Tuesday, April 8, 2008

the long-awaited croissant post

this post was promised to stevieK a long time ago and i didn't have the chance to type it up until now. so first i am going to start with the history of the croissant and then go into my detailed description. hope y'all enjoy!

history of the croissant from http://www.ochef.com/
Many people have heard that the croissant was created in 1686 in Budapest,
Hungary by a courageous and watchful baker, at a time when the city was being
attacked by the Turks. Working late one night, he heard odd rumbling noises and
alerted the city's military leaders. They found that the Turks were trying to
get into the city by tunneling under the city's walls. The tunnel was destroyed
and the baker was a hero, but a humble hero — all he wanted in reward was the
sole right to bake a special pastry commemorating the fight. The pastry was
shaped like a crescent, the symbol of Islam, and presumably meant that the
Hungarians had eaten the Turks for lunch. The problem with this story is that
it's all made up. It first showed up in the first version of the great French
food reference Larousse Gastronmique, in 1938. Later on, the story switched
locations to Vienna, during the Turkish siege there in 1863, but that was also a
fabrication. The sad thing is, the truth in this case is not nearly as
interesting as the myth. No one knows when or where the first croissant was
baked, but it was definitely in France and certainly not before 1850. The word
was first used in a dictionary in 1863. The first croissant recipe was published
in 1891, but it wasn't the same kind of croissant we are familiar with today.
The first recipe that would produce what we consider to be a flaky croissant
wasn't published until 1905, and, again, it was in France.

i often wonder when i am eating the croissants here if they are just subconsciously better because i'm actually in france? or are they really just better?
i think the second

so flaky on the outside, shiny and golden
alternating shades - light like butter cream and dark like caramel
layered like the rings of a tree stump
almost chewy on the inside
melts in your mouth like warm m&ms
layers swirling around like a cinnamon roll
revealing air pockets that make the dense dough somewhat fluffy

sometimes they are eaten with jam
always strawberry
consistency like the juice from the fruit
dripping if you don't eat it fast enough

update: i did a little research on the recipe for croissants and to my question of "are they actually better in france?" the answer is yes. in america we don't really have the type of butter that is apparently best for making croissants so they are actually better in france for a real reason and not just my subconscious!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

first class!


i'm on the flight from paris to philadelphia, finally! we "slept in" this morning and had time to visit our last boulangerie and take our pastries to a nearby cafe for coffee.

it took us no more than 30 minutes to get to the airport from our hotel room. we had no problems with line 5 today and as soon as we made it down the stairs to the B3 to cdg there was an express train waiting for us which only made one stop before the airport, cutting out at least 30 minutes of the trip.

we checked in, did some duty-free shopping, and went to the first class lounge. dad had champagne and i had a couple mimosas, both dom perignon. i used the free access computers and dad of course loaded my bag with some snacks from the bar.

about an hour before departure we headed to the gate and were served more drinks as soon as we boarded the flight - see dad's entry a little later for our story of why we were on first class!

now i have had 2 mimosas prior to boarding, 2 after boarding, 3 cape cods, and 2 glasses of wine all on us airways, not to mention a 4-course meal and hot tea! nope, i'm not complaining one bit about the delay!

last day in france... again


i should be at home, in dallas... but we had some difficulties today and i swear we're cursed. our train leaving avignon was 30 minutes late. then we arrived in paris at gare de lyon, one of the biggest metro stations in paris and absolutely none of the ticket machines took bills, only coins. since we had to have rer tickets to get to the airport i had to stand in one of two lines. one i could buy the tickets full price, the other i could use our railpasses for a large discount. of course in the toss up i chose heads when it was actually tails. another 30 minutes wasted, we had a little over and hour and a half to make our flight. we or course waited and waited for the first train because there was some sort fo accident in the metro. the second train we took went to the airport. some trains are express and don't make each stop along the way... we of course were so lucky to get one that does, doubling our trip time.

we finally make it to cdg with about an hour to spare - however by the time we catch the shuttle and get to the counter, it's only about 45 minutes. apparently some law has them shut down check-in an hour before departure so we just missed it! the next flight is the same time tomorrow so a $400 transfer/rebooking fee, 65 euro hotel room, and a few other costs later... here we are in the 19th arrondisement. of course we also had some train problems with line 5 on the way here. for some reason we had to evacuate the car then as soon as everyone was off they told us to get back one... then of course to get back off again as soon as we were all back on!

