Paris Part III: Beaujolaise!

I know it’s silly; but I’ve been putting off writing this post – the last post about Paris. Somehow this last installment seems like my last connection to our trip to Paris, like if I didn’t write about our farewell we wouldn’t have had a farewell.  But, write I must.  Share I must.  I cannot keep it to myself.  It was too much fun to be the only one to enjoy it…I know you weren’t there, but you can close your eyes and live vicariously through our adventure!

So, here we go:

Day 7: Wednesday 4/12/17 (can it really be that long ago?)

We walked a lot on Day 6 and day 7 was no different.  We started the day by taking the Metro to a stop near La Cuisine Paris (LCP)- our destination for the morning.  I was excited for the day to begin before I even opened my eyes for the morning.  We were scheduled for a croissant baking class.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do; but when in Paris, learn to make croissants!! I mean, seriously, is there a better place in all the world to learn to bake the buttery, flakey pastries than in Paris?

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When we arrived at LCP, we were greeted by the owner – Jane – and one of her employees. As we were the first to arrive (I told you I was excited), we chatted with Jane and I did my best to display a modicum of patience. Finally, after Cam and Katie and Carla and Paige and Gerry and Megan arrived, we were ready to get started.

We were taken to our classroom and met Guillaume, our instructor.  We put on our aprons, washed our hands and began our four-hour tour of all things croissant.  The time flew as Guillaume walked us expertly through the process of croissant making.  We began by preparing the butter block – any pastry that has a ‘butter block’ in it is my kind of pastry! We learned that ingredients really do matter and that the butter you use for croissants should be a minimum of 80% butterfat, which is not easy to find in U.S. grocery stores.  Guillaume’s advice about butter, “use the fattest one you can find.”  Guillaume is my kind of guy!

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Next we worked together as a group as we learned to make vanilla pastry cream (which we would use later in the class).  Then began learning to make the detrempe (the dough).  It was a primitive process that reminded me of watching my grandmother make pasta dough on her countertop with a well of flour and other ingredients.  We learned how to knead the dough using a method that is different from any kneading I’ve ever seen or used.  And we learned to use the ‘windowpane test’ to make sure our dough had been perfectly kneaded.

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While our dough rested in the refrigerator and before we learned about the laminating process – adding the butter block to the dough – we worked with dough that had been previously made for our class through the laminating stage to learn about shaping different pastries.We rolled the dough and first learned about shaping croissants, which involved cutting and stretching and shaping.  Then we learned to form pain au chocolat, which have dark chocolate batons inside them. Next we shaped pinwheels and beautiful windowpane-shaped pastries that would later be filled with jam. We put our pastries into a warm (not hot) oven to proof and made some pinwheels using the pastry cream and raisins and finally used the dough scraps and cinnamon sugar to make some tiny rosettes.

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While the pastries proofed, we double-backed and learned about laminating and properly folding the dough multiple times to create the maximum amount of layers in the finished pastries.  Finally, our creations were baked and it was pure torture to watch them and wait.  I hope heaven smells just like the kitchen at LCP while our croissants were baking.  When the pastries came out of the oven, Guillaume served them with wonderful cups of cafe and we enjoyed as many as we could without getting sick.  Then our group divided the leftovers and we set out to walk off the 86 bazillion calories we had devoured.

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True Confession – I’ve tried to recreate the croissants a few times since we’ve been home with no success.   But judging from the amount of times my dad has asked me when I’m going to have more ‘rejects,’ I’d say the flops weren’t all that bad!!!  I have not thrown in the towel.  I will, most assuredly, try again!

After we left LCP, we decided to walk to some of the places Guillaume had recommended during class and Jane had recommended after class.  We went first to Le BHV / Maraiswhich is described on their website as “a luxury bazaar, where anything and everything can be found. From a Lagostina frying pan, to a SMEG dishwasher, via the latest Bultex mattress. An unmissable destination for aesthetes and hedonists alike…”  We wandered few a while, looking at the offerings and then headed to the Beer Cave that we had tried to visit on Sunday.  While Jeff talked with the owner and picked out some Parisian craft beers to take home I rested my feet and eavesdropped on their conversation.  I was stunned to learn that the Parisians are infatuated with Dogfish Head beers and that Jeff could have made some beer trades had he brought a case of Dogfish Head with him to Paris!

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Our next stop was a store we had learned about when watching The Layover with Anthony Bourdain.  He visited E. Dehillerin looking for a duck press.  We visited with no specific items in mind, but enjoyed looking at all E. Dehillerin had to offer including many gorgeous copper pots.  We ended up purchasing wooden crepe spatulas, which we had seen used in all the crepe shops/stands we’d passed.

