Chronicles of the Mole Family, Chapter 10

We have drywall!  Well, on the 2nd floor, we have drywall in all of the bedrooms.  (The main floor still looks like marauding hordes of Vikings have gone through it.)  I have been told by those who know these things that once drywalling starts, everything else falls into place very quickly (painting, flooring, etc.).  I certainly hope that’s true because the large spiders that have been invading our basement recently may be enough to drive me from the premises.  I am not fond of spiders to begin with (they give me serious heebie-jeebies), but I do think it is reasonable for anyone to dislike spiders that are 2-3 inches in diameter.  And the kids are no help whatsoever, although the 10 year old will assist in spider-killing.  (The 13 year old will just run in screeching terror from them.)  What good are having children if they won’t kill spiders for you?  I am seriously thinking of asking for a refund since neither child came with a spider-killing gene.

But I digress.  Here are some photos of the newly drywalled upper floor.  These 2 photos are of the master bedroom and sitting room:

master bedroommaster br sitting room

And here are the kids’ rooms:

kid bedroom #1kid bedroom #2


Chronicles of the Mole Family, Chapter 9

We were evicted from our basement in mid-March as Mr. Le needed to work on the HVAC and electrical systems and have them inspected.  (You know that you have sunk to a new low in home renovation when you can’t even stay in your own basement.)

The eviction was originally scheduled to be for 2 weeks.  We jiggled slightly with the schedule so that the 2nd week of the eviction was during our spring break.  Because our 7th grader was doing a community service project at Children’s National Medical Center, during the 1st week of our eviction, we stayed near Potomac so that we could carpool with the other family whose children were also doing their service project at Children’s.  We then left for Paris for spring break and had a marvelous time.  (See previous post.)

About halfway through our stay in Paris, we received an email from Mr. Le saying that our eviction would have to be extended by a week.  So we threw ourselves upon the mercy of some friends who live in Chevy Chase and who were about to go out of town on their spring break.  As they said, we replaced 2 adults, 1 girl, 1 boy, and 1 bullmastiff in their house with 2 adults, 1 girl, 1 boy, and 1 bullmastiff.  It was incredibly generous of our friends to let us stay at their house for the week.  And as much as I love our house, it was lovely to be 10 minutes away from the school and walking distance from downtown Bethesda.  We are very grateful to them for giving the homeless Mole Family a place to stay.

We finally moved back in after Easter.  Who knew you could miss living in a basement so much? But it was good to be back, even if it meant that there was no longer any excuse not to do the 10 loads of laundry that had accumulated during our wanderings.

The main floor and upper floor are still only framed as they finish up the wiring and other internal renovations.  They have started painting the exterior brick a very nice shade of taupe/gray.

painted brick

Barring a miracle, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to move back into the rest of the house at the end of April (as originally projected), but we are still hopeful that we can move in by the end of June (our internal projection).  We’d feel more optimistic if there weren’t so many gigantic holes in the house!

Guy Savoy (in Paris)

So, we didn’t think our meal at Taillevent could be surpassed or that any restaurant could come close in terms of food and service.  We were wrong.  Guy Savoy was another culinary marvel that we were lucky enough to experience during our stay in Paris.  (The official address is 18 rue Troyon, 75017 Paris; 01-43-80-40-61.)

We started off with artichoke soup (which we later learned was made by one particular chef in the kitchen who has been making artichoke soup at the restaurant for over 15 years).

artichoke soup

The dining consensus was that the overall artichoke soup experience was better at Taillevent (with the ravioli and the truffles), but the soup itself at Guy Savoy was better.  Not that there is much difference between fabulous and wonderful.

