Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Style: The SilkyPop by Hermes

We've all seen the resusable bags at Whole Foods or Trader Joes that one can buy for a mere dollar or two that enable one to take baby steps towards saving the planet. Hermes has taken this seemingly small endeavor one gargantuan step further, make that about a thousand steps further at just over $1K in price, by introducing its SilkyPop bag. The bag is crafted of silk with designs used on Hermes scarves and designed to fold up into a zip-around wallet-type clutch crafted out of buffalo skipper skin that one can carry in their handbag. For an animated demonstration of this fold, you can see the SilkyPop on the UK Hermes site

According to a recent article in the LA Times on the subject of stylish resusable bags, "a spokeswoman for Hermes, for example, said that their new Silky Pop, a hand-wrought silk tote that collapses into a wallet-size pouch of calfskin, was intended as a high-end alternative to the extra fold-up shopping bag that many European women already carry in their purses. ("Say you're out walking. You decide to pick up a few apples, you pull out your bag," she explained, then quickly added: "Though obviously, Hermes clients usually aren't shopping for their own groceries.")

The SilkyPop embodies all the whimsical aspects of Hermes that I've come to admire, but this is one new contraption that I won't be filling with apples. Coming soon to an Hermes store near you.

Photo: http://uk.hermes.com

Monday, June 18, 2007

Chain Dining: The Cheesecake Factory

As any parent of a young child knows, restaurant choices are automatically narrowed down for parents based on how kid-friendly a place is. After two years of dining out with a small child, I have now culled from the chain-restaurant menus certain favorites so that as soon as we are seated and before drink orders are even taken, we are ready to order; this is all part of parental strategic dining in the event the child has a meltdown and a quick exit needs to be made. I've decided to share these here over time as part of the "Restaurants" section. Some of the choices are obvious, others may be a little surprising. Needless to say, these choices can be enjoyed sans child, probably even more so. Let's start with the Cheesecake Factory.

There is no kids' menu at the Cheesecake Factory, which works out just as well; due to the enormous portions doled out at this restaurant, there's no shortage of food when we share with our two-year old. They do bring a small plate with sliced bread and bananas for your child that our daughter always seems to enjoy.

Fire-roasted Artichokes
Simply roasted artichokes served with two dips; a vinaigrette and aoli. I usually fill up on this quickly so I usually just add a small side salad to accompany this and that would be my meal. Wet towels are brought to clean up the messy fingers. Pseudo-healthy.

Avocado Eggrolls (shown)
An all-time favorite. Sundried tomatoes and avocados in a crispy wrapper with an even more delicious sweet dipping sauce. Definitely not so healthy, but very very good.

Firecracker Salmon Rolls
Slightly more refined in its preparation than the Avocado Eggrolls, the wrapper is a lot thinner and crisper, and it's served with a side of red cabbage doused with an Asian dressing of some kind. A little bit lighter fare than the Avocado Eggrolls, but delicious.

Chicken Madeira (shown)
An all-around favorite at the Factory and is usually served with mashed potatoes, although you can request a substitute; I usually pick broccoli to assuage the guilt.

Miso-glazed Salmon
Served on a bed of white rice with a few obligatory snow peas scattered about, the salmon is very tender and tasty.

Portobello Mushroom Burger
I am not a vegetarian, but a friend of mine introduced me to this incredibly tasty "burger" a few years back. Essentially, picture a burger but with a large portobello mushroom sandwiched between the buns; the aioli used on the burger really sweetens the deal.

As for dessert, well, we usually are so stuffed that we pass, but if it's a special occassion, the Vanilla Bean cheesecake is an all-time favorite.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Food: Chocolate and Zuchinni

I was flipping through the June issue of House and Garden and came across a small profile of Clotilde Dusoulier, a 27 year old resident of Montmartre in Paris whose food-focused blog, Chocolate and Zuchinni, has become a huge hit for the on-line set, and Ms. Dusoulier now even has a few cookbooks under her belt. I checked out her site and loved it, but what I found extremely useful and wish I had seen before I had gone to Paris was her Paris City Guide located here:

Chocolate and Zuchinni Paris City Guide

In it, Clotilde details out her experiences from a local standpoint, not places you'd necessarily find in Zagat but that are favored by locals nonetheless; even if a trip to Paris isn't in your future, if you are foodie, you will enjoy Ms. Dusoulier's blog.

Photo: http://chocolateandzuchinni.com

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Travel: Eagle Creek Compression Sacs

One of my proudest packing accomplishments occurred over ten years ago on my first trip to Europe; I packed enough clothes for 28 days in one suitcase by neatly folding up thin sundresses into Ziploc bags and squeezing the air out. Needless to say that with time, my clothes aren't exactly teeny tiny anymore, and I need something larger than a gallon-sized Ziploc in which to pack up my clothes and still keep them wrinkle-free. That's why I was pleased to give Eagle Creek's Compression Sacs a try when I packed for Paris; essentially, they are larger and sturdier Ziploc bags designed to reduce volume up to 80%. You simply place your folded clothing inside, seal the top, roll it back and forth to squish the air out and watch your clothes shrink into a dense but packable package. I picked up the Medium and Large set, and I was able to squeeze in four lightweight trenches and dinner coats into the Large and about six long-sleeved tees and some dress pants into the Medium. These are a must to maximize space and minimize wrinkles; they also offer stress-relief when one discovers they've purchased too much during their trip and wouldn't have been able to squeeze everything into one suitcase otherwise.

