Baguette and Croissant making anyone? A bright memory to cherish before these strange times

Like so many people, we had to cut our time in Paris short to return to the US because of the virus. I’m glad we are back with family and friends, but I miss Paris already, and I want this blog to be full of positive things to help me, and any of you reading it, to stay positive.

So I’m going to take you back to one of our final days there, to a small bakery in the 14th arrondisement, Le Petit Mitron, and our wonderful morning spent with Didier. Didier offers a two-hour course on breadmaking, which might sound too short a time to those who have spent hours with dough resting and rising periods, and it’s true that we did not take the process from start to finish in 2 hours. What Didier does instead is to give an introduction to the different kinds of dough, with some “hands on” tasks to help cement the concepts and techniques in your mind. We left feeling inspired, and excited to try the recipes at home (they were emailed to us afterward).

The site where we found Didier was Viator https://www.viator.com/tours/Paris/Experience-Paris-Baguette-and-Croissant-Workshop/d479-3234BREADMAKING

There were just 5 of us– Didier’s baking area is very small and holds a max of 8. He had already completed the first step of a ‘mille-feuille’ dough and plopped the dough, and a huge pat of butter, onto the counter. Two people had to then roll out the dough samples and fold the huge pat of butter into the middle, then roll out the dough again. He explained to us that the professional butter that he buys has a much smaller percentage of water in it, which helps to achieve the many fine layers. Throughout, Didier explained in French (which was also simultaneously translated into English by a very able young woman) the process he goes through for that dough, and how the many layers of buttery pastry are formed. We were then given an apple tart that was made with the mille-feuille dough, which was, of course, delicious!

Next up was the making of croissants, and pain au chocolat. The dough was made, but we had to roll the croissants, and then we had to put chocolate into the pains au chocolats. We learned that Didier, in his bakery, puts 3 pieces of chocolate in (versus the more standard 1 or 2) so keep that in mind, if you are wandering nearby!

We then moved downstairs to his basement where the baguettes get shaped and baked. We were each given a baguette to put the final slices and/or shaping to, and learned about the different sorts of cuts for the tops of the baguettes, and also saw baguettes made with different flours.

this is the oven and the baguettes below ready to cut the tops and then slide in.

Didier explaining it all to us.

And finally us, standing with our baguettes! A really fun class that I would highly recommend to everyone!

Is there anything better than good quality chocolate?

I love chocolate. I will admit it. But I am NOT willing to waste calories on cheap, run-of-the-mill, over-the-counter chocolate. It has to be good quality and delicious.

I’ve also never been a fan of boxed chocolates, like Sees Candies, or Godiva. Until now. It turns out I just needed to find the right one.

This tiny shop makes their chocolate on the property itself (you can see them working away behind the plate-glass window behind the sales counter). I asked for a variety of dark and milk chocolates, and I can promise you that I loved every single one that I tried. Here is the description of the various offerings:

There are many, many wonderful chocolate shops in Paris, but I can personally vouch for this one. And believe me– every calorie is worth it!

Musee Maillol- A hidden gem on the Left Bank

You’ve been to the Louvre. You’ve been to the D’Orsay. You love them, I get it. But there are SO many smaller, lesser known museums, that offer the chance to discover something new. One that Peter and I recently discovered is the Musee Maillol. www.museemaillol.com. Do you know it? It’s a 10-minute walk from the Musee D’Orsay, and an 11-minute walk from the Luxembourg Gardens. The building itself is magnificent, and the history is fascinating. In 1739, a group of nuns endowed the land to the city of Paris for a fountain to be constructed, the Fontaine des Quatres-Saisons. This fountain was built between 1739 and 1745 as a monument to the beautiful city of Paris, and, in 1862, was declared an historic monument.

This is now one of the exterior walls of the museum. In the next few decades, the nuns built a variety of small buildings around it as part of their convent. The various buildings were then sold off during the Revolution and divided into various residential units. In the 19th century, it was home for a variety of creative people, like Alfred du Musset (poet, dramatist, novelist) and Paul Jacques Aime Baudry (painter), and in the 1950’s the Prevert Brothers opened a cabaret there. A colorful past, to be sure! In 1955, Dina Vierny, who was a model and muse for Aristide Maillol, the sculptor, bought one of the residential apartments and over the next thirty years acquired the rest of the property (how did she do that? I have no idea!), with the goal of opening a museum to house Maillol’s works. In January, 1995, she succeeded and the building was opened as the Musee Maillol. (This is the courtyard that is now the Cafe Prevert)

It houses not only a selection of Maillol’s sculptures, but also the museum brings in a variety of amazing temporary exhibits.

