Monday, November 28, 2011

So Much Wine, So Little Time

Remember when we went to the wine fair in Colmar and it was a total bust?  We went because Mr. Oil attended a wine fair in Paris 10 years ago and remembered it being the most amazing thing.  Well, the wine fair in Colmar stunk. But I now know what Mr. Oil was talking about, because this weekend we went to the Salon des Vins des Vignerons Independants, which is a huge wine fair for independent vintners in France.  I'm talking more wine in one place than I have EVER seen, or will likely ever see again (at least until next year's event). We are talking about over ONE THOUSAND wineries.

Like Bordeaux?  Over 200 Bordelais wineries were present.  Champagne girl like me?  29 Champagne makers - and then remember that at each station, you could sample multiple wines.  Fancy yourself some Chateauneuf-du-Pape?  25 wineries from that appellation. 

It was a seriously crazy experience.  Held at the Parc des Expositions at the Porte de Versailles, we took our longest metro ride to date and then made our way through this huge exposition center to the wine fair.  The website had said tickets were a reasonable 6 euros each.  Somehow, we got in for free - we wrote our names down on a piece of paper, were handed two tasting glasses, and ushered into the center of the wine universe. Each of the circular white signs you see in the photos was a different winery.  The signs were color-coded by region, so you could, for instance, hunt out all the yellows if you just want to drink champagne.  Or you could make sure that you tasted something from every region - Mr. Oil insisted we simply could not leave until he had tasted a Corsican wine.  And then...does that sign say Savoie?  We need to try that!  Did we try a Jura?  What about Languedoc?  Wait, is that another Champagne? (Am I getting predictable with the champagne bit?)

We spent over 2 hours here, tasting many delicious wines, until they all started to taste...the same.   But of course that didn't really stop us.  Because not only were these really fantastic wines, you could buy them at each stand, directly from the vineyard at ridiculously reasonable prices.  Champagne for 14 euros (about $18).  Grand cru bordeaux for 18 euros, or even less.  Somehow by the time we left, we had acquired six bottles of wine - 3 Bordeaux, 1 Cote du Rhone, and 2 bottles of Champagne (one was for Banana and Papa Pie - Mr. Oil's parents, and really, I didn't even come up with the names - who watched Baby Oil while we drank wine after wine after wine). And while it was fun to seek out Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines - the kind we would never pay for in a store - they weren't necessarily any better than other wines.  You know, because we have such sophisticated palates and all.
Mr. Oil with our purchases

Extraordinarily pleased with ourselves and giddy at calculating our savings as a result of not paying a babysitter, we then treated ourselves to an excellent dinner at Kifune, a truly authentic Japanese restaurant where the hostess and the one and only waitress wear kimonos, where Japanese customers are handed Japanese menus, where the food was fresh and delicious. 
Our boat of sashimi (sorry the photo's blurry, but remember we had just been at a wine fair)

Salon des Vins des Vignerons Independants - your name is a mouthful, but you were unforgettable. Endless thanks to Baby Oil's grandparents for making the night possible!

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Just a quick post to say - happy Thanksgiving!  While there is nothing about this day here in Paris to mark it as different (though I did appreciate the sign in an English-language bookstore: "Thanksgiving is November 24 - an American tradition!"), I do want to give thanks for our family and friends who have been so loving and supportive as we jumped headfirst into the move-abroad-with-a-baby thing, and I also want to give thanks to Paris. Yes, Paris is a city, but she is taking on a personality all her own for me.  She has quirks - like the old woman who cut in front of me at the store earlier this week, despite my screaming child, oh and the other old woman who cut in front of me at the store yesterday despite my non-screaming-yet-very-cute child - but she also has so much to love.  The streets, the buildings, the bread, the butter, the macarons, the chocolates, the moustaches, the cafes, the marches, the parks, and so much more.  We are very lucky to have this opportunity to really get to know this place, but we are definitely thinking of home on this most American of holidays.

And for a Thanksgiving giggle, here's a conversation that took place in my playgroup last week.  It happened that this day, I was the only American along there with 4 British women. If you're not an American and you're reading this, don't take offense.  We don't actually expect everyone to know about our holidays but we can still find this stuff funny.

