Eating in Paris

6/30/2013 Sunday 12:10 pm

Food was easily one of the most inspiring parts of our Paris trip.  Food figures into my earlier blogs about our first day in Paris (markets and picnics), the people we visited (our dinner cruise on the Seine), and of course cooking in Paris (our hands-on class with Chef Frederick).

But for sure, our many trips to cafes and restaurants were big highlights.  Not only were the experiences great, and the food and drink tasty, but for a novice French speaker like myself, these were the moments I most-prepared for in my studies. They were at once scary and exhilarating opportunities to practice asking for a table, ordering form the menu, saying thanks and how great everything tasted, indicating I’m a vegetarian, and more.

So before I get right to it, I’d like to mention that I thoroughly enjoyed studying French with the free CoffeeBreak French Podcast.  Teacher Mark and his student Anna (who learns along with you) are from Scotland, and listening to their Scottish accents was as fun as learning the French itself for me.  I cannot recommend these bite-sized conversational French audio mini-courses enough!

OK.  I’ve one other thing to say, and that is that our service was terrific.  I don’t know if we just got lucky day after day… but this whole business of getting lousy service in Paris was absolutely not our experience.  The people we met were talkative, delightful, helpful, forthcoming and welcoming.

It IS another culture, and one helpful tip Glenda read–that we abided by carefully–was to approach shops like you’re going into someone’s home: speak French as well as you can, say hello to the owner, ask before touching things and taking pictures, say goodbye when you leave, etc.  As a result, we had a wonderful time with the many shopkeepers and waiters we met on our journey.

Here’s my sister, Sarina, in one of the countless Cafés we visited.  It seems every street has a café… or five!  And the amazing thing is that they are almost always bustling with activity!


1 Cafe Sarina


Ooo.  The other myth I’d like to debunk is that Paris is a difficult place for vegetarians.  Nope.  It’s a breeze.  My sister and I are both vegetarian, and it was easy to find things to eat on almost every menu.  Like many US menus, in fact, there were often vegetarian sections with even little carrot or leaf icons next to the veggie selections!


2 Vegetarian


The Seine is a marvelous place to pop a squat and have a picnic (or beer, or bottle of wine).  Many do this at night.  Here is Sarina and I enjoying baked open-faced sandwiches (Tartines) that we picked up from a place “to go” (a emporter)–we’re sitting right across from Notre Dame!


3 Sandwiches Seine


So, you may know this, Notre Dame is on one of two little islands in the middle of the Seine.  They are Ile de la Cite (where Notre Dame is) and Ile Saint-Louis where Johnny Depp has a house… and where we ate crepes!  Crepes are, of course, a mainstay, and they come both savory and sweet.  Here’s Dad with a crepe!


4 Crepe Dad


And here’s a closer look at Dad’s crepe.  If you look carefully, you’ll see it’s actually on fire!  It was some tasty, sweet alcoholic flambé crepe.  Mmmmm.


5 Crepe Dad Close Up


Several times in my writings about Paris (and London too, really) I’ve made claims about how there are eateries everywhere, and that it seems everywhere you go there are special shops just for cheese, or wine, or bread, or pastries, or fish, or meat, etc.  Here’s proof: Rue Mouffetard!


6 Rue Mouffetard


We had a particularly good time at the cafe of the Grand Mosque.  We had mint tea, tasty couscous platters, and sat at these fabulous brass tables.  I’ll take this opportunity to also mention that, in retrospect (now that we’ve gotten the Visa bills), the cost of eating in Paris (and London) was really not that bad.  We had many wonderful meals and, overall, we’d say the prices are comparable to what we’d pay in Austin.


7 Mosque


Ah raclette!  What could be better than a giant hunk of cheese melting right in front of you so that you may scoop it off and spread it on bread and potatoes to your heart’s content?  This was a raclette restaurant we visited in Montmartre–one we’ll not soon forget!


8 Raclette Glenda


People In Paris

6/24/2013 Monday 6:36 am

It was amazing to see all the incredible landmarks, works of art and pinnacles of architecture and engineering on our trip to London and Paris.  But for me, the times that I truly felt the most connected abroad, and that I was experiencing these incredible cities at the utmost, were when I got to visit with friends and family.  In London, we met new people like the Beatle Brain, and cousin Laura introduced us to her friends Susan, Isobel, Mikaela, and Zsolt.  And I had the great joy of reconnecting with my college buddy Justin Yoo, and my good friends Xuefei Yang and Neil Muir.

