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The Year of the Water Snake 2013 – Chinese New Year in Paris

17 Feb

Nian beasts and the red lanterns and drums used to scare them away

Whereas our own New Year’s Celebrations have long passed, the Chinese New Year Celebrations are in full swing and the year of the Water Snake has just begun.

Paris’ “Chinatown” is the largest one in Europe and there are New Year Festivities taking place in the 3rd, 11th and 13th arrondissement, the ones in the 13th offering the biggest parade to visitors, find its route and the Métro stations (Place d’Italie, Porte d’Ivry…) here.

The Dragons are awake

The dragon in the 13th will open its eyes at 1:00 pm for the  New Year’s Parade on Sunday, February 17, 2013, and start dancing down the streets followed by his fellow dragon friends, chasing their mythic pearl. I am always amazed on how realistic its movements look, fluttering through the air, twirling around, it definitely looks like a real being.

Colorful embroidered costumesWhat at first appears to be  a furrier, stumpier version of the dragons are in fact no dragons, but the Nian. The Nian was said to be a cruel monster, living under the sea or in the mountains. Every year for the Spring festivities / Chinese New Year it would appear and chase people because, unfortunately, his favorite dish was humans. The Nian’s terrible reign didn’t last forever though. A wise monk came up with the idea to turn the tables on the monster the next time it appeared, fighting it by lighting fireworks and firecrackers and beating empty bowls, plates and gongs, making an awful noise and frightening the beast.

Up!

The Nian tried to flee, but wherever it went it was greeted with more noise, the people often wearing red, as this color scared the Nian even more. According to some of the legends, the Nian was eventually killed, according to others it never dared returning to the village ever again and peace was restored.

The red lanterns you see hanging everywhere during the Chinese New Year’s week and the firecrackers used still date back to these ancient stories and shall forever bar the Nian from doing harm again.

Crunch Bob

The acrylic Nians you spot during our modern parades don’t really scare us anymore, but don’t forget what they stand for and root for the right team, the Nians are the baddies, the Dragons will bring you luck.

More of my pictures from previous years' Chinese New Year celebrations and this year's poster

The Chinese New Year Celebrations and the colorful costumes and traditional rites bring color and fun to the still cold and harsh Winter days, still, two things you should consider in order for you to have a great time:

1)   There will be many, MANY people, as you see in the pictures below, if you’re a woman you’re lucky, wear heels, you’ll have a much better view. And if you don’t like huge crowds and overflowing streets, don’t go, really, it’s madness

2)   Authenticity. Over the past years, the amount of advertising has risen drastically, almost everything is endorsed by anything, and even many of the lanterns and balloons are branded (phone companies, airlines…), it just clashes with the ancient traditions and kind of gnaws on its ceremoniousness.

Gold Proc p

A happy Chinese New Year to you all! After the turbulent Year of the Dragon, Chinese astrologists expect the Year of the Water Snake to be a calmer and luckier year. Now that sounds great, let’s cross our fingers.

Did I mention the huge crowd of people..?

Verrines de paté au saumon à la crème – Cream-topped Salmon Paté

22 Aug

Salmon and veal, that works? You may ask yourself, and frankly, after I recently re-discovered my first ever self-created recipe, I was really wondering what, at then 19, had inspired me to combine these two ingredients. But I remember people loving it back then and decided to  serve it as an entrée when recently I had guests for dinner. It turned out well, so here I am, happy to share it with you.

In fact, salmon and veal go great together, the veal even accentuating the salmon’s flavour without overpowering it.

Verrines de paté au saumon à la crème

Cream-topped salmon paté served in little glasses

Entrée / starter: served with toasted baguette, serves 4 – 6

Main course: served with toasted baguette and a generous salad, serves 4

Difficulty:    easy to medium, may be prepared up to 24 hours in advance

Time:           needs time to set

Prepare the paté the evening before if you like to serve it for lunch the next day, or prepare in the morning if you like to serve it for dinner later in the day

Ingredients:

For the Salmon Paté:

375 g / 13,23 oz           smoked salmon

4 ½  pieces                    leaf gelatin

80 g / 2,82 oz               shallots

1 tbsp                               butter

225 ml / 7,94 0z / 0,95 cups     supreme quality liquid veal stock

white pepper to taste

If you like, you may season the paté with any herbs suitable for fish, although this is not necessary

Usually you also won’t need any additional salt – salmon and veal stock add just enough saltiness to the terrine.

