Saturday, December 28, 2013

Happy Christmas from Galway!

Christmas was done a little different for the Jones clan this year.  No large parties, no decorating the house, no cooking up a storm in the kitchen.  Though I have to admit that I did miss those things this year...what we did have was a special little Christmas with just our little family.  I think the end result turned out perfect for all involved!

This was our home for Christmas this year.  If you ever find yourself in Galway, do yourself a favor and stay here!  The staff are some of the kindest and friendliest people I've met.  It's located a very short walk from the city center and the train station.  Even the food is good!  Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
Across the street from our hotel was a small "pop up" ice skating rink.  We thought the lil one would be ready for ice skating...but we were wrong.  She was super nervous, and I just hope we haven't scarred her for life in the skating department.  The hubs and I took some turns around the rink by ourselves.  I hadn't been skating since high to say I was a it rusty was an understatement.  Not to mention the ice wasn't very smooth, more like what I would think of as skating on an actual frozen pond.  At least I didn't fall!
For another first, we took the lil one bowling one night.  She liked this much better than the skating, even managed to get her first strike!  We all had a blast until we had to walk home in a hail storm.  The weather in Galway was pretty nuts this time!

This was the first year the lil one was really into Santa Claus.  We had to stop and say hello to everyone we saw...and these are only two of them!  She captured the top Santa two nights in a row and got him to dance with her then received a special Christmas Day present from the bottom Santa at our hotel on Christmas Day.  He brought her a "laundry game" where you have to find matching socks that you pull our of a cardboard washing machine.  With as much as she's been into helping with the laundry lately, Santa really had been watching her.
 As for our Christmas morning, this year was done super simple.  The hubs got me some Kinder eggs, warm and cozy "cupcake" socks and a beautiful Claddagh ring with his birthstone in the middle.
 For him, I turned to Pinterest to find something simple that would still be meaningful.  Inside the card box are 12 more cards with date night ideas on them.  A gift that keeps on giving the whole year!  And better still, he won't know what's on the cards until that month comes.  This gift would drive me crazy....but he liked it!
 With no mantle to hang a stocking, Santa left his presents for the lil one in a Christmas bag hanging from our hotel room door.
She was super excited about her Cinderella dress and wore it the entire day.  
Lila enjoying her first Kinder egg.  It was a hit!  It even had a pretty little pony and ring inside.  Prefect gift for our little princess.


Now off to see the bustling city of Cork..

An American Tourist in Paris

The bakery was nice enough to give me a few days off at the end of my time in Paris to actually be able to explore the city I called home for three weeks.  Though we did not get to see that even are some of the highlights that you shouldn't pass up if you find yourself in France's largest city.

1 - Notre Dame Cathedral

This towering Roman Catholic Cathedral has been standing in France since 1345.  If possible, the inside is even more breathtaking than the outside.  There was actually a service going on during our visit which made the whole experience seem even more Godly.  It never ceases to amaze me that architecture like this has been in existence for as long as it has.  If it's a nice out, pay the extra fee to go up to the cathedral towers where you can look out over the city.  It was extremely cold that day, so we skipped this one, but I've heard the views are just as amazing as the church itself.


2- Pont de l'Archeveche 

Built in 1828, this is the narrowest road bridge in Paris, but that's not why people visit here.  This bridge is known as the "love lock" bridge.  Pairs visit here and secure a padlock with their names on it to the bridge.  The key to the lock is then thrown into the river below to signify the couple's love to be everlasting and unbreakable.  Today there are thousands of locks connected to the bridge.  Although many people think it is an eye sore, I thought it was cheesy fun.  I convinced the hubs to play along and we paced our lock close the the bottom edge of the bridge so we could find it again...if we ever come back.