let me tell you though, other than missing my massage tomorrow this has been one of the best nights in france! we checked in and went almost immediately to the bar. before walking in we read the awning over the door and thought the bar was named shutz. delirious as we were, we made some good friends. dad made up a story about his mom being named shutz, what we thought was the name of the bar. come to find out it's a beer they serve there... they ended up giving us 6 nice beer glasses and a large beer mug which we intended to pay for as a souvenir to give kevin, hence the reason for the made-up story to begin with!

we ate sushi for dinner, both of us saying "screw the french food!" afterwards dad went back to the bar and i went to get some coffee and a crepe. believe you me, if i was staying in france one more night, i was eating a crepe! dad finally joined me after a little confusion. we shared a nutella and banana crepe then came back to the hotel to rest for what we hope will be a trip home tomorrow!

last day in france...


today was our last full day in france and we decided to take a day trip to marseille... too bad the beautiful weather went on vacation and left us with downpour. the metro from the train station came out right in front of the water. we just missed the fresh seafood market so we walked along the old port. the boats were incredible! there were hundreds of them!

we ate lunch at a cafe right on the water, starting with an assortment of fresh oysters, clams, shrimp, and muscles. i had grilled dorade and dad had a seafood pasta. both were outstanding! we did a little "shopping" then headed back for the train station.

everything worked out perfectly. we packed up our bags back at the hotel and then went on a search for dinner around 8:30. we found the opera cafe which was coincedentally enough, right across the street from the theater.

dinner was unbelievable. first they had more servers than all of the paris cafes combined, which means service was pretty good. we started out with aperatifs - dad had whisky and i had a kir. of course when the meal came dad and i did sharesies. i ordered duck which also came with a great side of squash and a delicious risotto. dad had a ground lamb with herbs that was wrapped like an eggroll. we decided these two dishes were in our top three, along with the beef bourguignon we had in beaune - for me this is a big deal because between lunch and dinner everyday for a month, i ate a lot of different meals. for dessert i ordered the opera cup which had ice cream, coffee flavored rum, nutella, nougat, and whipped cream. it was pretty intense!

tomorrow we have an early train to paris and we'll be cutting it close to get to the airport!

passport weekend in avignon...


today was one of my favorite days this entire trip! we went to the rhone exaltation which is like passport weekend in avignon but better! imagine hundreds of wineries in one central location - the popes palace! to guide us through the lists of whites, roses, and reds were the vintners themselves along with some of the world's greatest sommeliers. even better was the fact that most of them spoke english and the tickets were only 20 euros!

dad went to church in the morning then we headed to the wine spectacular where we tasted wine after wine for over 2 hours. in the afternoon we watched chef demonstrations and were able to taste the delicious dishes when they were done, which was good because at the point i needed some food! we had little meatballs, a tomato and eggplant puree topped with cream, a cheese biscuit on a stick, and then a cone stuffed with a guacamole sauce and topped with baby shrimp.

after the demonstration we had more wine... chocolate... shortbread cookies... then we had a 12 person private seating with a local chef who had paired 4 wines and 4 dishes. he was trying to emphasize the way the wines could complement the spices in his dishes: foie gras with pepper, curry lamb, a spicy tomato sauce, and tuna laid on a piece of bread with a red pepper spread. since he explained everything in french i asked him to talk to dad in english afterwards.

we went back to the wine bar - notice a trend? and when we got there two of the people pouring say "oh it's you again... which one do you want to try now?" and dad says "when they know you at the wine bar in a foreign country that's gotta mean something!" if dad is saying that to me then it's really gotta mean something!

for dinner we ate at the place recommended by another guy at the hotel, who is coincedentally from bastrop! he answered a lot of dads questions about france's tax system - which is very strange by the way.

i ate an entree that was a crumble with chevre and zucchini, and dad had some kind of pig's pie. then for our main courses i had an eggplant/beef dish with tomato sauce and cheese, which was delicious. dad had lamb with a side of potatoes au gratin. i thought about getting a crepe on the way home, but this was the first day this past week i haven't been stuffed since we just snacked all afternoon instead of having a real meal. tomorrow we'll take a day trip to marseille then it's back to the states!

not everything is a tortilla...


dad and i ate breakfast this morning at the hotel, which was your typical french breakfast, but probably the best one i've had. the morning was spent at les halles market. this place is like central market, fiesta in its prime, and 6th street rolled into one... and on crack. there were meat sections galore, seafood that i had never heard of, fruits, veggies, every possible kind of pre-made side salad - pasta, potato varieties, and other things i wasn't sure of - and then of course there were pastries, desserts, chocolates, and we can not forget the little bars and cafe stands throughout where you could get your normal coffees and teas, but they were also better stocked than specs!

