Monday, June 30, 2014

Falling in Love with Les Halles de Paris

I consider eating two ice cream cones before noon a VERY good foodie day! Back in May in Paris¸ I did exactly that!
Salted butter caramel glace from À la Mère de Famille and pistachio from Stohrer.
Instead of visiting museums, I wanted to explore the foodie neighborhood of Les Halles, in the 1st arrondissement, which the French King established as the traditional central market of Paris in the 12th century. My only agenda was to browse, eat, take photos and perhaps buy some French goodies to take back to Poland. Many of my foodie destinations were based on David Lebovitz’s recommendations in his book “The Sweet Life in Paris” and his blog post: Cookware Shops in Paris.

As I walked from our hotel near the Moulin Rouge, I stumbled upon the chocolatier/confiserie, À la Mère de Famille, founded in 1761. This old-fashioned candy store offers a wide variety of chocolates, bon bons, candied fruits, and yes, ice cream. I bought a small box of mixed chocolates as well as the best salted butter caramel ice cream cone I’ve ever had and sampled a few chocolates courtesy of my nice French sales assistant.
Don't you just love this vintage storefront at À la Mère de Famille?
From there, I continued down Rue Montmartre to Librairie Gourmande, which unfortunately was closed because of some silly French bank holiday. I’m sure my husband was happy because I already own 250+ cookbooks and he doesn’t think I need any more. But if you love cookbooks as much as I do, I'd definitely recommend stopping here.
Next, I continued on to some of the kitchen supply stores located in and around the Les Halles neighborhood. I stopped at Mora, A.Simon, and E. Dehillerin, but surprisingly I didn’t buy a thing! I didn’t find anything that I just couldn’t live without.
E. Dehillerin has a fantastic selection of copper pastry molds and pans!
Then, I stopped by G. Detou, a gourmet shop selling all kinds of olive oils, nuts, mustards, baking supplies and chocolates galore! Again, I just couldn’t justify spending nearly 9eu for 250 grams of chocolate, but it was fun to browse!

My stomach was starting to grumble again so I headed to the heart of Les Halles on rue Montorgueil, where some of the oldest stores in Paris are located. At 51 rue Montorgueil is the Bakery Stohrer, the oldest patisserie in Paris. Stohrer was the pastry chef for Marie Leszczynska, the wife of King Louis XV (1710-1774). Inside this small shop, you’ll find dozens of decadent-looking pastries, freshly baked breads and croissants and more. I bought two baguette sandwiches, a pain au chocolat, a cherry clafoutis and my second ice cream cone. Delicious!
I continued to wander through Les Halles, but quickly realized how difficult it is to eat an ice cream cone and take photos at the same time! I loved the vibrancy of this old neighborhood, which seemed full of happy people shopping, eating or sitting at one of the numerous cafés.
I stumbled upon a farmer’s market set up in the street near the Church of Saint-Eustache, a beautiful Gothic-Renaissance style church constructed in the 16th century.
After visiting several of the food stores in Les Halles and smelling the aroma of roasting chickens, I was now ready for lunch! I headed back to our hotel so I could share my baguette sandwiches from Stohrer with my hard-working hubby.

Bon appétit!
This photo simply doesn't do these baguette sandwiches justice! They were simply delicious!
Perfectly arranged French strawberries at a market in Les Halles, Paris.
I loved this old mural on one of the buildings along rue Montogueil.
Cute French girl by this boulangerie in Les Halles.
Location of mentioned stores in/near Les Halles de Paris:
  • À la Mère de Famille, 35, rue du Faubourg-Montmartre.
  • A.Simon, 48 rue Montmartre.
  • E. Dehillerin, 18 rue Coquillere.
  • G. Detou, 58 rue Tiquetonne.
  • Mora, 13 rue Montmartre.
  • La Fermette Fromagerie, 86 rue Montogueil.
  • Librarie Gourmande, 90 rue Montmartre – For cookbooks!
  • Stohrer, 51 rue Montogueil.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Five years ago, I traveled to Paris for the first time. This was only my second trip to Europe, and I had no clue what was in store for me.

