Thursday, September 30, 2010

I wish I were as funny as Simon Doonan

I don’t know how or why this brilliant list became a footnote to another (brilliant) piece, but you’d think Monsieur Doonan was a bona fide Parisian with his astute observations.

French Ladies Don't Know Squat

• Frenchwomen are so fabulous that they can smoke loads of Gitanes without getting bad breath or brown teeth
• Frenchwomen can eat croissants without getting crumbs on their cashmere cardigan, or worrying about cholesterol, or becoming hideously obese
• Frenchwomen always take off one accessory before leaving the house
• Frenchwomen understand how to keep their men happy in special, secret Frenchy ways, which sometimes involve black lingerie
• Frenchwomen can tie an Hermès scarf on their heads and not end up looking Kurdish (not that there’s anything wrong with looking Kurdish)
• Frenchwomen put lavender in their panty drawers
• Frenchwomen are so bloody perfect and superior, it’s annoying
• Frenchwomen are full of chic!

How many times did he make you laugh?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday night culcha

I had never heard of the Salle Pleyel until Sion mentioned it yesterday. Out of curiosity, I popped over to their web site. I learned that it’s a modern auditorium that was once the most celebrated concert location in Paris. Stravinsky, Louis Armstrong and Jorge Bolet have all played there. I saw that the Paris Orchestra was performing tonight. I knew I’d be working nearby on the Champs-Élysées today. And that I could get a ticket for a measly 10 euro. With no plans on the agenda, I decided to add a little culcha to my Wednesday night.

I missed out on the 10 euro tickets, which ended up being a good thing. The next tier (22 euro) included seating behind the stage.

How often do you get to watch a conductor (Christoph von Dohnányi) at work, instead of just watching his backside shake?

They're watching you

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Velib power!

I really think I should get a commission from the city of Paris for all the people I introduce to the Velibs.

Sometimes you gotta start them young.

Have you noticed it's impossible not to smile on a Velib?

Biking in pairs under the Paris moon? Yes, please.

Now, don't you want to ride one??

French word of the day: recommencer

Def: to begin again

This morning I started French lessons again. Man, do I need them. It’s been five months since I’ve studied a lick of grammar or vocab (except the occasional word learned from Elle. Like “se pare”, which means to be decked out, which is actually a cool word to know).

I trip over my dinner orders. I stutter through introductions. I stumble when trying to communicate my most basic needs. And I dread when I have an evening of French conversation ahead of me.

This is not healthy behavior. It’s no way to live in a foreign country. And it sure isn’t conducive to party banter.

Donc, je recommence mes lecons et j’espere que j’apprends beaucoup et vite.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My Vegan Mondays

What to avoid according to Food Rules: food products with more than five ingredients (the higher the number, the more processed the food); foods advertised on TV (only big food manufactures can afford it); the middle aisles of your supermarket (where all the processed foods lurk); breakfast cereals that change the color of your milk (processed, processed); white bread (white flour isn’t much better than sugar as far as your body’s nutritional needs are concerned); large plates (you’ll fill ‘em up and eat more).

Nectarine (nearing the end of the season, I imagine)


Quinoa salad with walnuts, beets, zucchini and yellow pepper (stained bright pink by the beets, it was the prettiest salad you could ever imagine)
A couple handfuls of peanuts
Another banana (hungry, hungry today!)

Another rainbow-bright salad
Toasted Eric Kayser bread with pb&j

Have a good & healthy week, tout le monde!

French word of the day: râler

Def: To rant

I learned this gem from Sarah, who’s pretty good at ranting. But, as she pointed out, the masters are really the French.

Making macarons

I’ve had my fair share of macarons in Paris (47 in one day??). I hosted the macaron smackdown, trying to decide who made the very best in town. I figured it was time to learn how to make them. So I took La Cuisine Paris’ macaron class.

And I will never complain about paying two euros for a three-bite snack again.

I knew these little beauties were tricky business. But I didn’t realize all the little things that can go wrong. Everything from the sugar type to egg white measurement, to the oven’s accuracy to the weather can affect their outcome (“Humidity is the enemy of macarons,” Diane, our instructor told us—and it was rainy outside.). They’re finicky, requiring many individual steps, a good deal of baking experience and experimentation, and a lot of time on your feet.

The ten of us in class took challenge seriously.

