Children and Cooking

It’s been a month or so since my visitors flew back to the states.  I think a lot about them.  It was a different visit than I usually have when friends come over.  First, obviously, because one was 7 years old.  And what a 7 year wants to do and how she sees life is very different from my normal viewpoint.  And secondly, her mother was the first visitor who had been to Paris, and knew what she wanted to see and show her daughter.  That’s great.  Not a problem at all.  But it was confusing for me at first.  Normally, my role is to show people around.  She knew how to get everywhere.  And sometimes had a different route in mind.  Again, which was fine – but different for me.   We also walked a lot more than I normally do.  I have the Navigo pass that gives me unlimited use of bus and metro for a month.  Yes, for a fee of about 80 bucks.  So I just fall into the “take the bus” habit.  My preference over the metro any day.  But the metro if necessary.

But walking is also good.  (She corrected my gait, did I tell you?  Shorter strides, pushing off with the ball of my foot and leaning a bit forwards.  And voila – no hip pain!  Who knew!??)  And with no hip pain, walking has been more fun.  And with the pushing off, well, you get there faster with less noticeable effort.  Again – who knew!

After their departure, I have found myself walking more than I did before.  If the bus will be 8 minutes, I walk to the next stop.  Sometimes I don’t even take the bus. My Fitbit is very proud of me!

On occasion I felt much a fifth wheel – unnecessary for their visit.  I don’t think that is true – but I did have to make many changes in my brain to redefine my role.  Overall, I think it’s a very good thing to be moved out of your status quo.

We went to many kids playgrounds.  That got me to thinking…  I know her mother and I recall she takes the grandkids to playgrounds all the time.  And did with her kids too.  I don’t have kids.  So I am not an expert at all.  I think the playground idea is a good one.  But I found myself thinking back to my childhood and I don’t recall every stopping at a playground on any trip.  My sister does.  But she’s almost 10 years older than me.  I grew up in the country and I think Mom just opened the door on a sunny day and pointed to the lawn and swings and tree house and said go play.

Now, however, I spot all the playgrounds blocks away.  Although I don’t have any young kids coming to visit in the near or far future.

The visit also made me think about cooking.  If you follow my blog, you should know I am not a cook.  When I was married for 11 years, I did cook.  And it wasn’t bad.  I had some go to recipes.  I even experimented.  But after splitting up, I have had no motivation to cook.  I just don’t find it interesting.  I can even have the same menu for a week without being bored.

Walk me down the spices aisle and I am unmoved.  I have no idea what things taste like or what goes with what on what.  But put me in a hardware store or an art store, I will know what paint colors go with what, how to mix them, how to make pretty much anything out of duct tape!  I made a duct tape purse one time.  And a duct tape vest.  Because crafts and art do interest me.

Fortunately, my visitor could cook and cook well.  The one time I tried dinner for the three of us, I was tired and ended up burning the chicken.  See.  It bores me.  Who wants to stand in the kitchen waiting for things to cook?  I asked a friend to send me ideas for an easy to fix vegetarian dinner for a French friend.  She sent me suggestions that used terms that were like Greek to me.  Do this…. Do that…   Huh?  I thanked her nicely and I paid for my friend’s meal in a restaurant instead.

My mom didn’t teach me many of these fundamental household things.  She often said she was too tired and I was the third kid so…  But I did take Home Ec in junior high.  I remember we baked cookies and sewed an apron.  I also hate sewing (even though it should be in my DNA as my mother, grandmother and sister are all excellent seamstresses).  I do, however, love to embroider.  Maybe that’s more like making art?

I am a bit intrigued about the chemistry of cooking.  That might be a way to lure me into the kitchen.  I always thought why can’t I just dump all the ingredients in at the same time and just mix it up.  Ok.  So different ingredients react differently together.  Heck, even when you put the salt on the food makes a difference.  Or so I’ve heard.

I can make semi-decent scrambled eggs but even then I get bored or distracted.  And my omelets never turn out like the ones I get in French restaurants.

Then I think, I am too old to start.  And I am finally getting over my embarrassment at not knowing how to cook.  It’s taken awhile.  Friends say – oh, just cut up the tomatoes for the salad.  And I have an existential crisis!  First, I have an allergy to raw tomatoes (they make me puke).  So I have always avoided them.  And cutting them up?  How?  In half the long way, the side way, into chunks, into slices?  Oh there are TOO many choices!!!

