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An Oven

10 Aug

We have been settling in our new apartment outside of Paris.

One of the reasons we chose this place is because it has a “full kitchen” (in Paris standards). I’ll tell you what. You never realize how thankful you are for something until you go without it for quite a while. In the US you expect your apartment to have a pool, a workout room, granite countertops, a garden tub in the MASTER!! bathroom, not to mention everyday appliances like a washer AND dryer or an oven.

We have moved up in the world because we have an OVEN.

Do you know how happy it makes a chef to have a four burner range and an oven? Like a kid.

In the past week AJ has made: poulet roti with roasted potatoes, tomato/basil tartes, breakfast tartes, a strawberry and cream tarte, french fries, baguettes… Shall I go on? Today his project is to make a fermented baguette (poolish) and pains au chocolat. 

I made some outstanding chocolate chip cookies with some fleur de sel on top. My project is to make another batch of cookies (sans sel) to give to our neighbors and a loaf of banana bread.

I wish I could post a slide show of all the wonderful things we’ve been eating…. but they get eaten too quickly for a picture.

chocolate chip cookies

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Cats in France

18 Jun

Paris is smaller than Texas.

When we decided to move to Paris I was bent on taking our two cats with us. We knew we could stay in France for an undetermined amount of time. For that, you need a furry friend.

Before finagling the airport and getting our kitties to Paris we had to come to terms that our Parisian apartment was much smaller than our Texan apartment. Our kitties would run the risk of gaining weight because of lack of exercise and outdoor activity (like climbing trees and crawling in flower beds).

In Paris we quickly found that bags of kitty kibble are small because apartments are small and there is no where to put a 20 pound bag of kibble. For a bigger bag of 1.5k, we pay around 8 Euros.

Our boys were getting a little extra flubby with their winter coats and lack of stairs and exercise. I decided that we needed to make a change.

After LOTS of research I found that dry kibble is not the proper diet for felines and they should have a meat based diet. (Think: lion=gazelle; kitty=mouse). Putting together info I learned that a average house cat should be eating the size of a mouse, or about 3 ounces twice a day (this is about 85 grams twice daily). I also learned that mice are made up meat and carbohydrates, etc.

Note: they do not make mouse flavored kibble. I am also not one for feeding my kitties a living mouse. So what to do?

I looked around for recipes to make cat food. Some people had quite complex recipes involving rabbit, heart, etc. This is a CAT we are talking about, not the king of France. The good news is that in a former life my father-in-law was a vet tech and he has regularly fed his animals homemade food for decades.

Here is a simplified version of our cat food recipe:

– one large can of albacore tuna (Contains: tuna, water, and sea salt. Origin:  Ivory Coast)

-one carrot, minced finely

-cooked rice or bulgur

Total cost: ~3 Euros; Lasts about 1 week

My Chef Husband Extraordinare makes the cat food. When he cooks the rice or bulgur he puts the minced carrot in together to cook it at the same time. Then add tuna and mix. We usually put the prepared food in freezer tupperware so we can have fresh food every few days. When I feed them (once in the morning and once in the evening), I put about 50 grams of food in each bowl, some water (to hydrate them), and a 1/8 cup of kibble split between the two bowls.

This has been a great change for our boys! The boys coats are softer, they are more alert, and have even lost some weight. The dry kibble is lasting a lot longer.

Before the cats would only eat a little bit of kibble at a time and it would take them all day to finish their food (which is fine). Now I can feed them and they will take their time eating but finish the bowl and not be hungry until the evening.

The path to changing their diet was a slow one and the first day I wanted to give up because Jack was being a pain and didn’t want to eat homemade food. But we kept at it and slowly introduced changes and now we are quite happy with the results. We don’t know why we hadn’t done this sooner and we will definitely keep up the practice no matter where we live!

A Tourist in Your Own Town

30 May

I was especially excited to tackle the day’s events because I was going to be a tourist in Paris and find things that I hadn’t even known were there.

First, we started by hopping off the metro at Bastille. I had seen the little angel on the top of the tower of 18 Julliet and I had seen the outline of where the Bastille had been before it was torn down.

I was on the search for what remained of the Bastille building. The story is that it was unearthed during construction of a metro. I had seen there were two blocks left and they were somewhere on Henri IV street, in some park, but with no real other indicators. Now, I was not like Dan Brown’s Prof. Langdon and searching all over Paris for clues and puzzles to tell me where this relic was, I walked down the street and voilà! 

