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Leaving On a Jet Plane Tomorrow

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Pierre Herme MacaronToday is my last day in Paris. How do these trips always manage to fly by so quickly? We were fortunate to have gorgeous weather for our entire trip, minus today. It’s rainy and cold. C’est la vie.

With no plans, we just started wandering around this morning before the impending deluge. Many shops and restaurants remain closed for the August holiday break, but thankfully, a few of my favorite cooking shops and patisseries were not.

I made my way to Rue Montorgueil, right by the apartment we rented last time. There, I purchased boxes of tiny macarons at Stohrer, one of the oldest bakeries in Paris. One box is a gift for the flight crew tomorrow, and the other will be coming back to Texas with me.

The main reason for heading over to that part of the city was because I wanted to purchase a lame (pronounced “lahm”), which is the tool that’s used to score the top of baguettes. This is just in case I decide to try my hand at baking them in Houston. I knew just the place to find it. E. Dehillerin! And, I was pleased to find it open. Bonus! It took me awhile to find the lame, which was literally under my nose in the first place I thought to look. But, in wandering around trying to find this little gadget, I also found two whisks in varying sizes that I couldn’t live without. So, I purchased my new cookware and headed out to G. Detou nearby.Lame1

There, I was looking for powdered food coloring that’s used to make macarons like the fantastic one pictured above. This ingredient is not cheap, and since I’m not in the business of making many batches right now, I settled on one. A chose a marigold yellow color that I’m hoping I can play with to achieve a variety of sunshiney colors.

I snaked my way back to the Marais in the rain, and happened upon Pierre Hermé, the rival patisserie to Laudrée (if there is such a thing here in Paris). I just wanted a small taste of their salted caramel macaron, but being the excellent vendeuse that she was, the shop attendant talked me into the monster-sized one. And it was worth every damn calorie.

For me, the best part about today was having no agenda and navigating around purely by memory. I love walking past a shop or restaurant and having a memory come flooding back. It happened today when we passed Costa Coffee (I’ll never forget ducking inside one in Budapest to escape the cold that was so harsh, I couldn’t even type on my phone), and again when I passed a boulangerie near the Centre Georges Pompidou. I thought, ‘I remember buying a baguette somewhere around here and walking around eating it.’ I looked left, and sure enough, there was the bakery in the same spot.

I can’t even remember which trip that was on, and that’s happening with more frequency as I visit Paris more often. Memories get jumbled up, but the internal Thomas Guide is becoming sharper with every visit. So, as is typical of the day before leaving an amazing city, I’m already plotting my return!

From Boston to Baguettes

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Paris Cooking ClassI never imagined it would be this cool in Paris in the summer. There’s a crispness in the air that seems better-suited for autumn, but it sure is a welcomed reprieve from the heat and humidity in Texas. After dumping my belongings at the apartment in the Marais, I went for a walk to Ile St. Louis. There are a number of great cafés, and I figured it would be a good place to line my stomach before my baking class nearby. Soup à l’oignon gratinée and a glass of rosé. It’s becoming my welcome répas each time I visit.

My class started promptly at 2:30pm, and three-quarters of us managed to arrive nice and early. That led to a prompt start, with two ladies straggling in while we were elbow-deep in flour and poolish. We were as lost then as you likely are now regarding the word, but we mimicked what Chef Eric was doing nevertheless. More on poolish in a bit.

I paired up with a really nice girl named Kate, who ironically used to live in Houston. Her husband’s job (he’s a geologist to the oil industry) moved them from the land of humidity and queso to Paris, so here’s hoping Brady and I might follow in their footsteps. Between bouts of kneading our dough correctly and sometimes not, we swapped stories about Houston, restaurants we both like there, etc… It was kind of like taking the class with a friend.

