Friday, April 8, 2011

What happened to March? and more My French Cooking!

A lot happened to and in March - but I couldn't edit photos fast enough to keep up with it!  Henceforth, I will not be backdating posts to coincide with when they happened - that was getting too crazy.  I'm just going to have to acknowledge that with all of my "free" time here, I still don't have enough time to be a pretend Parisian, take photos, edit photos and get blog posts done as the events happen.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I acquired a copy of around my french table by Dorie Greenspan.  Also, as I have mentioned before, I love this cookbook!  I have perused most of the recipes and want to try nearly all of them.

Why not all of them?

I'll probably go light on the fish and shellfish since Ron isn't a big fan of fish.  He'll eat it and he won't complain, but he'd rather have beef, pork or poultry or rabbit,  and I think  even cheval.  Since I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him, I think making his favorites is only fair.

Any recipe involving innards is a no-go.  I love that Dorie Greenspan has a whole page devoted to acquiring a taste for innards, and she says she can think of 4 ways to have acquired the taste:
  1. Mom served them to you when you were young
  2. you grew up on a farm
  3. one of the little body parts was slipped into a dish without your knowing it and - shazam! - you loved it
  4. you were born with the I-love-innards gene (in which case you're probably French) 
I did not grow up on a farm, so that's out.  I have experienced numbers 1 and 3 and have disliked the taste of innards every time.  Even now.  I absolutely, completely, utterly, wholly dislike innards.  I can honestly say that through the years, I have tried.  I have tried fabulous-looking liver pâtés - no go.  I have tried liver and onions - no go.  I have tried gizzards and gravy - no go.   Liverwurst sausage - definitely a no go. When innards have been in something and I was unaware  <shudder>, I knew instantly.  Always a no go.  Even just last night, Ron, in his best French, thought he was ordering agneau (lamb), but the server heard rognons (kidneys), and what he got was a small pot of kidney stew.  He ate it, bless his heart.  I stuck my fork in the gravy only, just to try it.  To see if perhaps my tastes have changed; to see if I could, in fact, eat kidney stew.  To see if perhaps that by living in Paris for a few short months, my taste buds had readjusted to local flavors.  The tiniest bit of gravy on my fork was an absolute and unequivocal no go.  So number 4 above doesn't apply to me either and my DNA has not mutated by being on French soil.  I haven't counted how many recipes out of the over 300 that excludes.  Je suis désolée, Mde. Greenspan, but innards recipes will NOT be featured.  

Cooking in my French kitchen is quite a bit different than cooking in my American kitchen.  And since I'm trying lots of new recipes, everything takes a little bit longer than if I were at home.   My recipes are in English, of course.  But my tools and my food are in French.  

A few nights ago, I made duck and potato gratin (in the hopes that I have  finally found the right recipe!) for dinner.  I found a duck recipe (twenty-minute honey glazed duck beasts) in around my french table that sounded delicious and relatively simple.  The recipe calls for about 2 pounds of duck breasts for 4 people.  We are 2 people and I need to buy in kilograms.  Okay, that one is pretty easy, but still, I have to think about it and do the conversion.  Then the rpotato gratin recipe calls for 1 3/4 cups heavy cream.  First I have to divide that in half, then convert to milliliters (or centiliters).  And I have to know the terms before I go shopping (google is my friend!).  And so on.  You can see that just figuring out the recipe isn't trivial.  It's not hard, but it takes more time than usual to figure out what I need, then go shop for it.  

It seems as though I have mentioned a lot of stuff before, but if you're just now reading, you won't know that I've mentioned before that my fully equipped kitchen is a little less than so.  So it bears repeating; my fully equipped kitchen is a little less than so.  So once I've figured out the recipe and shopped for the right ingredients, then I have some improvising to do in the kitchen.  Again, it's not hard, it is just time consuming.  At home I would just reach for the right tool, dish, pan, etc.  Here, I have to think about what is in the cabinets and drawers and then figure  out what  I can substitute or make work.   I think it also bears repeating that I'm not complaining.  It's the opposite, in fact, as I am often quite proud of myself for my innovations and unconventional uses of household items!

Okay, that's enough chatter.  What you really want to know and see is my duck and potatoes, yeah?

Ta da!  The duck:
It really was only 20 minutes and the honey-balsamic glaze was delicious!
Yay! The perfect Gratin Potatoes recipe - perfectly crisp on top, tender potatoes and creamy!
Of course, a salad accompanied the duck and potatoes
The finished creation!
I learned a few tricks making these two recipes; the pan of choice for cooking the duck breasts, how to slice the cooked duck, and letting things rest is a really good idea.

