28 June 2009

En anglais

This year's Tour de France starts next Saturday in Monaco, and the betting world is expecting Astana to claim the final yellow jersey with Alberto Contador, with Lance Armstrong currently running second favorite in his bid for his 8th Tour win.

Maybe even more noteworthy as a Tour factoid than a potential 8th Tour win for Mr. Armstrong, though, is the team that Garmin-Slipstream is bringing to the party. A read down Garmin's Tour roster reveals 4 riders from the US, 2 from Great Britain, and 1 each from Ireland, New Zealand, and Canada. Which means that for the first time in a long time (did 7-Eleven or Motorola ever bring an all-anglophone squad?) and maybe since 1968, when the UK fielded a team in the last year the Tour was ridden by national teams, a team composed entirely of native anglophones will contest the Tour.

Their native language doesn't impart any value to their riding or worth as people, of course, and one could certainly argue that there are non-native speakers in the peloton who are more articulate in English than many of the native anglophones, but it's just interesting that, after a long run of American dominance at the Tour with US Postal/Discovery and with maybe the single most dominant team this year being the US-based team Columbia, this is a modern-era first.

27 June 2009

Everything is on sale

France is a country of protocol. You do things in one way, because it is the right way, and/or because it is the only way allowed.

Stores are only allowed to have sales at strictly regulated times (two fixed intervals and one floating slot), and the summer sales began last Wednesday.

Having extra time on my hands (ie, vacation this week), it was a good time to go shopping. My normal wardrobe these days is somewhere between frumpy and just sad, so anything I get here has to be more chic.

And the soldes did not disappoint- I got two very cute outfits and shoes to match. I'm not sure if my new French clothes are going to be willing to share closet space with my old stuff, but I'll see if we can negotiate diplomatic relations.

24 June 2009

White Nights and long days

Stockholm at sunset. Photo from BBC website

In the last month I've been close to the equater, and close to the arctic circle. This time of year, the differences are striking.

We just got back from Stockholm, and we were there during the solstice. Sunset wasn't much later than Paris, but sunrise was at 3:30 am.

Length of day = 18.5 hours

Sunset in Paris is around 10 pm right now, which means it's usually still light when I go to bed (even if that's an hour later than when in Philadelphia). Sunrise, however, is about the same time as Philadelphia this time of year.

Length of day = 16.25 hours

Currently in Philadelphia (what has been internalized as "normal" time) sunrise is 5:30 am, sunset at 8:30 pm.

Length of day = 15 hours

Atlanta is south and west of Philadelphia, so sunset was just a little later, but sunrise an hour later.

Length of day = 14.5 hours

Miami is further south, so sunset is earlier, though sunrise is the same as Atlanta.

Length of day = 13.75 hours

Cartagena was the most interesting. Since it is so close to the equater, the length of the day does not really change. Sunrise is the same as Paris, and sunset is 6:30 pm. They are on Eastern Standard Time all year- no point in daylight savings time.

Length of day = 12.75 hours.

I really like the long days, but am a bit worried about what it will be like if we are still here in the late fall...

18 June 2009

The other red meat

Whenever we return to Philly after a few weeks in Italy, we wonder at the lack of good American aged ham. Lots of classic European foods and beverages have been successfully adopted and adapted by high-quality small producers in the US: wine, espresso, cheese, chocolate, beer, and bread are just a few. So why not ham?

The imported prosciutto available in the US is either from Parma or San Danielle, and both are excellent examples. But they're a tiny fraction of prosciutto styles in Italy where, until recently, each village made its own, and now at least each region has its own, the flavors influenced by what the pigs eat and the environment in which the hams age. As an American friend living in Italy remarked a few years ago when we were discussing the lack of such hams in the US, "making prosciutto is really easy."

