Thursday, October 31, 2013

Julia Child Kneading Bread by an Open Kitchen Window, 1952 - by Paul Child

Trained, then drove to Brittany yesterday for week Two of our Great Long Holiday. Now it is rest time.  Just walk, cook, read, drink wine, talk, write. I'll have more to post, I promise, with images of Lucia's beautiful cottage, but for now...I had to share this. This photo (well, a print of the photo) is hanging in the hallway outside Lucia's kitchen here. So beautiful and appropriate.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Verjus. Verjus. Verjus.

I've kind of fallen in love.
With a restaurant in Paris.
Now what?

Lee's gin and tonic on a silver tray!

Hands down our favorite food experience in Paris. And the irony? The late-20’s owners are from the US. It’s been called “Brooklyn Food”. I think that refers to the laid-back atmosphere, but I didn’t see any exposed filament lighting or barn wood on the walls. Thankfully. Because I’m kind of over the Brooklyn thing. The environment was warm and eclectic and homey, like something you’d find in the first apartment of someone with a bit of taste and joie de vie. Not in the least industrial (like so much of the Brooklyn scene.) And nothing mid-century or modern. Again, do I really have to see one more Serge Mouille chandelier?

I liked the vibe immediately. But I really fell in love when they brought Lee’s gin and tonic on a silver tray. It is as if they were channeling the kinds of things I loved in my own 20’s – vintage Art Deco, ’30s and 40’s, old world charm without the kitsch. Old mirrors, mismatched chairs, solid simple wooden tables.

The owners are an American-born couple. He, Braden Perkins, from New Orleans, probably just has food in the genes, grew up in Boston. Laura Adrian grew up in White Bear Lake, but calls it St. Paul, which is probably a good idea since the last famous thing I remember about White Bear Lake is from the moving Fargo. We see the more than daffy cheerleader from WBL at a bar, saying “Go, Bears!”

Daffy she is not. Talented and smart they both are.

They came to Paris for a year abroad, seeking direction, and found themselves rather lonely, so they decided to do throw dinner parties in their apartment, inviting other expatriates, food bloggers and generally interesting people. They not only made friends, their dinner parties were a huge hit, so the restaurant was conceived.

Verjus landed in its location with pure serendipity. They were ready to leave Paris because finding a location seemed impossible. Then, this little spot opened up at the last minute. Verjus has taken over all three floors of a small building in the 1st Arrondisement – near the Palais Royal. The lowest level is a small wine bar, seating maybe 12. The main floor is where we had dinner and by 8:00 every table was filled and the 3rd floor is not sure what? But think it is going to be for special dinners, celebrating a specific grower. 

American music receded, but was sweetly folky in tone. We could hear each other, though tables were very close. As the waitresses and waiters all spoke English, it was easy to communicate. Laura and her husband were busy all night; she in the bar and he in the kitchen, then delivering the meats to our table. She must have been up and down the spiral staircase thirty times while we were there, drinks in hand for the guests.

The meal was set – either five or seven courses. I guess we got the seven– I didn’t understand we had a choice. It came with a flight of wine, but we decided to drink a bit less and asked for a recommendation. (Not sure it ended up less in the end!) The price was fair for the quality, but nothing is cheap in Paris because of the exchange rate. Just add 40%! But, whatever, we're going back. 

The lineup of food is here, below – BUT TWO COURSES ARE MISSING BECAUSE THE PHOTO DIDN"T TURN OUT. We also had a steak course and a second dessert! Because we do need 2 desserts in Paris! These were taken in a romantically dark restaurant – with available light, so not that great. Still, Sorry to tempt!

Scallops in olive oil with French Peppers and Garlic. OMG.

Pasta with butternut squash, nuts, parm, and herbs. OMG. again.

Clams in cream with who the heck knows what but OMG again!

Duck with housemde sauerkraut - red cabbage and other things I was now too drunk to remember.