I snapped a picture:

Remains of the Bastille

Next, across the Seine and the Ile-de-Louis to the Jardin des Plantes. I saw a few animals of the menagerie and lots of plants. The animals had become a part of the gardens when it became illegal at the turn of the 20th century to keep wild animals in one’s home and people wanted a safe place to put their bears, cats, and birds. My mother was intrigued by all that was plantae and we stopped in the greenhouse because she is remodeling her’s. The gardens were more of a shortcut for me since I had been once or twice. The real goal was to swing by the Paris Mosque (across the street) and then over the the amphitheater.

I was ecstatic to find out that there was ancient history in Paris that I had never found. It was known that an amphitheater was constructed in Lutèce (what Paris was formally called in the times before the Romans), but it’s whereabouts were unknown. The story (again) was that construction for a metro was started and voilà, part of the ruins were unearthed. History says that it was used first for gladiator fights and theater spectacles. Then during the long period of European wars, it was used as a grave pit and slowly became covered over as the bodies were buried. In conjunction with that, stones had been taken from the theater and used elsewhere, so it was in quite a state of decay when it was rediscovered. I thought it was quite nice and a wonderful place for a picnic.

After a quick sit down, it was time to tackle the second half of the day — churches, churches, churches. First up, St. Genevieve church. It had the tombstone of St. Genevieve in a fancy box and was quite ornate. Then across the street to what is really the “St. Genevieve church,” or what you may know better by it’s popular name, the Pantheon. The Pantheon was built and dedicated to St. Genevieve by a few kings over the ages. Today, due to lack of waterproofing and metal oxidation, it has a lot of cracks because of the weight of the dome and is under heavy construction to reverse the effects.

We next walked through the Luxembourg gardens, had another sit down for ice cream, and down around the corner to St. Suplice. I liked this church because it still had an open area in front of it. (Sorry, no pictures of the insides of churches because they wouldn’t allow flash and it was pretty dark in there!) You know what is also down the street from St. Suplice? Macaroons!

My goal was to stop at both Pierre Hermé and Ladurée so we could do a comparison. (In the past, I did a food review on Paris’ macaroon giants.) I had abricot-pistache at PH and melon at LD. As usual, PH was chewy and fat, LD was light and crispy.

The last stop on the day’s tour was the church of St. Germain-des-Pres. I have to admit, this was my favorite. Although it is located in the famous (and very high-end) quarter of St. Germain-des-Pres and across from Les Deux Magots (where the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, etc hung out), the church stands on its own and is worth checking out. Why did I like it? It was unique and completely painted in greens and blues!

Les 2 Magots - St Germain

By then, our feet were done for the day and AJ was at home making dinner — terragon roasted chicken with stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes, and green beans with garlic and Parmesan. Yum!

My Graduation

27 May

I gradumerated!

On Sunday as part of my final farewell as the Graduate Student Council Social Director, I held Sunday Brunch for the graduate students and their parents and guests.

Monday, Memorial Day, I walked across the stage as a graduate student! Yay, me!

P.S. My mom is adjusting to Paris. How do you like the Eiffel Tower? “It has holes in it.” The best part of her visit so far? Getting caught in a manif (a strike).

For now, I’ enjoying my special graduation breakfast/snack… escargot aux fruits rouges, escargot aux raisins, et fougasse all from my fav bakery, Du Pain et Des Idees.

Du Pain et Des Idees - Yumm

Paris, je t’aime

16 May

They say when you move to a new locale you go through a few stages: 1) OMG! This place is awesome! 2) Culture Shock. 3) Upswing to “Eh, we are living life.” I would also like to add the sometimes wonderful step #4. “Holy crap, I’m living in Paris! There is the Eiffel Tower right there!”

After you have gone through a rotation of these phases, you begin to build preferences about things you like (and don’t) about Paris. And, indeed, Paris, je t’aime.

Let’s tackle the things I don’t like about Paris. The homeless people. The homeless people who poop n’importe où. I do not need to see you scooping your poop into a blue, Hostess cupcake wrapper. (Cupcakes will never seem the same to me).

Hostess CupcakesTalking about poop, I do not want to guess if it is human’s or dog’s poop. Scoop, people! Scoop! (Need to hear more? Check out this NPR story on doggy doodie duty).

I have wracked my brain to think of other things I don’t like about Paris, but aside from incessant allergies (which I will address in another blog posting), I cannot think of much. Guess poo takes the (cup)cake.

What do I like about Paris? Lots!

First let me point out that although I have moved across Texas from West to East and ventured abroad a few times, I have always lived in middle class suburb-y areas (although in one apartment in Houston, I swear we lived in the ghetto, not the barrio, mind you). My living quarters were always fine, great for the prices we paid. In fact our last apartment in Houston was a two storied town home with an open kitchen-living room-dining room combo on the ground floor, bedroom-bathroom-closet first floor, complete with a patio for reading ane drinking beers and a pool! We had almost 1100 square feet.

