Friday, May 4, 2012

Communists, CO2 and children's games

The French celebrate Labor Day like we do - by not working.  Labor Day was this past Tuesday, May 1st, and most of the French take "the bridge" day off Monday and flee the city, but also in true French fashion, the one's that stay in town, take it to the streets in the form of a "mainfestation" or demonstration.

I live next to demonstration capital of Paris - the Bastille.  It's a large, multi point circle with traffic coming from 9 directions, but for the big events, they manage to close this busy intersection, and allow people to march for their cause.  Police line the streets in every direction, and I have yet to see any altercation where their intervention was needed.

Many unions were present at the Bastille this week, looking for specific rights, including the Communists who had a large, flag wielding group present.

Sarkozy and Hollande held rallies in different parts of the city as they enter their final days of campaigning before the run-off on Sunday.  The Communists, the PCF, are not fans of Sarkozy and are anxious to get him out of office, as are many other Parisians, though he's gaining a little traction this week, but Hollande is still favored to win.

May 1st is also a celebration of the beginning of Spring, so there were flowers for sale everywhere, and I mean everywhere.  There were people with folding tables set up on the sidewalk, and many perched at the entrances to the metro selling lilies of the valley.  King Charles IX was a big fan of these flowers and began a tradition of giving them to ladies of the court each year at this time.

I celebrated Labor Day with my friends who weren't laboring either.  I took them on a tour I've been working on writing up of the Belleville area, the 20th arrondissement.

This isn't an area that's usually on the top of tourists' list to visit, but it's rich in history and culture.  It's always been a working class neighborhood, but a wave of immigration over the last 100 years or so has brought in a mix of cultures - Chinese, African, Greek, Jewish and Armenian.

They have their own little Chinatown, and we ate at a really good spot serving Chinese and dim sum called Le Pacifique.  Not only were the flavors good, they also weren't afraid to use a little heat, like in their black bean beef noodles. I also wasn't afraid of picking up those juicy spare ribs with my hands.  Full review here.

Belleville also has a coveted spot perched up high on a hill (though not so coveted when you're climbing) to give you great, panoramic views of Paris.


Because the rents are a bit cheaper, a lot of artists and musicians have moved into the neighborhood, along with night clubs and smaller concert venues.  You'll see a lot of contained graffiti art, and next week-end is the "Porte Ouvert" when the artists open their doors to visitors.  I attended last fall, and am looking forward to going next week-end as well.


There's also a cool boutique hotel/bar/restaurant in the Menlimoant area called Mama Shelter, which is the south side of the 20th, below Pere Lachaise cemetery.

Mama knows what you need - and it's some pizza in a fun environment....and perhaps a refreshing cucumber - basil martini!


Belleville has a wealth of good restaurants, including this one, Le Baratin.  Review here.

I also tried my hand at Molecular Gastronomy this week at Cook N with Class.

I enjoy the theatre and surprises that go with molecular cuisine, and I was intrigued to go behind the scenes and learn some of the magic.  Most of the magic occurs from these few bottles, which I was surprised to learn have been used in kitchens much longer than the last decade when foam and gelatin have really risen to the surface in Top Chef creative cuisine.

I could bore you with the details and science behind it all, but it's not as fun as simply marveling and enjoying the results.

Alex was our fast talking American chef delivering the goods and 4 1/2 hours of fun and food.

We created a faux ravioli that looked like a fried egg with a gelatin like substance serving as our wrapper, then we stuffed it with a carrot - cauliflower puree, dressed it with a vinaigrette for a delightful surprise that tasted nothing like it looked.

Then there was the real egg that we very gently cooked in a meringue like cocoon, and placed in the middle of a creamy mushroom veloute.  Oh yes, it was as good as it sounds, and no, there's pretty much no way I'll be able to recreate this without the very special temperature controlled oven.

We turned this pot of lentils into a puree base for herb crusted pork, and a light citrus foam.

And for the grand finale, we played with a reduction of mint and syrup to top a creamy, rich chocolate mousse with mint gelee.

It was a fun time, but don't expect any big molecular meals from me anytime soon, though I did pick up a few tricks that I'm looking forward to using soon.

And of course the week wasn't all play.  Well, actually, it might have been.  I did have my French class this week and at the start of each month, there is a new teacher.  We were waiting for our's to show when a guy walked in late in jeans, T-shirt and sneakers, and then we realize this is the teacher.  I've only had female teachers at the Alliance Francais, and these female teachers are usually in a dress or skirt, so it took me some adjusting to get used to our new Frenchman Sylvain.

We also started each class this week with a game.  I love games and consider myself quite the game player.  Others may call me slightly competitive, but I kicked the Asians' asses today at Simon Says, or "Jacques a dit."  I also was the leader in hangman, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to be ready to take on any 6 year old in childhood games and discussion.   I will take whatever progress I can get!

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Kelly. The photos are wonderful and it is good to see you enjoying yourself.
    Your friend, Peggy