Saturday, January 31, 2009

Je suis arrivée

Wow, I made it. I am here in Paris. Living in Paris. Although this trip has been a long time coming, and with each step checked off the to do list I inched closer and closer to it becoming a reality, it still feels a bit surreal to finally be here. Walking around the city, I have just started to explore the areas near me, and I can't wait to get to know Paris better. Paris is like that really fantastic person you meet, and you know you'll be good friends with evetually, but you are a little intimidated at first since she's so cool, awesome and unique, independent and full of life.

My first few days were spent wandering the Left Bank, Rive Gauche, between where I live near the Eiffel Tower, the St Germain area and near La Sorbonne. I have tried to blend in with the locals, forgetting to take my camera out so I can share what I am seeing with everyone at home. I do have to say that the Eiffel Tower still takes my breath away, and I hope I can still say that after living here for 6 months. I will see it often as it is near my place and I plan on running in the Parc du Champ de Mars, where the Eiffel Tower is located, as often as possible. I am excited and a bit relieved to find other runners here. When I lived in Germany, I would go running although the locals looked at me as if I were running around naked. "Why is she running? No one is chasing her..." The park is actually somewhat full of runners on the weekend, even with this 'cold' weather. (this is the point I might officially be a San Franciscan - here in Paris it's just over freezing, but still quite cold for me!!)

With all of this running, I am going to have to do some serious eating to make up for the calories burned. Good thing there is no shortage of food, good food at that, near me. One of the most striking things here, is how many boulangeries, patisseries, boucheries, fromageries, marchés are on every block and corner. There is even a store devoted to frozen food, quite a novel idea!! I have a complete weakness for bread, leave me on a desert island with a baguette and some nicely salted butter, and you won't hear a complaint from me, but my one sweet indulgence is the parisian macaron. Two light almond meringue cookies, that crackle when bitten into, providing a slight chewy resistance then melting into the buttercream or ganache filling and transporting you to another place, just for a moment. J'adore les macarons. My first here in Paris was from the famed Lenôtre, with one location maybe a bit too close to my house. Macarons are everywhere, even the grocery stores have them in their bakery. This could be bad, but it won't. It'll be good, very good.

Monday, January 19, 2009

It's hard to find good lard these days!

When I say my grandmother had been cooking and baking forever, that is no exageration. She kept her 9 children and their children, and their children fed, nurished and loved for as long as she was in the kitchen. She retired from Thanksgiving duty, at this point a 30+ person affair, three years ago with a huge dinner. We pushed several tables together and somehow managed to gather all of us at one long table that stretched from the dining room into the living room. We had the works; turkey, ham, sausage with sauerkraut, potatoes, beans, cranberry sauce, rolls, stuffing (althouh in my grandma's version there is more meat than bread..) and countless other dishes. The plates were pilled high from the buffet service off the 12 seater breakfast table converted to serve all the food, and off to the living room we marched. We were several beers in and with this loud family it is no small miracle that my grandma can quiet us all for the blessing;

In the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
Bless us, O Lord! and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive
from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord.

Then, we dug in. The volume was turned back up to max, and we ate and laughed, and told stories. Smaller groups broke off as the night the kitchen table, Grandma was kicking the boys' butts in pinochle; a few of us played Life on the Farm ( a boardgame invented by a neighbor; it's like monopoly but instead of property, you deal in cows...yes, cows)
At this point, I think we might have encouraged Eric (the youngest cousin, although certainly an adult now too) to fetch us some molasses cookies from the deep freeze in the basement. Good ol' G-Ma, as we affectionately called her, always had a stash of ready to eat cookies in the freezer. A plateful was brought up, and we greedily ate one while it was still frozen, and then we waited for the others to thaw.

There are few things that hit the spot as well as one of grandma's molasses cookies. Although we would help whip up a batch now and then, these were treats that we induldged in at the farm. When I was presented with the opportunity to bring in recipes of my own at work, back when I was an assistant pastry chef, I immediately thought to share "Grandma's Molasses Cookies". When Grandma was going over the recipe with me, she bemoaned "it's hard to find good lard these days!" My grandma is a fan of lard and not the type you buy in the supermarket, rather the lard freshly rendered by a neighbor down the street. Unfortunately, I don't have access to good lard, so I use butter.

The recipe is simple and perfect, easy enough to knock out a double batch by hand. Last week, I made a batch, showing a few cousins, including a eager two-year old how to whip them up. This time, they'll have to do because my grandma won't be making anymore. After an amazing 94 years, her time came quickly at the end, still cracking jokes in her final days. Our grandma, Isabelle, loved and fed so many and will continue to do so from heaven as her recipes and spirit are passed on to all of us.

Grandma Isabelle's Molasses Cookies

1 cup Butter, unsalted aka 'sweet', room temperature
1 1/2 cups Sugar
1 cup Molasses
1 cup Half and Half (literally half whole milk and half heavy cream if you have to make it)
*soured with 2 Tbsps white vinegar

1 Egg
2 tsps Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Cloves
1 tsp Ginger
4 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour

In a large mixing bowl by hand, or using a stand mixer, beat toegether the softened butter and sugar. Mixture should be comibined well, does not need to be light and fluffy, we're not making a cake!

In a separate medium bowl, blend together the flour, baking soda, salt and all the spices until everything is well distributed.

Add the egg to the butter sugar mixture and beat until combined. Add in Molasses and soured Half and Half. Mixture will look curdled, don't panic. Just mix as well as you can and then add the flour. Now, once the flour is added, don't over mix, just until it is all distributed nicely. Dough will be very soft and sticky.

Chill the dough so it is easier to work with. You can then either roll it out and cut rounds, 2", or just scoop the dough, ping pong ball size, with a scoop or spoons. Leave cookies a few inches to spread, and bake approximately 12 min at 325° Test the first batch by taking one off the tray after it has come out of the oven, letting it cool on the counter, then see how soft or crunchy it is.

Depending on your level of sweet tooth (and how sweet your molasses is), you can ice these cookies once cooled. Mix together a few Tbsps of Cream with a few cups of Powedered Sugar (Confectioners Sugar), a splash of Vanilla Extract and a pinch of Salt. Adjust consistancy by adding more cream.

The cookies freeze beautifully, that is if you have any left.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Year's Resolution...

Well, it's been a while since I've posted anything! 2008 just flew by with many great moments and memories, but I am certain 2009 can top it. I'll be moving to Paris in a few weeks for six months to study French, convince bakeries to let me work with them, and explore the food and a new city. In order to keep in touch (and make everyone jealous), I'll be doing a much better job posting to my blog. You'll find new recipes I try out at home or at work, favorite boulangeries, where the best macaron is, markets, and everything in between. Please keep in touch, and I'll take any requests for blog entries. Bonne Année!!