Saturday, January 28, 2012

Banania


It is a truth universally acknowledged that there's nothing like chocolate milk to make a heart, young or old, beat with excitement. (Sorry, Jane Austen, I couldn't resist.) Back at home, Malanga Girl's favorite was chocolate milk from the farmer's market, when I lived in Spain, I loved Cola-Cao. Here, it's Banania for both of us, a yummy choco powder that has cereals and banana in the mix.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Un, deux, trois...

As promised, video footage of Malanga Girl reciting her numbers after just three days of school here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Des "Pancakes" and other things


I know enough about France to have understood, even before I arrived, that the way I eat would change here. That I would go back to the United States one day longing for all sorts of things that would become part of my daily Parisian existence, just as happens everywhere I've lived or traveled. (The pickled garlic I discovered in St. Petersburg, Russia still has no comparison anywhere else in the world. I could make a long, long list of things like this.) Nonetheless, I proposed the idea of a pancake brunch to my French friend Julie even before I arrived. "Brunch," said with a French accent, is the epitome of hipness here right now, apparently. While I still haven't figured out what's actually served at a high-end Parisian restaurant for a Sunday morning "brunch," I plunged ahead with my own plan.

I packed a bottle of Vermont maple syrup from my local farmer's market in New York and considered packing baking powder, as I had heard it was hard to find in France. I went to the gourmet market almost as soon as I landed in Paris and found a little red tin of baking powder in the "American and Canadian products" aisle, but ignored the gleaming boxes of Bisquick. Why buy a mix when I've been throwing together flour, sugar, salt and baking powder for so long I can even do it before I've had my morning coffee? There's actually a good answer to that question, but give me a minute.

After unpacking my meticulously bubble-wrapped maple syrup and putting away my new baking powder (at 2 Euros, not nearly as extravagant a purchase as I thought something from the foreign food aisle would be), I told myself I would buy the flour and sugar at some point before brunch day. I didn't think about it again. Until... 3 days before the brunch, I entered the grocery store and realized I didn't know a thing about French flour. Oh how I miss the very clear descriptions on American flour, the "all-purpose" truly meaning all-purpose, the "pastry" flour that I only buy when a recipe specifically calls for it, the easy-to-understand distinctions between "organic" and non-organic, whole wheat and white... Maybe it all just comes down to the fact that I've purchased it all before as a function of what the recipes say or that words mean something to me and NUMBERS do not, but I practically had a melt-down in the "farine" (flour) aisle when I saw neat little packages labeled with "45," "55," "65." When I tried to seek clarification, I was told the number just refers to how finely the flour is ground. Perhaps this means something to a professional baker, but to me who just makes the occasional cake (read: twice a year, one for Malanga Girl's birthday and one for Malanga Daddy's birthday) and mainly uses flour to thicken sauces, it was not helpful. Full panic ensued once I got home and could only find information about how to adjust French flour for American baking recipes. There was nothing about pancakes.

It was too late to go backwards. I had purchased a crepe pan and a set of mixing bowls already, after all! And I was on the hunt for the elusive measuring spoon set (something, it turns out, the French don't really use), so really, all that was lacking was resolving this pesky flour issue. I fired off several email messages to friends who have lived in Europe and posted on a message board and the consensus was to purchase "55" and test with the baking powder ratio.

The test began at 6:30 am Friday morning (brunch was scheduled for Saturday). First batch- doughy, terrible, definitely not what I wanted. The pancakes stuck to the spatula when I tried to turn them and were just generally a mess. I added more milk and more baking powder until the batter roughly resembled what it does back in New York and until the pancakes cooked in roughly the same time. By 8am, I had an acceptable batch for Malanga Girl to taste before I ran off to school with her and testing was concluded. I still didn't think the batch was perfect, but I resolved to try with apples instead of bananas for the real brunch since bananas can also throw off texture.

And then I went to see an excellent exhibit at the National Archives about the development of ID cards in France over the last two centuries. This was better for my mind than fretting about the pancakes all day. I also had a lovely lunch at Merci, a globally-minded store with an excellent cafe serving locally grown food on the lower level. This was my second time there and this time I knew how to order the beet salad I saw displayed on a table. "Betterave" is a beet in case you didn't learn that in French class (I didn't).

On Saturday, I mixed up my batch and hoped for the best. I doubled the recipe overall, but reduced the amount of flour, increased the baking powder by about a quarter and increased the milk as necessary based on how thick the batter looked. I also added lots of tiny pieces of apple and some cinnamon. And I got it right! The pancakes were, dare I say, perfect.

Then I served them and realized my guests had no expectations of my pancakes whatsoever. We gave basic instructions on the use of maple syrup over a stack of pancakes and the rest of the afternoon was spent talking and watching our kids play together. Oh, and how they played! I have more to clean up today than the planning that went into the brunch, but Malanga Girl has a new friend.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Adventures in Trilingualism, the Revived Blog


Welcome to our new lives in Paris, where we are on Day 10. Just when Malanga Baby/Toddler/GIRL was switching effortlessly between Spanish and English and begging to learn Turkish like one of her dear friends in the neighborhood, we whisked her away to France. No matter, she has embraced the change with her usual joie de vivre. Thanks to the millions of references to the Eiffel Tower in books like "Madeline" and even "Barbie: A Fashion Fairy Tale," our little girl's first question as soon as we landed was, "where's the Eiffel Tower?"

Despite the fact that the temperature at the top of the Eiffel Tower in January is probably close to what it is in Antarctica, Malanga Girl reveled in her visit, which included a trip to the merry-go-round across the street. I would venture to say that the view from the merry-go-round is the most charming one I've had of the Tower in all my visits to this city. At 3 Euros a ride, don't miss it, even if you won't be in Paris with a child.

Last Sunday, we went to the Musee en Herbe, a kids' museum on the Right Bank that was fun enough for a short visit, but would not constitute a day-long activity like some other children's museums we've been to in the past.

Monday marked the first day of school and despite all my apprehensions about life en fran├žais, we were greeted at the door by the one English-speaking teacher at the school. Accompanying her were two little girls who speak Spanish at home, so I couldn't have asked for a warmer welcome. Malanga Girl took to the new environment immediately. And lest I think no French-learning was happening, Malanga Girl surprised me in the middle of a very crazy, crowded department store last night (we're in the middle of the big after-Christmas sales) by suddenly proclaiming, "quatre, cinq, six..." I nearly dropped the 40% off Le Creuset pot I was clutching in my hands and asked her if she knew what "quatre" meant. As if it were the most obvious thing in the world, she responded, "quatre is four." I then asked her to say more numbers. The French people around us must have wondered why in the world I thought it was necessary to have my daughter recite "un, deux, trois..." right then and there, but I was more ecstatic than the sum combination of all the shoppers on all 7 floors of that department store who had found the bargains of their dreams.

And now I have to make the very difficult decision of which picture to post here. Shall I showcase the whimsical views of the Eiffel Tower from the merry-go-round? Upload a video of my very own Malanga Girl saying "un, deux, trois" in our living room? Or how about some shots from yesterday's visit to the Musee de la Poupee- the doll museum- a place that was absolutely magical if you have ever had an attachment to dolls yourself? Maybe I'll have to devote some posts this week to pictures only?