Saturday, May 24, 2014

Friends, Family, and Food

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Thursday, April 17

We slept late and after a breakfast of the usual delightful pastries, the three of us set about picking up the house, washing laundry, and doing a bit of shopping. The following day, we had plans to visit Tours, a lovely town to the southwest of Orléans. We knew that would be a long day, with no time for shopping or chores, and since Craig would be arriving on Saturday morning, we wanted to have our household duties out of the way.

A small section of the wine selection at the local market.

The highlight of the day was dejeuner at Chez Ming with one of Darcy's colleagues, Chris. They have become friends over the months, working together. I had met him briefly at the university and looked forward to a chat with him over lunch. We met as soon as Ming's opened for the day, so that Mathieu could have a meal, too, before heading off to his job. I don't believe he had met Chris prior to that. Miranda, who is co-owner of Chez Ming with her husband, welcomed us warmly. The restaurant was soon filled with hungry customers enjoying the buffet. The food there is quite good, as I have mentioned in previous posts, and I highly recommend it if you are in the area.

Chris hails from New Zealand, and talked a bit about his home. We discussed many subjects, including the earthquakes in New Zealand and the tornadoes in Kansas. Perhaps it's only because I have grown up in Kansas, but if I had to make a choice between tornadoes or earthquakes, I'd choose the twisters. At least you have some warning!

 I like the brickwork on this house in Orléans.

A beautiful dog on a boat along the Loire.

After lunch, Darcy and I went shopping. We stopped in at little bargain store (everything 2 euros!) and had a bit of fun there. Darcy found some slates which are perfect for serving sushi or deli meats and cheese. At the food market, we purchased some "paupiettes de veau" which are little bundles of stuffed veal. She prepared them that evening in a mushroom-cream sauce. Served over rice, with veggies on the side, the paupiettes were fabulous! There are many recipes for this dish on the Internet, and I may have to give one a try, after this.

Paupiettes de veau, a traditional French dish.

A Picnic in the Park

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal:  April 16, 2014

I can't believe this weather! It's magnificent! This is what Spring is supposed to be like. Today I was able to go with Mathieu and Darcy to the university, where we met her colleagues and some of her students. One of the other teachers is from the northern coast of Ireland. She is petite and adorable and I love her accent. It was so nice to have a bit of time to converse with her. Another of Darcy's colleagues is a very sweet lady from Arkansas. We're practically neighbors! 

Seen at Parc Floral, Orléans.

Darcy was essentially working a split shift, and so as lunchtime neared, we picked up some sandwiches and headed over to Parc Floral. It was the perfect place to pass the time on such a lovely day. There were many flowers in bloom, and we had our picnic there. A bunch of peacocks wanted to join us! There was a large group of very young children there, apparently on a school field trip. They were fascinated with the peacocks, and were following the colorful birds as far as their chaperons would allow. We walked around a lot, visited the butterfly house, and enjoyed a hilarious game of miniature golf. 

An inquisitive peacock at Parc Floral. "What's for lunch?"

These trees are so cute! They look like something from a Dr. Seuss book.
Photographed at Parc Floral, Orléans, France.

Miniature golf at Parc Floral was fun.
This was one of the more challenging and hilarious holes.

That evening, we cooked together. I cooked honey pork with roasted potatoes, and Darcy made roasted broccoli, which is so tasty I could eat it nearly every day. We ended our day with a board game and raspberry macarons. Life is good!

A last look at Parc Floral.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

An Ordinary Day

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's a good thing I'm keeping this blog mostly for myself. I'm not sure who would want to read it; it's pretty tame stuff. I am enjoying myself tremendously, just doing ordinary things on an ordinary day in France. And yet, to me, this is not the least bit ordinary. Even the mundane things like walking to the laundromat to dry a load of clothes gives me pleasure. It's just a little taste of how and where my daughter lives her life. When I am back at home, missing her, it helps to be able to picture Darcy going about her daily routine. When she mentions the places she has been, I can "see" them and it helps me feel closer, somehow. 

At a cafe near Halles Chatelet.