But back to the boulangerie. The first thing that struck me regarding baguettes is the simplicity of the ingredients. There was a quiz on our recipe sheet that indicated there were just four, which immediately made me think of “Reinheitsgebot,” the German beer purity law. These Europeans take their food and beverage very seriously, so much so that they have enacted laws like these that protect the traditionality of certain products. The French law called the “baguette de traditional française” was signed into law on September 13, 1993. There are also specifics regarding the length, width, height and weight for anything being sold as a “baguette.”

So, what goes into a these bread swords you see sticking out of fashionable purses around Paris? Nothing more than bread flour, salt, water and yeast. Oh, and elbow grease, but that’s an unspoken addition. It really wasn’t all that difficult to create the baguettes, but you do need counter space and a willingness to demolish a tidy kitchen. Baking is messy. There are no two ways about it.

Something else that you will need is a kitchen scale. Like Chef Diane from my macaron class in November (who I saw Baguettes Paris Cooking Classbriefly today), Chef Eric also drove home the point that weighing your ingredients is the way to go. Note to self: purchase a kitchen scale. You’ll need it to create the poolish, a starter that’s made three to 18 hours ahead of time to jumpstart the fermentation process. It’s nothing more than bread flour, water and fresh yeast, but this step makes a marked improvement in the bread’s flavor.

Perhaps most important of all, though, is the double proofing process where you allow the dough to rise after kneading it, and then again after it’s formed into a baguette shape. The baguettes will double in size during this process, so if it’s twice as big as when you started, you’re on the right track. It’s also important to score the baguettes with a razor or small tool, which allows steam to escape. Most bakers have a unique score for their baguettes that is likened to an artist’s signature on a painting.

I’m not a baker. I repeat: I’m not a baker. I don’t like to measure, I don’t have an egregious sweet tooth, and I certainly don’t have the patience or gadgetry that’s required of most baking projects. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the craft, especially something like freshly baked French bread. It’s one of the best parts about roving the streets of Paris.

A major takeaway from this class was that we cooked in normal, convection ovens. The kind you would find in any home. A critical aspect of the baking process is steam, which can be achieved by tossing a few ice cubes into the bottom of the oven or by using a spray bottle intermittently. Outstanding tips that I likely would not have otherwise thought about!

That’s all for now. Another great culinary experience in the books! If you’re ever in Paris (or any of the places I’ve traveled with Culinary Hopscotch) and want recommendations of cooking classes or other culinary adventures, please let me know.   

Allons-y à Paris!

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Kyle and JuliaIn preparation for my trip to Paris, I packed “My Life in France” by Julia Child and brought it back east in my crew bag. I figured I would re-read it on the jumpseat to drum-up excitement for my trip. I read the book prior to conceptualizing Culinary Hopscotch back in 2009, which was some time ago. I don’t know why I’ve never thought to read it again.

In just one short chapter (the introduction, actually), I’m amazed at the many similarities and connections I now see between the two of us. By no means is this comparison meant to be culinary in nature.

First off, for those who follow my #crewlife tales, you’ll remember that I just visited the Smithsonian exhibit of Julia’s kitchen in Washington D.C. a few days ago. The layover was planned, but riding bikes to the National Mall with my crew was not. As luck would have it, we all split up and went our own ways, finally giving me the opportunity to go see this exhibit. It also happened to be Julia’s birthday that day, which I didn’t know until after the fact.

The kitchen is an exact replica of the one from Paul and Julia Child’s Boston home, the city where I spend half of my time flying for JetBlue. Secondarily, Julia is from Pasadena, California, just up the road from where I grew up in Newport Beach. Two California girls, navigating Boston’s unique mixture of culture and unpredictable weather.

But perhaps most interestingly,  she penned “My Life in France” in Montecito in 2004, just down the road from where I attended college at UC Santa Barbara. I graduated two years prior. I’m shocked that I never ran into her while babysitting for a family in her neighborhood, or at La Superica, her favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant that is adored by college students and famous foodies alike.

More than anything, however, our love of France– Paris, specifically– is what strikes a chord with me. There are so many ways to see Paris, but in mine and Julia’s opinion, the City of Light is best viewed through a culinary lens with a fork always at the ready.

