Tuesday, April 28, 2009

First mobile upload

Jeannie, Nick and the boys gave me these cufflinks as an early graduation gift.  I got a little teary, mostly because they are so nice to find me such a thoughtful gift.
But also thinking about this adventure and how much I will miss all of my family.  It will be worth it, when I am making delicious mistakes in patisserie school.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I am going to set up my apartment for short-term furnished rental, and I have been working to get things organized.  I never realized how much stuff is in this little place.  Luckily last weekend was "Trash to Treasure" in the Town of Chevy Chase.  I brought over three carloads of stuff to Jeannie's, including my broken TV.  I have been without a TV for almost 3 months now, but I am going to buy one for the renter-to-be (with cable too!).    I will be posting photos soon, so if you know anyone interested in a tiny cute place, let me know.  

More Visitors

Jeannie and Suzanne are coming the first week of August, and my mom will overlap and come the second week.  Maybe the best part will be my nephew Tom who might come over with my mom, and go home with Jeannie.

Jeannie warned me about not crossing the road to see the Arc De Troimphe - it is a traffic circle about 8 lanes wide!  I can't believe she wasn't killed. Or that her guidebook didn't direct her to the pedestrian underground walkway.  I have a perfect picture in my head of her running across the street in her Tevas and with her huge backpack, trying to avoid the Parisian cars.  From above, a French version of Frogger!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

First Referral Fees $8.22

Yes, it worked!  Thanks to Amy who used my link to Amazon to buy some new CDs.  I think it might just cover one glass of very cheap champagne, if the exchange rate improves by the summer.  Don't worry, I can't tell exactly what you buy, I only know it was her, bc she told me.

Please pass my blog along to friends who might be interested, I promise to have photos and stories from Paris soon.  

These are the best guide books - even if you don't have plans to visit me!

My First Confirmed Guests

Leslie and Trish are coming!  Leslie and Trish are coming!  

September 23rd to October 3.

A trip to Munich will be involved.  Oktoberfest, anyone?

This is a photo of Leslie in Sonoma last fall.
(Sorry, Trish, I don't have a recent photo of you.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I hope they don't have self-checkout in Paris

The new manager at the CVS in Bethesda is always trying to get me to use the self check-out, and I don't like it in English, so how am I ever going to do it in French?  I am fairly comfortable with technology, but I hate self check-out.  Cashiers ring people up 8 hours a day, they are good at it, why should I have to swipe my own card, when they are going to be much more efficient.  Luckily, I think most pharmacies in Europe still have most stuff behind the counter, so this is one thing I don't have to worry about.

The new guy at CVS is loud, and he asks people when they walk in the door if he can help them find anything.  I like customer service, but I don't want to have to tell him that I need tampons, or anal suppositories.  I don't use them, this is just an example of something that most people might not want to mention in front of the customers lined up at the register - and there is ALWAYS a line at my CVS. Maybe I should tell him that at the same volume he uses, and see if he even gets flustered.  What other 'unmentionables' could I embarrass myself requesting?  Soon, I will probably be complaining that the people at Parisian pharmacies are so rude, they won't even acknowledge my presence.  One more thing to check back for in June!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Beer or Chocolate?

I just learned that the phrase "tablette de chocolate" (chocolate bar) is what the French use to refer to six-pack abs.   

I think I am going to like France. 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Eating Chocolate in French

I like that I am learning past, present and future verbs tenses via 'eating chocolate"

I am going to eat chocolate. - Je vais manger du chocolat.
I am eating chocolate.  -  Je mange du chocolat.
I ate chocolate. - J'ai mange (with an accent) du chocolat.

I don't think I will have a problem remembering those.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Language Progress

Rosetta Stone Level 1 is complete!  It is pretty comprehensive, but if I hadn't taken French in high school and college, I would be lost in the grammar.  I ordered some practice books for conjugating verbs - Rosetta doesn't explain even the basics.  I wonder if I watch "Amelie" with Audrey Tautou repititively, would that help my French?  It would be more fun than saying "Le jouet jaune est grand." Translation: "The yellow toy is large."  One of my favorite multiple choice lessons combined theaters, arenas and gas stations.  

Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes

For the last six weeks, I attended a pastry class at L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg.  After my first class, I applied to Le Cordon Bleu for the intensive patisserie program.  I knew that when I didn't want to leave after spending three hours in the classroom that I could do this all the time.  Up until last weekend, I hadn't made any of the recipes from the class.  So while I was in Philly for Easter with my brother's family, I volunteered to make dessert.   No one seemed that excited when I said I was making cupcakes, but I wanted to re-try the buttercream icing recipe that didn't turn out during class.

Lynn (my sister in law) and I took my nieces to the store and bought the ingredients - the 4 pounds of butter was a little much, but I needed 20 ounces for the icing alone.  That is almost 5 sticks of butter, trust me, the end result was worth it.  I made the butter cake recipe for the cupcakes, not a complicated French genoise (sponge cake).  In class, the teacher made that recipe for the class while we made a roulade from the genoise recipe.  So it was new to me, but very easy.  Lucy and Rose helped me measure and tossed the ingredients into the mixer bowl, Rose is just three, so I had to be sure she wasn't tossing in egg shells or dollhouse toys.  When the batter was mixed, it was so good -- everyone wanted to lick the bowl!  I think Rosie had too much, she had a sugar fit soon afterwards (sorry Lynn). The oven was busy, so I made the icing while the potatoes and asparagus cooked, and waited to bake the cupcakes.  It was crowded in the kitchen, luckily the lamb was being grilled outside.

The buttercream recipe is based on Italian meringue - egg whites beaten with sugar and water that have been boiled to 'soft-ball' stage.  I made the girls stand far away as I poured the boiling mixture into the egg whites beating in the mixer.  Hot sugar water hurts!  When I made the recipe in class, some of the mixture hit the sides of the bowl and immediately cooled into sugar lumps.  This is what I wanted to remedy with this try, and it worked - no little lumps in my buttercream.  Phew - success! Then as I added the butter, it just didn't look right, it had the consistency of over-whipped cream.  Like tiny bits of butter in a watery sauce.  Yuck.  I wasn't sure if it was melting, if I beat it too much, or messed up the measurements.  Of course, by this point everyone was in the kitchen wanting to taste and see what was going on, making me a little stressed.  I don't usually stress out if I cook by myself, but this was the first time I had made anything in public, and wanted it to be perfect.  

Dinner was delicious, and after two glasses of wine, the cupcake fiasco seemed a little less important.  While everyone else chatted after dinner, I got the icing out of the fridge, and decided my mistake had been not beating it enough.  When I got the icing in the mixer again, I turned it on high and beat the hell out of it for two minutes.  And voila!  Perfection.  It was a huge relief.  And by then I was sweating a little with anxiety, no one wants to ruin Easter dinner with a gross dessert.

I hollowed out a little hole in the middle of the cupcake with a sharp knife, like coring the stem from a tomato, and poured in a little chocolate ganache (the easiest french icing - chocolate and cream).  If I had more time, I would have refrigerated the cupcakes to harden the filling a bit before icing them.  I spooned out some buttercream to tint, I saw a Martha Stewart magazine this spring with multi-colored cupcakes on a plate and thought they looked so pretty.  Yellow, peach, pink, geranium, orange, and lavender.  Starting with plain old grocery store food coloring, I added yellow to the butter cream and iced a few cupcakes.  Then a little red to make peach, a little more to get orange, then more and more red until I got the pink tones, and then a little blue to get the lavender (that was the hardest color to get right).  Lucy sprinkle some colored sugar on them and we arranged them on a plate to serve.  

I was so tired of looking at them, I didn't even have a cupcake until two days later, but everyone seemed to like them, even saying that they were the best cupcakes ever!  I think the chocolate filling made them so special, and that was something I didn't learn in class, I just came up with it - not that it hasn't been done before.  I didn't take a photo of them - stupid, but I might make them again for my graduation party.  I think they would be great as mini cupcakes, I love desserts that are just one bite!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shana is Coming to Paris!

