Friday, August 23, 2013

This Side of the Ocean

We've been home for over a month now. Being "home" means traveling to see grandparents at their various U.S. addresses and catching up with friends who moved to New Jersey and making quick trips to Philadelphia just because we can. It certainly has not meant unpacking and settling and feeling rooted in New York again, but I'm sure it will soon enough. For now, there's this, our view from this side. Have I mentioned that what I most missed while living in Paris was being able to see the ocean?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Walking the tight rope, on skates

There's a line that has been going through my head from Bebe's brilliant record "Pa'fuera Telarañas." It goes, "El tiempo corre en patines cuesta abajo  Y no tiene freno hasta que das el golpe." Time definitely feels like I'm going downhill on rollerskates lately. Malanga Girl turned 5, we had a cookie disaster and then suddenly, I was sending her off on her first overnight school trip to a circus camp in the French countryside while Malanga Papa and I escaped to Corsica.

Now it feels like forever since I was watching the sun set over a peaceful harbor in Corsica while my daughter was playing at being the woman who walks on the tight rope. (She's known as le funambule, in case you ever wanted to know the term for the tight-rope walker in French.) If I don't write down what we've been up to in this last month before we move back to New York, I never will! But where to begin? How about a photo or two of Corsica?

Ah, the exquisite Mediterranean!

Once Malanga Girl and I returned from our respective trips, there wasn't much time for relaxation. We spent a day at EuroDisney that felt like we had been transported to a little piece of America. I'm sure avid Disney visitors will find differences between the park here and the one in Florida, but I didn't. The biggest difference to me was that I am no longer 8 years old and I'm responsible for someone else now. Even that difference faded away when I was whirling around on the tea cups with my eyes squeezed shut.

We've made many recent visits to the Jardin de Luxembourg, one of the places I will most miss  in Paris. The newest show at the Guignol (Marionette Theater) is truly delightful. We've seen La Valise Enchantée de Patachon three times already since it debuted at the end of April and I anticipate we'll go back again before the big move. I've been telling all of my Parisian friends to go and now I am telling you; this one is by far the best Guignol show I've ever seen. We even bought the video!

As for me, I've been finishing up edits on two projects and trying to sneak out to cross things off my "Paris to-do" list in between bouts of straining my eyes over pages and pages of printed text. In the last week alone, I saw Leonard Cohen in concert at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, hit the Musée Rodin and its spectacular garden, finally saw the Chagall exhibit at the Musée du Sénat (Luxembourg), attended a very thorough exhibit on the origins and planning of the city of Brasilia at the Communist Party headquarters here (an interesting building in and of itself), went to the famous flea market just north of the city, was elbowed every which way and had my feet rolled over by several shopping carts at the Barbes-Rochechouart market (where I saw stacks of cut sugar cane the likes of which I hadn't seen since my last trip to Cuba), and enjoyed several meals, coffee dates and play dates with various friends whom I anticipate seeing again one day in New York or Rio or Montreal or Mexico City. These are the kinds of people I've come to love in this city: a bunch of women infected with wanderlust as  insatiable as my own. But still, I will miss our ability to hang out spontaneously in Paris. I will miss so much.

So what's left to do? Well, a whole lot of book-purging and book-purchasing, for starters. I walked over to the Gibert Joseph with a stack of novels I've already read and guidebooks to Berlin, Seville and other places I traveled to since moving here and received store credit for their resale value. I should be purging even more, but instead I am excited about what French novels I can buy with my store credit. After a coffee date with some friends this morning, a trip to the neighboring Portuguese bookstore seemed almost mandatory. Where else will I easily find every Portuguese-language book I've ever wanted when I return to New York? Plus, I have a project brewing and need to do serious research. Here's my loot from today:

I also need to cook more rabbit and duck while those meats are easy to procure just steps away from my home. More baking would be nice, but I'm running low on supplies and doubt I will restock this close to our move date.

On the sight-seeing list, I still have more places than I think I will get to, such as the Institut du Monde Arabe (where I could have taken Arabic classes, but now never will), the Musée du Moyen Age, the Musée de l'Orangerie, and the Musée Picasso. And then, of course, there are the lazy walks I'd like to take around some of my favorite places: Montmartre, the Tuileries gardens, the Montparnasse Cemetery, the Place Monge and the Rue Moffetard... Lazy anything sounds good right now, but impending transatlantic moves don't allow for much of that.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Cookie disaster

ie, when the literary and the culinary don't mix. Yesterday's experiment taught me that. But before yesterday, imagine me walking into a bookstore and strolling over to the cookbook section. Imagine me picking up and paging through every volume on display of the "Les chefs cuisinent la littérature" series. (That's "Chefs cook literature," and their tag line is "Reading makes you hungry.") There was a book with a complicated seafood recipe based on a mention in Melville's Moby Dick and some other books with recipes I passed on. However, I thought the "eat me" cookies inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland would make a good rainy day baking project. The slim booklet included two chapters from Alice in Wonderland translated into French (how fun!) and then the cookie recipe put together by none other than Apollonia Poilâne, the head of my favorite bread shop in Paris.

