Strawberry Tart Season in Paris Wednesday, May 18 2011 

First fruits 5

To celebrate the arrival of this year’s warm weather, the French newspaper Le Figaro just published the results of its “Test des Meilleures Tartes aux Fraises” (the best Strawberry Tart competition) in Paris. Why strawberry tarts one might ask? Well, the paper hailed the return of individual strawberry tarts in pastry shop windows as ‘one of spring’s greatest pleasures’ in France. And too, for many French, the tarts’ visual presence after their long winter absence marks two of the great things in life–beautiful summer weather as well as cherished outdoor meals with family.

Mulot Strawberries

Whether enjoying their own homemade strawberry tarts or ones created in a pastry shop, the French are picky about what makes a good tarte aux fraises (pronounced ‘tart oh frehz’ in English). But it’s difficult to know today what qualifies as “best” since no there’s no set formula for making a French strawberry tartelette.

For a long time, the typical individual strawberry tart available in French pastry shops was round in shape and about three inches in diameter. The base of shortbread pastry was covered with vanilla cream and topped with whole strawberries, arranged like a small mountain. To show the strawberries to their best advantage, they would be brushed with a light berry glaze. You can still find these traditional tarts at many pastry shops in France:

Strawberry tart St Remy

But in the spirit of creativity, many pastry artisans today have come up with their own strawberry tart model, whether round, triangular or square. The “filling” varies as well and strawberries no longer have to whole but are often cut into halves or even quarters for their tart’s particular artistic presentation.

So Le Figaro’s informal tasting team had a challenging task on its hands as it tried to determine this year’s best strawberry tart. But they managed to ‘test the tarts,’  judging them in a blind tasting on four categories: 1) Overall presentation, 2) quality of the strawberries, 3) balance amongst the pastry, cream and fruit, and 4) comparison of the quality to the price. As of last week, their results are in:

First place – Gérard Mulot in the 6th arrondissement
Second place – Jacques Génin in the 3rd arrondissement
Third place – Dalloyau in the 8th arrondissement
Fourth place – Ladurée in the 8th arrondissement

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Sweets guru Gérard Mulot took the top prize for his square-shaped tart that the judges felt met all the criteria (see the Figaro newspaper photo above). As they affirmed, his tart was “very appetizing and well-endowed with flavorful strawberries.” For the complete article in French, please click here.

It must be noted that not all the well-known Paris pastry shops participated in the contest. Some of them, including the legendary Pierre Hermé, decided to offer individual strawberry tarts at the end of May when all strawberries are in ‘full bloom.’ Others, like Fauchon, decided to make May a strawberry marketing blowout with their “Create-Your-Own-Tart” event. Forget made-to-measure clothes–you can design your own strawberry tart! Make a beeline to Fauchon Place de la Madeleine on Fridays and Saturdays in May for your own customized red fruit extravaganza. Here’s how it works:

1) Choose your favorite strawberry – Only in France would you be offered your choice of nine strawberry varieties: Ciflorette, Naïade, Gariguette, Darselect, Mara des Bois, Manille, Anablanca, Capella pleine terre, Gariguette de Plougastel.

2) Select your preferred pastry base – shortbread crust, sweet pastry crust or butter crust.

3) Will it be vanilla pastry cream or chantilly (whipped cream) for your tart?

4) Watch as the pastry chef artistically arranges your strawberries on top of your personalized strawberry tart!

This sounds kind of fun–but also a little over the top in my opinion. Perhaps it’s better to pick up your high-season strawberry tart from Le Figaro’s award winner, Gérard Mulot. You can swing by one of the Mulot shops around town (my favorite is his headquarters on the Rue de Seine near the Luxembourg Gardens) and taste his award-winning tarte aux fraises. And let yourself be tempted by all the other beautiful–and delectable–offerings including his very special almond macarons… 

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Gérard Mulot
Magasin Saint Germain
76, rue de seine
75006 Paris

Magasin Glacière
93, rue de la glacière
75013 Paris

Magasin du Marais
6, rue du Pas de la Mule
75003 Paris

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French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

In Julia Child’s The French Chef Cookbook which chronicles recipes from her highly acclaimed television cooking series*, Child offers a classic French Strawberry Tart recipe (pp.225-228) for American chefs. As she notes, “Big or little, round or rectangular, fresh strawberry tarts are a feast for the eye as well as the tongue.” While she doesn’t dwell on the seasonality and perfect state of strawberries like the French, she probably takes that as a given after her decades of living and cooking in France.