3 - The Eiffel Tower

Is any trip to Paris really complete without taking in this beauty?  I got to see it every day on my way to and from work, but standing at the bottom of the tower was completely different.  The tower was built in 1889 to serve as the entrance to the World's Fair.  It is the tallest structure in Paris and has been visited by over 300 million people.  The lil one and I enjoyed an afternoon of exploring the tower and a nearby Christmas festival together.  She took some pretty good pictures!

4 - Christmas Markets

If you happen to be in Paris during the holiday season, make sure to check out a few of the Christmas markets around the city.  The largest can be found along Avenue des Champs-Elysees.  My advice to you?  Come hungry!  There are some tidbits to buy as far as presents go...but the thing to come for is the food!  Lots of traditional French treats both for the savory and sweet tooth.  And don't forget to wash it down with a nice warm Vin Chaud!

A few things we wanted to see bu didn't get to?  The first were the Catacombs.  The Catacombs hold the remains of about six million people, all of which dies hundreds of years ago.  In fact, the catacombs was Paris's answer to "overflowing" cemeteries and has been open for visitors since the late 1800s. We actually lived just down the street from the entrance to the Caracombs, but every time we tried to visit, the line was wrapped around the block.  Pictures online were creepy enough...wonder if the lil one would have been frightened?

The second was the Louvre.  I don't think this museum needs any introduction or history as it holds the Mona Lisa among many other masterpieces.  We had plans to visit here our last day in Paris, but the lil one got sick and we had to cancel.  Hopefully we will get back one day to see this legendary museum.

So ended our time in Paris.  Here's a pick of the apartment we called home...fifth one from the bottom, right above the apartment with the light on.

Now were headed to our green home away from home...Ireland...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Lessons Learned While Living in Paris

For those of you who don't know me, I'm a southern girl.  Not only that, but I was raised in a small town in NC.  Although I live in a "bigger" city now, I by no means live in a big city.  I've always dreamed of what it's like to live in a big city...and here's what I've learned from living here.

1 - Paris is like any other big city.

I know I've never lived in a big city, but I've visited plenty.  You hear all the time about people coming to Paris and being completely overtaken by it so much that they stay for years.  But, I've also heard the same thing about New York City.  Really, Paris is like any other big city.  There are lots of people, it's crowded and expensive.  Sure, there's amazing architecture to look at and loads of history to take in.  Don't get me wrong, I've loved my time here, but it's not so much different than I would expect living in big city USA would be...except more people would speak English, which would be helpful.

2 - Disney Paris is a smaller version of Magic Kingdom.

Thanks to the help of a sorority sister from college, we were able to take the little one to Disney.  It was her first experience there, and she loved it!  She warmed up to the characters quickly and made tons of "new friends" waiting in lines for rides.  I had a blast too, but I have to admit, that I was a bit disappointed not to see many different rides.  I did get to meet Jack Skelenton though, and that was INCREDIBLE!

3 - Christmas time is just as crazy as back home!

So there isn't any Black Friday shopping, but it's still pretty nuts.  Christmas markets line most major streets (and are always packed with people), stores are over flowing and everyone is out to get their hands on Christmas goodies.  However, I did find out one interesting tid bit.  In working with my new French friends, we constantly compare stories of Americans verses the French.  Would you believe that EVERYONE celebrates Christmas in Paris...and most of France for that matter what religion.  And it's not "offensive" to say Merry Christmas to anyone.  Even Disney displayed those two words proudly.  You go France!
4 - Food and wine here are really cheap...if you're not eating out.

Restaurants are going to mark up food wherever you are, but the grocery stores here are much more affordable than back home.  Produce, for the most part, is very affordable (as is meat) and bread is dirt cheap.  Wine is crazy's not unheard of to find a really good bottle for under 3 Euro.  Cooking has been a blast and cost efficient even without coupon clipping and comparison shopping.  Still...there was one food that I had really missed...BACON.  Bacon over here is sold already cut into small strips, lardons as my fellow culinarians will know.  Then today I found actual bacon...hello breakfast paradise!  Now...if I could just find the makings of Buttermilk Pancakes...
5 - No matter how much fun your having, you get to a point when you miss home...

