Sunday, November 26, 2006

Wi-Fi in Paris...

There's hope for Parisian bloggers yet as Paris integrates free wi-fi access into the city. According to the LA Times, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe will spread "wee-fee" throughout Paris in hopes of attracting young people and business to the city. Ah, the "battle of hipness" continues!

The wi-fi sounds like a great idea, but I would love Paris any day without it. As long as the city continues to have amazing boulangeries, I will be a happy camper.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Time to Scandinavianize!

SAS Airlines is offering travelers a chance to "Scandinavianize" themselves. By visiting the SAS website, you can send Scandinavian phrases to your friends and family in the language of your choice. Whether you choose Finnish, Swedish, Danish, or Norwegian, who doesn't love a friendly reminder of dejlig, lovely Northern Europe?

One of the funniest phrases SAS includes to lure travelers to Scandinavia? "I'm so bored with the sun."

Monday, November 13, 2006

the phantom of the metro is here

The Associated Press recently reported that historical and railway buffs can sign up for all-night tours of old Paris metro stations. An organization called ADEMAS facilitates the tours in its quest to preserve the history of the Metro. According to the article, the tours have at least a six month wait, but once inside, participants get to explore "phantom" metro stations that have been closed since World War II.

The mystery surrounding these tours has a certain underground, geeky appeal that I find irresistible. What types of people might I meet on a tour like this? Historians? Train junkies? Documentary filmmakers? Parisian Bloggers? Whoever they are, they are people who find value in observing fragments of the past, and this makes me want to observe them. How did they get there? And why? How long have they been waiting for the chance to see the phantom stations? Perhaps some Parisians go here in pursuit of an alternative to the crowded hustle and bustle of an afternoon at the Louvre.

Unfortunately, it will surely get to the point where Rick Steves covers ADEMAS in his next book, thus truly opening the floodgates of American tourism and wreaking havoc on the whole underground appeal. He means well, but those navy books are everywhere you look. After all, part of the beauty of travel is wandering the unknown.

The best part about the ADEMAS tours?? They serve croissants at the end!

The heart behind Poilane

I'm a little peeved that the Hiltons felt it necessary to name their daughter after one of my favorite cities. Here I sit, but a peasant blogger, just trying to keep tabs on recent news and events happening in the city of lights. But my Google Alerts keep bombarding me with stories of notorious socialite shenanigans instead. I'm going to have to see about some sort of filter.

Thank goodness Google Alerts don't always lack relevance to The Great American Bakery Hunt. Tonight Google alerted me to a fascinating Washington Post story about a different Paris heiress: Apollonia Poilane. Poilane is the 22 year old Chief Executive of Paris- based Poilane bakeries, a family-run business she inherited from her parents.

Poilane is a bakery I have declared my love for in the past. However, this was the first I had heard of Apollonia's story. While running one of the best bakeries in the world, this Chief Executive continues her studies as a Harvard undergrad, where she will graduate with a degree in economics.

After discovering Poilane on my last trip to Paris, I can think of few bakeries that have a lovelier feel when you enter their doors. As you step inside, you are greeted with a cheerful "Bonjour!" by a group of French women in matching aprons, and the products--well those speak for themselves. If it's any indication, people have been eating their famous bread since 1932, which is made in a wood fired oven. Apollonia Poilane describes herself as having "a sweet tooth" for the family business.

Her story combines two of my great loves: a passionate energy for business combined with a serious love for quality baked goods. And now that I know there is so much heart behind this bakery, I love it even more. Although it's probably why I loved it in the first place. It is clear from walking into Poilane, from tasting their bread, from sinking your teeth into their apple tarts, that the company takes pride in the products they bake.

The Washington Post article conveys Apollonia's personal passion for the business. The story describes a letter she wrote to the Pope in an effort to convince him to take gluttony off of the list of seven deadly sins. With spunky moves like that, I can tell Poilane and I are kindred spirits.

A souvenir bag of Poilane flour has remained on my diningroom table since June. Untouched since its purchase, it is reserved for a special use. Although I haven't determined what exactly I will use it for, I'm hoping the end result will be so tasty that it would make the Pope blush.

Monday, November 06, 2006

From California to Baltimore, it's Taco Tuesdays and German Thursdays galore

In Southern California, we start the week off right with our much beloved tradition of Taco Tuesdays. For those of you who are not familiar with Taco Tuesday, it is a day when you are guaranteed to find a wealth of Mexican food to feast on for well under $6. On this day, Mexican food restaurants lower their prices, giving wallets a break so you can guiltlessly partake in all the piping hot tacos your heart desires. For taco lovers in Southern California, Taco Tuesday means freedom.

