Every time I go to Paris, I vow that I am not going to take dozens (hundreds?) more photos of the Eiffel Tower. I mean, how many does one need? How many do I already have? How many of the 23,929 photos in my iPhoto folder are of la Tour? Aucune idée. No idea.
But did I keep that promise to myself this time? Absolument pas...
As soon as she came into view on the bus ride from the airport, I started snapping away. And I did not stop.
I just cannot help myself, I guess. Silly promises made in North Carolina before the magic of Paris takes a hold of me.
This year, I had a total meltdown on the top, though. Well, on the second floor, actually. You can now go on-line and buy group tickets. What a marvelous idea. I did it last year and the only hitch was that I had miscounted and didn't buy one for myself. Pas de problème. Not a problem. I've been up many times. That gave me time to scout out nearby cafés and find a place to have dinner with my band of 8th graders and my other chaperone. I strolled all around the base, took photos of it (of course), watched it sparkle, sat underneath and talked to a Marseillais who was visiting for the first time in his 65 years.
This year, I went on-line in mid-February to buy the tickets. I saw that the third floor was closed for a month, but it was scheduled to reopen before we got there. Pas de problème. I registered my school's name, put in the school's credit card information (merci, Dr. Dupont!), counted very carefully to make sure I would get to go up this time, confirmed, printed, filed the paper away in my pink trip notebook and all was good. I had checked on-line to see what time sundown would be on March 9 so that I could time being on the top when the lights of Paris came on. Que je suis intelligente! Aren't I smart?? I was arranging a magical moment for the kiddies. What a great teacher.
We all got in line (I did have to wait for the other chaperone and some stragglers who were haggling for a good price on key chains...), passed through security and got to the first check point. I asked the fellow letting us through (in my very best French, of course) why we didn't have individual tickets, the kind we had always had where they tear off the corners for each floor that you visit. He told me that they'd gone to a new system. Ok. Who am I to question a new system? We rode up to the first floor, not getting off yet, saving that for the way down, and headed on up to the second floor where you have to change elevators. It was very, very cold and windy that night. We found the line for the third floor elevator and made it to the next ticket-checking fellow who informed me that I had only bought tickets to the second floor. Mais non, I told him. There must be a mistake. I explained, once again in my very best French, and he shook his head and said that at that time they weren't selling tickets to the third floor because it was closed. Fine, I said, but why didn't his buddy downstairs tell me that then I asked? The famous French shoulder shrug. I was told to go buy the supplementary tickets at the ticket machine. Ok. Pas de problème. Until I got to the machine and discovered that it took a carte bleue, a French credit card with a special chip in it, or CHANGE. No bills. And I am not in the habit of carrying around 63 euros, approximately $82, in coins. And no one was working the window on such a cold, windy night. Uh-oh, I could feel the tears just on the brink of escaping my little green eyes. And I was not wearing waterproof mascara... (It had been a stressful day, the majority of it spent at CDG airport sending home a girl who was homesick-a first for me) Just as the tears started spilling down my cheeks and I started looking for the elevator to head all the way back down to buy the tickets (my students would get to the very top, no matter what), a woman employee noticed and told me Attendez, madame, ne descendez pas. Hold on, don't go down yet. She found someone to open up the ticket window for me and I bought the tickets. But once the tears start and you are tired and cold and more than a little stressed, it can be hard to stop. After digging around in my bottomless purse for the little plastic packet of tissues I always carry around with me, mopping up some tears and wiping away the mascara, I found my group and tried telling them what was going on. One of the girls grabbed me, gave me a huge hug and said something to the effect of "Oh, madame, you need some lavender right now." They know that I keep some on my desk, just for emergency moments and when I want to pretend that I am in Provence. But that hug is why I teach...
Oh! The reason the top had been closed was so that they could install a champagne bar, it seems. And we did witness a champagne moment as a guy got down on one knee and whipped out a lovely diamond ring for his unsuspecting girlfriend. One of my girlies heard the girl gasp and ask, in a very loud voice, in English, a question containing language that I cannot repeat here. But they didn't buy champagne.
This is my favorite salad and I eat it as often as possible when in France. With the help of my Frenchie friends, I've recreated the recipe. There are many variations, but this is my favorite. The BFF and I served this salad at our Sabbatical Chef Dinner last weekend.
Salade de chèvre chaud
Line plates with your favorite lettuce or baby salad greens. Add cherry tomatoes. (I found some red, yellow and green ones at Whole Foods that worked well.) Drizzle this with vinaigrette (recipe below).
