Archive for November, 2011

Made by Hand

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Through a friend I have discovered a website called This is Made by Hand where they have produced movies about people who create products by hand. There is a movie about Joel Bukiewicz who owns a knife business in Brooklyn called Cut. He was once a writer and now spends his days making hand made knives in his studio. This movie touches many nerves for me as I often wonder if writing is really where I want to be and this past year has been a big experiment for me to see what else tickles my fancy. I still haven’t found it yet but Joel’s story makes me smile.

Made by Hand / No 2 The Knife Maker from Made by Hand on Vimeo.

I Want to Vomit

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

I thought I had experienced the worst possible restaurant meal of my life when I had “Mont St Michel” inspired fish at a tourist restaurant on the aforementioned island. However, it turns out I was wrong, and the worst meal that I would have in my life would, in fact, be today.

Allow me to explain. It is Tuesday which means we have a lady come and change the sheets and towels and do a quick once over with the vacuum. Yes, we are spoilt rich kids. This means we have to leave the apartment when she arrives because 1. there isn’t enough room for all of us and 2. I hate the fact that someone cleans my apartment (although I do enjoy not having to deal with washing my own sheets.) So today she came at lunch time so Tom and I decided to go out for lunch. We went with our friend, Sonia, and headed to a local brasserie that Tom had eaten at before and that he assured me was AWESOME.

Tom had tried to get me to go to this brasserie on numerous previous occasions but my warning lights for “IT’S A BRASSERIE! DO NOT EAT THERE!” had flashed and I had suggested we go somewhere else. Unfortunately the cold weather had gotten to my brain today and I said we could go to this brasserie just as long as Tom swore it was really that good. Yes. Ok, fine.

When we told Sonia (a local Frenchie) that we were going to a brasserie she had a worried look on her face but came along with us like a good sport. From the outside it didn’t look too bad – there were people in there eating and the food looked relatively edible. And so we sat down. There was a set menu of entree/main or main/dessert with a glass of wine or a coffee for 11.50Euros. We ordered and, not really thinking clearly, I ordered ‘La tête de veau’ focussing more on the ‘veau’ (veal) than the ‘tête’. I mainly selected this because the other options were duck (too fatty), or fish with caper sauce (too caper-y.) As we waited for the food, Sonia commented that she had never dared order ‘La tête de veau’, to which I asked why. Because it is the head. Right. Of course it is seeing as ‘tête’ means head and I know that. I’ve known that for years but I presumed it was like many cuts of meat in French – it isn’t what it sounds like. You can also order ‘nuts of veal’ and ‘mouse of lamb’ and they aren’t what you think they are.

Tête de veau

Tête de veau

My dish arrived and I was a little bit concerned by the fact that the entire thing appeared to be fat. Fat with some sort of grey skin attached. Writing this is proving difficult because the more I remember, the more I wish to regurgitate it. I tried to eat as much as I could but it was all fat. As a person who cuts ALL fat off meat before eating it, this wasn’t the wisest choice. The veal was then covered in a ‘sauce’ that was hard boiled egg and onion with some sort of mayonnaise. It was so strong. Thankfully there were two boiled potatoes on the plate so my lunch was reduced to two boiled potatoes.

Tête de veau

The left overs – that's fat. Fat fat fat.

It’s ok, I thought. I’m having dessert. Sonia and I had both ordered the apricot tart and I declared to Tom that apricot tart can never be done wrong. WELL! Apparently it can! To make an apricot tart inedible, all you have to do is cook it for far too long so that the base burns and the insides curdle. It was seriously disgusting.

We then had to wait for our coffees to arrive because they were part of the deal. Sonia gave hers to Tom and I just didn’t drink mine. The only upside was the Valrhona chocolate on the side of the coffee. So for my 11.50 Euros I had two boiled potatoes and a little piece of Valrhona chocolate. And Tom got a lot of dirty looks from two unimpressed girls. Poor Tom.

NaNoWriMo 4Eva

Monday, November 28th, 2011

I just jumped around the room like a five year old because

I did it!

I have just typed my 50,000th word in my NaNoWriMo challenge and I am so proud of myself. I have wanted to do this for a few years now and never thought it would actually be achievable and I have proved myself wrong. I now have a working manuscript for something – what that thing is, I do not know. But there’s potential for a book to eventuate and that’s something I haven’t had before. Having my words printed and bound is something I really want to have happen in my lifetime and I am now one step closer.

