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Pumpkins, pumpkins, everywhere…

31 Oct

In the past month, I have made and eaten pumpkin: cakes, muffins, breads, soup, beer (ok, I didn’t make this, but I drank it in honor of the month-pretty delish, actually), scones, cookies, éclairs, toasted pumpkin seeds…a plethora of all things pumpkin. I’ve enjoyed my themed month, I must say; it pairs well with apple cider.

A week ago, in honor of my newly designated Annual Pumpkin Month, I ventured to a pumpkin patch to check out the source of my kitchen inspiration, a fitting finale to a successful recipe testing month. Its not too common to be able to go directly to a source of food in the US, with farmer markets becoming more commercial and fewer privately owned farms in existence. It was a fun experience to get out to a field and check out a food source (Zip it. I did go to the hippie college, after all, guys…).

Plus, it didn’t hurt that my awesome 3 year old nephew came along. It was a funny little farm, that included goats, cows, bunnies, llamas, a buffalo, a hayride, a corn maze, a haunted house, pony rides, a playground, a country store…and of course, the pumpkin patch. Something tells me this is a purely American type of thing.

I fed this guy. We had matching bangs.

After exploring all the aspects of the farmhouse area, I ventured out to the pumpkin patch to pick out an orange sphere with my very serious pumpkin hunter nephew. I came across a wide array of really beautiful pumpkins (does that sound weird? A bit, probably, but they were pretty, so I don’t really care). All different varieties, sizes, colors. So lovely!

My nephew searched and searched and we came up with some good pumpkins, I must say. We headed back to the farmhouse on the tractor-pulled wagon with our stash…

…and I found more squash and gourds grown on the premises. Again, I thought they were so interesting looking with their gorgeous colors and crazy bumps, I took a few more pictures. Of course. I felt like I was back at Rungis for a minute, only this time at a decent hour of the day with a borrowed camera not full of butter and flour and with a rambunctious 3 year old. My nephew thought I was just crazy.

A helpful little wagon carried our goodies when it came time to check out. We ended up with one pumpkin for my nephew, one baby pumpkin for my soon-to-be-here nephew, 2 pumpkins for the grandparents (my mom and dad love them a pumpkin patch…), a hubbard squash and 2 carnival squashes (I ate one of the carnival squashes the other night – yum. Like, super super Yum. Will share soon my cooking adventure, as they are something new for me and awesome for dinner). Oh, and one lollipop for my nephew.

Not a bad haul. I had a great time scouring the fields for lovely pumpkins with my perfection-seeking nephew. And while we carved a couple of these guys into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, I certainly plan on roasting and eating the others very soon…



28 May

A short trip from Paris is a magical area of France that I hold dear – the Champagne region. Oh, Champagne. There is always a reason to have Champagne, no? I know my sisters and I agree on this one. When I was in DC with Jill, sometimes we had to celebrate monumental occasions, like Tuesday. In this picture, I was celebrating free Champers in Monaco. Great reason to celebrate!

So, living in Paris, and having this great Mecca so close, I have had the great joy of visiting twice. The first time, my school took a field trip to Rheims and visited the Taittinger caves. One of the oldest Champagne houses in Rheims , we descended down a spiral staircase to see their original caves, still in service today.

Due to the temperamental process of making Champagne, caves are used to keep out UV light and maintain the cool temperature needed to allow the fermentation process. Makes taking pictures hard.

There are row after row of these wine racks, holding the bottles at the angle needed to help the yeast fall down into the neck of the bottle, to allow for its easy removal when the Champagne is fully fermented. These are still all turned by hand, meaning a guy goes around, spinning the bottles a quarter of a turn everyday. In a cave. They really have all sorts of jobs here.

The caves were so pretty here – they had been used as secret churches back in the day when people weren’t allowed to worship as they wanted. Me, I still think it’s a bit holy down there with all that Champagne. But the history of what the caves were used for added some very pretty touches to what is otherwise just a cold, stone basement.

The various size bottles of Champagne available. For note, you usually buy the second from the right. The big guy on the left, Le Nabuchodonosor, is 15 liters of Champagne. Or 20 bottles in one. That’s one hell of a party.

And speaking of parties, this is a room full of bottles of Champagne, stacked up to the ceiling almost (I took the second picture with my arms over my head and just snapped; I have really long arms). There are many of these rooms in the caves. Wow.

So, after our learning and spelunking in the Champagne caves, we once again returned to the surface for a petit degustation. Yum.

After our visit to Taittinger, we wandered around the town of Rheims. Its truly a beautiful town, full of lovely architecture. Sadly, it was freezing and my tights were falling down, so I didn’t wander as much as I would have liked. But we did check out the Cathedral, where the Kings of France were once crowned. Of course they were crowned in Champagne – I love the French. The Cathedral was beautiful and highly impressive with the detail in such a massive building.

After my first taste of the Champagne region, I decided that I wanted to see the rest. Which isn’t hard, there are 2 towns in Champagne with Champagne houses, Rheims and Epernay. So when my parents came to visit, I knew we would have to go on a day trip to Epernay!

Epernay is much easier to navigate for a Champagne tasting. In Rheims, the Champagne houses are scattered around the town. In Epernay, you have…

The straightforward way to organize your Champagne Houses. It’s a long avenue, lined with the likes of Moet, Perrier Jouet, Mercier…Joy.

My ‘rents and I headed straight to Mercier, a house known for a great tour and an interesting history. It was like the Disney version of wine tasting, so I loved it. They have the largest caves in all of Champagne and so to traverse the acreage, you get on a handy little tram that escorts you through the caves.

After the tour, degustation! We were really lucky, when we arrived, no one else was there. There was only the 3 of us on the tour and for the tasting, so we were talking with everyone. It was really fun and informative. And delicious. Below, a rose (made with pinot noir and chardonnay), a vintage (the wine is all from the same year and has a unique taste – only made in years when the grapes are superior), and the classic Brut (a mix of types of grape and years of the wines to maintain the same flavor from year to year and bottle to bottle of the champagne). I did learn something, told you!

A lovely shot of rows of bottles…Monsieur Mercier looks a bit like the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz, no?

After our tour, we went to lunch in one of the squares and then had a little break in the main garden. I loved this garden. I immediately tried to figure out how I could live there. Epernay is truly beautiful and this place was the icing.

After our break, more tasting! We went to A. Bergere. Not bad, but nowhere near the show we had before. My dad skipped this tasting – he didn’t prepare for the wines of France tour I was taking them on while they visited me in Paris.

Another lovely day in Champagne! I’m willing to say I’ll go there any time anyone wants to go. Its beautiful and has a strong sense of culture built around a luxury and celebratory good. My kind of place.

After all this talk of Champagne, I might have to celebrate something tonight…it’s a Saturday in May in Paris – good enough for me! Salut!

I’m a bad blogger…but its Spring!

28 May

I know, I know, I haven’t been around here for months. I’ve been busy! I now work long hours (manual labor – best diet ever) that vary from week to week, know more people that I want to spend time with here, and am trying to eat everything that Paris has to offer in my last few remaining months here, so I’ve slacked on my posting. Plus, my camera has all but died. And I had visitors. And I really like sleeping.

Anyway, its my weekend today and so I’m going to put up some new stuff! Mostly so that my mom and dad know I haven’t died, just been busy eating. And drinking. And walking. Woohoo!

Springtime in Paris…you expect me to be inside writing when its like this out there? I have no willpower.


Christmas and New Year’s back in the States – a brief review

29 Jan

Let me start with this:

This is the terrible storm in Paris that almost cancelled my Christmas. Can’t you tell how snowy and treacherous it is out there? Nope, me either. My original flight was cancelled due to this, but luckily my dad worked some ridiculous magic and I got another flight back to the States. The strangest thing happened when I got off the plane in Chicago. I suddenly could understand everything people were saying around me and I could read every sign! For a brief moment, I thought this was that point of suddenly understanding a language – finally, I spoke French! Nope, its English, dummy. Maybe that last glass of wine on the flight caught up with me, but I’m blaming jetlag.

After arriving, I started baking! Made cookies with my family, then started in on Christmas Eve’s Pirate desserts (yes, in my family we have a themed Christmases, since that isn’t enough of a theme. Much to the dismay of pretty much everyone but my sisters and myself): lemon meringue tart and bread pudding with bourbon caramel sauce, with a little foray into savory with a mushroom chevre risotto for dinner; then onto Christmas Day desserts: chocolate flourless cake, apple tarts, truffles, and éclairs. I initially meant to make a Croquembouche as well – over estimated my abilities for the timing on that one. Another strange thing – I baked and took no pictures. Odd for me now…

Anyway, after Christmas I headed to San Francisco with Jeff to unpack. It was so exciting to see my things! But not exciting enough for me to want to unpack for that long. So we took a trip to Napa to placate me. I stand by it was research for my future restaurant; wine will be very important. So we sipped wines around these lovely places.

Jeff was my driver. He was pumped.

We also tasted some local macarons, so I could compare to Paris. Apparently I can open a macaron shop in Napa right now and do amazingly, if these suckers are the only competition in the area. Not bad, per say, but not what I’m spoiled with over here for sure.

After this whirlwind through Denver and San Francisco (about a week and a half), I was back to Paris to finish up school. I was in a bit of shock getting on the plane, to say the least. Short trip home, but wonderful to see everyone!

I’m alive!

29 Jan

Its been a busy month, that’s for sure. So busy that I’ve neglected my poor blog to a despicable degree, a fact that I will be making up for in the next week.

Since we last blogged (I say we to make me feel better that its actually me slacking), I’ve been to Colorado for a wonderful Christmas with family, moved into my apartment in San Francisco, went to Napa (purely for research, no fun whatsoever), met new friends for New Year’s, came back to Paris, made a chocolate sculpture, rocked a pastry final, went on a trip to Evian, graduated, went skiing in the Alps, went to Copenhagen, and now I have one week before I start my internship at the Plaza Athenee. See, busy. Plus, I got a Kindle for Christmas and seeing as I’m obsessed with reading, I’ve spent my spare time learning things about safaris, Columbian druglords, the Mafia, and some other randos.

Have I thrown enough excuses out yet? Ok, good. Now I’m back to blogging. I have one week to catch you up on all that. But, to hold you over while I type, here’s a look at my final for Pastry School, ice cream not included. Can’t believe its over!