Saturday, December 31, 2011


Happy New Years! ...well almost. This last year was certainly jam packed with excitement and growth for me and I am looking forward to what 2012 has to offer! I'm thinking it's going to be a good one. I certainly have tons of informative Parisian tips for you from my family's visit to start off the year, including museum tips, tourist must-sees, restaurant reviews, and MISSION's.

Though I never really saw New Years Eve as a huge party and certainly did not see a reason to spend lots of money or sweat it out with the masses in a bar/club somewhere. Apparently this year I am to host quite a decent gathering myself. Now that I am living with Elze (which commenced just one fine day ago) my life has already increased in excitement exponentially. What was supposed to be a small gathering of friends over left-over lamb, wine, and cheese, has now turned into a party of 18 strangers from all over the world. I have to roll up my bed to make room for the bunch, toss out the crispy Christmas Tree in my kitchen, and buy bits of alcohol and nosh.

I know it may sound like complaining, but really I'm not. I wouldn't mind just staying in, watching a movie, and drinking champagne with my parisian pastry pals, but at least this way I'm still staying in and have an interesting Parisian New Year's story looming in the night.

As far as New Year's resolutions go, I've pretty much given up on them. They're often so trivial, so trite, that it's hard to be motivated by them or see them through. In years past I've chosen inspirational words to follow instead of a set demand like, lose ten pounds. One year was metamorphosis. Last year was fulfilment, and I think that following my dreams to study pastry in Paris, live abroad, and make friends from all over the world has certainly accomplished that. This year, I think I'm going to go for moxie. My dashboard dictionary defines it as such:

Moxie: noun, informal
force of character, determination, or nerve

I think that sounds about right. After my horrific experience with the satanic hell children of Pain de Sucre, I've learned the importance of believing in oneself. It's not always easy for me to stick to my guns or to do so while maintaining my character. I like it because it's similar to courage, but with personality, and personality goes a long way. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


I've been eating tons of cheese since my family has been here (well and tons since before they arrived as well). But this is France, isn't that what you're supposed to do? This past week I went to my little cheese shop around the corner and bought three lovelies from the sweet woman who works there (and potentially owns it as well), one of which, was the Brillat-Savarin.

This cheese was a lovely surprise! I bought it for it's soft appearance, and while it definitely was soft, it was soft in a creamy kind of way instead of the oozing pustule way that I many find disgusting but which I find tempting and sexy. The Brillat-Savarin did not ooze, or pour, or collapse under my knife, nor did it crumble like it's goat cheese peers. Instead it held its creamy stance and spread gorgeously onto my bread.

The closest thing I can think of to compare this to would be cream cheese, though that seems more of an insult that anything else. The rich creaminess of this cheese is so much more complex, so much more elegant, so much more...French! It had a tiny, itsy bitsy sourness to it which gave it depth and interest, but not nearly enough to be anywhere close to off-putting or strong. The texture was a smoothness sitting somewhere between cream cheese and goat's cheese so that it did not crumble but also had some intriguing graininess to it that gave it interest and personality. I imagine eating it with fresh herbs like basil, or chives, and perhaps some nice slices of tomato, or, even better, nestled between two slices of bread with beautiful bits of crab flesh. Oh my goodness, just the thought of it is making me feel light-headed!

This cheese is so elegant and opulent it comes in nice, big, thick, rounds. As I said above, I bought three cheeses on one day, the Brillat-Savarin being one of them, and it was the first to disappear with almost the same swiftness as Santa on Christmas night.

I know I will miss this cheese immensely when I return to the states for even if I can find it there, I doubt it will be easy to find one as good as my neighborhood shop. A wonderful cheese for beginners, or those afraid of the festering wheels of stinky fermented strength I so adore, this would be a rich accompaniment to so many things. Use your imagination. I know I'll be fantasizing about it tonight as I lay in bed.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


Ellie, Christmas 2010. 

Last night my family and I stayed up late playing a riveting game of Hearts, a classic card game my family enjoys every summer. Kirstie decided to be an antisocial weirdo and read her kindle instead of joining us, but after a good fifteen minutes of nagging from my mother and myself, (which included my mom scooting the couch, with Kirstie reclining on it, across the floor) she finally gave up and let us deal her in. And she then, of course, kicked all our asses. She counts cards, pays 100% attention, and goes for the throat. No mercy. No joking. It's serious.

All the same, we enjoyed the game and each other and kept reflecting every half hour or so how wonderful it was to be in Paris, for Christmas, together. Today we plan on going to the Eiffel tower since it claims to be open 365 days a year (though I am skeptical to believe any french website since they don't seem to take them seriously and their statements are more suggestions or guesses than fact). We then will return home, make some eggnog, salad, and cookies for the Christmas party we are sharing with my international friends.

Hopefully tomorrow we will succeed in waking up at a reasonable time (and by that I mean before noon) and open presents. My sweet little tree is shedding almost more than I do, and I'm sure he's ready to retire his needles this year. But I'm going to keep him up until the fire hazard level reaches threat level red (or until January 2nd, whichever comes first).

