Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What's in season at the market in Paris?

Sunflowers. Tournesol 

Even though there wasn't a cloud in the sky yesterday morning, the nip in the air reminded me that summer is drawing to a close. Am I sad about the change of seasons? Not when there are so many delicious seasonal foods to be found at the local market. So, get your jacket and let's go. But first, here are a couple of French phrases that it's helpful to know when buying fruits, vegetables, nuts and mushrooms:

  • Hello I would like...  (Bonjour je voudrais...)
  • How much? How many?  (Combien?)
  • And what else?  (Et avec ceci? or Et avec ça?)
  • Will that be all?  (Ce sera tout?)
  • That's all. Thank you.  (C'est tout. Merci.)
  • Help yourself.  (Servez -vous.)
  • For today  (Pour aujourd'hui)
  • For tomorrow  (Pour demain)
  • A kilo  (Un kilo)
  • 500 grams   (Une livre)

Swiss chard (Côte de bette) is a wonderful addition to hearty soups
Heirloom tomatoes. Tomates d'autrefois. Delicious with a sprinkling of Fleur de Sel and olive oil.

Although the fruits and vegetables may be within easy reach, the vendor will normally select the produce for you. You may tell them if you plan to eat it today or tomorrow. If it's alright for you to make your own selection, they'll indicate by gesturing with their hand and saying, "Servez-vous". I had the difficult task of choosing my own tomatoes yesterday. They all looked delicious.

Many vendors will let you sample small fruits like grapes, but it's best to ask first. ("Je peux goûter?")

Grapes. (Raisins). They're indescribably sweet right now!
Mirabelle Plums. Mirabelles.
I don't even know what these are called in English. Help!
Figs. Figues.
I usually stroll through the market to see which stands have the best produce and the lowest prices. Is there a long line in front of a stall? That's a good sign because locals always return to their favorite vendors. 

It can be a bit tricky to figure out where the line starts at a market stall, but there is a system. If you're not sure, just stand back and watch how things work before getting in line.

Eggplants (USA) Aubergine (French and UK English)
Fresh Hazelnuts. Noisettes.
Potatoes (Pommes de terres). Sorry, Idaho but France has the best ones that I've ever eaten.
Fresh walnuts. Noix fraîches.

Did I miss something? I took lots of other photos but didn't post all of them. If there's a seasonal fruit or vegetable that you would like to see, let me know and I'll take a picture of it for you.

And if you've made if this far, you deserve a treat. At least that's what I told myself when I stopped at the bakery on the way home and bought a sinfully rich chocolate macaron. As you can see, I did something that the French rarely do. I took two (!!) bites of it while walking down the street and then decided to show a bit of restraint by waiting to eat the rest of it until I got home.

Macaron - delicious! Macaron - délicieux!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Paris-Delhi-Bombay Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou

"Freedom is Everything" by Saksi Gupta

After posting about the Ganesha Festival yesterday, this seems like the perfect time to share a couple of photos from the Paris-Delhi-Bombay exhibition that is currently at the Centre Pompidou. With works by more than 50 Indian and French artists, this major exhibition encourages visitors to discover contemporary Indian society and to learn more about the complex and fascinating culture of India.

My favorite piece was "Freedom is Everything" by Saksi Gupta. At first glance, Gupta's installation resembles a traditional Indian rug, albeit a rather uncomfortable one! The metal automobile parts symbolize the industrialization of India, while the cogs represent the decisions imposed upon young Indians by their families and by society. As the cogs of society inevitably move towards a more modern approach, new opportunities and life choices become available to the young people of India.

"Freedom is Everything" by Saksi Gupta. You wouldn't want to walk on this rug!

After living in Trinidad, where water was delivered to our house by truck twice a week, I also appreciated Atul Bhalia's photographic series, "One Rupee for a Big Glass". Intended to raise awareness about the importance of water, Bhalia's photos show water vendors with their portable ice boxes selling this valuable resource to passers-by. Did you know that Paris used to have water porters?

Paris-Delhi-Bombay Exhibition is at the Centre Pompidou until September 19, 2011.

Centre Pompidou
Place George Pompidou
75004 Paris

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ganesha Festival 2011: An annual Indian celebration in Paris

Photo credit: Stephane

Imagine the sight of women wearing vivid red, turquoise and saffron colored saris, the cloyingly sweet smell of jasmine combined with the slightly rancid smell of coconut oil and the rhythmic sounds of Indian flutes and drums and you'll have an idea of how it felt to be at the Ganesha Festival yesterday. Absolutely amazing!  Even though I've lived in a couple of countries where people observe Indian holidays, like Diwali and Holi, this was the first time that I've had the opportunity to see the festival celebrating the birth of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god. Ganesha, the son of the goddess Parvati and the great Lord Shiva, is worshipped by Hindus in India and much of Asia. His elephant head symbolizes the macrocosm or the divine, while his human body represents the microcosm or the individual human.

According to the description of the event on the Paris website, the annual procession attracts 25,000 people, both the faithful and the curious. The parade is lead by a group of pipers, drummers and frenzied dancers, who whirl and twirl to the music. Coconuts are broken along the route. The shell of the coconut symbolizes the illusion of the world, the flesh represents the Karma of an individual, and the coconut water is the human ego. By breaking the shell of a coconut, one offers their heart to Lord Ganesha.

