Sunday, June 7, 2015

Judy: The Missing Posts

We had planned to let you follow us on our trip to Paris, but once we got to France, I wasn't able to access the publishing mode in this blog.  So now we'll share some of the highlights of the trip now that we're home.

We've been to France many times, and have worked on our language skills, so that we can both speak (passably) and understand (until it gets going too fast).  I really encourage anyone who travels to spend time learning at least some key phrases, because it affects how you are treated.  Once you start to falter, they will pitch in and help you, because, of course, most everyone speaks English now. But if you just expect English to be spoken, particularly in some parts of Paris, they will just give you an evil stare.

This trip was different for us because we spent two entire weeks in Paris.  Every time we've been there in the past we've felt that we wanted more time, and more relaxed time.  So we rented an apartment and had only a few commitments.  The goal was to make our decisions day to day based on what we felt like doing.  We have discovered that for us, when we travel in Mediterranean countries with very late dinner hours, we prefer having our main meal in the middle of the day, then having a light supper, which is why we like staying in an apartment.  Also, one of our goals was to find our favorite croissants, eclairs and other pastries, so we really didn't need more than one full meal a day.

I keep a list of restaurants to try (along with their specialities) in my iPad.  Whenever I read a magazine or newspaper article I immediately add the interesting places to my list.  I must have had 50 of them for Paris.  During the month prior to our trip I also researched sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp for highly rated restaurants and bakeries.  Paris is a big city, and even with the Metro, it can be a challenge to figure out where you're going.  Eventually I realized that I needed to organize all of this information, so I printed out a map and using Google Maps I located each restaurant and bakery on the map.  I organized them by Arrondissement (district) and then I found the nearest Metro stop.  All of this information went on a master list that proved to be invaluable.

I'm going to focus on the food parts of our trip, since it's my specialty, and Steve will do a post about the activities we enjoyed.

Day 1:  Our flight got in at around 7am, and we were meeting our landlord at 10am, so we had a leisurely breakfast at Starbuck's in the airport.  Mind you, 7am in Paris is 1am in Pennsylvania, but we always try to adapt to daylight hours when we're traveling.  A little caffeine in the morning helps, too.  We took the train from Charles de Gaulle to Gare du Nord, and then took a taxi to the apartment (we didn't fancy carrying our suitcases up the stairs at the Metro stop).  When we got there, Nathalie was cleaning the apartment, so we dropped off our luggage and got the key and went out to get as much sunlight as we could.

Our first stop was a little cafe called Cuisine de Bar, right next door to the famous Poilane Bakery, where everything is made with Poilane's baked goods.  We wanted something light, so had the tartines, open-faced sandwiches with different fresh ingredients on them.  Here's what they looked like:

The one in front had artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes and tapenade, and the one in back had an avocado mousse with marinated shrimp on it.  We felt so virtuous about our choices that we shared a dessert.  This was a molten chocolate cake with an orange marmalade sauce.  Yummy.

There was a Monoprix at the Metro stop near our apartment (a K-Mart sort of place with a grocery as well), so we picked up a few staples, some cheese and fruit, and then a baguette from an Artisan Boulangerie on the corner near our apartment.  That's what we had for dinner our first night in Paris.

Day 2:  We determined that the Starbuck's on the corner near the Metro stop opened at 8:00am, and that one of the outstanding bakeries on my list was only about a half mile away, and they opened at 7:30am (and this was a Sunday morning!).  We showed up at Gontran Cherrier shortly after they opened, and bought croissants.  Everything there looked good, but you can only eat so much.  We turned out to be remarkably inconsistent at taking photos of our food, but trust me, those were excellent croissants. Then we stopped at Starbucks for our caffeine infusion, and on to our apartment to relax and enjoy our breakfast.  

We made a reservation for lunch at a bistro near the Eiffel Tower, La Fontaine de Mars.  Steve had steak with bĂ©arnaise sauce with french fries:

We didn't get a photo of my duck confit, but here's Steve's dessert, a tart tatin (apple tart):

I had this delectable thing, pave du chocolate noir avec sorbet mandarines (dark chocolate pave, a dense mousse-y sort of thing, with mandarin orange sorbet):

By evening, we were quite happy to just have baguettes and chocolate.

