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Why I love to "play" in the kitchen

When speaking about hospitality and my life in the hotel world I often remind people that what we do isn't brain surgery.  We haven't cut into someone head to take a peek around.  As a result you don't have to be born a genius to succeed in this industry.  You do need one key characteristic. 

You have to like to please/serve others. 

In this day and age I find that to be a tall order.  With everyone entitled to be served, there aren't a lot of people left to do the serving.  On that most recent facebook quiz regarding Downton Abbey I came out as Violet, to know me is to love.  In my heart of hearts I see myself as more of a Mrs. Hughes from downstairs. 

My point to all of this is, Einstein or Madame Curie I am not.  I AM very good at making people feel at home and ensuring they have everything they need to have a lovely time.  When I step into a kitchen, however, I feel a little like a scientist.  I understand how certain flavors work together and how to get certain reactions from different foods.  A roux thickened sauce dark and dense, vs. a corn starch thickened saucy, glossy and shiny.  Butter vs Shortening in you pie crust.  Emulsifier in a salad dressing.  I get it. 

Thought this is officially a French food blog, you may have noticed I stray at times.  I love the French classics, but I must confess... I love to stray.  I love to try my hand and the French neighbors who put things together just a little bit differently.  I love to see how Americans have bastardized French classics and made them their many occasions just as tasty if not more so.  I love to step completely out of my comfort zone and try something brand new. 

Do a little research, play with the ideas in my head of what I think a cultures food is, take that classic French side of me and understand what they are trying to accomplish with the flavors and the preparation.  Then take that American side of me and boldly try it out.  Bastardize it like a true American, without apology, and see what happens. 

There are times it is an utter FAIL.  Sometimes I will go back and try it again.  Sometimes I give up (at least for a little while).  Sometimes it is a glorious success. 

So this weekend, I am again hijacking my friend, Katrina's kitchen and making dinner for a mutual friend.  The groceries are bought.  I've read through a dozen different recipes for three dishes and am going to try something new.  I am skipping over to South East Asia, the food I know the least about. 

Several months ago I was out and had some Korean BBQ style chicken wings. They were sweet and sticky and burned my lips off.  They were good, the rest of the meal at this new restaurant, meh, but these I would go back for.  I have no idea if they remotely resembled a true Korean BBQ.  I am going to take those flavors and braise some country style pork ribs and glaze them at the last minute.  To add to the party going to do a simple carrot and pea pod stir fry and an "Asian" flavored slaw.  Is any of this true to the culture...I have no idea, but I am going into the kitchen to play, to try my hand a genius and Madame Curie for a moment, and I am going to have a great time.  

Stay tuned to see if any pictures turn up and if our guests have a good time too.   


Feeding the soul and finding surprises


I am an old soul. I was told this many moons ago by a fortune teller. I can't argue. I don't know how I know some of the things I know. I just know.

One of the characteristics, in my opinion, of being that old soul is being perfectly comfortable going out alone, to just about anything.

So when I put out word that I was headed into DC to see one of the museums that I have yet to experience, and I had no takers for an assortment of reasons.... I took myself. Part of the fun of going alone is the ability to change the plan and be open to whatever strikes your fancy.

As I got on the Metro at Greenbelt, I had yet to decide, National Galleries or Smithsonian Portrait Gallery. I got off the Metro at archives an easy walk to either one, and stopped to look around. Once I walked past the Starbucks the first restaurant I came to with a sunny welcome of butterflies and lights was Oyamel, Cocina Mexicana. It was 11:30 and only one other person was seated. They asked if I had a reservation. Nope. They thought they could squeeze me in. My raised eyebrow as I did a quick visual of the restaurant had them thinking and grinning about what they had just said.

Giving credit where credit is due, an hour later they were 75% full, and by the time I left at about 1pm there were very few open tables.

For some breakfast or brunch starts with coffee. For me? Tea. I was given a short selection of 4 or 5, but was delighted when my Darjeeling arrived loose leaf, and the server had gone to the trouble of searching out the honey I had insisted upon.

I was surprised to see the chips and salsa at brunch but far from disappointed. The smoky chipotle salsa had great flavor and a wonderful balance of zip. The chips were obviously home made and very fresh, warm, and perfectly seasoned. They were just as tasty without the salsa. A blood orange chili mimosa was a great accompaniment. I will say the blood orange was not as pronounced as I like, but tasty non the less, and really, less juice more bubbles? I won't complain.

