Monday, September 30, 2013

soup & sweater weather

It always amazes me how quickly the season progresses. Tomorrow is officially October, leaves are continuing to change color, and more and more squash is available at the market every weekend. Have I told you I've officially made it a ritual? I've been frequenting markets throughout Paris since I arrived, but I haven't made the weekly commitment to my local one until now. It makes me feel rebellious as Phyllis Flick just shared a survey reporting that only 13% of Ile-de-France residents (those living in the greater Paris-area) shop in markets. Sadly, most are missing out on the one-of-a-kind sensory experiences and neighborly encounters.
Not to worry though! I've been loving the sh** out of the orchard apples for them ;). I've also been helping myself to cruciferous veggies, and was recently inspired to make my favorite lentil soup. Yay, kitchen! When it really starts to get annoying, please tell me to stop raving about how much I love having a space to create real meals, okay? For now, I'm just going to go with it. Clearly.
I started the same way my mom and Giada do, by sautéeing the vegetables (onions, carrots, celery) in a large pot with oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. About 8 minutes later, I added a can of diced tomatoes. Then stirred for another 8. I added lentils (~1 pound) and chicken broth after, and finally, brought the soup to a boil before leaving to simmer for roughly 45 minutes with fresh thyme sprigs.
I served my first bowl of lentil soup alongside a glass of red and a hunk of baguette des près, my most recent (heartier and grainier) French bread obsession. And, oh my gosh, it was wonderful! Soups--and most one-pot meals for that matter--are just delightful. Even after eating, I was left with two "free" lunches and another healthful dinner later on in the week. Looking forward to making this one, this one, and maybe even this one next. As of tonight though, I'm all about words and wine with Lisa, Juliette Sobanet, and more. I honestly cannot get enough of this season's produce and plans. Life feels so gosh darn good right now.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

how to get un-stuck

When I was at my lowest, following my first breakup, I spent hours researching international universities I could transfer to... because obviously a new home-away-from-home would make everything better. Similarly, while heading towards my last breakup, I blamed my dissatisfaction on the city of Paris and applied to a handful of jobs in London. I emailed a friend about my restlessness during that time, writing, "Note to self: a change of scenery doesn't solve all of life's woes." And it's true. I knew it even then. Though I trust with certainty that my tireless wanderlust is genuine and I embarked on this experience for all the right reasons, I'm also aware that those doubts and worries haunt me without concern as to whether I'm staying or going. It may be easier to run away from rather than face our inner demons, but the escape hardly sets us free. It's a lesson worth learning. So, assuming I'm not the only one struggling with "stuck" from time to time, I thought I'd share how I recently came to embrace "settled" instead.
It's never just "the way it is." The French love the phrase, and yet, ironically enough, it was Marie who offered me this reasoning. As much as you're busy, she told me, you still have time to do those little things that make you happier. Try a few new recipes, pick up running again, find low-commitment, and better yet, free events and activities that excite you. Don't let your mind get away with believing you're more "stuck" than you are. You play a vital role in dictating how good you feel in life right now.
There is a bright side. While meandering through the Swedish countryside, I found myself complaining to Ariel Waldman about my restlessness. Why can't your flaw be your strength? she asked me. It's probably the force that's gotten you out into the world in the first place, the reason you have all these incredible experiences behind and ahead of you. Try celebrating it. If you're self-aware enough to know you're not quite where you want to be, then you now have the chance to better determine how to get there.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Do not even think about comparing your current condition to that of a friend. Just... don't. Everyone is on their own unique journey. (Right, Christine?) No matter if you're hoping to build roots in the town that's always been your home or hoping to challenge comfort zones in a new city. As Lara reminds me frequently, both are okay, just as is every other plan of attack (fulfillment) in this game we call life. For me, this has always been the hardest part. I seek to explore the unknown with as much gusto as I long to revel in the familiar. I blame it on my Gemini-ness :). The thing is, our journey is as much up to us as it isn't. We must find a balance between keeping our eye on the prize and appreciating the gifts we've already been given.

