Saturday, April 23, 2016

Ze South of France

              Spring has been very late in coming to Paris (although, thank goodness, it's here now) and after looking at a jam-packed planner and a forecast of rain ahead, I decided to pull the trigger and take my work with me to the South of France. Usually more of a flyer, this time I opted to take the train to have more time to work without interruption. The view out of the window from the train was incredible to the point of almost being distracting. I rarely insist on things, but if you are in Paris, or anywhere within reasonable train range, and decide to go to a city on the French Riviera, YOU MUST TAKE THE TRAIN. The views are incredible. Worth the trip alone, I'm not exaggerating. I used the trip as continuous positive pressure to keep me focused (not working=guilt), so I was still able to get a good deal of work done on the train. The fact that my train car was not equipped with wifi helped, as well.

I took a bunch of Vines of the train ride and Nice in general, so if you'd like to see the vids, check out my Vine account.

The main reason I went to Nice was to get some sun, and honey, Nice did not disappoint. Paris is great and all but the weather can at times leave much to be desired. I spent most of the time reading/studying, but I did also go to Musée Masséna, and I took a short day trip to Monaco.

Musée Masséna was really cool. I totally stumbled upon it coming back from the beach my second morning in Nice. It was situated right between my hotel and the iconic Hôtel Le Negresco. The museum is set back in from the street a bit, separated from the promenade by a lush garden. The museum had some really impressive mosaic work on the floors, and the exhibits had a lot of cool old-school promotional posters featuring the history of Nice as a resort town and the upper crust visitors that made the French Rivera (later dubbed the  "Côte d'Azur " by the cool kids) the hot-spot that it became. As a forewarning, the exhibit placards are in French, but still worth checking out just for the visual splendor of it all.

Napoleon is so #ubiquitous in France, man.

Monaco was amaaazing. I was only there for like 3 hours, but it was 3 hours well-spent. I don't think I would have needed to stay much longer to get the gist, at least not during the day (though I heard Monaco is the crack spot at night), as there's not a whole lot to see and do, but it's gorgeous. The rocher ("rock") where the palace sits was PACKED with tourists, and I went before the season had really started up. I can't imagine what it would be like during July, for example.  The glut of tourists is totally understandable, however, because the views of the two harbors are amazing. Construction workers were setting up blue bleachers for the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix, which was cool to see. The train ride from Nice was only 17 minutes, and on the way back, I took a direct train, and it was only 10. So close. I do recommend taking the (slightly) slower train, which makes local stops, as you can really get amazing views of the towns in-between like Eze and Villefranche-sur-Mer.  Also Monaco is another country, so it's fun to say you took a 3-hour jaunt to another country, and still made it back to your place in time for dinner.

Place Masséna (that family ran Nice, apparently) on the way to the train station.
Peeping over the gate of the Chagall Museum in was closed :/
Coming out of the Monaco train station!

I can tell I've been horribly spoiled by Paris food, as everything I ate in Nice was sort of "eh", but there were tons of fresh oranges around, which was awesome. Anything with a citrus element would probably be good in this region.

Citrus on citrus on citrus.

This trip was great as well because I had never done any travel in in France outside of the Île-de-France region around Paris, so it was nice to sort of get a sense of what France is like holistically as a country. Me attempting to speak on France having just lived in Paris is probably tantamount to thinking you know the U.S. having only lived in NYC.
The view out of my hotel room in Nice :)
I just submitted my last final on the 20th, so fingers crossed, I've passed all my classes. It felt good to do something I thought would be good for me (it was), while still holding it together and getting work done. I'm done, y'all! :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Spring Dining

I went to Le Voltaire–a fancy-pants french resto on Quai Voltaire right off the Seine–a few nights ago with some friends to sample the oeufs mayonnaise, which according to Le Figaro, are the best in Paris.  Our server walked us through the handwritten menu, helpfully pointing things out to me that were vegetarian-friendly. He mentioned that I should get the asperges blanches (white asparagus), as they were in peak season and it is a traditional spring dish, but I had already been seduced by another entrée option, and thus declined. The table next to ours ordered the asperges blanches, and when they was delivered, I had one of the most serious cases of FOMO in my entire life. They looked amazing, and came with a tasty-looking sauce. The neighboring diners made sounds of contentment as they nommed into the asparagus. I enjoyed the food that I ordered, but I couldn't help but think about those asperges blanches. I don't believe in regrets, but I came pretty close to regretting my decision that night.

The oeufs mayonnaise
Killer dinner, but nary an asperge blanche in sight...

Rather than blow my dining-out budget by going back to Le Voltaire, I decided to make some asperges blanches myself. I went with a recipe I found on, as I had been pleased with the outcome of the ratatouille I'd made from a recipe I'd found on the same site.  I invited a friend over for dinner to keep me motivated. The menu: a vegetarian salade nicoise, asperges blanches, and Ben and Jerry's for dessert!

A little pre-dinner apéro.

First course: salad nicoise à la végétarien

The salad: lettuce, tomato, chickpeas (garbanzo beans) hardboiled egg, artichoke, shallots, sundried tomato, haricots verts. Topped off with homemade dressing. 

My lovely dining companion.

The dishes seemed simple enough, but required a bit of technique to execute. I had to blanche the haricots verts, and the sauce had to be put in a bath of hot water to cook, but not too hot to risk cooking the egg in the sauce. I cooked it a bit too long, but since I was serving it to someone else, I decided a bit of cooked egg was a lesser evil than salmonella poisoning. Kitchen gaffs aside, my guest remarked at the end of the meal that the salad was good, but the asperges blanches was "amazing". I was so proud :)

So there you have it! I don't know about the availability of white asparagus in the U.S. (or elsewhere), but if you can get your hands on it, I highly recommend trying this dish. It's milder and more tender than it's green cousin, and the sauce that goes with it is really good.