Parisian Postcards: Snapshots of Life in Paris

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We met Loui and her husband Stan about a year ago. We immediately found a  kinship and an immediate friendship developed.  She began writing "snapshots" about their lives in Paris as ex-pats.  Friends requested, or demanded, that she should compile her "journal" and publish a book, et voila.  

Recently, I interviewed her about their lifes, her husband Stan, and how the book came about. 

When did you come to Paris for the first time? And why?
The first trip was about 30 years ago. I was in Europe for the first time and it was first on my list of places to visit.

Do you now live in Paris? If not, how regularly do you visit? 
I am here most of the year and I would be here exclusively if my husband did not love Miami and a hot climate. However, to be honest it is not bad going back for a couple of months when it is freezing here in the middle of winter. 

The story on how we came to be in Paris may be of interest. Stanley and I met in 2002, and we have been married only 3 years. At the time we met, I was living in Key West and Stanley in Miami. Shortly after our relationship started I discussed my goals of retiring early and in Europe. At that point, he said that if our relationship continued it had to be Paris since that was his second home and where he had had friends for about 40 years since going to the university with them. Such a hardship! So about 7 years ago we started visiting Paris together and I began looking at apartments. As it turned out, his friends were very excited to assist me in this quest and I bought our apartment about 6 years ago. Our visits than consisted of a month here or there for renovating; more adventure than pleasure and at that time I still had work commitments in Key West. About 4 years ago we actually started to enjoy being here with visits that have increased as loose ends were taken care of in the States. We are finally at the point that we can spend the majority of our time here.

What inspired you to write Parisian Postcards – Snapshots of life in Paris?
I initially would write stories and email them to friends which transitioned into a blog with photos. I have two friends who had been in publishing and they were very motivational in making the transition from blog to book. I followed their advise and the book was born.

Do you speak French and if so how did you learn the language?
My french is improving and the more that I learn the more I realize I don’t know. My husband is of course fluent and a majority of people believe that he is french. I could not find anyone to give lessons in Key West and so I did not start taking lessons until about 5 years ago when I moved to Miami. I, of course, continue with my lessons. The progress has been slow but each year I can see improvement.

Did you find language was a barrier at any time during your stay in Paris?
That is in interesting question since there are many interpretations. I have met Americans who have lived in Paris for 10 or 20 years and speak less French than I do. So one can certainly live here with no language barriers. However, learning a language opens doors to understanding a culture and a people. That is the real motivation in learning. By opening doors to understanding someone else is really the optimum goal to eliminating barriers on all levels. Practically, it makes dinner parties much more enjoyable so that you are no longer just a fly on the wall!

What advice would you give to a first time visitor to Paris?
When I finally had the opportunity to travel I was running from one must see to the next thinking that I had to catch up for those years that I was working my way through school and there was no time or money for travel. However, after a few of these trips I realized that I was not experiencing the culture, the place, the real essence of a city or country. For a first time visitor to Paris, I encourage a few days to visit the things that are on the must see list. However, always take a few days with no program so as to wander the streets, sit in cafes, people watch and to try to talk to people. The other piece of advise is to always add a few extra days to your trip. I do not understand coming to Europe for only a week. If you can afford the flight you can afford a few extra days.

Name one you place in Paris that inspires you.
This is a difficult question. For me, my love affair with Paris is how it makes me feel when I am here and not about a specific place. It is not so important where I am but just being here; walking the streets, walking along the Seine, sitting in cafes, going to museums, visiting with friends. There is a state of mind that I fall into that I can not get anywhere else.

Name one thing you don't like about Paris.
I’ll have to ponder that one!

What is your favourite French food and your least favourite?
favourite? - steak frites and foie gras!
least favourite? - I don’t think so!

Do you have a favourite restaurant in Paris?
This is an easy question and in my book I have a chapter on a restaurant called Variations which is on rue Wallon in the 5th and I call it ‘ma cantine’. This is my favorite.

What is your favourite day trip away from Paris?
In the book I write about Grez-sur-Loing which was my favorite day adventure. Another wonderful day trip is to Chantilly and then stop in Senlis for picturesque cafes, shops, etc. If you are lucky enough to be invited to someone’s country home outside of Paris, that is the biggest treat of all.

Why do you think so many people are fascinated by Paris? 
It is beautiful, a fascinating history, the setting of so many films and novels and the food is amazing. And, did I mention the wine?

Have you got any plans to write any more books? 
This was more work than I expected and keeping up with PR, twitter and facebook has been time consuming. While I was working on the Galley during the winter, I was thinking about interviewing the artisans in specific Ateliers and documenting their stories. However, I guess one should never disclose one’s next project.

Any other comments or advice?
If you have not been to Paris, it is time to go.

In summary: It's a great, great book to read if you're considering moving to Paris part-time or full-time, or just simply for the reading enjoyment.  