It's been the last week that's been really hard.  Working in a kitchen all day where you can barely communicate with the people you work with gets very lonely.  I'm thankful that my family is here with me, but I've gotten to a point where I miss the little things about driving a car, or calling a friend, or working in a kitchen where I can shoot the sh#t with the rest of the guys.  Soon our time in France will come to an end and we'll travel to Ireland for the holidays.  I don't want to rush that, but a part of me wants to get back home...sleep in my own bed...cook in my own laundry with an actual washer AND dryer! 

I'm sure it will happen before I know it...

Getting Back to Paris

I know I'm a bit here's time to play catch-up!

November 22 was my official last day in Le Cap d'Agde.  Given the difficulties we had driving down from Paris the first time, we decided to take a week, do some more exploring and take our time getting back to Paris.  Since we were having to transport all our stuff, we traded in our little white box car for a small SUV.  Seeing that the car held one of my friend's bikes in the back seat, I thought we would have no problem getting all our stuff into the car.  It was a tight fit.  And by tight I mean the hubs was the only one that could drive since there was stuff on the floor board in front of my seat giving me just enough room to slide my legs in and the poor lil one was packed in between all the luggage and boxes.  Next time we travel this far from home, I'm bringing one carry one piece of luggage...I don't care how long we're gone!

First stop on our trip was Toulouse.  The guy checking us in at the hotel was full of very helpful information and some pretty useless info about the states.  The hubs thought he was a bit creepy, but I didn't mind.  For the most part, we had fun the day we were there exploring the city...though we did get stuck in a very crowded street market.  There were nice sights to see, but after one day we were off again.

Our next stop was St. Emilion...which turned out the be a complete bust since the wineries we wanted to go to were either closed or we couldn't find them.  Such is our luck...moving on.

Bordeaux was up next and come hell or high water, I was going to a vineyard.  It seemed that wasn't going to be so easy with the lil one who, by this point, was having a hard time with the in the car out of the car trip we were taking.  Makes me glad that we had to re-plan our last few weeks here.  I'm not sure how she would have taken to training around Europe for almost three weeks.  Anywho...I book myself a tour of the country which ended up being a private tour after the couple that was suppose to come backed out at the last minute.  Some pretty scenery and some yummy wine too!

Still, the thing I loved more than anything in Bordeaux was the food the hubs found for us on our last night there.  He managed to stumble onto a fabulous Mexican restaurant.  So, for those of you who have never traveled to France, let me tell you something about the's really good...for the first week.  It's all very rich and lots of it and all pretty much the same.  After a while, you begin to long for the selection you have and probably take for granted at home.  This food was incredible.  Some of the best I've had since I've been here.  I can't wait to get back to the states to see if I can recreated some of this wonderfulness.

Finally, we landed back in Paris.  The place we are staying at is really nice...plenty of room for the three of us...and I won't mention the nightmare we had getting the luggage up 5 flights of spiral stairs without an elevator...SOOO packing light next time!  So we landed in our "new home" for the next three weeks.

So how did we get along in Paris...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Le Cap d'Agde

Since deciding to take the Paris patisserie up on it's offer to intern there for almost a month, it was time to head back to Le Cap d'Agde, finish out one last week of classes, pack up and say goodbye.  I was pretty excited that this week was plated desserts, my favorite...and even more excited when I found out we were playing with molecular gastronomy.   The combination made for some pretty amazing results!  Since each plate is made up of several different recipes, this time I'm going to give you the recipe for my favorite element of each dessert.  Think of it as a starting place...and you can always ask for more!

Pomme, pomme, pomme....
Apples as far as the eye can see!  The dessert was, technically, the simplest of the week and yet the most time consuming.  See those itty bitty squares on the plate?  Those are small cubes of apple cider jelly.  They started as large squares, cut very small that then had to be carefully separated.  They were very delicate and only the perfect squares could be kept for plating sake.  It took 4 people almost 3 hours to complete this task.  Good thing they were pretty!

