Where did Paris go?

September 15th, 2009

First off, I know that I promised a daily post until the Paris story arch was over, but well, things happened.  I got distracted.  I’ll delve into some of the reasons in future posts.  The plan is to simul-cast my vacation stories with what’s happening in my kitchen right now.  Specifically the fact that it is entirely empty.  Devoid of even the proverbial (and in this case literal) kitchen sink.  Actually, at this very moment there are some things in there.  A pile of two-by-fours and three Polish men talking about the two-by-fours quite animatedly.  I assume they are talking about other things as well, but that’s the only word I can make out. 

I’ll post pictures and tell an interesting anecdote in the near future.  But now I’m going to type up my next post about Paris.  As long as my wife stops sending me youTube links.

Author: Josh Categories: Update Tags: , ,

The Tantalizing Tail of the Tarte Tatin

September 4th, 2009

Our fourth day in Paris was both busy and relaxing.  We raced from the landmark to landmark:  Notre Dame; Sainte-Chapelle, the royal chapel; the Conciergerie, an old palace that was converted into a prison during The revolution and housed Marie Antoinette prior to her appointment with the guillotine; and a boat tour up and down the Seine.  We also took a leisurely walk don Ile Saint-Louis – the expensive section of town, but walking is still free – and stopped off in a cafe or two where I had my first French French onion soup.  Two hundred pictures later, we went over to Boulevard Saint-Michel to have drink with some friends just getting off of work.

Of course this was our first time in the area.  To be honest it was kind of magical.  Following the map to our destination, The Girl and I saw bright lights and shops down a small alley way.  We decided that we had plenty of time and side tracked down the alley.  Coming out the other side, my first thought was hat we were in the Paris equivalent of Time Square.  It was all lights and tourists.  Here and there you could see people selling mini Eiffel Towers chanting “One Euro, one euro, one euro…”  Something that really surprised me were all of the Greek places.  They looked exactly like the ones back home, with their blue signs and the same exact font advertising the gyros.

Once we were settled into yet another cafe, we ordered some drinks.  Bordeaux for the Americans and fruity cocktails for the Parisians.  The Girl and I also ordered a tarte tatin each.  These were possibly the best we had during the trip, and we had our fair share.  They were complete tartes, not just wedges tossed in the microwave.  And oh, the white stuff spooned on the side, too thick to be whipped cream.  I had to ask to be sure, but yes, it was creme fraiche.  This was actually my first time eating it.  Ever.  Another thing to check off of my France-To-Do-List.  I was very happy.

After some drinking and a lot of talking, the inevitable occurred:  The Girl had to go to the bathroom.  Being a relatively logical (and highly hygienic) person, she went off in search of the bathroom.  Upon her return, she asked if anyone had fifty cents.  You had to pay to pee.  No one had that particular coin so she decided to wait until we went back home.  Well that took longer than anticipated, so one of the French speaking members of our party asked the waiter for change.  He wound up hooking us up with a metal token the size of a fifty cent coin that would unlock the bathroom door.  Maybe it was the wine (probably) but I felt like I was in an old 16-bit RPG.  “Your party has received a Metal Token! Dun-duh-duh!”  The Girl was relieved.

Time went by and more of the ladies went to the bathroom, asking for a Metal Token each time.  Eventually I had to go, so I flagged down the waiter and in my limited French asked “toillette?”  I did not receive a Metal Token.  Instead he told me to go downstairs.  I must have looked confused because he then went on to explain that men pee for free.  Now I was very confused.  It costs fifty cents (that’s seventy-five American cents) for women to take a leak, but a man can drain the lizard gratis?  I’m sure this would not fly in America. 

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags:

Paris is about trying new things

September 3rd, 2009

One of my goals for this trip was to try things that I have either never had before, or something I can’t get as easily in the States. (Another of my goals was to drink lots of French wine.) The duck confit on my first day fell in to the second category. It was something I knew I liked (a lot) but wasn’t on a whole lot of menus back home. At least where I ate. So, on my third day I thought it was time for some foie gras of duck.

I had the terrine variety for the first time last year during Restaurant Week at Delmonico’s. It was tasty, but this time I figured it would be worth getting the cooked variety. It was served in a chestnut soup which was wonderfully thick and velvety. The actual foie gras tasted marvelous. So flavorful and subtle. The two flavors mixed well together.

 

My main plate was a little tamer. Roast veal with morel sauce and potato slices. I mostly ordered it so I could taste morels, which were delicious. The veal was overcooked and dry. Thank god for all that sauce. The dish wound up being worth the price, but I wouldn’t get it a second time.

 

One thing that surprised me a little bit was that The Girl had enjoyed her bite of my duck two days earlier that she decided to get an entire leg of her own. She was a bit disappointed that hers didn’t come with mushroom sauce like my confit had previously. Based on my quick bite, a sauce would have helped this dish a bit. Like the veal, the duck was a bit on the dry side. To me, the best part of confit is the fact that it is moist and succulent.