Chilaquiles was my brunch choice. It was circled in red as one of their specials...and very happy I made the choice. Think of a Mexican version of Bolognese (a tomato sauce w/ chiles and chorizo sausage) combined w/ Nachos plus a fried egg. Deep fried and perfectly runny when I cut into it. The whole was topped with a sprinkling of micro cilantro greens. A great bright finish.

I didn't need it, but I was tempted by the churros accompanied by their hot cocoa. The cocoa was more of a pudding that was amazing. Though looks like a light chocolate in the picture, great sharp dark chocolate flavors that had you going back for more. As you can see I did with the spoon and left the slightly overdone and greasy churros behind.

Service was gracious, but slow. Don't be in a hurry.

So when I think about how a meal at a restaurant was, I would rather not rate it. I would rather ask, "Do I want to come back?" YES!

The second question, "Do I want to come back for the same or do I want to try something new?" In this case I am intrigued by at least 2/3rds of their dinner menu. One of my favorite peeps (Used to be a Chef now a GM) is just now telling me it is one of her favorite places. How is it possible she has been hiding this one from me? Especially as I did a little more research Oyamel is brought to us by the same folks that brought us Jaleo, of which I have been a fan for years, AND I think I may have introduced her to. A 5 year hiatus from DC will have us all loosing track.

So I had fed my tummy with a lovely first Surprise. Now for the "feeding the soul" part of the day. I had finally decided on the National Galleries, I was in the mood for some impressionists.

Now let me start by saying that whenever I do come down to DC to hit whichever museum along Constitution or Independence I get lost...why would today be different. I zigged, when I was supposed to zag and ended up on the wrong side of the street in the National Galleries Sculpture Garden. Surprises #2, #3, #4 I found in the Sculpture Garden, and all three put a smile on my face this blustery Sunday that was positively balmy (35°) compared to the deep freeze we had been experiencing. Which made Surprise #2 a joy to stop and watch, the ice skating rink! With many adorable little tykes out for a "first", and their parents and other adults...equally out for firsts. That would be first ice skates, first time on the ice, first time their tush hit the ice (first time their kids saw their tush hit the ice) and second and third and fourth for some.

Surprise # 3 The Belle Epoch Paris Metro signs next to the Pavilion! Another smile.

Surprise # 4 The stainless steel tree on the edge of the garden. Really beautiful against the grey winter sky. My cell phone camera did not do it justice. BUT pictures of it are on The Innkeeper's Daughter facebook page.

Now I was cold. Hung a right out of the Sculpture Garden and arrived at an imposing set of steps with fossils on display...wait? The Museum of Natural History. S T O P. That is not where I was supposed to go. These damn buildings all look alike! AND I have go to find a restroom! Retrace my steps, go past the Sculpture Garden, across the street, AHHH these are the imposing steps I wanted!

Bag search, restrooms, loose a layer, maps in hand...and a seat along the edge of the rotunda to take a moment. Ahhh, so pretty with the fountain and the greenery under the dome. Now let me mention here that I am only good at a museum for 2 to 3 hours, max. I go on overload and don't care after that. I take my visits in measured bites. I had my fill of Renaissance Art and Religious icons at The Vatican last May, so today we will pass on the left half of the galleries. That left the right wing of the upper floor (though now intrigued about the lower level too). I chose primarily 19th century American, British and French. Across tge rotunda i went. Decided to go counter clockwise and the first painting to hit my eyes? Napoleon! Mais bien sur. I saw it as an omen for the rest of the afternoon.

I won't bore you with my limited knowledge on art, who I like and who I don't, and why. As the old proverb goes, art is in the eye of the beholder. I will tell you this. If you don't explore it, you won't get to know what you do and don't like. When you find something that you do like, it will speak to you. It will make you stop, think, look deeper, wonder. No matter how old, or how wise (or not so wise) we get, aren't those things we should be doing more of anyway?

Though the performing arts have always been my preference to charge my imagination, I do have to say that a stop in the world of the fine arts to calm the brain is not a bad thing. In fact something I should do more often. Next time? Smithsonian Portrait or American art, who knows?