New York Magazine's The Cut recently published Why I'm Glad I Quit New York at Age 24. I was especially drawn to it because I too left the city at 24--though I realize I didn't so much quit as much as New York and I took a break. I know I'll be back. I call myself an expat ( I recently reflected in a comment on someone's blog! If you're the blogger or know who is, please let me know), but I'm hardly set on being one forever. As such, I was struck by Sara Tolzmann's critique of Ann Friedman's words:
"The article annoyed me for many reasons, but mostly because of this ridiculous notion that a place should make you happy, or that one is entitled to happiness outright. I think one of the enlightening truths unveiled to us as adults is that you must choose happiness, no matter the circumstances. It is not giftable, earnable, or stealable. It does not come from Instagram likes, blog comments or retweets (even though these are fun.) It does not live in the future or on an unreachable ("the next thing to come") horizon line. Everything is fleeting, and finding/keeping happiness takes work because of that."
Then I stumbled across How to be Home on Thought Catalog. The writer, Leslie Finlay, moved from New York to South Korea and aptly concludes that, "no matter where you go, you’re leaving behind a dependable life brimming with dependable people on dependable schedules." She nailed it, I thought to myself. That was the scariest part. The only thing scarier was settling for how stuck I had felt before leaving. And she continues with an enlightening conclusion that I couldn't have found more true:
"Because we can shift all across this planet, chase new experiences and take control of our own story, but at its core, our narrative only shifts so much. Every day we smile, plan, pursue our dreams. We drink too much, lose sleep, we turn off our phones and tune the world out to bad Netflix movies. We worry, we risk, we take the harrowing, damning chances to give all of ourselves to everything we do, to everyone we love, regardless of what we get in return."
Just as we are only as stuck as we let ourselves believe, we can also find comfort in letting go of unnecessary attachments and discovering that, "home is the people who remind you of who you are." Recently, I left a comment on Breanna Rose's blog about these positive relationships: "It’s interesting how life’s ebbs and flows can bring certain friends to the forefront while others take a seat back; and mostly, I mean this in the sense of who keeps in touch and continued support, and who, just, doesn’t. Those who matter most always find a way to stick around." Trust me when I tell you not only are you not actually stuck, you've got lots of support as you work to get out of it. And hey, good news: our lives are already unraveling just as they should.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

veinte uno

Today... is his 21st birthday. (He = my brother = Jorgie). Can you believe it?! My little brother can now legally gamble, buy, and consume alcohol. And soon, he'll have a brand new New York State driver's license to prove it. Watch out, 'merica :) but really, because he's smart, passionate, good looking, and a hell of a great time to be around. I cannot even express old I feel proud I am.
{Tito: 1; Lala: 5}
{Danielle: 24; Jorge: 20}
On my 21st birthday, I took a tequila shot with my then-boyfriend, interned a full day at Modelenia, and dined with my family at a local farm-to-table restaurant, at which point my brother proclaimed he hated organic food. He's probably spending his celebrating with friends at ASU. (For the record, I had a belated friendly celebration, too). We share our dad's smile, our mom's sentimentality, an intellectual wit, and countless childhood memories. He might be more lighthearted and self-assured than I, but gosh, how I admire him for it. Bon anniversaire, Jorgie! You deserve all the happiness in the world, today and always. Love and miss you.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

