8 Ways Washington, D.C. Rocks the Holidays

IMG_0889Washington does Christmas pretty well! Here are some of the holiday displays I look forward to year after year.

CHRISTMAS WREATHS AT UNION STATION

Union Station all decked out for the holidays

In addition to the three large wreaths hanging in the three main archways in front of Union Station, there’s other decorations including a giant Model Train exhibit inside in the West Hall and a 32 feet tall Christmas tree outside, both courtesy of the Norwegian embassy. In 2013, the tree was decked out with 700 shining replicas of Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream. In 2014, the tree made a statement on the environment and was decorated with polar bears. I can’t wait to see what the Norwegian embassy comes up with this year! (<– CDs!)

 

OLD EBBITT GRILL’S NUTCRACKER SOLDIERS 

Nutcracker Soldiers Standing Guard outside Old Ebbitt grill

These guys are guarding the best oyster happy hour in the city – half price raw bar Monday-Thursday between 3-6PM, so swing by before heading to the National Christmas Tree (coming up at number 3!)

 

NATIONAL CHRISTMAS TREE (AND NATIONAL MENORAH) 

National Christmas Tree and Menorah

BOTANIC GARDEN CHRISTMAS DISPLAY

During the holidays, replicas of Washington, D.C.'s most famous monuments made entirely in tree products are displayed at the Botanic Garden.

During the holiday season, the U.S. Botanic Garden presents “Season’s Greenings”, a unique exhibit featuring model trains and replicas of Washington, D.C.’s most famous buildings and monuments, made entirely in tree products. In 2013, there was even an Eiffel Tower replica! Check out all the landmarks on display in 2015 in my Season’s Greenings at the US Botanic Garden post

 

DOWNTOWN HOLIDAY MARKET

Downtown Holiday Market offers seasonal shopping in the heart of Washington’s Penn Quarter. Don’t miss Vigilante Coffee to get your caffeine fix before going on the shopping spree, Migue’s Mini donuts and Cherry Blossom Creative and Grey Moggie‘s booths for awesome letterpress cards and prints. 

Downtown Holiday Market in Washington, DC

ZOOLIGHTS

Zoolights in Washington, DC

The annual winter celebration at the National Zoo runs from November 27 to January 2nd this year, with more than 500,000 LED lights brightening up the zoo from 5-9 p.m. each night (other than December 24-25 and New Year’s Eve when the zoo is closed.)

GINGERBREAD HOUSES EVERYWHERE

Gingerbread house at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, DC

If you’re a pastry chef in Washington, D.C. around the holiday season, you better know how to make a gingerbread house. In France, sweet Christmas creativity is typically channeled into bûche de Noël (some are real works of art!) but here it’s all about the gingerbread houses. Each holiday season, former White House Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier creates a gingerbread replica of George Washington’s mansion displayed at Mount Vernon. There’s always stunning gingerbread creations as part of the Christmas decor at the White House too, but many of the city’s hotels will also feature fun and festive creations in their lobbies or restaurants too, like the Ritz Carlton version of the Smithsonian Castle pictured above.

 

CITY CENTER’S TWO 25-FOOT REINDEERS & CHRISTMAS TREE

Holiday display at city center

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are a new tradition started in 2014 and I certainly hope they’re here to stay!  

 

BONUS: MANDU’S DUCKS AND THEIR ADORABLE SANTA HATS

Mandu's duckies all decked out for the holidays

Gad Elmaleh in DC – Part Trois, Now All In English


Le revoici, le revoilà! Gad Elmaleh repasse au Birchmere, avec un petit changement qui n’est pas négligeable: le comedien fait son show en Anglais!! 

It’s hard enough being funny in your native language, let alone in a foreign one. Seinfeld, for example, was notoriously bad when dubbed in French, and the humour didn’t quite translate. And yet, that’s exactly the personal challenge that French funnyman (and Seinfeld BFF) Gad Elmaleh has set for himself. After performing sold-out shows in Washington, DC twice in 2013 (in April and September – you can read my recap from the September show right here), the comedien is back for a third time. This fall, he’ll try to branch out of the French-speaking and expat crowd by performing en anglais in 17 cities across the US and Canada.

