Thursday, February 27, 2014

Getting around town

My preferred method of getting around Paris is on foot, walking every where.  But, no, these shoes are not mine!  I just couldn't help but snap a photo of them, though.  (My students think I am so weird, but I will bet a Nutella-filled crêpe that more than one girl will come back from Paris with a photo of someone's shoes...)  I wear the ever more practical Dansko clogs.  In black, of course.  Do they even make gold ones?  I just checked and they have some interesting ones, but I will stick to my black oiled leather ones.
When you walk you can take in lots of sights.  Once again-- not stalking.  Just watching and following and trying to get a good photo.  If you want to look like you really belong, get a dog.

If you don't walk, you might miss the little passages which are hidden treasures.  My Favorite Parisien gave me a whole book about them.

You would also miss this musical treat.

If I am not walking, then it is the métro.

Fast, cheap.  Always interesting.  Musicians.  Movie and concert posters plastered everywhere.  Snoop Dogg was coming to town.

They even have signs now in most of the stations that tell you when the next train will arrive.

And lots of signs to help you find the right line and direction (unlike my experience in NYC this past summer).

I have taken a city bus once, thanks to My Favorite Parisien.  I mentioned that I had never done it, so he had me and the whole group of kiddies hop on one for a brief ride.  I took no photos, but here's one lined up at the Arc de Triomphe.

A bike?  Le vélib?  While it sounds fun in theory, I would be scared to death in practice.  Parisians drive like maniacs.  I would fear for my very life in the middle of traffic.  There are bike lanes in some places now and the vélibs are cheap, but non merci.  There are thousands of bikes in rental stands around the city.

I secretly (or not so secretly, I suppose) covet this little jewel I saw a couple of years ago on the Ile Saint Louis.  Aimée Leduc's Vespa, I think.

I love Cara Black's heroine.  I've read all of the books.  When will there be a movie??
You can, of course, take a boat ride on the Seine.  I always do this with the kiddies.  Not to get around town (unless the métro goes on strike) but just to relax, see the sights and pass under all the bridges.

On my last trip to Paris, in January 2014, I was treated to a totally new experience.  I invited My Favorite Parisian to dinner at Le Mistral (discovered in Ann Mah's book Mastering the Art of French Eating).  We met in Belleville, a previously undiscovered neighborhood for me, wandered around the streets, catching glimpses of Sacré Coeur across the horizon.

We also found beautiful little passage ways.  It didn't feel as if we were still in Paris, just in a little town.  I tried really hard to see in people's windows along the way.  You know, just to see how they decorate and to try to catch a glimpse of an apéritif.

Le Mistral is just a little neighborhood restaurant.

I had to try the steak (the owners are from the Aveyron region which is well-known for its beef) and aligot, a wonderful mix of masked potatoes and cheese.

Then My Favorite Parisien surprised me.  He called a friend to join us for dinner and to bring around his 2CV, or Deux Chevaux, which was manufactured by Citroën beginning in 1948.  It is quite the collector's item now and a symbol of France.

A new experience for me!  Riding in a 2CV AND riding around Paris in a car!  We drove around the city with MFP at the wheel.  Photos?  I tried.

Not easy.

But so much fun!  I did Dial-A-Friend while careening through the Paris night.  I just couldn't help myself.  Arles Lucy since she loves My Favorite Parisien, too.  She would've loved the ride.

Merci, My Favorite Parisien!  What a grand adventure for me.  I look forward to seeing you in just a few days!

Bon appétit, Paris!  I will be back very soon!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow Day Announcement

This is the kind of school I teach in... Watch our new head of school, Mr. Necktie, and the assistant head/upper school director, Mr. Bowtie, as they tell us whether or not school will be in session.  I hear the sweater is up for grabs at our annual Parents Council Auction to be held in March.

Bonne chance to the Ex-Ex as he scrapes the ice and snow off his car and tries to get to his office.  Personally, I think he nuts.  (Maybe he did not watch his colleagues rapping about Ice, ice, baby...)  Not me.  I intend to stay warmly ensconced in my pyjamas and watch La Fille du Puisatier, Marcel Pagnol's story of the well-digger's daughter, with Daniel Autueil speaking French with a Provençal accent.   I watched Fanny and then Marius in the plane on the way back from France a couple of weeks ago.  Have I ever said how much I love Air France?  Well, I do!  Champagne for apéritif and all the French movies I can watch in 8 1/2 hours!  Here's the trailer to the movie.  Just listen to his accent.  I wonder if he is from Provence?  I must google him and find out.

