Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tea in a Glass

One thing I've found in both the Netherlands and France is that if you get hot tea in a cafe or restaurant, they often give you a huge glass of hot water instead of a mug. Some places have really cute sets of glasses with handles and saucers. I like it! Here is my saucer-less but still cute home version.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Chocolate-Almond Croissant Challenge update

First, an update. The place right beside me, Fournil St. Nicolas, where the first one was burned. It unfortunately still gets an "eh." Nothing special, and really not that much flavor. I tried another almond pastry from there and I think the issue is just that however they do their almond paste leaves it really bland. The chocolate-almond croissant will be worth it occasionally simply because it's right beside me, but the place also has amazing chocolate muffins, so I've got better options. 

And our new contender--Le vieux four de St. Anne (The old oven of St. Anne). It is in a cute, old, and nice part of town, so hopes were high. As you can see, so was appetite, hence only most of it being present in the picture (these things tend to look alike though, so I'm not really worried about the pictures).

This croissant was awesome in a really subtle way. It was less sweet than the others, and all the flavors were mellow but really nice. The almond came across first and the chocolate came right at the end, and tasted more like dark than milk chocolate.  I also really liked the pastry (the dough part? I need better culinary words). It was not as heavy and buttery as some of the other ones I've had.  This one is definitely the current leader for the "best" croissant if you really want to sit down and pay attention to what you're eating. It's also right by a park I like, so I see future Saturdays (Sundays? Must check days it is open) well spent with a book, a chocolate-almond croissant, and me sitting in the grass. Ahhhhhhhh......

Monday, March 21, 2011

A real update

I realized that the only things I've been posting about lately are food items. I'm in France, of course, so that's probably what most of you want to hear about, but hey, I'm also living in a beautiful city (with, you know, a few interesting things other than restaurants and bakeries) and going to school, so I should chronicle the rest of it too.

School first. I'm still unimpressed by the program. (That's the short version. Feel free to skip the long version in the rest of this paragraph.) The courses we have been taking here have just not been good. Granted, for some profs it is their first time teaching, and for others the first time in English. But when you repeatedly call the whole class stupid and marvel at how we can be having trouble with something so easy, there may in fact be something wrong with what/the way you are teaching. It's also a bad idea to take a group of students with hugely varied backgrounds, split them up for the first semester (during which they take completely different classes), and then force them to take classes together during the second semester. Many of us are also upset that in the program guide, which convinced us to apply, there were long lists of courses we could take at each university. It wasn't until we were in the program that we found out that that had changed and those lists didn't apply to us--we would instead all be taking certain predefined courses the whole time. There goes the ability to tailor your Master's to your interests. I have spent this whole program taking courses in areas I have no intention of ever using in my own work. And, particularly in France, the material has been pretty basic, but presented in an unnecessarily complex way. Le sigh. One course I have really enjoyed though, is Hot Topics in Ecology and Evolution. It is a discussion class, and each time there are a few leaders who have read a bunch of papers on a topic (the rest of the class has read a few).  The topics have been a lot of fun, ranging from Life on other Planets to Why all the Mammoths died (I did that one and loved it) to much more hard core boring sciencey things. It has been fun to read about these crazy and different topics. And classes are almost over. In April, I get to start my research project, which I am really excited about. I'll be looking at global human disease epidemics and any potentially correlated social and climatic variables.

Alright! No more school. On to the good stuff. Oh wait, one more thing. We took a French placement test so that we could join language classes with other study abroad students. I aced the freaking thing and am now in way over my head in a class with a bunch of people who are completely fluent. D'oh :)

But ah, the city. It was cold, windy, and POURING for a week (I clearly did not fully comprehend what she meant when someone who had spent some time here said that when it rains, it really rains) and then suddenly the clouds cleared, the temperature soared, and it's spring! Blooms everywhere. It is gorgeous. This city was made for warm, sunny days with wispy clouds. It still gets pretty cool as soon as the sun goes down, so I'll be curious to see whether that's a spring thing or whether evenings will always be cool. I'm totally new to the Mediterranean climate.

