Tag Archives: Paris

A homey kind of beauty

24 Mar

Houses

I recently returned to adult life, moving to an apartment in the historic Bloomfield neighborhood last December after occupying my parents’ third floor for a good year and a half. I miss the pup, and talking to my mom everyday, and pestering my dad about the giraffe-sized stack of books he’s reading. But I’m only a 10 minute drive away, and I like having my own space.

I’ve never considered myself gifted, or even interested, in decorating. My mother passed this gene exclusively to my sister, while she exclusively passed on the cleaning and organizing genes to me. Yet I find myself enjoying the gradual furnishing and adorning a new place requires. I like performing small upgrades, including a new silverware set and feather-stuffed sofa pillows. I like hanging up artwork from Ireland and New Orleans, and finding nooks and crannies for all the animal ornaments I’ve acquired. I like how much I can’t wait to go home at the end of the day. I like the flood of relief experienced as I turn the key to push my door open into an escape of comfort and calm.

I worry decorating is just a self-indulgent practice, an aesthetically pleasing weekend hobby that only I benefit from. On the other, more sweeping hand, I muse there are internal and external ways in which a well-kept home is a noble aspiration. When we are happy at home, we are more likely to be happy elsewhere. We are also more likely to welcome others into our homes, and to share with them what we find beautiful. The goal is never to impress visitors, but to make them feel comfortable. There is a sterile beauty, too perfect to radiate warmth, and there is a cheerful beauty that draws you in with its self-forgetting contentedness.

My bedroom windows came with flower boxes. I can’t tell what blossomed last summer, now that the contents are frozen over and flattened by winter winds. I’m waiting, seemingly indefinitely, for the arrival of Pittsburgh’s fleeting spring to uproot and replant. At first I wasn’t considering this option. I thought it would be only for me, growing up pretty new shoots, and I already had enough cozy to keep me happy. But then I remembered what I loved most about Paris: everywhere you looked the windows displayed tidily kept flower boxes. It’s not the Eiffel tower or the Louvre or even the Seine River that hold the city together. The flowers are the glue. I’m thinking snap dragons, or zinnias, or perhaps primroses. Whatever I choose, I’m looking forward to catching a glimpse of colorful petals moving in the breeze as I walk up to the main entrance. Maybe someone else will catch a glimpse, too.

I’m trying to mix up my work snacks routine. After a very traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal, I’m hooked on cabbage soup. I can’t say it’s beautiful (judge for yourself), but it’s comforting in a way that makes it feel like I transported a slice of home in my lunch box.

CABBAGE SOUP

INGREDIENTS:

1 head cabbage, sliced thinly

1 onion, sliced thinly

10 cups water

10 bouillon cubes (chicken or beef; I opted for beef)

3 cloves garlic

1/4 tsp. salt

Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Place all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on high for four hours.

CALORIES (per cup): 30

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Paris for Non-lovers

17 Jun

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Believe it or not, Paris is worth visiting when you’re not romantically involved. You just have to tell the vendor persistently marketing the raspberry red, heart shaped lock that you and your travel buddy are in a ‘no love’ type relationship prior to ascending onto a platonic Seine River boat cruise. It’s effective, eventually.  Kidding aside, a recent four-day stint to the city of lights with my dear friend Kaitlyn was chock full of stunning sights and scrumptious food. Since I don’t have a funny story to rival last summer’s blonde and helpless episode in Dublin, I’d like to instead describe how we successfully navigated the lush Parisian landscape without a single heart flutter:

Day 1: Montmartre – Moulin Rouge =  Friend Zone

After alighting from Icelandair F1540 at 6:20 am with at best four hours of sleep and grumbling stomachs due to the lack of flight service, we somehow managed to first bump into old friends while shuttling to the train station. Well, friends in the sense that your big sister’s co-worker’s brother is your friend. Peter, who I recognized as the brother of a kid I played violin with at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss., and his wife, Anne, were visiting Paris for a wedding. And yes, they had done the Icelandair #Stopover, which is apparently a-mah-zing.

IMG_2227Map in hand, Kaitlyn shrewdly steered us to our lodgings in Oberkamp for luggage drop-off, and subsequently towards the Montmartre area, wherein towards the beginning of the 20th century Picasso and other greats made art history while surviving at the Bateau-Lavoir. Is the juxtaposition of eating crêpes nearby a whimsical carousel after the stunning view atop Sacré-Cœur even remotely likely to speed one’s heart palpitations? Psssh, only if you’re a sucker.