As hard as it is to believe, after strolling through shops and making a few purchases, we were hungry despite our croissant binge earlier in the day.  With no plan in mind (I’m sorry hon, I know how much it pains you to operate without a plan), we decided to try Le Relais d’Alsace Tavern and were rewarded with a fabulous Parisian meal.  I ordered Moules a l’aioli with frites (mussels in aioli with French fries) and Jeff ordered Steak Tartar and we both ordered wine, of course!  Our meal was outstanding.  The service was attentive for Paris, we sat outside and enjoyed the warm weather and watching the world go by, and the food was incredible.  I honestly do not think I’ll ever again enjoy mussels as much unless I return to Le Relais d’Alsace Tavern. The mussels were small and so flavorful (and there were soooo many of them) and the aioli mixed in with the white wine and shallots in which they were cooked made a lovely sauce and was delicious with the frites dipped into it. Although I doubt I’d be able to pick a favorite meal from our time in Paris, this one was among the best of the trip!

With full bellies, we next went to G. Dutea for chocolate batons, which I will use once I perfect croissant making. We meandered through Paris with no real destination in mind – through the gardens at Palaise Royale and then back to our hotel for a rest and refresh.

After we caught our breath for a minute, changed shoes and picked up jackets we took the metro to the Eiffel Tower where we ooh’d and ahh’d at the magnificent structure.  We had spent the week enjoying it from afar, but there’s something to be said for standing right under it and seeing with your own eyes what you’ve only seen in pictures. It’s amazing to me how this solid, enormous steel structure can seem dainty and lacey, but it does.  After about a half an hour gazing at the Eiffel Tower, we hopped a boat on the Seine for the 22 bridges ride.  Except for the woman sitting next to us who literally took over 200 selfies and had her boyfriend take over 200 photos of her, the ride was pleasant.  The air had turned chilly so it was the perfect night to snuggle up next to Jeff.  And we snuggled while seeing some of Paris’s most memorable sites – the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, Notre Dame, Isle St. Louis, Isle de la Cite, the Pont Neuf and its locks, among many others. While we were cruising the river, the sun was setting and we arrived back at the dock just in time to see the Eiffel Tower begin to sparkle in the dark.  It was magical.

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What a great day.  The only downside (other than sore feet and knees) was the realization that we only had one day left in Paris.

Day 8: Wednesday 4/13/17

So much to do, so little time.

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We began the day at La Pain Quotidien, a ‘chain’ founded in Brussels, for breakfast.  I had a wonderful avocado toast with delicious whole grain bread and a hot chocolate (the real Parisian hot chocolate, not the crap from a mix we get in the states). Since our next activity was a walking tour, I was glad for the fuel from the avocado and whole grain bread and felt no guilt about the hot chocolate!

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After breakfast we hustled to our meeting point for our walking tour through Paris Walks. The walk we chose, which was incredibly suggested by Jeff, was the Chanel Fashion Walk. Our guide, Richelle, shared so much interesting information about Coco Chanel, Paris fasion, the rue St. Honore and place Vendome. We visited the flagship Chanel boutique (Coco Chanel had an apartment on the top floor, although she mostly lived at The Ritz) and the famous Hermes store. (No, not the dentist from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.)

When our tour ended, we were very near Lauduree, so we purchased the macarons we wanted to bring home for friends and then we strolled to/through Galeries Lafayette, where we also had lunch.  Galeries Lafayette has a food court (no, it’s nothing like the food courts in U.S. malls) – there is no fast food and all the food is fresh and delicious and beautifully presented.  We ate at Cinco Jotas, a lovely ‘lunch counter’ offering Spanish Iberico ham, delightful wines and other Spanish goodies.  We shared a salad platter with Iberico ham and Ham & Potato Croquettes, along with some delicious Spanish wines. Another heavenly meal – in part due to the food, in part the atmosphere, but mostly because of the terrific company.

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After lunch we went back to the hotel to do some packing and to have a rest for our weary legs.  I can’t ever remember walking as much as we did in Paris and our legs – especially mine – needed a little rest from time to time.  We took our time packing so that our luggage would hold all we had purchased without exceeding the weight limits and so that our carry-ons were not too heavy to actually CARRY!