Try making your own strawberry tart—and write a comment here about your cooking experience. Better yet, send me a photo of your homemade tart, and I will post it. Or let us know which pastry shops near you in the U.S. make a great strawberry tart, and I will list them here. That way, French Affaires’ readers can go pick up a few and conduct their own informal “test des meilleures tartes aux fraises”!

*  The next French Cookbook Club event in June features The French Chef Cookbook. There are a few spots left for our June 23 evening where we’ll discuss and cook our way through this intriguing culinary volume. What makes this cookbook selection so interesting is that you can also pick up the DVD version and watch the episodes of Julia Child preparing both classic and more adventurous recipes. What a treat!

The French Year: Planning Your Travel Around Special Events in France Friday, May 13 2011 

Going to France at any time during the year is rich enough. However, planning your stay around certain annual special events can be terrifically rewarding. To help you decide on when to visiter la belle France, here is a compendium of events and activities in Paris and elsewhere in France that are particularly memorable:

January
La Fête des Rois – Close on the heels of Christmas comes the la fête des rois (Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day), commemorating the arrival of the three kings to see the baby Jesus. You know the Feast of the Epiphany is nigh in France when the galettes des rois (king’s cakes) take over many pâtisseries (pastry shops) in France for the month. So if you are in France in January, be sure to try this delicious dessert—and you might become queen or king for the day! (Click here for how this works.)

Rois3

Les Soldes d’hiver  – Shop sales, or soldes, are closely regulated in France and happen twice a year – in winter and in summer. Discounts can be significant at everything from high-end luxury shops such as Louis Vuitton to department stores to small boutiques. The French mark their calendars for this event and line up with gusto to take advantage of the great prices. The French winter sales start around the third week in January and run through mid-February. Summer sales run from the end of June through mid-July.

BHV in Paris

February
La Saint Valentin
– Valentines’ Day in France is not as commercial as in the U.S….but it’s getting there. If you in Paris for February 14, you will have a gorgeous array of chocolates, cakes, tarts and flowers to choose from when celebrating your loved one. Click here for a visual Valentine ‘tour de Paris’…

Carnaval de Nice – There are many Mardi Gras carnaval celebrations all over the world but the one in Nice is particularly noteworthy. The festivities last for two weeks and draw over a million visitors to this southern French city. Parades, cultural activities, sporting events, fairs and more mark this famous French winter event. www.nicecarnaval.com

April
Paris Marathon
– For the sportive / sportif (athletic) among us, a great way to see Paris is by running the Paris marathon. It takes place in mid-April and draws more and more runners each year. You can start training now for the next one which takes place on April 15, 2012!  www.parismarathon.com

May
May Day
– May 1 is a national holiday in France so most things are closed on this day. But it is also May Day and French people celebrate by giving each other un joli petit brin de muguet (a beautiful small bouquet of lily of the valley flowers). It is a charming moment to experience in France if you happen to be there. Just look for a street vendor selling the wonderful-smelling flowers to purchase some for yourself or a loved one.

Nuit des musées – “Museum Night” in France has become a big hit with all sorts of cultural institutions staying open into the evening and putting on interesting programs, lectures and concerts. This year’s Museum Night is tomorrow, May 14. During the evening, you can take in some of the current temporary exhibits going on – click here for the French Affaires’ recent museum posting on this – or try something not on the article’s list such as fashion mogul Ralph Lauren’s classic cars on view at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (in part of the Louvre building). You can browse tomorrow evening’s offerings at a variety of Paris museums by clicking here.

Cannes film festival – If you are into cinema, then you’ll want to check out the Cannes Film Festival that runs from mid to late May every year. Woody Allen just kicked off this year’s festival with his film ode to Paris, Midnight in Paris. He even managed to get a cameo appearance from France’s first lady, Carla Bruni Sarkozy. And as you dine at restaurants in and around the Cannes area while the Festival is going on, you will see movie stars and film directors from around the world so be sure and bring your autograph book! www.festival-cannes.com

Roland Garros The French Open Tennis Tournament, known as Roland Garros for the sports complex where it’s hosted on the western side of Paris, runs from mid-May to early June each year. Tickets can be purchased online or through agents. If you go, don’t miss the tennis museum on the grounds which chronicles the history of the sport. Click here for more info on the tennis museum.  www.rolandgarros.com