Bon appétit to my students who are still sleeping in instead of sitting in French class!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dinner Chez la Contesse

On the last night in Paris, ACIS arranged for us to have dinner at the home of a countess (perhaps there is also a count, but we didn't see him). She lives in a lovely neighborhood near the Bois de Boulogne and pictured above is the driveway we walked to get to their home after being dropped off by our bus. I tried to get an outside shot of their home, but it was just too dark.  I know very little about this part of Paris.  I have heard that the actual park is not a good place to hang out in at night because of the activities that go on there after dark.  Roland Garros tennis stadium is located there, but I've never been to the French Open.  It is located in the 16th arrondissement, on the western edge of the city.  One of these days I will explore the Bois during the daytime, of course. (map from Wikipedia)

Since this was my first glimpse inside the home of aristocracy (yes, I know... the French Revolution got rid of all that in the late 1700's), I was a bit wide-eyed.  The first thing I saw was the Christmas tree.

I appreciate the fact that she left it up just for us.  Merci, Madame la Contesse.
We were served champagne and appetizers (tomato, mozzarella and basil on toothpicks, very thinly sliced cured ham and goat cheese served with mint and a raspberry are the three that I remember) in the cozy living room, walls covered with portraits of ancestors and family trees, and a mantle with the busts of the family dogs.  None of those on my mantle.  How about yours?  No family trees on my walls either, for that matter. 

Dinner was served in the dining room, more ancestors on the walls.  The mantle in this room has busts of children.  Once again, although I love my children, I only have photos.

We were called to dinner and I was very happy to be seated with my new friend Jill from California, along with the fabulous ACIS staff.  

My table was waited on by M. Butler Wearing White Gloves.  He first served us wine made at the Countess' estate in Alsace, located in eastern France across the Rhine River from Germany.

This was to accompany the foie gras served with pain d'épices, a French version of gingerbread.  Oh yes, I was one happy eater when I saw this coming around. 

 M. Butler served us all family-style.  No messy serving plates left on the table that way.  And personalized service.  We served ourselves as he held the serving dishes.  I found myself thinking about how strong his arms must be to balance the plates with one hand...

We switched to red wine with the main course.

Chicken, but not just any chicken.  I asked if the dish was Coq au Vin and was told by M. Butler that it was Poulet de Bresse with morel mushrooms.  At least I made an intelligent guess,  I hope.  Chicken from Bresse is supposed to be the world's best.  My fellow blogger Lapin Agile has a post and recipe for this tasty dish on his blog.  Even if you do not plan to make it, click on the link and read his recipe anyway and make your mouth water.

Chez la Contesse, it was served with mashed potatoes.

And yes, I wanted a larger serving or seconds, but I have learned not to indulge myself because it is necessary to save room for cheese and dessert.  
Which leads me to the fromage course...

She looks happy, doesn't she?!  So many lovely cheeses to choose from...

M. Butler convinced me to try tête de moine or monk's head (there has to be a great story behind that name), a cheese I did not know.  It is shaved off in order to open up the flavors, thus the interesting shape.

See why I saved room?

Dessert made me feel right at home.  A dish of apples, cinnamon and brown sugar, Croustade de Pommes, served with vanilla ice cream.  By this point, I was feeling right at home and asked M. Butler for the recipe.  He responded by bringing the pastry chef to me (who was also serving) and she gave me the ingredients and some basic instructions.  Speaking French really comes in handy, you see.  It is an Alsatian speciality and was served with more of the Countess' wine.

Finally, little cups of coffee, more conversation, a recap of a wonderful weekend from the ACIS staff, and time to go back to our hotel.  The Countess was on hand to tell us au revoir at the door.  (Note the beautiful pink scarf around her neck.)

It was a wonderful evening.  ACIS treated us like royalty.  

My new friend Jill and M. Butler

I appreciate his patience with my seemingly never-ending questions and photos.  I think he enjoys his job, though.  He always had a twinkle in his eye and a smile.

Croustade de Pommes

(I had to find a basic recipe when I got home.  It is basically apple crisp.  There are many variations.  Some recipes add oatmeal with the flour, a lot of recipes from Quebec add maple syrup, some add nuts, some add other fruit, such as cranberries or pears.  Some even throw in some Armagnac or brandy.  The chef at the Countess' house said that she uses half unsalted butter and half salted.)

4-6 apples, peeled and sliced (I used Golden because that is what I had on hand.)
1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. brown sugar (my new French word-- cassonade!)
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
4 Tbsp. butter

Place apple slices in bottom of a buttered oven-proof dish.
Mix flour, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg with butter until crumbly.
Spoon flour mixture on top of apples.
Bake for 30 minutes at 400˚F or until browned and bubbly.
Serve with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

Bon appétit et merci Mme la Contesse, M. Butler et ACIS!!