Aiming (and failing) to Cook like a Chef

I am passionate about food and cooking. Cookbooks – I must have 100s.   I love trying new recipes, experimenting with exotic ingredients.  Over the years I have been to many a cooking course, often during travels to learn about ethnic cuisines.

We moved to southern France several years ago, yet I had never attended a cooking course in France.  Shame!  The mother of all cooking schools, Le Cordon Bleu, is French with headquarters in Paris.  It is legendary. My idol, Julia Child, got her start at Cordon Bleu Paris.

On a recent trip to Paris to see our American dentist, I set a day aside for Cordon Bleu.  I was overwhelmed.   This is indeed the Harvard of cooking schools, like no other.


This article, a post for my foodie fans, appeared on the web site: travelsquire.com


“The Art of Cooking like a Chef,” was the title of my all-day course, three hours of demonstration in the morning, followed by an afternoon cooking workshop.cb.3

Twenty-five of us from 11 different countries watched and listened as our teacher, Chef Guillaume Siegler, prepared three different and demanding dishes in the professional kitchen classroom.  He spoke French, but a translator stood by to explain all in English.

First course:  Pineapple and green zebra tomatoes, creamy burrata, basil, olive oil, pomegranate red pesto.

First step:  Peel the tomatoes.  “The skin is disagreeable to the mouth,”  said Siegler. He is right, but at home I usually skip this step — never again if I want to cook like a chef.

The tangy red pesto was a mixture of raspberries, tomato pulp, pomegranate juice, olive oil, pomegranate molasses and green Tabasco, all mixed in a food processor.

chef.blogAs he moved from tomatoes to pomegranates, Siegler, who has worked in many famous Parisian restaurants as well as his own restaurant in Tokyo,  spewed out more words of culinary wisdom: “To cook well, you must think about what you are serving.”

“Respect all products and work only with excellent products.” He put this into practice when he was about to put the finishing touches on the tomato-pomegranate-burrata concoction.  He rejected the basil on hand —  too wilted. — and sent an assistant to the school roof garden to pluck some fresh basil.

The finished dish was food-photo perfect – almost too beautiful to eat.  It went into the frig and he moved on to the main course:  Roasted rack of lamb with parsley crust, pearled jus with rosemary, and summer vegetable tian.

Lamb is one of my favorites, and I have always been in awe of a rack of lamb with the bones parading perfectly to crown the roast.  Even though I adore cooking, this is not something I would ever attempt.

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As I observed, deboning that hunk of meat is no day at the beach.  With skill, precision and speed, he cut away, explaining the intricacies of the task.”Remove some of the skin, but not too much… Get rid of the nerve which is attached to the bone…. Make careful incisions to free the meat from the bones.”

The summer vegetable tian came next.  Rows of sliced vegetables (eggplants, tomato and zucchini) were attractively layered on top of a bed of sautéed onions. I have sautéed onions zillions of times, and have never given much thought to it.  That will change.  There is professional approach to even this simple task.

“Sweat the onions.  Add a bit of salt.  Don’t color them.  Mix vigorously.  Taste.  Salt and pepper.”

He used a mandolin to get perfect, even slices of the veggies.  He showed how to use this dangerous tool and save your fingers.  Start out holding the chunk of vegetable down with your knuckles, as it get smaller, switch to the palm of your hand.   Having recently sliced off about a ¼ of a finger tip as I tried to slice potatoes with a mandolin,  I will surely heed this.cb7

By now I was starving, and all those heavenly aromas had not helped.  Alas, we were all given small portions of his creations to sample.  “Where’s the wine?” someone asked.  No wine, but each dish was delectable.

The afternoon workshop was held in the state-of-the art, stainless-steel and white teaching kitchen where each student had his own work station. After we donned our Cordon Bleu aprons and chef’s hats, we were each presented with a lamb rib roast.

cb.2Oh No!  The GPS on my phone sent me in the wrong direction when leaving the metro.  I  missed the first 15 minutes of  the morning intro class.  I knew we would be cooking during the workshop, but had not realized we would each get our own chunk of lamb.  So, I had not paid that close attention to the somewhat complicated instructions.  Instead I focused on photography, figuring this was one part of Cooking Like a Chef I could skip.  If I wanted a rack of lamb, I would order the meat prepared from a butcher.

I felt dumb and humiliated, and sought assistance. Alisa, a bubbly young Russian woman whose work station was next to mine, guided me through the initial attack of the lamb.  She in turn sought help from a Russian doctor next to her.  They had met the day before at another Cordon Bleu course.  The doctor was exceptional, applying her knowledge of human anatomy to the lamb, making precise incisions.

