Friday, January 29, 2010

A Mystery Macaron-Maker

I had a big surprise the other day. I did a Picture Yourself in Paris portrait for PB reader, Judi in Australia...
I discovered Judi is an expert macaron-maker. No wonder she wanted to be painted in Paris.
Judi wants to remain semi-anonymous. She's right to think we would all besiege her with orders for her superb macs. I know I would...
Bakers and pastry chefs are different from the rest of us.
They are precise.

And exacting. They don't throw things in a pot and pray for the best like some of us do...ahem
They are more like scientist experimenting over and over with endless patience until they get it right, just the way they want it.
In a word, they are perfectionist.

These photos are all by Judi of her macaron experiments in Australia.
Here's what she has to say:
I first tasted macarons in Paris at Easter 2004. I saw the lovely boxes in the window (I collect boxes) and went inside. Of course, when we took a bite I had to hurry back in to buy one of every flavour. A friend and I have spent the last month making our own and after a couple of very ordinary batches and a bit of experimenting with different recipes we have just about got it down pat. Our lemon, hazelnut/choc, passionfruit/choc and pistachio are terrific but it's hard to replicate any other flavours, mainly I think because the flavouring ingredients just aren't available here. We've tried making violet macs with Monin syrup and crystallised violets but they lacked strong flavour. I see there's a violette paste which we could obtain from Amazon but it only comes in 1kg jars and is prohibitively expensive. I have given some of our macs to friends who have never had the genuine article and they are very impressed, saying they are the best things they have every had, so I always tell them to go to Paris and be really blown away!
My husband and I were in London two years later and the first thing we did was have afternoon tea at in Harrods.
Here's another of Judi's pastry creations - lovely non?
Judi says: The further I get from my memories of the first macarons the more I forget what they were really like. A return trip to Paris in the future is a must obviously.
Don't you think we should all send Judi back to Paris?
Here is Judi's portrait sketch...
And her finished Paris portrait.
*By the way the Picture Yourself in Paris portraits until midnight January 31st deadline has been extended UNTIL FEB 28
Are there other PB readers out there making macarons?

I'd love to hear from you in the comments. Let's Talk.
Judi likes these macaron sites:
macaron tutorial PDF is in Tartelette's sidebar
Melanger Baking
Syrup and Tang
Bonjour Judi in Australia et merci!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Paris Daydreams

Remember this fab view l'avenue de l'Opera from Tuesday's Paris Greys..?

Look at this version by Impressionist Pissarro (1898) Not really all that much has changed aside from a few cars and whatnot... Paris will always be a visual feast for artists and anyone else with eyes in their head...The long avenues of repeated, orderly patterns cry out for the paintbrush....
At night the shiny streets and sparkly lights - just stupendous!
Gustave Caillbotte shows housepainters doing what they do everyday, but it's in Paris!
Back to the wonderful Casas-Rodríguez Collection of Paris postcards, of old Montmartre...
I never was a big fan of Paris painter, Utrillo until I saw these two together...
Another postcard from Life in the streets...
Every view a painting...
Matisse's view out his Paris window of Notre Dame...
And Caillbotte's view...
And my view in New York this morning...
So I hope you'll understand when you ask if we can meet up for a cup of tea in Paris and I say I'm too busy running around taking it all in and just daydreaming...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Paris Under Water

I'm still enthralled with greys today after I learned that Paris was under water exactly 100 years ago at Vivianne of Liquid French's blog yesterday. This photo is from Historic Photos of Paris. Granted it can't be much fun crossing the street on wooden slats but aren't the images evocative. And poetic?
These post cards are from
a stunning collection on Flickr. Is it any wonder the Impressionists saw things differently then we do? It was different back then...
An image from an exhibit in Paris on the flood up january 8- March 28 Paris inondé 1910 - Galerie des bibliothèques
This sooty drawing of Georges Seurat...
And this rainy painting of Gustave Caillebotte, both seem reminiscent of the period, yet neither artist lived to see Paris under water in January, 1910.
Another way to...
Cross the boulevard again from Postaletrice's collection...
The whole fascinating story - history, anacdotes, pictures - is told in Jeffrey Jackson's book, Paris Under Water:How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910. You can read a few pages at Amazon...
I don't suppose they had any grey macarons back then, but how a pro pos...

Regarde this hand-cranked film from 1910...positively dreamy non? Best viewed full-screen.
Bonjour La crue de la Seine janvier 1910!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Paris Greys

Yesterday in New York was a very grey day.
Incredibly windy and rainy and GREY! UGH
Paris is grey all the time and who minds? I don't. Do you?

I've written about Paris greys over and over again... Frankly I can't get enough of Paris greys... Even the Luxembourg park is poetic.
It can be grey inside too at the Musee des arts decoratives. I've heard Parisiens rant on how Paris is so grey it's suicidal. How they ADORE New York's blue skies...hmmm
Parisiens dress almost exclusively in greys and neutrals, so I'm not sure why they complain so about the greyness.
But I had an 'Ah ha' moment as I was gazing at all this lovely greyness. Isn't this why Paris patisseries are such a welcome refuge?
All the wild colors and frivolity...
All the insane playfulness and innovation...
While French cuisine may be dragging it's heels as Michael Steinberger says in Au Revoir To All That, certainment French patissiers are busy kicking up their heels like crazy non?
And isn't French pastry the best antidote in the world to greyness?
Especially after a long day tramping around in the damp, cold, wet, grey, cobbled streets of Paris?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Grands Crus de Bordeaux

Last Friday afternoon I got to attend a special event. It only comes round once a year - the Grand Crus de Bordeaux tasting - time for the new 2007 vintage. I admit I made a bee line to the back wall to my favorite, the Sauternes - they have a tendency to run out quickly from past experience. First look at the wine's color in the glass before tasting - it should be a golden yellow that will become progressively darker as it ages. Then the all important "nosing" of the wine to enhale it's aromas - dried pineapple, apricot, caramel, vanilla, honey, peach - miam Then the sip and swill it around inside your mouth so it hits all areas... Ah...very important. Take down thoughtful notes in the little book provided. Then you spit into the sipttoons, so you can go on tasting unfettered, but I have a hard time spitting Sauternes... After each taste/ slug of wine you rinse your glass with water and cleanse your palete with a plain cracker and a bite of fromage. This taster is well armed.
You are given one glass to taste all the wines as you enter - always an Austrian Riedel glass, only the best at the Bordeaux tastings.
The Marriott ballroom was jammed packed with serious trade wine tasters dashing about to get their slug of Bordeaux best wines served up by the chateau owners - a rare treat.
After 2 hours all that's left are the empties. I was ready to say,
au revoir till next year's Grand Crus tasting.
Which brings me to a book I'm waiting for, by cutting edge winewriter Michael Steinberger, Au Revoir To All That. Have you heard? Steinberger thinks French food has gone downhill in the past 25 years. French cuisine is in a rut, ruined by the invasion of le fast food (France is McDo's second biggest market), stringently high VAT charges, strict labor laws, the stifling dominance of the Michelin guides etc.
"The result is a sharp and funny book that will give Francophiles everywhere an entirely new perspective—political, economic, personal, and cultural—on the crisis in the country and food they love."
You can catch Michael Steinberger's
wine columns at Slate.
I passed Chateau Beaumont's table at the tasting, and remembered my stay at there toute seule for a few very hot July days while on a painting jaunt

I wasn't really alone - thousands of Bordelaise buzzing bugs kept me company at night - no AC or screens in a medieval turret. I was happy to bid au revoir Ch. Beaumont a few days early.

I spent last weekend recovering from too many sips of Sauternes.