I hope you have lovely Fridays. This morning I received a newsletter from a Rabbi I admire in New York. It contained the following article and I really wanted to share it with you because I think it is amazing and reminded me of the importance of casting judgements aside and being ready to find beauty in the mundane.
Hope you enjoy it,
'A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work. The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on. In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context? One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing.'
Friday, 30 January 2009
Thursday, 29 January 2009
This made me realise - not that I really needed reminding - that there are certain baking heights to which I can't aspire. These are no brownies or sponge cakes, these are cake-desserts with a myriad of layers, delicate steps and meticulous measurements and temperatures involved. I realised that there are cake heights I sadly won't ever reach, a certain flare that cannot be taught. All I can say is this: thank goodness the results can be bought!
PS: I looked into pastry courses at LeNôtre. A five day course costs 1,800 euros! 'Nuff said!
Tuesday, 27 January 2009
Over the weekend I was flicking through my Martha Stewart cookie book and something caught my eye: date triangles.
These evoked in me a certain Proustian sensation. Just as the taste of a Madeleine melting on his lips recalled Proust's childhood, so this image awoke in me the desire to 'taste' two of my favourite Jewish holidays: Purim and Passover.
These triangles are essentially identical to Hamentashen eaten on Purim, minus the traditional poppyseed filling. I'm sure Martha's filling is good, but I knew what I wanted: Passover Charoset/ Haroset / Harosset (I'm going to go with the latter) filling. A sweet, datey, fruity preserve that is rich, fragrant and delicious.
It wasn't rational, this desire. I came home with ten contracts to review. Yet when the tastes of one's childhood beckon, they are to be obeyed. And so these came to be.
I only followed Martha's pastry method (and even then, only vaguely as I am sadly neither in possession of measuring cups nor a mixer). I thought her pastry was very good indeed, but it yielded about a third fewer triangles than it was supposed to (18), so I made it again. And I made my own Harosset filling.
12 dates, pitted and chopped
1 1/2 cup grape juice
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 apple, thinly diced
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
4 tablespoons honey/maple syrup
2 tablespoons orange flower water (yes, two days in a row, but I'm in love)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1. Place dates in saucepan and pour in grape juice. Allow to simmer.
2. Add diced apple and stir until soft but still has form
3. Add cinnamon and nutmeg, stir in ground almonds and chopped walnuts. Add lemon juice, honey/syrup and orange flower water. If result too think, add grape juice/lemon juice to taste. If too fluid, simmer for longer.
4. This should take about 15-20 minutes to prepare and have a jam-like consistency (should not be runny).
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
half tablespoon of orange zest (I omitted this - too lazy!)
1/2 cup/ 1 stick butter
2 tablespoons orange flower water (not compulsory)
3 tablespoons ice water
1/2 teaspoon of whole milk
2 tablespoons honey
1. In food processor, combine flour, sugar, salt and half zest; pulse to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture is crumbly. Combine orange flower water (if using) and ice water; drizzle over mixture. Pulse until dough comes together. Chill, covered for 20 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 350F. Form dough into 1 1/2 inch diameter balls, flatten to 3 1/2 inch circles. Place 1 heaped teaspoon of filling on each. Fold sides towards centres, making triangles; press to flatten slightly. Place pastries 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
3. In a small bowl, whisk to combine milk and honey; brush on pastry. Arrange 3 sliced almonds on each pastry. Bake until golden, 30-40 minutes, rotating sheets half way through (I didn't - again, lazy). Transfer pastries to wire rack, brush with glaze again (I didn't, I didn't want the super glazed sticky look). Let stand 15 mins before serving.
I was really pleased with these: they are aromatic and rich, with a soft centre. Hope you enjoy them too!
PS: I ended up with extra Harosset: can't wait to have it on bread tomorrow for breakfast!
Monday, 26 January 2009
I have been craving a light aromatic biscuit, a particular biscuit that I ate last summer in Provence, where biscuits are made as I like them: not too sweet and delicately flavoursome. Sadly, I could not find the object of my lust so I decided to make it.
