Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Paris: Last Two Days - Part 3/3

Sunday was a very scenic day.
From Adeline's apartment, it was a quick run to the Jardin du Luxembourg, my favorite park in Paris.
A little nicer than my usual morning run, despite having to run with a map in my hand so I wouldn't get lost!

After Indiana's nap, Adeline did a walking tour of the historic Montmartre neighborhood.

Beautiful, historic...but full of steep, cobblestone streets. It was definitely a team effort getting a stroller through there.
My sweet cousin, Adeline and Indiana, the patient child, in a little overlook.
The only real vineyard inside Paris.
By lunchtime, Indiana was pretty worn out and fussy, but Adeline managed to make him laugh and shared her ice cream with him.
The beautiful basilica of the Sacre-Coeur. The banner says, "For over 125 years, here someone has been praying, night and day, to the Lord." Cool.
We were there! ;-)

 Another nice thing is that once you've trekked all they way up there, the view is fantastic. But we were pooped! I think Indiana went to straight to bed when we got home, bless him.

A simple but delicious dinner: a first course of ripe melon, then galettes (buckwheat crepes) with melted Gruyere, sliced chicken and a fried egg, with salad, then cheese and fruit for dessert. Very pleasant.

Last day in Paris! Monday was just Indiana and I, since Adeline had to go to work.

We started with some pastries, of course. (L to R) a butter croissant, apple turnover and and chocolate almond croissant. The apple turnover (chausson pommes - literally, an apple slipper) is my longtime favorite.

I had done pretty much everything I'd wanted to do, so Monday, I changed money near the train station, Gare de Lyon, and then walked by the Seine with Indiana.
Saw some beautiful things. But it was too crowded to go in unfortunately. Another time.
Not the best picture of a child in front of Notre Dame, but with the crowds and just me to take it, I figured something to show him later was better than nothing!
Snoozing on the plane, thank goodness! The second plane ride was much more relaxing than the first one. We were happy to get home, though, and Casey was there to give us a warm welcome home.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

French Food at Home

Saturday, Casey was going to play poker with the boys, so I invited the girls over for some French food. I was really itching to try out some new recipes and my friends were kind enough to taste-test.
Marci, LeeAnn and Robin
I often get questions about what French food is. So hard to give a succinct answer. To begin with, French people really care about the quality of their food. It's a national preoccupation. A constant topic of conversation. For example: "Is the Camembert any good?' 'I think it's too aged.' 'No, I prefer it this way.' 'It's not as good as the other one.' The bread, the cheese, the meat, etc. My grandmother won't buy pre-cut meat at the supermarket, but insisted that the butcher hand-cut the meat in front of her, as meat under plastic is too "insipid."

My delightful sister-in-law, Aubrey, must have been telling a good story.

Attention to quality of ingredients and preparation aside, the food eaten at the French table isn't radically different, but the order and rigor of the meal is very different. From childhood, the French are taught "how" to eat and they are very rigid about how and what to eat and when. My grandmother is still mystified about Casey wanting to eat cold leftover spaghetti for breakfast. And no coffee! Seriously, she was flabbergasted. But, it's for a reason. As my dad remarked, even the mediocre food there is good. 
For the first course, we had Roasted Camembert with Walnuts and Honey. Normally, cheese is served after the main course, but I found the recipe as a first course on a French website, so I felt like I wasn't being too ingenuous with it.
For the main course, I made two zucchini and feta tarts, served with a simple green salad. It's my cousin Nathalie's recipe, and it was very simple, but the cumin and herbs de provence really add a special something.

Provencal Zucchini  and Feta Tart

1 lb zucchini, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1½ tsp cumin
1 tsp herbs de Provence
1 cup cream
1 egg
1 pre-made pie crust
½ cup brine-packed feta cheese, drained and crumbled
½ cup grated swiss cheese

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-hot pan, sauté onion in olive oil until slightly softened. Add zucchini, cumin, herbs, salt and pepper and cook until softened. Set aside to cool slightly. Beat the egg into the cream. Fill tart pan with a removable bottom with pie crust. Top with onion-zucchini mixture and pour over cream mixture (add a little more cream if there is any gaps). Sprinkle with cheeses. Bake for 35 minutes or until filling is set and cheese slightly browned.  Serve with a simple green salad dressed with vinaigrette for full frenchiness.