I can't vouch for that, personally, but salt-curing meat isn't exactly a new science. So again, why not quality hams in the US? According to a recent article in the NYT by Harold McGee (author of the excellent book on the science of cooking, On Food and Cooking), there actually is quality ham being produced in the US, and s'prise, s'prise, the key is using mature, fatty pigs instead of rushed-to-market pigs and taking a leisurely approach to the aging. I don't know how one gets ahold of it if you're not a chef using enough to buy a whole leg, but I do know that whenever it is we return home, I've got a few trips to make through ham country.

15 June 2009

You want grits with your Dauphiné Libéré?

With the finish last Sunday of the Dauphiné Libéré, a last 8-day dress rehearsal for the Tour de France for many participants, it looks like there'll be no more TV coverage of the pro cycling season at our apartment until the Tour starts on July 4. Quel dommage.

The Dauphiné was fun to watch, with a preview of the form of some self-proclaimed Tour contenders (eg, Cadel Evans and Alberto Contador) in the time trial, an exclusive view of the strengths of probable Tour persona non grata Alejandro Valverde (for suspected doping offenses), and yet another review of Evans' questionable judgement in matters tactical (allowing Alejandro Valverde to escape unchallenged on the Mont Ventoux, instead obsessively defending every attack by non-threat Jacob Fuglsang and looking to others to help reel in Valverde). As at the Giro, where Danilo Di Luca made every conceivable effort to attack eventual winner Denis Menchov after the time trial, Evans was anything but passive after yielding the leader's jersey to Valverde on the Ventoux. In fact, Evans was persistent and irksome enough to Valverde that Contador, whose mantra at the race was that he was only there as a spectator, pitched in a number of times to neutralize his attacks. And with just 16 seconds separating Valverde and Evans, the suspense ran right to the end. As Eurosport's French commentator Jackie Durand says frequently to commend a good finish, chapeau!

I don't expect the same close race among those protagonists at the Tour-- Contador never looked the least bit bothered on any of the climbs or by any of Evans' attacks, and he didn't cede nearly enough time in the time trial to Evans to make the July race between those 2 interesting. Hopefully something/somebody else will bring the spark.

As American amateur bike racers, I think we had a typical misconception about the place of bike racing, and more generally energetic cycling, in France. Aside from the peak of Armstrong Fever, it's probably fair to say that the core of bike race fans in the US is the extended bike racing community itself. Which is a pretty small group. On our limited TV coverage of bike racing in the US, though, we see the huge crowds that line the courses at races like the Tour and Paris-Roubaix. We see pictures of thousands of amateur riders doing the etape, a mountain stage of the Tour ridden on the 2nd rest day, and lots of ads for bike tour companies in the back of cycling magazines telling us how big a part of the culture cycling is in France. And so we assume that France is some kind of cycling utopia, a place where the beauty and nobility of the sport is still cherished by The People, even if not always honored by racers.

And the public is definitely more aware of cycling on several different levels here than in the States. Even the most nattily dressed commute on the city-owned and -maintained Vélib' bikes in Paris. The bike-circuit at Longchamp and the roads of the Chevreuse are lousy with gray-haired fellows on 1980s and 1990s race bikes who ride echelons more intuitively than most US racers ride pacelines. A friend of ours even watched a recumbent bike time trial, complete with standing start, at the velodrome in Bois de Vincennes (though he was the only spectator there). And obviously, with a number of French companies sponsoring pro teams, there must be enough people interested to merit considering the outlay of cash required.

But the notion that it's a national pastime, or even a dignified sport, here is misguided. Professional cycling in France is probably closest to the equivalent of NASCAR at home. Falling well behind football/soccer, and even considerably behind motor sports (which are huge here: superbike is ubiquitous on TV, and there's an array of car race classes too subtle in their differences for me to distinguish), it's more mainstream than in the States, but it's definitely a little red-necky. I think that would come as a surprise to most cyclists in America, where cycling probably has more socioeconomic overlap with golf than, say, pro wrestling.

