SAN SEBASTIÁN, PINTXOS, AND THE GILDA

For those who have never been to San Sebastián, Spain, put it on your bucket list. If you have already been—then you know. You’ll return.

What makes the city so appealing?

Food, glorious food, and more food.

Of course the setting is lovely. Once a small fishing village, San Sebastián now spreads from the sea up over verdant hill-like mountains and offers a cornucopia of tourist pleasures that includes: unusually beautiful urban beaches,

graceful promenades and pedestrian-only streets,

Belle Époque architecture and enough museums, monuments and activities

to win the title of European Capital of Culture, 2016.  

But the city amenities provide only a tidbit of San Sebastián’s draw. Food is the main magnet. 

The region boasts more Michelin star restaurants per capita than nearly any other area in the world and is considered the epicenter showcase of avant-garde cuisine. 

Superstars of San Sebastian’s Gastronomy

But it’s not even the overload of palaces of haute cuisine that makes San Sebastián a gastronomic goldmine.

Foodies love San Sebastián pintxos (pronounced “peen-chos”). These high-flavor, low-cost, two-bite size snacks, often described as upscale Spanish tapas, were born in San Sebastián and the city remains the best place on earth to sample the bounty.

Bar after bar, especially in Old Town, stack their counters with the little culinary jewels and the local custom is to enjoy a movable feast, going place to place devouring one or two pintxos along with a small drink.

Favorite beverages include zurito (a small beer), txakoli, a semi-sparkling young white wine, and cider, that bartenders pour from a high arching curve hitting the bullseye of a small glass. 

Pintxos translates “to poke or skewer” thus some of the pintxos are skewered on wooden picks. Others towered on a base of bread. Some are hot. Some are cold. Some are fancy (think foie gras, fish cheeks that all time delicious old cow) and some are simple to the core (for example the iconic Gilda, served in every bar). 

Gilda pintxos show up in most San Sebastian pintxo bars.

Whatever the individual pintxo’s characteristics, it takes on added pleasure when enjoyed in an atmosphere of congenial chaos of a San Sebastian bar.

THE GILDA

Like its namesake, Rita Hayworth’s femme fatale character in the movie Gilda, this pintxo is bold and spicy, well-put together and well-loved. The blend of salty spicy flavors plus the ease of preparation make the Gilda a perfect party appetizer. 

To make the Gilda: skewer Guindilla peppers, Cantabrian anchovies and Manzanilla olives onto a wooden cocktail pick and serve. That’s all there is to it. Easy. Delicious.

The three ingredients can be purchased in jars or tins, online or in food stores that specialize in Spanish products. Be sure to order the real things:

Guindilla peppers, the traditional pepper of the Basque region, are yellowish-green with a narrow, elongated shape. They are typically pickled in  white wine vinegar and sold in jars.

Cantabrian anchovies are wild-caught in the spring in the waters of the Cantabrian Sea. They are cured in a brine of water, fat and sea salt and then hand-filleted and packed in olive oil in glass jars or tins.

Manzanilla olives are plump, lightish green olives— the best of which are handpicked in Andalusia, pitted and packed in glass jars or tins in a high-quality brine. They are sometimes sold stuffed. If you buy the stuffed variety, poke out the stuffing before skewering the olive in the Gilda.

And now:

Where to stay in San Sebastián: Hotel Maria Cristina

Favorite places to eat in San Sebastián:

The Michelin three-star Arzak 

and the great pintxos bar

La Cuchara de San Telmo 

 

 

 

GEAR TO GO

Of all the travel products and paraphernalia that Sweet Leisure sampled and scrutinized lately, two rise to the surface like cream. Take one to the beach, the other on the road. But before I tell you about these useful products, I have to add a disclaimer. These are not ads. I am not paid (Damn!).

FOR THE BEACH

The CGEAR TOTE II SAND-FREE  BAG

is strong, sophisticated and stylish, but even better, it’s practical. Here is a good looking beach bag that offers enough space for towels, sunscreen, wine, books, picnic edibles (cookie recipe below), and other beach essentials. As to the unique part, the bag has a woven-base that sheds sand, crumbs, dirt like a sieve. Put it on the sand. Unpack. Repack. Pick it up and the sand (and other small particles), flow out the bottom of the bag. NICE!  And once home, the bag folds for easy storage. A tote that gets our vote. For more information, click HERE.