To gild the lily, I made Mousse au Chocolat, from scratch of course, for dessert. 
I'd never made it before, but thankfully there's a youtube video for everything. :-) Chocolate mousse is classic, but also completely make-ahead, so I could be at the table and enjoying the company and not in the kitchen, flipping crepes.
 And enjoy the evening, we did. Can't wait to do it again. :-)
Thank you so much, Tiffany, for taking pictures! So fun to see you and your sweet sister, Britt!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Paris: Friday and Bastille Day - Part 2/3

On Friday, I went for a morning run along the Seine river. It was a grey, drizzly morning and fairly early for Paris (almost nothing is open before 9-10!) so it was perfect for running, but I had to stop a few times to take pictures. 
Notre-Dame de Paris, pretty in any weather.
Later that morning while Indy napped, I took a quick tour around the Marais, one of the oldest neighborhoods of Paris and when walking through the Place des Vosges, I discovered this beautiful "hotel particulier" or private mansion tucked away, out of sight. It's used as a government building now. Seriously, Parisians are spoiled for beautiful buildings.

Don't these "cookies" look dry and horrible? These people can make wonders out of puff-pastry but burn a cookie and have the nerve to charge $2.50 for it.
We braved the crowds near the Louvre to walk through the Jardin des Tuileries, had a ice cream, and continued on to L'Orangerie, a Monet museum I'd never visited before.
The French government designed this museum to display some specially commissioned large-scale paintings of water lilies. They were spectacular. Seriously, it was awe-inspiring. You just wanted to sit and be absorbed into the lush lighting and swirling color of Monet's genius. I must make a pilgrimage to Giverny, Monet's home, next time I'm in France.
We walked along the Seine after leaving the museum, inspecting a few of the "love locks" on the Pont des Arts. I've never done one myself, but the story is, a couple will write their names on a lock, attach it to a bridge and throw the key into the Seine to symbolize that their love is "locked" and forever. Good business for lock-makers too.

Indiana and Henri playing together Saturday morning. My sweet darling had just bonked little Henri with that foam sword. *Sigh*
As it was Bastille Day, Dad went to the military parade on the Champs Elysée, but it would be way too crowded for Indiana and I, so Adeline and I took it easy in the morning and they went shopping on a little Medieval pedestrian street nearby, Rue Mouffetard.

Indiana had his first crêpe as a snack, butter and sugar, which was still pretty messy, but I think he enjoyed it. *Nom nom nom*
We walked to the Pantheon, famous for being the burial place of great writers, etc.
They had different military vehicles and military men out on the plaza in front as part of Bastille Day celebration, so of course, Dad had to climb on top of one.
Even Indiana was getting into the military spirit with his sword and tri-color berets!
To be concluded, in one last thrilling installment, coming soon! ;-)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Paris: A Relaxed Visit - Part 1/3

The rest of the visit was in Paris. It was so fun. We stayed with my cousin Adeline and her husband Charles-Edouard at their apartment in the 5th arrondissment of Paris. Their girls were already on summer vacation at their grandparent's house, so I got my own room to share with Indiana in a totally baby-safe apartment full of toys and things for Indiana. It was wonderful. Being in the countryside was nice too, but it wasn't very toddler friendly...lots of "no-no don't touch that!" So, being at Adeline's was more fun for the both of us.
They live in a beautiful, classically Parisian neighborhood. Lots of shops and easy access to the metro but also fairly quiet and very safe as well.

We wasted no time getting right into the pastry. Indiana didn't mind.  

Dad's and I's favorite little cake, a religieuse. I think he had one for breakfast two days in a row. Not a typical Parisian breakfast, mind you. Bread, butter, jam and coffee is standard fair. But when there's a beautiful bakery on nearly every corner, temping you...thankfully, we walked about 18 miles every day (it felt like) so it balanced out!
Dad, looking stalwart.
After breakfast, we took the bus (which was a challenge in itself...bus stops can be hard to find!) and visited the Musée Marmottan and saw some truly beautiful impressionist paintings, like Monet's Impression: Sunrise. Then, we had lunch in a little café and later while Indiana napped, I went to the grocery store to find provisions to make pancakes since Charles-Edouard special-requested them and bought myself an Astérix comic book too. Very French and funny at the same time.

The next day, we got up early (correction: baby woke up early!) so Indiana and I went shopping in the "Grands Magasins," the famous department stores. On the way, we walked past the beautiful Opera Garnier. I love the architecture in Paris. There are so many beautiful churches and building that just riding the bus is a cultural experience.
I didn't actually go into this one, but it's competitor, Galerie Lafayette. Both of them take up two city blocks, so I opted for the Galerie Lafayette's separate housewares store across the street since I was on the hunt for some pretty mugs to help me remember my time in Paris.

