27 November 2009

Giving Thanks to French Holidays and Our Home

I officially started celebrating Thanksgiving in 2007 with the husband, our first year together in Paris. Of course to get us excited, we researched on its meaning, history and the proper meal preparation(hence started my husband's love for brining).

his 1st brining experience which resulted in everything to be brined!!

our first stuffed bird!

For obvious reasons the French don't celebrate the event, but my husband prefers this 'American' occasion over the super hyped, commercialized ones like Valentine's or Halloween--both neither practiced here as well--which he claims brainwash you to purchase the props which necessarily come with it. Hmmmm.

preparing our stuffing and sidings

 Exscuse me, husband, how do you think I got the ingredients for this meal? I honestly think he just enjoys what Thanksgiving brings forth: a yummy stuffed bird, sidings, dessert and wine! Burp!

                                                2007 Thankgiving meal

Although speaking of feasts and celebrations, don't get me wrong, the French have their share of holidays: national/civic and religious/Christian ones, too. Total of 15 days of break! Even when the holidays fall on a Tuesday or Thursday, the normal custom although not official, appropriately called le pont (bridge), is to include the Monday or Friday as days off!

On top of it, the Frenchies are entitled to 5 weeks of vacation mostly during the months of July and August. In some companies including reputable international organizations, there even exists a summer schedule, which I remember back then I found so bizarre with having to go through shortened office hours and a natural (and somehwhat accepted) laid-back sense of work mode. Shall I also mention the random strikes which are conducted by service unions of transport,railroad etc.. paralyzing the city with limited train rides, nil buses or cargo truck-blocked highways, and naturally minimizing work hours? Aah, la vie en France.
A little insert, during my short stint at the Embassy, not only did I observe French non-working holidays but my national ones, too. Yeehahaha.

Below is a list of French holidays for those thinking of planning trips here.  Please keep in mind the heavy circulation of highways, full trains and planes (including some closed restaurants and shops) during the following dates.

Public Holidays

1 January :   New Year's Day (Jour de l'an)
1 May :         Labor Day (Fête du premier mai)
8 May:         WWII Victory Day (Fête de la Victoire 1945)
14 July:        Bastille Day (Fête nationale)
15 August :   Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Assomption)
1 November:    All Saints Day (La Toussaint)
11 November :   Armistice Day (Jour d'armistice)
25 December:    Christmas Day (Noël)
26 December**:    2nd Day of Christmas

*Movable  Feasts             2009     2010    2011     2012      2013

Good Friday**                 10 April  2 April   22 April  6 April  29 March 
Easter (Pâques)              12 April  4 April   24 April  8  April   31 March  
Easter Monday               13 April   5 April  25 April  9  April    1 April       
Ascension (l'Ascencion) 21 May   13 May  2 June    17 May    9 May       
Pentecost(la Pentecôte)31 May  23 May 12 June   27 May    19 May       
Whit Monday                  1 June    24 May  13 June  28 May    20 May      
*Movable because these feasts are dependent on Easter dates which are determined by complex calculations. Check this link for more info.
**Celebrated in Alsace and Lorraine

           Thanksgiving 2009  best leading actor wins! our bio chicken produce(minimum of 81 days free range) was awarded a silver medal by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture & Fishing. This is dedicated to our recent viewing of Food Inc.

Now to revert to last night's Thanksgiving meal, I managed to prepare it all by myself like a good housewife (phew!) inlcuding hours worth of packing and moving of boxes out of our apartment.

my successful chorizo vegetable harvest stuffing. here's the recipe which I tweaked.

stuffed lemon, garlic chicken roast. merci  food network.

In the spirit of giving thanks, we toasted to a blessed 'harvest', the best of health to family and friends, bountiful love and a happy home.

