Monday, March 31, 2014

Macaron dreams

So, I must be feeling better-- back in my plate, dans mon assiette, because last night I dreamed of macarons.  Not just any macarons.  Pierre Hermé and his macarons.  The photo here is proudly stuck to the front whiteboard of my classroom.  Et oui... it is signed Pour Teresa.   He may only know me in my dreams, but he has written my name expressly for me one time.

My 8th grade students have to write thank you notes in French as part of their final exam.  I mail them and wait to see if anyone responds.  In 2012, several of them wrote to M. Hermé, thanking him for the macarons they tasted while in Paris.  He wrote back.  Sent a beautiful poster of all of his flavors and autographed photos. (Take that François Hollande, M. le Président, who didn't even acknowledge the letters.)

This year, just two weeks ago, I took those who wanted to do some quick power shopping to Galeries Lafayette while the other group went to the Catacombs.  (Yes, the boys and two brave girls went to see the skulls.) We had one hour before meeting the rest of the group for lunch.  That's really all one needs when a Longchamp purse and Pierre Hermé macarons are on the list.

I can tell you where to find both.  (The quickest place to get the purse- without body guards and a long line- is on the 4th floor near the luggage department and Pierre Hermé's shop is found in the basement, -1, with the shoes.)  I hate to shop, but I can make exceptions now and then.  Look for his logo.

Drool over all the flavors, but ultimately you have to choose.  I always feel hurried, but it doesn't really matter.

I explained to the young lady waiting on us that M. Hermé is a very nice man and I have an autographed photo to prove it.  She was quite impressed and said that she doesn't even have that.  Yes, I can be a bit of a braggart de temps en temps, from time to time.  (He does sign her paycheck, though, I suppose, so if it's a competition, she wins.)

My regret?  Not the euros that I spent on the beautiful cookies, if I dare call them that.  I gave them as gifts to my French daughters, one who always sacrifices her room for me.  I didn't buy the cookbook on display.  A Pierre and Dorie Greenspan collaboration.  Oh well.  La prochaine fois.  Next time.
One of the girlies shared her macarons with me, though, on the bus on our way to Normandy.  What a sweetheart.

Last night's dream?  Strange as usual.  But here you go.

I was with my students on our annual trip.  We didn't seem to be in Paris, though.  We were staying in a really cute hotel and it seems that we were on the Riviera, maybe Cannes or Nice.  I let the students loose to go shopping one afternoon and some of the girls and I went to Pierre Hermé's shop.  They bought their macarons, but just as it was my turn, the lady behind the counter said that it was time for a shift change and would I mind waiting.  I wandered around the shop and even found a comfy chair where I fell asleep.  When I woke up, all the macarons were sold and they were closing.  The lady told me to come back the next morning and I wouldn't be disappointed.  So, I went back to the hotel.  It was almost 9:00 pm and I had missed dinner at the hotel.  Some of the students were still in the dining room, though, as was Arles Lucy, my co-chaperone on this dream trip.  My Favorite Parisien was the tour manager and he fussed at me for missing a wonderful meal.  Of course.  He is French.  Missing a meal is a blasphemous.  I explained to the kids and to Arles Lucy what had happened.  They were under-impressed.

At this point in the dream, I woke up, looked at the clock (4:11 am) and decided to go back to sleep.
I resumed the dream.  (Don't you love that when you are in the middle of a really good one??)

Dream Part Deux:
I got up early and went back to the shop.  The shop keepers were all dressed in really cute black dresses, perfect make-up and hair.  I was the first one there.  As the ladies were filing into the shop from what I guessed was the kitchen, I watched.  Then, lo and behold, Pierre Hermé himself walked past me, touched me on the shoulder, and winked.  One of the shopkeepers started smearing a pink concoction onto a slice of brioche-type bread shaped like a teddy bear.  It looked divine.  Pierre watched me watch her and then he came over and told her to wrap that up for me, along with a cup of café nonna con crème.   I know that nonna is Italian for grandma.  The rest is just my jumbled up way of getting a cup of coffee with cream, café au lait or café crème.  Pierre bid me farewell with a kiss on the cheek and told me that he had to get back to work and that he hoped I enjoyed the rest of my stay in his country.
And I woke up at 6:15 am wondering if I should attempt rose or lemon macarons today.  Or maybe some using the confiture de lait that IronWoman found for me...I can make up my own!

I still haven't decided.  The eggs whites are sitting out, 110g of them, warming to room temperature.
More later.  Stay tuned.

Macarons made this past week by students and their dads.  I am always happy to sample!!

Peanut butter

Bon appétit and sweet dreams to all macaron-lovers!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Dining à la française

We've come to the final unit of study in French 7.  Saving the best for last.  Food and eating.  Table-setting and shopping for food.  Dining out.  Telling 7th graders that a nice meal is a true social occasion and that this meal can last two to three hours brings some looks of disbelief to their 12- and 13-year old faces.  It makes me think of a meal I shared with Mme M in the fall of 2008 while I was visiting her during my sabbatical.  Do you have a meal that you just go back to from time to time?  With a sigh? This is one of mine.
Mme M and I have been to Les Trois Canards a few times.  Three maybe?  She was introduced to it by some colleagues, if my memory serves me right.  It's not far from where she lives in Montépilloy and Senlis, where she teaches.  It isn't far from the town of Pierrefonds with its wonderful château straight out of Robin Hood.

Back to our meal.  In order to show my students the different courses, I put together a slide show of my meal.

Amuses-bouche accompanied by Kir Royale.  Just to tickle your tastebuds, you know.

