Monday, January 19, 2015

Can’t Miss a Beat

It’s not that I think my extended family can’t live without me.  And definitely, I can live without them.  But I sure did love the little basket of love that my niece sent my way this weekend: passion fruits, kumquats, fennel and other cuttings from her garden.

It was nice to be missed, even if for a weekend.


There is always something going on in our family.  Some-one or five comes over for breakfast.  Of course they need some scones hot from the oven, with soft butter and house-made marmalade, on a silver platter from France.  They said it was not the same during the few days I was gone.  I guess not!


I set the Saturday breakfast table with the stylized arrows I am making for the next cooking classes and Valentine’s gifts…feathers and glitter are fun and fine in my book~


And then there was the issue of my Sis’ birthday.  Mom insisted I make a cake Sunday morning, and Sis also hinted she wanted a special cake.  What would you do otherwise, I wanted to ask?  Oh no, a store-bought cake was not going to cut it. This one was Grand Marnier.


A few snips from the garden, and a visit to the basket my niece brought, and we were done.  And oh yes, my Sis LOVED it. 


The red currants came from the Persian market, the only thing I didn’t find at home.  Home.  Yes, I am not in Morocco, I’m at home this week.  And I am glad for it…


And once I got through the big birthday for sis, I was on to getting my nephew off to Italy.  Four months in Florence followed by a few months of backpacking, and starting with a five day visit to Rome.


I made a scramble to set up a room for him at the Sacred Heart Convent, close to the Vatican and other sights of Rome; and most of all, a safe-haven for a jet-lagged, barely-Italian-speaking young man whom I love dearly but who might be more brave than he lets on.  I checked a few websites, but still felt the convent was the best and most cost-effective option. 


Today was an Italian-food-intensive afternoon. A quick shopping trip and then he and I had a discussion of Italy and pork products…of Guanciale and pancetta and cinghiale or wild boar.  Men learn by seeing and tasting. I knew that lists were not enough.  We had mortadella from Trader Joe’s; though I know he will find better in Italy, he knows something good and safe by sight and by name.  Alas, no pics, but the cake top is better~ haha~


I made spaghetti carbonara and risotto con funghi secchi (that’s fancy for rice with dried porcini) and garlic bread and we looked at pics of puntarelle alla romana and the markets of Rome and Florence.  We reserved an advance ticket for the Vatican Museum so he can skip the long line, and we talked of cheeses and I showed him internet images of the various supermarkets in Florence near his flat.   Si….he got it. 


I wondered, after Corino left, what he would have done without this introduction.  He knows how to cook and would surely have figured it out, but it sure helps to have some advice. And some Euros and such. But mostly, an Auntie who knows and who cares.


Tomorrow we will sort out the last details, especially his cell phone so that he has some communication ready to go once he arrives.  It’s an unfair test of language to think he can go to Italy and find a prepaid sim.  Best to do that here and spend your time touring Rome not sorting out technical difficulties.


The end of the day was a macaroon trial for the next classes. 


It seems like an eternity, the time I was to be traveling, as I mark the days.  I continue to be glued to the news…what else will happen??  I do not know, but I am with my family and all is right.  And of course, the next trip is right around the corner~

Monday, January 12, 2015

Hello, Goodbye Paris

Friday evening, after my wanderings and shopping in Paris, I watched the news of the killing of the terrorists and French President Hollande speak.  Throughout the early morning hours, my cell phone rang, and rang and rang.  Family and friends checking in, checking in on me.  Awake at 4am after the calls, I sat up and wrote my previous blog post.  I got a few hours of morning sleep, had some coffee, then met my friends with whom I traveled.  Ok, wait, we didn’t just travel together, they brought me with them, on an airline “pass” as a standby passenger.  Huge luck and thanks and credit to them that we got first class seats, but we were there together, and we met up again at 11am Saturday to spend the day ensemble.  In theory.  Instead of discussing our plans to tour Paris or the flea or which shops to visit first, we talked of the latest loads on flights, how they had changed, how travel was and would be affected between Paris, London and the US if there were a future attack.  I know that sounds a bit negative and all, but it was really a matter of practicality.  My friends were going to leave this weekend and then come back in two weeks when I would join them on the return.  But if there is any major event, it would be likely I would not return on schedule.  The world turns, the world changes….