If you have any interest in seeing the very bad cell phone pictures from that day they are #foodforthesoul on both instagram @innkeepgal and on facebook at The Innkeeper's Daughter.


So lets talk about Ice

Yes, this is a food and family history blog. But every now and again I digress. Tonight is one of those nights. I was recently in a business conversation, yesterday as a matter of fact. It came down to, "wait, do you know?" why yes I do. That lovely lady taught me how to drink my dinner.

I was 24. She was older. She was wiser. She was and is fascinating. We were in Chattanooga TN. And as I sit here contemplating a move back in that directions (no, no news yet) I wonder why as I relive that time. To quote her, "there isn't a lot to do in Chattanooga. Let's go drink our dinner."

Now I had discovered scotch a few years earlier while in Scotland. When your options are piss warm beer or Scotch? My choice will always be Scotch. Single malt, not too peaty, and two ice cubes please. Yes, I understand ice in my Scotch is a taboo. Yes, I understand neat is the only way to drink the Scotch. Yes, I understand I am going against the laws of nature....I get it really I do, deal.

BUT! As much as I can drink my Cognac or Eau de Vie straight. I need a little bit of a chill on my Scotch. My tequilla too. Nothing better than a good tequilla with a squish of lime and a couple of cubes. Great way to sip your way through the evening.

While in Scotland at a naive 21, a glass of Scotch would take me through the evening. Bring me forward 4 years to Chattanooga TN, with nothing much to do and a mentor who I wanted to emulate in many ways? One glass wouldn't take me through the first 20 minutes.

But two cubes was always the problem. Two cubes from the old fashioned plastic ice trays in your freezer, perfect. How many bars have those cubes? None.

Two cubes from the flat square checkers board square sized Ice machines? P-uh-leaze. They melt and dilute, and you need much more than two.

Two cubes from the big round chunky Ice machines...that can work.

Two cubes from Heirloom in New Haven, that is insulting...though perfect for Mojitos. Some drinks need soft, not quite crushed ice, and Mojitos are one of them, and these cubes are perfect for those, but terrible for a Scotch...and they do SOOOOO many things right.

Two cubes from my friend Sam's freezer, compliments of his nephew Ben. Big old sphere's that are the size of a base ball...a bit of overkill, and as Marvin complains, "they keep bumping my nose". Don't get me wrong they are beyond cool. But for 2 fingers of Scotch...hmmm

Whiskey stones(as I gifted to a friend this Christmas), made of soap stone that you freeze and don't dilute your drink at all? Cool, but I find that I like a little bit of dilute in my drink. Yup that is me your favorite Pain in the Ass, and I am not referring the frozen drink of the keys. That is another conversation and another story.

Two cubes from Ordinary in New Haven? Too much, one is just perfect. When they opened they bought an Ice maker that produced ice CUBES that were about 2" square. three were all that could fit in a DOF, or double old fashioned glass. They are carrying real Scotch glasses, how cool is that? But the problem with having a Scotch at Ordinary in a real Scotch glass is one Ice cube doesn't fit (Ice cube wider than the mouth of the glass). Problem solved, one Ice cube in an old fashioned glass and my scotch over the top of it please.

But that had me searching for the perfect cube at home. And two days ago I found it. Bed Bath and Beyond, thank you very much. AND the 6 cube tray is less expensive that the two baseball sized spheres (that hit both Marvin and Me in the nose)! So tonight, with tummy troubles that have me on a liquid diet...and yes I know that the liquids aren't supposed to have alcohol in them, but give me a break the crazies were out ALL day today at work and I can't even blame it on a full moon! (Yes, I know that is beyond a run on sentence!) I got to try out my new cubes...I love them.

Now as a hospitality professional that may again in the future have to decide on an Ice maker for the bar I will be torn, or if budget allows, I may just get two. One with the small soft Ice and one with the Ice for a Man's drink, even if it is a Woman of discriminating taste enjoying that drink........



