Friday, November 23, 2012

Paris in November

Last week, my sister and I stole away for a bit, I with the bump in tow — because it may be a while before we can pull off such a caper again. Paris is lovely this time of year in its sleepy, drizzly way that allows colors to pop against the gray. The bones of the trees are showing. Without the usual fray of tourists, the city feels truer than in higher seasons, and you notice things like a row of school children trooping down the street en route to a weekend camping trip, kerchiefs tied neatly around their necks and pint-sized packs and bedrolls on their backs.  

We ate, we walked, we shopped for our babies. We ate some more. We took in the Musée d’Orsay's "Impressionism and Fashion" exhibit. 

All the best fall things were out: Chestnut desserts. Truffles. Wild game on the menus. Pumpkin soup and scarves. There was a slow mist falling much of the time, and now and then a thread of woodsmoke curled through it.  
100% chocolate
Without Thanksgiving to stand in their way, the French are already decking their city in Christmas lights and garlands. And we thought American stores were shameless!
After 4 days, the travel bug had been sated and I was ready to get back to Ben and the girls. Onward to turkey, food drives, holidays, family, and not too far in the future, a new baby. 

Here's a round-up of a few favorite spots we managed to hit (and for more, check out last April's post Paris with kids):
Shops and Markets
  • Sunday Bird Market on the Ile de la Cité: I accidentally wandered into this little oasis on my last day in Paris and remembered it had been one of our first destinations, on my first, long-ago trip to the city. Bird and animal markets always make me feel kind of sad, but the sound of all that birdsong concentrated in one place is completely transporting. 
Veggie paella at the Marché Bio
  • L'Epicerie Breizh Café: Recently opened next door to Breizh Café (see below), this shop stocks Breton delicacies such as salted caramels and Bordier butter. 111 rue Vieille du Temple, 3rd.
  • Merci: Stylish concept store in the 3rd, with clothing, home items, perfumes and knickknacks. A portion of proceeds goes to charity. 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 3rd.
  • Monoprix: France's answer to Target, with stores everywhere — though not so cheap anymore with the current exchange rate. The baby and children clothes are good quality (particularly the under-3 year old sizes) and I always come away with an armload, along with a couple jars of Amora mustard from the grocery section.
  • Sunday organic market (marché bio) on the Blvd. de Raspail, between the Rue de Rennes and the Rue du Cherche Midi (6th). Pricey but gorgeous produce and a lively, convivial vibe.
  • Huilerie J. Leblanc: The artisan oil boutique has moved from its boutique at 6, rue Jacob, into Tomat's Epicerie Fine, at 12 rue Jacob (back in the courtyard) in the 6th. My favorite oils are the pistachio, the hazelnut and the walnut. They will bubble-wrap the bottles for you to travel.  
  • BonTon: I have a hopeless weakness for this adorable (and pricey) kids' store, which stocks clothing, home items, and gifts for babies and children. 82, rue de Grenelle, 7th & 5, blvd des Filles du Calvaire, 3rd
  • Le Bon Marché: High-end department store worth checking out just for its amazing food hall on the ground level (La Grande Epicerie de Paris). 24 Rue de Sèvres, 7th.
  • Vanves Flea Market (Le Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves): Saturdays and Sundays, Ave. Marc Sagnier & Av Georges Lafenestre, 14th. If you have a good eye, you might find treasures among the haphazard displays. Though not as great a value as it once was, it's still less expensive than the more curated Marché St. Ouen (Porte de Clignancourt).
  • La Cigale Récamier: 4, rue Récamier, 7th. Who can resist the perfect soufflé, especially after staggering off the red-eye? The menu changes with the seasons. I had the pumpkin with Emmental cheese and Cassie got sea urchin soufflés baked in their spiny shells and presented on a bed of seaweed. We finished with a chocolate soufflé, served with a tiny pitcher of dark chocolate sauce to pour over it.
  • Les Papilles: 30, rue Gay Lussac, 5th. Bistro/wine bar near the Luxembourg gardens. Choose a bottle of wine off the shelf (wine is only by the bottle, and you can take any left over to go) and settle in for dinner — 4 courses of hearty fare that change nightly (set menu, i.e. no choices). There's usually a soup and a meaty dish, a simple cheese course, and dessert. You'll leave pleasantly sated, so plan on walking.
  • Rose Bakery: 30 rue Debelleyme, 3rd (also with locations in the 9th and 12th): Cozy, English-owned café if you're looking for a change from the usual French breakfast. Quiches, tarts, scones and other baked goods made with organic ingredients.
  • Breizh Café: 109 rue Vieille du Temple, 3rd. A favorite in the Marais. Oysters and crêpes, hard cider. My savory buckwheat crêpe: smoked duck, sautéed mushrooms, and Jerusalem artichokes. Dessert: Chestnut cream crêpe served with chestnut ice cream and whipped cream.
  • Spring: 6, rue Bailleul, 1st. Multi-course tasting menu by American-born chef Daniel Rose, served in a small dining room around an open kitchen. A delicious meal (the venison was perfection), and the service was very friendly.
  • Bread & Roses: 7, rue de Fleurus, 6th. Organic bakery and light lunch, tea and coffee.
  • Vivant: 43 rue des Petites Ecuries, 10th. Fun vibe, solid food, and natural wines. Our reservation got messed up, so we ended up at the wine bar next door, which serves a simpler menu of tasty plates.
  • Little Breizh (no relation to Breizh Café, above): 11 rue Gregoire de Tours, 6th. Nice little crêpe shop if you're in the neighborhood, hidden among touristy places.
  • Juveniles: 47 rue de Richelieu, 1st. Always a fun gathering spot, run by Tim Johnston, that attracts Parisians and expats alike. Great wines and food (I worked here many years ago)
  • Le Verre Volé: 67 rue de Lancry, 10th. Fun, hip, and no-frills wine bar and bistro near the Canal St. Martin. Generous portions of tasty food and people-watching (very Brooklyn in Paris!)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Summer, stay a while