If people wonder that I don’t offer to help in their kitchen, it is not because I am lazy or rude.  It’s because I am scared to death that I will show how utterly helpless and clueless I am.  Let me set the table.  Let me make a centerpiece!

I am starting to step up and admit: I AM A KITCHEN IDIOT.  Not necessarily proud of it, but finally willing to admit it.

Reentry

Ohhh.  That makes it sound very NASA-ish.  Coming back to the States is not quite an alien experience but I do miss Paris.

It’s only been two weeks plus one day.  It feels longer… and not….  Just crazy.  Got back on Wednesday afternoon.  Several disruptions I would have been happy to avoid but that’s life:  Garage door opener – broken springs (2) fixed on Thursday for $600+, slow leak in rear tires – two tires later at $300, dishwasher broken $700+, back slider is really hard to move – handyman next Saturday for a lot of money plus time to get new sinks as the porcelain is wearing out – handyman and more money.  He’s happy I am back!

This after the extra bag charges for Delta.  The allowance is one free, next one $100 and third more like $200.  But that’s cheaper than shipping.  The final number at the airport was 22.9 kg, 22.0 kg and 22.3 kg.  Whew.  Max is 23 kg.  And btw, always ask them to weigh in kg because that gives you a little bit more than the 50 lb limit.  And my Delta AMEX card which gives me free bags domestically doesn’t help for international.  The United Visa gives me the second bag on international flights free.  About the best thing I can say about United…

Most amazing: NO JET LAG.  None.  Nada.  Zip.  Sure – I might have woken up about 2 or 3am, but that’s normal on a normal night.  And what is normal for jet lag is to wake up at 3am and be WIDE awake since that is noon in Paris.  So jet lag means you can’t go back to sleep.  Your body is ready for action!  Time for lunch or a walk or something other than sleeping.

But not this time.  Went right back to sleep every night immediately.  Why?  If I really knew the secret, I’d patent it.  But I think it was because I had so much to do – arrange for all those repairs, and doc appointments and routine car maintenance.  AND travel down to Visalia to see my sister who is recovering from a stroke.  So one day here and the next on the train south.  Stayed there 4 nights and back here and then back down there 3 days later.  I think that is going to be the routine for a few weeks.  (She is doing VERY well – speech great and progressing from a wheelchair to walker to using a cane!)

What’s best about the return?  The clothes dryer!  And a washer that is easy on the clothes versus the one in Paris.  And of course the dryer is nonexistent in Paris.  I was very disappointed about the dishwasher – I was so looking forward to not having to wash and dry dishes by hand.  But no.  On the other hand, I have been patiently waiting for that dishwasher to break – it was here when I bought my house in 2003.  And it wasn’t new at that time.  The new one is not a high end fancy bells and whistles machine but it is so quiet that I only knew it was working at first because the timer on the front was changing minutes…

Total Wine is a great store for wine.  I went to stock up on my French wines.  I don’t really drink a lot and usually not alone and usually with meals.  I got a Chinon, a Brouilly, and a rose from Provence.  And after watching the news, I opened the Chinon.  It was necessary.

Because of my travel schedule, I wasn’t eating well during my first week back.  Finally had time to buy food and prepare a meal.  So I have changed after two 9 month stints in Paris.  I was quite surprised.  I made a chicken breast with wine sauce and champignons…. Oh.  Mushrooms.  And as I looked at the plate, I thought to myself, It looks tasty.  And I could slice it up nicely and arrange it on my plate and put the sauce just so…  OMG!   I never thought anything like that for a meal I made for myself.  It was scary!  I shared the story with a friend who said I was a foodie.  Oh God Forbid!  Me? A Foodie?  I won’t go that far, but I will say, oui, I have a different attitude to food.

Coming back also includes medical appointments.  Spent the day at Kaiser for a variety of things, including getting a hearing aid fixed.  Yes.  I have a hearing aid.  I got it when I worked for a company that was totally paranoid.  The senior team of which I was a member would have meetings where everyone whispered.  I would be saying, What? What?  So I had my hearing tested – they said, you’re border line.  I said I need to hear the whispers.  But I didn’t wear it often in Paris.  Sometimes crowd noise would be too loud – so I’d take it out and then I just didn’t seem to need it.  Come back here and it’s like I am at the bottom of a well.  What’s up with that?  But it had stopped working – a Kaiser gal fixed a broken wire and I am now good to go.  But why do I need it in the US more than in France?  I think Americans mumble.

