Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mysteries from Le Metro

OK. I have been looking at this advertisement twice a day for nearly a month and it was only yesterday that I figured out what it was about. I mean I KNOW it is a Eurostar add ... but why this picture? Can you tell?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

You can tell you're in Europe when ...

The words Georgetown and North Carolina are nowhere to be found in the print or TV media and instead you are presented endless reruns of cricket matches.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I have a theory ...

I have a theory about toilets in Europe that was proved true yet again yesterday at Gare du Nord. The theory is : If you have to pay to use the toilet, then you can expect -->


Nonetheless, I suppose I am to feel well treated when on closer examination I discovered that the toilet bowl was made by Villeroy and Boch.

My secret courtyard

The kitchen window in our first floor apartment looks across to a dressmaker’s shop. Every morning at 9:00 Madame arrives, hangs up her coat and puts on her pink work coat. At the end of each day a new dress is hanging in the window. At first I didn’t pay much attention across the courtyard. But dress making seems to be the life’s blood of this part of Paris.

Material, lace, and racks of dresses move through the streets of Montorgueil. And in the back of our courtyard is a design studio where clients, mostly Asian, come to attend fashion shows.

Well in the last few days a new person has shown up in Madame’s dress shop. It is a man with wild grayish black hair. Madame seems to always be explaining things to him. And sometimes they will gather round the dress model and have a heated discussion as they point at various parts of the model’s anatomy. Then the man leaves and Madame continues her work. We’ve decided that he is the designer.

Stay tuned for more episodes of “Secrets from the Courtyard.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"pêcheurs de lune"

This past weekend was given over to the joys of browsing through flea markets. There was one in the 12th along the rue Richard Lenoir that we went to on Saturday afternoon and then the famous Les Puces out at Clignancourt on Sunday. The weather was spectacular and we browsed happily through the interesting offerings. At one point we spied four plates for what we thought was 4.90 Euro only to learn that it was 490 Euro. There were

Paintings ...

...and Andy Warhol chairs

an old time Becassine

an accordian ...

and even an Elvis

In the end I found a lovely little silver chair to add to my chair collection.

We strolled down to Bastille and turned onto the rue St. Antoine. This neighborhood used to be its own village separate from Paris and it was where cabinet makers worked. Today, if you go down the side alleys, you can see the remnants of furniture makers plying their craft.

The guide books say, don’t worry about directions to Les Puces, just follow the crowd as it tumbles off the Metro at Pte. de Clignancourt. How true! After making our way through the outer section selling all manner of clothing, we found the warrens that house the historic flea market. My favorite part of the market was a little café nestled in the heart of it where a woman was singing Edith Piaf tunes to the Sunday afternoon patrons. But I did spy this little chair which I left living in Les Puces in the care of the "fishers of the moon."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Simple Meals

For an American who is used to backing her station wagon up to the supermarket and loading up for the week, there is a little readjustment that has to take place when you are planning even the simplest meal. We had a few friends over the other evening for a simple supper … artichokes … quiche (charcuterie made) … cheese … dessert … and of course bread. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Well let’s just start with the beverages. 4 bottles of Champagne, 3 bottles of red wine, and 6 bottles of water all have to be carried back and up the stairs. The artichokes seem simple, yes? Well when you consider that the marches des legumes in your neighborhood is closed on Monday, then you have to plan ahead. The cheese could be bought ahead of time, but I needed to have Hunter with me to translate. Even with the ready made quiche and dessert, there was always the question of what could be bought early and what had to wait until the night of.

Pleased to report that a good time was had by all … that we were all surprised when we discovered it was past midnight when we thought to look at our watches.

The next evening we stayed in, and I adjusted my favorite Vodka Penne recipe to go with the small amount of champagne we had in one of the bottles.

And I’m afraid I over bought the bread, so we have been having pain perdue each morning since. I discovered a long cloth bag in one of the drawers of the kitchen to store the baguettes in. And I also store the left over slices that have gone dry. Here they are soaking for this morning’s breakfast.

