Postcard from Chicago: Treats in the Streets

Soft Serve Ice Cream Cone by Jim Bachor in Chicago

During my latest trip to Chicago, I stumbled upon this really awesome piece of street art. And by stumbled, I mean I had researched the artist in advance, figured out it was the most accessible piece I could get to given where I was staying and my tight work schedule and ubered there ūüėȬ†Artist Jim Bachor has been filling the city’s many potholes with whimsical¬†mosaics since 2013. In a nod to Belgian surrealist painter Magritte, one of his pieces states “this is not a pothole” in black and white tiles.¬†I loved his¬†most recent series,¬†‚ÄúTreats in the Streets,‚ÄĚ because it combined two things I love: street art and food! The treats in this instance are¬†classic frozen treats mosaic, like the soft serve ice cream cone¬†I spotted, that fill potholes in Chicago and¬†Jyv√§skyl√§, Finland. One of his previous series focused on flowers and he also has one that features classic fashion prints like Burberry and Louis Vuitton. How fun!¬†

Jim Bachor fils Chicago potholes with cool mosaics

Soft Serve Ice Cream Cone by Jim Bachor at 1451-1453 West Grand Avenue in Chicago

It was a lot smaller than I thought it would be, and the colours were quite faded so I almost missed it when I walked by. I also almost got run over while trying to photograph it, so my tips if you’re going to try and spot some of Jim’s art is a) check out his website for a handy map of where each of the pieces are located¬†b) look carefully as the pieces are smaller than you might think they would be and most importantly c) be safe… you don’t want to get caught ‘gramming by a car ūüėȬ†

ps: wondering how to say pothole in French? I mean, you never know when you might need that word right? Anyhoo, don’t believe google translate that would have you think it’s trou de pot. Technically, that’s a correct (and very literal) translation. Yes pot is a pot (though that’s more something you’d plant flowers in)¬†and yes hole is trou… but the correct word is nid-de-poule or hen’s nest. Because hens love to nest in holes… of course! It’s cute right?¬†

I’m in a Marseille State of Mind

I’ve had Marseille on my mind lately. Part of it has been following along my friend Tammy’s adventures in house swapping¬†and¬†remote working from Marseille (you can read all about it on her blog Florida Girl in DC.) It’s definitely made me look at my mom’s hometown completely differently! And the other part, of course, is that Marseille seems to be everywhere lately. First, there was the recent¬†release of the¬†movie Marseille¬†in France. And now, there’s the countdown to the much anticipated (at least by me) release of Netflix’s first French-language original series Marseille. The trailer looks SO GOOD!!¬†

The show’s 8 episodes (52 minutes each) will drop worldwide on May 5 (binge party anyone?) and focus on a political succession story between Gerard Depardieu’s character, the mayor of Marseille and his heir and eventual challenger. It’s been marketed as¬†a tale of power, corruption and redemption and already dubbed a French House of Cards, though the trailer made me think more of the series Boss than anything else. I’m under NO illusions that it will be anything as successful as House of Cards I’m still super excited to watch it, especially because my husband is kinda looking forward to it too, and any time I can get him to watch anything in french, let alone be excited about it is definitely a victory in my books!! Plus, I¬†can’t wait to see how Marseille fares as a backdrop!¬†

ps: curious about Marseille? Check out my trip recap post right here. 

5 Things I Ate While I Was in Chicago

Another week, another express work-cation, this time to Chicago in the mid-west. I’d been to Chicago a few times before, including for a hot 16 hours last July 4 and back in 1994 during one of my very first trip to the United States. Despite having a lot of meetings,¬†I tried to squeeze in as much sight-seeing as I could in 36 hours, including catching the Van Gogh’s Bedrooms exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.¬†And eating of course… Here are some of my favourites from my express ‚Äúwork-cation‚ÄĚ in Chicago:¬†

LIQUID ENERGY AT INTELLIGENTSIA COFFEE

First things first after a 6AM flight from¬†Reagan to O’Hare, I needed caffeine! But not just any coffee would do. I wanted some¬†Intelligentsia Coffee¬†since¬†the roasting company started and is still based in Chicago. Bonus, their location at¬†53 East Randolph Street is around the corner from Millennial Park so I got the chance to squeeze in a little sight-seeing too!¬†

Intelligentsia Coffee at the Bean

Intelligentsia Coffee has many locations across town, including 53 E Randolph Street, 1609 W Division Street, 3123 North Broadway and 2642 N Milwaukee Avenue.