So what now? I still have two more days until NaNoWriMo finishes and I am going to continue writing until the end. However, once it is all over I don’t know what to do with my words. Print out the 90+ pages and use it as a door stop? Perhaps I can take up origami or build a paper-maché Eiffel Tower replica. I have had lots of people ask if they can read it and I am somewhat inclined to give it to a lot of people and force them to provide me with real feedback. But I know the answers will be friendly and polite and won’t really offer much guidance for where to go next. No, I think the next stage is to read back through what I have written and really think about what my Book o’ Paris is going to be about. It is currently a hodge-podge of random notes and it has no flow or style. But that’s ok – that’s what editing and re-writing is all about. I’m just glad I have 50000 words down on paper (well, in Word) and I can now officially say, “I am writing a book about Paris.” when people ask me what I do here. It sounds much better than, “Umm… not a lot.”

Nanowrimo

Christmas Market Time

Monday, November 28th, 2011

The Christmas Markets have arrived in Paris, with young Audrey Tautou (of Amelie fame) turning on the Christmas lights along the Champs-Élysées last week. Tom and I dared the crowds on Saturday afternoon and elbowed our way through, mostly in the hope of finding a warming Nutella crêpe. We had been out walking all day heading from our house, down to the river, a quick duck into Sainte Chapelle, and then towards the Grand Palais. It was bloody cold and my hands were falling off so I needed something to warm them up with. We found the solution:

Vin chaud and crêpes

Hand warming.

Vin chaud and crêpes. Ahhh… I love Christmas in Europe. I hate it in Australia because of the excessive commercialisation and the too much food and too many presents. But here there is something more festive and REAL about it, although the Christmas markets in Paris really disappointed me as they are largely commercial stalls selling awful mass produced goods that are ugly and tacky. Plus, our Nutella crêpe was made using Nutella substitute which just did not hit the spot. Then I saw the vin chaud lady pouring more wine into the urns to heat up and it came straight out of a giant cask. It was essentially goon with spices, and it was all pre-mixed. Nothing real here.

I will go and have a better look at the markets when it isn’t a Saturday afternoon. I think a Monday morning when everyone is going to work with a depressed look on their faces is probably the best time to check them out.

HAPPY THANKS GIVING!

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

The great thing about living at the Récollets is that I get to meet people from all over the world who bring with them delicious food-based holidays. Tonight Tom and I have been invited to a belated Thanks Giving dinner with our two American friends, Jen and Greg. They have recently managed to score themselves an apartment in Paris (how they managed to do this is still a mystery to me) and so we’re celebrating with turkey and pilgrims.

As I am the proud owner of an oven and I stupidly said, “I’ll do it!”, I have been put in charge of the pumpkin pie. I figured it couldn’t be THAT hard because everyone in America and Canada makes pumpkin pie every year and if they can do it then I can too. It was then that multiple Americans informed me that the now ‘traditional’ way of making pumpkin pie is to buy a pre-made pastry case, pour in canned “Pie Pumpkin” and then bake. That’s called cheating. I not only REFUSED to use canned pumpkin, I also realised there was no way in the world I would ever find it in France, so I then had to find a real pumpkin. That’s almost as difficult. Pumpkin isn’t really France’s number one vegetable, despite it being versatile and utterly delicious! Crazy French. But by some sort of Thanks Giving miracle, I managed to find myself a butternut pumpkin in the first fruit and vegetable store I looked in. Thank you, Holy Pilgrims.

Yesterday evening I made the pastry and the pumpkin mush, in preparation for today, thinking I might be heading out and doing something. Turns out I have spent the entire day at home making this thing. Pastry and I aren’t really friends although I have managed to produce something resembling short crust pastry. It’s just a bit stumpy in the pan and resulting in the size of my pie being reduced significantly. Therefore I had far too much filling, the left overs of which I have just cooked in the oven without pastry in order to taste the pumpkiny-centre to check that no one will die.

And it has been a success! It tastes GOOOOOOOOOOD! I am looking forward to having the pastried version now and am feeling slightly less worried about presenting the pie to my relatively new friends. I figure it isn’t my fault it isn’t the perfect pumpkin pie because I’m not American and therefore do not have the genetics to create such a thing.

Pumpkin pie

Mmm... pie...

Are My Eyes Deceiving Me?

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Are you seeing what I’m seeing, J1?
I think I am J2.

IT’S A PACKET OF TIMTAMS!

TimTams

Now THAT'S a biscuit.

TimTams in Paris?! Surely I was hallucinating. Yet as I reached out and touched them I discovered they were as real as the Oreos on the shelf next to them. It appears that TimTams have finally broken through the tough French market and have made their way into the supermarket near me. I checked to see they were definitely made in Australia and yes – they have been sent to me from my good friends at Arnotts in New South Wales.

