December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Photo by Meredith Mullins
Happy New Year to all! Meilleurs Voeux. We wish you a 2012 filled with adventures, passions, and new paths to a world enriched by creativity, lifelong learning, and good friends.

Paris offers so much. And WICE hopes to add to that richness. Take a look at our new offerings and make some time in 2012 to meet new friends, learn new skills, see new sights, and/or hone your innate talents. Cooking, photography, wine tasting, museum visits, French language, creative writing, painting, drawing, and Paris walks. Something for everyone.

And, if you're interested in creative writing, literary hobnobbing, and working with some of the best writers of our time, put the Paris Writers Workshop on your calendar (June 24–29, 2012) and stay tuned for more information.

It's going to be a great year!

December 22, 2011

It's All About The Food

What will be on your table this Christmas?  In France, it's all about the food - and family of course.  Traditionally, families would attend Christmas Eve Midnight Mass and then gather at home for the feast of the year, a meal lasting until the wee hours of the morning called Réveillon, which comes from the verb to wake up.  Today some families carry on that tradition, while others celebrate this long meal at noon on Christmas Day.

Although the menu can vary according to regional culinary traditions, it is not uncommon that a good portion of a French family's Christmas budget is devoted not only to gifts, but also to a list of culinary delicacies and special-occasion foods that are served in multiple courses. 

Before the start of the meal, oysters, seafood, shellfish or smoked salmon may be served along with an aperitif, or cocktail, such as a Kir Royale made with champagne and Cassis liqueur.

 A traditional entrée of the feast is duck liver (foie gras).  Hearty bread and rich creamy butter will be offered to accompany this delicacy along with a Sauternes, which is a sweet white wine that is typically paired with foie gras.  Or you can serve your best magnum bottle of champagne big enough to serve the whole family and then some.

The plat principal, or main course, may be goose in Alsace or turkey stuffed with chestnuts in Burgundy.  In any case, each course of the meal will be elevated through the use of special ingredients worthy of a once-a-year indulgence.

The salad and cheese course provide a clean and savory pause before dessert, traditionally bûche de Noël.  Hours after the start, the meal will be rounded out with offerings of coffee, tea, digestives, cognac, chocolates, and maybe even homemade truffles.

Wherever you may be celebrating this holiday season, raise your glass with family and friends for wishes of a joyous (and delicious) 2012!

December 14, 2011

Holiday Dishes - Scallops & Braised Endives

Looking for something special (but easy) to cook for Christmas?  Why not take advantage of the bounty of the season.  Scallops with braised endives are elegant, delicious and a perfect treat this time of year.  You can serve them as a starter or as a main dish. 

For the Scallops
scallops with apples and shallots
  • 2 or 3 scallops per person
  • 3 Golden apples
  • 3 shallots
  • 3 tablespoons of cream fraiche
  • 1 tablespoon of Calvados
Ask your fishmonger to open and clean the scallops.  Peel and core the apples and cut into large dice pieces.  In a saucepan, saute the shallots in a little butter.  Add the apples when the shallots are soft.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and cook on low heat for about 15 minutes until the apples are soft.

In a large saute pan, melt some butter and some oil together.  Then saute the scallops for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.  Place the cooked scallops on a plate, then add the cream fraiche and the Calvados to the saute pan to create a pan sauce.  Pour over the scallops.

For the Braised Endives
  • 6 endives
  • 60 grams butter
  • oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine
  • granulated sugar
Quickly wash the endives under running water and dry immediately. Do not soak the endives in water or they will become bitter.  Cut the endives in half lengthwise and cut out the hard core.

Heat 40 grams of butter plus 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saute pan.  After the butter has melted, arrange the endive halves in the pan allowing them to brown lightly.  Gently turn the endives over and allow other side to brown also.  Once both sides have browned, then add salt, pepper, lemon juice and wine.  Cover the pan and cook gently on low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.  You can add a bit more wine and butter to the pan as necessary.  About 10 minutes before serving, lightly sprinkle the endives with sugar turning to coat both sides.  Be sure to keep an eye on the endives at this point so they do not over cook.

You can then place 2 or 3 scallops on each plate along with the apple/shallot mix and the braised endives.

