Category Archives: friends

Endings… and Beginnings

louvre

When last we spoke, I was alternating between waxing poetic about sunny summer vacations and practically pulling my hair out in anticipation of my move from Paris to California. I am pretty sure that my silence here speaks for itself. As usual, when things got tough, the blog was sidelined. However, I am popping back up to assure you that I made it.

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I want to take a moment to thank all of my friends and colleagues for the time and energy they spent supporting me through the stress of those last few weeks and months of what seemed like perma-crisis mode. I can only hope that our many celebrations were worth it. I still have a backlog of posts I want to write about my last few weeks/months in Paris – to tell you all about the museums, trips and meals I was able to squeeze in before leaving.

gyoza

My story has, in practical terms, come full circle. From California, to Boston, to Paris and back again. Emotionally, however, it is a very different story. I left here at age 22, naïve and idealistic with a list of things I wanted to accomplish in my life that, at the time, seemed to equate to happiness. I return, almost 12 years later, a bit more jaded, much more confidant and knowing that crossing goals off of a list in itself is not necessarily success.

bruges

I learned so much about myself living in Paris. Despite all of it’s beauty and splendor, it is not an easy place to feel at home – especially living alone and not exactly speaking the language. I have a kind of innate confidence in me now – I moved there, I made it work – that no one can take away. Much of that came from learning how to share my ups and downs here. This blog gave me space to find a voice and foster my creativity, whether it was with my photos, crafting or a weeknight meal. More importantly, in this space I never felt alone. I am exceedingly thankful to each of you that read these words, especially those that dropped a kind comment now and then to reinforce that, despite thousands of miles, there are ways we can all remain connected and close.

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After all of my international travel and adventures, I am excited to be reinventing myself again, this time with the backdrop of San Diego and the support of my friends and family. I have started a Researching San Diego blog – you can find it here. It may be a bit less exotic of a locale, but there is so much to explore, in the city and throughout California (plus, those last few Paris posts will be posted there soon!). I hope you all will join me for the new adventures yet to come.

Thank you.

Much Love.

Timing is Everything

(Empty dining room of Lost Society, site of pop-up dinner)

Sometimes you end up in exactly the right place at precisely the right time. Such was the case with a visit to Washington, D.C. in late February. I had traveled to the Florida for the wedding of a close friend, and decided to take a few more days to travel up the coast to DC to visit a few more friends before heading back across the pond. Upon returning from the wedding I received an email from Catherine, a now-DC friend (and editor of the wonderful Edible DC) whom I had first gotten to know when she interned at Paris by Mouth, “Have to go to this tomorrow night for work. Care to go??”

(Bouillabaisse with chorizo, mussel juice, kaffir lime leaves and hot cream; cocktail – champagne)

What she referred to as a duty was, in reality, a multi-course pop-up dinner, complete with matching cocktails and only 13 other diners plus the chef, who was using this format to test out new menu options for a restaurant in development. There was never a question of my attending. I flew in, dropped off my bags and hailed a taxi just as fast as my little legs (and DC traffic) would let me.

(Roasted sunchoke, blackened onion aioli, Arbois foam; cocktail – gin with vermouth, peach bitters and caramelized grapefruit zest )

Summed up? It was more than worth every harried minute. Dinner was extraordinary, the cocktails creative and perfectly paired with the flavors of the food, the company delightful and the chef, Aaron Silverman, down-to-earth, humble and excited about his cuisine. He was especially generous with permissions for photos and details about the preparation and ingredients of the food itself. I scrambled to record his descriptions on my iPhone and to get the best photos possible in the low light of the lounge restaurant our group had taken over for the evening. I promised, at the end of the night, that I would write all of this up, including the photos and email it around to the staff and guests ASAP.

(Dungeness crab, artichoke, sabayon, dill)

And then there are those moments in which you find yourself at exactly the wrong place at the precisely the wrong time. One week after returning from DC, while riding the metro home from work (at a completely reasonable hour and on a ‘safe’ line, I promise), I was mugged. My iPhone was snatched from my grasp and yanked out of the car, taking me along with it, as I was still connected by the big, nerdy headphones that Parisians – and now me – favor. The thief and I tussled on the train platform before he was able to break the cord connecting us and run off. I spun around, discombobulated and feeling not a little violated. The other passengers stood still and silent, necks bent out of the open car doors and windows from where they had watched our fight. It was not until my shoulders slumped in defeat and I got back on the waiting car that they all started speaking at me, at once, commiserating and exclaiming how awful the crime in the city has gotten – although not one of them had stepped out to help me only a few minutes before.

