On the road

8 Sep

Somehow, it is already September. For Chris, this means all-Dolphins-all-the-time, but this also means we are moving back to the States at the end of this month.  The reality of this has yet to sink in, but we couldn’t leave France without doing a bit more traveling. For the past two weeks Roscoe, Chris and I went on a seriously awesome road trip. We started off traveling through Bourgogne wine country with a stop in Solutre-Pouilly; a teeny, tiny town famous for its Chardonnay grapes. We didn’t know what to expect with respect to wine tasting in France, but we discovered quickly that almost every resident of this town makes wine and has a wine cave in their basement. As you walk up their driveways they invite you into their private caves to taste different years of the Pouilly-Fuisse wine made from their grapes. We visited a few, and even Roscoe got to come along on a wine cave tour with us. Although our amateur pictures turned out good, they simply don’t do this town justice. Looking out our hotel window, it seriously looked like a backdrop for a movie. Stunning.

Our next stop took us down to the French Riviera to visit some old friends at their summer house in Sainte Maxime, a laid-back beach town close to Saint Tropez. The sweltering temperatures allowed Roscoe to take his first bath in the Mediterranean, and we were spoiled with BBQ and paella by our gracious hosts.  Chris wasn’t so gracious as he dominated the Frenchmen in petanque (bocce). (Editors note: Chris just hijacked my post and inserted the previous sentence.)

Once more, we packed up the car and headed just across the border to Diano Marina, Italy. The Hahn boys, and their respective fiances, welcomed us at their amazing family property in the hills of the Italian Riviera. We soaked up the sun on the beach, indulged in italian cuisine, visited the local market and a few neighboring towns, and sailed the Mediterranean. This trip was extra special given our amazing hosts Alex and Peter whose family has spent summers in this town for many, many years. We had the insider’s tour of the best restaurants, bars, bakeries, and beach spots, where we were greeted by the locals with open arms. This was my first trip to Italy, and I left enchanted and wanting to go back the minute we said goodbye.  

The final stop on our tour was beautiful Cannes where we enjoyed a visit with Chris’ grandmother along the Croisette.  This part of the French Riviera is all glitz and glamour, as evidenced by the number of Lamborghinis and Ferraris, high-end boutiques, and 300 euro daily beach bed rentals.  Needless to say, we stuck to the public beach and maybe a cheap lounge chair rental. 

As we drove back into Paris, we realized how lucky we all were to have spent the last two weeks traveling across the coasts of France and Italy visiting friends and family. It’s taken us a good 48 hours to adjust to the grey skies, the hustle and bustle of the big city, and the oh so kind Parisian attitudes, but we do plan to take full advantage of the last 3 weeks in Paris.

Paris Plages

21 Aug

Bum Phillips, one time Houston Oilers coach said, “Don Shula can take his’n and beat your’n…Or he can take your’n and beat his’n.”  Of course, old Don led the Miami Dolphins to the one and only undefeated season in NFL history, cementing his place in NFL lore and the Miami Dolphins as the greatest TEAM of all-time, in any sport, whether it be kickball, dodgeball, or that other sport they call football.  As you can tell, football fever has hit this household just as the temperatures in Paris reach their highs of the summer.  No air conditioning in a 6th floor apartment required a cooling outlet and our ticket to refreshment was Paris Plages.  Every August for the past few years, Paris erects a beach scene on the banks of the Seine, resplendent in beach chairs, umbrellas, and cafes.  We posted up near Le Marais, where the advertisement of a pool and water fountains seemed quite appetizing.  Unfortunately, the pool was open solely for aquagym and the water fountains were simply H2O mist.  Nevertheless, the mist did its job to cool us down and we enjoyed a picnic on the banks of the Seine with a light breeze taking the sting off the sun’s intensity.

Luckily, we head down south this week to experience the real thing.  We’re making a quick stop to visit the vineyards in Bourgogne and then we’re off to the beach at Ste. Maxime, Diano Marina, and Cannes with friends and family.  Internet access will be sporadic, but we’ll try to update, not that we’ve done much blogging lately.  In the meantime, go Dolphins!