British Mom 1:  Is today a special American holiday? What's it called? Thanksgiving? Is that a holiday?
Me: Thanksgiving is a holiday, yes, though it is actually next week.
British Mom 1: But it's a holiday? British Mom 2, weren't we just wondering about this?
British Mom 2: Oh, right! Thanksgiving? Is that really a holiday?
Me: Yes, holiday. 
British Mom 2: But what do you do?
Me: Well, mostly we eat. Turkey. Stuffing. Etc.  It's very widely celebrated in the US.
British Mom 1: But why?
British Mom 3: I know! It has something to do with the pilgrims.
British Mom 2: I thought it was the harvest?
Me: [Wracking my brain as I pretty much could not remember why we celebrate Thanksgiving either] Um, right! Both.
British Mom 4: But if you eat turkey on Thanskgiving, what do you eat on Christmas?
Me: Well, actually, we don't celebrate Christmas because we're Jewish but I think...ham? More turkey?
British Mom 1: Wait, you don't celebrate Christmas? But you DO celebrate Thanksgiving?
Me: Yes. Correct. That's right.
British Mom 1: You don't celebrate Christmas AT ALL? Isn't there some way to make that holiday work for the Jews?
Me: Not so much.
British Mom 1: But you have another holiday for presents, right?  Oh, I know - Hoo-na-ka!

But I still give thanks for the playgroup - some weeks they are my only adult interactions!

Happy turkey - and for us, and Mr. Oil's parents who just arrived, it'll be happy bread & cheese!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

So Full

We had a relatively unplanned but no less excellent day in the 20th arrondissement today.  The Newyorkifornians are still in town, and we decided to visit Pere LaChaise, the famous Parisian cemetery.  I have a thing for cemeteries - not in a morbid or macabre way, but simply because I think its amazing to wander through and imagine what life was like for the people and families buried there.  Pere LaChaise has to be one of the most peaceful places in Paris. It is also said to be the most visited cemetery in the world, but it felt like new ground to us.

The cemetery opened in 1804 and is still in use today.  Any number of famous historical figures are buried there - from Chopin to Oscar Wilde to Edith Piaf to Jim Morrison - but visiting the grave sites of the famous isn't of great interest to me.  I like to look at the names and dates of unknown people - to notice who died young during the years of World War I, who passed away after a long life through the Belle Epoque, to imagine what it must have meant to family members to design and dedicate a tombstone in 1847.  It is the history major in me who loves to meander through the evidence of generations, traditions, memories, wars, illnesses, love and respect from the past 200 years of Parisian life.
Pere LaChaise
Mr. Newyorkifornian had a brilliant idea which I would love to see become a reality.  If you've ever visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, you know that when you enter, you are handed an identity card of someone who died in the Holocaust, with a few tidbits of information about their life, their family, etc.  His idea is that when you come to Pere LaChaise, you should be able to pick up a card that would tell you about one regular person or family (regular = not famous), with a little about their life, the times in which they lived, etc.  How amazing would it be to feel like you were able to dig a little deeper into what is already a fascinating experience!  

(As an aside, an unpredicted benefit of the visit was that pushing the stroller on the cobblestone hilly "streets" of the cemetery put Baby Oil right to sleep, and allowed me to burn off some calories that I would promptly replace later that day.)

Following Pere LaChaise, we decided to make our way up to the Belleville area.  We'd heard promising things about this neighborhood on the border of the 19eme and 20eme, plus I had two spots I wanted to visit from David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris. 
Exploring the 20eme

Belleville was originally a separate village outside of Paris, but was incorporated in 1860.  The main street, Rue de Belleville, is exactly what you want a Parisian street to be - full of boulangeries, fromageries, boucheries, etc - with a splash of New York thrown in - lots of cars, crowded streets, a more urban feel than our neighborhood.  We headed straight for Boulangerie 140 and Brulerie Jourdain.  David Lebovitz wrote that Boulangerie 140 (named for its address, 140 Rue de Belleville) has some of the best bread in Paris, so we picked up a baguette and a loaf of delicious-looking sesame bread for good measure. And some chouquettes.  Also, the Newyorkifornians went with an apple-coconut tart with a blow-your-mind crust. 

