Musings

Fall back

This morning we woke up before the alarm went off, which hardly ever happens, and then noticed that the clock on the oven and the clock on the wall were different from our phones and computers. It took a few minutes and a few sips of coffee before Guillaume mentioned it might be daylight savings time. And it was. In Europe, daylight savings time ends at the end of October. Surprise! An extra hour of sleep!  We had some more time to make it to the Sunday market, which closes up shop around noon. Autumn makes me think of certain things, and although apples and pumpkins and spice are not ALL OVER EVERYWHERE in Paris as they are in the US (which I love, by the way, I had to go all the way to London for a pumpkin spice latte, and reading the Trader Joe’s fall circular to see what new products pumpkin or pumpkin spice has been shoved into is a favorite pastime), they are available for the most part and I was looking forward to stocking up on some seasonal fruits and veggies: Brussels sprouts, apples, Swiss chard, hopefully. We found some green Swiss chard at the market and we asked about rainbow chard, which I think is prettier and tastes better. The grocer said he had heard about it somewhere, but it was very exotic, and the woman next to us actually laughed and looked at us like we were crazy. Well, lady, you are missing out. As I’ve said before, in this post about Morocco, when I’m in a new place I like to eat how the locals eat. It’s more practical and cheaper not to mention giving a better sense of culture. Living in Paris, I wouldn’t necessarily even think twice about this; beyond eating more and better cheese, wine, pastries and bread, how different would my diet be from how it is in the US? But the truth is, there are many, mostly subtle differences. I’ve been cooking a certain way for almost 20 years and it’s a bit hard to change. I have favorite recipes, and go-to dinners that we make regularly, as well as eating vegetarian for much of the week. Slowly and hitting up a variety of ethnic, natural and regular grocery stores, we’ve been able to find our basics: tofu, soy sauce, vanilla, flour, baking powder, brown sugar. Other things we happily replaced with other different/better products (have you SEEN the yogurt aisle here?) But there are some things that I can’t find or can’t find affordably that put a tiny wrench in things I regularly eat, recipes I was planning to make, or cravings that I had : baking soda (hard to find), kale (making progress,), a nice bedtime tea, filo dough, canned pumpkin, half and half (I’m currently creating my own combo with a light cream/milk. It is sad), peanut butter (super expensive), vegetable or chicken stock and black beans.

My goal, ultimately, is instead of trying to eat like we do in the US, to cook like a Parisian. They eat, and eat very well, so we should be able to do the same. They have very specific ideas about their food (i.e. kale is to feed rabbits), and although I may not agree with all of them, learning about them and trying them out is a good idea. I admit that my brain doesn’t immediately know what to do with the huge piles of golden trumpety mushrooms, long sandy leeks, chestnuts, fresh figs, and plums of every color, but I also know it is my challenge, and one that will be fun to meet, especially now that it will start getting dark at 5.

 

 

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Wanderings

A foggy day in London town

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I read that it’s actually a myth that London is rainier than other places- in reality it is roughly as rainy as most other European cities, with only slightly more days of rain (110 per year) and actually less total inches per year (24 inches) than cities like Rome or Toulouse. However, London did her best to keep up the soggy reputation during our visit. The first week was quite warm for October- and rainy, and the second week shaped up to be pretty frigid for October-and rainy. (We had two gorgeously sunny days the first week which I feel very lucky for.) I ended up doing quite a bit more sightseeing than I did 12 years ago as is usually the case when visiting instead of living in a city. At St. Paul’s Cathedral, after a wander around the lovely gardens, I marveled at the interior, and then began a long, winding trip up three different staircases to the gallery at the very top of the cathedral. Once up to the first gallery, looking down into the cathedral below, you can continue on to two further outdoor galleries. Here, the staircases are single file, and there is no going back, even if you want to! No panicking allowed! I wish I had a photo of the various staircases, so narrow that not only was it single file, but some people wouldn’t fit at all, and so low that even I had to duck, but as I have hints of claustrophobia and fear of heights, it was touch and go for a bit, and there wasn’t a chance of taking my hand off the handrail to use a camera. The views were worth it.

