Thursday, August 16, 2012

Take-aways from our summer abroad

At the Jardin des Tuileries, Paris.

We've been back from Europe for a week now, but it feels like longer. Funny how that works. The 7 weeks there feel like a dream already. There are several things though that I've brought back with me: things that I want to hold on to.  In no particular order, they are:

Be less busy. Without realizing it, we completely changed our pace to match those of our friends in Europe. It's easy to do when you don't have school, camps, work, and other commitments. Coming back and seeing how overbooked (and often stressed) our friends are here makes me realize I don't want to get back on that treadmill.

Linger over meals with friends. Every single meal we had with our friends in Europe lasted hours. With kids, regardless of their age. There was no stress, no pressure: just good food, good wine, and good company (thank you Curtis & Leila, Eric & Rebecca, Clinton & Chavi, Anne & Theirry!). This one will be harder, because it depends on our friends here to try to let go a bit and relax the pace. We'll see if anyone's willing to play.

Be inspired. Man oh man was it great to immerse myself in art again. I've got a tendency towards art snobbery and so I don't bother much in Portland with museums, galleries, etc. And, in reality, there's nothing here that compares to the museums in Paris or Barcelona. But there is inspiration to be found, and I need to make more of an effort to find it.

Walk more. For 7 weeks I didn't worry about what I ate or drank. I ate tons of amazing cheese, patisserie, wine/cider, butter. I also walked an average of 20 hours a week, with a major hill every single day. I didn't do yoga or pilates or the elliptical. I also didn't gain an ounce. In order to make the time for this, I have to honor my first goal of not being so busy. It was easy to walk for hours when I had no where I had to be at any particular time.

Be late. I am chronically early. I am also chronically stressed out about being late. The truth is, I am never late, and my stress about doesn't help anything. In Europe, everyone's late. So much so that I had to force myself to wait 15 minutes past the time our friends told us to come for dinner just so that we'd be late enough to be socially acceptable! (It was really hard.) In truth, I'll probably rarely be late anywhere, but if I try to be late maybe I'll be on time and less stressed/rushed. And if I'm late to meet you somewhere, I apologize in advance (and you should congratulate me!).

Monday, August 6, 2012

Julia for a day

Julienne of leeks and carrots.

Last week, our good friend Eric invited us to dinner at his house. His father, Michel, was in town visiting and they offered to make a special meal for us. Michel happens to be a chef and teaches at a French cooking school, so we were especially excited to accept their invitation.

When making our plans for dinner, I asked if it would be possible to observe part of the meal preparation, or maybe do some prep work for Michel. Several days later Eric got back to me to discuss plans for the menu. Eric mentioned several courses, all of which sounded both fabulous and totally new to me. Then I was told that I should plan on arriving without David or Anna, four hours before dinner.

At this point I should mention that neither my French nor Michel's english are fluent, and that I was totally intimidated. But Michel is a sweetheart and didn't wince once as I clumsily attempted the various tasks he set aside for me. Let's just say I did more observing than actual cooking, but I learned a ton and can't wait to reproduce everything I learned (except, of course, the decorative handwork done to turn fruits and vegetables into things like flowers and baskets. That remains beyond my capabilities!)

In the blink of an eye, a carrot becomes a rose.

Grapefruit basket with carrot and mushroom blossoms and parsley. He made this for Anna, just because.

Preparing the insides of les aumenieres ("monk's pouches": pastry filled with shrimp, scallops, braised leeks and carrots.


Les aumenieres are tied with strips of blanched leeks.

David and Eric, waiting patiently by the kitchen door.

A final brushing of butter before going in the oven. I'm not even going to tell you how much butter was used in this meal! By the way, butter from Normandy is the best in France. True story. It's its own food group.

Anna's seat, complete with lily made from fennel and carrot, her basket, and the menu she wrote for each of us.

French radishes with butter and salt before the meal.


Plating and saucing.

From upper left, aumenieres served with a sauce made from shrimp shells and heads, whisky (which was set on fire), white wine, saffron, tomato sauce, garlic and carrots; zucchini drums filled with a garlic cream made from tons of garlic which was cooked 3 times to reduce pungency; potato pancake; eggplant cakes made with too many things to list here, which were cooked in moulds and then topped with a tomato confit. It was all crazy good.

A selection of cheese Michel chose for us. Cheese here is also its own food group!

We finished the meal with assorted pastries David, Anna and I brought from our favorite patisserie. And yes, you can come over for dinner!