Looks good, smells good...I'm talking about lilac. I thought I had it pretty great with my cherry blossom find over the weekend, but lilac has taken my shrub love to a new springtime high. Cherry blossoms have to stay put on their lovely branches, but you can fill your house with loads of lilac love. Thank you Paris for bringing lilac into my life ♡ you're France-tastic!
This past Sunday marked the end of the 2011 National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. I cried a little inside, boo hoo Linds. Call me a tree hugger, but I desperately wanted to be in the pack of tourists jockeying for a spot to get the best photo of the cherry trees in all of their springtime glory. When I was little my family and I would drive into the city to see the blossoms and more recently I'd make the April pilgrimage with my friends. There's something about how the trees' branches gently descend toward the water of the Tidal Basin and the way the puffy pink blooms create a blanket of petals that makes the annual cherry blossom watch one of my favorite hometown events. You can't help but want to give the trees a big ol' squeeze especially when you find yourself sitting under their branches, toes nearly touching the water and later, discover an accidental petal stuck in your hair--a sweet reminder of Spring's short lived vitality and the heat of Summer to come.
Luckily Paris pulled through and was able to satisfy this American craving with a sweet cherry tree surprise. On our way to watch the marathon, M. Frank and I found a grove of cherry blossoms just asking to have their picture taken. No more crying inside! I got my cherry blossoms this Spring after all.
I may not be the most gung-ho runner, but I've got some pretty dedicated running friends. Rain, snow, or shine they're out pounding the pavement like it's the last mile they'll ever run. They can get past the mental road block that prevents me from putting one foot in front of other for more than a handful of miles and have managed to run 10ks, half-marathons, and marathons. M. Frank ran the Marine Corps Marathon, Dee is signed up for NYC, and Richie ran yesterday's Paris Marathon, phew! They are awesome--I clealy run so I can eat.
After Richie trudged through 26 grueling miles on Sunday (all for charity too!), he deserved a celebratory 1st marathon cake. On Saturday night I made the chocolate cake recipe from my favorite cookbook to deliver to Richie post marathon. Sans my decorating kaboodle (yes, it really is like a middle school friendship bracelet caddy), the cake design lacks Martha Stewart inspiration, but it's a real deal chocolate cake piled high with Emily's One Bowl Chocolate frosting.
Get yourself a slice!
Chocolate Cake with Emily's One Bowl Chocolate Frosting adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
2 cups all-purpose flour (256 grams Type 65 farine)
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder (96 grams Van Houten L'Original 100% Pur Cacao Non Sucre)
2 teaspoons instant espresso or instant coffee (9.5 grams Nescafe Selection decafeine)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (7 grams baking soda--click here for advice on finding American goods in France)
1/2 teaspoon salt (2.4 grams sel)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (171 grams beurre doux)
1 3/4 cup sugar (351 grams sucre cristal)
4 large eggs, at room temperature (4 oeufs frais)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (30 ml vanille arome naturel or 2 cuillère à soupe)
1 1/2 cups whole milk, at room temperature (355 ml lait pasteurise entier)
6 tablespoons butter (85 grams beurre doux)
2 2/3 cup confectioners sugar (342 grams sucre glace)
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa (96 grams Van Houten L'Original 100% Pur Cacao Non Sucre)
1/3 cup whole milk (79 ml lait pasteurise entier)
1 teaspoon vanilla (15 ml vanille arome naturel or 1 cuillère à soupe)
1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees F (220 degrees C). Lightly coat 2 8 inch or 9 inch round cake pans or 1 9x13 inch pan (or French equivalent) with butter, then line the bottom(s) with parchment paper. Set pan(s) aside. (I used one 9 inch spring form pan and used the rest of the batter to make a dozen cupcakes.)
2. Whisk the flour, cocoa, instant espresso, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.
3. Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes (I found it took less time since my butter was very soft). Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed. Beat in the vanilla.
4. Reduce the speed to low and beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture. Beat in half of the milk. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture, then the remaining milk, and finally the remaining flour mixture.
5. Give the batter a final stir to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and smooth the top. Bake until a knife inserted into the center of the cake(s) comes out with a few crumbs attached, 20 to 25 minutes for the round cakes or 25 to 30 minutes for the sheet cake, rotating the pan(s) halfway through the baking.
6. Let the cake(s) cool in the pan on wire racks for 10 minutes. Run the smooth side of a knife around the edge of the cake(s) to loosen, then flip out onto the wire racks. Flip the cake(s) upright, discard the parchment, and let cool completely before frosting, 1 to 2 hours.
1. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream butter, sugar, and cocoa alternately with milk. Beat in the vanilla. (Depending on the consistency you like, you may want to add additional sugar or milk).
Measurement Equivalents #1
Measurement Equivalents #2
Finding American Baking Ingredients
I was channeling Lindsey from Lost in Cheeseland and Amy from God, I Love Paris as I walked up Rue Montorgueil on my hunt for croissant #7 (number 7 for this series--probably number 700 since I landed in Paris...). A favorite street of both ladies with its lively vibe and traditional Parisian feel, Rue Montorgueil is also home to one of the best bakeries in Paris--Stohrer. My hands were full from running errands, but I knew I had enough room in my grocery bag for one tasty croissant--for the sake of the blog of course ;)
Location: 51 rue Montorgueil in the 2nd arr.
Croissant Critique: warm--just enough. glossy exterior--just enough, but not too sweet or sticky. flaky outside, soft inside--absolutely, I felt like I was biting into butter flakes sent from heaven. crumbs on shirt--in my shopping bag (I hid the croissant in there as I sneakily ate a few bites on the metro). was it mmm, mmm good?--without a doubt one of the best. would I go to this bakery again?--yes, Amy writes about the pain aux raisins in at least 5 blog posts so I have to go back to try one!
Current Rankings: #4, #7, #1, #6, #3, #2
(#5--my pain au chocolat stands alone)
Want to read about more delicious adventures in Paris? Check out these posts:
Croissant Chronicle #6
My favorite cafe in Paris--Derrière le Mur
Croissants Blog ♡ @ The Best Croissant by David Lebovitz & A Croissant Tour of Paris by Adam Goldberg
My long lived gym dreams are falling hard and short. If you remember from here, I was going to be pumping iron at a brand, spanking new Fitness Park starting April 1st. It's now April 7th and I'm no closer to stepping foot in a gym than I was when I moved here in August. Maybe Fitness Park thought they were pulling a pretty swell Poisson d'avril trick by sending a text message to its increasingly out of shape members that work on the gym was stalled and the month of April would be free. I should hope so! I don't think any of us were chomping at the bit to pay April's monthly dues to stare at a construction site. And they thought they were be all cheeky by adding a smiley face to the end of their disappointing mass text message. Boo you Fitness Park, but...I can't say I didn't see this coming...
You see, I walk by the unfinished gym everyday. Some days the doors are wide open and I sneak a peek at the lack of work going on inside. Two weeks before the promised April 1st opening date, I could clearly tell that unless they planned on having us do ab exercises on concrete, the gym was not near completion. My fears were confirmed when I decided to stop at the membership van and ask when I could start working off the croissants glued to my thighs. Bad idea. I wish I'd just waited for the text message.
Me: Is the gym ready to open April 1st?
Gym lady: No <insert annoying smiling face that didn't make up for the "no">
Me: When then?
Gym lady: Who knows!
Who knows!?! She might as well have said N-E-V-E-R. Time for Plan N because running gets an N for no fun in my book.
I've resorted to my least favorite form of exercise to avoid the onset of baguette legs and pastry arms: running. My Richard Simmons Dancin' to the Oldies DVD just wasn't cutting it anymore. Now Pit Bull, Rhianna, and Kayne are helping me hit the pavement one slow step at a time...
Do you have any tricks for getting through a run? Playlists? Favorite runs in Paris? Please send help before I transform into a buttery blob!
I get the urge for American Cravings #4,599,625 and #2,398,764 at least a billion times a day if not more, yep a billion. I can temper these cravings with expat substitutions, but nothing is quite like the real thing. My thirst for craving #4,599,625 aka very important celebrity gossip is mostly quenched by perezhilton.com (which is even more ridiculously addictive via an iPhone app.). If I didn't keep tabs on Perez and friends, there's no way I would have known that the Situation and possy are coming to French TV--obviously information of the highest importance...I'm sure the French are peeing their pants with excitement.
#2,398,764 is harder to come by and really should be labeled American Craving #1: friendship des États-Unis. Until teleporting is available (inventing it is on my to do list, don't fret), seeing my friends in the flesh is left for trips back to the States and, for the lucky few, a trip to the fab French destination, Chez Linds and M. Frank. Since mes amis in the U.S. aren't planning on relocating to my apartment anytime soon, my daily friendship craving is indulged with sweet emails, tweets, and cards. An electronic or handwritten message from a friend reminds me that I'm never too far away from home. In between these lifelines from home, I practice the Wee Sing Sillyville adage: make new friends, but keep the old. Who knew how important this slightly annoying, but awesome childhood video would be in my life?!?