Peking Duck -- a ma façon

Pekin Duck

Lately I've been been going to Chinatown alot, not only to eat, but also to shop. Plus there's a familiarity and sort of like "comfort food" welcoming me.  As I was walking around Chinatown in the 13 arrondissement,  (see my post on Chinatown), I noticed the familiar images of duck roasted to a golden brown hanging in the windows. By the way, there's a big difference between roasted duck hanging in the windows and Peking duck. Chinese roasted duck commonly hung in the windows, otherwise known as Cantonese style is prepared just that, simply roasted, whereas Peking duck preparation is distinct in that the skin is separated from the carcass and the duck is allowed to dry making the meat more dense and the skin crispier, almost like "crackling"

Lately, there's been a great deal of discussion among my friends about buying Peking duck and bringing it home and reheating it. I find buying duck somewhat tenuous, maybe it's just me, but unless you know the shop, and they know you, I always feel that I'm getting the duck that's been sitting around awhile. And, while Peking duck can be sold and served beautifully at restaurants, it is quite expensive.

Anyway, I thought, wow I used to do demos and teach how to make "Peking duck" back in the U.S., in fact it was one of my most requested classes.  So, why have I stopped making one of my favorite dishes and at a fraction of the cost. It's not difficult, all you really need is patience. So, the following is my recipe, a sort of hybrid of several recipes that I adapted for the American and French kitchen.

CANARD LAQUÉ À MA FAÇON (Peking duck my way)

  •  Preheat oven to 350F or 190C
  • 1 small to medium sized duck 
  • Electric Air pump or manual bike pump. If you don't have a bike pump, try a hair dryer, but set it on just plain "air" with no heat. (Note: in China they blow in air via their mouth, don’t recommend it unless you have very strong lungs)
  • 1 1/2 gallons water
  • 1 cup Dark vinegar (e.g., Asian Black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup dark molasses or ¾ cup dark brown sugar. In France, "sucre de canne semoule foncé" works well
  • 1/2 cup dark soy sauce--"pearl river bridge" superior dark soy sauce works well and can also be found in France
  • 2 star anise or 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt or coarse salt (Sel de Mer) found throughout France
  •  2 large "hand" ginger, washed and sliced 1/4-inch thick (skin, pieces and all--for the bath mixture)
  • 2 duck hooks or string
  • 1 tablespoon 5-spice powder (known as cinq parfum in France, can be found in most Asian markets)
  • Approximately 4-small oranges, washed and quartered, skin on
  • 1 inch peeled ginger (to be inserted into the cavity)
  • 6-12 scallions to be inserted into the cavity (ends and all)
  • 1 or 2 wooden skewers
  • 12 scallions brushes 
  • Steamed pancake or buns
  • Hoisin, plum sauce, even Tonkatsu sauce works well

Dipping duck in hot bath

In a tall stock pot (tall/big enough to submerge a duck completely), mix the water, hand ginger, vinegar, molasses or brown sugar, soy and star anise and bring to a brisk boil. Make a slit at the base of the neck of the duck to insert the air pump. While holding the rear of the duck tightly, turn on the pump to separate the skin from the meat. The air must travel all the way down the legs. Set blown up ducks aside. Mix the salt and 5-spice together and season the duck inside and out. Hook or tie the ducks by the neck and dip 3-5 times in the boiling glaze. Hang duck over sink, until most of the liquid has been drained. As it's draining, it helps to put an electric fan aimed at the duck to facilitate drying and cooling down (approximately an hour or two). I recall once at our Lake Tahoe home, since it was winter, I hung the duck on our balcony, needless to say our neighbors feared that I took up voodoo. After the duck has cooled sufficiently, then transfer to a rack over a pan and put in the refrigerator uncovered [24-hours (overnight)]. The idea is to get the skin very dry and taut which helps in getting the skin nice and crisp.

After duck has been allowed to dry efficiently, in a large bowl mix the oranges, scallions and peeled ginger. Stuff the ducks full of the mixture. Using the excess skin, take the skewers and close shut the cavity opening. Pre-heat oven to 375F (190C) degrees and place directly on the oven rack with a sheet tray of water below the rack to catch the fat. Roast approximately 1 hour, breast side up.  If you have a convention setting, use it, reduce temperature to 350F or 176C and cooking time by 10-15 minutes. A lot of fat will render off so be careful when removing. Carve up duck and serve.

The skin is the most sought after delicacy

Serve with Asian style pancakes or steamed buns (can be purchased frozen in the Asian market, and in Paris Tang Frères or PariSgelé). Although the frozen pancakes and steam buns can be micro-waved, it does dry out fast. So, if you want to micro-wave them, wet a paper towel, cover the steam buns and just "nuke" for a few seconds each.  Otherwise, use a "steamer baskets." If using a basket steamer,  place wax paper at the bottom of the steamer to prevent the pancakes/steam buns from sticking.

Place a scallion with some hoisin, plum or tonkatsu sauce on steamed bun with a piece of duck skin, and eat it like a burrito. I've also recently discovered, some dip the skin in sugar. DELICIOUS!!!
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