Category Archives: Sherry Travels

Grilled cheese and ham sandwich Frenchified: Croque Monsieur

Life is unfair in a lot of ways. For one, all cultures are not obsessed equally, especially the French. From accent to fashion to even their women (see Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat), even a simple grilled ham and cheese sandwich seems that much tastier and worthy of the hefty $16 when it’s called Croque Monsieur (pronounced crock ma-seur). 

Literally translated to “fried mister,” the rustic yet elegant snack is a staple for the French and sold in most cafe, bistro, brasserie and even as frozen food in France. The iconically French dish is nothing more than “a hot sandwich, made of 2 slices of buttered bread with crusts removed, filled with thin slices of Gruyère cheese and a slice of lean ham,” according to Larousse Gastronomique.

From Burette, la croque madame (image credit: fancy.com)

From Burette, la croque madame (image credit: fancy.com)\

A ham and cheese is a “Mr” (croque monsieur) and a ham and cheese topped with an egg is a “Madame” (croque madame). While the treat can be replicated at home, nothing beats a a visit to the 50-seat, French-inspired Buvette in West Village.

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The “Grom” persuasion of ice cream

The seemingly contradictory logic of eating spicy food in hot weather is actually not as weird as it may read. In fact, some of the fiery dishes come from places that are hot, like Southeast Asia and India. The reason is simple, spicy foods make you sweat, and sweating cools you down (read more about the science behind sweating).

In light of such knowledge, I believe it makes sense to reverse the logic and eat ice cream in winter. And the best lick comes from Grom, the artisanal gelato from Italy.

(image credit: Grom)

My favorite is the house classic, crema di Grom, which consists of pastry cream, Columbian chocolate chips and meliga (aka corn) cookies. The treat is incomplete without a healthy dollop of homemade whipped cream. Grom’s version, unlike store bought whipped cream that is sweet and lacking in cream flavor, tastes richer, denser.

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The Ultimate Sub-Zero Dress Code (and more)

Why the tendency to land myself in places that are cold? Let’s see…

  • when I studied abroad in Beijing, winter was about -10°C (14°F)
  • when I worked in Seoul, Christmas was -14°C (6.8°F)
  • when I visited Harbin for the Ice and Snow Festival, it was a walloping -35 °C (-31°F). Standing in front of St Sophia Cathedral (see photo below), both myself and the bing tang hu lu [1] held in my hand were quite frozen, albeit one slightly more than the other.
In front of St. Sophia Cathedral (Haerbin, China 2011). Even the sugar-coated plums turned form soft and juicy to completely frozen.

In front of St. Sophia Cathedral (Haerbin, China 2011). Even the sugar-coated plums turned form soft and juicy to completely frozen.

Having been to very very cold places and lived (obviously) to tell the tale, here are some tried and true advice to staying warm.  Continue reading

A healthier lifestyle, starting, with plant eating (dirt included)

With new year, comes new year resolutions. Chinese New Year, which falls on a Thursday (February 19) this year, is no exception. Prepare to kick of the year with a more healthful, greener eating from Spot Dessert Bar.

The potted plant, aka “Harvest” from Spot Dessert Bar (image credit: Serious Eats)

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Making it in New York: asphalt, skyline and “Chinese Puzzle”

Life is complicated, and in the case of Xavier (Romain Duris), a successfulish Paris writer, it is more so. In writer/director Cédric Klapisch’s “Chinese Puzzle” [1] (2014), Xavier struggles to deal with the following:

  • His wife Wendy (Kelly Reilly) leaves him, taking their children to New York to live with her new man.
  • He comes to New York because he cannot stand being apart from his children. He has no job, he needs to get a job, but he cannot legally work in the States.
  • His old girlfriend, Martine (Audrey Tautou), also comes to New York.
  • He is the father of his lesbian friend Isabelle’s (Cécile De France) baby. Isabelle is raising the baby with her Chinese-American girlfriend Ju (Sandrine Holt).

Did I mention Xavier’s life is complicated? To further muddle up the plot, he marries a  Chinese-American woman so he can get U.S. citizenship to stay in the country. The fake wedding will also help him better fight for legal authority over his children’s lives.