I merely had about 48 hours to spend in the City of Lights with my now husband. Back then, I was working 6 days a week as a pastry chef and rarely got time off. I was giddy simply to be in Paris!

Blurry eyed, I landed around 6 a.m. and took the train into Paris by myself. Luckily, Jason met me at Gare du Norde since he had arrived the night before from London, where he had been working for two months. We immediately dropped my suitcase off at our hotel and headed to Ladurée to squelch my macaroon and pain au chocolat desires.
We stayed at a hotel that was close enough to Ladurée so I could buy pastries there every day!
Then, we strolled down to the Place de la Concorde, through the Tulieries Garden and by the Louvre Museum. I had no desire to wait in line to see the Mona Lisa so Jason steered us toward another garden, which I later learned was the Jardin du Palais Royal. It’s ironic now to look back and realize how few photos I took that initial weekend in Paris!
May 2009 - Jason and I exploring Paris.
Inside the tranquil Jardin du Palais Royal, which dates back to the mid-1700s.

We walked under a canopy of trees and then admired the beautiful roses, which seemed as large as salad plates to me. The park was tranquil and set back from the business of Paris. I couldn’t have asked for a more romantic place at that moment.
I don’t really remember how it happened, but there we were sitting on a park bench and talking about who knows what. Suddenly, Jason got down on one knee and pulled a small, black box out of his jacket’s pocket. I couldn’t believe it! Finally!

The box included a mini spotlight that shone on the sparkling diamond ring. Jason asked me to marry him, and I said yes! After all, we were in Paris.

The weather looked like it might rain soon, so we headed for lunch at Au Pied de Cochon, 6 rue Coquillière. We celebrated our engagement over French rillettes de porc, oysters, champagne and who knows what else. (Sadly, I’m lacking in food porn pictures from back then.)
May 2009 - Showing off my new ring at lunch in Paris.
In May, almost exactly 5 years later, we returned to Au Pied de Cochon for dinner. I couldn’t have asked for a better dinner date or partner in our crazy expat life!
May 2014 - A return trip for dinner at Au Pied de Cochon.

So now you know why Paris will always hold a special place in my heart! 
May 2014 - Of course, we had to re-visit the lovely Jardin du Palais Royal in Paris.

Friday, June 20, 2014

On Sundays in Warsaw, THE place to be is in front of the Fryderyk Chopin monument in Łazienki Park.

From mid-May til September 28 this year, pianists from Poland and all over the world perform classical Chopin pieces in front of thousands of people in the park. All for FREE!
This year marks the 55th season, as the concerts started as a cultural tradition in 1959. The Fryderyk Chopin Society contracts pianists for the whole season.

Last summer, we discovered this wonderful tradition and often rode our bikes down to Łazienki Park on Sundays, followed by beer and kielbasa at Pub Lolek across the way. We brought a picnic blanket, secured a location and simply laid back to listen to the lovely classical music playing in the park. This year, we’ve attended two of the concerts so far and even introduced our grandparents to the tradition.
When it gets hot, you might want an umbrella or to sit farther back by the trees for some shade.
Jason with his grandparents after the concert.
Every Sunday, there are two concerts with the first one and noon and the second at 4 p.m. As many as 4,000 people attend the concerts. I’d recommend arriving at least 15 minutes early if you want to secure a good seat.

Join other Warsavians this summer and partake in this wonderful tradition!
Royal Łazienki Park
Ul. Agrikoli 1
Warsaw, Poland

Monday, June 9, 2014

Do you remember when I first discovered this strange yellow fruit in Istanbul?

If not, please check back to this old post: Bu Ne? Loquat Var. Back then, I had no idea what to do with these delicious, tangy, but sweet fruits.