4 – 6                                   little goblets or small glasses

For the cream topping:

2 dl / about 7 oz or a bit less than 1 cup      sour cream (more subtle than crème fraîche)

2.5 dl / about 8,8 oz or about 1 cup              heavy cream / double cream (for making whipped cream)

Serve with:

Baguette, toast, crackers…

Preparation:

  • soak the gelatin in water
  • roughly cut the salmon into pieces (it will be puréed later)
  • peel the shallots and chop them very thinly
  • Heat the butter in a pan and lightly sweat the shallot cubes until they begin to get transparent (but do not brown)
  • Add half of the veal stock, bring to a medium boil, then boil the liquid down to 1/3 of its original quantity
  • Pour this liquid into a mixing bowl, add the salmon pieces, set aside. Keep the used pan
  • Divide the remaining veal stock in half
  • Pour one of these halves into the pan
  • Pour the other half over the salmon-shallot-stock mix
  • Purée the salmon with the shallots and the stock. You aim for a nice purée with tiny pieces of salmon for looks and taste (see photo above)
  • Meanwhile, remove gelatin from water and squeeze well to get rid of remaining water. Put the gelatin into the pan with the veal stock and gently heat (do not boil) just until gelatin has dissolved.
  • Let this cool until tepid but before gelatin starts to set
  • Add dissolved gelatin-stock mix to the salmon, mix well but gently
  • Divide into 4 – 6 six glasses
  • Let the Paté set (for times, see above)

To serve:

  • About 30 minutes before serving take the Salmon Paté out of the fridge, this will intensify its flavour
  • Whip the cream but stop before it gets all set, it should still be a tad runny, but not too much
  • Add the sour cream to the whipped cream, mix with a spoon
  • Top salmon pate with cream
  • Serve with slices of toasted baguette, crackers, toast triangles or salad

Bon appétit et un bonjour de Paris!

La Mer à Paris – Paris Plages at the Bassin de la Villette

13 Aug


I am njoying a warm evening in Switzerland before returning to Paris tomorrow.

One of the highlights that I am looking forward to is visiting Paris Plages again; two beaches right in the city of Paris.

Held from July 20 to August 19, 2012, and already in its 11th year, Paris Plages is well-known and loved by many. I recommend to skip the Pont Neuf Plage though and head right to Paris Plage at La Villette Bassin.

This is by far the more charming Plage, it is less crowded, has a more relaxed feel to it and an especially large area dedicated to children’s entertainment. Still it is spacious enough for adults sans children to enjoy calm and relaxing beach-time without too much of a hullabaloo.

It is the perfect gathering place for people of all ages for trying out new activities, for socializing, eating, drinking and simply for having fun.

Villette Plage for grown-ups

Restaurants, shuttle boats, ballroom dance classes (mostly attended by the not-so-young- anymore-but-young-at-hearts) where people of every age stop by, admiring the, mostly, graceful dancers. Just look at people’s faces in the picture below; if you want to see happy and loved-up couples, you will find them there.

There will also be a performance of Molière’s “Le malade imaginaire” on water on  August 15 – 17. For the more nautically-inclined there is the Nautical Centre at the Quai de la Loire where you can also book boat rides, there are pedal boats (big favourite for many, me included), typical French Petanque games, table football – and to start your day in a serene mood, you may attend one of the Tai-chi classes held every morning from 10 am to 12 pm (also at Paris Plage Pont Neuf).

I’ve taken the “aerial view” picture from atop the canal’s highest bridge, from which you have a great view over the whole Plage.

Villette Plage for children

Slides, Zip Wires, beach games, water zorbs, a pirate ship, science workshops in collaboration with la Cité de la Science, a mini-golf course and more.

