Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Brrr! Baby, it's cold outside, but it's perfect weather for onion soup at Carette's

Fur coats are out in abundance. They're a good idea if you want to enjoy the terrace at Carette's tearoom!

After months of warmer than average temperatures, the bitter cold came as a rude shock while I was wandering around the upper 16th arrondissement yesterday. Fortunately, I had spied Carette's tearoom as my bus navigated the Place du Trocadero, so I promised myself a bowl of their rich onion soup capped with gooey cheese as a reward for successfully completing my errands. Even though nothing went the way I planned - the doctor's appointment didn't happen because of an administrative error (theirs, not mine!) and the Filipino grocery store wasn't where I thought it would be - I made it to Carette's shortly after 2:30 pm and settled into the cozy art-deco environment like a cat next to a  warm fire.

With a thick layer of melted cheese, the generous portion of onion soup was the perfect antidote for my chilled fingers. The baguettes, however, are better enjoyed as part of the onion soup than as a sandwich. And even though I don't like to admit it, I did indulge in a pot of their lusciously rich hot chocolate and a mini macaron for dessert. Delicious!

While Carette's Tearoom has been known for its pastries since 1927, I was equally impressed by the professional yet caring attitude of the staff, who went to great lengths to help the elderly gentleman seated next to me. It's people like these who easily dispel the myth that all Parisians are rude.

Although I find Carette's tearoom a bit pricey, it's a good destination for a special treat on a cold day.

4 Place du Trocadero
75016 Paris
Open 7 days a week from 8:00 am until midnight

25 Place des Vosges
75003 Paris
Open 7 days a week from 8:00 am until 11:30 pm

The grey skies and bone chilling weather had me thinking of snow, but there wasn't a flake in sight yesterday.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The miniskirt is 50! How did that happen? Vintage fashion show at St-Ouen and some Monday morning musings on aging.

"Mini, mini, mini" - the free Pierre Cardin exhibition at the Marché Dauphine until February 20, 2012.

One of the problems with getting older is that it occasionally (almost always?) catches you off guard. My first thought when I heard that the vintage stores in St-Ouen were going to have a fashion show to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the miniskirt was, "Wow! That's old." And then I started doing the math and realized that miniskirts are only one and a half years older than me. Ouch!

To make matters worse, when I googled "how old miniskirts" to learn more about the origins of this iconic symbol of the swinging sixties, the top search results surprised me. According to a recent survey in Britain, no one wants to see me in a miniskirt because I'm over the age of 35. And that's not all. Since I'm also older than 47, I can forget about wearing a bikini (no problem, there!) and shouldn't even think about putting on any kind of swimsuit once I'm past the age of 61. Hmm, I'm not quite sure what I'll cover my body with when I'm at the pool. Maybe swimming isn't allowed either!

Knowing full well that it would be inappropriate for me to be tempted by any of the leg-baring fashions on the runway, I nevertheless followed the sounds of French singer Jacques Detronc's "Mini, mini, mini" to the Marché Dauphine only to discover that I had forgotten the battery for my camera at home. The body, the brain - does everything go down hill after the age of 35?

Still, I have something that the young models wearing miniskirts don't have. I have the memories of my parents telling my older sisters to walk up the stairs at home to check the length of their miniskirts so that they wouldn't be sent home from school for indecent exposure. With the advent of the fashion revolution, the sixties were a scary time for parents. Miniskirts, go-go boots, bikinis...

Do you have any miniskirt memories of your own? If you're like me and need some help jump-starting your aging brain, listen to "Mini, mini, mini" as you scroll through some photos from the fashion show and the Pierre Cardin exhibition featuring miniskirts from 1962-70 at the Marché Dauphine. Entry is free on Saturday, Sunday and Monday until February 20, 2012.