FOR THE ROAD TRIP,  BOAT RIDE, CAMPING ADVENTURE 

The JUMPSMART

is a multi-useful tool to jump start most cars, trucks, SUV’s, ATVs…well…just about any vehicle including motorcycles and can be used on boats and lawnmowers to boot. The cables are tucked into a compact heavy-duty carrying case that includes a powerful 330 Lumen LED flashlight and a Power Bank for charging mobil phones, tablets, cameras and other travel necessities. Cool, compact and multi-useful, the JUMPSMART can help cope with a variety of emergencies when on the road. Safe and sound all around. For more information, click HERE.

And now to add to your gear to go—a cookie to take to the beach, on a road trip or enjoy any time you want a sweet that is awesomely delicious, easy to make and good for the body as well as the spirit.

FOUR INGREDIENT CHOCOLATE CHIPPER

Yield: About 20 cookies.

3 ripe bananas

About 1-1/2 cups oats

About 2/3 cup chocolate chips

About 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Puree bananas in a blender. Transfer puree to a bowl. Stir in enough oats to make a dough that is moist, but not runny (amount of oats depends on size of bananas). Throw in a generous handful of chocolate chips and nuts. Drop 1 heaping tablespoon mounds of dough onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Press top of mounds to flatten and press lightly around edges to make compact. Bake at 350°F until deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool slightly before removing from parchment paper. The cookies are good eaten warm, at room temperature, or frozen—without thawing.

BEST EVER SUGAR BAKED HOLIDAY HAM RECIPE

Ta-Da! Drum roll please! And now, dear readers, I’m going to share my secret family recipe for the best ever (really really succulent and delicious) sugar baked holiday ham.

BEST EVER SUGAR BAKED HOLIDAY HAM

Yield: Plan on serving 1/2 to 3/4 pound per person, but buy enough to have leftovers. This ham makes fabulous bean soup and sandwiches. (See NOTE below)

1 large, bone-in, fully cooked ham (or half a fully cooked, bone-in ham)

Whole anise seed

Paprika

Granulated Sugar

Preheat oven to 325°F. 

If necessary, trim any tough skin and excess fat from ham, leaving about 1/4-inch fat around ham. Cutting through fat and slightly into meat, score top of ham in a diamond pattern and place ham, scored side up on a rack in a large roasting pan. (If roasting half a ham, place it on the rack cut side down.)

Add 1 inch water to bottom of roasting pan (water can touch bottom of ham). Sprinkle ham generously with anise seed, paprika and sugar.

Place roasting pan in 325°F oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then open door of oven and baste ham generously with water from pan. Again sprinkle ham with anise seed, paprika and sugar. Continue baking, basting and sprinkling with anise seed, paprika and sugar every half hour or so until ham is browned, glistening with sugar glaze and warm throughout. (As a general rule, bake about 18 to 22 minutes per pound. Remember the ham is fully cooked, you are just heating it.)

Let ham rest 15 minutes before slicing.

 

NOTE: Dill Mustard makes a super addition to cold ham sandwiches. (Click HERE for recipe).

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 WAYS TO SAVOR CINCINNATI

Love food? Headed to Cincinnati? Lucky you. 

Forget your diet. Cincinnati is the place to gorge, gobble and gluttonize on high-fat, low-cost and pig-out delicious specialities. Whatever you do in the city—wherever you go, be sure to sample:

CINCINNATI CHILI

There is nothing like this chili anyplace else in the world. Unlike traditional chili, the Cincinnati version lacks beans and heat and is almost never served by itself in a bowl. The semi-sweet concoction shows up on top of unflavored spaghetti buried under a mound of shredded Cheddar. Some swear chocolate is responsible for the chili’s unique flavor. Others say cinnamon. I say, who cares. Just give me more. I thought Cincinnati chili would be an acquired taste, and I was correct. I acquired the taste at first bite.

Although a slew of restaurants and chili parlors make Cincinnati chili, I like the  3-, 4- or 5-ways served at Skyline Chili. (Three is just spaghetti, chili and cheese. Four adds beans or chopped onions and the five adds beans and onions.)

 While at Skyline, you must try the Cheese Coney, a hot dog topped with mustard, chili, cheese and onion. OMG good!!! While waiting for a chili order to arrive, locals load up on “cracker bombs,” made by splashing hot sauce over oyster crackers. Go figure.  https://www.skylinechili.com

 

GRAETER’S ICE CREAM

Hand-crafted French Pot ice cream from Graeter’s can seduce even rigid dieters. 