Cimarron Pkwy Layout

What do I like about Paris? Our small apartment. We now are the proud renters of ~215 square feet. We have a small kitchen with a two-burner hot plate with the window for ventilation. We have a small dorm room sized frigo. Thankfully we have a washer (no dryer!). We hang all laundry on a rack to dry. Our bedroom is partitioned off by a blackout curtain. And we do not really have a couch… because the futon is too small to sit on or lay across. We have a TV, but after 3 days of French TV (which was half American anyways), we unplugged the damn thing.

I love: a small fridge; we do not waste food. We shop every other day. However, with two hot plates, one of which hits the curvature of the wall,  you can only cook with one pot at a time. Let me rephrase that — AJ makes a lot of one-pot wonders. I can’t even remember the last time I cooked since being in grad school. It’s like when I was in undergrad– I don’t think I EVER vacuumed.

I also love the laundry rack. Yeah, it takes up a lot of space, but it is pretty energy efficient and it is not hot as a Texas summer when the dryer is running all… damn… day. In the winter we got creative and put the rack close enough to the radiator so we kept the apartment warm and dried the laundry in record time.

I also love the public transport. It is easy to get around and also just as easy to travel around Europe. In Paris, I am a walker and like walking places. I appreciate the metro and like to read books (or scholarly, peer-reviewed articles…) on the metro. I could even guess, “This will take me two metro rides to finish this chapter.” I read almost all of Julia Child’s MY LIFE IN FRANCE on the metro. I like that I do not have to drive 1 hour and 30 minutes to work… and back.

I love the food. What is there to say other than French food, wine, and life is wonderful? I love our marché across the street. I love the cheese guy. He is one of the most honest people and doesn’t get offended if you ask for something that pue. Remember how I said we don’t have our TV plugged in? I have never seen so many people sitting outside on a café terrace enjoying a beverage and talking with their friends. I love that, too. There is always something going on here — concerts, shows, museums, beautiful parks, and fun night life.

AJ and I often have a conversation, “When we get back to the US we should…” We discuss having a smaller fridge or drying our laundry on a rack or getting a motorcycle instead of a car. Yet, I know how easily it will be to get sucked right back into the consumer lifestyle. Hell, my mother-in-law thinks we are starving if our over-sized American fridge is not full.

I love lots about Paris. What I love is that I am lucky enough to be here. ❤

(Photo credits: The Coen Brothers-Paris je t’aime poster, frigo, metro reading).

Graduation

7 May

Graduation is and was upon us.

One of my last blogs was about my first weeks of school and how I was mind numbed. Busy is a better adjective. Mind expanding, too. When we arrived in Paris we were both signed up to go back to school. I was much more excited since AJ has never liked the classroom. AJ soon came home with some new spiffy chef jackets, the “apprentice” black and white checked pants, and some ugly white kitchen shoes (they look like the sterile ones nurses or my mom, a dental hygienist,  wears). Off he goes to school. He is one of three boys in his class. But he seems fit in with all the Asian girls.

AJ started producing some amazing desserts. He bought a little cake saver and brought home tarte aux poirestarte aux pommes, chocolate cakes, chocolate raspberry cakes, mango fruit cakes, croissants, bread… You get the idea. The trick to not getting fat? We gave away a LOT of sweets. Before you knew it, AJ was done with classes and he had to choose a place for a stage.

In February 2013 AJ started interning at a boulangerie/patisserie shop. It shared the lab (kitchen), but one half of the store front is a bakery, Au 140, and the other half is a fancy pastery shop, Demoncy D’eglise. Do you know what happened to my chef husband? After working for a month or so, he says that he has an idea of the restaurant, no bakery, that he wants to open. He loves the life of a patissiere. He likes the set hours of working, unlike in a restaurant, you could come in at the crack of dawn, work 15 hours and then head home at 3 am only to turn around and be back at 6 am… after an hour drive into work. The cool thing about a bakery or a pastry shop is when the product is 86’ed, that’s it. No baguettes? Get a pain d’epices instead. Out of croissants? Get my beloved pain aux raisins or escargot pistache/chocolat.

For the first two months (Feb/March) AJ made everything that had to do with chocolate in preparation for Easter (Paques). He once quoted me doing something like 150 kilos or chocolate a week.

This week he started working on viennoiseries. To me and you that means eveything buttery, flakey, and good. Like croissants, pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins, escargots aux fruits rouges, or escargots au pistache/chocolat…. you get the gist.

