Sunday, August 30, 2009

The French are Back Too!

Since most French people have 6 weeks of vacation, many of them take off for the beach/the country/the United States for the month of August. The little street where I shop, Rue des Martyrs, has been deserted for weeks, and is just starting to wake up for business. The bakery across the street has been shuttered for over a month, opening tomorrow with their amazing old-time baguettes. My neighbors are starting to trickle back with very nice tans and even more interesting musical tastes - classical in the morning out the kitchen window, accordion practice in the afternoon in the courtyard, possibly French rap in the evening, and some Arabic singing late at night. The lonely little boy down the row has been waiting for his friends to return, and now they race up and down the courtyard, shooting passersby with empty waterguns.

Tangent about the bread in Paris, not all of it is good. Really. The decline of French bread is sad, many boulangeries use a commercial mix to make their loaves. The huge mills provide the flour, yeast and salt in a certain combination, the baker just adds water, lets rise and bakes. It isn't bad bread, but it is very soft inside, with a bland taste - it also gets stale very fast. The "real" bakeries in Paris use a starter, like sourdough, to make a bread that rises slower, but tastes so much better. Some bakeries make both commercial - for about .90 euros, and offer 'traditionnel' for about 1.10. Some sprinkle sesame seeds, and others look like they are covered in bird seed (called cereal bread, which costs about 1.20). I usually buy the traditional version, when I can find it.

If you come to Paris, you should see Poilane Bakery - they are the most traditional, and possibly the most famous bakery here. Regina and I went to see the shop - and although I was so hot from walking around the city, that I didn't want to ask if we could see the ovens, she did, and they let us check out where the bread is made. The flour is stone-ground, the salt is a light grey color, and they let the round loaves rise in the cutest woven baskets lined with linen before shoving them into a hotter than hell oven - flames I could feel from across the room. The boules are very dense with a good strong flavor. Rumor has it that American celebrities have Poilane bread flown in for parties. I might bring some home for Christmas.

The bakery is on very fashionable street on the Left Bank, and we found an amazing hat store with the cutest black velvet beret (yes, it had a bow). I didn't want to try it on, since spending 80 euros on a winter hat just isn't in my student budget. So, if I find a job, not likely without a work visa, I might just treat myself to it! Or I could not do laundry for a two months and that would pay for it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I'm Baaaack!

It's been awhile, sorry. I think I used up all my words and energy with my guests - thank you all for visiting. We had such a great time. I can't tell all of you how happy I was to host you.

I also need to apologize to all the people I have ever stayed with, and say thank you, again. Living in a shoebox apartment, I rarely had people over for dinner, much less overnight - although the red sofa did see some action in my years at the Riv! But having houseguests is exhausting. I never knew how much effort goes into getting ready, showing the sights, and cleaning up afterwards. And I had great guests! I couldn't have made it through my first week without Amy, really, I might have flown home if she hadn't been here to keep me company. Kathy made a special trip from her U2 voyage to visit and taught me so much about Art Nouveau - we giggled like we were freshman roommates again. Steph brought me my mail and some special duty free items, bought more than her fair share of meals, and made me laugh for a week. Lauren and Lisa made me go out to clubs until 6 am - well, maybe I enjoyed it just a little - they only used one towel between them to keep my laundry pile from growing. And then Regina was a treat, we ate like kings and I got to show her Monet's Waterlilies.

So, now I am back to my usual self - watching The Love Boat in French, practicing my Rosetta Stone, trying to find even cheaper wine, and still on the hunt for postcard stamps. I went to a post office, too intimidated to go the counter which had a long line of French people, I thought I'd try the lonely automated machine. I fished out a postcard that I bought two months ago, wrote a month ago, and weighed it on the scale, told the machine that I wasn't sending it to Uruguay, and that it didn't need to be insured, and that I was paying cash. Nice thing about the Euro coins, you always have tons of change in your purse (that is why the men carry purses here). This wasn't a quick transaction, but I was working through it, and started to get my coins out when a hand came out of nowhere and pressed "Annuler" on the screen. And started to do his own transaction. Not that I shouldn't be shocked, but I was. He said nothing, just cancelled my hard-won postcard stamps and handed me the postcard I was weighing with a casual flick of the wrist. It is probably a good thing that I don't know any French curse words.