Figs. Chocolate sauce, nuts, homemade cinnamon ice cream.

Cozy setting. Full house. Going back next week!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Foodie Tour of the Marais - by Paris By Mouth - Thank you, Lucia!

Now, this was a good idea. I heard about the Paris by Mouth blog from Lucia Watson (Lucia's) in Minneapolis so had to check it out and before I could get to the bottom of the page, I had booked a food tour of the Marais for Sunday morning at 10:00. It was raining, so we grabbed umbrellas and grumbled a bit about that fact.

The Marais is a rather chic, up and coming neighborhood, full of charming little streets and shops. Originally the Jewish neighborhood, shops were often closed from sundown on Friday through Saturday, but open on Sundays. So it is a neighborhood that is still very lively on Sundays.

We started the tour with a small group of seven and a smart, young tour guide, Catherine, at Poilane, a boulangerie (bakery) that is known for it's dark sourdough miche baked in wood-fired ovens. There's not a baguette in sight! (But, oh, can they make a croissant!) Poilane started in 1932 in the St. Germain area and stuck to its guns producing their specialty miche even when lighter white flour breads came in favor after the war.

The famous (and delicious toasted or for tartine!) 4-pound miche by Poilane.
They sell by the slice, too!

The spoon is a buttery little shortbread.

WE LEARNED: some crazy things about the bread industry in France! The ingredients of the baguette are defined by law to include only flour, water, yeast and salt. If it includes more than this (like a preservative!) it cannot be called a baguette! There is a price cap on baguettes, to assure that everyone can afford them. And bakers must schedule and register their vacations with the government so as to be certain that all bakers aren't gone at the same time!

By now, the rain has stopped, as is usually does in fickle Paris, rainbows come out and the sun is warm.

After bread, we walked around the corner to a fromagerie (cheesemonger) and learned that this particular one belonged to a family who not only sells the cheese, but makes it and has their own caves for the aging process. One who makes the cheese is called an affineur and it is a very good sign to see this posted at a fromagerie as an affineur cares for cheese almost as one cares for a child! Turning it, brining it, squeezing it, covering it in ashes and herbs.

The goat cheeses - only a couple months old made of milk from the goat after the spring births!
They feed on lavender all summer! Some of these covered in ash. Gorgeous and delicious!
Cow milk cheeses from northern France.
The shop. Family owned and now run by father and daughter.

WE LEARNED: that French cheese is made with raw milk. The best affineur wouldn't consider using pasteurized milk! It changes the characteristic and taste of the cheese and turns it from something artisanal to something industrial. So...I see that the French government controls the quality of their baguette - for the better. The American government controls the quality of our cheese for the worse. Since raw milk cheese is almost completely illegal in the US. (Only certain kinds of cheese aged more than 6 months are legal.) Mold on French raw milk cheeses are beneficial and good for us! Mold on pasteurized American cheese is NOT good for us and may be harmful to our health. Cut it off. Sad.

Found these beautiful bowls and olive wood utensils at the oil shop.
Then we picked up meats at a local market, tasted olive oils from a small shop specializing in small batch oils from Provence, then moved to a local park to put it all together, everyone tasting the fresh slices of bread with the 7-8 cheeses and 3 meats Catherine selected for us and picked up along the way.
Some crazy, bold homeless man who had incredible style  - and looking like Willem Dafoe - tried to join us, but poor Catherine had to keep her cool and found the nicest possible way to maintain the private party.

WE LEARNED: about and tasted something Catherine called Duck Butter, which looked suspiciously like dark tuna salad without anything but tuna and mayo in it. But definitely didn't taste like that! It was roasted duck, shredded and seasoned and blended with butter to create a spread that slipped right down the throat. Yum.

Jacques Genin's Chocolates. Some have herb filled centers -
he grows and hand-picks herbs from his garden on site.
We finished at Jacques Genin's candy and tea shop - which is just remarkable on so many levels. The zen open space and candies displayed like jewels at Tiffany's. Well, yes, the taste. OMG.