 

POTATO DUMPLINGS AT PIEROGI HEAVEN

As many as 1.5 million Chicagoan claim Polish ancestry and Chicago bills itself as the largest Polish city outside of Poland. Pierogis, delightfully doughy Eastern European dumplings, are pretty easy to find around town. For a quick lunch, I headed to Pierogi Heaven in the loop, a hole in the wall kinda spot that’s popular with nearby office workers. You can choose from 11 different pierogi fillings, all of which come with fried onions, bacon and sour cream. I polished off a plate of¬†potato cheddar dumplings, with extra sour cream and a cup of hot¬†red borsch.¬†

Potato and cheddar dumplings at Pierogi Heaven

Pierogi Heaven is located at 169 North Wells Street

GARRETT MIX AT GARRETT POPCORN

On paper, cheddar cheese and caramel popcorn don’t sound¬†like they’d mix well together. But in a bucket of Garrett Popcorn, the salty-sweet combo known as Garrett Mix¬ģ is one of the most addictive¬†thing you’ll ever eat. This staple Chicago food counts a lot of fan…¬†Oprah listed it as one of her “favourite things” on a couple of occasions, President Obama gave a tin to Vice President Biden for his birthday and Beyonce herself declared it Deeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrricious” on instagram.¬†I never leave Chicago without a bag ūüėȬ†

Garrett Mix at Garrett Popcorn Garrett PopcornThere are many locations of¬†Garrett Popcorn, including one at151 North Michigan Avenue by Millennium Park, 625 North Michigan Avenue¬†and 2 at O’Hare airport (there’s one at the¬†Fashion Centre at Pentagon City too…)

CONFIT GOAT BELLY AT GIRL AND THE GOAT

Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat inevitably comes up every time I ask anyone for restaurant recommendations in Chicago. So this trip, I actually made my way there! Forty five¬†minutes and one “my little kumquat” cocktail later, I finally snagged a seat at one corner of the bar.¬†I definitely blew my per-diem on that meal, but it was SO worth it. Everything I had from the¬†kohlrabi salad with¬†fennel, evalon, toasted almonds, autumn crisp apple and shiitake mushrooms to the¬†goat carpaccio and the¬†goat cheesecake with pretzel cream and beer caramel was amazing. But the real standout of the evening can be summarized in 4 words: Bourbon. Butter. Poached. Lobster. As if that didn’t sound amazing enough, that was just the side for a confit goat belly, which also came with a fennel puree and fennel salad (I’ve been really into fennel lately.)¬†No wonder everyone and their mothers has been raving about Girl and the Goat ūüėȬ†

Bourbon butter poached lobster and goat belly confit at Girl and the Goat

Girl and the Goat¬†is located at 809 W Randolph street. There’s now a Little Goat Diner¬†right across the street too that offers more casual food, as well as breakfast all day.

ROASTED BONE MARROW AT THE PURPLE PIG

I talked my colleagues into squeezing in a late lunch/early happy hour at¬†the Magnificent Mile gastropub¬†The Purple Pig, I couldn’t convince them to try the roasted bone marrow with sicilian sea salt and herb salad (with Italian parsley, thin-sliced white onions and capers) smear. More for me right? Right!! It was a beautiful, warm day in Chicago so we ate outside, sorta overlooking the river. And of course, warm sunny days call for ros√©, and the bone marrow paired perfectly with a glass of Scea Andre Roux Clos Cibonne c√ītes de provence. Sadly, my colleagues are not as adventurous eaters as I am and I really couldn’t justify ordering the pig’s ears on top of the bone marrow… I guess I’ll have to go back and eat my way through more of the decadent meat-centered menu at¬†The Purple Pig.¬†

Roasted Bone Marrow Smear at The Purple Goat

The Purple Pig is located at 500 N. Michigan Avenue.

I also found a little time to swing by the stunning Palmer House. Now owned by Hilton, it’s the oldest hotel in the city and¬†claims to be where brownies were invented. The¬†Palmer House Brownie with walnuts and an apricot glaze (check out the recipe in Epicurious) is still served at the hotel’s restaurant and bar.¬†

Palmer House ceciling

Since I can’t eat chocolate, I settled for another local favourite, a quick Goose Island Honkers Ale, which I enjoyed under the magnificent ceiling fresco by French muralist¬†Louis Pierre Rigal. Not a bad spot to wrap up the trip!

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I think I did pretty good in less than 36 hours Where would be your five foodie stops or top foodie bites if you were to spend a few days in Chicago?

‚ô¨ Magnolias for Ever ‚ô™

Des magnolias par centaines | Des magnolias comme autrefois

 Je ne sais plus comment faire | Les magnolias sont toujours là

 

Saucer magnolias in the Smithsonian Castle Garden

 

Current mood today: Claude¬†Fran√ßois¬†for ever!¬†Magnolias will do that to ya ūüėČ

I was looking forward to the beginning of peak bloom for the Washington, DC cherry blossoms this weekend, but the National Park Service has revised¬†the date and pushed it Wednesday March 23-Thursday March 24. Currently blooming, however, are the stunning saucer magnolia trees at the¬†Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden (right behind the Smithsonian castles.) I think these will hold me over for a few days ūüėȬ†

Tips for Enjoying Cherry Blossom Season In DC


Spring is coming! Every year the highlight of the season in Washington is, of course, the annual blooming of the district’s¬†3,000 Yoshino cherry trees. The whole town gets cherry fever and hundreds of thousands of tourists (and locals too) descend on the Tidal Basin and the National Mall to admire the delicate white and¬†pink flowers. This year, peak bloom will hit between March 18-23, 2 weeks earlier than originally anticipated due to the recent warm temperatures. This means most of the¬†National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs from March 20 to April 17, will probably happen sans-blossom. Regardless, here are a few tips for navigating this huge Washington, DC event.

