Challenge:Accepted!

Around Paris in 20 Arrondissements

 

Paris proper is made up of 20 areas, called arrondissements municipaux, or most commonly just arrondissements. Administrative districts, they were established in 1860, redefining older divisions. Beginning with the 1st arrondissement in the center, right around Notre Dame, they spiral numerically like a snail’s shell outwards towards the original walls of the city. (This is a good map, although the site is in French.) Although they are not really neighborhoods (the true neighborhoods cross over the lines), they do have definite vibes to them. An address will always include which arrondissement it’s in, a very useful tool for figuring out whether something is just too far away. Also, the last digit(s) of a zip code are the arrondissement. Anecdotally, Parisians have been known to frequent just a few areas, usually the ones around where they work and live, and rarely, if ever, set foot in others, because even with the good, if sprawling, Metro system, a trip from one corner of the city to another can take up to two hours. 

As part of Challenge:Accepted! I decided I wanted to visit every arrondissement in Paris. What better way to see all the unique and out-of-the-way corners of Paris? Taking photos of street signs seemed the obvious and charming way of documenting this. I was surprised that it took me 15 months, our entire trip to do it. I had expected to find myself in every arrondissement, either by wandering or being there for some purpose, and this was sometimes the case. Often I had already been to the arrondissement without knowing it. But occasionally, as with the 17th and 19th, I had to specifically make a trip. 

 

 

1st Arrondissement

Every visitor to Paris almost certainly steps foot in this area. The physical center of Paris, it is also home to several of the most popular attractions, including the Louvre, the Tuileries and extending into the Seine and part of the Île de la Cité, including the Conciergerie. Busy and touristy, with shops and restaurants and less housing. I found myself here a lot, either walking to or from other places, visiting sites, or just having a good wander. A must-visit, but a bit expensive to stay.

2nd Arrondissement

Just north of the 1st, the 2nd is another less residential district, focussed more on business, as well as upscale shopping. It’s commonly known as Bourse, which is the Paris Stock Exchange. It’s the smallest in actual area. I usually only found myself here when walking through it, say from the 9th, down to the Metro in the 1st.

3rd Arrondissement

Most travelers find themselves in the third at some point. It’s become a popular place to stay, as it’s so close to many sites, and it’s in the trendy Upper Marais district. Artsy and beautiful, it holds the Picasso Museum and the Carnavalet Museum, as well as lots of shopping, eating and drinking.

4th Arrondissement

This is an area packed with goodies, including the oldest part of the city, the Île Saint-Louis, which is a magical little island, at the very least necessary for (arguably) the best ice cream in Paris, the picturesque Place du Vosges and also the lower half of the Marais which was once home to the very well-heeled, then became the Jewish quarter of Paris, and now houses the Gay quarter as well. It’s very heavily trafficked for all of these reasons, yet feels more tranquil than the 1st. A great place for walking, shopping, and getting a great bagel or falafel. Also would be great to stay here, if you can afford it!

5th Arrondissement

Another must-see, this is the first district on the rive gauche, or left bank of the Seine, traditionally the home of artists and scholars. The Latin quarter is located here and The Sorbonne, as well as a ton of students and all of the attending restaurants, bars, bookstores, fast food and shopping.

6th Arrondissement

Also on the left bank, this area, Saint-Germain des Prés, is a popular area for locals and tourists alike and attracts people to the Jardin du Luxembourg, perfect for strolling, picnicking and pétanque.

7th Arrondissement

Mostly rich people, museums and monuments, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Rodin, Musée du Quai Branly and Tour Eiffel are here, it’s very much a must-go, and quite beautiful, although if you’ve been to all these hot spots once (or okay, twice) I wouldn’t necessarily go back.

8th Arrondissement

Back on the right bank, this neighborhood is great for shopping and sight-seeing, and that typical Paris style, as well as beautiful views of the Eiffel Tower. The Champs-Élysées, that famous (straight) avenue cuts straight through, and L’église de la Madeleine is a beautiful church. A popular neighborhood to stay in as well (though expensive).

