Tuesday visit to Louvre

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Since Martin is spending his spring break here with us, some sightseeing is in order.  We picked a good time to visit the Louvre…late morning on a Tuesday…as there were no lines at the entrance or the ticket machines.

View from inside the south wing of the Louvre... it's nice to peek outside from time to time to get your bearings while wandering through one of the world's largest art museums.
View from inside the south wing of the Louvre… it’s nice to peek outside from time to time to get your bearings while wandering through one of the world’s largest art museums.

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While Martin’s mission on this day was mainly to see the Greek and Roman works in the museum, one would be remiss not to pop in to see “La Joconde” (The Mona Lisa).  I didn’t photograph the world’s most famous portrait to post here… we all know what she looks like.   What you see below is the mob of tourists that one always finds in front of Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece, which is secured behind bullet-proof glass.

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In The Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, a brother and sister run away from home and live secretly in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hiding from the guards and gathering coins from the fountain for spending money.  Martin and I were just talking about how much we love that book when we turned a corner and found ourselves alone on a grand staircase for just an instant.  Fun to imagine having the Louvre to oneself to explore.

 

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I Went up to 18th arrondissement

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Anna and I went up to the 18th Arrondissement, the Monmartre area, this morning for a baking class offered by Cook’n With Class.  We made croissants, pain au chocolat, pain raisin, and babas au rum.  The recipes are simple so it’s the techniques that must be mastered.  This is the kind of cooking class that I still enjoy…those that teach techniques that are just about impossible to learn from a book.

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 Rolling croissants is very satisfying.  Can’t wait to try it at home.

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 Lovely little pastries just waiting for the oven.

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These raisin buns were to die for.  Funny that I’ve seen them in bakeries over here for years and never bought one, perhaps because they look too sweet. The kicker is that these rolls are “glued” together with vanilla pastry cream and that gives them an amazingly rich flavor….definitely the surprise of the day for me.

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This dough that we learned how to make today is comprised of 80 layers as you can see plainly in these fresh out of the oven pain au chocolats. The chef explained to us that the French like their pastries to be baked until quite dark.  They like the burnt caramel flavor as in Creme Caramel and Creme Brulee.  He said that baking this way signifies that this is something to be eaten right away, not saved for later and reheated.  According to him, Americans eat baked goods that are undercooked, “blond” and that uncooked gluten is hard to digest even for those who are not gluten sensitive.  In other words, no more snacking on raw cookie dough.  Don’t know if all this is fact, just passing along the advice of our french pastry chef friend.

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Anna plating her babas au rhum…. just after she had doused it with a very generous glug-glug of Rum.

No foggy London Town

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No foggy London Town for us last weekend… it was 60 degrees and blue skies!  Looks like London will beat Paris in the race to Spring.   It’s a quick and easy 2 1/2 hour Eurostar train ride from one capital city to the other…Gare du Nord to St. Pancras….thanks to the Channel Tunnel (otherwise known as The Chunnel).  Construction of this undersea link between England and France began in 1988 and was open for business in 1994.  I was surprised to learn that this idea had been around since 1802,  when Albert Mathieu first proposed just such a tunnel.  His vision, however, was one of horse-drawn carriages, oil lamps for illumination and an artificial island mid tunnel for the purpose of changing horses.

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Here’s a little something that has surely saved my life in London countless times.  I wonder how many foreigners had unfortunate run-ins with cars and motorbikes before the city started directing us which way to look before crossing the street.

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We spent most of our weekend in the Notting Hill area where #2 son lives these days.  It can be a bit crowded on Saturday due to the wonderful and popular Portobello Street Market but otherwise a fabulous neighborhood.  We especially enjoyed a wonderful dinner on the outside patio of Portobello Ristorante Pizzaria, 7 Ladbrook Road, (Thanks Janos and Sevgi!)

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On our way to Whole Foods on High Street Kensington (their upstairs food court is a wonderful spot for lunch) we were lucky enough to arrive just in time to help celebrate this company’s return from duty in Iraq.   A bystander informed us that there is a little parade and ceremony for each troop as they make their way home.  Welcome home guys!

Here's a quick glimpse of the french countryside from the window of the Eurostar. We are looking forward to renting a car in a couple of weeks to explore la campagne.
Here’s a quick glimpse of the french countryside from the window of the Eurostar. We are looking forward to renting a car in a couple of weeks to explore la campagne.

Another rainy day in Paris

Another rainy day in Paris.  How does that Billy Joel song go?
It’s a rainy night in Paris, and I’m sitting by the Seine,
It’s a pleasure to be soaking in the European rain,
Now my belly’s full of fancy food and wine,
But in the morning there’ll be hell to pay
Somewhere along the line.
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This is what Anna wanted to do after finishing her schoolwork.  I, on the other hand, just wanted to get out for some fresh air so I grabbed the raincoat and umbrella and set out to wander.  I decided to turn down every small cobble-stoned street that I could find.
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Now here’s one of the magical things about Paris.  I emerged from one on these passageways to this spectacular sight.  I’ve been to Notre Dame many times, climbed the claustrophobic circular stone staircase to stand nose to nose with the gargoyles, but I still find it thrilling to round a corner and come face to face with Our Grand Lady.
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What to do on rainy sunday in Paris

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What to do on a rainy Sunday in Paris?  Well, it’s the first weekend of the month which means that the museums are free.  That also mean that the museums are incredibly crowded….the lines at the Musee D’Orsay were hours long.  Most shops are closed and you can only sit at a cafe drinking chocolat for so long.  That is why we were pleased to encounter this crowd of people right on our very own Rue Bonaparte.  There was an air of excitement and anticipation but no signage to indicate what was going on.  Obviously we just had to stop and watch like everyone else.