DC Cherry Blossoms

 

SET YOUR ALARM CLOCK EARLY

The Cherry Blossom trees were a gift of good will from Japan to the United States in 1912 and represent the budding relationship between the two countries. They‚Äôre scattered around the city, but the prettiest, most picture perfect pink concentration is¬†around the Tidal Basin, just off the National Mall. Avoiding the stroller pushing, selfie snapping crowd during peak bloom around there is impossible, but your best bet for some quiet cherry blossom time will be early in the morning on a weekday. Like 7AM early, right at sunrise. The evening is also a lot quieter and you can even join a ranger on a lantern walk from 8-10PM (Fridays/Saturdays 3/18, 19, 25, 26 and March 1 and 2nd.) Don’t forget to check the¬†National Cherry Blossom Festival‚Äôs website for a full schedule of events. The day of the parade (April 16), of the kite festival (April 2) or of Cherry Blossom 10 miler race (April 3) are likely to be even busier than usual.

Cherry blossoms at MLK memorial

LEAVE YOUR CAR AT HOME 

Seriously, don’t drive to the Tidal Basin if you can avoid it. Traffic will atrocious and there’s NO parking out there! The closest metro to the Tidal Basin is the Smithsonian metro stop on the blue¬†and orange lines, though the circulator‚Äôs new national mall line,¬†departing from Union Station, will also get you pretty close.¬†I always walk there from my place, but my best advice is to grab a cab, lyft or uber, especially if you‚Äôre going early in the morning. Capital Bikeshare is a great option for your trip back from the Tidal Basin. On your way there you might not find an empty docket for the bike. Make sure to be on the lookout for one of the pink¬†#bikeinbloom bike too! However you get there, make sure to wear comfy shoes since you’ll be doing a lot of walking regardless.¬†¬†
Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC

LEAVE THE TREES ALONE 

This¬†really should have been tip number one. Don’t pick blossoms from trees or hold on to a branch. These are big no-nos and if you see someone doing this, you should yell at them. Don’t yell at tourists though for standing on the wrong side of a metro escalator ūüėČ Rookie mistake, just¬†kindly let them know that we have rules here, and that they should be standing on the right, walking on the left.¬†

DC Cherry Blossom trees

BRING SNACKS… AND¬†ALLERGY MEDICINE¬†

Bring some snacks if you‚Äôre planning on walking the whole tidal basin. Even better, bring a blanket, some food and have a picnic. Just remember don’t litter (there aren’t a ton of garbage cans down there) don’t drink alcohol in public. In the United States, there is such a thing as open container laws so you can’t openly drink alcohol in public places like sidewalks, parks or¬†the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. Womp womp… leave that bottle of ros√© at home! Finally ‚Äď take or pack allergy medicine. All over the city all sorts of trees are booming too so even if you’ve never suffered from seasonal allergies before, you might still want to pack or take a¬†zyrtec!

TAKE TO THE WATERS! 

In addition to the tidal basin and the Washington monument area, you can also find cherry blossoms along the shoreline of East Potomac Park, extending all the way to Hains Point. A great way to appreciate those trees is by taking a DC water taxi from Georgetown or from Old Town Alexandria. If the water temperatures are warm enough, you might even be able to rent a kayak from Thompson Boat Center in Georgetown and paddle your way to the blossoms. Perks, you also get a good workout! But one of my favourite things to do during peak bloom is renting a pedal boat at the Tidal Basin for a picture perfect view of the monuments and the dusty pink blossoms reflecting on the water. If you’re headed to see the blossoms on a weekday, you can even book your boat in advance to reduce wait time.pedalo sur le tidal basin a washington

 

THINK BEYOND THE TIDAL BASIN

While the trees along the Tidal Basin are definitely the most striking, there are other pockets of cherry blossom action in other locations across the city. Here are some alternative spots to see the pink-and-white blooms:

  • There’s ¬†more than 20 varieties of cherry blossoms at the 95-acre Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia which is a great option if you don’t want to come all the way into the city. Bonus: the¬†Korean Bell Garden, while not Japanese at all, makes for a very pretty backdrop.
  • Rather than risk having your dog(s) trampled by hordes of tourists at the Tidal Basin, bring your furry friend(s) to the dog-friendly¬†National Arboretum.¬†You and your pup(s) will be able to enjoy cherry blossoms without being overwhelmed by¬†crowds.¬†
  • For families, Stanton Park in Capitol Hill is both lined with pretty cherry trees AND has a playground for your kiddos.¬†
  • Dumbarton Oaks¬†in Georgetown is great for¬†off-the-beaten path cherry blossom viewing. ¬†General admissions there will set you back $8 though.
  • Take a drive through the wealthy suburb of Kenwood¬†near¬†Bethesda where the streets will be lined with¬†cotton candy trees.¬†