After a little packing, re-packing and moving heavy things from here to there, we showered and got ready for our final dinner in Paris, at a restaurant recommended by friends who had previously spent some time in this magnificient city.  The restaurant, Aux Anysetiers Du Roy on Isle St. Louis, was small but homey and decorated with a nod to the theatrical.  Our friends who recommended the restaurant highly recommended the Beouf Bourginoine, which Jeff ordered along with a smoked duck salad and a glass (or two) of Beaujolais.  I ordered the French Onion Soup, Sole Meuniere and a glass (or two) of Sancere.  The meal was simple, but delicious.  Every bite was complex despite the dishes being made with only a few simple ingredients.  We topped it off by sharing a delightfully thick and creamy chocolate mousse. Our waiter called a cab for us and we were whisked back to our hotel, where we enjoyed a final drink at the bar and a final glimpse of the glittering Eiffel Tower before falling into bed.

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Day 9: Thursday 4/14/17

If a day can be a whirlwind and go slowly all at the same time, this was that day.  We were up and in a cab to Charles de Gaulle airport very early.  We ate breakfast at Fauchon in the airport and before boarding, I was nervously awaiting Jeff’s return from a shopping excursion at duty-free because I had been the lucky winner of a full bag search by customs, which they wouldn’t conduct until he was there to hold his own bag.  But once Jeff made it to the gate and my bag was searched, the next thing we knew we were boarding a plane bound for Charlotte.

The flight was LLLOOONNNGGG and my legs swelled like balloons despite the gallons of water I drank and the 100 trips to the restroom.  When we arrived in Charlotte we had to go through customs, get our bags from baggage claim, re-check our bags and run to our gate to catch our flight to Dulles.  Upon arriving in the D.C. area we realized how foolish it was not to book another night at the airport hotel!  But we wanted to be home and to see Macy’s sweet face so we hopped in the car and began the drive home.  We made it through Maryland into PA and were starting to get punchy.  My legs were restless and needed to be stretched or walked on, but we just didn’t want to stop.  And I know Jeff was just as uncomfortable and just as ready to be out of the car.  We continued northward and when we realized we were only at the Gettysburg exit of Rt. 15 we nearly wept.  When we reached the main intersection in Dillsburg (approximately 19 miles from our house) Jeff said, “I’m seriously considering getting a hotel room right now.”  And I knew he meant it.  And I honestly don’t think I would have objected had he pulled over and done just that!  We passed punchy and were nearly at “commit me” when we pulled into our driveway.

We had loads of fun in Paris.  We met some wonderful people.  We saw sights we’d previously only dreamed of.  We ate terrific meals and drank terrific wines and champagnes.  But there is so much truth to the famous line from the song Home! Sweet Home! ….. ‘Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.’

Au revoir, Paris.  We love you.  AND we’re glad to be home.  We will meet again!

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Paris – Part I: Bonjour, ca va?

I am a very musical person – no, I cannot play an instrument [and believe me, I tried 6 of them]; nor can I sing well [except in the shower and the car]. But, I love music and it seems to me the soundtrack of my life is always playing in my head. Consequently it is no surprise, that for months now I’ve been singing the first few lines of Billy Joel’s Somewhere Along the Line – both to myself and even, sometimes unaware, aloud.

“Well, it’s a rainy night in Paris,
And I’m sitting by the Seine,
It’s a pleasure to be soaking in the European rain,
Now my belly’s full of fancy food and wine
Oh but in the morning there’ll be hell to pay
Somewhere along the line
In the morning there’ll be hell to pay
Somewhere along the line”

I began singing this tune a few weeks before Jeff and I left for Paris and, every now and then, I still catch myself singing it and longing for moments from the trip.  I know it’s taken me a while to write about our journey, but truly I’ve been processing it and organizing my thoughts and savoring the memories.

I’ll tell you right off the bat that the only pics I have from the trip are from my phone.  Yes, I did take my camera; but early on I discovered that the battery (although it was charged) was dead….I took that as a sign that I was to fully enjoy the trip – being present in each moment instead of worrying about how to best frame it for the blog.  And enjoy it I did!!!

Day 1: Thursday 4/6/17

Jeff and I spent a leisurely morning getting ready for the trip and loving on Macy. I know there are those of you who are able to jump into vacation at some ungodly hour like 3:30 a.m. and hit the ground running – I AM NOT ONE OF THEM [much to Jeff’s chagrin]!!!  One of my life mantras is, “why does fun have to start so early?”

We left the house at about 1:30 p.m., ran a few last-minute errands, and drove to the DC area in the rain.  The constant thrum of the tires on the road and the rain on the windshield lulled me to sleep, which made the trip go quickly for me.  Jeff had the radio on and was jammin’ to his tunes, so I’m fairly certain the trip went quickly for him too.