I could not expect Alisa to do all my work, nor Chef Siegler who raced from work station to work station, guiding, critiquing, encouraging.  I was too embarrassed to reveal my total ignorance of his instructions.

“Five more minutes to finish the lamb,” he announced.  We had to move on to the jus, crust and veggies. Tension was mounting.cb.4

“I love to cook.  I love to share, with customers and students.  But I prefer students,” Siegler  told me.  “I need to have my eyes on everything here.  Some people have never held a knife.”

My classmates, however,  appeared to have advanced far beyond wielding a knife. The dedicated chef  came around to inspect each student’s lamb.  Star of the class, Anze from Slovenia, managed to perfectly duplicate Siegler’s demonstration lamb.   All were in awe, even Siegler.  The doctor’s efforts were also impressive.  Others, while perhaps less perfect, were acceptable.

Unfortunately not mine.  When he looked at my massacred meat, he pronounced: “You will have a filet instead of a rack of lamb,”   then proceeded with Formula I speed to show me how to remove the bones and fat from the lamb, leaving a filet.

At least I was not alone in failure. Lorraine from Shanghai also ended up with a filet. “We don’t cook like this in China,” she said.

Time was limited, so tasks were divided as we moved on. I opted for chopping and sautéing onions for the tian, figuring I could not screw this up.  And, I remembered his instructions.

We each were given an aluminum container to assemble our own tians with the onions and other veggies which we had sliced. These, and the racks of lamb (and filets) went into the ovens.  The reward:  We each had a tian and our lamb to take home.  My husband and I had rented an airbnb apartment.  I called ahead.  “Get a bottle of good red wine. I am  bringing dinner.”cb.1

I may not have had the perfect rack of lamb, but the filet was superb.  The tian: delicious. Definitely a three-star dinner.  The day had been fun, enjoyable, and educational. I picked up many chef techniques which I have been putting into practice.   Next visit to Paris, I will definitely schedule another Cordon Bleu course… along with our visit to the dentist. And, I will arrive on time and pay close attention to all.

Put on the apron and get out the rolling pin.  Time for Christmas cookies.  See Today’s Taste, above right, and my recipe for Greek Crescents,  a winner of a cookie.

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2017: The long hot summer

Too long. Too hot. It’s almost September (28 August), but the temperature on our balcony in the shade is 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees F). There have been far too many days with this sweltering heat, even reaching 38/100 a few times. We have learned to live like the locals, shutting all windows and shutters early in the morning. It is like living in a cave, but it does keep things a bit cooler.

I long for the coolness of the mountains…. Soon we will be off, not to the mountains, but north to Germany where far more pleasant temperatures await, alas some rain too. That’s Germany! We need that rain in Provence. No precipitation for weeks. The garden plants are sad, drooping, very thirsty. I am so sick of watering, but I must prevent my precious roses from perishing. My geraniums and petunias have given up – no more blossoms.  Grass — what grass? Nothing but a rock hard brown surface covered with the parched remains of what long ago was lush and green.  It’s strange. We are suffering from excessive heat and drought in Provence.  In  Houston they have Harvey and devastating floods.  Climate change is real.

Following are some photos of summer chez nous. We kept cool, sort of, at a mechoui (lamb roasted on a spit) picnic in nearby Cereste. That lamb was tasty. We had visitors, friends Regis and Britta from Germany with their friends Tobie and Allan from Tucson.  Tobie scoured the antiques shops, finding many treasures which Allan had to squeeze into the rental car trunk.  We are not sure how all that loot made it back to Tucson.Our only trip of the summer was to Paris to see our fabulous American dentist, Dr. Jane. We made time for a visit to the Fondation Louis Vuitton, an architectural wonder.  

summer4We had a cute, tiny Airbnb apartment in the Marais which offered this view (below) from the mini balcony.  This time we did not get locked in (see previous post, “Prisoners in an Airbnb Apartment,” 2016/11/13)I took a cooking course, The Art of Cooking like Chef, at the renowned Cordon Bleu. I failed to master carre de l’agneau  and ended up massacring a beautiful hunk of meat.  More on this sorry tale to appear soon in an article on http://www.travelsquire.com

My rack of lamb looked nothing like this. I failed Cooking like a Chef, but I loved the course anyway.

We were happy to lighten our load at a flea market in Reillanne, our town. It is therapeutic, and we need to part with much more. 

Friends David and Mollie did very well, with many takers for their bargains.

More visitors, Tom and Lisa from our Stuttgart days came with daughter Remy who is named after that town in Provence.  They now live in Middleburg, Va.