 

By the time dessert rolled around, I had already made so much progress on my second goal that I forgot to take a picture of my tarte. It featured a light green berry that I had never heard of before – and can’t remember the name of – with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A la mode in Paris. The Girl went with the classic tarte tatin. It is an apple tarte that is cooked upside down, which creates a wonderfully golden caramel on the top of the tarte. She enjoyed it thoroughly.

There was one more thing from this meal that I really noticed. The stereotypical French arrogance and bad customer service which is only that much worse for tourists. Yeah, I haven’t seen it. The waitress that night was very friendly and funny. When she learned that we were from New York City she was jealous. As it turns out, she loves visiting NYC and it’s her dream to move there someday.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags:

Giant Asparagus

September 3rd, 2009

In 1889 Gustave built the biggest eye-sore Parisians had ever seen.  Guy de Maupassant, who spent most of his time at the place is quoted as saying:  “Why on Earth have I come here?  Because it is the only place I can’t see it from.”  To this day, the Eiffel Tower dominates the city’s skyline as the tallest structure.  Needless to say, most Parisians have gotten used to it in the past 120 years.

There are two ways to get up to the top of the tower:  wait in a line that stretches from one giant iron leg to another for the elevator.  or take the stairs (sans line).  Now, I’m not the most athletic guy but i felt it would be more fun to walk it.  Fun fact:  there are 1664 stairs to the top.  I must admit that all of those stairs are not available to the public.  You can only walk up to the second platform.  From there you have to take the elevator – with a thirty minute line.  The Girl and I weren’t exactly running up the steps.  We were frequently stopping to take pictures and some video (and a breather).  But, I’m pretty sure we made it up much faster than the people in line.

An aside with regards to the video.  When I first started recording, I’d just point the camera and hit record.  The Girl thought this odd and suggested that i add some commentary.  You know, mention what I’m pointing the camera at, add a little historical insight.  Keep it interesting.  She quickly regretted this suggestion and was not able to get me to take any video without commentary for the rest of the trip.

Once up top, the view was amazing.  The Pantheon, Arc de Triomph, Palais Royale, Louvre, Les Invalides, you could see all of Paris.  This would have probably been the coolest sight of the trip if we hadn’t come back a few nights later.  You see, when it gets dark, the tower is lit with spotlights.  The effect is a glowing iron structure.  Pretty neat.  Even Better is the park across the street where you can watch the lights while the sun sets behind the tower.  Even better.  Once the sun is completely down, every hour for five minutes the Tower really shines.  It is covered with hundreds of one inch square flashing lights.  This was amazing.

DSCF8464

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags:

An Emperor and a Crepe

September 3rd, 2009

I’m an American. My country has never had kings, queens, emperors, or the like. Because of this, I’m not really up on the etiquette regarding them. Normally, this isn’t a problem, but today was different. I visited the first (of three, I think) Emperor Napoleon. Well, his remains at least. Well, almost. The problem was the cost. For that many Euros, the great man can rest in peace (line stolen from my father-in-law). But the question of etiquette was: do you eat before hand? After? Definitely not during.

We wound up wandering the estate (Les Invalides) and then picking up a crepe afterward. I’m not sure about the wife, but I was very excited about my first crepe in France. One thing I got to notice was that crepes are treated much the same as hot dogs in America. You go to the vendor, which is normally an annex of a café, and tell them what toppings you want. Nutella, preserves, and sugar replace mustard, ketchup, and relish. After a short period of waiting you are handed a snack that is ready to be eaten while walking the streets or sitting on a park bench. As you can tell by the picture below, we opted for the latter.

So far, my favorite roadside crepe has been the cinnamon and sugar. The oddest flavor I’ve had was when I finished off The Girl’s chestnut compote crepe, which was actually pretty good.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags:

Marché

September 2nd, 2009

Today started with a quick trip to the market. A real live French market. It was a strip about four blocks long with stalls on either side. It being August and a major Catholic holiday (don’t ask me which) the market was not too busy. Our first stop was at a tomato vendor who had at least six types of tomatoes – red and yellow cherry, plumb to name a few. We picked up some of the cherry tomatoes for the salad during dinner. Very forward thinking of Jenny. Continuing on, there was a large assortment of sausages, meats, and whole fish as well as a few stalls of clothes. It was a very enjoyable walk that made me wish I knew how to speak French.

From there we hopped on the Métro and went to lunch at a Belgian chain Le Pain Quotidien. I had the breakfast platter – bread with butter and preserves, a croissant, a soft boiled egg, and fresh squeezed orange juice. It was quite tasty, and we stayed for awhile chatting. At one point I snuck away to the bathroom. While I was thus engaged the lights in the entire restaurant went out. Sacrebleu! Despite the difficulty finding the necessary switches, I managed to get by.