I don't know how the Taco Tuesday trend originally started, but by God, I'm not going to question it. Ever.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to Mexican food in Southern CA. Travel five miles in any direction and it is likely you will find several Taco Tuesdays occurring all around you. But for all you locals out there, the best Taco Tuesday around is at Taco Mesa on 19th street in Costa Mesa. Los Golondrinas comes in a close second. (For all of you serious taco hunters out there, check out L.A. based taco blogger at The Great Taco Hunt).

Taco Mesa remains my longtime neighborhood favorite. Although my devotion to bakery hunting never wavers, I do often have serious Taco Mesa cravings (particularly when Monday night rolls around).

During any typical week in my life, Tuesday is my most favorite food day. Taco Mesa's original Costa Mesa location is the only way to go. Positioned in a rather unglamorous spot across from the Costa Mesa DMV and next to a MacDonald's, it looks any other typical Mexican eatery from the outside (nothing to blog home about). But anyone who has sampled the greatness of their menu knows better. For this Costa Mesa diamond in the rough, outside appearances are incredibly deceiving. On Tuesdays, Taco Mesa sells tacos for $1 a piece. I can say with confidence that it's the best Taco Tuesday in town! If I were to ever have a firstborn, I would have to consider naming said firstborn Taco Mesa in honor of all of the amazing food I have eaten there over the years. I will be their loyal customer for eternity. (You can also try Taco Rosa for a slightly more upscale version of their food).

Food days definitely make the week go by faster-- anyone who has visited Acapulco's $2 margarita mondays knows this to be true. Speaking of "food days", it turns out that if I ever move to North Baltimore, I'll be able to participate in German Thursdays. Nicole Fuller of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Edelweiss Bakery and Cafe offers German Thursdays to customers in a weekly celebration of German culture. With a name like Friedersdorf, it's about time I get in touch with my German roots. Once a year at Oktoberfest just isn't enough. Bring on the German Thursdays Baltimore! Prost!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lamenting labels...

In Canadian news, the Ottawa Sun reports that a popular local bakery will have to shut its doors due to Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulations. This family owned bakery has been in business for thirty five years, but was recently ordered by an inspector to label products according to rigid government standards. The new labeling regulations created up to $100,000 in costs that the bakery could not reasonably afford, particularly with the approaching holiday rush. Should small businesses remain subject to the same packaging and labeling compliance laws as large businesses? I'll give my vote to the bakery, not the bureaucrats. If only politicians would champion neighborhood bakeries as much as they do libraries, parks, recycling bins, and senior citizen centers. At The Great American Bakery Hunt, we have our priorities straight.

Day of the Dead Bread...

For those of you who are still obsessing over Halloween, don't forget that November 1st and 2nd mark traditional Day of the Dead celebrations. The Napa Valley Register features a dazzling Day of the Dead photo by Andrea Roth. Like any dedicated bakery hunter, I value any holiday that glorifies bread products, and this photo features quite a spread.

I can think of no better way to honor the dead than through a bread tribute. And this is the purpose of "“pan de los muertos” (bread of the dead), one of the many objects that family members gather for this holiday to pay tribute to their deceased loved ones. Bakeries that specialize in this type of bread experience a typical spike in sales around the time of this holiday.

This tradition reminds me of one of my favorite movie sequences, from "Man on the Moon" with Jim Carrey. Carrey plays comedian Andy Kaufman, a man who buys milk and cookies for thousands of strangers as one of his last hurrahs after finding out he has lung cancer. (In reality, Kaufman's timing was not quite as touching as it appeared in the film. According to L.A. Weekly, Kaufman did this years before he was diagnosed). I have always remembered that story though, despite the fact that the tricky screenwriters took some liberty with the sequence of events.

That moment on film just seemed so appropriate to me. Kaufman's cookies and milk gesture pays homage to the idea that when it comes to honoring a life, food is everything and everything is food.

Food remains the one constant in our lives. On any given day it is there to feed you, but also to comfort you, thrill you, romance you, make you drool-- even make you feel whole. Whether to celebrate life or celebrate death, food becomes a part of our most meaningful expressions, our most closely held memories. And this is why The Great American Bakery Hunt is a noble hunt indeed.