More Paris.  Dinner with Leonard and Claudine at an Israeli restaurant where the Shakshuka is excellent (see Shakshuka recipe under Recipes, Meat and Mains, column at right).

Bob bids farewell to Paris, quenching his thirst with a beer at Le Train Bleu while we wait to board our TGV back to Provence.

We had a celebration a few days ago to mark the end of this scorcher of a summer, but no end in sight.  We had fun nonetheless, and delicious food thanks to chefs Victor and Ishmael.

Today’s Taste is a different and tangy take on summer squash and/or zucchini.  Click on squash photo , upper right, for recipe, and scroll down for more recipes.

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Prisoners in an Airbnb Apartment

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We were locked in. No way to get out. The stubborn lock would not budge. We were on floor 4 1/2 by US standards.   Jumping out of the window was out of the question. Scream for help – would anyone hear? Despite many phone calls and promises, no one came to our assistance.

One hour. Two hours. Three hours. Frustration turned to panic.  During our incarceration, Bob tried numerous times to unlock the door. He was angry. I was a nervous wreck…

I had booked an Airbnb apartment in Paris for two nights between our trips to the US and China.   On the Airbnb site this “lovely flat in the Marais” looked gorgeous: bright, roomy, gleaming. At 319 euro for two nights, it was more than we usually spend. But, we would be tired after the all-night flight from the US. We wanted to see more of the Marais. And, although this was a new listing with only two reviews, they were basically positive.

When Angela, our greeter, met us at the door to the building and led us up a narrow, shabby, dirty staircase, I was crestfallen. Could that beautiful apartment be in this rundown building?

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Section of wall in the “lovely flat”

There was no elevator. We were loaded down with clothing for five weeks and different climates. Bob made several trips up and down the 4 ½ flights, struggling to get the suitcases up the narrow passages while Angela struggled with the lock. Perhaps I have the wrong apartment; she lamented, and then went up and down to try other doors. No luck. She made several phone calls – I assume to an agent who managed the apartment. Owner Franck had told me he would not be in Paris when we arrived.

This must be it, she said at the first door she had tried, and asked Bob to try. He wiggled the key back and forth many times. He pushed and pulled, but the lock would not give. More phone calls. More tries.  Forty-five minutes had gone by, and we were still standing in this dismal hallway. We were exhausted and had longed to relax, take a short nap and then a fun walk. Bob tried the uncooperative lock one more time. Success. We were in.

Angela was elated.   We were not. We surveyed the surroundings.   Photoshop obviously works wonders. Instead of a bright and spacious apartment, the “lovely flat” was dark, crammed, depressing. The furniture was the same as in the photos, but not much else.

Before Angela left, Bob went outside to test the door. It opened. However, we insisted that someone, preferably a locksmith, come to verify that the lock was in working order. We needed to be sure that when we went out, we could get back in and not end up stranded on that dreadful staircase. She made a call and assured us that someone would show up in 20 minutes to check the lock.

We felt it best to wait before settling in and taking that nap. “We better make sure we can get out,” Bob announced at one point. OMG! Sacre Bleu! The door would not open. We were imprisoned. This can’t be true.  But, it was.  (Keep reading.  It gets worse before better.)thief-jail-illustration-theif-white-background-32201960

I called Airbnb. There were many options: press 1,.2, 3. I tried all, but  always got a recorded message and was put on hold. The relaxing Paris afternoon we had anticipated had become a frantic nightmare.

Since I had no luck with the regular channels, I tried the  English language assistance option.  Someone answered: A man in Ireland. Hope at last. I told the sorry story. He said he could help and asked various questions about our reservation: address, birth dates…and then the last four digits of the credit card used to make the booking. We have several credit cards. I gave him the numbers of the cards we had with us. No match. I must have used the French card to book. I explained that we did not have that card with us. He was adamant. Without those numbers, he could do nothing for us.

I was incredulous. This was too much. No more hope. Would we ever escape?  I blew up. I cried. I used nasty language. He hung up.

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These wires made me nervous. Fire hazard? We had no means of escape.

Now what? Call the police? The fire department? I went to the window, hoping to find a fire escape, although I doubt I would have had the skill to navigate it.  Nothing there.  So, back to the French Airbnb number and alas, after a wait, I reached Emeline, a real person who was sympathetic, patient, understanding. She said she would arrange for someone to help us get out, that we did not have to stay in the apartment, that she would email me listings of other Airbnb apartments that had availability, and that we would be reimbursed for the sum we had paid for the apartment, as well as the taxi fare to our new accommodation.

We were making progress. Surely someone would come to break the lock and rescue us soon. I was getting claustrophobic.  I needed to escape –soon.