This temporary exhibit was, in fact, a prime reason we went in June. It was a collection of Emil Buhrle. Emil Buhrle was a German-Born Swiss Industrialist who assembled his collection between 1936 and 1956. This was the first time the collection had been shown in Paris, and contains works from the 2nd half of the 19th century through the early part of the 20th century. The collection was embroiled in some controversy because thirteen pieces were acquired during World War II and subsequently were discovered to have been looted from their rightful owners. Emil Buhrle went to those families and returned those paintings, and then asked if he could purchase them back (many of which he did). An honorable thing to do. This made the collection that much more poignant for me.

In 2021, the collection will be housed permanently in Zurich at Kunstenhaus https://www.kunsthaus.ch

After an engrossing hour of perusing, we left to find a place to eat, and found an adorable cafe nearby offering delicious steak frites– The Cafe Le Flores.

I will continue to explore Paris for small, lesser-known museums to share with you!! Enjoy!

Le Bon Marché, c’est extraordinaire!!!

If you are a shopper, especially if you are a shopper for all things food related, you NEED to visit this store. It’s located on the Left Bank, in the 7th arrondisement at the intersection of the Rue de Sèvres and Rue du Bac. The original store was founded in 1838 to sell lace, ribbons, buttons, and various other small sundries, and had twelve employees. By 1879, it had just under 1,800 employees in its first building, which was constructed from 1869 to 1872. The building was enlarged several times (one of the architects/engineers was Gustave Eiffel’s engineering firm) and in 1911-1913, a second building was constructed, in the Art Deco style. This second building was requisitioned in World War I as a military hospital, was later destroyed by fire (1915), but then rebuilt in 1924. Both buildings were completely renovated in 2012 by the current owners.

An interesting societal aspect of the creation of this “grand magasin” (literally “large store) is that it marked the appearance of the “middle class” who would then become its primary clientele. Le Bon Marché was very innovative for its time, its owner using various new and different marketing ploys, including: a reading room for husbands while their wives shopped; entertainment for children; and sending catalogs to its customers.

Also interesting was the fact that by 1880, over half of its employees were women, and those that were unmarried were allowed to live in dormitories on the upper floors.[2]

The store has not only a huge variety of prepackaged options (mustards, teas, oils, spices):

but also large selections of fresh produce, fresh seafood, and even small eating areas with small menus of available prepared items.

I have always assumed that most of its business came from tourists, but I was there on Sunday and there were lots of Parisians doing their shopping as well. It is a business model that is greatly benefiting from today’s renewed love and interest in food and cooking in general.

https://www.24sevres.com/en-fr/

Enjoy!

Clean clothes anyone? A Practical Tip for Life in Paris

Okay, let me give fair warning right here that this is not a post about a new museum or a new restaurant. It’s about something more practical. Laundry. Yes, if you stay in Paris for a long enough stretch, you will need to clean some clothes, right?

In my case, I was having a minor dryer crisis, so I needed to learn how to use the local “Laverie Libre Service.”  Turns out there is one close by. The sign on the outside says it’s open 7 days a week, from 7:30 to 22:00 (10:00 PM). I found a big, old IKEA plastic bag, filled it with sheets, towels and clothes, and headed out.

It was a Sunday, and there were a variety of people already inside, who nodded politely as I entered. I realized that many people probably don’t have a washer/dryer in their apartments and this is therefore a standard part of their weekend itinerary.

IMG_6737 IMG_6736 IMG_6735

Okay, so I approached the machines, trying to look confident. I could figure this out, right?