From there we went book shopping. You’d think that this is an odd thing to do in a country where you don’t speak the language if you didn’t know my wife. From there we stopped by Victor Hugo’s house and then spent the rest of the day in the adjacent park. I learned a lot about the man by walking through his house. First, he really loved the sight of himself. There were dozens of pictures of him spread throughout the house. Second, he was very pensive. His pose in each of the pictures looked like he was copying The Thinker – hand on chin; elbow on knee.

We came home in the evening and had a dinner of salad (with cherry tomatoes), bread and butter, and porcine raviolis. Oh, the butter. It was so delicious. It was creamy and was chock full of sea salt, much saltier than American salted butter. I want to bring pounds of it home with us.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags:

The Paris Story Arch

September 1st, 2009

As some of you may have surmised, the timing of my last post was a bit off.  The post was in fact over two weeks late.  Paris has come and gone.  The Girl and I landed Saturday August fifteenth and returned home two weeks later on the twenty-ninth, again a Saturday.

It was a great time, but it lacked one thing.  A connection to the Internet.  I could hop on here and there, but I wasn’t able to post anything I had written.  Now that I am back in the States and recovered from jet-lag I will begin to post some of the travel stories, especially those involving food.  My plan is to post chronologically, each day representing a day from the trip.  Hopefully this is the least confusing approach.

Hope you enjoy.

Author: Josh Categories: Site News Tags:

Coneheads

September 1st, 2009

I didn’t mention it earlier because I’m overly superstitious about this sort of thing, but The Girl and I have planned a trip to Paris. France, not Texas. She has a friend from high school who has been in France for the last several years, with a brief stint in the United States. The plan is to stay for two weeks and enjoy the sights, culture, and (for me anyway) most of all the food. Some of the non-food highlights on this trip include: Shakespeare & Co., an English language of book seller of some fame; Versailles, the home of a seventeenth century palace of some fame; and Jim Morrison’s grave.

So, when are we going on said trip? Yesterday. Today, we are here. Between the time difference and the fact that I am not currently connected to the internet, you may have to shift those dates slightly. We managed to get to our flight in Newark Friday night despite the traffic cops’ best attempts and being stuck at the corner of Nowhere and Canal St. for half an hour. The flight was over booked, so when The Girl and I checked in, we were not allowed to sit next to each other. Instead I was to sit behind her, which would afford me plenty of opportunity to kick her chair, but not to talk to her. And seeing as we haven’t been married for all that long of a time, I still really enjoy talking with her, especially on an eight-hour flight. Once boarded, we asked our three neighbors if they would mind switching seats with one of us. As it turns out, they did. We still had one out, one our neighbors had yet to show up. Maybe he/she would be kind enough? As it turns out, there were five empty seats on the over booked flight, one of them next to my wife. Once I heard that boarding had been completed, I moved up next to her. And then we waited. One of those five seats belonged to someone who had checked in, but decided not to travel at the last minute. This wouldn’t be a big deal, but they had checked luggage as well. We had to wait for the grounds crew to sift through the entire loaded luggage for this mystery person’s parcel, and then reload everything. Our 8pm flight didn’t leave the ground until 9:30. On the upside, I was sitting next to my wife, who used this extra time to get sleepy and fall asleep before we took off. Seeing as she doesn’t enjoy that part of the flight, it was a win-win for her.

And the good luck just kept coming after we landed this morning. We flew through customs and got to baggage claim as some of the first pieces of luggage tumbled down. One of them looked remarkably like ours. On closer inspection, it was ours. Baggage claim has never been this easy. After that we were picked up by our host and brought to her apartment in the 13 Arrondissement to unload our things and take a shower or two. At this point we were very tired from the long flight. Presented with the options of napping or going out for our first meal in Paris, we did the only sensible thing. We ate.

We went to a local bistro specializing in southern French fare. The Girl decided to go with her Eastern European roots and ordered the potatoes with ham. Lightly fried slices of potato topped with cold cured ham. The ham was great, kind of like a thick cut prosciutto, but it was kind of awkward to eat with the potatoes. Not to mention the fact that it over powered them.

I had a tough time deciding what my first meal of the trip would be. Escargot? Tempting, but that probably wouldn’t fill me up. Traditional French cold cut plate with cheeses? Sounds too much like a snack and not a meal. Pig’s intestine, which I was told is really good? Too daring for my first at bat. Duck confit with a chanterelle mushroom sauce? Yes please. Now, I’m no great connoisseur of duck. I’ve had it a few times in Chinatown and in French restaurants back home, not to mention the turducken I made. Overall, I wasn’t a huge fan. But this. This was different. It tasted wonderful. The meat was juicy and flavorful. The sauce accented it just right. I thoroughly enjoyed eating the skin/fat with a piece of baguette.

