Let there be wine!

I’m so excited because our wine for the holidays arrived last week! We will be having lots of guests in the next few months and so wine is imperative! Despite all of our recent buying trips, all of the wine in our cave is meant to sit for a few years at least. Hence, all the wine! We ordered two different wines from Cave Saint Brice, in Bordeaux – Medoc Grand Brice 2001 and Medoc La Colonne 2000. Both delicious, full reds and perfect for drinking now. Cave Saint Brice even threw in two magnums! What is not to love?

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Pumpkin pie smoothie

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Mmmm…..pumpkin. So since I had some pumpkin leftover from yesterday’s delicious pumpkin muffins, I decided this morning I was going to make a pumpkin latte so start Friday of right. Being as I had this idea as I sipped my nearly empty morning coffee, I decided perhaps the pumpkin latte would have to wait until tomorrow. A healthy pumpkin smoothie it would have to be instead.

I am a huge fan of breakfast smoothies, especially with oats as it makes them a bit more substantial and healthy too. This got me thinking – wouldn’t a pumpkin pie smoothie be a great breakfast for Thanksgiving? A fairly odd thought for me since my family never….never had breakfast on holidays. Ok, maybe as kids my mom gave us breakfast, but as adults, breakfast wasn’t done.  Now I’m sure you thinking that is odd. Well if you have ever spent a holiday with my family you would completely understand and possibly skip dinner the night before too. I have a wonderful, large, Italian family. Holidays are marathons, with more food than you can possibly imagine. I grew up thinking that was how everyone spent holidays. Around 30 people, several courses, including pasta (of course!) along with at least 10 different desserts (as everyone always decided to bring a dessert in addition to what they were already bringing). Holidays were heaven. Lots of family and lots of food. And on my father’s side, lots of homemade wine too. It wasn’t actually until my husband visited for New Years many years ago when we were at University that I realized our family was fairly unique. I remember that New Years Day vividly (New Years Day is like a repeat of Christmas Day in my family) – my mom had decided she would cut back on the food since there is always too much. We would stick to hors d’oeuvres, antipasti, and dessert. Yet there still was Nonna’s delicious lasagna. Joe was a bit overwhelmed. Aside from meeting my large Italian family all at once, after an eventful New Years Eve I might add, there was more food and eating than he had ever experienced on a holiday. So that was our ‘pared down’ holiday – what would a full blown one be like? Well, he has of course now experienced that, as have my in-laws, and needless to say, they now understand why we skip sitting down to breakfast. Besides, it is much more delicious in my mind to have a nibble of antipasti and other enticing things as we prepare them. Quality control, after all.

That being said, my father has always wanted a little something for breakfast. My mom and I have always tried to give him something light and healthy, since there is a day full of eating ahead. Here is where my pumpkin smoothie comes in. My parents are coming to Paris this year for Thanksgiving. And while our ‘spread’ won’t be nearly like a holiday with 30 people, there will still be a plethora of food. It is Thanksgiving, after all. What better way to start the day, then with a taste of Thanksgiving in a glass? I’m hoping he and Joe, breakfast traditionalists, will like it.  I may keep a batch of pumpkin muffins on hand anyway, just in case!

Pumpkin pie smoothie

(makes 1 smoothie)

  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 oats
  • 1/2 tsp pain d’épices mix (a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and a touch of a clove will do or whatever you like in your pumpkin pie)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 small coconut yogurt (I used Perle de lait, my favorite)
  • 1/8 – 3/4 cup semi-skimmed milk (to thin)

Pop it all in the blender. Add more milk as needed to desired thickness. Enjoy!

Autour de Midi…et minuit

On Saturday evening we decided to try out another jazz club. Its becoming a bit of a weekend ritual it seems – no complaints from me! There are certainly plenty of jazz clubs in Paris to try.  We headed over to Montmarte to Autour de Midi…et minuit to hear Stephane SEVA Quartet.

The venue was a cozy little cave. It was definitely an intimate little venue so pretty much everyone who found a seat had a good view. The band played a mixture of music – from Frank Sinatra to Ray Charles, along with Calude Nougaro and Fats Waller. The band definitely enjoyed themselves and even had a guest singer join them for a few songs in the second and third sets.

I’m not sure we’ve found our ‘place’ yet, but Autour de Midi is definitely worth a visit. With live music on Tuesdays through Saturday, I’m sure we’ll head back sometime.