I love the Saturday morning market at Arceaux (it's under the aqueduct, which has many arceaux (arches)). It is a great one. Lots of fruits, vegetables, bread, cheese, meat, flowers, and other reasonably standard market stuff. It's the stands with 15 different kinds of honey, the vineyard tables, and the local olive oils and soaps that are really fun to check out. I got a strawberry-peach jam a few weeks ago that I am completely in love with.

I am also making a serious effort to learn my favorite types of cheese and wine. I am not usually a wine drinker, but while I'm in France I have to take advantage and learn! No real progress made on finding wine favorites yet. I tend to like reds and so am focusing on those for now. Suggestions welcome! As for cheese, I'm progressing slowly there too.  I usually like chevre (goat cheese), but I've gotten several I haven't liked and don't know what the differences are in terms of the names or how they're made! I have also tried a Camembert and just don't think the taste is worth the smell. I've never been a blue cheese fan, and the one I got here was no different. I'll give Roquefort (one that looks like blue but isn't for some reason) a go soon. I did, however, break down and go for Brie, an old favorite, when I saw it in the grocery store a few days ago.

How did I get back to food? Seriously. I was trying to talk about other things! Ok. Really, food is important here.

I took a walking tour of the historic city center this weekend. It was interesting to hear the stories of a bunch of cool buildings I had never paid much attention to, but the best part was definitely that we got to go to the top of the Arc du Peyrou (which is called L'arc du Triomphe pretty regularly, even though it has nothing to do with Triumphe. Paris just does that). Haha traffic goes under this Arc and so to get in we had to stand in traffic and go through this crazy door in the wall. But the view was great!

 Alright. I realize this post was completely all over the place. I thought I should give you a bigger update than I had been and this is what happened! I will strive for more balance in future posts.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bretzels, ah ah ah

Totally random mini-post. The French word for pretzels is "bretzels." For some reason, every time I see it written I imagine The Count from Sesame Street saying it and laughing (3 times). I then giggle. I'm glad this has so far only happened when I'm alone.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Look at that S Car Go!

Alright, I did it. I tried escargot. I am not sure what convinced people to eat snails in the first place, and I can't say that I understand why they continue to do so. The texture is a weird squishy/chewy that almost felt like a dense mushroom to me, and the flavor was odd--not strong, but not really good either. I would think snails would have to taste really good to be worth eating. I will probably give them a second chance just to be sure I'm not missing something wonderful, but I don't foresee them becoming a major part of my diet. Back to pastries for me!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Chocolate-Almond Croissant Challenge!

My post "Oh Sweet Bakery" gave me an idea. I think that I will make it a personal challenge to find the best chocolate-almond croissant in Montpellier (and surrounding areas, although I hope the winner is here so I can have it more often)!

The first entry is the one from that post. It is from a chain bakery called Paul. It was amazing!  A good chunky almond filling and a nice amount of chocolate. It was a bit too greasy though--the bottom of the croissant was really soggy by the time I ate it.

The second entry is from a place I like quite a lot located two tram stops away (read:  a nice sunny afternoon walk away). It is called Maison des Pains, and has both nice indoor and outdoor seating, as well as great sandwich and pastry combos. Perfect for an afternoon of reading/studying/soaking up sun. Sadly though, the chocolate-almond croissant got a decided "Eh." The contribution of the almond flavor was almost totally limited to the almonds on top (sorry, no picture-it didn't make it through the walk home...). The inside contained a very vaguely almond flavored custard and not enough chocolate.

The third entry: Fournil St. Nicolas, another chain. I am withholding judgment on this one as my first chocolate-almond croissant from here was also my first burned pastry in France. FAIL. I will, however, give the place another chance as it is the one nearest my dorm and I am hoping that it is good :) I liked the not-burned parts! Here they also called the chocolate-almond croissant an Amandine, but that doesn't seem to be a standard name, so this will not become the Amandine challenge.

Those are the only three I have been able to try so far.  Don't worry though--I'm not limiting my pastry intake to occasions when I can find a chocolate-almond croissant. I am sampling a broad range :) I just hope I don't become a broad range myself...