Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hottest Ticket in Town

Last Sunday it was actually sunny (sadly, this is becoming more rare as winter sets in. And it doesn't help that the sun doesn't rise until about 8:30am and sets around, oh, 5pm.).  So we decided to walk down to the Champs-Elysees to check out the new Marks & Spencer.  This, of course, is a British department store (ish?) that was once in France, left, and has now returned.  We wandered in the front door and saw a mass of people huddled in front of us.  All around were women's clothes.  We were confused - were they waiting for a dressing room?  Was this a whole confused tourist bus? 

But as we drew closer we realized that the crowd had gathered to wait for the opening of the food section, which apparently opens somewhat later than the clothing parts.  It was a classic French line, in which people were cutting and there was even some early jostling.  Once they opened the gates, however, it was like watching Black Friday meets Supermarket Sweep (remember that TV show where you run up and down the aisles grabbing all the food?).   Old women literally shoving their way in, and other old women yelling at the poor shlub whose job it was to only let so many people in.

We've been in France for five months now, so we knew enough to use our stroller to push our way to the front. Yeah, that's right. And then - and this must be one of those human nature things - we joined in the fray.  Everything was exciting and British and not French!  We should try it!  And so we bought things like English muffins (yum) and mincemeat pies (which have no meat in them) and terrible sandwiches (why, in Paris, would we buy pre-packaged British-style sandwiches?) and gummy candies and some Indian chickpea dish and chocolate.  The last was particularly hilarious, when we later realized that we bought something called "Swiss chocolate" in a British store in France. 

But I do want to give a shout-out to the British for the mincemeat pie situation.  Delish!  It is unclear whether anybody purchases clothing at Marks & Spencer, or just English food.  And why is British food so exciting for the French, you ask?  Seriously, no idea.  Yet as we left the store we saw a huge line of people outside - on the Sunday morning before Christmas, apparently this was the hottest ticket in town.  It's clear we have our finger on the pulse of Parisian culture. 

Tomorrow night we're going to the ballet, which I should be more excited about.  But as all of our English-speaking babysitters have gone home for the holidays, we are hiring our first French (as in, doesn't really speak English) babysitter.  I'm sure it will be fine, especially as I am forcing Mr. Oil to come home early from work in order to explain to the sitter how to put Baby Oil to bed.   I'm also a bit distracted because we are leaving in just a few days for a week in Portugal, which we are very much looking forward to.   So let me just now take a moment to say - happy holidays! Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday Mr. Oil, and Happy New Year! Let the latke-eating commence!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fancy Fancy

I wore the nicest dress I brought to France last Saturday night to attend our first Parisian cocktail party.  Now, I have to admit that I don't own any 5 inch heels but actually the shoes at the party were not crazy.  The party was hosted by one of the moms from my playgroup and her husband, who is moderately high up in their country's embassy here in France.  They have a huge apartment paid for by the embassy with the expectation that they will entertain (they also have three children) so, as the mom explained, she felt like having a holiday cocktail party was practically expected. 

The first thing that differentiated this particular party from other friends' parties we have attended in the US is that there were waiters (that's right US friends, it's time to kick it up a notch).  A few came around with lovely passed hors d'oeuvres, but my favorite waiters were the ones with the champagne bottles who would just keep refilling your glass.  There were other drinks too, of course - I believe Mr. Oil enjoyed some nice Jameson as well as Guinness (can you guess the nationality of the hosts?).  But you know me - I'm a champagne girl.

Several other moms from playgroup were there, with their spouses, and we had a great time sipping champagne and not having our babies with us. Of course the next morning I remembered why the waiter refilling your glass again and again might not be such a brilliant idea when your child wakes up the next morning and wants to crawl/walk/fall all day long from the moment he arises to the moment he finally conks out.  But it wasn't raining so we went to the Marche de Richard Lenoir near Bastille. This Sunday morning marche is one of the largest in Paris and although it is true that the products are not markedly different from what we can get in our neighborhood, it's always fun to check out another marche.  Also we had warm, fresh churros - I have no idea why they sell these here but man were they good.

After the market we took the metro all the way out to La Defense - the very end of metro line 1.  I had been talking for weeks about wanting to visit a big Christmas market so I was super disappointed when we got there and it was LAME.  Lamer than lame.  Chintzy, cheesy, full of crap that even tourists don't want to buy. And why do they only play American Christmas carols?  Don't they have French Christmas songs?  I don't even celebrate Christmas and I'm annoyed.

So we ditched the Village de Noel and headed into the big mall at La Defense.  Where we learned how to have an American Sunday in Paris - go to the mall, get a Starbucks latte, and visit Toys R Us.  Yup.  And we totally own the awesomeness of this afternoon.  Just look at how much fun Baby Oil had at Toys R Us!