A French friend facetimed me my first week back.  I thought it was someone else and just answered without thinking.  Then I realized it was Francois.  Yikes.  Early morning here and I am not sure I had even combed my hair.  FT can be dangerous!  So I held the phone as far away as I could so my early morning hair and face would be as small as possible.  And then he started speaking FRENCH.  QUOI?  My brain stalled.  It was the feeling you got when the teacher announced a pop quiz.  Huh?  I hadn’t prepped for that!  Yikes.  Fortunately, it came back.  But we did speak more in English.

However, this evening, I went to an open house for a new law firm a dear friend is starting.   And there I met a French woman.  And yes, I just started speaking French with her and it was wonderful!  Maybe soon I will stand up and believe I speak French!  (I also added TV5 to my Xfinity lineup so I can watch the French shows.)

And for the three of you who said you have read every blog, please email me your physical address so I can send you your prize!  I hadn’t forgotten!  Cheaper to mail from here than Paris.

Notice I have stayed away from politics… except for the need for wine?  I’ll just say I am so proud of those National Park Service employees who have started altNPS Facebook and Twitter accounts and refuse to be silenced on climate change and science in general.  This is nuts.

I have been called a global resident.  I love that.  And an English friend posted on FB that she wants me back to being an American Abroad soon!  I agree with her.  We will see how the health of everyone progresses.

French Eating Habits

So much is written about the French and how they eat a lot but never get fat.  It’s true, you don’t see many overweight French … women at least.  I do see the guy with the beer belly.

Few friends have more than coffee for breakfast.  Maybe a pain du chocolat which is chocolate roll.  And then they have a – at least to me – huge lunch.  Entrée et plat, or plat et desert.  And by plat, I mean what I consider a dinner meal.  Steak. Fish. Big. Heavy.  Sauces.  Yes, you can get a salade but I see the French eating the plat more often.  (And burgers are more often on the menu than in the past.  Burgers have become a gourmet item here.)  And then maybe a snack about 4 when the kids get home from school.  And a big dinner again about 8 or even 9 pm.

Yes, they do walk a lot.  But I think it is more that they don’t snack.  You eat when you are at the table.  And that’s it.  And when you eat that much, your stomach is full!  In fact, for me, uncomfortably full.  Like, I don’t even want chocolate!

I also notice a lack of vegetables compared to the US.  Our steaks are almost always accompanied with potatoes AND veggies.  Here, potatoes are de rigeur.  But not veggies.  It’s a white world.

Yesterday I had a delicious lunch – supreme du poulet.  Chicken breast!  Sauce.  And pasta.  I miss chicken.

At the meal with my French friend at her house with her friends, she served aperitif (asked me what the word was in English – I love it when it’s the same and it surprises them so much!).  Champagne, carrots, dip, raw leek and olives.

The plat was melted cheese- Mont d’Or – a Cantin.  It comes in a wood basket, wine is poured into the center of the cheese, then put in the oven to bake and bubble and get a nice crust.  Then it is served on top of potatoes (HUGE potatoes) with a plate of cold cuts – beef and ham.  And after, a tiny salad.  Then tarts for dessert.  They don’t really make pies here.  But they love tarts.  And everyone finished their plates.

Now that I think about it, it seems like all French are members of the Clean Plate Club.  There’s nothing left.

 

A Heat Wave is Coming!

Yup.  Bien sur.  It will be 50 F tomorrow.  I must admit parenthetically (oh, is it parenthetically if I didn’t actual use parenthesis?) that I still have not made the switch to centigrade.  Or to kilometers.  The US should have done it years ago.  I remember being in New Zealand talking to a guy my age who said the change was difficult but he now was metric.  Except for the golf courses which continued in yards.  And in England while most is metric, miles are still the way to go for driving.  OK. The parenthetical segment is now done.

France was cold! The past two weeks.  Even at that awful “feels like” 23 degrees stage.  I had to rediscover my winter clothing.  This year I bought a cardigan.  Great choice with my shirts and under my heavy coat.  It meant that in the restaurants I didn’t have to take off or put on again the pullover.  And which pullover at that?  Cashmere or wool or cotton?  I tend to run towards the warm side – my Minnesota upbringing I suppose.  It gets complicated.  You don’t want to have to take off the sweater and carry it – or carry the coat!  I was mulling that over today and realized it’s not an issue in California because I dress for the car or the destination.  And running between the car and the building or store or restaurant is quite manageable in something light.  We just don’t dress for the cold there.  And the car makes it easy as you can always throw an extra coat or sweater in the back.