Shana is very happy to announce that she will be joining me in Paris for a few days this summer!  YAY!


I just joined Skype - sbear1972 is my login.

Literary Preparation

I just finished Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential last night, along with a few lessons on shopping in French with Rosetta.   I have enjoyed most of the books about chefs I have been reading.  I think Heat (Bill Buford) is my favorite so far, but Julia Child's My Life in France was a very close second.  I also liked The Sharper Your Knife, by Kathleen Flinn -- she got laid off and enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu, but in the cuisine program -- not pastry like me.  

I have also been reading books about France in general - the wonderful A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle.  And two by a British author chronicling an English-style tea room owner's adventure in Paris.  Travel books are starting to look good too - Rick Steve's Europe has some good ideas for where to find the expat community in Paris.  I almost got a huge tome from the library about the history of France, but it was so dense, I knew I would lug it home and then feel guilty about not reading it.  Please comment with your reading recommendations - I still have 60 days to prepare myself!
The library has been a life-saver, it keeps me from spending so much at Amazon, especially loading my Kindle with stories I won't read again.  If you are a reader and traveler, I can't recommend a Kindle enough.  It is expensive, but it keeps me from buying books at the airport, with slim selection and no discount.  I took it to Copenhagen last month, and was so happy that I wasn't lugging 5 books with me!  I downloaded a few travel freebies from Amazon, and those were enough to keep me entertained and informed.

If you enjoy my blog and are going to buy something from Amazon - try to use the link at the bottom of the page - I can get a small commission if you do!  Thanks.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

So-called free flights

I bought my ticket for Paris yesterday.   I used frequent flyer miles, but still ended up pay almost $200 with taxes ($115 of them French), and fees.  The same thing happened when I flew to Copenhagen with Jeannie, I know the airlines are hurting, but this is ridiculous!  If you are looking for a flight to come visit - check out www.itasoftware.com and use the Month Search option on the top right.  It is a great tool to see when cheaper flights might be available.  August - fairly expensive at $900) but September - reasonable at $750 - and yes, that does include fees and taxes!

I will be heading to Paris on June 15th, with a quick stop in Philly first.  I have no idea how much stuff I will need for this trip.  It's not like I am going on a trip to Borneo -- interesting idea though -- I am sure I will be able to get anything I need in Paris, it just seems silly to duplicate things that I already have.  

I will be in class from June 29th to July 24, and then on vacation again for all of August - until September 1.   So if you are thinking of a visit, check out flights soon, so I can add you to the calendar.  My place has a double bed and a trundle, as well as a sofa that looks pretty comfy.  Might be a little cramped, but you can't beat the price!

My place in Paris

I have a place to live in Paris!   189 Rue de Faubourg Poissoniere.    

I found it on Craig's List and it is in a nice neighborhood, with enough room to have guests - make your reservations soon.  Paris is not an easy place to find an apartment - exorbitant brokerage fees, small places, and large rents.  My "favorite" one had a toilet that slid out from under the shower -- it is still available if anyone is interested - just 700 Euros per month.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Getting Started

Well, the Rosetta Stone seems to be working.  The vocabulary is coming back to me from high school.  Je m'appelle Sarah, je ne travaille pas.  (My name is Sarah, I don't work!)  I have been spending an average of two hours a day and am almost through Level One.  Looks like the next section is on Shopping - je t'aime le shopping!  

I am definitely nervous when I think about going to Le Cordon Bleu - I mean, Julia Child went there (50 years ago).  Luckily the first two patisserie sessions are taught in French, but translated simultaneously translated into English. But, the third session will be all in French.  

Why Patisserie?  It makes me happy to make things that taste good, and if I have to eat my mistakes, they may as well be chocolate or cake!  I am not sure what I will do with my diploma, the dream is to open a little French cafe, but at this point, the point is to change my perspective, try something new, and where else but Paris to do it? 

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