Accompanying the meal was a brioche with black truffle butter.  I am not a huge bread fan, but this was definitely worth eating.  Although almost anything with black truffles is definitely worth eating.

brioche with black truffle butter

Most of the table opted for the duck, which is a house specialty.  The duck(s) are brought out before being carved so that you can inspect them.

ducks being prepared

And then they are served in two separate courses.  The first is the classic carved duck breast.  And the second course is the duck leg.

duck breastduck leg

Other entrees included beef two ways (as a short rib and a strip) accompanied by beautifully executed potatoes (in only a small amount of butter, of course).

beef 2 wayspotatoes

And there was a sea bass prepared with Asian spices (such as lemongrass and coriander).  Both were declared excellent.

sea bass with Asian spices

Desserts were a tour de force, as we sampled many different ones.  There was the mille feuille, which was very light and airy.

mille feuille

The gaugette strawberries accompanied with strawberry ice were heavenly and tasted as strawberries should taste.  Along with the main strawberry dessert came two additional tastes of strawberry, one in whipped cream and the other in a light meringue “box.”

gaugette strawberriesstrawberry tidbits

The grapefruit terrine was my favorite.  It was unusual and consisted of different types of grapefruit pulp served in the form of a terrine.  There was none of the bitterness that often comes with grapefruit, and the passionfruit sauce helped counter the acidity of the grapefruit.

grapefruit terrine

For the chocolate lovers, there was a chocolate ball that was accompanied with pineapple ice and a chocolate ganache, as only the French can prepare it.

chocolate ball with pineapple icechocolate ganache

And, finally, there was a chocolate hazelnut torte.

chocolate hazelnut torte

In case we weren’t yet in a sugar coma, there were homemade marshmallows and a tea sorbet to finish off the meal.  The tea sorbet was a perfect palate cleanser to end the meal.  It tasted of the tea itself but without any of the bitter aftertaste tea can sometimes have.

homemade marshmallowstea sorbet

As with our other high end dining experience, the staff—in particular, our waiter, Hubert—were warm and welcoming.  The kids each received a Guy Savoy plate that miraculously made it home intact.  Hubert made sure the kids enjoyed their food and brought out additional tidbits that he thought they might like.

We also received a quick tour of the kitchen.  It was tiny, certainly comparable to New York restaurant kitchens, rather than the comparatively cavernous kitchens in DC restaurants.

Guy Savoy also rates an A++ for the evening.  If we had to parse hairs, however, we would probably say that the food was slightly better at Taillevent and the service was slightly better at Guy Savoy.  But that is only if forced to judge between the two.  You certainly will have a wonderful experience at either restaurant, in terms of both food or service.


Hunger Games (book & movie)

On Saturday, we gave into our children’s pleadings (whinings?) and took them to see the movie, Hunger Games, since everyone in their grades had seen it already.  After getting home from the movie, I then promptly read the book to see how true to the book the movie was.

Book first (priorities are priorities).  Hunger Games is classified as a Young Adults book and is a quick read for adults.  That being said, the book is well-written, well-paced and with an original, if dark, plot.  The characters are complex, neither entirely good nor evil and are well-rounded.  The heroine, Katniss, is both likeable and unlikeable.  It is a surprisingly sophisticated novel.  I enjoyed it, although the premise is extremely dark.

Now, the movie.  The movie is very true to the book (not surprising, since the author, Suzanne Collins, co-wrote the screenplay).  It is, however, much more graphic and violent.  The book, while it contains violent scenes, does not go into overly detailed descriptions of the violence.  And the movie does as much violence offscreen as it can.  (The movie is rated PG-13.)  However, the plot is by definition violent, and the movie can’t hide that fact.  It is beautifully filmed, with the director doing a lovely job showing things from a particular character’s perspective, and the actors and actresses all do a good job (with a particular shout out to Stanley Tucci).

All that being said, the plot is disturbing, especially since it deals with children and violence.  I like violent movies and even darkly comic violent movies, but this is neither.  It’s difficult to have any light moments when you’re reading or watching about a group of children who have to kill each other until a single victor emerges.

If you can get past the plot, the book is well written and enjoyable (I gave it 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads) and the movie is an excellent adaptation of the book.  You just have to get past the plot.

I am told (by the aforementioned pleading kids) that the second and third books of the trilogy (Catching Fire and Mockingjay) deal more with the possibility of impending rebellions against the totalitarian government.  Now, that is a plot I can get into!

