Saturday, April 14, 2018

Cooking Lessons

Another activity that Judy had signed up for was a Cooking Lesson sponsored by WICE, an organization that conducts English language courses and tours. This lesson would deal with the preparation of Sole Normande and Babas au Rhum.
Judy had already cancelled one of her scheduled outings due to illness and she was not feeling too well on the day of this class. She encouraged me to go and, rather than throw away the $100 fee for the lesson, I happily went to learn how to cook.

We were to meet in front of the MacDonald's on Rue de la Poissoniere (loosely, fish market, person who sells fish). This was appropriate as we were going to cook fish. I saw a woman waiting in front so I asked if she was attending the class. She was. We introduced each other. Her name is Meredith. She said she was staying on Ile St. Louis. I said that we had had drinks with friends on Ile St. Louis the night before. She said, "Merv and Ruth Rothstein?". Yes, what a coincidence. We had met Merv and Ruth through Jo. Proving Merv's point of "1 degree of separation!" Meredith also knows the owners of the apartment we rented the past few years.

Anyway, I digress. Cooking. There were 8 of us in the class, including one other guy, Sean, from New Zealand. Most of them had attended other cooking classes and some worked in the food industry as caterers, etc. All were foodies, except me.

The instructor was Randall Price a well known chef who teaches at a local culinary institute and also cooks for celebrities. As part of an answer to a question about celebrities, he said that Antonio Banderas was pretty short. Judy said, "So what!"

He started by making the dough for the babas. They should sit for several days before soaking in rum and serving. So he brought some from home and he made a new batch to show us how.

The recipe was pretty simple but one of the secrets is to "Cup and Slap" the dough on the side of the bowl while mixing it by hand. The result will be a dough with a bit of a shine to it. Of course, instead of cupping and slapping, you could accomplish the same thing in a food processor in 1/3 of the time.

While the dough rose (twice), Chef Randall prepared the stuffing (Mushrooms Duxelles) and began cutting and rolling the fish fillets with it. (As sole was not available at his market, plus it is very expensive,he used durade, sea bream, or said that any thin, flatfish would do.)

Et, voila! Rolled, stuffed fish standing on end in the pan. No toothpicks, etc, just all wedged in the pan.

Then came the dessert. The previously prepared Babas were wedged in a pan and doused in the rum sauce. They were turned  multiple times to make sure they were fully saturated. 
It was then our turn to participate.

First the Sole Normande with rice with lemon zest and mussels (I may use shrimp instead of mussels.). The mushroom decorations had wedges or diamonds carved in them for a nice touch.

And for dessert, Baba au Rhum with a nice glass of chilled white wine. Randal spritzed a bit more rum on his, as is the custom. When I tried the same thing, my spritz-finger slipped and I poured another couple of servings of rum on my baba... I soaked up all that rum with this delicious cake. 

Too bad Judy couldn't make it. But, I'll prepare the whole meal for her one day. I have the recipe. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Museums and Exhibits

There are many museums and exhibition halls in Paris, from the well known, like the Louvre, to lesser known but very good museums. Here are a few exhibits we've been to lately.

First, a real surprise for me. We went to an exhibit with Craig and Julien to check out the Manga artist Naoki Urasawa.  I never heard of him but maybe the kids or grandkids have. Manga is a sort of Japanese graphic comic book loaded with normal heroes and super-heroes who try to save themselves and maybe the world.
Bat-Boy, a crime fighter

Same with PLUTO, who has super powers.

This story was about young siblings who were  orphans. The brother got into financial trouble with bad characters. The sister said she would pay back the money for the brother. The bad guys wanted her to become a prostitute but she refused and said she would learn how to play tennis and win Wimbledon to get the money to save her brother. Of course, after a struggle, she succeeds and all are saved.

So, you see they are  inspirational stories that can appeal to adults as well as young adults.

This sketch says, "Stop spending your time drawing Manga. Study!"

We really enjoyed this exhibit even though we had no real knowledge of the artist or the art of Manga.

A few days later, Judy got invited to go with Claire to the opening of the Delacroix exhibit at the Louvre. This was a pretty classy event. She got all dressed up and would loved to have had a chauffeur drive them into the Courtyard of the Louvre instead of taking the metro.
This was a very comprehensive collection of Delacroix' work. The beautiful setting was not too crowded either. Plenty of room to enjoy the paintings, especially this famous painting of Liberty leading the French Citizenry in one the many French Revolutions.

