Tag Archives: France

In Seine in the Membrane

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Notre Dame on a steamer of a day!

Tuesday, my first real day back in Paris.  My yoga bro spent most of the day at work, and I took the opportunity to lay back and do absolutely nothing.  Oh, sweet nothing.  There’s nothing better than doing nothing when you’ve been traveling for two weeks, it’s hotter than the devil’s armpit outside and your prana levels are looking just about as flush as the euros in your wallet.  On occasion, I’ll feel a twinge of guilt for doing nothing, as though my entire existence should be dictated by productivity assessments.  But that’s just the Puritan work ethic creeping up on me!  No, doing nothing is quite alright.  Even on holiday, in one of the most fabulous cities in the world – sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.  And in this case, it was nothing.  🙂

By the time Wednesday rolled around, I’d found the time to come back to my asana/pranayam/meditation groove, so I felt rejuvenated enough to do a little more exploring.  I didn’t have to wander far until I ran into an adorable Thai Massage joint recommended to me by my local friend.  30 minutes of Thai Massage and all that travel was nothing but a feint memory . . . it took me back to my days in massage training in Chiang Mai.  It might be time to finish up my level two training soon!

(A random video of Thai Massage techniques, in case you’ve not experienced it before.  It’s such a perfect compliment to an asana practice – your flexibility will definitely be enhanced with regular Thai Massage!)

Wednesday rolled on through the Pompidou, crepe tastings, Notre Dame, a jazz band, and to top it all off, Ethiopian food at Abyssinia Restaurant!  The portions could have been more generous, but the flavors were out of this world.

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Thursday we set off for New York via the Charles de Gaulle airport.  I may have been through quite a few airports in my life, sure.  The Honolulu airport is adorable and mostly outdoors, palm trees lining the walkways, the smell of flowers in the air.  I love the Tokyo airport for all the spas and restaurants and pod hotels.  But the airport in Paris is so mindfully designed, it has to take the cake.  All the inside walls are lined in wood, giving the ambiance a grounded yet spacious feel.  Sunlight pours in at every design opportunity, the perfect natural mood enhancer.  From the outside, the airport looks like some kind of 60’s vision of a futuristic spacecraft.  Fo’ realzies, one of the best flying facilities I’ve seen so far.

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Supafly flying facility

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Weekly Gratitude in Photos: Plaisance

GuitarPapa
Monday: Cheering on my pops as he played a gig outside a Brocante/Cafe in Ignon, France. Nothing like seeing someone following their dreams and loving it.
Tuesday: Bicycling through wine country.
Tuesday: Bicycling through wine country.  The vineyards do a great job of educating visitors (in French) on where the grapes come from and how they’re processed.
At foreground: one of Gers' many fine offerings.  At the background: where it all goes down!
At foreground: one of Gers’ many fine offerings. At the background: where it all goes down!
Can't beat the view!
Two happy dudes and two sweet bikes – and check out that view!
Wednesday: Long walks in the 'hood.
Wednesday: Long walks in the ‘hood.
Thursday: Silence amongst the trees welcomes relaxation, contemplation and meditation.
Thursday: Silence amongst the trees welcomes relaxation, contemplation and meditation.  Lawd knows my body needed that after all the celebrations so far!
Friday: Animals on a camel farm.
Friday: Animals on a sweet camel farm.  If you’re looking for a place to learn about animal behavior, and want to trade work for a phenomenal stay in France, check these guys out!
Sweet sweet simplicity.  Look at that alpaca.  He knows what's up.
Sweet sweet simplicity. Look at that alpaca. He knows what’s up.
Saturday: A lesson on expectations.  I was hoping to plant a tree and share some back care asanas while in Plaisance.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen.  But that leaves room for all kinds of things you *don't* expect to happen.  Like finding Whitney Houston at a flea market in the Middle of Nowhere, south of France.  Whitney transcends political lines.
Saturday: A lesson on expectations. I was hoping to plant a tree and share some back care asanas while in Plaisance. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  There are so many variables out of our hands, it’s best to just let go of expectations, and allow all kinds of things you *don’t* expect to happen. Like finding Whitney Houston at a flea market in the Middle of Nowhere, south of France. Whitney clearly transcends all cultural and political lines.
Sunday: Summer evenings in France.  The light goes strong until 11pm in this part of the world, a sweet respite from what was a very long and arduous winter, by all accounts.  Celebrations go well into the evening when the sun is out.  So grateful to be able to soak it up with new friends.
Sunday: Summer evenings in France. The light goes strong until 11pm in this part of the world, a sweet respite from what was a very long and arduous winter, by all accounts. Celebrations go well into the evening when the sun is out – I’m so grateful to be able to soak it up with new friends.

Trinity of Thanks

The weekend round up!

Friday: Train Rides

If you’ve never been on a long train ride, I highly recommend it.  You’ll have oodles of spare contemplation time and the potential for meeting random strangers for a nice chat is as infinite as you are garrulous.  Long train rides also allow for heavy journaling sessions, delving deeply into your music collection, tasty home-made picnics, and as much pranayam as your heart desires!  I found myself on a nine hour train journey earlier this week and will be on another one soon.  I’m actually really looking forward to having all the down time for reading and catching up on a few work projects.  Oh long train ride, sweet symbol of change.  One minute the trees are whizzing by, the  next, a pair of horses swish tails in a field.  Yup, that’s good stuff.