While I looked over the listings, Bob continued trying to open the door. He is usually very patient (not like me), but he was losing it. He was infuriated. Our nerves were frazzled. I looked around, hoping to find a bottle of something potent and alcoholic  left behind by a previous guest.  We needed it desperately, but not even a tea bag to be found.

It was close to 5 p.m. We had arrived at the apartment at 1:15 pm, and we were still prisoners in this “lovely flat,” still waiting for a savior to come and free us.

Bob tried the door yet again. Eureka!  He had the magic touch.   It moved.  It opened.  We were free. We fled.

I had booked an apartment in Montmarte chez Sacha and Sydney which appeared beautiful, and cost just 233 euro for two nights, 86 euro less than Franck’s place. Although we had already given Airbnb 319 euro, we had to pay for the new booking. With too much luggage, we trekked to the corner café, got a taxi and set off to the new flat which was even better than the photos: huge, light, inviting. This time I had picked a winner.

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Chez Sacha and Sydney — truly “lovely.”

A few days later I checked our credit card details online. We had been given a refund of 3 euro. I was furious, but by this time we were in Hong Kong. I sent an email to Airbnb and learned that to obtain a refund, I needed to proceed with the resolution process and was entitled to a maximum of 275 euro, not the 319 we had paid.  Why the 3 euro?  A mini reward for all our suffering and a lost afternoon?  That remains a mystery

First step for a refund is to fill out an on-line form stating your grievance which is sent to the owner. I did, confident that he would surely grant the refund in these circumstances. Wrong. He refused.

’You insulted me and Angela instead of letting us one hour to manage this issue with the door – which is not a big issue…. It just happened to be a bit difficult to open and needed a bit of oil, nothing I could expect and nothing to be that aggressive… People are not your servants. A host is not your slave Leah, and I will refuse any refund as you were aggressive and made a scandal when there was no real reason to act as you did. You didn’t have to cancel this booking, especially not the way you did …”

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“Not a big issue” if the door won’t open???

One hour? We waited three hours. One should carry a can of oil if booking an Airbnb apartment? No real reason to be upset? It’s acceptable to be locked out — and then locked in– a rental  apartment? Cancel the booking? Emeline had done that for us.

I sent Airbnb a response, stating that I did not accept Frank’s decision and explained that I would follow up upon our return, asking them not to close the case.

After returning from China, I filled out yet another form requesting that Airbnb review both sides of the story and make the final decision. I kept receiving computer generated responses which indicated no one had ever read my response. I was getting more than fed up with Airbnb. Back to the phone. (I want a decent hourly wage for all the time I spent on hold listening to Airbnb background music.)

I was patient, and fortunately, eventually, I reached  Ellie, an Airbnb case manager. She was understanding, sympathetic – and did not demand the last four digits of the credit card. She checked into the case. Despite my instructions to wait for my rebuttal, Airbnb had closed the case.  I had to go back to square one and begin the lengthy process all over.

The entire story would not fit in the space allotted on the Airbnb online form.  Ellie said to send her an email with the details and she would forward it. But, it had to go back to Franck first. Again he refused and asked me to stop harassing him.  What planet was he on? Did he realize how much harassment his defective lock had caused us?

When you speak to an Airbnb rep/case manager, the person is not permitted to give his or her last name, nor a direct number to reach him/her, not even a personal email address. You have to reply to the general Airbnb email address. I did, but added: “Attention Ellie” to the subject line. My messages did reach her. She responded, but said she could offer no further help and sent our case on to someone else.

That someone was Danny in Dublin. Like Ellie and Emeline, a decent human who was understanding — and extremely apologetic.  He called our tragedy an episode of “miscommunication that had gotten out of hand.”  Is there such a thing as Irish understatement?   Whatever, he assured me that we would get a full refund, 319 euro, plus the taxi fare. Thank you, Danny. We did.

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Instead of an enjoyable afternoon ambling through the Marais, we were imprisoned in a non-too lovely apartment.

Meanwhile I had gone back to the Airbnb site and noted that the price for “the lovely flat in the Marais” had been slashed, from about 159 euro per night to 60 euro per night. I asked Danny about this. He explained that Airbnb does not inspect properties listed and hosts can set rental prices as they desire. Why did Franck drastically drop the price? Perhaps because he was not getting bookings, he surmised. Hmm..I suspect there is more to it.

Airbnb lesson learned: Be wary of booking a new listing. Look for listings with lots of positive reviews. Just in case, take a can of oil.

This was our second Airbnb experience. Two years ago we booked an apartment in Paris’ 16th district. It was exactly as described and ideal for us. Hostess Nathalie met us, greeted us, had a welcome gift for us, and provided all sorts of helpful information on the area – shops, restaurants, public transportation.