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June
Fête de la musique
– Of all the annual special events in France, this is definitely one to work your France trip around. Of course, it’s during prime travel season which makes it easier—but it’s also one of the most fun and accessible to anyone, native French people and visitors alike. The Music Festival takes place each year on the evening of June 21 and marks the summer solstice, ie the longest light day of the year. Thousands of musical events and concerts are held all over France—and are free. From rock concerts in the Place de la Bastille in Paris, to chamber music quartets in courtyards, to Edith Piaf sound-alikes on streetcorners, there is something musical for everyone. The French Fête de la Musique has been such a success over the past 30 years that it now has spread all over the world. www.fetedelamusique.culture.fr/

July-August
Festival d’Aix en Provence
– Another musical extravaganza worth noting is the Music Festival of Aix-en-Provence held each year from late June through July. Tickets are expensive and hard to come by since this event rivals the famous annual music festival in Salzburg, Austria. But attending is worth every penny and the effort to get there for these world-class performances of opera, symphony, chamber music and more.  www.festival-aix.com

Aix festival

Bastille day – July 14 marks la Fête Nationale in France, or the French equivalent of July 4th in the U.S. Also known as le quatorze juillet, this national holiday in Paris is marked by parades along the Champs-Elysées including fly-overs by French fighter jets and by fireworks displays above the Eiffel Tower.

Jazz à Juan-les-pins – One of the most famous jazz festivals in the world takes place every July at Juan-les-pins near Cannes on the French Riviera. What could be better than listening to B.B. King at this wonderful French beachside town? Click here for this year’s Jazz à Juan program.

Tour de France Bike Race – This legendary bike race zooms all over France and ends in Paris on the Champs-Elysées every year. Take in a view of the bikers on one the étapes around France or wait for the grand finish in Paris. It is a French event not to be missed. www.letour.fr/

Paris plages – The “Paris Beaches” celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Designed to bring a vacation motif to Parisians who don’t have the time or means to go the beach, the city brings in truckloads of sand and palm trees to create a beach setting along the Seine in the heart of Paris. The Paris Plages event lasts for a month from the end of July to the end of August. Bring your beach towel and suntan lotion for a true Paris tan!  www.paris-plages.fr/

September
Les Journées du Patrimoine
– This is one of my favorite annual events in France. For two days in mid-September, “French Heritage Days” offers visitors the opportunity to take tours of all sorts of fabulous palaces, buildings and châteaux that are not normally open to the public. The Luxembourg palace in the Luxembourg gardens in Paris is just one example. This year’s Journées du Patrimoine fall on Saturday and Sunday, September 17 and 18, so mark your calendars now for this extra-special and ultra-French event. www.journeesdupatrimoine.culture.fr

November
Armistice day
– November 11 marks Armistice Day from World War I and a national holiday in France. If you’ve never seen a military parade on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, then be sure and see this one sometime in your France travels.

December
Noël en France
– Ah, Christmastime in France…Late November and the beginning of December mark the start of the magical French Christmas season. Holiday lights glow all over Paris on the grand boulevards and in side streets, the French department stores are dressed to the nines with their holiday lights and window displays, and the Christmas markets along the Champs-Elysées and by area churches sell holiday gifts and mulled wine to shoppers. And seeing the 50-foot Christmas tree in front of Notre Dame cathedral is a travel must.

If you want to get to Paris to see the festive sights and do some Christmas shopping this year, consider joining the French Affaires’ “Paris at the Holidays 2011” trip. It’s scheduled for just after Thanksgiving and will showcase Paris at its sparkling, holiday best. Of course, French food and wine at the holidays are amazing so will be a big feature of our holiday time in Paris. The trip is starting to fill up so click here for the Paris holiday trip itinerary and make plans to put Paris in your Christmas holiday season!  “Joyeux Noël” (Merry Christmas) and “Joyeuses fêtes” (Happy Holidays)!!

  

“Cooking School Provence” – French Cuisine & Culture Workshop Sunday, May 8 2011 

Provence is a stunning region of France and its cuisine is in a class all its own. Using the wonderful cookbook The Provençal Cookbook as our guide, we’ll tour Provence through its signature flavors and foods. In our first class session on the SMU campus, we’ll immerse ourselves in the best of Provençal culinary traditions, outdoor markets, food shops, cooking schools, and memorable restaurants through illustrated lecture and food tastings.

