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.


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Happy St. Patty’s Day!

Two years ago I was in Panama drinking green beer on St. Patrick’s Day. Last year I was in the Alps hanging out with this guy…

And this year I imagine I shall be celebrating somewhere out in France. Funny how this has turned into such an international holiday for me! Being over in Paris, I know a lot of my friends are planning on heading over to Dublin for the weekend. I cannot wait to hear the crazy stories that I’m sure will come out of those adventures!

With St. Patrick’s Day in the air, I figured a cookie with a beer reduction added to it seemed quite appropriate. These are some super delicious cookies – they have 3 types of chocolate in them! I might not be the most authoritative figure on beer tasting, but I couldn’t really taste the beer. It’s definitely in there though, so if you want to make something with alcohol in for this beer drinking holiday, I promise you, this has beer in it!!

I know some people don’t really like white chocolate, but it’s the perfect compliment to this chocolate cookie. The beer reduction certainly gives the cookies their deep brown color even if the taste doesn’t shine through. I’m really missing my mix master a lot these days, as I know these cookies would have been that much better if I could have whipped the butter just a little more than my poor arm, which was trying as hard as it could with a simple little whisk. Of course, these was almost a whole sheet pan of these that didn’t even make it to the cooling rack before they found their way into my mouth 🙂

ST. PATRICK’S DAY CHOCOLATE BEER COOKIES

(Adapted from The Galley Gourmet)

INGREDIENTS: 

  • 2 (12-ounce) bottles of Guinness extra stout or draught
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 1 extra large egg yolk
  • 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups white chocolate chunks
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:

1) In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce the Guinness and the brown sugar, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until thick and syrupy and measures 1/3 cup, about 30-45 minutes.  Set aside to cool slightly.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

3) In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (OR WITH YOUR OWN ARM!), cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs and yolk, one at a time, until combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla and mix until combined.

4) With the mixer on low, gradually add the cooled beer syrup, mixing until combined.  Gradually add the dry mixture until no flour is visible.

5) Fold in both the white and milk chocolate chips.

6) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours, preferably overnight.

7) Preheat the oven to 325° F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Using a 1-ounce ice cream scoop (about 2 tablespoons), scoop out portions of the cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheet spaced 3 inches apart.

8) Bake the cookies until the edges are set, about 15-17 minutes.

9)  Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

10) Enjoy!

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 🙂

La Passage du Grand Cerf

I’ve written about the flaneur before – a person who walks the city in order to experience it – and now am genuinely starting to feel like one. I’ve been in Paris for just about 2 months now and no day goes by that I don’t think for at least a few moments of how lucky I am to be able to walk along the streets of this amazing city. I think I can safely say that I’m past the honeymoon phase of my stay here in Paris. I still love it, but I’m feeling more comfortable, more at home, less touristy. I don’t feel the need rush to go out and do everything all at once, which is exactly how I felt when I first arrived. Of course, my to do list is still ten pages long, so if I plan on checking it all off before the end of May, I’d better keep the pace up.

A glass covered arcade in the midst of the busy 2nd arrondisment, La Passage du Grand Cerf transports you back in time to the 19th century, right to the heart of the time when Baudelaire was writing about his famous flaneur. I can only begin to imagine what it must have felt like to walk down this alleyway 200 years ago with the huge arching glass windows letting in so much beautiful light and the abundance of little shops and restaurants that line the way. 

Today, it’s home to some small boutiques, including this amazing one that sells all sorts of knobs. I kind of have this weird obsession with knobs. Last year I spent over 50 dollars at anthropologie buying new knobs for my dresser. It might have something to do with the fact that I want to own everything in the home section of that store. Either way, I spent a solid 15 minutes checking out these ceramic little balls until I realized it was going to be silly for me to buy them as I don’t even have a dresser here to put them on and I have 10 perfectly good knobs waiting for me back at home in New York. They’re still so pretty to look at!

After my stroll through the passage, I took a rest at a cafe right across the road and sat drinking my coffee and gazing at the people who happened to go down through the arcade. It somehow manages to vanish within the busy landscape of present day Paris. Many people didn’t even seem to notice it as they walked down the main drag, while a few happened to turn their head upon seeing the cherry red carpets and stopped to take a peak inside, much like I did.

Recently, I have been coming to grips with how much of a spectacle Paris is. Everything has such intense meaning and importance to the tourists who come to see it, but I often feel that the magic that made Paris so wonderful in the early 20th century has somehow been lost behind all the pomp and pageantry of 21st century Paris. It tries so hard to cater to the many millions of tourists who pass through its borders every year and sometimes the original significance of these places is forgotten. Le Passage du Grand Cerf, to me at least, is a reminder of what the splendor of Paris used to be like, before it became glossed over. Sure, the stores and boutiques are not hundreds of years old like the passage itself, but the archways and windows contain a secret history that only those who search for it will find. So many people come to Paris today and only hit up the big landmarks and sites. While that’s a valuable thing to do, one must go beyond the sheen and find places like Le Passage du Grand Cerf in order to be a true flaneur.

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: 

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!!!

Blé Sucré

Living in Paris, one has the luxury of having a a boulangerie or patisserie on just about every block or street corner. In my few weeks here, I can honestly say that I think I have already eaten enough baguettes to last me a lifetime. For 1 euro, it’s such an easy snack or accompaniment to a meal at a very cheap price.