new world cuisine

A few weeks ago, I was skimming through one of those free daily papers they hand out at metro when I stumbled across an article about the fast-food strikes in the US. It began: "The cornerstone of American gastronomy, fast food..." Then I stopped reading.
Ugh. It’s so widely accepted that French cuisine is the best in the world, but few people discuss how “out of touch and old-fashioned” it can be. And sure, fast-food was developed in the United States, harping on our love of convenience and efficiency... but it’s not our primary contribution to the gastronomic world. I’m not even trying to be a food snob; though I realize my dad’s distaste for McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and KFC (all places of which I was once thrilled to dine at—what a treat!) have affected me.
I just can't be okay with the fact that (1) fast food is often the most readily available and cheapest option for so many Americans, and (2) that the world likes to translate this as preference, without any mention of our diverse cultural productions like cobb salad, jambalaya, chile con carne, grits, lobster rolls, buffalo wings, clam chowder, key lime pie, and even s'mores. Perhaps Americans haven’t always developed the healthiest dishes, but you cannot say we haven’t gotten creative, and at the origins of "American gastronomy", with very few resources. Clearly being abroad has made me increasingly defensive on our behalf. Sorry I'm not sorry?
Stepping down from my podium now :), I’d like to introduce you to one of the most recent American-ish arrivals to the Parisian food scene, Le Déppaneur. It’s where Lorelei, Rachael, and I spent our last girls night. Opened by the San Francisco-inspired food truck, Cantine California, the South Pigalle resto beautifully marries the natural elements and minimalist design of Southern California. And from the outside, looks like a diner. I felt so "at home" (other coast, same country) with a most delicious tequila cocktail in hand.
The menu, though short, is complete with milkshakes, tacos, burgers, and cheesecake. Unfortunately, with so much homegrown potential, I left unsatisfied. My plate of chicken tacos with black beans was totally under-spiced and the carrot cake was far heartier than I’d like any dessert to be. In the future, I think I’ll leave Mexican to my favorite venues and come back for the cocktails. Maybe the burgers, too—it’s always fun to taste how trendy, Parisian chefs innovate the staple of good ol' American barbecues!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

bienvenue, l'automne

Happy first day of fall! Paris seems to have taken pity on my autumn blues because I left PageYourself's office on Friday to this:
That, my friends, is what temperate weather looks like. This has obviously been a very exciting weekend as a result. Beneath yesterday's blue skies, I ran to the bank, the post office, the market, the grocery store, and the laundromat, multiple times. Then I came back to my apartment and scrubbed it in its entirety. Lorelei and I toasted to Saturday's productivity at Joséphine last night.
Post-equinox, I met Lara at Bob's Kitchen for Sunday brunch: coffee, filtered beet-apple-ginger juice, and buckwheat pancakes topped with fruits rouges. Yes, yum. We wrapped up our date at the Musée des arts et métiers, marveling at the great lengths of human imagination as we caught up on the latest in each other's lives. She is delightful. And the rest of my day continued as such with reading, watching, and making lentil soup (recipe to come!). Fall, I am just loving you so far. Thanks, Paris, for playing along.

Friday, September 20, 2013

designing a life

The title for this post was inspired by the fact that this is the last part of Catherine's impromptu visit to Paris and she's a textile designer. But the significance goes a little deeper than that because she left me the following note before she left for Brussels. (Lara and I are hoping to spend a weekend there soon, by the way!) Hopefully pretty pictures will keep you patient with my introspection.
thank you so much for hosting me (as impromptu as it was) & showing me around your 'hood! I am continually impressed by your ability to make changes, adapt, and thrive. your sense of adventure, intellect, & independence are to be admired. I am so lucky to have you as a friend!! good luck with everything - you will do great - as you already are.
Love you & see you sometime soon!
I came home last Monday to find those words waiting for me. First thought: I definitely have the best friends in the whole wide world. Second thought: I guess I should stop being so hard on myself for not having life figured out yet. She's right, I am doing well thus far. This revelation complemented the rest from the Media Evolution Conference, and echoed a quote Lorelei recently shared.
"I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." -Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
After introducing Catherine to my original neighborhood in all its Parc Monceau glory, we metro-ed to the northernmost point of Canal Saint-Martin (near last year's Thanksgiving meal). We took our time weaving in and out of shops, even stumbling across frozen yogurt (!), until we made it to the Haut-Marais and decided on a very late Lebanese lunch at the Marché des Enfants-Rouge.
{Antoine et Lili}
{Baci Bisous' frozen yogurt, nature avec framboises}
{Artazart Design Bookstore}
{Hier, aujourd'hui, demain}
{Le Marché des Enfants Rouges' Lebanese falafel sandwiches, rosé carafe}
Next, I was completely obliged to take my design-minded friend to Merci--where we spent about an hour and a half, duh--and then out for 5€ mojitos at Le Kitch in celebration of a fellow grad student's birthday. It was so nice to sit back and relax in the company of familiar faces at a place I'm so comfortable in. There was a lovely sense of belonging. I felt... Parisian-esque, if you will.
Later that evening, we chose to extend our stroll through the rest of the Marais and across the Seine, all the way to the Long Hop so I could wish Lara a happy first day of grad school. 'Twas an extraordinary dimanche. And the following day, Monday, I went to PageYourself's office in the 20ème, and Catherine left me a note.