I made this discovery on Friday night while at my local Monop’ (a small version of a big supermarket chain in France) and almost had a heart attack. I then came back to life and died once again when I saw the price. Three Euros and 15 cents for a packet of TimTams. That equates to AUD$4.30. I haven’t bought a packet of TimTams in Australia for quite sometime but I would be horrified if they cost more than that. Still, I bought a packet and shared it with my fellow residents at the usual Friday night gathering, proudly declaring that I had discovered some Australian biscuits in France. They were all very impressed and eager to know more about Australia’s baked goods and deadly animals. Now all I need is for Arnotts to start exporting the dark chocolate versions because they are so much better.

Cross Stitching Fun

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

I have been working on a project on and off for a few weeks now and am finally ready to announce it to the world. I didn’t want to tell people what I was doing in case it crashed and burned and I looked like an idiot. No one wants to look like an idiot. But, surprises of all surprises, I have managed to successfully complete – my very first cross stitch!

I would like to start by declaring that cross stitch should be made COMPULSORY for everyone. It is more fun than riding a bicycle upside down and it is relaxing and therapeutic. You can sit and make little crosses on a piece of material that will all eventually add up to equal one giant picture – who wouldn’t want to do that?!

I bought a cross stitch pattern from a little store in a Parisian arcade called Le Bonheur des Dames (The Happiness of Ladies or The Ladies’ Paradise.) It should be extended to Le Bonheur des Toute le Monde because the entire world can gain happiness from this craft activity. At first I was scared by what I had put myself up against – there was a pattern (in French), a few instructions (in French), the linen to put the pattern onto and lots of coloured pieces of thread. What to do?!

Thankfully, we live in a world where if you want to know how to do something, all you have to do is turn to YouTube and someone will have wasted their lives making “How-To” videos. So I learnt how to cross stitch with a lady named Vickie Pavone. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I complained to my running buddy, Becky, one morning about having a sore neck, blaming it on sleeping in a strange position. That evening I picked up my cross stitch and realised I had ‘Cross-Stitch Neck’ where you tilt your head on a slight angle for a few hours, trying to get the best light to tackle those crosses. I had a sore neck for days.

Cross stitch

What a lovely class room!

The great thing about cross stitch is that you can start it one day, stop for a while, and then come back later when you have more time. This week I put the final touches on my piece and am very happy with the results. I need to work on my backstitch technique as I find it very hard to make round corners. I’m sure there must be a trick to it. I’ll have to ask Vickie.

Now that I have mastered this piece I want to start designing my own patterns. I added a little bit of “Jess” to my school room scene – 10 points for the person who spots it first.

Chocolate stain

I also added a bit of chocolate for some extra flavour

 

GO ME!

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

I just wish to announce that I have less than 10,000 words to write in my 50,000 word challenge! Today I hit 41,392 words. I’m very pleased with myself! I’m going to do this! And today I wrote some great things about dog poop and public urination. Things are looking up.

Shampoo Fight

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

I experienced a very typical French argument today where everyone announced their opinion to the world and then argued incessantly over something that had no real importance. I went to Tati, a super-cheap department store that sells every piece of rubbish you could ever want for really low prices. I went there in search of socks for my latest sock-creature endeavours and suddenly decided I should buy some toothpaste because we are running low. I went to the cosmetics/hygiene product section and dodged past some of the slightly less-hygienic folk who frequent that part of Montmartre and who spend a lot of time hanging around Tati. Some people really need to learn to cover their mouths when they cough.

While I selected my toothpaste of choice, an elderly man was at the checkout buying a bottle of shampoo. He then started arguing with the check out lady about the price of the shampoo, saying “I’m sorry to argue with you, Madame” followed by, “But you’re wrong.” The check out eventually stood up and walked with the man to the shampoo shelf to confirm the price of the shampoo. Underneath the shampoo was a price, however this price was for a different sort of shampoo which the check out lady had great happiness in pointing out. The man then argued that whatever price is situated under the product should correspond to the product therefore he should only pay the advertised price. The check out lady insisted the man should pay the price the computer says the product is and that the price on the shelf is just wrong.

This argument went on for about five minutes and then the man had left, paying the full price for the shampoo. The argument continued. The woman in the queue behind the man congratulated the check out lady saying that the man most definitely should pay full price, no matter what was marked on the shelf. The check out lady was pleased by this. But then the second woman in the line declared that the prices on the shelves should be marked correctly and the man should have been allowed to pay the price as marked. The first lady in line left the shop and then a very firey argument between the second lady and the check out lady started with the check out lady shoving the customer’s products in to a plastic bag and barking out the required amount. Essentially they just kept talking at one another, not listening and not really caring what the other person was saying. This lady then eventually left having been rudely yelled at by the check out women yet not even noticing because she was too busy arguing.

