Welcome to Morocco!

I know I know, I haven’t updated in ages. But hopefully you’ve been following my adventures on another blog that Charlotte and I updated during our recent whirlwind European adventure. Check it out hereThe harbor in Split, Croatia

Onwards to new things now!!!

After finishing out the semester in Paris, which included approximately three days of school and four days in New York, Charlotte and I jetted off to Budapest, which was the the launching pad of our six weeks of training, busing, and boating through Europe. After a fantastic and unforgetttable trip, you’ll find me now in Ifrane, Morocco, a small town nestled in the Atlas Mountains. What am I doing here you might ask? Well, I ask myself that same question, but I suppose the simplest answer is that I’m here for the month to study some Arabic.

I was feeling very reluctant to come at first. After spending 6 months abroad, I was really starting to get a little homesick. My little side trip to New York in May made me realize how much I missed New York, but I’m trying to suck it up and make the best of my time that I have here in Morocco.

I was picked up at the Fes airport on Friday and pretty much dropped into my room with little instruction except to be at class at 8 am on Monday. Since I came in the middle of the summer, most of the students who have been here since May had taken the weekend off to go to the beach. Had I known I didn’t need to be here until Sunday, I probably would have stayed a few more days in Paris, but alas, here I am! 

The university I am at, Al Ahkawayn University, is a Western style school where most of the classes are conducted in English and the campus has a very American style campus feel (although obviously not like NYU! I tried to describe the concept of NYU being in and of the city of the New York and I was faced with some very confused looks). Honestly, this is the closest thing to a campus I have ever really been on since I did college tours back in 2008. My roommate Sofia is from Meknes, about an hour from here, and is studying International Relations. There are about 600 regular summer school students here now and around 1800 who are here during the school year. I’m not quite sure how many people there are in my program, but I guess I’ll find out tomorrow morning!

After spending my first day holed up in my room, catching up a Mad Men and venturing to the gym for the first time in months, I went out into Ifrane today. I really can’t tell you that much about it because unless there is a whole part I missed, it’s quite a small town. It actually snows in this region during the winter, so many of the hotels cater to skiers and many of the houses have a chalet type feel to them. At first I felt like the only person dressed in shorts and t-shirt, but in the center of town there were definitely some tourists dressed in the same garb as me, making me feel not quite as self-conscious. So that’s about all there is to say so far of my two days here! I feel like I speak more French here than I did in France, which is quite comical. After going weeks on a travelers budget, it’s nice to have a dining hall fully stocked with everything to eat, especially salad! Hopefully I’ll have some good updates in the coming weeks. I’m hoping that I’ll find some good tagine or couscous somewhere. It’s Morocco, so it has to be somewhere, right?

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In the shadow of Monet

I know I know, I’ve been awful about updating lately. After writing a really long post in Rome and then forgetting to hit save, I lost my blogging bug for a little bit, realizing that technology will always have one up against me.

A quick recap of the past few weeks – end of spring break in Athens and Santorini was incredible. Santorini was hands down one of the nicest places I have ever been. I went to New York for a quick 4 day trip for my cousins bar mitzvah. It was great to be back, even for such a short amount of time and has honestly made me much more homesick than I was before. I returned to France on the eve of the elections and saw one of the biggest parties ever going on in the Bastille. I finished school last week, turning in the longest paper I have ever written in French in my life (13, incase you were wondering). This week, my good friend Ben came to visit and we’ve been touring around Paris and eating lots of food. I’m headed to Budapest on Sunday to start a new summer adventure (more on that later). And now, instead of writing about my day trip to Giverny yesterday, I think I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.


Passover Treats

It’s that time of year again – out with the baguettes, the croissants, the pain au chocolat, in with the matzohs, brisket and macaroons. Somehow giving up these leavened confections seems to much more difficult here in France, but luckily for me I’m headed to London for the first 4 days of Pesach, so I won’t be tempted too much. 