Happy Holidays from the WICE December Cooking Class

December 11, 2011

Paris Sparkle

Photo by Petra Nass
Even the City of Light outdoes itself as it dresses for the holidays. The decorations have been up for weeks, and lights are twinkling in every arrondissement. There are new presentations every year, always worthy of the word "design."

Photo by Margot Hanley
The WICE Holiday Sparkle photography expedition captured the city in all its glory this week. The stalwart night wanderers started at the Rock n Mode Christmas at Galeries Lafayette, capturing the traditional tree (with its less traditional neon-guitar ornaments) and recording the 1912 glass and steel dome in a new light (well, actually several different colors of light as the theatre spots danced across the ceiling changing color).  (For a quick view of how the huge tree is built ... starting with the top and lifting it toward the heavens ... click here.)

Next came the windows of the grands magasins and then a short journey to stake a claim in the middle of the Champs Elysées to capture the new (low-energy) tree rings. The "sparkle" team was fearless ... and creative ... and appropriately pushy to get the images they wanted (sometimes you really have to elbow those tourists out of your way.)

Photo by Joanna Crettenand
It may look as if the intrepid explorers had one too many vin chaud. However, the truth is that experimenting with a slow shutter speed at night is fun, especially when things are sparkling. With a slow shutter (try 1/2 second or slower), you can capture movement as it blurs across the image. You can also intentionally move your camera to paint with light, or you can experiment with a zoom effect while your shutter is open. The expedition members tried it all ... and with magical results. See for yourself. And visit the new website of two of the team members (TrésorParisien) to see more of their sparkles. Happy Holidays!

Photo by Lisa Redburn

The Intrepid Explorers
For more information about the WICE photography courses, click here.

December 9, 2011

What's in Your Pocket?

The beauty and poetry of the French language includes the strange and creative world of French idoms.

Today’s featured idiom is (admittedly) stolen from (or shall we say “inspired by”) one of our favorite blogs – French Word a Day. The writer Kristin Espinasse shares her life in the south of France in poignant, playful, and profound vignettes that come straight from the heart. If you become a regular reader of her blog, you start to feel like a friend of the family … or a neighbor to all the characters in her stories. AND you learn French words and idioms that appear in la vie quotidienne.

Today’s idiom:

Avoir oursins dans les poches = to have sea urchins in one’s pockets or to be stingy. The sea urchins prevent you from reaching further in your pocket to get to your money.

Urchins are for eating, not pocketing
For more practice in the art of French idioms, we invite you to our French/English conversation group on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. For more information, click here. Or, join WICE's French classes (click here). And, if you're a budding blogger or travel writer, join our upcoming Words and Images course (click here) to learn more about the art of blogging, honing your writing skills, and strengthening your images to compliment your stories or articles.

December 4, 2011

The Patience of an Apple

Cézanne: Poterie, tasse et fruits sur une nappe blanche (vers 1877)
“With an apple, I will astonish Paris,” Cézanne said. And so he did. And even today, still does. He took risks, got rejected consistently by the Salon of Paris, took more risks, was ridiculed (“a madman who paints delerium tremens”), took more risks, stayed true to his passion—and changed the art world forever. Matisse and Picasso called him the “father of us all.”

Cézanne’s influence is far reaching. His studio in Aix-en-Provence looks as if he just stepped out for a moment. Dusty apples sit on the table, his coat hangs on the rack, and his brushes and palette stand ready for his return. He loved Provence—the color of the earth, rocks, and pines and the beauty of his ever-present Mont Sainte-Victoire. 

But Cézanne also came to Paris. Although he never had a permanent address here, never stayed for more than six months, and swore he would never become Parisian, he painted nearly half of his paintings in this area.

Cézanne: Madame Cézanne (vers 1877)
The current exhibit at the Musée du Luxembourg is a peek into this Paris/Ile de France work, which continues his lifelong themes — love of nature (particularly the emotional power of water) and the beauty of shape, form, and color in still life and portraiture. He was a meticulous (and slow!) painter, meditating on every brush stroke. He favored apples in his still-life work because they lasted longer than other fruit. He favored his wife as a portraiture subject because she had the patience of an apple.