When you are walking, busing or metro-ing, the “back” ends up on your arm.

My destination today was the Salon des Saveurs.  Like a Home and Garden show but for food.  My foodie friends would have loved it. But everyone was out of town so I went by myself.  I did enjoy it.   However, tasting is just done better with friends. Still, I found and bought some cheese (comte) and dried fruit (including hibiscus!) and chocolate for a dinner gift.  I might have bought more but bad timing.  I leave in….. OH MON DIEU!… just over 4 weeks.  Wasn’t the time to buy spices or wine or mushrooms or olives…

OH WHEW.  That was incorrect.  Just over FIVE weeks. I have too much to still do.  Too many Marches du Noel to get to, too many Christmas lights to photograph.  But I have given up on several outside of Paris destinations.  Even day trips.  I will have to leave something for next year.

 

How to blend in…

I wrote something about tourists on the bus a blog or two ago.  A reader thanked me for the tip and said she’s begun a list of what not to do.

Let me say at the start that I am proud to be an American (yes, even in the midst of this insane election year when all my French friends quiz me…and EVERYONE in England asked me about Trump!).

But since I started serious traveling in Europe in 2007, my goal has always been to not look like an American.  For a couple reasons – one is to avoid the scammers.  Or thieves.  (In 2008 I almost lost a valuable bag on the RER train to Paris from Charles De Gaulle… I probably was targeted because I had bags and looked dead tired after an overnight 12 hour flight – but still.)  There doesn’t seem to be as many beggars or scam acts these past two years as in the past – someone would stop in front of you and reach down and seem to pick up a ring and would then try to engage you in conversation that they had found your ring…  On the train, the guy’s partner kept pointing to a coin on the floor that he had planted to make you think it was yours – and then your eyes left your bags.  It only takes a second, trust me.  Another ploy uses lots of young kids – teens – with clip boards who want you to sign a petition.  One time a group of them started to surround me in front of the Pompidou.  A French woman saw me and called to me to get away from them.  Yes, I knew!  I do think she gave me the push I needed to start shouting at them myself – mostly Non Non!  And they did leave me alone.  I have learned that you do not need – you SHOULD not be concerned about being polite.  These people are out to distract you to steal something.  So if you blend in with the French public, there is less chance.

Mostly it is about what you wear.  My own rules for European dressing are Black, Black, and More Black.  Including shoes.  Now that I am here for longer periods of time, I see more color. But black is still a good bet.  It used to be that only Americans or Eastern Europeans seemed to wear sneakers.  That’s definitely changing.  Baskets are more popular – yup, that’s the term for sneakers… basketball shoes…

Shorts were a no-no in the city but I see more and more tourists from all over wearing shorts in the summer.  And it has certainly been hot here lately.  And those cute French teens are in short shorts.

Jeans weren’t that common before but I see them more often.  Dress is more formal here and even more formal than in London.  And while in the states I can go to the grocery in my sweats and workout shoes. NEVER EVER in Paris

I keep my clothing palette in subdued black and navy blue.  I use my extensive scarf collection for the touch of color.  And when I am back in the States, I wear every jewel tone I can find!

Sucsuiplitlie….. sensitivity, touchiness – that’s what a French friend used to describe waiters.  I wasn’t sensitive enough to the waiter one day and I received a mini-lecture, well more of a warning, from my friend.  So funny, he made it sound as if I had to grovel to the waiter.  And he is the one who tried to explain that it was rude to automatically fill a water glass…  and that only the giver of the meal could say Bon Appetit …   And of course, there was my other French friend who castigated me for saying Merci too often.  My head is going to explode.

Volume – Americans speak much more loudly than the French.

Tipping – pretty much not done. Some places indicate Service Compris on the bill – tips included.  My friends who leave a tip usually limit it to between 5 and 10%.  No, it’s not rude.  Waiters here are paid more and consider themselves professionals – a tip is a bit of an insult.  I think a waiter who gets insulted should rethink the gift of extra money – so what if the American doesn’t get it – here’s some money for a drink.  And actually, a tip is a pourboire  in French which means for drink.  But at the places I go to frequently and where I get to know the waiters, I do leave a tip.

