Mémoires de france


Yesterday, we met with the students traveling with us to France next summer. Some have already traveled there, others not. Regardless of their past experiences, though, they just seemed so *excited*. (Which, of course, they should be ūüėČ )

Their excitement has me reminiscing about some of my first French and Parisian experiences …

Like visiting Mont St Michel, a “floating” monastery in Normandy …

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Are you familiar with it? You’ll notice ¬†in the first shot shot it seems as though built upon a beach, but in the second …

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… engulfed in water. Its tides really are that dramatic! You have to be militant about walks around there so as not to, literally, be swept away by the dramatic ebbs and flows of the tides.¬†

Learning to navigate the Paris métro was another biggie for me at the beginning .

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… Concorde remains one of my favorites, what with the tiled letters providing hours minutes of entertainment. How many can you find here?

Some things were less dramatic, like finding my favorite neighborhood boulangerie ..

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… perfecting the late afternoon/early evening aperitif …

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… or always greeting a store owner upon entering …

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… That’s a joke. But if a dog owned the store, you would definitely be expected to greet him or her, in the formal form.¬†

I’m so excited for the kids to uncover other nuggets of French culture, and to unearth some new ones for myself. (I’ll be doing a home stay for the first time in over a decade! I’m so old!)

Vive la France et surtout l’√©t√© 2013 !

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Soupe √† l’oignon


I told you about the start of my Le Creuset collection last fall. It’s a bit irrational to feel such love for a piece of red enamel cookware, but let me tell ya, I really do love that Dutch oven. It’s the way slow cooking was intended to be done, as evidence by my first successful experiment with¬†coq au vin, and then again, when I made a delicious (and easy!)¬†French onion soup. (Of course in French simply known as soupe¬†√† l’oignon – onion soup).¬†I used the recipe in my Williams Sonoma Paris cookbook. As you can imagine, some of the recipes in this book chock full of¬†French classics can be labor intensive and complicated, but this one was a snap. ¬†

I started off by valiantly trying to cut two and a half pounds of onions on the mandolin. Two problems arose: 1) I am not good with mandolins. 2) My eyes are extremely sensitive to onions, to the point that after two onions I couldn’t even see what was in front of me (onions). I just couldn’t face the remaining ten. Per usual, D rushed in and saved the day. He sliced all these yellow and reds up in no time flat ~

OnionsA bit under thirty minutes later, they looked like this, almost caramelized and meltingly sweet ~
Sauteeing onionsWe were both skeptical the entire two and half pounds was necessary, but they definitely cooked down enough to necessitate such a large quantity. ¬†I opted to make one huge portion in a Pirex bowl since we don’t have anything that’s both oven-safe and larger than individual ramekins.¬†Here’s what the cheesy, bubbly creation¬†looked like all finished ~
Onion soupThe finished product tasted as cozy as it looks, and we had delicious soup for a week. The perfect wintertime meal!

French Onion Soup, adapted from Williams Sonoma Paris:

Ingredients

-2 1/2 lb of yellow onions (I did a mixture of yellow and red)
-3 tbsp unsalted butter
-1 tbsp canola oil
-Pinch of sugar
-Salt & freshly ground black pepper (I opted for chunky salt)
-2 cups light red or dry white wine (I opted for white this time, but plan to use red next time – the soup wasn’t quite as rich as I’m accustomed to)
-8 cups beef stock
-1 bay leaf
-6 thick slices coarse bread (I used a crusty baguette)
-3 cups shredded cheese, comté or gruyère (I did a mix of the two)

Procedure

1. Thinly slice the onions with a mandolin or knife.

2. In a large, heavy pot melt the butter with the oil over medium-low heat. Add onions and cover, stirring occasionally, adding sugar and seasoning with salt and pepper to your personal taste, until the onions are meltingly soft, golden and just caramelized. This should take between 25 and 30 minutes.

3. Add the wine, raise heat to high and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the stock and bay leaf, reduce heat to medium-low and let the soup simmer uncovered until it’s dark and fully flavored. (About 45 minutes.)¬†

4. Right before you are ready to serve, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and toast the sliced bread, turning once, until it’s golden on both sides. (About 3 – 5 minutes on each side.) Remove from the oven and set aside.

5. Remove the bay leaf from the soup. Ladle the hot soup into your chosen (oven-safe!) serving bowls on a baking sheet. Place toasts on top of each serving and sprinkle the tops and bread with a generous amount of cheese. Bake until the cheese is melty and toasts are slightly browned. (About 10 to 15 minutes.) Remove from the oven and serve at once.