we watched a demonstration by a local chef who prepared lamb and stuffed tomatoes. it was really interesting to watch and we even got to taste it at the end! they gave us the recipes and this really cute old lady tried to make sure i understood it, of course she was explaining in french and i had to have her write the words down that i didn't understand because i've never studied cooking vocab in depth!

we wanted to have lunch at uncle ron's suggested restaurant but realized it wasn't actually in avignon, we had no car rental, and therefore no way to actually get there other than a taxi, which dad is not very fond of. so we headed to the office of tourism to buy tickets we decided to go to the rhone exaltation which is like a wine fair going on this weekend at the palais des papes and l'espace jeanne laurent nearby.

after a picnic lunch in the park, and almost being attacked numerous times by pigeons, we took a rest in the hotel room. michael told us we could have our room for two more nights and we decided to stay here until we go back to the states.

we spent the afternoon following rick's guided walk through the old city - place d'horloge, palais des papes, petite palais, jardin des doms, and pont st-benezit. the view from the garden was gorgeous and we saw the riverfront restaurant across the way that we had chosen for dinner.

making our way down the hill, we got "lucky" to make the last ferryboat across the river. when we actually got to the restaurant we realized they weren't open until april. we decided not to wait 3 days and made the 25 minute walk back into town, stopping for a drink in place d'horloge before eating at a seafood/steakhouse suggested by michael. it was good, not great, but the 2nd rick steves' recommendation was booked until later in the night and we were hungry after our hike.

dad still hadn't had a crepe yet so after dinner it of course became our mission to find a crepe stand still open. we also stopped at a late-night (it was about 8:45) grocery store and had 15 minutes to get some wine before they closed.

dad was amazed that they make the crepes fresh. he thought that is was like a tortilla that they warmed up! he seems to think everything is a tortilla actually... back at the hotel we watched cnn world while i caught up on postcards. tonight is daylight savings time so we spring forward. i'm actually ready to come home now. if i wasn't moving around every few days maybe i'd want to stay longer, but one month has been the perfect amount of time!

bon week-end is right!


the first part of today we returned to everything in arles we wanted to see that had been closed yesterday...

the roman arena was really neat. sitting in the stands we just tried to imagine the ampitheater full, watching the bullfights. we climbed the tower for a great view of the city and surrounding area.

we saw the inside of the church and stopped at the all-natural ice cream shop after a lunch of bull meat and rice for dad and a seafood salad with clams, smoked salmon, and anchovies for me. the ice cream was good but honestly i prefer gelato.

during our walk through arles we stumbled on a garden van gogh painted and it looked almost identical! it's still hard to believe i was able to see all these places in person!

we took the regional train to avignon. dad was disappointed to know it was only 20 minutes because he just bought 3 bottles of wine. i had to convince him there really wasn't enough time to open one!

after walking circles a little bit (and even passing our hotel once, we later realized) i asked a couple people for directions and we were able to check into our hotel. they really do just keep getting better too. i will always trust rick steves' picks for hotels. this one in avignon is especially great beacause of the deal we're getting. it's called "bon week-end in avignon" and we get a 2 for 1 night deal at the hotel plus other extra goodies around the city. michael, the receptionist and my new best friend, is a gay british man who definitely wants to be french. he is also very helpful and always points places out on our map "so we don't get lost."

after a trip to the tourism office and a couple loads of laundry we headed to the irish pub for dinner and beer. it must be a popular spot because there were a lot of people - and a lot of good looking guys too!

this is a great weekend to be in avignon! i'm really looking forward to the next few days of activities and we are probably even going to extend our stay!

starry starry night...


we didn't get to sleep in today and i'm sure madame rousseau was surprised to see us so much earlier than yesterday, but we had to catch our train to arles. of course the train conductor must have decided that he wanted some wine or more croissants so he was running late and we missed our connection in lyon by about 30 minutes! we got reassigned and had about 1h30 for lunch so we ate at a brasserie right by the station. it really wasn't worth mentioning.

finally we made it. arles - the one city other than paris that i had to go to! van gogh did much of his work here and i wanted a real-life impression. walking to the hotel we passed the "boule-ing alley," where the old men play petanque, which is like bocci ball, and a french carnival! our hotel was about 10 steps from the view of "starry night over the rhone..." i was in heaven!