Gad Elmaleh al in English

I thought he was absolutely hilarious when he performed at the Birchmere in Alexandria two years ago. The running joke throughout the performance was Cathy, the lone non-French speaker in the audience whom Gad picked on repeatedly. Good news for her, she can go back to the Birchmere on December 13 and finally be in on the jokes. I, for one, would rather see the comedien in v.o. (version originale). But I’m excited at the prospect of bringing my husband to the show this time, or some of my other friends here who appreciate French but may not speak it well enough to follow an entire stand-up routine in it (maybe they should do like at the opera and have surtitles!). 

You can get your tics for the DC, Montreal and Vancouver shows here. You can also catch one of his film, Capital, on Netflix right now. Or you can get a sneak peek of his English show on YouTube, with a short segment where he comments on two very American things French expats in the US don’t get: air conditioning and over-zealous wait staff at restaurants 😉 Don’t worry, it’s not all US bashing during his routine. The French definitely get picked on too! 

*** note: it appears the DC show is already sold out… womp womp for those who didn’t purchase tickets soon enough, like me! But wow, that was quick!!*** 

A Rainbow of Colourful Treats from Olivia Macarons

Olivia Macaron

Ever since it opened back in 2013, Olivia Macaron has been my go-to spot to grab my favourite French treats! I love the way these turned out as a rainbow of delightful pastries, with, from top to bottom, red velvet, rose (always my fave!), lemon-basil, almond (close runner up!) and honey-lavender. Not pictured are some of their current seasonal offerings: passion fruit (a local take on Pierre Herme’s famous mogador combo that pairs the tart fruit with milk chocolate – I’m allergic to cocoa, so I’ve never been a fan) and black sesame.

What’s your ultimate favourite macaron flavour? Please share in the comments and have a wonderful #MacaronMonday!  

Save the Date~Two Fabulous Champagne Lanson Events Coming September 15th

Just last weekend I was dressed in white from head to toe and appropriately sipping some Champagne Lanson Brut White Label NV at Washington’s second annual Diner en Blanc. 

Champagne Lanson Diner en BlancDiner en blanc dc


Champagne Lanson Diner en Blanc

You can read more about DC’s 2015 Diner en Blanc here (and here and here and here.) If you missed Diner en Blanc or you just want to relive a part of this magical evening, the House of Lanson is coming to town and hosting two events in the District.

The first, more casual, is a tasting of the entire champagne house portfolio at one of my go-to wine shop Cork and Fork (always trust a wine shop owner whose grandfather ran the Champagne Veuve Clicquot vineyards) between 6-8PM on September 15 (Tickets $20).

Champagne Lanson, Cork and ForkThe second is a wine pairing diner at 701 near the National Archives/Navy Memorial also on September 15 (starting at 7:30PM, $100 not including tax and gratuity). Executive Chef Benjamin Lambert will prepare a five-course feast while Enguerrand Baijot, the director of Champagne Lanson North America, will orchestrate pairings of Champagne Lanson, including Black Label Brut NV, Rose Label Brut, the White Label that was served at Diner en Blanc and a “Gold Label” Vintage Brut 2002. The Young Winos of DC have complete menu for you here and you can book your spot for dinner by calling the restaurant at 202-393-0701. 

Cheers!! 

ps: all pictures from Diner en Blanc included in this post were taken by my very good friend Cecile. You can read her take on Diner en Blanc right here.

Dîner en Blanc – Part Deux, DC Edition

When Washington played host to its first Diner en Blanc last year, the main complaints from participants concerned the location. Yards Park in Southwest DC was a beautiful venue, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t strike anyone as particularly iconic. Compared to some of the other famous locations where the all-white diners have popped up across the globe — Lincoln Center in New York, the Trocadero with the Eiffel Tower as backdrop or on 6 bridges over the Seine in Paris, Covent Garden in London, Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles to name a few — the 42-acre development on the Anacostia River waterfront was a bit lacking in Washington monuments and recognizable sites. It was also a bit out of the way, with few passers-by likely to stumble upon the scene. With that in mind, the organizers sought out not only a more central location, but also one that felt more-DC. And that location was the Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square, a 1900s beaux-arts building in front of the more modern Convention Center. 2,700 revelers, all dressed in their best whites, squeezed into the park around the former library for an evening of eating, drinking, dancing and of course, instagramming 😉

This was my second Dîner en Blanc of the summer. In New York last month, I got to experience what it was like to be a care-free guest at the event, showing up in Manhattan just hours before the start of the diner. Yesterday was a completely different story! I started the evening in Dupont Circle, where 500 of the guests met one of 10 different group leaders that would whisk them to the secret location — part of the concept of the flash mob dinner party is that guests only found out where it is being held at the last minute. The logistical challenge for the organizers is to get everyone onsite in a timely and orderly fashion, while they’re lugging their table, chairs and food. On the metro. The DC metro. Once my five groups had left Dupont Circle with their leaders, I hopped in an uber to beat them to the location, so I could be onsite to welcome them and help them set up in a pre-determined spot on the lawn of the Carnegie Library. The few quiet moments I got to spent before the storm of white-clad guests descended upon Mount Vernon Square were some of my favourites of the diner. 

