Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Bayeux, Butter and Brandy

November 21, 2010

Normandy - pastoral farmland and some wickedly narrow roads

The Experienced Travellers had a wonderful visit to Normandy.  It deserves more rigorous investigation on a future trip.  Normandy’s reputation for seafood, dairy and apple products make it a promising destination for hungry travellers. 

The Hotel Reine Mathilde where the ETs outwitted French parking authorities

We stayed in Bayeux at the Hotel Reine Mathilde.  A central location can be handy, unless you have a car.  I never quite grasped the “colored curb” parking protocol and spent anxious nights listening for the Parking Lady’s turbocharged vespa. 

This water-wheel brought out the photographer in Nurse

The center of Bayeux is old and evocative, with a magnificent Cathedral built over Roman ruins. In more recent times, De Gaulle made his first speech on liberated French soil here.   I don’t know what DeGaulle did after his speech, but the ETs give Bayeux five stars for shopping and dining.

The Bayeux Tapestry - an inspired work of public relations. photo by Gabriel Seah

William, Duke of Normandy became King of England in 1066 when he conquerored Harold at the Battle of Hastings.  I’m sure William’s people held a medieval Kaizan which determined that a 224-foot embroidery was necessary to commemorate the victory. 

It conjurs images of medieval French ladies working their needles round the clock, powered by a local chevre and shots of Calvados.  The ETs don’t mean to annoy the French, but we feel the tapestry could stand a good dry-cleaning. 

Another local boy, Taillevent, was a famous 14th century chef who cooked for the Valois kings.  He wrote one of the first French cookbooks which is a primary source of medieval cooking technique – in case you find yourself planning a joust and a banquet.

Getting the beef off the skewer was a delicate operation that became challenging after the second glass

They have gone beyond roasting mutton over a fiery pit at Le Petit Resto, located just behind the Cathedral.  With heightened appetites and high expectations, we enjoyed their artful presentation of local cuisine. 

A dash of chocolate mousse sets off gateau aux pommes smothered in caramel sauce.

In an agrarian economy, it’s important to maintain strength and stamina.  Normans achieve this through regular infusions of Calvados –  a powerful brandy distilled from the local apples. 

During the first world war, Calvados was requisitioned for use in armaments due to its alcohol content.  The ETs are not surprised by this unique contribution to the national defense. 

After an educational sampling, we unanimously agree that this is how jet fuel must taste.  It’s like swallowing a fireball that descends to your gut, then ignites vital organs.  Only a people as solid as the local stone could withstand this experience.

Calvados pot still - or an armaments factory? (Photo by Hennrik Mattson, Wikipedia Commons)

Here’s something to try for your next French dinner:  The “Norman Hole” is a brief break during the meal when you have a glass of Calvados to aid digestion. We’re sure this refers to the “hole” that the Calvados burns through your stomach. We survived Grappa, but Calvados is in a league of it’s own.

Salute the Colonel. (Photo by Santaduck, Wikipedia Commons)

Norman cheeses include Camembert, Pont l’Évêque, Brillat-Savarin, Neufchatel, Petit Suisse and Boursin.  Another local cheese is Livarot.  I have read that Livarot is the stinkiest cheese on earth, smelling strongly of local livestock pens.   This cheese gets wrapped in layers of military-grade material and rides in the car trunk.

The orange rind is wrapped in rings of dried bullrush which resemble the stripes on a Colonel’s uniform, giving Livarot a dandy nickname.   The ETs haven’t tried it yet;  perhaps someone among the Readership can report?

The spires of Bayeux Cathedral

After sampling the wonders of Normandy, the ETs conclude that it was the combination of Livarot, Calvados and Norman strength that gave William a decisive win at Hastings. 

William Conquers (Photos from Wikipedia Commons)

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Honoring Veterans in Normandy

November 14, 2010

No mission too difficult; No sacrifice too great; Duty first. 6 June 1944

The recent celebration of Veterans Day in the U.S. reminded the Experienced Travellers of their conquest of Normandy and Omaha Beach. 

Our first skirmish was the two-hour drive in the rain after a restless overnight flight.  Nurse was all for comfort, and deftly slipped out of her bra in the front seat of our tiny Renault, under the delighted gaze of a passing truck driver.  There are no candid photos of this skillful feat, unless you count the one that the French Traffic Surveillance camera took of my speedy vehicle.  

We used Bayeux as our base camp for exploring the area.  We had just one day to see the beaches, so we concentrated on Omaha Beach, where American forces landed during the allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France during WWII.   

Taking Omaha Beach on D-Day 1944. (Photo by Robert Sargent, Wikipedia Commons)

Omaha Beach today. Imagine thousands of GIs disembarking after a fantastic voyage across the Channel.

The wide, sweeping beach is tranquil, but it’s role in the liberation of France is evident everywhere.  There are still hulks of troop transport carriers and weapons scattered around the area. 

Nurse inspects the German gun battery at Longues-sur-Mer.

 The German coastal defenses were geared toward seaborne assult.  After a close inspection of this gun battery,  Nurse decided that an outdoor terrace offered a superior vantage point for planning an invasion of the local moules-frites vendors.

ETs contemplate their invasion of Norman cuisine

 As a dutiful second-in-command, I undertook reconnaissance to locate a sunny table with a view.  I can imagine what one of those soldiers would have given for my cafe creme.  Restored and refreshed, we revved up the Renault.  After a series of scenic wrong turns and dead ends, we arrived at the American Cemetery.

American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer holds over 9,000 soldiers

France granted this land to the US  in perpetuity.  White Crosses and Stars of David mark the graves of the fallen on this bluff overlooking the beach where they died.  The visitor’s center is very informative with excellent displays.  If we had it to do again, we would start here, then see the beach.  

The German Cemetery in La Cambe

We made an unplanned stop at the German cemetery which is maintained by the German War Graves Commision solely through donations.  Over 21,ooo soldiers are buried here, with 300 interred in the mass grave.  The German 352nd Infantry Division was made up of inexperienced recruits.  The American 29th Infantry Division was untested in these conditions.  Both sides suffered heavy casualties.

A more peaceful landing unless you're a fish

Our Renault troop transport brought us to Grandcamp Maisy in search of rations and an appetite for moules.  We found the only restaurant on the harbor that wasn’t serving fish and had to settle for quiche.  ETs are always prepared for privations, so they settled in and enjoyed their lunch. 

A canine companion barking orders - "eat your quiche and forget about moules"

It was an evocative day of sightseeing.  We headed back to Bayeux in a cool drizzle, pondering the soldiers of all nations who fought and fell on D-Day, and those who risk their lives today.

Les Braves - the French government commissioned this sculpture to honor the Americans who liberated France. They symbolize the Wings of Hope, Rise of Freedom and Wings of Fraternity.

We’ll tell you more about Bayeux and Normandy in our next post.  And yes, Readership,  there will be food pictures.

Les Macarons

November 7, 2010

Les Macarons. One ET shares the French obsession with them. The other ET is mystified.

Occasionally, the ETs respectfully disagree over a point of French life.  The frenzied, national devotion to the macaron is a serious point of contention, with Nurse firmly on the side of the French.   You can see where that leaves me.

The obsession in question is made of two thin-crusted cookies with soft centers of almond meringue held together with a layer of rich, sweet ganache.  If you’re already spinning from sugar overload, I am sympathetic. 

Nurse has a fondness for the macarons that her friend Pauline made with whipped cream.  So when she saw a patisserie window in full macaron splendor, she was hooked.  I can’t fathom why.  The fumes make my teeth hurt.

A new solar system - macarons suspended by wire over pink sugar, each with a decorative cutout

Macarons come in all colors and flavors.  They’re lemon, raspberry, mocha or pistachio and always a garish hue.  The blinding saucer-sized varieties  from the corner patisserie are Nurse’s favourites. Her blood sugar rose the moment she had the bag in hand.  A circulatory system overload caused by the almond meringue and the lemon ganache made Nurse handle her hotwheels like a NASCAR pro.  No one was safe.

If Proust had preferred Laduree macarons to madelines, perhaps he would have been less pensive. (Photo by Roboppy. Wikipedia Commons)

 

Catherine de Medici’s Italian pastry chefs introduced them to France in the mid-1500s as a simple almond cookie.  The fanaticism began when the famous pastry shop Laduree pioneered the ganache filling in the early 1900s.  Laduree’s website offers this secret to macaron success:

These small, round cakes, crisp on the outside, smooth and soft in the middle, are made every morning in Ladurée’s “laboratory”. The pastry chefs measure out very precisely the required amounts of almonds, eggs and sugar, before adding one final ingredient, a pinch of unique “know-how”, essential to the making of such a delicacy. Once cooked and filled, the macaroons are put to one side for 2 days before going on sale, the time it takes to achieve a perfect balance between texture and flavour.

The part about them sitting around for two days is certainly a point for my side of the argument.  

The discs of delight make creative window dressing a snap. Does anyone but me question why you can use a glue gun on a macaron?

Patisserie owners are enthusiastic about decorating with them and I suspect it’s because profit margins on macarons must be enormous.  If you’re willing to part with 2-3 euro of  “found money” for a few bites of sass and buzz, join Nurse! 

Disagreements over who makes the best macarons are serious and consequential.   In Paris, there are several top contenders.  Laduree and Dalloyau  are two of the oldest practitioners in the city. 

Pierre Hermé –  who has written a book on the subject – has a contemporary flair and unusual flavors like rose and lychee.  (You can devour 20 of them in your own home for just 58 euro plus shipping.) 

Lenôtre  will send you a 116-piece “colonnade de macarons” for 164 euro which will turn your office holiday party into an EMT convention.  Finally Gérard Mulot on the Rue de Seine has fierce adherents who swear that his are the only ones.   

So, Readership, do you have a position to take on the subject of macarons?  Do you back Nurse in her devotion to the colorful, ganache-filled biscuits?  Or do I have the right approach – bisquick and Fluffernutter?

Julie’sParis will continue…

October 15, 2010

Inspiration for menu planning

The Experienced Travellers are home again, but the magic of Paris lingers.  The sights, sounds and flavours are still foremost in our minds.  And  I re-lived many of them when I checked my American Express statement yesterday.  I don’t regret a single euro.

A balmy evening on the terrace at Le Bosquet

So by popular demand, I’ll continue to write  juliesparis.  Perhaps 1-2 posts per week, depending on how much reality interferes with my inner world of life in the city of lights.  Lord knows, I have the photo archive and Paris info spreadsheets to keep it going!

Metro station, St. Germain

I want to thank all of you for your readership, comments and support.  This blog was a fun experiment and it will live on.  Let’s live “la vie Parisienne”  for a few minutes each week.  Now, that’s “found money”!

The spirit of Paris endures


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