Thursday, April 29, 2010

Black and White

It was a day of contrasts. Black and white. My longtime friend, Jane was working a flight from Miami to Paris and we were meeting on our layover. I hadn't even left operations to get on the plane when my phone rang. It was Jane saying there were terrible storms in the southern Florida area and she was going to be late leaving Miami. We had planned on meeting the next day for a full afternoon and evening in Paris together. I didn't know just how late she'd be until we approached Paris and one of the pilots told me the Miami flight was 3 hours late :-(( Soooo, I was on my own for the afternoon. The temperature was that perfect balance of warmth without tipping to uncomfortable. The kind of warmth that brings gentle breezes into the evening, but still making a jacket unnecessary. I walked to Montparnasse and met my friend, Rick and we had fun catching up on the last few weeks as we watched the cafe's comings and goings. Before I knew it, it was time to head back to the hotel and meet up with Jane who was waiting in the hotel lobby. After big hugs and smiles we went out to catch the rest of the afternoon with a walk through Luxembourg Gardens. We were happy for this day.We weren't the only ones enjoying the park on this perfect, late spring afternoon.We meandered through the gardens, watching the children chase each other and sail their boats on the pond. Leaving the tranquility of the gardens, we walked and talked our way through streets and passages, and in and out of shops. The sun started to settle as the Latin Quarter lit up. The street candy vendors stay open late, but a chocolate shop locked it's doors with a firm bolt as we decided to go back in and spring for an 8 euro bag of cocoa. We wanted it even more then...and we're still talking about it and how we'd use it! Hmmm...dust truffles...mocha cocoa...chocolate cake???? Problems, Problems. Walking along, we had planned on having dinner at a bistro on a cobblestone street with a few restaurants on it. Checking out the prix fixte menus of several restaurants, we gave each other a big look of "yes!" by the Boeuf Bourguignon posted on one of menus. Without reservations, we felt we were lucky to get a table and were asked to wait a few minutes in a cozy waiting area of this 17th century building. The ambience was warm, but the greeting was as cold and fragmented as the ancient rooms. We eventually were led up stone steps to a small table for 2 by a winding stairway. The low beamed ceiling and glowing fireplace added a sense of conviviality that contrasted to the slow service that seemed more of a bother than a pleasure. The appetizers were interesting in concept but not followed through in flavor. We both had the Boeuf Bourguignon, and thought it was just mediocre with it's thick sauce. I did like the way it was served with gnocchi in the small iron pot, though. We chatted away during our ultimate girl's night out. We had 3 choices for dessert and our Île Flottante and Creme Brulee were delicious and a nice finish to this 4 hour dinner. As we were paying our long awaited check I was wondering if that was a new chef I saw scurrying from table to table. Yikes!! I don't think we'll be back.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Rescue Mission...

Being one of the first flights back into Paris after the halt of air travel from the volcano was like a rescue mission. Things were getting back to normal....we hoped. I still packed as if it may spew it's angry cloud again (bags packed, fingers crossed ;-) There were so many stories of the stranded people. Some good, some not so good. Most were happy to be on an airplane that was going where they wanted to go and had a look on their faces of having endured or enjoyed an adventure. One lady missed a much needed surgery and another man got "stuck" at his cousin's B&B chateau in the south of France (I got the card!) One business man said 100 Americans from his company were stranded in Paris and 100 French were stuck in the they came out even. At our hotel, some of the changing of the guard crews were met by flight attendants with "Je ♥ Paris" t-shirts and pilots who had their pilot hats on backwards, a la beret style.