(Caramelized cauliflower with greek yogurt, country ham, truffled breadcrumbs and raisin purée; cocktail – Calvados, ghost and habenero pepper-infused, brown sugar, lemon juice and zest, i.e. AMAZING)

A few days later I sat down, my (mostly) optimistic outlook restored to finally record my amazing DC meal and realized that all of my notes from that night were gone. Lost, along with the rest of what I had stored in that machine, which had become a notepad, address book, music collection, photo repository (oh, the FFFFPs that I had for you all!) and phone all rolled into one. Dejected and angry, I kept questioning myself: Why did I sit right next to the metro door making me such an easy target? Where was all that self-defense training when I actually needed it? Feeling disappointed all over again, I put the photos and the beginnings of my post away.

(‘Caesar salad’, fried brussels sprouts, parmesan and caesar dressing; cocktail – rye whiskey, tamarind, brown sugar syrup, allspice, lemon)

Miraculously, just a few weeks ago, I was poking around my email account – looking for an old, unrelated message when I realized that, somehow, all of my iPhone notes had been synched by Gmail. This included all the details and contacts from Aaron’s amazing dinner, as well as my optimized pattern for the perfect knit beer coozy, clearly two priceless recoveries. Good on you Apple and Google – I know you both are tracking my every move, charting my personality for advertising purposes and probably invading my privacy in ways I cannot even begin to understand, but for today I am totally A-OK with that. Under my nose, in an attempt to make my life easier, you had stored up all those notes and thoughts I had made and, by doing so, brought back the memory of one of the best meals I have eaten in recent memory. Sweet.

(Chilaquiles, Modelo especial) 

(Menudo, roast pork and tripe)

In reality, all credit for this meal go to Catherine (for the invite) and Aaron (for the chef-ery). As I thought I had lost Aaron’s email – I have not kept in touch – but am hoping that the arrival of this much belated post in his inbox will gain me an update on how those restaurant plans are progressing.

(Cheese course, mini monte cristo with housemade raspberry jam)

To all my DC folk – if there is the possibility, please seek this one out. He knows his way around the kitchen and and has a great time with it. It is more-than-about time that I owe him a thank you. Maybe we can all make the trek together when I return to DC in October?

(Apple pie, Ritz cracker ice cream, Ritz crumbles, caramel, roasted apples, apple syrup, Cabot cheddar)

(Aaron (left) and Co. after the dinner, deservedly smiling) 

Last Call

I received an extremely crucial (and insightful) piece of advice from Meg not so long ago. No nonsense, eye-to-eye, I-know-what-I’m-talking-about words of wisdom: “Figure out what your priorities are for the rest of your time in Paris and DO them… the lab is not going to love you back…” Her blunt honesty stunned me into several long seconds of silence, followed acceptance of the truth and, finally, by a slow, affirmative (and still silent) nod: Yes.

Don’t get me entirely wrong, I have been working hard on (and still love) the science (especially now that the countdown is always ticking in the background) and I’m not about to toss my lab coat in a corner and never look back. However, there is a lot of Paris, and France (possibly even further afield in Europe) that I have not yet seen. Knowing that I am easily caught up by my overdeveloped sense of obligation, I need to be sure that I set aside time for me, in addition to the lengthy (always growing) list of experiments.

To that end, I am currently writing from a hotel room in Caen (one of the larger towns in Normandy) where I am taking in the sites with visiting family. For the first time in almost four years, I have taken a week off of work and stayed here. I am giving myself the time to get a bit more organized, see the sites and enjoy the time I have with my family on this side of the world. It is glorious.

As both a way to hold myself accountable and get the word out to my Paris friends, I thought I’d post my ‘to-do for FUN’ list here and keep track of things as I see them (and write about them, of course).

So, here is my dream list of places to see and photos to take before I depart in November. I would also really enjoy hearing your suggestions – food, landmarks, museums and/or views that are wholeheartedly recommended as ‘can’t miss’ when visiting the City of Light. Please, give me more ‘work’ to do!

Paris (and vicinity)

Museums:

Musée Rodin (27 July 2012)

Musée des Arts et Metiers (26 July 2012)

Musée de l’Orangerie

Espace Dali (this is embarrassing as it is around the corner from my house)

Jardin des Plantes/Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle

Musée Dupuytren (yes weird, possibly disturbing, but still fascinating)

Musée Carnavalet (did this past weekend-post forthcoming!)

Churches/Landmarks:

Madeline (did this past weekend – post forthcoming!)

Pantheon

Opera (the building definitely, but also – if I’m lucky – a performance?)