Saturday: My Manduka Travel Mat

It’s so light and thin I can fold it up and put it in my handbag.  My handbag. 

Sunday: Miniature Golf

Why has it been SO long since I’ve played miniature golf???  This game just rocks.  Especially when the sun is out and the company is awesome.  Happy days.

 

Matisse Museum, Nice

Taking in the life’s work of a true artist is impossible to do in a day, but I certainly appreciated the opportunity to do so in Nice!  Henri Matisse is one of France’s most prolific visual artists, working in most mediums on the spectrum, including clothing, oil painting and sculpture.

You know a hardcore artist by the range of their creations, how their styles and materials evolve along with them, throughout their lives, not just as products, but as manifestations of a calling within.  It’s rare, and deeply personal, so of course, I felt honored to be checking out so many of Matisse’s works in one place.  About halfway through the visit, I noticed how jazz music and visits to China and Tahiti were so influential in the development of his expression – I was delighted.

It’s interesting how we experience art – so many nuances come into play, from historical context to color harmony, from the actual size of the object to political messages interwoven into the piece.  Today I realized if I’m able to feel connected to the artist in some way, through a shared love for a kind of music, for example, it enhances my appreciation, it allows for more experience. Sharing art with a good friend is also such a special phenomenon, hearing their thoughts, discoveries and ponderings.

If you’re in Nice, the Musee Matisse de Nice is a must-see spot, and tickets will also grant you entrance to six other museums in the city.  Get there early to avoid the crowds and be warned: no pictures.  Or the skulking security guards just might sneak up from behind and admonish you in an unnecessarily loud manner!

Homemade Cous Cous

My arrival in Nice was marked by a mouthwatering cous cous, presented in a multitude of dishes.  Chickpeas, chilles, artichoke hearts, squash, bell peppers, tomatoes, chilli paste, raisins, fresh coriander, and of course, the cous cous itself.  Everything was served separately so we could choose just how much of everything to combine on our plates (one of us preferred to keep the cous cous separate from everything else, another mixed it all together). My hosts were clearly well-schooled on the ritual of damn fine cous cous creation; I’d never had anything like it!

If you’re into the background stories, here’s what Wikipedians have to say on cous cous history (scroll down for the recipe):

One of the first written references is from an anonymous 13th-century North Africa/Andalusian cookbook, Kitāb al-tabǐkh fǐ al-Maghrib (North Africa) wa’l-Andalus (Arabic) “The cookbook of the Maghreb and Al-Andalus“, with a recipe for couscous that was ‘known all over the world’. To this day, couscous is known as ‘the North Africa national dish’.[9] Couscous was known to the Nasrid royalty in Granada as well. And in the 13th century a Syrian historian from Aleppo includes four references for couscous. These early mentions show that couscous spread rapidly, but generally that couscous was common from Tripolitania to the west, while from Cyrenaica to the east the main cuisine was Egyptian, with couscous as an occasional dish. Today, in Egypt and the Middle East, couscous is known, but in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya couscous is a staple. Couscous was taken from Syria to Turkey in the 16th century and is eaten in most of the southern provinces.

Couscous is a traditional meal of the cuisine from Trapani. In Rome Bartolomeo Scappi‘s culinary guide of 1570 describes a Moorish dish, succussu; in Tuscany.[10]

One of the earliest references to couscous in France is in Brittany, in a letter dated January 12, 1699. But it made an earlier appearance in Provence, where the traveler Jean Jacques Bouchard wrote of eating it in Toulon in 1630. Couscous was originally made from millet.[11] Historians have different opinions as to when wheat began to replace the use of millet. The conversion seems to have occurred sometime in the 20th century, although many regions continue to use the traditional millet. Couscous seems to have a North African origin. Archaeological evidence dating back to the 10th century, consisting of kitchen utensils needed to prepare this dish, has been found in this part of the world.

In some regions couscous is made from coarsely ground barley or pearl millet. In Brazil, the traditional couscous is made from cornmeal.[12]

This isn’t the precise menu used for my meal, but the recipe looks quite similar (and scrumptious!) .  Be warned: it’s a multi-step process and takes a considerable amount of time:

***

This is my mother-in-law’s outstanding recipe for classic Moroccan Couscous with Seven Vegetables. Steamed couscous is piled high with stewed meat and vegetables – very delicious! Omit the meat for a vegetarian couscous.

See How to Steam Couscous if you’ve never used a couscoussier. If cooking chicken, an organic, free-range bird works best due to the long cooking time.

Vary the vegetables to your family’s preferences, but try to include the full variety to achieve an authentically flavored sauce. Popular additions are listed as optional ingredients.

Buttermilk or Saycouk are traditionally offered afterward.