Poor Grant sent my Christmas present to me and while he meant well it, of course, ended up being a massive pain in my ass. Through the online tracking we could see that it had been attempted to be delivered, but without success. No note was left in my box and this left me frustrated and perplexed. I went to my local post office and to say they were less than helpful would be kind. After three trips they finally gave me a phone number to call to find out what the issue was. This took me to an automated message which was, as you may have guessed, in french. I believe it was four attempts before I made it through to a person who, also, spoke french, and only french. She was sweet and laughed kindly with me as I fumbled through my limited lexicon saying, "I have a package and the man came but I have a big problem with the address." She seemed to understand me and asked me for the number, but since I get slightly confused with the french alphabet and since I don't pronounce all numbers perfectly, we reached a wall in our comprehension and she forwarded me to someone else, presumably someone who could speak english. When I asked this woman, "Parlez-vous anglais?" She hung up on me.

I went through the whole song and dance a second time, waited on hold for a what felt like 20 minutes, and eventually stumbled upon someone who still spoke little english but at least was near enough to someone who could translate for her. I discovered that since Grant had sent it express so that I would get it in time for Christmas, the delivery man did not know the code to get into my apartment and so could not leave a note in the box. I also discovered that to pick it up I had to go far, far, far away from my endearing apartment into the sketchiest part of Paris. I asked when it would be delivered again, and the woman told me on Monday, so I will be sending the family off to Versailles (which I have visited previously) while I stay at home, too terrified to leave for fear of missing the drop off. The woman also added sweetly at the end that there would be a forty euro tax charge, thank you very much, and I was so happy to finally have figured out this situation and almost be done with it that I didn't let this sink in completely until I hung up.

Forty euros? Who the hell do these people think they are. First, I believed that if something was a gift you didn't have to pay taxes on it. Second, Grant and I are supposed to be exhibiting self control when it comes to spending for one another, and I can't imagine that the gift itself is worth much more than 40 euros. Third, why couldn't my post office inform me that these other people had the box my first or second time out. And finally, so much for Grant's express shipment. If Santa can figure this shit out, why can't the post office? At least Monday is only one day late.

Oh how I love dealing with this. It's obnoxious enough in my own country when I can communicate with the jackass on the other end, but when there's a language barrier on top of it adding extra pressure, I just can't handle it. I find myself blaming the entire country for this ridiculousness and missing my motherland where I can, at the very least, cuss out the fools who drag me through these situations. I like to think that when I finally become an adult (I'm waiting for it to hit, like puberty, or lightning...any day now would be nice) I will be able to jump through these hoops with grace and dignity. As of now, I get flustered, angry, and want to cry. I end up looking like an escaped mental patient having an allergic reaction.

At least with Christmas on the horizon, my mom, Kirstie and Nance here to comfort and distract me, it was easy to snap out of my convulsions of exasperation. And going to the Musee de Marmottan to see beautiful impressionist art can calm anyone out of the eye of a frustration tornado. The day went by beautifully and I look forward to today and my Christmas in Paris. This is one I certainly will never forget.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Santa is on his way! I've tried to be good this year (even if some people, like the French populace make it a bit difficult sometimes) and hope he brings me all I've wanted, but I must say that having my family here is gift enough. In my family, eating special treats is a big Christmas tradition and I've been eating plenty of buche de noel, chocolat, and carbs smothered in cheesy fattness to keep up with it. What are some of your holiday traditions? Here in France children put their shoes out in hopes that Santa (or Papa Noel) will fill them with gifts. He also adorns the tree with small toys, fruit, nuts and candy. Leave it to the skinny French to count fruit and nuts as special Santa gifts. 

I hope you all drink lots of eggnog, eat delicious Christmas vittles, and enjoy this time of year when magic and love abound. May Santa bring you all you asked for this Christmas season!

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Today was a cornucopia of fun. We all slept in because my family is still adjusting to the time change and I am used to being free and jobless and thus stay up late and stay in bed even later. I certainly am not complaining. I love my bed. I love my sleep.

Since we spent a decent chunk of our day yesterday wandering around the Louvre, I thought we may be a bit museum-ed out. I love it, but you can become desensitized to it if you cram in too much too fast. And since there is plenty to do outside of the multitudes of fabulousness packed museums, I thought today would be a perfect time to do that. My overall plan is one day museum, one day wandering.

Three separate people have recommended the store Deyrolle as a intriguing visiting spot in Paris. One of them is the hilarious writer, David Sedaris. Deyrolle was described to me as a taxidermy. Doesn't exactly peak the desire, does it? I've spent enough summers in Montana to know what dead, stuffed animals look like. And a whole shop filled with them? I imagined it to be poorly lit, small, and cramped, like so many french shops are. It seemed like it would  be creepy and perhaps even disturbing. But since I would never know for certain without checking it out (and since my mother wanted to go and see it herself) who was I to say no?

Truth be told it was absolutely incredible! Once you get past how sad it is that there is a dead baby elephant stuffed in this shop, or a black panther standing next to a tiger, it's really beautiful. Like a zoo but with the menagerie sitting perfectly still around a faux feast (and an aligator hiding under the table). There was an emu, polar bear, male lion, cerval, and baby leopard. There was a badger and a reindeer, baby ostriches and baby chicks. The list goes on and on. I wonder how they even fit some of the bigger creatures (like the lions, tigers, and bears...oh my) through the front door.  The store was huge and spanned two levels. The walls were a cool and calming sea foam green with warm wooden floors and gold detailing. Showcases were filled with sea shells and crustaceans. Bell jars covered articulated skeletons. There was an entire back room of insect specimens beautifully pinned inside boxes and in glass drawers. And honestly, all the taxidermy was done beautifully. They still looked alive, like well behaved pets. Sad? Sure. Cool? Totally.