Available at REI, www.ebags.com

Photo: www.eaglecreek.com

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Paris: The Address Book

I'm finally winding down the lengthy Paris section. There are tons of travel books on Paris out there that do a much better job than I in condensing a lot of information in one place; this list below just details out a few of my favorite places and places to visit on my next trip. A great blog to visit is http://www.secretsofparis.com which is written by an American living in Paris who also conducts tours. She has some great basic information under "The Guide" section.

CP's Top Sights
Musee d'Orsay: www.musee-orsay.fr; 1 rue de Bellechasse or 62 rue de Lille, (7th)
Musee du Louvre: www.louvre.fr ;34-36 quai du Louvre (1st arr.)
Musee de l'Orangerie: www.musee-orangerie.fr
The Eiffel Tower: www.tour-effiel.fr; Champ de Mars, (7th arr.)
Saint Chapelle: www.monum.fr Palais de Justice, 4 bd. du Palais (4th arr)
Notre Dame: www.monum.fr; 6 place du Parvis Notre Dame

CP's Favorites for Shopping:
For handbags, belts, journals, and scarves:
Hermes: 24 rue de Faubourg St. Honore (8th) Metro: Concorde (call a few months ahead if you'd like to tour the museum upstairs)

For children's clothing:
Petit Bateau (multiple locations); I visited the one at 116 avenue de Champs Elysees

For tailored shirts, ties and pajamas:
Charvet: 28 place Vendome, (1 arr)

For unique women's and children's clothing:
Gaspard de la Butte: 10bis, rue Yvonne Le Tac (in Montmartre near the Abbsesses Metro stop)

For all-around one-stop shopping:
Galeries Lafayette: 40 bd. Haussmann (9th arr.)

Restaurants and Cafes:

Laduree, 21 rue Bonaparte and various other locations; www.laduree.fr
Fauchon: 26 place de la Madeleine (8th arr.)
Au Coin de Gourmet: 5 rue Dante (5th arr.)
Le Grand Colbert: 2 rue Vivienne (2nd arr.)
Pierre Gagnaire: 6 rue Balzac (8th arr.)
Taillevent: 15 rue Lamennais, (8th arr.)
La Tour d'Argent:15-17 quai de la Tournelle
(for the first time visitor; lunch is also a good bet--that's when the locals go apparently)

Places on my list that I didn't have time to visit:

Restaurants and Cafes:
Pierre Herme: 72 rue Bonaparte, (6th arr)
Cafe de Flore: 172 bd. St-Germain, (6th arr)
Les Deux Magots: 6 place St-Germain-des-Pres, (6th arr.)
Chez Paul: 13, rue de Charonne, (11th arr.)
Le Grand Vefour: www.relaischateaux.com
Mariage Freres: www.mariagefreres.com
Angelina: 226 rue de Rivoli, (1st arr.)

Didier Ludot: 24 Galerie de Montpensier (1st arr.)

Monday, June 4, 2007

Paris: Useful Guides

In the past I've relied on Dorling Kindersley's excellent Eyewitness Travel Guides; the London guide in particular was extremely well-done. I knew that I would not want to tote around a heavy book with me this time around, and because I was just hitting the major tourist attractions, DK's compact Top 10 Paris book worked just fine for me; although if it's your first time, I'd recommend Rick Steves' Paris. Those of you with iPods can download his Paris walking tour podcasts for free. A friend of mine told me about the podcasts, and they proved to be perfect for places like the Notre Dame, the Louvre, and Versailles.

Other books I found useful:
For shopping:
Where to Wear Paris 2006-a great little guide recommended by one of the gals on The Purse Forum. Essentially a Zagat guide for shopping, but better. If you just want to hit the well-known spots, then this is not worth the investment since you can easily look up address information for those shops on-line before you head out (assuming you're so inclined); if, however, you're interested in specific types of shops for the home or mens clothing that are a little off the beaten path, then this guide is for you. In addition to covering well-known stores, the guide is organized by category and gives the nearest Metro stops for each store mentioned as well as opening/closing hours. Not sure if it's published annually as the 2007 guide was not out in May of 2007.

For eating:
Zagat Paris Restaurant Guide for obvious reasons

As previously mentioned, I relied on Lonely Planet's French phrasebook; in addition to commonly used phrases, they throw in some amusing ones covering relationships like "what's your sign?" that you can go through for enjoyment while passing time on the plane.

The most useful maps turned out to be the Pocket Pilot Map and the Map Easy; refer to my earlier post "Prepping for Paris: The Maps" for descriptions. The Pocket Pilot Map was compact and a lifesaver if you plan on using the Metro.

Next: the Paris Address Book and Travel Essentials