the week.  Woo hoo!!!

Food
Montreal is a great city.  The "doing your own thing" really comes into play here. I recommend the following:
Marche Jean Talon - We visited almost all the public markets & this was the biggest & best.  Most everything was local & organic.  It was half wholesale, half consumer with loads of prepared food stalls (local sausages, fish, bakeries, ice cream, etc.). We got an amazing flat of mixed local berries with edible flowers...I didn't know you could eat orchids (taste like bland celery)
Depanneur Le Pick-Up - This is a refurbished convenience store/lunch counter within walking distance from Marche Jean Talon.  The line snakes through the store but it moves quickly.  There's only 2 people cooking & prepping so it can take a while to get your food.  If you don't get takeaway, there's table service...but the tables are in front, on the side, in the back. Often, the servers are walking around looking for people.  It works fine but I can see how some impatient people wouldn't be having it.
La Banquise - 30+ kinds of poutine in a place that took some cues from Howard Johnsons circa 1974. I.LOVE.IT. AND - it has a giant poster of one my most favoritest movies ever - C.R.A.Z.Y. - signed by the director.  A quick note - it's cash only & even though we had table service, we had to pay as soon as we ordered. Also, it's open all night.
Buvette Chez Simone - Wine bar with an expansive list.  When you sit down, they give you paper & a pencil to check off which "snacks" you'd like with your wine.  These weren't just snacks - these were full on US appetizer sizes of things.  The food was fresh & amazing - we would've gone twice if we stayed longer.
Jewish Neighborhood Nibbles:
Willensky's - go once, go more if you like baloney!
Fairmount Bagel - Montreal bagels are good - they're not as glossy on the outside/chewy on the inside like a lot of US bagels.  They're also a little sweeter.
KemCoba Gelato - This place had a line out the door - with good reason.  A small dish will give you 2 scoops if you don't opt for the soft serve.
Chocolats Andree - Locally made chocolates.  The shop is in a row house & the case is in the small living room. They have a limited, seasonal selection each day - all the pieces are really small but you can tell it's a true labor of love.

And...drumroll, please...
Joe Beef, Liverpool House, & Le Vin Papillion
It's everything you've ever heard. Seriously.  I read an interview with one of the owners where he was talking about the liqueur, Chartreuse.  He described it as a "green monster penis - cool to have but you can't do anything with it".  I can't quite articulate my thoughts but that quote pretty much sums up the restaurants - irreverent, over the top, & "I'm going to do whatever I want & it's going to be awesome.".
If you go...I recommend the following - go to Liverpool House first when it's still light out.  It's more casual and a bit easier to maneuver.  The menu is written on a chalkboard on the wall in all 3 places.  Liverpool House had the shortest menu & the tables were more spaced out. It was easy to stand up; read the menu; and not feel like you were disturbing somebody's dinner.  Once you get the hang of that, go to Joe Beef.  The menu there is much more expansive - it goes around the whole restaurant (2 rooms). The light is low; the tables are close together; & servers are dodging you, the tables, & each other.  I advise dispatching one person from your party to go take photos of all the walls with his/her phone & then, show them to everybody else at the table.  The food is SO good. Be prepared for big portions of farm food - lots of meat, veggies, & dairy.  I ended up with leftovers that gave me 4 more meals from both places.

Last but not least - french fries from anywhere (except fast food chains).  Those fresh Quebecois potatoes are unparalleled!

If I missed anything, please comment below!























Friday, August 22, 2014

Ridiculousness avec les pieds

As I live in the city, I walk most places & use public transport.  Most days, I walk about 6 or 7 miles so my feet take a major beating year round.  Although, things really flare up in the summer.   Usually, I get some sort of highly annoying/pain in the ass/really inconvenient foot problem (blisters, broken toenails, cuts, callouses, etc.) around June. This year, I wasn't afflicted with anything until this week - probably because it's simply not been that warm out.

My problem this year was new to me - cracked heels.  I've never had them before as I try to stay on top of my callouses.  A couple of weeks ago, my foot file became unusable and I had no back up.  I tend to view salon pedicures as a real luxury - and finding time is a challenge - so that was a no go.  Randomly, every single drugstore around me was out of home pedicure items.  Finally, this past weekend, I had an epiphany to go to a drugstore in an "affluent" town (Winchester) under the supposition that people there probably weren't doing their own pedicures.  BINGO!!!! Full stocks!