A wonderful ingredient to conjure up the fragrance of Provence or the desserts of Morocco is orange flower water. Have you come across it? I'd love to know. It comes in a bottle and can be added to a number of foods, but is most commonly found in desserts. I am crazy about it, and decided to use mine for biscuits to send to my Ima (and for me to munch on over the weekend).
I was really pleased with how these came out, so I wanted to share the recipe with you in the hopes that you might give this unusual and delicious aroma a try. I think these are perfect with some Earl Grey or real mint tea. They are crumbly rather than very hard, and their delicate flavour makes them utterly addictive.
2 small eggs
3 1/2 cups of flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
3/4 tsp baking powder
5 tablespoons of orange flower water (to taste)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1. Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
2. mix flour, almonds and baking soda
3. cream butter and sugar until fully mixed. add eggs and orange flour water.
4. mix dry and wet ingredients
5. line two baking sheets
6. roll the mixture out thinly and cut shapes
7. bake for about 10 minutes
makes about 40 biscuits
Saturday, 24 January 2009
This is the first weekend of me time that I've had so far this year and I gotta tell you: I love it. I really enjoy having guests, and normally I am totally a get up and go person, not a sleeper-in, but today I was able to just lounge around and sometimes that's what you need to do on the weekend... even if your six months in Paris are nearly up!
I've got a cold, so a perfect excuse to snuggle indoors for hours at a time drinking tea and indulging in what Carrie Bradshaw would call 'single girl behaviour'!
I had an afternoon nap - an all too rare indulgence - spoke to friends and family on the phone and prepared a care package for my Ima (mom). I miss her and should spoil her much more. I'm baking her biscuits and I bought her a shirt and a scarf... I really hope she likes it. I'll be sure to post pictures tomorrow. In the meantime, I thought I'd update with some photos of Sarah and David's visit two weekends ago... it was loads of fun and I wish so much that you could all taste at least a sip of Laduree's magnificent hot chocolate....
Tomorrow I'm going to take in an exhibition at the Jacquemart Andree museum - one of my favourite Parisian museums. It can be so fun doing things like that alone, and there is an incredible cafe, so I plan to bring a book and soak in the sumptuous beauty of it all. I can't wait, so please check back and I'll tell you all about it!
Hope you're all having fun weekends!
Marc and me on the Place des Vosges - one of my favourite places in Paris - and look at the snow!
Posted by Vanessa at 22:44
Thursday, 22 January 2009
When I last lived in Paris, I was on my junior year abroad. I worked as an English language teacher at a French school, did some work experience at the British Embassy and tried to decide what career path I would follow. I was single, but in love with someone who didn't love me back, I didn't have enough of a backbone, I had lots of time to go to galleries and walk around, I was 20-21. I didn't realise it then, but I was so young.
How can five years have passed since then? It mystifies and scares me in equal measure. I feel like the same person in some ways, but I know I am different, that I have grown up. I graduated, studied law, have worked for nearly two years and will soon become a solicitor. I'm with a wonderful person, Marc. I have grown a bit more of a backbone. And yet time has passed so quickly, so incredibly quickly, and I hate it!
I think a lot of my friends feel the same way. I'm at the stage where I need to decide what I want to do with my career, with my life, and I am not sure that law is it. Or certainly not corporate law. I've seen the big deals and shiny conference rooms, big name clients etc. I've also seen the credit crunch, one of our biggest clients go bust, six months of not leaving the office before midnight. That is career-building experience, certainly, but it is not life enhancing. It's not what I want for my life or for my future family. I am quickly realising that it is not who I am. Oh, people told me before I went into it. But I wanted to do something practical, to have a profession. I also didn't want my degree to have meant nothing, to get a job that I could have got without it. I didn't want to earn peanuts. And I was told that law is supposedly 'transferable'. Transferable to what, exactly? I have no clue.