 2009 Thanksgiving meal. pas mal (not bad!)

      I got lucky choosing a 2006 Cotes de Provence for only 6,60 

And special thanks to you, Villa Jean Godart, our  home of memorable firsts, enjoyable feasts and comforting escape from the cold city, you will be missed!

cheers to our humble abode 2007-2009

to our squeezed up meals in the kitchen: maximum of 4 adults

to visiting friends for apero-diner

to baked lemon pies and our seasonal flower kids

19 November 2009

My Friendly Boulangerie

I live right next to a bakery, as in directly adjacent, sharing-walls-kind of close. And as I type this, I am hearing dough-pounding noises starting as early as 6am, 5 days a week, but for some insane reason, I am totally unbothered. I find it amusingly....French. There could be people like my husband, extremely noise-sensitive (seems like most French are) who will file a complaint--he really did--but as for myself, I ask: where else could I wake up to the smell of butter or see from my window a long queue of morning customers itching for their sweet pastries or baguette for the day? Only in a place called France. I could be wrong but who cares, I am happy to have this bakery next to me, as my friendly, noisy neighbour.

18 November 2009

Apartment Hunting in Paris

Finding an apartment in Paris is a major pain. For over three months, my husband and I have been on the prowl, checking out rental classified websites like se loger, explorimmo and pap.fr which fortunately permit us to visit units sans charge (rejoice!) In other cases, as with one real estate agency we visited,  a downpayment of 400 euros was required just to have access to their roster of apartments and logically, you would assume some sort of guarantee as well, right? Ha, that would be wishful thinking.

Is this horrid apartment game of “search-find-wait-rejected” a harsh reality in France which we must learn to perfect or are we victimized newbies playing with the wrong strategy?

         at a recent visit across the street of UNESCO, former workplace

11 November 2009

A Bag of Trucs (not tricks)

In my last entry I encouraged and did my share of in-store hibernation from (pre)winter wonderland chills and as a result of doing so, here are some trucs (things) which caught my eye.

It wants to shake you up when your food is cooked! Hands down to the kitchen body-shaking timer.


06 November 2009

Freezing Frenzy in Paris

What do you look forward to in Paris at a time of sporadic showers, cold weather and gray skies? No, not depression, but I assure you there is a way to cope with Autumn/Winter chills and even enjoy it!

06 October 2009

My Guilty, Greasy Pleasure in Paris

Some cravings never change. Just like the ones I get every time I am hungover, anxious or in self-destruction mode, and hence need the greasiest of the greasy, comfiest of the comforting Chinese food!! I thought bad habits would veer to happy transformations especially after being married for 2 years and as an inhabitant of a city with a penchant for clean, healthy living.

But no, no, no!

Quite frankly, it's a joy that I still have my MSG-infused happiness in a bowl here in Paris and don't need to dream about dim-sum Sunday lunches at Gloria Maris or Zong.

Opening scene. The Happy Spectator (THS) wakes up with a hangover, parched throat and hungry stomach. 

Mad fireworks sparkle in her head , magically spelling out CHINATOWN! 

THS with her husband in tow hops in the bus, leading them straight to their latest discovery in the 13th arrondissment along Avenue de Choisy. 

Mental checklist ongoing : wallet with some cash, shades for tired eyes and camera!

TANG GOURMET. The Chinese fast food's red and white signage puts a smile on THS' face and awakens the growling stomach.

Menu Inspection: Hong Kong style noodles, roast duck rice bowl, or sweet/crunchy pork in a bowl?

Collateral Damage. THS is surprised to find out how cheap everything is. She thinks she could be back home in Manila. (6.50 each for canard laquee + rice and pork laque + rice)

Diners and servers. Yes, black-haired vendors = Asians! AAh, I am home sweet home.


The Taste test. MMMMmmm. the crunchy, fatty skin of the roast duck reminds THS of lechon. She is comforted by the rice and sweet soy sauce--perfect!--but thinks that Mang Tomas still rocks.

                                    Roast pork and crunchy pork

Overall feedback. The greatest quick fix for a hangover when you don't have your Purefood's Corned Beef or Sugared SPAM. 

Next problem ecountered--THS needs her bed!

Useful Tips:

  • It's best that you bring cash when you hop over to this district. Most shops and fastfood joints like Tang Gourmet either don't accept credit cards or have a 'problem' with their card-reader machines.

 my preferred Chinese pastry shop along Ave. de Choisy where they also sell siaopao

  • Just as we do, digest your meal and walk along avenue Choisy to discover its bakeries, shops and parks. 