For a purse or bags – fanny packs are dead give ways for tourists.  I always wear my bag across my shoulder – actually less for fear of it being pulled off my shoulder than to distribute the weight and save my back.  Funny – the most common backpack is Eastpak.  I see them all over France.  Sure, use a backpack but do be sure it’s not easy to open and don’t carry your expensive stuff back there.  I have never had a problem on the metro. But it can get crowded.  And at museums, especially Versailles, they will often announce in several languages that pickpockets are at work.

Going into a shop – you must look the clerk or owner in the eye and say Bon Jour.  S/he will reply.  And when you leave, make sure you say merci au revoir.

“La politesse” reigns supreme! Any conversation, any questions, always start with Bon Jour…  pardonnez moi, excusez moi…  You have to take that brief moment to be respectful.  I still forget this from time to time when I am in a rush and frantic and want to know a direction.  Inevitably, the response is… Bonjour madame.  Like hey lady where are your manners?  So I take a deep breath and say, bonjour, excusez moi.  J’ai un question s’il vous plait.

And greeting people –  I know the cheek kissing freaks some people out.  You are not required to Faire le bise.  French often shake hands.  But if you do le bise, it’s a light kiss… more an air kiss…   touching your cheek to the other’s.  I find in Paris most people start to the right – then to the left.  Here’s it’s normally two kisses.  In other parts of France, it’s three, four or even five!  Let the other person guide you.  And in the Netherlands, it’s always 3.  My American friends have all adopted les bises so we do it when we meet.  At this point, it feels normal to me – it did take a few months, I must admit.  For amusement, check out this map.

But no, never hug!  Last year when I was saying good bye to friends that I had seen each week for 2 or 3 hours and we’ve have very personal conversations and we call each other friends….  We did Les Bises and then I said, ok, time for an American hug.  LOL  It turned out to be the most uncomfortable moment!  The person stood there with arms held straight down the sides, rigid.  Wanting it to be over with.  Ok, not doing that again ever!

Eating in public used to be a no-no but I see it more often.  Well, maybe not often.  Once a month perhaps.  And it offends me now.  Not when I get back to California, however.

And OMG don’t put your feet on the empty seat across from you in a metro.  A friend told me about that today – he had seen an American family – the young adults did that.  He was absolutely horrified!

Ask for the restroom and they don’t have a clue.  Les Toilette or perhaps WC which has made its way over from Britain.  And don’t be surprised if the men and women share the washbasin facilities.  Or if there’s urinal there with just a swinging half saloon type door in front of it and the guy’s back in full view.  Sometimes in a French toilette I think of the controversies in the US and just roll my eyes.

Of course, you have bread with a meal.  But it goes right on the table.  Don’t look for a bread plate.

Promptness.  Not a big deal here.

And when you start a conversation with a French person, don’t ask about career or kids.  That’s considered too personal.  However, I admit that I do it all the time.  I have too much HR interviewer in my DNA.  So I just realize that I am stepping into a dangerous territory and hope that I have developed enough goodwill that they will excuse it as my American-ness.

Lastly, you can buy them at all the tourist stores, but I have never seen a French woman or man in a beret.

Julia and Moi

When you think of France, you probably think of the Eiffel Tower and food. Or rather, Cuisine. And cuisine – makes you think of Julie Child. Which then might lead to Le Cordon Bleu where she took her cooking classes. That thought process led me to a wild idea back in January in Sacramento. If it was good enough for Julia, why not me? A web search uncovered day classes at Le Cordon Bleu. Or rather, ateliers – workshops.  My Guest agreed to take the Market Tour. Registered. Paid. Just waiting for Friday April 24.  Oh, this is going to be a long post….

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School facts.  At Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (they have many locations outside of France also) there are about 350 students who are pursuing the 3 levels of cooking over a 9 month period at a cost of about almost 45,000 euros. This is, strangely enough, a cooking school for foreigners.  Apparently, the French go to two other cooking schools.  These other schools have restaurants for students to see actual stress of real world.  (Note to self: find those schools and restaurants….).

And what of our atelier? Actually, it was interesting but also disappointing.

