28 June 2009
27 June 2009
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.
24 June 2009
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
15 June 2009
14 June 2009
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).
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 plaza across from the cathedral; the statue is of Simon Bolivar.
Another major church.
So I did not get kidnapped, food/water/mosquito born illnesses, and after 3 separate security checks was allowed to leave the country.
I'm hoping for a less adventurous week coming up.
13 June 2009
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.)
They hand cut the Serano ham (the diagonal things are hams) but slice the chorizo and other sausage with a traditional meat slicer.
Here's the neighborhood in the 7e.
Totally funky folding bike- do they carry these at Trophy?
These are all electric bikes. Ok, whatever.
Ok, at least these I recognize...
The exhibit of historic bikes.
And bikes of the future?
You never know what you'll find on the streets of Paris. A Chinese Pagoda?
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.
Finally, we walked through Parc de Monceau to the Metro to go home.