Our second session features a private cooking class at Central Market Cooking School Dallas where we’ll see how classic Provençal dishes and recipes from our cookbook are made. Then, we’ll then taste the results over a fabulous Provençal meal with wine. Join us for this unique culinary workshop on the cuisine of Provence and learn how to bring it to life chez vous!

The Provencal Cookbook

The cost is $119 per person (early registration) and includes the culinary immersion class; food tastings; guide to Provence restaurants, markets & cooking schools; and full cooking class with dinner & wine at Central Market Dallas Cooking School. You can purchase The Provençal Cookbook by French chef Guy Gedda at the Paper & Chocolate boutique in Dallas.

Date: Two Mondays, August 1 & 8
Time: 6:30 to 9pm
Cost: $119 per person early registration. Click here to register with SMU.
Location: SMU main campus on August 1; Central Market Dallas Cooking School on August 8 (Lovers Lane / Greenville at I75/Central Expressway)

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The BEST Guide to Paris / The BEST Bargain in Paris Thursday, May 5 2011 

In the spirit of the summer travel season, I thought I’d do another posting on getting the best out of Paris. Many of you wrote in that last week’s article on current art exhibitions in Paris was very helpful–and timely.

This week’s article is about Pariscope–the insider’s guide to everything going on in Paris every week. I originally published this piece as “The Best Bargain in Paris” in June of 2008. Since then, I still think the subject is the best deal in the city, but I also now call it  the best guidebook to Paris as well. With so much to see and do in this most visited world capital, it’s possible one could miss out on something really special during one’s Paris visit. Picking up a copy of Pariscope can help ensure that you are up to speed on everything interesting going on in Paris while you are there.

Pariscope May 2011

Pariscope for the week of May 4-10, 2011

So enjoy this updated piece on the Paris insider’s guide and take it to heart when you are next in the most beautiful city in the world:

The Best Guide to Paris / The Best Bargain in Paris

It is a given these days that a stay in any world metropolis is going to cost you, especially in Europe. With the euro near record highs, une tasse de café (a cup of coffee) at a major café in Paris such as Les Deux Magots or the Café de Flore on the Left Bank will set you back the equivalent of a good six or seven dollars.* Ouch. Or as the French say, “Aïe!”

With that sobering benchmark in mind, a bargain in Paris sounds like an oxymoron at best. But you don’t have to look far to find a great deal in the City of Light–you can buy it at any newsstand or kiosque. It’s called Pariscope.

A small, newsprint magazine of more than 200 pages, Pariscope comes out each Wednesday of the year and costs less than a euro. To be exact, it is only .40€. That’s about 60¢ in U.S. money. “Pariscope” is a play on the French word ‘périscope’ or ‘periscope’ in English–from the device aboard a submarine allowing you to see everything outside the ship.

So what’s inside that allows you to ’see everything in Paris’? Pariscope is THE guide to what’s happening each week in la Capitale. Current art exhibitions, museums, galleries, new films (movies open on Wednesdays in France compared to Friday openings in the U.S.), theatre, music, opera, dance, festivals, antique fairs, walking tours, sports. You name the activity, it’s in there.

While the low price and rich content are the good news (and it’s super lightweight, making it very easy to carry around during your Paris wanderings), the “not-so-good” news for non-French speakers is that it’s all in French. However, with a few contextual clues and the glossary below or perhaps the help of your hotel concierge, you can pull together the ideal Paris itinerary from this insider’s guide. The most interesting offerings can be found in the following sections of Pariscope:

Ma ville
This short entry spotlights a particular area of the city or weekly topic. For example, one Pariscope I picked up last year focused on “Paris for antique lovers.” Another, “Paris, homeland of artists,” described small museums that used to be homes of famous writers and artists such as Victor Hugo and Eugène Delacroix. In February of this year, the Ma Ville section of four to five pages was a “Passport to China” and captured events in Paris related to the Chinese New Year. At a glance, you discover a major happening or theme in Paris for the week.

Musique
If you are a lover of music in any form, this section is for you. Classical music, opera, ballet, jazz, and rock events are listed here. Concerts are organized by type of music and day of the week. Saturdays and Sundays are particularly interesting in the classical section as there are often free concerts in area churches over the weekend (you’ll know a concert is free if it includes entrée libre in the description). At the other end of the spectrum, i.e. paying concerts, you have some of the greatest musical talent in the world performing in Paris. I will never forget a chamber music concert I attended at the jewelbox Théâtre du Châtelet in the heart of Paris some years ago.* Violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy and cellist Lyn Harrell were playing the works of Brahms among others. The evening was pure magic. Musicians, instruments, audience and venue came together in an extra-extra-ordinary way, and you could have heard a pin drop throughout the performance. As proof of the divine musical gift that night, there were five standing ovations at the end. Bravo!