Thanksgiving when far from home

Last year for Thanksgiving I was in Costa Rica.  It was a departure for me, no Turkey and stuffing.  That statement is a lie....Coming back to re read this post before it goes live...I cooked last year(for like the third time ever), for a dear friend, her mother and one of my favorite kids.  Costa Rica was the year before!  But it does go to show that for me, Thanksgiving is about the circumstances I find myself in at that time and giving Thanks for them.   I think I have mentioned before it really is my favorite holiday.  It isn't overly commercialized.  It isn't about some religious holiday.  It isn't just about family. 

In my world Thanksgiving has always been about the people who don't share your blood, but you consider family.  Remember this isn't a French parents didn't cook for this one, and neither do I.  Or at least rarely do I.  I am a guest for this holiday, and I treasure these invitations.  Sure I will always bring a dish or two or maybe a bottle (as is the case this year with no kitchen at my disposal) but this is the day I do my damnedest to sit on the sidelines...except for a couple, most notable the Thanksgiving of 1989. 

A New York Times article came across my facebook feed titled: Thanksgiving Day, a la Francaise. It made me chuckle.  It made me remember.  I finished up at UNH in June of 1989.  The next day I was on a plane with my parents and Jacqueline, headed to visit the family in France.  First up was a huge family dinner, a Texas style BBQ (a la Noel, so not quite traditional Texas) celebrating my parents 25th wedding anniversary, my college graduation, and Jacqueline's high school graduation.  I need to remember to come back and tell you about this one, it is a good one. 

This was followed by some time camping on the Mediterranean, doing the family circuit and a trip to Greece.  My parent left, I did some more traveling and I went to work up in the Alps at Brigitte and Gerard's restaurant, Le Cro Magnon. 

I was scheduled to head home on the 9th of December, 6 month to the day from the time I had arrived.  I won't lie, I had a great trip that I treasure the memory of it to this day.  But I did get homesick.  Missing Thanksgiving was a tough one. 

Tatan Sylvette asked me to explain Thanksgiving to her.  So I did.  She asked, "Why not do it here before you go home."  On December 7th 1989 I made a Thanksgiving Dinner for 24 people in Chapponnay.  Much like Papa had tried coordinating buying his ingredients for the Texas BBQ in advance I had to do the same. 

I made lists and searched for recipes (without the internet, mind you), then called Sylvette and coordinated the foods we needed to find. 

So first the Turkeys.  I wanted two 20# minimum turkeys.  First I had to figure out what that meant in kilos (today my conversion skills are fairly good, back then I had to think)  "Non Yolande, too much, too big, not tender, yadda yadda yadda."  I held firm.  They were special ordered and found. 

Now I need pumpkin.  "Quoi?"  Pumpkins, you know Cinderella's carriage, but smaller.  "But those are for the pigs..."  We hadn't gotten to the corn on the cob yet.  And to this day I still have to look up Cranberries in Google translate, though again, then, no google. 

The pumpkins were found, the corn to my dismay is still difficult these 25 years later unless in a can, and did not make an appearance.  She found cinnamon for me.  And in a country that prides itself on cheese, we finally found at the English store in Lyon a block of cheddar cheese (I wanted it to served alongside the apple pie in the old New England tradition).  Cranberries were a bust but along the way I tried fresh red currents and it was a workable substitute. 

Sylvette didn't want me to overdo as I was arriving from the alps just 36 hours before dinner was to be served and tried to keep the guest list in line.  I also put my foot down here.  Tatan, all the local family, and your friends who always welcome our family when we come to town.  "quoi?" again.  Tatan Sylvette this is the holiday about friends...they come. 

The family emptied the furniture out of the living room and brought in the saw horses and plywood, and the tables were dressed.  I relented and it was not dinner at 2pm.  They relented and it was not dinner at 7pm.  Everyone was to arrive at 4p and dinner was set for 5p. 

Then, 10 days later than the real Thanksgiving I went down into the kitchen and started to cook, my first turkey, and my first Thanksgiving dinner.  Sylvette came to be my helper with Marie-Pierre, my cousin.  Marie was allowed to stay.  Sylvette got tossed out fairly early.

We had a few disagreements.  It started with the stuffing.  Apples?  Cranberries?  Yes Tatan, but Jean won't eat that in his stuffing.  We compromised, one bird with the full stuffing the other with a few ingredients omitted. 

You are making a pie out of the Pumpkin, Non.  Yup.  Should have listened to her on this on.  I will never make pumpkin pie from scratch ever again.  Not a success.

