Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhklahoma!

Right after Christmas we packed up the babe and flew to Lawton, Oklahoma.

What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of Lawton? Never been to Oklahoma? Well, me neither. And before my visit, my knowledge of that midwestern state was pretty much limited to a hazy notion of dust bowls and the Trail of Tears. Not exactly the stuff of dream vacations.

But contrary to popular belief, Oklahoma isn’t just some bleak dusty place you’ve never visited and have only heard about in 8th grade social studies. It’s actually fun!

Granted, my trip was made exceptionally fun because of one awesome niece and some wonderful in-laws waiting in Lawton for us. But I swear, there are some really cool things going on in Lawton other than my extended family. Such as the Fort Sill artillery museum. Also known as the weirdest place I’ve ever whipped out a boob to feed my child.

Best exhibit: A stuffed mule that was similar to the mule used in the doomed-from-the-start Mule Cannon experiment. I am not kidding.

After the museum we drove around the historic grounds of the base and saw Geronimo’s prison cell, followed by his final resting place. The next day we had some excellent Tex-Mex food and played a little four-square in the golden prairie sunlight. But the highlight of the trip came on our last day, when we drove out to Meers for a world famous Meersburger.

The Meers Store is a ramshackle looking little place at a crossroads out in the middle of nowhere, next to a big wildlife refuge complete with roaming buffalo herds. They have world famous burgers, made from their own herd of Texas Longhorn cattle, which roam with the buffalo next door.

When we arrived around 2 in the afternoon on a Friday, the line was out the door. But that’s ok, because it gave us plenty of time to read all the old license plates and bumper stickers on the walls.

I could tell that these people had a sense of humor, which upped the odds that this was going to be one helluva burger.  As we inched closer to an open table, my in-laws briefed me on proper Meersburger etiquette:  Don’t ask for any substitutions or fancy additions, unless you want to be called a “sissy.” Don’t expect anything to drink other than beer in a giant mug or RC Cola in a giant Mason jar. And be prepared for a burger the size of a pie plate, designed to keep hungry cowboys full all day.

I know what you’re thinking: That burger is insane! And: They still make RC Cola? To which I say: yes and YES! Don’t sleep on the RC Cola! It’s delicious.

But back to the burger. It was awesome. Ginormously awesome. I was slightly alarmed at the thinness and well-doneness when it arrived, but let me tell you – it was still fabulously juicy and full of flavor, topped with the Meers-standard pickles, mustard, onions, lettuce and tomato.

It was indeed enough to keep several hungry cowboys full all day. But that didn’t stop us from ordering peach cobbler with homemade vanilla ice cream. It was a thing of beauty. I didn’t get a picture of it because I was in a food coma at that point.

After the Meers experience we drove up into the Wichita mountains to scramble over the rocks and watch the sun set over the wildlife refuge, one of the few places left with real bonafide prairie grasslands. The light washed over the orangey stone and muted greens, giving everything a rosy golden glow. It was lovely.

Lovely! Did you hear that? Oklahoma was actually lovely! I had a great time there. And hearing anyone say otherwise? Well, it really…

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A lot o’ gelato.

I am back from a glorious trip through Italy, well rested and sun kissed. And probably also about 10 pounds heavier, which I will shamelessly attribute to le bébé. Honestly. I swear it had nothing at all to do with this:

or this:

or this:

That last one there was technically sorbet (melon and lemon), which is nothing more than a light afternoon refreshment. A palate cleanser. Practically health food if you ask me.

I will admit that the cone I accidentally topped with two scoops of gelato mousse (which is apparently not gelato, but pure whipped cream) wasn’t the healthiest approach. But I didn’t even finish that one! I ate Husband’s stracciatella instead.

And although I did fall deeply, madly in love with a dark chocolate fondant and caramel combination from Giolitti in Rome, I can say with authority that red grapefruit sorbet is really where it’s at. And isn’t grapefruit part of any healthful, nutritious diet?

Yep. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Especially when I step on the scale at the doctor’s office today.

Vocab Friday: Frites

So yesterday I told you about our Indonesian-Dutch waiter handing over with much glee his top two places to get fries in Amsterdam. Today I’m going to tell you about the ensuing quest for perfect frites.

But first things first: let’s talk about what exactly you consider a perfect french fry: Thick and hand cut? Thin and crisp? Perhaps the waffled version offered by Chick-fil-A? I myself like my fries fresh – none of this frozen, food coloring yellow crap. I want them to taste like potatoes, and maybe even have bits of skin left on. Then they should be fried to golden perfection, creating crisp edges that yield to delicate fluffy potato inside. They’ve got to be sturdy enough to hold a pile of ketchup or even a dousing of vinegar, but not so crunchy that they scrape the roof of your mouth and not so fat that they’re like swallowing a mouthful of boxed mashed potato mix. And they need to be salty.