9th Arrondissement

Known as the Opera district, for the giant, beautiful Opéra Garnier, I only ever found myself here walking, either from Montmartre above it back down to the 1 Metro line below it, or walking West along the Boulevard Haussman, where all the department stores are (one department store, Galleries Lafayette, is in the 9th itself.) Again, mostly residential, I found it depressing and touristy in a bad way. But that may have been the rain.

10th Arrondissement

The Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord – can be found here. This is a down-to-earth arrondissement with the Canal Saint-Martin, where Amelie went to skip rocks. A younger and slightly bohemian element with lots of cafes, restaurants and bars.

11th Arrondissement

Commonly known as Bastille, for the famous building (that was actually torn down and is no longer there, so don’t go looking for it), this is a cool neighborhood, very residential, just east of the big 1,2,3,4 and west of the more bohemian 20th. Bordered on one side by the Boulevard Richard Lenoir with its giant market, and on the other with Père Lachaise cemetery, this is where I took French class, and where, my teacher informed us, Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis used to live until they broke up.

12th Arrondissement

I had walked through the 12th many times before without even knowing it, since it borders the Eastern edge of Paris, and Vincennes, where we lived, is on the other side. We often walked from Bastille through the 12th to Vincennes. The Promenade Plantée, an elevated walkway/park on what used to be train tracks, like the High Line but way before the High Line, also runs through here from Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes.

13th Arrondissement

This mostly residential and very multi-cultural area encompasses Chinatown. I came here to go to a large and well-stocked grocery store that was located in the Place d’Italie, looking for some specific sea salt for my family back home, but there’s not much else.

14th Arrondissement

This area holds most of what is known as Montparnasse, for the Boulevard Montparnasse. It also holds the Catacombs, a popular if macabre site for certain visitors, or ones who have seen the museums and the other usual things. As we venture further out from the center, all arrondissements become largely residential. This one has a younger feel because of the Cité Universitaire, plus plenty of bars and restaurants.

15th Arrondissement

The largest in size and population, it is understandably very diverse, bordering the Seine on one side and Montparnasse on the other. The Tour Montparnasse is actually located here (a large black tower, ugly to look at, but nice to look from). We came here to visit the Parc André Citroën, a unique park and botanical garden on the former site of a car factory.

16th Arrondissement

Located just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, this is another oft-touristed area. It spreads quite far to the West and bumps up against the Bois du Bologne on the periphery of the city. This is an area that attracts very wealthy people to live, such as politicians, businesspeople and the like.

17th Arrondissement

A largely residential district (and up-and-coming and desirable, from what I’ve read) I had to specifically make a trip here. Although this is a very typical Parisian neighborhood, there really isn’t much to see here and not a lot of original character.

18th Arrondissement

Contains the famous Montmartre, of artists and can-can dancers. All but the most staid tourists will find themselves here, perhaps to visit the Place du Tertre, home to artists, now home to portraitists waiting to draw you, the Moulin Rouge or, at the very least, Sacré-Coeur basilica with its stunning view of the city below. Touristy, and with some more seedy pockets, but still fun.

19th Arrondissement

Another out of the way area, at least for me, I came here on one of my last days in Paris, but I almost wish I had discovered the lovely Parc des Buttes-Chaumont sooner. Residential, multi-cultural and working class.

20th Arrondissement

A more out of the way area which still gets visitors because of the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, the final resting place of many Parisians, as well as the most famous residents, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. This area, once very working class, is gentrifying a bit thanks to its affordability and strong culture.

Standard
Challenge:Accepted!

From the French Kitchen- Lavender Truffles

DSC02719

When I worked at a chocolate shop in Boston, the number two question we would get, after “How do you work here and not eat everything?” was, “Which is your favorite?” And for me the answer was always the lavender truffle. I would always get a quizzical look, or a “really??” but many people trusted me, and I think many people were converted. A creamy ganache made with 67% dark chocolate infused with lavender, covered with a thin shell of chocolate and painted with a shiny purple luster powder for pizazz. So, so delicious, and made all the more wonderful by the fact that it is unusual (not hazelnut or caramel, which are so obvious) and unexpected (floral flavors tend to be very cloying and perfumey, not so here). When I left the chocolate shop to go to France, visions of creating my own lavender truffle were already dancing in my head.