Photos of the Pierre Cardin exhibition taken with my iPhone:

From the fashion show:

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Happy Year of the Dragon - "The Grand Tour" of Europe from The New Yorker

                                                                                                                    Crédits photo : S. Berkoukeche / Mairie de Paris
Dragons will parade through the streets of Paris this weekend as residents celebrate the most auspicious year of the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Dragon. While most Chinese citizens spend this holiday with their families, many use it as an opportunity to travel to Europe.

"The Grand Tour", an article by Evan Osnos in the April 18, 2011 edition of The New Yorker, provides an intriguing view of Paris and other European cities as seen through the eyes of a group of Chinese tourists who are hustled from one sight to the next while visiting five countries in ten days. To whet your interest, here are a few of the points that I found particularly fascinating:

  • Li [the tour guide] asked us to make sure we hadn't left anything behind [at the hotel], because some of his older travelers used to have a habit of hiding cash in the toilet tank or the ventilation ducts. "The worst case I've had was a guest who sewed money into the hem of the curtains".
  • "We have to get used to the fact that Europeans sometimes move slowly, he [the tour guide] said. When shopping in China, he went on, "we're accustomed to three of us putting our items on the counter at the same time, and then the old lady gives change to three people without making a mistake. Europeans don't do that." He continued, "I'm not saying that they're stupid. If they were, they wouldn't have developed all this technology, which requires very subtle calculations. They just deal with math in a different way."
  • By the fourth day on the road, we no longer thought twice about riding three hours in the morning and another three in the afternoon, separated by cultural excursions. When we stopped for snacks and bathroom visits, we spoke to nobody outside our ranks. We were as mobile and self-contained as a cruise ship.
  • We had been in Europe for a week and had yet to sit down to a lunch or a dinner that was not Chinese. (Nearly half of all Chinese tourists in one market survey reported eating no more than one "European style" meal on a trip to the West.) But Li warned that Western food would take to long to serve...
  • When the travel industry polls the [Chinese] public on its dream destinations, no place ranks higher than Europe.
  • Last year, more than fifty-seven million Chinese people went abroad, ranking China third worldwide in international tourism. The World Tourism Organization predicts that before the end of the decade China will double that.

Please click HERE to read the entire article. Many thanks to my daughter Sara for telling me about it. Interested in China? You can read more articles by Evan Osnos on his blog, Letter from China.

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! It's time for me to get ready to take photos of the parade starting at the Hôtel de Ville.

To see the schedule for all of the Chinese New Year parades in Paris, please click HERE.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Looking for a home exchange in Boston...

While the view of the Eiffel Tower from our balcony is a big plus for a home exchange, I think that it would be more difficult to resist our disco shower (see below). 

Our son is worried, very worried, because his college graduation is fast approaching and his slacker parents still haven't reserved a hotel room. Our last phone conversation went like this:

Ph: So, have you booked a room yet?
MK: No, but I'm going to start looking this week.
Ph: That's good cuz Stefan's (one of his three roommates) parents haven't been able to find anything.
MK: Well, if we don't find anything, Dad and I'll just stay at your apartment.
Ph: (Nervous laughter) Well, ah, yeah. Or maybe you could sleep at Sara's (his sister's) place.
MK: Sara doesn't have enough space. We'll just have to stay in your room and Stefan's parents can have his room. You said that we'd like them, so this will give us a good chance to bond.
Ph: (More nervous laughter as he imagines me sharing embarrassing childhood stories about him with Stefan's mom at 8 o'clock in the morning). Yeah, right. Well, you should really start looking for something.

What I didn't tell Philippe is that he shouldn't worry because there's no way that I want to stay in an apartment with 4 guys in their early twenties - I just like watching him squirm! Plus, after years of reminding him to do this or that, it feels good to be the slacker for a change.

So, instead of exploring Paris, I've been perusing listings for Boston on HomeExchange. While many people don't like the idea of strangers staying in their home, I think that it's a great concept. In the past couple of days, I've exchanged emails with people who are excited by the prospect of living like a local in Paris, just as I am at the thought of exploring their neighborhoods.

