Pâtisseries à la folie

With few other activities to engage in outside of the four walls of our appartement thanks to dear old COVID, Dani and I have clung to life’s simpler pleasures: like daily visits to our neighborhood bakeries and pastry shops.

We have the great fortune (or misfortune, if you’re my waistline) to live on the same block as two highly-reputed bakeries, and a mere stone’s throw from about a dozen others, all vying equally for our love and attention (and money). With places to go being limited to food stores and shops, spending our precious daily minutes outside before curfew often means popping over to a boulangerie for a fresh baguette and the occasional (okay, fine, habitual) pastry.

Behold!

I mean, just look at those layers!

Our regular go-to pâtisserie has nearly always been this, a pain au chocolat. It is the croissant’s fancy sibling, stuffed with two slim bars of dark chocolate and enough butter to ensure that your fingertips and lips remain well-moisturized for the remainder of the day. The best ones are a mess to eat – they pastry flakes apart all over, and when they’re warm the melted chocolate on the inside smears all over the hands and face, making grown adults look instantly five years old again (or perhaps it’s just me). I simply don’t care. To me, a pain au chocolat is heaven on Earth and I never, ever get sick of them. I wish there was some kind of candle or room spray that could reproduce what it smells like when you pass in front of the bakery and these bad boys are just on their way out of the oven.

This one is from the bakery Terroirs d’avenir on the rue Paul Bert in Paris 11. They also have another bakery in the 2nd on the rue du Nil.

in the window of Terroirs d’avenir

And yet, despite my deep, deep love for the chocolate croissant, there has been a recent new contender for the number one spot atop my favorite pastry list (and I think it may have usurped the pain au chocolat on Dani’s): the escargot – or, as we’ve seen it called more regularly, the roulé:

The “plain” ones are usually filled with raisins and a light, creamy custard. However, bakers have been getting creative with other fillings…

…like pistachio and chocolate (from Du pain et des idées)…

…or even praline (this one is again from Terroirs d’avenir).

I guess you could say we’ve developed something of a love affair with the escargot.

Of course, we’ve also dabbled in some seasonal delights as well. Most recently was the galette des rois that we enjoyed for Epiphany in January. We aren’t Catholic, but who really is going to turn down another excuse to eat an almond cream-filled puff pastry? Far be it from us to turn up our noses.

from Boulangerie Gana on rue de Charonne

And since we couldn’t let the season pass after sampling only one single galette des rois, we thought it was best to also try a slice from pâtisserie Nanan. We do work in quality assurance, after all.

This one had slices of candied citrus fruit inside, which I am clearly very excited about

Of course, we used Christmas as an opportunity to really go ham on the pastries and brought out the big gun: Cyril Lignac. Cyril Lignac is an uber-famous pastry chef whose pastries have become something of a sensation, especially here in Paris. There is a Cyril Lignac pastry shop AND chocolaterie right on our corner and there is a literal line out the door and down the block every single day. I won’t tell you how long Dani waited in line to score us some goodies on Christmas Eve; just believe me when I say that they were totally worth it.

This was a mini bûche de Noël, pear and chestnut cream flavored. It looks much less appetizing than it tasted: surprisingly light and fluffy and utterly pleasant.

We also had some kind of chocolate concotion, which we did not get a photo of – I can only imagine it was because we were distracted by THIS:

The mother of all Cyril Lignac creations, the famous baba au rhum. An ultra-spongy cake that is positively drenched in rum and syrup, topped with whipped cream…when I say this is the best dessert I have ever eaten in my entire life, I am not exaggerating in the least. It was divine. We split this one on Christmas Eve and went back a week later for another on New Year’s. Zero regrets.

Now where’d I put my running shoes…?

Life, lately.

While I wish I could come into the space with tons of fun new updates and glimpses into our terribly glamorous life in Paris (ha!), the reality is that there has been not much to report. My intention was to do a write-up of how we spent Christmas, but the post has been languishing in my “drafts” folder since…well, we really didn’t do anything worth writing about. The pandemic continues to have a profound impact on our day-to-day — most everything here is still closed, and with a newly-imposed 6 PM curfew, we’ve been in an endless cycle of wake up–work–watch some TV–repeat, with the occasional long walk thrown in on my lunch break or the weekend. Our almost year-long, real-life “Groundhog Day” continues, with no end in sight.

Numbers in France continue to rise, and while the French government first insisted that a third confinement (lockdown) was not in their plans, it seems like they’re quickly changing their tune. My boss is insistent that we’ll be in lockdown again at the beginning of February, once the fifteen-day trial period of the 6 PM curfew is up. Rumors have been circulating that the reopening of restaurants, bars, and cafés — once slated for the end of January — has been pushed until April at the earliest. This makes me think my boss is probably right about the imminent arrival of a third confinement.