IMG_6366_2

 

EMBRACE THE SEASON AND THE PINK

Peak bloom only lasts 4 days and odds are, if you’re not from DC, you’ve had to plans your trip including book your hotel and travel WAY in advance. And odds are it might not coincide with when the blossoms are out. And that’s ok. There’s still SO much you can do. The White House might be blooming with tulips and the capitol ground with magnolias. You can get tickets to the DC United home opener on March 20th (there are additional home games March 26, April 9 and April 16) or the Nationals home opener on April 7 (or one of the follow up games April 9-14 as well as pre-season games April 1-2).

The whole town also turns pink during cherry blossom season, and while it might seem cheesy, I love the way restaurants celebrate with special menu items. I typically stick to the desserts and cocktails though and also use the festival as the official kick-off date for ros√©-drinking season. This time of year is also the perfect excuse to discover or re-discover some of the best japanese restaurants in town. Finally, if you’ve never done afternoon tea at the¬†The Willard Intercontinental Hotel, now’s your chance!¬†The original Japanese delegation to America stayed there in 1860 and the hotel goes all out that to commemorate, with spring d√©cor, a cherry blossom afternoon tea and cherry-inspired cocktails.¬†

Cherry blossoms inspired eats

Cherry rose cookie from Momofuku Milk Bar in Washington, DC

Whether you’re a veteran cherry-blossom festival goer or this is your first time in DC, I¬†hope these tips will to help you navigate cherry blossoms season. Washington is truly pretty in pink and while the Champs de Mars’¬†cerisiers are very lovely too,¬†short of going to Japan Washington’s¬†cherry blossoms are truly some of the most beautiful in the world.¬†If¬†you‚Äôve got any tips to share about cherry blossoms time in DC, let me know in the comments!

Postcard from NYC: 5 Things I Ate Last Week

Other than a week in Portugal for Thanksgiving, I¬†don’t have a lot of trips planned this year. At least not fun trips… So I’m determined to make the most out every single work trip I have, starting with the one I just took last week to New York City. And that, of course, includes enjoying some good eats around town. There’s no shortage of restaurants in Manhattan. If anything the options are limitless and a bit overwhelming when you don’t have a lot of free time. Since I¬†stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown many of the spots I ended up at are concentrated in that part of town. Here are some of my favourite eats from my last “work-cation” in New York City:¬†

ALL THE PINK PASTRIES AT DOMINIQUE ANSEL

I’ve been a fan of Dominique Ansel since before¬†the whole cronut craze. I actually arrived in New York on Valentine’s Day so my first stops were Ladur√©e and Dominique Ansel, conveniently located right around the corner from each other in SoHo. Every year on February 14, the French p√Ętissier¬†turns¬†his¬†entire pastry case pink. I grabbed two of the chestnut-cassis-rose Mont Blanc, two Paris-New York (a twist on the classic Paris-Brest) and the most amazing caramel eclairs with pink Himalayan salt. All were pink, of course, and all were amazing!¬†

Valentine's day at Dominique AnselValentine's day at Dominique AnselDominique Ansel Bakery is located at 189 Spring St.

 

HIBISCUS DONUTS FROM DOUGH DOUGHNUTS

In keeping with the pink theme, I loved this ginormous hibiscus donut from Dough Doughnuts. Luckily for me, Urban Space Vanderbilt just opened a¬†stone’s throw away from the Roosevelt Hotel and Grand Central Station.¬†The new food hall¬†boasts fare from 21¬†different food purveyors like Red Hook Lobster Pound, Roberta’s or¬†Kuro-Obi (from the team behind¬†Ippudo ramen, a fabulous ramen spot in Manhattan). Between Toby’s Estate,¬†Ovenly¬†and Dough Doughnuts¬†my mornings pretty much always started right (and early… good thing UrbanSpace opens its doors at 6:30AM!) After trying the pistachio cardamom bread from Ovenly, I’m a new fan of the Brooklyn bakery and I’m definitely planning to visit their cafe on Greenpoint avenue during another trip, when I have a little more free time.

Hibiscus doughnut from Dough Bakery

UrbanSpace Vanderbilt is at 45th St. & Vanderbilt Ave, in The Helmsley Building 

 

MISO RAMEN AT TOTTO’S RAMEN

The first time I made my parents wait over an hour outside of the tiny Hell’s Kitchen ramen restaurant for¬†a bowl of soup, they weren’t too impressed (by the wait at least). But¬†we’ve been going back to Totto Ramen ever since. I caught a later train back to Washington, DC so that I could attend a taping of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. You can read more about that here… when I had a quick hour and a half to kill between lines at the Ed Sullivan theater,¬†I headed straight to Totto. This is one of the best spot for ramen in Manhattan and the Miso Paiten soup with ground pork, half boiled egg, scallions and char siu¬†was just what I needed to warm up!¬†¬†

Miso Paiten from Totto Ramen

Totto Ramen is located at 366 W 52nd St.

