Sunday, February 13, 2011

Au Revoir

Three years ago this month I started writing about life as an American graduate student in Paris.  It was primarily a way for me to share my experiences abroad with family, friends, and anyone who happened to stumble upon this blog, but it also gave me an opportunity to combine two of my favorite activities: writing and talking about French stuff.  Not to mention the blog's handy use as a travel time capsule - I still enjoy reading old posts from the spring and summer of 2008.

Since those glorious six months spent jetting around La Belle France, Parisian Spring and I have left Paris, lived in Brussels and New York City, and settled back into life in Washington, DC.  I recently accepted a job with the U.S. Foreign Service, and will likely be heading overseas again sometime this year.  Parisian Spring, however, will not be joining me.

I've decided that this blog has run its course.  It accomplished what I want it to accomplish - chronicling my time in Paris - and it even managed to last two and a half years longer than I thought it would.  It's time to move on to the next adventure, and whether or not it too will be blogged, it doesn't belong on Parisian Spring.

To everyone who read, commented, shared, critiqued, and enjoyed this blog, I thank you.  Mille fois. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Making Macarons

Consisting of colorful cream filling between two delicate cookies, le macaron is to Paris as the cupcake is to New York: the ultimate in trendy, sweet goodness.  And the ultimate place to get them is at Ladurée,  a super-chic chain of boutiques that draws in the masses much like Magnolia Bakery does in the West Village.  But if your budget doesn’t allow for a pilgrimage to Paris, you can simply make your own macarons at home.  Seriously!

I used to think homemade macarons would take too much effort and be too complicated, but fellow Francophile (and Minnesotan) Karen, who also reads Parisian Spring (merci!) was kind enough to share her recipe for French macarons and assured me it was easy.  Armed with this knowledge, I still wanted back-up, so I called my friend the expert baking blogger to help me in the kitchen.  Turns out, making macarons was one of her baking New Year’s resolutions – bonus!   We gathered the materials and the ingredients and got down to business.

The first thing that tells you making macarons might be easier than you think is the ingredients list.  According to Karen’s recipe, there are only three ingredients: egg whites, powdered sugar, and almond flour.   Aside from the sticker shock of buying almond flour ($14/pound at Whole Foods), there’s nothing difficult about that.  You sift the flour and sugar, beat the eggs, fold it all together, add food coloring if you’d like, then start piping quarter-sized dollops onto parchment paper.  Let those dry for 15 minutes, and then bake for 15 minutes.  Aforementioned blogger and I could barely contain ourselves when those little cookies started rising in the oven.  After letting them cool we filled our creations with a drool-worthy almond cream, et voilà!  Macarons.

Karen was right – making macarons is easy, making them the perfect treat to bring to your next birthday party, baby shower, brunch, or any event where you’d like to garner a steady round of oohs and ahhs. 

Macaron Recipe:

1-3/4 cups of confectioners (powdered) sugar
1-1/4 cups of almond flour or ground almonds
The whites of 3 eggs

1.    Bring the eggs to room temperature

2.    Line the cookie sheets with parchment paper  

3.    Preheat oven to 315 Fahrenheit

4.    Combine the almond flour and confectioners’ sugar, and sift it together into a bowl. 

5.    Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks – don’t over beat them, because they’ll fall apart. 

6.    When the egg whites are at stiff peaks, gently add the sugar/flour and blend in with a rubber spatula – you want it combined, but not beat. 

7.    When all the dry ingredients are mixed with the egg whites, spoon it into a pastry bag fitted with a round pastry tube.  A second pair of hands will help greatly with this!  

8.    Pipe small mounds of the mixture, maybe the size of a quarter, onto the lined cookie sheets.  Try and get them near the same size, and leave room between them, because they will spread out, and you don’t want them running into each other.  Let them dry for about 15 or 20 minutes on the cookie sheet (they will spread out some as they sit there).

9.    Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.  Watch them turn into perfect little cookies!

10.    When they come out, let the pan cool on a cooling rack for maybe 15 minutes, and then gently lift and peel the parchment paper away from them.  They’ll be a little fragile. 

You can fill macarons with any number of creamy fillings.  I beat one cup of heavy cream flavored with almond extract to a buttery texture, then folded in ½ cup of sugar.  Heaven.   The flavor and coloring possibilities for the filling and the cookies is only limited by your imagination. 

Bon appétit!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Is France the U.S.'s Strongest Ally?

During President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to the White House yesterday, President Obama said, "We don’t have a stronger friend and a stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy and the French people."  At least one British reporter was outraged at the statement, but another defended it.

What do the Frenchmen/women and Americans out there think about his statement?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Other Air and Space Museum

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, located on the National Mall, is one of Washington, DC's most popular tourist sites.  Dedicated to the wonder of flight, the museum features artifacts from both air and space travel, including spacesuits and capsules, war planes, rockets, and Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of Saint Louis, which is dramatically suspended in the main lobby.  It's fun, free, and entertaining for all ages.  But it's only a fraction of the Smithsonian's air and space artifacts.

A few miles outside of Washington, DC, near Dulles International Airport, is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Smithsonian's other National Air and Space Museum.  Unlike its downtown counterpart, the Center has the luxury of land, and therefore displays many larger air and space crafts, including a NASA space shuttle and, my personal favorite, an Air France Concorde.

Even if you're not normally someone who gets excited about airplanes, you can enjoy this museum for the sheer impressiveness of its size and the size of the crafts.  It would be difficult to walk under a space shuttle and not be awed by its largess.  You'll also see the Enola Gay, infamous for dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, early aircraft from the Wright Brothers era, and the world's fastest jet-propelled aircraft, the Lockheed SR-17 Blackbird, which made its final voyage form Los Angeles to Washington, DC in 1 hour 4 minutes and 20 seconds (2,124 miles per hour).  In short, the other Air and Space Museum is even better than the one that gets all the attention on the Mall. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Travel in 2011

Bonne Année!

It's that time of year again (Day One) when I like to reflect on the most recent 365 days of travel and dream about the 365 to come.  2010 started in Brussels, went to Luxembourg, Paris, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Seattle, Reno, Lake Tahoe, Kansas, and Disney World.  And, of course, back to Washington, DC.  Not bad for one year, especially since I resolved to make 2010 the Year of the Vacation, and many of those locations were indeed solely for R&R purposes.

What's in store for 2011?  For starters, January will bring another trip to Los Angeles (vacation) and then Minneapolis (sister's wedding).  But the big news is that 2011 will almost certainly see another overseas move.  In November I accepted an offer to join the Foreign Service, fulfilling a years-long dream and a year-long testing and hiring process.  Training begins in February and by mid-March I should know where in the world they're sending me first.

Happy Travels in 2011!  Where are you off to this year?