My best meal in France

Hailey and I had a simple goal for our 48 hours in Paris: Walk around and eat stuff. To some extent, that’s exactly what we did (we certainly walked around), but we ran into a few challenges when it came to eating stuff. 1) We had limited time, so we felt like we had to make every bite count, which led to paralyzing indecision. 2) We went without a plan for any specific meals or restaurants. 3) More money would have helped. 4) Restaurants and shops closed much earlier than we were expecting, especially in quiet Montmartre where our Air B&B apartment was.

But we did have good food. Here’s the story of our best meal in Paris.

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IMG_36571) First, we drank wine. About an hour earlier, after spending  eight hours walking all over the city, we completely ran out of steam in the tunnel under the Arc De Triomphe. Cold and tired, we stayed there, under one of the most famous monuments in the world, for a loooong time.  A long time, friends. We didn’t know where to go next, and, more to the point, we didn’t know where to eat. We decided to go back to Montmartre to retrieve warmer clothing and, hopefully, find something like a pastry shop where we could buy fabulous, wonderful things to take back to our apartment. On our way home, we bought wine. And we drank some. I think this informs what comes next.

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2) I love foreign grocery stores. I like seeing the eggs and milk on the dry goods shelf and the yogurt in glass cups.* Sure, I love seeing farmers’ markets and anywhere people buy food, but I have a special love for grocery stores. I like to see where people shop when it is late and they are out of other options, which is exactly the situation we found ourselves in. For about two seconds, I was sad that one of my three dinners in France would be from the equivalent of a bodega, then I got really excited. When I made it to the canned goods aisle and saw they had cassoulet with confit de canard (duck! confit! cassoulet! FANCY!), I could hardly contain myself.

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3) This was our haul: ratatouille provencale, cassoulet de castelnaudary au confit de canard du sud-ouest, bread, wine and strawberries. And yogurt, bananas and hazelnut cream for the next morning. This is the most proud I’ve ever been of canned goods I didn’t can myself. THEN, I opened the cassoulet and saw the duck legs were still on the bone. They canned the bones, ya’ll! But I guess you can do anything in France. Or with access to a pressure cooker. Best of all, it smelled good. Any doubts I had disappeared, and I went to take a quick shower while Hailey heated everything on the tiny stovetop.

4) From the moment we got to the apartment, I realized that the tiny shower had a little window that overlooked the kitchen, presumably so the otherwise interior space could enjoy a little light. Somehow, Hailey had NOT noticed the window. So when, a few minutes into my shower, I opened the window to chat with her while she was cooking, she completely LOST it. When she handed me the pan of duck legs and beans to demonstrate that one could conceivably cook while showering, well, neither of us could contain ourselves. I think it’s the hardest I’ve laughed all year. In other circumstances, it might have been a “laughed so hard we peed our pants” moment, but I, at least, wasn’t wearing any pants.

IMG_1916IMG_19185) Then we ate. And it was good—very good.

 

I’ve been thinking about this since March and pondering a few things:

1) Do normal French people ever eat canned cassoulet and ratatouille? If so, who and when? Under what circumstance?

2) This is why I love Air B&B. We would never have had this experience in a hotel because 1) we probably wouldn’t have been in a regular neighborhood with grocery stores for regular people; 2) we wouldn’t have had anywhere to cook food; 3) hotels don’t have windows in their showers.

3) As with my other most memorable meals (the naked spaghetti incident at my grandmother’s house; my first sangria experience in Spain; etc.), the quality of the food was inconsequential, almost an afterthought.  I attended a panel discussion a couple years ago at the International Culinary Center in which a researcher explained that, despite having consumed plenty of food, a French person might say, “I haven’t eaten all day” if the food she ate wasn’t shared with others, at a table, most likely with wine. It is by that standard that I deem this meal the best of the trip, by far.

 

* Don’t let me or anyone else tell you that the French have everything figured out. See that dairy shelf? That’s some kind of KitKat pudding cup there on the far left. They aren’t so perfect, those French. Or maybe they are—I like KitKats.

48 hours in Paris with my sister

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Last March, after our tour of England and the great Peter and Richard wedding extravaganza, my sister Hailey and I flew to Paris. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Hailey had never been before, I had been once about 10 years earlier, and according to my pack-it-all-in logic, it would have been a waste to fly all the way across the Atlantic and only visit one country. We considered other places, but we knew we would only have a few day and that the weather might be iffy, so we reasoned that somewhere compact with lots of indoor attractions would be a good bet. Plus, well, Paris.

I debated whether to share details or just photos and a brief sketch of the trip, but now I’m glad that I wrote all of this down back in April or I never would have remembered exactly what we did.  And reading other blogs helped me plan my trip, so maybe this will be helpful, too.