I have never been to London before. Actually, I’ve never been anywhere in England, so when my friend Jess invited me to her home in London for seder, I was thrilled! London is one of those places that I’ve always assumed I would go to but never set my mind on going. Now that I’m finally headed across the channel, I’m really starting to get excited. While I won’t be able to do all my usual culinary samplings because of Passover, I’d say it’s fortunate I’m not coming to Paris for the first time, as missing out on all the boulangeries here would be just sinful.  

All London is straight out of a Harry Potter film, right? 

Anyway, I thought I’d share with you a few of my favorite Passover recipes. Hopefully I’ll be able to whip something up before I hop on the train Friday morning or maybe I’ll be able to make something when we arrive 🙂 I’m going to head down to the Marais in a little bit (the Jewish section of Paris) to see what treats they might have on sale now! And I’m sure I’ll have a full update on London next week!

My award winning macaroons 

An easy flourless chocolate torte

Lemon meringue pie

And probably my favorite recipe at all (that I never get around taking pictures of) Caramel Matzoh

The Palace of the Sun King

Living in Paris, I think it’s just an assumed part of life that you will at one point or another make your way to Versailles, especially when you have visitors in town. It’s like New Yorkers going to the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. You live in New York, so it seems instinctive that you would have been to these major landmarks, but don’t tell anyone – I’ve never been to the Empire State Building. I shall add it to my to-do list when I get back to New York in the fall.

I actually went to Versailles when I was in France in high school, but the day of our visit, the workers were on strike and we couldn’t even go inside. It happened to be a beautiful June summer day, so we couldn’t really complain that we had the afternoon to walk around the gardens, as the gardens garner a whole day visit themselves. The thing I probably remember the most about my trip in high school though was the amount of tour buses I saw. I genuinely don’t think I had ever seen so many buses all converged in one place in my life. That in itself was pretty awe-inducing. This past weekend during my visit, it was no where near as crowded and while we had to wait about 20 minutes in line to get in, I can only imagine the wait during peak tourist season in the summer!

So we all know the history of Versailles, right? You have Louis XIV (the Sun King), Marie Antoinette, The French Revolution, Napoleon, etc… It’s a place steeped full in not only French, but world history – the peace treaty ending World War I was signed in the famous hall of mirrors. Perhaps it’s the cynic inside me, or my general lack of interest during our tour, but I was struck with how fake everything seemed. Completely gilded in gold, gawked over by millions of tourists, was this really a place that the French nobility lived?

The famous hall of mirrors: 

I guess this gold and extravagance is an obvious sign that nobility did indeed live here and it’s no surprise why the French Revolution happened if this was how the rich were spending money. At the same time, it all seems so lavish that it’s hard to imagine this was an actual palace inhabited by real people. But then again, I guess that’s what the rich back in the 18th century did, right? Spend lots of money on gaudy and kitschy decorations. I had always heard the Versailles actually smelled awful, as there were no working toilets and people would empty their chamber pots right outside their windows. Not quite the idea of luxury and splendor. Even the door handles are covered in gold! 

I’ve been working on some essays for school and am very much in this mentality that Paris is so much of a spectacle, losing much of it’s original glory and splendor underneath all the gloss – Versailles being a perfect exampled as it is literally gilded over! I’ll try and get past all my cynicism for one moment and recognize that it is still a beautiful building. The hall of mirrors is something you have to see in your lifetime and reading about the excessive sleeping practices of the King was pretty funny. (Getting a chance to watch the King go to bed was a thought of as a great honor). There was some beautiful artwork not only framed and hung, but painted directly onto the walls and ceilings.