In Paris, we’ve already mentioned our wonderful visit with Glenda’s Uncle Dinh, Aunt Vivienne, and cousin Vincent as well as our incredible class with chef Frederick Dillon Corneck.  But we had other warm and grounding visits that connected us with Paris in deep and powerful ways.

We took the metro up near the famous Paris cemetery Pere Lachaise to meet Glenda’s cousin Catherine and her thoughtful and incredibly smart daughter July for dinner.  We had a delicious vegetarian Vietnamese meal at a restaurant Catherine found, and a wonderful conversation there.  (Glenda adds: Catherine is an artist, and her works may be found here.)


1 Catherine and July


It’s fun to see dogs in restaurants in Paris.  I mean… right up in there!  Once in the while in the US you’ll see dogs in certain parts of certain restaurants–usually outside–but it seems in Paris that there’s a different set of rules regarding canines and cuisine!


2 July Dog


Dad and Vicky took us to Montmartre one day to meet with their dear friends Nancy and Francois. Francois has had this apartment in Montmartre for 50 years!  Nancy and Vicky went to school together, off and on, since the first grade!!!  It was phenomenal to see them together.  Francois is a photographer with photos that have been in major magazines and newspapers, and he and Nancy have been all over the world… like, really, all over the world!  (Glenda adds: they had just returned from Vietnam, and were about to head to their second home in Provence.)


3 Francois & Nancy


Occasionally in Paris you’ll come across 100-year-old florid Art Nouveau iron-work decorative elements—like this one that surrounds the Montmartre metro entrance.


4 Francois Art Nouveau


Montmartre is like the San Francisco of Paris!  The small streets have steep grades, often stairs, and always-incredible views.  It’s no wonder this was such an inspiring and fertile place for some of the greatest artists ever.


5 Francois Steps


And speaking of the greatest artists ever… here’s the last remaining wall of the Bateau Lavoir where so many actually lived right around 1900.  Folks like Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Henri Matisse, and Guillaime Apollinaire lived and worked here.  And this is where Picasso painted his super-famous Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.


6 Francois Bateau


And at the “heart” of Montmartre is Sacre Coeur.  Stunning.


7 Francois Sacre Cour


Equally stunning is the view of the city from the front steps.


8 Francois View


The group was headed for raclette for dinner, but I must mention that I snuck off to the Moulin Rouge to meet my dear friend and phenomenal guitarist and teacher, Judicael Perroy.  I’ve got no pics of Judicael and I, but we had a wonderful visit together walking around the streets of Montmartre and stopping to enjoy a Pastis (anise liqueur).  I first met Judicael in 1999 when he came to Austin as part of his Guitar Foundation of America winner’s tour, and our next rendezvous will be in Austin next April when we bring him back again!  You can watch Judicael play Bach here.  Get ready for beautiful!

OK.  This is cool.  My awesome student Celeste, her mom Lou and her dad Bruce, just happened to be traveling in Paris at the same time we were.  So our family and their family all got together for a dinner cruise on the Seine!  Here’s the whole crew!


9 Celeste


The dinner and conversation were just wonderful, and so were the views.  We found this in London, too–there’s something really special about seeing these great cities from the water.  One of my favorite views was this one, of Paris’ Statue of Liberty (they’ve got one too, of course!) set against the Eiffel Tower!


10 Celeste View


Glenda, as you may have figured out, has quite a bit of extended family in France.  We had a terrific lunch at Fumoir with her second cousin Solivan and we talked about their relatives who live in France, the US, Cambodia and Tahiti. (Glenda adds: Solivan is quite conversant in English, and was able to kindly answer Matthew’s grammar and vocabulary questions about French.)


11 Solivan


And I got to connect with another great guitarist and dear friend on our last night in Paris!  Jeremy Jouve is a fabulous guy, a phenomenal musician, and he rides around Paris on this super-cool motorcycle!