If you are thinking that this recipe is not exactly from the French Kitchen, you are right. I am cheating a bit, but lavender is so french, right? And so is chocolate, so I’m going with it. I’ve made truffles before, notably as holiday gifts in huge batches of many different flavors, and they are really quite simple, if slightly intense and find-chocolate-in-odd-places-for-months messy. At the shop we didn’t make the chocolates, so I had no recipe to go on, but it turns out that a very basic truffle recipe, with quality ingredients and a touch of real lavender, tasted exactly like my favorites.

Lavender Truffles

  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (Good quality, in whatever percentage you prefer. I used Scharffen Berger 70% and found it perfect.)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender buds (Grow your own, or purchase in a store or online, just make sure they’re organic and edible! I found mine at a natural foods store in the bulk tea and spice section.)
  • 1-2 tablespoons good cocoa powder for rolling (optional if using chocolate coating)
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate for coating (optional if using cocoa for rolling)
  1. Heat heavy cream in a small, heavy saucepan until boiling. Add lavender. Remove from heat and let steep.
  2. In a double boiler (or a makeshift double boiler: a metal bowl or pot over a larger pot of boiling water) melt 6 ounces of chocolate.
  3. Remove from heat and add 2 more ounces of chocolate. Stir until melted.
  4. Place a strainer over the bowl or pot of chocolate and pour the cream mixture over it, catching the little bits of lavender. Discard lavender.
  5. Stir the cream and chocolate mixture slowly with a whisk, working from center to the edge, being careful not to beat any air in, until it is a smooth, creamy ganache.
  6. Let ganache come to room temperature and then refrigerate for about an hour. Check on it periodically; you want it to be perfectly scoopable but not too firm.
  7. Line a baking sheet, tray or pan with parchment or waxed paper.
  8. Using a spoon, scoop a bit of the ganache and roll in your hands to form a loose shape, like the namesake truffles, and set on the tray. Size them how you like, but I think golf-ball sized makes the perfect bite.
  9. Refrigerate formed truffles for at least 15 minutes.
  10. At this point, the truffles should be coated. You can either coat in melted chocolate, or cocoa powder or both. Some people find the cocoa powder too intense, but the chocolate coating can be annoying to get just right. The chocolate coating is recommended if you don’t plan on eating them in a day or two, as it seals the ganache. It is also possible to roll the coated truffles in any other sprinkly material: more lavender, nuts, cocoa nibs, etc.
  11. If you are coating the truffles with melted chocolate, melt 4 ounces of chocolate in a double boiler.
  12. Set up an assembly line with your tray of truffles, your bowl of melted chocolate if using, a bowl of cocoa powder with a fork and a bowl with a sieve if using cocoa, and another empty tray lined in parchment or waxed paper.
  13. Smear some melted chocolate in your hand and roll a truffle in it, coating lightly, but entirely. Let set for a second.
  14. AND/OR Drop into bowl with cocoa powder and turn with fork to coat. Use fork to drop into sieve to get rid of excess powder. Lay onto tray.
  15. Repeat with all truffles.
  16. Refrigerate for one hour before packaging in an air-tight container or something cute for gifts. Store in refrigerator, but enjoy at room temperature.
Chocolate dipped truffles, which you can also sprinkle with lavender before they dry.

In addition to my gigantic, extremely rustic cocoa-coated ones, these are some chocolate-coated truffles, which you can also sprinkle with lavender before it fully dries.

Because my hosts (my parents) are vegan, and it is so rude to bring chocolate into a house that someone can’t eat, I made a cream-free version as well, using coconut oil. It came out well, although the coconut flavor somewhat overpowered the lavender. I might use closer to 2 tablespoons next time.

Vegan Lavender Truffles

  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (good quality dark chocolate is usually dairy free, some of the other stuff isn’t)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried lavender
  • 1-2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (optional)

Repeat recipe as above, replacing cream with coconut oil and water. Instead of boiling, heat gently to melt and let lavender steep. Continue from step 2.

 

*Recipes created from Bon Appétit, Robert Linxe’s recipe courtesy of Gourmet, Smitten Kitchen, Whole Living, and my previous experience.