Flavorwise, black raspberry chocolate chip ranks first in popularity. I prefer the cookie dough chocolate chip because both chunks of cookie dough and chocolate manage to stay soft and chewable despite being encased in cold. Truth be told, it doesn’t really matter what you choose— black raspberry, cookie dough, salted caramel, Oregon strawberry, toffee chocolate chip, etc.—all of Graeter’s  creamy, dreamy incarnations delight.  https://www.graeters.com

 GOETTA

Gotta try it. Developed in Cincinnati’s German community as a way to stretch a scant supply of sausage, Goetta (pronounced GET-uh), is a sort of cold meatloaf made of ground pork combined with steel-cut oats and seasonings. The loaf is sliced into thin patties and fried until crispy brown outside and melting rich inside. One can find goetta on menus at various diners and breakfast places throughout the city and folks can buy goetta to cook at home at most all Cincinnati supermarkets and grocery stores.

 

MONTGOMERY INN BBQ SAUCE

Although this famous thick and tangy wow of a sauce (tomato based with garlic, onions, molasses and spices) is sold in supermarkets and online, the very best place to try it is slathered over ribs at The Original Montgomery Inn and/or The Montogomery Inn Boathouse. Great ribs. Great sauce. Great fun.

 

UNITED DAIRY FARMERS MILKSHAKES AND MALTS

United Dairy Farmers (UDF) is a chain of convenience stores that started out selling dairy products in 1940 and, today, sports 170 outlets spread over three states, most selling gas. What UDFs have in luscious common is ice cream, with an emphasis on handmade milkshakes and old-fashioned malts. Although UDF’s classic strawberry shake took “best in the Buckeye State” honors, I say their chocolate malt ranks as my personal favorite. Go ahead. Try both. Make up your own mind.  https://www.udfinc.co

HOLTMAN’S DONUTS

One photo is worth a thousand words.   https://www.holtmansdonutshop.com

 

MAVERICK CHOCOLATE

Maverick’s co-founders, Paul and Marlene Picton, start from scratch in producing their prize-winning chocolate. Scratch means sourcing the beans from around the world, then taking every step necessary to turn the beans into luscious bars, truffles and drinking chocolate. I suggest visitors stop at the Maverick Chocolate Co. shop/factory in Findlay Market to sample and savor, although one can buy Maverick Chocolates online to devour at home—wherever in the world home is. (Oh the glory of online shopping!) https://maverickchocolate.com

Paul Picton

FINDLAY MARKET

In addition to Maverick Chocolates, Findlay Market merchants sell a rich variety of locally sourced, artisanal and speciality foods and craft products. Findlay is the oldest continuously operated public market in Ohio and well worth a visit. Best way to explore Findlay is on a Cincinnati Food Tour led by Barb Cooper. Barb makes sure her “clients” find and sample the best of the bounty.  http://www.findlaymarket.org       https://www.cincinnatifoodtours.com

Barb Cooper

MITA’S 

If I could only choose one restaurant to try in the cornucopia of Cincinnati’s best, I would pick Mita’s. James Beard Nominated Chef Jose Salazar’s interpretation of Latin American and Spanish dishes shine in Mita’s  pretty, casual, upscale dining room. Perhaps it’s the pitcher of white sangria that preceded my meal, but I loved everything I ordered from the freshest ever jicama and green mango salad to the octopus with potatoes and potato foam to the paella.   https://www.mitas.co

Jose Salazar

JAPP’S BAR 

The drinking crowd will find Japp’s Bar particularly interesting, primarily because it’s owned by the exuberant, colorful, delightful Molly Wellman, the Queen City’s recognized “queen of cocktails.” A historian, Molly whips up historic cocktails as well as contemporary craft concoctions. Although the bar is staggeringly good on its own, Molly adds a unique spirit that’s positively intoxicating.

Molly Wellman

 

 

HAPPY HOUR: UNION 30’S COMFORTABLY NUMB

So here is  the way I was told to drink the Comfortably Numb cocktail served at Union 30, a restaurant located inside the smashing Hotel Saint Louis. 

See that little bud sitting in a white dish at the side of the drink? It’s a Szechuan button flower. I was told to eat the button and then take a soothing sip of cocktail.  Can’t believe I listened. That bud packs a whole lot of OMG-hot into a nibble.