WE LEARNED: The caramels are known to be the best in the world and made with what the French consider the best butter in the world from Brittany and sea salt also from the Brittany coast (where we are going tomorrow - woo hoo!)

So fun to learn things! Don't miss a Paris by Mouth Tour if you are in Paris. They offer several all over the city. Bon appetit!

Considered the best butter in France from Brittany and used for Jacques Genin's caramels.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Paris in the Afternoon

It had to be after noon because we were in bed until noon. Seriously. Jet lag just hangs around.

But, c'est la vie  = we just got up and out heading toward Luxembourg Gardens with a minor goal of getting to the Rodin Gardens, back through the Tuillieries for beer and rainshower - it was a day of major garden-ing.

I think we walked 9 km today - (6 miles????) We've given up our Couch to 5K since trying to run in Paris the other day , which was less like running and more like hurdles. Way hard with red lights at every corner and people moving all around. We just don't have the running spot here and decided we are too far from the cool ones (like Lux. Gardens.) So the long walking is our substitute. It's good.

Mostly we just couldn't believe how cool it is to be a Parisian on a Saturday in late October when the temp is 65 degrees and the sun is mostly shining (though the clouds in Paris are the coolest ever) and the sky changes dramatically and by the end of the afternoon there was a downpour followed by a beautiful rainbow. Now I think I know why it is called the City of Light. INCREDIBLY beautiful light.

Or how cool especially to be a Parisian child. We have only seen ONE child with any technology since we got here. (Compared to "they are everywhere" in the US - restaurants are filled with kids with technology. Even adults here use it very sparingly. Mostly when they are alone. Not at dinner. But then their hands are busy with a cigarette!)

Here are my favorite photos from Luxembourg Gardens. Just divine to be there on this day.

Local student studies on the balustrade overlooking the center of the gardens.

Lee chilin in the garden.

Insanely adorable little girl looking for rocks near the pond.

Another girl showing off her boat. Heading to the water.

Boys casting off.

Ponies at Luxembourg. What is there to say?

The downpour at Tulieries - from under the tree with Lee.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ten Top Surprises So Far in Paris

This scene is everywhere throughout the city. Little cafes and boulangeries (bakeries).

And fromageries - cheese shops!

Some of the grandeur just crossing a bridge.

Places for people to sit all over the city.


Lee and I put our heads together and came up with this list:

10.  Paris is a bit dirtier than we might have expected. Especially avoid the lower part of the islands in the Seine where you can catch the boats - and not sure what else you might catch. We ended up running there yesterday. Yeeeewwwwww.

9.  The energy of the city is more like New York than we expected. Just at 6 stories high instead of skyscrapers. Cool people moving pretty fast and a lot of people wearing black.

8.  All the food isn't good. There is bad food everywhere in the world, we've decided. It's best to know where you are going to eat rather than just hope you'll get lucky. So we are taking the advice of friends and foodies who've been here. You can't even count on all coffee to be good - like you generally can in Italy. We're finally just making our own morning coffee.

7.  The Eiffel Tower isn't as big as you think it is.

6.  The grandeur of the Louvre took our breath(s) away and is much much much bigger than we imagined. "Mind-blowing" was Lee's expression. We thought the Metropolitan in NYC was impressive. Piddle. Really, GRAND is just the word for the city. They didn't just play with the idea here. It's over the top.

5.  There really are a lot of smokers here. In the cafes, moms and dads with little kids stopping for a smoke on a bench. Lot of second hand smoke.

4.  The capacity of the city to support small, privately owned businesses is stunning! This is very confusing to me. Americans seem to be buying everything from big box corporations. Seems we (America) are supposed to be the country of opportunity for the little guy. There are LOTS of little guys making it here! It is soooo charming.

3.  The baguettes and cheese are so amazing that if I never ate anything else in my life, I would die a happy woman. They really deserve their reputation.