But the red-neck association is especially true in Paris, where engaging in strenuous exercise of any kind is viewed with a whiff of aristocratic disdain. As a friend who has lived here nearly 20 years observed, sports are unifiers in the US and dividers in France (or at least Paris). In the States, Sunday's game is the subject of discussion at the water cooler for everybody from custodian to CEO. In France, with the exception perhaps of the French Open tennis tournament and the exploits of the National football team late in the World Cup tournament, those with aspirations to class (and in Paris, that's a lot of people) would avoid such banal conversation.

Suits me just fine. I'm breakin' out my "I'm with stupid" sleeveless T-shirt, gettin' a mullet haircut, and settin' a broken washer out on the balcony, jes nexta the still. We got 17 days 'til the prologue, an' I's fixin' to be ready fer it.

14 June 2009

Adventures + +

I have been lucky enough to travel around the world (and live in Paris) thanks to my job. But the most adventurous trip (if adventurous includes having to get 4 immunizations first and to brush your teeth with bottled water) was this week to Cartagena, Colombia. Cartagena is considered a major resort within Latin America, and thus driving from the airport you get to view the extremes of poverty (the area near the airport; there were guys in camouflage holding machine guns every block along the major road) and wealth (the resort-y part is on a peninsula conveniently separated from the poor parts by a naval base).

I stayed at the Hilton Hotel, which here is a 5 star joint. It is also the site of the annual Miss Colombia contest. Covered in a thick layer of DEET, I ventured around the hotel and out into the old city.

The beach, which actually looks nicer in the picture than in real life. The Carribean is not its normal bright blue but rather a dull brown, reflecting its use as the receptical for the city's sewage. Uhh, the pool looks more appealing...

The historic old city is really charming. Here's a view (from the inside) of the 11km wall Spain built around the city, being tired of repeated sackings by various pirates. It was then, as it is now, a major port in the region.

The cathedral.

The plaza across from the cathedral; the statue is of Simon Bolivar.

Another major church.

A view down a typical street.

Beautiful window boxes.

So I did not get kidnapped, food/water/mosquito born illnesses, and after 3 separate security checks was allowed to leave the country.

The next phase of this trip was a day in Atlanta. The suburban wasteland around Atlanta is generally not very adventurous, but I managed to grab a sushi dinner prior to my flight out of town Thursday night, and since I was the only one in the place, got to chat with the sushi chef. He understood that I liked and was willing to try everything, so he made me special Sweet Shrimp- the tail raw sushi as usual, but the head section battered with tempura, fried, and the whole thing to be eaten. They were actually really good, once I got past eating the staring eyeballs.

So on Friday I returned to Paris. As Rolf mentioned, I've had pretty nasty jet lag (it really is worse going east). My biggest Paris adventure, then, was finding out that when we got home from dinner yesterday that my wallet was gone. I paid the tip, so had it at the end of dinner, and noticed the top flap of my purse rattling because it was undone as we went down to the Metro (so secured it, but didn't look inside), but no idea if I dropped it, got robbed, or what.

Luckily my passport and residence card were not inside the wallet (that would be a nightmare, especially since we go on vacation on Friday); I've managed to cancel the credit cards and will get shiny new ones sent to France. I did lose my cash, but the cards did not get used; finally an advantage to nothing being open in Paris on Sunday. The biggest headache is going to be replacing my driver's license- no Penn DOT outposts in Paris. Even though we don't drive in Paris, I actually do use it while traveling, but won't be renting cars anytime soon.

Finally, today, since Rolf was riding with the boys, I did my first solo ride in the area surrounding Paris (and between a map, GPS, and having done the same ride 2 weeks ago, did not get lost).

I'm hoping for a less adventurous week coming up.

Lunch before dinner

Karen surprised me last evening by announcing that, even though she was pretty shelled after traveling and being sleep-deprived all week, she was feeling sprightly enough to want to eat dinner out. This was both good and bad news. The good news is obvious, but eating out at a real restaurant in Paris on Saturday night without a reservation is a bit of a challenge.