And just in case you had forgotten how totally fantastic France can be in her own special way, I give you this photo of a card I saw in a store yesterday.  The card is a "Congratulations on your new baby" card, but it really says oh-so-much about France:
Because all French ladies wear sexy lingerie while bottle-feeding their babies.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Last night Mr. Oil and I attended a wine-tasting course offered by WICE, an anglophone organization here in Paris.  The event was about the wines of Bordeaux, with a "wine master" leading the tasting.  This was part of the numerous activities I signed up for in the first month or so of moving here so that we would have things to look forward to.  And also when I was feeling like euros were monopoly money. 

Not surprisingly, we were the youngest people there by quite a bit.  One guy was maybe around 40; everyone else was our parents' age (no, you guys aren't old, really, just oldER).  But perhaps surprisingly, we actually enjoyed ourselves quite a bit. 

At first we were overwhelmed and feeling absolutely out of place, as everyone else discussed previous tastings, and dinners with $70 bottles of wine, and trips to vineyards, and soil.  And when Tom, the wine master, started speaking, it seemed like a foreign language.  Because we simply did not realize that people actually said things like, "We like our wines to be disciplined in our mouths" or "You need to relearn what merlot means when you come to France" or "they oaked the he** out of that wine."  We did manage not to laugh out loud, though I couldn't resist whispering to Mr. Oil, when Tom asked to identify what we smelled in the first glass, "I smell wine?" 

The first two rounds were a bit of a guessing game. We had two samples of wine in two identical glasses in front of us.  One was from the left bank of Bordeaux and one was from the right bank (news flash: there is a left and right bank in Bordeaux! the wines are different!).  Apparently the left bank is more "gravelly", more "black/blue fruit", more "masculine".  Right bank is more "red fruit", more "clay-y", more "roundness." Still I say, smelled like wine to me.  It didn't help that I have possibly the worst sense of smell in the universe.

But by round two of left bank vs right bank, we were hitting our groove.  Words like "deep", "dry", "fruity", and "juicy" starting rolling off our tongues and we were in there with the big kids, debating the merits of the two samples.  I actually got it right, at which I point I may have exclaimed, "YES!" with a certain level of naive enthusiasm that probably underscored again the fact that we had no idea what we were talking about.  I also jumped on a bandwagon of ridiculous analogies to classical music, in which I claimed I got the answer right because I could smell the Beethoven in the one wine (as opposed to Chopin in the other).  Possibly now everyone at the event thinks I know stuff about classical music. 

Tom also told us to make sure to take a moment to "love our wine."  Which basically means - just because we were sitting around over-analyzing in overly intellectual ways the characteristics of these wines doesn't mean we shouldn't also just enjoy them.  And this was nice to hear, since my general approach to wine is - if it tastes good to me, then I like it.

We tasted seven wines, which range in price from 40 euros - 70ish euros a bottle. In other words, more than we spend on wine, for sure.  And while I'm not sure I can tell when the "structure is integrated with the fruit" or predict whether the "new oak will integrate with the flavor" or what "complexifies" a wine, I did learn something about wines from Bordeaux and I also learned that people who talk the wine talk may also be full of bullsh*t half the time (except for Tom).    So there's no reason that we can't talk the wine talk too!

If you're curious, here's a list of the wines we tasted.  6 of the 7 were 2004 wines - "young" wines that are beginning to be drinkable but should improve in the next 6 years.  Oh, Tom also told us not to be afraid to start our own wine cellar - though I did point out to Mr. Oil that this seems to require having, oh I don't know, a cellar?

1. 2004 St Emilion Grand Cru Classe, Chateau La Tour Figeac
2. 2004 Pessac Leognan, Chateau Haut-Bailly
3. 2004 Pauillac 5th Cru Classe, Chatue Haut-Batailley
4. 2004 Pomerol, Chateau Guillot Clauzel
5. 2004 Margaux 3rd Cru Classe, Chateau Ferriere
6. 2004 St Julien 2nd Cru Classe, Chateau Leoville Barton
7. 1998 St Emilion Grand Cru, Vieux Chateau Chauvin

And just a note about this last one. Which was definitely the best.  I mean, that was legit good stuff.  As Tom starting smelling it (because we would take several sniffs before even venturing towards the palate), he started exclaiming, "Figgy! Figgy!"  You have to love and respect anyone who speaks with such unequivocal reverence about their subject matter.  Listening to Tom expound on the smells of the '98 St Emilion - "Carrot!" "Some rust!" - with exuberance and true passion made us feel like we too could shout "Figgy!" to the heavens and happiness would rain down upon us. Or something like that.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Black Hole

I've fallen down a deep, dark black hole and I'm not sure how to get out.  Nor do I especially want to.  This black hole has a name - butter.

That's right. I'm talking real, creamy, salty butter spread thick all by its lonesome on a nice hunk of bread.  Butter.  Oh how I love thee.