 

EVERYTHING AT IZAKAYA MEW

A basement in the middle of k-town is probably not where you’d expect an authentic Japanese izakaya¬†but there it is! Izakaya Mew is actually a really popular late night spot and there’s usually a consequential wait to get a table, but I was able to snag a spot at the (tiny) bar since I was dining solo. It’s probably not the best spot actually if you’re eating alone since there’s only 6 seats at the bar and no television or bar tenders to distract you but the food is amazing and varied ranging from raw fish starters (called¬†toriaezu or while you wait…) to hot pots, grilled skewers or gyoza, grilled seafood, noodles, ramen and sushi rolls. I tried the pumpkin roll since I had never seen something like that on a menu before, the grilled hokke fish (I *love* mackerel) and shishito pepper and the shime saba (told you I love mackerel). I washed everything down with a 300 ml bottle of¬†Itami Onigoroshi, which kinda confused my waiter… Apparently, he thought I should have ordered a bigger bottle but I thought that was pretty good all by myself ūüėČ

Charred shishito peppers at Izakaya Mew

Izakaya Mew is located in the basement of 53 W 35th Street.

 

THE NOVA SCOTIA BAGEL FROM MIKE’S BAGELS

For the record, I am and will always be team Montreal when it comes to bagels… but, you know, when in New York…. I happened to be in West Harlem/Washington Heights checking out some of the Audubon Mural Project street art and ordered Mike’s¬†Nova Scotia (still gotta give Canada some love!) bagel, an everything bagel, toasted, with lox, red onions, capers, tomato & scallion cream cheese. It was almost enough to convert me. Almost… #TeamMontrealBagel

The Nova Scotia Bagel from Mike's Bagel

Mike’s Bagel is located at¬†4003 Broadway (at the 168th street metro)

 

BONUS: ALL THE WINE AT LA COMPAGNIE DES VINS SUPERNATURELS

I really wanted to check out this wine bar in SoHo, especially since I never got a chance to go to the Experimental Cocktail Club before it closed. Here’s a little background. Paris, and France in general, isn’t known for its cocktail culture (unless you count a kir royal as a cocktail…) but Frenchmen Rom√©e de Goriainoff, Olivier Bon, and Pierre-Charles Cros sparked the new wave of the craft cocktail trend when they opened the insanely hard to get into speakeasy l‚ÄôExperimental Cocktail Club in the Sentier neighbourhood in Paris. That spot was followed by a few others, including Beef Club which makes a mean steak tartare. They gave it a shot in New York City, but their location is currently closed for relocation.¬†But they also¬†opened a wine bar last year (there’s one in Paris as well, rue Lobineau in the 6eme, and in Neal’s Yard in London).

La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels - New York, NY Picture courtesy of Experimental events

La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels РNew York, NY Picture courtesy of  the Experimental Group

There’s a selection of 600 wines, with a strong emphasis on French ones, and most of the by-the-glass options are¬†poured using an Enomatic wine dispenser. If¬†you know your wines, try the mystery wine, a $15-ish unidentified glass of wine¬†that you can¬†correctly guess to win the¬†whole bottle (typically in the $100 price point). Try it!!!¬†

La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels is located at 249 Centre St. in SoHo. 

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I’m going back to New York for another (even shorter and busier) workation in April… any recommendations??? Those in midtown are always particularly appreciated ūüėČ

 

Postcard from New York: Going to A Late Show Taping

Attending a taping of the Late Show with Stephen ColbertHere’s something free and unique to do if you have a spare afternoon in New York City: attend the live taping of a late (or late-late) night talk-show! I say afternoon, because a) while the shows air in the evening, tapings typically happen earlier that day b) even though you have to book your tickets in advance, there’s a lot of waiting around in lines involved before you can actually take your place in the audience. Here‚Äôs what my experience attending a live taping of ‚ÄúThe Late Show with Stephen Colbert‚ÄĚ was like.

But first, why The Late Show with Stephen Colbert?¬†I actually watch the show every day and I absolutely love Stephen Colbert. I love his smart humour, and think his guests tend to be more interesting than those on other shows. Also,¬†I was busy all week with work commitments and his late show is the only one that tapes on Fridays when I finally had some free time ūüėČ

