The flight over the Atlantic was as ever, uninteresting but as we descended into Frankfurt it became a little tense, the pilot warning about some turbulence with snow and ice. Frankfurt was snowed in and the air traffic chaotic, making our onward connection to Paris 2 hours late. On arriving in Paris, feeling rather grubby and sandpaper eyed we discovered one, not two checked bags spinning drearily on the belt. So sorry for you. Yet another hour was spent dealing with the missing baggage. Our driver met us in the arrivals hall and whisked us to a Mercedes Transporter and drove us by way of the Champ Elysees to our apartment in Paris’s 7th Arriondissement. The first recognizable landmark on the drive into was the dome of Notre Dame the second the Arc de Triomphe which was, despite the gusty wind and the grey freezing rain teeming with tourists. We were both thinking this would be an excellent place to avoid in summer. Our rep from Paris Perfect met us in our apartment and proceeded to give us a very long, very detailed description of the use of every electric appliance, plumbing, heating, windows, light switches, door locks, washer/ dryer, garbage disposal and French manners. Probably all very necessary but all we wished to do was collapse in a heap and sleep for 12 hours. Which we did. Our first impressions considering we haven’t stepped outside the apartment yet… the Apartment is tiny not at all like the photographs suggested. But this is Paris and space is limited. We do have a lounge with a view of the Eiffel Tower, a small kitchen, two bathrooms and two bedrooms which is good for those who snore and those who think they don’t! The river Seine is much wider than we expected and the Eiffel Tower is EMORMOUS, probably accentuated because it’s only one city block away.
We were meant to attend a wine and cheese tasting lunch this morning but the vacation gremlins crept in and switched dates on us. We took a taxi to the venue and met with our hosts who were happy to reschedual for the28th. While we were in the area we visited the bakers mecca MORA and E.DEHILLERIN, shops that stock everything for the French kitchen. The French equivalent of America’s Williams Sonoma on steroids. Chanting a mantra “we don’t need it” we kept our hands firmly in our pockets, although I had to be reminded constantly, don’t touch! There are lots of nice shiny toys here. We walked back to our apartment via the bridge of locks strolling down the river Seine. Although we think we dress like most Parisians, (jeans, black coats and scarves). We obviously stick out as tourists because twice, gypsies who “found” a valuable ring that she may have dropped approached Christina. Their slight of hand skills were abysmal but their trick is of course to engage you in conversation and sell you a scam or pick your pockets. By midday we were both starving and we stepped into a typical French bistro for lunch. We shared a plate of charcuterie, then each had a plat de jour, mine was sausage from Leon, Christina’s duck breast. Nothing outstanding, it was pretty standard tourist bistro fare. After our leisurely lunch we staggered back to our apartment and slept off some of the jet lag. Or was it possibly the effects of a nice bottle of Saint Emillilon Gran Cru.
Feb.27th: Today we have an early start. Awake at 6 am – bolted our breakfast and in the taxi headed for cooking class by 8.30am. After coffee and croissant we met with Chef Alex Dreyer for the morning market tour. We paused briefly at a horse butchery – our guide Alex explaining that only horsemeat is allowed to be sold from these especially licensed outlet. Pass. The market that we toured in the 10th Arrondissement has been serving this community since the early 1800’s. Our first stop is a butchery shop (horse and donkey free), spotlessly clean and odorless despite piles of meat parts stacked into sparkling glass cases. The cases show off rabbit, quail and several chicken types including milk fed chicken! Who knew!? Cheap (he he) at only 180 Euros per bird. The rabbit carcasses are left with heads intact, apparently to prove that you are buying rabbit and not a kitty cat. The rabbit’s stomach cavity, sans intestines, is left open with liver exposed to show that the meat is really fresh. Likewise all poultry is sold with head and feet attached, again proving the freshness and authenticity of the produce. There is the normal selection of beef, lamb and pork but also proudly displayed are the brains, tongue sweetbreads and all other offal. The veal counter was extensive. Why have Americans become squeamish about eating veal? Milk fed lamb is delicious, as is suckling pig why not calf? Our cooking group comprised 4 Americans, and two young ladies from Hong Kong. We decide to cook duck. Canard not Connard, which is a very rude French word, pronounced similarly! Check out google translate for that one ;). The best fatty duck breasts originate from the South of France and are a by-product of the duck foie gras industry. We also buy a few pounds of chicken legs and veal bone with which to make a jus. Next stop the Poissonnerie or Fishmonger. The Poissonnerie‘s stall is set up in the open with very fresh produce for you to inspect. Alex shows us how to test for freshness. Dark clear eyes, red gills, the presence of boogers ( yes, really), and resistance in the flesh of the fish. Scallops and other bivalves should move after opening. We learn that the orange sac attached to the scallops is the roe sac and is very edible. American fishermen discard this because the sac spoils rapidly. We buy 30 -40 small crawfish and two large turbot (sort of a large sole) and move on to the Fromagerie or Cheese shop also referred to as the FOB by locals Fromage, Oeufs en Burre (Cheese, eggs and butter). The shop is immaculately clean but it stinks, in a good way. It smells like the feet of angels. That would be, angels with very smelly feet. The smell is so intense that it is impossible for one of the guests to join our group inside the shop. She eventually does join us, very gradually moving from the doorway, where there is more oxygen, to the inner sanctum where it is fully pungent. France has over 400 types of cheeses, and we found ourselves surrounded by a very large selection. Alex stopped before each showcase and explained the cheeses origin and the method of making the cheese. The goat cheese selection was truly impressive. We were also lectured as to how well mannered people would cut cheese. We discover as a result that almost all Zimbabweans’ and most Americans are savages and Philistines. We discussed butter in depth. The shop offers 5-6 types: with salt, without salt, demi sel, (some salt), and two hand made butters, both of which are divine. Christina and I buy our own secret stash of butter and three cheeses. A pungent Roqueford, a mild chevre, and an amazing velvety smooth Comte, embedded with tiny salt crystals. Moving on we walk (carefully because of all the dog shit) to a small green grocery where we pick up leeks shallots garlic carrots thyme bay leave and Jerusalem Artichokes. The latter are referred to as a forgotten vegetable. Apparently they were the only vegetable readily available during the Second World War and the older French population view them with distaste – we found them delicious! For me one of the market tour was, was visiting the artisanal boulangerie. The sign outside indicating the bread sold has been made in house in the cellar by the owner, a one person operation. The original floor was soil until it was remodeled 5 years ago. By French law, a round-a-bout must have a boulangerie and the fellow craftsman have to coordinate vacation time as to have at least one boulangerie open at all times. More later on the cooking course and other shenanigans!