Although classical trained like most of his predecessors, he broke away a bit and painted a little looser. One can see brush strokes in his paintings which were really not visible in some of the works of earlier painters. This one looks a lot like Monet's Etretat paintings.

Judy was struck by Delacroix' sketch pad, which was on display. Very interesting.

At the Manga exhibit, there were sketch books from the artist, Urasawa, as well. All good artists keep a log of their sketches, thoughts, ideas, etc.

On another day, after lunch at Creperie Suzette, our new favorite crepe place  on Rue Franc Bourgois, we decided to continue to the nearby Picasso Museum. There was an exhibit dedicated to his famous painting, Guernica.
Once entering the museum,  there was a guide who walked you through many of the symbols and references that Picasso had included in his work, Guernica. These symbols include, bulls, horseheads, women with lamps, etc.  If you expand the photo, you can see the arrows pointing to different areas and giving some background on their meaning.
Picasso had already planned on showing his latest, large work at the Spanish pavilion at an exhibit in Paris in 1937. He was nearly finished with his painting when, during the Spanish Civil War, the German and Italian air force bombed the small Spanish town of Guernica, killing many defenseless people including many women and children. Here is a French newspaper with the account of the attack on the left column of the front page.
Picasso was so outraged by this attack on his country men that he quickly modified his original work to include many symbols of the violence of war. This work was now "Guernica" and it became an anti-war and anti-fascist icon.

Although this is not the real "Guernica", it is a copy to show the actual size of the painting. It is about 12 feet high by 26 feet long. Picasso only took a short time to add his anti-war references to his original work 

During WWII, Guernica was sent to NYC for safe-keeping and has since travelled the world. It ended up in Spain at the Prado and has since been moved to the Queen Sofia Museum in Madrid. 

This was a well done and enlightening exhibit that gave us a new understanding and appreciation of a world famous piece of art. 

Monday, April 9, 2018


On any given day, there are many classical music concerts in Paris. Especially in the churches, you can find recitals of works by Vivaldi, Beethoven, Bach, Chopin to name a few. We know these names as Questions to Answers on Jeopardy or from clues in a Crossword Puzzle. But, I think that Europeans are more aware of the "Classics" than we are. Of course, we have our own set of "Classics" that we can be proud of.

Last week, Jacques invited us to a violin concert at the relatively new Symphonie Hall at La Cite de la Musique. This is an amazing, modern structure on the outskirts of Paris by Porte de Pantin. It is located in an expansive plaza. There were a number of buildings associated with the music hall so we got a bit lost finding exactly where we needed to be. This is the view of the Symphonie Hall coming from La Cite de la Musique which we entered by mistake looking for the restaurant. The guards let us go out the Emergency Exit to get to right place.

We had dinner in a terrific restaurant on a balcony overlooking Paris then went downstairs to the concert hall. The setting was spectacular. When we entered the concert hall, we went down steps that were at an angle, not straight down. Really interesting architecture.
Oh, and the concert was terrific too. Joshua Bell, a world re-known violinist put on a great performance that everyone appreciated. After several encores, we headed out to take the metro back to our apartment. Jacques and Claire switched at the Stalingrad station and we continued to Bastille, then switched to the Line 1 to get to Hotel de Ville. Here is a photo of the metro at 11:30 on our way  home.

Last night we went to a High Mass Choir concert at the church closest to us, Notre Dame des Blancs Manteaux (Our Lady of the White Coats??). This church is just around the corner from us.
So, we figured a little more culture wouldn't hurt. Even if I don't understand or fully appreciate all the music, the setting was worth the price of admission. 
You can almost see the soloists (a soprano, tenor and baritone walk into a bar...) in the foreground with the musicians and choir in the background. Different sections of the mass were sung by the choir or by one or more soloists so we could follow along in the program. 

Of course you can also get your share of music by walking through some of the metro stations or on the metro itself, or even on the street leading to the Place des Vosges. 
The old lady was having a great time dancing to the music of this ragtime band.

(All this talk of music reminds me to look into Jonny Lang and Buddy Guy tickets this summer.)

What's to Eat?

Our first guests for dinner were Craig and Julien who own/operate the two American style restaurants in Paris called Breakfast in America. (see Craig's book, Pancakes in Paris, about his struggles to open this restaurnt.) We had breakfast with them soon after our arrival and saw that Julien is nearly a vegetarian and Craig ate the Lumberjack special so we knew he was a meat eater.

So we decided on vegetable lasagna with meat sauce on the side. We found a recipe on line by two Aussie brothers (I think) that was pretty good. We made a ton of it so even though we all had seconds (thirds?) there was still enough for another meal or two.