Cut goat cheese into rounds. (I used Bucheron from Wine Authorites. Randy cut the rounds into 1/3-inch slices for me. I cut the slices into quarters.) Dip the pieces first into egg yolk and then into bread crumbs. Fry in a hot pan with olive oil until golden brown on each side.
If you wish, instead of frying the goat cheese, you can just place it on slices of a baguette and warm it up in the oven, under the broiler. Do not dip in egg or roll in bread crumbs.
Place the goat cheese on the salad greens. Add a touch of honey (a "tear" according to the Frenchie who sent a recipe!) to the top of the cheese. (I brought lavender honey back from the Arles market just for this.) If you do not use honey, you can drizzle the cheese with a bit of good olive oil.
Use the best quality ingredients you can for this simple dressing. You can adjust the quantities, but you should stick to a 3:1 oil to vinegar ratio.
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. vinegar (wine, balsamic, sherry,etc.)
1 heaping tsp. Dijon mustard
Freshly ground pepper
Whisk all ingredients together. Serve at room temperature.
You can add shallots, garlic, herbs, whatever you desire to spice it up.
Bon appétit, la Tour Eiffel!
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
On the Rue du 4 Septembre in Arles, you will find Guy LeBlanc's pastry and chocolate shop. And what a treat it is just to step through the door. Actually, it is a feast for your eyes even before you open the door. Just looking at the window display is a joy. M. LeBlanc is a Le Nôtre trained pastry chef. His wife offered me my very own carte de fidelité, a frequent shopper's card, this time. I pretended that I would be back very soon to fill it up and get my treat and discount...
(photo by Catherine Yang)
Now that spring is here, the shop is full of chocolate chickens, as well as the fish pictured above with the lovely lavender-colored ribbons around their bellies.
This is the shortened version, taken from several sites. Believe what you will. If some of my French buddies correct me, I will keep you posted.
- The Julian Calendar, established by my friend Julius Caesar in 46 BC made January 1 New Year's Day. But a few centuries later, most regions in France were still using Easter (around March 25, although the date of Easter changes since it is based on lunar cycles) as the legal and administrative New Year. Things were a big mess. Everyone was confused. Sans blague. No kidding.
- King Charles IX ordered a new calendar to replace the Julian one in 1564, attempting to end the confusion. Enter the Gregorian calendar, named for Pope Gregory XIII (the Catholic Church adopted it in 1582). January 1 was once again proclaimed New Year's Day, legally and otherwise.
- Some French folks, though, resisted the change and continued to celebrate New Year's during the week following March 25, ending the fun around April 1. Those who made the calendar switch made fun of the ones who didn't, sending them fake gifts and invitations to non-existent parties. That's a really dirty trick, n'est-ce pas? Getting all dressed up only to find you have no where to go. Enter the fools, les foux.
- So, later the French adopted April 1 as a new celebration (any excuse for fun?) and called it Poisson d'avril.
- Why poisson, you ask? There are a few theories out there-- one is that it coincides with the sun leaving the astrological sign of Pisces, the fish. Another is that fishing wasn't allowed in April in 16th century France because the newly hatched fish needed to grow up before being caught and fried up in un tout petit peu d'huile d'olive (ok, the frying in olive oil part I made up). Yet another is that in April fish are abundant and they are easy to fool with a hook and the proper lure or bait. Yet one more is that during Lent you are allowed to eat fish but not red meat (this one doesn't make much sense, now does it?)
- New information: The French give gifts to their friends at New Year's, les étrennes, they are called. In the 16th century, food was the most popular gift (not a shock at all... I think it is still the best gift, myself!) and since Easter marks the end of Lent (Christians were forbidden to eat meat during the 40 days of Lent), fish was often offered to friends (Chef Érick was busy smoking salmon for friends when I left Arles in December of 2008). After the New Year's switch to Januray 1, fish remained the symbol of April 1, but this time for fun, in the form of paper fish, fish stickers (placed on someone's back as a joke- kind of like our "Kick me" stickers when I was a kid) and bien sûr, poissons de chocolat, those beautiful chocolate fishies.