Best part of this dessert?  The apple chips!  I could make these and eat them all day as a snack.  In fact, none of the "scraps" went to waste.  We ate them all!

Apple Chips
granny smith apples
powdered sugar
non stick silpat
butter spray

1- Slice the apples very thin.  It helps this process to have a mandolin.  You want to almost be able to see through the slices.
2- Spray your silpat with butter spray and put on a sheet tray.  If you don't have a silpat, well buttered parchment paper should do the job.
3- Line the apple slices on the silpat.  You can put them as close as you want, just make sure they don't touch.
4- Sift powdered sugar over top so the apples are lightly covered.
5- "Dry" out in oven at 160-180 degrees Celsius until apples are slightly wrinkled and crisp.
I didn't put any measurements in the recipe since it depends on how much you want to make.  If I had to guess, I would say you could get 40-50 chips out of one apple if you slice them thin enough.

Cremeux Au Chocolat 
As far as combination of flavors goes, this was my favorite dessert for the week.  Inside that chocolate tower are layers of toasted lime rice krispies, banana and crème brulee cream.  Top it all off with Bailey's ice cream and it's a dessert you can't go wrong with.  The only thing I would change is the amount of chocolate mousse we put around the plate.  It really masked the other flavors for me and became more chocolate than a balanced dessert.  This was not a problem for the chocolate lovers in the class...and after all, dessert is all a matter of personal taste.

Favorite element here?  Bailey's ice cream...hands...down!

Bailey's Ice Cream
*Note - Due to when the Bailey's is added in this recipe, it still has it's full alcohol content.  It's not enough to matter...but still something to mention
1036 g whole milk
450 g cream
280 g egg yolks
250 g sugar
6 g ice cream stabilizer (it can be made without this element, just won't keep as long)
360 g Bailey's

1- In a saucepan, combine milk and cream.  Warm to almost boiling.  Add in half the sugar and the stabilizer, if using.  Mix well.
2- In a small bowl, mix yolks and remaining sugar.
3- When milk mixture comes to a boil, add half of the hot mixture to the yolks.  Stir well.  Return everything to the heat at cook to 83 degrees Celsius. 
4- Remove from heat and put into a bowl.  Cool mixture down quickly by putting in the freezer or over an ice bath.  Once mixture has cooled, add the Bailey's and blend in an ice cream maker according to the directions.

Last but definitely no favorite of the week...

Declinaison Autour De La Mandarine
This was such a fun plate to play with and the flavors of the dessert were light and refreshing!  It was my favorite by far and one I intend on making for family and friends when I return home.  Whose coming for dessert???

Coolest thing on this plate?  The mandarin spaghetti!!  That's right, that lovely curved line running through the middle of the plate is mandarin spaghetti!  If you ever have an opportunity to play with molecular gastronomy, this is a good place to start.  It's one of the "easiest" and coolest techniques I've seen and can be done with any pulp you wish!

Agar Agar Spaghetti
250 g frozen mandarin pulp (or any pulp you like)
2.5 g agar agar
2.5 g gelatin powder (prepared according to package directions)

1- Melt pulp over medium heat.  Add agar agar and gelatin powder.  Bring to a boil and remove from heat.
2- Pipe mixture into small plastic tubes (these can be found in hardware stores).  Make sure they are as full as possible without any air bubbles.  Allow tubes to set in ice water.
3- Once set, carefully remove spaghetti from the tube.  You can do this by carefully blowing air into the tubes, using canned air or blowing yourself.

Aside from desserts this week, I had to say goodbye to some pretty cool people.  Hopefully, our paths will cross again one day but I enjoyed getting to know each and every one of them!

Now to get all our stuff to Paris...