Unlike the States, where empty tables are usually up for grabs, many Paris restaurants do just 1 seating per night, and if the tables are reserved for 8:45, they will not be made available to you at 7:00, even if the place is totally empty and an 8:45 reservation won't show until 9:00. This puts a lot of Americans out. "They were so rude to me-- the place was empty, and they still wouldn't seat us. They hate Americans over there!" Now, there's no shortage of making fun of Americans over here, and for sure there's some animosity in some sectors, but not getting an empty table in a restaurant without reservations isn't a symptom of that.

Thankfully, also unlike the States, reservations generally don't require a week's or month's planning. Reserving on weeknights can be as simple as calling that day during the lunch service, or even as soon as they open in the evening. But if it's a cheek-by-jowl charming little bistro you're hoping to eat at on Saturday night, you'll want to call a day or two in advance.

So we decided to take our chances at a little place in the 6e that serves brasserie food on Sat nights with a no-reservation policy. Being Americans who still usually eat dinner earlier than 9:00, we figured we had a decent chance of getting a table straight away at 8:00. No dice-- there was already a line when we arrived, but it was short enough that we figured it was worth trying out.

Lines in Paris cause me a little angst, because it's hard to tell when they mean something and when they don't. To a Parisian, the line is great way to keep order for everybody else, but it is (obviously) not meant for someone as important as them. Doesn't matter whether it's a grocery store or an airline ticket counter. Heck, a Parisian with a hangnail wouldn't think twice of trying to jump a line of trauma patients needing time-critical care in an ER. So unless you're willing to bust some balls and defend your turf, lining up for a table at a restaurant means you'll probably be hungry a very long time while others show up and take empty tables without waiting. Surprisingly, the wait staff at this restaurant were unwavering in maintaining the integrity of the line, and it was a mostly hostilities-free experience.

The last person in line when we arrived at 8 was a young woman who by first appearances could have been Parisian: she was thin, wearing a nice dress and high heels, had no guide books in her hands, and she was smoking. Always encouraging to see locals at your restaurant. But it didn't take long to see that she probably wasn't, in fact, from Paris. First, she wasn't wearing black. Second, though smoking, she was clearly uncomfortable with it. She kept moving the cigarette around to keep the smoke from drifting too heavily at us or the people in front of her. People are no longer allowed to smoke indoors in public places in France, including restaurants, so smoking outside is done with a vigor and authority you don't usually see in the States.

The final proof came, though, when she turned to me, nodded to her cigarette, looked me straight in the eyes and said earnestly, "Je suis déjeuner." As already implied, no Parisian would ever apologize for smoking outside. And even more revealing to the careful observer, no Parisian would apologize for smoking outside by saying "I am lunch."

Presumably, she meant "Je suis désolé," which would indicate some regret, though I'm not sure how much, exactly, since in the metro I usually hear it used in instances where it's obvious the offending person performed the offending act entirely willfully.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe she was indeed Parisian and she wasn't referring to her cigarette, at all. Maybe she was just coming on to me. Paris is the city of romance, after all, and marital fidelity here is casual enough that Karen's presence by my side might not much deter a zealous paramour-to-be. And "I am lunch" is kind of a sexy and intriguing line, actually.

Either way, it took all of my focus to keep my composure and not burst out laughing. Detecting a British accent in her delivery, I thought it would be mean to respond, "Chéri, tu n'es même pas petite déjeuner*."

*Darling, you're not even breakfast.

13 June 2009

Guinea pigs for Guinea fowl

Friday night is usually our night to eat out in Paris, but since Karen had spent all week eating out while traveling for work, I figured she'd rather have a home-cooked meal on her return. After a week of eating mostly leftovers, I was ready to try something new. Which meant she'd be something of a guinea pig.