Since the store was in the vicinity of Rue Bonaparte I decided that we could walk down to Laduree and buy some of their famous macaron. The walk took us past some beautiful art galleries and antique stores. Classic tiny french shops filled with beautiful things. Most too intimidating to even think about entering. But looking through the window was thrilling enough.

Laduree was packed, as usual, and we had to wait in line for at least twenty minutes until we could put in an order for out macarons. But I expected this and so wasn't upset by the wait. What's hilarious is that my entire party expects me to be their french translator. Are they crazy? Sure I speak some, and enough to order macaron and pretend I understand what the counter woman is saying in return, but I hope it never goes too much past that. For all our sake.

We continued on our way towards Place de Concorde over Pont de Arts, a walking bridge whose chain linked fence is littered with lovers' locks. Apparently it's tradition for couples from all over the world visiting Paris to put a lock on the fence engraved with their initials. And apparently it's just as much of a tradition for the city to then cut them off once the bridge becomes too full. Otherwise the entire thing would collapse into the Seine from the weight of it all.

Through Jardin de Tuileries, past the giant Ferris Wheel and Place de Concorde, we finally reached the Christmas Market. And just in time. I was hungry for vin chaud, sausage, and churros. My mom was a bit turned off by the whole hot red wine thing, but had one sip of mine and wanted to "share" it. So I bought another one for myself. The sausages were as delicious as I remembered and Nance got an order of the plank smoked salmon which tasted as wonderful as it smelled.

From there we walked to the Champs Elysees to see the Christmas lights and so that we could eventually end up at the Arc de Triomphe. We all commented on how underwhelming the French Christmas lights are (well, all of us except Nance who is so optimistic she makes Gandhi look negative). I assumed that Christmas in Paris would be beautiful and magical. It's the city of lights after all. But really the decorations are sad, minimal, tacky, or nonexistent. For people who are known for their aesthetic there is certainly a lot of multicolored, seizure inducing strands of lights. And it finally clicked why I wasn't exactly feeling Christmasy. The Champs is supposed to be one of the top Christmas light spots in Paris but really folks, the illuminated hula hoops hanging from the trees leave a lot to be desired.

When we reached the Arc de Triomphe I noticed that there were people on top of it. Nance's eyes lit up with excitement when I asked if she wanted to go up there. "YES! ...please?" Like a little kid trying to keep from bouncing up and down with jubilation, she could barely contain her craving. I was more than happy to oblige since I knew it would be an incredible view. And it's something I have yet to do.

The Arc de Triomphe sits in the middle of a giant roundabout and we walked around for a bit trying to uncover how exactly we got to the Arc itself. Perhaps it's a "frogger" scenario, I wondered. I wouldn't put it past the safety unconscious French. In fact there is a stairway leading to an underground tunnel that will take you there, but poor signage made finding this more difficult than it needed to be. (It's on the Avenue Champs Elysees, by the way, but only on one side of the street).

To go to the top you have to buy a ticket and you have to walk 280 steps. Considering the amount of walking that we had done and considering that all of us, except for Nance, aren't exactly the athletic type, we wanted to know if there was, perhaps, an elevator for the fat American tourists allergic to such physical exertion. "Yes," the woman said, "there is," without another word or eye contact. We bought our tickets and went to the hidden entry way, which were only steps. I asked the woman there where the elevator was and she informed me that it was only for disabled people. My hackles went up a bit and I told her that the woman who sold us our tickets had told us other wise. "Only for disable people, or those who need it." We, obviously, fell into the later category. I told my mom to act old and feeble and we hobbled onto an elevator and shot up to the top in a jiffy.

The top of the Arc de Triomphe was definitely worth it. The views were beautiful, giving your eyes full access to the Champs Elysees all the way down to the ferris wheel at Place de Concorde. The Eiffel Tower as light up and statuesque. You could see Notre Dame peeking out from the city as well as the Louvre and Grand Palais. I think it would be equally beautiful in the day time, especially in the summer when the city is green (but perhaps a 280 step hike in sweltering heat isn't up your alley).

Tired, full, and happy we returned home. Hopefully we'll all get more sleep tonight and be able to wake up early enough to go and buy some croissants from Pierre Herme. We're planning on visiting the Musee de l'Orangerie and the Musee de Marmottan for the Seurat and Matisse exhibit tomorrow. Oh the culture and excitement. And in just a few days it's Christmas! How wonderful is that?!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I can't write too much today because I'm spending these next few wonderful days with my hilarious family. I am quite grateful, not only to get to share Christmas with them here, but also because it gives me a great opportunity to enjoy the touristy side of Paris. Sure I may have done a bit of that my first week in France, but I did not do nearly enough of it.

So today we went to the Louvre. This was mostly decided because of the rain and we figured where else would we rather spend the day than indoors with millions of priceless works of art? And the Louvre was, well, the Louvre.

Some may think that it's overrated but honestly I think they just don't know what the hell they are talking about. It's an incredible collection. Breathtaking. Sure it can be exhausting. Yes you may get sick of looking at piece after piece after piece of the pieta or the annunciation or other religious works of art. Yes there are a lot of marble statues. But really, how can you not find it beautiful?