I bought the book then headed off to Poilâne to purchase the "bread flour" called for in the recipe. Then the book and the flour sat on my shelves for a few weeks, while we went off to Scotland and while Malanga Girl turned five. (Oh yes, she's FIVE now!) Yesterday, we came home earlier than usual after school due to a sudden temperature drop outside and some nasty sideways rain. It seemed like a perfect day for making cookies, especially since we have a playdate coming up. Malanga Girl got right to work, as you can see below.

Measuring flour

Adding cherry jam to the cookie centers

Then came the agonizing wait while the cookies baked, then cooled off. We knew as soon as we bit into them that something was off. The texture was too crumbly and the flavor was just, well, not so good. Malanga Girl suggested baking them for longer. I obliged her, but went over the ingredient list while the cookies were back in the oven. Tahini, eggs, butter, pistachio flavoring and cherry jam. Hmmm, no sugar? Maybe that's what made them taste so very not cookie-like? But what about the texture problem?  Out of the oven they came and they were still crumbly and still blah-tasting.

Was it the use of bread flour instead of regular flour? Did I overdo it with the tahini? If I were to add sugar next time, would that improve the texture or just the taste? I continue to ponder these questions, but in the meantime must declare that Alice could not possibly have eaten these when she went down the rabbit hole. No playdate participants will eat them, either. This morning, I made some brown butter poppy-seed financiers from Béatrice Peltre's cookbook, a recipe that was a big hit with the kids in Malanga Girl's yoga class this past winter.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Scotland for the Under-Five Set

Scotland was Malanga Papa's idea, but I ended up loving it. I had to wear a winter coat in May and my hair didn't curl the same way and we only had two rain-free days and yet I loved it. I loved the beyond-my-wildest-dreams landscapes, the friendly, outgoing people, and the feeling of hundreds and hundreds of years of history seeping into everything standing there today. I loved being on small islands that are cold and rugged and unlike any island I have ever been on before. Sometimes when I travel, I love a place because I feel at home there. Other times, like with Scotland, the less I recognize something, the more taken I am by it. Scotland is about the most exotic thing I can imagine in comparison to Cuba.

Scotland was incredible from Malanga Girl's perspective as well. Below are the top activities I would recommend for the under-five set (although for one of them, you technically have to be five and an allowance was made given Malanga Girl's upcoming 5th birthday). The only downside is that our trip involved a lot of driving. I do not like car vacations much, as a general rule, but the places we drove through were beautiful. Nonetheless, because of the driving and the fact that the activities/places I am about to recommend below are not close to each other, I would understand if you held off on a Scotland trip until you felt quite confident about your own ability to drive on the left side of the road. Driving on the left is the ultimate challenge in staying zen, as is being a passenger while your spouse drives on the left.

1) Stirling Castle

Let's start with the fact that it is an incredibly well-preserved castle with a lot to see. The Great Hall could very well have been the setting where all the clansmen gather to present their sons in the Disney movie Brave (ok, yes, I said that to Malanga Girl, but I was sure to say "maybe it was the setting..."). Then there are the vaults, where kids (and their parents) can dress up in period clothing, play musical instruments and see and participate in other aspects of palace life in the 1550s. You may have already seen the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters in New York, but this is the place they originally came from. Have you ever seen someone making a tapestry? Has your child? At Stirling Castle, you can! They are remaking each of the Unicorn Tapestries with the same original technique. Each tapestry takes years of work. It's fascinating to watch tapestry-making in progress.

2)  Urquhart Castle

Beautiful ruins and an interesting story about what has stood on this prominent point on Loch Ness at different points in history. Also, great views of Loch Ness!

(Picture above of a page in Malanga Girl's travel journal.)

3) Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye

This is where fairies live. I believe it.

4) Portree Stables "Own a Pony" Day, Isle of Skye

You have to be 5 for this one. It helps to love horses. It's a good thing Malanga Girl is turning 5 this month since she adores horses. We dropped her off at Portree Stables at 10am and while Malanga Papa and I walked through the Cuillin Hills of Skye, Malanga Girl got to brush, feed and ride a pony. We picked her up at 3pm and she was so thoroughly worn out that she promptly fell asleep in the back seat of the car. Good thing, too, since we had a long drive ahead of us to catch the ferry to Mallaig and then down to Oban from there. On the ferry ride, a perfectly revived Malanga Girl told us all about her pony day and hasn't stopped talking about it since...

5) Auchingarrich Wildlife Centre

I saw my first live meerkat upclose here. Malanga Girl's reaction to this animal was, "it's just like in the Playmobil zoo!" Sadly, my camera had run out of juice by this point in our vacation, so you will just have to go up to Comrie in Perthshire yourself to see your own meerkat. We also spotted peacocks, owls, llamas, alpacas, wallabys, and we fed goats and sheep. Malanga Girl held a baby chick and played in both the outdoor and indoor playground areas.