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Unfriendly Parisians? Au contraire!

Many people think that the French, Parisians in particular, are unfriendly, or dare I say snobby. This was something I never particularly found to be the case, but after having lived in Paris for nearly a year now, I feel like this is something I can better comment on.

I don’t find Parisians unfriendly at all – in fact, I find that most people are friendly. Yes, there are customer service differences, but that is a more of a cultural difference than a personality issue. I first started to think about this when I noticed how overtly friendly people are when I’m walking Lily (our very popular puppy). And I’m not talking, smile and pass politely friendly. I’m talking start up a conversation, ooh and ahhh, and make all sort of noises that are only excusable when referencing two things – babies and puppies. And to a ridiculous extent. Walking has become quite difficult now with her as we can hardly make it 5 feet before being stopped. I have to say that walking an adorable puppy certainly has forced me to have more conversations with random people (aside from the boulanger, boucher, etc.). And people are genuinely nice. Not only do they try to spoil her with chicken, entire pieces of pork and fine French cheese, they stop, chat, say congratulations, wish me luck, a ‘bonne promenade’ and ‘bonne journée. Granted the later is can be a polite social convention, but still. People stop. They have hearts that melt when they see something cute. In addition, they have expanded my knowledge of french adjectives immensely. 

Much of the unfriendly stereotype comes from people visiting who don’t speak any French. I can empathize – my first few times in Paris I didn’t know any French. My French is still limited and I knew absolutely none upon moving here, but even in my trips to Paris before, made an effort to at least learn ‘Bonjour’ and ‘parlez-vous anglais?’, and ‘merci’. In fact, pretty much anywhere I travel, I make an effort to learn those three phrases. Picture this – you are in your home town and a stranger walks up to you and asks you a question in a foreign language. A typical person in the US or in the UK would be annoyed. I have heard many Americans say ‘this is America, speak English’ (despite the ever-changing demographics). And certainly an English grumble or two about speaking English, especially when it concerns Americans! I’m you’re saying, ‘No, never,’ but think about it. Of course we expect people to speak ‘our’ language. If not, then we certainly expect them to at least try, with a polite ‘excuse me..’. So I’m not in the least surprised that a French person seems a bit irritated or isn’t overtly friendly when you walk up to them and speak English. Even a simple Bonjour does wonders. I find that the more French I at least attempt, the more people seem genuinely helpful. This could bring me to a bit of a rant on tourists who expect the place their visiting to be like home, but I’ll save that for another time. After 7 years living in the UK, I actually think the French are friendlier than the English. Perhaps some of my English friends would object, but many other expats have expressed similar sentiments. 

My french is still a work in progress. I can sort of have a normal conversation, usually can understand the gist of what someone is saying, but my responses are still a bit limited, and I’m not yet confident enough in my grammar choices. Even so, people will try to talk to me. Many who also speak English are very willing to speak a mix of French and English with me, some even helping me.

This is not to say that I don’t feel slightly out of place in some shops – perhaps not as ‘put together’ as some Parisian women. But that is me. The same thing would happen if I walked into any higher end boutique in jeans and a t-shirt, I would probably immediately be passed off as not being a potential customer. I am not saying that it is right, but we make snap evaluations all the time – it is human nature. That being said, people in most shops here are friendly and very willing to help, but also aren’t pushy. Nothing makes me walk out of a store quicker than a pushy salesperson. And outside Paris, in the South and other areas we have traveled, people are even nicer.

So make an effort, say Bonjour. I’m willing to bet most people will be much happier to help you. I’m sure there are some who may disagree with me, but perhaps you aren’t making an effort, or you just encountered rude people – they exist everywhere!

Sometimes you just need pancakes

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After a much earlier than usual start this morning, I woke up and decided I would start the day with fresh banana bread. It was that sort of morning. Only to find that when I went into the kitchen this morning, I no longer had the very ripe bananas I had been saving for this purpose. Husband strikes again – every now and again he goes on a cleaning/reorganizing streak and potentially the kitchen is the victim. While this is lovely, I occasionally loose things or can no longer find things as a result. Such was the fate of my bananas. Luckily, we had gone to the market this weekend, and I had a bowl of apples begging to be used. Apple pancakes it was.

I haven’t actually made apple pancakes in years, but with Joe off to London early this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Some days you just need pancakes.