Across Paris, the signs are pervasive.  And I came to the decision, with my friends, that it was best to get back to California.


And so, we had a nice lunch in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.  I had a beautiful Caesar salad, that looked like this, piled high in a bowl~


We ran a few errands, passing by the Assemblée Nationale, where a car was stopped with five police officers surrounding it, rifles raised and trained on the car and its driver, with smoked windows.  Not completely unusual for Paris, but still, a sign.  Paris is on edge for sure.  We did some shopping together, and I pick up a few items before meeting my friends at their hotel at La Defense.  Hello, Goodbye Paris indeed…this was a quick trip, I didn’t even have time to sample the winter shellfish on offer, but that’s ok~


Arriving home on Sunday evening, Mom said my case looked full of goodies just like it always does.  I brought beautiful items for my cooking class guys and gals….the best French pastry brushes~


The best pastry bags from Mora that are imprinted with a cool digitized figure; indispensible when making gougères or crème puffs~


More hen and rooster cookie cutters, I need these~~


A quartet of Eiffel Towers I bought in front of the Louvre, in a dash to the cooking stores…I know who wants these~


I brought a handful of wood spatulas from Dehillerin.  I didn’t bring one of everything for my cooking classes, but next time I’ll stock these in my store or take orders in advance….


Marked for the Paris address next to Les Halles, these are kitchen essentials….love love love for decades…


Pastry cutters also came home with me, also marked for Dehillerin.  Perfect for making biscuits, scones and sablés~


Running into a few shops along the way on Saturday, I picked up the salts I need in Laguna, at least for a few months to tide me over~


A kilo bag of sel de Guèrande will make do for a few months until I get back~


A stop at the spice shop on Rue de Rivoli on the way to the metro in the rain yielded a generous sachet of herbes de Provence, Quatre Epices and powdered almonds.  I always ask which are domestic and which are California imports; in this case the whole almonds were California and the powdered were domestic.  Sold.


And at home on Monday morning, I had Josephine tea from Ladurée….it is a new favorite and reminds me of this visit to Paris, however short it was….


I will be back soon enough to Paris, and then to Beaune and elsewhere in France.  My best girlfriends, and not to mention R, were all quite disappointed to not make the trip to Marrakech with me, so I’m thinking of renting a riad next time and taking everyone with me.  But this does not seem the right time to be traveling Morocco alone and doing the Bedoin in the dessert thing.  No sense in stressing my travel angels and family this time.  There is word that other sleeper cells are being activated, and there is the unknown.  If you look in the rear-view mirror you can say if you should stay or go, but for now, I will take the prudent route and return to California.  France, I love you, and will see you soon~

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Notes from Paris

My annual trip to Paris got off to a great start with a friend setting me up with a first class non-stop ticket.  It’s going to be tough to go to the back of the bus next time, but I sure did enjoy those seats which truly to recline flat.  I have spent the last three nights in Laguna, San Francisco and on the plane sleeping with one eye open.  Last night, here in Paris, was my first real night of sleep.  If you travel to Paris from the States, I highly recommend that you power through your first day and do not fall victim to the siren’s call of your hotel room bed.  Resist the temptation, and walk walk walk.  Even if you are tired, you can still walk.  You will thank yourself for the rest of your trip as you will hopefully adjust to the time difference, especially those of us traveling from the West Coast. 

Everyone is different, I know, and so do as you want, but just think of all the goodness there is to see.  Do you want to sleep through the day, or do you want to see small coin pouches in the shape of toads which come in ten colors as well as five shades of metallic?  I presume these are not real toads, but they do cost about $400 each.  Paris will hit you squarely in the head with new ideas and inspiration.


