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.
We 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
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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!
Dr. Jane Matkoski, 12 rue Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (5ème), 01 46 34 56 44 email@example.com
L’Epigramme, 9 rue de l’Eperon (6 ème). Metro : Odeon, 01 44 41 00 09
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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.
Gloomy gray clouds shrouded the March sun. The waters of the Seine were dull and dismal. No flowers blooming in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
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.
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.
Watch 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.
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
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.
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
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
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 Lan, 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
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)
Most 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
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.
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
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.
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.