Ah, I haven't been back to La Poste. So if you are waiting for a postcard from me, don't hold your breath! But I am back on the blog wagon - School starts Tuesday!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

So busy

I didn't realize that I need serious amounts of quiet time to get my thoughts together to blog - I can't just plop tipsy self down in front of the computer. I have been having a great time with my guests, and have been writing down ideas to share, but I just haven't had the alone time I need to write some thing vaguely coherent. It is very flattering that some of you miss me! Thanks, that is really sweet.

I should be able to get some thoughts ready this week, while my mom is here - I doubt we will be clubbing until 6 am, but if we are - I promise to tweet the hell out of that experience!

Happy Birthday Lauren -- Put your feet in and lean OUT!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


What am I going to do when I come home?

I think a gourmet food truck would be perfect for Bethesda - no crazy rent expense, mobile, fun. Then I would be open breakfast and lunch, some staples with a few specials, good healthy bag lunches available at breakfast with pastries and hot lunch for a few hours too. The more I read about food and practice, and EAT, the more dissatisfied I am with the selections in restaurants and delis.

My sister sends me the best links about food, paris, budget travel and other cool stuff. Here is a link to the best food trucks in NYC from Budget Travel Magazine. There was also an article about food trucks in the Wall Street Journal a few months ago, so maybe it isn't such a crazy idea?? I just found a website selling food trucks - this one looks pretty good.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Steph is Here!

Having lots of fun with Steph, although she is complaining about the amount of cheese that I am feeding her. She is also warming up to the grocery store white wine, after trying the Desperados beer - "You must be desperate to drink that stuff." The coffee situation is not great here - visitors be warned. The french press is broken and I don't know how to use the coffee maker. Also, do not bring a hairdryer from home, it will heat to 4000 degrees and blow up. Paris is low-maintenance travel.

Friday we saw St Chapelle, my favorite church in Paris, the Conciergie (Paris Prison where they held Marie Antoinette before her date with the guillotine) and then headed over to Notre Dame to see the Crown of Thorns, that is only brought out the first Friday of the month at 3 pm. It was a production - heightened security, white gloves, and teary Catholics.

Yesterday, we stayed close to home and walked through Montmartre, and watched the live music (check out Nikerson)on the steps of Sacre Couer. Hawkers bring coolers of water, soda and beer to sell to the tourists. We had a few Heinekens for a bargain of 2 euros apiece and then realized that the local guy next to us was only paying 1 euro for his beer. I think of it as the tourist tax, if you go to the cafe once you pay the posted price of 4 euros for a cafe creme (coffee with cream), while locals and regulars, will only pay 2 euros.

After Sacre Couer, we headed to see the Eiffel Tower hourly sparkling. I wanted to get a shot of Steph with the Tower behind her, so I stretched out on the ground and she took a photo of me. Anonymous bloggers need not comment that I look wasted.

Two sad events: Steph sat in gum and I lost my red sweatshirt.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Another Walk in Montmartre

Mike and Cathy are here from Philly and I met them for lunch and dinner. After last night's craziness, it is nice to be home and quiet at a reasonable hour. Someone has mentioned that I shouldn't blog after two bottles of wine, and I have had less than one so far tonight.

I am sure my neighbors are very glad as well as my loyal readers. At 2 am, as I was chatting with Ralph and Michele in Florida, trying to convince them how great Paris is, at a volume normally used at a concert, my very nice downstairs neighbor knocked on the door and asked me to "Shh." I didn't realize that with my window open and hers as well, that it was like she was in the next room. Oops.