All the photos with me in them were taken by Hailey, who is far too good to spend her time taking pictures of me holding crepes.  She also recapped the trip here.

Here’s how we spent roughly 48 hours in Paris:

Day 0

I won’t start the clock on our 48 hours yet because this was mostly a travel day, and we saw even less than we had hoped thanks to some frustrations acquiring cash and getting the map to work on my iPhone. But this day has to be mentioned because of how much I loved emerging from the subway in Montmartre and (after we had deposited our bags) winding our way up to Sacre-Coeur just after sunset. I think Hailey and I would both rather forget just how long we wandered around trying to decide where to eat before settling on a random cafe and calling it a night.

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IMG_3625 Day 1

Starting at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés metro stop (across from Les Deux Magots), we meandered toward Gerard Mulot Boulangerie to grab some pastries to-go for a late breakfast. I can’t remember exactly what we had (I know there was a quiche, a chocolate chip thing, and several miniature bites of goodness), but I can say that their selection of pastries, terrines, bread and other picnic-perfect wonders was the nicest we saw anywhere.

From there, we made our way to Notre-Dame, where we spent a good while in awe of the rose windows before leaving to find coffee and a public restroom (the latter was easy – a free public toilet was just behind the cathedral.) We tried and failed to get into Sainte-Chapelle (some confusing construction and a long line of ambiguous purpose deterred us) before giving up and crossing back over the Seine, where we wandered along the river, bought two crepes from a rude man, and eventually veered off the main strip and found a cafe on Rue Jacob, where we had salad, coffee and french onion soup.

We continued on along Rue Jacob until it turned into Rue de l’Université, which made for a pretty, relatively quiet walk. Our main goal was to reach the Eiffel Tower via the Place des Invalides, but we also wanted to have a peek at 81 “Roo de Loo,”  Julia Child’s first home in France. Except I remembered it wrong, and we photographed 80 Roo de Loo instead. Oh well.

Place des Invalides was far more stunning than I remembered it, but last time I think I only walked by at a fast clip whereas this time we stopped to admire the mostly empty courtyard and the stonework. Then, the moment Hailey had been waiting for, the Eiffel Tower, which I won’t say more about except that it was shrouded in a haze of smog, but still a beautiful site. We were getting cold, but we pressed on across the Seine and up Av. d’léna to the Arc de Triomphe, which, thanks to some construction scaffolding, was wearing what looked like a diaper. Cold and tired, we stayed in the tunnel under the arch for a looong time trying to decide what to do for dinner. Trying to decide what to do for dinner was an unfortunate theme of the trip, but the plan we landed on was one of our favorite moments, so I am going to save it for a second post. 

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Day 2

After eating breakfast at our apartment (tiny yogurts in glass cups!), we headed out again on the metro and got off at the Bastile stop. Then we made our way through Marais, loosely following a walk in our Rick Steves’ book. I will admit that we set out trying to follow the walk exactly, but failed. We wandered into the Place des Vosges, thought it was not the Place des Vosges, tried to figure out where we went wrong, and left never knowing exactly what we had seen but liking it nevertheless. We ended up on Rue des Rosiers in the Jewish Quarter, which was a narrow, peaceful street filled with pedestrians and lined with shops. I unkinked a little – this was the sort of Paris street I had been hoping to find.

Another odd theme of our trip was our constant search for a quiet cafe at which we could sit and sip coffee. I thought that’s what French people did, yet almost every time we stopped at a likely looking establishment, we were told they only sat people for food service. We finally hit pay dirt at a spot called Korcarz on Rue des Rosiers. I’m not saying the coffee and the pastries were the best, but the street was quiet, a lone violin player on the corner filled the whole space with music that echoed off the cobblestones, and the cafe didn’t mind that we were only after a dink and a snack. To seal my love for Rue des Rosiers, we bought our second crepe of the trip from a nice man a few doors down from the cafe.

After seeing Marais, our second goal of the day was to slowly gather the ingredients for a picnic that we would eat in Le Jardin du Luxembourg. Leaving Rue des Rosiers, we headed toward the Left Bank, stopping to buy some cheese from a woman at a street market. We crossed over onto Ile Saint-Louis, which was an even quieter haven than the streets on our Marais walk. We would have happily spent more time there, but we left after acquiring more picnic goods from a random shop.

We kept hoping to stumble across a shop with the kind of bounty and perfection we saw at Gerard Mulot Boulangerie, but alas, no luck. I am always pressing for new experiences, but I need to remind myself that when you are short on time and you find something good, it often pays to go back to it. After a long and frustrating search for a bathroom (McDonald’s came through) and a last minute quest for a wine shop (seriously, we couldn’t find one and settled on something from the equivalent of a bodega), we finally reached the park, dragged some chairs into a good position to take in the view, and ate our spoils.