While waiting for Brulerie Jourdain to re-open after their afternoon break, we stepped into Fromagerie Beillevaire.  It is everything someone with modern American aesthetic taste would want from a French fromagerie - cheerful signage, bright lights, and over 400 cheeses carefully selected and many in fact ripened in the proprietors' caves.  Two cheeses - one hard (forgot to note the name in my excitement of its perfect flavor!) and a Brillat Savarin (now officially Mr. Oil's favorite French cheese) - went into our bag along with our goodies from Boulangerie 140.

At Brulerie Jourdain, I practically felt the caffeine seeping into my bones from the intense aroma of coffee permeating the store.  Honestly.  It makes me consider the idea of coffee perfume - if I could smell that all day, why wouldn't I!   

They roast their own coffees on the premises.

Our final happy discovery was Patisserie de L'Eglise, just around the corner on rue Jourdain. I absolutely love when the most delicious looking patisseries turn out to have deliciously rich histories.  This particular shop has been around, in the same location, since 1887! Such lovers of history as Mr. Oil and myself had no choice but to leave with mouth-watering, drool-worthy, heart-stoppingly-fabulous pastries - the caradou and the tarte triollo.  The caradou involves a caramel and milk chocolate cream on a hazelnut biscuit - and they manage to make the biscuit soft and inviting without being mushy.  The tarte triollo was our favorite - though you should not underestimate the power of the caradou - fresh figs, almond-pistachio AND white chocolate cream on a vanilla crust.  For a rich, creamy and buttery treat, it actually managed to taste refreshing.  Good thing I pushed that stroller up those hills in Pere LaChaise because I am now so full of bread, cheese and pastry thanks to Belleville. 
Caradou on the left, Triollo on the right

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I'm continuing to reflect on our trip to Lyon - not so much on Lyon itself, but on the whole idea of travel and what it is that I get out of it. 

Of course, it's wonderful to go to places that are home to particular historical sites of interest, or are just so completely different from anywhere you have ever been.  The thing about Lyon is that it isn't different from places I've been. In fact, it's a lot like Paris, though smaller.  And in some ways, a bit like Strasbourg, where we went a few months ago.  Yeah yeah, they have this whole silk industry thing, and the food thing.  But really, isn't all of France a gastronomic delight? (Correct answer - yes).

Part of me thinks that one huge privilege of being able to do all these weekend trips is that some places will be amazing and some places not so much.  Not every trip can be the best trip, right?  There was nothing wrong with Lyon, but I can't say that in 5 years from now, I will remember much about it other than being there with good friends.

Of course, I will remember the cola-flavored macaron

Another part of me thinks that the kind of travel we are doing in France allows us to really focus on getting a sense of what life is like for regular people (unclear whether we are regular people in this particular situation - probably not).  The Lyon Greeter program definitely furthered this idea for me.  It's a brilliant concept - the city, in an effort to promote tourism, allows you to sign up for a free "guide" for an afternoon.  We thought this would be like a free tour guide, but it turned out that Guillaume, our greeter, didn't seem to know all that much more about Lyon's history than what I had read and geekily memorized from the guide book.  But we all loved hanging out with Guillaume (we prefer to call him Guy - pronounced "Ghee" - though we have no idea whether he's okay with that nickname) for the afternoon.  Around our age, he's currently expecting his first child.  So we had some nice conversations about how to travel with kids, and whether traveling must end after you start a family (obviously, we don't think so - or we are just crazy).  We talked about his job (works for a free weekly paper), about why he lives in Lyon, about where he likes to travel, about what is different between Lyon and Paris.  He led us through Vieux Lyon while we had these discussions, and it's not to say that he didn't take us to some nice sights. He did.  By the end, though, it really felt more like we had just spent a few hours hanging out with a cool guy from Lyon as opposed to a tour.  Which was probably preferable, to be honest.