The first step if you want to see any late night talk-show ¬†(Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers or Trevor Noah¬†also shoot in New York City) is to go online and get (free) tickets. I knew exactly when I would be in New York and stalked the Late Show’s website¬†for available tix, which are typically released a¬†month in advance and¬†go REALLY fast. I booked my spots for February 19th on January 11 to give you an idea of the timeline. Once you’ve got the tickets, you should clear out your calendar for that entire afternoon.¬†Attending a live taping is a BIG¬†time commitment and involves a lot of waiting around. Even with your pre-reserved tickets, you still need to queue to¬†physically claim said ticket on the actual day of the taping and seats are first comes first served starting at 2PM. My ticket instructed me to get in line “no later than 3PM” but I showed up at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway (between 53rd and 54th) at 1PM¬†to get decent seats. Each show is overbooked, and reserving a spot is no guarantee that you’ll get in. At 2PM, the line started moving, as Late Show staff checked my reservation and my I.D. They gave me a numerical ticket (111/400… not bad!), stamped my hand with a black CBS logo and instructed me to come back at 3:45PM.¬†

CBS logo

That gave me about an hour and half to grab a late lunch.¬†Luckily, I knew of two great options in Hell’s Kitchen, within a 5 minute walking distance:¬†Danji¬†and¬†Totto’s Ramen, both¬†on 51st street between 9th and 10th avenue. After standing an hour outside in the middle of February, ramen seemed like the best option to warm up!

Pre Stephen Colbert Late Show RamenTotto's Ramen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At my assigned time, I headed back to the Ed Sullivan theater and waited another 10 minutes lined up in numerical order based on my ticket. Our bags were scanned before we got to queue some more, this time at least in an indoor area inside the theater. Another pro-tip: if your bags are too large, they’ll make you check them so pack light. And I was able to go in with a bottle of water. That time of the waiting was possibly the worse because you’re crammed into a rather small room with 150 other people with 2 TVs cranking out old Stephen Colbert skits as only distraction. FINALLY, a young lady with a microphone welcomed us and reminded us of a few things: mainly, we’ll be filmed (duh!) and we’re not allowed to use our cell phones. I’d attended a few tapings of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart before so I knew the drill. No tweeting, snap-chatting, instagramming and NO photography whatsoever in the studio! Womp womp!¬†

Attending a taping of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

IMG_6023IMG_6022

Finally, I sat down at my seat, on the fifth row, right in front of the band area. There’s pros and cons to sitting on the main level of the theater. The main pros are proximity to the stage, the host, and the guests but on the con side cameras do get in your way and you can’t see the beautiful projection on the ceiling of the theater. Around 5PM, comedian Paul Mecurio came onto the stage to get us pumped for the main show coming up. He reminded us quickly of our purpose today as audience: to laugh, preferably loudly, at Stephen’s jokes. He made a few jokes of his own and pulled a few people onto the stage, including a software engineer from Google and his friend who was an opera signer and had an absolutely beautiful voice. Then Stephen Colbert came in for a quick Q&A. The questions weren’t riveting but he did mention that his wife was in attendance with some of her girlfriends, which was pretty cool.

At around 5:45PM,¬†Jon Batiste and Stay Human, the house band, came onto the stage to play a few tunes¬†and before I knew it the taping was finally starting!! I will say Jon Batiste and Staying Humans are pretty awesome in person, even with an extra human tap-dancing in the “percussion” areas. I took a couple of screen shots of the show afterwards, which included special audience members from the Coast Guards, Chelsea Handler in a tight little white number, an awesome segment on Marco Rubio’s “Morning Again in America” ad that included references to some of my favourite Canadian things like DeGrassi and Poutine, Zosia Mamet and a performance of¬†The Lumineers’ new ¬†song Ophelia.¬†

Coast Guards members in the audience of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
IMG_5790Chelsea Handler on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

About the guests – when you book tickets to the show, you have NO idea who the guests are going to be. Like, when I saw Jon Stewart in Washington, D.C., I had no idea that President Obama would be his guest… the day AFTER I got to be in audience. I don’t even remember who the guest was when I went… I just remember that it wasn’t Obama ūüėČ I’m pretty happy with who I got to see, though honestly I would have been happy with anyone, as just getting to be in the audience was quite the treat. One of the highlights of the show that evening though was the cute interaction between Colbert and his wife (“darling”), either during the taping or during the commercial breaks as well as his interaction with us the audience the few times that he had to re-tape a segment (quite a few times actually). Otherwise, the guests pretty much just ignore the audience ūüė¶

After the show wrapped, Colbert did a few reshoots, including Zosia’s name, which he had mispronounced. He explained to us that earlier in the day, the building next to them had a sewers issues that had prevented them from being able to do their rewrites in their typical offices and that was one of the reasons the show’s taping appeared a bit frantic and disorganized. He chatted up with his wife a bit, asking her where she¬†and friends were headed for drinks afterwards and that was that. I myself headed to¬†Casellula¬†for a¬†post-Late Show glass of vino. Overall, I had a blast at the taping, it was so fun to see behind the scene of a show I watch everyday though it was a lot of¬†waiting around, and definitely required some advance planning. Here’s my last pro-tip if you’re planning on being in the audience like I was: wear warm clothes! The theater is FREEZING so much that the staff is walking around in their coats. I definitely wished I’d worn a warmer sweater ūüėČ

Have you ever attended a show’s tapping, whether in New York or Los Angeles? How was that experience for you?¬†

