Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Rainy Sunday in Paris

It was a chilly, rainy Sunday in Paris and life would be slow.  The ride from Charles de Gaulle Airport though, was a quick 30 minutes sans rush hour traffic which can be upwards of 2 hours during the week. Upon arriving at the hotel, I was told they were complet and there would be a wait. Thirty minutes turned to 1 hour, which turned to 2. So much for getting to sleep early. I had plans to meet friends Rick and Brenda for coffee and after 4 hours sleep, I rallied. Friend and colleague, Bettyann, joined us while we sipped the strong coffee and exchanged recent stories.  As a flight attendant I always have a story, and many times the adage, "You just can't make this stuff up", applies. All in a days work! After a few hours we kissed goodbye and Bettyann and I made our way to the metro toward Notre Dame (no, that is not me climbing the steps!)
At 6:30 there was an evening service we wanted to catch. It was an umbrella day and the dampness made it a little chillier. On CNN weather they said it is "Junuary" in France. The jet stream has consistently been lower and more similar to January instead of June. I believed them, but it was Paris where weather is secondary. There is always beauty and romance and being inside Notre Dame where the choir echoed from the ancient stone walls was inspiring. The cathedral was packed.
Outside the light rain didn't seem to alter too many plans.

Then it was dinner time and we walked toward Ile St. Louis.
The colors of the flowers along the street seemed even more brilliant in the mist and added life to the streets with the outdoor cafes.
I love the way my umbrella reflected in the window display.
The further we walked away from Notre Dame, the less activity there was. The café chairs leaned against the tables patiently awaiting the sun.
We looked inside restaurants to see what others were eating and at posted menus, trying to decide on a place to rest our soles.
We finally decided on a restaurant I'd been to before, Auberge de la Reine Blanche.
The prices are very reasonable at 19.50 euro for 2 courses of traditional French comfort food. They luckily had a table for 2 and shortly after started turning away people at the door. The tables were very close to each other as we were lead to a small table against the wall. Elbow to elbow we sat down to study the menu.
As cozy as it was, we didn't really feel cramped.  We both started with a warm goat cheese salad.
It is one of my favorites and I usually can't resist. Bettyann ordered the Bouef Bourguignon, which wasn't prepared in the traditional way. It arrived in a steaming pot and was rich and tasty.
Something about the Poulet a la Grand Mere avec Sauce Champignons sounded like a rainy day dish. And it was.
There was plenty of crusty bread to soak up the sauce. We finished our meal happy and satisfied with absolutely no room for dessert. I think the portions in Paris have gotten larger over the years. I never had a problem with 3-4 course meals, but lately am left too full for one of my favorite courses, dessert. We paid our bill and left, finding the rain had subsided outside and the clouds were clearing. Walking by a creperie we were tempted to stop, as we took a peek in, but didn't.
This time of the year the day is long as the summer solstice approaches. In the early darkness, the lights were just beginning to come on. 
We kept walking, while once again passing by the back of Notre Dame in the quietness of the night. It seemed somber in the approaching darkness. As we walked the evening clouds broke away to the last light of the evening.
Crossing the bridge, the Love Locks added to the vista. And looking back, Notre dame was left in all of it's glory. At the end of this enchanting day, I think that was dessert.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Roman Layered Caprese Salad

If there could be a simply perfect Caprese Salad, this would be it. Fresh and delicate mozzarella sits inside slices of red, ripe tomato that tastes as if kissed by the Tuscan sun. Basil leaves pinched from a garden plant tucked randomly between the layers help catch the drizzling olive oil. Finally, sea salt and freshly ground pepper are waiting to coat each bite. The only thing missing is a crusty piece of focaccia to soak up every last bit of this concerto. Make sure to have some on hand. Wabi-sabi, I can hear a friend of mine saying looking at the natural simplicity.

On my last trip to Rome, a version of this salad was brought to our restaurant table and I knew I needed to make it. I had already gotten the fresh mozzarella at the market in Rome, but regrettably those wonderful Italian tomatoes would be snatched when I returned home by US Agriculture as soon as the beagle took one whiff. I found some tomatoes locally that had been vine ripened, and were actually on sale. My own basil plant supplied the leaves, and the assembly took only minutes. Use any size tomato you like for a serving, just adjust the cheese slices to fit. For the olive oil I used Basil Olive Oil, although unflavored extra virgin olive oil is fine. Finish with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and.....Buon appetito!

Layered Caprese Salad

3 medium tomatoes, nice and ripe
4 1/2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, packed in water
about 18 basil leaves
basil olive oil or extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices, keeping each sliced tomato together to reassemble. Do not use the rounded bottom slices. A flat bottom keeps it stable as you assemble the layers.

Slice the mozzarella into 1/4 inch slices to fit the size of the tomato.

Tuck the basil leaves randomly between the layers.

Place the layered tomatoes on a serving plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and serve. 

Makes 3 layered tomatoes.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rome and a Room with a View

My flight to Rome arrived late and I was tired. The ride to and from the hotel can be filled with one great view after another. Often, I nod off and wake to find another piece of history outside the van window. There are columns and ruins and statues, one right after another along the ride that can be an hour long.  

It was 1:30 in the afternoon by the time we arrived at our hotel in the center of the city.  I was already dreaming of the crisply made bed in my charming, but small room.

A delicate chandelier hung over the bed and the tall shuttered window was ajar. Checking the window, I heard voices singing and an organ playing from the courtyard below. This was Rome and it is not unusual to hear a choir practicing through open church doors, but I'd never heard it drifting into my hotel room. Opening the shutters I couldn't see anyone in this tiny enclosed area that could have been in any Italian city. No, it wasn't a view of the Vatican or one of the many ruins or statues. It was an enclosed respite from the crowded narrow city streets; a place where lives come together. 
The view was an unexpected and beautiful mosaic of colors, life and music...a magic place, to me, where real lives echoed in every crooked corner. I left my window open and sleep came easy as the singing lulled me on this early afternoon. After the short peaceful nap, the rest of the afternoon was filled wandering the busy cobblestone streets of Rome with friends from my crew.

Loved this mime...

Through all of the wandering there is always the required stop at the grocery store to take back a wedge of Parmesan cheese, fresh mozzarella, spicy peppers and other sweet and savory treasures.  The setting sun came too soon, but that meant it was time for dinner and that is a good thing! We decided to go to Ristorante La Tavernetta. I hadn't had much to eat since the flight over and was really looking forward to a big bowl of pasta. One of my favorites is spaghetti with mushrooms and clams, and that is what I got.

It was perfect with a side of sauteed chicory and garlic. I was eying the stacked Caprese Salad that 2 of my friends shared. It was stacked up straight and tall, unlike a well known Italian tower. The tomatoes were red and ripe and the mozzarella was fresh and delicate. Snipped basil was scattered on the plate amid a good splash of olive oil.  
I knew I had to make it once I got home and the good news was that I had just bought the mozzarella a few hours ago! We finished our meal and wandered back to our hotel, stopping along the way for the prerequisite gelato. I had my favorite.

Back at my room, I slept with the windows open once again. There was no choir to nudge me into sleep, but soon I was dreaming of that Caprese Salad, and knew I'd make it when I returned home.

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