The third part of me thinks I am way over-thinking all of this. So Lyon didn't blow my mind. Fine. What I'll take with me from the weekend is images of a lovely city and memories of restaurants with seriously intense food (blood sausage and tripe are just two super meaty items that appeared on almost every menu), some awesome games of Settlers of Catan, a cranky baby, and one luxurious 30 minute bubble bath.

Our next trip will be our first trip to another European country outside of France since we moved - we'll be spending a week in Portugal at the end of December.  The next five weeks will be all about soaking up the Parisian holiday spirit, and feeling inordinately pleased at the cuteness of Baby Oil's new uber-French navy blue pea coat.


I know I said I would write more about Lyon, and I will.  But I want to share with you the grueling, excruciating, ridiculous process it takes to run one errand in France.

Last week I bought an iPhone case for Mr. Oil at Darty.  He didn't like it (surprise, surprise).  So I went back to the store today to a)return the case and b)purchase an immersion blender (gotta support my new soup habit). 

Ready to run an errand with me? Here's what we have to do:

1. Go to cash register. Explain I want to return something.  Get sent to the basement.
2. Go to basement level. See crazy long line. Looks like the same line I know I have to wait in for the blender. 
3. Go get blender. By that I mean, go wander around the blender section until I find an employee willing to talk to me.  Then, point to blender I want.  Get told they are all out. Point to another. Get told they are all out.  Then said employee looks for the cheapest immersion blender in the computer, and lo and behold, informs me that I can purchase only the immersion blender that I originally asked for. 
4. Pay for blender. Get ticket.
5. Return to crazy long line. Wait.
6. Wait, while watching random French rap videos.
7. Get to the front, give in my ticket for the blender and explain about the return.  That employee takes my ticket and promptly disappears. But not before informing me that I have to wait in a separate line at the cash register next to him in order to do the return.
8. Wait for the guy to reappear with my blender.
9. Watch more French rap videos.
10. Wait in the other line to return item. Hand the guy the item, only to get handed a ticket and informed that now I have to go back to the cash register I started at in (1).
11. Wait for my blender.  The guy never comes back but somehow my blender has appeared on the counter. 
12. Take my blender, go back upstairs to the original cash register. Wait in the line. Hand in my ticket for the return. Get my money refunded.

I'm not sure whether this is all part of France's ploy to ensure the maximum number of people are employed at every store, or just to discourage you from doing nice things like trying to buy your husband an iPhone case that he may or may not like. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Baby in a Closet

We just spent almost four days in Lyon, which is a two-hour TGV ride southeast of Paris.  We chose Lyon because a) we hadn't been there, b) it is relatively close, and c) it is considered the gastronomic capital of France. It's difficult to describe Lyon - it is at the same time an incredibly lovely city and just another city. 

We were thrilled that friends of ours who happened to be in France (as part of a multi-month travel bonanza - they'd already been to Morocco and Israel, and are heading next to South America - amazing) agreed to crash our anniversary trip and come to Lyon with us.  While we love traveling together, we also miss quality time with friends and the arrival of the Newyorkifornians came at a perfect time for us as we've been a bit friend-sick. [Giving them this name because they are traveling between moving from New York to California - and if you ask them where they live, it's hard to get a straight answer.]

On the Newyorkifornians' first night with us in Paris, we stumbled upon the opening of yet another pastry shop in the neighborhood that was celebrating with free champagne and free pastry.  A great way to welcome friends to the city, for sure!
The Newyorkifornians

The truth is, the trip got off to a brutal start for us. Baby Oil was up from 2am-6am the night before we left, which is unusual (perhaps should have been worrisome?) and just sucked.  We boarded the train on no sleep, and while Baby Oil napped on the train, the screaming child in the seats across the aisle prevented either of us from napping. 
We were so tired, we didn't care if our kid crawled around the hotel lobby with no pants on.

We arrived in Lyon on no sleep, couldn't get Baby Oil to nap in the hotel, so Mr. Oil crashed in the hotel and I took Baby Oil for a stroll in order for him to sleep.  But this walk was my first glimpse at the traditional European beauty of Lyon.