Day 3:  We went to La Grand Epicerie (translation:  The big grocery store), and were disappointed because while they had a huge inventory of exotic ingredients, and a gorgeous bakery, they did not serve coffee.  So we bought a pain au chocolat and chaussons des pommes (croissant with chocolate inside and an apple puff pastry), and ate them in a nearby park.  Then we went to Galeries Lafayette, our all-time favorite department store, for our cup of coffee.  They have a huge gourmet grocery, so we picked up some Bordier butter, which is a special butter I had read about, a baguette, and some pastries for the next morning because we had an early cooking class.   Lafayette Gourmet has a number of excellent restaurant stations, so we picked up dim sum from Yoom 

and eclairs from Eclair de Genie for our main meal.  

These eclairs have very intense flavors, but they are about half the size of the typical one we find in the states.  The dark chocolate one on the left had pieces of dark and white chocolate on top, and the salted butter caramel on the right had crunchy rice nuggets on top.  Quite a taste treat.

When supper time came around, we tried the Bordier butter for the first time, and it was quite a revelation.  It's made in small batches in Normandy using an ancient method involving wooden paddles to get the maximum amount of water out.  It's hard to describe the flavor except to say that all other butter tastes anemic in comparison.  If you ever go to Paris, try it.

Coming up next:  our first cooking class.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Judy: About Time

The Clock at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris

Do you remember when you were a kid and the year between Christmases and birthdays seemed to stretch on forever?  Or when a thirteen-week semester seemed so long you might forget the things you learned in the first three weeks by the time finals came around?  

Time is very much a matter of perception.  When you're 10, the next birthday is 1 in 10, but when you're 60, it's 1 in 60, and that turns out to be huge difference in how we perceive the time between birthdays.  A child's life is also much less complicated, with home, school, and friends circling around in their heads competing for space.  By the time you're an adult, you have a family, a job, friends, leisure activities and concerns about what is happening in the world whirling around in your mind, so there isn't nearly as much time to anticipate things like birthday presents.  And really, after 40, who wants to keep counting?

It's hard to get your mind around the idea of retirement.  There's the not working part which is fairly straightforward, but then there's spending money that you have spent your adult life thinking of as untouchable.  To make that shift you have to begin to embrace the idea that your life is limited.  On the one hand, we know that someday we will die.  Yet the impossibility of knowing for sure when allows us to think of it in some hazy future place.  The retirement planners tell us to plan to have enough money to get to 100.  This sounds appealing because it seems like it's such a long way off so you can just go back into denial.  It also means your money has to stretch a long way...oops, here comes the anxiety.

My grandparents were born in 1901 and 1906, so they were young adults during the Roaring Twenties, and struggled for survival during the Great Depression.  Grandpa was a pharmacist and they owned two Rexall drugstores for many years.  They were very frugal and managed to save a comfortable amount of money over the years.  When they sold the drugstores and retired, my mother convinced them to take a trip to Hawaii.  They arrived at the resort, and within 24 hours, checked out and found a run-down motel in a working class neighborhood.  They spent two weeks eating in the same coffee shop for all of their meals, and making friends with the people  who worked and ate there.  My mother was aghast, but they proclaimed it a successful vacation.  They could never be persuaded to take another vacation, though.  Their later years were spent essentially paralyzed by two competing narratives:  they were about to die and they would outlive their money.  When they died, over a decade later, they left a large inheritance for my mother.  They were never able to enjoy the money they had worked so hard for.

Now that we have reached retirement age, I have a much better understanding of what it was like for my grandparents.  There is something disorienting about not having a paycheck and beginning to draw down on the retirement accounts.  It feels a little like jumping off a cliff and not knowing if you will hit solid ground or just keep on falling.  Of course, this is why we saved, but it still feels wrong somehow to begin spending the money.  I suspect that most everyone goes through this during the transition from work to retirement.  And I also suspect that some people continue working because they find it too scary to take the leap.  

Time is a very complex phenomenon.  When I was working, my life was tightly scheduled to allow me to fulfill all of my obligations.  Over the years I developed a highly structured routine that worked well for me.  Since I retired, almost four years ago now, I have definitely slowed my pace.  One of the greatest luxuries for me is not having a rigid schedule.  For over thirty years I saw patients every hour with perhaps five minute breaks.  When I had breaks I had to return phone calls, or do paper work, leaving me no option of thinking about myself.  Now each day I think about what I want to do that day and decide which of them I feel like doing.  Sometimes I defer things from day to day, and I've actually gotten comfortable with that because eventually everything gets done.  Before I wouldn't give myself a choice, because there was such limited time to do things.  Now it's all about choice, and not feeling obligated to adhere to a schedule.  Spontaneity feels like a real gift.