Jeff consulted YELP for a dinner idea and we decided on Mona’s Lebanese Cafe in Sterling, VA.  Let me tell you, the YELP reviews were spot on.  The restaurant was so quaint, the owner and employees very welcoming, and the food [served by Mona] was delicious.  To drink I ordered a Lemonade w/ Rose Water and I still think about how good it was.  Jeff and I shared hummus and pita as an appetizer and it was one of the best I’ve ever had. For dinner Jeff ordered the Kibbeh platter and I ordered the Shish Taouk – neither disappointed.  The basmati rice with my dinner was heavenly.  We ordered desert to go – baklava and rice pudding – and ate them later at the hotel while we read ansd prepared for the day of flying on Friday.  Both desserts were great – neither were overly large so we were satisfied but not stuffed.  Both had just the right amount of sugar – enough that you knew you were eating dessert, but not too sweet – very comforting.

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Day 2: Friday 4/7/17

Nothing more needs to be said about this day other than ‘airports and flying.’

Day 3: Saturday 4/8/17

We arrived in Paris at about 8:30 a.m. Paris time / 2:30 a.m. our time and took a cab to our hotel – The Hotel Indigo Opera where we met Aruillion & Mathilde.  We had previously stayed at a Hotel Indigo in NYC and were happy with out stay.  When we got to our room in Paris, we knew that we had made the right decision relying on our previous experience.

Not only were we able to check into the room several hours early, but we were upgraded to a two-floor suite with a view of the Eiffel Tower.  In fact, our view was framed by a tiny oval window in the corner of our living room and the couch was situated perfectly that you could see the Eiffel Tower in all its splendor when you lounged on the left side of the couch.

Being able to check in early was such a blessing – we were able to brush our teeth and generally clean up after the lllllooooonnnnnggggg flight.  And the bed looked so cozy that it was quite difficult to follow the advice of so many travelers about not sleeping when you first arrive, but rather keeping yourself busy for the first day so that you can more easily adjust to the new timezone.

We fought the urge to sleep and instead used Uber to get to Cuisine de Phillipe in St. Germaine.  This restaurant was highly recommended by my hairstylist, Rebbekah.  I know I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating – you should only take restaurant recommendations from people who enjoy eating like you do. And I was sure that Rebekkah has similar taste in food, atmosphere and dining experience.  My confidence in Rebekkah’s recommendation was proven to be 100% correct!

We had a typical French lunch, which consists of a starter, a main course and a dessert.  These are usually a “package deal” – a special fixed lunchtime menu with limited choice for one price.  Often referred to as the Menu du jour, the special main dish being called the Plat du jour.  The plat du jour is often a non-menu special and often a great value.

Jeff had a red pepper and crab souffle, the plat du jour which was lamb stew, and a framboise souffle.  He is still talking about how good the lamb stew was.  I ordered the cheese souffle, beef with blue cheese, and a pistachio souffle (which had a hidden pool of dark chocolate at the bottom). We both ordered a glass of rose and we both had cafe after lunch.  I cannot say enough good things about this meal.  Each bite was a delight for the tongue and the senses.  It was so good that almost every day we considered a repeat visit!  Not only was the food amazing, but we enjoyed nice conversation with the family at the table next to us.  It was a couple and their daughter

who has been studying at The Sorbonne for two years. Her French (including her accent) was so good that we would both have thought she was a native.

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At one point during lunch I was so satisfied and relaxed that Jeff looked over at me and asked if I was ok.  To which I replied, “I think I may have fallen asleep for a moment.”  To avoid further temptation to sleep. we decided a walk was in order.  Luckily we were very close to Jardin du Luxembourg.  We strolled through the gardens, admiring nearly everything we saw.  Springtime in Paris truly is magical.  Everything is newly in bloom and the grass is bright green and fresh. And there is just something enchanting about strolling arm-in-arm with your love through the beauty of Paris.

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We decided to walk back to the hotel with no real route in mind – just to go where the music took us.  We enjoyed peeping in shop windows, keeping our eye out for The Big Wheel and Eiffel Tower, and the wonderfully warm weather. And we worked up a thirst….so we stopped for a flight of beer and a rest for our feet. Then we continued on the journey and as we were strolling back, we realized that our lunch had been big enough that we weren’t going to want a big dinner, AND we knew we were going to have to fall into bed early. With those things in mind, we strolled through a lovely market and picked up some quintessentially French items – a baguette, some Comte cheese, a bit of Bordier butter and the most beautiful, oblong Gariguette strawberries.

