30 June 2010

amiens

midnight, friday night.

“cathy, what are you doing tomorrow?”

“uhhhhhhhh…… well i was planning on going to the market, reading, editing some photos, doing some lesson planning, maybe go to a bookstore… well, nothing really, just a lazy day…”

“i’m staying in evreux this weekend. let’s do something!”

[she stares at my giant map of france]

“have you been to chartres?”

“been there.”

liseux?”

sorry….”

“have you been to dreux?”

“yeah, just a few weeks ago....”

“have you been to-"

“i haven’t been to amiens! let’s go to amiens! i’ll jump on the sncf website and check out the schedules! look, it’s only 14 euros from evreux to go there! let’s go!”

“okay, i haven’t been there either! what time is the train?”

“6:39 am. which means we leave at 6:15am to walk to the train station. which means you wake at 5:45 am

[her face falls. she grimaces.] hey, it was her idea, not mine….

“okay. see you in five hours!”

amiens018 hours later, at 8AM, and we’re in paris. our train to amiens is not until 9am. what do you do for an hour in a gray and rainy paris? velib! you kill time by riding a bike around paris.

amiens02what hurts the most is that for the entire week, you had a week of blue skies and intense yelllow sun. but the day you decide to take a daytrip, the obligatory grays come back. but you like your philosophy in life: a gray and rainy [insert random european city that is expensive to fly to from dallas] is better than no [insert random european city that is expensive to fly to from dallas]!

amiens03amiens. 1AM last minute googling teaches you a lot of things. like how it has its own special macaron. how its famous for its canals. how you have to try a flamiche. how it has the home of jules verne.

and most importantly… like how it has a floating garden. as well as a floating farmers market. which of course, since you are in france in march, is closed until april. and the floating farmers market doesn’t happen until june. oh well!

amiens04as usual, you can’t not go into the cathedrals in france. but the amiens one is a bit more special thanks to its UNESCO status because of its height, sculptures, labyrinth, and all those other good things that make buildings important for future generations.

amiens05no regional specialty will ever escape your tummy. your eyes are peeled high and low for certain key words, like flamiche and ficelle. but for some reason, on this gray saturday in march, it was difficult to find a restaurant open for lunch! your french friend was equally puzzled as you. oh well, life has to have it’s mysteries.

you don’t give up, and you find your prizes tucked away in a charming little restaurant.

flamiche. a quiche-like tart with lots of leeks. whether you use cream, milk, or cheese in the filling, the most important thing is to make sure it’s heavy on those leeks.

and lets not forget the ficelle picardie. a crepe stuffed with mushrooms and and ham, then baked in a creamy gratin dish.

mission accomplished, time to walk it off….

amiens06museums. and not just any museum, but a museum that integrates contemporary stuff with their permanent collection. all of the history and age in europe is nice, but it can get tiring real quick. so seeing current stuff is always a nice surprise when you step into a museum.

amiens07 all whites. and lights. less really is more.

amiens08and all the patisseries are gearing up for april! instead of april fool’s day, the french like to celebrate poisson d’avril. where you stick fish on people’s backs and see how long they can go without noticing. and that is carried over into the chocolate world, you can’t avoid seeing windows full of chocolate fish as april nears!

28 June 2010

not your usual shaped hamburger macaron

amiensmacaron01the thing about french pastries is that it’s so in depth. pastries itself are overwhelming. but you can also pick just one type of pastry and it itself has a billion variations.

like the macaron. we’re all used to the cute parisian hamburger style, but when i was in france i ran into many macarons that looked nothing like them. but tasted equally delicious.

amiensmacaron03the only thing in common with all these different types of macarons are they use of almonds, egg whites, and sugar.

an impromptu trip to amiens led to the purchase of these babies. eaten long ago, but the taste and memory is still fresh in my head. the macaron d’amiens is a bit heavier, wrapped in foil, and shaped like a little hockey puck. it’s got a crusty outside and a chewy inside that i’m crazy about – but then again, i’m crazy about anything sweet.

it’s interesting how a pastry can reflect the spirit of a city/region as well. this one is simple and down to earth – no fuss about the look, but the taste is spot on. and when the macaron touches your tongue, that’s really the most important part, right?

amiensmacaron02i found a recipe – so once i try it, we’ll see how it compares to my memory.

more about the lovely city of amiens soonish.

hope you are having a nice summer!