As a toddler, Sleeping Beauty (or "Seepy Booty") was my favorite movie. In kindergarten, I dressed up as Jasmine (from Aladdin) for Halloween. I can distinctly remember seeing Toy Story in theaters and Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. Basically, I was raised on fairytales and happy endings, and unknowingly became a GYPSY. I believe Walt's words in that: "we have a lot of story to tell," yet as I settle into my 25 years, I'm realizing how little control I have over them. It's not only up to me. The sweetest parts of life right now have been borne from la chance--whether it's joining a sorority at Syracuse (in Catherine's case, we pledged together) or meeting a special guy at a going-away party in Brooklyn (in Lara's case, he's a high school best friends of hers). Suffice to say, I'm finally okay with not knowing when I'm "coming back."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

from my kitchen

Did you feel that? I just sent you a great, big hug. A bis, too. As much as I couldn't help but write my last post in humble grief and frustration, it never occured to me that publishing it would elicit such warmth and support. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Now I'm hoping to balance out the heaviness with a lighter topic: homemade food; another necessary comfort I appreciate greatly.
After a year without a kitchen, coming home to a stovetop (and counter space) is just about the most wonderful thing in the world. I use it for legitimate meals often. The other day, I even cooked chicken for the first time! Seriously. Though I regularly enjoy it out, I've previously shied away from preparing it myself. I used my mom's basic cutlet recipe on drumsticks: coating each one in flour, dipping into egg, and shaking in a bag with bread crumbs and herbs before placing into a pan with hot oil. They tasted like home.
I'm usually less adventurous (read: cook vegetarian) though. Post-chicken dinner, I brought home a head of red cabbage to braise: cutting it into pieces, adding to a pan already containing a generous amount of butter, topping off with a few tablespoons of water, sprinkling with salt, and cooking at low heat until the liquid is absorbed. Quite the chef, huh? Thank god I prefer simple, seasonal flavors. Honorable mention goes to the apple oatmeal with peanut butter that's been brightening up dreary Parisian mornings.

Monday, September 16, 2013

on kindness

I'm so tired of hearing about tragedies at home.
{Slottsparken - Malmö, Sweden}
You could say some are natural disasters, outside of human error, but in most cases, it's people who've cause nature to become unbalanced in the first place. And then there are those that generously provide us someone to blame. Whether we consider them terrorists or mentally ill, they've used force to cause harm. In many cases, that force has been amplified by guns. The debate comes in waves---whether or not or we should control guns, how they're sold and used. Words like "freedom" and "protection" are used carelessly, and they're oftentimes listened to, because the world is scary, and dangerous, and bad things keep happening.

Here I am, living abroad, digesting these events from multiple perspectives and news sources. More than one European has told me they'd be nervous to go to the States--what with all our government surveillance, and household weapons, and general craziness. This is the only news they hear; much like those in the U.S. would most likely immediately associate Haiti with an earthquake and Rwanda with a genocide. Americans who are informed about those tragic events anyhow; which you may be aware, some are not.

I cannot even express how heartbreaking it all is.

Because here's the thing: I believe we are good. I believe we are capable of being good and doing good and spreading good. I simply cannot accept that human beings, American or not, are born with darkness in our hearts. Our misinformed reasons for participating in tragedies, for causing them, must result from the conditioning and convincing of unfortunate life experience.

And so, I beg of you, please... be kind---to yourself, to your family, to your friends, and to those you have no reason to be kind to.

"But why?" you might protest. "When there is so much hate and fear and ignorance, how could I possibly approach a stranger with kindness?"

Alas, I'm afraid, I don't have the answers to such questions. Yet I'm pretty sure I'd reply with this: what's the harm in trying?

You might even consider it in your best interest.

"So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question: What’s our problem? Why aren’t we kinder?

Here’s what I think:

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).

Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

So, the second million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?

Well, yes, good question.

Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.