our hotel guy (we think he owned it actually) was very helpful! he recommended some restaurants and we picked the one for bouillabaise. first we followed rick steves' walking tour past the roman arena, forum square (where you can find cafe van gogh,) st. trophime church, and the classical theater. everything was closed already except the cafe where dad had a beer and i had hot chocolate. we walked more, stopped for a glass of wine, and finally went to dinner.

bouillabaise was better than i imagined but the fish bones were kind of annoying. we tried to get ice cream, but the place rick recommended was closed.

my favorite part of the day was walking along the river at night in exact view of "starry night." kind of ironic... but i even saw a shooting star! it was like a movie or dream or something! it was already surreal enough to be there, looking at the same horizon as van gogh. unfortunately my picture did not do it justice!

we had another drink at another bar before turning in for the night. tomorrow we're headed to avignon after seeing the sights of arles in an open state!

mustard and wine


last night was one of the best nights sleep i've had in a long time! mme rousseau fed us a traditional french breakfast with coffee, croissants and strawberry jam, baguettes and butter. it was perfect!

we walked around centre ville after getting our train tickets for tomorrow, finding a cigar cave and the wednesday town market. after buying some honey (8 different flavors including lavendar!) we made our way to the mustard factory. it was really interesting actually and we even got a taste test and a couple little jars each. we were the only english first language speakers and the other people were very concerned about making sure we understood.

we stopped for lunch - pizza with olives and tomatoes and a croque balard which had bleu cheese on top of a regular croque monsieur. then we found a great wine store/cellar where we tasted about 8 different wines and bought two bottles. come late afternoon it was time for a nap to prepare for the night ahead of us... and what a night it was!

we had reservations at caves madeleine for 7pm. i told the owner that my dad didn't speak french but really wanted to talk to him so did he speak english. luckily he did and we told him just to pick the two best things from each part of the "menu" and drinks to correspond. he had stories for each dish and explanations for how to cook them the best way in his opinion. he told us he goes to the market every morning to pick food, and if not he has poor energy the rest of the day. he made a dish from his grandmother's recipe and served a drink with alcohol-soaked cherries from his father's garden. his parents own a b&b here in beaune where they host a cooking school. dad said he's his new best friend he just doesn't know it yet!
so full!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

dads first french train ride


Today we did rue cler, but more in depth because everything was open. we browsed the cheeses, meats, seafood, pastries... after another coffee and croissant breakfast - this time in various flavors - we visited a few more shops. one a fine food store with teas, chocolates, spices, mustards, oils, vinegars, etc. we looked for the owner pascal, but only saw a cute woman who dad thinks is his wife. i've noticed he really likes to make things up. it makes me wonder if he has lacking friends as a child and if as a result he had to use his imagination a lot! after that it was on to the chocolate store where we had her make an assortment of about 10 different pieces.

check out at the hotel then internet cafe before boarding the train, where we had a fabulous picnic with a salmon and an eggplant panini, various cheeses and crackers, clementines, gingerbread from strasbourg, creme brulee eggs, and wine. dad loves seeing the little towns but was disappointed the tgv didn't run at full speed.

upon arrival at the hotel we saw that it was closed for another 30 minutes so we walked down the street for wine, a very good white for less than half of what we were paying in paris. the hotel was still locked when we got back so we waited about 15 minutes and up pulls this little old grandma... she gets out and starts apologizing that she was at the supermarket and there were lots of people, etc. dad said she'll live to be 100, but wait she's already 98 so she'll live much longer! i agree that she's older than dirt, but she is one of my favorite people on this trip!

she gave us two recommendations for dinner but the first we visited the cathedral - wait for it wait for it - notre-dame! yes, another one. mary is sure a popular lady! after that we stopped for another drink at pickwicks, my new favorite pub.

we chose a restaurant called le comptoir des tontons and picked a 5 course ''walk of burgundy.'' the food was outstanding. some biscuit that would put mr pillsbury to shame, escargot in a creamy basil sauce, the best beef bourguignon in the entire world no joke, a toast with warm cheese, and some sort of sorbet that definitely had pear flavor to it. all the food was organic and i'm starting to wonder if that was the reason for all the great flavors or if it was just the chef. i think both. in all seriousness i have never felt so much emotion with one dish... scared to taste it because it smelled so good, extremely pleased after the first bite, angry after a while when i realized i would never have the same dish again, sad almost to the point of crying when it was done and many others.

dad and i made it back to the hotel in time for curfew (11:30) and tomorrow we have a lot planned... and by a lot i mean mustard and wine. tune in again to find out what happens next!