While I have eaten myself through enough baguettes, the same cannot be said for croissants and pastries. I have such a sweet tooth and a basic croissant au beurre is the perfect morning breakfast treat. Luckily for me, there is a wonderful little patisserie right down the block from called blé sucré (translated to wheat sugar). In the 3 block walk to blé sucré, there are about 10 other places to stop and grab an coffee and pain au chocolat, but believe me, the extra few blocks to this little gem of a shop are well worth it.

Their croissants are perfect. Just the right amount of flakiness and it peels apart into perfect strips. As I’ve sampled more and more croissants during my time here, you really do start to notice what separates the mediocre croissants from the epic ones. Mediocre ones tend to have a spongy texture and lacks the perfect flakey crust. The ones from blé sucré on the other hand earn top marks in all aspects of the perfect croissant.

The other day, I decided to venture off the beaten path of my usual regular croissant and happened to grab this piece of amazingness. I really need to start doing that more often because you usually end up with something even better than what you went in for in the first place. 

I’m not even quite sure what it is, as I didn’t hear the woman when she mentioned the name, but let me just say, it’s wonderful. If you like almond croissants, cinnamon buns, or danish pastry, this one if for you. Similar to a cinnamon bun, but without quite the gooiness factor of one, this peeled apart in rounds and had a maple/sugary type glaze on top with some slivered almonds. It was so delicious and as usual, I couldn’t control myself from eating it far too quickly. Along with a cup of coffee and a glass of juice, this would definitely be the perfect breakfast treat.

The Best Eclair in Paris? Perhaps…

I’ve realized that I have not had enough eclairs in my life. I’m somehow never quite as drawn to the eclairs as I am to the cookies and cake, which I often gravitate towards whenever I’m at a bakery. Now that I’m in Paris though and every patisserie has a healthy supply of eclairs, often in many different flavors, I’m finally realizing how much I’ve been missing out.

This realization stems from a recent visit I took to La Maison Stohrer, perhaps the oldest patisserie in all of Pars. Not only are they the oldest, but they also claim to have the best eclair in all of France too. I was a little hesitant at first, given, as I said before, I don’t eat eclairs all that often, but after having one for myself, I think they deserve the title. 

Bitting into these sweet creations was heavenly. The chocolate pastry cream inside was perfectly chilled and light as mouse. This is seriously a delicious piece of pastry. It took all the effort I had not to eat it up in just a few bites. I was about to buy a second, but remembered that I really didn’t need to eat two in a row and I was out of money! 

In addition to the eclairs, they have beautiful display of other pastries, chocolate and breads. Out front they had a special table selling extra galletes des roi, which are being sold at every bakery these days. 

I would definitely recommend La Maison Stohrer to anyone in Paris. It’s on the wonderful Rue Montogrueil, which is worth a walk down anytime. Now that I have discovered the pleasures of eating eclairs, I think I shall now try to sample eclairs for all different patisseries, to see if the one from Stohrer, is indeed the best eclair ever.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (And my quest for chocolate chips in Paris)

Once again, in my pursuit to find chocolate chips, I’m reminded how different the French baking style is from the American one. I know, crazy to think about given how much the French like their pastries, or so it would seem from the amount of patisseries on every street, yet somehow, simple chocolate chips are incredibly hard to come by. Every store I walk into, I check to see if they have any. Some have none, and the markets that do have them only have teeny bags! I think I’m going to seriously need to invest in some industrial size bags. I am also recruiting anyone who plans on coming to Paris soon to bring me some 😉

So I did finally manage to snag a pack of these chocolatey pieces the other day and decided, what better thing to make with them than chocolate chip cookies! Instead of the basic cookie, I decided to brown my butter. Something you should know about me is that I LOVE brown butter. Honestly, I think brown butter makes everything better. By heating up butter in a sauce pan, the liquids and the fats separate. As the fats start to toast at the bottom of the pan, it gives off the most amazing nutty smell, which corresponds to the nutty flavor it adds to baked goods. 

I also realized that since I don’t have a a mixer or my beloved KitchenAid with me, brown butter is much easier to blend with the sugars in the recipe if you don’t let it solidify again. Most recipes say the butter should be cooled completely before using, but I just let it cool to room temperature before I put it in with my other ingredients. I also was too impatient to let these cool for an hour in the fridge and was worried they might spread too much. I think the extra egg yolk acts as a glue though, so they stayed perfectly round, even when the dough was at a room temp. 

I popped these into the oven for just a few minutes and barely let them cool for a second before I grabbed for one. Quite honestly, I don’t think the brown butter made a huge difference, but they were still some very yummy chocolate chip cookies. They were puffy and cakey, just how I like them. I would definitely like to play around with the brown butter some more – maybe letting it solidify would have actually been a good idea – but either way, these certainly satiated my cookie craving. BROWN BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

(Just your pretty basic chocolate chip cookie recipe with some brown butter)

INGREDIENTS: 

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:

  1. To brown butter, heat in a saucepan over medium heat until the butter begins to simmer. Continue cooking, stirring, just until butter begins to turn golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  2. Pour off into a measuring cup or bowl, leaving darkest sediment behind. Let the butter cool to room temperature.
  3. In a large mixing bowl with electric mixer, beat the browned butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
  4. Add egg and egg yolk, milk, and vanilla. Beat on low speed until well blended.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the egg and butter mixture, mixing on low speed, until a soft dough forms. Scrape the bowl a few times. Stir in the chocolate chips. Cover and chill for about an hour.
  6. Heat the oven to 375°. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat; spray paper with cooking spray.
  7. Using a cookie scoop, drop balls of dough onto the silicone mat or greased parchment, allowing about 2 to 3 inches in between the cookies.
  8. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes, until browned around the edges. Cool completely and transfer to an airtight container for storage.