Arts
Museums are top of my Paris to-do list. The Arts section includes information on all the museums and art galleries in Paris. The Arts rubric also spells out the current exhibitions on view at museums and galleries across the city. It’s nearly an embarras du choix (an embarassment of riches–ie, too great a choice). You can check what is on view at Le Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Rodin and other well-known museums. Many lesser-known museums are included such as the Musée de la Poupée (Doll Museum), Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Nature & Hunting Museum) and the Musée de la Légion d’Honneur (Legion of Honor Museum). Also listed are the days and hours each museum is open as well as entry fees. Pariscope will also tell you if any museum is temporarily closed for renovations which happens quite often in France (you’ll see the expression fermé pour travaux if a museum is undergoing renovation).

Since the  Pariscope editors have condensed much throughout the guide in the interest of saving space, you’ll need be able to decipher relevant details entries you are interested in. For example, under the Louvre description, you’ll see:

Ouvert tlj sf mar.

What in the world does this mean? In unabbreviated French, it would read:

Ouvert tous les jours sauf mardi (Open every day except Tuesdays). So no Louvre on Tuesdays when you are in Paris!

To assist in picking out the most helpful info for museums you want to visit, here are a few of the common French abbreviations for museums in Pariscope and their English equivalent:

Days of the week:
lundi (lun) – Monday
mardi (mar) – Tuesday
mercredi (mer) – Wednesday
jeudi (jeu) – Thursday
vendredi (ven) – Friday
samedi (sam) – Saturday
dimanche (dim) – Sunday

tlj = Tous les jours (daily), sf = Sauf (except), Ent = Entrée (entry price), TR = Tarif réduit (reduced price, often for students and children or for evening hours as several Paris museums are now open at night), Caisses = Ticket office, M° = Métro (the closest metro stops so you can reach the museum easily). Note also that opening and closing times are done on a 24 hour or military clock.

Promenades et Loisirs
For monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe, walking tours, fairs, conventions, boat tours and other activities, the Promenades et Loisirs section is full of choices. My favorite part is the Visites Conferences where various guided walks are listed by day of the week. What makes the guided tours special is that they often take you into private or little known corners of Paris. The latest Pariscope I bought included descriptions of an enchanting tour of the Ile St. Louis, several mansions and secret courtyards of the Marais, and the Palais Royal neighborhood. Even if the tour guides speak only French and you don’t, just seeing the riches not accessible to the regular tourist make the walks worth every euro.

As you might have guessed, Pariscope is a staple for my time in Paris. After I get off the plane and take my first breath of Parisian air, I head straight for the nearest newsstand. The best bargain and the best guide to the city awaits.

* Les Deux Magots is located on the Left Bank at 170 Boulevard St. Germain in the sixth arrondissement. The Café de Flore is almost next door at 172 Boulevard St. Germain. The closest Métro stop is St-Germain-des-Prés.

* The Théâtre du Châtelet, or Châtelet Theatre, is located on the Right Bank at the Place du Châtelet in the first arrondissement.

Originally published June 18, 2008

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

Also in the spirit of making the most of time spent in Paris, there is a special Paris event in Dallas in mid June. To celebrate the 55th anniversary of SMU’s Continuing Studies program where I teach several courses a year, I will be giving a talk entitled “The Best of Paris:  55 Ways to Experience the City of Light.” The program description is below–come join us for a special evening and visual immersion into the best Paris has to offer…

The Best of Paris: 55 Ways to Experience the City of Light
Paris continues to be the most visited city in the world – and with good reason! It is home to some of the greatest art, architecture, churches, gardens and culture in the world. And of course, its cuisine is the best anywhere. Join us for this special class showcasing the best things to see, do, explore, taste and experience in Paris. Through illustrated lecture and discussion, we’ll cover the top 55 reasons to visit the City of Light, both on and off the beaten path. You’ll walk away from our ‘evening in Paris’ with a deeper sense of how to see and experience the world’s most beautiful city and with a travel guide for your next Paris trip. 

Date:  Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Time:  6:30 to 9pm
Location:  SMU main campus, Dallas
Registration:  Click here to register with SMU

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