If you've had a long, action-packed vacation and want something low-key to the day before you fly back out, this is the perfect place to go. It's just a little over an hour drive to Edinburgh airport from here.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Croque Madame

Why have a regular old Croque Monsieur when you can have it with a fried egg on top? Voilà le Croque Madame, Malanga Girl's favorite Parisian bistro treat. A big pile of fries on the side and a glass of apricot juice are a must.

Monday, April 22, 2013

April in Paris

It's really and truly spring now, which means back to the parks and open spaces of Paris. Since the temperature inched up and the flowers bloomed, I've found more time to run in the Jardin de Luxembourg in the mornings and more time to play outdoors with Malanga Girl after school. I've just found more time and energy, in general. Sunshine is good for the soul.

This past weekend, specifically, brought us the discovery of the Jardin de Reuilly and the Promenade Plantée. It could take me a lifetime to hit every single park in this city, but I wish I had found the expansive lawn of the Jardin de Reuilly earlier. There aren't a whole lot of grassy fields in Paris where parking your derriere is allowed, but here is one where you can sit for as long as you like. Nothing says spring like the picnicking group next to you popping open a bottle of champagne.

Encouraged by my dear husband's tip that chocolate milk is a good post-run drink, I finally set up a Cola-Cao/Banania taste test at home this weekend, too. Malanga Girl helped me judge. We both agreed that Cola Cao tastes better. It doesn't dissolve as well in milk as Banania does, but it is infinitely more chocolatey. I doubt this news will change the world, but if you're ever caught living between competing French and Spanish nostalgia, maybe you'll think of my Cola-Cao/Banania taste test.

The weekend ended with Malanga Girl's ballet recital, an event that made me a little weepy as I saw the huge difference between the smallest class and Malanga Girl's class on stage. Malanga Girl was so serious, so poised. She was really dancing, as opposed to running on tip-toes to show off a cute costume like last year. It's incredible to see how much can change in a year. Incredible, too, to think that this is our second spring in Paris.

Monday, March 18, 2013

If You Only Travel to One New City with a Child...

It has to be Venice! Everything about the city was absolutely enchanting to Malanga Girl, from the magic of vaporetto rides up the Grand Canal to even the simplest things like the way that Cinderella sounds when reborn as "La Cenerentola." If the opportunity to see your child try spaghetti drowning in black cuttle-fish ink or to see her play with a plate of fried sardines before popping them into her mouth isn't enough, below is everything that pushed Venice to the top of our child-friendly destinations list.

1) Water! Canals! Vaporettos! Gondolas!

And better still, not a single car anywhere. Malanga Girl ran down Venetian streets, whipping around corners and racing to the next bridge to see if she could spot another gondola passing while we meandered along at our own pace.

2) Palazzos!

At least one of these palaces even has a jail hidden inside, I'm just saying.

3) Masks! Everywhere! And a chance to paint your own!

Ca' Macana in the Dorsoduro neighborhood is the place to go to paint your own masks. They have their own fabulous artisans' workshop just down the street from the shop and children as young as 5 (or almost 5, as was our case) can come in and paint their own mask for a fee. Malanga Girl selected a cat mask and learned how to mix pink and blue paints artfully, in addition to having the chance to play with some silver and gold paints and to select some fancy rhinestones and pearls to further decorate her mask.

Be sure to make a reservation.

Ca' Macana
Calle delle Botteghe 3172

And while you're in the Dorsoduro, check out some of the stores below that are in the same neighborhood.

4) Children's Book Stores!

By now you know I am a bit obsessed by bookstores and by the eternal search for the "perfect" bookstore. We found two lovely bookstores devoted to children's books in Venice. Toletta Kids is in the Dorsoduro neighborhood, not far from Ca' Macana. Laboratorio Blu is in the Cannaregio neighborhood's Old Ghetto. Both have an amazing selection of kids' books in Italian, some great books in English, and very inviting spaces for kids to sit down with big piles of books while they digest their latest gelato.
 Toletta Kids, Dorsoduro 1175
Laboratorio Blu, Cannaregio 1224 (Ghetto Vecchio)

5) Whimsical toys!

Signor Blum's 2-D wooden puzzles and mobiles wowed me. I wanted one of everything, from the miniature Rialto bridges in bright blues, oranges and reds to the gondola mobile I pictured hanging in a corner of my home office. I settled for letting Malanga Girl pick out a miniature tree decorated with different motifs instead of fruit. She had a hard time deciding between the music notes, ice cream cones and red hearts, but went with the music notes in the end. I am trying to figure out how to convince her that it should go somewhere besides her room, so we can all enjoy it.

Signor Blum
Campo San Barnaba 2840

Just across the square from Signor Blum is another toy shop, Lanterna Magica. They have a nice selection of toys like board games, dress-up clothes, and play kitchen accessories.

6) Gelato!

It's true that Malanga Girl has had a lot of good ice cream in her life already, but you can never have too much, right? This is just one more reason she loved Venice. The fish and pasta were also quite tasty.