We expected much the same with the booking in the Marais. Franck, it appears, has more than one apartment listed with Airbnb.   The same with Sacha and Sydney, hosts at the second apartment whom we never met.

According to an article in The Guardian, the number of Airbnb hosts “has doubled in the last year with revenue up 60%.” Investors, perhaps like Franck and Sacha and Sydney, are buying up properties to rent through Airbnb. “ With that growth has come an ecosystem of support companies, typically property management firms that submit the advert for the property onto the website and then may manage guests arriving and leaving, dropping off and collecting keys, for example,” states the article.

So, don’t always expect personal contact with the owner which was originally one of the drawing cards of Airbnb.

We have not given up on Airbnb. I just booked an apartment in Ventimiglia, Italy, which has numerous glowing reviews, plus lots of kudos for the owners who are on the scene.  Nonetheless, Bob insists we not forget to take a can of oil.

Isolated oil can on white

China followed Paris, where, sadly more misadventure awaited.  Yet another crash, but far worse than the one in India I wrote about in a previous post,  “Adventure — and a CRASH –in Kashmir.”

Details on China in a coming post.  Don’t miss it. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared.

I am on the mend, but slightly handicapped (broken collar bone). No new recipes until I can get back in the kitchen and cook with two hands —soon I hope.

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Paris in December

Place des Vosges, Marais
Place des Vosges, Marais

We went to Paris to visit the dentist, but not just any dentist. An American dentist, fabulous Dr. Jane. Sure, there are plenty of dentists in Provence. But, the profession of dental hygienist does not exist in France.  Here cleaning is merely detartrage, scrapping the tartar off the teeth, a procedure carried out by the dentist which takes all of 10 minutes or less.paris.14b

Not good enough for Americans who have been brainwashed about the importance of a thorough cleaning by a hygienist every six months.  In Germany where we previously lived most dentists have hygienists. After moving here, we’d trek back to Germany once a year for a proper cleaning. (Since it was such a long journey, we made due with one cleaning per year.)  Fellow American and friend Lynne came to the rescue. She found Dr. Jane in Paris.  Our teeth have never been so clean.

Dr. Jane Matkoski, who hails from New York State, does high tech teeth cleaning, first with ultra sound followed by a special process called Air Flow.  She covers your eyes with a cloth, then puts goggles on top of the cloth and air polishes the teeth. “Today’s flavor is cassis,” she told me.  I like cassis, but this was salty and none too pleasant. BB likened the procedure to sand blasting.  Whatever, it does the job par excellence.

One fourth of Dr. Jane’s  patients are Americans.  She also has many international patients who are used to a real teeth cleaning.  “The French just don’t get it,” she said.

While teeth were the main reason for the trip, it was a good excuse to visit my favorite city. We had time to see friends, to visit Le Café des Chats, to tour the Marais district with a Paris Greeter, to apply for visas for our upcoming trip to Myanmar – and to check out the Christmas lights in the City of Light.Paris16b

On a previous trip to Paris in December, I found the holiday illumination on the Champs Elysees  spectacular.  This time I was underwhelmed.  Perhaps it’s a sign of age, but lots of colors and flashing lights are not my cup of tea. This year giant hula hoops that change from blue to red encircle the bare trees lining the legendary boulevard.  Tacky – in my opinion.paris.4

There’s nothing tacky, however, about the wondrous windows at Galeries Lafayette.  Amazing, moveable scenes, five from the tale Beauty and the Beast. Mesmerizing for both children and their parents.  The classy windows at Au Printemps, this year sponsored by Prada, are also dazzling.Paris.15b

Thanks to Satié, the cousin of my Japanese sister-in-law Yoshie, we did not miss these Parisian holiday highlights.  Satié lives in Paris. After dinner together, she suggested we stroll by the windows.

BB and Satie
BB and Satie

As a cat lover, I had to visit Le Café des Chats which opened in September, modeled after a cat café in Tokyo. Cats, 12 of them, all colors and sizes, lounging in windows, on chairs, benches, and in kitty beds.  Some are sociable, but many were soundly sleeping, the favorite pastime of felines.paris.2b

Upon entering rules are recited by the café host: Don’t feed the cats.  Don’t let the cats drink from your cup or glass.  Don’t disturb the cats if they are sleeping. Photos allowed, but no flash.  Before entering the rooms with the cats, you must disinfect your hands – a dispenser is on the counter.paris.1

The two-level cozy café in Paris’ third district was packed during our visit.  The café has generated a lot of publicity and is popular with locals as well as tourists. Reservations are a must.  Coffee, teas, wine, desserts, salads and tartes can be savored while watching cats. It was fun but frustrating. My pathetic photo skills required flash in the poor light. So, no super kitty pictures.  The food was good –a seafood salad for BB and a tarte with caramelized onions, blue cheese, cranberries and pecans for me.