I took the RER in from Charles de Gaulle airport this morning.  As the hostage situation nearby had taken place, there was one –yes, one- woman on the train with me into Paris.  Her daughter was in lockdown at a school five minutes from the hostage location, and she was on her way to work.  There was an air of unease for both of us as normally the train would be packed.  Personne. Anyway, I hate to arrive and learn of a hostage situation this way, but she and I chatted the whole way in; the train skipped every stop and went right to Gare du Nord.  There was an erie calm on the train, though several Parisian friends had said that the day before, a day of observance for the twelve Charlie Hebdo massacre victims, was also extremely quiet in Paris, with few people on the streets and in the Metro.  Many people just left the city for a long weekend as the two terrorists were on the loose.  I reasoned that I should avoid large crowded areas, but was sure that I would not run into any terrorists at Dehillerin.  And so I dropped my bag at the apartment and off I went.  I picked up some supplies for my cooking classes, such as trussing needles and pastry scrapers marked Paris and a handful of my favorite wooden spatulas, marked for this address.


The area where I stay is full of some of the most gorgeous shops in Paris, and I look forward to seeing all that there is to see.  This favorite shop has all neutrals this time, and on the back wall is the most enormous coral mirror I have ever seen.  Magnificent.


Just steps away are two of my favorite florists in the world.  A heavy painted iron urn planted simply but against a wall of malachite-like wall paper.  A feast for my eyes~


A arrangement of crates and flowers was nearby at the other shop; with a large bucket of mimosa on a simple chair.  OK the big Parisian door and cobblestones don’t hurt the photo, I know~


Just across the street, a small grocery offers a selection of exotic fruit just inside the door.  Do not sleep, walk!!!


Further along, at yet another florist, were a few signs that we are just finishing Christmas here.  Enormous concrete planters filled with boughs of fir.  With white lilies in front of course.  Welcome to Paris.


There were cut paperwhites and anemone from the sough of France.


After several hours of errands and walking, I was ready for a stop.  There are plenty of places for tea in Paris, but I like the Laduree not far from the apartment, on rue Jacob in the former digs of Madeleine Castaing.  I had the thé Josephine with a pitcher of hot water on the side and found a newspaper another patron had left behind.  A quiet corner to rest my feet with the silver pot of tea was well worth the 7 euros while catching up on the events of the two days before.


Back to walking, on my way over to hit a few more stores, a waiter was on a smoke break outside of Vuitton and just around the corner from Café du Flore.  Ah, Paris….


There were mostly tourists out on the streets, though many shoppers looked to be taking advantage of the January sales.  I can tell it has been calm the last few days because there were still so many Epiphany cakes still on offer; the traditional end to the Christmas season is January 8, the feast of the Three Kings.  You get a crown with each cake and whoever finds the little favor in each cake gets to wear the crown. 


As I headed back towards the apartment, I passed the usual places.  It’s nice to see the same shops.


Though sometimes the shops change.  This is the Chapon chocolate store, below.  You have seen the image of their large vintage-copper-cauldron-pendant lights on Pinterest as well as their back wall composed of old chocolate molds.  Why did they get rid of the copper lights and add the canned lighting?  Was someone tired of cleaning copper?  The shop has lost much of its soul with the renovation, in my opinion.  I hardly recognized it and it’s far less inviting now.


As the day wound down, I cruised the banks of the Seine.  Oui, more walking.  This the Assemblée Nationale and well, the lady in the background there doesn’t need an intro….


The lighting changed as I walked towards her.  I didn’t have the energy to walk all the way there, as my ballet-slippered feet were at this time telling me it was best to get home.


