Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"It's not life and death. It's a macaroon"

Part of the reason why I wanted to study pastry at Le Cordon Bleu was to learn how to make macaroons. They are awesome little puffs of sweetness, and they're difficult to make.

So, after much whisking and piping and setting and baking and pooffing and depooffing, mine came out yummy but not quite right.

If anyone knows what a macaroon is supposed to look like, then they know that this isn't it:
my little macaroons
This is it:
chef's macaroon tower
chef's other macaroon tower
Do you see the difference? They're not supposed to have little peaks, like mine did. I needed to mix the macaroon batter more thoroughly in order for it to set smoothly (like chef's did). Mine did, however, poof enough to create little meringue "feet", unlike many people in the class who mixed their batter too much, and so theirs had no little "feet" and were rather flat. Macaroons are tough little suckers. That's why good patisseries charge so much (about one euro for an itty bitty little macaroon and up to five euros for the larger ones) - because they are really hard to get just right.

Even though my batter wasn't perfect, I loved my little puffs of macaroon heaven. They were filled with anise cream and raspberries. It's easy to get stressed out at Le Cordon Bleu if things that are supposed to poof or grow or expand or rise or fall or inflate or deflate don't. Next time, I'll try to get them just right, but hey, if they don't, as my friend Whitney says, "it's not life and death. It's a macaroon".

Monday, June 27, 2011

It's a miracle we didn't explode

One of my best friends came to visit us this weekend, and we ate...and ate...and ate...and it's a miracle we didn't explode.

We went to Le Comptoir du Relais for lunch and had a hearty French meal replete with fois gras, duck, ox tail, escargots (the best I've had in France), and red wine, of course. It was enough food to kill a small horse, and also to make me feel a bit like a balloon filled with meat instead of air. 

After filling up the tanks (as in, our stomachs), we went directly to one of my demonstration classes (to which I invited my food-loving friend), and yes, we ate again. This time, it was escargots  and chicken with mustard sauce and crepes. After that, I made the chicken at a practical class, and began to feel even more like a hot-air balloon than before. I was sweating, felt feverish, and if it hadn't been for my friend W in class, I would never have made it through. Thanks, lovely lady! I managed to finish my chicken and receive a "bon" from the chef, pack my chicken, and get on the metro. As I was leaving the metro, forehead sweaty and hands clammy from so much eating, I saw a middle-aged man begging on the sidewalk. I looked at my chicken and thought to myself that someone needed this food more than I. So, I gave the man my chicken, and felt a bit of relief from swimming in the sea of gluttony. That night, I'll spare you the details, but let's just say that something did not agree with me, and I needed to let it all out. I'll stop there. But read on, for there is more to this eating madness!
chicken in mustard sauce and crepes
escargots with mushrooms on a bed of puff pastry
The next day, my body craving for some time to digest, I ate only bread and water until dinner time. My friend was still in town, and we had plans to...you guessed it...go out to a nice dinner. So, neither the hot-air balloon feeling, the detox activity from the night before, nor the guilty feeling of having more to eat than others, stopped me. I ate some more. We went to Fish (La Boissonnerie). Paris by Mouth describes it as "modern french" and let me tell you, it was fabulous.

Starter: Beet soup
Main courses: Daurade with risotto and linguini with fish eggs

But wait, there's more. The next day, did this craziness end? Oh, no. I ran out of the apartment in my pijamas (oh, the shame!) to Gerard Mulot to get breakfast:

This is shameful. Is there no end to my gluttony? I promise, only cereal dinners this week. Actually, did I tell you that after cooking all day, I often only want cereal for dinner? I bring home the food, give it to my family, and want nothing to do with it. So I guess eating my way through Paris this weekend with a good friend was somehow acceptable. Right? Please say yes.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mind, body and soul

I remember when I was nine years old and my mother took me to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC to see my first Monet. I imagine that the pastel colors and lovely flowers and fields as subjects would delight most young girls, just as they delighted me.

At 31, those paintings still speak to me in a special way. However, I don't think it's necessarily the pastel colors and nature subjects that draw me in these days. I've grown to appreciate a deeper meaning in what Monet painted. His Nympheas can be so dramatic. In fact, the other day when I saw them at L'Orangerie, I thought of extreme beauty which leads to a kind of melancholy. Can something so beautiful last?

Monet managed to document moments in nature on his canvases, and people still flock to them by the thousands. Reproductions of his work are rampant, and everyone can identify his work from a mile away. However, the reproductions are nothing to the original. The subtleties of the brushstrokes and intensity of the colors are not able to be matched by a camera or computer imagery. 

So lovely are Monet's Nympheas on canvas, that I had to see the real thing; his inspiration for such dramatic beauty. So, last Saturday I saw this (the masterpiece)...
in awe of monet's nympheas at l'orangerie
...and the next day, at Monet's house in Giverny, I saw this (the inspiration):
monet's lilipads in giverny
My purpose for coming to France was to study culinary arts. However, I find myself feasting on the work, and the inspiration, of the genius artists who lived here once upon a time. This country is nourishing me - mind, body and soul. 