Galeries Lafayette  (for the building this time, not the shopping – I am on a post-doc salary, a French one, no less…)

Fontainebleau

Versailles (I have seen the gardens, but never the chateau)

Basilique Saint Denis

Night cruise along the Seine

Views

Arc de Triomphe (29 July 2012)

Tour Eiffel (yeah, have not done this yet, shaking my head in shame)

Tour Montparnasse (top of)

Dome of Basilica Sacre Coeur

Towers of Notre Dame Cathedral

Cemeteries

Montparnasse

Montmartre (28 July 2012)

Beyond Paris

Normandy (23-25 July 2012)

–       Mont Saint Michel (24 July 2012)

–       Omaha beach (25 July 2012)

Tours

Rouen

Bruges (mainly because of this and because it is GORGEOUS)

Yeah, so remember I did say dream list. However, please do suggest other things I may have missed. And, Paris peeps – let me know if you want to join the adventure(s)!

On risotto and laughter (Weekly Harvest)

One of the few advantages of my unexpected blogging hiatus is that I have stockpiled enough panier posts to get us through the next several weeks sans new fodder. Although I will never get used to receiving the notification that my vegetable deliveries are stopping just when things are getting good, through the month of August (images of overflowing baskets of warm summer peaches, tomatoes off the vine and copious zucchini dancing through my head), I do recognize that this is la vie française – here vacations are untouchable, even for vegetables. Knowing that my return to California is inching closer each day, I have been trying to see friends as much as possible. Between my long days in the lab and their varying vacation schedules, this has been a bit of a challenge. Yet, with birthdays to celebrate, vacations to kick-off and a truly summery panier (peas! In their pods! More strawberries! The first of the summer’s zucchini!), this evening came together with very little effort and was filled with tasty food and raucous laughter. Food-wise, once I saw the green peas and zucchini, risotto immediately jumped to my mind as a good option to serve our group of six (especially as it includes a few dedicated vegetarians). For me, risotto used to be something relegated to a fancy dinner out – a dish that I always enjoyed but could not imagine making myself, especially as a superficial glance at risotto recipes across the internet did nothing to abate my fear of spending the entire evening slaving over a hot stove. Camille’s excellent tutorial debunked that myth for me long ago and today, using her template as a starting point, risotto has become a familiar dish in my kitchen, especially as a delicious way to use extra panier fare. On this particular evening, I sautéed shallots and mixed in roasted zucchini, fresh peas and goat cheese. Good reviews were given all the way around, which means even more coming from Camille, she of the initial inspiration for my culinary creativity.

Having (almost) all the girls together for the first time in many months to share stories, food and (not a small amount of) wine was such a pleasure. Especially when one of them pulled out a collection of Fingerstaches, a stellar birthday present she was gracious enough to share with the rest of us. General hilarity ensued, as can be imagined. I laughed harder than I have in a long time – hard enough that my abs hurt the next day (probably a comment on my abs – or lack thereof – but also very positive commentary on the wit of my friends). I spent the evening constantly reminded of how incredibly lucky I have been to connect with such amazing people and also sad at the thought of walking away, yet again, from people I love.  However, I know that friends like these do not fade with distance. Plus, a girls (long) weekend to San Diego is going to sound mighty fine come the cold, dark days of February in Paris. See you there???

Paris Bites: Verjus

One of my favorite feelings has always been one of community. I find it deeply gratifying to have a sense of place and belonging among a group of people or the intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of a quiet neighborhood. As an adult this is epitomized by individual relationships built over time at places where, after many late nights, everyone knows your name. I have found a few of these places in Paris where I actually feel like a local. I have recently discovered another – Verjus – and I am completely infatuated.

Let’s start by acknowledging that Verjus is no longer the hidden jewel it had been since their opening last October. After recent reviews in Saveur and Bon Appetit, this muchbuzzedabout, American owned and operated wine bar/restaurant is definitely on the map for food savvy tourists and the Paris ex-pat community alike. This means, mainly, that it is mostly English spoken around the bar – a fact that, to be honest, does not bother me at all. Sure, perhaps we are indulging in a bit of Anglo-self-segregation, but stepping into a room where most everyone speaks my language, gets my humor, plays my music (this playlist rocked my world) and plies me with indulgent food and drink after a long week (or long Monday) can feel like heaven.

Speaking of otherworldly goodness, let’s gawk at and drool over the food. Verjus is divided into an upscale, multi-course/chef’s tasting menu-type restaurant upstairs, and a wine bar serving small plates in the cave below. Although I did have the pleasure of indulging in the full restaurant dining experience once and highly recommend it (if your budget allows), what I cannot get enough of are the small plates at the funky wine bar down below.