Beats tuna casserole: this week's leftovers were chicken with preserved lemon and green olives

One of the more memorable dishes from our last trip to Italy was guinea fowl (pintade, in France) cooked with vin santo, the Tuscan dessert wine. The best example I had was special for the inclusion of deeply browned onions, which went wonderfully with the fowl. I've never cooked guinea fowl myself, but it's widely available here, and so I've been meaning to have a crack at that tuscan version.

But somewhere in shopping for the ingredients, I started thinking I should do something Frenchier in Paris. First thought was to take it off the bone and stuff it with foie gras: you can't get any more French that stuffing foie gras into something. Maybe it's the shoe leather-like roulades I remember eating in Austria as a kid, but I've just never been big fan of stuffed meats. And even less of meats stuffed with foie gras. I prefer to eat it as close to as possible to as-is, as an indulgent featured item, rather than as an ingredient.

So instead of stuffing the meat, I wrapped it, cooking it en crepinette, or wrapped in caul fat, which is also très French. And since it was going to be wrapped, I decided to put those delicious deeply browned onions, softened in olive oil on the stove with a little garlic and bay and then topped with thin slices of chantere... uh, girolle mushrooms and finished for 3 h in a slow oven, under the crépine. Making the packets was pretty straightforward: break down fowl, season breasts (folded in half) and boneless thighs (formed back into their native shape) with salt and pepper, place a large spoonful of the room-temp slow-cooked onion/mushroom mixture on top (with the mushroom slices on top of the onions), place the whole thing topping-side down on the crépine, wrap tightly, and trim the crépine neatly. The “neatly” part was the only real challenge. It's just like wrapping a present with paper, and so it took me just twice as long as it'd take most 5 year olds to make the back tidy without too many layers of crépine back there. In the end, though, they were very pretty little bundles.

Ready to cook: the pintade and vegetables wrapped in my hard-earned webby crépine

Said bundles were pan-seared veggie side down until brown, turned to brown the 2nd side, then moved to the oven to finish before resting a few minutes.

Resting: my black steel sautee pan's handle is too long for our tiny oven, so I preheat this cake pan in the oven and transfer meats to it for finishing. Karen is not looking forward to the next cake cooked in this pan...

I used most of a reduction from the carcass and legs (browned chopped pieces deeply in oil, built a fond by deglazing with water, mirepoix, stock, simmered in diluted chicken stock, reduced) to simmer with girolles for ~30 min, adding a little butter and a drop or two of vinegar immediately before serving, the rest being used as a sauce on its own.

Sliced and served on top of pan-fried polenta and lightly garlicky sauteed spinach with those slow-simmered mushrooms and a little extra jus, the bird was superb. Though mild compared to squab (probably my favorite cooking bird) or duck, the meat was vastly more flavorful than chicken and wonderfully tender and juicy. The thigh was especially delicious, and the sweet onions and earthy mushrooms nicely complemented the flavors. Pintade is officially now in my rotation: I doubt I'll ever roast a chicken here.

Clumsy but delicious. Plating, like wrapping, is not my strong suit...

Home-made tagliatelle with artichokes and peas and home-made lemon tarts opened and closed. I should have covered the crust edges with foil before broiling the tarts to prevent home-burning, but after a bottle of soft and velvety Burgundy (perfect match with the pintade), that little flaw didn't much diminish the pleasure of the meal.

11 June 2009

Goldilocks and the 3 butchers

I had today what is becoming for me a fairly typical Paris experience.

I did my food shopping at a variety of stores: onions, leeks, spinach, and cherries (yes, really, more cherries-- they're not going to be available and good that much longer!) at one of the produce vendors; cereal, grapeseed oil, and sugar (to replace the bag that disappeared into the jam) at the supermarket; eggs at the fromagerie; mushrooms that we call chanterelles at home but are called girolles here at another produce place (chanterelle sure sounds like a French word, why isn't that used here?); and a guinea fowl (pintade) at the butcher that's the most accommodating about veal bones and chicken carcasses and such-- gotta keep on their good side.