Take a bite and your mouth feels hit by lighting—as if you stuck your tongue in an electrical outlet—as if you bit into a cherry bomb…no… make that a hand grenade. You grab the cocktail and gulp, then your mouth goes comfortably numb.

Truth be told, it’s not really the drink that eases the pain. It’s the button doing the damage and then the numbing. In some circles this crazy plant is known as the toothache plant due to the eventual numbing qualities when chewed.

When consumed together, the button and cocktail are no less than explosively enjoyable, agonizingly delightful and miserably marvelous. But just as the button can numb without the cocktail, two or three cocktail can make everything well…beautifully numb without the preceding pain. See for yourself. The Union 30 bartender gave me the recipe:

 

 

 

COMFORTABLY NUMB

Yield: one serving.

2 ounces Hendricks Gin

3/4 ounces St-Germain (elderflower liqueur)

3/4 ounce Curacao (orange-flavored liqueur)

1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1/2 ounce white grape juice

1 Schezwan button flower 

Put all ingredients except button in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass. Serve with the Schezwan button flower on the side. 

 

 

HOTEL SAINT LOUIS, UNION 30 RESTAURANT AND FAMOUS BARR FRENCH ONION SOUP

St. Louis has a new hotel and it’s a stunner.

 Believing hotels should be rated for not only guest comforts, but also capturing “a sense of place,” I’d rate Hotel Saint Louis a perfect 10. Well… make that 9-1/2 as it’s hard to find free parking. (A paid lot sits across the street and the hotel offers valet service.) Other than parking, Hotel Saint Louis delights on so many levels.

First is the building itself. The 14-story hotel is encased in the historic Union Trust Building designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan and constructed in 1893. As you know, Sullivan earned the name of both the “father of skyscrapers” and “father of modernism.” He mentored Frank Lloyd Wright and a hotel manager told me that Hotel Saint Louis was the last project that Wright worked on under Sullivan’s tutelage before going on his own.

The hotel serves as a shrine to Sullivan. Original windows and floors and stairways remain intact. Design elements copy Sullivan’s swirls and curls and other original features.

A commissioned portrait of Sullivan by artist Fern K. Taylor overlooks the sparkling lobby.

The rooftop bar is even named “FORM,” after Sullivans famous motto, “Form follows function.”

Unpretentious and unique, the Hotel Saint Louis combines the historic with the contemporary while it shines a spotlight on all things St. Louis. Portraits of Maya Angelou, Betty Grable, Josephine Baker and other St. Louis-connected personalities hang in conference and meeting rooms.

The 140 rooms (52 of them suites) wear every modern comfort, including luxury beds and  linens plus bathrooms with huge walk-in shower/bath combinations, bidets and TV’s embedded in mirrors.

But best of all, the rooms offer opportunity for guests to sample some of St. Louis’ finest products.

The bathrooms stock St. Louis produced Barr Co bath products. The mini bars feature St. Louis favorites, including Bissingers (sigh!) chocolates. 

A record player (manufactured by a St. Louis company) sits in every room accompanied by vintage records featuring musicians with a St. Louis connection. 

But, to me, it’s the hotel’s Union 30 restaurant–serving breakfast, lunch and dinner–that most captures the hip, hot and historic spirit of St. Louis.

In addition to dynamite cocktails, incredible barbecue and delicious creative dishes (am thinking seared duck topping gluten-free waffles),

Seared Duck and Waffles

Chef Matt “Birk” Birkenmeier reincarnates favorite dishes from long-closed St. Louis restaurants. Menu items include: Al Baker’s Chop Salad, Busch’s Grove Cottage Fries and Famous Barr French Onion Soup. 

Of course Birk adds his personal pizzazz to the vintage recipes, for example, serving the famous onion soup with tidbits of prime rib.

Here ya go with Matt’s old-fashion, updated recipe:

UNION 30’s FAMOUS BARR FRENCH ONION SOUP

Yield: 2 quarts soup or 8 one-cup servings.

3 pounds peeled and trimmed yellow onions

4 ounces butter 

3/4 cup flour

2 tablespoons paprika

1-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

3 quarts beef broth

1 bay leaf

Salt

Caramel coloring or liquid browning sauce, optional 

1 pound diced cooked prime rib

French bread croutons (See NOTE below )

Gruyere cheese, sliced

Mozzarella cheese, shredded

Parmesan cheese, grated 

Slice onions into 1/8-inch thick rounds. Put butter in a large soup pot and melt over low heat. Add onions, toss in butter, and simmer over low heat, stirring often, for 1-1/2 hours. 

