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!