Part 2: A restaurant is only open for lunch and dinner (not breakfast) and is more formal in its offering. No sandwiches, no salads as main courses. They  offer a selection of entrees (appetizers), plats (main course), and desserts. Lunch, in Paris, is generally between 12:00 and 1:30 and dinner starts at 8:00 – at the EARLIEST, and service goes till 11:00 or so. Restaurants generally offer also a “Menu Fixe” for a fixed price where you choose either an appetizer and main course, a main course and dessert, or all three for a set price. Don’t listen to people who say that eating in Paris always costs a fortune. It IS more expensive than it used to be, and I guess it depends on what you think of as expensive, but the restaurants we went to had menu fixe prices varying from 24 to 36 euros, which, for two or three courses, doesn’t seem outrageous to me. This time we went to Bistrot Paul Bert, in the 11th arrondisement, which I’d been wanting to try. The reviews say that the steak frites is one of the best- I haven’t eaten enough different ones to say THAT, but I did think it was very tasty! Their menu is on a chalkboard which they prop up at the end of the table. Fresh and local is key to places like this and when we were there, “cepes” mushrooms were in season so there was an omelet option or “poelee” which meant mushrooms sauteed in a pan with herbs and butter- delicious! The menu there, for 3 courses, was 36 euros, with the appetizer and dessert priced separately at 9 euros and the main course at 23 euros so the fixed price is a great deal!

Cafe or Restaurant- what’s the difference?

Part 1: Cafes: Anyone who’s been to Paris knows that most streets have at least one corner cafe. Sometimes they are called “cafe,” sometimes also “brasserie.” A cafe is a place, traditionally, that has a stand up bar area and seating outside. It’s open in the morning for people to get their first espresso and a croissant, or a “tartine” (a long, cut piece of baguette slathered with butter), and stays open all day, serving a limited menu of food items. There are usually salads, omelettes, and sandwiches.  Sometimes there’ll be “steak frites” and/or “poulet frites” (steak and french fries and/or chicken and french fries). They’ll often have a blackboard menu that goes up at lunch time with the day’s food specials beyond the standard offerings.  Generally the cost for sandwiches and salads is from 5 euros to about 12 euros ($8 to $15). Peter and I like to eat at cafes instead of restaurants. They’re cheaper and once you’ve bought your food, you’ve paid for a spot to watch the world go by. The food’s fresh, the beer’s cold, the people-watching unbeatable. Here’s a picture of my salad with country ham and Cantal cheese, and Peter’s plain omelette (with fries, of course) from our recent trip to Le Progres, a cafe in the Marais area.

Learning new “stuff” can be very tough

We just got back from visiting our son in New York. He’s in culinary school and is finding it both overwhelming and yet also incredible.  In talking to him about it, my husband made a great analogy. “It’s like learning a language. At first, absolutely everything is new, so your brain is completely overwhelmed by all the ‘stuff.’ It feels like you’ll never get it figured out- all the new vocabulary, the new pronunciations, even new letters, depending on the language.

Yet…. when you look back after four or five months, you can see how much progress you’ve made. All of a sudden you realize you’re now speaking in full sentences, maybe even full concepts! And you know lots of words…. lots more than you ever thought you would.”

Cooking school has been EXACTLY like that. There’s no way to be prepared when you start. It turns out you don’t know ANYTHING. You don’t know basics, like how to cut things up, how to prepare basic sauces, how to do what you feel like is the most simple thing. Any technique you had before, or knowledge you had before, goes out the window. You need to start over and learn it all again, and this time the “right” way. Now, after two months, he’s starting to realize he’s learned a TON already (but, of course, there’s a TON more to learn).

For me, this whole “blog” thing and getting my novel published has been similar- overwhelming and also incredible. I thought I would NEVER be able to write a whole novel- but I did. I started with some basic ideas of the plot and of the characters, and I made myself just start writing.  And a funny thing happened. As I was writing, characters’ lives became more clear. From personality traits to interactions, the “stuff” started to fall into place. And now, two years later, there are still moments in the process, just like there were in the writing, that are overwhelming and I wonder if I’m ever going to get there.

But you know what? I will………I can’t see exactly when, but I’m going to get there.