The morning started off much as usual, with the three of us waking up over coffee or hot chocolate. Darcy had to be out the door for work right away, but Mathieu and I had the opportunity to be a bit lazy. He wasn't due to leave for work until after lunch. And speaking of lunch, he treated me to pizza at L'Entracte, on Boulevard Alexandre Martin near his office. It was a bright, cheerful place and the service was friendly and prompt. As usual, the pizza was way more than I could eat at one sitting! I was pleased to discover that I would be allowed to take the leftovers with me. It was really quite good, and I always enjoy the chili-infused oil available for drizzling over the pizza. 

This was Mathieu's pizza. It was more photogenic than mine.

After lunch, I had intended to do some shopping, but didn't want to be walking around with a box of pizza. I took it back to the apartment before setting out again. I walked slowly, enjoying the gorgeous weather (yes, again!) and pausing to snap a few photos. On the way to the center of town, I was stopped by a young man holding a clipboard who wanted to interview me for a small, local newspaper. When I explained that I knew very little French, he switched to a tentative English and complimented me on my accent. The question of the week was, "Where do you see yourself in ten years?" I told him "Right here." and went on to explain why. He seemed quite satisfied by my answer, took my picture and went on his way. I wonder if it will be printed?

I wandered as far as CarreFour and had a great time selecting a door mat and a wheeled shopping cart for Darcy and Mathieu. I also picked up a can of WD40 for those squeaky hinges of theirs. When it was time for me to check out with my purchases, I managed fairly well using my limited French. I did discover later that I had actually asked the clerk "you cost this?" rather than "you cut this?" when I wanted her to undo the strapping around the cart. She very sweetly removed the strapping and unfolded the cart so that I could stow my other purchases inside. 

Beautiful eggplant and fennel at the market.

Dinner that night was superb. Darcy sauteed several different kinds of vegetables, such as onion, mushroom, carrot, red bell pepper and probably some I am forgetting. She served this over a thick, toasted slab of rustic chestnut bread (made with apple and walnut) which was slathered with goat cheese. The whole thing was then topped with a thinly-sliced Italian ham. It was delicious and satisfying. For dessert, we had picked up some pastries at the bakery where the chestnut bread was purchased. Later, we watched a movie, but we were all tired and went to bed immediately after.

I may try making something like this at home.
It was simple and delightful!
 (I snapped this photo before the ham was placed on top.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Taking it Easy

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: Monday, April 14, 2014

Another beautiful spring morning! We enjoyed coffee together before driving over to the university where Darcy is both a student and a lecturer. The three of us had a breakfast of pastries and more coffee at a little place near the campus beside a cheerful, bubbling fountain. I'm not sure what my little pastry was called, but it had a sweet cherry filling over a crumbly crust. The cafe creme I ordered to go with it was some of the best coffee I had ever tasted.

My beautiful, blue-eyed roommate, Azur.

When we arrived at Darcy's office, we were disappointed to find no one else there. I had been looking forward to meeting the other teachers about whom I had heard so much. After waiting around for a bit, Mathieu drove me back to town. Darcy had some work to do. Back at the apartment, we busied ourselves with chores and email until lunchtime. We chose to walk, on such a glorious day, to a brasserie near Mathieu's office. There, we both ordered the croque Monsieur, which was extra delicious with the addition of green bell pepper. A light salad and fries completed the meal.

An apartment for rent in this building... I'd love to see it!

A little flower shop in Orleans.

I walked slowly back to the apartment, window-shopping along the way. I was looking for a couple of specific items, but not in a hurry. As it was, I lingered a bit too long and was late starting the tomatoes roasting for supper. Darcy was planning to make tomato tarts for the evening meal, and I had promised to put the tomatoes into the oven. That evening, we enjoyed our supper of tomato tarts, along with a crusty baguette on which to spread duck mousse and pork rillettes. All of this was accompanied by three different kinds of cheese. We finished with a fantastic chocolate fondue for dessert. Life is sweet!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Crepe-making Lessons

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal:  April 13, 2014

That Sunday, we awoke to another beautiful spring morning. We didn't have big plans for the day, but were content to just linger over our coffee before we set out to find pastries. I don't expect to be constantly entertained by Darcy and Mathieu. I have never been one to cram my vacation days full of activities. I prefer a more relaxed pace. I enjoy exploring and becoming familiar with the area in which I find myself. We wandered around in the sunshine after breakfast, eventually finding ourselves at the small park atop the movie theater near the Loire. It's a sweet little place, with a tiny playground and lots of shade. Blooming plants brightened the space and surrounded us with their fragrance.

