Sunday, February 27, 2011

5 for 1 Deal at the One Euro Store

Hi All!
I say this all the time, but Paris is pretty cool. Not just for its historic architecture and established buildings and sites, it also has a really sweet business center called La Défense. It’s where all the huge skyscrapers are and the very famous Grande Arch de la Défense. You’ve probably seen it before, you just never knew the name. On Thursday a few friends and I took a little walk down in La Défense, which is on the edge of Paris. It was build away from the city so as to not destroy the Paris skyline, but also because Paris used to be a marsh. This is why there is a part of the city called the Marais (that’s the part of town where I go to school, it’s a pretty swanky side), which means ‘marsh’. So the ground in Paris really is not sound enough to build huge heavy buildings.
Modern art in La Defense

Me and the Grand Arch

Maddie and Allison enjoying the view

Some nice flowers to brighten up the blog

God bless modern art. It's so weird
 We just wondered among the buildings, saw some modern art and ended on the steps of the Grande Arch just looking at our beautiful Paris. It’s moments like these that you just have to stop and think, “Wow, I am in Paris, I mean really in Paris. I live here. It is my home.”

Did you know that Paris also has a county fair? Well it does, except it’s not called that. It’s called the Salon International de l’Agriculture. Basically it was a mash up of a county fair, home and garden show, food expo with a touch of CostCo. There were cows, sheep, pigs, goats, and all manner of farm animals and the products made from these delicious animals. I tasted so many different kinds of cheese I can’t even begin to count, yogurt like I’ve never had before, caramel, chocolate mousse. I even geeked out to my friend Allison about how a milking machine works, poor girl.

I'm really excited about these sheep

We saw chicks hatch out of their shells. Pretty cool

In case you were wondering, the methods for cow milking are international

Me with a bunch of veggies

I can't even begin to  tell you how many different kinds of cheese I tried that day
 Another part of the expo was for fruit and vegetables, another for all things equestrian, then a huge part devoted to all the regions of France. Good eat’n to say the least. The sights, the sounds, the smells, all good things, even the farm smells.

At the end of the day we found ourselves at the Eiffel Tower for sunset and then went in search of a Kebab. Paris is full of Kebabs stands. A kebab, not being the thing to make on your grill on a wooden skewer, is a spick of meat rotating around and around vertically being cooked to perfection by either a heat coil or flame. I am never disappointed when I get a kebab. It’s usually served in a soft bread bun with tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and a white sauce that is usually yogurt based. I usually ask for white and samurai sauce (which is spicy).

Now that is a proper kebab

Goodness, right there. Look at all that meat!
 One thing you must know about me is that I love Julia Child. She has been an inspiration to me for years. She is part of the reason I love to cook and watch cooking shows and why I have long harbored the desire to go to culinary school. So now that I am here in Paris I wanted to retrace her steps a little bit. So with a Saturday free and open for Madeline and I and Paris at our finger tips we went on a sojourn to find Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute. 

Along the way we stopped off at the metro stop Trocadéro. When we reached the outside and saw a near by cemetery, Cimetière de Passy, of course we decided to go wonder around. The cemetery was opened in the early 1800’s and contains an impressive number of family crypts/ prayer houses and tombs. It also plays eternal host to some very famous people. After much searching we found the tomb of Claude Debussy and on the other side of the cemetery we found Édouard Manet, who had a very classy bust of himself to immortalize his likeness.

Claude and me just chill'n

Another friend of mine: Manet

This is one of Manet's most famous paintings

Other graves

After walking the exact wrong way out of the Vaugirard metro stop we found our way to the Cordon Bleu. It was glorious. I couldn’t help but smile like a loon. We took a few pictures from the outside, and I thought that would be all, just a quick stop. Then Madeline, being fearless, suggested that we go inside. I, being the sceptic, was very hesitant. But hey, why not, it’s worked before (see blog post: the sighting of Kate Moss). So in we went. Although it was the end of the day for them and all the students had left, a very nice woman welcomed us in and then took us on a tour of the facility. We saw all of the demonstration rooms, class rooms and kitchens. The very same where Julia Child had learned to cook. I was happy to see that she is a very celebrated patron of the school and there are a couple places in the halls that pay tribute to her contribution to the school and to the culinary world.

Me and le Cordon Bleu

Oh Julia!

