Sunday, October 31, 2010

Morning at the Cluny

Saturday morning dawned with a bit of drizzle, but it had stopped by the time we left the apartment. We hopped on the Metro, our new favorite thing, and found our way to the Cluny stop.


Not only is this the museum devoted to the Middle Ages, but it is located partly on top of old Roman baths and the sixteenth century abbey of Cluny.

Note the scallop shells on the wall. I know, from Frances Temple's The Ramsay Scallop, that this was a symbol of pilgrims. The hollyhock was just a lovely bonus.


This statue was from an exhibit of Slovakian medieval art on display, as was the illuminated manuscript below.
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Of course, the Cluny is most famous for the Lady and the Unicorn set of tapestries. They are as wonderful as you might expect. We didn't take any pictures, but someone else did.

The museum also houses exquisite statues, altarpieces, vestments, armor, and pews. In the end, a surfeit of Jesus for the likes of me, but it's mixed with Roman elements that generously include a Celtic god here and there, to say nothing of astrological symbols. The Romans were nothing if not practical.

How do you cook a sea urchin?

We strolled along the rue Cler, in St. Germain des Pres, to hunt and gather tonight's dinner. Roses, Halloween chocolates, oysters, currants, sea urchins and clementines from Spain with the leaves still on them.



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In the end, we took home lemony chicken thighs, celery puree, fried mushrooms (girelles) and spinach. For dessert, a tarte fine aux poires. So delicious.

If you want to cook a sea urchin, try grilling it. But I'd rather just admire their purply prickles.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Chocolates and armagnac

After Deyrolle, we returned to food and drink. Chapon is a divine chocolate store that offers, in addition to exquisite squares of chocolate with pink peppers, or pistachios, or smoked sea salt, a mousse bar.

Alma revealed that it was her fortieth birthday (that's why her cell phone kept going off), so she had first dibs. So delicious.
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The wall of the shop was covered in chocolate molds. Alison and I bought some chocolate for presents and also a couple for ourselves. The pink pepper chocolate square was indescribably delicious.

We went on to an elegant patisserie. The goods were displayed here with counterweights so that the glass bells could be raised and the pastry removed as needed (although they really had lots in the back so they didn't have to disturb the design).

The birthday girl chose this egg-shaped pastry, while Meg recommended the Breton pastry made with lots of butter and just a little sugar and flour. Alma's choice proved to be - well, I'm running out of adjectives. Suffice it to say that the white chocolate covering hid an interior of chopped dates and citron that was much, much, much better than it sounds.
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Meg swore to us that some people ate the Kouign Aman for breakfast.

But wait! Before we ate our pastry, we stopped in at another many-generations-old business, this a wine and liquor store that specializes in Armagnac. Here are rows of Armagnac arranged by vintage. We tried an aged blend and then a single from 1972. Intense. I could admire it without actually liking it.


In a little back room were bottles of Bordeaux. My wine budget tops out at $30 (okay, I'm boasting, it's really $20), but others cooed over the bottles of Petrus, for sale at 1850 euros ($2,563.73).

According to the charming young Polish woman who showed us around, they've had lots of Chinese buyers for Petrus after it was highlighted in some recent film or other.
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Here we are in a nearby park at the end of our walk, with Meg presenting the pastry to Alma.
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Amy and Alma enjoying the pastry.
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A close-up of the pastry.
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And the shop made this lovely chocolate Joyeux Anniversaire presentation for the pastry.

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This was a highlight of the trip, and I plan to stalk both Amy and Meg on their blogs. I would take another Context tour in a New York Minute (don't know about NY, but they are in London, Madrid, Florence, Rome and other places).

p.s. Here is Amy's take on the tour - great photos!

Deyrolle (not for the faint of heart)


Deyrolle, in business since 1831, is the most unusual store I've ever encountered. Downstairs is a collection of high-end gardening supplies, gleaming brass and copper implements, linen shirts and aprons, clay and ceramic pots from "le prince jardinier." (Apparently the current owner is deposed royalty, hence the name.)

But if you look closely, you start to see some oddities here. Climb the winding stairs to the second floor (or first floor, as the French so prettily call it), and you see what this is really all about.


Three or four high-ceilinged rooms are packed with taxidermy. Now, before you shudder, notice how beautiful they are and how well displayed.

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I just can't help myself - the place was so intriguing that I have to show it ALL to you.



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The most unusual of all was this little house made of feathers. It can be yours for 9,000 euros (about $12,535.20).
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We wondered, of course, who buys these things, and Meg told us that they did a brisk business in rentals to movie folk. I guess there are some people who actually buy and keep the animals, too. I wouldn't mind a tray of butterflies myself. And the pig would be darling sprawled out on a divan in the sitting room.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

From baguette to bistro

This was the Paris food walk we took today, and it was so full of wonderful things that this entry might go on for a long time. Meg, a Paris food blogger originally from the Kansas City suburbs, was a delightful and enthusiastic leader of four women: Alison and me, Spanish Alma, a Context tour guide from Madrid, and Amy, another food blogger and expat living in Paris with her French husband. Our 2 1/2 hour tour ended up being four hours long, and we all loved it.

We met near the Musee d'Orsay in the 7th, which Meg told us was a very high-end part of Paris that could support the high-end places we'd be visiting. We started with bread and this visit to a real Parisian boulangerie (name to come when I find it).

This is one of the breads, so enticing that I wanted to take it home and use it as my pillow.
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Here is Meg showing us the difference between the ordinary baguette that she bought at her local boulangerie, which probably reheats frozen bread each morning, and this artisanal boulangerie, which makes its slow-rise bread using a special container that makes the yeast work exactly right. (Our local boulangerie calls itself artisanal, which has a specific meaning and encouraged me to branch out from our croissants.)

The cheese shop was next, and this was so interesting that we spent a lot of time learning, choosing and tasting.

The window sported this elegy to autumn flavors.
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There were so many to choose from.
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Here is the selection of cheeses we tasted, framed in the autumnal window of this five-generation fromagerie.

Patrick, the owner, helped us choose our cheeses. He knows everything about them, surely able to name the cows or sheep or goats that produced them.

This was the most unusual cheese, with a crumbly texture and flavored with tarragon, pepper, paprika and parsley. Patrick recommended eating it with beer, though we also thought it would make a great sandwich with ham.

From here we went to a most unusual store which has nothing to do with food but was so bizarre that Meg could not resist showing it to us. More soon...