Find detailed information about both Paris Plages here (in English and French) and details about the canal and the different events around it here (in French only).

Wishing you a great Summer holiday in Paris!

My Grandmother’s Paris

30 Jul

Every day we are surrounded by people. The good. The bad. The somewhat neutral.

And then there are the ones who stand out. They have that special something, a je ne sais quoi. A warm smile maybe, that twinkle in their eyes, radiating pure happiness, their heart so tender and loving that every minute you spend in their company you can’t help but feel honoured and blissful.

They can be your best friend, your spouse, a neighbour, former kindergarten teacher, sister, mom, fiancé… and if you know someone like that you are very lucky.

My grandmother Teresina was one of those people. She had felt at home in Paris, where, for many years, she had been living with her family. Her passion for life and her unbridled energy, as well as her love for the city of fashion and gourmet adventures has always inspired me greatly and has been one of the reasons why I have grown so fond of Paris.

During a stay with relatives in Switzerland she had met my grandfather and had, at first sight, fallen in love with him and been living in Switzerland ever since.

About ten years ago my grandmother has taken me to Paris, to show me the city where she had spent so many years. We spent the days discovering landmarks and churches (she loved Sacré Cœur and Notre Dame), sipping lemonade and coffee in restaurants and cafés, savouring her beloved “Moules et Frites” (mussels and French fries, actually a bit more Belgian than French, but delicious of course) and crêpes and we athletically climbed the Arc de Triomphe. Having been afraid of height all of her life, she had never been at the top of the Arch, but together, we made it there, even overcoming the obstacle of the elevator being out of service. But she, then already going on 80, ventured out, took on the countless stairs, and in the end there we were, standing at the top of the famous monument, both beaming, falling in love with the view and the city allover again.

This is one of my favourite memories of her. During the last years her health detoriated and she couldn’t go on holidays anymore. So I made it my mission to take photographs of the places she loved in Paris and it has always been a great joy for us to look at them together. She had also been very happy when in one of the photos she had asked me to take, she discovered that her childhood home, a house near Place d’Italie, was still there, beautifully renovated, but otherwise unchanged.

Now she has passed away which left me very sad and heartbroken. But her legacy are all the beautiful memories of the moments together. Grandmothers often earn a special place in our hearts and I couldn’t have wished for a better gran than the one she has been to me.

I am glad that I am back writing again. Teresina had been interested in so many things and loved MyFrenchRobotMixeur, which, due to her inspiration and the sharing of her thoughts and family recipes, is also very much her blog.

So I will continue to share with you her recipes, warmth and spirit, while also sharing my own recipes, Paris experience, places with a view, cosy little shops and cafés, and more, so your trip to Paris will be as wonderful and memorable to you as the time with my grandmother has been to me.

If you are interested in knowing more about her, you can find a picture and one of her favourite sweet delicacies, as well as a handwritten recipe of hers in one of my earlier blog posts here and you will meet her again in upcoming posts.

Degas, Ballet and a Trip to Paris

19 Nov

Little street in the Marais

In honor of famous French impressionist painter Degas, grand master in depicting human motion, the Royal Academy of Arts in London is presenting ‘Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement’. The exhibition will be open until December 11, 2011.

Santa Baby, we’ve been awful good girls, but we probably don’t need you this year: There are two competitions with fantastic prizes, related to the exhibition.

The Royal academy has teamed up with UK-based company French Sole. The company’s founder and designer Jane Winkworth has created a unique collection of ballet flats based on Degas’s color palette and works, especially his ‘Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” sculpture. Cute detail: The Little Dancer is also featured on the shoe’s mirrored silver sole. Love them? Enter the Royal Academy’s competition.

Reading a blog about the City of Love and Fashion is fun, but visiting is even better. TimeOut London celebrates the Degas exhibition with another exciting competition. Unfortunately this second competition is open to UK-residents only. So if you’re from the UK you may become the lucky winner of a weekend trip for two to Paris. The package includes flights and two nights at four star hotel The Regina opposite the Louvre and the Jardins des Tuileries, plus two-day Museum Passes.

