A homemade taste of France: Croque Monsieur

A week ago I decided it would be a good idea to try and make a representative dish from each of the stops we made on our honeymoon a year ago on my day off. Last week I made a meal of tapas to kick off the start of this culinary trip down memory lane. This week a year ago we were in Marseille, France.

There was one thing Mrs. Primate wanted to eat while we were in France, and it was surprisingly difficult to get our hands on due to the French method of dining. It was always on the menu, but never seemed to be available when we wanted to eat. It’s not anything too fancy, but it’s what we wanted. This led to a bit of frustration as we searched and searched for a place that had an open kitchen, and additionally, wouldn’t refuse to make one. The croque monsieur, was our metaphorical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Vieux Port, #marseille #france #picstitch

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On our last evening in Marseille, we visited a small bakery where we had purchased some macarons a few days earlier and the very nice, very friendly baker had two Croque Monsieur sandwiches in her case. She graciously heated them up for us and wrapped them in wax paper, and we took them to the old port, sat down, and had a little picnic next to the boats gently bobbing in the water, in the shadow of the citadel and Nôtre Dame de la Garde basilica on the hill across the harbor. It was sublime. It was the perfect moment from Marseille to recreate with a meal.

After scouring pinterest for a recipe, I decided on a basic Croque Monsieur recipe I found that looked easy enough to accomplish and a “ratatouille” made in the style of Disney’s movie about the culinary rat. Hey, we needed vegetables and this looked pretty, even if it isn’t so authentic. Four ham and cheese sandwiches, one pot of bechamel, and a few chopped vegetables later, dinner was served, and you know what? It took me right back to the old port of Marseille for a few minutes.


Not going anywhere for a while

Well, I’m probably not making any big trips any time in the near future (the next six months or so). My work schedule isn’t the most flexible, telecommuting isn’t really a thing in my line of work, and I just rebooted my career about six months ago. There’s probably a solid 12 month between now and the earliest possible time that I may be able to take off to go somewhere farther away than the borders of the U.S. When you look at it that way, it’s kind of a bummer, right? The good news is that I enjoy planning a trip almost as much as I enjoy going on one.

It starts out very broad. “Hey babe, where do you want to go for _____?” We’ll talk about different options for a long, long time. The mulling over of different possibilities could take months in time, and mountains in pastries. My wise aunt tells me that if you’re not on a trip you should be planning one. We’re still well ahead of the planning phase, more like in the “figuring out where we might want to go in the future” phase. I mean, we might be near the point of purchasing a book or two and reading up a little more on the places we would like to go, I guess, but not even guidebooks. Probably fiction.

I guess there’s two ways to look at it. The first is, I’m not going anywhere for a while, and that gets me down. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Life is too short and doesn’t contain enough free time to get bummed out about places you want to go right now but can’t. The other way is I’m not sure when I’ll be able to go, but I’d really like to visit _______. That’s more where I’m at. Honestly I enjoy a trip to the mall right now about as much as anything. Or the garden shop, or the coffee shop for that matter. There’s plenty of ways to make my own home an exotic destination (the key to this is not having my work desk at home. DONE.)

At any rate, I think Croatia is a strong contender. As is Greece. Scotland and England would be cool, too. Who knows?

Greece: I want to go back

Santorini, Greece

I guess that pretty much sums it up. Ha. Greece is where I’d like to be right now. Preferably one of the islands. Sitting in a taverna on a cliff looking out over the blue, blue water. Sweating a little in the heat. Eating those tomato balls, or grilled sardines, or an gyro from a vendor who puts french fries in it. That sounds nice. Jumping in the cool waves when the sun gets overbearing, touring some ancient ruins when the idea of another day on the beach seems too exhausting. Yes please. That sounds like a place I’d like to be. Good thing I don’t have to imagine what it would be like. I’m pretty sure that if you look up the word bliss in the dictionary you can find a map of Santorini. We’ve gotta get back to Greece. I think it’d be fair to call it my favorite place in the world.

Florence, Firenze, Fantastic

Florence, Italy

Florence is a beautiful city

Okay, that might be the understatement of the year. Florence is amazing. It’s so amazing that if I had a daughter I might petition Mrs. Primate to make Florence her middle name. Maybe Florenzo for a boy? Erm, no. Anyway, yesterday’s post about espresso got me thinking about how freaking nice Florence was when we visited on our honeymoon. What’s not to like about the city that started the renaissance? It’s basically the epicenter of arts, humanities, and scientific discoveries that helped us get out of the dark ages and move into the modern era. The streets are narrow, the buildings old, and when it’s time for mass the church bells sound from all directions in a rather disorienting fashion. The streets bustle with people selling leather goods and touristic souvenirs, and oh yeah, there’s art everywhere. Important Art. Art by the ninja turtles.

Florence, ItalyIt’s not the art or the food or the leather or the beauty of the city that’s on my mind today, though. It’s one of those things that you remember later that just seems magical in retrospect, that at the time just seemed pretty cool. The picture above is Piazza della Signoria, kinda the main drag of Florence. This piazza was once frequented by the Medici and their associates, and it’s bordered by the Uffizi Gallery and Palazzo Vecchio. Within the piazza are dozens of statues, a beautiful fountain, and plenty of places where you can buy a 12 euro scoop of gelato. We spent some time eating the very expensive frozen treat here during the day, but one night after dinner we stopped at a caffe on the plaza for a limoncello and dessert and were rewarded with a great display of performance art.

A projector was playing a film of dancers doing a contemporary dance performance among the statues and columns of the loggia that sits just outside Palazzo Vecchio. I think there were selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet mixed with some hip-hop beats and stuff, and our seat at the caffe had a perfect view of the show. It looped every 20 minutes or so, so we watched it a couple times as we downed our limoncelli. Isn’t limoncello wonderful?