Darcy and Mathieu beneath the wisteria
 at the little park atop the cinema.

Looking toward the Loire from the park.

Home again, we spent some time on chores, straightening the apartment and washing dishes. I checked my email and sent off a couple of greetings to family back home. As lunchtime drew near, we decided to walk over to the new restaurant, Oh, Terroir. Darcy and Mathieu had eaten there on several occasions and knew it would be something I'd enjoy. Oh, Terroir specializes in healthy dishes which are made from locally sourced products. Since the Loire valley is such a fertile and abundant place, I knew I was in for a treat. After you step inside the restaurant, you select your meal using the computerized screens. You first choose a base of half-grain pasta, quinoa, lentils, or spelt. Your next step is to choose a topping and any other added ingredients from the many choices on offer. You can also select a beverage and dessert at this time. 

Lunch at "Oh, Terroir" was wonderful!

I had heard of spelt, which is an ancient ancestor of wheat, but had never tried it. That was my selection. I had it topped with a light creamy Dijon and ham sauce. It was sprinkled liberally with chives and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and it was so good that I later attempted to recreate this dish at home. (You'll find the recipe below.) Darcy chose a chicken curry over spelt, while Mathieu ordered the half-grain pasta with smoked trout. We were all very pleased. It was a delightful lunch in a lovely setting. The restaurant is decorated in colors of lime, chocolate, and pewter in a very modern style. We sat at a table in the loft, which gave us a nice view both inside and out. If you are ever in the area, you must stop for a meal there. It's quick, reasonably priced, and delicious.

On our way home, we shopped in Halles Chatelet for a few ingredients that we would need to prepare supper that evening. I enjoy shopping there, or just looking around. The grocery market takes up a large space within the mall, with a variety of shops selling everything from fresh fish to macarons. Halles Chatelet was begun in 1882 and was then an open market. The mall was built over the original market site in 1977, with a more recent renovation being done in 2005. 

That night, Mathieu and I received crepe-making lessons from Darcy, which resulted in a hilarious time and a delightful meal! Mathieu caught on to the process very quickly, but my arthritic wrist made it difficult for me to make a smooth, flat swipe around the pan. Still, they were delicious, even if the crepes weren't shaped exactly right. We had ham, two kinds of cheese, and some caramelized onions to put inside the crepes. We laughed so hard when Mathieu decided to take a shortcut by cracking an egg atop his crepe before folding it over. The egg slowly slid off the crepe, off the pan, and then onto the table where it slithered beneath the microwave. We were helpless to stop it; we were laughing too hard! We ended that fun meal with dessert crepes. My favorite was a simple lemon juice and sugar crepe. What a fun evening! 

A savory crepe is actually called a gallette. Whatever the name, they were yummy!

RECIPE: Dijon-ham sauce. To recreate the meal I enjoyed at Oh, Terroir, I started by making a simple white sauce, but substituted some chicken broth and white wine for about half the milk. I whisked in some Dijon mustard, about two to three teaspoons per cup of white sauce. I also seasoned it with a bit of salt and pepper, but remember to go easy on the salt if you will be using ham  After the sauce had thickened, I stirred in diced ham and heated the mixture through. I the poured this over half-grain pasta (as I hadn't found spelt berries at that time) and sprinkled the dish liberally with Parmesan cheese and fresh chives. It's a keeper!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Of Pastries and Kings

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal:  April 12, 2014

I awakened early on my first full day in Orléans. I had slept deeply and felt refreshed. I had dozed a bit on the flight over, and had high hopes of avoiding the bleary-eyed fogginess I usually experience. We all had coffee together before going out. Darcy and Mathieu had bought a cute set of dishes for me to use. They were in deep pastel colors with flowers and owls on them. I enjoyed drinking my coffee from the cheerful mug. 