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We walked back to the hotel through the Jardin Tuileries and past the Louvre and while I showered, Jeff ran out for a bottle of champagne.  When he got back we assembled our picnic dinner and settled in for the night.

Oh my, what a dinner and what a wonderful way to close our first night in Paris.  Sipping champagne, nibbling on French traditions, and watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the distance.

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Day 4: Sunday 4/9/17

Refreshed and ready to go, Jeff headed out in search of cafe (coffee) and breakfast.  I showered and dressed for the day.  By the time I was awake, vertical and ready for civil conversation, Jeff arrived back at the room with croissants and pain au chocolate from Lauduree, one of THE patisseries in Paris – in operation since 1862 and best known for their French macaron.  Mmm mmm mmm!

 

On tap for the day – a visit to the Bastille Market!  We conquered the Metro and easily found our stop near the market where we spent several hours exploring the stands.  We commented often that we wished we had a kitchen so that we could cook a meal from the fresh, fabulous ingredients.  But we did the next best thing as we strolled the aisles – we shared small bites of the offerings.  The first was a crepe de jambon et de fromage (ham and cheese crepe).  Not only did it taste fantastic, but it was also fun to watch it being made.  In fact, I found myself mesmerized as the crepier easily repeated the process, filling orders at a rate I envied.  

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I should tell you that Jeff can eat about every 5 minutes and sometimes I have to rein him in.  Not wanting to spoil his good time, but also not wanting to deal with stomach issues later, I picked my moments carefully! And there was no way I was going to stop him from enjoying some fresh oysters.  I don’t dislike oysters, but I don’t crave them the way Jeff does.  He has an oyster obsession so it was fun for me to watch him enjoying a half dozen briny fresh molluscs – the look of pure joy on his face was priceless.

After the market, we walked through the cobblestone streets of Le Marais – known as “Old Paris.” When you think Paris streets, the picture that displays in your mind must be from Le Marais.  It’s quaint and historic with winding streets and pretty shops. And fortunately it’s also home to L’as du Fallafel. All our walking had worked up a bit of an appetite so we decided to share a fallafel.  Please understand that sharing with Jeff means I eat 1/4 to 1/3 of whatever we’re sharing so I normally don’t feel too guilty about snacking throughout the day when I share!  Wow!  THE. BEST. FALLAFEL. EVER.  It’s hard to say if the best part was the fallafel itself or the sauce or the eggplant or the pita.

Next we ventured through Les Halles in search of a beer store Jeff wanted to visit.  Unfortunately when we arrived it was closed. Rather than being discouraged, we simply added it to the itinerary for later in the week!  Throughout the day my fascination with the huge courtyard doors with oversized door-knockers became apparent.  I loved imagining what the enormous doors were hiding!

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We hopped the Metro back to the hotel for a quick rest and rejuvenation and then made our way to Galeries Lafayette where we ooh’d and ahhh’d over the dome, the architecture and all the wonderful offerings in the three buildings.  We finished our visit to Galeries Lafayette with a visit to the rooftop for a spectacular view of Paris.

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We strolled some more in the area around out hotel and realized that we were, unbelievably, hungry. Without a reservation, a plan or Jeff’s myriad of notes, we decided on a quick bite on the terrace at the restaurant next to our hotel – Mon Paris.  Rather then ask for menus in English or help translating – we tried out the GoogleTranslate apps on our phones. Jeff ordered the rigatoni with a glass of red wine.  I ordered the Tuna Bagel with Cilantro Cream and a glass of sancerre.  I don’t remember if I tasted Jeff’s rigatoni, but I can tell you that my Tuna Bagel was divine.  Fresh, perfectly seasoned tuna with an Asian twist on half a seeded bagel.  It was just enough to take the edge of and was soooooo incredibly fresh!

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We topped dinner off with a shared dessert of chocolatey goodness – the All Chocolate.  A chocolate sphere filled with chocolate mousse and chocolate crumbles that is accessed by pouring warm chocolate on the top to create an opening for your spoon. A.k.a. chocolate heaven.  We sat and rested our feet and watched the world go by for a while – each ordering a second glass of wine.  Finally, when we couldn’t keep our eyes open for a single moment more and knowing we had an early morning for our trip the champagne region the next day, we headed back to the hotel.  We were greeted by the sparkling Eiffel Tower and a puffy, inviting bed.  I think we both drifted off to sleep within mere moments of our heads hitting the pillow, still in disbelief that we were no longer dreaming about Paris, but living it.

Stay tuned for details of the remainder of our trip including our day in the champagne region and much, much more!