The world did’t end yesterday and I made it home!

Here’s a little homage to the unfortunate middle child, Queens. Not as forgotten, unfamiliar or unaccessible as The Bronx and Staten Island, but often eclipsed by Brooklyn and Manhattan.

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“I don’t do Queens,” a Manhattanite told me the other day.

Remember old New York, where immigrants strived, cultures collided, grit outshined glamour and ethnic restaurants were filled with ethnic crowds, not Instagramming foodies? Before Manhattan commerce was diluted with H&M and Starbucks, and Brooklyn became half hipster playground, half suburb substitute? That city lives on in Queens, where the forces of gentrification have barely nipped at the edges of the city’s most expansive borough, home to 2.2 million people, from (it seems) 2.2 million backgrounds.

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If it were to secede from New York City would become the fourth most-populous city in America and almost certainly its most diverse.

 

Quotations from 2 New York Times articles on Queens.

Read here: 

http://travel.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/travel/36-hours-in-queens-ny.html

http://frugaltraveler.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/36-hours-in-queens-enough-frugal-options-for-a-week/ 

 

French Winter Dishes

Last month, when the temperature in Paris began its descent below 50 degrees, I saw the first appearance of “fondu” for dinner. Since then, I’ve had it just once more as, according to my host mother, one should really only eat this dish once a month lest your arteries clog and you can’t fit into your Moncler winter coat.

Raclette is a traditional Swiss/French regional dish, and also the name of the cheese that can be used. Legend has it that it’s high-caloric value would keep you warm, which is necessary in the French Alps from where this dish originated. In other words, from a nutritional perspective, if you don’t live in the mountains you really have no business eating this. But from a culinary and hedonistic point of view, why the heck not. 

The dish I had started with with Mont d’Or (advertised as “the authentic cheese of the mountain”) that comes wrapped in a “belt of bark” and will go into the oven to be melted. The melted cheese will be spooned over a sliced open baked potato, accompanied by some charcuterie (sliced meat) and maybe some small pickles on the side.

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http://www.thailandtatler.com/wine-and-raclette-at-amari-atrium/

 

If it sounds familiar that’s because it bears close ressemblance to its unrefined American cousin the bacon and cheese potato chez Wendy’s. Of course, every ingredient that composes the traditional Raclette is superior in quality than those found at in a fast food joint, but that still didn’t stop me from thinking I had definitely eaten this “dish” a few times before, despite a different presentation (a steaming potato cradled in a styrofoam and plastic container, inside a brown paper bag and handed to me from a drive-thru window.)

I was also a bit surprised to hear that a dish I had been eager to eat and as well as recreate, boeuf bourguignon, did not live up to my expectations. Maybe if I tried it in a top notch restaurant or cooked it following Julia Child’s recipe down to every last detail, including boiling bacon, I would find that I actually love it. I had no idea until recently that this dish was made with “noix [de joue] de boeuf” (as in the cheek of the cow). After my initially incredulousness, I didn’t even mind that the meat came from such an unlikely source. My problem was that this cut of beef closely resembles a slice of marble cake in which the meat and fat alternate to create a maze, making it difficult to cut, consume and enjoy.

I also had a fig and foie gras macaron yesterday from Pierre Herme. It’s only out for the holiday season, and not a complete waste of money if you want to try a unique combination flavors.

 

xx

S.

I’ll be Home for Christmas

I have been thinking about different European cities I could visit ever since I found out that I would be in Paris to study for the year. I did minimal research, but I managed to decide I would like to visit London, Berlin, Venice or Rome, Prague if I got the chance and maybe travel to Nice for a weekend. Basically everyone I spoke to who has been to Europe says traveling is a must and that there’s no better time to do than in my twenties while I’m living in Europe anyway.

Sometime in October I began looking up the cost of tickets and hotels for a multi-European city tour for December’s holiday vacation. After adding up all the costs, I figured just staying in one city for the entire break wouldn’t be a bad idea and would actually maybe give me the exact time I needed to get to know the city well.. As it would have turned out, I would have spent  Christmas alone in Berlin, which at first didn’t bother me as i thought of how I could make myself my own little Christmas dinner and walk around the city at night. But then I began to really think about it and the idea became depressing. Suddenly, returning to NYC to spend my vacation with my family looked incredibly appealing.

After deciding it was not only the most feasible option but one that I was happy with, I booked my ticket home. The following week everyone in our program was discussing their holiday travel plans and I couldn’t help but feel ashamed that I was now one of those girls who returned to the U.S. for holiday and wasn’t going to take advantage of the fact that she was in close proximity to Italy, Belgium, Spain and Germany. I also felt that my early and unexpected return to NYC would cheapen all of my goodbyes with my family and friends. I imagined them rolling their eyes at the news and thinking I only deserved a goodbye half as heartfelt in August, if only they had known I was coming home a mere 4 months later.

Then I reminded myself of all the things I get to do while in the U.S., with my family. I know that I haven’t spent Christmas in any other city but New York (so I’m not only biased as a New Yorker but ignorant), but for me there is no better place to spend Christmas.