He was his own harshest critic. His painting was his passion but it was often not a pleasure. He said that it was a reminder of his own failure to realize his ideas. He was known to destroy many of his canvases in disappointment. One of the most beautiful portraits in this exhibit is of his art dealer Ambroise Vollard. All Cézanne could say of this portrait was, “I am not altogether displeased with this shirt front.” High praise indeed!

Cézanne: Ambroise Vollard, 1899
This lovely exhibition of 80 works is at the museum until 26 February, 2012. It’s popular, so get a ticket in advance and go early in the day (when there’s still oxygen in the room). You can also do some shopping in the gift store. The creative marketers are selling replicas of Cézanne’s cane, Cézanne apple/pear confiture (hopefully not made from Cézanne’s still-life apples, aged 120 years), and champagne from a maker whose label Cézanne used as an inspiration for one of his nudes. Entrepreneurial spirit at its most creative.

WICE Fan Jerry Fielder with the Cézanne "line."
For more information about the exhibit, click here. And coming soon next to the museum—an Angelina's!

November 30, 2011

Bûche de Noël

The log-shaped bûche de Noël is a traditional cake dessert served at Christmas in France and many other countries in Europe.  Legend has it that the origins of this holiday treat are linked to ancient traditions of celebrating the winter solstice with a bonfire.  Large tree trunks would be gathered and burned as an offering of thanks for the rebirth of the sun.

It is said that over the years the tradition was carried on in the form of cutting down a tree or ‘yule log’ each year to burn in the fireplace where Christmas supper would be prepared.  One story suggests that the actual yule log was replaced with the bûche de Noël Christmas cake at a time when houses no longer had fireplaces and the real yule log could not be burned.

Bûche de Noël is typically made of rectangular-shaped slices of layered sponge cake, spread with butter cream in between, then rolled to form a log.  The cake is also covered with butter cream, which can be either applied from a piping bag or streaked with a fork to create the look of tree bark.  A portion of the cake can be cut and placed on top or to the side to resemble a tree stump. 

Many variations are possible whether the sponge cake is chocolate or yellow, or the butter cream is flavored with chestnut puree, chocolate, or espresso.  All sorts of decorations can be added to enhance the presentation in the form of marzipan green holly leaves, red candy berries, mushrooms made of meringue, or a dusting of powdered sugar snow.

Although many people order their yule log cake from their local patisserie, more and more people are making their own.  And there are as many ways to make and decorate a bûche de Noël as there are cooks who prepare them. 

So dear readers, what are you making for your Christmas dessert?

WICE cooking class

Join the WICE cooking group, led by our gracious (and easy-to-follow) instructor Françoise Meunier, on Wednesday, December 7 to make bûche de Noël, along with a special dish of scallops with apples and shallots for your Christmas table. 

For more information click here.

November 25, 2011

The City of Light

Photo by Cameron Greentree

Thanksgiving went well (we hope) ... with turkey to spare, but there’s no need to linger in the past. There are places to go and sparkles to see. They don’t call Paris the "City of Light" for nothing.

Photo by Elke Jaarsma-Blom
Yes, the American tradition of holiday decorations appearing before Thanksgiving is now becoming a French tradition. The elegant and multi-character productions gracing and animating the windows of Printemps (Dreamy Christmas Getaways, a journey to 11 countries) and Galeries Lafayette (Rock and Roll Christmas) have been up for weeks now, inaugurated by Vanessa Paradis and Karl Lagerfield with a gala celebration. And the newly designed holiday tree-ring lights on the Champs Elysées came alive this past Wednesday ("switched on" by Audrey Tatou), as they reflected and shimmered off hundreds of mirrors dotting the tree branches. Designer Christmas trees will be displayed at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild (from 2 December to 7 December), and are then auctioned to raise money for cancer research.  

La grande roue at the west end of the Tuileries is spinning magically, lighting up the night sky. The wooden chalets for the marché de noël are built and ready to go (patterned after the Alsatian markets such as Strasbourg and Colmar). The ice skating rinks at Hôtel de Ville and Trocadéro will open around December 16. There’s also a fun fair stuffed into the Grand Palais from 15 December to 2 January.