Taillevent in Paris

One of the most spectacular meals we have ever had (and we have had a few!) was at Taillevent in Paris (the exact address is 15 rue Lamennais, 75008 Paris; 01-44-95-15-01).   We opted not to do the tasting menu so that we could taste more dishes, and the dishes were universally excellent.

We started off with the amuse-bouche, which were gougères, a Gruyère cheese biscuit.


For appetizers, the choices were split between the artichoke soup with ravioli and an egg on top and the foie gras terrine served with brioche.  (It was lovely being in a country where no one saw anything wrong with producing, cooking, and eating foie gras, but I digress.)

artichoke soupfoie gras

While the foie gras was delicious, the consensus was that the artichoke soup was the winner.

Entrees split between the rack of lamb and scallops served with black truffles.

rack of lambscallops with black truffles

This was an easy choice.  The lamb was excellent, but the scallops (and especially the black truffles) were spectacular.

Desserts were more evenly split.  The selections were chocolate soufflé (topped with edible gold), a chocolate cake (which is too simple a term to describe the loveliness of the dish), a poached apple with apple sorbet, and pineapple cream topped with gold leaf.

chocolate soufflechocolate cake

poached applepineapple cream

No clearcut winner emerged here, especially as there were chocolate lovers and chocolate-tolerators in the bunch.

Dinner concluded with some lovely petit-fours and homemade caramels.

petit fourscaramels

Let me just say that even if you don’t like caramels (and I am not a particular fan), you would sell your soul for these homemade caramels.  They were melt-in-your-mouth amazing.

The other thing that made dining at Taillevent such a wonderful experience was the service.  It is clearly a high-end restaurant, and we were clearly Americans and tourists and with two children (a 13-year old and a 10-year old) in tow.  We could not have been made to feel more welcome.  All of us were treated like a part of the extended family, and the kids were warmly welcomed and made to feel at home.  They were even both served an after-dinner Armagnac.  (Clearly, while the legal drinking age in Paris is officially 18, the law is regarded flexibly.)

The restaurant is definitely an A++ for the quality of food and the service.  It was a memorable meal and evening.

Spring Break in the City of Lights

We left on a Thursday night for Paris after a crazy week where life actually interfered with our carefully balanced routine (more about that in a separate blog).  We stayed at the Shangri-la Hotel, a fairly new hotel where one reviewer commented that it was the one place where you could actually get Asian quality service in Paris.

The Shangri-la is in the 16th arrondissement by the Eiffel Tower.  Our suite had a stunning view of the Tower as well as views of the Dome Church and Montmartre, and we had breakfast on the terrace almost every morning where we stuffed ourselves with croissants and butter and hot chocolate while admiring the view.

the view from the Shangri-la Hotel

You could summarize our stay in Paris by saying that we ate, we shopped, and we museumed.  (I know, it’s not actually a word, but it completed the phrase nicely.)  We started off with lunch our first day at a brasserie called Chez Francis within walking distance of the hotel, and we concluded the day by having a fabulous meal at Shang Palace in the hotel, which is the only Michelin 2 star Chinese restaurant in the city.  The 2 stars are well deserved, as the meal was amazing.  Other memorable meal moments were the brasseries Le Troquet (which was like eating a fabulous meal in a neighbor’s dining room), Le Stella (another excellent brasserie), Le Bistrot de Halles (with some of the best duck comfit we ever had), Julien (excellent French onion soup), and La Closerie des Lilas (overall goodness).  The high end restaurants we ate at and loved were Taillevent and Guy Savoy.  And, of course, Berthillon for ice cream.  More will be written about all of these in my Paris travel tome.

Museums that we recommend include the Musee de Moyen Age also known as Musee de Cluny, a museum with various artifacts from the Middle Ages.  The big attraction there are The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.  Although as our daughter said, the lion is doing just as much work so why does the unicorn get all the attention?  The museum is small but lovely.  In addition to the numerous artifacts from the middle ages, there are also works from the Roman era, mostly statuary and baths.

