Sunday, June 8, 2014

CaveLife: Paleo in Paris

Yes. It's possible.

Sure. Yes. I get it. Cheese is almost a religion in France. And there are bakeries and crêpe stands on every corner. But the food culture in Paris is so centered around high quality meat, fresh game, seasonal produce, and great affordable wine, that it is one of the easiest places to maintain a primal lifestyle. If you're willing to expand beyond the stereotype. 

Surprised? I wasn't. But I knew what I was getting myself into...

The fall of my senior year of high school (so waaaaay back in the old days), when my friends were spending long evenings and weekend afternoons writing essay after essay for their college applications, I was hanging out with my little sister looking for something better to do.

Don't get me wrong. I wanted to go to college eventually (spoiler alert: I did go. And go. And go. That's how I ended up a silly little scientist in a basement cubicle). Just not right then. I had great grades, took AP classes, played 2 sports, did all the community service. I was ready for those applications. But I had other plans.

I had decided the summer after my freshman year, while I was hanging out poolside between two-a-day swim practices, that it might be fun to live in Europe for a year between high school and college. Two-and-a-half years later that was still the plan (I told you I'm decisive).

So I sent a bio and a photo to an au pair agency, hoping that an awesome family would hire me. I didn't have a back-up plan. Didn't submit a single college application. I threw everything into this one idea (because that's what I do). And through the magic of the Universe and my guardian angel, I was hired by an amazing French family.

I could go on for days about all the things that I learned, and the ways that I grew, while I lived with my French family. About becoming my true self, and about courage, and about the payoff when you're willing to take big risks. I could tell hilarious stories about watching beautiful little children experience new aspects of the world for the first time. About climbing on trash cans and breaking toddlers out of locked bathrooms and teaching baby girls their first words.

And all of that is bundled up into my feelings about Paris. And my comfort when I landed. And my faith that Easter weekend with my #1 Loves from Grad School was going to be amazing. And my expectation that the trip was going to help me along the path toward reestablishing myself.

I flew over Wednesday night and landed in Paris about dawn on Thursday. Thankfully, I sleep great on planes (even in coach. I'm little... I fit.) so I had a jump start on getting my body into the right timezone.

I got off the plane at Charles De Gaulle, hustled to the RER (stopping at the ATM for Euros), and hopped onto the next train to the city. What was amazing was that even though I hadn't been near an RER train for years the smell was exactly the same - indescribable - and brought me all the way back to my first trip into Paris. And it felt like home.

My #1 Love Aurelia lives in a swanky neighborhood in the 6th Arrondissement, near the Jardin du Luxembourg. So I got off the train near Notre Dame, popped up out of the RER station and caught a glimpse of the cathedral backlit by the early morning sun. Talk about a "welcome to Paris!" Then I navigated my way to Aurelia's apartment and got my real welcome to Paris (which was really just a lot of screaming-hugging-jumping-up-and-down in the stairwell. Sorry neighbors).

Aurelia made me a delicious breakfast. Then we changed clothes and went for a brisk walk through the neighborhood and Jardin. I hadn't seen Aurelia in years and had so much to tell her (and her me). About life. About love. About work. About play. We finished our walk. Hit the showers. And then headed out in search of low-key tourism and lunch.

We climbed up to Sacré Coeur on Montmartre and toured the basilica.

One of my favorite places to visit when I lived in France.

After the tour, we climbed back down and ordered Salad Niçoise and a bottle of rosé at a nearby cafe.

Yes, we were day-drinking. It's called vacation for a reason.

Then we headed back to the home-base, changed into shorts (because the weather was beautiful) and walked over to the Jardin to do as the Parisians do (lay in the sun and nap). It was probably one of the top five naps of my life.

Ahhhh. Springtime in Paris.

That night, we dined at Le Relais de l'Entrecôte. The restaurant only serves four things. Steak in a delicious sauce. French fries. Salad. And Dessert. When you order, the waitress asks for your wine choice and preference for steak temperature. But be careful. The lady at the table next to us asked for well done, and they wouldn't serve her. You cannot insult the chef!

The salad comes immediately after you order.
This would be the perfect place to go when you're hungry, except for the looong line out the door.

Mine was medium-rare. And yes, I eat potatoes (they totally count!)
And Sally Dee if you're reading this, please forgive the fork and knife placement.
I swear it was just for the photo!

I wasn't kidding when I said there was a line.
We got there just before opening so thankfully didn't have to wait too long.

Friday morning, we slept late and Aurelia cooked a delicious breakfast of veggie hash, tomato, avocado, eggs, coffee, and juice.

Seriously. How spoiled was I?

Then we left to explore a part of Paris neither of us had seen before. In all our time in the city, we hadn't visited the French military museum at Hôtel national des Invalides or Napoleon's Tomb. So this was the day!

The museum grounds are pretty great by themselves because of the funny trees,
the moat, and also because of the cannons. I'm a sucker for copper cannons.

Napoleon's Tomb or as Aurelia called it,
"The most impressive monument to a
personality on Earth."

Then we walked back toward the 6th along the Seine where I snapped my own version of one of the quintessential Parisian pictures.

How can you not love this place? There is beauty around every corner!

We had a little café near the Louvre to perk ourselves up from all the walking. And also to prepare ourselves for the long night ahead. Our other #1 Love Kristin was flying in from Moscow late that night, and we had plans to cook a midnight dinner at home once she arrived. 