- And this has nothing to do with it, but I found it interesting. Supposedly, Napoléon was nicknamed le Poisson d'avril because he married Marie-Louise of Austria on April 1, 1810. This led me to wondering just how tall was Napoléon anyway? I took my students to visit Les Invalides in Paris and we paid homage to l'Empereur by visiting his tomb. They always ask me how tall he was. Not as short as you would think, it seems. At the time of his death he was measured and listed at 5'2 inches. (Some have even said he was only 4'11.) That wasn't accurately translated into English measurement until later. He was really 5'6.5. That's not so short. I am 5'5 and I only feel short next to my sons and their basketball teammates. That was actually taller than the average Frenchman in 1800. Maybe Napoléon just hung out with taller guys and and that made him appear short.
Here in the U.S., as we get ready for the Easter Bunny to pay us a visit, I have already stashed some bon chocolat aside just for moi.
Dolly Mama bunny is my favorite. He is called The Carolina Spring Bunny (Carolina blue ribbon?) and he is made of chocolate and peanut butter. Some of her caramels are wrapped up here, too. The green bunny came from Foster's Market where I had coffee this morning while proofreading progress reports. Non, pas de poissons in my collection. Dommage! Maybe the Easter Bunny will bring me some...
When my eaters need something chocolate and I need a quick recipe, this is the one...
Chocolate Oatmeal No-Bake Cookies
(recipe from my mother-in-law)
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. butter
3 Tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. peanut butter
3 c. oatmeal
Combine sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa. Bring to boil and boil for one minute. Add vanilla and peanut butter. Stir until peanut butter is melted. Add oatmeal and stir until it is well-coated. Drop on waxed paper and place in refrigerator until cooled.
Makes about 3 dozen.
Bon appétit, Poisson d'avril and the Easter Bunny!
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Part of the legend of the annual 8th grade trip to France, passed down from class to class, is the shopping trip to Galeries Lafayette. This doesn't really affect the boys unless they have been ordered by an older sister or mom to bring home something specific, in most cases a Longchamp purse. They tolerate this stop by usually finding the café on the top floor. There was a boy in my group last year, though, whose older sister had gone on the trip with me two years earlier. He had money and direct orders to buy a certain purse in a certain color. He did (he is no dummy) and then carried the famous green bag with him all the way home. He wasn't about to let that purse out of his sight or to trust it to the baggage handlers. So, I always carve out a couple of hours for the trip to Galeries Lafayette. Le Printemps, another Parisian grand magasin, is right next door. The windows at Printemps were done up for Alice aux pays des merveilles film that was coming to Parisian cinémas very soon...
Paris Breakfasts blog, you can see much better photos of Alice. (It just so happens Carol was in Paris the same time I was. I wish we could've met. She was busy chasing after fashion models and designers since she'd been invited over for fashion week by Sonia Rykiel.)
Anyway, back to the subject(s) at hand. I did hit the Longchamp shop at GL, looking for gifts for my sons' girlfriends.
Since I have become addicted to the Paris Breakfasts website in the past year, I often use it in class. Therefore, several of my students are also addicted. Carol is addicted to macarons, wonderful little almond cookies. They come in every color imaginable and so many flavors it is impossible to choose. I found Pierre Hermé in Galeries Lafayette and ordered up a little box of assorted flavors.
Ladurée kiosk just inside the door at Printemps. (I did not do thorough research before heading to Paris, I confess. But the trip isn't about me. It's about my students.) I dashed in with three 8th graders who were anxious to taste the macarons. They can buy only one and savor it right there on the spot. Pas moi... I buy the assorted box, lug them around, smash them up a bit, and love looking at them, not daring to actually open the box right then and there and eat one. How silly of me. Because this is what happens--
Before leaving for France, one of my already well-trained students in 7th grade brought in an article from the New York Times about McDonald's macarons. Gasp, n'est-ce pas? So, I just had to dash into the McDo's on the Champs-Elysées and snap a photo. Some of the girlies admitted to trying them. They approved.
(Time out here... a little while later...)
Google got me once again. I decided to do a quick search and see if there is a Pierre Hermé recipe just sitting there waiting for me in cyberspace. I came across a recipe from Pierre Hermé for pickle and ketchup flavored ones at David Lebovitz' blog... intéressant. Then I found a new blog... he-eats, with a recipe that sounds divine - salted caramel macarons. I will check this out further, perhaps even making some in the very near future.