I did find an area of law that I truly loved: pensions law. But who knows if there will be a job for me in that department. So much is up in the air with this economy. Who am I, in times like these, in which those who have jobs should just count themselves lucky, to question my career? I find myself asking why I trained for so long only to leave. How much job satisfaction is enough?I don't have answers to these questions, but I know that in 2009 I would like to find a semblance of an answer. I am someone who always looks and plans ahead and it's the first time I don't have a master plan. I need to learn to live with uncertainty whilst being proactive. A hard balance to strike, but a worthy challenge for 2009 and beyond.
Monday, 19 January 2009
So as I mentioned in my last post, Liz and I went to a Galette des Rois party on Saturday night. A few months ago, when I attended the Harvard Business School presentation in Paris, I met a French-American Harvard graduate called Jonathan, and he kindly invited me to the party. It was such fun: everyone was so friendly and interesting and loads of people had brought cake and were actually baking throughout the party so there was a constant supply of freshly baked cookies!
This all made me consider what a house party is like in England (as opposed to a dinner party). No civilised drinks (on Saturday we had wine and dessert wine as well as the usual soft drinks). No high quality food. Just a lot of drunken debauchery and alcohol. And if you like that sort of thing, more power to you. But I don’t, and never have. Jonathan’s party combined everything I like in a party: smart, nice, interesting yet unpretentious people (can’t be doing with discussing serious intellectual subjects all night), good wine, a relaxed and fun atmosphere, a little silliness and fabulous food. Cake, no less!
The evening also improved my culinary education, as I have been seeing these Galettes everywhere for weeks and had no idea of their history, meaning, or, most importantly, their taste!
I had the best introduction imaginable, because every year in France there is a competition between bakeries for the best Galette, and Jonathan bought the winning bakery's Galette. The Galette is a puff pastry cake filled with frangipane, an almond favour filling. I thought it would be very heavy but it was actually really light and the slightly salty pastry constrasts well with the sweet filling. It was unusual and delicious. I love the history behind it (please see below). Next year I think that I will make my own and celebrate in London. We had a great night!
History of the Galette
Le jour des Rois (the day of Kings), is a celebration of the three kings who visited Christ.
La Galette des Rois, literally means the Kings' cake. Throughout history the name of this celebration has differed as a result of the political climate of the time.
Under Louis XIV, the Church considered this festival a pagan celebration and an excuse for indulgence, and it was subsequently banned. This culinary tradition even survived the French Revolution when it became the ‘Gâteau de l’Êgalité (the equality cake), as Kings were not very popular in those years!
The cake contains a lucky charm (une fève) which was originally a bean, a symbol of fertility. Whoever found the charm in their slice of cake became King or Queen and had to buy a round of drinks for all their companions. This sometimes resulted in stingy behaviour and to avoid buying a round of drinks, the potential King or Queen very often swallowed the bean! This is why towards the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, the lucky charm started being made of china. The charm can take any shape or form and can either be very plain or more sophisticated (glazed or handpainted).
Here is our fève! A little hand glazed figurine. I'm not the one holding it, sadly. My slice didn't have the fève in it.
The Galette des Rois is made of puff pastry and can be plain or filled with frangipane, an almond-flavoured paste. It is sold in all French bakeries and eating the Galette at the beginning of January is still a very popular tradition and an opportunity for families and friends to gather around the table. The youngest person in the room (usually a child) hides under the table and shouts out which guest each slice of cake should be given to. The person who finds the fève in their slice of galette becomes the King or Queen and is given a golden paper crown. The King or Queen then has to choose his Queen or her King, by dropping the lucky charm in their glass!
If this sounds tantalisingly good (and fun) then you can have a try at making a Galette yourselves. I found an online recipe here.
Sunday, 18 January 2009
This is the second weekend that I have been in Paris since Christmas and on both weekends I have had houseguests!
Last week Sarah and David, my newlywed friends, came to Paris. Marc was also here and it was so wonderful to be able to spend time with them and him. Sarah and David are such a fun couple, so in love, so intelligent, so witty and I enjoyed seeing them together and was so glad that Marc was there with me. We had wonderful walks in the Marais and in St Germain, ate copious amounts of cake in Laduree and went to a mouth watering Parisian market on Sunday. What more could I ask for?