Diner en blanc DC 2015

Diner en Blanc at the Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon Square ~ Enjoying some quiet moments before the groups arrived.

Then the groups arrived from the 8 different meeting points scattered around the city and Northern Virginia. The Convention Center and Chinatown groups arrived first obviously. The Dupont Circle groups arrived last which led to a somewhat frantic setting up. Before we knew it, it was 6:45PM and the second edition of Diner en Blanc DC officially kicked off with the traditional waving of the napkins. Finally, it was time to relax and eat! 

DC's 2015 Diner en blanc at the Carnegie Library

Rather than order from the catered options available for purchase, I had prepared a simple cold diner that was heavy on prosciutto: spiced watermelon soup with prosciutto, prosciutto wrapped melon (with additional hors d’oeuvre sized ones to pass around the tables) and a spinach-prosciutto quiche with a green salad. I had picked up some shimmery vanilla macarons at Olivia Macaron, the Georgetown shop had made them especially for the occasion and they looked so pretty on my table (in addition to being delicious of course!)  

diner Macarons

Bonus, like in New York, Celebrity Cruises also passed around some white chocolate dipped macarons and my friend Cecilia of OneVanillaBean had made all sorts of delicious desserts like a raspberry-rose roll-out cake and caneles, which she was kind enough to share with the people sitting next to her. By 8PM when the sparklers were lit and the jazzy background music that accompanied diner turned into more upbeat sounds spinned by DJ Sabeel, I was ready to kick-off my shoes and hit the impromptu dance floor set up on the stairs of the library!

Sparklers at diner en blanc DC

At that point, all of the stress I experienced in the early evening was long gone (copious amount of Lanson Champagne definitely helped with that as well!!) As I danced with old friends and new friends alike, 2,700 strangers from all walks of life who came together to share a magical moment, I remembered why I love this event so much and why I’m so proud to be involved with it. Because you have to bring basically everything with you, you can really express your creativity at Diner en Blanc, whether you express it through your outfit, menu or tablescape. My friend Sandy made this crafty #DEBDC sign, which was quite a hit! My friend Xionara had a bird on her head. Felicity Amos, my Dupont Circle co-group leader, had an elaborate table display, complete with a white bust of George Washington. 

My friend Sandy made this crafty sign! #DEBDC

The fact that I was able to walk home in less than five minutes made it only better 😉 

Off the Beaten Path: ToKi’s SYNTH SERIES 002 Yarn Installation

My (Southern Republican) husband always jokes around that he is very vanilla, and that I bring a little bit of spice, the rum raisin flavour if you will, to his life. I don’t know about that, but I definitely bring him out of his comfort zone on a regular basis 😉 Like, the other day, for example, when I “dragged” him semi-willingly to an abandoned warehouse near the Rhode Island Avenue metro stop to check out an art installation by ToKi. Dragged him to this building:

Toki Art Installation

ToKi is a collaborative effort by two recent Howard University architecture graduates, Khai Grubbs and Toluwalase Rufai. Their latest work is a colourful art installation called SYNTH SERIES 002. Their main material: yarn, though I’m not sure I would actually classify this particular work as graffiti knitting (check out this awesome gallery in Time Magazine or this Buzzfeed article to see what happens when crochet meet street art!) Rather than reclaim, transform or personalize a public space, their collaborative work here seeks to study the intersection of music, space & architecture. Their words, not mine 😉 Part of the experience is definitely the thrill of finding the (no-longer-so) secret location and getting into it to find the colourful basking in the light of the top floor of the building, with nothing but silence as soundtrack. It definitely made for an amazing experience and some stunning pictures and instagram shots!

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IMG_2645This is the duo’s second installation.The first one, SYNTH Series 001, took place at Fort Totem Park near the Fort Totem, in a much more open environment.  They have plans to create more such work in the “synth” series throughout the city.

I wonder where they’ll pop up next!!