The Kings bed:
The top of the Queens bed: The Coronation of Napoleon: 

After we finished inside, which involved being hit in the back by more than a few backpacking toting Asian tourists, we took a tour around the gardens, but it’s still a little cold here in France, so most of the statues were covered and all the fountains were off. We did stop at Marie Antoinettes house, as she had her own housing unit on the other side of the compound, away from the main chateau. I guess her and Louis XVI really didn’t get along. Having already been to the gardens before, I wasn’t that disappointed that it was all green with no color, but I was reminded how nice it would be to just spend an afternoon sitting down by the canal in a few weeks when it starts to get sunny outside. I will definitely come back not for the palace, but to have a picnic in the park! 

Walking around with the ‘rents: 

Marché Bastille

I’ve been meaning to write about this market from the first day I moved into my apartment. The day I arrived in Paris, the realtor said I was so lucky to be living in this neighborhood as one of the best open air markets in all of Paris was held right around the corner from me. At first I was hesitant to believe this, and after the first few weeks of gloomy weather in Paris, the market didn’t seem all that great to me. Then, these past few weeks, as spring has started to come out from behind the clouds and I’ve visited more markets around the city, I’ve come to realize just how truly amazing my corner marché really is.

I think what really amazes me the most is how much produce you can get for so little money. I will walk away with bags of apples, pears, cucumbers, carrots, onions, some spices and perhaps a baguette having only spent 10 euro max! I like to walk over to the market with only a limited supply of change to see how far I can stretch it. I usually do an entire circle of the markets before deciding on my purchases so that I can see what looks best and get the better deal.

The best part about walking through the markets, besides the obvious visual pleasing foods, is the sounds and smells. On one side of the market towards, towards the Bastille roundabout, there are many Middle Eastern vendors, hawking their wears at dirt cheap prices. The sounds of “UN EURO UN EURO POUR UN KILO” is heard often and they are always offering my slices of clementines. Seriously, I’m only ever offered clementines – what about an apple slice?

As you walk further north, you see the more mom and pop type stands that clearly have their regular customers. Lines at these places can often be quite long as each customer is given as much time as they need to pick out their foods. I don’t often buy so much from these vendors as they tend to be a lot more expensive. 

In regards to smell, huge chicken roasters are found on every aisle and as the weather gets warmer, the flowers are becoming more and more beautiful every week. While the market happens twice a week, once on Sundays and once on Thursdays, Sunday is definitely the better day to go. There are more vendors our in general on Sundays and there is just a bit more of a livelier atmosphere as more people have time to shop on the weekends. 

I love walking past the fish stands. Huge trays of ice sit out holding countless types of fish and sea creatures. Oysters and mussels are quite popular and many merchants just have huge baskets of them sitting right on their tables, all that much easier for picking through. I don’t eat oysters or mussels myself, but they’re quite interesting to look at.

I always try to grab a box of eggs as half a dozen organic eggs is half the price as at the supermarket. I’ve yet to get any cheese as I’m always intimidated to order as I never quite know what I want and I don’t know how much one orders.

 I do hoard nuts and dried fruits from the spice vendor. One of the guys there knows me now and always makes fun of me for taking so long as I never know what I want at first. I bought a few spices last week and forgot to label them right away, so I’m sitting with either curry or turmeric in my cabinet, can’t remember which.

La Marché Bastille takes place every Sunday and Thursday. This is the most amazing place to go and do some excellent people watching. All sorts of fascinating characters come out to the markets. You can buy just about anything you would ever need – fruit, veggies, meats, fish, bread, cheese, and of course…some socks!

Creamy Spinach & Tomato Pasta

Back in the States, I was very much an eat dinner around 7ish type of person. In high school I ate dinner with my family just about every night around the table (or counter I should really say) and in New York, I would either make a meal for myself or to share with my roommates. In Paris, I’ve found that eating anytime before 8 seems to be quite taboo. I walked into a pizza place on one of my first days in Paris around 7:15 and they said it was too early to order. How crazy is that? I guess eating later goes in line with the whole mentality of taking a much longer and enjoyable lunch here, so you’re satiated until an 8 o’clock dinner.