Marc was in charge of photo-taking last weekend, and there are some great ones, but I haven't received them yet. Can't wait to share our adventures soon!
This weekend my close high school friend, Liz, visited me in Paris. I was really pleased to spend this weekend with her and chat intimately and have girl time! In London it has sadly been so difficult to find the time, particularly when I was working crazy hours at the firm. Liz and Miriam and I have been friends since school, yet over the past few years, since we left university, our friendships have changed and this has caused hurt and friction at times. It boils down to how we have developed and changed. We went to different universities and had very different experieces, it has to do with new friends and different lives, with boyfriends we've liked or not liked, with different career aspirations and paths, with the struggle to adjust our expectations of each other and accept a new dynamic as we transform from girls to women. It hasn't always been easy, which is why this weekend was important and good.
I am reminded of a wonderful post by Aletha a while back in which she wrote about the advice her mother gave her on friendship before she married. I can't find the exact post, unfortunately, but Aletha's wise mother reminded her not to neglect her friendships when she got married, not to forget to nurture them. Of course, she said it better than I could. I have been guilty of not making enough effort, and I want to address that. I need to spend less time at home, less time with my parents and with Marc, I need to initiate more. I feel that if we neglect our friendships now they will not be there when we reemerge from our relationships or careers.
But that requires work from all sides and work, as we all know, is not easy. For my schoolfriends and me, it is a time of defining our lives and redefining our friendships. A time to try harder, yet also a time for acceptance. A time for confrontation and a time to listen. Liz and I stayed up so late talking and I think that despite the fact that we have known each other for a long time we managed to learn more about each other this weekend, which is pretty amazing don't you think?
Have any of you had defining moments with old friends? Times of friction, times of trying to figure out how to live a new life? How have you kept old friends even when your lives have changed, mixed old friends with new, did you encounter difficulties or was it natural... I would appreciate and love to hear any of your thoughts, ideas and experiences.
Here are some photos of what we got up to this fab weekend:
On Saturday night Liz and I were invited to a 'Galette Party' and had a blast. I will post about Galettes soon, and here is a picture of the Martha Stewart brownie I brought along. Yum!
Today we went to the Marais and met some friends of mine and had tea in the fabulous Colonial style tea shop, Mariage Freres. Just look at all the tea!
We had a fabulous brunch, with the best marinated raw salmon that I have ever eaten. Divine.
And no girlie weekend could be complete without a trip to the enormous Sephora in the Champs Elysees, where we got eye makeovers....
I am just realising how much I love Paris again! At first it was hard, I was homesick, I felt like I was back in my junior year abroad, as though nothing had changed, but I have refound my love for it and will be so sad to leave. Luckily Marc is coming to bring me home :).
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
Fabulous Emily at Overdue tagged me and the rules of the game are that you have to post the fourth photo in your fourth folder and explain it. Fun!
My photo was taken soon after I got to Paris. I was walking in the cold with my friend Ariana, and stopped outside this very cool display in a clothes store window and just had to take a photo. I thought it was so creative and beautiful! I am cheating a little and giving you photos four and five, just so you can see a close up of one of the sewing machines. I love Paris' creative window displays and eclectic boutiques and I'm going to really miss walking around when I have to go back home in March.
According to the rules I now have to tag four people!
I would like to tag:
1. Megan and Jon at Chicago Taster (a fabulous blog about eating out and fab places in Chicago by two fabulous people);
2. Amy at Party of Five (inspiring mother and photographer extraordinaire);
3. Pearl at Fresh & Pure (creative cook and evocative writer); and
4. Kaitlin at Kaitlin in the Kitchen (incredible cook and fun gal in Texas).
Can't wait to see what these wonderful bloggers post!