During our last trip to Istanbul earlier this spring, I “smuggled” a package of fresh loquat from the bakkal back to Poland. (Oh, to the lengths I will go to have Turkish food back at home!) We had just eaten at Çiya Restaurant where loquat kebabs were featured on the menu, and I wanted to make them at home. In spring, loquat kebabs also are popular in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep as written about on Istanbul Food.
Turns out, loquat kebabs are fairly easy to make at home. Like most Turkish cooking though, there’s a lot of prep work involved. The loquats need to be halved and stuffed with a minced-meat mixture similar to making köfte. I decided to use this köfte recipe by Ozlem’s Turkish Table, but only used ground beef since lamb is very difficult (and expensive) to find in Warsaw.

To prepare, slice each loquat in half, remove the seeds, place on a skewer and stuff with a meatball in the middle, alternating with slices of red pepper. I placed three loquats and three meatballs on each skewer. Then I drizzled each skewer with a bit of Turkish olive oil and nar ekşisi (pomegranate molasses).
Since we don’t have an outdoor grill, I placed my loquat kebabs on a baking tray in the oven and baked at 200 C for about 20 minutes.
The loquats caramelize nicely in the oven are absolutely delicious with the kebabs. 
To round out our Turkish meal at home, I made my fresh Tabbouleh salad recipe as well as bulgur with a dab of tomato paste and my Herbed Yogurt Dip, which we generously topped our kebabs with. Luckily, I can stop at a local Lebanese shop to find some decent flat bread (lavaş). Hopefully, you’ll have the same success wherever you live and can make your own Turkish loquat kebabs at home too. 

Afiyet olsun!
A complete spread of Turkish food, including the loquat kebabs, at home in Warsaw.
Tabbouleh Salad is so fresh and one of my favorites!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Nearly hidden on the northern edges of Łazienki Park is a beautiful botanical garden.

The Ogród Botaniczny in Warsaw was first established in 1811 near the university and then moved a few years later to what was considered the Royal Garden in the park. The present gardens, open from April to October, are set up on five hectacres and divided into different sections.

On one Sunday in May, I rode my bike over and spent the afternoon listening to the free Chopin concert and strolling all over the park’s grounds. I had never visited the Ogród Botaniczny, so I paid the 7 pln admission and set out to see what I would find behind those metal gates.

I was delighted to find all kinds of pretty spring blossoms such as pink and yellow peonies, purple columbines, rosy magnolias, crimson-colored tulips, lavender lilacs and much more.
As a kid growing up in Nebraska, I spent countless hours in the gardens of both my grandmothers and my mother. I’ve always loved flowers and even spent two seasons working at a greenhouse/farm near Kansas City. Hence, my recent blog posts about the flowers I’ve seen in Paris and Poland.
I spent about an hour wandering through the botanical gardens and took over 100 photos of the flowers and buzzing bees I saw. I’m sure you’ll recognize many of the flower as I did. Apparently, one of the gardens included a collection of plants from various parts of Poland that would be found in the mountains, near the seashore, peat-bog areas, etc. Most of the plants were well labeled, but I simply enjoyed walking around with my camera.

If you have time and love flowers, the Ogród Botaniczny is definitely worth visiting in Warsaw.
I loved these dark crimson-colored tulips!
Buzzing bumblebees loved the sweet nectar on these purple flowers.
University of Warsaw Botanical Gardens (Ogród Botaniczny)
Aleje Ujazdowskie 4
Warsaw, Poland

Monday, June 2, 2014

For my 500th blog post, I thought I should write an expat-related article.

It’s been about 4 years since we moved from Baltimore to Istanbul and then to Warsaw, where we currently live. The years have flown by, we’ve learned two foreign languages and spent countless of hours in the air and on the road exploring our new land.

Overall, I love expat life! Sure, there are challenges, and sometimes I long for the “simpler life” in America where I can ask for things in English and (usually) get exactly what I asked for. As an expat, you roll the dice. Did the doctor understand me? Will I get the dish I think I ordered for dinner? Does that hair stylist know what I mean by a little? Why won’t the taxi driver listen to my directions?