12 Jeremy Bike


Jeremy introduced us to his lovely fiancée Elsa.  We had a tremendous visit and talked about guitar (of course), Paris, and all the goings-on in each other’s lives.  (I went for another Pastis!) (Glenda adds: I did too!).  Here’s Jeremy playing a piece called Cavalcade by Mathias Duplessy: watching this you’ll probably get an idea of how he rides the motorcylcle!


13 Jeremy


Glenda had heard about the view, and the nightly party, at Trocadero.  So that’s where we met Jeremy and Elsa.  As usual Glenda’s Spidey sense led us to a groovy hot spot and it was from Trocadero that we saw, perhaps, the most amazing view of our entire Europe trip.


14 Jeremy Trocadero View

Cooking In Paris

6/18/2013 Tuesday 8:39 am

Cooking is one of Glenda’s and my favorite things to do.  It’s a really big part of both our lives.  I grew up cooking and baking all kinds of things , and almost 13 years ago, Glenda joined a supper club of incredible women who have stayed together since then!  Holiday times mean cooking times, and the days when we can clear our schedules to work side by side in the kitchen are life-giving, joyous days indeed.

Oh yeah, we also love eating!  So we’ve been super-excited about this trip, among other reasons, because we wanted to explore food in Paris.  We visited many restaurants during our week there, but we also had some simple memorable meals at home, visited the markets (les marchés) and even had a phenomenal class with a French chef!

Here I am with my sister, Sarina, in our flat having our typical breakfast of coffee and fresh croissants from the fabulous corner bakery.  Each morning, Dad went out to get the croissants, and usually came back with some other goodies too, like pain au lait, or pain au chocolat!  Yum.


1 Breakfast with Sarina


Without question our culinary highlight of the week was Wednesday, when we spent the morning–and the early afternoon–with Chef Frederick Dillon Corneck.  I realize that his name doesn’t sound particularly French, but he’s quite French, from Normandy, and he was a generous and insightful guide, host and teacher.  (Glenda adds, he said something like, “My middle name and last name are Irish, and I love Irish culture, but I am French.  Nobody’s perfect.” Here Frederick answers a question from Dad about sharpening knives.


2 Class Frederick


The class began with Frederick taking us across the street to a long and bustling market where we walked from one end to the other appraising the large quantities of produce.  There was everything from fruits and veggies to meats, cheeses, dairy products, fish, seafood, spices, dried versions of most of the above, and more.  (Glenda adds, like CD-Roms, kitchen tools, garments, and accessories.  When one vendor saw our group, he hawked, “Paris-style clothing!,” and added in an American accent, “I looove it!”)  Then we stopped for coffee (of course) and made a plan for what we’d make for lunch!  Frederic came up with a marvelous menu on the spot and we set about buying the goods.

Here is Vicky, Dad, and Sarina after we’ve returned from the market with our spoils that included tomatoes, chicken breasts (Glenda adds: chicken boobies), Roquefort cheese, endives, and much more!


5 Class Sarina D&V


Glenda is appraising the goods!  On the far right you see a purple plastic bag.  Those are pre-steamed beets that are, apparently, available at most markets here.  For those we combined fresh chevre with fine-cut shallots, fresh thyme, and chives, and layered the mixture between four thick beet slices to create a vegetarian napoleon, with salt, pepper and drizzles of olive oil and vinegar on top.  (Glenda adds, this was like a napoleon, and the filling was similar to the French dip called cervelle de canut–except we used fresh goat cheese, rather than fresh dairy cheese.)


4Class Dad and Glenda


Here Vicky is quartering a carrot lengthwise, leaving just a bit of the green top, per Frederick’s instructions.  These carrots, along with radishes and these unbelievable new potatoes (grown on an island off the coast of France that is often covered by seawater) that are only available part of the year and not exported due to their rarity, were cooked stove-top with butter and fresh thyme in a covered dish and served as sides.  (Glenda adds, these were the potatoes of my dreams!  They are naturally salty, and Frederick said they have a slight hazelnut taste to them–for me, I tasted walnut.)