Our car is still littered with sand and sky-blue ferry tickets, and the girls' legs have kept a bit of their August brown, but mornings this past week have demanded socks and even jackets. The summer of 2012 was unanimously declared a good one by everyone under this roof – the way summers should be and the way we hope the kids will remember them.   

So good and so very busy, in fact, that I've found it hard to make my way over here, though there's been much to write about. Also…there's the small fact that I'm expecting our third child and haven't had much energy to channel into writing and editing photos…but I plan to make up for lost time before baby boy's January arrival is upon us. So, thank you to those of you who are reading now and who have found your way back here, too.
Driving home on Labor Day, I turned over all the vacation moments in my head like a stash of mementos, and mourned those delicious weeks a bit. Once the last ferry was behind and the soft light of the North Fork ceased shining on us, the malls of Long Island flew by and then the U.S. Open and the hydroponic gardening center, and before I knew it we were home, and the skies opened as if on cue (this, following a nearly unbroken string of sunny days). A couple of days later we were catapulted into the school-year routine.

Summer was sunny days in the foothills and shores, dew on bare feet in the mornings and outdoor showers on August afternoons, looking up at blowing treetops. The briny, funky smell off the marshes drifting through our open windows at night, and the squawking of birds in the bushes our alarm clock in the morning, before the sun even burned through the fog. For Ben, plucking at the banjo – and getting pretty good at it. For me, stolen time on porches and in hammocks with a good book. For the girls, learning to sail and ride horses, kayaking and catching hermit crabs with friends in the shallow inlets around the island. There was good fun with cousins, grandparents, aunties and uncles – and a brand-new baby cousin with sweet toes and a fuzzy head. We read Harry Potter, Book 4 together way too late into the night, most nights. There were rosé-soaked days out on the water with friends – long, breezy days heeling along in the sailboat, or anchored and swimming off the back, the grownups just as gleeful as the under-ten set.


And of course there was eating – plenty of it, because summer wouldn't be right without a succession of satisfying feasts, usually a team effort among friends and family. And because, this summer, I was hungry. Hungry for fish tacos, succotash, ribs, pulled pork, fried shrimp. Blueberry picking and eating, as always. Lobsters and stone fruit crumbles. Ice creams churned by my beloved new ice cream maker, the one I treated myself to in June. Local clams, dug and baked by friends. And a favorite I'd like to share, because we've enjoyed it so much these past couple of summers that I would be stingy not to post it here.