Intrigued by the idea of doing a home exchange but still not sure if it's for you? The Holiday with Kate Winslett and Cameron Diaz may convince you. If your schedule is flexible, it's a wonderful way to travel. Our 5 most recent offers have come from people in England, California, South Carolina, Quebec and Florida.

Our disco shower/sauna comes equipped with a radio, a mirror, a seat, alternating colors and multiple jets to wash every inch of your body. Philippe took these photos to send to his girlfriend while visiting in December. I don't even want to know why!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lunch and a visit to the Paris Wine Museum

I like wine, wine cellars and learning about wine, so I really expected to enjoy the Wine Museum of Paris. After getting a glimpse of the vaulted restaurant while on a walking tour of the 16th arrondissement, I returned on a particularly nasty day a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps it was the driving rain or the throat thing that I was developing, but I left with a vague feeling of disappointment.

After studying the museum's website, I decided that the 29€ Terroir lunch menu was a good deal because the price includes the 11.90€ entrance fee. What I didn't consider beforehand is that the two items that I couldn't resist, scallops with foie gras and roasted rack of lamb, would come with a surcharge of 3€ and 5€ respectively. Add a glass of wine and my delicious lunch was suddenly 42.29€. In all fairness to the museum, the menu did offer 4 starters and 2 main courses that didn't come with an additional charge.

While the ambiance was convivial, the food was well-prepared and the waiter threw in some free French lessons, in a charming rather than condescending manner, something didn't feel right -- maybe it was the red folding chairs and bare tables that made the historic cellar feel more like a seminar room than a dining establishment. With a couple of candles (even fake ones), it would have been so cozy and romantic!

An onion shaped heater used to make cognac.
Picking up a free handheld audio guide in English at the entrance desk, I learned that the Wine Museum is located in an ancient limestone quarry and that the vaulted cellars were used by the friars of Passy Monastery to store wine during the 16th and 17th centuries. After renovations in 1950, the Eiffel Tower restaurant stored wine in the cellars before they were converted into a museum by the Cup-bearers of France Council, a brotherhood dedicated to the appreciation and promotion of French wine.

Among the displays of wax figures corking champagne and making barrels, there was one showing Napoleon on the battlefield drinking his favorite wine, Chambertin, from Côte de Nuits in Burgundy.

Trick pitchers from the 18th to 20th centuries

While the display cases are filled with every imaginable item having to do with wine, ranging from commemorative glasses to tools used to trim grape vines, these trick pitchers caught my attention. Because of the open design at the top, the wine at the bottom can only be poured by blocking a small opening hidden in the handle.

Even though the museum showcases a wealth of objects, I was underwhelmed by the poor-quality, free audio guide in English, which was a shame because many of the descriptions were only written in French.

Would I recommend the museum to my visitors? Yes, but with some reservation.

If you had a different experience, please let me know. As I already mentioned, I really did expect to like this museum, especially since wine and Paris are almost synonymous. I may return for one of their wine tasting classes. The next one in English is on February 18, 2012.

Paris Wine Museum
5/7 Square Charles Dickens
Rue des Eaux
75016 PARIS

The 11.90€ entrance fee includes a glass of wine.

Bottles of brandy were given on special occasions - Number 9 (from the early 20th century) a bottle of brandy in a casket marked the end of a bridegroom's days as a bachelor and number 3 (19th century) was a small cask given to a conscript. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Napoleon Bonaparte's major contribution to the culinary arts - preserved food

Carrots preserved on November 29, 1938 and peas preserved on July 16, 1942.
Since my father-in-law had just told me that it was prohibited to sell fresh bread in Switzerland during World War II, I was amazed that these jars of vegetables remained uneaten. Bread could only be sold after it had been aged 48 hours to stop people from eating too much of it. As a result, my father-in-law still has a preference for stale bread.