I was lucky enough to be forced into art history classes in high school, and even luckier to have two fabulously energetic and passionate teachers. Sure I may not remember who painted what, when, and why, but I did learn some of the more interesting things. I learned about some fun symbols that painters used, what certain things meant in certain paintings, and more importantly I learned to appreciate the evolution of art. You would think that artists would look at an apple and paint an apple, but art has grown just like everything else, and I feel lucky that I can see that and that I appreciate it.

Ucello's Romano Battle c/o

The Louvre can be overwhelming, I admit. Especially if you aren't crazy about art. But of all the places to change your mind, this is one of them! Don't go to the Louvre just to "go to the Louvre" go to it to enjoy yourself and reflect on the incredible talents human beings have been lucky enough to posses for years and years upon years. My favorite thing to do is take my time and really LOOK at each painting. The details are what I enjoy the most. Robes and blankets and lace and tuile look so real that you want to reach out and touch them. Glass vases and pitchers shine with such realistic brillance that you can hurt your head wondering how someone painted that. There are hidden treasures within every painting, you just have to find them.

I would recommend buying a guide book to the Louvre because it's nice to know the stories about specific works of art and the really special ones that you should see. These things are famous and important for a reason. They were revolutionary. They changed history. They touched people when they were painted hundreds of years ago and continue to touch people today. I also recommend a guide book because all of the information placards are in French. I can fumble my way through them, but still, it would be nice to know just a wee bit more.

My favorite is perhaps the Winged Victory, who stands at the top of a wide marble staircase underneath a skylight, illuminated by the sun. Her robe seems to be flying behind her in the wind and the incredible movement captured in this stone sculpture is impressive to say the least. There are depictions of what she would have looked like before losing her head and arms but I have to admit that I find her much more appealing now. There is something so divine in her graceful flight. Without her head or arms you truly focus on the basic part of the sculpture, her large wings which may be carved in stone but still seem so delicate, her flowing gown which flits with such grace you just want to stare at it. She's beautiful. And I love her.

The Mona Lisa is in the Louvre, which is, of course, a must. One woman who has perhaps held the peak of fame amongst the world longer than anyone else (except, perhaps, Mary). People say that she's small, but truly she only seems so in comparison to the massive paintings surrounding her. Her sly hint of a smile still sits on her lips. Her hands lay one across the other in a confident, assured manner. She now sits behind bullet proof glass and a mob of onlookers. She has lived in the Louvre for practically her entire life. She was bought by King Francois from Da Vinci and was placed there in 1516. And she still lives there. I was lucky enough, my first time in the Louvre, to go right when it was about to close. Because of this the entire museum was almost empty and only about five people stood in her presence, granting me what felt like an endless, private moment with her.

Not everyone appreciates art, but they should. It is something that human beings have practiced since prehistoric times. It is something that communicates across all languages and all times. If you could go back in time and meet Cleopatra, wouldn't you? Well the Mona Lisa and her friends are still alive and kicking, and they're just waiting for you to come and visit.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


My family arrived today and I was oh so happy to see them! Last night I went and bought my Christmas tree from across the street because I felt that dragging one on the metro just because it was 15€ cheaper really wasn't worth the hassel or the funny looks. I then spend the evening folding paper stars and airplanes and what not to out of magazines to decorate it since I refused to spend money on ornaments that I would then have to spend even more money hauling back to the states.

This morning I awoke early (well for me) and went to Tati (as close as Paris gets to Target) to look for Christmas lights (or lumieure de Noel). They only had multicolored bells and blue stars, so I went next door to Monoprix to see what they had. They only had light up strands of snowflakes. So I then came back home and went to the Super Marche near my house which had no lights at all! What was I going to do? Luckily I passed an odd little shop that had Christmas lights and took the last six boxes of normal warm candlelight lights. Who knew it would be such a task?

My tree is quite adorable, I think, even if it is a tad too big for my kitchen. It just looked so much smaller when it was outside begging for a home. But I knew as I was cramming it into my elevator that it was going to be a problem. I had to rearrange the whole damn kitchen to fit it in, but I think it works just fine. Christmas trees should be a bit overwhelmingly festive and center stage! It is Christmas, after all!

Of course my family getting to my apartment via my directions was a huge problem. I may have forgotten to tell them that from Les Halles you take line 4 to get to line 3, and so they ended up wandering around and around and around looking for the line 3 connection that didn't exist. Luckily an extremely nice french woman let them use her phone to call me and tell me of my epic fail, and then took them where they needed to go. I'm hoping they see the humor in it in a few days.

In preparation for their arrival I went out and bought some baguettes and cheese since there's nothing in my fridge and since I didn't exactly want to stock up on groceries when I expected that we'd be eating out most of the time. And of course, this worked out perfectly for my Cheese Tuesday!

As usually I just picked whatever struck my fancy and went with something with an interesting name but one that I actually pronounced correctly. Chaource said, "showerce". I got a nice heft demi wheel of it and it's absolutely beautiful! It's spectacularly creamy and crumbles just a wee bit when cut into. It spread's wonderfully and I found mine oozing just ever so slightly around the edges.