But today I needed something I hadn't bought here before, caul fat. Caul fat is one of those wondrously useful things that comes from the insides of animals that people get all icked out about when they know it's there. It's basically the fatty lining of the body that surrounds the organs, and it's nature's perfect wrapper. Stuffing or rolling a cut of meat and need to tie it up with string? Fuggetaboudit-- wrap it with caul fat, instead, which will hold it together and baste it at the same time. Individual patés? Perfect. Though I can get it from my butcher at home with a day or two's advance warning, I figured that every butcher in Paris would have it, given the metric tons of terrines, patés, and other charcuterie in this city.

I asked my pintade butcher for crépine graisse (the term I cleverly found on Google translation), and he said yes, he had it fresh, and brought out a fancy paper-backed sheet, wrapped it, and sent me on my way. Score! When I got home and unwrapped it, though, it wasn't what I was expecting. Caul fat is a delicate webby/lacy thing, and this “graisse” that the butcher had given me was a solid sheet.

So I Googled “caul fat France” to see if I was asking for the right thing, and it seems the proper term is just crépine. OK, try again. I went to another butcher just around the corner, a friendly fellow who preps a mean roasting chicken, and asked him if he had crépine. Nope, only frozen. He even tried to think of where I could get it fresh, but couldn't. Uh-oh-- maybe this will be harder than I thought. But I think he was amused that the weird American guy who insists on keeping the chicken feet he cuts off my birds was asking for it. And it's none of your business what I do with all those chicken feet...

My last easy option was the butcher across the street from him, where I'd never been. I asked for crépine, and the guy behind the counter looked at me blankly. I asked again, same blank look. Oh man, was I really going to go home empty handed? But as I started to explain what it was, I saw in the display case a bunch of stuffed meats, all wrapped with, wouldn't you know it, caul fat. So I pointed to those, and said I wanted the exterior of those (I couldn't think of the word for wrap). He gave me another name, which I started to memorize, and then he started to pull out slices of veal. No, no, no. The other exterior, the sheet around them. Oh, he said, that's crépine.

Long pause.

Now it was my turn to look at him blankly. I swear that's what I said. There are only 2 vowel sounds in that word, and I think I made both of them reasonably well. That's what I heard when I said it, anyway. But it's not the first time this has happened. Before we came to Paris, I was relating to one of Karen's French colleagues the story about my the amusing French tutorials from my friend at work, starting with "jambon means ham," and she looked at me with the same blank face the butcher had. She hadn't understood my pronunciation of jambon. And I thought, oh boy-- this is going to be a lot harder than I thought. I'd be curious to know how many other words sound just a little different from crépine and mean things totally irrelevant to butchery that he was unable to recognize it.

In any event, he had it, and even though I apparently massacred his language, he seemed pleased I wanted crépine, and even more pleased that I was excited about it. But just look at it-- how could one not look forward to using that? It's beautiful.

Crépine. No, no-- not that crépine, the other one.

The mystery not-crépine substance.

So I have my caul fat. But can anybody educate me about this other stuff? I asked specifically before he retrieved it, and it's of pig. Though it looks a little membranous, it's more fragile than it looks. I'm guessing a layer of something from under the skin at the belly, since he was pointing there (I'd assumed that meant organs, but...). He kept saying it was graisse (fat), and it has fat, for sure, but I'm not sure it is fat. In any event, I've thrown it in the freezer, in case I figure out what it is and what to use it, so any enlightenment would be appreciated. Merci!

When life gives you cherries...

With Karen globetrotting again this week, I was set for another dinner destination cycling trip. Those trips take a lot planning: there's a wealth of worthy destinations within a 100-mile radius of Paris, and a wealth of possible routes for each, and I have to spend days scoping out the restaurant websites, needing a bib for me and a drool cup to protect my keyboard while comparing menus. It's hell, I tell you. But this week's trip was scrapped before it started, thanks to a new knee pain that's developed over the last 2 weeks. So there'll be no pictures of Fancy food to share this week. Instead, I was left here to wrestle with the excesses of food shopping in Paris.