Napoleon Bonaparte's name is more likely to conjure the image of a man commanding his troops than of one concerned with the culinary arts, but when the French government offered a prize of 12,000 francs to the person who could develop an effective method for preserving food, Napoleon took his place in culinary history.

As the French army suffered more casualties from scurvy, malnutrition and starvation than from enemy muskets, Napoleon recognized the need to provide preserved food for his troops as they advanced into Russia during the Napoleonic Wars.

Fortunately, Nicholas Appert, a candy-maker, brewer and baker, had the idea to preserve food in bottles, in the same manner as wine. After experimenting with different methods for 14 years, he discovered that food did not spoil if it was packed in bottles, corked and submerged in boiling water. Napoleon, pleased to have a secret weapon that he thought would help him to defeat his enemies, personally awarded Appert the winning prize in 1809.

Realizing that it would be more practical to preserve food in metal rather than glass, British inventor Peter Durand received a patent for creating a cylindrical canister made out of iron coated with tin. Interestingly enough, the can opener wasn't invented until 1858. In the meantime, soldiers used knives, bayonets or even rocks to open their rations.

L'Art de Conserver, the book written by Nicholas Appert describing the method of sterilization, which is known as "appertisation" in French.

If you're interested in food, the Alimentarium in Vevey is a fascinating place to spend a couple of hours. While talking with one of the museum guides about Nicholas Appert's contribution to food preservation, she told me that she was surprised that most of the children who come to the museum don't know the season for fruits grown in Switzerland. I guess that's to be expected since our global supply chain allows us to buy strawberries in January and oranges in July.

Preserved strawberries, pears, cherries, raspberries and abricots. Are you smarter than a 7 year old?
See if you can put them in the order that they appear in Switzerland. 

Writing this post reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver's entertaining book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, in which she recounts the story of her family's resolution to grow their food themselves or to buy it locally for an entire year.

Alimentarium - Food Museum
Quai Perdonnet
Vevey, Switzerland

Tuesday-Friday: 10am-5pm; Saturday-Sunday: 10am-6pm

Alimentarium - Food Museum, Vevey, Switzerland

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday's picture and a song - Blue Suede Shoes...with silver spikes!

Wondering what's all the rage in men's shoes in Paris? Silver spikes! I didn't see one pair without them in the Christian Louboutin window displays in his boutique at the Galerie Véro-Dodat.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lost in translation - extinction de voix, opera and Angelina's hot chocolate

I lost my voice this week - at least that's what I would say in English. According to the French pharmacist and the description on the box of homeopathic tablets that he suggested I take, my voice isn't lost -- it's extinct, like the dinosaurs, which is rather more worrisome. The product description also indicates that the tablets may be taken for vocal cords that are fatigued.

While I don't think that my problem stems from overly tired vocal cords, the opera singers that I saw at the lunchtime concert on Thursday certainly gave theirs an intense workout while singing Jewish Folk Poetry, Op 79 by Dimitri Chostakovitch. Listening to the heart wrenching "Lament for a Dead Infant" and "Before a Long Separation" was an emotional experience made even more intense by the intimate setting in the studio at the Opera Bastille. At 5€, the hour long performances are a real treat. Please click here, to read more about these concerts.

Even though the pharmacist didn't prescribe Angelina's hot chocolate, it seemed like a good idea to drink some after fighting the crowds at the Hermé's sale on Thursday afternoon. Fortunately, Angelina's at the Palais de Congrès didn't have a long line of people waiting to get inside like the one on Rue de Rivoli. But wait a minute, isn't there something missing?

Ahhh, yes - a big dollop of whipped cream! 

And speaking of chocolate, I'll be in Switzerland until Tuesday, so the next posts may feature something from the land of cheese and chocolate, or I may catch up on the backlog of posts that I still have to write about Paris. Time to go catch the TGV. Fortunately, I remembered to download a movie on my laptop this time, so I'll be traveling in style!