Traveling in style

11 Aug

Chris and I celebrated our first year of marriage together this past weekend! If I’m not mistaken, your first anniversary is to be celebrated with some sort of modest gift made of paper. We wholeheartedly agreed that since we are lucky enough to celebrate our first anniversary in Paris, the city of lights and love, we should do something a bit more flashy and romantic than something made of paper. So, we rented a Vespa for 24 hours! We cruised the streets of Paris on a beautiful sunny day, making stops along the way in our favorite parts of town to go for a stroll, grab some lunch, lounge in a few parks, and have a sunset picnic along the Seine. The adventure definitely turned out to be one of the highlights of this extended vacation/honeymoon/30-year old life-hiatus we are currently spending in Paris. Check out the photos.

Looking as badass as possible on a cherry red scooter!

Testing out on Rue Gustave Zede

Le Marais & Place des Vosges

Helmet head

Recreating National Lampoon's European Vacation

Jardins des Tuileries summer fair

Banh-mi sandwiches on Canal St. Martin

Rush hour around Place de la Concorde

The perfect picnic spot on Ile-de-la-Cite

Almost full moon over Pont Neuf

 

 

Back to bread

30 Jul

A month of truly awful July weather in Paris became a prime opportunity to kick the bread baking into high gear.  Since the parks were waterlogged, the temperatures downright chilly, and the sun completely obstructed from view, Amy and I spent most of the month indoors, working and baking to our heart’s content.  I experimented with a few different flours, ingredients, and techniques to produce varying types of bread.  Although some trials were unsuccessful, the majority were very much edible.  Here are a few photos.

Whole-wheat sesame batard

Simple baguette

Lastly, during my time here in Paris, I’ve become enamored with pain au levain, or naturally leavened bread, simply made of flour, water, and salt.  I’ve been cultivating wild yeast for two months now in a little container that sits on our kitchen table.  To some it may smell a bit funky, but I’ve grown to enjoy it, a bit like French cheese.  In reality, it smells like overripe fruit.  Anyway, leaven is a fermented mixture of water, flour, and microscope yeasts that, when mixed with more flour and water, incorporates gas bubbles in bread dough and makes it rise naturally.  Leaven is also used to make sourdough, but my goal was a mild tasting bread, not the commonly known acidic San Francisco sourdough we Americans are used to.  Using leaven instead of commercial yeast imparts a more complex flavor and allows your bread to last 3-4 days, a sharp contrast to the twelve hour baguettes often found in Paris.  After too many failed attempts, I was ready to pack it in, but I finally realized the perfect loaf.  Truly outstanding!

Sesame seed Pain au Levain

and the crumb shot, irregular and moist

 

Bastille Day

17 Jul

…was this Thursday and Chris and I had a great time celebrating the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution. We took in the military parade on les Champs Elysees, even getting to see President Sarkozy himself.  Jets, new and old, flew overhead to signify the start of the parade.

Armed forces from various divisions followed the airshow marching down les Champs Elysees. 

Even though thousands of people attended the parade, Chris and I both remarked how quiet it was.  The French always seem to keep conversations at a low volume and it’s very noticeable in certain situations.  On our way home, we finally found what independence days are really all about…a vendor selling irresistible street food!

We ended the evening with fireworks near the Eiffel Tower.  Luckily, we arrived early and found a little spot for a picnic.  By the time the fireworks started, the place was mobbed.

 

After much too much wine, Chris decided to do the Dougie on the walk home.  It wasn’t very successful, but this photo is good for a laugh!


Improvements

12 Jul

Pretty happy with these improvements here on Rue Gustave Zede! 

Croissant baked February 15, 2011

and on April 11, 2011

Yesterday!

Mmmm

Done and done

11 Jul

We wrapped up our Paris bakery tour yesterday, saving our own 16th arrondissement for last. After a nice early morning walk to Trocadero with Mr. Roscoe, we turned onto Avenue Kleber to visit Boulangerie Patisserie Coudrier Geffroy. As usual we stuck to the basics: one baguette, one croissant, one pain au chocolat, and we indulged in an escargot au chocolat. The bread was still warm leading all of us (even Roscoe) to have a few bites on the walk home. Coudrier Geffroy is well known for his viennoiserie and the croissant and pain au chocolat were delicious! There really is nothing like a hand-made, flaky, buttery morning pastry…in fact, we are putting our viennoiserie skills to test today and making our own. We’ll post on that later this week to see how we stack up against the best of Paris!