While writing this, I was shuttling people back and forth between the Northeast and West Palm Beach, an oft challenging crowd for those in the know. I wasn’t about to let them get to me. Tonight, I’ll be boarding a flight to Paris. And on Thursday, joining a baking class where I’ll learn to make baguettes and other doughy delicacies in a home oven. You can keep the palm trees and the beach; I’m heading to where the magic is made in café kitchens, patisseries and in a small hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant along Canal St. Martin.

For those who read about my macaron class in Paris last November, this is the same small cooking school tucked along the Seine near the Marais. And it’s also the same place where my phone took a swim in the toilet last time. Evidently, geography and a love of food are not the only thing Julia and I have in common. Klutziness in the kitchen is as common as it is in life. One of my favorite quotes in the book says it all: “Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis!” [Translation: Well, too bad!]

Let’s go to Paris!

Survey Says!

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Macaron-Making Class in Paris

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Making MeringueIn Paris, patîsserie shops are a dime a dozen. Unlike in the U.S. where the word “bakery” encompasses all things baked, in France, breads, croissants and the like are found in boulangeries, while patîsseries are where you will find more luxurious desserts like tartes, cakes and the famed macaron cookie.

If you’ve had the good fortune to gaze into the window of a Parisian patîsserie, the bejeweled arrangement of macarons is enough to catch your eye. They say you eat with your eyes first, and these cookies have a way of stealing the show both visually and in taste. In Paris, macarons are everywhere, but you will want to know where to go (Pain du Sucre, Stohrer) to make sure you’re getting your Euros worth. The good ones are worth the bite-size price of admission.

Selecting your macaron might be the biggest challenge of all though, because the flavor profiles are endless. Sweet, savory, a combination of the two. Picking just a few and having them tossed into a bag is a far cry from the satisfaction you get from filling up a box with all of the different colored cookies. It reminds me of picking out a dozen donuts with my dad at Winchell’s when I was little.

For me, the salted caramel variety (typically made with fleur de sel) has proven particularly irresistible, and fortunately for my mouth and unfortunately for my waistline, we found an authentic patîsserie in Houston that would make the bakers in Paris proud. In fact, we took a box along for the flight attendants working our flight from New York to Paris in the hopes of being moved up front. It checked-in full, sadly, but they did supply us with our own box of wine to leisurely serve ourselves over the Atlantic.

But back to the macarons. Getting the Culinary Hopscotch train back on the tracks was much easier on this trip with Working Awaymany cooking classes to choose from. We spent a week in Paris and took day trips this time, so it was easy to set aside an afternoon to learn more about these cookies. I don’t fancy myself a baker. At all. And in fact, I’m not a huge fan of the practice. It’s the measuring. And while I appreciate the science behind baking, I’m much more of ‘a pinch of this, a dash of that’ girl. Please note: there is no room for this methodology with macarons.

For something so small, there are numerous steps that go into making these cookies, but there isn’t much to them ingredients-wise. Right off the bat, I learned that they are gluten-free, which is great for sweets lovers who need to steer clear of wheat. And it’s the unique combination of Italian meringue (egg whites, sugar and water) and almond meal mixed with confectioners sugar that give the delicate little cookies their smooth exteriors and feet in the oven and allow you to fill them with almost anything you can imagine.

Chocolate Orange Filling

I love admiring my macarons before eating them; to look at the sheen and the smoothness of the shell. And now that I know what goes into this process, I believe my admiration is justified. Cracking is one of the biggest problems many bakers face while making macarons, and there are a variety of things that can cause this to happen. An oven that is too hot. One that is not hot enough. Improper sifting of your almond meal and confectioners sugar. Not incorporating the ingredients properly. And perhaps the biggest enemy of all, moisture. Our teacher pointed out that we would be using powdered food coloring to mix into our batter for this very reason. Since some of the color bakes away in the oven, she encouraged us to be generous with the food coloring if we wanted to achieve richer colors.