The original recipe for this green gazpacho appeared in Molly Katzen’s Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook, but I credit friends Tara and Josh for their particular spin, which always makes people go quiet for a moment when they first taste it – in a good way – because the soup is so unexpectedly creamy and rich for the healthy vegan recipe it is. This version uses tomatillos in place of the green tomatoes called for in the original, and most importantly, a sprinkling of freshly grilled corn kernels; the sweetness, smokiness, and subtle crunch of the corn is what really makes this soup. Though summer's on the wane, the primary ingredients are still vibrant in our farmers' markets and CSA (in fact, we just got tomatillos and cilantro today), and this is one of the finest uses of tomatillos I know. Enjoy, along with your own summer memories.
Green Gazpacho with Corn
Adapted from Molly Katzen, Enchanted Broccoli Forest  
4 servings


  • 5 largish tomatillos (husked), quartered, seed pulp cut away and discarded  
  • 1-2 cloves garlic (depending on size), chopped 
  • 1-2 cucumbers (depending on size), peeled, seeded, and chopped 
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced  
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, chopped and seeds removed (leave a few in if you like heat)  
  • A few sprigs parsley
  • 1 small handful cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (cider vinegar or red wine vinegar are best)  
  • Juice of 2 limes  
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil  
  • Sea salt to taste  
  • 1 teaspoon honey or a pinch of sugar
  •  3/4 cup cold water – more if needed
  • Kernels cut from 2 ears of cooked corn – preferably grilled (any method of cooking works)

Throw everything in blender but corn. Process until smooth. Add a little more water if it seems too thick, and more salt if needed. Chill. Serve in bowls with corn kernels sprinkled on top.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Seen in May

So hard to believe sweet May has come and gone, and that sultrier days and the end of school loom on the horizon. Here are some glimpses of the past month, and a cherished recipe to share: Claudia Fleming's buttermilk panna cotta, one of our favorite ways to show off the tender little strawberries that are bringing a bright pop of color to fields and farmers' markets right now. Be sure to try this creamy, gently tangy dessert; it's a bit like a custard but lighter and spruces up nicely for guests, too.

And, I can't help but lose hours at a time to Nigel Slater's gorgeous cookbook Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard at the moment – particularly the juicy section devoted to strawberries. For less-than-stellar berries, Slater recommends quartering and dusting the fruit with sugar and finely grated orange zest, then setting aside for an hour to mellow.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberries

  • 1 1/2 tsp. powdered gelatin
  • 7 TBS sugar plus additional for tossing with strawberries
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy (whipping) cream
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split longways (optional - you can get by without the vanilla bean)
  • Strawberries – pile them on, the best you can find!

Place the gelatin in a small bowl and add 1 TBS cold water. Let the gelatin sit for 5 min. to soften. 

Meanwhile, in a small pot, warm the cream and sugar over medium heat, whisking occasionally until sugar is dissolved. With the blade of a paring knife, scrape the vanilla pulp from both pod halves into the cream (reserve the pods for making vanilla sugar: put in a jar with a cup of sugar and keep in your cabinet). Whisk the gelatin into the cream until it is incorporated. Turn off the heat and add the buttermilk, then strain the whole mixture into a spouted measuring cup. Pour carefully into ramekins or pretty serving bowls and transfer to the refrigerator to chill for at least 3 hours (or until firm) before serving. 

About an hour before serving, slice the strawberries into halves or quarters and put in a bowl. Sprinkle with a little bit of sugar and let these sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally. When you're ready to serve the berries will have made their own sauce, which you can spoon with the strawberries over the panna cotta.  

Happy trails, May!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Paris with kids: a few of our favorite things

For our recent trip to Paris (there will be more, we hope) the goal was really just to let the kids soak in a new culture and allow this great city to wash over them–not to cram a heavy itinerary of museums and sights into the eight days we had. You’ll notice an absence of such biggies as the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay – but those you can find in any guide book. Here’s our list of what we liked best, both general and specific:
Boat tour of the Seine: An excellent way to see the city (if you have a horror of all things touristy, get over it! This is worth it). We hopped aboard the Bateaux Parisians since they were conveniently located near the Quai de la Bourdonnais near the Eiffel Tower (7th arrondissement, where we stayed). Hand-held audio guides were useful for historical background and, on cue from the guide, a group of French schoolchildren broke into a rendition of Les Champs-Élysées. It was charming and kind of magical. 