(image credit: RogerEbert.com/Chinese Puzzle)

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“Madame Cézanne,” the curious case of the looker and the looked-upon

Hortense Fiquet, stares impassively. She is not strikingly beautiful, hardly, and her oval face is pale and smooth like a hard-boiled egg. You wonder what the artist saw in her face that compelled him to paint her 29 times, excluding sketchbook after sketchbook of Hortense’s pencil drawings.

She is Madame Cézanne, Paul Cézanne’s lover, wife, the mother of his only son and his most painted model. The Metropolitan Museum of the Art has put together the “Madame Cézanne” Exhibit (Nov 19, 2014 ~ Mar 15, 2015), bringing together 24 of the artist’s painting of Hortense.

Madame Cezanne in the Orchard (image credit: MET Museum)

To understand the significance of the woman behind the great man, we must first find out about the man.

Cézanne, a Post-Impressionist painter, has inspired modernist painters like Picasso. Cézanne rejected Impressionism’s emphasis on light and color, and turned to structure, order. Jackie Wullschiager wrote in a review for the Financial Times:

Cézanne’s directness — the balance, pictorial logic, simplification of natural forms to geometric essentials — laid the foundations of modern art

That “directness,” is visible even when painting Hortense. Cézanne absorbed her face, exploring the sharp angles and planes of her face, painting it over and over, and reducing it to odd geometry. The artist was not concerned with replicating her face. Instead, he ventured into early abstract art, freeing the painting from the need to represent reality.

But I wonder, had Cézanne looked at Hortense beyond a paintable object, would they be happier as a couple?  Continue reading

Oh darn HCMC (Saigon), why so unPHOghettable

T-shirts devoted to pho-puns — Pho Sure, Pho Real, Got Pho?, What the Pho? Just Pho You? — offer a glimpse to how popular the Vietnamese noodle dish is. Rightly described by Peta Mathias, author of Noodle Pillows, as “Vietnam in a bowl, heaven in a spoon, culture in a sip,” the noodle broth comes in the raw beef version (pho bo tai) and chicken pho (pho ga).

My first unforgettable, I mean unphoghettable sip of omg-this-is-goddamn-out-of-this-world-amazing pho was at Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), Vietnam in 2011.

In fact, the alluring taste of the translucent, clear broth (comparable to consommé)  that hinted sweet tender beef and aromatic herbs, had me revisit Vietnam a second time.

Pho Bo_ In the words of Peta Mathias, author of Noodle Pillows, pho is "Vietnam in a bowl, heaven in a spoon, culture in a sip."

Pho Bo_ In the words of Peta Mathias, author of Noodle Pillows, pho is “Vietnam in a bowl, heaven in a spoon, culture in a sip.”

Sherry’s love affair with Vietnamese street fare

But I was forever cursed. For afterward, no matter how hard I searched, I seem forever sampling inferior copy of that pho. And did I mention after factoring in the exchange rate, the omg-this-is-goddamn-out-od-this-world-amazing pho costs only 75 cents?

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Let’s talk coffee (especially when served in a bowl)

Between Monterey Bay and Carmel, I would go for the latter. While the Monterey Bay Aquarium showcases a spectacular jelly fish collection, Carmel, which is officially known as Carmel-by-the-Sea, beats the touristy attraction with its quaintness. The pretty town paints quite a picture.

A beloved brunch spot, La Bicyclette, boasts “rustic French fare” and is known for butternut squash pizza and flaky croissants. For me, I chose to start my morning with a cinnamon bun and latte.

Instead of a cup of Joe, the latte at La Bicyclette is more like a "bowl" of Joe.

Instead of a cup of Joe, the latte at La Bicyclette is more like a “bowl” of Joe.

Well, the plenty large cup of Joe was served in a large ceramic bowl. (Read more about why coffee is called Joe).

On a sheet of printed paper, La Bicyclette explains that it is common for the French (apparently the rustic kind) to drink latte in a bowl. Furthermore, it hopes to carry on European coffee house tradition and establish itself as a place where the intelligentsia, such as philosophers, artists, poets, come and interact.

The café in European culture has always been more than just a place to eat and drink.

The café is where people from all walks of life, whether they are artists and writers, or business people and politicians, can come and interact freely.

I highly doubt Carmel, a sleepy seaside city, will ever be a business and political center. Nonetheless, I did experience first-handly the charm of European coffee houses when I studied in Vienna (2007).

In search of Old Vienna, I stumbled into Cafe Hawelka. Continue reading