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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.

Eastbound and Down

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Eastbound and Down

Eastbound and Down

See that map? If we thought the drive from Southern California to Portland was a doozie, heading eastbound and down from Portland to Houston should be memorable.

The sun is setting on our time in Portland, and our days here are sadly numbered. Brady accepted a new job, so we’re trading flannel shirts and Starbucks for bolo ties and barbecue joints. We’re excited, stressed, eager, anxious…all of the adjectives that come with a big move. Oh yeah, and we’re still homeless.

There are so many details left to sort out, including how to transport a dog 2,500 miles that weighs more than most college freshmen. We’re pretty confident that Henri is going to have the biggest problem of all with this move. You see, he originated in Dallas, flew through Houston to get to Orange County, trekked up to the land of Lewis and Clark with us, and now we’re carting him back to his native land. Flying him there is an option, albeit it an expensive one, so there’s a solid chance that the “baby cow” will be riding shotgun in a moving truck with his dad while listening to Robert Earl Keen. Just think of all that wind for your hair, Henri! We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our stuck-up cat (also named Brady) who will be stuffed in a carrier for the first time and forced to fly coach. Thankfully, his brother, Tom, is a lot more down to earth.

There’s never a dull moment at this three-ring circus, so moving the cast of characters halfway across the country will be a comedy of errors at best. The good news is that we’ll be a 45-minute flight from New Orleans (a place we both love), my commute to work in Boston will be slashed by almost half, and Brady (the human) won’t look out of place anymore in his Brooks Brothers clothes and cowboy boots. Did you think I was kidding about the pajamas?

We’re headed down to Houston this weekend to meet with a realtor and try to at least resolve our homeless problem. One of my requests is that we live somewhere “walkable,” which has been met with incessant giggling by most real estate agents. Evidently, Houston isn’t quite as “green” as Portland and people drive everywhere. Not this girl. We sold my car, and I want to live where Henri and I can still walk to the grocery store, window-shop for southern trinkets, and maybe grab a Starbucks every now and again. I’m sure their laughter has something to do with the oppressive heat and humidity, but I’m banking on Carrie Underwood’s theory that big hair just makes you look smaller. She really said that.

I wonder if Henri will develop a charming, southern bark? Stay tuned ya’ll!

Eat Your Meat(loaf)

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No, not that meatloaf. Eat your meat(loaf)

One of the challenges of cooking is getting picky eaters to delight in the same things you do. There’s tricks that moms use to sneak vegetables into their kids’ diets, but the bait-and-switch tactic isn’t so easy when you’re dealing with a grown man.

At some point during Thanksgiving weekend, I mentioned that I wanted to make a meatloaf. That idea was met with a sour face, to put it nicely. He blamed it on his childhood, so of course, all I could imagine was seeing a meatloaf chasing him down the hallway of his childhood home while he ran away screaming in his Brooks Brothers pajamas. I don’t think it was quite that dramatic, but in a way, I can agree with him. I never was all that happy to see it show-up on dining tables at my friends’ houses, but I like my mom’s meatloaf.

So, what’s her trick? For one, many people overwork the meat, turning it into an iron-clad football. And then to top it off (quite literally), they slather ketchup on top like it’s a cardboard McDonald’s hamburger. Ick. Yuck. To me, meatloaf is one of the most simple comfort foods. All you need is high-quality ground beef, cracker crumbs, diced onion, a little milk, and an egg. How do people manage to ruin something that’s so easy?

When I explained this to the mister, he seemed less threatened by the aforementioned childhood loaf. Maybe it’s just that he trusts my abilities in the kitchen, but he said he’s willing to give it a try. To up the ante, I’ve decide to complicate my own meatloaf recipe this next time around. I’m adding a little bit of ground pork sausage, swapping in a red onion for a little spice and visual appeal, and I’m going to stud my meatloaf with tater tots. I’ll finish it off with a little egg-wash to help it achieve the crunchy crust that I know his temperamental palette will enjoy, and should there be any left the next day, I’ve already told him that we’ll slice it up and reheat it on the BBQ.

I don’t know if it will be a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am meal, but if it’s a total flop, I know a dog who would be more than happy to help.

(Non) Rev’ed Up: A Trip Recap

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Paris Light

Paris Light

Despite almost not making the CDG–JFK flight last night (overselling is such an attractive practice), I’m back in the states and already down in Florida. JetBlue didn’t waste any time assigning me a trip. I landed and had a 5:00 a.m. report. Oh well, I commuted in from Paris for work; things could be worse.

Paris was like an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. With no real agenda to speak of while I was there, I kind of just walked around and did whatever I fancied. While I never got around to taking any cooking classes, I did manage to eat my way through the city and visit some restaurants that have been on my list for some time, and one that is just a perennial favorite. Take note: Verjus, Reed, and Fish La Boissonerie are three restaurants you shouldn’t miss in Paris. Just don’t. Take the time to make a reservation and find them, and then sit back for a culinary fireworks show. And yes, if you read my last diatribe, I did make it to Fish on my last day for lunch.

Tuesday, I spent the day in Strasbourg, which was an easy and excellent day trip from Paris. The TGV whisks you there in two hours, and it was this amazing collaboration of French and German influences, almost like they had a child together. I had lunch in an Alsatian restaurant (Le Gruber) that was outfitted in what looked like Bavarian décor, yet, I was ordering my food in French. It was great. I also managed to locate the historic wine cave under the hospital, which was something I had read about prior to arriving. While I wasn’t able to taste any wine that day, they do have a wine shop, so I procured three Alsatian wines (a rosé, a pinot noir, and a Chateauneuf du Pape) that I lugged back on the train to Paris, and then on the plane to the U.S. Despite carting my flight attendant costume with me, I wasn’t permitted to bring the wine through security with me. So, I checked the bag and prayed I wouldn’t be met with a soggy suitcase tumbling down the luggage belt like it was on a water slide. Lucked out there.

Cave Historique Hospices Strasbourg

Cave Historique Hospices Strasbourg

So, what’s up with this whole non-rev business? Well, for one, I now get why people tolerate the measly flight attendant salary. I paid $92 for my ticket over (JFK–LHR) and was put in first class on American. No, not business. First class. Pajamas, champagne and all. On the way back, the ticket was more expensive (maybe $150), but Air France was gracious enough to give me Premium Economy, which is almost like a junior business cabin. Yes, flying standby is not for the faint of heart, but if you are flexible like every good flight attendant is meant to be, you can see the world for pennies on the dollar and giggle about how much the person sitting next to you spent. I did that.

I don’t have any plans for my next trip (yet), but doubt it will be long before there’s something on the books. Any suggestions?

Lessons Learned

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Fish La Boissonerie Paris

Fish La Boissonerie, Paris

Paris is: so far, superb. I found the new apartment easy as pie, my French flooded back to me, and the weather is perfect. Could the winning streak continue?

The day started with me eating lunch at a café around the corner from Fish La Boissonerie because I believed the internet that said it was closed on Sundays. Mistake #1. And instead of walking the 10 extra feet to investigate it firsthand, I gave into my craving for a croque and the cute overalls the servers wear. Mistake #2. After lunch, I walked by to snap that photo on the left and saw people coming out the door. There are people dining inside as I’m simultaneously taking the photo and kicking myself. The internet lied. Lesson learned.

Full from Bar du Marché, I stopped in for a glass of wine at a restaurant that was recommended by a friend on another trip. It gave me the chance to decide if I should brave the cold for the night time bike tour or go back to Fish for dinner? I picked up the phone and called them to be sure they were open, and yes, they were. Settled: dinner at Fish. If you’ve eaten there before, you know why the decision was simple. But here comes mistake #3: not bothering to inquire about their hours and just assuming they would be open when I was ready for my early supper. I walked back past the restaurant at 5pm, and they didn’t open back up until 7pm. Oy!

After hoofing it back to my apartment in the 2nd, I couldn’t bring myself to walk all the way back down there. I was exhausted from catching the early Eurostar this morning and going to bed late in London (this morning). And I really did walk quite a bit today. Now, in a cruel twist of fate, I’m up writing this at nine minutes to midnight because I can’t sleep. I could have doubled back to Fish four times over by this point. I guess inter-Europe jetlag does exist.

What I did discover is that my apartment is a pitching wedge away from Rue Montorgeuil, so I mustered up enough energy to go to dinner at Little Italy Caffe. Italian food served by a guy from Brooklyn in Paris. It was good, but it wasn’t Fish. And now I feel like I squandered the only chance I had to eat at there on this trip, which is exactly the case (my eating trail is already paved). If you think you can’t plan an entire trip to Paris around eating, well, then you obviously have never been to Paris.

Looks like I better start planning a follow-up trip for the feeding frenzy!

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