Combined with a tasty and affordable list of wines by the glass, a few of these small plates can easily be combined to complete a stellar dinner – especially if you bring a few friends and can try one of everything. Case(s) in point:

Celery root dumplings with dan-dan sauce, chives and toasted peanuts

Skillet broccoli with Korean rice cake, anchovy and parmesan

Buttermilk fried chicken with napa cabbage slaw and micro-greens

Veal meatballs, shaved fennel, lemon and truffle oil

Crispy Basque pork belly, grilled and pickled chiles, spicy mayo

Shoestring fries with togarashi and catsup

Selection of cheeses and house accompaniments

I have been several (ahem) times in the past few months and every time the food is deliciously spot-on, the company (both with me and behind the bar) is good fun and I leave wondering when I can return next – just so they remember my name, of course.

Verjus Bar à Vin

47 rue de Montpensier

Paris, 75001

01 42 97 54 40 (reservations not accepted at the bar)

Catacombes de Paris

Honestly, I am completely embarrassed that it has taken me 3+ years to make it to the Catacombs of Paris, deep in the 14th arrondisment. This was not due to a lack of effort – in fact, today marked my third attempt to gain entry, the first two blocked due to poor timing (we almost made it in time) and an electricity outage (now that I have been deep down there, I can only imagine how terrifying that must have been).

After a long wait in line (about an hour, in scattered rainshowers), we finally made it into the tiny vestibule where tickets are bought and one starts their initial descent. Both my visitor and I commented on how stark everything was and moreover, if this was the US there would be eerie organ music and an introduction voiced-over by Morgan Freeman looping the background. To say that I am thankful for the lack of crass commercial manipulation in France would be an understatement.

The self-guided tour started off with a not-so-quick history lesson. Apparently long, long ago, the land we think of Paris today was submerged under a land-locked sea. Following massive tectonic movement, continental drift, human evolution, settlement and civilization (yes, this was covered in one info-graphic), the locals began to excavate massive amounts of limestone from under the city to build the monuments we all gawk at today.  Following a massive outbreak of water-borne disease (traced back to contamination of the city’s water supply by an excess of shallowly buried, decomposing bodies – eeew), the government ordered the above-ground cemeteries emptied and all remains thrown the unused quarry tunnels. In 1809 a very astute business man (whose name is currently lost in the tunnels of my mind), decided that the display of those remains would rake in the Francs, so he initiated the massive undertaking of reorganizing, stabilizing and opening the ossuary for public viewing. That is forward thinking.

After being prepped for what we were about to see, we descended further into the quarry. Long, damp tunnels were haphazardly lit and we could see initials and dates of individual workers carved into the stones around each new corner.

The first decorative item we came across was this stunning castle, carved into the stone wall. According to the signage (everything in English! Bravo!), this was carved by an excavator who had been imprisoned in the south for many years, with this castle as the only view from his cell.

Again, more info-graphics. Not only did the quarries provide a perfect final resting place for 6 million (!!!) Parisian remains, but they also play a critical role in our current understanding of the geological time scale of the European continent. A core taken from deep within the quarry now represents the international standard  of the different layers of rock and sediment from the major geological periods of the past. The hole from which the core was taken is now an extremely deep well.

After educating us all about French history, geology and paleontology (there were fossils!), we finally got to the bones. SO. MANY. BONES. You have been waiting for them as well – here you go (please forgive the focus issues, it was *dark* down there):

There really are not words to describe this place. It was eerie and overwhelming. It was claustrophobic, yet peaceful. It was a collection of so many lives and so much history that it was impossible to truly take it all in. I cannot recommend it enough – worth every wet minute in that line and more. I cannot wait to take another round of visitors back and absorb the melancholy and the sacred all over again.

In Images – Visitor, day 2

The tour of Paris continued today. We ate, we gawked and we ate some more. Currently, we are sprawled at home in a falafel coma. Good times.

(We started off the day with coffee and a croissant, as one should)

(Next was the winding metro ride across the city to the Catacombs. The line was long and the weather blustry, but we stuck it out and it was well worth it.)

(After emerging from the land of the dead, it seemed a good bet to counter with Notre Dame. Note the gathering darkness in the sky…)

(We crossed the Seine and ventured into Le Marais with a clear goal in mind, although we were slightly sidetracked by a torrential hailstorm – those clouds meant business.)

(Following a warming cup of coffee, a quick introduction between friends and a respite from the storm, we pushed on to our final destination. The best falafel in Paris. Recommended by Lenny Kravitz, even. How can you go wrong? Don’t answer that – you can’t, I promise.)

Psst – don’t fret, the Catacombs are next…