2010 WICE Holiday Sparkle Team
Get your cameras ready and join us for the Holiday Sparkle photo expedition on 5 December, where we hit the highlights (Christmas Tree at Galeries Lafayette, store windows, Place de la Concorde, and Champs Elysées. You'll also learn about night photography and the magic of slow shutter speeds while using vin chaud as fuel for the creative soul.

Or join the holiday wreath-making workshop or the holiday cooking class (coquilles Saint Jacques and Bûche de Noël).

Here’s to a happy holiday season!

Marché de Noël: Visit the Champs Elysées, Saint Germain des Prés, Saint Sulpice, Gare Montparnasse,  Place des Abbesses, Gare de l’Est, Place de Nation, La Défense, and Trocadero.

Other beautiful illuminations: Bercy Village, Avenue Montaigne, Place Vendôme

(Note: The photos in this post were taken during last year's Holiday Sparkle expedition.)

November 20, 2011

The Batobus Beckons

These softly-lit autumn days, with their unexpected touch of warmth, are treasures. They inspire us to linger in cafés, crunch through dried leaves, or embrace the role of flaneur as the clock ticks toward winter.

Although we often get around Paris on the grève-prone RER, the subterranean web of metros, or the friendly buses (with stops so close to each other that you can see the next stop in the distance), we sometimes forget the scenic Batobus. The Seine "shuttle" gives us a unique, water-level view of the city and provides a stunning reminder of just how beautiful Paris can be. 

The full Batobus circuit takes a little over an hour and offers an up-close-and-personal view of the under-bridge world and life on the quais. From the graphic architecture and stone-carved statuary of the 22 bridges to the intimate moments of people's lives that you view for that fleeting moment as you chug by, the trip is a true montage of Paris.

The Batobus makes stops at eight key destinations (Hôtel de Ville, Louvre, Champs Elysées, Tour Eiffel, Musée d'Orsay, St Germain des Prés, Notre Dame, and Jardins des Plantes). You can "hop on and hop off" as often as you want during your one-day (14€), two-day (18€), five-day (21€), or yearly pass (60€).

All Photos by Meredith Mullins
There are six boats (trimarans) that "make port" every 17-35 minutes (frequency depends on the day and the season). Up to 200 passengers can ride under the glass enclosed space (heated in the winter) and on the open stern (called a "terrace" in the marketing materials). Nearly 2,000,000 passengers took to the Seine by Batobus in 2010 (with a record high one day of 14,000). So, hop on ... and see the world with a new fish-eye perspective.


November 16, 2011

Thanksgiving as a Verb

Thanksgiving means different things to different people. For American expats, it often holds a certain nostalgia … a reason to celebrate with friends and family.

As W.J. Cameron said, “Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.” And so, first and foremost, we give thanks. Thanks for good friends, caring family members (no matter how crazy), opportunity to live a rich and creative life in Paris, and freedoms that we should never take for granted.

For Americans, also, it is a holiday about eating (punctuated for some by football). Americans gobble up roughly 535 million pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving. However, in France, we must rise to the challenge of creating a true Thanksgiving experience.
There are many options. You can have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner out (see the choices below). If you’re more of a Picard kind of cook, you can order in (see suppliers below). You can create your own French version of Thanksgiving (with oysters and organ meats … yum). Or, you can recreate an American Thanksgiving by visiting your friendly local butcher to order an American-style turkey (lots of white meat) or the leaner and gamier French turkey (dinde fermière). (Some say once you’ve tried the French turkey, you can never go back.) (Tip: the French turkeys are smaller, take less time to cook, and need to be barded … wrapped in a layer of fat to keep them moist while cooking. Your butcher will give you the fat if you ask.) Get your market-fresh accoutrements, such as potimarron, potiron, or citrouille (all from the pumpkin/squash family), châtaignes (chestnuts), fresh green beans, and fresh cranberries (in the past just available at specialty stores … now available in Monoprix and Carrefour too!)

At your dinner party, be sure to tell your French guests that it is an American tradition to eat everything at once from one huge plate stacked with food (a truly American experience) … and not to spread the cranberry sauce on everything just because it is called a sauce … (although they may have something there!)