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I walked by the apartment building I lived in, and a few old haunts, which felt remarkably the same, while still being quite changed, toured Selfridge’s for the first time, visited Westminster Abbey, had a good laugh at the much-lauded play “One Man, Two Guvnors”, that had gone from the National Theater to Broadway and back to London. The National Gallery was a worthwhile stop, not least because it is one of the few things in London that is free. We tried to eat every “traditional” British meal we could think of, which included two Indian “curry” dinners, Thai food on Brick Lane, fish and chips, a full English breakfast, sausage and mash at a pub, lots of tea, and at home, beans on toast, and grilled cheese with some great English cheddar. We also had Sunday roast at a local pub. Sunday lunch is a tradition in many European countries, a reason for family to gather and have a meal, usually roasted meat of some kind, on Sunday afternoon. In England, this includes a slice or two of meat, 2 veg, potatoes and a Yorkshire pudding, and most pubs that do food have it on offer. The closest pub to our rental, The Carpenter’s Arms, happens to have been first owned by infamous gangsters in the area, the Kray brothers, whom we first heard about watching the grisly British drama “Whitechapel”. Here, you can see a photo of the pub in the late 60’s, below is the pub now. One of the most exciting things about visiting a city like London is the way such a long and varied history rubs up against the present.

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Now, with new owners, it’s a cozy spot to come in from the cold and have a delicious lunch before repairing home for tea and biscuits.

 

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Tastings

Dinner in Nantes

When in Paris, we eat at home almost every night. We like to cook, and it’s much cheaper and probably healthier than eating out all the time. But, as a food lover and appreciator of restaurants, it’s fun to eat out sometimes. Nantes offered the perfect opportunity to do this. For the duration of our visit, we stayed in apartments with kitchenettes, decent enough to make simple meals, which we did about half the time. But the rest of the time, we were able to explore the culinary offerings of this cool city. Some high end (the riverside Le 1, which had decent food and an even better location, but was trying a little too hard) some low (Quick, the Belgian fast food chain and crepes), some not so good (the moules that I wrote about here) and some really great (the fantastic birthday meal we had at L’U.Ni). We discovered some of the best Chinese food we’ve ever had at a teeeeny place with a Chinese-French chef. We had very spicy Indian food, and also what Guillaume actually called the best burger he’s ever tasted at a place called L’Industrie.

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As a foodie and a planner, I had done the research about the best restaurants in Nantes, and this place ranked number 2 on a certain online list (L’U.Ni was #1), and happened to be right by our hotel, so we ended up there our very first night in Nantes. A relaxed, small-ish spot housed in the bottom floor of a larger building, we found 6 or 7 tables outside on the sidewalk where people (looked like neighborhood folks) were enjoying L’apero*. L’Industrie features fresh, local food as well as vegetarian options, which is really quite rare in France. In general, menus in France are much smaller than the binder sized documents we are sometimes used to in the US. Often a restaurant will have only two choices each for entrée (appetizer), plat (main course) and dessert. Sometimes they will have one set menu with no choices at all. And at your local café or bistro, they might have a few choices, but more people will probably order the special, whatever that may be. Less offerings allows the chef to do those few things better. At L’Industrie their take on this idea is to have three basic “proteins”-duck, beef and vegetarian and produce them in a few different ways- carpaccio, salad, steak and burger. This cuts down on the supplies they have to order and that may go to waste, and the amount of prep necessary, but still gives the diner several choices for a delicious meal, especially when factoring in a few extra appetizers (a seasonal soup etc.) and yummy desserts. The burger, served with beet pickles, barbecue sauce, nice stinky local cheese and the first really great French fries I’ve eaten in France, was excellent. The cheesecake we ate after was perfect too. Cheesecake is quite popular in France, and for the crust they use Speculoos biscuits, which is comparable to graham cracker, in my opinion. On a different visit, when I decided I had eaten more ham in the last month than I had in my whole life, I went for the vegetarian salad and was served a delicious mixture of greens, lentils, grains, sprouts and the pickled beets that appeared in several dishes. This seems to be a sustainable way to run a restaurant and as long as you don’t eat there every night, you’d be able to find something that hits the spot.

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*L’apero is another one of those things that is just basic, but that I didn’t hear of until my French teacher in Boston mentioned it in class. Also known as l’heure de l’apéro, it’s a pre-dinner drink, almost always with a little nibble. Coming from “aperitif”, the drink is often wine, beer or a cocktail, but just as easily a soda or sparkling water. Grocery stores even have a special l’apero section with nuts, small crackers and potato chips. Much calmer and relaxed and less focused on inebriation than our “happy hour”, it can be enjoyed at a café or restaurant or at home. I just love walking outside in nicer weather and seeing café terraces full of people partaking of this tradition in the rosy glow of the setting sun.

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