It's not uncommon in Paris that I come home from the market with a lot more of something than I planned. When we first got here, that was because I had a hard time figuring out how much of something I needed. Not because I'm a metric-retard, but because I buy more foods by weight here than at home, and my guesses on portions were sometimes comically inaccurate. How much arugula do I need for 2 people for 2 nights? Considerably less than 500 grams. How many squid come in a kilo? More than 1 person could possibly need. Between calibrating my mass estimator and learning phrases for approximate amounts (a small bag, a handful), that doesn't happen (so) much, anymore.

These days, I come home with too much because I just get seduced by what I find, particularly fruit. Anybody with ears has heard me rant about the bitter letdown of bad fruit. But for those without, here it is for eyes. A main purpose of the succulent flesh of many fruits is purely seduction: to entice some creature otherwise minding its own business to take it and transport the seed(s) inside some distance from the parent plant. These fruits should be so bright, fragrant, and sweetly delicious as to be irresistible. Of course, most fruit is picked well short of ripeness, gassed for color, and shipped halfway around the world where it qualifies culinarily as colored styrofoam. Not to mention as an insult to nature. Ripe fruit, though, is always a treat.

You don't need to be a genius to figure out what the good fruit is. You just look for truck loads of it at reasonable prices at every market. Ignoring for a moment that they're pseudo-fruits botanically, the fraises (strawberries) and gariguettes (also strawberries; a variety grown mostly in southern France) have been abundant and (more) affordable lately. But cherries are the fruit of this moment, and the good ones are jammin'. Huge mounds of dark red, almost black, shiny fruit are everywhere, and just as nature intended, I can't help but buy loads of them.

So it was that I found myself with more time on my hands than I'd expected, and about a kilogram more ripe cherries in the refrigerator than I could gorge myself with before they spoiled. What to do? I'd already pickled a bunch of them a couple of weeks ago, and though a nice accompaniment for savory foods, there's only so much of that you can eat.

A collection of round foods: pan-seared cote-du-porc with baby potatoes, super-sweet early peas, and "pickled" cherries.

Cherry tart? Just made a rhubarb tart (with an almond pastry cream) last week to use up last week's impulse buy. How about something like a cherry polenta pudding? It wouldn't keep long enough for me to get through it; or more accurately, I shouldn't be eating as much of it as would be necessary to get through it. Don't have an ice cream maker, or I'd have been all over that. Chilled cherry soup (maybe with red wine, a little thyme, and crème fraiche?) would have been great, but again too much for 1 person to eat before spoiling. I needed to make something that would keep awhile. Chewing on a piece of one of Eric Kayser's amazing baguettes smeared with a little raw-milk churned butter, I reached for the jar of bitter orange preserves in the fridge to find it almost empty. I got halfway through writing “jam” on the grocery list before I realized I'd finally found my use for the jammin' cherries.

Now, I'm no baker, and I'm even less a confiturer (confiturist?), so I don't have a recipe for making jam. But really, how hard can it be? Cook fruit, add sugar, and cook until thickened. I don't have a cherry pitter, so I just cut each cherry in half, twisted it like an oreo, and popped the stone out with the knife tip. When they're really good and ripe, even a kilo goes pretty quickly. I chopped a bunch of them up a bit, put them all in a pan with a little lemon juice and cooked until they were soft. The only tricky part is figuring out how much sugar to add. Though the fruit is pretty amazing by itself, the high sugar content thwarts Evil growths. It seems that most people add roughly ¾ the volume/weight of the fruit in sugar, so that's where I started. For a non-confiturist, that made for an alarmingly large mound of sugar in my beautiful deep red pan of cooked fruit. So I added a bit more lemon juice and zest. And since I'm the one making up this recipe, I also added a little ground ginger and freshly and finely ground pondicherry black pepper (which has a little caramely/toasty flavor) to highlight the flavor of the cherries and add some zing, and cooked it quickly until it thickened a bit. It was remarkably simple.