Sprinkle onions with flour, paprika and pepper. Stir well to incorporate flour. Stir mixture over low heat for 10 minutes. Slowly stir in broth. Add bay leaf. Simmer soup for 2 hours. Remove bay leaf. Season to taste with salt. If necessary, adjust color to a rich brown with caramel coloring or liquid browning sauce.  Cool and refrigerate overnight.

To serve: Add prime rib to soup.  Ladle individual portions of soup into individual ovenproof bowls. Top with a crispy French bread crouton. Top crouton with a slice of Gruyere and then a generous sprinkling of Mozzarella and Parmesan. Place soup bowl under a hot broiler and broil until cheese melts and is golden brown.

NOTE: TO MAKE CROUTONS

One large French baguette

Butter

Salt

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Slice baguette into rounds, each about 1/4-inch thick. Spread butter on one side of each round and place rounds in a single layer on a baking sheet, buttered side up. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Place baking sheet in oven and toast until rounds are crispy and light golden brown, about 20 minutes.

 

Hotel Saint Louis is a Marriott Autograph Collection property, located on the corner of  Seventh and Olive in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. It sits a short walk from Busch Stadium, The American Center Convention Complex and a slew of downtown St. Louis attractions. 

For more information on St. Louis attractions and another treasured recipe (Gooey Butter Cake), click HERE. For more information on Hotel Saint Louis, click HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

DIVA DIAMOND MUSEUM, ANTWERP BELGIUM

Prepare for sparkle. Prepare for shine. Prepare for scandalous stories of courtesans and opera singers and movie stars. Prepare to be educated and entertained. Prepare for DIVA, a museum dedicated to diamonds, silver and other dazzling objects that opened in Antwerp, Belgium, in May, 2018.

Located in Antwerp’s historic city center, DIVA has already emerged as one of Antwerp’s most treasured tourist attractions for good reason.

Although showcasing about 600 items, the museum offers more than just displays for pass-by viewing. Dark lighting, creative staging, soundscapes, multimedia and interactive features plunge the visitor into the deep and delightful world of diamonds, showcasing the many facets of the diamond industry that has flourished in Antwerp since the mid-15th century.

Beautiful as they are, it’s not only objects that make DIVA so seductive. Visitors tour the museum guided by a variety of voices telling diamond-related stories that are mostly fictional, sometimes factual and always fascinating.

Sound tract narrator, Jérôme, a fictional butler serving a lady (also make believe) whose house the museum is said to represent, provides the verbal thread that ties the six themed galleries together. 

Designers staged the first gallery as a Wunderkammer (or room of wonder that wealthy aristocrats of past centuries used for displaying collections). DIVA’s Wunderkammer showcases objets d’art collected from around the world.

The Atelier, or Workshop, comes second in the line of galleries and focuses on the art of diamond cutting, polishing and setting.  

The third gallery, Trade, centered by a dramatic interactive globe, takes visitors through historic periods in Antwerp’s diamond industry, exploring trade routes and other aspects of the global business.

From Trade, visitors enter the intriguing Dining Room which reveals the evolution of silver table pieces as well as the etiquette and dining habits of rich and elite of centuries past. 

In the full-size Vault, visitors find a fun, interactive array of information to test their own savvy about gemstone crime and security. 

And the Boudoir, the final gallery, links diamonds with desire displaying objects associated with famous Divas. 

Contemporary diva wannabes (and the selfie crowd) can end their visit by  trying on virtual diamonds and posting the resulting images on social media.

 

In addition to galleries, the museum sports event space, a workshop, a library and two shops—the Museum shop, selling books, gadgets, curios and souvenirs (DIVA-brand gin among them) and the Silvius Druon jewelry store, offering a treasure trove of items including loose diamonds and diamond baubles ranging from €500 to €50,000.

More information on DIVA click HERE 

For another top-notch Antwerp attraction click HERE

 

 

 

10 THINGS TO LOVE ABOUT LONDON IN DECEMBER

CHRISTMAS DECOR. HERE. THERE. EVERYWHERE.