UPDATE: According to reports, like this instagram post or this one,  the installation was torn down by the owner of the building where it was housed. Le sigh. Though it is the nature of this kind of urban art I guess…

Postcard from Philadelphia: 13th & Locust’s Rainbow Crosswalk

It was the day after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide in the U.S. My parents and I were in Philadelphia to catch the Hermione tall ship while she was making her way up the East Coast. We were wandering around the city’s Mural Mile, a 2.5 mile loop through downtown, to catch some of Philadelphia’s most iconic street art. Suddenly, a pop of colour on the ground caught our attention for a change. At the intersection of 13th street and Locust, rainbow stripes had been painted on the pedestrian crosswalks, forming a bright and bold square.

Rainbow Crosswalk in Philadelphia

 

Turns out, this didn’t just pop overnight following the Supreme Court decision. It had been planned long before 😉 Starting with West Hollywood back in 2012, a handful of North American cities brightened up their crosswalks in historically gay or gay-friendly neighbourhoods like Vancouver’s Davie Street VillageSan Francisco’s CastroSeattle’s Capitol Hill or Toronto’s Church Street. Even Key West’s got a Rainbow Crosswalk and now Philadelphia. Isn’t it time DC got one as well!? As the Washington Post highlighted in this article last year, why can’t crosswalks be more fun, like this series of artist-designed crosswalks up in Baltimore’s new Bromo Tower Arts & Entertainment District or San Jose’s crosswalks at Paseo de San Antonio? We got a decent start with the awesome star-spangled crosswalk that livens up the intersection of 14th and S streets NW, but it could use a little sprucing up right now, it’s looking quite faded. And we could use more!! Wouldn’t you love a rainbow crosswalk in DC? If yes, where do you think it should be? 

Dîner en Blanc – New York Edition

Last night, I joined 5,000 revelers at Pier 26 in Tribeca for the fifth edition of New York’s Dîner en Blanc. Being involved with the DC event, which this year will take place on August 29th and involve 2,500 guests, I can appreciate the sheer logistics of getting all of us, carrying our own tables, chairs, tableware, centerpieces and food, there!

Diner en blanc New YorkWashington Square Park

Diner en blanc Washington Square Park

 

Our evening started at Washington Square Park, one of 24 meeting spots throughout the city. Well, really it started on a bus to New York… but let’s not go there 😉 Following a quick glass of rosé on tap at Claudette (no it wasn’t weird at all to show up there with 2 chairs, I swear…), my friend Caitlin and I met Katie, our very organized table leader, as well our 48 diner mates.

Part of the concept of Dîner en Blanc, which originated in Paris (I mean where else??) is that the location of the diner is kept secret until the very last minute so we had no idea where we were headed. Previously, Dîner en Blanc New York has popped up at Bryant Park, the Lincoln Center and, more recently, Nelson A. Rockefeller Park at Battery Park. It took a good hour and a half to get from Washington Square Park to being set up in our designated area on Pier 26. With only two entry points to get 5,000 people in and out of the site, it was definitely a challenge to get everyone there and ready for diner, but the end result was worth all the sweating and slugging of white chairs in the metro and 33 degree heat!

Diner en blanc new york

Diner en blanc new York

Diner en blanc at Pier 26Despite being so close to last year’s location, which was a little disappointing, the backdrop of this year Dîner en Blanc – the Hudson River, New Jersey City Skyline and the new One World Trade Center – was absolutely stunning! You could even see a small  Statue of Liberty in the background! The site will be converted into a mixed-use recreational facility soon so this was the very last event held on the empty Pier.

Diner en blanc New YorkDiner en blanc New York

Caitlin and I opted to skip the picnic baskets provided by Chef Todd English and brought in our food, sushi from Beyond Sushi and macarons from Mille-Feuille.  Per New York regulations, we did pre-purchase a bottle of champagne to pick up on-site, from Dîner en Blanc New York sponsor Perrier Jouet.

Diner en Blanc New YorkDiner en blanc new York

One of my favourite element of the diner, which I hope we will have in DC too, was the Celebrity Cruises volunteers who not only had the cutest outfits as they held signs indicating the different rows of tables but also handed out white chocolate dipped macarons to all of the guests toward the end of the dinner. I cannot wait to see what they have planned for the event here in Washington, which they are also sponsoring!! 

Celebrity Cruises at diner en blanc new york

Have you ever attended a Dîner en Blanc event before? When? Where? Are you planning on attending one this year? I’d love to hear!!