If you want to check out some popular Paris blogs, my sister sent me this link from Newsweek. I love them all.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

First Night of Entertaining

As guests come and go, and my friends from Le Cordon Bleu depart, I am inheriting some interesting stuff. Amy and Kathy both left razors - not sure if it was accidental or a hint that I should shave my legs a little more? Amy also left some shaving cream, so I think it was a subtle nudge into better hygiene.

Shaunda from school packed up her stuff and brought me the coolest polka dotted market stroller, a two great fans, and some refrigerator extras, including some Tequiza-style beer, Desperado -- which I think Steph might enjoy. Or I will drink it while she cries about the lack of Miller Lite. Either way, I will be happy drinking Desperado or my cheap white wine. (I write that so often, I wonder if you google 'cheap white wine,' if my blog will show in the results?) I have the Desperado chilling nicely while Steph packs and tries to remember where she put her passport.

I was woefully unprepared for the night, and ran to the MonoP' (mini grocery version of the great Monoprix department store) to grab some last minute supplies. I bought some smoked salmon to serve on toast points, salami to go with the leftover cheese from a few days ago, a few cherry tomatoes that I sliced and lightly salted. Blah Blah Blah, baguette, wine, LU cookies. I boiled a few potatoes and used my yummy homemade vinaigrette. And served some left over quiche. It was a sad assortment of food, but French, and the company was really nice and didn't mention the weirdness of it all. I think I made out nicely in the trade - I have been coveting a market stroller since Day 1. It makes it more difficult for people to cut in front of me in line, and I can get many more bottle of wine than my usual purple bag.

Shelley, Shaunda and her daughters also brought me some Belgian chocolate from their recent trip - I love the name - Plaisir Personnel - it sounds kinda dirty. Yes, it has been a while, don't judge.

Monday, August 3, 2009

"My Paris"

Eucch! "My Paris." I sound like such a pompous ass when I say that. But really, I feel like I am getting to know a whole different Paris from my other two trips here. From what I remember, and God knows how long it has been (no need for my friends to comment here about my lack of dates), tourists see Paris like a first date, dressed up, makeup covering the zits, push-up bra making more of her assets, squeezy underwear making less of her deficits, a little red lipstick to mimic sexual interest.

Yes, maybe Paris is a bit of slut, but it does make her popular with the boys. She gives a few kisses (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame) at the beginning to be friendly and then she stands her ground before giving up anything else - hardware stores, electrical tape, the best baguette, etc. I feel like a guy trying to get to third base, not sure where third base is anymore, but it sounds like a good metaphor.

So I am trying to get up Paris's skirt. Really. And she is being such a bitch about it.

Note to Paris:
Give it up already and stop treating me like an Algerian terrorist. You know you want me.

Success and Failure

Failure #1.
No luck with the key - not because of my pathetic French, which has not improved magically in 48 hours, but because the key I have is mangled and the nice (and cute) French guy at the hardware store couldn't duplicate. AND a key of this type costs, hold your breath:

28 Euros!
So that is a landlord issue that I will deal with tomorrow.

Failure #2.
Everything is closing. If it is not a chain store, it is probably closed - even my favorite bakery Armaund Delmontel! How am I going to survive without those addictive baguettes? The wine store is closing, but that might be a good thing, and I have my cheap white bordeaux from the grocery store to keep me company.

Failure #3.
Omelet this morning - tried to flip it ala Julia Child and splattered eggs over the counter, stove and fridge. I had the courage of my convictions while flipping, but it didn't work. I salvaged the portion that miraculously made it back in the pan though.

Failure #4.
I have killed the plant in my apartment, so sorry. I water the geraniums everyday while I wait for the water to my tea to boil, and completely forgot the sad plant next to the sofa. Any suggestions on how to revive this pathetic heap of brown leaves?