Happy Thanksgiving! (Bon Jour de Merci Donnant … as Art Buchwald calls it). Let us know your thoughts and tips for a great Thanksgiving.

Traditional Dinners:

American Church, Saturday 26 November at 19h30. Reservations are required. 10 euros donation per person. (Click here for more info.) 

Joe Allen’s Restaurant, 30, rue Pierre-Lescot, 75001. 45 euros per person. (Click here.)

Breakfast in America, 17, rue des Ecoles 75005 or 4, rue Malher 75004
Already booked this year for Thanksgiving, but great for pancakes and hamburgers any day. (Click here.)

Le Saint-Martin, 25, rue Louis Blanc, 75010 Thursday, Friday, or Saturday evening. 35 euros per person. (Click here.)

Some Newcomers:

Some other restaurants are catching on to Thanksgiving. Try the Hôtel Vernet, L’Edouard, or the Blues BBQ if you feel like stepping out (and avoiding the cooking and dish-washing chores).

For Thanksgiving Foods:

To buy some of your ingredients (like hard-to-find fresh cranberries, stuffing, cornbread, sweet potatoes, American-style turkeys with lots of white meat, and even Jello for that 1950s jello mold):

Thanksgiving. 20, rue Saint Paul, 75004. (Click here.) 

Le Saint-Martin (see info above).

The Real McCoy, 194 rue de Grenelle, 75007 (This site is great for the kitsch product pictures alone … you’ll wax nostalgic looking at Aunt Jemima, Betty Crocker, Libby’s canned pumpkin and Kraft Stove Top Stuffing.)

Post by Meredith Mullins
Thank you to everyone who contributed ideas to this post.

November 13, 2011

Pomp and Politics

Salle des Fêtes

The Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) commands respect as it stands tall in the center of Paris, overlooking the Ile de la Cité and the Seine. Imposing on the outside and lavishly decorated on the inside, the building has a dramatic history as well as an important role in contemporary city life.

WICE members were treated to a private tour last week, with a focus on the beautiful reception rooms that are used to welcome foreign heads of state to Paris, and to host other official city events.

The building and its salons are relatively new, even though activities at the Place de Grève (now renamed Place de l’Hôtel de Ville) began in 1357 (a square that has served as everything from a port for unloading wheat and wood, a venue for celebrations, a meeting point for day laborers to find work, a setting for public executions, and a magnet for manifestations.)

The first city hall was completed in 1628, but was burned (along with all of the city’s archives) in 1871 during the Commune revolution. The new building, completed in 1882, was created to be almost identical to the original Renaissance design.

A highlight of the building is the Salle des Fêtes, the largest reception room, designed with the Versailles Hall of Mirrors in mind. The paintings represent the history of dance and music, and the French creed of liberté, egalité, fraternité is proudly emblazoned on the ceiling. The walls are gilded with gold leaf, the chandeliers are Baccarat, and the silk curtains are woven in Lyons (identical to the original 17th century curtains).

Amidst all the rich décor of this building, the business of the city is carried out. The “City Council” meets with its 163 councillors representing the 20 arrondissements, and Mayor Delanoë conducts business in an office that is refreshingly minimalist and a tribute to contemporary art.

A Room with a View
Since the mayor was busy in his office, we didn’t get to stop by, but all the Hôtel de Ville rooms are open during the September journée du patrimoine.

We did find out that anyone can rent the reception rooms for special events. The Salle des Fêtes can be yours for 6,000 euros per hour. Pourquoi pas?

WICE Hôtel de Ville Enthusiasts
WICE is offering upcoming tours of the 10th arrondissement (click here for more info), La Sorbonne (click here), and the Manufacture de Sèvres (ceramic arts) (click here). Join us! 

November 10, 2011

Cooking Au Pif

Far Breton dessert
Do you find yourself scratching your head when reading a French recipe? Surely half of the instructions must be missing.  Where are the long lists of measured ingredients, every step of what to do next, and detailed descriptions of the technique that is vital to the execution of the dish?  

And yet, it seems that our French families and friends can waltz into the kitchen and - without a cookbook or a recipe in hand - make a batch of crepes to feed a crowd, a rich crème anglaise to accompany a molten chocolate cake, the perfect béchamel sauce for baked ham-wrapped endive, or a loaf of light and sweet brioche - all by cooking au pif, as the French call it. 