Je vous remercie, Mme Greenspan!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sunday Outing - Jardin de Tuileries and Musée du Louvre

The first Sunday of the month is Free day - a lot of museums and monuments have free admission, including the Louvre.  The Louvre is big, really really big and even though we've been there before too, we haven't seen everything we've wanted to see.  Taking advantage of Free Sunday seems like the perfect way to see the rest of it in nice, bite-size chunks.  

We took the metro to Place de la Concorde, so we had to walk the length of the Jardin de Tuileries to get to the Louvre.  Just like Saturday, it was cold and clear and the sun was bright. 

The pace is slower on Sundays and Parisians seem to spend the day relaxing, playing and enjoying the outdoors.  Flower shops are open on Sunday and they do a bustling business.  It is common to see people on the metro and trains with flowers.  I'm guessing they're off to visit family or friends and taking with them a small gift.  There were a lot of people in the park, enjoying the sunshine and a day off.

soaking up the rays

I really noticed the light.  It was hard to miss because it was so bright.  And even though it was early March and just a few short weeks from Spring, the light was definitely wintry.  It was hard and pale and thin.  It looked cold.

As we walked through the park, I was taken by how many people were there just to be there; to sit in the sunshine and chat.  There are several small cafes sprinkled about in the Tuileries and quite a few places with chairs or tables and chairs.  What a lovely place to go for a walk and stop and have a coffee!

Some people were engaged...

Others were not...

The boy scouts were having an outing:

The family that scoots together stays together
chasing after the ball
Got it!

Another sure sign that it isn't spring yet
We snuck into the Louvre through the underground back door - the one off Rue de Rivoli via the Carrousel du Louvre.  There's a shopping mall and food court there - which we intended on only taking a look at but ended up grabbing a snack before our tour of the Richelieu wing and the Near Eastern Antiquities displayed there.  By the time we actually entered the museum it was 4:00 pm, there were no lines and the crowds were manageable. 

We didn't enter via the pyramid but I couldn't resist standing under it anyway

Looking back at the main entrance below the pyramid
It's very difficult to photograph art works in a museum; partly because there are a lot of people looking at the same art so a photograph of a painting or sculpture with people in front of it really loses something in translation.  The second part is that while most museums allow cameras, they don't allow flash (even though I still see flashes popping right and left!).  There is a lot of natural light in the Louvre and there is added light which is fine for viewing art but not so great for photographing art.  The third part is that a lot of art is behind glass.  There are tricks to photographing through glass, and I know them, but the guy standing next to me flashing away in a museum that allows cameras but no flash doesn't know them.  Obviously.  So, my visit to the Louvre was mostly for admiring purposes and not photographic purposes.  Still, I got a few photos I liked so I'll share them.

First up is a stela with Hammurabi at the top with the god of justice and the sun, the rest of the stela is inscribed, in cuneiform, with the Code of Hammurabi which consists of 282 laws such as "an eye for an eye".

Law Codex of Hammurabi - c. 1760 B.C.
Close-up of the Cuneiform Laws

 We toured several rooms that featured relief panels and sculptures from the Palace of Sargon II:

Very large Winged Bulls carved from alabaster
These 30-ton bulls once guarded the entrance to the throne room of Sargon II.  They were guardian spirits warding off demons.

The Hero Overpowering a Lion

Frieze of Lion
We still had about 45 minutes before the Louvre closed, so we visited the nearby sculpture rooms with French, Italian and Northern sculptures from the 16th-19th centuries.

Looking through the atrium - I like the juxtaposition of old and new and all the shapes
It wobbles my mind that this flowing robe was carved from stone
detail of the robe
These small sculptures were near a window - I liked the light on them
I'm not sure what first caught my eye in this room full of sculptures, but I was not happy with me when I took so long to get my shot set up that by the time I clicked the shutter, some people had entered the room and my shot.  In retrospect, I really like it.  There is some kind of poetry in a photograph that freezes a moment in time of sculptures that are moments frozen in time.  I especially like that despite the implied motion of the people in the photograph, they too are frozen in time.  

freeze frame
 It was about this time that the loudspeakers announced that the museum was closing and we had to head to the nearest exit.  We made our way back through the crowds and decided to exit the way we entered, thinking the crowds would thin.


Exiting the Louvre via the Carrousel du Louvre - the Inverted Pyramid is in the back
We went back through the Tuileries to the Concorde Metro station and watched the sun set as we walked.