People in the States tend to think that everyone else has managed to figure out how to handle the COVID situation except for them, and while it’s true that the US is in particularly bad shape due to the federal government’s complete abdication of any responsibility whatsoever toward ensuring the well-being of its citizens, I really can’t say that France seems to be handling things any better as of late. Cases in France are considerably worse now than they were last spring when the government instituted a total lockdown that lasted for two months. The second confinement that coincided directly with our move to France in November brought cases down from the 30- and 40-thousands to about 10 or 11 thousand per day, but we’ve never approached the goal of 5,000 cases originally set by the government that would allow for a gradual reopening.

Still, France seems to be floundering with how to really get a handle on things. I’m generally a fan of big government, but frankly, I’ve been mystified by the approach here. I’m no scientist, but the decisions being made seem contradictory, only partially rooted in scientific evidence (when convenient, it seems) and, worst of all, totally ineffective. Schools and shops (of all varieties) remain open, yet cultural institutions and cinemas/theaters remain closed. Apparently being crammed into my neighborhood grocery store or shopping center, where no one bothers to limit the number of people allowed inside (as they’re supposed to) is fine and safe, but timed entry at the 650,000 square foot Louvre is not? Restaurants and bars are allowed to remain open for takeaway only, but no one ever seems to enforce the “away” part, since the places around my apartment are regularly crowded with scores of people standing outside where the terrace would normally be, drinking and having a grand old time, while the police simply walk by and shake their heads. Why not allow these places to be open, then, where they could at least place tables at a safe distance apart and say you must be seated in order to be served? What’s the point of keeping them closed if people are allowed to hang out in front anyway?

The government has stubbornly insisted that schools must remain open, but workplaces are to institute restrictions (we’re currently allowed at our office one day a week), though the adults I’ve encountered have been infinitely more responsible in wearing masks than the teenagers, who congregate maskless in groups, often passing around a single vape pen to share amongst ten people. Similarly, curfew has not stopped people from getting together at home and having parties — their guests just simply spend the night now. And since the institution of the 6 PM curfew, public transportation and bakeries and grocery stores have become a true nightmare as everyone scrambles to get home and/or get their daily provisions all at the same time.

This is, of course, to say nothing of the completely disastrous rollout of the vaccine here in France. As it stands, if things continue at the current pace, it will take eight years for the population to be vaccinated against COVID. Of course, only about 50% of French people are currently planning to receive the vaccine — needless to say, I am not hopeful we will be getting back to “normal” anytime soon.

Obviously, I am feeling very negatively about all of this. That’s not to say I’m not happy to be here or that things were better in Michigan (they weren’t), but “COVID fatigue” has set in. Moving to a new place is lonely enough as it is — not being able to go out and do things to meet new people and really settle in to a LIFE here has been extremely challenging.

On a slightly brighter note, I got to actually go to work for the first time last week, as our office reopened for us to attend one day a week. It was nice to finally meet some of my colleagues in person, after two months of only seeing them through a webcam. Then, last Saturday, we had our first real snow of the season! It didn’t stick around for long, but it made for a really lovely scene and Dani and I enjoyed a long day of walking around and enjoying the sight of Paris dusted with snow. We might get flurries again this weekend, but I doubt we’ll get anything like the snow we had last week again.

A few photos:

Winter in Europe

The time is passing here much more quickly than we would like, as is evidenced by my lack of posting. I feel like I just wrote about our trip to Krakow (heck, I feel like we just went to Krakow) but here we are, end of January already.

We really enjoyed the Christmas season here. Between the Christmas markets that pop up at the end of November/early December and the Fête des Lumières in Lyon, it felt so much more festive than it normally does at home. The only thing missing was the snow – not that I particularly enjoy snow, but I did miss it during the holidays. Though I have to admit, it’s been really nice to be able to spend the season walking on (mostly) dry streets and in temperatures that have rarely descended below freezing.

 

We kicked off winter with a trip “up North” to visit our friend, Célia. We spent the weekend snuggling her new baby boy, visiting the Christmas market in Montbéliard (seriously impressive) and gorging ourselves on raclette and crêpes.

The weekend after was the Fête des Lumières, a yearly celebration where the entire city is lit up by various light displays and installations. Even though it was a “meh” year, according to our local friends, we were still sufficiently marveled. The atmosphere was just so nice…for four nights, everyone was outside exploring the city, and just about every café, store, and restaurant in town had a small table set up outside to serve vin chaud and other snacks to help keep everyone warm while they took in the sights.

Dani’s parents came to visit on Christmas. They spent two weeks with us; one week at our place in Lyon, and then we took off on an adventure to Paris (obviously) and Annecy, a small-ish city in the Alps. It was absolutely freezing cold in Annecy but ho-ly crap I could not have cared less – what a charming place. The mountains! The lake! The food!

Since they left, we’ve been hunkered down in Lyon, just enjoying the day-to-day. We moved apartments in mid-December and have been so glad to have a space that’s just for us. It’s tiny, but it’s perfect for the two of us and Lucie.

We have some fun travel plans coming up in the next few months, and I do want to re-cap a couple of other things from Krakow that we really enjoyed, now that my teaching schedule has been greatly reduced and I have the time to do more writing.