18 June 2010

one pebble

peb01a simple pebble lies on your bed. smooth and plain. nothing very special.

peb02but then you flip it over.

et14and the memories just flood in. and you’re instantly transported back to a certain saturday in march.

et08suddenly you’re not in texas. suddenly you’re here.

et12here, where you waited on your friend who ordered frites and other things to eat.

et11here, where you abandoned your digital camera to give some love to 35mm and an old canonet ql17. march. time was passing too quickly. you wanted nothing more than time to just slow down. the rapidness of digital just wasn’t going to do it for this trip.

et01 here, when you went to etretat & fecamp.

et02here, where you’re laying down on a pebble beach…

et03and just watched the sky as you listened to the waves of the water. time wasn’t moving at all at this moment.

et04some friends decided to take their shoes off…

et05and dip their toes and feet in water that’s a bit too cold for a girl from texas.

et06 a leak of light is all it takes for you to fall deeper in love with film.

et07one little pebble, four amazing people, one amazing day.

et09i’ve always been fascinated with how people attach memories to objects. i don’t have a collection of rocks from each beach i’ve visited. instead i have a range of objects that can take me back to a certain point in time. a plastic knife from a flight. a sugar packet from a bakery. a sticker peeled off an apple.

et10making the meaningless meaningful is what drives me. it may not have monetary value, it may not be rare, it may not be important – but it’s ability to take me instantly back in time is something more significant to me. which is why things with diamonds drive me mad. i’ll take my pebble from the ocean any day over a debeer’s diamond because that diamond won’t ever take me anywhere. but that pebble will. it’ll always bring me back to an exact moment in time that i spent with four amazing people.et13 just a continuation of the themes of memory and collection that i want to continue to explore. and a subtheme about the obsession with what things people think are valuable and what things are valuable.

16 June 2010

no going back now

test02 say hello to my petit-dejeuner. bread, butter, jam, and giant chunks of fleur de sel.

now that i’ve made my very first test strips of sprocjet photography with 35mm film and a twins reflex camera – there’s no going back.

test01because i’m absolutely in love with the new possibilities that are opening up.

skyi still like digital. it’s convenient. cheap. lovely. and i’ll never abandon it. but it is missing one very important thing that film will always have: magic!

15 June 2010

my summer in texas

hose01i’ve got a 9-5 office job. (don’t worry, it’s temporary and only until the end of august.) you might think that is the reason why it’s been a bit empty here recently. but that would be the last reason.

here are some reasons. definitely not all.

clafoutis as normal, i’ve been baking and and cooking as crazy. at least 2 loaves of bread each week, and 2 types of dessert, a different lunch salad each day, farmer’s market experimentations… i just do it so often that it’s become a daily habit instead of a special occasion where i’d document all the steps and write detailed notes and then blog about it.

i’m very happy that cooking/baking is now a natural thing that just happens rather than my old style of studying a recipe for hours and making sure all the ingredients are correct and all the steps are followed and then writing detailed notes and blogging about it later. i just go with how i feel. and eat. and enjoy. and blogging is the last thing on my mind. don’t worry, there will be some exceptions later on. for the more special stuff :)

roadalso lots of roadtripping. to visit people i like very much in various texas cities. as well as exploring the best swimming spots in texas.

and i’ve begun rock climbing. but no photos of that. yet.

typeanother reason why there might be less activity here is because i’ve been typing with a typewriter that i saved from a mountain of dust buried in my house. typing letters to friends. and then squeezing as many stamps as possible onto an envelope and mailing them. so the typewriter has reduced my urge to use the laptop keyboard.

hose02and then i watched atonement. which features heavily a typewriter. perfect timing. but even more perfect, i found a rumor in imdb that they used a piece of pantyhose stretched over the camera lens to give the film a hazy look. bingo. i dig up an old pair – and it’s giving me some dreamy photos. and it’s spinning off: i want to try lace and tuile, ribbons and buttons – there’s all sorts of things one can stick in front of a lens.

reminds me of when i tried making photos with a sheet of gelatin or when i played with some 3d glasses. unfortunately i lost that precious little sheet.

gotti was very close to buying a holga or diana or blackbird fly toy plastic camera. but something just felt very wrong. and i didn’t know why. for weeks i wondered what was stopping me from clicking on “buy” on amazon.

then i realized it: for the amount of money i spent on a remake of a toy camera, i could get original vintage cameras instead. it just didn’t feel right for spending more on something that wasn’t even the original.

and so with craigslist, i found a collector downsizing his collection. and now i’ve got three new toys. a gorgeous fold out camera. a british viewfinder. and the most important: a twins reflex. but not just any twins reflex. one that was made for sears in america, but made in göttingen in germany.

and you’ll find out why that is important later.