We measured the egg whites and butter and combined the cream and chocolate…

We followed instructions for the proper sifting, folding and whipping techniques…

We proceeded with the deliberate pastry piping execution to get the shiny, crackly cookie croute and proper foot (that little bumpy edge).

We filled half with dark chocolate and raspberry jam; the other half was white chocolate and raspberry. The cookies themselves, I learned aren’t flavored; it’s all in the filling.

They weren’t exactly the prettiest specimens. But, being as they were a Pierre Hermé recipe, they were pretty tasty.

And mine, gone in about two minutes.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Weather check: it's autumn!

I'm a summer girl. I never like the darker, colder days of autumn that inevitably bleed into winter. I always fight the change of seasons and pray for freak heat waves (like this past week's, merci my weather gods!).

But walking around the Marais today, I couldn't deny that it's officially fall. And I sort of liked it. It reminded me of being a college student in Boston: everyone was out strolling in their tweed blazers and Ray-Bans. Sitting at cafes with coffees and chocolats. Bundled up in chunky sweaters and swaddles in scarves. Or maybe I'm just sick of fighting things I can't control.

I saw, I pondered, I liked…okay

For some reason, I was really keen to see Eat, Pray, Love. Partly, it was the idea of tapping into my American cheesiness (Pasta! Romance! Julia Roberts!), and indulging my American habits (Sneaking snacks into the movie theater – yay! I never even go to the movies any more. I love going to the movies!).

Partly it was because I read the book early on and really loved it. Even though now that it’s been translated into a gazillion languages and Elizabeth Gilbert has become a hero to some and a villain to others, it’s sort of embarrassing to admit that I read this “spiritual” “chick-lit” book. But suck it, I did love it.

And partly it’s that I am playing the role of Liz Gilbert a little bit myself these days. I’m a single thirtysomething-year old woman experiencing life abroad. I find myself in dueling moments of immense joy and awe and deep self-pity and loneliness. One of my favorite things is eating. The other is traveling. I give thanks for my experiences, out loud and to my “gods”, and through it all, I am seeking meaning and love (and the best Italian joints in Paris).

So, oui, I was looking forward to the French release, and I was thrilled that Mel agreed to be my date. We snuck in beers and had Kleenex at the ready (cheesy Americans). The theater was, as expected, full, but it didn’t have the chittering excitement as when we went to see Sex and the City. And when we left??

Hmmm. Even less chittering. We weren’t really moved. There wasn’t a “feeling” in the air.

As expected, Eat Pray Love was created as a giant Hollywood blockbuster. We’re made to believe that fabulous homes and lifestyles are affordable. That women bond best in the fitting room, trying on jeans. That eyes do lock across crowded dancefloors, leading to trysts on the beach.

And of course that is what I wanted, to some extent. To be entertained and lost in someone else’s magical, anything-is-possible world. But more important, I wanted to believe. And that’s where the movie failed.

The book is laden with universal truths, which is why it was such a phenomenal best-seller. Self-discovery is a wonderful journey, even if it’s in your own backyard, and not the far-flung beautiful beaches of Bali. But the movie focused on these backdrops—and the Julia Roberts close-ups, and the men—more than the internal epiphanies.

Liz Gilbert went through some pretty dark moments and many beautiful experiences. She struggled and reflected and came out a stronger person, more true to her real self than when she was in an unfulfilling marriage. But Julia Roberts’s quivering lips and crocodile tears, and the panoramic shots of Roman ruins and Balinese rice fields, seemed to sell the feeling and meaning of these moments short.

In the end, it was pretty much what I was expecting. There were many annoying glossy Hollywood scenes, constructed to make us drool and sigh (but which just made me roll my eyes). But it also had a few truly beautiful moments, where it's possible to recognize our own feelings of alienation and inadequacy, our own hopes and quest for a more meaningful life, and our own glee when a plate of pasta is placed in front of us.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bright and beautiful moments

While roses at the Palais Royal wait until winter to bloom, the gardens now, at the start of fall, are alight with spring colors.

This is not such a bad place to escape to for lunch.

How I love dahlias. How I love this color.

The Palais Royal could very well be one of my favorite places on earth.

Sunset in Paris

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

French word of the day: soutien

Def: support

Of course we all know the word for “bra” in French is “soutien-gorge”. How did the French, lover of linguistics, and especially the sound of its own tongue, come up with such an ugly name for something so lovely and evocative?

But anyway, I digress. This is a lovely little word because there’s more in life than breasts that need support.