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours

Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: Generously serves 6 adults

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg (2 lbs. 3 oz.) dry couscous (not instant)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • ——————————————————————
  • 1 kg (2 lbs. 3 oz.) lamb or beef, cut into large pieces on the bone (or 1 whole chicken)
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric, or 1/4 teaspoon Moroccan yellow colorant
  • 1 handful of parsley and cilantro sprigs, tied into a bouquet
  • ——————————————————————
  • 1/2 of a small cabbage, cut into 2 or 3 sections
  • 3 or 4 turnips, peeled and halved
  • 10 carrots, peeled and halved
  • 1 or 2 tomatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 or 2 small onions, whole or halved
  • 1 small acorn squash, quartered (or a small section of pumpkin, cut into 3″ pieces)
  • 4 or 5 small zucchini (long or 8-ball round), ends removed and halved
  • 2 or 3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and halved (optional)
  • 1/4 cup dry chickpeas, soaked overnight (optional)
  • 1/2 cup fresh fava beans (optional)
  • 1 or 2 jalapeño or chili peppers (optional)*
  • ——————————————————————
  • 2 tablespoons butter (for the couscous)
  • 1 tablespoon salt (for the couscous)
  • 1 teaspoon smen (Moroccan preserved butter – optional)

Preparation:

Note: A free range chicken (djaj beldi) will require the same cooking time and procedure as indicated below for beef or lamb. If using a regular factory-raised chicken, remove it from the pot when fully cooked and set aside. Return it to the pot to reheat for a few minutes just prior to serving.

Mix the meat, onion, tomatoes, oil and spices in the bottom of a couscoussier. Cook uncovered over medium to medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until the meat is browned and the onions and tomatoes have formed a thick sauce.

Add 2 1/2 liters (about 2 1/2 quarts) of water, the parsley/cilantro bouquet, and the chick peas. Cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer rapidly for 25 to 30 minutes. (Note: If omitting both meat and chick peas, there’s no need to simmer for awhile before proceeding to the next step.)

First Steaming of the Couscous

See the photo tutorial How to Steam Couscous if you’ve never used a couscoussier before.

While the meat is cooking, get the couscous ready for its first steaming. Oil the steamer basket and set it aside. Empty the dry couscous into a very large bowl, and work in 1/4 cup of vegetable oil with your hands, tossing the couscous and rubbing it between your palms. (This will help prevent the couscous grains from clumping together.) Next, work in 1 cup of water in the same manner, using your hands to evenly distribute the liquid into the couscous. Transfer the couscous to the oiled steamer basket.

Add the cabbage to the broth, and place the steamer basket on top. Once you see steam rising from the couscous, steam the couscous for 15 minutes.

Note: If you see steam escaping from between the basket and couscoussier, you’ll need to seal the joint. You can do this in several ways:

  • wrap and tie a long piece of damp cloth over the joint, or
  • tightly wrap a long piece of kitchen plastic film around the joint, or
  • wrap and drape a long piece of kitchen plastic film onto the rim of the couscoussier, and then place the basket on top (this is my preferred method)

Once the couscous has steamed for 15 minutes, empty it back into your large bowl and break it apart.

Second Steaming of the Couscous

When the couscous has cooled enough to handle, gradually work in 2 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt with your hands. Again, toss the couscous and rub it between your palms to break up any balls or clumps. Transfer the couscous back into the steamer, taking care not to pack or compress the couscous.

Add the turnips, tomatoes, onions, carrots and fava beans (if using) to the pot. Place the steamer basket on top of the couscoussier, and steam the couscous a second time for 15 minutes, timing from when you see the steam rising from the couscous. (Again, seal the joint if you see steam escaping.)

When the couscous has steamed for 15 to 20 minutes, turn it out into the large bowl again. Break it apart, and leave to cool a few minutes.

If using pumpkin, add it to the couscoussier, and cover the pot.

Third Steaming of Couscous

Gradually work 3 cups of water into the couscous with your hands, tossing it and rubbing the grains between your palms. Taste the couscous, and add a little salt if desired.

Transfer about half of the couscous to the steamer basket. Again, try to handle the couscous lightly and avoid packing it into the steamer.

Add the squash, zucchini, and sweet potatoes to the couscoussier, and place the steamer basket on top. (Again, seal the joint if necessary.)

When you see the steam rise through the couscous, carefully add the remaining couscous to the steamer. Continue cooking, watching for the steam to rise from the couscous. Allow the couscous to steam a third time for a full 15 to 20 minutes. At this point, all of the vegetables should be cooked. Test the vegetables to be sure, cooking longer if necessary. Taste the broth – it should be salty and peppery – and adjust the seasoning if desired.

If you’re using smen, add it to the sauce in the pot.

Serving the Couscous and Vegetables

Empty the couscous into the large bowl, and break it apart. Mix in the 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 ladles of broth.

To serve the couscous, shape it into a mound with a well in the center. Put the meat into the well, and arrange the vegetables on top and all around. Distribute the broth evenly over the couscous and vegetables, reserving one or two bowlfuls to offer on the side for those who prefer more.

* If you’re serving the couscous with jalapeño peppers, simmer the peppers, covered, in a half-ladle of broth and a little water, for about 40 minutes, or until the jalapeños are tender. The peppers are typically placed on top of the couscous, and small pieces may be broken off as a condiment.