(but if you’d like a hint, you can go here.)

nine years

tenyears03the time stamp is the only reason why i know half of these photos are from nine years ago.

tenyeras06and i’m saying half because these are accidently double exposed images.

tenyears02half of them are from a trip to taiwan 9 years ago, and the other half are from a few months ago when i went to the louvre in france.

tenyears04what a wonderful way to merge two different cultures. and i had absolutely no idea until i had the photos developed.

tenyears01the louvre and a taiwanese landscape, who would’ve ever thought that they’d be united in texas?

tenyears05now i’m completely inspired to use up a lot of rolls, hide them somewhere in my house, and forget about them. and then use them again years later. and then remember that years ago i made those photos just for some happy accidents.

05 June 2010

europain & intersuc - le salon mondial de la boulangerie, pâtisserie, glacerie, chocolaterie, confiserie

europain01it certainly looks delicious, doesn’t it? but you can’t eat it. not even if you could afford it – because it’s display only! for europain 2010, an international gathering of all things bakery, pastry, ice-cream, and confectionary related. in other words, things i love.

five days, eighty thousand square meters of space, six hundred and fifty exhibitors… and two very happy north americans.

being that it was held in paris, and that i lived one hour away from paris, there was no possible way i was not going to go. so with a pass given to me from a certain boulangerie in evreux, i was able to enter and look at the other side of the bakery world. not for the consumer, but for the professional.

europain08there was bread. bread demonstrations. bread baskets. mostly from flour companies.

europain09chocolate products for chocolatiers of all sorts. the usual demonstration as well as all sorts of materials and products being showcased. the mysteries of how chocolatiers get that “ooooo” response from customers was all unlocked here. i saw their secrets!

a fun subtle detail: for the uniform of a chef/patissier/boulanger/etc, the collar is usually white. but sometimes, it will have stripes with the colors of france. the only people who can wear those stripes are people who have been awarded the meilleur ouvrier title, which is a stringent competition for a wide range of skilled crafts held each year. and the prestige that comes with it is high high high! so when you see that striped collar, you know that person has made something of impeccable quality.

europain11pastry making on an industrial scale. and the equipment used to do it. an interesting contrast from the salon de l’agriculture a week earlier, where the goal was to promote the artisanal handmade local product.

speaking of contrast – i noticed a lot of vendors for frozen products touting how they were as good as fresh. so keep in mind that unless a bakery or shop you’re visiting has the actual word “boulangerie,” chances are it might be frozen… something we don’t like to believe when we’re buying food, but it’s definitely a common practice.

europain10and why weren’t any of these pastries for sale? i took me a few minutes as well. because what’s being sold isn’t the pastry – but the display case/refrigeration system. and obviously if they are empty then they don’t look as nice.

europain02a display stand of bread. but again, that isn’t the real product. the real product is the flour used to make the bread – note the little wheat stalks. after all, bags of flour aren’t very attractive – actual loaves of bread are what really draw people in.

europain03and… empty tables. with bottles of water. and country flags. and placeholders. hmm… logic tells me… it’s the judge’s table!

europain04competition time. not only was europain a gathering of people in the industry, it was also the site of a bread baking, patisserie, and sugar art competition.

europaintablettefor the artistic piece part of the bread competition, competitors had to create bread tablets representing 12 months of their country. the other two divisions were bread and viennese pastries.

europain05that is a face of concentration.

europain13once finished, they have to present their breads to the judges. as well as decorate one side of an eiffel tower. so by the time europain is over, there will be a mini tower of bread from all the competitors.

this is the best part because they take it so seriously – olympic opening ceremony style music  blaring , trilingual announcements, and people crowding the ropes to support their favorite baker as well as hoping for a taste, if you can imagine.

(in case you’re curious, for the bread part of the competition, they had to make a baguette, a sandwich loaf, a loaf typical of their country, some more types of loaves, as well as an improved bread from a basket of random ingredients. in only one day.)

europain06judges over at the dessert competition waiting to start

europain07a judge being served. they just nibble, write down some comments, and the dessert is whisked away… to the trash? to the servers? who knows! and then a new dessert is quickly brought out for them to nibble and repeat.

europain12you also have packaging vendors. ribbons, boxes, stickers, etc. because presentation is key when you have a lovely dessert!

europain15a sugar fish demo was also going on.  

europain14and at the end of it all, back on the RER, back on the corail, and then back in evreux.

i saw a lot. learned a lot. ate a lot, as usual. but the most striking thing to me was simply seeing the commercial side. before, i was a bit naive and really did believe all the romantic notions of the baker and his bread…. but after seeing frozen doughs, mixes, premade fillings, etc., i definitely have a more realistic view of how the bakery world functions.

but regardless, i’m even more in love with bread and pastries after this show.