Every month he will be doing something different. AJ has his stage until the 1st of September so he will be doing a lot of fun, yummy things. I sometimes wonder out loud who got the better education here. I think we all know the answer to that — both of us.

All of this good came together last week on Monday, April 29, 2013 when AJ graduated from school. Officially certified in pastries. I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. <SMILE!>

Now, I hope a few things… First, if he is doing  viennoiseries this week, I hope get a AJ-made pain aux raisins or an escargot au pistache… Next, I hope in our new apartment he will practice his skills in our OVEN! And finally, I hope that he will ever be as good as my favorite bakery down the street, Du Pain et Des Idees. But more on all of those tempting bits and my upcoming graduation soon.

Escargot au pistache, chocolat from Du Pain et Des Idees

Looking Back at Week 1 & 2

8 Sep

Tomorrow marks our two week point here in Paris and I want to take a few moments to reflect back, in no particular order, on things that are memorable.

First, bedbugs suck.  Thank you everyone for being cool and not acting like I have leprosy.  I sure do feel and almost look like it.  I could not have asked for a better landlady who has really taken care of us and got the bedbug issue addressed STAT.

Secondly, I don’t think I will ever get tired of Paris.  Every time I come here, I love it.  There is so much to see and there is never I time where you can truthfully say, “There is nothing to do.”  It is much different from Houston and coming straight home to sitting on the couch and watching TV.  I don’t think we have watched more than three movies since we’ve been here versus watching a movie almost every night.  We also don’t watch TV.  Why would you watch TV (other than for news) when you can go out to see something or just have a beer at a café and watch people walking by?  Exactly.  Also, the history.  The history just gets me going.  It makes me flustered just thinking that this used to be a maid’s quarters, that Marie Antoinette was in Paris and I can see the place where she was beheaded.  It just makes me giddy with all the old stuff.  I love history.  On the other hand, Paris is as cool as the Cheetos Cheetah, but we have decided that we would like to be a little removed from the urbanism.  We would like a little house with a big backyard… maybe a little chateau, who knows?

Next, the people I come into contact everyday make this experience what it is.  When I lived in Belgium and in France before, I arrived alone with no friends and I was discouraged from associating with other Anglophones.  This time I am confident enough that my French is good and that it will improve as time goes on, but I have American friends.  In fact, I have my best friend here every day.  Having AJ here and bringing home to Paris with him and our cat’s really made it easier to transition.  Next, I’ve met some really awesome ladies who are in the same Master’s program I am.  Funny thing is that we all come from Texas and we have our husbands/boyfriends here in Paris, too.  It’s like the “Husband’s Club.”  I’m also looking forward to starting work to make more contacts with the families and the other teachers.  I have also been scoping out some boulangeries to begin going in and making a connection.

I am scared, though.  I have to start school and have to get serious about my career.  I don’t know which foot to put forward and I don’t know where we will end up.  I don’t know about what type of internship I should do or when.  I have begun thinking about if we want to stay in France and/or Paris and what that would look like.  Then I have this underlying feeling that I just need to go to every market and see everything.  I don’t want to leave without traveling or having great experiences.

Looking at all of this, this is all quite silly and if I’ve had a combination of good experiences with a 1% bad experience, I think this is a good indicator of what will come.

Let’s just all take a breath in, take a sip of this wonderful wine, and enjoy Paris.  Santé!

Chez Nous

31 Aug

My legs hurt.  My hamstrings, my quads, my calves.  Thankfully the bottoms of my feet stopped hurting today.  It hurts so good!

Today is Day Four and it feels like we are finally settled in and we are “HOME.”

We have been working hard at not sleeping in too late because of the décalage (time difference).  Our first full day in Paris was full of over sleeping and lots of walking.  We slept until 4pm then did some house wares shopping at a little shop called Eureka! in Marché St. Quentin and then did some grocery shopping at Franprix.  We will go back to the lady at Eureka! because she was super nice and helpful.  The cashier at Franprix was total jerk so we will not go back.  After a quick sandwich and apple at the house, we walked down to the Seine and saw Notre Dame.  We got back a little after 1am and AJ then started dinner. Doing grocery shopping and eating AJ’s food meant “Life is back to normal.”

Yesterday we had another long day.  We decided to take the Metro and go visit our schools.  We bought a carnet of Metro tickets.  We got lost a little, but thankfully we had a bottle of water and a map.  We also stumbled across this thing you may have heard of – the Eiffel Tower.  On the way home it was so dang hot on the Metro.  I was sorry I wore skinny jeans, they were stuck to me like glue!  When we got home, the phone rang.  It was so funny AJ came to the bedroom door looking at me with puppy dog eyes, “Phone!”  He answered it and did quite well talking to our landlord’s parents, who were calling to ask us if we wanted to bring our bags to the basement.  And let me tell you how friggin cool an 1890’s building basement is – it’s like a dusty castle!  So fun!

