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Paris Bistro Profiteroles

Profiteroles are a classic French bistro dessert. Not what you’d call elegant exactly, certainly not rustic though either, but fitting comfortably, sweetly in between.

Imagine if you will:

You’re in a small restaurant sitting at a petite metal table draped with white butcher paper. On it, white linen napkins. Heavy silverware. Two small flickering candles.  A few fresh flowers in a small jar. Across the table from you, so near your knees could touch, sits someone whose company you love. You’re wrapped in conversation. The tables around you are full and already a line is forming out the door. Bon soirs and multiple cheek-kisses on meeting, French voices ringing all around and plates clattering loudly in the kitchen nearby. Your server approaches, his long white apron covering slim black trousers. A tray he holds overhead lowers, and on it:. creamy white gelato-filled puffs, drizzled with a warm dark sauce that spills over the sides. And on the tray too, demitasse cups, three-quarters full of  espresso that you’ll say later was the smoothest, most wonderful you’ve ever tasted. And then, there’s those profiteroles…!

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This recipe comes from Chef Kimberly Schor and appears in a Nordstrom Entertaining Cookbook. I’ve tried several recipes for profiteroles and I like this as well (or better) than any. An instructive note from the chef:

When she was researching menus in Paris with fellow chef and good friend Nicque from the Cordon Bleu, she learned three basics truths about profiteroles. They must be made daily, vanilla gelato works better than ice cream because of its creamy, velvety texture, and the chocolate used for the sauce must be semisweet and of high quality. (Guittard, Volrhona or Scarffen Berger.)

This is NOT a difficult dessert to make. The suggestion is that a single serving is 2 profiteroles, but 1 seems quite plenty to us. I freeze what we don’t eat and serve them later. I make only half the sauce at a time so as not to try to save leftovers. You might like a coffee gelato, or maybe a slightly salty caramel sauce instead of chocolate. Profiteroles are a dessert to be played with. (And for the record, kids love them!)

Pastry Puffs (the pâte à choux)

  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup (1 stick) plus 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water

Chocolate Sauce

  • ½ pound high-quality semisweet chocolate roughly chopped
  • ½ cup heavy (whipping) cream

For serving:

  • 1 pint vanilla gelato

(For this recipe, and for most if we’re being honest, assembling all the ingredients and tools you’ll need ahead of time will make the process smooth and easy.)

To make the Pastry Puffs:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, butter, salt and water and bring just to a boil. Add the sifted flour in a steady stream while constantly stirring until all the flour is incorporated. Continue to cook while stirring all along until the mixture forms a stiff mass, 3 or 4 minutes longer.

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Paris day & night

Who am I to talk and what am I to say of

Paris

that hasn’t already been said (or sung), many times over and many times better?

Honestly, I’m not feigning humility here.

I don’t know Paris well at all.

I only know that a corner of my heart belongs to her.

After leaving Berlin, we were to fly to Paris. We’d been to France once before – sort of a flukey thing – only 3 or 4 days – and all of it in Paris. Though our trip this time would be focused in Provence and Burgundy, how could we possibly fly over the city we first saw (and fell in love with) one lovely April? She had just a bit more color then, and a bit more sparkle (but in all fairness, so did I.)

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I’ll keep my words to a minimum here. (you doubt!) For this post, there will be mostly photos … with a few words, like herbs, tossed in for flavor…

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Our key to the city…

We arrived to our tiny (teeny!) room in the same hotel we stayed our first visit.We had to shoe-horn ourselves in, but it was so well-situated we couldn’t pass it up. Directly across the street, the lovely little church Sainte Germaine de Auxerrois. Kitty-corner from us, the Louvre, and only a few blocks away, the river Seine.

Out our open window, the church – just to the left, the Louvre

Ste. Germaine de Auxerrois – just after a wedding

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I lost my pants in Berlin.

Though that may sound as though there’s an exciting story to follow (and don’t I wish there were), there isn’t.

I failed to re-pack them and when I called the hotel, they were gone. I’d packed light for this trip. (Lighter than I’ve ever packed before.)  Priorities for me: everything for 3 weeks in one medium bag, with a little empty room to bring a few things back for family, and  (naturally) my camera gear. The pants I brought were pretty new and pretty wonderful. My evening dress-up pants.  I was pretty attached and pretty despondent when someone else decided she liked them too.

My Guinea Pig is a man you can always count on in a crisis. While my eyes were swelling with tears, he was already online, locating what would become my favorite place to shop for clothes, ever. If you ever get a chance, do meet agnes b. 

We’re walkers, my husband and I. When we travel our feet take us just about everywhere we go. And Paris is a wonderful city to see on foot!

walking past a culinary school,

imagining  for a moment, me in that window tenderly sprinkling cinnamon…

past fountains, statues, monuments – everywhere

walking along the river Seine…

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crispy potato cakes

I’m aiming to set a new personal record here folks. My shortest post (which, by no accident, follows my  l o n g e s t  of yesterday.)

This has to be THE simplest recipe. And THE crispiest little tater cake you ever bit into. Not fatty, not greasy, not complicated, not messy. (4 ingredients, if you count salt and pepper.) Just what a (German) potato cake ought to be (even if it did come straight out of my favorite little French cookbook.)

Cream takes the place of butter here and holds everything together (no eggs, no flour) and is less greasy than butter would be. These are BAKED in the oven, not fried…imagine the clean-up you won’t be doing.