The kitchen named after the tall broad

In celebration of our day, Maddie and I decided to make ourselves a French meal. We settled on making a simple Tartiflette, a potato dish with crispy lardons (cubed bacon chunks), onion, and reblochon (a cheese similar to Camembert) all topped with a healthy dose of crème fraîche. It turned out ridiculously amazing and was just as good as I had hoped it would. Tartiflette is the equivalent of French comfort food. The flavor is familiar but complex enough to keep your taste buds wondering exactly what it is tasting. I will dream about this meal. That’s how good it was.

A delicious tartiflette
Every day I am realizing that reality is much more exciting than my imagination. I get way more than I am expecting. Every day is like a 5 for 1 deal at the neighborhood One Euro Store. Some days it’s nice to just start out with a vague plan and let chance guide the rest of your day. I never expect my days to be out of the ordinary, well as ordinary as a day can be in Paris, but they always turn out to be a little extraordinary.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

There's Gonna be Juice?!

I thought this deserved its own post. It’s not every day you come across something so perfect and hilarious all at the same time. It was so reminiscent of the Arrested Development episode “Spring Breakout” I literally laughed out loud in an embarrassing manner. May be you don’t remember the episode, but you will remember the scene that Ron Howard narrates: “Buster went to kitchen to find something to help him sleep when he came across Lucille’s emergency stash of box wine, which he mistook for a giant juice box. It was the first taste of alcohol Buster had since he was nursing.”
Buster and his giant juice box
 So when I opened my refrigerator the other day, what did I see sitting on the shelf? None other than juice boxes, but not just any juice boxes, these were filled with what I can only assume to be France’s best Blanc Sec  (that’s dry white wine for all you prohibitionists).
In all its glory: wine juice boxes, now in a three pack
As you can see, I'm really jazzed about this
Yes, that’s right. In France drinking alone is not only acceptable, it is encouraged. Hence the single servings of wine via juice box. Easy to open and enjoy in a glass or out of the box, now that’s what I call classy.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Breaking Gender and Social Norms with Purses and Scarves

Sitting in the metro is one of the best places to do some thinking. What might be seen as distracting hustle and bustle soon becomes a pleasant hum as you get lost in thought. The squeal of the breaks, the young black man playing a guitar, the drunken homeless all fade away as I contemplate my day, only tuning back in to observe a teenage boy with more volumosity in his hair than I can ever hope to achieve or to critique the shoe choice of the tired old woman.

Paris inspires deep thoughts. Some of which I would like to share with you…

First, scarves here have no gender. I have seen very masculine men wearing colorfully striped scarves and ones that boarder and cross the flamboyant. Some are even too much for me to wear, but if you got it flaunt it. On Monday I saw an 8 year old boy with a shimmery black and silver lace scarf. Seriously, the kid looked like he was going to grow up and become a Columbian Drug Lord and even he was wearing what I would formerly consider a girly scarf.

Pretty man, Pretty Scarf

Second, men can carry purses too. Some are just utilitarian leather messenger bags or even just your run of the mill brief case. But, I have seen some very pretty bags being carried by some very pretty men. Just yesterday I was admiring the subtle plaid patterned bag of a young urban professional on the Metro. But my favorite is when I see a gangsta youth with an all out purse. Like today, a hommie on the Metro was carrying a small white canvas purse with a red and white striped strap. He was standing just in front of another young black man with a more tasteful Nike brand ‘carry all’ while his friend was sporting a masculine rhinestone speckled beanie. Amen!

Man Purse
Classy Rhinestone Beanie

Paris has some D-word good Indian food on top of its already superb native cuisine. Monday was a celebration of many birthdays and so to commemorate these important event, some friends and I went to Little India and ate until we couldn’t breath. I’m pretty sure I have never left a restaurant with bigger food baby. I now know what it feels like to be pregnant and it kills. As the saying goes “Go big or go home or go home big.” And boy did we go home big! Let me just tell you what I ate and it was all delicious: a Mango Lassi (yogurt based beverage that is cool and refreshing), beignets filled with potato, egg plant, and onion, vegetable rice with 5 different sauces to mix in, and then since there were 5 of us, we all got a different dessert and shared (some were really good others just really interesting). 