After leaving Paris and heading to Arles with my kiddies, I walked into Chef Érick's kitchen one day and found him and his friend Noémie in the middle of macaron making. Well, a common theme these days, it seems. She was not happy with her macarons as they came out of the oven. They did look the same as my first and only attempt- flat. That did not stop my co-chaperone, Chappell, from scarfing down a few, though. He didn't care that they had no filling in them yet or that they were flat, not cute and puffy. He just knew they were warm and good. My kind of eater! Later that day, I got a text message, an SMS or texto, from Érick asking Chappell and me to stop by because he was saving some macarons for us. (I just love getting any kind of message in French-- voice mails, emails, texts... I am such a French addict. I will NOT be looking for a 12-step program, however, to cure me, just for the record, so keep those messages coming, mes amis.)
Here is what was waiting for us--
The final macaron chapter for the time being-- last Wednesday night I received an email from one of my 6th graders (I teach a class of beginning babies who are new students to Durham Academy). It seems that this young lady had made a trip to Trader Joe's with her parents and she discovered they have macarons. We had already heard this rumor from a boy in the class. His mom sent along that info. Anyway, young lady was quite thrilled that her parents bought some for her and she said she would bring me one if there were any left. Next morning, voilà!
Bon appétit, macarons!
Saturday, March 27, 2010
"An Evening with the Sabbatical Chef" made its debut last night. It might not have been perfect, but it was as close as it comes. Back in the fall, I was asked to offer a Provençale dinner as part of our faculty/staff on-line auction at Durham Academy. I was nervous, but said yes to a couple of very persuasive volunteers. The parents of a former student of mine offered their kitchen and I agreed. The woman who is our associate director of development was the high bidder. We set a date and I just didn't think much about it for a couple of months. Too many other things to check off my list... midterm exams, the holidays, the 7th grade class trip to Washington, DC, my 8th grade trip to France, the spring meeting for the NC chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French... and then the date was upon me.
While in Arles, I bought a tin of my favorite olive oil from Mas des Barres near Les Baux de Provence and some lavender honey from Sophie, one of the artisans we took clients to visit when I worked with Chef Érick. I thought they might come in handy. I started putting together a menu, seeking advice from friends, some who are trained chefs, some who just love to cook as much as I do. (Are the French just born knowing what goes well together- se marier bien - or is it just early training?? Goat cheese with just a teardrop of lavender honey on top for the salade de chèvre chaud, to quote one French friend's recipe.) I decided to keep it simple, a wise decision on my part, since I am not a chef. The BFF (pictured above) volunteered to be my assistant. We shopped, tied on our aprons, and set to chopping lots of garlic.
We had planned to make an amuse-bouche of shrimp and aoïli but decided not to at the last minute. Our hostess had already bought olives and French cornichons, little pickles.
We served the salade de chèvre chaud first. It was accompanied by Provence rosé and white wines from Wine Authorities.
We then decided to serve the tomates à la provençale separately, as the second course, although we had originally planned to serve them with the main dish. The lamb was still roasting and we needed to buy a little time.
The BFF has the perfect pan to make Tarte Tatin. She is also very, very fond of this dessert! She ate the last piece...
She visited me both summers I was working in Arles and we made it with clients while she was there. We have made it several times since my return, but I think that last night was the best. She does look proud, doesn't she? We served it with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dessert wine named Loupiac, also from WA. I enjoyed a little glass of it with our guests.
At the end of the evening, our hostess' husband washed up and we packed up and went home. It was such fun!
5-6 apples, peeled, cored, quartered and uniformly sliced (Pink Lady apples are the best to use)
1/4 c. mild olive oil
1/2 cup sugar (or enough to cover the oil)
Pie dough of choice- home-made, a pâte brisée or flaky pastry)
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Pour the olive oil into the bottom of a non-stick skillet that can go into the oven. Spread it around, completely covering the bottom. (You may need more depending on the size of your pan.) Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the oil. Arrange the apple slices attractively in the skillet, in a rounded pattern with the flat side down. Cover the oil and sugar completely, overlapping the slices a bit. Place on medium flame and let simmer until the sugar begins to caramelize (about 20 minutes). Do not stir.
Remove from heat and lay the pastry on top of the apples.
Bake until the pastry dough has browned nicely, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover with a cake plate the size of or a bit larger than your skillet. Carefully invert the tart onto the plate. If necessary, use a heat-proof spatula to help get all the good caramel in the skillet on the fruit or to scrape out any apples that may have stuck to the pan.
Let cool a few minutes before cutting. Serve plain, with vanilla ice cream or with whipped cream.
Bon appétit to all my helpers! I could not have done this without you...