Trying to be the best Parisian I can while I’m here, I find that I’m falling into this pattern of eating later myself. Last night, after having a lunch around 1:00, I looked at my clock and saw that it was already 8:15 and I had yet to start making anything to eat. I had bought these tomatoes earlier in the week and didn’t want them to go bad, so even though it was late, I was still hungry and this was an easy, yet very delicious recipe to whip up in about 20 minutes. By 8:45 I was back at my computer watching some Breaking Bad. (Side note – everyone needs to watch this show. It’s so good!)

Cooking for myself if often challenging, which is why I love to bake, as baked goods are easy to transport the following day to give as gifts. Last year I at least had the option of giving my leftovers to my roommates. Now that I’m all by myself, I try to remember that whatever I’m going to make I’m probably going to have to eat for 3 or 4 days depending on how big the servings are. I guess in theory the answer to all this would be to make food in smaller quantities, but sometimes it’s easier to just use a whole onion or a whole pack of spinach instead of having small amounts of these ingredients left over, which I often find go bad before I get the chance to use again.
This is really simple pasta dish that I will not mind having in my fridge for a few days. I’ve been on a soy kick lately, as I was trying to limit my dairy intake a few weeks ago when I was feeling sick, so instead of half & half, I used soy and some ermante cheese I had in my fridge. I did notice that my cheese tended to clump up a bit, so using parmesan cheese (and possibly cows milk) the cheese mixture might combine with the pasta a little better. Cooked spinach is so delicious, especially when you add cheese. I still have some leftover, but it’s mostly pasta now, as I ate most of the spinach last night 😉 In the end, the leftovers somehow always manage to get eaten, but I can’t wait to have roommates again next year to eat it fresh!
Creamy Spinach & Tomato Pasta 

(Adapted from Eat Yourself Skinny)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3/4 lb. whole wheat pasta (I used penne)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 (5 oz) package baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth broth
  • 1/4 cup milk, half & half or soy milk
  • 1 oz. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 (8 oz) container grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

DIRECTIONS:

1) Cook pasta according to package directions.

2) While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add your sliced shallot; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes or until translucent.

3) Add spinach and broth; cover and cook for 1 minute.

4) Add milk, 3/4 of the Parmesan cheese and the black pepper.  Stir to combine; cook for 3 minutes and remove from heat.
 
5) Combine spinach mixture, pasta and tomatoes in large bowl.  Garnish with parsley and remaining cheese.

6) Enjoy 🙂

Glacial Paris

It snowed here yesterday. Now to say it “snowed” is a bit of an over statement. It appeared to flurry outside my window for about 20 minutes and then it was over. When I walked outside a few hours later (which was a big mistake given how cold it was) I saw barely any snow on the ground. 

Now, even if the snow didn’t stick, it is still FREEEEEZZINGGG here. I don’t think it has really gotten above 30 degrees since last Wednesday. I even heard on the radio this morning they were worried about power outages because of such a strain on the electrical grid. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that that doesn’t happen! It has reached point, where doing just about anything outside is unbearable and I have taken to rushing home after classes to sit next to my unfortunately placed heater. When I walked into the courtyard at school last week, they had heavily salted the ground in preparation for the ice. 

I know, I know, I really shouldn’t complain. Last year in New York was a perpetual winter wonderland, but something about the cold here, and the heating in apartments makes it seem much worse. I have this heater connected to the wall that gets very hot, but somehow doesn’t manage to heat up the whole apartment unless I keep it on for hours. I’ve taken to sleeping with a sweatshirt and a sweater, many pairs of socks, as my tile floor is the worst when it’s cold, and three blankets. It also doesn’t help to hear that it’s been a balmy 60 degrees in New York and North Carolina while I sit here looking at a -10 degree weather forecast (that’s celsius, which always makes it seem that much worse). 