My first ever jam. I like it.

Since I have space in the fridge to store it and will probably go through it in the next couple of months, anyway, I didn't bother sterilization and whatnot. I just boiled the jar and lid (and a juice glass for the overflow) ~5 min, added the hot jam, and chilled. It'll stay clean at least a couple months, by which time I'll surely have bought too much of something else. I just hope that isn't broccoli rabe.

06 June 2009

A day in Paris- 7e, 17e and 8e

I'm heading out of town tomorrow for the last business trip for awhile- it's been a crazy 2 months. Today I was hoping to get a good long bike ride in since it will be a week before I can ride again, but I'm just starting to get over a cold which had already sidelined me this week, and it seemed like riding for several hours in 50 degree rain was not a good idea. So instead, Rolf and I went exploring in Paris. It seems natural that one would, while living here, do a lot of this, but when you get into the day-to-day work/eat/sleep/work out/life junk mode, it doesn't seem to happen.

Walking across the Pont de l'Alma towards the Left Bank; from the 16e to the 7e.

Musee du Quai de Branly

The first stop was a museum which specializes in native cultures the non-Western world. We first saw the permanent exhibits, organized by area (Oceania, Asia, Africa, the Americas), and then a temporary exhibit on things inspired by Jazz over the last century.

Musee du Quai de Branly; the Jazz exhibit.

(Rolf: I thought the best part of the exhibit was Guitar Drag, a 14-minute film of a guy (in Texas, of course) dragging a plugged-in and full-volume electric guitar behind his pickup truck on- and off-road. To get the full effect, turn it up REAL loud.)

We spent several hours there, so then it was time for lunch. Since we were already in the 7e, we went to the amazing Spanish food purveyor and wine bar Bellota-Bellota, which serves small plates (tapas like) of amazing food.

They hand cut the Serano ham (the diagonal things are hams) but slice the chorizo and other sausage with a traditional meat slicer.

Rolf is a happy man. And who wouldn't be?

For dessert, the best canele in Paris, right around the corner.

Here's the neighborhood in the 7e.

So we headed towards Les Invalides, to get the Metro to our next destination, and ran into the festival of bikes!

It seemed mostly geared towards getting non-cyclists or barely-cyclists more interested in cycling, rather than catering to hard core cyclists.

Totally funky folding bike- do they carry these at Trophy?

And for real.

These are all electric bikes. Ok, whatever.

Ok, at least these I recognize...

The exhibit of historic bikes.

And bikes of the future?

And the best we could figure here was a lesson on how to ride in the city (dos and don'ts).
(Rolf: The little triangle on the front of the red rider says: "Danger! Angle Mort!" Gets the point across.)

So after checking out the Fete du Velo, we then took the Metro to the 17e.

Rue Poncelet, great market shopping every day.

We were on the edge of the 17e, so shortly we were in the 8e.

St. Alexandre Nevski, a very cool church in the Russian neighborhood. Unfortunately we couldn't get inside.

You never know what you'll find on the streets of Paris. A Chinese Pagoda?

One of the entrances to Parc de Monceau

Our next destination, the Musee Nissam de Camondo. This is a 19th century mansion in which the former owner did the whole house up in 18th century French style, by getting wall panels, furniture, everything as antiques. For example, there are several rugs from the Louvre, from when the Louvre was a palace, not a museum itself.

The front of the actual residence from the inner courtyard.

As far as mansions go, it was pretty nice. A good size, a nice gardens, not too out of control like Versailles or Schoenbrunn. I could live there...

Finally, we walked through Parc de Monceau to the Metro to go home.

The Monceau Metro stop still has all of its Art Nouveau splendor.

Now it's time to pack...