Monday, December 27, 2010

Pesto Pizza with Balsamic Caramelized Onions













Basil Pesto Pizza with Balsamic Caramelized Onions
Trader Joe’s premade Garlic & Herb pizza dough
[1] cup homemade pesto
[2] balls fresh mozzarella, sliced to 1/8 inch
[1/2] cup fresh grated Pecorino Romano
[3] small yellow onions, thinly sliced
[1/3] cup balsamic vinegar
whole wheat flour
Olive oil
Salt
fresh cracked black pepper


Preheat oven to 450 or to pizza dough package directions. 


Thinly slice onions and saute in olive oil on low heat for about 15 minutes. Add the balsamic and continue to saute for another 15-20 minutes until the onions are caramelized. 


Roll out the pizza dough using wheat flour to prevent sticking. Shape it depending on the size of the pan you use. Before transferring the dough to the pan, grease the pan lightly with olive oil. (I think you get the best results when you pre-bake the dough for about 10 minutes.)






Top the dough with the pesto, sliced mozzarella, caramelized onions, and pecorino cheese. Add a couple cracks of black pepper and bake until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown (about 15 minutes). 



When the pizza is done, top with fresh herbs and a little more pecorino. 



Confession: I also had this the next day for breakfast. 
(And don't pretend like leftover pizza for breakfast isn't like, the best thing ever.)

The great debate remains, however... do you eat the leftovers hot or cold?



Friday, December 24, 2010

Five Star Breakfast


So, I was sitting this morning with my huge Starbucks mug filled with freshly brewed coffee and that Coffeemate French Vanilla creamer that I love so much. And I was content.

That is, until my dad asked if I wanted an omelette with smoked salmon and caviar...

Coffee? Or a gourmet breakfast? Hmmm, tough choice.

I decided to take matters into my own hands and, instead of my dad's omelette, made a poached egg. I remembered the L'aneth et citron vert dijon mustard that I brought back from France, which I bought specifically for smoked salmon (dill and lime flavored). I hadn't used it yet and I honestly couldn't wait any longer. Plus, I bought it with Dad in mind and I knew that he'd like it, too.

Poaching eggs is one of those scary, let's-just-not-go-there techniques that I've always avoided. The few times I did go there, I ended up with a boiled yolk and a hand full of stringy, nasty egg whites. I really never thought it was worth it... until today.

I'd heard that vinegar helps keep the egg together, and read that the water should be just simmering. So with those techniques in mind, I made my first perfect poached egg! It's healthier, prettier, and just as easy as frying. And it made me feel kind of fancy.


Five Star Breakfast
[1] slice hearty whole wheat bread (I used When Pigs Fly 100% Whole Wheat)
[1] tbsp cream cheese
[1] tsp flavored Dijon (optional)
[2-3] slices smoked salmon
[1] egg
[2] tbsp white vinegar
[1] tsp black lumpfish caviar
chives for garnish

Fill a saucepan with about 2 inches of water and bring it to a simmer (just before the boiling point). Add 2 tbsp of vinegar and carefully drop in 1 egg-- I cracked it into a small bowl first. Let it cook for about 4 minutes, using a metal slotted spoon to collect the stray egg whites. After about 4 minutes the yolk will be runny and... perfect!

Meanwhile toast the bread and spread on the cream cheese and mustard. Layer the smoked salmon, then the egg. Top with caviar and a couple springs of chive.

It's such an easy and impressive breakfast that really feels gourmet.


Heaven. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Citrus Spiced Pumpkin Hummus

For me, using a recipe is sort of like using a cheat sheet on a test. If everyone had one, then anyone could do it. (The only exception is baking, where not using a recipe is just silly... unless, of course, you're the thrill seeker type and don't mind the occasional chocolate chip paper weight). But cooking should be about creating, and sometimes that means failing too.

That said, I came across a recipe for Pumpkin Hummus on La Fuji Mama's blog, and thought it sounded so different and (most importantly), delicious. I really want to put my own twist on it, so I kind of just used the unique idea as my starting point and crossed my fingers that I could figure it out sans recipe. After a lot of taste testing, critiques (good AND bad) from my sisters, and a couple of tweaks, I think I came up with a really great recipe. It's a perfect holiday dip that gets an unexpected twist from the pumpkin and orange.



Citrus Spiced Pumpkin Hummus
[1] can garbanzo beans
[1] can pumpkin puree
[½] cup sesame tahini
[½] cup orange juice
Juice ½ lemon
[1] tbsp lemon zest
[1] tbsp orange zest
 [½] tsp allspice
[½] tsp fresh ground nutmeg
[1] tsp cinnamon
[1] garlic clove, minced
salt
pepper

Making hummus is just about as easy as it gets. You literally just put everything into a food processor and blend until it becomes a lovely, creamy, and delicious dip. 

I was worried at first the pumpkin would be overpowering so I only added half at first, but it really does need the whole can. You can really taste the orange flavor, too, and the sweetness of the orange juice works perfectly with the spices and the sesame tahini. It's a savory/sweet dip that I plated with pita crackers, cheddar cheese, and baby carrots. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Haddock and Pesto Potatoes


Tonight, I was really inspired to use up some of the fresh herbs that had been patiently waiting in our refrigerator. More specifically, I wanted to put a dent in our ridiculous quantity of basil (my favorite herb of all time) before all the leaves started to wilt. If I learned something from my French host mother, it was to use up fresh ingredients as. soon. as. possible. So, what do you do when you have a humongous box of basil that's practically on a countdown to expiration? Make pesto, of course!

With pesto as my inspiration, I created this recipe for potatoes with basil sauce and pan-seared haddock with a roasted tomato and pepper sauce. The red sauce is so flavorful and is absolutely delicious paired with the flaky haddock. The basil sauce adds the perfect compliment and is versatile enough to use in other recipes. Plus I love the red and green colors, making it perfect for a Christmas-time meal. 
Basil Sauce
[2] cups fresh basil
[1] lemon, (juice and zest of half)
[2] tbsp toasted pine nuts, plus [1] tbsp for garnish
[2] garlic cloves, chopped
olive oil
salt
pepper

Start by toasting the pine nuts on low heat-- keep an eye on them because they burn so quickly! When you can smell them, they're done. Next, purée the garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice in a blender. Then add the pine nuts, basil, salt and pepper. Start blending and stream in the olive oil until the sauce is completely smooth. I served the sauce chilled on top of the warm potatoes, and sprinkled a couple toasted pine nuts and fresh chopped basil as a garnish.

Boil the potatoes in heavily salted water for about 15 minutes or until fork tender.

I think the fillets look like mittens.
For the haddock, marinate the fillets simply in olive, sea salt, and pepper for about 30 minutes...

When the sauces are finished, just pan fry the fish in olive oil for about 3-4 minutes per side or until the fish is firm to the touch.

Any sturdy white fish will do in this recipe. The sauce is light enough for delicately flavored fish like haddock, but also can stand up to strongly flavored fish. Use whatever looks the freshest. If it looks like it's been dead for a week, chances are it tastes like it, too.


For the red sauce, I knew I wanted to maximize the flavor of the tomatoes (since they're out of season), so I roasted them in the oven and added tons of flavor with roasted red peppers and red chiles. It's not spicy, but has an incredible depth of flavor. You can monitor the spice level by adding more or less red pepper flakes. I adore this sauce and can't wait to make it again. It's gets better the longer it simmers, and even tasted amazing after 1 or 2 days in the fridge. 

Roasted Tomato Pepper Sauce
[6-7] vine-ripened tomatoes
[3] dried New Mexican red chiles, rehydrated (water reserved)
[2] roasted red peppers (you can totally make your own, but I just used jarred)
[1] tsp red pepper flakes
[1] small yellow onion
[1] garlic clove
[2] tbsp worcestershire
[1/4] cups balsamic vinegar
olive oil
salt
pepper

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the tomatoes in half and season with salt, pepper, and a healthy amount of olive oil. Roast for one hour until the tomatoes are caramelized and rich in flavor.

Meanwhile, rehydrate the chiles in hot water for 20 minutes. After the chiles are softened, take them out of the liquid, remove any seeds, and chop finely. Purée in the blender with about [1/3] cup of the reserved liquid until completely smooth.

Sauté the onion until tender, then add the garlic and about half of the red pepper flakes. Transfer to the food processor, add the puréed chiles, the rest of the red pepper flakes, roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers, worcestershire, balsamic, salt and pepper. Pulse until the mixture is combined but still chunky. Taste and season with salt and pepper. I simmered the sauce while I cooked the haddock for about 10-15 minutes. 


Most people know that I looooooove on the salt, so I tend not to suggest quantities here. Season until you think it tastes good, adding more balsamic or maybe more red pepper flakes to make it spicier. I never follow recipes, so I won't feel bad if you don't either! 
























The resulting flavor is so rich and works perfectly with the brightness of the basil sauce. The two huge haddock fillets made about 5 portions, but the sauces leave lots of leftovers. The basil sauce would work great as a marinade and the red sauce would be amazing on vegetarian tacos! 




Sunday, December 19, 2010

Heirloom Tomatoes and Easy Roquefort Dressing

I made this recipe for a potluck dinner in Paris and it ended up being a big hit, especially the homemade blue cheese dressing! It's healthy (if you don't over-do it on the cheese, but I won't judge if you do), super simple, and a perfect dish for sharing. 


Roquefort is a creamy blue cheese that is mild enough for most palettes. If you thought you weren't a fromage bleu fan, this is definitely the recipe to try. Not only are the flavors bright, but the colors are so enticing! Because we're using limited ingredients, make sure that they're all really fresh. Heirloom tomatoes have a full tomato flavor, plus a beautiful color and shape. 


Enjoy as an appetizer, and don't forget the wine.


Heirloom Tomatoes and Easy Roquefort Dressing
Serves 8-10 people

For the dressing:
[1] cup crème fraîche
[2] tbsp dijon mustard
[1/2] cup Roquefort blue cheese, crumbled
[1/2] tbsp lemon juice (I didn't have any, but it will liven up the dressing)
[2] tsp fresh chives, finely chopped
[1] tsp cracked black pepper
salt to taste

For the salad:
[4] large Heirloom tomatoes (plan for half a tomato per person)
[1/4] cup roughly chopped basil 
[2] tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
[1/4] cup walnuts, toasted
[1] tsp cracked pepper
salt to taste
olive oil

Mix together all ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl and set aside in the fridge. 

Slice tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices and arrange nicely around the plate. Chop herbs and sprinkle over the top. 

In the meantime, toast walnuts for about 5-6 minutes on low heat. Roughly chop into smaller pieces and sprinkle over tomatoes. 

Drizzle the salad with a little olive oil, add the cracked pepper and a small pinch of salt, et voila

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Just call me Ina.

For 99% of the people who know me, what I'm about to say will come as no surprise:

I'm obsessed with The Food Network. 

More specifically, I'm obsessed with Ina Garten. Sort of like a modern day Julia Child, her name is synonymous with everything beautiful about the love and art of cooking. Barefoot Contessa, Garten's claim to fame, single-handedly sparked my "appetite" for cuisine.   

Her style of cooking, which I'd classify as simple and elegant, while still being comfortable and approachable, is exactly what makes my tastebuds sing. Although never classically trained, Garten's recipes exude all the appeal of a gourmet with the love of a self-taught cook.

And her style of living? Let's just say it's all that I could (and do) dream for, plus a little more. Garten spends the majority of her time in the Hamptons where she and her adorable husband, Jeffrey, share a breathtaking home. It's essentially a food lover's paradise; Garten built a barn in her backyard equipped with a drool-worthy kitchen. Her backyard also boasts an impressive garden of herbs and vegetables, proving that until you've grown your own produce, you have no idea what you're missing. Her show, Barefoot Contessa allows us to follow Garten as she buys fresh ingredients from local shops that specialize in everything from flowers to cheese and wine. 

As if it couldn't get any better, she and Jeffrey split their time between their home in the Hamptons and PARIS. They renovated a beautiful apartment in the 6th arrondissement, right around the corner from where I had class! The neighborhood is filled with shops, cafes, and patisseries, among which Ina finds some of her favorites (for example Poilane Bakery, Cafe Varenne, and the Raspail Organic Market).

#1 Ina Superfan
I think it's safe to say, I want her life. 

My absolute dream would be to one day move to France, attend culinary school in Paris, then land a job on The Food Network hosting my own cooking show. 

Making pumpkin macarons at La Cuisine Paris
But if things don't exactly go as planned, I recently discovered my back-up plan. After my cooking class yesterday at La Cuisine Paris, where I learned how to make the famous french Macarons, I realized what a perfect fit it would be to teach cooking classes in both French and English right in the center of Paris! I know, I know-- I'm getting a little ahead of myself now, but a girl can dream! 

OK, back to reality...

When I first started this blog, my intention was simply to chronicle my semester in France. But what I'd really love to be is the author of a food blog. In case you've been living under a rock, food blogging is one of the biggest crazes to hit the blog world. Seriously, if you're not already addicted to Food Gawker, you will be now... You're welcome. 

So, with Ina as my inspiration, I'm posting my first recipe. I hope you enjoy!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fight, flight, forget?

Well, this is embarrassing. Has it really been one month since my last post? 

Time has managed to creep up on me like those pesky pounds during the holiday season-- you just never know how bad it's gotten until "HOLY SHIT! I swear these jeans fit yesterday!" 

All I have to say is... Okay, maybe that's where my problem starts. 

-------------------------
This is the story of a girl who...
Last weekend I tried...
I bought 14 jars of mustard because...

You've all heard of writer's block. Now meet it's evil twin sister: blogger's block. 

It's not that I haven't come across relevant material. In fact, over the past month I've been to some truly incredible places, eaten amazing food, and seen some pretty cool things. 

But what to write? A slight, nagging uneasiness kept reminding me, Isn't there something you should be updating? Like maybe... your blog?

I'll be the first to admit, I have a not-so-awesome quality. (If you're reading this as a potential employer, feel free to stop here and refer to my ridiculously good looking resume.)

The thing is, when something stresses me out, my reflex is to create a mental block. I'll do anything imaginable just forget about the job at hand. Sometimes, my creativity in coming up with useless tasks can surprise even myself. 

Case and point, my I-hate-all-forms-of-literature phase. Or any one of these examples...

Essay due in six hours-- It's about time I rearrange my room. 
Need to pack for a trip-- I think I'll just go for a quick run. 
Too many pictures to post-- I wonder what's changed on Facebook since 10 minutes ago?
Blog to update-- I'm just waiting until I think of a brilliant topic! 

See it all coming together now?

If I dig down to the root of my anxiety, without getting too weird, it's the fact that my semester in Paris is quite literally FLYING by. We passed by the halfway point faster than the time it takes me to polish off a block of brie. And tha's fast!

When I think of everything that has yet to be crossed off my imaginary to-do list (I keep meaning to make one... how ironic), it's enough to make my head spin. And obviously, stress me out. 

It's not until I realize all the things I've already done that I come back to Earth. I'm finally coming to terms with the fact that no one can do everything in just three months. What I can try to do now is not take a single day here for granted and appreciate what time I have left. 

And that's about enough cheese for one post. 

I promise the next one won't take a month... 

Monday, September 27, 2010

"I'll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure." --Mae West

Sometimes, the simplest things can incite a brand new passion for life.

An unforgettable meal can motivate a stay-at-home mom to become a chef; A breathtaking exhibit can inspire a painter to turn their hobby into a profession; A stroll past Tiffany's could encourage a lover to finally propose.

My new enthusiasm falls on a slightly smaller scale, but deserves some credit nonetheless..

I'll set the scene: To say that I've never been keen on reading would be a mild understatement. My history dates back to the fifth grade, when I bought books at the school book fair because the titles came in a swirly font and pretty color. They were essentially dust collectors that I would occasionally flip through then decide (for one reason or another) "this book sucks." Sometime after my weird days of white eyeliner and braces, my distaste for reading became hard to ignore.

Regardless of the subject matter-- if it was typed, printed, or could be found between two book ends, I was almost guaranteed to flatline. Some people count sheep to fall asleep. Literally, all I had to do was open to page one. 

If I could pinpoint the source of this aversion, I'd say it started when reading simply became a chore. Chapters one through four due tomorrow? I'd rather lick a cactus, but thanks for playing.

Then came Sparknotes. Opening that treasure chest was like making a deal with the devil, like gettin' away with murder. Granted, some teachers were wise to our pseudo-knowledge and formulated tests accordingly. Others were not so bright... I took a liking to the latter.

By junior year, I noticed that this pattern might be getting out of hand. Full of optimism that the next book would spark my interest, I vowed each time to finish what I started. I remember the day we were assigned The Catcher in the Rye. I had my doubts, but still, I swore I would read the whole thing. Night after night, I'd truck along... 

I hardly made it past page thirty-five.

This nasty habit followed me to college like that little lamb to Mary. Assigned reading had become as painful as stilettos at 2 a.m. I needed something to relate to-- something to inspire me.

It wasn't until this summer that something clicked. One day, free of work and looking for something to do, I happened upon Border's. 

Much to the surprise of my family ("You're where?!"), I walked up and down the aisles of the two-level bookstore for nearly three hours. It was intimidating at first-- I felt like all the regular bookworms knew that I hadn't set foot in a bookstore since... uh... you get the point. But I quickly got lost reading cookbooks and flipping through memoirs. My goal was to buy just one book, and I ended up with two.

The first was a biography written by a prominent and successful model, Crystal Renn. The second was a novel that had garnered enormous popularity over the summer. Whether in the gym, on the beach or on the train, no one was without their copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (by Stieg Larsson). I figured, if I was going to kick off this new hobby on the right foot, I might as well start with a book that people couldn't seem to get enough of.

I finished the memoir in a matter of days. The novel took me just two weeks.

Judge if you must, but I haven't read for pleasure since The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants circa the ninth grade. (I never read the final one-- Go figure.) And all it took was a trip to Border's to fulfill a sense of maturity that was lacking due to my irrational, preconceived notion that reading was for nerds. 

I write this post now because I've just finished another book: The Girl who Played with Fire. At 724 pages, it's officially the only book that's been able to captivate my attention for so many consecutive page turns. 

With every intention of rounding out the Larsson trilogy with The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, I think I can deem this old habit: kicked.



*I dedicate this post to my family, whom I miss and love very much! Amanda-- I bet you never thought you'd see the day...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ich liebe dich, Deutschland.

It's been about four days since I left Germany... and for the past four days, all I could think about is how badly I want to go back. 

Be it a certain je ne sais quoi, there's just something about German culture that's got me saying, "Ich liebe dich, Deutschland!"

For starters, Munich is legit. The buildings are beautiful, the transportation is easy enough, there's tons of stuff to do, and the people are actually friendly. What a concept! Paris, I hope you're taking notes...  

Secondly, the German's definitely know how to throw a party. Oktoberfest may as well be the end all, be all.  Seriously-- how can one go wrong with endless beer, baked goods, and lederhosen (I still regret not buying my own). 

To boot, beer halls like the Hofbräuhaus make American dining look more like a snoozefest than anything else.

On the down side, the food is 95 percent meat. For those who don't know, that's a healthy chunk of the food pyramid that I tend to avoid. I'm about to attempt some math here so bear with me. Of the 95 percent meat-based food, about 91.5 percent are sausages and/or wieners, but call it what you like. The rest are potatoes and schnitzel. But the remaining five percent are lip smacking, good old-fashioned carbs, sugar, and butter. Needless to say, in a country of carnivores I did not feel the least bit deprived.

Now that I've given you ample reasons as to why you should book your own trip ASAP, I'll provide you with some words of travel wisdom-- all from personal experience. And let's just say, I took one for the team. 

Tip #1: Become acquainted with your accommodations before you leave. This means that if you're staying in a small hotel, don't over-pack; if you're staying in a hostel, don't forget a towel; and if you're staying in a campground, just don't. 
 Usually, (and I have both Mom & Troop 160 to thank for this) I'm a happy camper. I know my way around a tent, and most of the time I actually enjoy it. However, without the proper supplies, camping can be downright miztown. Add freezing weather to the mix, and "down for whatever" becomes "down in the dumps." 
 The expressions on our faces when we walked up to "Weis'N'Camp" must have been photoworthy. For some reason, we thought we had booked a hostel. In reality, we had paid $120 each for a 4X4 Coleman tent. No pillows, no blankets, no beds. Just us, a tent, and about a thousand other Oktoberfesters. 
  I spent the first night bundled in whatever I could find to stay warm-- extra T-shirts, multiple pairs of pants, my windbreaker as a mattress, my luggage as a pillow, and a towel as my only source of coverage. With a scarf wrapped around my head, we quickly realized that surviving the night would be impossible without blankets. Lexi and Amanda thankfully sprung for the eight euro ones that the camp was selling, and we put our faith in the power of body heat. With Bear Grylls as our guardian angel that night, we made it to the morning.

Tip #2: Timeliness is everything. Even after waking up at 5 a.m. and hightailing it outta the camp, we didn't make it to the festival until about ten. Which entitled us to a nice big table outside the beer hall, but also provided an entirely different scene from the hubbub inside. This could have been both a blessing an a curse. 
  Apparently, sitting inside the beer hall is absolute chaos. Since we were at the most famous and oldest beer hall at the festival, Hofbräuhaus was essentially mayhem. The tent has a holding capacity of almost 10,000 including the outdoor seating. I'll give you a moment to process that...
  
Tip #3: Always anticipate challenges. In the case of Oktoberfest-- Head to the bathroom before your bladder even tells your inebriated brain it's time. Let's do some simple arithmetic now. What does 10,000 people + 35,000 liters of beer + 2 outdoor bathrooms + 1 indoor bathroom get you? One answer-- wet pants.

Tip #4: Take advantage of your assets. Even though the campsite ended up being a bust, we still walked away with a free T-shirt, beer stein, and free drinks from 1-5 at The Clubhouse. Plus a really great story to tell the grandkiddies. A wise man once said, "Do it for the story."

Tip #5: Blend in with the locals. In Munich's case, that means buying a lederhosen. Also known as traditional German garb-- it's definitely a fashion-do in the Hofbräuhaus. Ignore the occasional double-take, those people are probably as jealous as I was. One step inside the festival, and you'll instantly be in tune with your German forefathers. I felt out of place in jeans, so I opted for one of these cool hats. But either works.
Tip #6: Enjoy yourself. Nothing ruins a trip like unnecessary stress. My advice? Leave the drama at the door and remind yourself of what a special and unique opportunity you've been given. I wasn't sure if I'd make it to Munich this semester, but I sure am glad that I did. Sometimes the most unexpected journeys end up being the most memorable. 


*For more pictures from the trip, visit my facebook page!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Vee lyke to drank beerz, ya?

To my loyal audience (all nine of you), a short message:

Although blogosphere may be up there on my list of fave destinations...
Oktoberfest kind of takes the cake on that one. 

This means that tomorrow, I risk it all. And consequently, Germany risks it all.

Why they willingly embrace herds of lush American students across their borders? The world may neva know. But I have une petite hunch it's all for the love of beer. And lord knows, we love da beer!

Things I'm looking forward to:
  1. Reunion with the Fantastic Four-- Lexi Andrews, Kara Digan, and Amanda Johnson. Germany, or any country in the EU for that matter, might be sorry they let these three pass customs. 
  2. Beer. Speaks for itself. 
  3. Pretzels?
  4. I'll just go ahead and repeat #2.

So until I return on Sunday (with luck, still moderately literate), feel free to peruse the archives of Sweet & Sourire.

Cause I know you wanna read about my bad day just one more time. 

Peace, love, and sloppy weekend to all!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Roses are red, Paris is violet.


Let's be honest, the last thing that any jetsetter needs is to be pegged as a tourist-- instant buzzkill. So, in order to avoid that, we try to observe the trends weaving their way around the world today. And we wonder: What's popular? What's à la mode? And what is "so out"?

Americans are still in their veritable legging obsession, which, whether we're ready to admit it or not, has transitioned into a strangely alluring jegging trend. (Can anyone really say they saw that coming?) 

And throughout the Schengen realm, men and women alike seem to be pretty partial to the sidepurse-- which is by and large EuroChic 101.

But this season in Paris, it's purple.

Scarves, blouses, button-downs, ties, shoes, sweatshirts, make-up, and by far the coolest way to rock it... pants, have all found their way into the smartest French closets in almost every shade.  

This trend unfortunately has no age or gender bounds. In fact, I've seen more skinny French men rocking head to toe purple than I can count on one hand. Does that scare you? What about a 60-year-old woman smearing the shade across her eyelids while sporting heeled pilgrim shoes? You wish I was kidding.

It seems that purple à la Barney has trickled down from sketchbooks, to runways, to red carpets, to more casual street style. And Paris is lovin' every majestic minute of it. 

So just in case you were wondering how to become one step close to achieving the Parisian panache, my advice is to ditch the classic ebony and grab something that would make that lovable dinosaur proud.  



Friday, September 10, 2010

His name is Hughes.

He's 23, he's french, he's gorgeous.

And he just happens to be the eldest son of the family that is hosting me.

The moment I saw him was the moment that my concentration for anything but Hughes fizzled into thin air. How could I possibly concentrate on french grammar when such a dime-piece was living under the same roof??

C'etait un coup de foudre.

Of course, with my luck as of late, I met him after running around for nearly two hours in an outfit geared for 50 degree weather when temperatures today reached about 70. And I was carrying two full bags of groceries, plus my bookbag. So yeah, I was a little sweaty.

But isn't that always how it happens in the movies?

I'm keeping my hopes up. And you can bet I'll be keeping you updated.

UPDATE: Thomas, the 16-year-old brother, just walked in on me taking a shower. Things are about to get awkward.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I know how ya feel, Daniel Powter.

 Not gunna lie-- yesterday was a bad day.
 And not the kind when one thing in particular sorta sets the tone for the rest of your day, like burning your tongue on hot coffee or a bird pooping on your shoulder.

The kind where it feels like when things can't get any worse... they do. Like, maybe you burn your tongue, stain your white blouse, trip on your front steps, and then a bird poops on you. 

So forgive me if I vent. Blog is the new shrink.
And trust me, you're going to want to read this whole thing.

It all started in the morning. I woke up at about 8, giving myself plenty of time to get ready and be in Paris by 9h50, the time of our rendez-vous. I've been sort of a stickler about time because a) the French hate when you're late and b) you just never know what fun detours might pop up along the way.

I caught 8h40 train, and gave myself a little pat on the back for being early. Bad idea. The commute was already rather uncomfortable because 8h-9h30 is rush hour, "les heures de pointe," in Paris. Needless to say the train was packed like sardines. Perfect time for something to go wrong. A mere two minutes from my destination, the train stops. And stayed put-- for nearly 20 minutes. A rapid apology or explanation blew through the speakers, which made everyone groan...and which I didn't understand a word of, so I just kinda groaned along with the crowd.

Seconds passed like minutes which passed like hours. Everyone was sweating, the windows were fogging, people were definitely farting. All of a sudden, a commotion. I heard people yelling and realized that the man standing three feet away from me had just collapsed. The car was so packed that no one even knew what to do. About 15 seconds later he came to. Various commuters had found him some water, opened the windows, and gave him a seat. He seemed to be okay, and about five minutes later we proceeded into the station. Well that was enough excitement for one day, I thought.

Phew, all that and I was still 15 minutes early! I ran into the bathroom at the Foyer and touched up a little, giving myself another little pat on the back for arriving first. I really need to stop doing that. It was 9h45 and I was still the first one there, at which point I realized-- I was wrong.

After some quick texts, I learned that I was supposed to be meeting at the next metro stop. I could walk (in the rain, mind you) but it would probably take me 15-20 minutes. So I opted to hop back on the metro. Only one stop away, I figured it would take no more than 5 minutes. In reality, it took double.

At 10h05, I was finally reunited with the group, a little sweaty and a little frustrated. Luckily, I had a two hour tour to look forward to.

With nothing but optimism on the most beautiful day of the year, this tour would have still been the most boring two hours of my life. It was that bad.

At 12h00, we were finally done-- and couldn't have been more excited for lunch. We picked a great boulangerie that we knew had phenomenal bread. One step inside and we could SMELL how great it was going to be. We were greeted with smiles, and it seemed like things were looking up. The food was inexpensive and everything on the menu looked so delicious, we had a hard time deciding. (I opted for a smoked salmon sandwich and coffee, something I find myself getting at least five times per week).

As we made our way to the table outside, I scooted in behind a woman eating lunch by herself. I turned around and said a very polite, "Oh, pardon!"

Now... whether it was the minor encounter that set her off or if she was tripping on some meds she found at the loony bin-- I couldn't tell you. But here's the dialogue that ensued:

Crazy lady: "Did you drop your bag of shit?" Creepy laugh. No, I'm not even kidding.
Me: "Did I... did I wha--? Drop something? I don't think so...." We all looked around, not sure if we heard her right.
Crazy lady: "You dropped your bag of shit! You smell like shit!" Laughs.
Me: (Still not sure if I heard her right.) We looked around our chairs. Did we step in poop or something?
Crazy lady: "I think you're sitting on it! She's sitting on her bag of shit!"
Me: "Ok, I get it now. She's mocking me."

We tried to ignore her. It didn't work. Crazy lady continued her comments for the next 5 or 10 minutes. "You smell disgusting! You are shit! You're sitting on your shit!" Finally, I'd had enough. I went inside to tell our waiter that the weirdo next door needs a muzzle. He promptly came out and told her to leave us alone, to which she responded, "They are speaking in English! It is disgusting!" He waved her off and went back inside.

Our food couldn't have come fast enough. My sandwich was perfect and coffee was just what I needed. With just a litttttle more sugar (might sweeten up the day).

I took a sip. God damnit. Did I really just add salt?! WHY MEEEE?!!

Aside from having to literally sprint to class, and sit through an additional 3 hours of torture (aka class), I had finally made it to Happy Hour. Shout out to America for inventing such a beautiful thing.

One Mojito, one Mexicana, and one Bloody Mary later-- I honestly didn't even notice the rain. After an amazing Mexican feast and some margaritas at one of the best Mexican restaurants in Paris, it was time to turn in for the night. Needless to say, I passed out real quick. 

So, what do we learn from yesterday's grief?

When life hands you a bag of shit-- head to the closest bar.

Amen.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The results are in...

And the winner is? I guess everyone!

Today we received our placement test scores-- a relatively seriously nerve racking procedure. I expected to place somewhere in the Intermediate level, and low and behold, I did. There are two other NC students in my particular level/class, so in reality I had nothing to be worried about. The tests are extremely accurate, and most everyone was satisfied.

Because of the strike today, the train schedule was very limited. *If you follow the link, that's the station that brings me into Paris. Line B, which I also take, was completely shut down. In other words, today really tested our navigational skills-- something that the world knows is a minor pitfall of mine. We like to say that I'm "directionally challenged." But that's putting it lightly. Luckily, being in a brand new (and foreign!) city has completely forced me to improve on that skill set. Mom & Dad would be proud, I'm getting pretty darn good. Most times, I even take the lead.

In Paris, you have to be quick. That's one of the easiest ways to spot a tourist, which even I can do now. They'll stop, hesitate, take two or three steps in one direction then one or two in the other; they'll whip out a blanket-size map of the metro, clearly lost, and they might even be crying. Well, maybe not crying. (After all, zat is not french.) But you get the point.

Parisians walk swiftly and with purpose. Eighty percent of women do so in heels. And they ALWAYS dressed to the nines. Perhaps I didn't stress that enough... You will never, ever, ever see anyone in sweats or sneakers. Because apparently, "you just never know." This topic aptly requires an entirely separate post, which I will get to once I'm done wallowing in American self-pity. One goal might be to become fluent, but the other may as well be to pass as a true, chic Parisian-- a feat which I've almost conquered on one or two occasions.

I have dinner tonight with the family, which I am absolutely craving after eating just a sandwich all day yesterday. We're entitled to a home cooked meal twice a week, so I chose Tuesdays and Thursdays as my nights with the gang. I can already smell it cooking, and after a long day, I have a feeling tonight's supper is going to taste si delicieux.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Rich like Daddy Warbucks

It's only been eight days, but I have managed to satisfy more dreams and indulgences than I thought humanly possible-- I've visited historic landmarks, seen some of the most magnificent parks, palaces and gardens, had my breath taken away by the best views in all of Paris, and consumed enough brie, baguettes and wine to last me a year.

Needless to say, I could die a very, very happy girl right now. 

I'll warn you now that this post is going to be long. I have a lot to cover. Becauuuuse....

Yesterday, we moved in with our French families! To sum up how I was feeling in one word: anxious. The nervous kind, and the excited kind. CaroLine PLyLer compared the scene to being adopted-- the foyer where we were staying could easily pass as an orphanage (with very strict "quiet" hours.. which I don't think Americans understand, a better term is silent hours), and all of us little orphans waiting for our families to come and adopt us. Then one by one, we leave the orphanage for home.

Since my family was at a wedding in the south of France (naturally), I was picked up by another girl's family living in the same neighborhood. Having her there made me a lot less nervous about the awkward car ride situation. After a few sarcastic comments by her parents about the amount of luggage that they needed to now squeeze into their euro-sized car, we were on our way. Driving out of Paris was sort of surreal-- down the Champs-Elysees and past l'Arc de Triomphe. 
*Quick sidenote about Parisian drivers-- they drive crazier and faster than the worst New York and Boston driver you know, combined and doubled. Yeah. I did not breathe out the whole drive home.

Their house was about what I expected, very cute and very French. We ate lunch out in the garden alongside their cute white cat, Couton (?)... and let me tell you, French food is something I can DEFINITELY get used to. Here's what a typical lunch includes:

A boire: Water and hopefully usually red wine 
l'Entree (Appetizer): Sliced cantaloupe or tomato with mayonnaise
Plat: Grilled meat, like kebabs and frites (french fries)
*Things got awkward when I told them I don't eat meat. They showed me how to cook myself some eggs, and I heard the Dad say "Tant pis." Translation... your loss. 
Apres: Fromage 
Dessert: Three different flavors of ice cream-- cherry, vanilla and chocolate
Cafe

My own family came later than expected, around 19h45, so me and Erin and her 20-year-old French sister, Servane, took a tour of the neighborhood and chatted more frankly about Parisian nightlife. I'm lucky that Servane is good friends with my French sister, Anne, because she's really sweet. We spent the rest of our time listening to Erin play songs from Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera on the piano while I dosed off on the couch.

I perked up when my family finally arrived. I was so anxious to move-in that we completely bypassed the awkward stage. My French parents, Laurence and Bertrand de Kergolay, are great. They're high energy, funny, and are very charming. Oh, and did I mention? They have seven kids. 

After some more sarcastic comments regarding my luggage (I get it... I brought too much), we drove around the corner to my new home. Again, very French. Most homes in the "banlieus," suburbs, are gated to provide extra security. Many have a pretty garden out front (rarely manicured) and a stone structure. Their home was built in 1905, soooo it's on the older side of old. It's pretty big, with three or four levels, and very comfortable. I love it already.

My setup here could not be better. My room is in "la cave," the basement. And yes, I was nervous upon hearing that. But the room is more like a studio apartment, with everything that I could need. Carpeted, a nice sink and mirror, storage, a huge desk/table, book shelves, 2 side tables, a futon (which I prefer to leave couch-style), and the best part of all, a HUGE closet. I'm talking double doors, room for hanging, six or seven spacious shelves, plus room for all my shoes (and any new additions I might happen to acquire over the next 14 weeks). I'll make sure to post some pictures, soon.

I share a "salle de bain" on the 2nd level with the other exchange student, Felicia. She's from Sweden and will be staying with the Kergolays for a year. Surprisingly, her English is better than her French... which isn't saying much. In the "salle de bain" is a tub-ish shower, a bidet (which I can say with 100% confidence I will NOT be trying), a sink, and a vanity. But it should be noted, also, that a classic French shower, or "la douche" (permission to laugh), is really a tub with a drain that doesn't stop water, and a shower handle spout thing. After awkwardly trying to figure out how to use it properly, I kind of relished in the retro feel of it all. Another note, "les toilettes" are separate from sinks, which are separate from the showers, or douches. I'll go ahead and declare that bathrooms are one thing that Americans got right. 

Dinner with the family was a lot of fun. They have a huge dining room table, which is definitely more than necessary. Sunday night suppers are simple in France. We had:

A boire: Water 
Plat: Two giant platters of spaghetti served with Gruyere cheese, ketchup, and soy sauce... you tell me. Laurence also baked homemade bread made with "cereal complet," whole grains. 
Apres: Salad with homemade vinaigrette and parsley, and a very strong Camembert 
Dessert: Wedges of fresh pineapple

Around the table were the twins, 15 or 16-year-old Celine and Thomas, Felicia (the Swiss exchange student), Bertrand (mon pere), 13-year-old Benoit, 9-year-old Claire, 19-year-old Romain, Laurence (ma mere), and me. Missing from the table, and who I have yet to meet, are 23-year-old Hughes, and 20-year-old Anne, who is in Holland en vacances.

With such a big and lively group, I'm expecting an amazing semester here. I know it's premature, but I'm already dreading the moment when it will all be over, mostly because I don't know how soon it will be before I'm back here. And just like I categorized the departure as "not real," going back to life before Paris doesn't seem possible either. 

Classes start tomorrow, coincidentally the same day as "la greve," the strike, so I'm sure I'll have more updates coming soon.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

It will only happen once


Despite my refusing to believe it, our first week in Paris is coming to an end.

And since I'm new to the blogging thing, here's what you missed:

On day trois, reality bitch slapped me big time. I was grabbing lunch at the usual creperie that I've frequented one (or two or three) too many times. Cheap, fast, and really, really good. With a freshly made crepe in my hands, I reached into my bag to pay. And I felt... nothing. That's right. Wallet. Gone.

My first thought was "OHHHH, shit." My second thought, "It's totally in my room." My third thought, "Oh god, it's definitely not in my room."

Unfortunately, I was right. It was definitely not in my room. Or in my suitcases. Or in the classroom. Or in one of the 5 or 6 purses I brought. I couldn't believe that I had just lost everything on my third day in a foreign country-- cash, credit cards, license, and most importantly MARC JACOBS! I started to cry, then did what anyone else would do... I called Mom.

Now, Mom-- I love ya to death, but the panic I felt from across the Atlantic made me want to vomit.

Luckily, nothing can really shock the director, Dr. Ed Costello. He calmly suggested that I return to the restaurant where I last had it, and reminded me that everything can be replaced. He then proceeded to tell us straight up horror stories of students on past trips. Including one girl who needed an emergency root canal after drunkenly chipping her tooth, and another who broke both her ankles and had to be sent home. Suddenly, misplacing my wallet didn't seem so bad.

So, I returned to the restaurant, and out of the sheer grace of God, they had found my wallet. I wanted to hug each and every person in there. But since zat is not french, I just thanked them over and over and over again. Until I realized that my one hundred euros cash had conveniently been plucked from their usual holding place. I knew it was a long shot, but I asked them in the most polite way I could...Where's my money.

Here's what I think went down. I dropped my wallet after I paid at dinner. The server found it, swiped my 100 bucks, then figured the rest was useless. They probably assumed I would return, and when I did, they told me they'd found it "in ze toilettes." Yeah, okay. As long as Marc was safely in my hands again, I figured that it was just a really expensive life lesson -- LEARNED.

That night, we decided to go out on the town. We met a cute french boy on a bike (let me rephrase, we met Charlie from Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, on a bike) who gave us directions and showed us to where the cool bars are. Apparently, the "cool bars" are now charging 19 euros for a burger and 12 to wash it down. Uh, thanks but no thanks, Charlie. We retreated all the way back to our hostel, still a little tipsy from the 3 euro wine we drank earlier. And although the day wasn't exactly a success, a bad day in Paris beats a good day just about anywhere else.