You can also take the larger Bateaux Mouches from near the Pont de l'Alma (8th), or the smaller, quainter Vedettes du Pont-Neuf from the Ile de la Cité (1st). There are others still. Though we bought tickets and walked on just before departure, it's probably best to book ahead during busier times of year.   

Le Musée de la Poupée (doll museum) made a fun and strangely fascinating destination on the day we visited the Centre Pompidou, which is across the street (4th) – and has contemporary art installations and sweeping views of the city. The girls were also riveted by the street performers in the area, such as the man spinning giant bubbles from a piece of rope and a bucket of suds, and another man creating uncanny bird calls that reached us all the way atop the museum. But the real highlight for my daughters was making friends with a couple of  panhandlers and their adorable puppies, one of which was wearing a miniature, leatherette biker vest.

Deyrolle: We never made it to the Musée D'Orsay because we got so entranced by this "cabinet of curiosities" in the 6th. 

Luxembourg Gardens These gorgeous, sculpted gardens in the 5th are a delight for all ages. There's a merry-go-round, a lake for sailing model boats, and the famous Théâtre des Marionnettes de Paris (puppet theater). The surrounding neighborhood is also fertile shopping grounds, so my Mom and I peeled off while the men "babysat" — which was more than O.K. with them, since it involved sitting in the sun, enjoying a beer from a nearby kiosk while the girls played.        

Champ du Mars was our neighborhood playground. At the foot of the Eiffel Tower, this expanse of lawns, gardens and children's activities was in full splendor in April. Kids can ride a mini carousel and play the ring game, kick a ball around, or race pedal cars around a track. On the other side of the tower, next to the river, is a larger carousel (this area gets very crowded).
Beauté Animale exhibit at the Grand Palais, through July 6th, 2012 (Place Clemenceau, Paris 8th)  

Notre-Dame cathedral had lines out the door and we didn't really fancy waiting in the rain, so we checked out the gargoyles and carvings on the exterior, and then strolled over to the Pont St.-Louis to the Ile St.-Louis. Berthillon, the famous ice cream shop at 31 rue St. Louis en l'ile (4th), was closed, but luckily dozens of smaller shops on the island serve up a smaller selection of the delectable frozen treat, in flavors such as melon and green apple sorbet, and salted caramel ice cream. Afterwards, we walked across the Pont de l'Archevêché, where the girls were fascinated by all the padlocks lovers had clamped to the bridge to declare their undying devotion to one another (how many are still together? I had to wonder).

Tasting new things: Before leaving, we gave our kids the "you-will-try-new-things-and-not-complain" speech. Apparently it worked, because my six-year-old, who would happily subsist on Annie's mac-n-cheese, ate an escargot, a raw oyster, and a cornichon (among other exotic fare). The seven-year-old, who normally loathes eggs, discovered she adores soufflés. We also tried to teach them the fine art of lingering at the table, as meals in Paris naturally seem to stretch out for half the day.

To Market, to Market: Taking kids through a market street such as the Rue Cler or Rue Montorgueil; an open-air farmers' market; or even the local supermarché G20 is a great way for them to get a sense of the food culture. Our daughters were fascinated by all the strange, colorful labels at the grocery store and the ripe smells wafting from local cheese shops like Marie-Anne Cantin (where they kindly shrink-wrapped a nice Epoisses and Camembert for us, for the flight back). We were delighted to discover that our apartment came with a granny cart, making light work of a shopping trip to the Saxe-Breteuil Saturday market (where my 6-year-old was traumatized by the sight of "half a piggy")…we never made it to my favorite of all markets, the Sunday Marché Biologique (organic farmers' market) on the Rue de Raspail. (Click here for a good list of roving markets.) 