More Monet (details of his Nympheas and details of his Giverny gardens):

moss underwater

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The best dessert I've ever had.

Remember I told you that I don't have much of a sweet tooth? Well, that didn't apply with this tart. It's a raspberry and passion fruit mousse tart, and it's glorious. The right kind of sweet, and the right kind of tart. 
my version of the raspberry and passion fruit mousse tart topped with jelly glaze and passion fruit seeds
The day the chef demonstrated how to make this beauty, he also made different sizes as well as light lemon tarts.

So sorry, but due to Le Cordon Bleu copyright regulations, I'm not allowed to share the recipes for these desserts with you. I just wanted to make your mouth water. (Insert evil laugh here).

Monday, June 20, 2011

A note on this father's day

Please pardon the mushy content of this entry. I hope you're able to look beyond it, however, and appreciate what I'm trying to say.

I fell in love with my husband immediately after I met him. But the thing that really told me he was the one for me was when I realized that he would be a wonderful father. I can remember the moment I thought to myself that if he had children, the world would be a far better place. I knew he'd be an awesome person to have a baby with. To educate the way I wanted, to travel to the places I wanted to go, to experience the world in the way I can appreciate, and to love in the way I know how to love. 

My father is one of the coolest people I've ever met. He is the voice inside my head (actually - it's his and my mom's voices together that does the trick) and guides me. He has a high position at one of the world's most important organizations, he is generous, intelligent, hilarious, and everyone he meets loves him. 

My father-in-law is one of the most giving, patient, and selfless people I know. He's dedicated his life to teaching wealthy, underprivileged children, and everyone in between, to adoring his wife, and to supporting two wonderful sons. 

So, my son is covered. He has the best possible male role-models I can think of. He's already showing signs that he has all of the traits he sees in the men around him. I'm a happy mom.

What does this have to do with my food blog? Well, I just wanted to write about how these three men are making this experience possible for me. My husband, for not only telling me to go for it, but for constantly encouraging me and telling me I'm going to be great at this cooking business, and also for living up to that image I had of him as a magnificent father. My father, for being that voice inside my head who tells me that if I want to do something, I have to do it right. And my father-in-law....well, I think I'll tell you a little story to illustrate this man's limitless patience and joy for taking care of his grandson. I came home the other day and found him on all fours and my son on top of him saying "fire chief!" with the biggest smile you can imagine.

So, all you fathers out there. Remember that you're not only raising your own children, but are supporting an entire network of people, including grandchildren and daughters-in-law. You have a lot of power. Your image means an awful lot, and your encouragement can raise mountains. 
hold my hand, and i'll take you where you want to go

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Week In Provence II - Au Marche

Today I went to a provencal market in the town of Nyons. It was one of the best outdoor markets I've been to, and I went a little nuts. This is why:

You said you liked my photos, so I decided to post more than usual today...Feast your eyes!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A week in Provence

I am on a balcony, overlooking a 14th century village in the South of France. It's a place called Mirabel-aux-Baronnies and it's delightful. My son and I are visiting one of my greatest friends and her two sons, and we're having a fantastic time.

We took a morning train out of Gare de Lyon and even though I love Paris, and am enjoying every minute of my life there, I was glad as the train left the station and the view of apartment complexes and warehouses changed into views of fields, sheep, and the French countryside.

It's been 19 years since I last came to this part of the world, and even though that is a long time, I immediately remembered why I love this place so much. I love the golden light upon the arid soil, the blue and lavender window shutters, the terracotta flower pots housing ruby red geraniums, the taste of olive oil so good you can drink it, and the wine. Oh, the wine.

blog-writting set-up

mirabel-aux-baronnies, provence
So what am I eating in this corner of lavender, olive oil, and wine heaven, you ask? FRUIT! Fruit that I pick with my own two hands from the family orchard. Cherries, apricots, white peaches, and I have my eye on a fig that should be ready by tomorrow - if the bees don't get to it first, that is.

my son in the orchard, between olive trees and grape vines
an apricot. it's not perfect like the pesticide-injected variety, but it's real and pure 
I'm a total city slicker, but I think I inherited traits from my mother's German woman-of-the-earth ancestry. As I pick a cherry and put it in my mouth, I think about how real it all is. How pure and perfect.

Yesterday we drove to the lavender fields. Even though they're not quite in full bloom, they were breathtaking. Today I bought lavender salt and lavender sugar. I've been told that the lavender salt goes beautifully with lamb. I'll try it, and tell you how it goes.

Time and light have different effects here in Provence. Days go by in sleepy towns and the sun has a special hold on this corner of the world. At the end of the day here, I feel relaxed, content, and inspired. This place did inspire some of the most important artists of all time, after all...Here is the next generation: