Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Paris: Croissants, Versailles, & French Onion Soup

At last! I have returned from my whirlwind, 7 country eurotrip. This is my first time in Europe, and possibly my only opportunity to live abroad for the foreseeable future, so I'm taking advantage of every travel opportunity I can. From the moment I learned about the best/worst budget airline, Ryanair, I have been compiling a list of places I must see before I have to leave Spain. The number one city on that list? Mon Cheri, Paris.

Who doesn't dream of the Eiffel Tower, seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, or walking along the Champs-Élysées? When I read Julia Child's biography My Life in France, Paris became more than "The City of Lights and Love" to me. I recognized it as a culinary capitol of the world. As I started learning to cook and realized how much classic French cuisine has influenced the culinary world, I knew most of my time in Paris would be spent doing my favorite thing--eating. So, it should come as no surprise that before I planned a sightseeing itinerary, I wrote an epicurean wishlist. That majority of the dishes on the list were desserts. What a surprise.

First up--the elegant French macaron. These cookies are very different from their coconut counterparts we know as macaroons. French macarons are almost-too-pretty-to-eat sandwich cookies available in a variety of vivid colors and flavors, the most popular being raspberry, chocolate, pistachio, and vanilla. Because the cookies are made with almond flour, they have a crisp, meringue-like exterior that reveals a chewy center when bitten into. As if that isn't tasty enough, the cookies are glued together with buttercream! At Pierre Hermé I sampled two macarons, white truffle hazelnut and passion fruit milk chocolate. Both were surprising and delicous! At the Laudarée beneath the Louvre (my low blood sugar dropped my mood to borderline cranky after hours of roaming the massive museum!), I went for something classic, tasting their coconut flavored macaron. When eating these dainty confections, it is hard not to feel pampered a la Queen Marie Antoinette. "Let them eat cake"...and macarons.

I dare not divulge how many croissants I ate in Paris. Mmmm...chocolate, sweet almond, pure butter, who knew they had different flavors? I will report that Parisian croissants really do taste better than any others in the world, or at least the parts of the world I've seen. The best pastries I ate in Paris were a gift from our train driver when we accidentally took the wrong train to Versailles. He felt badly for the lost American tourists and bought us chocolate chip and custard filled croissants proving the unfriendly French stereotype very untrue. The lesson here, when traveling, getting on the wrong train may lead to a culinary adventure!

On Christmas Eve morning, I treated myself to a Nutella crepe. I was so greedy, I didn't pause to snap a photo of the crepe before I attacked it with my fork! The steam from the fresh-off-the-griddle crepe melted the Nutella until became a gooey, smooth, chocolate and hazelnut dream spread. Merry Christmas to me!

Another fabulous Nutella experience: While waiting to get into Christmas mass at the Notre Dame (I still can't believe I can write that sentence!) we stopped by Amorino for gelato. Yes, it was very cold, but does that really matter when an ice cream craving strikes? My cone was filled with their Nutella and hazelnut flavors. I love how they arrange the ice cream scoops to look like a flower. It's nearly too pretty to eat.
On Christmas Eve, we met with other language assistants from Ourense to make a fondue dinner. How French! We skipped the meat fondue course altogether, prioritizing the more important cheese and chocolate courses. I melted a blend of Swiss and French cheeses in a garlic and white wine sauce. We made sure to have vegetables, fruit, and crusty baguette on hand for dipping. The semi-sweet chocolate melted into heavy cream to create a velvety, rich, smooth dip for our madeleines, gaufres (waffles), bananas, and apples. We made ourselves a home away from home in a rented apartment in Paris, covered in cheese and chocolate, to have ourselves a merry Christmas Eve.

I spent Christmas day trekking through my neighborhood searching for French onion soup. I was picky about the café because I did not want the tourist attraction version of the simple peasant dish. I've made French onion soup before, but never has the combination of beef broth, thyme, caramelized onions, and a cheesy crouton made me as happy as it did that Christmas afternoon. It was difficult to take a picture of my soup because the camera lens kept fogging up from all the steam! Good soup warms you from the inside out, and on that holiday when I found myself thousands of miles away from my family and friends, the French onion soup in the nondescript Parisian café cured my homesickness.

Now that I've reported on the culinary highlights from my first stop in Paris, it's time for the worst. On Christmas night, the only restaraunts open were the non-Christian ethnic eateries. Ourense does not have much to offer in the ethnic food department, so I jumped at the opportunity to feast on Indian food. (Is there anything better than naan?) We ordered our food and watched as the cook loaded our plates into a tower of three microwaves! I'm not so ignorant that I believe this never happens at restaraunts in the US, but at least the waiters discreetly microwave dishes in the kitchen. Furthermore, I'm fairly certain microwaves are not meant to be stacked on top of other microwaves. Despite the fact that our food was nuked right before our eyes, it was fabulous, if a little bit unevenly heated. It was fabulous, until the next day. Merry Christmas to us, we got Indian food poisoning:) 

1 comment:

  1. Holy Moly! You can write AND cook! So fun to read about your adventures! Keep it up! And keep safe. Thanks for sharing! (ps, we just finished our own gourmet bfast which featured concoctions from the kitchens of General Mills, Kellogg's AND......