Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gladys on a Cold Day!

It's cold and foggy here today so I thought I'd just warm things up with a little laughter. For those who missed this posted on my Facebook page (before someone deleted it for me; thanks for that by the way, since it gave me the idea of posting it on the blog!), here is Ellen DeGeneres talking with Gladys. This should warm you up!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Paris Grenelle Market

One of the things I love about our XVth arrondissement neighborhood in Paris is the open-air market. Doesn't matter what the weather's doing--freezing, raining, sizzling--the sights and sounds, colors and aromas are too much fun to keep me away when I'm there. According to Paris in a Basket: Markets--The Food and the People (by Nicolle Aimee Meyer & Amanda Pilar Smith), ours (Grenelle) is one of the 5 Star markets in Paris. (And if you are looking for times, locations and ratings of other Paris markets, the book lists an entire index of them all.)

Located underneath the above-ground metro between stops Dupleix and La Motte Piquet on the 6 line, it runs every Wednesday and Sunday between 7am and 2pm. So much to see and smell, from the breads, cookies, pastry and candy to the dead carcasses of wild hare hanging from a butcher's booth (which I will not show here).

~There are booths with foie gras and escargot...

~All kinds of seafood...

~Olives & peppers of shiny, bright colors...

~And cheeses of all varieties...

~We are addicted to the sweet, plump dried apricots and
tangy ginger...

~And many a lunch comes to our table

~I adore the flower stands who,
even in freezing weather, have
bundles of perfectly stacked flowers of
every shape and hue. In the winter,
some vendors set up outdoor
heaters for the flowers to keep their tender hearts from freezing...

...similiar to the heaters used outside cafes meant to keep our hearts warm!

~There are salads of all varieties, including some
made from pigs ears and feet...

~Weren't sure you believed me,
did you?

At our market, I love the feeling of transitioning back and forth between getting lost in the sea of shoppers and lookers ~with the tiny pinging bells of the cash drawers and the vendor's yells to attract buyers to their booths~ then mentally shifting back to taking the entire place in all at once as a whole.
I love that I can buy whatever is the latest fashion--extremely inexpensively--off any of the outdoor racks. They're cheap and will soon be out of fashion. And when my ship comes in, I will gladly trade in my new 10 euro boots for something more haute couture. But I will never give up the Paris outdoor markets!
The other markets are not the same for me. Some close by, like the St. Charles Market and the President Wilson Market, are either smaller or simply run down the sidewalks of the street. All have their own beauty and charm but are not my Grenelle Market.
My only bad experience at Grenelle was a few years ago when I stopped at a vendor with clothes folded on his table. I vaguely heard someone speaking to a customer in French--only to realize too late it was the owner of the booth and he'd been speaking to me. When I had "ignored" him long enough and had picked up something I was interested in, he loudly began shooing me away from his booth, making it very clear that I was not allowed to buy from him.
At first I was confused until I realized our miscommunication. I tried to apologize but couldn't think of the word for "to hear"--as in "I'm sorry, I didn't hear you." And he began yelling louder.
"Parlez-vous anglais?" I asked hoping to clear things up but that only inflamed him more--that I had the gall to come to his country and not even be able to argue with him fluently. He turned away and angrily offered to help someone else.
Now...I was mad.
"Excusez-moi, Monsieur, mais pourqoui moi?" I decided to get as loud as he was and actually enjoyed the look of surprise on his face. As he yelled again, I yelled right back in my limited French. While he had been shooing me away to make a point and assuage his clearly assaulted ego, now he really wanted to get rid of me. I was making a scene and startling his clientele. I made a little more of a stink, told him I wanted nothing of his and fumed away.
The next couple of times I walked the Market, I stopped with whoever I was with, waited until I knew he saw me and pointed toward him, clearly speaking about him and wagging my finger back and forth toward his table in the French gesture for "No, no, no." "No buying here.
Mechant. Mean!"
After that, I had to smile when I saw him. And I swear, he smiled back. In that way, we both apologized for our bad behavior. So...I was bad once in Paris.
Maybe it means I'm becoming French!
Photographs copyright: Kirsten Steen

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First Full Day!

So, in honor today of those who came before and their sacrifices, here's a song sent by a friend.