I heard of how beautiful Berlin, Vienna and Prague can be during this time of the year, especially with their Christmas markets, so I understand their appeal and why they are considered the best cities where one can pass the holidays. But my ideal Christmas isn’t spent exhausted from traveling or alone in a foreign city, no matter how charming or how much more it can enrich my experience abroad.

I will eventually do some more traveling while I’m in Europe, but for now I am full of anticipation to visit Alice’s Teacup with a friend for tea and scones, go to Wild Ginger in Brooklyn for some vegan food, to bake certain cookies and cakes that call for American ingredients, or just walk from Madison Avenue to Bryant Park, passing the display at Bloomingdales, Saks, the tree at Rockefeller Center and carrying my ice skates to spend hours at Citi Pond. 

I also can’t wait to go home so I can pack up and bring to Paris my UGGs; a pair of boots I never thought I would need or feel comfortable enough to wear in Paris. On the contrary, it seems like not only are they quite popular here but they’re necessary even indoors where, even with 4 pairs of socks on, my feet are constantly gelé. 

Par Gourmandise!

Today for lunch I ventured up to Montmartre to try something new. I paced back and forth in front of the display of sandwiches and pastries for ten minutes before choosing.

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No, that’s not a burnt bun but a Squid ink bun with smoked salmon and ham. You can find this and other buns & baguettes composed of unique ingredients chez Gontran Cherrier.

The verdict: Tasty and unique, although nothing outrageous. But for 5,95€ I expected it to be more filling than it was.

After lunch I went over to Tuileries to wait in line for a table at La Maison Angelina for a cup chocolat chaud à l’ancienne.

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The verdict: The hot chocolate was definitely chocolatey and good quality, but I personally found it so sweet and rich, rendering it undrinkable. I might not even mind drinking a thimble of the mixture if just for the experience of it all I wasn’t paying 7,50€ (the smaller of the two carafes serves one person or 2 cups of the hot chocolate). It was a special experience to be invited in to this restaurant, with it’s early 20th century styled decor and glowing holiday lights. However, if I ever manage to crave hot chocolate before May, I’ll be heading over to my “regular spot” on Rue de l’Ecole Medecine for a small cup of bitter hot chocolat.

My One-Hundredth Day In Paris

Tonight marks my 100th day (or 2,400th hour) in Paris. I feel obligated to consider how I have changed and how my view of Paris has changed since those first few weeks of settling in, adjusting to host-family life, growing familiar with the metro  and exploring the different arrondissements to create my personalized, mental map of the city.

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The “Amelie” cafe (Photo taken by staceylaparisienne)

Before coming to Paris I had studied hard to come up with a list of restaurants, cafes and patisseries that fell into some blogger’s “Best Of Paris” list. My notebook with bonnes adresses continues to expand and diversify, so while i know that I will never make it to every single one of these places, I think I have put quite a dent in the list. Pursuing this list has led me to eat some of the best croissants, authentic Indian food, buttery escargot, falafel, sandwiches, hot chocolate, macarons, and crepes that Paris has to offer.

Sometimes I worry that I’m not spontaneous enough but I would rather plan every single one of my meals than settle on just any restaurant and waste 9 euros on an over-salted, badly spiced dish (more than once.) And, personally, renouncing my pescetarianism for Paris turned out to be a good thing (although the night I broke my meat-free diet was a complete accident.) I might have eaten some dishes that aren’t my favorite (lamb or veal for example) but I am also able to fully participate in the experience of French cuisine. And sometimes by trying something new I found some things that I really enjoy (like ham in crepes or in a sanwich.)

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Photo taken by staceylaparisienne

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Chicken curry and kimchi. Looks scary but it was tasty (Photo taken by staceylaparisienne)

Enough about food..

I also got back into dancing ballet again. Sometime in October I was beginning to go stir crazy. Everyday was a new adventure to do whatever I wanted, but eventually all that free time started to take a toll and I began to feel guilty and lazy for not using up every second of my free time to do something meaningful or educational. (Classes just don’t seem to take up as much time as they normally have back in the U.S.) I needed some real responsibilities or something to focus on. And although ballet isn’t exactly a responsibility or a selfless activity, it’s something that I do once or twice a week that I enjoy, can help me make friends and takes up enough time during a day that I then feel like I have deadlines to finish my school work.

My language skills have definitely improved. I still wouldn’t call myself fluent but I am now confident enough to carry on a conversation in French and understand nearly everything that a French speaker says to me. I’ve gotten to the point where I can isolate the one word I don’t know in a spoken phrase and then ask the speaker for a clarification. And while I’m sure it will take years (or maybe just the end of this school year) to reach a level of pronunciation that is nearly perfect, I now know what I need to work on exactly and how I can go about fixing my “trouble areas”. I’ve also learned a lot of interesting tips about pronouncing vowels and consonants in the French language. (Example: French and English d’s and t’s are different. In English we hold the tip of the tongue to the roof of our mouths, while in French the tongue needs to be positioned at the back of one’s front teeth). I also arrived at the point where my spoken French is good enough that I can focus on picking up new vocabulary words.

xx

S.