By the way, this day of exhausted suckiness was also our fourth wedding anniversary.  Awesome.  But the day picked up with a stroll through Croix Rousse, a funky gentrifying neighborhood with cool shops and great cafes.  We saw a sign advertising hot spiced wine at one cafe, and we knew we were finally getting somewhere with Lyon. Of course, we also made time to stop at a chocolate store where we sampled the "famous" coussin of Lyon.  I say "famous" because the woman told us it was a known specialty but I remain unconvinced.  Basically, it's a rectangular shape candy of almond paste with chocolate in the middle.  Eh. Unimpressed.  I preferred a different version with fruit jelly in the center - I tried blueberry which was sweet and juicy.

However, Les Halles Paul Bocuse was our first true a-ha moment.  We went early Saturday morning - and then returned with the Newyorkifornians for lunch the same day.  Home to several dozen stands or shops, ranging from the traditional fromageries and boucheries to a number of oyster bars to pastry shops and more, it is a food-lover's paradise. For lunch, I had quenelles-in-a-cup.  A quenelle is a traditional Lyonnais speciality (though served in other places) that is a "sausage" made from fish.  If you're thinking gefilte fish - yes, it's similar, but much lighter and a more neutral flavor.  Quenelles-in-a-cup is gnocci-sized quenelles served, in my case, in a delicious spicy tomato soup. 

Even more up my alley were the unique macaron flavors at Seve. I experienced my first savory macaron - gorgonzola sesame.  Strong flavors, but surprisingly good.  The three sweet macarons I tried were coing (quince), licorice, and cola.  If you want a perfectly formed macaron where the cream literally bursts with the brightness (and almost the fizziness!) of cola, then this is the cookie for you.  We also sampled a praline pastry at another shop, drawn in by the attention-grabbing red glaze.

You know you are traveling with real friends when they give up dining at a Paul Bocuse brasserie because your kid is sick, exhausted, and needs to go to sleep early - and instead, are happily willing to eat burgers (beef, chicken, and fish), drink wine, and play Settlers of Catan in your hotel room while said kid sleeps in the closet.  (The baby-in-a-closet sounds less bad if you know it was a large enough closet that the porta-crib fit with room to spare.)
After a bottle of wine, there's a lot of fun to be had with baby gear.

Fortunately, we were able to make to Le Sud, one of Paul Bocuse's four brasseries, the following night instead.  And were we ever glad to have made it!  The food looked, smelled, and tasted amazing.  Le Sud features flavors of southern France, so there was quite a bit of fish and seafood on the menu.  Mine came with a rich and creamy risotto that was simply fantastic.  Even the ceasar salad dressing was exceptional. 

I plan to post again on Lyon and share a few of Mr. Oil's photos.  I remain both impressed and unimpressed with Lyon, but overall a favorable flavor remains on my tongue (tastes a bit like a cola macaron...). 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kitchen Tales

I've continued to channel my inner Julia Child following my successful pastry experience at the Cordon Bleu (though, to be honest, I am ready to take a break from eating pastries).  So on Sunday, I made Julia's french onion soup.  I had a brilliant plan in which I would make the soup, including the part where you stand over the stove and stir onions for 30 minutes, while Baby Oil napped.  That plan, naturally, was summarily ruined when Baby Oil woke up super early from his nap.  So then I had to stir onions while wearing the baby on my back.
That's right, I'm wearing my Cordon Bleu apron. Duh. So would you.

Today I tackled another personal challenge - a whole fish!  The guy at the poissonerie told me it would be "tres facile" and actually, it was.  Except for the moment when I took the fish out of the fridge and realized I was going to have to touch the fish. Touching ensued, and it wasn't even as gross as I thought it would be.