My first step down this black hole happened a few weeks ago when I was offered a sample of freshly churned butter.  I thought to myself, "how does one sample butter?"  And I looked on skeptically as the butter man spread butter as thick as the bread itself, and then handed it to me.  Naturally, I ate it despite my skepticism.  And it rocked my world.

Previously, I've seen butter as an additive. You cook with it, you bake with it, occasionally you put it on toast.  And honestly, we usually use "I Can't Believe Its Not Butter" on our toast - or at least we did in the US.  Butter alternatives here are slim.  But this bite of butter forced to realize that I had completely undercut the value of butter.  The flavor. The texture. The everything.

I ventured further into the black hole one night when Mr. Oil was working late and, on my own for dinner, I ended up eating half a baguette - with butter.  For dinner.  That's right.  Now I find myself searching for every opportunity for that butter fix.  I'm even forgoing cheese to eat more butter. Which is how you know this is serious. 

At some point, I believe my waistline and/or arteries will rebel.  Or maybe I will stumble on my next great obsession.  But for now, I'm deep within the black hole of butter - and lovin' every minute of it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Picasso, Whipped Cream, & Cookie Cutters - just another week in Paris

It is gray most of the time these days.  But its not depressing, at least not yet.  A bit somber, perhaps, but I mostly feel like it is now even easier to imagine Paris as it was in previous eras.  Sunshine in Paris almost feels artificial, like this city is too good to be true when it is beautiful and sunny.  Gray and cloudy is the real Paris.  And with a only a few sprinkles of rain here and there, we have still been out and about.  Adorable baby peacoat and all.
Clouds and chilly weather can't stop Baby Oil

Last week, with grandparents B'nana and Papa P, we saw a fantastic exhibit at the Grand Palais about the art collected by the Steins (as in Gertrude, but also her siblings).  Definitely one of the most phenomenal collections of Matisse, Picasso, and other artists of that time that I've seen in one place.  And one of the things we really liked about the exhibit was that it wasn't just about the art - it was also about the people who bought the art, who talked about it, who held those famous Saturday night salons to debate art and politics and who-knows-what-else.  Don't we all wish we could live in a time when we'd be invited over to a small left bank apartment replete with not-yet-famous Matisse and Picasso works, to drink wine and have lively discussions?  Very Midnight in Paris, I know, but no less true for me anyway.   I have to think that Gertrude Stein did not worry over much about what to make for dinner every night, which seems to be a major topic of "lively discussion" in our house! 

But the highlight of the exhibit was when an older woman came over to me, as I held Baby Oil, and said, in English with an elegant European accent, "Thees baby iz more beautiful than all of theese expenseeve paintings."  I turned to Papa P and said, "Well, I think our work here is done." 

On their last day in Paris, we went to the Jardin du Luxembourg, which is lovely in a different way in the winter than it is in the summer.  There are no flowers in the flower beds, but the flower pots along with the upper level of the main garden hold huge bouquets of brightly-colored mums in orange, yellow, or purple.  We walked through some of the charming small streets of the surrounding neighborhood and made our way to Patisserie Viennoise (hat tip David Lebovitz) to make sure that Papa P could get his whipped cream fix.  And if you like an iceberg of thick whipped cream on top of a not-hardly-sweet, thick-but-not-too-thick hot chocolate, then you too should brave getting side-swiped by a bus on the ridiculously narrow Rue d'Ecole de Medecine.  Only after we got there did I remember the warning that David Lebovitz gave when he wrote this place up (which was basically that you could easily be hit by a bus).  But here was our reward:

And to make sure that the grandparents did not leave France hungry, we went to an excellent dinner at Yayin on their last night.  This kosher restaurant in the 17th opened two years ago and bills itself as "nouvelle cuisine juive."  Duck with an amazing spiced sauce, chicken with savory yet not over-powering Indian flavors, bass served flambe (literally, the waiter lit my mother-in-law's fish on fire at the table - so cool!), veal schnitzel, etc.  Molten chocolate cake for dessert, of course. Yum.

I love being served things in mini Dutch ovens (cocottes)!

Yesterday I checked another item off my ever-growing, ever-changing list with a visit to E. Dehillerin.

If you want to buy (crazy expensive) copper pots or other (crazy expensive) kitchen wares, this is a great place to go.  You walk in, and immediately feel like you are in a store room.  If you walk down into the basement, then you really feel like you are in a store room.  Because why would you send customers into this:

In a few weeks, I am supposed to be hosting a holiday cookie-decorating event for the expat English-speaking moms group. I have no idea if anyone will come.  And Baby Oil doesn't even eat cookies yet (because chouquettes and brioche are totally different, right?).  So naturally I treated myself to some (overly expensive) very authentic cookie cutters from E. Dehillerin.  And really, how could I not buy a cookie cutter shaped like the Eiffel Tower!