3 Class Dad and Vicky

Et voila!  In addition to the veggies and beets we had Œuf  Cocotte à la Crème d’Endive, Roquefort et Noix (for the vegetarians), and La Roulade de Poulet à la Sausage for the meat eaters.  The first was sauteed endives topped with walnuts and cooked in the oven water bath with an egg, and then finished with a creamy gorgonzola sauce.  The second was chicken breasts sliced in half lengthwise and rolled with ham and sage (upper right of this photo).  (Glenda adds, like the Italian dish, saltimbocca.) We also made oven-roasted tomatoes topped with thyme and breadcrumbs a la Provencal–yum.  The lower left is a port-wine reduction he made from deglazing the pot the chicken had been sauteed in.

6 Class Finished


And here’s the finished (meaty) plate!  Ooo, and for dessert (yes, we made and ate dessert too) we had fresh black cherries, peaches and strawberries warmed in boiling honey with thyme.  Unbelievably tasty!  The thyme figured in heavily since it’s what we bought fresh.  (Glenda adds, the thyme was like a through-line for the menu.) We learned so much from Frederick but, among many other things, we were inspired by his spontaneity and his willingness to wait and see what was fresh and high quality before deciding what to make.  I hope very much that our paths will cross again.  (Glenda adds, me too!)


7 Class Plated


There is an amazing array of food options on nearly every street in Paris, it seems.  From restaurants, to take-away places, to markets and supermarkets and specialty shops.  We were struck by this device – which we actually saw several times, that is right out on the street.  Its a giant rotisserie with chicken and meat above and then, in the bottom, there’s a tray of roasting potatoes that’s catching all the drippings from the meat!  Not good for me, the veggie, but still fascinating! (Glenda adds, good for me though, the omnivore!)


8 Chicken and Potatoes


We had loads of fun in the cooking store, E. Dehillerin.  Here you see trays and trays of knives.  This was open to the public, but clearly had anything you’d need for a full commercial establishment.


9 Cooking Store Knives


Including gi-normous ladles!  On the upper right you see ladles that are more or less normal-sized.  But look along the lower shelf from left to right.  Those are all ladles too!  That’s a whole lot of stew!


10 Cooking Store Ladles


One of our favorite specialty shops was this breathtaking and lovingly presented candy shop called Le Bonbon au Palais on Rue de Monge (our flat’s street).  Here in the window you see fresh-made marshmallows in many flavors including Rose, Lychee, Pineapple, and more.  See those cute jars? Imagine an entire shop filled with everything from jellied chili peppers (delicious!) to real candied flowers like violets and rose petals.  Georges, the owner, is downright exuberant, speaks five languages, and simply loves to tell visitors all about the various artisans who make his candies – just for him.  (Glenda adds, and his decor was very charming–filled with elementary school paraphernalia like school desks, globes, diagrammatical posters, even his class pictures and report cards.)  We suspect that the jars are a little low because we turned our family and some American friends visiting Paris on to his shop!


11 Candy Store


So what do you do after buying all these goodies?  You head home and share with friends and family.  Here Dad was preparing a special apertif of white wine over violet (the flower!) syrup he’d picked up in Toulouse.


12 Wine at Home


And I couldn’t help getting a shot of this wine we tried.  I’m sure you can tell from the label alone that it was… exquisite, balanced, deep and engaging yet rounded and sophisticated, with a particularly good nose and body.  Mmmm.  (Glenda adds, what a body!)


13 Wine Mathieu




14 Dinner at Home Toast


And here I am on our final morning in Paris – enjoying our last omelette!  I made this one with the goal of using as many left-over ingredients as possible, so it was eggs with a soft cheese, avocado and tomatoes with toasted day-old pain au lait, coffee and jus de pomme.  Au revoir Paris!


15 Last Day Omelette


6/9/2013 Sunday 11:05 am

We are so excited to be in Paris.  It’s like a different world.  The change in language, the press of people in the Gare du Nord and surrounding streets, and the heat (when we arrived) all made for a clear message to mind and body that we’d arrived in an entirely new place.  Here’s a shot of Glenda in front of the Canal de St Martin near Gare du Nord shortly after we got off the Eurostar–she was excited because, off to the right in the distance, she spotted a store she likes (the colorful store fronts)!  (Glenda adds: Antoine et Lili!!!)