Batter Bag

We started by creating the fillings for our macarons so they could set-up in the fridge while we worked on the shells. In groups of three, we created a white chocolate-raspberry filling, a pistachio filling and a dark chocolate-orange filling (ours). Once done, they went into the fridge until we needed them again. At this point, we started on the macarons. We heated up the sugar and water to 115 degrees Celsius, flipped on the KitchenAid mixers to get the egg whites going, and when the sugar reached 118 degrees Celsius, we gradually added it to the egg whites, allowing them to mix until the bottom of the steel mixing bowl was comfortable to the touch and they formed stiff peaks.

In the meantime, another member of our team worked on sifting the almond meal and confectioners sugar together, and then added in egg whites and the powdered food coloring. Each team selected two colors for their macarons, ours being a royal purple and fierce magenta-red. Once the meringue was ready, we incorporated it into the colorful batters in three batches (mixing twice, and folding on the third and last go) before filling pastry bags with the mixture.

Proper Spacing

Regarding baking, a Silpat is going to be your best friend because macarons tend to stick and ripping them off a baking sheet will undoubtedly cause them to crack and you will lose the little footing. You can try parchment paper, but a silicon mat will work the best. All you need to do is to pipe small circles about the size of half-dollar onto your baking sheet, giving the macarons a bit of space to expand in the oven. They cook for about 12-15 minutes depending on your oven, and require time to cool before you remove them from your baking sheet. If your macarons are properly cooked, they should remove from the Silpat easily.

Macarons Baking

From here, it’s rather easy. You match-up different shells of similar size, and then pipe in a small amount of filling, twisting as you go to allow the delicious filling to reach the edges. Regarding storing them, freshly made macarons will need to be placed in the fridge for at least 24 hours to allow the flavors to come together and help them to set. But they will keep for sometime in the fridge, and you can freeze them for up to three months as well, including any leftover batter or filling. To serve, bring the cookies out of the fridge and allow them to come-up to room temperature. You can decorate macarons both before and after they’ve been baked, the former with things like shredded coconut, crushed speculoos cookies, sprinkles and the like, and after with pastry dusting powders or edible pens.

Bon appetit!

Finished ProductMacaron Technical Decoration Class

La Cuisine Paris

80 Quai de l’Hotel de Ville

www.lacuisineparis.com

Boeuf à la Bourguignonne

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Boeuf à la Bourguignonne

Valentine’s Day dinner was an overwhelming success. After getting the mister to sit down and watch “Julie and Julia” the other night, which he admitted was better than he thought it would be, I decided to make him Julia Child’s famous Boeuf à la Bourguignonne. I worked from her cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1,” and while it was an involved process, the finished product was amazing. I didn’t even crowd the mushrooms, and he ate them, which was probably the biggest victory of all.

I’ve been told it’s even better the next day, which just so happens to be right now. Yay leftovers!

 

Hopscotching with Children: A Point of View from the Top

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Hopscotching kidsI recently read an article about flying with children that was hysterical. Written by a man, it was a fantastic and self-deprecating look at just how painful it is to make the trip to grandmother’s house in the woods via airplane. And as we all know, the pain isn’t centralized to the family traveling, which got me thinking.

With less than a year under my belt as a flight attendant, I often get asked by friends, family and acquaintances about my pet peeves or other ridiculous things that I see or that have happened while working at 35,000 feet. Sadly, a lot of them involve children or parents or a combination thereof. Here are some observations from the top, and some things to keep  in mind the next time you board a plane with your children.

Changing Diapers on the Seats or Tray Tables: You do realize, that seat is not your personal throne that you’ll take with you when you deplane. And contrary to popular believe, people do eat the snacks we hand them…wait for it…on the tray table! So for those people who change their child’s diaper there, here’s my question to you. Would you do that on your Crate and Barrel leather couch or your slab-granite countertops? No, you wouldn’t, so have the same respect for my “home” at 35,000 feet. And if you don’t want to, potty-train your kid earlier and take Amtrak where the waste falls by the wayside through the horror hole beneath the train.