A Week in Paris

Regardless of whether or not I decided to participate in the Lyon exchange this year, I knew I wanted to go to Paris this August. It’s not really the ideal time to visit the city, as things tend to shut down while the Parisians leave the city for their annual vacances (or maybe that DOES make it the ideal time to visit…) but I wanted to come to celebrate my 30th birthday, which is at the beginning of the month. We were actually pleasantly surprised to find that it was not too overrun by tourists – perhaps it was just late enough in the month that most families had already gone back home to prepare for a return to school and work. Then again, for this particular trip to Paris, Dani and I opted to avoid doing most of the touristy things as we both have been here several times before. Also, having a dog back at our AirBnB meant that we had to limit how much time we spent out and about so that Lucie didn’t feel too neglected.

Still, we managed to get up to quite a lot while we were in the City of Lights; some days even felt positively busy. Here are some of the highlights:

Lunch in the Marais with Dani’s niece – The day we arrived in Paris also happened to be Dani’s niece’s last day in France before returning to London to fly home. She was on a trip with two of her friends, and we managed to meet up with them in the Marais for lunch – the best falafel on the planet (well, at least in France) – and a quick walk around the neighborhood. Unfortunately we were absolutely exhausted after our flight and the experience of hauling our massive suitcases over to the bag check at Gare de Lyon, as we couldn’t check into our AirBnB until later in the afternoon. Did I mention that I also had to carry Lucie in a bag around my neck nearly the entire time? So we probably weren’t as fun as we could have been, had we been a bit more fresh – but it was still fun to show the girls one of our favorite spots in Paris.

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Sainte Chapelle and Dani’s first galette – Still exhausted but not wanting to waste our day, we took the train into the city (our AirBnB was just outside of Paris proper) and went to Sainte Chapelle, which Dani had never seen and I had only been to once. There was almost no line! The last time I went, the stained glass windows had been partially under restoration, so it was nice to see them in their full glory. After, we wandered down the rue Saint-André-des-Arts and Dani had her first galette – a savory crêpe. She opted for cheese and caramelized onion filling, which was delicious.

The 130th birthday party – When I was 18 and spending the summer in New York City, I had the great fortune to meet my aunt Christine’s two close friends, Liz and Andrew. At the time that I met them, they were planning a move from New York to Paris and I assumed that it would be the last I saw of them; fortunately, through a weird/serendipitous series of events, we’ve managed to keep in touch over the years and I have had the great privilege to visit them several times on various trips to Paris. They very graciously offered to host a “130th birthday party” during our trip, as I turned 30 and Christine and Andrew both celebrated their 50th birthdays this year. As always we had a fabulous time and way, way too much wine.

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Photos aren’t allowed inside, unfortunately!

A night at thMoulin Rouge – My only other birthday request was for tickets to see the show at the Moulin Rouge, which Dani happily obliged. We had a fancy dinner at Le Bon Bock, which claims to bethe oldest restaurant in Montmartre, hosting the likes of Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso (among others), which was delicious and, thankfully, not overly touristy. Afterward we had a quick cocktail at Lulu White Drinking Club which was delightful and I will for sure be adding that to my list of must-visit places in Paris. It was off to the cabaret after that, and while I won’t spoil the experience for anyone else who is thinking of going, I will say that it was kitschy, fun, and totally worth doing, if only just to say you did. One unexpected highlight of the show was watching a dancer shout at a woman in the audience for filming a number on her cell phone, which is prohibited, while in the middle of performing a number. Yowza.

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At Lulu White

Montmartre Food Tour – We really love a good food tour, so on a whim I booked the last two spots on a morning tour of Montmartre. It turned out to be really wonderful – not quite as good as Rome, maybe, but excellent in its own right. Our group was small and friendly, our guide was great and knowledgeable, and we were extremely well fed (and nearly drunk) when all was said and done. Plus, we’ll never pass up an opportunity to spend a few more hours in Montmartre.

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General flânerie – Since we weren’t in a big rush to see and do anything in particular (other than our trip to the Moulin), we really enjoyed taking some small strolls around the city. Our AirBnB was not too far away from the Bois de Boulogne, so we packed a little lunch and took the dog over one day, which was nice for all of us. Another day we hopped on the metro and got off at Notre Dame and went up to the top of the Cathedral to take in the view of Paris and the different gargoyles and chimeras, then afterward just wandered over to the Louvre, through Tuileries, and down the rue Saint-Honoré. We had a nice late lunch, ate macarons from Pierre Hermé, went shopping, and just enjoyed the fact that we had nowhere else to be other than exactly where we were. It was perfect.

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A French teacher, eating a French treat. You can’t see it, but the Eiffel Tower was just off to my right. Cliché or what?

Overall, it was a great week to get ourselves primed and ready for the year ahead. We’ve been in Lyon for a few days now and are trying to settle into more of a routine of daily life vs. constant vacation mode, but with school still out of session and us still feeling like tourists, it’s definitely a work in progress. We’ve needed to remind ourselves to slow down a bit – after all, we’ll be here for a year, so there’s no need to rush about and try to do and see everything all at once.