Here in Paris, I’ve been disappointed by some pretty terrible specimens– sad, frostbitten yellow twigs that clearly came from Picard. Six years ago. And don’t get me started on the elusive duck fat french fries, which better be coming back this summer or I will personally start sending hate mail to chef Daniel Rose.

So I was pumped to get to Amsterdam and get some real, undeniably good fries. Which brings us back to the quest for frites and our waiter friend, who assured us that he personally taste tested french fry establishments on a regular basis, in addition to keeping up with the latest french fry blogs. Thus we knew we were in good (if not chubby) hands.

His first recommendation?  Vlaams FritesHuis, tucked away at Voetboogstraat 31, off of Heiligeweg (which apparently means “heavenly way”).

Heavenly indeed. The draw of the FritesHuis was supposedly the excellent potato flavor and extensive array of sauces on tap– everything from plain old ketchup to soy sauce mixed with mayo to satay peanut sauce. We opted for plain old ketchup:

The verdict? Pretty delicious, but not salty enough. And I was suspicious of the bright yellow coloring.

But don’t get me wrong– we forked that whole cone down in no time, and proceeded on our way to the next friteshuis. Well, first we actually walked around for a while to digest, then checked out of our hotel, then inexplicably stopped for lunch. Finally on our way to the train station we made it to Damrak 41, location of Manneken Pis, purveyor of purportedly awesome, crispier-style fries.

These were definitely crisper, crunchier, and much saltier. And no crazy sauce options to confuse you. Pretty damn good for what looked like a boardwalk chain. The verdict? I felt like my stomach was going to explode, but still wanted to cram these into my craw. That should tell you something (something like, I’m disgusting, I have a problem, I need to do more salad taste tests…)

*     *     *

les frites

Pronunciation: ley freet

Definition: French fries! Duh. As in,

“Please baby jesus in velvet pants, give me the chance to savor those glorious duck fat frites at Spring!”

The sweetness.

Sometimes the French language is hard to understand. But do you know what’s even harder? French menus that have been translated into English.

I’m telling you: Don’t ever ask for the English menu. You’d have better luck pointing randomly at the French one and just hoping for the best. I’m not sure if it’s the wider range of unique French ingredients and preparations that throws them off, or the fact that the French are generally way more poetic in their descriptions, but I have seen some completely insane English explanations of dinner. I’ve more than once handed back a translated menu because it was indecipherable.

The one exception thus far being this menu, found at the snack bar at the top of Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix:

I can totally get on board with ordering a Sweetness. Perhaps a dough’nut, or a jame pankake with extra of wipped cream?

(Yes, I know that I myself routinely butcher the French language. Heck, I routinely butcher English! And I know that restaurants in America probably screw up French things on menus. But it just seems more egregious here. And more hilarious.)

 

 

 

Dog sledding: Hard, dangerous, and more poo breaks than you’d expect.

So after I posted that I’d be forgoing skiing in the Alps because of my preggo status and taking up dog sledding instead, several people commented that rigging myself up on a rickety sled pulled by several aggressive huskies might in fact be more dangerous than sailing down the slopes on a pair of skis.

And before I actually stood behind my own team of sled dogs, who could no doubt smell my fear and seemed to thrive on it, I would have said, “Don’t be ridiculous!

I mean, the website promoted the excursion as family friendly! You could put your kid in the sled and drive them around! Besides, how dangerous does this guy look?

So when my friend Jess and I arrived at the base of Le Tour for our 15 minute dog sledding lesson and subsequent 45 minute sledding adventure, I didn’t think much could go wrong.

Then the guide came over to give us le briefing. It started out ok: Here’s the brake, here’s where you stand, etc. But quickly devolved into tips such as “Don’t EVER let your dogs pass another sled, they’ll fight and start biting each other” and “Don’t let go of your sled when you fall, just hang on and try to pull yourself up and run beside it for a while.”

I paused for a moment, wondering at the guide’s choice of English there. “When” you fall? What about “if” you fall? Was a face plow in the snow really as inevitable as he was making it sound?

“Yes. People fall all the time. A lot.”

Al-righty. He then instructed us to hop on and jam down the brakes as they geared up the dogs. Poor Jess was rigged up first, her lead dog howling and leaping vertically 5 feet in the air as the rest of us got ready. That’s when I started wondering if dog sledding wasn’t just the best worst idea I’d ever had.

