I pretty much always eat well in Paris, but these next couple of days were certainly no exception.
Tuesday, 24 June
Happy Birthday to my host mom Catherine! Since she made French food for my birthday, I told her I would make her an American dinner for her birthday. I woke up early to start on dessert - a cheesecake. I was planning on using neufchâtel in place of cream cheese - neufchâtel is a French cheese that I have used in the states to make cheesecake. In the states, it is pretty much just like cream cheese but with less fat. Apparently that is not the case in France - Catherine got neufchâtel, but it was hard! So she also got brousse, which is a soft cheese - a little softer than cream cheese - that she told me is used frequently in cooking. Second difficulty : no graham crackers, for the crust. I just crumbled up some kind of cookie. Third : no sour cream for the topping - I used fromage blanc. Otherwise, there were no other ingredient problems. The next difficulty was le four - the oven. If it had Celsius temperatures, I could do the conversion. But all it has are numbers. When I asked Catherine about it, she said "6 est chaud, 4 est moins chaud. D'habitude, j'utilise 6." (Six is hot, four is less hot, usually I use 6.) The numbers range from 1 to 9... Who knows. At any rate, 6 is certainly hot - while the cake baked, the top got brown very quickly before the inside was cooked at all.... I scraped it off so it wouldn't burn midway. Afterall, you won't see that layer, with the topping. Catherine actually did have a springform pan, which was wonderful, mais j'ai fait une bétise (I did something stupid) : I cooked the cake set in a pan of water, which is supposed to keep the cake moist, not considering the fact that the bottom of a springform is permeable to water... I don't know if the cake was any moister, but the crust certainly was - it seemed almost soggy to me, and very bland. Ah well.
The cake came out just in time for me to dash to work on time, and I came home during lunch to put it in the fridge so it would be ready for the evening.
In the evening, I came home and began my plat principal : chili! Again, a few difficulties - in the states, I use 6 kinds of beans. It was a stretch to get 3 here - we had to get dry black beans and cook them the night before. Also, no cans of tomatoes - that's not a problem because you can always just use real tomatoes. What is a difficulty is that usually I get my heat from a can of tomatoes with chili pepper added, so I was unsure how much spice to add. For pot that would have served about 8 people, I ended up using 1 whole red chili pepper. For my own taste, I probably would have put more, but Catherine requested that it not be too spicy.
Here's the final product... Looks pretty American, n'est-ce pas?
Of course, to go with chili, you have to have cornbread...
Thanks, mom, for sending the spices and Jiffy mix!
Dinner itself was a funny cultural experience. There were 7 of us : Kendall and I, Catherine and Jacques, their eldest daughter, Anne, her husband, Gregoire, and their next eldest child, their son Francis. Anne and Gregoire's three children were there as well (Augustine, age 6; Timothée, 4; and Victor, 3 months) but the kids ate a different meal, earlier than the adults. Maybe chili is just too weird for French kids. I am sure ratatouille would have been too weird for me at age 6! We started dinner with a salad, and as soon as we started eating, Catherine jumped up and said "Oh, but we don't have any bread!" Because there is bread at EVERY dinner. So she ran to the kitchen and got bread. Never mind the fact that I had made cornbread to go with the chili... Whatever, it's her birthday.
For the chili, I told her we would need bowls, which was very bizarre - bowls, for dinner? When I brought out the pot, she said "Oh, I understand, we need plates with tall rims, is that it?" Sure, whatever you want. So we used plates with tall rims. And here is my favorite part - while we had spoons on the table, those are only for dessert and coffee. Dinner is always eaten with a fork. So, we ate the chili with forks. Never mind the fact that it is essentially a very thick soup... Also, bread is never put on the plate, it is always left on the table. Corn bread, which is rather apt to crumble, makes for a mess on the table...
I am sorry to say I forgot to take a picture of the cake, which was very pretty. Jacques did take one, and he gave it to me, but in hard copy. At any rate, I lit a candle and we sang Joyeux Anniversaire, and Catherine blew out the candle with a little help from Timothée. Everyone enjoyed the food, and with all of the little cultural difficulties, it was almost very American. :)
Wednesday, June 25
Wednesday was the first day of the soldes, the huge end-of-season sales that take place in every store in the city. Prices are slashed according to signs in every window, usually 30-50% off almost everything in the store. Too bad I didn't realize these were starting when I went shopping on Monday... Good thing I didn't get anything expensive. I think this must be a national holiday in Paris or something, because the streets were filled with way more people than usual, making the rounds at the ubiquitous boutiques across the city. There were many people in unmistakably very Parisian/European attire, but unfortunately, I had forgotten my camera chip so I was unable to take pictures.