So let me just say this. There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well, everything."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

l’auberge le descazeau

After work yesterday evening, I went to Kara's apartment for dinner. She cooked, I brought bread and wine, and Lorelei provided vegetables and more wine. It was a lovely five hour affair. Later today, I'm going to Lara's apartment for a Parisian brunch: juice, coffee, bread, croissants. It's sure to wonderful, too, and again, forgiving to my budget. I'm so glad to have friends to dine in with.
And yet, having Catherine in town last weekend called for a splurge. I've passed by Le Descazeau countless times in the past few months, longingly peeking in, so when it came down to choosing a restaurant for a romantic roommate dinner, I knew it'd be just the spot: cozy, authentic, and local. I even managed to secure 20% off our meal by making a reservation on La Fourchette.
I'd read an article beforehand that raved about the warm ambiance, cuisine canaille (hearty cuisine), and colorful owners, two chefs who met while working at a famous restaurant in the 16th arrondissement, but I didn't realize Jérôme (one of the owner-chefs) would also be our server. He made the experience so special. And the meal! My gosh. First up, a complimentary amuse-bouche of cream, foie gras, and egg (see above). Next, Catherine and I were required to choose between entrée + plat or plat + dessert (to receive the discount) so we ordered an appetizer, two main dishes, and a dessert to share. Jérôme advised us spectacularly well with our choices. We also split a bottle of wine from Château Puy Descazeau, the vineyard in Bordeaux that gave the restaurant its name.
It was one of the best meals I've ever had--shredded Serrano ham, seasoned sea bass over haricots verts (for Catherine), beef tenderloin in a porcini-truffle sauce with mashed potatoes (for me, unpictured), and an apple tart in salted butter caramel with vanilla ice cream (as per Jérôme's warrented insisting). Each plate was absolute perfection. By the time Catherine and I happily stumbled out of the restaurant, it was nearly eleven; our romantic former-NYC-roommates dinner in Paris, a smashing success.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

an impromptu visit

New York has been on my mind a lot lately. Yesterday’s significance encouraged it, in a quietly solemn way, but my thoughts of affection, pride, and hope have not ended there. There really is no place like home. And as Paris abruptly changes from summer into fall, I can’t help but wish I could stroll by Central Park's colorful trees, sip a pumpkin beer at happy hour, take a train Upstate to pick apples, enjoy cider and an orchard donut. I alluded to this last year, but autumn in the City of Lights is pretty anticlimactic.
Then Catherine came to visit. Sixteen months ago, we were sharing an apartment in Manhattan, and six days ago, she emailed me with a last-minute request: “If it wouldn't be too insane and inconvenient could I crash with you for Saturday and Sunday?” I couldn’t have been happier or more excited. “Of course!” I replied with enthusiasm. She was on her way to Brussels for work.
Generous friend that she is, she arrived bearing all kinds of American food: peanut butter, half a dozen bagels, my favorite granola bars, pancake mix, real maple syrup, chocolate chip cookies, vegan mayonnaise, and her new favorite veggie snack. I'm going to eat (read: munch and brunch) so freaking well in these next few weeks. I promised to bake for my French co-workers, too.
Fifteen minutes after her arrival, we were out and about in the Batignolles with one mission: caffeine. We ended up spending two hours en terrasse, toasting with our glasses of Sancerre as we recounted the past few months and shared a goat cheese appetizer. Couples and friends, young and old, were scattered at tables around us. We had front row seats to performances at an unexpected street fair. It felt so wonderfully “French.” For the record, she did eventually end with coffee. Then an espresso from KB Café Shop.
Afterwards, we took the metro to Montmartre. We wandered through the hilly, winding streets to explore the famous historic neighborhood. We browsed vintage boutiques and design shops. She absolutely loved it; and since she's a textile designer, I especially value her opinion. On our way back to my apartment, we stopped for a happy hour bière (for me) and cocktail (for her) at a brasserie. The waiter stopped by our table three times before he apologized for not realizing we weren’t French. Danielle: 2 ;).
The rest of our time continued as such—drinking, shopping, eating. It was just perfect! Even though it wasn’t Catherine’s first time in France, it was as if I was introducing my New York to my Paris. I was reminded (1) to appreciate this little life I have here right now and (2) to appreciate that I have friends both near and far. La chance, I tell ya. I'll be back soon with the rest of our weekend.