                                             uh, you are not allowed to lie down?

my galette de soja coco and some other pastry which tastes like pinoy macaroons

  • There are other restaurants to choose from along the avenue which garner just as many  loyal diners as Tang Gourmet. There is an 'always-full' Vietnamese one which we have yet to try.

                                               Vietnamese guilty pleasure

  • While you are at the 13th arrondissement, might as well pass by an Asian grocery like Tang Freres which has all the 'exotic' ingredients and produce from Thailand, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Korea etc..It is open from Tue-Sunday , 9am-7:30pm.  Address:  48 Avenue d'IvryParis. Total price of shopping in these supermarkets is very LOW. Oh, and if you are dumpling fanatic, the selection of frozen yummy goods like kimchi vegetable ravioli is heavenly.

  • For some trivia, it is in this quartier where you have the most residential high-rise buildings which in the past provided low-cost housing for Asian immigrants. (Even I get that happy feeling of being in Hong Kong when I am walking aimlessly in this district.) Apparently, in the early 70s the local government disallowed the construction of these apartments in order to maintain and untaint the skyline of Paris.

02 October 2009

Enjoying Romantic Paris....with the kids!

It is evident that Paris is for the beautiful, the luxe fashionista, the intellectual, the art connoisseur, the food and wine lover, the architecture enthusiast and the party-goer. But the million dollar question is if this city can also extend its welcome to an audience that is demanding, moody and hyper-- KIDS!!? 

Answer: Bien-sûr!! But of course!

                           Louvre's courtyard (window view from the museum)

La belle France loves them, kids! All the time I notice how the streets are filled with happy-looking children strolling with their parents particularly on Wednesdays, the official day granted for working mothers to spend time with their kiddoes either at home or in the office. When I was working, I remember how it pleased me during lunch break to see 4-year olds eating in the cafeteria beside their mothers or in the hallways, to cross a line of toddlers holding hands as they would walk towards the office playroom. Now that's what I call real benefits for families raising their kids  in France!

                               New Yorkers at the bazaar of Hotel de Ville

Although now, let's consider families on vacation in Paris. For parents who are wondering how to keep their kids satisfied and entertained without destroying their time in the city, do not fret! Below are some spots or activities that you could consider inserting in your itinerary.

                      almost itching to get out of her stroller at the Louvre

  • If you notice that they are feeling stifled in their strollers after being in their best museum behavior for hours in the Louvre, get their blood circulation going and have them run freely in one of the many parks or gardens of Paris!  

                                      at the Pavillion of Place des Vosges

 I personally love the Luxembourg Gardens, with features like the center-piece fountain facing the Senate Palace, the Italian style Medici fountain and the garden's botanical diversity from orchids to stylized trees. It is definitely a kid-magnet park as it has an installed carousel and junior playground. Many times I have also come across performers sing and play music at their mini stage. 

       the  fountain of Jardin du Luxembourg encircled by happy sitters

              exterior of the Luxembourg Gardens and the Senate Palace

     a cocoon feel at the Fontaine Médicis with its cave and statue nymphs

                                             its manicured trees

And if the kids need their sugar fix, right by the entrance of Luxembourg (next to RER station, Luxembourg) there is an ice cream vendor.

                                         its gates of steel closing us out

  • Take them to Bois de Vincennes where you have fun-filled activities like canoeing  on Lac Daumesnil ( I tried this with my husband it was an enjoyable workout!) , bird watching with the help of several poster boards illustrating the species found in the area, pony-riding through the oval path, merry-go-round-ing in the gardens and biking on fun paths. 

    for 2 persons/boat is 10,80 and 11,80 for 3-4 persons for an hour

Take note that boat and pony rentals(2,50 euros for one round) are offered all year round on Wednesdays and weekends (except for winter).

my jogging path around the lake      

                       I missed my nieces and nephews when I took this photo

                                           feeling at home in parc de Vincennes

  • Regarding museums, I would suggest the Pompidou, Paris' museum of modern and contemporary art. Your children will be instantly drawn to its eye-catching tube facade and playful, trippy showcases at the exhibit halls. 