Postcard from Philadelphia ~ 5 Free Things To Do in the City of Brotherly Love

We’re spoiled here in Washington that¬†most of our museums and historical attractions are completely free, making DC a very wallet-friendly destination for tourists and locals playing tourists. Like Washington, and just a quick bus or train ride away, Philadelphia is also rich in history and pretty affordable to explore, so long as you’re willing to put up with some lines ūüėČ Here are a few budget-friendly things to do in America’s former capital…¬†

VISIT AMERICA’S MOST IMPORTANT HISTORICAL SITES

Bonus: they’re all conveniently located within a square mile. Between 1790 and 1800, while the Federal City (<– DC) was under construction, Philadelphia got to be the¬†temporary capital of the United States. Before that, it played a key role in the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers gathered there to sign the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (though of course, to actually see those, you have to come here to DC!) . The¬†Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and Congress Hall are all right there, right next to one another, and yes, they’re all free to explore, though you’ll need a timed ticket to get into Independence Hall, so get there early in the busy summer season (like 8:30AM).¬†¬†

Liberty Bell in Philadelphia

Not as related to US history, but pretty cool nonetheless, is Dream Garden, a stunning mosaic made of 100,000 pieces of Tiffany Glass that graces the lobby of the Curtis Center, just a block away from Independence Hall along Washington Square. Since it’s in an office building, you have to visit it during business hours or before noon on Saturdays.¬†

 

WALK MURAL MILE

With over 3,000 public murals, Philadelphia is one of the top city for street art in the US. There’s a concentration of 17 of them over a 2.5 miles route downtown that‚Äôs known as Mural Mile. You can¬†check out my blog post for more information on doing a self-guided tour. The recommended route starts at 7th and Chestnut, steps away from the independence visitor center so you can easily combine it with a visit to the city‚Äôs most famous monuments like the Liberty Bell. While on tour, make a detour and swing by Rittenhouse Square Park, where you will find the original La Colombe coffee shop location. Grab a glass of still or sparkling water… it’s¬†free there!!¬†

Mural Mile in Philadelphia

CATCH A FREE PERFORMANCE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST FULLY FUNCTIONING PIPE ORGAN

Located in the Grand Court of a former Wanamaker department store (one of the oldest chain of department stores in the country) the 111 years old, 7 stories tall and 287 tons instrument is now one of the main reason to go shopping at the¬†Macy‘s¬†City Center.¬†Grand Court Organ concerts are performed twice daily, Monday through Saturday (at 12PM and in the evenings). I found out about the organ in this Smithsonian Magazine piece and I’m definitely glad I did.¬†

CLIMB THE ROCKY STEPS 

If you’re not up for the exercise of the¬†72 steps hike leading up to the¬†Philadelphia Museum of Art, you can at least snap a pic with the statue of Rocky near the bottom of the stairs. Admission to the museum is a steep $20 but you can save a few bucks if you visit¬†on the first Sunday of every month and after 5PM on Wednesday, when the museum charges a “Pay What You Wish” ¬†admission fee. Also more affordable on the first Sunday of every month is¬†the Barnes Foundation¬†down the street on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, though tickets are limited and given on a first come first serve basis, so you’ll want to get there before 9AM. Next door to the Barnes Foundation, the¬†Rodin Museum has a $10 suggested admission but is actually “Pay What You Wish” every day so you can leave less than that if you’re on a tight budget. The garden around the museum is free year round too. I know, it’s not as good as our Smithsonians here, but at least there are a few ways to see the art for free or close to free ūüėČ

Rocky Statue in PhiladelphiaBarnes Foundation

Rodin Museum in Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EXPLORE ONE OF THE GREATEST FOOD HALL IN THE COUNTRY. 

I hesitated to add Reading Terminal Market to the list because while it’s free to walk around and see all the different food stalls, you’ll have a hard time not reaching out for your wallet to purchase a bite or two or five. At Reading, you’ll find pretty much every type of cuisine you can think of, from Asian to Cajun but the most interesting are obviously the only-in-Philadelphia options like the family-run restaurants offering traditional (and very cheap) Pennsylvania Dutch fare (try the apple fritter at Beiler’s Donuts!),¬†authentic Philly cheesesteaks at Spataros’¬†or decadent cannolis at¬†Termini Brothers Bakery. And if the food isn’t free, the wifi is… so at least there’s that ūüėȬ†

Termini Brothers Cannoli

Reading terminal market

 

BONUS:¬†SNAP A SELFIE WITH ROBERT INDIANA’S FAMOUS LOVE SCULPTURE.