Soon you may be enjoying Paris in winter or getting admiring glances at your beautiful jewel encrusted new shoes. Good luck!

Eiffel Tower Cookie Cutter

18 Nov

Eiffel Cutter

Today my Eiffel Tower cookie cutter has arrived. No, it’s not a Parisian one, it’s from US-company Ann Clark (they ship worldwide).

Ah, the joys of thinking about all the cookies I will make with it.

Arizona– or Florida-shaped cookies anyone? Glazed penguin cookies for a baby shower in winter? Shaken not stirred Martini cookies for a bachelorette party?

Not only do you find just about every shape you could ever imagine cookie cutter wise, the site also offers just as many recipes, so you can put your newly-bought cutters to good use straightaway.

Cookies are great the whole year round, but ’tis the Season to bake even a bit more right now, don’t you think?

Turinois – My Grandmother’s Family Recipe

11 Nov

Turinois vichy

Turinois – French Sweet Chestnut Truffle Cake

Whether you are the proud owner of a high-end kitchen that would even make Martha Stewart dream or whether you have a mini-kitchenette without an oven, this dessert is for you.

Over the years my grandmother Teresina has built a huge recipe collection and she’s happy to share some of her favorite ones with you. The first recipe even is an heirloom one, she got it from one of her best friends, it’s for “Turinois”, a French chocolate and sweet chestnut cake reminiscent of a large truffle.

Turinois coupole

Teresina was born in Rome, Italy, and together with her parents and siblings, spent many years in Paris, due to her father’s job which required frequent travelling.

Teresina

Next month she’ll turn 90 and she’s still very interested in cooking and crafts.

In the picture below you see the original recipe she wrote down many, many years ago. She uses sweet chestnuts which she prepares and cooks all by herself. I used frozen chestnuts, which work very well, I’ve adapted my version of the recipe accordingly and translated it into English for you.

Turinois

RECIPE:

Turinois – French Sweet Chestnut Truffle Cake

Serves: 4-6

Important: Needs time to set, if possible prepare 1 day in advance

Measures indicated in g/grams, if needed, convert the metric measures into your desired measures here. If you want to keep it simple just use sugar, butter and chocolate in a 1:4 ratio to the chestnuts.

400 g – 450 g frozen sweet chestnuts

100 g icing sugar / powdered sugar

100 g non-salted butter

100 g milk chocolate (I used about 80 grams  milk chocolate and 20 grams dark chocolate)

A pinch of vanilla (I used some seeds of a fresh vanilla bean/pod)

Preparation

  • Put the chestnuts in a pan, cover with water and cook until they are very soft
  • in the meantime, take the butter out of the fridge, cut into little cubes and put these into a bowl
  • grate the chocolate with a coarse grater, add to the butter
  • add the sugar
  • add the vanilla
  •  vigorously blend the butter cubes, chocolate, sugar and vanilla with a fork, really work the butter into the other ingredients  (if we did that twice daily we’d have perfectly toned arms forever…)
  •  When the chestnuts are cooked through, drain them thoroughly and immediately purée them (use the famous robot mixeur if you like/a cutter/blender, or if you don’t have one, mash the chestnuts with a fork, but really well).
  •  Add the still warm/hot (but not steaming) chestnut purée to the bowl and mix everything together with a fork. The chocolate, butter and sugar should melt and form a homogeneous, creamy purée.
  •  Pour the not too hot purée into a cake tin lined with wrapping film, into a silicone mould, or into little pâtisserie mini-cake forms like I did and leave until the Turinois is cool enough to put in the fridge. The Turinois needs time to set and become firm, leave in the fridge at least overnight.

 Tip:

If you use 400g chestnuts, the Turinois will become firmer and easy to cut/slice, with 450 it’s delicious as well, just a bit softer, you could probably even put it in a  piping bag and give your cupcakes a Turinois-frosting with it (the cupcakes would have to be put in the fridge afterwards and served soon).