Once we were dressed and ready to greet the day, we walked over to Halles Chatelet where we purchased pastries from the little bakery there. We carried our treats to a cafe and ordered coffee to go with them. The raspberry macaron that Darcy recommended to me was perfection! It was filled with a lightly sweetened, thick cream of some sort. We couldn't figure out exactly what it was. It tasted like a mixture of butter and cream and it was so firm that it cut like butter. The outside edge was studded with large, sweet raspberries. 

Bliss in a raspberry macaron.

Walking through Orléans after breakfast, we did a little window shopping. There are many unique shops there, and as in most French towns, quite a few of the shops specialize in one product. We passed a shop which sells nothing but local honey and honey-related items. The window was charmingly decorated with an enticing array of delights. And the shoe stores! I know I have mentioned them before, but I never cease to be amazed at the number of shoe shops and the variety of footwear they offer. In the U.S. it seems as if every store carries identical merchandise, but these stores have such a bounty of styles and colors! 

We walked on in the spring sunshine, simply taking delight in being outdoors on such a lovely day. We wandered over toward the hôtel Groslot, which has a beautiful garden in the back. The tulips were especially pretty. Hôtel Groslot is a 15th century mansion which was once used as a town hall and now serves as a lovely place for weddings and civic events. King Francois II died there at the tender age of 16. His royal surgeon had recommended a trepanation to relieve pressure on the brain. This idea was vetoed by the bishop, who stated that no one should ever see into the mind of a king. Or so the story goes. Anyway, the hôtel Groslot is well worth a visit.

 A back view of the hôtel Groslot in Orleans, France.

Such lovely gardens!

That evening, we had dinner at the home of Dom and Melanie, some friends of Darcy and Mathieu. They live in a charming house just outside the city. Their two adorable children entertained us as we enjoyed drinks and appetizers before sitting down to a delicious meal. The evening passed swiftly, filled with laughter and conversation. 

TRAVEL TIP: Before leaving home, make copies of your passport, drivers license, and credit cards. Carry the copies with you in your luggage or another place separate from the original documents. If your wallet or purse is stolen or lost, you will need the copied items.

Monday, May 5, 2014

I Can't Stop Smiling

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 11, 2014

I was thrilled to be back in Orléans and looked forward to quality time with Darcy, who was almost finished with school for the term. It was good to see Mathieu again when he arrived home from work on Friday. It had been a year since we had seen each other, after all. We all caught up over a cold beer and some of my favorite chips that Darcy had bought in my honor. I tried some new ones, too - Roast Chicken, and Carbonara. After a bit, we all decided to walk around for a while, as it was just too beautiful to stay indoors. There were flowers blooming everywhere, and many of the window boxes were filled with cheerful blossoms. Quite a few people were out and about, enjoying the perfect springtime weather. We stopped in at Halles Chatelet for some things for dinner. And some pastries, of course! On our way home, we took a small detour which led us to the broad expanse of cobblestones along the river Loire. The avenue next to the river was lovely, with nearly every tree leafed out and reflected in the water below. There is a wide sidewalk along the river also, and it was put to good use by the many joggers, bicyclers, and pedestrians all enjoying the peaceful, cool evening. 

The beautiful river Loire draws people to its banks on a fine evening.

Cheerful spring blossoms.

For supper, Darcy created a delicious meal of pasta with a sauce made of duck mousse, cream, and truffle oil. The dish was topped with some thinly sliced Italian ham and was absolutely wonderful. The roasted broccoli was a perfect accompaniment. (I wish I would have snapped a photo of that delightful meal.) Darcy is an accomplished and creative cook. If there is a product or ingredient she has trouble locating in her new home country, she will simply make the item from scratch.

 The bakery in Halles Chatelet is one of my favorite shops.

We played a game of dominoes after dinner, and afterward devoured the pastries we had picked up earlier – a lemon tart, a caramel éclair, and an amandine cassis. We attempted to watch a movie, but I kept nodding off!  I had been up for over 28 hours. Darcy and Mathieu made up a bed for me with their new mattress, which was very comfortable. I fell asleep with a smile on my face, so happy to be in France once again.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Just Call Me Naive

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 10 and 11, 2014

I actually believed I could blog while on vacation in France! It didn't seem so far-fetched, since I am in the habit of keeping a travel journal. Even my journaling fell by the wayside. It's a good thing I managed to at least jot down a few highlights of each day. That, along with many photos to jog my memory, will help me to recreate the amazing trip I enjoyed. It was probably the best holiday ever!