1 Canal


(Glenda adds: after we checked into our hotel and got settled, my Uncle Dinh, his wife, and son Vincent picked us up for dinner in the 13th arrondisement.  We had a Chinese feast!  My Auntie ordered green veggies for M, and then various entrees of poached chicken, fish, a clay pot one, and then soup with tasty squid and tofu.)

We woke up just south of the main city in Cachan near Glenda’s Uncle’s house on our first full day in Paris, and decided to try our first experience with a French marche (market), which was just a few steps from our hotel door.  What a market!  Meats, Fish, Cheese, Vegetables, Wine and more.  We successfully bought Apple Juice, Tomatoes, Baguette, Salami, Speck, Comté, and Roquefort, a small round of goat cheese, and Strawberries all in preparation for a picnic lunch we had planned with Glenda’s Uncle Dinh and his family!


2 Market


And here we are in front of Uncle Dinh’s house with Glenda’s cousin Vincent.  Vincent, by the way, is an extraordinarily talented filmmaker who works under the nomme de plume “Francis Cutter”.  His stuff is amazing–and you can check it out here.  (If you do, appreciate the fact that, in the very first example he’s created a hip-hop music video utilizing a new technique, entirely his own, where he places actors into existing films using a green-screen–carefully lighting and arranging each appearance to blend them seamlessly into the original film.  Mild viewer discretion is advised).


We had stopped at the supermarche for poulet frite (roast chicken) and fleurs pour la maison (flowers for the house).


3 Vincent


And here’s the picnic!  We had a magical picnic lunch with Glenda’s Uncle Dinh, Aunt Vivienne, and Cousin Vincent in their lovely back yard.  It was a beautiful, warm, day.


4 Picnic


After lunch we got on the metro and took off for the Latin Quarter to find our flat on Rue Monge.  We found it quickly and were met by one of the owners, Bruno, who enthusiastically showed us around.  Here’s the view from our window down Rue Monge.


5 View from Flat


And here’s a shot of the flat inside–complete with the Mona Lisa!  We have two bedrooms plus a kitchen and bathroom.  It’s charming and the location is unbeatable–just blocks from Notre Dame and the Seine!


6 Flat


One of the things I simply adore about being in Europe (it was like this in London too) is the fact that there are so many specialized shops.  You’ll have one for bread, one for pastries, one for cheese, one for chocolate, one for wine, etc.  There are supermarkets here and there, but the specialized shops are enchanting and the service and selection within each genre is superb and personal in a way that you rarely stumble upon back home.  (Glenda adds: Hmmm, I disagree, and I do most of the shopping for Team MatthewGlenda.)  Here’s a picture across the street with a shop for fish and seafood next to a shop for chocolate, next to a shop for meats and vegetables.  So neat!


7 Shops


Dad & Vicky arrived, along with my sister Sarina, from Toulouse (where they spent the past week) and once they were settled into the flat we went out to Le Coupe-Chou, where Glenda had made a reservation for us.  The restaurant was phenomenal!  It was a rambling and angular 5-7 rooms connected end to end (sort of like you might imagine a restaurant that Harry Potter’s Weasleys would operate).  Our waitress was marvelous, Le Coupe-Chou was very full but quiet, and the food was spectacular.  Perfect for us all to settle in and have a long talk over wine and a delicious meal.  Some of the things we had were cold leek-potato soup, avocado-grapefruit tartar, steak tartar, veal & lamb.  Sarina and I, the veggies, had this unbelievable ratatouille (pictured below).


8 Ratatouille


What a wonderful night!  For dessert Dad and Vicky shared a Creme Brulee, Glenda had this cloud-like soft meringue floating in a tasty sauce (Glenda adds: it’s called Iles de Flottante), Sarina had chocolate mousse, and I went for a napoleon with layers of egg custard between flakey puff pastry.  Yum!  Here’s Sarina, Glenda, Dad, and Vicky at Le Coupe-Chou with our dessert!
10 Family at Restaurant


It was a marvelous reunion with family and a tremendous introduction to the Latin Quarter.  Tomorrow we look forward to trips to markets, some exploring and more delicious meals together!