Although the word pif is slang for nose, when applied to cooking - au pif or 'in the nose' - is more about cooking by feel or instinct than to cook by sense of smell.  It is similar to when someone talks about 'eyeballing' a recipe or simply whipping up a dish without a recipe at all.

The recipe for Far Breton is one of those that is prepared au pif by many.  Originating from Brittany, it is a thick custard cake studded with plump prunes.  Similar to a crepe batter, the Far Breton is made from simple ingredients that we all tend to have on hand.  You can add your own twist by steeping the prunes in a flavored tea or even rum.  It's the perfect fall dessert or serve a slice at tea time.

You likely have your own recipes that you can cook au pif.  Why not add a few French recipes you can cook au pif to your old favorites?  

a WICE cooking class
Join the WICE cooking group, led by our gracious (and easy-to-follow) instructor Françoise Meunier, on Wednesday, November 16 to make Far Breton and the French family favorite Blanquette de Veau (Veal Stew with winter vegetables).  For more information click here.

November 7, 2011

Mois de la Photo

WICE Photographers at Work

November in Paris is full of promise … especially for photography lovers.  Officially, Paris’ month-long tribute to photography (Mois de la Photo) occurs in even-numbered years. But, France seems to embrace photography all the time. Perhaps because the Frenchmen Niépce and Daguerre were leaders in the invention of modern photography or perhaps because so many great photographers left creative footprints in the streets of Paris. Whatever the reason, even the odd-numbered-year Novembers offer a variety of exhibits and events.

First Permanent Photo: Joseph Niépce (circa 1826)
Every year (even and odd), more than 100 international galleries convene in Paris for Paris Photo (this year from November 10-13 at the Grand Palais). Thousands of photographs (vintage and contemporary) are displayed … more than most eyes (and brains) can handle in a single visit. This year, African photography will be celebrated in several special exhibits (including one at the Gare du Nord). For more information click here.

And that’s just the beginning of the photographic feast. There’s much more!  

Fotofever (35 galleries) at the Espace Pierre Cardin (11-13 November) (click here)

NoFound Photo Fair (11-14 November) (click here)

Photo Festival of Saint Germain des Prés (4-30 November) (click here)

Les Rencontres photographiques sponsored by the 10th arrondissement (click here).

Photographic auctions at Sotheby’s, Drouot, and Christie’s.

Exhibits at the Jeu de Paume (Diane Arbus), Petit Palais (Women in India), Fondation Cartier-Bresson (Lewis Hine), and Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Martine Franck and William Klein).

October 31, 2011

A Way Out of the Woods

The beauty and poetry of the French language includes the strange and creative world of French idioms.

Today’s featured idiom is:

 Ne pas être sorti de l’auberge =  We’re not out of the woods yet/There’s still more work to do.

In old French argot/slang, the word auberge means jail. To get out of jail, you had to be patient or brave a thousand dangers. So, the idiom is interpreted to mean that, to get out of a situation like jail (or any unpleasant or burdensome situation), there is work to do.

(Thank you to Caroline Hautcoeur for this post. For more practice at the art of French idioms, we invite you to our French/English conversation group on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. For more information, click here.)

October 24, 2011

The Gangster Dance

Wild. Violent. Acrobatic. Passionate. The Apache dance came from the Paris underworld of the early 20th century and gained international fame primarily in films like Can-Can, Charlie Chan in Paris, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, and even an episode of I Love Lucy. The dance was named after Les Apaches, a gangster underworld subculture especially active in Belleville, La Villette, Montmartre, and la Bastille.

The dance is sometimes said to re-enact a violent “discussion” between man and woman, including mock slaps and punches and the man throwing or dragging the woman while she struggles.

Dances in the open-air cafés were not always this dramatic. The guinguettes were also places for a lively waltz, a good meal, and inexpensive drinking, often just outside the taxman’s reach. A poor man’s ball.

To see an Apache dance, visit this site. 

To learn more about Parisian culture after the French Revolution and before the First World War, join the WICE guided visit “Open-air Cafés to Barricades (1814-1914) in the Musée Carnavalet on November 4th. For more information, click here.  