For good measure, I whipped up this awesome roasted applesauce for dessert.  I definitely feel like I'm rocking the whole cooking-in-France thing - we've come a long way from burned pie! Mr. Oil brought home pain d'epices from Poilane that we thought would go well with warm roasted apples. Which it would have, if it had not been TERRIBLE.  That's right, I'm hating on Poilane.  David Lebovitz and Dorie Greenspan may love it to no end but we do not feel the love. At all.  Mr. Oil goes there regularly as there's a location near his office and we've tried many of their offerings. Chausson aux pommes - eh.  Pain au seigle - more like pain au sits in your stomach.  The standard Poilane bread is okay.  Good for sandwiches.  But the pain d'epices (aka pain d'pricey) is like eating the dryest, most over-cooked honey cake that someone's mother (but not Greta) made for Rosh Hashanah. We are seriously considering sending Mr. Oil back to Poilane tomorrow and reporting that the loaf was inedible and we want our 12 euros back.  And don't get me started on the fact that Mr. Oil spent 12 euros on this (though, after my caramel expenditures, I can hardly complain) brick of spices. If I dropped it off our balcony, I think I could seriously injure someone.

On the theme of food, Mr. Oil had a memorable experience this weekend.  He went to an outdoor market with some friends, and stopped at the olive stand.  So he sampled a few, and asked for a small amount of a few different kinds of olives. Olive Guy takes his scoop, and digs into a big vat of olives - which happened to be none of the ones that Mr. Oil asked for.  Olive Guy tried to hand Mr. Oil the big bag of olives that he didn't want, and Mr. Oil politely (I'm assuming, I wasn't there) explained that in fact he wanted a few other olives.  And in a true Seinfeld-comes-to-life moment, the Olive Guy dumped out the bag of olives and promptly declared, "Non! I don't sell olives like that."  And then refused to sell Mr. Oil any olives at all.  (Everyone say with me, "No olives for you!").  Mr. Oil left in protest (he says protest, but I could point out that he also had no other recourse). 

Onion soup, whole fish, applesauce - and it's only Tuesday.  We're heading to Lyon this weekend so we have to start making room in our stomachs as it is supposed to be the gastronomic capital of France. Stay tuned...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Just Call Me Julia

Child, of course.  It is cliche, but since I'm living in France and all, I have to lay claim to this legacy at least once.  And wouldn't you feel like Julia Child if you spent a day learning how to make fresh pastries at Le Cordon Bleu?  That's what I thought.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the six-hour, one-time class. I knew it was for folks on vacation and wanna-be cooks, and I wasn't sure if we would really learn or do much.  Of course I was prepared to spin it as amazing either way, but I'm happy to report that it was just really, completely, totally great.

Le Cordon Bleu is located in an unassuming building deep in the 15th arrondissement, in a fairly middle-class neighborhood with no reason for tourists to come.  Upon arriving, I was handed an apron and shown into breakfast, where coffee and, duh, fresh pastries awaited.  I probably should have thought ahead to my total pastry consumption for the day when I dug into breakfast, but I did not.  Sorry waistline.

The class was taught by Chef Daniel Walter, who is absolutely everything a French pastry chef should be.  He's in his late 60s, with that French charm that surpasses any language barrier.  The class was translated into English by a vivacious woman who seemed to know a lot about pastry and had a warm, teasing relationship with the Chef that made for a very entertaining day.
The chef is the guy in the chef's hat. Tricky, I know.

Our first task was to roll out the croissant dough for the first turn.  The dough has to be made the day before, so that was the one piece we didn't do ourselves although they did teach us how to make the dough later in the afternoon.  So you roll out your croissant dough into a big circle.  Then take a giant slab of butter.  Give it a few good whacks with your rolling pin to soften it.
Me, whacking my butter
 Put the giant soft slab of butter in the middle of your dough circle, and fold the edges over to envelope the butter completely.  Roll it out.  Fold it (if you really want the details on how to fold, I'll tell you but it's not worth explaining right now).  Stick it in fridge to rest.

While the croissant dough was resting, we moved on to work with our brioche dough.  Which is similar to croissant dough, except it has eggs and more butter. Also croissant dough has a bit of milk in it.  Because of the high butter content, you have to avoid playing with the dough or it becomes gooey and really hard to work with.  We made a few different types of brioche - small brioche tete, large brioche tete, brioche nanterre (fancy name for "in a rectangular pan") and kugelhopf.