While wandering around at lunch, as I usually do, I came across a bakery recommended in Jamie Cahill's book, Huertier, and stopped inside for a quiche lorraine, which was delicious.
After work, I had plans to cook dinner with a friend who I had heard was a fabulous cook. He does not, however, bake very much, so I tackled dessert while he did dinner. He lives in the 16e, and his family has an incredible art collection and a beautiful apartment. And what a kitchen! A beautiful, enormous stove. That clearly produces exquisite food, in the proper hands - he made veal, roasted with a spice rub, with a sauce made from roasted red pepper and ancho chili pepper and fried green tomato, and asparagus, and linguine. It was fantastic. For dessert I did a raspberry and peach pie, because pie crust is about the easiest thing to make in this country - even if no one knows what a pastry cutter is. The food was fabulous and the company was great so it was a very pleasant meal.
Thursday, 26 June
Since it was thursday, of course I went to the market during lunch. Peaches and cherries from my favorite vendors - because the price is always right. By this point I was pretty much known by a couple of the vendors as a regular. More on my market friends in a later post... Anyway, I also got a falafel from a Lebanese vendor at the market. Cheaper than in rue des rosiers, and not as good. Ah well.
For class, we visited the musée d'Orsay. I really do love their collection. It was nice to go through with Lionel, who has a basic art historic knowledge, but everything he said was more of a reenforcement than groundbreaking new information. Looking out on the balcony, as I had a few weeks before, there was suddenly this new sight :
I asked Lionel, and he said it was only put up that day, so it wasn't that I was crazy and somehow had just managed to miss the fact that there was a huge ferris wheel in Paris.
After class, I had decided I made another visit, to this beautiful building :
Where am I? An assembly house? A museum? Somewhere incredibly important?
Well I suppose it is important, to many people but in fact, it is the Galeries Lafayettes - the ENORMOUS store in the 8th, filled with about 2485239 different designers all selling their fashions side by side.
I went because I wanted to check out the soldes at their epicenter. Let me just say, I was unimpressed. There were a ton of seriously over priced garments, for which prices had been seriously slashed, leaving them... still seriously overpriced. And frequently very ugly. Here is an example of such a price :
Now it's ONLY 217 E for this heavy knit zebra striped monstrosity of a dress !!! Jump on these deals, because you may never have another chance !!
Well let's hope not.
I was literally just in the store long enough to take a picture of the central dome and then walk out. Maybe 5 minutes. It was ridic.
Friday, 27 June
For lunch, I finally started thinking about taking pictures of the food I was eating, which is usually about presentation as well as taste because you have to present things in the window of the bakery such that people will want to buy them. I got a tarte salée au provençal :
There were a lot of vegetables beneath the crust. Very tasty.
More importantly, I got a slice of a tarte à la rhubarbe as well :
A little bizarre, and obviously it would have been better without the almonds (although to be honest they really don't bother me) and of course it would have been better heated and with ice cream - but none the less, tasty.
For dinner, Killian and I signed up to take a cooking class together. Here we are, wearing our aprons made out of trashbags, pretty much :
Whatever, we are rocking those trash bags. We made crème de pommes de terres aux moules (basically, a creamy potato soup with mussels) and a rouget à la tapenade (rouget is a small fish, called red mullet in English, that is apparently a specialty in the Mediterranean). The tapenade was made from crushed black olives with other ingredients which I do not remember, but I do have the recipe. To go with the rouget we also did an incredible mashed potato and a sauce vierge, which was wonderful. The soup was rather heavy, and seemed like an unusual choice to start a summer meal. The rouget, however, was delicious and went very well with all of its accompaniments.
We both really enjoyed the class. It was really cool for me in large part because I am very unfamiliar with cooking seafood, so I definitely learned a lot. The food was really good, and the class was small - I think there were 8 students with the chef. And the class was pretty inexpensive - 18 E - way less than what you would pay for this meal in a restaurant! It is too bad we didn't make a dessert as well, but I must say I am generally partial to American desserts (although I must say flan is delicious), and I know I will never make a macaron like Pierre.
Alright I think I will stop here... I am sorry if my discussions of everything I eat are not of interest to you. I think my next entry should be more about what I saw than what I tasted... But I suppose you never know... :)