Between this woman and myself was a man who had been rolling his eyes for most of this time. However, once he reached the check out he then started agreeing with the first woman and the check out lady. I stood trying to understand as I was asked for my opinion and apparently didn’t provide enough information. All I wanted was to buy toothpaste and leave. Finally it was my turn to be served and I could pay and run away. I stepped outside and breathed a sigh of relief to be outside in Montmartre surrounded by the normal, regular people trying to sell copy Gucci bags and dodgy cigarettes. I can handle them. It’s the weirdos who argue about the price of shampoo who mess with my mind.

Wombat (I Mean Rabbit) Stew

Monday, November 21st, 2011

For a few months now, I have been in discussions with another resident of the Récollets (a dutchman by the name of Friso) about how one would go about purchasing a rabbit from the markets and subsequently cook it. Friso had assured me that it was all possible and easy to do and that one day we would undertake this challenge. After many postponements and reorganisations, we finally settled on a dinner date – this last Saturday.

My friend Sonja was in town so she joined us on our rabbit hunting adventures. At the respectable hour of 10am, the three of us met in the front courtyard of the Récollets, asked each other how we all were and then headed off across the Gare de L’Est train station, dodging early morning joggers, homeless people and the usual Parisians who don’t look where they are going. We went to Marche Saint Quentin – a covered market, open from Tuesdays to Sundays, that is a three minute walk from my apartment. In this market you will find butchers, fish mongers, bakers, fruit and vegetable sellers, wine caves, and florists. There are also a few restaurants and speciality product stores selling food from Italy, Spain and South America.

Entering the markets we looked at the price of rabbits at the first shop we passed but continued on to an always reliable boucherie. Tom and I had once bought veal, lamb and beef mince from this boucherie and instead of the mince being a pre-ground concoction of who knows what, the butcher had selected three cuts of meat and then minced it right there in front of us. Who knew mince could be so delicious? The concept of ordering Steak Tartare (raw chopped up meat served cold on a plate) at a restaurant suddenly seemed slightly more appealing.

To our delight, rabbits (lapin) were on special for a bargain price of 6.50 Euros a kilo. It took a while for us to be served, this being largely my fault as I stood taking photos of the little bunnies and talking in English. Clearly we weren’t there for any real purpose other than being stupid tourists. But not the case! Friso stepped up and took charge, wishing the butcher a good morning and declaring he was there to buy a rabbit.

Lapin

Bunnies!

The butcher seemed surprised but accepted the challenge and grabbed one of the poor lifeless fellows and plonked it down on the scales. A three-pounder was perfect for the recipe Friso was working from and he asked the butcher to ‘couper en grands morceaux’. So while we paid our 8 Euros for a whole rabbit, the butcher grabbed his knife and chopped that little guy up into large pieces, butterflying the head and resting it on top of the meat pile. Amongst the legs and ribs and body bits were the heart, liver and kidneys, just in case we should want to add them to our stew. After a brief consultation with Sonja and myself, Friso agreed that it would be best if we left the head and bodily organs out of the stew because no one really wanted to eat them.

The rabbit purchasing process only took 10 minutes meaning we had time to grab a coffee and discuss what cheese we should bring that evening. As it was Sonja’s last day in Paris, she and I headed off to explore the city and left Friso in charge of cooking our little rabbit. We would rejoin at 7pm for the official eating ceremony.

Finally the moment arrived when we lifted the lid from Friso’s Le Crueset pot and the delicious smells of white wine, mushrooms, herbs and bunny rabbit hit our noses. Served with potatoes, I can very happily announce that our rabbit was one of the most delicious little creatures I have ever eaten. He was tender, flavoursome and down-right tasty, and I lift my hat to Friso for his cooking talents. While, yes, that rabbit may have been happier bounding across the fields and making lots of baby bunnies, I can say that his death was very well received and he went down with style, taste and good glass of wine.

This rabbit adventure and a recent cooking escapade of Tom where he bought a whole fish from the markets and stuffed it with herbs and lime and baked it in the oven to perfection, makes me want to become a bit more adventurous in my cooking. There are so many amazing foods to try at the markets but I am usually put off as I don’t know what to do with them. But it appears that simple is best and by finding a good recipe you can make miracles.

Veal brains

Maybe next time I will get the veal brains, sweetbread, tongue or kidneys...