Birthday Girls
Jamie and Maddie enjoying their mango lassis
Me and my Lassi
Beignet appetizer with three amazing sauces
Before: Main Course of Vegetable rice and mix-ins. Just like Cold Stone
After... So Good!
Desserts of India. Can't tell you the names, but all were worth trying

I just want to emphasis again, everything tastes better in Paris. For example, on Tuesday, I was over at a friend’s house for her birthday. Her host mom invited me and my roommate to stay for dinner to celebrate. So, what do they serve with the main course of steak? A large casserole filled with sweet potatoes (pomme de terre sucré), that’s what. I hate sweet potatoes. They are the thing I am always surprised to see at Thanksgiving because I fail to understand how anyone can like them. So here I am, I’m not about to offend this nice woman in any way for being so kind as to let us into her home and eat her food. So I take a little with the faith that it will not be too awful because I am in France and everything is just better here. I taste them. They are amazing. I take more. I eat way too much. I leave very happy and in desperate need of a metro nap.

What I thought would be my worst nightmare. Delicious and not so nutrition, you could totally taste the butter and all that amazing cheese!

Every day I learn something new about Paris and about life in general. It really is amazing.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

One Month Closer to Becoming French

Hi Framily! (that's friends and family put together)
I've been in Paris for a month!! I still love it :) The days have yet to become monotonous. I still get a thrill out of riding the metro and seeing the same accordion player 3 separate times in the same week.

So, what little adventures have I had? 

-I went to the Louvre twice this week- Once with my art history class and once on my own.
-Maddie and I made Valentines for everyone like we were back in elementary school
-I got to see Arthur, my foreign exchange student, who I hadn't seen in 4.5 years- See two posts ago for the heart warming story
-I ate some crazy wicked mustard

Cute little valentines! All included inspirational messages written on the back by me. And you know how I give good advice
I'm in front of the Pei entrance!!
The Louvre is huge. Imagine how big you think it is. Then multiply that by at least 2-3 times. It is ginormous and has way more 'stuff' in it that I ever imagined. It's a labyrinth of paintings and sculptures. So easy to get lost and turned around

Example of a confusing hall way in the Louvre
Yesterday, I went back to go look for a specific painting for the paper I needed to write for my art class. Good thing I went with a friend that actually speaks decent French. We had to ask two different employees where the painting was. See, the Louvre is broken up into floors, wings, and rooms. All pretty obvious divisions, right? Wrong. Turns out, in order to navigate the Louvre you need a compass. I have no idea which way north is! And the numbered rooms do not go in any kind of order. So, it took us a good 30mins to just find the painting.

On our way, we did happen upon a room the contains some very famous paintings, including Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People and Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa (a personal favorite of mine, it's a huge painting. It was at least 10x12 feet, not inches). I had a little bit of a 'wow' moment. I know everyone says it, but they really are so different in real life and it is extra cool to experience them in person. Pictures really cannot do them justice

Liberty Leading the People
The Raft of the Medusa
By the way, the Mona Lisa is really lame. The coolest painting in that room is on the opposite wall from it called The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese. It's the biggest painting I have ever seen in my life, impressive hardly covers it. The people in it are practically life size.

The Wedding at Cana
As a side note, French Dijon mustard is not what it is back in the States. It has a heavy helping of horseradish and if you are not careful will totally give you a major wasabi burn up in your sinuses. I only mention this because at dinner on Wednesday I was served pork tenderloin with baked endive and baby potatoes with this mustard as a condiment. I accidentally got a little heavy handed with the mustard on a particular bite and nearly started crying at dinner. It was pretty hilarious. Just watch out for that French mustard.

Lots of Love,

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Paris: City of Wonder

Four weeks down and what do I have to show for it?
Since being in Paris I have:

1. Heard only 1 person sneeze in public
2. Seen 3 people blow their nose- One was my professor, who is american, so I'm not sure the 3rd person counts
3. Heard 2 people cough in public
4. Seen 3 pregnant people- Do pregnant French women  not go outside? Also, is it racist to observe that they have all either been of Asian or Middle Eastern decent?
5. Not seen strangers talk on the metro- Talk about stranger danger

 6. Only felt awkward if I accidentilly make eye contact with anyone on the metro or in the street
7. Only had one bad experience being a non-French speaker- It was in a kebab place my first week. Other than that, everyone has been friendly and understanding. The French respect you for trying to learn their difficult language and love to help you out.
8. Realized that wearing jeans and a tee-shirt on the metro is considered under dressed
9. Learned that scarves= awesome and backpacks are totally out
10. Only heard one bad gypsy performer on the metro- Dad and daughter duet, not good at all. Most of the time I love a little serenade on my way to school, and accordions are always funny. Also, there was a lady singing opera at the Opera station. The irony was delectable.

And the sneeze and cough count continues...