 

 

WARMING AND LINGERING AT LONDON’S TOP INDOOR ATTRACTIONS

MADAM TUSSAUDS

 

CHURCHILL WAR ROOMS

 

NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY

 

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM

 

VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM

 

THEATRE

THE DIVINE NATIONAL THEATRE

 

AFTERNOON TEA WITH A HOLIDAY THEME

Winter Wonderland Tea At The Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel

 

ONE-STOP CHRISTMAS SHOPPING

 

PUBS, PUB GRUB AND HAPPY PEOPLE 

The Swan in Hammersmith and Bunch of Grapes on Knightsbridge

 

FULL ENGLISH BREAKFAST

Breakfast At The Rubens At The Palace Hotel

 

POP UP ICE RINKS AND MERRY GO ROUNDS

Natural History Museum Ice Rink

 

COSY HOTEL ROOMS

A Sweet Suite At The Rubens At The Palace Hotel

 

MERINGUES, MARZIPAN AND ESPECIALLY MARSHMALLOWS

MERINGUES

 

MARZIPAN AND GLACÉ FRUIT

 

MARSHMALLOWS

MARSHMALLOWS

Marshmallow Welcome Gift From The Rubens At The Palace Hotel

Sarah Houghting

Recipe supplied by Sarah Houghting, pastry chef of Rubens at the Palace hotel, London

 

 

Yield: Depends on size of pan and way of cutting. 

A 9- by 13-inch pan will yield about 42 1-inch marshmallows. 

Vegetable oil for coating pan and cutting knife

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup powdered sugar

3 packages (1/4 ounce each) powdered gelatin

1 cup water, divided

1-1/2 cups castor or superfine sugar (see NOTE below)

1 cup light corn syrup 

Flavoring (see NOTE below)

Food color, optional 

Coat bottom and sides of a metal, glass or ceramic pan with oil. 

Sift cornstarch and powdered sugar into a mixing bowl. Sprinkle a generous amount of the cornstarch mixture in the oiled pan and swirl pan around to coat with mixture, knocking out excess back into the mixing bowl. Set prepared pan and bowl with remaining cornstarch mixture aside. 

Put  gelatin in a small glass bowl. Cover with 1/2 cup water and stir to dissolve gelatin. Set bowl aside to soften gelatin.

Put sugar, corn syrup and 1/2 cup water in a heavy 3- to 4- quart saucepan. Put saucepan over moderate heat and bring mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar completely dissolves. Put a candy thermometer into the boiling syrup and continue boiling without stirring, until thermometer registers 240°F. Remove saucepan from heat and set aside until the bubbles dissipate slightly.

Meanwhile, put gelatin in a microwave and heat for a few seconds to melt gelatin.

Scrape gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. With mixer on low speed, slowly pour hot syrup in a thin stream down the side of the bowl into the gelatin. Gradually increase the mixer speed to high and beat until the mixture is very thick, white in color and forms a thick ribbon when the beater is lifted, about 5 minutes. Beat in flavoring and color if desired. 

With a spatula dipped in water or wet hands, transfer the marshmallow mixture to the prepared pan, spreading mixture evenly and smoothing top. (The mixture will be very thick and sticky. You may need to repeatedly wet the spatula and/or your hands to smooth marshmallow mixture evenly in pan.)

Set pan aside, uncovered, at room temperature, until marshmallows are set and no longer sticky, 4 hours to overnight.

Sprinkle a generous amount of reserved cornstarch mixture over a large cutting board. With a rubber spatula, release marshmallow from pan and invert onto cutting board. 

Sprinkle top with a thick layer of cornstarch mixture. 

Lightly oil a long sharp knife and dust with cornstarch mixture (or wet knife with water). Cut marshmallows as desired. 

Working with a few at a time, put cut marshmallows in the bowl of  the cornstarch mixture and toss to coal all sides. Transfer marshmallows to a sieve and shake off excess cornstarch mixture (can shake back into bowl for next go around). 

Store marshmallows at room temperature in an airtight container, layered between sheets of wax or parchment paper, for up to 1 month. 

NOTE:  Castor sugar is a British term for superfine sugar. If you can’t find superfine sugar, you can whirl granulated sugar in a food processor or blender for a few seconds until the sugar is a cross between granulated sugar and powdered sugar. 

NOTE:  Marshmallows may be flavored and colored in a variety of ways. Here are a few suggestions:

Vanilla: Add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

Peppermint: Add 1 teaspoon peppermint extract. To color peppermint marshmallows, add a few drops of red food color randomly onto top of marshmallow mixture in pan and pull table knife through food color to create a swirl pattern. Sprinkle top with crushed candy canes.