Anyhow, after watching the dance performance superimposed on the beautiful renaissance art work, we called it a night, but that limoncello! Those dancers! Dat Piazza Doe! It’s not a memory that I thought would be a standout from our honeymoon, but here I am, nearly a year later, wishing I could be sipping Limoncello and eating some sort of chocolate thing in Piazza della Signoria with Carolyn, watching the same kind of video-art exhibit I usually walk right past in the Met or the MoMA. It’s amazing what a difference a beautiful setting can make.


Espresso: My first impression of Italy

Espresso. It’s one of those words that causes me fits because of its inevitable mispronunciation. I literally grind my teeth when someone says expresso. It’s been this way ever since I worked at the Cafe in a Border’s book store during my first year of college. Now, espresso is today’s topic not because I want to share a recipe, tell you how I’ve been trying to hack my Keurig to make a decent faux espresso shot so I can make a damn latte without buying another machine (though that IS the truth), or talk about coffee in general. The purpose of this post is to tell you why this picture makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Lawn work complete #coffee time.

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You see, I got married just about a year ago, and we went to Europe for a long honeymoon. I think about that trip every day because everything was just so freaking perfect for those six weeks and we hadn’t yet been subjected to the difficulties of finding “real” jobs in the U.S. yet, or any of the other challenges that we’d have the opportunity to overcome during our first year of marriage. Yeah. I think about those six weeks a LOT. At any rate, this post risks becoming about now when it’s supposed to be about then.

It was sometime well after midnight when we made the crossing from France to Italy, and I can’t tell you exactly where it happened. So far as I know, we got on the bus at Marseilles and got off in Florence, with one rest stop in between where I managed to somehow recover my vestibular system enough to not puke the whole ride to Florence. The ride was filled with what seemed to be sheer drops to the waterfront below, stunning vistas (that were completely dark) and road signs that at some point switched from French to Italian. When we made the rest stop, I wasn’t really sure if we had crossed the border or not. Until I walked into the bus station to use the facilities.

When I walked in, the smell of espresso hit me like a cargo van at top speed. POW. Yeah, I was awake now! There was a line of tall, slim, dark haired men speaking rapid, loud Italian drinking espresso from demitasses at the cash register. There’s nothing like finding out that a place is essentially as it seems on TV first hand, ya know? It didn’t stop there, though, this truck stop was an amalgam of stereotypes that would have made any afraid-to-generalize American blush. There were bundles of pasta. Breadsticks. Limoncello. All set in gift boxes to bring back to your family or loved ones when you got off the bus. I thought, okay, I can handle Italy, and it sure isn’t Marseilles!

So what did I do? I didn’t get an espresso. I thought it would interfere with me being able to sleep on the bus. Not that sleeping on the bus was going to be anywhere in the vicinity of reality anyhow. I should have had one. Damn. Then again, it’s not like I lacked for espresso over the ten days we spent in Italy. I’m pretty sure my veins were running with it by the time we left.

Now, the other day I was in the grocery store and saw that can of grounds and thought, I may not have the time flexibility or money to take Carolyn back to Italy right now, but I could sure go for an espresso. For the record: putting the medium grind espresso beans in the my K-cup attachment and brewing it works pretty okay. It doesn’t give you a great crema, but it tastes fine. Pour some milk on it and you’d never know the difference if you look on the sunny side. 😉

Selfie memory: Barcelona, Park Güell

Park Güell selfie.

Look at these nerds.

So as one might imagine, as I was spending my Saturday doing fun things like violently sucking all of the dog hair up off the floor with the vacuum, waiting in line at the car wash, getting the car’s scheduled maintenance and getting my haircut, I wanted to be somewhere else today. Where? Park Güell, Barcelona’s ultra cool and beautiful park with these great viaducts and cool buildings and nice little shady alcoves to sit in and get away from everyone else.

Carolyn and I sat around for hours, enjoyed the street performers who lurked around every bend, and generally had a nice relaxing time with very little in the way of an agenda. Thank god for selfies.

Istanbul (not Constantinople): The Basilica Cistern

Istanbul - Basilica Cistern

Hundreds of columns, water, and echoes fill Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern.

Below the bustle of the streets not far from the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque is the Basilica Cistern of Istanbul. Long ago, before the city was Istanbul, you know, when it was Constantinople, the Basilica Cistern housed the city’s water supply. Now it’s a place for tourists to see, with its 336 marble columns creating a dark, damp space with pretty wonderful acoustics. The space is essentially a cavern of red lights and reflections distorted by the waves of the water that lap gently just below the walkway.

Istanbul - Basilica Cistern

Istanbul - Basilica Cistern

Talk about a place for reflection. (See what I did there?)

Istanbul - Basilica Cistern

This column is particularly notable for its teardrops.


Istanbul - Basilica Cistern

A horde of people push and shove their way to the edge of the platform to get a picture of the Medusa heads.

Our visit to the Basilica Cistern was about as typical as one’s visit could be, I imagine. We headed down the slick stairs into the darkness, made a lap around the walkway, enjoying the views of the rows of columns, the light, and the darkness. Eventually we reached the columns with the head of Medusa. The informational signs (and my limited knowledge of classical art) suggested that the head of Medusa was often used as a protective ornament to keep evil away. That’s why you might also see it commonly used on shields and armor plates. I guess the city’s water supply is the kind of thing you might want to keep evil away from.

Istanbul - Basilica Cistern

Don’t look too closely, she’ll turn you into stone.

There’s not really much to say about this place that pictures can’t tell you. It’s one of those places that’s far easier to just look at pictures of than to describe. It was super cool however, to come home, read a great novel by one of my favorite contemporary authors, and find that the climax of the whole storyline occurred right there in the cistern, where I stood just a few weeks prior.