Yes, there are LOVE sculptures all over the world now (including one, en espa√Īol/Italian, right here in DC), but this one, installed in 1976 is probably the most famous one of them all! The park where it’s located, which¬†everyone calls Love Park though it’s official name is JFK Plaza, is currently undergoing a major renovation. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it’s done! For some more great instagram snaps, head down to¬†Elfreth‚Äôs Alley, America’s¬†oldest continuously inhabited residential street.¬†

How ‘Bout Them Apples? Discovering Loudoun County’s Cideries

When I first moved to the United States, the only cider that was “widely” available was Vermont-based Woodchuck or Boston’s Angry Orchard, fruity beverages that dominated the American cider scene back then. In recent years though, the refreshing and light apple-based¬†drink¬†has exploded here. As craft beer became increasingly popular, cider’s appeal also rose, particularly as an alternative to beer for those who can’t drink (especially those who are gluten intolerant) or those who just don’t like the taste of it.¬†Fast forward to 2016, and cider is definitely having a moment in America! And¬†that¬†includes in the state of Virginia, of course (I mean, Jefferson grew apples at Monticello and produce cider after all). So when my friend Calla suggested we venture out to some wineries during the MLK long weekend, I brought up the possibility of us checking out a cidery too and before I knew it our little day trip had a cider theme!¬†

Virginia cideries are clustered around Charlottesville and in the Shenandoah Valley,¬†which is a little far from Washington, DC if you’re just going for a day trip. So instead, we opted to check out two tasting rooms in Loudoun County, tucked in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Starting with the newest and furthest away from the city, we found ourselves in the tiny, very definitely MICRO¬†Wild Hare Cidery¬†(open Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5PM) in Bluemont, VA. Wild Hare is one of the area’s newest cidery producer and the tasting room is intimate at best, with no seating, but the tasting was free and the people were very friendly.¬†

Wild Hare Cidery in Bluemont, Virgnia

 

Also, the cider was good. Dry and hoppy Hatch was my favourite, reminding me the most of your typical Brittany cider (the fact that they described it as the champagne of cider didn’t hurt either I’m sure….)

Wild Hare Cider

 

Next, we headed to¬†Corcoran Cidery,¬†a small family owned winery and cidery situated on a family farm in Waterford, VA. Since it was the the first cidery to open in Loudoun County we basically went from the newest one to the oldest one ūüėČ

Corcoran cidery
Corcoran CideryThey also do beer, but that’s not on the same site. The good news is if you have a mixed group of wine and/or cider lovers you can sample either wine or cider or a mix of both at the tasting room there.¬†We all opted for the $7 cider tasting flight, and tried all 4 ciders they have to offer.¬†

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On warmer days, the owners also fire up the BBQ but it was a bit too cold and snowy when we were there so we got a bit hungry after the tastings and headed to Purcellville for some burgers at Market Burgers Fries and Shakes. Since you really can’t go to Purcellville without stopping to sample some cocktails at Catoctin Creek Distillery, we did just that too!¬†Before the hour and a half drive back to the District,¬†¬†we stopped for some coffee and sweets at Mom’s Apple Pie Bakery, barely making it before the shop closed at 5PM.

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All in all, it was a super fun day trip. I learned a lot along the way about Virginia cider, got to go back to¬†Catoctin Creek Distillery¬†which I absolutely adore and even made a few new friends along the way. I don’t think it gets any better than that ūüėČ

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Postcard from (snowy) Washington, DC ~ Jonas 2016 Edition

Exactly a month ago, we were celebrating Christmas in t-shirts. Well, the warm spell is over!¬†Winter has (finally) arrived and mother nature made up for loss time by blanketing the north east with a pretty thick coat of snow. According to the National Weather Service, 57 cm (22.4 inches) fell in Washington, DC at the National Zoo (much to the delight of our giant panda Tian Tian)¬†¬†which was enough to shut down the federal government, metro and pretty much the entire city. We don’t do well with snow here ūüėČ

While I did brave the snow to toast¬†Mandu‘s fifth anniversary on Friday night, it snowed really hard for most of Saturday so I locked myself up indoors and watched the blizzard with my cat Chloe from the warmth of my cosy apartment, eating semi-homemade pho and catching up on the Oscar nominated films available online. I loved the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?¬†(available on Netflix). Have you seen it yet? You can also stream Ex-Machina on Amazon. I really loved that one too. By Sunday, the snow had settled and we were treated to a warm(ish) and Sunday. I had planned to just go to the U.S. Capitol and snap some pictures but then when I got there I thought, why go home now, the mall is right there… and before I knew I basically played tourist in my own city, walking close to 7 miles¬†and seeing all the big sights! Here are some highlights from my walk:

Snow removal during Jonas 2016 in Washington, DC

SnowselfieSledding on the west lawn of the US capitol
Washington Monument in the Snow
Snowselfeet at the World War II MemorialWorld War II memorial in the snow
Sledding at the Lincoln Memorial
Korean War Veteran Memorial in the snowMLK Memorial in the snow
Jefferson Memorial and frozen Tidal bassinTidal Bassin and Washington Monument in the snowEmpty pennsylvania avenue during Jonas
dc snow

Clyde's Stays Open during Jonas 2016Do you want to build a snowman?

How pretty does Washington, DC look under a fresh powdery coat of snow? Did you get snowed in too? How did you weather Jonas 2016?