I left Wichita on April 10, with only a carry-on in tow. The flight to Chicago was smooth and easy. I was faced with a five-hour layover, but the time passed swiftly. I walked a lot, read my book, window-shopped, and enjoyed lunch at a Chinese restaurant in the terminal. The flight to Paris was full. I was glad I had a window seat so that I could lean against it and try to sleep. I bunched up the coat I had been carrying and added its comfy bulk to the minuscule pillow provided by the airline. I did manage to snooze a bit on the eight-hour flight. 

Upon arrival in Paris I breezed through the airport (how wonderful to be able to bypass the wait at the luggage carousel!) to the taxi stand, where a young man approached me and asked if I wanted a cab. I replied in the affirmative but explained that I would first need to locate an ATM. He kindly escorted me to the nearest ATM and stood back as I procured some cash for the cab fare and the train ticket to Orléans. He then took my case and led me to the elevator for the parking garage. Wait - the parking garage? That didn't seem right. Unless things had drastically changed in the past year, I knew that the taxi stands were right outside the door on the main floor of the terminal. When we approached the vehicle, the young man lifted my bag into the back and politely opened the door for me as he explained that the fare to Gare d'Austerlitz would be 60 Euros. I argued a bit, saying that just last year it had been much less, but he remained adamant. Feeling mildly irritated, I settled into the cab and it wasn't until we were pulling out that I noticed there was no meter in the taxi. In fact, the brand-new SUV was spotlessly clean and bore not so much as a sticker on the window. I knew I had been duped! I was in an unlicensed, unregistered, illegal taxi! I became a bit nervous, but noticed that we were, at least, heading in the right direction. After a time, the young driver pulled off the freeway into a seedy-looking residential neighborhood through which we traveled for several miles. He had made some explanation that I couldn't understand. My nervousness increased until we were back on the freeway again. I noticed that the ramps were packed and wondered if perhaps we had simply gone around a traffic jam. I was relieved to see the train station up ahead. The young man pulled into a handicapped parking spot and procured my bag, then sat discreetly back in his seat, with the door barely ajar, as I paid him. I am sharing this embarrassing story with you in hopes that you will not make the same mistake I did. Not only did I pay at least 10 Euros too much for my ride to the station, I also deprived an honest, law-abiding taxi driver of a fare.  

At Gare d'Austerlitz, I waited in a long line at the ticket counter, but still managed to catch the 11:00 AM train to Orléans. It felt good to be safely ensconced on the quiet, modern train, on the last leg of a long journey. Darcy was waiting at the station when I disembarked. It was so good to see her waving and smiling! We exchanged hugs and headed for the exit. We walked out of the station into perfect spring weather. Bright sunshine, warmth, and a gentle breeze were so welcome after the long, cold winter in Kansas. 

The weather was so lovely that we decided to walk rather than take the tram across town. Our first goal was lunch. We stopped in at a little kebab stand where we purchased sandwiches and hot, crispy fries. Later, walking toward the ancient part of town, we chatted about the journey, our plans for vacation, and caught up on news. It was good to be back in Orléans. I felt very much at home as we walked down those gorgeous downtown streets. Darcy gave me a quick tour of the neighborhood after we had dropped my travel bag in her apartment.

There have many changes in the past year. Much of the renovation and construction that we had seen in 2013 was completed. It looked fabulous! There were a few new businesses in the area near the movie theater. A hardware store, Mr. Bricolage, had sprung up. Next to it was a small Monoprix department store, and a restaurant called Oh, Terroir, at which we would later dine. The construction at Place du Martroi had also been completed, and it looked great! The fountain is gone – it was moved elsewhere. The carousel was still in place, and a water feature of randomly splashing water jets has been put into use. When the weather warms up, I’m sure there will be many children cooling off there! 

 A partial view of Place du Martroi, Orléans, France.

This area was under construction last year.

TRAVEL TIP: Watch out for those illegal taxis at the Paris airports. Head straight for the taxi stands, where you will be certain of finding a licensed, legal cab.