Apple pies, cinnamon?  "Non", Tatan, OUT.  The French don't like cinnamon.  Apple pie with out cinnamon in the US?  I was good, I compromised.  One with, one without. 

Our guests discovered that apples in the stuffing not bad.  A little cinnamon in the pie, with a slice of cheddar, not bad.  Pumpkin from scratch...not good. 

It was an amazing day.  We bickered, we gathered, we celebrated, we laughed, we gave thanks.  I gave thanks for a most amazing 6 months living and working in France.  And 23 people thanked me not for the cinnamon apple pie and stuffed turkey, but for introducing them to our American holiday. 

As first attempts at Thanksgiving go...a success (minus the pumpkin pie).  Meanwhile today I will gather with friends who are the equivalent of family and I haven't spent a holiday with in the last 4 years and give Thanks for the circumstances that have brought me back to this region for this time. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all!




This bed is toooooo hard...

...this bed is too soft, this bed is just right!

In actuality all the beds have been just fine, though a couple have been REAL low to the ground, and let me tell you, tougher and tougher to get up from the older I get. 

So #whereintheworld is Yolande and what is she doing? If you are on instagram pictures from the month long adventure are under that hashtag.

"Taking advantage of the kindness of strangers", and old friends.  Catching up, relaxing, smelling the roses, and of course looking for my next adventure. 

The brief version of the current adventure started on August 30th.  I closed the door on the New Haven house and headed North, to really go South.  Maman called and asked, "When should I expect you, Darling."  In her heavily lilting French accent (really how has this woman been here for 57 years and still sound like she just walked off a boat?).  I don't know Maman, I am guessing 2nd week of October. 

She sputtered on the other end of the phone and I had to explain.  I am taking the slow road and enjoying the friends I don't have time to enjoy when I am working. 

So I did.  I meandered North to Whitefield and got to see the final performance of the season at Weathervane.  Then I slowly meandered South.  Along the way I brought my two coolers of the last of the goodies from the bistro's freezers, and 4 cases of wine from the bistro's cellar.  I was rather well received, imagine that?  Some people cooked for me...THANK YOU.  Some people let me take over their kitchen and chop and saute, fun!  With some we enjoyed a rich Cotes du Rhone, with other a smooth bubbly from Epernay, and yet others a bright Rose. 

I meandered through and stopped in Southern New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York City, Baltimore, DC, Alexandria, Arlington, Sterling, Winchester, Charlotte, Asheville, Atlanta, Ellijay, and finally I arrived in New Smyrna Beach on October 1st. I was down to 1/2 a cooler of goodies and a little less than 2 cases of wine.  It was an absolutely lovely month.

Out and about I had some great meals cooked for me and I got to stop and have fun with some things I had never eaten or cooked with before, and some were old favorites.  A mandatory stop at Polly's Pancake Parlor.  A wonderful Burmese Dinner in Colchester.  The corn pudding in Arlington was a treat (since corn is normally a no-no for my tummy, excited that this way I could eat it!).  The tomatoes, green beans and new potatoes from the VA farm markets were A-MAY-Zing!!! Birthday cake for me, and then my god daughter, sandwiched into the middle of the month.  Then to the Southern Farmers Markets and Muscadine's.  I couldn't resist and you can see the posting to the right about what was made with them. 

A stop in Atlanta is NEVER complete without a stop at Your Dekalb Farmers Market!And this time I was also introduced to Buford Highway Farmers Market.  Dekalb still wins in my mind.  But I finally got to try Dragon Fruit, (not bad) and a Korean Pear (same as Asian, only bigger and very juicy).  A double dose of southern BBQ...YUM, and then off to Maman's amazing cooking. 

Home with the family only lasted two weeks and now I am on the road again.  Helping a friend in the hotel world with some projects. 

Like a bad penny, I keep turning up.  My friends laugh at this and some don't believe.  This past weekend I proved how true that was.  Two homes that played host in mid September were surprised and got to play host again with an unexpected visit, since I was in the neighborhood and had a free long weekend. 

What is in store?  I wish I could say.  But part of the fun is being able to say, "I have no idea, but I'll soon find out!"  For the next couple of weeks, I will be here in Baltimore.  Give me a call.  We'll do dinner.