It took us 6 months, but we are happy to have accomplished this adventure in visiting at least one bakery in each of Paris’ 20 districts. Not only did we get to see a variety of different bakeries and taste a lot of different breads and pastries, we also got to see a lot of Paris. We most definitely traveled to areas in Paris that we probably never would have visited without this tour; and finding cool neighborhoods off the beaten touristy path is always fun. We have also been inspired on several occasions to try baking something new at home after seeing a new pastry item for the first time on our tour. For future bakery lovers visiting Paris, we have three favorite bakeries you should not miss, and I’m sure we’ll be visiting these three many times in the next few remaining months we have in Paris: Du Pain et Des Idees, Boulangerie Bruno Solques, and Arnoud Delmontel. We promise, you won’t be disappointed by these artisan bakers!

36 hours in Amsterdam

3 Jul

bridges and bikes everywhere

a nap in Vondelpark

Incredible beers

this place is just straight awesome

where's amy?

the summer heatwave brought everyone out

Nicholas Boat Club canal tour

the Lloyd Hotel's dock

Other non-photographed highlights include dutch pancakes, extremely spicy thai, and frites.  Amsterdam is a beautiful city, has a great vibe, and there is tons to do.  Plus the beer is fantastic.  We’ll most certainly be back.

I’ve got nothin’ (but some silly photos)

26 Jun

We only have two more districts to visit in order to complete this 6 month long bakery tour, the 20th and our own arrondissement the 16th. Unfortunately, after coming all this way, our goal may not be achieved. After consulting our 3 trusty bakery guides, the only option for us in the 20th was an ice cream shop called Ice to Ice Gelateria. Evidently, they are not big bread and pastry eaters in the 2oth!

Yesterday, the weather forecast told us it was going to be 80 degrees and we were headed to a jazz festival in the nearby Bois de la Vincennes anyways so we thought…why not? Gelato in the 20th on the way to hear some jazz sounds perfect….cheating a little bit, but oh well. Unfortunately, cheaters never win. After roaming up and down Boulevard de Menilmontant for what seemed like 40 minutes in search of our heaping cones of gelato, we came up short. Perhaps Ice to Ice Gelateria has gone out of business, or maybe they moved to a better local, but it wasn’t at the address we were in search of. Slightly disappointed, and now seriously craving some ice cream, we admitted our defeat and found a grassy spot in Bois de la Vincennes listened to some jazz and drank some wine. We did buy a tiny ice cream cup from a vendor at the festival, but it didn’t quite live up to our expectations.

Well, here are the silly photos (obviously after the wine).

La Maison Kayser

19 Jun

While Amy and I have had no difficulties finding artisan bakeries in Paris to visit on this tour of bread and pastries, we finally managed to hit a snag with the 14th district.  Our guide books lacked interesting options, so Eric Kayser’s bakery on Rue Didot became our destination on another cloudy June morning in Paris.  Eric Kayser is considered a master baker and one of the best bakers in France.  He opened his first bakery on Rue Monge in 1996 and became an overnight sensation.  He now owns 18 bakeries in Paris alone and a total of 80 worldwide. 

It is hard not to have preconceived notions on breads and pastries from a bakery boasting 80 worldwide locations.  To me, the little shop around the corner making everything by hand has a much better chance of selling high level products than one of Kayser’s many bakeshops.  Maybe this is why, although Kayser’s bread and pastries were quite good, they weren’t as tasty as others we have tried these past six months.  Our purchases at the bakery were simple…a baguette, a small loaf of naturally leavened bread, one croissant, and one chocolate almond croissant. 

All very good.  But nothing that made us want to return the very next day, nor anything we’d want to replicate at home.  Overall, one must salute Kayser for his huge success, but also decide whether baking is about making millions of dollars or producing the best quality product.  Is it possible to do both?