Champagne Penne

½ box of penne cooked
1 jar spaghetti sauce heated
3 Tablespoons left over champagne
¼ cup heavy cream

Drain the penne and put in a bowl. Toss with the Champagne and then add the cream. Let sit for 1 minute then add the heated sauce (I used a jar of Bolognese)

Monday, March 5, 2007

When the saints go marching in

I have serious pedigree as a Roman Catholic. So the religious iconography of Paris churches is something I enjoy. One thing I get a kick out of is visiting the side altars in churches and playing “Name that Saint.” St. Peter always has the keys, St. Theresa of Lisieux the flowers and so on, so it is fun moving around the churches of Paris building my repertoire of saints. One of the most useful saints of my adult life has been Saint Anthony. For those who do not know, St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost items. I half expect to come upon a statue of him one day carrying my grade book in one arm and my car keys in the other.

Well yesterday I stumbled on to a new saint. In fact, I stumbled upon a whole new church which is not hard to do in Paris. I was familiar with the church named after St. Germain-des-Pres but this new church I found is named St. Germain l’Auxerrois and was the church for the Louvre when it was still a royal palace. Inside was an altar dedicated to St. Charles Borommee.

Now on my scale of saints, this new saint is not very interesting. I like the sorts of saints where the question,”what can you do for me today, Mr./Ms. Saint?” is easily answered. But Charles, an Italian, lived in the 16th century and was a real mover and shaker in the much needed Catholic Counter Reformation. So I add Charles to my litany of saints as an intellectual and a power broker. I may not need to call on him as much as I do St. Anthony, but it’s always good to let a new saint march into your life.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Vous avez vu la lune ?

We walked along the Seine twice today. We had only planned to do it once. After yesterday’s start-and-stop shopping rhythm, we were ready to stretch our legs. As we wended our way back to Montorgueil I spied a kitchen store … E. Dehillerin … But to call it a kitchen store is a bit understated.

I will let the pictures speak

Perhaps you would like a wisk?

or enough fish poachers to poach an ocean full of fish?

or a copper paella pan from which to serve 150 of your closest friends?

Then after a bit of a rest and some wrestling with our French cell phone (worthy of its own post) we headed off for a fashionable 9:00 pm dinner at a nearby restaurant. Again the regional focus was Perigord. My entrée salad was composed of mixed greens, walnuts, warm potatoes, grapes, bits of sausage and was topped with four thin slices of duck breast topped with duck liver. It was divine and went perfectly with my kir. The plat was a cassoulet Toulouse. We were tempted to try for a dessert since tarte tatin was on the menu and I have always wanted to try one, but decided since it was in the neighborhood we could come back any time. Also I had read somewhere that one must order a tarte tatin when ordering the meal … as you would do for a grand marnier souffle ... and that if the menu does not so indicate, you will only receive a pale imitation.

When we went out the door, I looked in the sky and saw that the promised lunar eclipse had already begun. We thought of the diners behind us missing out on this not to be repeated until 2025 event, and decided to stick our heads back in the restaurant.

“Vous avez vu la lune?,” Hunter asked the owners, and out onto the little street tumbled half of the restaurant’s patrons to look up into the Paris night. We decided to walk off our dinner by going back down to the river to take in the moon under an open sky. We were on the Pont au Change from which we could see the towers of Notre Dame, Chatelet, and the Eiffel Tower. The Bateaux Mouches made their way up the river below us. And ever so slowly the moon slid under its cover. It was amazing how few people took it in. There was one romantic fellow who called his girl on a cell phone. But mostly people were busy about their Saturday nights with few cares about the disappearing moon.

And so ended another magical day in the City of Lights.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Café, les fleurs, fromage, jambon, pain and a Turkish haircut

It seems like all we did was shop yesterday, But we had to do it in stages because there was no car trunk to use as the means of transport.