Here's my home pedicure kit:

Fizzing bath tablets - Because they're cool
Rubber Duckie - To keep you company
Coconut Oil - Organic moisturizer that will make you smell like coconut macaroons (not macarons, totally different cookie)*
Zoya Glitter Polish - I was turned onto this brand by a dear friend who is just plain fabulous & gorgeous.  Zoya is salon strength but more of a European formulation inasmuch as it has lot less chemicals than US polish.  They always have some sort of special going on - it pays to show your love for them via Facebook
Aesop Rind Concentrate - Smells wonderful, organic, doesn't test on animals. Everybody to whom I've recommended this L-O-V-E-S it.
Foot File - You just need it
Fancy Case - Keep all your stuff from getting mixed up with your other stuff

*So, the coconut oil came from my frantic search to find something natural to heal my heel in a hurry.  The more research I did, the more I really didn't want to know. Emu fat? (Kevin from "Up" #ugh). European products that don't test on animals? Most cosmetics are now owned by a few conglomerates that do animal testing in other areas.  AAAAND apparently, China requires all cosmetics to be tested on animals before they can be sold there.  Even if the company doesn't test on animals, if they sell in China, they condone it (#ugh #nowiknow #ican't).  File under #ican't & #ican'twin.   I am happy to report that the $7 coconut oil totally worked within 24 hours. While my heel isn't completely heeled, I can walk on it with no pain. However, I did almost slip & fall on some that I spilled.  So, there's that...

Professional & home pedicures aside, if you do find yourself with some issues from summer feet, I recommend the following items:

Wet bandages for cuts & blisters
Liquid bandages (or super glue) for cuts
Neosporin for cuts
Coconut Oil for dry skin, cuts, & scrapes
Ibuprofen for aches
Ice pack because it feels good - when it's hot, you can reduce your overall temperature but putting an ice pack on your feet or your head
Benadryl stick for the 9,863,274 mosquito bites you're going to get on your ankles from standing outside for 20 minutes at your friend's bbq

Of course, once you tend to your banged up feet, it's not like you can really go back to wearing whatever shoes allowed your feet to get banged up in the first place...Sooooo, I recommend these:

Avarcas- Hands down: THE BEST PAIR OF SUMMER SHOES I own - I can walk for miles in these & not get blisters
Espadrilles - Perfect summer shoes: light, cool, fashionable
Mizutori Geta - These are the 2nd best summer shoes I own.  The insoles are hinoki (pine) so they are naturally antibacterial (hello, sweaty feet!) and they are really supportive. P.S. the sandals go on ridiculous sale in January (that's how I got 2 pairs)
Foldable Ballet Flats - Just YES. You need them. Slip them into your purse or work bag year round.

If all else fails & you've still got the banged up feet, the bad shoes, & the uncomfortable weather...I recommend this:

















Travel Question - Do I need trip insurance?

It's funny - pretty much everybody thinks I am a travel agent. I'm not but it's cool.  Consequently, I get asked for a lot of travel advice. One subject about which I am often asked is trip insurance.  Like anything else travel related, purchasing trip insurance is a very personal thing.   Some people don't need it but feel a lot better having it.  Others legitimately need it for any number of reasons.  Some people never get it & never need it.

Whenever people come to me, I ask them the following questions:

1. Do you need it for any outstanding reason, i.e. a medical condition where you have a better than average possibility of needing medical attention on the road?
(Yes, I recommend it)

2. Are you going somewhere where there are legitimately no medical services within a reasonable drive, i.e. if you get hurt or sick, will you need to be airlifted to the nearest facility?
(Yes, I recommend it)

3. Are you spending a large amount of money on this trip, i.e. if you were to cancel/ not be able to go & not a get a refund, would it a be a problem?
(Yes, I recommend it)

4. Are you taking a "milestone/celebration" trip, i.e honeymoon or another type of trip that has a major emotional investment in addition to the major financial one?
(Yes, I recommend it)

5. Are you going somewhere where the medical facilities are on par with what you're used to having but you wouldn't have enough money to deal with unexpected medical expenses, extended stays, & any other related additional expenses?
(Yes, I recommend it)

6. Does your health insurance only cover you in the United States?
(Yes, I recommend it)

7. Did you pay for your trip with cash or does your credit card not have a travel insurance clause?
(Yes, I recommend it)

The only time I don't recommend getting it is when your health insurance covers you overseas and/or you have a credit card or other insurance policy that covers travel incidents at no additional cost.

If you need travel insurance, I recommend using Insure My Trip.

Not all policies cover what you need or want.  Many basic policies don't cover weather delays - if you're traveling in the winter, that might be something for which you want to pay extra.  Pay close attention to the details - # of days, countries, actual covered items - and what documentation you will need to file a claim. I've known a few people who needed emergency health care but never got documentation to file a claim. That can be a real hassle (and expensive) to pull together you're not in that country anymore.

Also, I recommend contacting your credit card company; your bank; AAA;  the insurance company that holds your rental/homeowner policies; or other financial service company with which you have an account. Some of your existing accounts may include travel insurance as a benefit.  You could already have travel insurance & not know it.  In the end, you may be fully covered or you may need to just buy a cheaper, supplemental policy.