Our plan was to end the day at the Louvre, which is open late on Wednesdays, but I was less than committed given the price, the limited time frame and the threat of large crowds. We finally decided to go for it and hopped on a bus (good decision – seeing Paris in the glow of the late afternoon was beautiful) that dropped us off near the Champs-Elysees, which I thought would make for a nice walk (bad decision – the park area leading up to the Louvre was much longer than I anticipated, and when we were almost there, we were shooed out because the area closed shortly after sunset.)

Despite my doubts and our unorthodox approach, we both loved the way our Louvre experience turned out. We arrived at about 8, meaning we only had 1.5 hours to spend in the museum, but there was NO line for tickets, and all of the galleries, including the one holding the Mona Lisa, were sparsely populated. We identified a few key things we wanted to see (Mona Lisa, the apartments of Napolean, and a painting involving sisterly nipple-pinching), and we walked fast. The building itself —inside and out—was our favorite part. In the end, we saw a lot in under two hours.

When we left the museum it was nearly 10 and we still wanted to see the Eiffel Tower at night and get a good meal. Debates ensued, followed by a search for an open restaurant. I have been told time and again that the people of France begin their evenings much later than Americans, and that to eat before 9 is a bit odd, and yet one after another restaurant had just closed their kitchen when we arrived. We ended up at Cafe Constant feeling very harried. I had foie gras over lentils, fish and a dessert of stewed prunes that tasted like Christmas.

After a very quick peek at the Eiffel Tower again, which was just a few blocks away, we rushed to catch the last subway train (a subway that stops running was a foreign concept that made me nervous) so we could get a few hours of sleep before heading back to the airport via train in the morning.

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 A few things about Paris:

1) These people have their public transit figured out.* Trains came every three minutes during the day, and the arrival time of the next two trains was posted prominently on digital signs in every station we visited. Even the bus stops had digital arrival time signs.

2) The one thing lacking in the metro system was public art—all of the stations I saw looked exactly the same. Subway art is one of my very favorite things about New York City. It is such an egalitarian offering.

3) Everything is beautiful. Obviously. It is, hands down, one of the prettiest cities I have ever visited. Perhaps the prettiest. It is also just a little bit the same and just a little bit overwhelming in its opulence, especially when you stick to the tourist spots. I think I would miss New York’s architectural diversity and grime.

4) Note to myself: Other cities are not a good place to escape your city. My nerves were a bit rattled on our first day thanks to the annoying whine of hundreds of scooters and motorcycles, which strike a pitch that I have always found especially grating. At times, it didn’t feel like a vacation so much as an annoying afternoon in SoHo.

5) Despite the exhausting hills and stairs (oh so many stairs!), we loved Montmartre and loved staying in an Air B&B apartment. The neighborhood was quiet, friendly and charming. We weren’t far from a metro, so it didn’t feel out-of-the-way at all. And since I live on the biggest hill in Brooklyn, I felt right at home.

 

* I can’t neglect to mention that on my first visit to Paris 11 years ago, the metro wasn’t really running at all thanks to a massive public strike that was one of a couple of things that nearly ruined that trip. But when they decide to turn it on, it works great.

Getting your good food job

IMG_1794 Maybe its because I live in hipster-saturated Brooklyn or because most of my friends hail from the world of food, but it seems like “good food” jobs are in high demand: cheese monger, farm apprentice, farm to school advocate (that’s me!). Luckily, it seems to be a growing field, although we could have a whole separate conversation about how sustainable or lucrative it is for those who make it their life.

I think a lot about how I got here and what advice I would give to anyone hoping to join me. The nonprofit I work for has done a lot of growing, and over the last three years, I have been on at least six different hiring committees and reviewed somewhere between 300 – 500 resumes and cover letters. This doesn’t make me an HR expert, but every, single time there is something about the process I am eager to share. Best practices and patterns emerge. Specifically, it has led me to think a lot about how to get a job in the world of good food or, for that matter, in the world of good-anything. Here are six things I contemplate every time I face a pile of resumes:

1) Be a do-gooder who can do something.  If you want to build a career in the world of social good, think first about what you can do, then develop your do-gooder street cred. This means you need an education/skill/trade that you can bring to the table and apply toward the cause you believe in. Note that skill and talent are not the same things: I don’t care if you have an eye for design if you don’t know Illustrator inside and out. If I’m reading your job application, I do care that you’ve demonstrated your passion and gained valuable experience working on a farm or in a hip and socially conscious bakery, but I care even more that you are a proven fundraiser/editor/designer or whatever I’m actually hiring you to do every day.