Milk-less Mothers: Recently, I had a mom come to the back during boarding and ask me for milk. I gently explained to her that the milk we have is not refrigerated and it’s not something I would drink myself, but she was welcome to it if she wanted a carton. As she rolled her eyes at me, she asked for a pair of scissors to cut open the carton so she could pour it into the baby bottle she was holding. I don’t have scissors; they’re not allowed through security. She proceeds to ask me for another carton, and since I knew she was sitting in the front of the plane, I suggested she ask the flight attendant in the front galley. I could see the milk being sloshed up and down the aisle as she hurried back to her brood, and I didn’t want to smell that for three hours. As she’s headed back to her seat, she turns around to tell me she’s flying alone…with three children…as if this is going to elicit some sort of sympathetic response from me. Dear barker: wrong tree. First off, I wonder why you’re alone with that abrasive attitude, and secondly, our galleys aren’t a 7-11. They sell milk in the airport, and if you were a real “wondermom” like you claim, you would’ve packed your own, as that IS something they will let you bring through security.

Hopscotching children

Not Listening to Announcements: Okay, so this is a great time to remind everyone that flight attendants aren’t your personal butlers in the sky. We’re there for your safety, and that little window in front of our jumpseats isn’t a two-way mirror. We can see you rolling your eyes during announcements, pretending to sleep, etc… But I digress. On a recent flight after we landed, I had a mom who didn’t think my announcement applied to her. It’s pretty much common knowledge that you don’t get out of your seat while the airplane is taxiing, which we were. She got up and opened the overhead bin to retrieve a rollaboard suitcase. No, not a soft-sided duffelbag or a small purse. A rolling suitcase that she could’ve easily dropped on the people sitting below. Of course, I repeated my announcement that we were on an active taxiway, so she took the suitcase to her seat. During deplaning, the captain asked me if the woman coming up the aisle was the one who got up during taxiing. I said yes. He stopped her and asked her why she ignored our announcements, to which she replied in a snarky tone, “I had to get something for my son.” What she really got was a stern lecture from the captain who heard me tell her to sit down and watched the whole thing on camera from the cockpit (yes they have those).

Hot Laps in the Aisle: I get it…kids need to get up and move, but for the parents that let their kids do hot laps in the aisle from seat-belt-sign-off to seat-belt-sign-on, here’s some food for thought. This is when we do become temporary servers, and when we’re trying to serve drinks–scorching hot ones, full cans of baby-crushing Coke, etc…–we really don’t need two-foot tall speed-bumps slowing us down. Lets do a math problem: you’re two-feet tall, I have a tray of drinks in my hand and my face in an order tablet to see where I’m taking them, and we crash together ceremoniously in the aisle. Who wins?

Speaking of the Aisle: While this isn’t a personal story, it did happen to a friend of mine and is worth sharing to reiterate the importance of safety on board an aircraft and staying in your seats when we tell you to. Oh, and I’m most definitely talking to you, mom in the story above, who couldn’t wait to get her kid’s Teletubby out of the suitcase. It’s the same set-up: the plane is taxiing, only this time, a mother is letting her small child play in the aisle. My friend makes the announcement that everyone must be seated with their seatbelts securely fastened until we are parked at the gate. Crickets. So, they make a second announcement. Crickets. The kid continues to play in the aisle. Which prompts a third more specific announcement: “To the mother of the child in the pink shirt, please keep her on your lap until we are parked at the gate.” Not two minutes later, a plane pulls out in front of their aircraft, forcing the pilot to slam on the brakes. Said child in the pink shirt ends up face-down near row 1 (they were sitting in about row 9), teeth knocked out, mouth bleeding, and she got to deplane on a stretcher. This isn’t 3:47 minutes of free babysitting. Watch your kids or watch what happens.

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