What the small ones were supposed to look like
What mine looked like

After forming the brioche, we set them aside in a special machine for them to rise in a controlled environment.  We pulled out the croissant dough, and moved on to the fun stuff - more turning (pastry code for "folding") and the actual formation of croissants and pain au chocolat.

You roll out the dough again - and it isn't supposed to thicker than 3mm when you're done rolling - and then you cut it into triangles. At the base of each triangle, cut a small vertical slit. Then roll from the base up, with your hands angled out.  Look, I drew a picture.

Forming the croissants was really fun, though more difficult than Chef made it look.  Also, the other side of the giant granite island seemed to be full of ringers whose croissants were looking eerily perfect. At one point I mustered the courage to ask one girl if she had any experience baking and she explained that she was here from the Czech Republic where her family owns and operates a bakery.  Ha! Ringer! I knew it.
These are Chef's croissants.

Lunch was none too shabby either.  It's a cold buffet, and based on reading other bloggers' Cordon Bleu experiences, they pretty much always serve the same thing. Which is smart, cuz its delicious. Here's my lunch plate.
Might have looked better if I ate the ham with cantaloupe, and the shrimp salad that goes inside the avocado.

After lunch, we worked as a group to make pain aux raisins and the Chef's favorite pastry, kouign-amann. Here's my glory shot spreading the pastry cream for the pain aux raisins.
I'm so intense!
Kouign-amann (or as I like to call it, "mmmmm....oh my god amazing.") is a speciality in Brittany. In a country that has an ongoing love affair with butter, this treat is considered by many Parisians and other French regions to have too much butter. Seriously.  So in Paris, they've reduced the amount of butter and sugar used. Essentially you take croissant dough, but when you roll it and turn it, you incorporate generous handfuls of sugar.  You end up with a long rectangular piece of dough glistening with sugar.  Lay one end on a baking sheet, and place thinly sliced apples in neat columns across the tray. Fold the dough over the apples so they are completely enclosed by dough. Bake. Eat. Love.

The finished product - warm, buttery, sweet with the warm apples....mmmm. I would add a little cinnamon. But it was pretty perfect.

By the end of the day, we had more pastries that any of us knew what to do with. The counters were simply lined with them and I can't begin to describe the smell in the room.

My finished product looked pretty awesome.
That's right. These are mine.

It took two full paper bags to bring home all the goods to Mr. Oil.  We promptly began fielding them out - first to friends J & M visiting from London, and then we brought some over to Mr and Mrs Magnum in return for them feeding us dinner.  Sadly I don't think we'll get to eat them all before staleness hits.  As for recreating this at home - I'm sure I will try when we're back in the US.  Because why would I spend hours and hours doing this in our tiny kitchen when I can walk two blocks and buy a fresh croissant!  I feel certain I will purchase a kugelhopf mold before we leave Paris.  And of course I will be searching out kouign-amman at every possible opportunity!  It was good to be Julia, even just for a day. 
My kugelhopf

Look how happy this made me

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Heaven in a Caramel

I just died and went to caramel heaven. Seriously. I actually said those words out loud, to myself, as I sat at my dining table and bit into my first Jacques Genin caramel.  And then my second. Maybe a third. 

In case you had forgotten, I had accepted a challenge that involved visiting six specific chocolate shops.  It has been almost a month since I made it to the first one. [Oh my god. I just put a mango-passion fruit caramel in my mouth and I can't think straight.  It's a tropical explosion that melts in your mouth. Magical. Drool-worthy. Addicting.] 

So today Baby Oil and I hit up Meert and Jacques Genin.  Ironically, since they were on this list of chocolate shops, chocolate is not really the featured item in either place.  At Meert, which was founded in Lille (northern France, near the border with Brussels) in 1761, it's the gaufres.  Which is a waffle. But it's not really a waffle.  It's two thin layers of waffle-like cookie, and sandwiched between is a delicious vanilla paste.  I was skeptical of why I was paying 2.50 euro for a waffle that wasn't even being made in front of me, but one bite explained it.  Yum.  When you step inside the store, you feel a bit as though you have stepped back in time - the old, unfinished dark wood floors, the overall shadowy atmosphere, and the jars and boxes of delectable treats made me feel like Meert has not changed too much about its presentation in a few centuries.  And in my opinion, they don't need to.