Crispy Potato Cakes

makes about 8 potato cakes

1 pound (450 g) potatoes, such as Yukon Gold (or russets) peeled and grated

¼ cup (60 mL) heavy cream

Salt & Pepper

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NOTE: If you like a lacy cake, it works best to grate the potato on a box grater, holding the potato lengthwise so you get long shreds. Using a food processor will be faster, but you’ll have short shreds which will form a more compact cake.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). If you have a non-stick baking sheet, use that, lightly oiled: otherwise generously oil a regular baking sheet. Drop the shredded potatoes into the center of a clean kitchen towel. Wring the towel tightly over a sink to remove as much moisture as practical. Spill the potatoes into a bowl and pour in the cream and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Stir with a fork til blended. Spoon the mixture into about 8 small pancakes onto the baking sheet.

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Berlin on foot

Years ago, I visited Germany’s Bavaria and thought when I first set eyes on it that I’d just discovered what was surely meant to be my home all along. Where we were, nestled among the foothills of the Alps, was a charm unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Cows, their hollow bells clacking as they swayed side to side, were led through quiet streets by men in short leather pants, embroidered suspenders, tall socks and loden-green feathered caps. The architecture too seemed out of a fairy tale. Buildings were painted white, freshly every year, some decorated with murals, and it seemed that from every window hung flowers overspilling their wooden planters. Shop windows were filled with eiderdown comforters, traditional Bavarian/Alpine clothing, kitchen wares, and the most elaborate cakes and marzipan confections I’d ever seen. Each late afternoon or evening whole families (all ages) picked up their walking sticks and strolled through the hills. Their voices rose like a murmured chorus through the woods. It was a hum I’ll never forget. The leaves were turning, the air was clean and Autumn-crisp, and the lakes shimmered. It was idyllic. Pretty much

(People actually lived like this!)

But…

Berlin is a large and vibrant city

 (and – I was kindly reminded – Berlin’s no Bavaria – and if you yodel, people will stare.)

We were to launch our vacation from Berlin where my husband was called to business. We arrived a couple days in advance of his meetings to acquaint ourselves with the city by walking it. We were to have four full days there, but weren’t driving so our acquaintance with this bustling modern city would be  limited to what we could get to on foot. By no means could we see it all. The weather was beautiful so we chose outdoors. We walked the streets and parks and bridges. We missed museums and what I hear is a thriving art and music scene. But what we saw and tasted made an indelible impression.

Berlin – I hadn’t known – got its name from the German words for bear and little. And as we moved through the city, we found little bears everywhere. There’s quite a fondness here for their little mascot.

Bear statues, each with the same basic form but painted uniquely, were seen all over the city. The one outside our hotel was “wearing” Marlene Dietrich. (For those of you too young to know – as am I too of course –  Marlene was a famously sultry, satin & silk, smoky-voiced German actress and singer – of the 40’s I think.) Here she is outside our hotel at the entrance to the bar that bears her name –  (though only a quick shot with my phone, I couldn’t resist) –

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Most of us probably think of vacation as a bit of an “escape”. But the escape that this trip offered wasn’t to begin for me here. You visit Berlin, and first it strikes –  and then it settles on you, hard – Berlin’s is not a feint history – it’s one of such enormity that I struggle still to put into words the effect it had on me.  Some of the most brilliant heights ~ and the most depraved depths ~ of humankind’s time on earth were lived in and around here. And everywhere you walk in this city, its history is evident. Berlin’s gravitas does not – cannot – escape you.

The Brandenburg Gate was completed in the 1700’s as a triumphal arch and was the gateway through which people would enter the city. Though a great number of buildings were destroyed during the war, many that still stand speak loudly (as this does) of Germany’s once-imperial greatness.

One imperial address was that of the summer palace of Sophie Charlotte (Queen of Prussia & grandmother of Germany’s beloved Frederich the Great.)  The palace was finished in 1705. Though not readily apparent, every attempt was made to be mindful of avoiding “excesses” during the construction of this summer home. Sophie had learned by way of Marie Antoinette’s unfortunate example that “the people” don’t take kindly to royal over-indulgences. (Keep this attempt at  “understated elegance” in mind as you stroll through the next photos of the Sophie Charlottenburg Palace.) Though the palace was hit by airstrikes during World War II and completely destroyed by fire, it was meticulously rebuilt (from photographs) after the war.

The vast grounds behind the palace are some that Berliners feel are their “own”park now and have become a favorite spot for family picnics, frisbee-throwing and – we were told – even (shudder-gasp!) pot-smoking.

Sophie did love her Blue & White porcelain! All walls in this room were covered with it. (Notice too the 3-D borders that extend past the painted parts of this large and elaborate ceiling mural.)

The host of angels carrying the crown was meant to denote that Sophie’s royal status was divinely conferred.

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the road traveled

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For 3½ weeks I haven’t driven, chopped herbs, sifted, stirred or baked.

For nearly a month now, not a load of laundry, a trip to the mailbox or a bill paid.

No garden tended, no floor swept, no counters wiped clean.

No phone ringing, door-knocking, no dogs wagging. (I did ache for the wagging!)

Familiar comforts, left behind. Rhythms and patterns, well-established,  set aside.

In exchange, there was to be newness in every step.  “Knowing” suspended. Curiosity indulged.

No apron. But a heavy camera around my neck. And from my shoulders, a weighty loaded pack.

Miles upon many miles of footfalls, blistered and tired (but ever-willing) feet.

Ears perked. Eyes wide.  Body stooping, reaching, climbing.

And a bursting happy heart!

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