Honestly, there are very few things I miss from America besides our family and friends, of course. But every now and then, I deeply long for a few comforts from “home.”

So here are my Top 5 Things I Miss from America as an Expat:

5. Pizza by the slice – This is definitely the transplanted New Yorker in me coming out, but I do love pizza by the slice. What’s great is that pizza can be eaten on the go and is the perfect answer for late-night drinking munchies. When it’s midnight or 2 a.m., the universal European answer for late-nights is kebabs. While I do love my kebab whether I’m in Istanbul, Warsaw or Zürich, I long for a gooey slice of pepperoni pizza smothered in dried chili flakes.
NY pizza is never eaten with a knife and fork. Fold the pizza and eat with your hands! If you don't believe me, watch this hilarious John Stewart clip. 
4. Stores like Target or Kohl’s – I have a love-hate relationship with the big box stores in America. On the positive side, I can get everything on my list and things I didn’t know I needed and the prices are much cheaper. But the stores are usually busy, and I just don’t like dealing with it. Still, I miss being able to buy my John Freida shampoo for only $5.99, a cute and cheap sundress and clothes that I know will fit me.

3. Customer service In America, we have the saying that goes, “The customer is always right.” Well, in most of Europe that I’ve encountered so far, the customer doesn’t really exist. In Istanbul, I had the most dreadful time trying to exchange a shirt for a different size for my husband. The store clerks were most perplexed because the shirt was now on sale, and how could they exchange it. I had to tell them repeatedly in my broken Turkish that I didn’t want para, just a different size.

In Warsaw, you can forget about asking any sales clerk for assistance. I passionately detest going to the big grocery stores like Carrefour because if I forget to weigh and price the produce myself, there’s no way the checkout clerk will help you. You simply have to do without those onions or bananas. At my farmer’s market, Hala Mirowska, the stall owners weigh everything for me.
Farmer's markets are always a better place to buy fresh produce.
2. Mexican food – Ask nearly any American expat (like Sara in Le Petit Village), and he or she will tell you they miss Mexican food or Tex-Mex food the most. I’ve written about this topic before on the blog. Whenever I’m back in the U.S., I indulge in carnita burritos at Chipotle, never-ending servings of chips and salsa and giant bowls of chicken tortilla soup.
I love my messy pulled pork tacos at Chipotle! 
In Warsaw, the Mexican food options are improving, but still not the same as in America. I like the pollo mole dish at El Popo, and Blue Cactus serves up decent enchiladas and a variety of salsas. However, the new Tacamole is my favorite find so far (the closest thing to Chipotle) and serves the best burrito I’ve found in Europe!
Holy Tacamole! 
This summer, I’ll definitely be whipping up bowls of my homemade Mexican salsa from my homegrown tomatoes and cilantro.

1. And the Number One thing I miss is Ice! Yes, ice! Ice is so simple to make, but is nearly impossible to get abroad. My Australian friends here tell me that Americans are obsessed with ice. This may be true! Very rarely will you get served ice in a glass if you order a coke or even a water. You’ll be lucky if that drink is even somewhat cold. When you go to the movies, you can either buy a tepid can of coke or a fountain drink – WITHOUT ice!
But you can get bacon and bourbon cocktails at Leniviec in Warsaw with a giant ice cube!
A Polish friend here nearly freaked out when we were going to serve his child a cold glass of apple juice. ‘No, the drink can’t be cold, or my son will get sick,’ he told us. What? I’ve heard this comment from more than one Pole as well as Turks.

Even when I order a glass of white wine or rosé, I usually have to ask for a cup of ice so I “properly” cool down my wine. I dream about the perfectly crushed ice served in soft drinks and limeades at Sonic in the U.S.! I just may have to buy a crushed ice maker on our next U.S. trip.
I dream of crushed ice like this! Photo Source.
So there you have the few things I miss from America. If you currently live abroad or have lived abroad, what things do you or did you miss most from home?