But first things first … COFFEE. Our apartment presented us with 3 methods, we tried two. One was the plunger type and the other was the kind on the left where you put the water in the bottom, the grounds in the middle and after heating on a stove the coffee magically appears in the top half. I think we are plunger people.

We all know that good French shopping means boulangerie for bread and charcuterie for ham, and so on. But did we ever wonder in first year French where they bought paper towels and toilet paper. Ah hah …. The supermarche. That is where we started. I am always amazed at the wine prices in the supermarche … You’ve got to love a country where the wine and the water are priced about the same.


water ... It's the miracle at Cana all over again!

Our cheese stop was delightful. This fromagerie is staffed by two helpful and very friendly women. We came home with a chevre that was described as “entre deux” which I believe means somewhere between aged and fresh … dry and wet … and a hard cheese from the Savoie called “Beaufort ete”. Beaufort ete is my new favorite cheese.

At the charcuterie we picked up six slices of jambon cuit and ten slices of jambon sec. We also stopped at an Italian charcuterie and picked up some prosciutto ravioli.

We put off buying our bread until the end of the day. As we walked into the boulangerie I saw a sign that this bakery carried the famed “flute Gana.” Normally one would have to take a Metro ride out to the 20th to get a flute Gana. I tried last summer, but, of course, they were closed for the summer holiday. This baguette is named after the famed boulanger, Bernard Ganachaud and its quality is related to the amount of hands on time the baker spends with the dough. This little film does a good job in showing the process.

But of course the ultimate test is taste and texture. I have developed “the test” that I use to put all baguettes on the same playing field. It involves tearing off the tip of the baguette as you walk out of the boulangerie and eating it right then. The flute Gana is softer, less crisp than others … the flavor is a little saltier … but it is the chewable texture that makes it stand out.

So what’s left on our list? Flowers and a Turkish haircut. We headed north on the rue St. Denis into the Turkish section of town. The journey took us through the “garment district” where racks of clothes were moving through the streets. We found the barber Hunter remembered from last summer and here is a before and after shot.

before and ...


A final hats off to the flower man who turned a simple handful of tulips into a stunning table bouquet.

And so with Isabelle Boulay singing in the background, we sat down to a lovely meal of salad, ravioli, cheese and bread with a perfectly fine 3 Euro bottle of Cotes du Rhone. The perfect ending to our first full day in Paris.


Down the stairs

Out the door

and into our new Paris neighborhood

Friday, March 2, 2007

Je Suis Arrivee

It is 10:00 pm in Paris and I am filled with the rich “unlocking” that happens when you are transitioning time zones. After a 2 ½ hour nap between 2 and 5 we were ready to explore our right bank neighborhood of Montorgueil.

We cracked the door open onto rue Greneta and said “let’s go explore Paris!” What a gem! There are fish markets and fromagerie and charcuterie and boulangeries at every turn. The restaurants, salons de the, brasseries and cafes are original and varied. Tonight we ate at Les Petit Carreaux at the far end of rue Montorgueil. I learned that the word “souris” when paired with d’agneau means lamb shank. Mine was prepared Perigourdine which meant a sauce flavored with chopped bits of ham in the style of the region of Perigord.

This sauce is made perfect when absorbed by a good Parisian baguette. There will be much to say about baguettes in the days to come, but let me share my first impressions. There is NO American equivalent. The finest American baguette pales by comparison. I held the slice in my hand for a moment … I squeezed it between my fingers … it was perfection. I tore a bit of it from the main piece. It held as I tore as though wanting me to know that this was part of a magnificent whole. But at the same time it gave … and let me free it for its task. I pressed it into the sauce and watched the sauce flow into the bread. And when I chewed … it was a sublime mix of flavor and texture. And this was a mere ordinary baguette. What will happen when I get to taste a flute Gana?

When I returned from Paris last summer my jaw had developed a clicking sound. When I queried my dentist he told me “no more French bread.” Well he might have been telling a flounder “no more water.” I have been on complete “bread rest” while in the States and now I am ready to enjoy again.