That afternoon, we walked around the nearby Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden full of interesting plants and antique trees, and I took Indiana to the zoo there.
It was his first ever trip to the zoo, and despite an occasional drizzle of rain, it was neat. I think his favorites were the monkeys, flamingos...and the pigeons. :) I liked the peacock and the black swan.

I love the wistful expression on his face here. Too sweet.

To be continued...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

In the French Countryside: Time with Family

The last two weeks, I was in France, one week visiting with family in the countryside to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday and one week in Paris.  I'm going to break up the trip into several posts...since I took nearly 400 pictures in that time! There was a lot to see and lots of good memories made.

We were the first to arrive at Luxé, where my grandmother has a little country home, so we got to relax and settle in a little Wednesday and Thursday before everyone arrived for the weekend celebrations (lots and lots of eating!).
The weather was a little cooler there, so my aunt Babette thought Indiana should wear a sweater. It wasn't THAT cold...but he was so cute in it, it didn't matter. He loved playing with that train.
And it wasn't so cold that Indiana couldn't try out the baby pool on a sunny afternoon. He and my cousin's 22 month old, Henri, got to have their own private pool while the other kids played in the bigger pool.
Mom had a fun time relaxing and helping in the kitchen. 
My grandmother, Mamie Paulette, and my cousin Nathalie made three Norwegian strawberry and cream cakes.
This was just a family dinner, not the party itself...15 people sitting down to a casual dinner in the garden! I had to take a picture because among other things, we were eating chili that I had made since my aunt Babette suggested it. It was very exotic for them and generally enjoyed. But there was roasted pork tenderloin and ham and rice and melon and cheese and bread and dessert too!

This picture is my grandmother and all four children, Aunt Sylvie, Aunt Babette, Uncle Alain, and Mamie and Mom at the end. The whole family hasn't been together since 2003, so it was a real treat to see everyone. I've visited in 2008 and 2010, but still, it's a shame that we see this side of the family so rarely. They're all really fun, interesting and radically different in personality and interests and lifestyle. We've got the very posh upper-crust types and more bohemian, working-class types too. Makes dinner conversation interesting!
Indy and my grandmother's lab, Solo, all ready for the party! Through the course of the trip, Indiana crawled less and less. In French they describe crawling as "walking with four feet," and I thought that was really cute, especially juxtaposed next to a four-legged friend.

I brought toys and masks as gifts for the kids...but I think their parents, here my cousins Nathalie and Pascal, got more of a kick out of them.

My cousin Adeline, and her middle child, Blanche. I stayed with Adeline at her apartment in Paris. It was awesome, and it was really fun to get to spend time with her and her family more.
Even Antoine, the most typically French (as in stuffy!) of my cousins tried on a mask, much to the delight of his adorable daughter, Apolline. We were more than stuffed at that point. It was a feast!
I think we started with champagne and snacks around two, then slices of ripe melon with prosciutto, then the fish course which was stuffed salmon and creamed vegetables, then sliced beef tenderloin (very rare) with au gratin potatoes (pommes de terres dauphinois) with lots of cream, at least six different kinds of cheese, cake and cookies, with wine and more champagne with dessert! I think we were at the table for nearly four hours. I feel full just thinking about it.

The kids (L to R, Apolline, Eloi, Rudy, Blanche and Camille) had their own table and could eat and then play as they wanted.

But they came back for dessert! I made chocolate chip cookies, which were a giant hit, especially with the kids. I don't think they lasted more than 15 minutes at the table. So funny, that the French who are experts at amazing pastry don't really know how to make well things that we consider basic, like cookies, muffins and pancakes, but they're becoming more popular despite the fact that the French don't know how to make them. I saw pre-made pancakes (yuck!), Oreos and maple syrup in the grocery store for the first time. They even had Tex-Mex ingredients at the grocery store in the neighboring tiny town of Mansles. It was fun to get to cook and contribute at little American cuisine (as paradoxical as the French might think that is!) to the party. 
Indiana liked the cookies too. I think he got his hands on at least four, thanks to kind family members handing the baby cookies!

Rudy the oldest of the kiddos, my cousin's Nathalie's son, wearing the cap I brought him, and little Henri, Adeline's son, who is just 7 months older than Indiana. Henri and Indy got to play a lot more in Paris.
Indiana and the enormous bread! There was one loaf of bread left over on Monday for those that stayed to relax a little. Dad, Indiana, and I drove to Paris the next day, but it was good to have Monday to recover from all that feasting and fun.