Since this was a big event with lots of photo opportunities, I'm posting more pictures than normal. Scroll through, enjoy and click on the ones that you would like to enlarge. Even better, find some Indian music on YouTube and listen to it while looking at the photos so that you'll feel like you're in India. That's exactly how I felt yesterday!

Many thanks to Kerouac2 for telling me about the Ganesha Festival and for encouraging me "to go wild" and post lots of photos.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Swimmers in the Seine! What's happening?

Views are pretty important to me, so I feel fortunate that a bit of luck combined with a fairly intensive search produced an apartment with a view of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower...well, you do have to step out on the balcony, contort your body a bit to the right and peer through the leaves of my neighbor's annoyingly tall plants to see the Eiffel Tower. But it's there.

So, when the thwap, thwap, thwap of a helicopter jerked me out of my online reverie on Thursday, I was surprised to look out my window and see lots of rescue vehicles, a massive helicopter, police boats and hordes of people swimming in the Seine right below my apartment. My first thought, since my recent posts have been about D-Day and the Allied Invasion of Normandy, is that the dog-toting citizens of the 16th arrondissement were attacking their stalwart neighbors in the 15th district! I imagined nasty clashes involving women wearing diamond rings and the owners of ethnic food stores. But fortunately, it was just a false alarm and life returned to normal after the firemen packed up all of their gear and went home.

Wondering why you shouldn't swim in the Seine? Take a look at this post.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A behind-the-scenes tour of the Nature de Pain bakery with Meeting the French

My first time behind the counter in a bakery with all of the tempting food within easy reach!

As promised, here's my tasty treat for you - a report about my behind-the-scenes visit to Nature de Pain with Meeting the French. Since I've been checking their website and waiting somewhat impatiently for their tours to resume after the summer holidays, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Solène Colas asking me to join the new bakery tour.

Taking a circuitous route from the Villiers metro station to the rue de Levis turned out to be fortuitous because it gave me the opportunity to see a bit of this charming neighborhood where small shops abound. With luscious fruit, roasting chickens and fresh vegetables, the street is a veritable food lover's paradise. So, it's not surprising that Loic Bret picked this prime location to open his bakery in May 2010.

As many of the people who take the bakery tour aren't familiar with French breads and pastries, Solène started by showing us the traditional pastries, like eclairs and tarte au citron, before moving on to the bread.

Nature de Pain uses natural yeast that is made in the bakery to produce 800 baguettes per day and 30 different types of bread, including traditional ones, like farmer's bread and walnut bread, and innovative aromatic breads such as tomato and basil and another one with dried figs. Imagine savoring a slice of that with Camembert or foie gras!

Our next stop was to see the four machines that are used to make bread. I'm sure that you recognize the giant mixer on the left. But what about the other three - any ideas?

As I hadn't taken the time to eat breakfast before leaving home, watching the pastry chef make these delectable creations topped with sugar proved to be a real test of my will power. I can't tell you how tempting it was to grab one of them off of the tray when they came out of the oven. And the smell - heavenly!

Solène explained that Mr. Bret likes to give apprentices from other countries, such as the Japanese pastry chef seen in the photo on the left below, an opportunity to work in his bakery for a couple of months. I wonder if they need an inexperienced intern from the United States. And, if so, would they pay me in chocolate eclairs?

But since we had to forego the hands on experience of making a croissant and cutting the all important slits in the top of a baguette because the two other people taking the tour were late, I unfortunately missed what could have been my entree to a new career!

My disappointment didn't last very long though when we were invited to sample a small slice of the farmer's bread, the tomato basil bread and 1/2 of a macaron. While we were savoring each bite, Mr. Bret answered questions, including one that I had about the "Best Baguette" competition in Paris.

Holding a freshly cut baguette in his hands, Mr. Bret explained that this sort of competition restricts a baker's creativity because each baguette must meet very stringent criteria regulating the length, weight and shape. He added that his objective is to make the best baguettes according to his own definition and not to produce generic ones. When I sampled the baguette that is included with the price of the tour, I can confirm that he has achieved his goal!

Please contact Meeting the French if you would like to do the 20.00 € behind-the-scenes tour of the Nature de Pain bakery.

If your schedule does not allow you to do a tour, Nature de Pain's freshly made sandwiches, assorted quiches, salads, wraps, and travel cakes, such as brownies and cookies, make excellent items for a picnic. The taboule salad and the spinach and goat cheese quiche that I purchased were delicious.

Nature de Pain
24 rue de Levis
75017 Paris
Open every day except Sunday from 7:30 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Related Posts:

Monsieur le President's Baguette

The Best Baguette in Paris

Full disclosure: As you may already know, I've written about quite a few of the tours that I've done with Meeting the French. When Solène  invited me to join this tour, I gladly accepted knowing that it would not compromise my objectivity. After all, my opinion of a bakery tour cannot be bought with a mere pain au chocolat...even though it was REALLY good! You can read about the other tours that I've done by entering "Meeting the French" in the search field at the top right-hand side of the blog.