The river and the bridges and the feathery clouds of the winter sky.  It’s great to be in Paris, even if my camera is giving me a few focus problems!~


Give yourself just a few hours tromp around and take in all the sights of Paris….you will rejuvenate~


The Great Wheel is still there outside of the Tuilleries at Concorde.  Must love Paris….


Arriving home to some pain Poilane, cheeses and such and a bottle of wine, I caught the last of the day’s news, the killing of the terrorists, and President Hollande speaking.  Wow, what a day, and I wonder what tomorrow will bring.  Hollande has called for Sunday to be a day of great manifestations across France, especially here in Paris.  I will be heading to Morocco that afternoon, but will try to see what happens in the morning.  Meanwhile, I finished the day the same way every first day in France ends, with a cold foot bath loaded with French sea salt.  Your feet will be refreshed and not swollen the next day.  No hot water, cold.   I swear by this.

The only thing I didn’t get sorted out my first day was the internet connection, which has been changed, so I’m going to write now and post when I get online.  But it is now Saturday here in Paris, and I’m up at six am with coffee and readying myself to go to the President Wilson market to shop for food for dinner and then swing by the flea to see what I can see.  And then, later today, to find a free wifi connection.

Bonjour de Paris and look for more posts soon!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Marrakech Express

Each new year, for the last ten or so, I have made an effort to get away, to make some kind of physical retreat.  That is usually Paris, but has been Brittany, Beaune, Los Angeles or my own backyard, and a retreat it is, a few days or more to contemplate the year ahead, focus, make goals and gather energy.  Each year seems to pass with greater speed, and while I am busy through the holidays I don’t feel the sense of depletion and stress which I seemed to feel years ago…it used to be enough work to get my own home decorated, one or two big dinners on the table and and gifts found.  Now I spend more time styling others’ homes for Christmas, and my own decor develops in stages as time allows.  And so it was this year; you can see images of my home in Laguna on my Instagram.  Years ago I hated the crowds and noise of bell ringers in New York City.  Too much going on, too many crowds if you live there.  This holiday season was quiet yet constant; I hosted dinners, parties and small gatherings for family and friends just about every night for weeks, and that was most of my gift-giving, the most important gift- which is time well-spent together.  This year I also gave several members of the family some prized carving sets; one family heirloom and several other sets which I had bought at the 26th Street flea in NYC oh so many years ago.  I love how the vintage sterling caps cleaned up perfectly well, and I know they will all be used throughout the year and will be meaningful.  In a few days I am off to this year’s retreat: a weekend in Paris, a few weeks in Morocco, and then another few days in Paris.  Can you tell how much I am looking forward to this particular trip? 

I have made and cancelled and made and cancelled plans to go to Morocco for….forever.  I am not the only one in love with the Gypset /Boho life of Talitha Getty, here below with Jean Paul Getty circa 1970.  Shame about the heroin.  I love her caftan and boots and harem pants…though those are not on offer today in the souks, she remains an enduring icon of style; I have a large collection of Chinese silk jackets thanks to this image, which has long inspired me~

I will spend this trip alone, which is extremely rare.  Other than my local contacts, and a trip to Essaouira and Casablanca to visit my basket supplier, I will have no agenda but to explore Marrakech and its markets and sites.


What will I find….Beni carpets or colorful textiles?  I hear they import many from China now, but I’ll check it all out.  The process of discovery of a truly new place is wonderful.  It’s been a long time since I have really been somewhere “new.”

Marrakech, Morrocco

The definition of exotic, is it not, Marrakech and Morocco??

Djemaa el Fna square, Marrakesh, Morocco

Djemaa el Fna…can’t wait to see it in person~

Morocco - Marrakech - Jemaa el-Fna - Sunset scene

Wishing you all a beautiful new year, and I must say one of my new goals is to blog again more.  I have much exciting news to share soon, and will be posting during my trip and sharing many pics of my trip here. 
These are from Pinterest, not my own images, though the best way to follow me is now on Instagram.  Wishing you much love and prosperity for the new year!!