Day 2: The Palais Garnier for free is more sleazy than steamy

The morning was marked with accidental failures, specifically redefining its hours IMG_2281by waking up at 12:40 pm and unwittingly not paying the Palais Garnier 10 euro (I think? At least?) access fee by entering via the gift shop. Our honest mistake was admittedly enjoyable; the opera house is real fancy! Next, a stroll through Tuileries Garden transitioned to a spontaneous walk through the Rodin, due to persistent rain. I wasn’t aware appreciating the works of Michelangelo’s modern equivalent would be considered romantic, but according to Marie Claire it’s the 6th most so activity in Paris. The rain having subsided somewhat, we next traipsed along Champs-Élysées, managing to defy its high-end atmosphere by eating chocolate croissants at Brioche Dior. Curiosity did, however, lure us into the flagship Louis Vuitton store, which currently features a winking Mona Lisa and always serves bubbly to paying customers.

And now, I must break with my theme and admit whole-heartedly that the Eiffel Tower is definitely for lovers. You can’t reach the very tip-top without some transferrance of the dreamy backdrop to your state of mind. But it’s also an adventure, especially close to midnight on a chilly and blustery night when you’ve opted to climb the stairs to the first summit.

Day 3: The Louvre’s Nintendo audio tour just makes you feel like a third grader

We woke up at a more acceptable hour, 8 am, with the intention of beating the line IMG_2446to climb Notre Dame Towers. I sidetracked these efforts, by having us stop at Traiteur Saveurs de Pains Viennoiserie for espresso and pattiseries. I can’t say I will crave a second tarte fruit rouge, but the presentation was excellent. We did not beat the lines, arriving at 10 am and waiting a good hour to ascend the Notre Dame Tower’s 327 stairs. No big deal – I used that time to complete a crossword and secure additional hot beverages for myself and Kaitlyn.  The winding ascent is dizzying, yet worth the great view from the top. Of more interest to me concerning the Gothic cathedral is Victor Hugo’s role in preserving it. The Hunchback of Notre Dame,  published in 1831, arguably served as a plea to not demolish or repurpose the church, which was at the time in a sorry state of disrepair.  “Gothic art was then regarded as ugly and offensive,” state Nadeau and Barlow in The Story of French, “so Hugo’s choice of the location was deliberate: it linked the grotesque characters with the ugly art…which he, as a Romantic, found beautiful.”

Being good tourists, we wasted no time getting to the Louvre. As we learned from IMG_2454our tour guide on Day 1’s Seine river cruise, it would take three continuous and sleepless months to view every piece of art housed in the Louvre, given a three second viewing time. We targeted the Renaissance paintings section, using the Nintendo audio tour to learn about select works. The Louvre is noisy, thanks to its overcrowding of people and art. I imagine it’s better enjoyed by the locals in the dead of winter, when less tourists are around.

Day 4: Forget bringing sexy back; Latin Quarter food finds are worth the vacation pudge

Kaitlyn informed me pre-trip that “eating is her hobby.” We had been killing it on the food front days 1-3, but managed to take our gourmand quest to a higher level on IMG_2499day 4. It being Whit Monday, our planned destination, Palace of Versailles, was closed. Instead, we wandered the Latin Quarter and discovered an outdoor food mart, where we sampled macaroons and specialty wines, and a hotbed of fondue restaurants. One of them, Le Marathon, had a hot non-fondue deal, too: a three-course meal for only 10 euros! I enjoyed French onion soup, chicken and french fries, and opted for espresso in place of the third course. We really struck gold in the ladies room, wherein coupons for various attractions were being displayed next to the sink. (I should mention, too, that our waiter wooed Kaitlyn as she exited the restroom, giving her a kiss on the cheek and remarking on her beauty!) I grabbed a coupon for the Musée du Chocolat, and shortly after we found ourselves learning about chocolate’s origins as an unsweetened drink consumed by the ancient Aztecs and Mayans. Test tasting, a chocolate sculpture of the Eiffel Tower, and a chocolate-making demonstration were included in the museum as well.

Any attempts at imitating French cuisine will pale in comparison to the real deal. Instead, I recommend a simple yet delicious picnic menu, which we heartily enjoyed on our train from Paris to Barcelona:

PARISIAN PICNIC

INGREDIENTS:

– 1 loaf of French bread from any patisserie (it will cost you less than 1 euro)

– 1 wedge of Brie cheese

– Red globe grapes

– A bottle of Etxe Peio‘s wine (purchased from the aforementioned Latin Quarter food mart)

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare small cheese sandwich bites by folding Brie cheese into pieces of bread. Pair with grapes. Re-use espresso cup as wine cup.

CALORIES: who cares, you’re on vacation

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