One thing I had to learn in retirement is to never ask, "What's for Lunch?" With that in mind, we set out on a walk to find a restaurant and to see what was going on at the Pompidou Center near our apartment. There were a few interesting exhibits but there were lines (not too long, but, still, lines) so we kept walking and went into the massive St. Eustach church.

The Alter
 We had been by it a number of times but never stopped in. What an incredible structure. It was started in the 1200's and took more than a century to complete. Usually when something takes that long, there would be several styles of architecture, but this church is all in the same style.

The Giant Pipe Organ

Just beyond the church is the famous restaurant, Au Pied Du Cochon. We were just going to have a bowl of soup for lunch. But after an aperatif called Aperol...

The restaurant seemed so warm and inviting that we decided to stay for lunch.

They are known for their Onion soup and all things related to the pig, like ears, feet, tails, ribs, hooves, etc.  Judy had fish and I had chicken

So, a few days passed and we were looking for lunch again. So we took a stroll down the Rue des Rossiers in our neighborhood.

And we lined up for Falafal at one of the several Falafal stands on this busy little street.

Hey, a  man's got to eat!

Saturday was market day behind Hotel de Ville so we invited, Jacques, Claire and Jo for lunch. I had my mind on Choucroute ( a sort of  French version of a New England boiled dinner ) since we got here, so we went to the vendor who sold everything from Paella, to beef bourguignon to piles of choucroute. You basically order for the number of diners and then they weigh it all and you pay by the kilo.

We lugged the kilos worth of sauerkraut, potatos and sausages home and Judy and 
Claire turned it into this.

We finished off the leftovers last night. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Arrival in Paris

We made it to the Porto airport in plenty of time. We checked in the car at SixT rental. The guy checked the car and notice a small scrape on the right rear wheel. I'm sure it was there when we picked up the car but we didn't notice it in the dark.. Anyway, they guy gets out a ruler and says he is supposed to note anything that exceeds 5 cms (about 2 inches). Jacques was about to get into it with the guy but he told me he would not note the scrape but I should be more careful inspecting next time. Adios, Portugal.

The next day, Jacques drove us to our new apartment on Rue Bourg Tibourg in the Marais section of Paris. It is in a great location with a super market (small) across the street and lots of restaurants and cafes in the area. It is only 1 block off the main drag that runs through the center of Paris. Also, great bus lines and the main metro line through the city.

So, we were happy to see the welcoming site of the Eiffel Tower as we drove into Paris. Did we say it rained a lot since we've been here?

We first had to go to the office of the rental agency to get the key for the apartment and give a security deposit. Paris is cracking down on short term rentals by private parties, so we had to go through an agency to be legal. We finally arrived at our apartment. It is on a very narrow street, so we had to quickly empty the trunk and place our 6 weeks worth of luggage on the sidewalk in front of  the door to the building. We bid farewell to Jacques and we used the key to get us into the hallway of the building.

The building is very old (15th or 16th century) but they managed to retro-fit a tiny elevator in the stairway. This is the hallway with the elevator at the end. Maximum 2 people.

I took the stairs to the apt. 4th floor (3rd floor in Europe). The stairs are steep, crooked and narrow. I don't think they are to code...
But once in the apartment, we were very pleased. It is old but charming. Here is our living room. There is plenty of room and comfortable chairs.  Notice the beams. Real beams. The bedroom is the same size and there is a nice bathroom with a glass shower. There is also second half-bath. We are very pleased with this place. 

You may wonder how people were able to move furniture into an apartment with a stairway like ours. Well we witnessed what people do when neighbors across the street moved into their 5th floor apartment. 

Load the furniture onto a platform and....
 Run it up to the window of the apartment.
Simple enough.
I was wondering if they were moving Dracula into the apartment but noticed they were wrapping all the furniture and boxes in black.

To be continued...

Porto and Environs...

While we took in the sites at Belem, I programmed the GPS to take us to the Historic City of Coimbra, the former capital of Portugal which is now famous for its University. I locked in on "Centre Ville" of Coimbra and off we went. After about an hour we passed a sign that indicated to take the next exit for Coimbra. But the gps in the car said to turn in 40 kms. So, I believed the gps. Jacques thought we should have exited, but I kept going. I don't usually believe the gps in the States, why would I believe it in a foreign country. So, we soon stopped at a service area and checked one of those paper things with lines all over it called a MAP and saw that we were probably about 35 kms off track. As we had missed having our lunch in Coimbra we decided to eat at the high end restaurant at the service stop. It was a "Self-serve" restaurant which only meant you served yourself to the tray and silverware, then a guy would serve you one of two things. You had a choice of "this" or "that". The "this" was codfish which seems to be the national dish of Portugal. Jacques, Claire and Judy picked "this". I picked "that" which I'm still not sure what it was.