Monday, March 22, 2010
So, Mildred the Mixer came back out of her hiding place in the cabinet, the oven started pre-heating and I gathered the necessary supplies. Without the two hour resting period that last night's cookies required, these were done in a snap. As you can see I decided to brush some with egg yolk and leave some plain before baking them.
I enjoyed one of each with a cup of tea while grading 7th grade tests on the passé composé. These have a nice crunch and a subtle lavender taste. The real test will come tomorrow when I ask Señor for his input. He is my cochon d'Inde or guinea pig. Do the French use that expression, I wonder? And where on earth did it come from anyway?
(from La Ferme Gerbaud cookbook courtesy of Serious Eats website)
250 grams / 2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
125 grams / 1 cup sugar
45 grams / 3 1/4 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 tsp. dried lavender flowers
1/4 cup water, plus a bit more, if needed
1 egg yolk, if desired, for brushing tops
Mix the baking powder into the flour. Add the sugar, egg, melted butter, lavender and water. Mix well. Batter should be just past the point of sticky. Divide the dough into 3 or 4 pieces. Place on a floured surface. Roll the pieces into sausages, about as thick as you want the navettes. Cut the sausages into slices, rolling them with your hand to give each slice its oval shape, long and lean at both ends. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. With a knife, make a well-centered cut lengthwise. Brush with an egg yolk, if desired. Bake in a moderate oven (375F) for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the navette, until golden brown.
Makes about 24 cookes.
Bon appétit et bonne nuit!
P.S. As of today, almost two years after starting this blog, my profile has been checked 1,000 times. I chose to believe that 1,000 people have read at least one of my entries. Bravo!
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a town on the coast, not far from Arles, with a wonderful church and altars to the saintes.
Jean-Marie Fassy in Maillane, one of my favorite bakers and a master fougasse maker, reports in Recettes de Provence, that they symbolize this boat, too. Les 13 desserts en Provence, a book that I bought before leaving Arles in 2008, contains a recipe for them. The paragraph accompanying the recipe reads: "Navettes symbolize the boat in which Saints Mary Jacobé and Marie Salomé arrived on the beaches of Provence. Navettes are part of the 13 desserts of Christmas but are equally a part of the Chandeleur tradition (February 2) and saving some in an armoire will bring happiness all year! The last Sunday in January, they are blessed at the shepherds' mass in Saint-Martin-de-Crau, then broken at the end of the mass as a sign of sharing and brotherhood. We like them year-round with a good cup of coffee!" I'll second that!
While in Arles last week at the Saturday market, I was asked if I knew the story about the cookies as we passed by a display of them.
On my final full day in Arles, last Sunday, I decided to go to my favorite bakery to see what treats I could bring home this time. Guy LeBlanc's pâtisserie is found on Rue du 4 septembre.
This evening's baking project has been navettes. For my first attempt, I decided to stick with the orange water recipe. I will next try lavender grains in them.
Here they are as they sit "resting" on my counter before going into the oven.
And here is the finished product.
Now, I will make myself a cup of tea to go with my warm navette. High school-age son is circling, watching the timer until they come out of the oven...
makes 24 cookies
6 Tbsp. butter, softened
3 1/2 - 4 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs, plus one yolk
2 Tbsp. orange flower water
1/2 c. water
1 tsp. milk
Cream the butter until fluffy. Add 3 1/2 c. flour, sugar, salt, 3 eggs, flower water and water. Mix until completely combined. The dough should be stiff, just beyond sticky, so that you can handle it without it sticking to your hands. You may need to add more flour to get there.
Gather the dough in a ball and divide it in two. Divide each half into halves and then once more so that you end up with eight balls of equal size. Each of these should be then divided into three balls for a total of 24.
Roll each ball into a 3-inch long cylinder. Place them somewhat spaced apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Flatten each cylinder and pinch the ends to form a boat shape. With a sharp knife, slit the cookie down the center, stopping at about 1/8 in. from each end.
Leave the cookies to rest for two hours at room temperature. When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F. Beat the egg yolk with the milk and brush the tops of the cookies with this. Bake them for 20-25 minutes or until golden on the top.
** After a bit more research, I found the website Serious Eats and a recipe for Lavender Navettes. I haven't tried it yet, so I will wait to post it. The ingredients are in grams. Thank goodness I bought myself a new truc not long ago- a scale that measures in ounces and grams. It also used baking powder and only one egg instead of three. Tomorrow night's project...
Bon appétit, les Saintes Maries de la mer et les pêcheurs de la Méditerrannée!