What we got wasn’t quite what was described.   Jane the translator said the class was just changed. Hmmm: bait and switch comes to mind. But that is for the Trip Advisor review and the letter to Cordon Bleu.

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It was a market tour. I expected the chef to be pointing out, teaching, how to select this or that. He was supposed to be buying for the meal he was going to prepare that afternoon. This was one of the changes – he was no longer going to pick the food, the food was already bought and waiting for him at the school. At the market, we just walked by the stalls. The chef didn’t offer all that much info.  And certainly nothing about how to select the best of anything. It was a nice market – in the 15th.  Both sides of 2 blocks.  A variety of items.

Veggies fruit fish meat.  Stuff!  Clothes bedding scarves housewares flowers.  I was blasé about the market.  My sister has been taking me to farmer’s markets for years. And I go to the Sacramento ones on my own.  I am so accustomed to seeing beautiful vegetables and fruits that these simply remind me of California.  I posted that on Facebook and a friend commented that the French market she went to didn’t seem at all like a California market.  Got me thinking… Food, yes, still similar but perhaps not as many single item farmers – like the Berry Man in Visalia- in France. 2015-04-24 10.04.17 Yes, California does have some other items – usually crafty.  Certainly, I don’t recall any markets that are right on the street itself – usually around a park or in a mall parking lot. As I continued this comparison, I suddenly realized that I have been going to French marches for at least 5 years.  Perhaps the main reason this market trip didn’t impress me is because I am so familiar with them already.  The other members of the class were here for just a week or two and they were delighted with the market.  And last year at my immersion French class in Tours, my class had an assignment of conducting a sondage at the market.  That’s a survey.  We had to develop our questions and then talk to participants.  We found out that most of the venders were secondary marketers, not the individual farm owner/growers.

However, no one seemed delighted with the commentary or rather, lack of commentary.  Chef and Jane the translator would occasionally point out an expensive item. Answer a question here and there.  2015-04-24 10.15.27Again, I was expecting more of a show and tell.  Pick up the – insert name of fruit or vegetable here -and talk about how to select the best one.  What to look for.  Special ways to cook or serve it.

And the timing was off.  We left at 8:45 am, dallied at a café for coffee/tea on the way.  (Jane told me that I would soon be drinking expresso – because it was going to be too expensive to continue drinking tea.  And an expresso is the least expensive coffee drink.  She’s right about cost.  It’s even cheaper than bottled water.  But I cannot see myself drinking coffee ever.  Never understood the rest of the world’s craving for coffee.)

Then when we arrived at the market, we sauntered up and down.2015-04-24 09.47.34  Lunch was at a nearby café at the unParisien time of 11:30.  Arriving early, they put us at tables on the street with a glass of white wine.  Bit early for me…

Lunch was a plate with a variety of cold ham cuts and three cheeses.  With bread, of course.  And another glass of wine. Not very appetizing.

Suddenly, after all the leisurely time, we had to rush back to the school.

And I do mean rush.  The school called Jane several times to see where we were.  Chef went on ahead to prepare for the demonstration.

Chef was a very personable guy but a bit shy.  Clearly he knew more English than he let on.  At lunch we discussed celebrity chefs.  He worked for a 5 star chef for 15 years.  Even spent 4 months in Las Vegas helping prepare the new restaurant at Cesar’s Palace.  But when I asked if the top chef was “gentil.” Nice.  I received a wry smile.  I think the answer was no, but I can’t put words into his mouth. That led to stories about chefs and others physically abusing employees. Chef shared his own teaching style, of encouragement and support. And later, in the demo kitchen, he showed us his great sense of humor when he and the assistant stepped into the back for something and he returned, saying he had to beat her for a few minutes. It was funny and don’t get on a serious note of abuse is not funny. It’s not. This moment was.

At the school.

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The demonstration meal was an entrée of white asparagus with hollandaise sauce, rack of lamb, and strawberry tart.

My first time in a demonstration kitchen, I was amazed at the set up.  The student desks (chairs with the tablet for writing that folded up or down) were on risers so the view (over the heads in front of you) was unobstructed.  The work table was maybe 12 foot long.  2015-04-24 13.29.56Above it was a huge mirror angled so that the students could see everything the chef was doing.  And if that wasn’t enough, there were two tv screens on each side of the room with the ability to move the camera and zoom in or out so see the detail of the action. That was Jane the translator’s responsibility.