Standard
Challenge:Accepted!

From the French Kitchen- Gâteau au Yaourt

This is the first in a series of features I’m calling “Challenge:Accepted!” wherein I propose a challenge to myself having to do with some aspect of living in Paris or traveling around the world and I accept that challenge. Totally normal. This particular feature will be called “From the French Kitchen”. In it, I challenge myself to explore French ingredients and French home cooking traditions by cooking or baking 5 dishes I’ve never made before. These will be more from the traditional home cooking than the Julia Child/Jaques Pepin classical way, if only because I have no interest in making an aspic. My first choice is this Gâteau au Yaourt, or Yogurt Cake, which is perfect for reasons fivefold: it’s simple, has a quaint story to the recipe, I’m obsessed with yogurt and the cups they come in, it can be easily made with ingredients from American grocery stores so you can try it at home and it is super versatile and can be made as pure or as fancy as you like.

DSC01624

The recipe is simple: 2 parts yogurt (plain, whole milk), 2 parts sugar, a bit less than 1 part oil, 4 parts flour*. Add 2 eggs, baking powder and soda, a pinch of salt and any flavorings you wish to add, et voilà! The ingenious bit is that these “parts” are traditionally the yogurt cup itself, making it a simple, easy, dish-free way to measure. (Assuming your yogurt cups are a half-cup each, although it worked when I used a slightly smaller yogurt cup and adjusted the rest of the volumes accordingly.) It is also a perfect recipe for young bakers, and one that is often the first dish a child learns to make. Its just the perfect anytime cake- easy to make, easy to eat, infinitely versatile, and you may just have the ingredients to make it right now.

 Gâteau au Yaourt

  •  1 cup plain, whole milk yogurt
  • 1 cup sugar (or ¾ for a less sweet cake)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • Optional additions, see “Flavor Ideas” below
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, 177 degrees Celsius.
  2. Grease a 10 x 10 round pan** with oil and line with parchment paper.
  3. In a large bowl mix together yogurt, sugar, oil and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each, and mix well.
  4. Over the same bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. If, like me, you don’t have a sifter, I recommend whisking dry ingredients well in a separate bowl before adding to the wet so that you don’t end up with unpleasant baking soda lumps in your cake. She said from experience.
  5. Mix until incorporated.
  6. Pour batter into pan and spread evenly with a spatula.
  7. Bake for 30-45 minutes. Mine took only 30 minutes in a convection oven, with a regular oven it would take longer, and if you’ve added extra liquids or very wet fruits it could take 40-45 minutes. A toothpick or knife inserted into the center of cake should come out clean. Let cool 10 minutes before turning out onto a plate.

 Some Flavor Ideas!

The recipe as written above is very simple and fairly begs to be gussied up with a favorite flavor, whatever is in season or what you have on hand. These are some ideas, not all of which I’ve tested, mostly because my taster will not go near a dessert with citrus, but I think this cake can handle almost anything.

Rum: A very traditional French addition, add 1 tablespoon of dark rum to batter.

Apricot/Pear/Peach: Also classic French, add ½- 1 cup chopped fresh or canned apricots, pears or peaches to batter.

Lemon and poppy seed: Add ¼ cup lemon juice, zest of one lemon and ¼ cup poppy seeds to batter at the end.

Lime: Add ¼ cup lime juice and zest of one lime to batter at the end.

Apple and Brown Sugar: Replace sugar with brown sugar and add ½-1 cup chopped, peeled apple to batter, or layer slices on top of cake before baking for an elegant presentation.

Blueberry/Raspberry: Add ½-1 cup fresh or frozen berries to batter.

Chocolate: Why not? Stir dark chocolate chunks or chips into batter. Could be very nice with pears too.

Olive oil: Use olive oil for the vegetable oil for a slightly fragrant cake, almost savory cake. Remove vanilla and maybe add pears and rosemary.

*Like all good classic recipes, these proportions will be different depending on which French person you ask.

**Let’s be real here, use whatever pan you have. I feel certain you can try a loaf pan or muffin tins if you want to and just adjust cooking time.

Standard