We also walked through the Pantheon, which doesn’t have the austere simplicity of Rome’s version but does have Foucault’s Pendulum and memorials to many of France’s most revered writers like Rousseau and Voltaire as well as tributes to their fallen military, starting with the French Revolution.  They had a moving tribute to those who died maintaining the honor of France in 1870, and it took me a moment to figure out what conflict that was.  (It was the Franco-Prussian war.)

The Arc de Triomphe is a great place to climb up what is a fairly steep spiral staircase and looked at the gorgeous views of Paris.

view from the Arc de Triomphe

The Musee d’Orsay has a lovely collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.

And, of course, the museum of all museums is the Louvre.  The custodial staff was on strike so the bathrooms, while reasonably clean, were a little short on amenities such as toilet paper.  We had a lovely tour guide that showed us the highlights of the museum (Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc.) as well as showing us the evolution of Renaissance paintings through the Italian painters.  We also went through the Egyptian antiquities section, where both kids showed a surprising amount of knowledge and interest.

Another must see site is Versaille, of course.  The building interior has very little appeal other than the Hall of Mirrors.  None of the furnishings or wallpaper or draperies is original, as looters during the French Revolution took away anything of value they could carry.  And Louis XIV himself considered the gardens to be the main attraction at Versailles.  In addition to the formal gardens, which held several ballrooms and other enclosed “rooms” that gave an illusion of privacy for the king, we also visited Le Petit Trianon, which was built by Louis XV for his mistresses.  Louis XVI then gifted it to Marie- Antoinette, and she built The Hamlet on the grounds of Le Petit Trianon.  The Hamlet was fascinating.  If you could build an idealized version of village life, with the illusion of simplicity and privacy but with all the luxuries you could afford, it would look like The Hamlet.  There were rustic looking buildings (from the outside) that were lavishly decorated with marble and gilt on the inside that served as her bedroom, boudoir, etc.  She even hired a farm family to look after livestock and had a garden planted with herbs and vegetables used to feed the family.  It may be the first high-end organically sourced farm in the world.  :).

the Hamlet

The church we most enjoyed visiting was Sainte Chapelle.  I like it better than Notre Dame.  (I know that’s heresy.)  The stained glass windows are breathless, and the entire church is an engineering marvel.  In over seven hundred years, they have never found a crack.  This is unlike Notre Dame where they found cracks before construction was complete, hence, the flying buttresses.

Sainte Chapelle

And, of course, no trip to Paris is complete without going to EuroDisney!  Going there is a bit odd because it is both like and unlike Disneyworld.  It’s almost like visiting your grandparents’ house where things are both familiar and unfamiliar.  EuroDisney consists of the Magic Kingdom in the main park and a subset of Hollywood Studios in the other park (which we did not go to).  The rides that we thought EuroDisney did better than Disneyworld are Peter Pan, It’s a Small World, and Buzz Lightyear.  The rides we liked better at Disneyworld are Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.  There is no Winnie-the-Pooh or Jungle Cruise.  Big Thunder Mountain was closed, but the guidebooks all say the American version is superior.

There are also some interesting quirks.  Popcorn at EuroDisney is sweet, like kettle corn.  Weiwei and I thought it was inedible, although the other 3 liked it.  Some of the dialogue is in English, other parts in French (Buzz Lightyear is half and half, Star Tours is almost all in French as is Haunted Mansion.). The layout is more spacious than Disneyworld or Disneyland, making the crowds seem much less and some of the rides longer (like Pirates and Small World).  There is more attention to detail at EuroDisney, both in the rides and in the little stores and pseudo-stores and exhibits throughout the park.

We were there for about 11 hours and had a ball.


We were delighted to conclude that none of the stereotypes of snotty Parisians held true, at least during our trip.  Everyone was friendly and welcoming, even though we spoke very little French.  We were the most delighted and surprised at how well the kids got treated in the fancy restaurants.  Instead of being tolerated, which we half-expected, they were welcomed, even feted both times.