On Friday, we took a school trip to L’Abbaye de Rouyamount, which was a lovely abbey, but given the cold, and general sickness I have been fighting these past few days, I was unable to thoroughly enjoy the tour. All I could think about the entire time was the fact that I could no longer feel my feet in the slightest. It felt liking walking on glass every time I took a step. I think I have some circulation problems in my toes, because that does not seem normal. *One little nifty tid-bit I did learn while I was there – Pink Floyd performed at the abbey in 1971! Probably a pretty epic concert! 

Even though the tour was not very fun, NYU certainly upped their game by way of the meal we were served. As we approached the tables, it was clear this was going to be a fancy meal – there were three different forks to choose from! As I said, I was still feeling pretty sick, so I wasn’t able to eat everything on my plate, a first for me, but it was still a very enjoyable meal! Obviously, the dessert was the only course I was able to eat in its entirety 😉 Whipped goat cheese with a beat mousse and salad: Fleur de sel veal with baby onion mashed potatoes: Sable cookie with a caramel butter tart topping and salted caramel ice cream: 

A walk with the dead (at Père Lechaise Cemetary)

Recently I realized I was born in the completely wrong century. The more I’ve wandered the street of Paris and read about its history, the more I wish I could have been an “American in Paris” in the early 20th century. Can you image the streets of Montparnasse, filled with the likes of Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald? Paris not yet the tourist spectacle that it had become today? Obviously Midnight in Paris has forever changed Paris for me, but still, I think it would have been pretty awesome.

Of course the mother of this whole “Lost Generation” was Gertrude Stein, who helped foster the career of many young and struggling artists and writers in Paris during this time. I really don’t claim to know enough about this amazing woman, but I’m trying to learn more and really, I think we had a little heart to heart the other day at her grave 😉

Gertrude Stein is buried at Père Lechaise Cemetary, something I didn’t know until I walked into this rolling green cemetery that is a really wonderful place to visit in Paris. No, one doesn’t usually think of a cemetery as being a really wonderful place to visit, but with the likes of Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison and the famed Kurdish singer Yilmaz Guney (don’t ask my why, but there are surprisingly a lot of Kurdish and Iranian people buried there), Père Lechaise is an wonderful place to take a stroll on a sunny day. 

My friend Allison and I started out jaunt at Père Lechaise at the southern entrance, wandering throughout the many different districts of the cemetery. There are simple tombs and basic headstones to elaborate chapels and towering monuments. Some of them are so old that it’s hard to read the writing of who is buried there. Sadly, many of the older tombs are not well taken care of, often covered in cobwebs and leaves and some even have fallen apart, leaving a pile of rubble in their wake.

Towards the north, the graves seemed to be much better taken care of than those further south. Allison and I pondered why this was – many of them still seemed very old, yet looked so much nicer and shinier. Any ideas? 

During our walk, we saw the burial sites of Baron Hausmann, Oscar Wilde, and yes, the great Gertrude Stein. Of course, there were lots of tombstones we could have seen, but after a few hours of walking through such an immense graveyard; there are only so many more dead people you can take. 

It’s still possible to get buried in Père Lechaise today, as there were some recent headstones from just last year, but I was reading online that space is so tight, some people are buried in the same tomb as previously deceased family members – not the most pleasant idea. 

I would love to go back to see the graves of Edith Piaf, Moliere and Balzac to name a few. There was something quite serene about walking through it all on such a lovely sunny day. I could only imagine the ghosts that come at night though!

I don’t think it’s the same George Harrison you’re thinking of 😉 

Even in death, dogs are still mans best friend: 
Looked it up, no relation to Dr. Kevorkian: 

How speculoos changed my life (and other birthday treats)

Yesterday was my 22nd birthday. I know, I’m so old! I’m constantly given a look of shock when I say I’m turning 22 (and now can simply say am 22) as opposed to the classic 21 that most of my friends are turning this year. I like to think it makes me wiser this new age of 22. Seriously, 18 is great, 21 is obviously great, but then 22….well, 22 you’re just old now. Obviously I shouldn’t be complaining – I’m not really that old, I live in Paris and after an awful 21st year filled with chemotherapy, PET scans, and the loss of sushi in my life for over 6 months, I think I can pretty safely say 22 will have to be a better year. One of the reasons I know it’s going to be better is because of this little gem of a discovery….