I recommend accompanying the soup with a hearty red wine and a light green salad. Bon appétit !

 

A simple cr√™pe recipe


One of my *favorite* Christmas gifts this year was a cr√™pe pan. Have you seen one before? They’re very similar to a regular frying pan, but the edges don’t come up nearly as high, facilitating the flipping of that thin little pancake.¬†

Crepe pan

The one and only thing I accomplished on this year’s New Year’s Day was a mini cr√™pe extravaganza, something I plan to turn into a bit of a tradition. We were prepared with all the necessary batter ingredients and our choice of fillings. (No, vitamins are not a cr√™pe filling, they just happened to figure in the background.)

Crepe prep

I love classic ham and cheese (preferably grated gruy√®re) with a healthy dose of freshly ground pepper. I chose to double the batter recipe I’ll share in a few, which has allowed me to snack on my ultimate favorite treat, a cr√™pe¬†nutella-banane, all week long. D√©licieux.

Crepe nutella banane

 

Once you get the hang of having the pan at the right temperature (pretty close to high) and using the right amount of batter (about a 1/4 cup for a medium-sized cr√™pe), the rest is a piece of cake cr√™pe. You might mess up the first couple (one of mine landed in the burner flames, woopsie), but that’s part of the fun as you perfect your technique.¬†

Crêpes really are as simple as whisking together the ingredients listed below ~

-1 cup all-purpose flour

-2 eggs

-1/2 cup milk

-1/2 cup water

-1/4 tbsp salt

-2 tbsp melted butter

~ whose measurements I located here. Once they are all whisked, add 1/4 cup batter to a hot, lightly oiled pan. It’ll only take about a minute, maybe a bit more, for the super skinny pancake to cook through. Flip it when it’s safe to do so (it’ll start forming some bubbles in the middle) and then add in your chosen fillings. I added mine down the middle so that I could fold the sides in on another like so.¬†

Crepe jambon fromage

 

The last step (eating) is the best of course. Bon appétit !

Bonne année !


Bonne année à tous et à toutes !

It’s hard to believe I last artsdevivre’d almost two months ago. Eep. Things happen. Like life. Since I made that lovely coq au vin, we’ve been busy in our little corner of the world … D re-did our kitchen while I was in Michigan visiting my niece, nephew, brother and sister-in law for Thaksgiving.

La nouvelle cuisine

It was so sweet and thoughtful of him to take on such an aggressive project, and actually finish it (well!) in only five days. It’s so fun having the open cabinets I’ve been admiring for months on Pinterest. And the chalkboard paint is a super-fun bonus, too!¬†

I took on a few projects of my own (not nearly as expansive as re-doing the kitchen). I gave our front door a makeover, transforming from typical grey ~

Grey door

 ~ opting for a cheerful green ~

Green paint

I felt pretty nervous at how bright it was, but was ecstatic with the result ~

Green door

I love the contrast of the green door and black shutters. It was even more festive with this simple DYI wreath I hot glue-gunned together ~

Wreath

It was a bit perkier the first week in December than it is now (pesky gravity), but I’ll supplement it with additional ornaments next year.

We of course did the usual holiday rigamorale, spending time with friends and family (in person and on face time), sending and receiving holidays cards and well-wishes. 

Cards

I’m pretty militant about online privacy, which is why this one is blurred out. You get the idea though ūüôā

I tried out new recipes ~

Christmas roast

~ learning how to improve ones like this simple roast via my personal favorite, the Barefoot Contessa (you really should cut a roast this thick in half to optimize a medium-rare temperature). I was fine with the end pieces, but the middle was really too rare for my family’s liking. I shockingly succeeding at intricate ones like an authentic French¬†Bearnaise¬†sauce. The key is to continue stirring for quite some time. (I think Maman and I together put in about 35 minutes.)

We celebrated NYE¬†Charm City style, and were so ecstatic to happen on a small-time ball drop in Hampden, ‘hun. So fun and festive, I couldn’t believe we haven’t been attending annually.