                                           the museum's industrial architecture

                                                        the modern facade

The Pompidou is perfect for children as it hosts educational workshops and events  related to music, visual arts, drawing and basic art appreciation.  Click on this link to check out the kids' activities which vary each month. You will also be able to buy your child's atelier tickets online.

                colorful art pieces at a place/mini fountain beside the museum

    Wednesday Courses - 3 sessions (1 child): full rate €30 / concessions €24
    Workshops for 6-10 years old (1 child + 1 adult): full price €10 / concessions €8
    Family workshops: full price €10 / concessions €8
    All tickets give access to the Children's gallery and the museum right after the visit.
    Impromptu workshops: free / no reservation
    And  for an enjoyable meal after some hours in the museum, head to the rooftop where you will find an outdoor/indoor stylish restaurant, George, with a magnificent view of the city!


                                       George's creamy rissotto lobster

                                                            truffle ravioli

    This roof-top view of Paris is second best after what you see from Sacre Coeur in Montmarte. For table reservations, call  +33 (0)1 44 78 47 99.


                                   heading up to the roof-top restaurant via escalator 

                                                     George on a sunny day 

    •  For nontraditional modes of transport , consider L'Open Tour with its open top deck buses for an outdoor ride to see Paris' important monuments and sites. Also, Batobus will get get the children excited as they get to hop-on and hop-off the boats along the Seine river from one important site to another. You can check my previous entry to get more details on L'Open Tour and Batobus. 
    In terms of practicality, the most kid-friendly way to get around would be the bus. First, the bus lowers for easy lifting of strollers and more important is its reserved space for the parents and their kids in the strollers. 

                                                          Bateau Parisien restaurant                         

    • An idea I would propose for a different family dining experience, is the lunch cruise along the Seine river. Yes, call it cliche but it is seriously a worthy event! I did it with my parents and we were very pleased (and tipsy) with the service of Bateau Parisien

    posing against the boat's glass canopy--very camera friendly

    taking a pause from his meal for a shot

    The cruise runs from 12:45 to 2:30 and within that period expect a great view of the Notre Dame, Tour Eiffel etc.. that is, from the river's perspective; and the quality of the food and wine is surprisingly good considering its 'touristic' value. Depending on where your table is located, cost per person is either 53,  63  or 73 euros.

    If restaurants seem too stressful for you and the toddlers, there is always the grocery/ hypermarche--found in almost every other street-- like Monoprix. It has enough to satiate your appetites and simultaneously gives you a chance to re-load with some bare necessities like diapers, milk etc... There are fresh sandwiches, pastas, salads and pastries that are inexpensive and a solution to emergency feeding of your children.

    •  For good ol' ice cream to reward your kids with, you must take them to either of these 2 places. Berthillon boasts of healthy ice cream without preservatives/stabilizers and is extra enjoyable while watching some performers show-off their talent on the bridge of Île Saint-Louis.

                                           musicians performing on the bridges of Paris

    Another yummy place is Italy's finest gelateria, GROM  which uses all bio products!My   husband--a non ice cream fan--and I couldn't  stop eating it everyday in Florence thinking we had to relish every opportunity! And all of a sudden, bang, we discover 2 branches here in Paris!  Must-try parfums: vanilla, pistachio, strawberry sorbet, melon sorbet


             Boulevard Beaumarchais, 111 - 75003  (12pm-7pm)
             Rue de Seine, 81 - 75006 tel: 01 404 69 260 (12pm-12am)

                                      GROM's vanilla cream and strawberry sorbet

    I actually got inspired to write this entry for a good friend who asked for some help concerning her dining itinerary in Paris. Important factor of course, was the presence of her 3-year old son and 18th-month old daughter (obviously I got side-tracked with the insertion of activities).

    To end, I , as a non-parent, wish that these basic suggestions will be useful to parents who will one day,  also venture to the city of Light with their hyper, moody, and lovable monsters.

               the miracle worker, frites, solving all kiddie dining tantrums

    Useful Tips:
    • If your kid tells you that nature has called, go to the nearest brasserie, order a drink then head straight to the toilets usually located one floor below ground level. Take note that they rarely have areas for diaper-changing. No need to wonder about the ever-so abundant toilet paper and liquid soap for cleaning.
    • There are also capsule-like single public toilets on main avenues which automatically clean up the entire surface with a water shower after the door is shut.