Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Le Week-end sans enfant

So what does Malanga Mama do when she suddenly has Paris all to herself for about 36 hours? Malanga Papa and Malanga Girl went camping out in Rambouillet for a night this weekend, leaving me on my own. It wasn't long enough to really start missing them, but gave me plenty of opportunity to:

- Go on a big Monoprix shopping spree. Monoprix is like the French Target and I just can't get enough of this store. It is one of the few places where I can feed my beauty-product addiction in one stop (I miss U.S. drugstores so much!) AND it has a huge supermarket in the basement. The meat counter is nothing to write home about, but the rest of the food selection is great.

- Finally check out the Other Writer's Group at Shakespeare & Company. It had been way too long since I'd shared a piece of original writing with anyone and even longer since I had something BRAND SPANKING NEW to share, so it was pretty exciting for me. The dynamic was very laid back. There were about 10-12 people total and about 5 of us had pieces to share. Mostly prose, but there was a sonnet in iambic pentameter in the mix, too. I received some very good feedback on my work and best of all, was able to come home and make changes right away. One full hour of undisturbed writing on a Saturday night. Ah, heaven!

- Cook! I cooked and cooked some more, because I enjoy it and because it's such a fantastic way to procrastinate when I actually have a work project with a fixed deadline. I baked a ham, pine nut and golden raisin loaf Saturday night around 10pm before getting down to finally work and then I made an amazing scallop, golden apple & shallot dish Sunday evening to welcome my family home. I am posting the recipes below, in translation from two fantastic French-language cookbooks (one of which has was bought in Paris years ago, lived on my New York shelf and then made it back here with me).

- Catch up on this and that. I emailed friends I'd neglected for way too long, organized some of Malanga Girl's toys and dress-up shoes (so many pairs!), did several loads of laundry, folded and put away clean laundry that had piled up in various corners of the apartment (especially on a little settee in my office where no one has been able to sit since... February or so?), gave the oven a good scrub down, mopped the hardwood floors... Oh yes, and worked. Please add cleaning to the list of things I do to procrastinate when I have a deadline.

- See a movie in the theater. I watched "De Rouille et D'Os," a French-language film based on Craig Davidson's short story collection "Rust and Bone." I haven't been able to track down the book in Paris, but the movie was so emotional and visually-stunning that I didn't need any background to appreciate it. Also, I am convinced that there are few people on earth more beautiful than Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. I could have watched them for hours. If you happen upon this movie wherever you are, see it!

- Wander around Montparnasse Cemetery. This is a lovely thing to do on a brilliantly sunny day when you have forty-five minutes free before seeing a movie. But, I happen to like cemeteries and like this one in particular even more than most others.

Monday was a holiday and to welcome Malanga Girl back from her camping escapade, we spent the day at the Parc Andre Citroen together, hence the photo. The park has an honest-to-goodness hot air balloon! And fountains! What's not to love?

Johanna's Pine Nut and Herb-crusted Ham Loaf
From "Les recettes du Mistral" by Sandra Mahut
3 eggs
200 g flour
10 cl milk
10 cl olive oil
1 envelope "Levure Chimique"
100 g pine nuts
100 g golden raisins
150 g herb-crusted ham
20 g butter (to butter pan)
salt and pepper

1- Cut the ham in small pieces.
2- Place the raisins in some hot water or tea for 5 minutes. Dry with a paper towel.
3- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. (350 F???)
4- Beat the eggs in a bowl. Add the flour, then the levure chimique, milk and olive oil. Salt and pepper generously. Add the pine nuts, raisins and finally, the ham. Mix well.
5- Butter a loaf pan, place the batter in pan and bake for 45 minutes.
This tasted yummy all by itself, but a smear of butter was quite nice on it as well.

Scallop, Apple and Curry Tagine
from Tajines & Couscous by Laurence du Tilly
4 Golden apples
3 Shallots
3 Tablespoons olive oil
20 scallops (fresh or frozen)
1 Tablespoon Curry
2 Tablespoons Fresh Heavy Cream (Malanga Mama thinks you could try replacing with Greek Yogurt)
Salt and pepper

1- Peel and cube the apples. Peel and finely dice the shallots.
2- Heat the oil in a cocotte. Add apples and shallots and cook uncovered for ten minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Add curry, salt and pepper. Cover and leave over low flame for 20 minutes.
3- Add the fresh cream, mix and place the scallops on top. Add more salt and pepper. Cover and cook for ten more minutes. Serve immediately.
This meal went well over couscous.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Four Years and One Week

Malanga Girl had a birthday last Friday. Festivities lasted for approximately 5 days since the day before her birthday kicked off a holiday weekend here in France. From Thursday-Sunday, Malanga Girl told us adults where we'd be going and what we would be doing. She managed to cram in a second visit to the Musee D'Orsay (her favorite because of the ballerinas), another ride on the Bato Bus up and down the Seine, visits to the zoo, the Opera, the Eiffel Tower and the Parc George Bressens. She rode a pony at this last venue, and watched a guignol (marionette) performance as well. Cupcakes and many scoops of ice cream were eaten over the weekend as well.
Monday brought the long-awaited Barbie cake to school. I did not make this, nor do I have any idea how I would even begin to construct such a thing. But in less than five minutes, it was disassembled for small mouths after a trilingual chanting of "Happy Birthday." (Note that I was terrified Barbie's face would melt or her hair would catch on fire from the candles, so keep this in mind if you feel adventurous enough to attempt making your own Barbie cake someday.)
Oh Malanga Girl, you are so big now. You even make up your own poems in French. "Je m'appelle une cocinelle," you said to me one day recently. My growing ladybug. Happy birthday! Felicidades! Joyeux Anniversaire!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mar-seille, can you see...