There is emotional support and financial support. Wood beams and steel offer a lot of support, and let’s not forget flying buttresses.

There are supporting roles and supporting characters, in real life and in fiction.

Sometimes we need support for the arches of our feet or our wrists, thanks to carpel tunnel syndrome.

It’s important to support those who are less fortunate than us; support for the arts is a good thing, too.

It’s nice to have support at work—from both your boss and underlings (if you’re so lucky to have them).

Sometimes you have dependents whom you have to support. My mom and dad gave me tons of support. They still do (Thank you! I love you!).

There is supporting friends—and even total strangers—through crises, and supporting friends through difficult choices.

Where in the world would we be without soutien??

Weather check: more than I could ever ask for

And how often have you heard me say that in the past year? But this week is a lovely little gift. Sunny and in the 70s. Daylight still lingering until nearly 8 o’clock. It’s enough to make me want to eat apples and nap by the Seine. I don’t know why, but that’s what I want to do.

Monday, September 20, 2010

My Vegan Mondays

“Eating what stands on one leg [mushrooms and plant foods] is better than eating what stands on two legs [fowl], which is better than eating what stands on four legs [cows, pigs and other mammals].”
A Chinese proverb, shared as Rule 24 in Food Rules.

Coffee and soy milk
Two bananas and a delicious nectrarine

Quinoa salad with tomatoes, cukes and corn
Couple pieces of bread (post-Italy, I am trying to lay off the carbs, but this was the irresistible crunchy-doughy French baguette variety—miam)
White nectarine

Soba noodles with edamame and sesame seeds
Wheat toast with raspberry jam

How to be a better French foodie?

Visit La Cocette. Take a cooking class. And let Rachel Khoo show you a thing or two—like how to successfully make delicious French spreads for your next soirée chez-toi.

Saturday night was the launch party for Rachel’s second book. (Her first offers everything you need to make museli and granola at home. Delicious stuff, I tell you.)

While Rachel played hostess...

...I nibbled the goods (accompanied by spreads, bien sur!)…

… scoped the crowd…

… and mentally built my own French foodie bookshelf.

To round out my I Know How to Cook cookbook and Flavor Thesaurus, I think I next need to add Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table.

Though first, I'll have to master Rachel's crunchy chocolate, salty caramel and peanut butter recipes.

Congratulations, Rach!

Good question

From Julie Mautner’s blog: "If I had no obligations and a private jet suddenly appeared at my front door...where would I go today?”


Sunday, September 19, 2010

And then there was Capri

After all the sun, booze, pizza, booze, pasta, booze and silliness in Positano, Capri took a healthier turn.

I was there for three nights and, while I was bummed not to be living it up at the Caesar Augustus or J.K. Place, or brushing elbows with Jay-Z or George Clooney (ah, Clooney), I found another thing I was looking for: nature. In fact, I discovered three amazing hikes: one for each day.

On the first day, I just sort of happened upon a trail that took me out to the Arco Natural reserve on the beautifully sculpted eastern coast. To die.

It went down, down, down and then curved around...

... past the famous Faraglioni rocks...

...and back into town.

(Where I had a gelato, of course. Just a wee cono piccolo, which, yes, was as delicious as it looks.)

The second day’s Sentiero dei Fortini hike was utterly amazing. It was the longest of the lot, stretching from the northwest corner down to the southwest, hugging the shoreline and alternately cutting into piney patches of woods and out into arid swaths of land.

Along the way, these lovely ceramic tiles, designed by Sergio Rubino, described the local birds, insects, trees, herbs and flowers.

And I nary saw a soul.

I traipsed across these lunar rocks.

Up stairs. Down stairs. And across bridges.

With only the sound of motorboats in the sea and geckos in the brush to accompany me.

And finally! I saw the lighthouse in the distance, signaling the end of the hike was near.

When it was, I was rewarded with a day of lounging at Punta Carena.

Poolside service, dips in the Mediterranean, Bret Easton Ellis smut, and dozing in the sun. My little slice of heaven.

(And hey kids! No reason to feel sad about dining alone!)

The third day took me up Monte Solaro, the highest point of the island.

The trail itself was less beautiful, but a good, ass-kicking workout (to counter the two homemade chocolate-filled croissants I had every morning at my hotel for breakfast).

I even beat these chumps, riding the chairlift to the top.

So while I didn’t hobnob with Euro jetsetters, or shop at Prada or Dolce & Gabanna, it couldn’t have been a better finish to my Italian getaway.