Green tea: Add 1 teaspoon green tea powder and a few drops of green food color.

Raspberry: Add raspberry oil or flavor concentrate to taste.  

For more information:

Visit London

The Rubens at the Palace 

Tea at The Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel

 

 

THE SPIRITS OF GULF SHORES & ORANGE BEACH ALABAMA

Beer? Okay. 

Wine? Fine. 

Cocktails? Now you’re talking. 

Although beer and wine may float your boat, cocktails best capture the free-wheeling beach spirit of Gulf Coast Alabama. The coastal cup runneth over with bars and restaurants serving a staggering array of house-speciality cocktails, and although many raise the bar of pleasure, I’ll tell you about three favorites. (Will also include restaurant-provided recipes for those not lucky enough to be in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach to sample and savor in person.)

 

THE BUSHWACKER 

I know. Locals claim Flora-Bama, a bar located on the Alabama-Florida border, is the best place to enjoy a Bushwacker, but I liked the one I devoured at the Sunliner Diner in Gulf Shores.

New in 2018, and wearing decor of the 1950s complete with a booth fitted into a 1952 Ford Sunliner convertible, the diner serves breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a collection of knock-out ice-cream concoctions and desserts. 

With an old-fashioned, apple-pie atmosphere, the Sunliner provides a wholesome environment for the kids to sugar-up on vanilla shakes while the adults down look-alike, rum-soaked Bushwackers. Life is sweet! (See NOTE below.) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE QUEEN’S DOWERY

Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina has a split personality, with both aspects worthy of praise. The Dockside downstairs serves casual food in an easy-going setting. Upstairs’ diners find elegant and refined food with decor to match. Of course, the bar Upstairs offers cocktails just as sophisticated as the food and setting, which brings me to The Queen’s Dowry. Bar manager Michael Gaona said he invented The Queen’s Dowry to capture the crisp flavors of fall. He makes the cocktail with Ketel One Grapefruit & Rose Vodka, a simple syrup that he infuses with a whisper of sage and Cave de Bissey Brut (Crémant de Bourgogne). Although Gaona specifies the sparkling wine used at Fisher’s, his recipe says any brut bubbles will do. Cheers! (See NOTE below.)

 

https://fishersobm.com

THE LOOPY LU

 

What can I say about Lulu’s Gulf Shores that hasn’t been said before—by me, (click HERE for more Sweet Leisure). Guess I could talk about the open air setting directly on the water, the fun beach activities, live music and the nachos, fried okra, tuna dip and “down-home” catch, such as crab claws and shrimp. Lulu’s serves family friendly food and crayon-colored adult-chummy cocktails.

I love the Loopy Lu, a grownup lemonade enhanced with both tequila and vodka. Happy days are here again! (See NOTE below.)

 

Marg=Margaritaville Last Mango Tequila/ Lemonx= Lemon-X Sour Mix (sweet and sour mix).

https://lulubuffett.com/gulf-shores/

NOTE: Drink responsibly. Don’t drink and drive. Appoint a designated driver. Take care. Don’t overload.

Click HERE for destination information.

 

 

 

HOTEL LUTETIA ADDS SPARKLE TO THE CITY OF LIGHTS

Spoiled as it sounds, I would try to plan a trip to Paris every year on my birthday, so that I would look forward to aging. Now that I have ripened with multiple years of Paris pleasure I still crave the city. It just gets better and better.

The same could apply to Hotel Lutetia, an iconic Paris hotel built in 1910.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to stay at the Lutetia in its last incarnation, just before it closed for a four-year, 240-million-dollar renovation. I loved the hotel then and couldn’t imagine changing one inch of the Art Nouveau/Art Deco charisma. But the grande dame emerged from her revamp with much of her original glory intact plus a score of added enhancements to enchant.

Built in 1910 by the owners of Le Bon Marché department store to service shoppers, the Lutetia wraps around a corner in hyper-fashionable Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Always an icon of Parisian high-style, boho pizzazz, the hotel attracted the likes of Josephine Baker, Picasso, Matisse, James Joyce, Hemingway and countless other artists, writers, celebrities and statesmen (Charles de Gaulle honeymooned at the Lutetia).

The Lutetia also attracted the Germans, who in World War II requisitioned the hotel for their counter-espionage headquarters. Immediately after liberation, the Lutetia won a forever first-place in the hearts of Parisians by housing survivors of concentration camps and filling it’s lovely halls with posters of missing persons, thus becoming the city’s focal point for reunions and rejoicing.