This was a fairly experimental recipe, and a divergence from the pancakes I usually make, but it was just the sort of mood I was in. And I’m pleased to say it turned out delightfully. I fit denser than my typical pancakes, but delicious and indulgent. Next time I might separate the egg and whip the white separately so it is light and fluffy.

Apple cinnamon pancakes

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 c greek yogurt
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 1 c. flour (I use Type 65)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp lavender honey
  • 2-3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla seeds (I used dried seeds, but you could use vanilla extract or open a vanilla pod, or omit entirely)
  • 1-2 tsps rum*
  • 1-2 drops lemon extract
  • 2 apples, grated

*A slightly unorthodox ingredient, but I had a few tablespoons of rum begging to be used after I made vanilla extract recently with a few of the vanilla pods we brought back from Bora Bora for the purpose). I’m looking forward to using it in my holiday baking.

Beat the egg with the yogurt, milk, honey. lemon and rum. Combine the dry ingredients and add to the egg mixture. The mixture will likely be fairly dense, but will loosen nicely once you add the grated apple. It doesn’t look so pretty, but it will be.

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Cook in a non-stick pan over medium heat, flipping when the edges start to firm up.

The only thing I missed with these was chunks of apples – next time I think I will go back to cutting the apple into chunks, or at least one of them because I like the texture. Grating them not only smells heavenly, but keeps them nice and moist.

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I enjoyed this with a hot cup of Mariage Frères Paris Breakfast tea. One of my favorites and a lovely way to start the day.

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A little Sunday indulgence and experimentation

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Baguettes in France are part of daily life – everyone stops on their way home for a fresh baguette. You will of course see many a person walking around with a fresh baguette with a bite missing from the top. Its a custom we grown to love. Nothing compares to a bite from a fresh baguette, hot out of the oven. I love taking visitors to our boulangerie and having them sample a hot, fresh, baguette. Steamy on soft on the inside with a light, crispy crust. Perfection. The look on their face and sounds of enjoyment say it all. “Wow. Its just so much better than at home” they all say. I didn’t have an obsession with bread until we moved here – in fact could hardly eat it. That has certainly changed.

My husband has been begging me to try to make baguette pretty much since we moved to Paris. I have argued that there is no need while we practically live above a wonderful boulangerie with delicious baguettes. However, as we get closer to having to leave this incredible city, a place we have called home for almost a year, his argument holds more weight. He is determined that we perfect the baguette before we go so it will be one less thing to miss – and while we still have the gold standard for comparison, of course.

So, I agreed. Especially as it was a Sunday and our boulangerie had been closed since Friday since it was a holiday here. Yes, there are other boulangeries in our quatier but we still prefer ours, and this seemed like as good of an opportunity as any. So we embarked on our first baguette make endeavor. Now, making a baguette isn’t particular difficult, but making a good baguette takes practice, and making a great one is an art. We searched for a few recipes and read suggestions from previous ‘best baguette’ in Paris winners. (Yes, there is a competition each year among with blind taste tests. This is serious stuff.) And came up with our recipe and method.

We decided to make an evening of it and had planned a meal around the eagerly anticipated baguette. Two of my favorite things are oysters and champagne – either together or separately is fine by me!). As it is the season for oysters now (months ending in ‘r,’ we are told) and the markets are abundant with them, we decided it was about time. Joe bravely shucked them (only sustaining a minor injury, I might add) and grabbed a bottle of champagne from the cave. Yet another benefit to living in France. Having a ‘cave’ (cellar) and being only an hour and a half drive to Champagne to stock up and fill said cave with exquisite and inexpensive Champagne. Who could complain?

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During our summer holiday in the South of France we had lunch at a wonderful little restaurant overlooking the water recommended by a friend (same lovely friend who brought a bottle of Hospices de Beaune Pommard). This little gem was Chez Hortense in Cap-Ferret . I still haven’t gotten around to writing about all of our adventures in the south, but will at some point, promise.

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The mussels at Chez Hortense are legendary and the secret recipe is protected. Seeing this as a challenge, as we enjoyed the lovely and very rich mussels, Joe and I kept track of what we tasted in order to attempt to recreate the pleasure at home. While we have our list, I decided to do a bit of a search, sure others had tried to recreate the recipe. Which they had, of course.  And what better to go with fresh baguette than some delicious moules?