(Thank you to Veronique Kurtz for the information in this post.)  

October 20, 2011

Celebrating Indian Art

Embroidered Panel

You’re invited! Enchanting India  will be on display in an exhibition of 170 hand embroidered panels made by a women’s cooperative in Pondichéry, India.  Founded more than 40 years ago by French diplomats, the cooperative began with 30 embroiderers and now employs more than 265 women, who through the dedication of the French association, are able to earn a living for their families. 

In France, the association arranges to have their works displayed and sold. A new exhibition of their embroidery opens today and offers a great opportunity to see high quality handiwork. The panels represent ancestral and contemporary India as well as birds, gardens, and flowers.  Entrance is free, and all of the works on display are for sale.

The exhibit runs from Thursday October 20 through Thursday October 27 (except Sunday) from 10 am to 7 pm at the Town Hall of the 13th arrondissement, 1 place d’Italie, Paris 13th, Metro Place d’Italie.

We hope you’ll have time to visit this stunning show.

(Thank you, Lee Hubert, for this information.)

October 16, 2011

A Famous Back Door

Photo by Lee Hubert
Hidden away in the 16th arrondissement near the end of the rue Raynouard, there is a charming house with faded green shutters in the middle of a garden.  This perfect Passy hideaway was where the prolific writer Honoré Balzac took refuge for seven years (under a pseudonym).  In spite of his constant writing, he was always in debt. In this house he could sequester himself away from the hustle and bustle of central Paris … and escape his creditors through a back exit into the provincial rue Berton! 

Author of realist and psychological novels in the first half of the 19th century, he is especially known for his archetype characters like Rastignac, Father Goriot and Vautrin.  In Passy, he corrected and finished The Human Comedy, his attempt to describe the habits and morals of every level of society. 

He described his work day in a letter to the Countess Hanska: “Working means getting up at midnight every evening, writing until eight o’clock, having lunch in a quarter of an hour, working to five o’clock, having dinner, going to bed, and starting over again the next day.”   And all the while he drank pots and pots of coffee which contributed to his early death at just 51.

Balzac Reflections:

"The more one judges, the less one loves."

"Reading brings us unknown friends."

"Solitude is fine, but you need someone to tell you solitude is fine."

If you're interested in seeing this house and other interesting places in the 16th, join Lee Hubert on Tuesday, October 18th at 10:30 for her Paris by Arrondissement walk. For more information click here.

October 13, 2011

Warm Dishes for Cool Weather

When temperatures start to drop, it is the perfect time to prepare hearty dishes like the French family classic, pot-au-feu.   

400 grams top rib of beef
400 grams top leg of beef or a lean part of the shoulder
1 bone with marrow
4 carrots
4 turnips
1 leek
1 celery stalk
1 onion
1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme and bayleaf)
Salt and pepper

Tell your butcher you need the meat and a large marrow bone to prepare a pot-au-feu.

Place the meat in a large pot.  Add 2 liters of cold water.  Bring the water to a boil.  Let it boil for 15 minutes.  Skim the water regularly and remove the brown foam released by the meat until the brown foam is gone.  The goal is to produce a clear broth.

Wash, peel and chop all the vegetables. 

Add the bouquet garni, fresh garlic, chopped vegetables, and marrow bone to the pot.  You can stick the cloves in the onion so they are easier to remove at the end of cooking.

Bring the pot back to a boil and then turn the heat down to simmer on low heat for about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The pot-au-feu can be served two ways.  First, serve the clear broth as a soup with toasted bread.  Next, serve the meat and vegetables along with mustard, cornichons (pickles), and rock salt.  Spread the bone marrow on toast and season with salt and pepper.  Be sure to prepare enough meat in your pot-au-feu so you can also serve the meat cold in a salad or prepare meatballs the next day.

Join the WICE cooking group, led by our gracious (and easy-to-follow) instructor Françoise Meunier, on Wednesday, October 19 to make a delicious Chicken a la Normande (with farm-raised chicken) and, of course, a classic apple tart to finish the Normandy autumn meal in perfect style. For more information click here.

The class learns ... and then eats!