We made haste to the markets after finishing our café to collect meat, veggies, and wine for dinner. We also decided to treat ourselves to a delicious snack.

Artichoke, smoked salmon, lemon, olives, homemade olive oil garlic basil mayonaise,
and of course champaign. "Because we can!"

When we were full and mostly drunk on champaign, Aurelia told me all about her recent trip to Kenya and showed me her amazingly-beautiful pictures. I decided then that Kristin and I had to make our next major adventure a safari (of course I planned to ask her opinion, but I also knew she'd say yes)!

When Kristin arrived, we walked down to the RER station to meet her and had another screaming-hugging-jumping-up-and-down celebration on the sidewalk in the middle of the night. Then we whisked her home for a bottle of good wine and our delicious midnight dinner (we even saved her a little bit of the champaign, because we're that kind of friends).

Filet, radicchio salad, and sweet potato fries.

We laughed and joked. We caught up on girl talk. And then we passed out.

The next morning, Aurelia spoiled us again with an amazing homemade egg scramble with fresh veggies and tons of cilantro. 

Seriously. Spoiled.

And then it was time for tourism. Whereas Aurelia and I had both seen a lot of the city, this was Kristin's first time in Paris. So we organized our Saturday around making sure she saw the must-see attractions. We started at Notre Dame because it was the closest.

Happy Easter, right?

Then found a nice little place to enjoy a café and get Kristin her first-ever pain au chocolate. It smelled amazing and would have been tempting, but my café came with a homemade dark chocolate truffle (totally counts).

Ok. Maybe I ate two dark chocolate truffles. Maybe.

We walked around the city some more. I bought an amazing oil painting from the venders on the side of the Seine (that's now hanging in my living room), and a few souvenirs for the less fortunate back home. Aurelia haggled with one of the vendors until she got the perfect Air France poster for a rock-bottom price. And then we headed back to the markets to find the perfect ingredients for our Easter Sunday Brunch.

That was one of the most fun parts of this trip. The food shopping. I love the grocery store. So being able to go daily to the markets, see what looked best, pick out meat and fresh produce to eat that day (or the next) was a real pleasure. We took everything back to the apartment, changed clothes, and headed toward the Tour Eiffel by way of our dinner reservations.

Aurelia asked me when I first arrived where I thought we should take Kristin for dinner on her first trip to Paris. We kicked around a few ideas but nothing could top Aurelia's first suggestion: La Petite Chaise, the oldest and longest continuously operating restaurant in Paris. How could we not? The food was traditional French. The wine was delicious. And this time, everyone had dessert.

To start I had a bacon and egg dish in onion broth... 

... and one of Kristin's escargot.

For my main course, I had the duck breast with pear and a delicious potato casserole
(that I am totally going to recreate at some point).

And of course there was wine.

Yes. I had dessert. Yes. It was Crème brûlée. No. It's not paleo.
I couldn't resist. I didn't eat the whole thing (not even close!)
And still, it was more sugar than I had probably eaten in an entire year...

After dinner, we continued our walk to the Tour Eiffel. It was late, and the tower was twinkling on the top of every hour. There were people everywhere, and the mood was festive and bright.

I probably took 50 pictures. This is my favorite one.

We waited to see the twinkling spectacle close up and then walked across the bridge to take a midnight spin on the cutest little carousel on Earth.

You know all those dreams?
They came true!

The next day was Easter. We slept late, updated social media, and started cooking the prettiest brunch I have ever eaten. I should note, Aurelia did most of the work. Kristin and I sipped champaign, arranged the radishes, and provided the moral support.

Champaign. Juice. Melon. Radishes. Quail Eggs.
Cured meat. Heirloom tomatoes. Strawberries. And a surprise.

We picked quail eggs because a) they're delicious and b) they come pre-painted.

Our pretty Easter table. Between the three of us, we pretty-much ate all of it, too.

And for dessert we had the apple tart from the Parisian bakery. And it was amazing.
And proof that the quality of the ingredients matter: I didn't react to the wheat at all.

For Easter afternoon, we took Kristin up the Champs-Élysées

On the way we stopped to watch the lovers attaching
their locks to the railing at 
Pont de l'Archevêché.

While we were out, the girls talked me into buying a very expensive perfume by one of the oldest perfume houses in the world. To be honest, I didn't need much convincing. I kind-of loved the idea of from that moment taking on a new signature scent. A fresh start to mark the next chapter of my life. I wear it every day (and some nights) and remember not only my #1 Loves but also the feeling of that Easter afternoon, of being truly myself and truly at peace.

Then we hopped in a Taxi and headed back to Aurelia's apartment, because I had a dinner date with my amazing French family from the au pair days. They were lovely and welcoming and just as fun and loud and full of life as I remembered. The kids are grown. And the family make-up has changed. But the spirt was still alive and well. It made me miss Paris even though I was in it. And it made me regret spending so much time away from them. I vowed then to see them all again soon. 

And then that was it. The trip was over.

The next morning, Kristin and I had to catch a flight back to the states. I used the free WiFi in the United lounge to download The Little Prince in French and English. I had left my copy at home, but felt with all the tender emotions and feelings of renewal and life lessons bubbling up in me from the trip, I needed it close to me on the flight home.

On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. 
One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.

I read both versions on the plane and a few other things. I slept. I drank (a little). And I started to transition myself back to real life. Even though it was short, it was one of the top five trips of my life. 

I cannot wait for our next adventure!

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