The Obelisk in Place de la Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe at Place Charles de Gaulle and through the Arc you can see part of La Grande Arche at La Défense
the chairs are empty now

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Saturday Walk - Saint Sulpice

Our weekends here are much like anyone else's weekends.  We have tasks and errands to do, and when we're done, we get to play.  Playing here usually involves going for a walk to the part of the city we haven't been, or to a part of the city we wanted to explore more.  And sometimes, like this weekend, we didn't have much of a plan.  So after doing a bunch of tasks at home (usually the dreaded expense report!) and our Saturday shopping (it's wise to shop on Saturday because except for the street market, the shops are closed on Sunday), we decided to go for a walk.  We had no particular destination in mind as we headed out the door, but I did notice Ron jammed some stuff in his pockets as we were leaving.

We walked up Rue de Vaugirard towards the center of Paris.  We figured we'd figure it out as we went.  Lots of things catch my eye as we're wandering, like how hard it is to park in Paris.  It never ceases to amaze me that somehow, someway, people manage to park their cars, bumper to bumper.  Big cars here are a rarity, and in fact, the occasional Range Rover or big sedan look oddly out of place and are exceptionally noticeable.  Smart cars like this one and other very small cars are the norm. 

Smart cars are also like fun house mirrors!  The sidewalk isn't nearly that wide nor are we that short!
I have also noticed that graffiti is an international language.  I've seen graffiti in every city I have traveled to, from Beijing to Budapest.  Even here in Paris, if you stand still too long, you might get tagged.

Poire!  (translates to pear - a name?  Slang for something?)
We walked past the police station:

Good to know where that is!

 Sometimes we see odd things:
To be fair, it was very cold that day. Very.  Like barely 40F with a windchill, very.

And a walk wouldn't be right without a flower shop or ten along the way:

How about some roses?  They are 1€ each, no matter how many you buy, unless you're buying red roses.
We were so busy talking while walking that we were suddenly at a crossroads:

The Montparnasse tower at Rue de Vaugirard and Boulevard du Montparnasse
Have I mentioned the Tour Montparnasse before?  I don't think so.  It is a landmark for sure, but not a pretty one.  It was built from 1969 -1972, and post-construction, the powers that be decided skyscrapers in Paris were out-of-place (read ugly), so skyscrapers within the city center were banned.  There is a kind of joke that the best views of Paris are from atop this tower because you can't see it from there.

We continued on Rue de Vaugirard, and when I turned back, there was another little slice of Americana.  It's funny because in some ways this scene reminds me of home and makes me just a tiny bit homesick and in other ways it reminds me of how small the world really is.

Headquartered in the U.S., but now an international corporation
We crossed to the other side of Rue de Vaugirard and had to choose:

We chose left
Rue de Vaugirard changes flavors along its length.  Near our apartment it is a bustling street lined with apartments (naturally!) shops and restaurants.  Between Volontaires and Montparnasse it is sort of a hospital section, and beyond Montparnasse and before Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the street narrows and is mostly apartments, schools and a few shops.  

Me again!  You can see the narrower Rue de Vaugirard, and the quintessential woman with baguette in the background!
We did pass by a small hotel with a Guimard-style awning:

Art Nouveau awning - love the iron and glass!
We had been out for about an hour, and when we reached the intersection of Rue de Vaugirard, Rue de Rennes and Boulevard Raspail, a whole new world opened up.  The streets were wider, there were a LOT more people and shops and restaurants and boulangeries with their enticing aromas:

I don't remember what these were; something Viennese and with Chocolat!
I wanted a photograph of my wonderful husband and the fabulous treats we were eating.  He wanted a photograph of the endless beautiful apartments that all look alike and yet do not look alike:

The many apartments along Rue de Rennes
As we noshed on our wonderfully warm and chocolatey Viennese treat, we decided to continue on Rue de Rennes as we knew it would lead us further into Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Down a side-street and in the distance we saw a big church and quickly changed directions to check it out.

Saint-Sulpice - ficitonally featured in The DaVinci Code
Ha!  It was Saint-Sulpice!  We had been here before, but it was nighttime, and we approached from the Seine and so didn't realize we were in the same neighborhood.  I did mention how cold it was right?  Taking photographs was getting increasingly difficult because even though my camera battery was fully charged, my camera didn't think that the very cold nickel-metal  hydride had any juice left in it.  I had to keep turning the camera off and keep it close to my body to warm it up enough to take a few photos before it started beeping at me again.  And, I wasn't keen on taking my gloves off for more than a few minutes as my fingers kept going numb!