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Turns out that this was the Hermes Ready to Wear Fashion Show (Fall 2012 line) and we quite enjoyed watching the models, designers, and special guests arrive.   I especially enjoyed watching the paparazzi, which, by the way, must be a very boring way to make a living 99.9 percent of the time.

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So after a little Internet sleuthing, we found the schedule for the other designers’ shows and set out once more.  This time we were looking for the Yves St Laurent show and all we knew is that it would be at the Jardin Des Plantes in the 5th arrondissement.   It was dusk when we arrived via metro and since we didn’t have an address, we just started circling the perimeter of the park in search of clues.  In case you are wondering how large this park is I have downloaded this lovely map below.

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See…that’s a big park.  We were about 3/4 of the way around, it’s was raining and cold and very dark by this point and we were considering heading back to the station when we the Mercedes and the Jaguars began to arrive.  Then came the camera flashes and the rush of the paparazzi.  We approached the crowd just in time to see Salma Hayak slip into the gates then stood for quite a while to do what Anna was there to do, which is to critique the wonderful dresses, coats, shoes and hair styles of the fashionistas.

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Just as we were about to succumb to the elements and head for home we noticed that the photographers were beginning to chatter and jostle with each other in an even more noticeable fashion.  The next car to pull up to to gate was instantly surrounded and a gentleman (a driver, I think) called Anna and me to step out into the street to watch.
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So here it is, my first and last paparazzi shot. Good thing Katy Perry has blue hair or she might not have been so recognizable from our vantage point.

In the mood for Love!

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Have you heard of the love locks of Paris?  This is how it works…the happy couple puts their initials on a padlock, clips it onto one of two bridges in Paris and throws the key into the Seine as a symbol of their undying love.  This is the Pont des Arts, a nice little pedestrian bridge that connects the 6th arrondisement to  the Palais du Louvre in the 1st.  Supposedly, this is the bridge to which you affix your love lock if you are in a committed relationship.  The other lock-festooned bridge is over by Notre Dame and is apparently designated for those lovers who may not be quite ready for the commitment bridge.  I hear that that “lovers fling” bridge has many more locks on it than this one so we’ll have to check it out.

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This lovely old lock caught my eye because the initials are those of my brother and father, neither of whom, I hope, traveled to Paris in 2009 with a certain LGB.

In the mood for a room with a view!

View to the left...Place St Germain des Pres
View to the left…Place St Germain des Pres

Greetings from Paris!  I’ve decided to hijack my own blog for the next couple of months and use it as a way to keep in touch with friend and family during our sabbatical.  First stop, Paris, where we have rented a delightful little apartment on the left bank.  As much as I love the woodsy views of our home in North Carolina, it’s such a treat to have this beautiful city right on the other side of these charming, floor to ceiling casement windows.

 

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View to the right…Rue Bonaparte

Anna and I left home on leap day… a fitting date to start a journey, wouldn’t you say?  We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, stiff legged and foggy brained, as are all who endure the ridiculously small seats of coach class for 8 hours.  We were met at our apartment on Rue Bonaparte by the rental agent, a lovely young american from Maryland, who gave us the keys and a couple of instructions and was off.  Too tired to search for a great lunch spot, we popped in the first cafe we saw and ended up with a somewhat forgettable meal and went straight back for a nap.

Now I hate jet lag as much as anyone and possibly more than most.  But getting my daughter up after a 2 hour snooze was near to impossible.  So, while Anna was comatose on the couch, I ran to the Monoprix to purchase our basic survival items…water, fruit, yogurt, coffee (for me) and chocolate (for her).

It was the promise of pizza that got Anna back on her feet that first evening and we found a wonderful little restaurant Pizzaria Positano (15 rue Cannettes, 6eme).  The pizzas came straight out of the wood fired oven and had that wonderful crunchy yet chewy crust that we love.

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View from bedroom windows

So we are off to a great start!  I’ll try to post a little something each day and possibly add some recipes if I ever get around to cooking again!  Please send us hellos using the comment button below.

In the mood for Banana Bars!

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Here’s a wonderfully easy and extraordinarily tasty little bar recipe that I tried this week.  I needed to use up some over-ripe bananas and was in the mood to try something different.  Since I am traveling right now and not in possession of my collection of cookbooks, I moseyed on over to Tastespotting and searched for photos with the keyword “banana”.  So… this recipe is comes courtesy of Cooking Classy and it is definitely a keeper!  Enjoy!

For the base:
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons applesauce
1 egg
1 cup over-ripe mashed bananas (about 2 large bananas)
For the frosting:
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup pecans, lightly toasted and chopped
Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients for the base in a large mixing bowl.  Mix with an electric mixer for 2 minutes.  Pour mixture in to a buttered 13×9 inch baking pan and spread evenly.  Bake about 20-25 minutes…until edges are just beginning to turn golden and center is puffed and set.  Cool completely.
Mix the 5 frosting ingredients together in a medium bowl.  Whip until fluffy.  Spread evenly over cooled banana base and sprinkle with chopped pecans.
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