Next comes the entrée.  Don't be confused by the French use of entrée.  It is the same as hors-d'oeuvre or starter, as the Brits say. The citrus of the grapefruit marries well, as the Frenchies say, with the shrimp.  And presentation is very important.

Our wine choice, a lovely rosé.

Next the plat principal.  I chose lamb.  I am very, very fond of lamb.   (When I worked at a certain golf resort in the mountains while in college, I couldn't bear lamb night.  The smell was not one of my favorites... someone later explained that we must have been serving mutton, not lamb.  Big difference I've discovered.)

Next, in the course of a French meal, is usually a green salad dressed with vinaigrette, but since I have no photos, I suppose we didn't have that.

Fromage.  Not an appetizer in France.  The cheese cart comes around and typically you choose three different ones.  From mild to strong.  

Bread, if you wish, but the cheese is not usually smeared on bread, it is eaten with a knife and fork. Civilized.  Savored.

Next comes my students' favorite part.  Dessert.  Vanilla custard.  Dark chocolate "cup" filled with mousse.  Topped with cookies and mint leaves.

Coffee is always served after dessert, not with dessert.  I think it's because the coffee would overpower the sweet.  Just my opinion.  With the café, a couple more little treats.  Un café gourmand-type coffee. Mme P is teaching me about preparing this type of dessert-- coffee with little bite-sized desserts. They even have special plates and cups for it, of course.

We've now come to the end of the meal.  But wait.  I just happened to notice my "neighbor."  During this entire meal, she was accompanied by her dog, but I had no idea he was there.  Not one wimper or bark during the entire two hours.  So, as a reward, at the end of the meal, he got to sit on her lap.

Good boy.  Quel bon chien.

It was a lovely Sunday afternoon.  A meal with a very good friend.  The stuff memories are made of.

Santé, Mme M!

Bon appétit to good friends and good meals!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mercy me

For the first few days after my spring break trips to France, this is how I feel--

"My head?  Now, just where on earth did I put it THIS time?  It has to be around here somewhere, n'est-ce pas?" 

Someone told me that you need one day of recovery for each hour of time difference.  So, the trip started out as a 6-hour difference and ended as 5 because of the time change in the US but not yet in France.  I have a couple of more days to go before I am back to normal (whatever that is) and can think straight.  We returned on Sunday night and I had to be back in the classroom at 7:45 the next morning. I was doing relatively well until I could not find my keys.  I had to take them with me to France because the Ex-Ex left earlier than I did on departure day to attend a conference in Charlotte.  I was in charge of locking up.  I had not really thought about the keys until the moment I was ready to walk out of the house to go to school.  I finally found them in the bag I had carried on the plane on the way over but not on the way back (I found a much cuter one while shopping in Montpellier).  Sheesh.  The Ex-Ex patiently walked me through tearing through the two unpacked suitcases until I heard the reassuring rattle of my keys.

Now, if only Le Penseur could remember where he left his clothes...  Thank goodness I am not suffering from that problem.

More later about the amazing trip and unbelievably wonderful weather we had while in France.

Bon appétit and many, many thanks to all of the wonderful Frenchies and to my own students who made this a great trip!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Chez Fanny

Bienvenue Chez Fanny.
It is another chilly day here in North Carolina and I leave for France in just 3 days so I am thinking about Mme P, her lovely home and the pot au feu that I ate there in January.  Logical progression of thoughts if you are inside my head.
So, let's take a little tour.
First the gate-

Here's the house- "my" room is on the top floor with the little green shutters.  (Merci encore, Audrey!)

The view from "my" window on the side of the house--

Pass by the garden--

Up to the terrasse--

French style... they are just born knowing how to place and arrange things.

Above the door... can you read the year this structure was built?

Oui, 1853.

Come on in.  Entrez.  Into the kitchen.

A member of the greeting committee--

A family cupboard redone with a chalkboard on the front for shopping lists, reminders, etc.  (Is my arrival on there yet??)

Favorite places to visit--

A refrigerator magnet so she will remember that I am close by even though I am 3000 miles away-

A fire in the winter and tea with Mlle de Tavel's carrot cake after a long day at school--

A kitchen chicken to guard the bread.  From moi maybe?

The family decided that pot au feu should be my first meal in January.  They know me well.

First the meat.  Beef.  One popular cut is called jarret, the shin, I believe, which is not easy to get here.

A bone for flavor.  She uses a couple of different cuts of meat.

Some vegetables, herbs, and water.  Carrots, leeks, garlic, celery.  She takes an peeled onion and sticks cloves in it-- the secret ingredient, maybe?

Herbs, of course.  Thyme, rosemary, bay leaves.  

Cover and cook for a couple of hours.

More vegetables are added later so that they do not cook too much.  Whole, peeled potatoes are in there, too.

Ready to eat.

(The purple flower is actually on the plate... it just happened to turn out this way for the photo.  We noticed it afterwards.)

Bread, of course.  Merci, Mme Poule!

A good local red to accompany it.

Délicieux.  This is considered une recette de grand-mère-- grandma's recipe, passed down.  Lucky me.  I get it, too.


The next day, much to her children's delight, Mme P takes the leftovers, puts them through the food processor (her Robot), adds egg, shapes them, dredges them in flour and fries them into croquettes.

Délicieux Part Deux.

There you have it.  My favorite meal in France.  And the recipe of sorts.  If you've ever made beef stew, you know that it's a little of this, some of that, the vegetables you like, long, slow cooking to tenderize the beef, herbs for flavor, beef stock or just water or even some wine, if you wish.  

I look forward to seeing you in just 10 days, mon amie!

Bon appétit to all friends and to friendship, even across the ocean!