Sunday, September 25, 2011

The French Tarte teaches a baking class

Yesterday, Saturday, Susie drove up to Whitinsville to teach a baking class at the home of some friends of Dick and Dorothy. The students were young but focused, eager and attentive -- and the results amazing: madeleines, chocolate moelleux cakes and chocolate diamant cookies (chocolate being well-represented obviously).

Susie's brother Dick was on hand to take photos and kindly passed them on so that I could create a slideshow:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Searching for whales and spices

The weather this past Saturday was incredible, at least in this corner of New England, we knew we had to be out of doors somewhere.

Now, we could've have stayed right here in Rhode Island and explored more of the coastline. Or we could've have gone to Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and taken in the arboreal splendors of that fantastic necropolis. Or we could have gone to sea in search of the great whale, that mysterious animal snacking its way south along Stellwagen Bank 30 miles east of Boston. The whale watch won out.

The day was gorgeous, warm yet hinting of the fall to come, and a blue sky that seemed to go on forever -- which it did, of course, since at sea the horizon appears infinite.

So we drove to Boston, to the New England Aquarium, home of Boston's much-lauded whale watch cruises. We parked the car next door to the boat landing and queued up to board the Voyager III, a hi-tech catamaran that would cary us and some 200 or so like-minded folks out to find the whales.

But it didn't quite work out as planned. The trip was wonderful, the sea calm and inviting and even though the sun beckoned us to stay the day we searched high and low for the great beast but all we saw were a couple of blows and backside of a fin whale. The only watching was by 200 people watching each other watch for whales.

Still, I like to think Herman Melville would have been proud enough of us to say that at least we tried. And they gave us free tickets to return -- the policy is we come back until we see whales. Noe that's a business model we can live with. So come next June. . .

Anyway, after we left downtown Boston we meandered our way west in the direction of Arlington in the search of spices, Penzey's Spices to be exact. For nearly 20 years we have been ordering Penzey's by mail -- great quality and you buy what you need; you can't beat that. But we'd never been in one of their shops. This search proved far more successful than the elusive whale -- and it was cool to finally stroll around row after row, rack after rack of nothing but spices and herbs.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Two ways to go barging in France

To go “barging” in France is really a fancy way of saying boat rental, also referred to as “selfdrive.” With the exception of Locaboat’s unique penichette design, modeled after the traditional French commercial peniche (photos below), nearly all of the “self-drive” barge programs are really powerboats.

Locaboat's Penichette

There are really only two ways to “barge” in France. You can either pay someone to do it for you or you can do it yourself. That’s it.

If you go with letting someone else motor you around the canals, what you’re really doing is renting a floating hotel room complete with 24-hour service, food, wine and even escorted to trips through the countryside. All for a price, of course: costs per person on the small exclusive “luxury hotel barges” catering to 6-20 people begin at $2,000 but are typically much, much higher (the fewer the berths or cabins the higher the price per person). For example, cruising for six days on the Canal du Midi with European Waterways will cost anywhere from $4,300 to more than $6,000 per person (September 2012 pricing online).

But, if you want to be pampered and not worry about canal locks, mooring lines, where to go next or what to fix for dinner, and if you have the cash, this is the way to go.

If you’d rather do things yourself, if you’d prefer a more hands-on experience traveling French canals and rivers, then the self-drive approach is right up your alley. Renting a boat that sleeps 4-6 people for a week will cost about anywhere from $1,500-3,000, not including food. And you have to drive the boat yourself, of course.

We intend to drive ourselves, so if you’re interested in hotel barging I suggest you jump into the Google bar and head straight for “barging in France.” If your interests lie in self-drive canal cruises in France, then stick with us – over the next coming weeks and months I will post details of my research and, hopefully end with a great experience to share with the rest of you.

I figure the worst that can happen is we will want to buy our own barge . . .

So, here’s the plan so far: a week cruising the Canal du Midi in southern France, possibly in August but probably in early September of 2012. OK, that much we know.

Next: Just who is crazy enough to rent a boat costing €100,000 to a guy who doesn’t know how to drive one?