The World Weeps

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Words fail to convey the horror and sadness.  Thinking of your recent trip to Paris, I wonder if you might have more photos to share.”

I received this email today from my friend Bev in Chicago. I had not planned on posting these photos. They are not great. But, they do convey a bit of the beauty, the grandeur and majesty of this gothic treasure. Like so many around the world, I watched in disbelief as this precious edifice was engulfed in flames. It was frightening to see how fast and furiously the fire wreaked destruction on Paris’ iconic monument.

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Bob and I were fortunate to visit Notre Dame just a few weeks ago. To me, Notre Dame is Paris: old, beautiful, elegant with a rich historic past. Way back to my student days in France and my first visit to Paris, it was this cathedral which mesmerized me. I was awestruck by the astonishing gothic architecture, the mystifying ambience inside the church.

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I have been to Paris many times over the years. I always make it a point to at least walk by and around Notre Dame. When lines are not too long, I go inside where I am always overwhelmed, inspired, soothed.

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A French TV commentator said, “Notre Dame will never be the same.” Perhaps not, but fortunately the structure has survived. It will be saved. French President Emmanuel Macron has promised that Notre Dame will be rebuilt. Millions in donations are pouring in for the costly restoration.

Vive la France. Vive Notre Dame

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Celebrate Easter and Notre Dame’s survival (a miracle so much survived)   with this delicious lamb recipe (above right).  Happy Easter.

Paris Visit: Random thoughts

 

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We visited my very favorite city last week. It was basically a business trip to see an American/French lawyer on wills – very important.

The trip got off to a rocky start. I lost my iPhone. I realized the loss while still in the airport, before boarding our RER train to Paris. Panic of course. On the train I had the bright idea to call the phone. I was shocked. Someone answered – lost and found at terminal 2D. They had my phone. It would have been too time consuming and complicated to reverse course and go back to the airport. I would have to wait to recover it two days later en route back home.

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Day 1: no sun

We would have to do Paris without an iPhone, without GPS, without the phone camera. But, at least the phone lived, and I had my Olympus.

From the airport, the RER took us directly to Châtelet, very near where I had booked an airbnb apartment. Châtelet is a major transportation hub in the city. For me, it’s the dreaded metro stop where you too often need to change lines and walk for kilometers underground. Since our visit was short, just 2 ½ days, I was determined not to spend half the time in those depressing underground passages: A Paris visit without the metro. I almost succeeded. We did take the metro once to see a movie, “The Green Book,” which we loved.

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Pompidou Center

We walked and walked, the very best way to experience Paris. The first day of our visit was gray and grim, but the sun came out on day 2. At popular attractions, such as Louvre and at the Pompidou Center, there were long lines. However, there were no lines at Notre Dame, which I had not entered in years, nor at La Chapelle. Notre Dame was dark and intriguing. I tired capturing the mystical ambience with the Olympus, but I fear my limited skills were not up to the task.

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Interior Notre Dame

On the short walk to our apartment, we passed a frequent shopping stop from bygone days: E. Dehillerin. In my younger days, inspired by Julia Child, I was heavy into gourmet cooking. Over the years I spent big bucks on shiny copper pots purchased there. They graced the kitchen walls in our house, but had to go when we moved. I was very pleased that their new owner, the professional chef who purchased our house, will put them to good use.

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Some folks go to Paris to buy chic clothes.  I spent my money here on pots and pans.

The old world interior of the 19thcentury store with wooden plank floors and tall, tall open shelves filled to the brim with all manner of kitchen paraphernalia is still the same. The neighborhood, which used to be on the rundown side, is now upmarket spiffy.

But, so is much of Paris – far different than the way I remember the city on my very first visit, long, long ago as a student. That’s another story…

A more recent change: E-scooters everywhere. There are rental depots throughout the city. We felt safer on foot.

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The phone…Fortunately we allowed extra time for the rescue task on the way home. There was no lost and found in terminal 2D. We were directed to Easy Jet customer service in terminal 2D – not easy to find. They had had the phone, but since it was not claimed within 24 hours it had been sent to terminal 2A. I think we walked more in Charles de Gaulle airport than all of Paris. Once we finally reached 2A, we had to find the right place. Another challenge. But, we conquered. The iPhone is home with me.

It is good to have, of course.  But, you can survive without the phone, without GPS. Remember maps?  I used mine in Paris.

Although I was not lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young woman, I did visit. It has stayed with me.  Yes, it is a “moveable feast.”

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Lunch in Paris with former Stars and Stripes colleague Leonard Hill, right, and Claudine (not in photo, sorry Claudine)is a Paris must and always fun.

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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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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.