Today’s Lutetia guests see the hotel in a new light—one that positively glimmers and glows. Skylights were installed, windows enlarged, a newly built interior courtyard captures and spreads sunshine. Great expanses of polished white marble add shimmering shine to public areas, enhancing the rich and plentiful cornucopia of natural light.

Whereas the lobby-floor corridor ceiling wears bright-white paint and twinkles with recessed spotlights reinforcing the daylight mode, upper-floor corridors are clad in dark eucalyptus wood and cocoon guests in a sedate evening glow as they walk to their rooms.

The “new” Lutetia sports 184 rooms, 47 of which are designated suites. My sweet suite on the fourth floor offered hotel heaven. Most startling, and what sets the Lutetia’s suites apart from other luxury hotels, is the view. Balcony windows overlook the flower-decked Square Boucicaut, the Bon Marche department store and the Eiffel Tower. I could watch the tower sparkle all through the night from my pillow on the super comfortable bed—or I could press a bed-side button and close the shades and sleep in the deep dark.

The room, decorated in shades of white, dark blue, and grey, held a large bed, a marble topped desk and chair, plus two chairs placed around a coffee table filled with welcome gifts (white hydrangeas, Champagne, chocolate pastries, a bowl of fruit).

Of course there was a coffee/tea/mini-bar station stocked to capacity, a separate closet/ luggage area and a large marble bathroom with separate toilet, shower and  a tub big enough for two. The bathroom held white roses  and an array of fragrant Hermès toiletries. Perfection!

 

Should one ever get the gumption to leave their room, the Lutetia offers choice places to enjoy.

The library stocked with coffee-table books.

A 7,500-square-food spa and wellness center.

A 55-foot-long indoor swimming pool.

A gym.

 

L’Orangerie

Although the Brasserie, for which the Lutetia has long been famed, has not yet reopened (think end of this year), people can enjoy an extravagant breakfast buffet in the peaceful, light-filled L’Orangerie.

The breakfast buffet in L’Orangerie

 

The Saint Germain

Breakfast, lunch and dinner is offered in the the Saint Germain, a living room-like dining room under a glass roof ceiling colorfully decorated by artist Fabrice Hyber.

Roasted cod, cranberry beans, zucchinis and yuzu lemon in a bed of foam served in the Saint Germain

Bar Joséphine (named for Josephine Baker) serves lunches, canapés, light dinners, coffee, tea pastries, and a choice of cocktails including the luscious house signature Rive Gauche (see recipe below).

 

Pleasure greets the eye wherever one looks at Hotel Lutetia. I loved the violin table made by sculptor Arman that sits in the reception area.

And all of the art and decorative details that fill both inside and outside of the hotel.

 

The Lutetia has it all—history, elegance and state-of-the-art comfort.

Yet despite the grand hotel designation, despite the importance to the city of Paris, despite the countless dignitaries and celebrities that have called it home and despite the upper-echelon pricing, Hotel Lutetia radiates non-pretentious, easy-going joie de vivre. I think it was Shakespeare who once wrote about the Lutetia: Age cannot wither her, Nor custom stale her infinite variety; Other hotels cloy the appetites they feed, but the Lutetia makes hungry where most she satisfies.

True for me. I stayed as an invited guest of the hotel, but if I only had money, I would let the Lutetia satisfy me the rest of my days.

 

THE RIVE GAUCHE

Yield: 1 serving.

40 ml St-Germain liquor

30 ml Guillotine vodka

20 ml homemade shrub flavored with citrus and celery (see NOTE below)

50 ml Perrier

70 ml Champagne

Combine all ingredients and pour into a tall glass over ice. Decorate glass with banana leaves, add sprigs of lemon grass and serve with a straw.

NOTE: You can buy ready made shrubs or make your own by macerating fresh fruit with sugar, straining the resulting syrup to remove solids and mixing the juice with Champagne vinegar (find recipes online).

Hotel Lutetia is part of The Set, a hotel brand with three distinctive properties. For more information about Hotel Lutetia click HERE For information about The Set hotels, click HERE.

And for other Paris perks, see:

Les Cocottes de Christian Constant, HERE.

D’Chez Eux for perfect roast chicken, HERE.

Paris wine bars suggested by Noël Balen HERE.

Sightseeing suggestions by David Downie, HERE.

and all about a special little flea market at la Porte de Vanves, HERE.