Perfect for the first full day of Obama's Presidency and the

Hope for the Future! I'm feelin' it!

Rosa Sat - song for Barack Obama

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day!

O Happy Day!

Just a note to say that this one (and most likely "that one") is riding a wave of hope and joy today. The feeling of sheer dread and doom that I felt on this day 8 years ago (which was borne out beyond my scariest nightmares) has been replaced with tears of pure joy at today's momentous event. Even my partner, whom I have never seen cry in our 18 years together, was wiping away tears at today's speech.

Let's give Obama all we can in our faith, our good wishes and our pledge to help do the work necessary to heal our future and patch up our past. And if war criminals must be prosecuted for war crimes, then so be it. Distraction or no. While we do need to look to the future, the past and its crimes do not disappear.

But for now, I just want to ride this wave of hope and happiness I feel all over the world.

Go Obama!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

'I Know the Heart of Life is Good!'

So while we're waiting for the muse pill to take effect (essentially to make her show up, perform, do her duty and allow no doodie), thought I'd share someone else's musical words that reflect some of my feelings about the fear and the state of the world right now.


John Mayer - Heart of Life (Acoustic)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hope Springs Internal

The 18th century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico believed that humankind passes through 3 stages:

1.) The Divine Stage- in which the Gods rule civilization,
2.) The Aristocratic Stage-where we are ruled by those individuals claiming to be superior and,
3.) The Human Stage-in which individuals govern themselves.

It looks as if we are at Stage 3 now which one would think to be a good thing except that the final point of the idea here is that after Stage 3, all falls apart and the process begins again. Considering what's been happening on the worldfront these days, hope was looking as sorry as the tiny, closed-up purple pansy I saw smashed under a hood of snow in the Champ de Mars recently. It quietly held its color and life intact, waiting for the frozen grip of a wet head-lock to let go so it could once again stand tall and bloom toward the warmth of a future sun. I'm hoping our situation may be as naturally recurring as that. And Obama, our future sun.

Just as this idea of stages can be true of humankind en masse, it also looks to be true of the individual within the family. We start out in a process that for all intents and purposes could be called Divine Science (that 9 month process of creation and gestation within the body) and shortly thereafter, we are ruled by those creators--or parents as they like to be called. After a period governed by the monarchs, a time frame also determined by superiors, we become free to run our own lives, free from those initial creators. And then what? And then we die! That's the natural outcome for the body (unless we learn something different in the next couple of centuries--provided we have that much time-- and it turns out that it's not).

I'd like to think that we as individuals (or a society) don't necessarily have to blow ourselves up (literally or figuratively) as a natural consequence of governing ourselves. I'd also like to think that the last 8 years with President Dufus Dangerous (who I always said was "on a need-to-know-basis but someone forgot to tell him!") have not so damaged our credibility and goodwill with the Steady-As-She-Goes and the Up-and-Comers in the world that we will have completely done ourselves in.

Garrison Keillor recently wrote about the possible intent of Yellowstone (and its seimic activity) to blow so high that it takes several states with it. He prefers to wait out the "big belch" in Paris, complete with his own personal fantasies starring Juliette Binoche and Audrey Tatou. With the state of our economy, our recent political atmosphere and the probability of super viruses on the way, I think we could all take a lesson from the Lake Woebegone Master.

If it is true (as has been suggested in recent decades) that we do indeed create our lives and our reality with the energy of our thoughts, then it makes perfect sense that during times such as these (or any time for that matter), one may want to be very careful where one puts their focus. We have had fear fed to us like rotten candy for nearly a decade and now we are living it. It appears we are now in the belly of the whale.

If a tidal wave is on the way, people know to run for higher ground. In this case, maybe we need to run for higher thoughts; thoughts filled with what we want rather than what we're reading, hearing and most undoubtedly not wanting. I'm not exactly advocating the ostrich pose but I am suggesting not getting too carried away on the wave.
For those more pragmatic of you, think of it as the old "Act As If". You've heard that over and over in those success tapes you've listened to in your car all the way to your cubicle job. Real estate brokers use it. Professional athletes use it. Anyone who truly wants to be successful uses the mind to create what they want by seeing it happen before it happens.

For those woowoo-ligans like moi, that positive power of thinking means doing like Monsieur Woebegone and indulging in life-like scenarios of what we would prefer (which by the way is my New Year's Resolution this year--at least once a day I play the Blue Ray in my own personal home theater that is my head and watch the imagic-movie of what I want my life to look like on my giant plasma screen).

And I'm hoping and praying that those already caught up in the tidal wave's turbulent chaos can see themselves treading water until they can find something to hold onto, keeping their families and loved ones' safe.

Me? I'm planning on seeing all those who need help, getting it, possibly by way of some of those very same who once believed that their bottom lines and corporate bonus' were the end-all-be-all. (Anyone who's not read Wendell Berry's 2007 Commencement Address for Bellarmine University, it is an interesting question to the current answer--and vice versa.)

Woops, too preachy? Ok, back to the theater in my head.

Me? I'm planning on seeing the wave as a necessary ripple on the pond of our evolution, watching it from a hilltop surrounded by family and friends (and a library of my own published books, short stories, poems & awards as well as sold and filmed screenplays---Hey, it's my party and I can scry if I want to! Stage 3, remember?) and using the floodwaters to put out any fires of carnage while lighting the internal flames of hope.

(Oh and let's not forget Hugh Jackman who will also be there, serving drinks and giving massages poolside in his size Small Speedo and Kisses for $1 sign.)
Photograph copyright: Kirsten Steen

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Galettes des Rois in Paris

January in Paris is the time of the Galette des Rois or Cake of the Kings. Their shiny, crusted faces shout from every boulangerie, patisserie and traiteur (catering) window; from the tiny family-run shops to the big name stores: Dalloyau, Pierre Hermes, LeNotre.

Celebrated for Epiphany (January 6th) and the Visitation by the Magi, it is sold all through the month of January, some boulangeries even churning them out in December. Its history goes back to Roman times (though the purpose and names have changed over the centuries according to what kings and society thought it should reflect). Since the Middle Ages, it has been known as a Twelfth Night cake.

When Louis XIV banned it for being
a pagan festival, it became La Fete du Bon Voisinage ('Neighborly Relations Day').
After the French Revolution, it became
Gateau de l'Egalite ('the Cake of Equality').

Never underestimate the people's need for cake!
I should know since cake is my downfall. Cookies can go by the wayside. Chocolate can go stale in my pantry for months (though I don't like to leave it feeling lonely that long however I can start or stop any time I wish). Ice cream can rack up extra layers of ice. But cake eerily calls my name until I have finished every last morsel. Might take me a week (leaving pieces for my partner who may never touch it again but then wonders what happened to it once it's mysteriously gone) but it never gets thrown out.

Forget willpower, cake rules.

And this cake, the Cake of the Kings, is made of puff pastry filled with a creamy interior and (frangipane) almond-paste. The ritual around this cake centers on a lucky charm hidden within its sinfully sweet interior. The youngest (child) in the family takes their place under the table and, as the cake is cut, calls out the name of the person receiving the next piece. The one who finds the charm becomes King and wears the gold paper crown sold with each cake.

Early on, the lucky charm was a bean (une feve) and the lucky King was made to buy drinks all 'round which lead to some swallowing of beans to save on funds. In later years, it became a porcelain trinket but now is most often made of plastic. Both the porcelain and even the plastic trinkets have become collector's items. I've had two Galettes already this holiday season and both cakes produced plastic Santas, which both adult and child Queens were ecstatic to find and keep.

And while I have never yet been the Lucky Queen, I feel certain that I have enough luck and royal blood (or at least attitude) to eventually be crowned. I intend to keep making my way through almond paste and puff pastry until I do.

Photographs copyright: Kirsten Steen

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Christmas Menu in France

The holidays in France for us are always like a fairytale come true. My brother-in-law's Mere has spent days working her magic in their mini-chateau in the French countryside (about 3 hours outside of Paris).

Humming while she works
in her lovely blue-and-white-
backsplash kitchen with the
red marble table and
Louis XIV palace-sized fireplace,
Madame D. appears effortless
as she gracefully mixes and pats, stirs and tastes.


The Christmas tree has been adorned in the billiard room where a few presents are scattered under the tree. One of the things my partner loves about Christmas here is that the holiday is mostly about family and food. The gift-giving event is a short and sweet amuse bouche between champagne and dinner, more like a brief set-up to the main event.

During the holidays (or any of our visits), every meal begins with champagne and we sip from flutes and snack on salty chips as the family visits in the salon. After days of preparation, the food is ready, the long table elegantly set and the taste of champagne bubbles as we speak.

Christmas Eve dinner begins with the Foie Gras entree, bought and cooked fresh and served with a Coteaux de Lyon or Vouvray.

The buttery slices melt in the mouth, awaiting the perfectly complementary wine and the tang of confit d'oignon. Fresh oysters follow served raw with lemon or a mignonette sauce made by Ed--which by the way, was pointed out as an American term, not French-- of red wine vinegar and shallots. And for those children (and this one adult) who are not fans of raw oysters, smoked salmon lox are offered.

The main course consists of individual pidgeons stuffed with chestnuts and accompanied by petite fois (baby peas) mixed with carrots and cream and a 1979 St. Emilion Bordeaux.

Cheese is always a grand affair with large blocks and petite rounds of various smelly delights of Muenster, Comte and Chevres.

The cheese course is always paired with a plain green salad dressed with a tangy vinaigrette. Dessert: a double choice of chocolate cake (in the shape of a yule log), topped with pear, then cut in thick slices and doused with rhum~

~or a white raspberry swirl cake coated with a layer of meringue.

(I asked for the names of these cakes and was told that one is the creation of the chef and the other handed down by her mother. No names. So it was decided we would name them Gateaux Claudine de Naives.)

On Christmas Day, after champagne of course, lunch begins again with Foie Gras on plain, white toast and sweet, white wine. The main dish for this meal is wild hare (most likely caught by the host as hunting is his passion). The hare is cooked in a deeply dark sauce which we learn is made of the animal's own blood.

The idea takes some getting used to but the result, served with pasta and a 1986 St. Estephe, is delicious. Cheese and salad follow with more wine specifically for the cheese. Dessert is my brother-in-law's favorite: Maman's Creme de Marron. Served in petite glasses and looking like chocolate, this rich combination of butter, chocolate and chestnut paste spoons like barely melted ice cream~ thick and creamy.

Coffee follows dessert (true to form in France, coffee and dessert are never served at the same time) and a walk in the woods follows lunch. We pile into Monsieur D's jeep (hats, scarves and gloves in hand) to make a quick stop in a tiny nearby village, picking up large bags of corn from the garage of a hunting friend. While we walk, Monsieur drives the maize from one location to another, distributing the food for the 'wild' boar. (One of the rules in hunting here is that one cannot hunt the same property where the boar are fed, unless of course one is French and then you can break any rule. Already this season, the hunting group has caught 28 wild boar and that was as of last week!)

The walk is followed by a quiet afternoon of napping after which Madame prepares a lighter meal for dinner. Champagne starts the evening again and vegetable soup begins this night's courses. A large, rectangular, pate en croute is served filled with half domestic pork and half wild boar ground together. Salad and cheese are always offered and the cake and Creme de Marron return. Coffee is a must after this day even for those like me who rarely partake.

Boxing Day is our day of departure and since we are driving, champagne is offered but not automatically brought out before lunch. Ahead of time, Madame has prepared several meats for today's main dish of Choucroute, one of our favorites. A huge platter of sauerkraut is covered with various sausages, ham, bacon, and other pork cuts.

Three kinds of moutarde are placed near the platter as well as several types of beer. A reisling is also offered as the typical complementary wine. Cheese follows and then leftover desserts and light wafer cookies known as Petits Croquets aux amandes and noisettes (little cookies with almonds and nuts) of which, after asking for the recipe, our hunting host declares that if they come to visit this summer, I may serve these to him then and be tested on my skill.

Goodbye is always the hardest part of our visit. Never certain how long it will be before we return, we sadly say our farewells to the chateau, our family, this fairyland. We promise to see each other soon, and hope that the world, the Gods of the Hunt and time will be kind to them while we are away.

Photographs copyright: Kirsten Steen