After waking from my rest, my friend and I went out into the sunny blue skied day. No ash in sight. We walked along blvd. Raspail towards rue de Bac.
On rue du Cherche-Midi I can't pass by Mis en Demure without stopping in, so in we went. It is like walking into a well appointed French maison. From the salons to dining areas to the bed chambers, I heave a sigh of longing. The way the light rests upon the beds offers solace as the street bustles below. Ahhhhh......lock the door, I could just live in this store. OK, back to reality, sort of. We went into the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal for a brief but quietly powerful visit. It is right next to le Bon Marché, where we stopped in to see what the food halls were offering today. They are overpriced, but sometimes a treasure may be found. We walked by the sweet and savory. Different spices are sold by bulk in large jars, near delicacies to put with them. We had made plans to meet friends in another part of the city at 6:00 pm, and it was just about that time. We hopped on the metro to the lively rue Moufftard area and found our friends, who had already begun cocktail hour. We settled in as unspoken language chattered all around. Stomachs started to growl and the conversation turned to dinner. With so many choices nearby at such reasonable prices, we decided to dine locally. Just off rue Moufftard, and along the pedestrian rue du Pot de Fer, outdoor tables are lined up on both sides. Here you'll find a decent meal under 20 euro for 3 courses. We went into L'Atlantide which offers 3 courses for 14 euro. Fresh salads topped with a wedge of cheese, onion soup, and escargot are a few of the first course offerings. Two of us had a whole trout grilled with a garlic and coarse salt crust and a side of really good chunky satéed potatoes. The others had duck confit and grilled lamb chops. We were all satisfied with our choices except for the lamb. The food can be hit or miss, but in general is tasty along this casual dining street. The creme brulee wasn't on the menu, but they had 3 to offer us as well as an apple baked with spices and served on a caramel sauce. Our waiter, an engineering student, was delightful as were the other patrons we chatted with. Walking back to the hotel we passed a sign painted on a building for a bowling alley. I've seen this sign many times, but never went in until this night. Walking down the stairs to this den of fun, are murals on every wall. Air hockey and pool tables were full of players. An emcee dressed in cowboy attire chatted while retro western music played. There was a half an hour wait to bowl, so we decided to wait until next time since it was getting late. Back out on the street, bistros were closing up and the Vélib' were all parked for the night. And so we called it a night....a good night.

Mis En Demeure 27, rue du Cherche-Midi
Le Bon Marché 24 rue de Sèvres metro: Sèvres Babylone
L'Atlantide 4, rue du Pot de Fer

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Everything's Coming Up Roses...

Everything is coming up roses....well sort of. My Paris flight cancelled Friday due to the volcanic ash plume, which left me at home on a rainy weekend. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade right? So when life gives you volcanic ash and rain, you make roses! OK, that may be pushing it but it sure helped me forget about it all. Since seeing Valentiono's Rose Bags at the Paris Ritz last fall, I have been longing for one. Bonne chance....the price tag is about $1,500. I finally recycled the brochure from the Valentino shop last month after realizing my Fairy Godmother wasn't going to be paying me a visit anytime soon. But, reminiscent of the Fairy Godmother herself, I had some fabric remnants in my stash and dusted off the sewing machine and thimble.Like a mad tailor, I whipped up a rosy, rose bag with a spring green with pink polka dot silk lining. I made a rose for another bag I had made previously, as well. All the while, it is still raining and the European airspace is still closed. I needed more roses, and a little something sweet. Rose and pink and green polka dot cookies emerged from my oven. Rose therapy worked for a few days. (I never uncorked a bottle of Rosé, but thought about it!) The sun is out now, but my Paris flight just cancelled again today, and I'm hoping this dratted plume clears before I start pushing up daisies.During this standstill of air traffic, I'm wishing for people to have the care and support needed until the dust settles and things get back to normal. Can't wait to hear the stories either ;-)

Rose and Polka Dot Sugar Cookies

Basic dough:
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond extract

In large bowl or food processor, cream sugar and butter together until fluffy. Add egg, and almond extract until well blended. Add the flour and salt and mix until it begins to form a ball, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed. If the dough is too dry, add a few drops of water. Scrape dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press together to form a thick flat disc. Wrap well and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a baking sheet.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thick, or
desired thickness. The dough needs to be just the right temperature to roll and cut properly. If it is too cold, it is hard to roll, and if it is too soft it becomes difficult to cut and pick up. Roll any scraps back into a ball and chill again. Use as little flour as possible to roll out, so they don't get tough. After cutting, place on a baking sheet and bake for 8-12 minutes or until just lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack. I use an insulated baking sheet to prevent the edges from getting too brown.*

Makes 4 dozen, 3 inch (1/8 inch thick) cookies. (makes fewer Rose and Polka Dot cookies.)

*My tips: Keep dough chilled just enough so it is easy to roll and cut, but not so cold that it is hard and cracks. I like to roll between 2 layers of plastic wrap. This keeps the dough from sticking without extra flour that makes the dough tough. I even roll it to desired thickness, between 2 layers of plastic wrap before chilling. Then when it comes out of the refrigerator, you won't have to roll and you'll be ready to cut. If the dough warms up too much while working with it, you can slide the whole layer onto a cookie sheet and chill, without disturbing what you've already done. Also, bake sugar cookies in insulated pans for even browning.

For the Rose and Polka Dot Cookies, separate dough into desired proportions for the type of cookie you'll be making. Then add the desired color using a toothpick, a little at a time until you get the color you want. I used Wilton Pastel Food Coloring, Rose petal Pink and Willow Green. Blend the coloring thoroughly into the dough, wrap and chill for up to 2 hours.

