During the first weekend of September, my husband and I headed to northern France to go to la Braderie de Lille, which is something I had been looking forward to doing all year long. The annual braderie is the largest flea market in Europe and its history dates as far back as the 12th century. The event has evolved over time since its inception during the middle ages, originally being something of a trade show where folks sold their merchandise. Servants at the time had also received permission to sell their masters’ unwanted clothes and things once a year, so they piggy-backed onto the trade show to unload their masters’ goods. Today, over 10,000 professional antique sellers and individual vendors wanting to empty their attics take over more than 100 km of Lille’s streets, setting up stalls on just about every corner of the city. The annual event is held the first weekend of September, starting on Saturday afternoon and goes through the night and ends Sunday evening at around midnight.
My daily commute has become twice as long since changing jobs earlier this year, thus, exponentially increasing the chances of unwelcomed encounters, such as seeing the nether regions of a drunkard naked from the waste down and passed out on a metro bench first thing after getting off the metro in the morning. Today, the ride got a little too raw and up close for my comfort. Being crammed in the métro is nothing new during rush hour. But, with the warmer temperatures from this Indian summer we’ve been having, being packed like sardines among folks who have not quite caught onto the practice of using deodorant, especially on warmer days like today, is an excruciating assault on the senses. Having my personal space violated many times over in a box full of warm, sticky, smelly bodies was torture enough, but at the stop after I had gotten on, a horde of folks boarded the train, one of them being an awkwardly rotund teen, sweat dripping from his nose and upper lip and whose backside was covered in what looked like dandruff, further pronounced by his black t-shirt. I just hoped with all of my might that the train would not brake suddenly, because my face would end up splat in that pile of dry, white head excrement. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the trained stalled a couple of times, making the ride even longer than necessary.
Each year, I wait with giddy anticipation for the summer months to arrive, during which time we can finally forgo the obscene number of layers of clothes and parkas for dainty sundresses and sandals. But this year, summer never came to Paris. With the exception of a few sunny yet cool days here and there, the weather has been rather dreary with unsually low temperatures. So, you can imagine how excited I was when the sun came out for a few hours and bathed us in a little bit of heat last Saturday. As I mentioned last week, we strolled aimlessly along the streets of Paris, wandering from the left bank, across to the right bank. Our first stop was at Sadaharu Aoki’s pâtisserie in the 6th arrondissement, which is only about a block or two away from the Luxembourg Garden.
I have a tendancy to focus on the hairy aspects of living in France, and it’s rather easy to forget how magnificent this city can be when we get sucked into the daily doldrums of life. This video, however, flawlessly captures quotidian scenes of life here in Paris, which can be breathtakingly beautiful at times, even in her simplest moments. What a great reminder of how lucky I am to get to live this everyday!
The weather that we saw this Saturday is what Parisian dreams are made of – clear, blue skies with a healthy dose of sunshine. And when the weather is this great, Parisians flock in droves to the many parks that are peppered throughout the city. We, too, took advantage of this glorious weather to replenish our vitamin D reserves. After a leisurely breakfast, we grabbed our sunglasses and headed into the city.
We spent the day wandering through the city and soaking in the scenery, starting with a stop at Sadaharu Aoki in the 6th arrondissement for some French Japanese fusion pastries (more on that later!). With snack in hand, we strolled to the nearby Luxembourg Garden, which is the scene of our first outing in Paris, back when the mister and I were still mere acquaintances. So, this park always invokes a bit of nostalgia in me, bringing me back to a time when I was still charmed by the city’s beauty and my experience hadn’t yet been colored by its unpleasantries and less glamorous side. No matter how many times I’ve come here though, it never fails to amaze me.
We were lucky enough to snag a couple of the coveted reclined park chairs. After savoring our pastries and reveling in the intensity of the green color imparted by the matcha green tea, we basked in the sun for awhile and got some much needed color. As the garden started to fill up after the lunch hour, we headed north towards the river and walked along the left bank of the Seine.
Many of the Parisians still hadn’t yet returned from their month long vacations, so the city wasn’t as overcrowded despite the many visiting tourists. We cut through the Île Saint Louis, which is a tiny island in the middle of the city and only a stone’s throw from the island where Notre Dame is situated (see last photo).
Our little excursion ended at Place de la Bastille, where I picked up a few accessories at the nearby Paul Beuscher store for my new hobby, the guitar. Just as we descended into the métro, we started to feel a few raindrops. The sunshine was rather shortlived, and the pouring rain returned later that evening. And, it looks like it’s here to stay, with rain forecasted through next Sunday and tempertures as low as 14°C.
I didn’t have any luck recovering the notebook that I had left behind at the grocery a couple of weeks ago. I called them twice last week to see if anyone was kind enough to turn it in, but after checking the objets perdus (lost and found), nothing turned up. Both gals whom I spoke to said someone probably took it or trashed it and since a week has passed since I lost it, they said that it isn’t likely that it will turn up. Ugh, I knew the chances were slim, but my heart sank after calling them. Nearly a decade of home recipes gone, the most precious ones being those from my grandma and mother.
I suffered a major setback in my cooking journey today. I realized, to my horror, that I had left my notebook of recipes that I have been recording notes and recipes in for the last 7 or 8 year at the grocery store yesterday! I remember leaving it in the shopping cart and I had made a mental note not to forget to take it out before returning the cart. But of course, having the memory of a fruit fly these days, I left it behind, and being in France, the chances of recovering this precious notebook of mine is next to zilch! After realizing that the notebook was nowhere to be found in the house, I started bawling like I had just received news that my dog Elroy had just crossed the rainbow bridge. The thing is, this notebook is that precious to me. I’ve recorded recipes that my grandma had taught me before passing away, those that my mother taught me, those that I have learned since becoming a wife, recipes that I had been developing. Having already had a really emotionally tough week, this immense loss was just too much to handle this morning and I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to recover from this. Though I can now make some of those dishes in my sleep, there are many that I was still learning how to perfect.
Yet another food magazine hit the newsstands in France last year, this one being dedicated entirely to baking and sweets. Fou de Pâtisserie is different in that top pastry chefs as well as up-and-comers in France and from around the world generously share some of their recipes. This is a fantastic magazine for those who would like to know any and all things about the world of French pastries. Not only does it showcase the artistry of French pastries and their historical origins, but each issue also offers readers a glimpse into the careers of the masterminds behind the gorgeous creations through interviews that reveal how they got their start, what motivates them, their style, etc. The magazine also comes chock full of tutorials of basic techniques. Though recipes of the hautes pâtisseries featured can be daunting, simpler recipes for classics, such as eclairs and muffins, are also included for amateurs with limited skills like myself.
A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I crossed the border and ventured over to the land of chocolate and moules frites (mussels and fries). I had only briefly visited Brussels once years ago when I had flown to Paris and driven to the most south eastern corner of Belgium to get my dog, Elroy. During that trip, I was only in Brussels for a few hours, and the only thing I really remember about the city was the rather unremarkable meal that I had that night. From what I’ve gathered, the French don’t hold the Belgians in particularly high esteem and think of themselves and their culture/cuisine as being far superior to that of the Belgians. Given that mediocre meal and their reputation among the French, I didn’t exactly have any sort of expectations, but nevertheless, I still looked forward to leaving the hustle and bustle of Paris for a long weekend to explore the home of the European Commission.
Though I got rid of most of my belongings before moving here, I made sure to make some room in my suitcases for a few keepsakes that would remind me of home and my family and friends back in the US. One of the goodies that I brought with me was Ms. Janstch’s scone recipe. My good friend, Mrs. Moline, whose social reach is more expansive than I could ever imagine, introduced me to a whole host of lovely ladies back in Austin, TX. Ms. Janstch was among these lady friends. She graced us with dozens of scones at a lady’s potluck brunch one Sunday. Her scones without a doubt were the star of the brunch and I just had to have the recipe before leaving. Luckily, Ms. Janstch was gracious enough to share her recipe with me. I have since adapted her recipe to my own kitchen and tastes. Ah, the nostalgia invoked each time I make these lovely scones!