With our first meal down, we moved on to a café where we got a coke (we needed the caffeine kick) and two scoops of ice cream, mango and lime. The mango was good, but the lime was magnificent. The rest of the day was filled with some miscellaneous chores and wanderings. We made plans to visit the local market in the morning and then go out for brunch.

Our first day in the big city was perfect. I can’t wait for the next thirteen. But for now, it might be time to take that nap we had skipped a few hours ago.

Author: Josh Categories: Story, Uncategorized Tags:

Another thing I can do that will annoy The Wife

September 1st, 2009

I recently stumbled across an article describing how to make home made butter. I’m sure I’ll wind up making this sometime soon.  One thing I noticed in his recipe is how he removes the moisture from the butter.  Instead of just using bare hands, it would probably be worth it to try using cheese cloth instead.   Wrap the butter in the cloth and keep twisting the top until the butter is nice and dry.  This will get you a larger yield of butter milk which can then be turned into pancakes and waffles.  This is one way to keep the wife happy.

http://www.overthehillandonaroll.com/2009/06/how-to-make-butter-in-under-5-minutes.html

Author: Josh Categories: Things To Try Tags: ,

Crying Over Spilt Milk

July 27th, 2009

Back in early June I had decided that I had gone entirely too long without ever making a béchamel. The cupboards were bare one weekend and I figured I could make pasta with béchamel, garlic, and thyme. It’d be a good dinner without having to leave the house. I read through the steps in my Mastering the Art of French Cooking and got to it. Long story short, I got distracted and let the milk boil over onto the stovetop. It wasn’t that big of a deal, I cleaned up what I could on the hot stove and continued with my sauce.

After dinner, when the stove cooled off, I proceeded to clean the entire stovetop. I even lifted the top off of the stove and cleaned underneath, where a considerable amount of milk was pooled. With this accomplished I continued probably did something romantic with my wife for the evening, like playing Mario Kart or watching Sara Connor.

Fast forward to the end of the week. The kitchen had begun to smell a bit. We had both taken out the trash a few times, but neither of us could figure out where it was coming from. The Girl was headed out of town for that weekend, and I was put in charge of getting to the bottom of the smell. So, that Saturday I attacked the kitchen with gusto. I noticed that the smell was worse around the stovetop, so I decided to look underneath and beside it. Maybe something had spilled over the side? The smell did get worse as I worked my way down, but I couldn’t see any trace of stain. Then I opened the oven. What waited for me there was not a pleasant experience. Half a cup of boiled spoiled milk sat in the bottom of my oven.

Both the introduction and the title of this post made it very clear to you what I was going to find, but let me assure you: I was not prepared for this. I nearly threw up. I had completely forgotten about my little mess a week prior. I mean, I had cleaned it up. There was no way it should be haunting me. Not to mention, the milk had spilled on top of the stove, not into the oven. How did this it find its way down here? Well, I looked back at the top of the stove. A pipe leads from beneath one of the burners down into the oven. Want to guess which burner it was? Yarp. The one I had used to boil the milk. I still don’t really know what the pipe was for. My only guess is exhaust from the oven. But that doesn’t really seem to make sense. Wouldn’t all of the hot air just leave through there?

Enough speculation; back to work. Holding my breath, I mopped up the rancid milk as best I could and put down a thick layer of bleach. This did little to stanch the stench. A mixture of blue and green in the face from holding my breath and trying to keep down breakfast, I headed out to the supermarket for heavy-duty supplies. Some of you may ask, “Don’t you have a self cleaning oven? Why not turn that sucker on full blast and be done with it?” Think for a moment about how bad the milk made my apartment smell. Do you really think cooking the source of that smell would make it better?

I brought home some extra strength oven cleaner. After donning my yellow rubber kitchen gloves and reading the warning labels, I went to town with that spray. I had thought the milk was bad enough. Now I was breathing in week old milk and caustic cleaning chemicals. I had to go for a walk to let my kitchen air out while the oven cleaner was doing its job. When I was done, I could barely smell anything in the kitchen. Assuming that the remainder of the smell was just me being paranoid, I called the day a success and went to bed. In the morning, there was nothing of the smell left.

Until that night. I made nachos for dinner – a favorite of The Girl’s. Once the oven was on for some time, the smell came back. It was not as strong now, but it was still there. I have since cleaned the oven several more times, but to no avail.

I’m at the point where I think the oven might need just to be junked entirely. Which would normally be a huge expense, but we were planning on redoing the kitchen this fall anyway. Good timing, but I have to go without an oven until October. I think the next oven I get will be the type with a smooth top. No holes, no metal burners. My apartment is not setup for gas, so I have to go electric. I hope that type is much easier to clean.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: