Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sweaty creeper train ninja

Wrote this yesterday...

Holy cow!  I’m on a train to Normandy that I was THIS close to missing completely.  Long story short…I was supposed to be in Sweden this weekend for the Midsummer’s festival hanging out at this amazing summer home:

Right???!!  Bah!!

Alas, I had to cancel.  Sadness, dismay, travesty, forelorn-ness, you get the picture. 

So here I am with 4 days off work…4 unpaid days off work…feeling like I need to do SOMETHING to justify going almost a full work week without pay.  This morning, I sat at the computer trying to find a place to go.  I looked at various train tickets, plane tickets, b&bs, hotels…what to do, what to do.  It was already approaching 1pm, and I’m thinking I should just stay in Paris because it’s not going to be worth it at this point.   

I came across an adorable-looking B&B that’s attached to a bakery in Rouen, in Normandy. 

I called but the woman said they were full.  Forget it, I’ll just stay.  Nothing is going to be available this late in my price range.  Oh, well.  I tried. 

Two minutes later, the phone rings, and it’s the B&B lady saying that she has one room, the guest room in her home, that she doesn’t advertise but sometimes rents on weekends.  If I want to stay for just tonight, I can have it.  It’s the best room in the house.   NORMANDY, HERE I COME!!  I tell her, Oui! I’ll take it!

It’s 1:30pm at this point, and the next train leaves in an hour.  This means I need to pack my stuff, get to the train station, get a ticket, and get on the train within an hour’s time.  It’s a long shot, but I’m going for it.  I run around like crazy, throw things in bags, and get out the door. 

Realizing I might not make it if I take the metro, I decide to take a taxi.  I call a taxi service…hold…hold…hold…elevator music…no answer.  Thanks for nothing!!  I walk down the street.  No taxis.  10 minutes gone.  AH! 

Finally I find a cab, get to the station, and I have 25 minutes till the train leaves.  Still need a ticket.  When I see machines that sell tickets (rather than the hour long line at the window), I think this is going to be just fine, until the ticket machine decides to NOT accept my credit card.  I try again. And again.  Another card.  Another.  Rejection after rejections.  The train was leaving now in 15 minutes. 

I got in line for the ticket window, about 35 people long, at the rate of 30 minutes per person, which, in case you’re bad at math, guaranteed me missing the train and the next train wouldn’t arrive until evening.  Total waste of a day.  I had almost resigned myself to this option in complete sadness. 

By the way, I’m also sweating profusely because I thought it was still in the 60’s outside like the day before, so I have on leather boots and am carrying a wool jacket.  Today it’s blazing hot.  Surprise!!  And I’m running around like a crazy person.  For nothing, since my day trip to Normandy will now be just an evening of sleep.

Finally, in a stroke of genius, I start stalking random French people using the machines (like a total creeper. Desperate times call for desperate measures).  I hovered creepily next to them to see if their card was working, and then asked if I could pay them in cash for a ticket (even though I don’t have enough euros on me, which meant I would still have to go to an ATM, and also go across the street to the station, find the platform, and get on the train all within 10 minutes).  I was rejected by the first people because their train was leaving in 10 minutes (me too, we’re probably on the same train!!), and then…success!! 

I ran across the street in the opposite direction of the station to get money from the ATM while this guy got my ticket, ran back over, got the ticket, paid him like a swindler of some sort, ran to the station, found the platform, and hopped on.  Sweating like a lady…wait, I mean pig…all the while, and cursing the cute Ann Taylor boots and wool jacket. 

I get on this sweltering, not-even-a-window-to-open-let-alone-AC train, and consider my dignity for about .5 seconds before tearing the boots off and standing there in my green & pink polkadot socks. What. 
So…just to recap…I was about to stay in Paris and do nothing, but instead, within one hour, booked a room at a B&B in Normandy, threw on a dress (and BOOTS, like a moron), packed, got a taxi, accosted complete strangers and begged them to let me use their credit card, ran around like an idiot sweating, and then stood in public in my socks. 


Oh man…I can’t believe that worked out.  I’m so excited!! :)  I shall report soon on my lovely day trip to Normandy!  I feel like a ninja.  A really ungraceful, sweaty, panicky one who creeps on unsuspecting French people and begs for train tickets and stands around in socks.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Solo Dining & the Awesomeness that Ensues Thereof

The week before last was truly a week of “dining solo has its benefits”.  I mean…we’re talking, I should eat out solo ALL the time.

On a Wednesday night, which is my Friday, I was reading the France Chowhound boards to see what the latest talk was.  As I read the questions and various reviews from travelers who were planning their vacations or who had just returned, it reminded me of the pressure I felt last year in having to narrow down a million restaurants I wanted to try and just picking a few, hoping they were the right choices.  And part of the reason I was so excited to move here was so I could go to these places whenever I wanted!!

YET, because I have a budget to adhere to, it’s not like I go eat at these restaurants whenever I want, like I would on vacation.  I eat weird powder soups with cobwebs chunks in them.  I realized that here I was, in Paris, and I wasn’t exactly taking advantage of going to these dream restaurants. 

For example, there’s this amazing restaurant called “Chez L’Ami Jean” just down the street that I still had not gone to yet, and last year I had planned that restaurant reservation 2 months in advance. 

I thought, “What am I doing?? I’m here!! It’s just down the street!!  I can go whenever I want, I’m not limited by a 4 day vacation…and yet I’m not going to these places!”  So, inspired by the Chowhound boards, I told myself I’d call in the morning (my day off) and make a reservation for lunch, even if I had to go by myself. 

And I did.  I made a reservation for 1pm, did a superb blow-dry on my hair and got dressed up in a cute red dress for my solo lunch excursion, because

(A.) Goodness knows I hardly look female the rest of the week while sweating in my t-shirt and tennis shoes at work. Sometimes I don’t even feel human.
(B.) If you’re going to dine solo, then looking swanky helps you feel less like a loser, and
(C.) If you look nice during your solo dining experience, perhaps you can gain the sympathy and/or favor of the waiter, and they’ll, I don’t know, crack a smile or bring you water without having to ask for it.  Baby steps w/ French waiters, baby steps. 

But this day, even better, the pity/favor would be coming from the chef.  

As soon as you walk into the restaurant, you can see into the kitchen through a big window in the back, which I love.
 (I borrowed this picture from a blog called Food Snob, to give credit where credit’s due.)   

I appreciate the window because it gave me something to look at while sitting there, especially since I was sitting at a table in the middle of the restaurant by myself.  So either the chef took pity on me in my alone-ness, or my hair looked super fab that day, because he hooked me up!! 

I’ve always read that the standout dishes at Chez L’Ami Jean are the specials of the day written on a little chalk board.  One of the specials that day was pigeon, which is a really popular dish in France, and I’ve always wanted to try it.  Not to worry, it’s not like dirty city pigeons.  Quite the opposite.  When the waiter asked how I wanted it cooked, I just told him whatever way is the best way.  I trust the French with my food.  As I should, my friends.

First, I got a complimentary tureen of delightful fish soup as a first course (but I only ate half because I wanted to save room for their famous rice pudding dessert). 

THEN when my main course came, the waiter told me the chef made a special addition to it!  
He added seared foie gras on top and that chilled green stem on the side w/ flowers that was delicious, whatever it was!  I was so excited to hear I was getting something extra, that I just smiled and got giddy and missed it completely.  I can’t even tell you how delicious this meal was.  Perfectly tender, juicy, with such great flavors, I don’t even know how they got in there.

And in addition to that plate was a whole other half of bird in a mini dutch oven with perfectly cooked spring vegetables!!
Did I eat all of it?  Of course I did!  The guy next to me couldn’t finish his. (Lightweight!!)

After the meal, I had planned on ordering the famous rice pudding.  Everyone raves about it.  Raves and raves.  The waiter placed a menu on the table for me to look at for dessert, but I didn’t open it because I knew what I wanted.  At this point, I had made friends with the couple next to me, and was chatting with them, but before I could say anything, a waitress came by and took up the menu and came back with a GIANT bowl of rice pudding, even bigger than the bowl the couple was sharing, with a wooden spoon plunged into the middle.  

Which means the chef decided to gift me with the famous rice pudding dessert!  SO nice!!  Four people should be sharing this bowl, but I guess he saw me take down that bird and acted accordingly.

And THEN as I’m eating this delicious dreamy rice pudding with buttery salted caramel cream and crunchy toasted almond granola, the waitress comes by AGAIN with this huge tray of desserts and tells me it’s a “petite” tasting of desserts from the chef. 

 UH…petite??  It took up half the table.  I look like a pig over here with my NINE dessert bowls.  
(But who am I kidding, I felt 1% self conscious about my hilarious table full of desserts and 99% excited, delighted, full of joy and happiness, ready to eat every last bite, dance in my chair, ask for more).  

I was talking to that couple, like, don't mind me, I'm just going to start digging into my dessert fest over here.  I would have gone for thirds on that rice pudding if I didn’t think they would judge me for it.  The guy had already commented on how he was impressed that I finished all the pigeon.  (Grow an appetite, it’s a pigeon, not a turkey!) 

So next time I’ll try to be less friendly so I can have 5 desserts and a giant bowl of rice pudding all by myself without judgment.

And then a coffee, for digestion purposes, of course. 
With cocoa covered almonds, which I totally did not eat since I clearly had had enough dessert already.  (Lie.)

So clearly dining solo has its benefits, and I need to go back again asap! 

More to come soon on successful solo dining experience #2, which followed a few days later, and ended with me getting invited to a summer home in Sweden!

Monday, June 20, 2011


I know you’ve probably been losing sleep wondering what pastries I’ve eaten lately.  Hold your breath no longer.

I had a rough day at work the other day, combined with a brief bout of “What am I doing here? I’m going to be single forever, I’ll never meet a believer in Paris, the land of secularism, and I’ll just be sitting in restaurants by myself across from no one forever.  What was I thinking moving here?” 

So, like the emotional eater that I am, I turned to chocolate!  Just kidding, I went to a café and journaled and prayed, and was much better after.  (The verdict: God is good. He is all powerful. He is in control.)

BUT it still had been a long time since I had a pastry (probably bc I O.D.’d on them the first couple months), and chocolate really does help a girl out sometimes.  So I got this!  

It. was. amazing.  And no I didn’t lick the paper clean, how ridiculous and uncalled for would that be?

And the next day, I stumbled across two fantastic stores…

I don’t even know what this is:

But I got two.

One is pistachio, the other is a word I didn’t recognize, and the woman said it was “from the sea”.  This intrigued me since all the other flavors were raspberry, chocolate, pistachio, almond…nothing sea-related in the least bit.  I had no idea what she was talking about, so I got it.

I took a bite, and it didn’t taste like the sea to me, but it did taste like it was made with 3 sticks of butter.  Butter from the sea, I guess.

And then these are the two pastries I got from Un Dimanche a Paris during my long afternoon walk through the most adorable neighborhood in Paris.


And of course I didn’t lick the silver cardboard, what am I, some sort of barbarian who would just eat two pastries in one sitting and then proceed to lick fancy cardboard??  I am a LADY.

…who loves pastries and has no self control.   

Couldn’t have chosen a more dangerous place to live with that specific combination of weaknesses.

I also had a croissant for breakfast that morning.  Followed by a chocolate tour.  Okay, let's just get all the confessions out there...I ate all of the pastries in this post within a 24 hour period, okay???   I KNOW!!  It was an excessive day, even for me.  

Look, I don't like the fact that I now have a folder of pictures labeled "Pastry & Chocolate Binge".  I made myself buy salad & veggies for all this week.  I've had salads daily for lunch and dinner.  Bo-ring.  But necessary.  