2) Would you rather bake the bread or organize the bakers? Try to find out if you need to have your boots on the ground to feel fulfilled or if you would derive more satisfaction from knowing your work has a broader (if sometimes less tangible) impact. You might not know for sure until you give each a try, and you will probably find yourself shifting roles over the course of your career. That’s okay.

3) I want to see your skills. Don’t make me read your cover letter or even your work history to know for sure if you are an expert at Photoshop, Salesforce or animal husbandry. I want to see those details spelled out, clearly and upfront. Depending on the vibe of the organization, don’t hesitate to throw in a few “bonus” skills, like pottery or fermentation, that indicate you are an interesting and well-rounded person who will be fun to work with.

job collageProudly wearing my “dragon’s tooth” at the end of a successful Urban Agrarian farmers’ market season and getting some love from lambs at Shelburne Farms

4) Brag specifically. In your work history, don’t just list tasks and things you were in charge of, also list major accomplishments and try to throw in some numbers. I want to see “300 percent XYZ” and “gain of 4,500 Blah, Blah Blah” as well as things like specific media outlets or partner organizations you have relationships with. Ladies, this one is really aimed at you: In my completely unscientific survey of resumes and interview subjects, men do a LOT more specific bragging, and it makes them seem like real achievers. Women are much more likely to use phrases like “supported my team” and “helped build.” Obviously, you want to come across as a team player, but also grab what’s yours and brag about it!

5) If you can’t sell yourself, I can’t trust you to sell my organization. This is true not just for sales jobs but for any position with a public face, especially communications, marketing, fundraising and leadership. I know this is often easier said than done, but be confident, make your skills and accomplishments easy to find in all of your materials, and also make sure that any websites and other communications channels you are in charge of are in good, working order. A web developer once tried to sell me on his services, but when I clicked the link in his email signature to visit his online portfolio, half of the pages weren’t working. Don’t be that guy.

6) It isn’t enough to dress for the job you want, not the job you have; sometimes you have to DO the job you want, even if it isn’t yours yet. Start your own thing, find a niche and fill it, work above your pay grade. The world is full of fledgling organizations where you could quickly talk your way into a volunteer position as “director of marketing” or “distribution coordinator.”  That’s how I became the outreach manager of the Oklahoma Food Co-op, and its how Jeff became founder and editor-in-chief of his own online magazine. I’ve also started a community garden, worked at a farmers’ market and organized a local-food distribution site. Work hard, even before someone is willing to pay you. This tip isn’t necessarily fair and it certainly isn’t easy, but it is part of the mantra of self-made men and woman since the beginning of time. If you are on the right path, it might not feel like work at all.

I might have a job, but I haven’t lost touch with the fact that’s it’s hard out there. So even if you are doing all of these things and more, don’t beat yourself up over every failed application. Follow what fascinates you. Work hard. Learn things. Meet people. I’m not saying you’ll get rich, but your career will coalesce into something you can be proud of. For more of my thoughts on working with do-gooders, check out this post from my archives.

Note: These are my opinions, based on my experience with multiple organizations, and they do not necessarily reflect my employer’s hiring practices or views. 

Street finds: Where churros go to die

IMG_46847th Ave and 22nd St, Brooklyn

I haven’t taken many photos that sum up my immediate neighborhood better than this one. I have never bought a churro from any of the street vendors who sell them from carts near the school and the playground (and in subway stations all over the city), but I really want to. I have always wondered where they are baked and how safe they are. Here’s a little story about the people who sell them.

 

Lately

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Aside from moving, here’s what’s been going on around here the past few weeks:

1) A couple weekends ago, Jeff had to take pictures at a poetry event on Governor’s Island, a strange former military base that is just a 10-minute ferry ride from Brooklyn or Manhattan. Most of the buildings and houses are still there but now empty and surrounded by rolling lawns and big trees, so it feels like stepping into a small, sleepy town or a college campus.

2) Edible Manhattan sent me to the Berkshires for a travel piece, and I came home Goggling real-estate. Jeff couldn’t go, so I posted on Facebook asking for a companion and ended up spending two slightly awkward nights in the bridal suite of a B&B with the lovely Lea, a friend of Jeff’s who I had previously met on only one occasion. By day, we talked non-stop, ate lots of local cheese and met amazing people, like the woman who just launched this CSA farm on the site of Herman Melville’s former home, Arrowhead.

3) I finally told my Moth GrandSLAM story! It went really well, and I had a great time even though I didn’t win (my score was a respectable 9.0) Ignore my forced smile—I was happy but dreading the awkward, on-stage small talk that I knew would follow the curtain call.

4) On our way home from Manhattan one Friday eventing, Tobia and I caught the last half of a production of Romeo and Juliet that was being staged on 5th Ave. Even though we caught the death scenes instead of the love scenes, I left feeling like the high rent and the hassle of the city are all worth it for moments like this.