Then my 3 dogs were latched on, and they started howling and barking and jerking my sled forward in fits of unbridled excitement. They were pumped. I was terrified. And then it was time to go. With a brisk Allez! from the guide the dogs snapped into line and we all launched forward in single file into the field ahead.

And for about 30 seconds it was absolutely exhilarating! We were flying over the snow, I was gripping on to the sled for dear life, and the dogs seemed to be having a blast.

Then they stopped. And took a poo.

I was not briefed on what to do during a dog poo break, so I waited patiently. Then the dogs finished their business and leapt forward without much warning. And for another few minutes it was extreme dog sled madness! Leaning into the turns! Wind whipping my face! White-knuckle grip on the sled!

And then we stopped for another poo break.

After that we did a short uphill jog (with me running behind the sled) to complete our first circuit. The guide made a brief assessment: All were alive and accounted for. So we took off again on a slightly more complicated route, down by the riverside and into some heavier snow.

That’s when I watched Jess take a flying Superman fall into a snowdrift. It looked bad. But did she let go of the sled? No! She dragged for a few feet, did some magical roll maneuver and jumped back up and onto the foot holds. It was awesome.

After a few more feet and another poo break, I heard an ominous AAIIIIEEEEEEE! behind me and shortly found another woman’s dog team panting next to mine, without a driver. I took the opportunity to stop, tell all the doggies to remain calm, and snap one of the only action photos of the day:

After the woman was yanked out of a snow bank and reunited with her sled, we took off for a few more laps through the countryside. There were several more tumbles and poo breaks, thankfully none of which involved me. And by the end, my dogs pretty much gave up trying to pull my pregnant ass up the last hill, so I had to run behind them, panting and sweating and dodging the piles of poo on the track.

But all in all, I would say dog sledding was a total success. My hidden talent maybe, since I didn’t fall once! And absolutely probably more dangerous than skiing. So I figure when I finally get around to making baby #2 someday, I’ll have to line up a trip to scale Everest or something.

Greetings from the Alps.

Bonjour! Apologies for the radio silence dear readers, but I’ve been soaking in the sunshine at the base of Mont Blanc. Yes, it is sunnier and warmer in Chamonix than it is in Paris. I’m wearing sunblock. I might never leave.

Since I’m a lame pregnant lady, I can’t do much skiing. But I have enjoyed fondue and raclette, and a fair number of hot chocolates. Today I’m stepping it up a bit and going husky dog sledding – yep, you read that correctly, dog sledding. Where I stand on a sled and drive my own team of huskies.

So I might not be updating the blog much this week, but I promise to reward you with many amazing photos of me being dragged face first through the snow by large, wolf-life dogs. You’re welcome.

Dreams of home.

In t-minus 2 days I will be home. Did you hear that? In two days! I’ll be home! Well, not in my home home, because that’s rented out. And not in my dad’s home, because I haven’t lived there since 2000 during the Summer of Hell, which was a black period in my life not fit for print descriptions (love you more dad!). But I will be back in my sister’s house, with my own room and 3 nieces and 1 nephew just down the hall. I plan on waking up at the crack of dawn and bursting into their bedrooms shouting WAKE UP! WAKE UP! IT’S TIME TO PLAY! because that’s what they did to me when I lived with them in college. After the Summer of Hell which shall not be mentioned again.

In these last few hours of Parisian grayness, when I’m not busy scheming ways to pester my family members, I am spending a good deal of time dreaming about what I am going to eat. I’m not even talking about Thanksgiving food here. I just want a toasted bagel people. A toasted bagel with cream cheese. Or a toasted bagel with egg and cheese. Ohhhhhh egg and cheese breakfast sandwich, have I missed you so! Your absence on the international morning scene is heartbreaking.

Or how about pizza? Pizza that doesn’t have goat cheese or salmon on it? That would be marvelous. I am also sleep-salivating over spicy Mexican food – fajitas, guacamole, salsa that’s not from a jar that says Tostitos. A big, gooey, heart-attack inducing plate of nachos. Oh god yes. That’s what I need.

I also have a very bizarre craving for Chinese food. Authentic Bethesda-style Chinese food that probably tastes nothing like real food from China. Yes. Ummm-hmmmm. Gimme somma that.

And since it will be Thanksgiving, I’m going to go ahead and allow room for turkey sandwiches. With pickles and plain old yellow mustard that doesn’t burn out your sinuses after one bite. Also pumpkin pie. Loads and loads of pumpkin pie.

I know it sounds sad. Here I am, living in the food capital of the world. French cuisine actually just got classified as a UNESCO Intangible World Heritage, and all I want is a good old American cornucopia of crap. I should be ashamed.

But I swear to jesus in velvet pants, if someone takes me to Whole Foods I will cry tears of joy.