Tomorrow night is "Fete de la Musique", a huge music festival that happens in every city all over France to celebrate the first official day of summer.  There will be bands and music all over the streets and in cafes and restaurants, and just people everywhere.  And how amazing that it's mid-June, and I've been wearing a jacket and scarf in the mornings on my way to work??  I'm sure it's the same in Texas, right?  Chilly?

Ok I have to get in the shower and go to bed! Early morning tomorrow, followed by long day of work, followed by late evening of music-festival-ing in the streets, followed by another early morning + 12 hour work day.  Bon nuit!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Phantom Friends

Last night after dinner around 11pm, I went to the café next door w/ my computer to have a coffee and hang out for a little while.  A waiter stopped at my table and declared in English in a very French accent, “Why always alone! Why no friends? Ees no possible!”  He was so exasperated for me!

He ran off before I had a chance to explain that I JUST went to dinner with friends…I do have friends, but I live right next door, so that’s why I’m always solo when they see me.  It's not like I need to call up a friend to sit and journal at a cafe w/ an espresso!

Look, I have friends!

Here’s Emily & Travis Rudolph visiting me a few weeks ago…

Work friends who like to dress identical down to their sunglasses and shoes and chapstick…
We met a group from work to have burgers for Memorial Day at a Scottish pub, which end up having a super fun quiz night!

An amazing lunch at Les Fables with Jillian, a friend from work and fellow foodie…

The the gang got together again for quiz night the next Monday night since it was the moderator's 4 year anniversary…

 Oh and the ceiling says 1739.  You know, no big deal.  We’re just playing pool in a room that is older than the U.S.

Had coffee at this adorable coffee shop in the Marais with a new friend, Emily, who has lived here for two years, and is about to move back to the states. 

We got connected through mutual friends from Watermark who knew we'd both be in Paris.  We had great, great convo and delicious lattes followed by falafel in the Marais.  If she weren't moving back in a month, I would get an apartment with this girl!!  That's how great she is.

I hung out on the Champs de Mars with a fave new friend, Kristin, who just joined our office staff for the summer!

We watched the sunset and then ran for the hills when the dark clouds rolling in behind us told us we wouldn’t be dry for long.  

We headed to a café for dinner, and then met up with friends from work.

Then last week after work, I made LOTS of friends while having bo bun at a place near the office that we just call “Bo Bun.” 

We interchanged between French and English, joined tables, swapped stories, learned secret handshakes, it was great!
We all did the French cheek kisses goodbye and said we’d meet up again this week.  

Bo bun is a Vietnamese dish that usually has rice noodles, beef slices, peanuts, carrots, and little pieces of spring roll.  This places is not actually Vietnamese, though, and it has everything on the menu from beef bourgignon to pasta carbonara to bo bun, which they makes using spaghetti noodles and ground beef (which I suspect is used in the pasta bolognaise, add marinara, and voila!)…but it is delicious!!  I was skeptical at first…spaghetti noodles in an Asian dish?? But I’m hooked.  Look at it. 
Oh so good.  If they delivered, I would call and have them deliver right now, at 11:15pm, even though I have to get up at 7:30am for work.  Anyway, super fun night.  The place is so tiny you can't help but make friends.

Last night, I went to dinner w/ Maygan & Kyle and two others who were in town, and we had a delightful dinner at Les Cocottes in our neighborhood!  I had rabbit for the first time, which I’ve always wanted to try, and it was delicious!!  It’s similar to chicken, but tender and juicy, and it was in a mustard sauce with herbs & fresh vegetables.
Then the dessert du jour, a coffee flavored crème brulée. 

I almost frisbee-flung that cookie across the room to get to the creme brulee.  It was silky smooth with that perfectly crisped topping, and just the right amount of coffee flavor. A++

All that to say…I have friends!!  A girl can’t hang out at a café by herself and write some blog posts without being judged by her waiter??

The funny thing as I look over this post is that most of the pictures don't even have people in them...empty chairs...Eiffel tower...people's backs...a pictures...It's like I'm making it all up.  Believe as you will.