Last Thursday my cravings for both celeb gossip and friendship were satisfied by an OK Magazine that arrived via snail mail. The magazine had been attacked by big, fat, yellow post-it notes. An "old" friend sent me the gossip rag completely marked up with comments--comments that we would have been making to each other had we been sitting on the couch reading the mag together. Her snarky, silly annotations took me back to when we'd be cozying up on our college dorm beds flipping through the latest copy of celebrity news. Forget that Paris was right outside my window...I was back in 2005 splayed out on my L.L. Bean patchwork comforter sharing a laugh with a friend. Cheers to Kim Kardashian's fake wedding plans and a sharpie marker for bringing lots of smiles to my day.
My very favorite bridal shower gift was The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. It was one of only two lucky cookbooks to get squished between jars of peanut butter, Ziploc bags, and eight pairs of shoes in my suitcase to France. Martha, Gourmet, and a few others are patiently waiting on my bookshelf at home, but Test Kitchen reigns over my tiny Parisian kitchen kingdom. The recipes in Test Kitchen are fool proof, the tips are useful, and I never have to go in search of a random magic spice that doesn't actually exist. The cookbook is back to basics Brady Bunch style American cooking and just what I need when I want a recipe to remind me of home. This week's Home Treat Home post is Test Kitchen's classic pound cake. Bon appétit!
Classic Pound Cake adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
1 1/2 cups cake flour (345 grams Type 45 farine)
1 teaspoon baking powder (4.75 levure chimique)
1/2 teaspoon salt (2.4 grams sel)
1 1/4 cup sugar (287 grams sucre cristal)
4 large eggs, at room temperature (same)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract(.25 ounces vanille arome naturel)
16 tablespoons unsalted butter melted and hot (228 beurre doux)
1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees F (220 degrees C). Lightly coat a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan (or French equivalent) with butter, then line the bottom with parchment paper. Set pan aside.
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.
3. Process the sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a food processor until combined, about 10 seconds. With the machine running, pour the melted butter through the feed tube in a steady stream, about 30 seconds. Pour the mixture into a large bowl. (Just before combing the sugar mixture, I popped the butter in the microwave for approximately 1 minute to let it melt).
4. Sift one third of the flour mixture over the egg mixture and whisk in (a few streaks of flour should remain). Repeat twice more with the remaining flour mixture and continue to whisk the batter gently until most bumps are gone (do not over mix).
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Wipe any drops of batter off the sides of the pan. Bake until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few crumbs attached, 50 to 60 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.
6. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack. Turn the cake right-side up, remove the parchment, and let cool to room temperature, about 3 hours. (I obviously did not wait that long because of course I wanted to try it nice and warm out of the oven!)
I lost my Velib virginity today...SCAN-DAL-OUS, foxy foxy! Since August I've harbored sweet Parisian dreams of peddling a bike along the Seine, baguette in hand, scarf around my neck, hair flowing in the wind, but it took me eight months to even get on un velo (see un velo below).
Velib is the city's rent a bike system. Residents and tourists alike can sign up for day long, week long, and year long passes. With over 20,000 bikes and a station every 300 meters, the Velib system is a convenient way to travel to and fro in Paris...that's only if you can overcome a fear of sharing the road with small French cars, barreling buses, zippy mopeds, speed demon cyclists, slow moving pedestrians, teacup dogs, and crazy little kids on scooters. If not, than you would have been pounding the pavement with me for the past few months. Call me chicken little, but riding a bike in Paris is not like riding a pink cruiser down Main Street U.S.A. Paris biking is like the Indy 500 mixed with Mouse Trap--not for the faint of heart...not even sure I had the faintest of heart rates as I walked up to the Velib station this morning with sweaty palms and dry mouth. I had to give myself a little pep talk before swiping my pass and unlocking my bike (I'm pretty sure M. Frank was laughing the whole time). It went something like this...be Miss Gulch, you can do this, be Miss Gulch, you can do this.
After pretending I was the Wicked Witch of the West for the first 10 blocks, I finally calmed down enough to enjoy the ride. M. Frank and I peddled down to Le marché aux Fleurs on Ile de la Cité to pick up some supplies for our first apartment improvement project: spring window boxes. Blooms in our baskets, we continued our ride to Ile St. Louis for some ice cream, oh yum! I felt like a toddler who went for their first ride without training wheels! Look Mom, no falls!
Ice cream gone in a few licks, we rode back home pas de problème--no collisions, no falling bike seats, and only 2 rings of my bike bell. My Velib fear is squashed! Spring in Paris can make you want to do just about anything!