Night Walks are perhaps our favorite part of Paris, with or without kids. The city of lights really does live up to its hackneyed nickname after dark, when the sights and the river are at their luminous best. Rarely did the girls complain about these walks, and because they never quite adjusted to the time change we were up quite late roaming the city streets. We made sure to catch sight of the Eiffel tower, which twinkles every hour on the hour, from 9-1, and also took in the glowing pyramids of the Louvre (below). 
Favorite Restaurants (just a few, in addition to the many neighborhood cafés we visited):

Breizh Café: Organic crepes, cidre, and oysters in the Marais (3rd). Reserve for a Sunday lunch, then walk around the neighborhood; be sure and stroll through the Place des Vosges

La Cigale Récamier Impeccable soufflés both savory and sweet (flavors change with the seasons), plus salads and some non-soufflé fare, in the 7th (St. Germain area). We often go here without kids, and although the girls loved the experience, it's a pretty hushed, grown-up scene and we were glad for the couple of pens and paper scraps we had brought along to keep them occupied.


Semilla The brand-new joint venture of Drew Harré and Juan Sanchez (Drew also owns Fish la Boissonerie across the street, as well as the original Cosi, next door; both are great bets). Flavors are light and clear, and Ben is still dreaming of the blanquette de veau he ordered.  
Le Café du Commerce (51 Rue du Commerce, 15th). The food was nothing exceptional, but the space is fun and lively and feels perfectly preserved from 1921, when the restaurant first opened. We sat at the top of the 3-story space and looked down on all the diners below, and the level of energy and noise seemed just right. The menu offers traditional bistro fare and a small kids' menu.

The night we were on our own, Ben and I enjoyed dinner at Passage 53, set in the Passage des Panoramas (right), near the Bourse (2nd). This tiny place has only two seatings per night and a set 10-course menu – meaning you don't know what you're getting until it's in front of you. Minimal and seasonally-driven, the food was delicious, one of our favorite courses being St. Pierre (aka John Dory fish) with morels, asparagus, farro, and a colorful scattering of wild herbs and flowers. 

If you are in this neighborhood, be sure and check out Juveniles restaurant and wine bar, where I used to uncork lots and lots of bottles – always a good time, great wine list and tasty food. Around the corner is the fantastic Willi's Wine Bar, and the gardens of the Palais Royal.

There was so much we didn't get to do. The Jardin d'Acclimation, Jardin des Plantes, and a day at Versailles, to name a few. We didn't make it up to Montmartre. A week sounds like an impossible wealth when you're on the plane with a trip stretched out in front of you, but soon enough you're back on the plane with a heavy heart and even heavier suitcases.

À la prochaine, Paris!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Paris street art

We've done a lot of walking, here in Paris with the kids, and their stamina has exceeded expectations. One of my favorite things about this city is that the walk itself is often better than the actual destination, and so we've tried to make these strolls entertaining for the girls so they don't notice their feet getting weary. One of the little games we've been playing is "spot the street art". The girls noticed some of these on their own, as well as asking me to translate some of the ubiquitous scrawled messages on walls (which is sometimes better not done). 


It's hard to believe this great trip is coming to an end and that tomorrow we head back to Brooklyn. We're frantically throwing things into suitcases right now, but as soon as we're re-settled I plan on compiling our "best of" from the trip.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Musée de la Poupée

Each morning in Paris, no matter what we have announced our plans for the day to be, the girls have asked "So when can we go to the doll museum?" This morning, to their delight, we announced that the plan was to go to the Musée de la Poupée. The museum is tucked back in a sweet little alleyway amid the madness of Beaubourg, near the Centre Pompidou (modern art museum), next to a little garden in honor of Anne Frank (4th arrondissement). The girls loved it. It's a must do for any kids who are doll lovers, and kind of fascinating from an adult perspective to see the toy trends throughout the years. And, though I'm not sure any irony was intended on the part of the museum's curators, my mom and I were helpless with laughter much of the time. These pictures speak for themselves – no captions necessary. 
Musée de la Poupée: Impasse Berthaud, Paris 3e (open Tues.-Sat. 10-6)

The museum is tiny and doesn't take much time; you can easily add it on to a trip to Beaubourg or the Marais. We began here and then moved on to the Pompidou, where we ate lunch at Georges on the top floor, with a magnificent view and pricey but tasty food (the girls happily split a pasta dish and sipped their Oranginas). We breezed through the museum afterwards, then strolled through les Halles and up the Rue Montorgeuil, a market street around the corner from where I lived, years ago. Much has changed in 15 years, some not a bit. We stopped for pastries at the ancient Patisserie Stohrer at #51, and picked out some of the older storefronts among the modern chain shops.