For the moules, we started with a couple recipes that I found online, all very similar, and all of which we knew were definitely on the right track based on the ingredients. The ingredient list however, was much shorter than we thought, but I decided to start simple and we could later add ingredients in subsequent attempts. Chez Hortense blends everything together so no one element is particularly identifiable, and it gives the whole sauce a more homogenous texture and flavor. Our attempt was delicious, and while less rich than those at Chez Hortense, I preferred them. That being said, I’m sure I will make a few tweaks the next time.

  • 2 liters of mussels
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • 2 slices of jambon de Bayonne (like proscuitto), finely chopped
  • 1 tbs. butter (I used butter with sea-salt)
  • 2 tsp. bread crumbs
  • 1 glass dry white wine preferable Bordeaux blanc sec (for steaming the mussels)

After cleaning the mussels thoroughly and removing any potentially dead ones, set them aside. Sauté the jambon and crushed garlic (I used a garlic press) in the butter with the breadcrumbs (about 5 minutes). You can add the chopped parsley here or wait until later if you like it fresher. Set aside. Steam the mussels in the white wine in a large pot until they are open (5-10 minutes). Once they are cooked, add the sauce and add the parsley if you haven’t already. Serve immediately, preferably with some hot baguette to sop up the lovely juices. Simple and delicious. I will probably make a few adjustments the next time in attempt to recreate those at Chez Hortense, but these were absolutely delicious as is and much lighter than the original so other than a personal challenge, I don’t really have a reason change a thing!

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And now to the baguette…

(Yields: 2 baguettes)

  • 375 g flour (Type 55)
  • 5 g fresh yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 215 g warm water (37ºC)

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and mix for 2 minutes in a mixer. Add the flour and the salt and mix with the dough hook until a ball is formed. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 3 hours). While we were waiting for it to rise, we nipped out to the jazz club. When it has risen, use a rubber spatula and turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Cut the dough in half using a pasty cutter. Take one half and form a rectangle. Fold the bottom up to the middle and then fold over again. Turn the dough over and using your hand make a valley all the way down the baguette then pinch the sides up over the valley and turn the baguette over. While you do this, roll it a bit to create the baguette shape. We followed this basic method .

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You can use a baguette mold, or fold baking paper to create a divide for each baguette, as we did. We also put a cast iron skillet with a glass of water in the oven while the baguettes were cooking, as most commercial ovens use steam to make baguettes. This was recommended by a winner of the best baguette in Paris to help the bread fully rise and delaying the formation of the curst, allowing for a thinner crust.

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Overall, this as a really good first effort. The baguette was a little denser than I would have liked, but the flavor and texture were good. Definitely a respectable first baguette. Next time I think I will use a slightly different method, sticking with the same recipe and see how it goes. Until then, I’ll be in search of techniques for perfecting my baguette.

An afternoon with Ella

I’m always saying I want to go listen to jazz at one of the many clubs around Paris but never seem

to get there. This weekend I was determined as there was an Ella Fitzgerald event at a club not too far from us. Normally all of the events I want to go to are in the evenings and I end up forgetting about them. This one however was in the afternoon as an event for Halloween weekend.

The venue itself was nothing to speak of – a quiet little hole in the wall, which got me very excited as soon as we entered as for me, that is a potential mark of something great to come. There were hardly any seats when we arrived, 5 minutes after the planned start, although the show didn’t start until about 10 minutes later.

20131106-081622.jpgThe band, comprising a piano, bass and drums, kicked it off. The singer, a endearing middle-aged woman with a less sultry voice than I had hoped for,
joined after a song. As it turns out, the guy on the piano was her 19 year old son. Surprisingly, there were lots of families with children there. It’s nice to see that the children could sit and enjoy some jazz alongside their parents. There was even a little French boy and his sister, both about 4 years old, who we’re singing along and seemed to know all of the words. Pretty impressive, and adorable. I guess they were Ella fans!

It wasn’t the best jazz we’ve listened to and certainly not that straight to your core, forget everything else and get lost in the music type of jazz, but it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon. We will definitely be doing this more often, especially now as the weather has turned colder, which in my opinion makes it jazz season. I’m not sure why exactly, but I seem to associate it with the warmth of winter indoors and that pre-holiday spirit. Or maybe it’s just Louie. Nonetheless, jazz has been playing non- stop in our home lately, and I’m sure it will continue straight on through the holidays.

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