I also picked up a few caramels, even though I knew that I was en route to the king of caramel, Jacques Genin.  According to David Lebovitz and others, Jacques Genin has been a behind-the-scenes master of French chocolate, pastries, and general sweetness for a long time.  Only a few years ago did he open his cafe and store on Rue de Turenne.  And my tastebuds thank him profusely for doing so (not so much my wallet - more on that later).

First of all, the store itself is a delight.  Very elegant and chic, it looks like a place for ladies-who-lunch (which in Paris, of course, is everyone, but that's not what I mean), or at least people who are much better dressed than I.  Like the two women tasting assorted sweets at a table with Jacques Genin himself while we were there. So jealous. I tried to use my cute baby to catch his attention, but no luck. No worries -  I plan on returning - soon! - with Mr. Oil, so we can order from the mouth-watering selection of pastries. 
Seating area and cool staircase at Jacques Genin

Jellied fruit - pretty to look at, but my wallet was maxed out

I picked 9 chocolates (because that's how many come in the smallest box, naturally) and can't wait to try them - they feature tastes such as ginger, grapefruit, citrus, "christmas spices", and more traditional flavors too.  Thanks to my cute baby, I even scored a free chocolate.  Which was probably supposed to be for him, but he doesn't eat chocolate - and certainly not pricey boutique chocolate!  Although, who are we kidding, we're raising our kid in Paris so I'm pretty sure his experience with brioche and baguette alone will make him shudder should we ever attempt to give him, say, a Hershey bar. Or - gasp - white bread.
My chocolates.

But back to Jacques.  On any given day, they offer 8 of the more than 40 flavors of caramels that they produce nightly.  The price per kilo for the caramels is 110 euros.  Yes. I am not kidding.  Of course, that would be a lot of caramels, but even in smaller amounts the price increases quickly - more than one euro per caramel.  I thought to myself, "These better be the best freaking caramels in the world."  Let me tell you - they are. And then some.  I prefer the ones that don't have nuts in them, because then there is nothing to interrupt the smoothness as it glides through your mouth. Mango-passion fruit is a definite winner, as is the ginger flavor.

This puts me at three down, three to go in the challenge.  Jacques Genin, you have forever earned a place in my heart.  Part of me feels a tad ridiculous and/or guilty at the amount of money I spent today on gaufres, chocolates, and caramels.  But this hasn't been an easy week. I suffered some serious humiliation on Monday night when I realized that I don't know how to write a check in France.  Yes, you read that correctly. 

Mr. Oil came down with an awful stomach situation late at night, and after almost 3 hours of all-out retching, we called SOS Medecin. This is a service that sends a doctor to your home at any time of day or night - which in and of itself is pretty amazing.  If we weren't freaking out about what was wrong with Mr. Oil, we might have appreciated it more.  Anyway, the doctor arrived about 20 minutes later.  After determining that it was either a virus or food poisoning (thanks, we had those options figured out), and writing about 19 different prescriptions, he stood up to leave.  Looking at me, he said, "You pay me now?"  It was 2:30am, I'm in my nightgown, and I really just hadn't thought about this part of the transaction. 

"Of course!" I replied.  "Do you take a check?"  Which he did, so we pulled out our French checkbook for the very first time to learn that checks in France do not look like checks in America.  The lines are all in different places and it is very confusing. Especially in the middle of the night.  After two failed attempts - writing the check, handing it to the doctor, having him say, "sorry, no, no" - he finally offered to just write the check himself.  Sheepishly, I handed him the check book.  In the end, thanks to Mr. Oil's terrible night, we now can write checks. Of course, the chocolate shops all gladly take my credit card so when it comes to what's important, we're safe.