A blog (http://aixcentric.wordpress.com)  led me to Paris Greeters, an organization of volunteers who give guided tours of their neighborhoods.  There is no charge but you are requested to give a donation. Sign up on line before visiting Paris, specifying your interests, and you are matched with a greeter.

Claudine in front of her favoirte tea shop, Mariage Freres, a must for tea aficionadas.
Claudine in front of her favoirte tea shop, Mariage Freres, a must for tea aficionadas.

Claudine Chevrel, who has lived in the Marais since 1972, led us through this beautiful district.  Historic buildings, her favorite shops, churches and monuments were on the tour.

Le Marais, literally “the swamp,” was mostly farmland in the Middle Ages, producing vegetables for the city on the Seine.  By the 16th century, the nobility and upper middle class bought up the land and built great estates. For the next  couple of centuries,  family palaces and grand buildings found their home in the Marais.paris.9b

The arrondissement (administrative district), which is now very expensive and chic, was not that way when she moved there many years ago, Claudine said.  “I prefer the Maris 10 years ago. It used to be a real neighborhood.”   There were lots of local shops and groceries, she explained.  Many have been replaced by expensive boutiques and art galleries.  “Everyone knew everyone.  Now lots of foreigners who don’t live here year round have bought apartments.”

Hotel de Sens, Marais
Hotel de Sens, Marais

The Marais has both a large  Jewish community and one of the largest Gay communities in Europe.  We especially liked the Jewish area. Numerous shops tout that they offer the “best falafel.”   Claudine says the best is at the restaurant Chez Marianne  which also has a bakery where BB bought a thick slice of nut strudel – they offer 12 different kinds for 3 euros per slice.

St. Gervais and famous elm tree
St. Gervais and famous elm tree

“I always meet interesting people who want to see Paris in a different way,” says Claudine.  “Americans prefer this type of tour. They like to meet Parisians.  They ask lots of questions, about everyday life, taxes, schools.”

After the two-hour plus tour we set off to find her favorite restaurant, Le Louis Philippe,  which we had passed during our walk.  En route we came across Caruso.  As we have a weakness for all things Italian and there are few Italian restaurants in Provence, it was our lunch stop.  Buonissimo! Exquisite pasta,  and BB’s dessert, Cassata Siciliana, was deliciously decadent, cake smothered in a mascarpone-cream-candided fruit-alcoholic combination.  I found several recipes on line and will try to duplicate it soon.

Leonard, Claudine et moi
Leonard, Claudine et moi

Before boarding the TGV for a fast train ride back to Provence, we met friendsLeonard and Claudine for lunch at L’Epigramme, a restaurant in the 6th district which is included in “Best Restaurants Paris.” I had a very juicy and tender piece of beef.  The others went for dorade, a popular fish in France.  All were happy.

Next visit to Dr. Jane, we’ll go back there, and to Caruso, and tour another neighborhood with a Paris Greeter.

Happy Holidays to all Tales and Travel readers!Paris16.b

Dr. Jane Matkoski,  12 rue Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (5ème), 01 46 34 56 44 drjane@orange.fr

Le Café des Chats, 16 rue Michel Le Comte (3ème).  Metro: Rambuteau or Arts et Metiers.  Make a reservation at reservation@lecafedeschats.fr

Paris Greeters, www.parisgreeters.fr

Caruso,  3 Rue de Turenne (4 ème). Metro : St. Paul, www.ristorantecaruso.fr

L’Epigramme, 9 rue de l’Eperon (6 ème).  Metro : Odeon,  01 44 41 00 09

Hotel de Ville
Hotel de Ville

I love to hear from readers.  Please post a comment. See “Leave a Reply” below under Comments. Subscribers also welcome.  Don’t miss future posts.  Click on Email Subscription at top right.

 If  you have suggestions for Paris restaurants, please pass them on.  I have not posted any recipes lately, but for your holiday cooking, check on Holiday Fruitcake and Holiday Pork Roast in the recipe column at right.

In love with Paris (with restaurant tips)

Gloomy gray clouds shrouded the March sun.  The waters of the Seine were dull and dismal. No flowers blooming in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

St.-Suplice -- near our Paris chanbre d'hote.
St.-Suplice — near our Paris chambre d’hote.

It was spring in Paris, the week before Easter. Hardy souls braved the chill and sat outdoors at sidewalk cafes, but bundled up in their winter wardrobes.