“Grandma,” as we will call her, asked what we did for the day.  I told her that we were going to go to Montmatre that night and she invited us up and talked to us a little about Paris safety and let us borrow her Michelin guide!  I give her three stars!

Montmartre was awesome.  It is my absolute favorite place in Paris.  We had a beer across from the auberge where many of the artists stayed.  We celebrated just being here and loving life.  In just a few days regular life will have to start with school and work, so we are enjoying it while we can!

Tune in next time for – “Our Apartment!”  How we found it and what it looks like!

On y est

30 Aug

We have arrived!  Betchya wondering about our arrival to Paris, huh?

Sunday morning at about 7:30am AJ and I arrived at the San Antonio airport with six bags, two backpacks, and two cats.  We were ready to start out new journey!  The security line was really easy.  We had to take the cats out of their carriers, walk through the metal detector with them in our arms, and had our hands swiped for bombing materials.

After having some coffee, we went to the gate.  Willard then went into full anxiety mode, clawing at the carrier, panting, and meowing loudly.  Since we opted to travel drug free, we just had to sit it out.  I give props to any parent traveling with children EVER!  Once we arrived in Newark, we put a blanket over the front of the carriers and for the entire five hour layover, the cats were quiet.  We had an uneventful flight the entire way from there.  Once we approached Paris and they started breakfast service, it woke up both Jack and Willard and they cried a little, probably because they were hungry and needed to use the litter box.  Jack peed a little in his carrier, but not until we arrived.  The cats overall behaved very well!  We arrived in Paris at around 11am Monday morning.

So, now we have to go through immigration, baggage, and customs, or so said the video they showed us before disembarking the plane.  No line at immigration – stamp, stamp, done.  Baggage, Carousel 2.  Our stuff came out pretty much together and we pushed our carts out towards the exit.  The shuttle driver was standing there with a sign, “Allen Johnson.”  He offered to help push the cart and said, “Follow me.”  And, out we went.

Yes, you read that right, we totally walked out without having the cats scanned or checked.

The shuttle driver let us call our land lord from his cell phone and let her know we were on the way.  She told me she was already at the apartment waiting for us.  He dropped us off right in front.  I paid and tried to tip the driver, but he handed me back the money!

AJ lugged six trips of cats and baggage up seven flights of old, old, OLD school stairs.  (The building was built in the 1890’s, so no elevator!)  Our apartment is bigger than we anticipated and it looks exactly like we imaged.  We have plenty of room and storage for everything we brought, except our books.  (The bags will go downstairs in the basement and we will ask our landlord if we can get a book shelf.)

Our landlord then gave us a small walking tour around the area and explained what we can get where.  After a much needed nap, we had a pizza and beer dinner down a passage of a main street.  It seemed like a cool, young street and so close to home!  Whoo-hoo.  Then we went home to try to sleep.

Day One, Done.

The Final Countdown

21 Aug

Today we came back from a wonderful, relaxing day trip to Austin.  Yesterday we took the cats to meet the vet.  When we arrived she had the paperwork filled out… in blue ink.  We did have a small hiccough with Jack’s microchip.  We had to get his medical record faxed over for proof of the date the microchip was inserted.  We also had to pay a $200 deposit for a scanner for his microchip since it is not ISO (see Pet Travels 101 for more info).  The other option was delaying travel 21+ days or not taking Jack.  However, the deposit will be refunded when we mail it back to the vet clinic.  We were in and out in less than one hour.

Then we headed to Austin to take said documents to the USDA office for the endorsement stamp.  It was as easy and took less than 10 minutes.  Happily, we had all the documents in order and they should arrive tomorrow.  Smiling and courtesy can get you far!

We had so much extra time we spent the rest of the day in Austin having a spa day.  AJ took me to Zilker Botanical Gardens and we visited the spot where we got married (almost) two years ago.  After that, Homeslice Pizza, then AJ and I both got our hair done, got mani’s and pedi’s, and out to the Clay Pit for some awesome Indian food where we had our wedding reception.

We told a friend seriously, “We needed a vacation to Austin before moving to Paris.”  How funny does that sound?

This week is our last week State-side and is a week full of last minute (BIG) to-dos.  Things to come:

–        Sell both cars

–        Repack, again

–        Talk to all family members

–        Have a fun party the day before we leave

So, stay tuned because we are roasting a suckling pig on Saturday night for our Send Off.  Pictures to come!

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