The fountain - I love how the water flows in sheets and tears at the corners!
Fountain of Place Saint-Sulpice
We rested on the bench awhile, and snuggled to stay warm while we people watched.  We almost continued on, but at the last minute decided to go into the church.  It was at this point that I discovered what Ron had jammed into his pockets as we were leaving the apartment; portions of Rick Steves' book on Paris!  How convenient!  According to Rick Steves, we must go inside and see the wonderful Delacroix paintings inside the church.  Did I mention it was cold?  Delacroix or no, I was happy to go inside the church!

This is where I confess.  Not to a priest because I'm not even sure they were holding confessions while we were there.  No, I have to confess that once inside, I was awed by the beauty of the church and I completely forgot about Rick Steves and Delacroix and the short, guided tour.  Okay, okay.  I sort of forgot about Ron too, for a few minutes.  I was lost in my own little world of f/stops and ISOs and focal lengths and why-didn't-I-bring-that-lens and oh-my-look-over-here.  I reconnected with Ron after a few minutes; I found him in this lovely scene of dark church and late afternoon light streaming through a high window:

Ron reading Rick beneath a Delacroix
It was getting late and the sun was setting behind the buildings, light was in short supply inside the dark church (no flash either - not sure if it was allowed or not, but I wouldn't have used it inside a church or cathedral anyway).  I was limited to timed exposures when I could find a suitable makeshift tripod or where there was enough light.  Despite being awed by the church, I didn't get many photos. 

View from the nave

The altar
Detail of a chair - no pews, just rows and rows of chairs

Rows and rows of chairs
There are beautiful chandeliers throughout the church
In Catholic churches candles are placed near the side chapels and other locations.  Parishioners light them and say a prayer in memory of an ill or deceased loved one. The candles are almost always red and white, so I looked around for the symbolism.  White symbolizes eternal life, light and enlightenment.  Red symbolizes sacrifice, love and passion.

I am always drawn to the beauty of the candles

Often, I find that I want to return to a place to photograph it more, or better or in different light.  Saint-Sulpice is definitely one of those places.  It is the second largest church in Paris (Notre Dame is larger), and there are other beautiful aspects to this church that I couldn't capture in the waning evening light.  So, I must return on a day with more sunlight left in it.

We left Saint-Sulpice and continued towards the Seine. It didn't take long before my camera thought the battery was dead again and I was getting a touch of the brain freeze.  I saw Starbucks and wanted to get a coffee for while we walked.  It's not that I love their coffee, it 's that I love the warmth of a hot cup in my hands and warm fluid entering my body.  It sounded good!  I crossed the bus lane, snapped a photo of another slice of Americana:
Starbucks - one of the few places you can get a coffee to go!
 and then turned around and looked for Ron.  Huh.  He didn't follow me across the street.

This was a grab-the-moment photograph and I wasn't at all sure how it would turn out and I was again disappointed that my lens for the day didn't have enough reach.  I knew Ron would be small in the picture.  But after I saw it on the big screen, I think it instantly became one of my all-time favorites, despite or maybe because it breaks all the rules!  It's way too busy, there's no clear subject, except there is and he is perfectly in the center!  It's a little sloppy and not tack-sharp, you can see me in the reflection of the bus and there's a blurry someone entering the frame from the right.  What a mess!  But I love the cut-off ad on the bus and the bus number in the foreground, and the blurry someone entering the scene - maybe rushing to catch the bus?  I like the man on the bus, gazing out the window, and the color change of viewing the other side of the world through the tinted glass.  And on the other side of the world there's chaos - people on the street, some rushing, some not, and shops and cars and noise and advertisements coming at you from all directions.  Paris is on the other side of that bus.  And in the middle of it all is Ron, looking back and smiling at me.  I love it!

I can't decide if I love it more in color or black and white:

It's a lot quieter in black and white.  What do you think?

We continued on through Saint-Germain-des-Prés, with a camera that thought it had a dead battery.  Not that it mattered because I was so cold that I kept my gloved  hands in my pockets.  When we reached the Seine, I coaxed a few images of Notre Dame out of my camera:

Last light of the evening - Notre Dame and the Seine
I love the pink light at sunset!
We had been walking and sightseeing for 3 hours and we were getting hungry again and it was COLD!  After admiring Notre Dame Cathedral in the last light of day, we headed to the metro and went home.