The sign above the machines pretty much spelled out the process, but I was still thankful that the woman filling the machine next to mine walked me through the steps. First, put clothes into the washing machine. Makes sense. Next, add detergent. Luckily, I had thought to bring my own soap from home (a little tablet). This is where the assistance helped, to make sure I put the soap in the appropriate little drawer on the top of the machine. Okay, now you select which cleaning cycle you want (basically from very hot (80 degrees celsius and 50 minutes) for whites, to cool (30 degrees and 30 minutes for wool). The next step is the part that was different from my past experiences in the US, though I will admit it’s been years since I used a public laundromat. Actually, the last time was in college. At that time, you had to be sure you had a roll of quarters and dimes to insert into the machine.

Here, there was nowhere to put money in the machine itself. Instead, you make note of the number on your machine and then go to the payment station (third picture above). You input the number of your machine, then pay the amount it requests. I can’t remember the exact amount but I think it was 2-3 euros for one load. Then you can go run other errands while the machine does its thing, because, as my new “friend” pointed out, the washing machines are locked shut (to prevent stupid people from opening them and flooding the space I’m sure) so no one could come and steal your laundry (though, honestly, would someone do that anyway?).

Then, once that finishes, you move your clothes and towels and sheets to one of the dryers and again, you input the number of the machine and your money into the payment station. Here is where I learned a good tip. My “friend” told me that the drying cycle is not really long enough to thoroughly dry the items, so you can immediately re-enter the machine number and pay a 2nd time to lengthen the cycle. The dryers don’t lock, like the washing machines, so you need to bring your book to occupy you while you stand around for the 30-40 minutes waiting for your items to dry.

Voila! I felt like such a local! Laundry all washed and dried and back into the giant IKEA bag.

Now comes the best part of the whole day/experience. On my way back to the apartment,  I passed, two doors down, “Le Petit Falafel.” The space inside appeared to be only as wide as the sign above the door announcing the name. There was a tiny copy of the menu hanging on the door, and after a quick glance (it was noon and I was starving), I had the brilliance to open the door, allowing a waft of pure yumminess to emerge. The two tiny tables were already occupied, so I got a falafel sandwich “a emporter” (to go). There was a tiny counter and glass case, where you could see all of the very fresh-looking ingredients, two very nice gentlemen, and a fryer. Ten minutes later, I was leaving with what turned out to be a DELICIOUS sandwich for 6 euros. A DEAL for sure.

A successful day all the way around.

 

I’ve decided on my next career– translating French menus

The last time Peter and I were in Paris, we were going to see Véronique Sanson in concert at the Olympia (www.olympiahall.com) (see my blog post from February of 2015)

So, before we went to the concert, we decided to eat across the street at the Capucine Café (www.capucinecafe.com). The food is absolutely wonderful and because it’s right across the street from the Olympia, they are not shocked by people coming in at 6:30 or 7:00 for dinner before the show (for those who have been to Paris, you know that you do NOT even think about going to a restaurant for dinner, normally, before 8:30 at the earliest).

Since Peter doesn’t speak as much French as I do, we got menus in both French and English. And it was amazing to see the things NOT on the English version that were on the French version.

IMG_3391 IMG_3394Here are the two menus and note that on the English one, there are three “Starters” and on the French one, there are four “Entrées” which is the same category. Now why is one left off? And it’s a delicious one too– Duck Tartare with artichoke and pistachio and Beet Carpaccio. Wouldn’t you be intrigued to try that?? In the main courses, you have the same thing. The first one on the French menu is Scallops “à la provençale” with mashed potatoes. Again, sounds delicious so why is it not on the English menu?

I had the “Bar entier” which means a whole European bass which was incredible. It was grilled with Fennel butter and anchovy paste and served with mashed pumpkin with hazelnuts. It was on the English menu, but listed as “whithing” and says it’s cooked with bacon and tomatoes (no evidence of either in the French description or what I was served (see photo below).

IMG_3389So I have decided that this is to be my next job. I need to move to Paris and work with restaurants translating their daily specials. I don’t want any more English speakers missing out on potentially delicious dining experiences!

To help me in the endeavor, since menu vocabulary can be quite specialized, Peter and I went to the bookstore Gibert Jeune, located at the Place St. Michel, and look what we found!

IMG_3523Dictionaries, from French to English and English to French, for restaurant and culinary terms! I’m now all set to start my next life adventure. Anyone want to volunteer as my able assistant and fellow taster???