Like in much of Europe this year, winter in Paris was not about to make a timely exit. Never mind. For me, Paris is always fabulous.  Even without the warmth and sparkle of sunshine, husband Bob and I enjoyed good food, museum visits, fun shopping, and meeting friends during our recent stay in my favorite city.  And, we did have a few hours of glorious sun.

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe

The reason for this trip was a watch.  Not just any watch, but an antique enameled pocket watch my mother had given me years ago.  She said it was worth  ”thousands” and I should take it to a museum.  It has been buried in a drawer for years.  I decided I’d like to sell it and was advised to take it to a classy auction house in Paris.  My dear mother suffered from visions of grandeur.  Alas the precious watch was not even gold, and not of great worth – but that’s another saga, perhaps another blog.

Paris.4Watch aside, we kept busy in Paris. Chagall is the focus of a popular exhibit now in the city until July 21, 2013.  We set out to see “Chagall Between War and Peace” at the Musée du Luxembourg.  Merde — long lines to get in.  We are short on patience, but decided to wait it out.  The exhibit is extensive and impressive.  Unfortunately we found too many people crowded around the chef d’oeuvres.  Many stop to photograph the paintings with their cell phones. All a bit claustrophobic, and a pity.  I adore Chagall, but could not enjoy his masterpieces in that congested ambience.

The Musée d’Orsay is always a delight.  Here too there were long lines for admittance.  But, book tickets on line and you can waltz right by the crowds and in the door.  We wandered around the second floor admiring magnificent art and Art Nouveau furnishings.

Long lines at Musee d'Orsay.
Long lines at Musee d’Orsay.

All very pleasant.  Then up to the fifth floor to see the Impressionists.  A mad house. Groups of school children sitting on the floor around paintings as teachers lectured.  Hordes of on-lookers crowded around the famous works.  We gave up.

A tiny museum with no crowds recommended by a friend is the Musée Dapper with exhibits on African art.  We enjoyed an exhibit on African design – strange

Musee Dapper
Musee Dapper

chairs and weird wooden head rests which serve as pillows.  Interesting, but more so was the collection of large photographs of tribal kings and chiefs from all corners of Africa in all their colorful and amusing regalia.  We had the museum to ourselves, and I found an unusual and striking necklace from Senegal in the gift shop.

What every cook needs -- onion goggles.
What every cook needs — onion goggles.

The best trip souvenir, however, is the pair of Oniongoggles that Bob spotted in a kitchen shop.  Brilliant.  Chop away at onions and never shed a tear. I love them. Two musts for Paris shopping are La Grande Epicerie Paris, the

food hall next door to Le Bon Marché, and the basement of the BHV department store.   Food products from all over the world can be found at the former where we head straight  to the USA section.  We were overjoyed.  They stock canned pumpkin (two brands) as

American products at La Greande Epicerie Paris.
American products at La Grande Epicerie Paris.

well as whole cranberry sauce.  Bob goes for the cranberries.  I use the pumpkin in numerous recipes.  Of course, they stock other Ami favorites not available in French supermarkets.  Beware:  All cost far more than they would at Kroger’s.

The BHV basement is the mother of all hardware stores.  They even have a shoe repair section where you can have belts

Super signs at BHV.
Super signs at BHV.

made, as well as shoes repaired.  We like the large selection of off-the-wall signs.

Food is always at the top of our list.  As Paris is very expensive, I did extensive research before departure to zero in on good but affordable eateries.  Fancy Michelin starred restaurants are beyond our budget. There were winners and losers.

Our first meal this trip took us back to a favorite, Chez Fernand.  We split an entrée of ravioli de Royan, tiny raviolis in a tasty chive cream sauce, then each had fish – one cod and one sea bass.  Both prepared to perfection and served with spinach purée. A meal is not a meal without dessert for Bob.  He ordered crème brulée.  Tab with a half liter of wine: 80,50 euros. ($103)

The most amazing bargain was in the 13th arrondissement at Lao Lane Xang which specializes in Laotian, Vietnamese and Thai cuisines.  A luncheon special of four different dishes plus a glass of wine: 10,80 euros. ($13.80)  I chose Huong Paris.3Lan, a Vietnamese combo: Pâtés impériaux au poulet, salade de papaye vietnamienne au bœuf sèche, poulet au caramel and riz blanc parfumé.  Bob went for the Thai plateau with a main dish of poulet au lait de coco et curry rouge.  For dessert he tried  Mokeng coconut flan, a creamy green concoction that was excellent.