Give me a gritty port city and I am a happy woman. Havana, Cuba and Naples, Italy are among some of my favorite places in the world, so I wasn't surprised to find Marseille charming when others recommended I skip it and go straight to Provence's lavender fields. I wouldn't normally gush when a place fits in so perfectly with my own personal ideal since I do recognize that not everyone has the same tastes. However, in this case, I really think Marseille is worth seeing if you like good food and happen to be traveling with a small child. It is a city that has the right amount and diversity of sights to see with someone who has graduated from the stroller set (the hills might make it a little more challenging with a stroller, but still doable). Here's a glimpse of what made our stay in Marseilles so fun:
- After our mesmerizing three-hour train ride from Paris to Marseille (hooray for train travel!), we jumped on a cruise out to see the Calanques. The Calanques are deep narrow inlets surrounded by huge limestone cliffs. You can hike the Calanques as well, but sitting on a boat and enjoying the fresh saltwater breeze was a very pleasant way to see them for the first time.
- We strolled the hilltop Le Panier district in the early evening, waiting for Pizzaria Chez Etienne (emphatically recommended by all the guides we consulted) to open for dinner service at 7:30pm. We found plenty of small shops and plazas to keep us busy. We climbed the steps up to this neighborhood again several more times during our stay, both to further explore the winding streets and to hit a few more spots that appealed to us. The ice cream at Le Glacier du Roi is reason enough to venture up to Le Panier. Between the three of us, we tried vanilla, strawberry, peach, passion fruit and navetissimo. All of them were impressive, but if you can only try one, go for navetissimo. Its orange-flower-flavor is based on the boat-shaped Navette cookies that are typical of Marseille. I recommend eating an actual navette, or many, as well, but while you can bring a box of those home with you, the navetissimo ice cream is a have-it-in-Le-Panier-only experience.
The pizza and supions (breaded, fried squid) at Pizzaria Chez Etienne were delicious, by the way. The service, however, was nothing to write home about. Get there as early as possible to snag a table since there's no phone to make reservations and they're quite happy to turn hungry tourists away.
- We rode the little train up to the Byzantine church Notre Dame de la Garde on Sunday, an experience that offered us more stunning views of the Calanques, the water and Marseille in all its glory. The train stops at Notre Dame and you can see the church and enjoy the sweeping views at your leisure. Trains going back down to the port come by once every twenty minutes.
- You have your pick of tagine dishes in Marseille's several North African restaurants. We went for La Kahena, a Tunisian place on Rue de la Republique right on the Vieux Port. Malanga Papa and I ordered a fish tagine, being in a port town and all, but I daresay Malanga Girl's meatballs were the star of the meal. Was that ras-el-hanout in them or was it the mix of lamb and other meats that made them so memorable? Mmmm!
- On Monday, I went for a nice run along the Vieux Port and up to the Jardin du Pharo. I'm still fairly new at this running thing, but the warm sunshine, new scenery and fresh sea smell kept me from thinking of my aching knees for once. I think this was my best run so far since I took up running a few weeks ago. It was also nice to have the Jardin du Pharo to myself at 8am, and to discover it's not really worth making a special trip just to see the big green lawn they call a "garden." I'm not sure what goes on in the Palais du Pharo, however, so that might be worth considering.
- I stopped at Pain de l'Opera for croissants and pain au chocolat before going back to wake Malanga Family for the day's outing. We took the bus to Aix-en-Provence right from the St. Charles train station. Buses leave every 10 minutes, cost 4,90 Euros for adults, are free for children and the ride lasts about 35 minutes. We spent a very pleasant day in the old part of Aix, including a lunch made from the amazing selection of sausages, cheese and bread at the farmers' market in one of the plazas there. Along the way, some soaps and sundry gifts were picked up, as well as coffee and ice cream. Really, just about any time of day in almost any place in the world is good for a coffee/ice cream stop.
- Monday evening found us back in Marseille for our reservation at Chez Madie Les Galinettes to eat bouillabaise. You have to make your reservation 48 hours in advance, but happily, there's no attitude served alongside the delicious fish & broth. The staff was amazingly pleasant and they even gave Malanga Girl a little gift package full of coloring supplies, candy and plastic jewelry. Malanga Papa and I have discussed returning to Marseille on the TGV (high-speed train) just to have bouillabaise again.
- On our last day in town, we were finally able to visit La Vieille Charite, an extremely well-done museum that displays Egyptian mummies, Greco-Roman pottery, bright Mexican masks and other cultural artifacts in a beautiful space right in the heart of Le Panier. We were lured by the promise of cat mummies, as promised by a New York Times article, and these did not disappoint. Going to the museum was also a chance to have more ice cream at Le Glacier du Roi before we headed back to the train station and to Paris.
- Throughout our stay, Malanga Papa and I drank lots of a local artisanal beer called La Cagole. We highly recommend it (and I'm not even a beer drinker)!