Postcard from the Twin Cities: Peanuts Statues in Rice Park

I probably own one of the world’s most traveled Snoopy. First, he made his way from China to France in my mother’s suitcase. Then, I dragged him on all my trips as a kid, from Greece to Senegal… he even got to head back to China and see the great wall 😉 Many years later, as I visited Minneapolis-Saint Paul for the 2008 Republican National Convention I was stoked to be welcomed into the city by these two statues of my childhood bestie and travel buddy at the airport:

Snoopy The World Traveler by Keith Krone at Lindbergh Terminal at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport

The North Star Flying Ace by Patricia Owen at Lindbergh Terminal at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport

These Snoopies, I learned, were part of Peanuts On Parade, a tribute to Minneapolis native Charles M. Schulz, that ran shortly after his death in 2000. 101 5-foot tall fiberglass statues of Snoopy were created, sponsored by local businesses and decorated accordingly by local artists. Most were auctioned off to raise money for charity and to fund a more permanent tribute to the Peanuts and their creator at Landmark Park. But more on that later. In 2001, additional statues were created and displayed at the Mall of America for a summer exhibit called Charlie Brown Around Town. Other exhibits followed including Looking for Lucy in 2002 and Linus Blankets St. Paul in 2004. Those were also auctioned off for charity, but when I visited the Twin Cities in 2008, you could still spot a few of them across the two towns. 

Snoopy on Parade Statue

Posing with Dog Gone Green by Marla Gamble

Parade of Snoopy statue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie Brown statue in MinneapolisUnfortunately, when I went back to Minneapolis-St. Paul a few weeks ago with my parents, most of the statues were gone 😦 What’s left, however, is the permanent tribune to the cartoonist and the beloved characters he created at Landmark Plaza and Rice Park in downtown St. Paul. The pictures below are a mix from 2008 and 2015.

Linus and Sally Statue at Landmark park

Linus and Sally

Patty, Marcie and Woodstock are on the east side of Rice Park, Marcie reading a book of course, while Patty is playing with her football. Charlie Brown and his best friend, Schroeder, Lucy, Linus, and Sally are across the street in Landmark Park.

Laetitia Brock and Marcie at Landmark Park

Statue of Snoopy and Charlie Brown at Landmark Park

Schroeder and Lucy statue at Landmark ParkThe statues share the park with another literary icon from St. Paul, Scott F. Fitzgerald who also has a bronze likeness at Landmark Park. 

Postcard from Wisconsin: Babcock Hall Dairy Store

Did your alma mater produce its own amazing ice cream on campus? I’m gonna guess no, unless you went to UConn, Penn State or the University of Wisconsin at Madison. One of my best friends, Cecile of The Worldly Bite, comes from a long line of Badgers, so ahead of my recent trip to Wisconsin, she gave me the scoop on everything I couldn’t miss while visiting her campus, starting with getting a scoop of delicious ice cream at Babcock Hall Dairy Storebien sur.

Getting some Ice Cream at Babcock Hall Dairy Store

Wisconsin is known as America’s dairyland so it’s not that surprising that UW-Madison would offer the best Dairy Science major in the country, host the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR), and operate its own dairy plant on campus using milk from its very own dairy herd. Named after Stephen Moulton Babcock, a pivotal UW-Madison researcher in the department of Agricultural Chemistry, the store helps to support the UW Food Science Department. While students, alumni and visitors like my parents and I flock to the store for its ice cream, you can also purchase cheese and milk there, as well as fair trade coffee roasted in Madison at Ancora Coffee Roasters.

Badgers Milk from Babcock Hall Dairy StoreGouda from Babcock Hall Dairy Store

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can also tour the dairy plant and observe the way the products are made. 

Tour the dairy plant at Babcock Dairy Hall

 

In the shadow of Babcock Hall dairy Store, the university also operates its own buther shopBucky’s Butchery, as part of its Meat Science program in the Department of Animal Sciences. Sorry, dairy cows… I hear it sells amazing bacon though we didn’t visit since my dad doesn’t eat meat. Babcock Hall Dairy Store is located at 1605 Linden Drive in Madison and is open from 7:30am to 5:30pm, Monday through Friday and from 11am to 4pm on Saturdays. While you’re on campus, don’t miss a walk through the lakeshore nature preserve at Picnic Point then reward yourself with a pitcher of Spotted Cow at Memorial Union Terrace, overlooking Lake Mendota. Altogether, you’ll kinda wish you attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and not just for the ice cream!