We love Italian food.  Unfortunately in the area of Provence where we live, except for pizzerias, Italian restaurants do not exist.  A Paris favorite in the 6th is Il Suppli,  a tiny, cozy romantic spot on two levels.  Here we split a mixed salad, then each had an excellent pasta creation.  Bob’s dessert, Tiramisu, was a disappointment.  But the wine, a bottle of Montepulciano, was good.  This, plus two coffees:  87  euros. ($111)

Another bargain lunch awaited at Au Rocher de Cancale, a place dating back

The place for huge salads.
The place for huge salads.

to the early 19th century that was mentioned in a New York Times article.  We dined upstairs surrounded mainly by young Parisians, all indulging in enormous salads.  The restaurant must have at least a dozen different salad combinations.  We split an Italian salad (14,50 euros) then each had one of the  specials of the day (14,60 euros each), cod with copious quantities of green beans and cauliflower purée. (We like fish). Here the dessert boy had to pass.  He was stuffed.  Total for above plus a half liter of wine and two coffees: 64,90 euros. ($83)

Paris.22Most fun meal: A la Biche au Bois which was also recommended in my reading, including kudos from Patricia Wells, former food editor of the International Herald Tribune and one of my food idols.  It is also close to the Gare de Lyon, so we could eat and then catch the train home.

The restaurant is a typical bustling Parisian bistro — crowded, noisy, with very good, basic bistro fare.  Our waiter, Bernard, was chatty and helpful.  He had lived in Canada and was happy to speak English. The price was right,  four

Bertrand knows his wine.
Bernard knows his wine.

courses:  entrée, main dish, cheese and dessert, 29.80 euro per person. The entrées were not that exciting – a poached egg creation for me and rillettes of salmon for Bob.  For the main course, I ordered the daily special, partridge, and Bob went for a restaurant specialty, Coq au  Vin. Both very good.   Bernard recommended a wonderful white wine, Menetou-Salon, Domaine Phillipe Gilbert (near Sancerre). And, he gave us each a shot of cognac for a “bon voyage.”    Two menus plus a bottle of wine:  84,10 euros. ($108)

Partridge- a delicious delicacy.
Partridge- a delicious delicacy.

In  our neighborhood, we tried two other restaurants, La Boussole and La Giara – neither worth a repeat.

We also had a very delicious (Osso Buco) and memorable meal chez friends Leonard and Claudine.  Leonard is a former colleague of mine from the military

Claudine and Leonard
Claudine and Leonard

newspaper Stars and Stripes in Germany.  He still lives in Darmstadt part time, and part time with Claudine in a lovely apartment on the 28th floor of a building in an area called Olympiades.  The huge apartment windows offer great views of the sprawling city with Sacre Coeur on a distant hilltop.

My Japanese sister-in-law who lives in Boulder has a cousin in Paris whom she has never met.  We met Sachie at a café and had a delightful chat.  We hope she will come to visit us in Provence – and that my sister-in-law Yoshie will get to meet her charming cousin one day.

Bob, me and Sachie
Bob, me and Sachie

Sun would have been welcome, but even without it, Paris was wonderful.  Of course, it would have been even better if I could have peddled the watch for “thousands.”

For friend Jane’s birthday, I made Rum Cake.  See recipe in Recipe column at right. Comments on blog post and recipes are welcome. See “Leave a Reply” below under Comments. Subscribers also welcome.  Don’t miss future posts.  Click on Email Subscription at top right.Paris.10

More Information:

Dapper Museum, 35 rue Paul Valéry,  Metro: Victor Hugo, www.dapper.com

Musée du Luxembourg,  19 rue de Vaugirard,  Metro : Luxembourg, www.museeduluxembourg.fr

Musée d’Orsay, 62 rue de Lille, Metro : Musée d’Orsay or Solferino, www.musee-orsay.fr

La Grande Epicerie Paris, the food hall next door to Le Bon Marché, 24 Rue de Sèvres, Metro: Sèvres-Babylone, www.bonmarche.frParis.9

BHV, 52-64 rue de Rivoli, Metro : Hôtel de Ville, www.bhv.fr

Chez Fernand, 13, rue Guisarde, Tel: 01 43 54 61 47, Metro: Mabillon (open 7 days a week)

Lao Lane Xang, 102 Ave. d’Ivry,  Tel. 01 58 89 00 00, Metro: Tolbiac

Il Suppli, 2, rue de condé, Tel. 01 40 46 99 74, Metro: Odéon

Au Rocher de Cancale, 78 rue Montorgueil, Tel. 01 42 33 50 29, Metro: Châtelet-Les Halles

A la Biche au Bois, 45 Ave. Ledru Rolllin, Tel. 01 43 43 34 38, Metro:  Gare de Lyon

 

More on Paris at www.parisinfo.comParis.18