Yes, speculoos spread has changed my life. The way I like to describe it to people is think of those little biscoff cookies on Delta flights. You know? The ones I can never get enough of. Well, speculoos is pretty much biscoff cookies in spread form. Seriously, if it doesn’t surpass nutella and peanut butter on the amazing spread scale, it’s right up with it. It goes on any bread or cracker, or my personal favorite – right on a spoon out of the jar. I have found a lot of pretty spectacular food items here in France, but speculoos tops them all, so far at least. (I have been told that you can find biscoff spread in a jar back in the states, but I have never seen it – have you?)

Knowing my new found obsession, my lovely friend Audrey not only bought me a fresh bottle of speculoos (I’ve gone through one and half in the past 10 days alone) but she also got me the next best thing to speculoos itself – A SPECULOOS COOKBOOK!

It’s so awesome. Not only does it have recipes for sweets, like speculoos cheesecake and speculoos twills, but it has savory dishes as well, like chicken! I’m most looking forward to making baked apples stuffed with mascarpone cheese swirled with speculoos and topped with some speculoos crumble. I promise to update once I delve into some speculoos baking adventures. Got to hand it to Audrey, it was a pretty perfect gift. As you can tell, my other gifts didn’t fall far behind in the food category. Finally, blessed baking soda!!!! 

In the end, I’m now a year a older, but have more baking supplies than I did yesterday, so I can’t really complain. In going with the whole food theme, my best friend Charlotte, who was sadly was over 3000 miles away from me this year, still knew how to pull off all the stops on her gift. She got me a gift certificate to go out to brunch here in Paris!! I think I’m going to hold out on going for just a bit until it gets a bit warmer and I can sit outside, but after dessert, brunch is definitely my favorite meal in the entire world! Thank you so much to everyone who didn’t make me feel so old this year 🙂 Lots more baking to come this year!

The Bastille Eclair

I’m realizing that in my pursuit to eat all the eclairs in Paris, I’m going to have a hard time writing about the shops that they come from because most patisseries here don’t have their own name. They just say Patisserie or Boulangerie out front. I guess I’ll just refer to the area from what it comes unless the store has its own name.

Anyway, this was my first eclair since the best one at Stohrer (actually, it’s not my first since then, but the first one that’s been worth writing about. Even in Paris you can find a really bad eclair). Right around the corner from me on Rue de La Roquette, is a very cute little patisserie that actually has an extensive display of pastries and breads for just being the corner bakery. I call it the Bastille eclair as you are stones throw away from the Bastille roundabout when you walk up to this patisserie.

I’ve had some bread from here before, but never anything else. After buying some produce at the market the other morning, I went inside to grab a croissant for breakfast. Needless to say, I walked out with 2 croissants and an eclair, since it looked so delicious.Since I had yet to have breakfast, I restrained myself and waited until I got home and had my croissant and coffee before I decided to take a bite out of the eclair. To start, it was definitely on the bigger side of eclairs that I have seen, making it all that much more alluring. I have to figure that getting anything this early in the morning means it has to be somewhat fresh, don’t you think? 

Right after my first bite, I knew that this was a decent eclair, but no where near the level of the Sthorer eclair, which all eclairs will now be compared to. While the pastry cream inside was good, although not quite as rich as I would have liked, the choux dough could not hold it’s own. Yes, I agree that the choux dough should be light, but this was just too light and flaky. As I’ve said, I had some bad eclairs here in Paris, so this definitely was not in the bad category, just not in the perfect category. Since this patisserie is just around the corner, I would certainly go back to grab another one, or maybe even try some of the other yummy things they had on display, but for now, I shall continue to sample more eclairs!!!