Day 7 and Day Huit: London to Paris

6/8/2013 Saturday 8:50 am


On our last full day in London, Glenda and I realized we needed to divide in order to conquer!  I wanted to visit with a college friend of mine, Justin Yoo, whom I hadn’t seen in (dare I say it) nearly 20 years, and Glenda had a burning need to go… shopping!  So while I went to visit Justin near University College London, Glenda went to Cath Kidston, Daunt Books again, strolled Marylebone High Street looking at fancy French shops, then on to Persephone Books near Bloomsbury Square, to the British Museum (strolling through the Great Hall and a few rooms of its vast offerings), grabbed a sandwich at Pret (we’re on a first-name basis now) and rode a double-decker bus from Trafalgar Square to Tower of London.  Whew!  (Glenda adds: it was such a pleasure to browse and visit Persephone Books in person–I’ve been a fan of their small-print publishing house for years.)

I had a glorious reunion with Justin–who was, along with me–was one of the first three guitar students ever at Oberlin Conservatory of Music!  Justin ended up changing directions from guitar and went into acting, lived in London, New York and LA, did some screenwriting, and then returned for a Masters in Archeology at UCL and is now getting his PhD in Egyptology at King’s College.  Wowza!

Here we are looking at Jeremy Bentham, a founder of University College London.  This is a little gross.  In accordance with his wishes, his skeleton and head (the whole head) were preserved.  The body was donated for dissection and study.  Under the clothes in this case – which were his real clothes – is his actual skeleton.  And for a long time his real head, placed between his feet, was also displayed.  Though apparently it got pretty nasty and folks became offended.  The head on his shoulders here is a wax reproduction.


1 UCL Fouder


One of several impressive UCL buildings.



This is apparently the original UCL building.  On the campus were these beautiful buildings along with a nice park, and a food festival that we walked through.  Just a reminder that in London just about anywhere you go you’ll find something of beauty and interest!


3 UCL Old Building


And here are Justin and I at a pub – Justin had Bangers and Mash (sausages atop mashed potatoes with gravy–an English pub staple) and I had a veggie burger.  Fantastic seeing an old friend, and having a chance to catch up.

5 Matt Justin Pub


Glenda and I reconnected after lunch and decided to spend our final evening in our neighborhood with a stroll through Regent’s Park and a nice Italian dinner on Marylebone High Street.  On the way to Regent’s Park we passed 221b Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes, and stopped for a photo!


6 Matt Sherlock Holmes Museum


We had visited Regent’s Park earlier in the week, but the weather has been so lovely that we wanted to take advantage of the sunshine.  The park’s gorgeous and quite varied, and this evening we visited more formal gardens.  I was struck, as I have been all week, at the extraordinary number of Londoners out enjoying public spaces with picnics, walks and sports.  So refreshing!


7 Regents Park


Dinner!  We went to an Italian Restaurant called Getti for dinner and enjoyed the last bit of twilight at an outdoor table.  I had ravioli in a Gorgonzola sauce, Glenda had Linguine ala Bolognese.  I want to mention that the gorgeous bright scarf she’s wearing was handmade this spring by her, specifically for this trip! (Glenda adds: so I can look all Continental and sophisticated.)


8 Italian Food


We didn’t make it too much further before another Italian place, Caffe Caldesi, called to us for dessert.  Glenda went for espresso and I had a spicy pepper martini–and satisfied a teeny savory craving I had for Caprese Salad with phenomenal locally-made buffalo mozzarella, before our dessert of Tiramisu.  Here we are toasting our friend Claire, who had a birthday that day, albeit back home in Austin.


9 More Italian Food


We walked quite a bit more before this shot–all the way down to Oxford Street for some evening window shopping at the big department stores like Selfridge’s and Topshop–before returning to “The Beehive” on our street.  We passed this Pub each day on our outings and wanted to stop in before departing the city.  Hooray beer!


10 Beehive


And then (the next morning) it was time to head to Paris!  Here Glenda applies copious amounts of clotted cream to her freshly baked scone in St. Pancras Station as we wait for the Eurostar train that will speed us through the chunnel and on to Paris.


11 Scone at St


Et Voilá!  We arrived at the Gare du Nord ready for our next adventure!  Just look at that big smile!


12 Paris!