Confirmed: Paris = Best city in world.

Well, it’s true. Paris is the greatest city in the world.  I wasn’t questioning it, but today was one of those days that just reminded me, with shouting and shining and glowing obviousness.  I felt like a tourist, just staring at all the ridiculous amazingness everywhere to be seen.  I still can't get over how great it is.

I started out this morning with a “Chocolate walk”.  (That’s my idea of a walk!!)  It was a two hour tour where we learned about chocolate, stopped at several places, and had tastings.  I got to see a lot of new streets I had never visited before and some shops I didn’t know about!  More pictures to come, but here's a couple from the trusty iPhone...

Then I walked and walked and walked.  I walked through the Tuileries gardens, over the Seine, past the Louvre, stopped at a restaurant to pick up my jacket that I had left last week, then wandered through the 6th, which, by the way, has to be the best neighborhood in Paris.  

 I really thought my neighborhood was the cutest.  But the 6th is just…bah…adorableness and cobblestone and small stores and restaurants and cuteness and history and amazing around every corner. 

I got a “crepe du jour” for 5 euros with ham, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, and arugula, and I will be back again one day soon.

Then as I was wandering some more, I happened upon two things…first, a huge chocolate shop, where the chocolatier was awarded as one of the best craftsmen in France, so I thought I should probably stop in to take a look.  You could just grab a plastic bag, pick and choose what you want, and they weigh it at the end…not very common for French chocolate shops.  Next thing I knew, I had a plastic bag in my hand. 
I had lofty plans of saving this bag and trying the chocolates and caramels throughout the week, maybe one per night or something.  Then I ate all but 3 pieces tonight.  Sigh.  No self control.  That's why Nutella is banned.

By the way, this chocolate shop owner makes all kinds of creations with chocolate, and he once made a sailboat of chocolate and sailed it around the harbor:
Hello?? Anyone?? Chocolate boat!!

Then I found it...The cutest street in the world, in case you were wondering where it is.  It's in the 6th, in Paris.  I remember stumbling upon this street a few years ago when I came on a trip to Paris by myself (as I have been known to do)…but today it was just looking extra adorable and amazing and cute.  

 You can just imagine it in the 1800’s or 1700’s or 1600’s even, because there’s a coffee shop there from 1686!!!  The first coffee shop in France.  Ridiculous.

I also saw a chocolate/pastry shop called "Un Dimanche a Paris" that is often featured on my new favorite blog, Paris Patisseries, so of course, I had to go in. 

Two pastries later, I was out the door, adding my pastry shopping bag to my chocolate shopping bag, and feeling like I had just bought new shoes or jewelry or something.  They make the bags fancy enough.  

The pastries and chocolates will appear in a separate post, because I feel that desserts should stick together.  And because I haven’t uploaded my pictures yet, and I’m going to bed.  

Finally, I had a fantastic dinner at Les Cocottes with Maygan, Kyle, and two visitors.  More on that later, too.  Hoping to get caught up a bit tomorrow.  But for's 3am, and I need to get up early for a bakery tour w/ Maygan in the morning!  So bon nuit!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Best of Italia

Ah, Florence!  My first trip outside of Paris!  The trip can be summed up as follows:

Pasta, pasta, pasta.  More pasta in 3 days than I’ve eaten in the past year.


Sometimes 3x a day.

 What? We’re in ITALY!!

Italians being Italians

Especially if that means airplane-feeding Julie P like a small child.  Over and over. With airplane noise every time.

Leather goods & sunglasses

Ridiculous sunset views

And, of course, model shoots.
Because every street, building, doorway, and corner in Florence is of such epic amazingness that it needs but a slight lean, hand on hip, or look over shoulder, and boom!  Model shoot.

Our catalog comes out in September.  

Thanks, Italy, for being so adorable, fashionable, and delicious!!  And thanks Jean Parmesan/JR/JP for being a super fun travel companion.  Loved having you here!!  And already looking forward to your next visit!