I’d lost my motivation for artsdevivre the past couple months. I’m an habitual comparer of myself to others and was feeling frustrated with my utter lack of knowledge of photography and graphic design. I can’t give the time to this blog that I’d like, what with my job that actually pays me. But I started to really miss this whole process, from brainstorming, to¬†documenting, to¬†writing and publishing. So me re-voil√†¬†les amis. I don’t promise perfectly taken photographs (I’ll still be sticking with my trusty iphone, instagram and diptic for now), or super funky layouts but I do promise (most importantly to ¬†myself) to continue documenting all the little daydreams and real-life experiences that add up to create the artsdevivre in our lives.¬†

Julia Child inspired coq au vin


Look at the new toy I bought for D and for me last weekend ~

My wannabe chef and Francophile simultaneously swooned. I’ve been working to, and not really kind of attaining a better work/life balance recently, which has allowed me to play around a bit more in the kitchen. (Instead of just allowing D total control of that domain.) I’ve wanted Le Creuset cookware for ages and so am really excited to have finally started a collection. In stereotypical homage to Julia Child, I went with a classic coq au vin for our first meal ~

I went with a combination of a Happy Birthday Julia pin and the Le Creuset recommended recipe. (I used all the ingredients listed on the link, but tested the Le Creuset’s recommended slow cook method. Two and a half hours at 275 degrees provided some really delicious, fall-off-the-bone chicken.) The sauce was good the first day, but even more delicious the next.

I will admit that coq au vin is not in my most favorite French recipes, but along with boeuf bourgignon, salade fris√©e aux lardons and a few others, I felt like I just needed to know how to cook a classic coq au vin. I’ll definitely be repeating on cold fall and winter days.¬†

Croquembouches


Have you ever heard of a croquembouche ? Behold …

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Despite my affinity for all things French, I had not. It’s a sort of “cake” (well not really), but a dessert which can resemble a cake in its form. Croquembouches¬†can be composed of many different types of French pastries, including but not limited to macarons¬†(my most favorite French¬†decadence), drag√©es, candied fruits,¬†√©clairs (which I just learned used to be called pains¬†√†¬†la duchesse – duchess bread –¬†love that) or croquignoles,¬†small crunchy pastries, among many others.

These elaborate, ornate constructions remind me of old France, pr√©-R√©volution. I’ve yet to see one in person (although maybe I just looked past them in patisserie windows during my Parisian life), but I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled next summer. What do you think? Too much or just right?

Paris in the falltime


October brings me vividly back to Paris, and my mother’s first “big” trip to see me there. (She had previously spent a quick week with me at New Year’s when I studied abroad.) This trip, however, would be two weeks, and I wouldn’t be able to spend as much time with her as the previous trip-let. I had carved out my own little life, going from class to volunteering with the English speaking kids at the school down the street, to let’s face it, a daily ap√©ritif at my favorite caf√©-bar.

Compared with the demands of true “adult” life, it all sounds quite quaint and remarkably stress-free, but I was eager for my mother to see me as the adult I perceived myself to be at 22. I was so proud I had found a way to achieve just the life I wanted post-college and wanted her to be, too. I couldn’t wait to show her around my new neighborhood, have her partake in an ap√©ritif¬†amongst¬†friends both old and new, and of course get in some requisite cultural outings and site seeing.

When I think back to those two weeks, what stands out to me is the many afternoons and early evenings we spent at different caf√©s, both famous and hole-in-the wall. We enjoyed Croque-Madames and French onion soup at Le D√©part, a cafe adjacent to the Place St Michel …

… and Notre Dame …

… and known more traditionally for late night revelers than late afternoon mother-daughter outings.

We sipped delicious and rich hot chocolate on an unseasonably cold day in Chartres …

We sipped on cheap red wine in our not-so-tiny (by Parisian student standards that is) apartment. That’s actually my home-sweet-home of two years right there. We’re in those apartments hidden behind the little dormer windows on the top floor.

We tried died-in-the-wool French classics like Brasserie Balzar on the rue des Ecoles.

My mother and I (as I’m sure many of you are) are extremely close. The high schools years, by both of our standards, were not the calmest in our relationship. And we’re still not perfect. I should revise that. I’m still not. I can be bossy with the people I’m closest to, and my mother graciously puts up with that. But when I think back to when we grew as close as we are now, when we shed the drama of my growing pains, I think it must have been when we started to travel together, in my late college years. By finding solutions to (and sometimes squabbling about) problems as simple as which m√©tro stop to take to more complicated ones like deciphering how-to guides in another language, we learned to communicate more clearly. Emphasis still on me learning to be more patient since my mother is about as patient as can be with her children. She doesn’t utter an unkind word, makes us feel accepted no matter what we are currently interested in and in fact makes a great travel companion. I’ll miss her on my French exchange next summer but I’m sure she’ll be ready to hear all about it and actually want to look at every picture I take. What are your best memories with your mom?

Images via ~

Place St Michel

Notre Dame

Chartres

Denfert Rochereau

Brasserie Balzar