Anyway, we backtracked and headed to our hotel in Porto, the Castello Santa Catarina.

We found the hotel with the gps and Judy was pretty nervous. It was in a pretty sketchy neighborhood and one a street with a lot of boarded up buildings.

But, after roaming around the street a bit, Jacques found the entrance to the parking area for the Castello San Catarina.
The entrance was a bit deceiving as we couldn't see much of the castle/hotel and what we saw was covered in scaffolding as they were doing major repairs to the outside of the building, especially one of the towers. But here are a few pictures of the hotel.

Our room, small but very comfortable

Very modern bath.

A sitting area in the garden

The Chapel for the castle

The Tower being repaired and cleaned

The breakfast was terrific too. All in all, a very nice place to spend a few days. It will  be even nicer when all the upgrades, etc will be finished. Don't let the blue skies fool you. There was a downpour soon after this photo was taken.

As mentioned, the area seemed a bit sketchy, but the Rua Santa Catarina lead directly into town and became a pedestrian walkway with many restaurants and shops. Kinda touristy but nice. We walked from the hotel a couple of times. We ate dinner at a local place downtown that the nice guy at the hotel desk recommended. The special of the day was, you guessed it, Cod. I think I had turkey.

When we had a little sun, so we took our time on the walk and stopped into a beautiful old church that had one whole outside wall that was tiled with what looked like the history of Portugal.

The next day we planned on the Hop On/Off bus. We got absolutely drenched walking down Rua Santa Catarina. I even bought a 5 euro umbrella on the way to find the bus. When we got on, we realized that all the people were enclosed in the inside of the bus due to the storm(no one on the open air top)  and all the windows were totally fogged up. Seats were at a premium and dry seats were impossible to find. We nearly had a major battle between a French woman who said she needed to put her leg up on a free seat and a Portugese woman who said she wanted that free seat.
As we couldn't see a thing out the window, we had no idea where we were in the loop of the city. Once we crossed the river, we had an idea where we were and then soon Hopped Off where we had Hopped On a couple of hours earlier.

Walking back towards the hotel, we stopped in a charming old Cafe, The Majestic, to dry off and have lunch.
The food was OK and the service was pretty good. In fact, the maitre d' even took my meal off the bill when I showed him the plastic wrapping paper that I found in my cheeseburger. But, look at the presentation of Judy's dessert. They put the fork on the plate, then sprinkled the cinnamon and then removed the fork, leaving this shadow of the fork. Really clever.

The rain let up a bit so we walked to an indoor market, loaded with meat, cheese, fish and vegetable stands.

And this happy lady selling Port wine. I bought a bottle for Jane and Chris B. I hope it makes it all the way back to the states.

From Porto we headed to the small town of Braga on our way to our next stop at the Pousada.

Our next stop was at Viana del Castello, a Pousada north of Porto. The Pousadas are former castles or large residences that have been taken over by the government and turned into hotels. They are all over Portugal and Spain. We had lunch at a small cafĂ© just below our hotel. Codfish was  the specialty of the day.
We were just above the church of Santa Luzia. Claire, Judy and I had massages at this spa and enjoyed a nice dinner in the spacious dinning room where the waiter gave Judy a free re-fill on her glass of Champagne.
This is a view from our window with the Atlantic in the background. 
When we left the hotel, we road down the windy road to this church but didn't get out of the car because we were in the middle of a hail-storm. After about an inch or more of hail piled up on the windshield, I made the management decision to head down from the higher altitude to sea-level. 

The sun came out by the time we came down from the  hill, so we stopped to get a good luck at the Atlantic. "The seas were angry that day, by friend."

Our last stop on our quick tour was a  little town suggested to us by the hotel manager, Ponte de Lima. It had quaint little old section along the river. We parked our car  in the banks of the river and walked around the town.
The bridge (ponte) over the Lima river.

Did I mention we had a lot of rain during the week?

Old town, Ponte de Lima

Ancient Church, one of thousands in the cities and towns of Portugal

Calling to confirm our flight back to Paris...

After lunch in a restaurant crowded with locals, we had our last taste of Codfish and drove back to the airport in Porto and our flight to Paris aboard our favorite airline.