For the Rose Cookies, roll chilled dough to 1/8 inch thick rectangle, 12 inches long. Cut in half horizontally, and then cut into 1 inch strips lengthwise. This will give you 6x1 inch strips to roll. Roll the strips into a rose shape. Experiment with the technique until you like the shape of the flower. Just as in nature, no two will be the same and it adds to the charm. Flatten the bottom slightly so they stand straight up and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with sugar if desired and chill for about 15-20 minutes before putting in a preheated 350 degree oven. Make sure they don't brown around the edges. The baking time will vary, but should be about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
For the Polka Dot Cookies, roll out the dough about 1/8-1/4 inch thick. Cut into 2 inch circles and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Make 5 indentations into the cookies using the flat end of a clean ball point pen or chopstick. Roll 1/8 inch balls of pink dough for the green cookies and roll green balls for the pink cookies. Place them into the indentations and chill for 15-20 minutes. Then put into a preheated 350 degree oven and bake about 15 minutes. Do not let them brown. Cool on a wire rack when done. Rose and Polka Dot Sugar Cookies recipe, click here

For the bags:

To make a simple rose, I took a 31"x3 3/4" strip of fabric. I then folded it in half lengthwise, make a running stitch, slightly gathered it, rolled it into a rose shape and tacked it down.

The pink rose was just tacked down free form as I worked. I want to experiment with a more free form rose, as well. It is more involved, but I really like the results.
I'd love to see what anyone else does or thinks about the style.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Volcanoes, Flea Markets and Spoons

I feel a little like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. All flights into and out of most of Europe have been canceled for the past few days due to a large volcano erupting in Iceland. The volcanic ash it has spewed into the jetstream is detrimental to airplane engines. Today I am supposed to be taking one of the first flights over the Atlantic to Paris since the initial cancellations. Keep your fingers (or spoons) crossed. It could always cancel at the last minute. Last Saturday my friends Nancy, Robert and I had plans to go to a local brocante or flea market that was just for the weekend. The sun was bright and the temperature was warm. Normally we'd sit at a cafe and soak it all in before starting our day, but bargains could be snapped up as we sipped our coffee. So we did the unthinkable...we had coffee emporter. It was my first time, honest. I'm not sure why (I don't think there was volcanic ash yet), but the photo of the coffee came out with a rosy glow which seems a little surreal looking. This boulangerie still makes their bread fresh every day, so to go with our coffee we also got a couple of ficelle au fromage for the walk through Parc Montsouris to the flea market. As we passed through the park, families enjoyed pony rides, carousels and just plain horsing around. I can verify that this man on the park bench was dressed, but at first glance it seemed otherwise. You can make up your own caption. We left the park, and back on the main street an indoor flea market, Emmaüs, drew us in. It's not large but has some treasures. I bought some spoons from a box of miscellaneous silver. I really wanted this fork and knife set, but airport security frowns on bringing knives through**sigh** A lady carried a bowl that she snapped up before me....see, there are valid reasons for coffee "to go." Minutes matter. A short walk brought us to Place Jacques Demy (named after the famous French filmaker), where a caliope playing music welcomed us. The dealers had their wares set up with a variety of goods. There were tapestries and puzzles, linens, containers, and pottery. We didn't buy anything, but were tempted by many. Maybe not by this candy, but I wondered what these rug dealers had brewing in their pot. It made us start to think about dinner after we had whiled away the day. We had plans to meet our friends Rick and Brenda for dinner, so we had a brisk walk back to the hotel. After dropping off treasures, we made it to our friend's apartment and had time for a few cocktails before going to Chez Gladines for dinner. It is known for huge salads, low prices and a large social scene outside while waiting for a table. We made it for the first seating, but soon it filled up elbow to elbow inside and cheek to jowl outside. While we dipped our bread into the garlicky oil from our escargot, a beagle at the next table had his eyes on everyone, or maybe just our plates. He settled down as the evening wore on. We finished our meal and were told not to linger...people were waiting outside. OK, OK...we paid the l'addtion and left. It was a beautiful night as we kissed Rick and Brenda good bye until next time.

Emmaüs 80 blvd. Jourdan in the 14th
metro: Porte d'Orleans

Place Jauques Demy in the 14th has a variety of markets depending on the day.
metro: Mouton Dervernet

Chez Gladines
30 rue des Cinq Diamants in the 13th. Arrive by 7:30pm or after 11:00pm for a table to avoid the large local crowds for this budget priced restaurant.
metro: Place d'Italie or Corvisart

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