Tips.  Many of my readers are accomplished chefs.  They know I am not.  Not even worthy of the name cook.  For office potlucks, I bring the bread (bakery-bought) or the utensils.   But I do like asparagus and at the Cordon Bleu I learned how to tie the bunches together. 2015-04-24 12.59.33 And I do love a good hollandaise.  My arm got tired just watching him whisk the sauce.  OMG he was so fast.  2015-04-24 13.10.21And changed from right to left and back without losing a beat.  And whisked forever.  The sound of the metal whisk on the metal saucepan created a beat – I wanted to get up and hand out the rest of the pots and pans for us all to join in a percussion jam session.

2015-04-24 13.33.01The asparagus was delicious and I seriously wanted to lick the plate for the last drop of hollandaise.  Mmmm

Then he started on the lamb.  Oh, no, he worked on the pastry shell so it could cook while he worked on the lamb.  See – organizational skills beyond my capacity.  2015-04-24 15.14.50As a true Perceiving individual under MBTI and a follower of the Cult of “SQUIRREL” (from the movie UP), staging a dinner is beyond me. You’d get the asparagus, then wait for an hour for the lamb, if not longer, and then a hour or two for the dessert.  And with the multiple courses of wine, you’d be fast asleep.

Which is what I almost was.  I did catch myself in one of those jerky movements you have just before falling asleep on or before falling off a chair.  That’s because they served us another glass of wine during the asparagus preparation.  3 glasses of wine before 2 pm.  Yikes.  Snoooze.

I learned of baking beans

– used to weigh down the center of the tart pastry.  Never know when I might need that!

2015-04-24 14.19.52And then he showed us how to prepare the lamb.  Again, for those that know me well, you recall my tale of taking chemistry AND physics in order to avoid biology in high school.  Cutting up things… nope.  And eating things that look too much like a real animal gives me the willies.  How I became a first aid instructor I have never understood – except for my pact with God – if I teach enough people, I won’t ever have to use these skills.  Thank you, Universe.

Which means that as he was showing how to separate the meat, the fat, the bones,  I was elsewhere in my mind. My neighbor, a Canadian recruiter, told me she gets her butcher to do that for her. Smart lady.

He prepared the “jus” with meat, fat, and veggies. My Guest said that’s how she’s going to make stew from now on. But eventually he strained it, after mashing the veggies up to get every last drop, and it was a delightful accompaniment to the lamb. Good stew tossed. Shrug.

While the lamb was cooking, he finished the pastry. But do you know? He overcooked it. My friend thought he was nervous. Maybe – I did notice that he just started working there this year. Maybe this was his first Market Tour atelier. Maybe he was demonstrating to us that cooking is an art and is not always perfect.

The results: The asparagus with hollandaise – 5 star. The lamb, 4.5 stars. The tart: pastry 2-3 stars, the crème and strawberries – 5 star.

You know how you want to end with a big finish? So that people leave with a good taste in their mouths – oh that’s wasn’t a pun! But really. If you can end any enterprise on a high positive note, that’s what people walk away with in their memory.

Someone needs to remind Cordon Bleu of that. (Probably me. And the Canadian recruiter. We shared the same opinion and we are both Top Contributors to Trip Advisor. Kindred Spirits.)

Before we could all get up out of the desk/chairs (there were ten of us), the students for the next class barged in. And barged is the right word. They pushed their way between themselves and then onto us. Two almost kicked my wine glass. Another almost shoved my papers to the floor in her rush to find a seat. The translator was out of the room at that time. I finally yelled – and I did yell – Attendez! Wait! That got their attention for 2 seconds and then the hoard pushed on. At that point, Jane returned to the room and spoke forcefully and told them to exit the room to allow the current students (my group) to gather their belongings. After she repeated it once or twice, they slowly turned and let us regroup.

Rude. And these are not French students, remember? The Cordon Bleu Paris students are foreigners. So we cannot lay this at the French door. (In fact, I am finding the French more polite each year.)

Does this reflect on the student’s culture? Or is a reflection on the attitudes of our future chefs? Or are these students rich kids whose parents are giving them a free ride in Paris? Is that last question fair? How can someone afford a 9 month class for 45,000 euros AND afford room and board in Paris? We talked about salaries over lunch with the chef. Starting out, these folks may make 25-30,000 euros a year. Probably less.

I’d go to a cheaper school myself.