The taste was much stronger than I was anticipated, and I loved it! With smooth undertones similar to a camembert, it has had a robust sour and bitterness to it that reminded me of a blue cheese without that blue cheese flavor (if that makes any sense). I think it would be particularly lovely with sliced fresh figs or a sour cherry preserve. Something bright but strong to accompany and compete with the formidable flavors of the cheese.

Though this is definitely not a cheese for beginners, it was not nearly as fermented as some other cheeses I have tasted and loved. But this chaource was certainly not lacking in complexity but did not have the strong, pungent, dead foot smell that highly fermented cheeses can have. So if you're looking for something that can hold its own but won't result in your neighbors calling the cops to investigate that putrid smell wafting from your kitchen, this would be a wonderful cheese to go with!

Sunday, December 18, 2011


So I don't know if I shared this with you but I am lucky enough to have some of my favorite family members join me in Paris for Christmas! It's certainly going to be better than a Christmas alone. Sure I have all of my international friends, but there is something about Christmas and family that belong together, and the truth is that I haven't spent Christmas with my family in two years.

My wonderful mother, Melva (or Melvacious as some call her) is coming followed by my fabulous cousin (who is essentially my third sister) Kirstie and her kick-ass, optimistic, energetic girlfriend, Nance. Nance is so wonderful that we constantly remind Kirstie that if, heaven-forbid, the two of them breakup, we get Nance in the divorce. Nance is, quite possibly, the sweetest person I have ever met. She's so sweet, in fact, that it's a bit hard to believe when you first meet her. "No one can be this nice," you'll tell yourself, "what a fake this woman is!" But then you spend more time with her and realize that it is no act, it's actually who she is. 
Perhaps the best way to describe Nance's niceness is like this. If I were to tell Nance that I was becoming a stripper, she would most likely clasp her hands together as her eyes welled up in excitement, give a little hop, and then utter with complete sincerity, "Oh that's so wonderful! You've always loved dancing! And now you get to share it with so many people!" Honest to god, that's how positive this woman is. 
The only problem with Nance, if you can call it that, is her immense amount of energy. Her cup over-flowith, you might say. Like a terrier with a tennis ball, Nance is always on the go. Just watching her can be exhausting. A perfect example is our summers in Montana when my family all gets together and lives with one another for as long as the real world will let us. Kirstie and I sleep in until way past breakfast. If we wake up before noon it's a good day. Meanwhile, Nance bursts forth from her bed full of excitement for the new beautiful day at about 5am and takes a 4 hour hike. 
You see, for my family, Montana is a place where we recharge. Sure we have our little outing of fly-fishing and un-damming the creek, but generally we take it easy. There's no TV, which I appreciate being an addict, and so we mostly read, cook or take short walks on flat land. None of this all day hike up the tallest mountain we can find nonsense. But mostly we go to Montana to see each other. Lots of eating, lots of drinking, lots of singing and dancing, and lots and lots of laughing. We really like each other, and sadly not all people feel that way about their family.

My mother, Melva, is the head-honcho of Montana. She's the matriarch and owner of our cabin that we all enjoy these wondrous times in. She's also kind of a badass who does most of the cooking and un-damming, though she will often employ her slaves (as she so lovingly calls my sister, Kathryn, and me) to help her with these tasks. And really, it's fun to do it. Now that we aren't self-righteous, entitled teenagers, we enjoy helping our Mom out. The woman is getting old (though I don't like that at all), she needs our help. (Plus she almost set the entire forest on fire one summer so more than that she needs our supervision). 
So imagine how blessed I feel to get this sensational trio for Christmas! It will, without a doubt, be a hilarious time. I feel somewhat overwhelmed with the responsibility of hosting them all, but hopefully with enough wine, butter, and croissants, they'll be happy enough to endure whatever I throw at them. And with Nance as an art teacher it's a no-brainer what some of our activities will be. Add the fact that she's a chocolate lover and Paris is practically a custom-made, Nance paradise. 

Melva will be easy to keep happy because, like me, she loves shopping for beautiful things, eating delicious fattening foods, and drinking white wine. I like to think of myself as Melva 2.0. We do have a lot in common, and while at times it scares the crap out of me (becoming your mother is always a bit terrifying), I mostly embrace it with open arms. 

And Kirstie, well Kirstie is Kirstie. A wood shop teacher who taught me the to fly fish by the age of 11, and the beauty of power tools by the age of 12 (she failed at teaching me how to throw, but I think that's because I'm somehow genetically defective), she promised me to be back on carbs by the time she arrived and so the two of us should be in a glutton's heaven. I don't know why my family members insist on calling off sugar, carbs, and all the other good stuff when I plan on making my living on these things! But I'm sure that if something is irresistible enough they'll cave.

So today and tomorrow I am strapping myself with the task of cleaning up my apartment, and I mean really cleaning it. All those nooks an crannies that usually go ignored, dusting, mopping, wiping down all surfaces. That kinda thing. Not exactly the most exciting tasks but I know that the next two weeks with my family will be thrilling enough to make up for it. Plus, I'm going to buy a Christmas Tree to finally get this holiday business into full swing! Deck the halls, here I come!

    Saturday, December 17, 2011


    I just saw this and thought it had to be shared. It absolutely amazes me what people are capable of and I must say that I think Tchaikovsky would approve. It sounds as if The Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy as meant for the glass harp. I hope you find this as stupendously, incredibly awesome as I do!


    Friday, December 16, 2011


    Tarte citron is one of my favorite desserts. Something about lemon after a heavy meal makes me feel less guilty than an ice cream sundae or slice of chocolate cake. It's tart and refreshing. I always want dessert but I hate when my dessert throws me into a pit that I feel only an excavator can dig my rotund body out of. And here in France, tarte citron is something that practically all patisseries have, and it's often one of the simpler desserts. And really, I'm a simple gal. I love looking at the beautiful entremets in the window, and I find it intriguing and fun to eat them, but when it comes right down to it, the desserts I crave really aren't all that fancy. Brownies. Lemon tart. Any type of pie. Perhaps a souffle if I'm feeling flamboyant.

    I also looked forward to taste testing tarte citron because I thought it would be an easier mission to endure than eclair or croissant or millefeuille. Not as sweet. Much more invigorating. I was thinking it would be like eating a few palate cleansers. I was wrong.

    Tarte citron are, well, tart. Add on top of that they are a creme in a buttery shell and it makes for quite a undertaking. Tasting two of them in a row was uncomfortable. Tasting three was painful. Give me a few days of this and I was crying out, "Uncle!" But if anything it made me realize how awesome this little dessert is. Often small and unassuming, it hits all the rights senses, at least as far as my senses are concerned. Sweet and rich, the cream is smooth and comforting. Crumbly, crunchy butter shells add great texture and complexity. Then top it off with the tart lemon essence that creeps in at the end and slaps you across the face, and I'm one happy camper.

    For MISSION: Tarte Citron, I went to a few more places than usual. I hit up Gerard Mulot, Ble Sucre, Stohrer, Dalloyau, Sadaharu AOKI, Pierre Herme, and Fauchon. So as you can imagine I was a bit "tarted out" this week. With tarte citron I found much less variance than in my other missions because these were all, of course, lemon in flavor. Though some of them obviously employed some other citrus in the mix like lime and orange, for complexity and interesy. But overall, these were slightly harder for me to compare than my previous missons. I tried my best, though. And here are the results.


    Stohrer is one of the oldest patisserie's in Paris. It's located just a few steps away from the Etienne-Marcel metro stop and is in the Marais district with Pain de Sucre. The streets surrounding Stohrer are lovely, charming, and very old school french, and I look forward to sharing this enchanted little neighborhood with my family when they arrive next week.

    The shop itself is quite small and is quaint and humble in its old fashioned decor and set up. I found it to be quite refreshing after entering so many modern, art gallery-esque stores time and time again. The pastries were also a bit more old fashioned looking than what I've seen and the store has a small selection of savory goods for sale as well. This was, overall, much more like a small neighborhood patisserie than the big boys of the pastry world that I frequent.

    The tarte, I must say, followed suit. While I appreciated the old fashioned decor and look of the place, the quality and taste of the dessert just wasn't there. It was okay, but I don't think I'd be buying it again. To begin with, the tarte crust was burnt, and this is coming from someone who generally likes her bread and baked goods on the crispier side. But there's a fine line between rich flavor and oops it was in the oven too long. This was the later.

    The creme citron was nice but very very tart and somewhat artificial tasting because of it. I didn't get much lemon flavor, mostly just sourness, and while I enjoy my lemon desserts when they pack a punch, I don't want that to be the only thing they have going for them. This was cut by the meringue topping and so while I usually prefer my tarts without meringue, I found that this one needed it...desperately.  The meringue was nice and fluffy and not overly sweet, so it added a nice element to the super tart tarte.

    All in all I would say this wasn't the best lemon tart I've had. Not by a long stretch. And I'm really not all that surprised. Stohrer isn't really famous for much except for how old it is. It makes me a bit sad that it hasn't kept up with the competition but that's sometimes just how things go. I will say that I wasn't so put off that I'll never return. It was reasonably priced and so I'll give them another try, or two.

    Gerard Mulot

    Gerard Mulot is another establishment that hasn't exactly kept up with the trends when it comes to modern layout and modern food design. Again, I found this to be a nice change of suit, but I must admit that the store and the pastries don't look all that appealing from a customer's perspective. I'm not sure if it's the lighting that makes me feel like I'm in a movie from the seventies, or the sad and sometimes messy composure of the desserts, but something is just a bit off in the store at Bastille.

    Their tarte citron was perhaps the most boring looking one I bought. I was appreciative of the fact that they offered it both with and without meringue but still felt that the naked one needed a bit more clothing. Perhaps a dash of zest would liven it up? As such, if I weren't on a mission for tarte citron, I probably would've bypassed this little guy. I'm not saying that looks are everything, often times they can be deceiving, but it isn't a secret that we eat with our eyes. Especially when it comes to dessert.

    The tart was nice and shiny, which was pleasing, but when I bit into it I realized that it was due to an excess of nappage. Nappage is fine and dandy when used sparingly, but otherwise it can feel a bit weird inside your mouth, like someone's sugared hair gel landed on your dessert. But I tried to ignore it and continued with the tarte, which I found had a nice creme citron. A good lemon flavor with an after bite of sour, it was neither too sour nor too weak. I do prefer my lemon desserts with a bit more bite to them, but I know that not everyone agrees with me on that point. So in this case, I would've appreciated a tad more tartness to the tarte, but because the creme had such nice flavor otherwise, I was happy. 

    The tart shell was perfectly shaped with ninety degree angles and all. It was buttery and crumbly, without being so crumbly to be disruptive. But overall, the tart was missing something. It was almost as boring tasting as it was looking. Not terrible, and I would perhaps purchase it again if I were in the area and felt in the mood for some lemon, but not my favorite of the group. 

    Blé Sucré (winner!)

    Blé Sucré is notorious for how horribly their treat their workers. But considering that I still praise Pain de Sucré for their delicious delicacies when I have more than enough reason to want to see them burnt to the ground, I felt that it would be unfair for me not to venture out and give Blé Sucré a try. What do I care how they treat their employees if they can make a good dessert? I guarantee you that most of the top notch restaurants in the world are filled with disgruntled workers. Chef's have a god complex, and with that can come a foul attitude and a lot of enemies. It's the nature of the business. But as long as you make a mean dish, people are willing to look past that, me included. 

    Blé Sucré is located in a wonderful little spot just across from a sweet little park. If it hadn't been so windy I may have sat down outside and enjoyed a viennoiserie. The store was little and quaint, and also looked as if it had survived without getting the modernized face-lift so many other top stores were buying into. The desserts were a bit more chiq and exciting looking than Stohrer and Gerard Mulot, however, and I was pleased to see this little guy waiting for me to take him home and devour him. 

    I was also pleased to see that he cost under 4€. Sure he may have been smaller than the rest but when it comes to tarte citron less can definitely be more. And since I like mine tart and powerful, I don't need a huge plateful to satisfy my craving. The light dusting of powdered sugar around the shell was sweet and while some may see it as out of style, I still think powdered sugar is magical. The square of yellowed white chocolate also added some eye-pleasing elevation and made it look just a bit more modern. I was also happy to see a large mound of creme citron practically overflowing the shell, and wondered how they got it so perfectly smooth.

    Though the tart shell was horrible uneven, it was one of the best things I've ever tasted! Buttery and nutty, crumbly but strong, it was an experience just eating it. And it complemented the creme nicely without overpowering it. The creme was nice and smooth with a good lemon flavor and a nice strong sourness that I enjoyed every second of. This was what I was looking for. Small but spunky with fabulous flavor, I couldn't stop myself from eating it even though I had plenty more tarte citron to taste. I imagine that they must use almond flour in their tart dough but they also seem to do something else magical to make it so delectable. This was, by far, my favorite tarte citron of the bunch.


    For convenience sake, I went to the Dalloyau near Bastille and was happy to see seating in this store. What a wonderful place to buy a little something to eat and a cafe and sit and chat with friends! The store itself was also very delightful, warm and welcoming, I was excited to eat their goodies. 

    Though this tarte citron certainly had nothing fancy going on, I appreciated the little detail of the Dalloyau chocolate, and the ridging on the edge of the crust. The higher middle was also pretty to look at and I was a bit more excited to buy this small dessert than I was Gerard Mulot's. 

    I was even more excited when I cut into it and saw a layer of lemon curd laying in wait at the bottom. I simply love lemon curd and I was looking forward to see how this would enhance the rest of the tart. The curd itself was quite tasty with a good lemon flavor yet not quite sour enough for my liking. This was remedied, though, by the tartness of the creme and overall the dessert had a nice kick to it. However, it was also not without flaw, or should I say, "flaws."

    The crust had a good doneness to it adding a rich, deep flavor, but was so crumbly that it insulted my mouth and didn't meld with the creme or curd. The creme citron was so thick it was almost repulsive and was so eggy tasting that it almost overpowered the flavor of the lemon. It was, at the very least, quite smooth and I suppose if you like your creme citron as thick as cement you would find this a delight. But overall I felt that with it's sickeningly thick creme and lack of lemon flavor that it was somewhat of a letdown and with all the desserts they have to chose from I most certainly will not be repeating the tarte citron. 

    Pierre Hermé (honorable mention)

    Aah, Pierre Hermé. I hold him in such high regard. And apparently, so does everyone else. His small store was so packed when I went in I was afraid I may never make it back out. It's so obvious that this is a country that doesn't sue because I encounter at least five blatant fire hazards on a daily basis. Even though Pierre won my heart with his perfect macaron, I was a bit hesitant about buying his tarte citron. I understand that at his elevated status he's expected to go above and beyond the standard, but when I looked down and saw too large and somewhat offensive strips of candied orange peel surrounded by bits of unknown origin, I was somewhat turned off. It reminded me of a fruit cake. But being Pierre Hermé I figured he knew what he was doing and went ahead and bought the thing, knowing it would only be a matter of minutes before I could determine the level of deliciousness for myself.

    Overall, I enjoyed it. The crust was, not surprisingly, amazing. It had a wonderful buttery shortbread flavor to it that was subtle behind the lemon but present enough to be felt and enjoyed. It was hard and crumbly all at once making it easy to bite into. The filling was silky smooth and almost oozed out of the shell, reminding me of some of my Cheese Tuesday friends. This could be seen by some as being too soft but I quite enjoyed its delicate texture and it managed to stay inside the crust, though just barely. The creme was creamy in flavor as well and quite tasty though I did wish for a bit more lemon flavor and tartness. 

    Most of the flavor and sour taste was presented by the little mystery nuggets which turned out to be chunks of actual lemon. This was, I felt, a wonderful touch and added an extra freshness to the dessert. Oh Pierre, you're so darn clever! 

    But while I enjoyed the hidden land mines of tart, sour, lemony explosion, I did not appreciate the candied orange peel lying limp and lifeless on top. They were distracting me from the tart eating experience, and I eventually peeled them off and ate them on their own. And considering that I didn't exactly enjoy their flaccid appearance on the tarte, I feel they could be tossed aside and never thought of again. 

    This tarte was delicious, there's no doubt about that, but I felt that it could've used a bit more lemon and a hint more tartness to make me truly love it. Perhaps a few more strategically placed lemon bombs, Pierre. 

    Sadaharu AOKI

    I seem to enjoy Sadaharu AOKI for I certainly go there a lot. There is just something about them that I absolutely adore. Perhaps it's because the staff are all Japanese and thus friendly and accommodating in comparison to their Parisian counterparts. I also enjoy speaking to people who speak french as a second language. I feel as though we are brothers-in-arms, to some extent. Though, then again, I don't know if you can call what I do speaking french.

    Sadaharu AOKI certainly falls into the category of "art-gallery" when it comes to shop appearance. Everything is perfect and lined up and well lit, and everything looks as though you shouldn't really touch it. But for some reason I feel much more welcomed and excited to indulge than I do in other stores. Why? I don't exactly know.

    I was excited to try Sadaharu AOKI's tarte citron because God knows I've enjoyed all their other desserts. It was beautiful, sitting there silently on it's silver platter, with a line of miniscule pistachio bits. But when I cut into it I was shocked at what I saw. "Is this, feuilletine praline?" I asked myself in horror. And it was. 

    Feuilletine praline is a mixture of caramelized hazelnut butter, melted chocolate, and flakes of feuilletine. It's absolutely delicious and is like a crunchy, french, Nutella. I love it, and I love the French for introducing me to it. But in a tarte citron? How dare you! I order lemon desserts because I don't want chocolate or hazelnut. And to slip it in without so much of a mention? I felt as though I needed to shower after such culinary molestation.

    I bit into the tarte and instantly knew that my preconceived notions were right. This was blasphemy. Sure the custard had nice complex flavors enhanced by orange zest, but how could anyone know that when their mouth was focusing their full attention on the damn feuilletine praline?! It was such a "Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!" moment, and it was painful to watch...well, eat. To top it off, the creme, while delicious, didn't have nearly enough lemon flavor or tartness to even come close to competing with the hazelnut, chocolate assault. And to make matters worse, the tart crust was soggy and flavorless.

    Why, Sadaharu AOKI, why? I know they have the capability to create a lemon masterpiece, but they clearly hadn't even come close. Not only that, they had also lied to my face! This wasn't a tarte citron. This was a tarte feuilletine praline with a little lemon on top. A completely different animal, and one as unlikely and bizarre as the platypus. I take that back and apologize to all platypuses (platypi?) out there. I'd love to take a platypus home and make it my pet, but I will never again buy one of these things. I'd much rather spend my money on a green tea eclair or macha millefeuille. 


    While Fauchon is a patisserie, it is first and foremost an incredibly expensive high-end, gourmet, food store. Though I did not venture into that part of the establishment, Elze informed me that it is quite beautiful and amazing as well as being completely out of my budget. 

    This was obvious when I saw how expensive their desserts were but I was allured by the sweet little tarte sitting there in the case. This tarte citron was the only one I had seen that was square, and sometimes it's hip to be square. I certainly liked the looks of it, and with its little square jelly decoration on top, I was bubbling with anticipation to see if this number held up to Huey Lewis and The News' kick-ass 80's jam. 

    Regretfully, it did not. The crust had a weird dirty flavor to it which is never a good thing and this certainly did not go well with the creme citron. The creme citron, on the other hand, was super sour, so much so that it reminded me of the WarHeads candy I had eaten as a child which required the consumer to endure minutes of sour pain before releasing delicious sweet flavor. The square jelly on top was passionfruit, which I love, and I thought this was a nice addition since passionfruit is tart and citrusy in flavor, but with a fun and tropical taste. However, combined with the rest of the dessert it just got lost in the shuffle. This was also the case with the bottom layer of what I can only describe as a lemon goo, which was interesting and nice on its own, but which disappeared if you took a bite of the tarte as a whole.

    On the upside, the cream had a lovely smooth texture to it but because of the multitude of thick nappage slathered on top, this texture was overpowered by an odd Jell-O feel. While I may enjoy my tarte citron sour, that was pretty much all this tarte had going for it, and there was too much of it to be enjoyable. To top it off, at 6.50€, this was one of the most expensive tartes in the bunch!

    Tarte citron is a fairly simple dessert when you compare it to the entremets and intricate tarts so many Parisian shops have to offer, so it really is a shame that so many missed the mark. I think the two main problems were that places either neglected it because of its simplicity or tried to fancy it up too much and lost sight of reality. For me, a tarte citron should be all about the citrus. I want to taste the lemon and I want my tongue to tingle with sour flavor. Go ahead and throw in some lime or orange or passionfruit for complexity and variation, but don't forget that it's a lemon tart. And certainly don't forget that simple ain't always easy.