Success #1
Made vinaigrette from scratch and it was surprisingly good. I have been perusing Michael Ruhlmann's book Ratio, and just decided to try my own recipe. 1 part red wine vinegar, 3 parts oil. Mix the salt and herbs de provence into the vinegar, stir in some dijon mustard, and slowly drip the oil into the mix. Yum. I boiled some sliced potatoes and poured the vinaigrette on top, it was so good, I ate 5 potatoes! My friend Nancy makes a great potato dish much more interesting with cheese and watercress, but this is so easy, and I could eat it everyday. I would show you a picture but it is all gone.

Success #2 (almost)
Quiche Lorraine - made simple pie crust, caramelized some onions, cooked the bacon and a quick custard and voila! Quiche! The French grocery stores are terrible for fresh produce, but they know their smoked/dried meat selection. Great smoked salmon, copious amounts of salami, and pre-cubed bacon (called lardons in French). This is an almost success because I haven't actually tasted the quiche yet, but it smells like bacon, so it can't be all bad.

Damn productive day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

French Verbs Suck

I am working on verbs, as they are so difficult in French, leaving me with comfortable with nouns but dependent on hand gestures for verbs - luckily my life is G-rated, so my hand gestures are not obscene. I have been spending more time with my Rosetta Stone, and Gwynn from downstairs has agreed to only speak French to me. I try to keep talking to the children and neighbors in French even after they switch to English to keep the conversation flowing.

Knowing I need an extra set of keys made for the next visitors to Chez Dwyer, I practiced my French before heading to the hardware store.

"Bonjour monsieur, je voudrais un double de cle, s'il vous plait."
"Bonjour monsieur, je voudrais un double de cle, s'il vous plait."
"Bonjour monsieur, je voudrais un double de cle, s'il vous plait."

I said it over and over in my head as I walked two blocks to the shop. I waited as the guy in the back of the store fiddled with something, and finally noticed me. I hold out my keys and get "Bonjour Monsieur, je voudrais un . . . " out of my mouth when the guy starts yelling, "Non, non, aujourdhui, blah blah parler francais, blah blah, NON!"

What? Was he mad that I speak such bad French? WTF? I have been here for two months, and very little rudeness has been sent my way. Frustration, yes. But actual rudeness, not really. I spent 10 minutes in a shop asking for electrical tape to mark my cuisine tools, and the shopkeeper was patient, as I listed all the things that could be helpful: adhesive, sticky, electricity, electric guitar, glue, paste, scotch tape, scotch, brandy, etc all while pretending to be electrocuted by the lamp cord with a scary zzzz sound that an electric chair might make during the death penalty. I even mimed how to wrap tape around the cord to stop my electrocution. Then I listed colors that the tape might be, and pretended to wrap a present with tape, and voila, he opened a drawer with 10 different types of tape, and I chose the red (no pink). He rang it up and I paid while saying many Mercis. I know it wasn't perfect, but I got the job done.

Last week, I de-magnetized my Metro card with the magnets used to hold down baking paper in the oven at school, and found the main office at Gare du Nord, explained that it didn't work, and got a new card without one hand gesture!

Another example of my progress: Last week, a cute American guy at the grocery store asked me if I spoke English, and wanted my help to find baking powder and vinegar. I didn't ask what kind of stain he was trying to eradicate, went to the woman stocking the shelves, "Excusez-moi, madame, ou est-ce que le vinagre et the poudre de chimique?" I was mostly right, I asked for vinegar and baking powder, but it worked. Baking soda is bicarbinate de soude, and only found at pharmacies, I think. So I can usually get through a transaction with just a little embarrassment, making the key incident that much more anger-inducing. Of course, I stopped at the grocery store on the way home, and drowned my frustration in a nice bottle of white bordeaux - only 3.80 Euros.

I still need those keys made, and will have to go back the store tomorrow, I hope someone else is working, so I don't start an international incident when that guy refuses to serve me. I know the exact hand gesture for him, no practice needed!

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