London vs Paris

Last week I left Paris and spent the last hours of Thanksgiving and the rest of the weekend in London. With only 4 days in the city and a budget to follow, I don’t think I covered nearly as much as the city as I would have wished. Nevertheless,  I still think I got to see enough of the city to be able to have a distinct impression of it and to make a comparison between Paris and London (and New York City).

London is much larger than Paris but without an underground/tube system to match, which consequently makes it much more difficult to get around. In Paris it’s so easy to walk around aimlessly; within 5 minutes you can find yourself in a new neighborhood where there is something “worthy” to see, whether it’s a view of the river, a monument, a museum, a pictoresque street, or a window full of delicious-looking pastries. Walking around in London is daunting because you never know when the next time you will come across a tube stop; in Paris, I can never get loss because either I can walk 5 minutes in any direction and find a neighborhood I’m more familiar with or I can easily find a metro to bring me back to an arrondissement I know.

Another downside to London is how expensive it is. I was warned about this but thought I wouldn’t be affected as someone who wasn’t renting a hotel room, expecting fine dining or make any large purchases. But unfortunately I must agree.

Because you need to take the tube to get from one place to the next, especially since I was staying in a neighborhood far from the center, I had to pay 2#s each ride ( thats $3.20 whereas a subway ride in NYC cost $2.25 and you get free transfers from train to bus in NYC). There was also the fact that the conversion rate was working against me in both dollars and euros. Additionally, there were little hints that made London seem much more “money hungry” than Paris: you had to pay to get a map of the museum or to store your umbrella in a locker, which a sign deemed “mandatory” to do.

Despite all of that, I feel like I much prefer the city of London to Paris. Paris is definitely more student friendly and tourist friendly; if your looking to spend less than a week in a city and you want to see a lot and do a lot I would suggest Paris due to how convienient getting around is. But London.. there’s just something about London that I adore. I think it’s because London satisfied a lot of the things I was hoping to see and feel in Paris.

To me, Paris is a city of extremes. You either have tiny, cobbled streets that, while charming, are impossible to enjoy walking down because you have to be constantly on your guard not to walk into people or walk into dog crap. Alternatively, Paris has her famous grands boulevards that are lively and noisy but somehow offer me none of the energy that I get from walking down a crowded street in NYC, like 5th avenue during December. London however had small, quiet, walkable streets where one could find a cute, pink cupcake spot by chance, or a cluster of designer boutiques on a street that reminded me a lot of Madison Avenue. In London I felt like there was enough space to retreat from the masses of people while in Paris it’s difficult to find sidewalks that aren’t crowded with people during the daytime.

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I have mainly been exploring Paris by mouth. That is to say, most of my days are planned according to where I will have lunch. Everyday I try to pick a new place (but I’m not always successful. I’ve learned that, in Paris, you always need a backup plan because shops here tend to have “fermetures exceptionelles” (unexpected closure) or I just don’t like the menu or can’t find the place). Point being that food has been an integral part of my Paris-experience and that would have been the case in London had I had taken the chance to research and plan everything out. Instead, my friends and I just ate at places we happened and agreed upon, so I wound up eating at places that might not have been on any “Best of” lists but that I really enjoyed. The food I ate at pubs were mediocre (I opted for “traditional” pub food and ate a chicken pie and another time some fish and chips) but I loved the experience of coming in from the rainy cold and sitting in a Christmas-decorated pub that was full of people. Speaking of Christmas decorations, while both cities are decorated in lights,  Paris usually decorates according to a “winter” theme with lights of white and blue (probably due to France’s position as being laique) while you’re more likely to see images of Santa, Christmas trees and lights of red and green in London.)

Maybe it was due to being comfortable in speaking the language and hearing exactly what was happening around me, but people in London seemed much more willing to strike up conversations with strangers, whether with me or with other people. Whether we were on on the eurostar, on the tube, in a pub or on the street, someone would inevitably make a comment or strike up a conversation with me or one of my friends. But then again, maybe this perception has nothing to do with how friendly people are in on city compared to the other but my experience as a native English speaker. In Paris, I have had brief encounters that dispel any desire to buy into the stereotype that French people are rude: from a stranger who took 20 minutes to help my friend find her lost earring on the sidewalk (with no success), to being saved by strangers who “swiped” me into the metro after a malfunction with my PasseNavigo. But this is different from the sort of  sociability I noticed in London.

IMG_1589(A cafe in London near King’s Cross)

I definitely want to visit London again sometime soon so that I can explore more of the city and eat at restaurants and cafes that made it onto some blogger’s best of list. As for being in Paris, I definitely returned with a renewed sense of tourism- I want to use my last 20 days in Paris (before I leave for Christmas break and return in January) to explore parts of the city I’ve never been to and eat in new restaurants. I also have a new appreciation for my PasseNavigo which, after paying the reduced for-students price, gives me unlimited access to Paris so that I don’t have to think twice about taking a train to and from a cafe to buy a croissant that cost half the price of a one way tube ride in London.