I have been out of the blogging rhythm for the past few days because I had house guests this weekend. It was a fabuluos weekend of food and more food. Before I post photos etc, I wanted to offer the first person to comment a free magazine subscription as outlined below. I bought my Kitchenaid mixer from Amazon, which entitles me to the below offer:
Thanks to the recent purchase(s) you made in Amazon.com Home and Garden, you are eligible to receive a subscription to one of the following magazines: Domino (24-issues), Glamour (24-issues), Gourmet (12-issues), Condé Nast Traveler (12-issues), Architectural Digest (12-issues), or Bon Appétit (12-issues).
I live in Europe and they will not send the magazines to Europe, so I would like one of my lovely readers to benefit. Please send the address to which you would like your magazine of choice to be sent to the email address on the right. You are probably all too prudent to do this, but please do not post addresses in the comments section for your own security.
Posted by Vanessa at 13:43
Tuesday, 6 January 2009
Yesterday was my first day back at work, and I left the house in heels in a bid to be just a little chic (a rare occurrence). As soon as I stepped out into the street and saw the snow I went back up to the apartment and changed to boots. And it was really just as well, because when I got to the metro I discovered that my changeover stop was closed and that therefore I couldn't take that line. The other option was now 20 minutes away, so I decided to just walk to work. It's about a 45 minute walk, but I walk fast so I did it in 30 minutes of speed walking (uphill). I felt great and saw the sun rise - it was quite exhilarating.
Sunday, 4 January 2009
I am finally back in Paris and am sad that the holiday season is over. This past holiday was the first one in years during which I didn't travel abroad. I have family in Israel and regularly go there and am generally off somewhere with Marc. But having 10 days just to be at home, to cook and sleep and read was wonderful. Even for NYE, Marc and I just stayed in and made our risotto (it has become a tradition!). I am turning into an old woman!
I have just finished reading a really fun book by Britain's first fashionista and style journalist: Lucia Van der Post. It is called 'Things I wish my mother had told me: lessons in grace and elegance'.
The book is all about how to wear the little black dress, makeup, where to buy beautiful perfume, tips for decorating the house, buying gifts and food etc. It was cleverly written, witty and entertaining. The tips were often more for people with limitless means, and yet it was an inspiring and fun read. She is extremely gifted for being able to talk about essentially frivolous things in such an intelligent way. I was curious, after all her talk of the importance of grooming and making an effort, to see what she looks like. And what I found were pictures of a 'grandmother' who looks so much more beautiful now than she did 20 or 30 years ago. If that isn't an advert for grooming and having a personality when one dresses, I don't know what is. I for one am inspired.
Here is a younger picture of her:
And a more recent photo:
Onto a different topic, I wanted to share with you the simplest of cake recipes, but one that I nevertheless adored. I love a simple, not too sweet and moist cake. Since rhubarb was on offer in the supermarket I added it to the cake (I love rhubarb!) but it is not at all necessary. This has got to be the easiest cake to make in the world!
2 apples, peeled and roughly diced
1/2 cup of oil
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sugar (though you can add more if you prefer - I don't like my cakes too sweet)
2 cups flour
*if you are adding rhubarb, then cook this (I had 400g) in a saucepan by adding about a glass of water and 6 tablespoons of sugar and a knob of butter until you get a runny-jamlike texture and the rhubarb has largely disintegrated. Then layer this into the cake mixture. I poured in half my mixture, then added a layer of rhubarb, then poured in the rest of the mixture. It was yummy!
Thursday, 1 January 2009
This is my 5oth post and I'm excited - so excited to have encountered some amazing people blogging and been so inspired by all of you. Thank you all so much!
Wishing you all a wondeful year ahead, filled with health, happiness and laughter.
Here are my New Year resolutions, in no particular order:
1. Learn to use my Nikon D40 and fill this blog with better pictures;
2. Go to the gym and get fit;
3. Balance my chequebook (excuse the European spelling!) and become more money savvy;
4. Figure out job stuff (a future post in itself);
5. Do more home cooking; and
6. Pass the stupid GMAT.