2. Where we are staying (in the 3rd - the Marais) it is incredibly QUIET - all night long, and well into the morning. People get a late start here.

1. The single most surprising thing about Paris is how casually people are dressed - in a grunge kind of way. Leather, jeans, boots, scarves. And this goes for all ages. We have seen about three people dressed up in the three days we've been here. Don't get me wrong - both men and women have style. People are expressive in their dress. The surprise is .... we feel completely comfortable - which is not what we expected!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

From Paris

News Flash: Paris has got it goin'!!

Omygosh...since I was awake enough to even know there was a Paris - what, maybe 7 years old? - I have wanted to see it. For years, I have had some uncanny sense that some past-life Alecia existed in Paris. I LOVE anything sort of 1920's Parisian - the furniture, the clothing, the ideas. I adopted these things like they were long abandoned children. Now, all these many grown-up years later, I have arrived. In Paris, that is.

From the Living Room of our apartment. Haussmanian Central.
Everything in this lovely, lovely late 19th Century style.
Remind me: why don't we have French windows in the US?

We arrived this morning at 8:00 a.m. and after a long, long, long cab ride but with a quite nice driver, we got into the city and to the apartment we have rented around 10:00. The apartment is one of those lovely Haussmanian things - built in the 19th Century following a (it seems to me) brilliant plan by George-Eugene Haussmann to "modernize" Paris by introducing wider, straighter boulevards among other things. This was an effort to make the growing city more navigable and friendly, a contrast to the narrow, winding Medieval configurations.

Seems all good to me. But the most beautiful thing about this city is that, like other old cities (including Charleston, SC!) the churches are the tallest buildings. In this city of 2.2 million, I haven't seen a modern skyscraper. Whatever...they may exist in the suburbs, exurbs, blah, blah, blah. There are none in the city centre (as it is spelled here) and this is just the most exquisitely human scale thing.

It feels very very grand. And elegant. But in a very lived-in kind of way. I can hardly speak about the cafes and private little shops without weeping - especially as I drive around "Uptown" in Minneapolis now. Ugh-o - with the sterile quality of the chains. Embarrassing, no? It should be cool, local, small, juicy. nope. not. Okay, I won't spend my time trying to figure out how to make Minneapolis into a Paris. That's a big job.

Day Two: Didn't get that posted yesterday. Too much need for sleep (didn't really sleep on the otherwise perfect flight) and getting bearings. Thank god I inherited some basic sense of a compass from my father - I can pretty much find my way around a place with a map in hand - then, after a few treks, I can do it from memory. (I HATE a map on an iphone, however. It has to be a paper map.)
So that's all we did. Where's the Seine? Where's the espresso? Where's the wine and Bombay gin? Where's the chocolate? Where's the best baguette and best croissant? Where's the falafel restaurant? The Repetto shoe shop? And all the cool places that friends referred us to? I should be hear a month to get it all done.

But, c'est la vie! And life is good now that we are coming out of the major jet lag dud mode.

Here are some early highlights:

My new favorite part of any meal. This one at Robert & Louise.
"Rustic steak" according to Bill Summerville of La Belle Vie in Minneapolis - who told us about it.
This was divine.
This place almost (seriously) choked me up. I love reading (and writing) more than anything I do with my time and to feel the history of this place was kind of over-whelming. (I'm a Hemmingway fan.)
Also, it is hands down the best selection of books I've ever seen. And, sorry...but that includes in New York.
I could camp out here for the rest of my days and be very, very happy.

Yep, Notre Dame. 850 years old. Smack in the center of Paris.
Seems like maybe the city was built around it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Women friends...unite. And help yourselves.

Women friends,

Run, don't walk, to buy this book. Then, read it.
And if you want to do a book club-by thing about it, let me know. I'm in.

It is out of print.
But claw, beg, borrow, steal to get it on Amazon, at Magers & Quinn, whatever....

And no, you cannot borrow my copy. I need it.