Paris, from Two Sides
The first time I visited Paris, I experienced it from its underbelly.
I was 18 years old, an exchange student living in Holland. My companion Jeff and I had planned to travel by train, making a two week loop through Germany and Switzerland before spending a week in the City of Lights. There, we were going to stay with a family, the Reliers, whom I had known in Nashville. At that time, they lived in Sevres, a Parisian suburb. I had mailed them a letter with details of our arrival. Impetuous youths, we embarked on our journey before getting confirmation from them.
Things went awry soon after we arrived at the Paris station, Gare de L’ Est. Immediately, we called the Reliers, but, alas, no answer. We made repeated calls–with the same empty result. It got late, and so we took a room at a youth hostel, simply called Auberge de Jeunesse. It was a cheap hotel, really. At 2 francs a night, it could be safely classified as a dump. We could stand it one night, we thought.
But, the next day proved to be more of the same: no Reliers. Where were they?
And, there was another problem. I had gotten a small burn on my index finger before we left Holland. As the trip wore on, that small burn showed signs of an infection. When I awoke that next morning in Paris, my hand looked angry and swollen. At the St. Louis General Hospital I was chided with a “Le petite boo-boo. C’est rien!” and given a prescription for antibiotics.
Days passed at the fleabag, with calls to the Reliers becoming a joke. My infection was worsening and money was getting tight. We spent our last francs at a doctor’s office, who took one look and immediately scheduled surgery. After my hand was lanced, drained, cleansed and wrapped, I was much better, but we were broke.
We wired home for extra cash. Jeff’s mom sent us a money order, via overnight air mail, to General Delivery at a Post Office near our humble quarters. In another twist, a strike by the French air controllers delayed the mail by several days.
Still, we managed during that bleak and strange week. We walked everywhere. We darted among the Notre Dame gargoyles. We sat on park benches, ate crusty baguettes and cheese. We cooked modest meals, and otherwise amused ourselves at the so-called Auberge de Jeunesse. Moreover, we discovered Travelers Aid, who lent us money until our special delivery arrived.
When I traveled to Paris over thirty years later, I was curious to experience the city from the Up side of life.
Bill, Madeleine, and I had been visiting friends in Amsterdam. From there, we planned to take the bullet train to Paris, (3 hours, 18 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal to Paris Nord!) where I had booked our room at a respectable hotel in the 6th arrondisement.
It was an unseasonably cool July in Holland, blustery with rain. But as that sleek train sped towards France, the skies began to lighten. By the time we emerged onto the streets of Paris, the sun shone brightly. The wind had calmed. The city was golden.
Before we checked into our hotel, we stopped for a bite at one of the hundreds of lovely sidewalk cafes.
I ordered a salad of mixed garden lettuces, scattered with sliced strawberries, dressed in a sharp shallot vinaigrette. Placed on top of the salad was this crisp disc of goat cheese, still hot from the skillet, beginning to collapse and melt onto the greens. The simple combination of sweet and tart, chilled and hot, creamy and crisp, left me speechless.
The sun warmed the air where we sat. Summer in Paris. A spectacular salad. Another adventure. Life’s sweet balance.
With strawberries and young lettuces aplenty at the market, it’s a perfect time to make the crispy goat cheese.
CRISPY HERBED GOAT CHEESE CROQUETTES
1 lb. Plain Goat Cheese/Chevre Log
1/2 c. All Purpose Flour
1/2 c. Panko crumbs
2 T. fresh Thyme leaves
1/4 t. Salt
1/4 t. Black Pepper
Olive Oil—for frying
Heavy duty Skillet
Cut chevre log into 16 pieces. Form each into a disc shape.
Place flour into one bowl, and egg beaten with a little water into another bowl. In a third bowl, mix panko with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme leaves.
Dust each disc in flour, then dip into egg, then dip into seasoned panko, pressing the crumbs lightly onto the goat cheese. Use the “wet hand-dry hand” technique. Use one hand to dip into flour, egg, and place in the bowl of panko—use the other hand to press the panko and remove.
Heat skillet on medium and coat bottom with olive oil. Cook goat cheese discs until brown (about 3 minutes) and turn over to brown on the other side.
Best served immediately over your assembled salad. Spoon over some Shallot-Honey Vinaigrette. Pretend that you are in Paris. On the Up side.
1/4 c. Shallots, cut into pieces
2 T. Honey
1/4 c. White Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 c. Canola Oil
1/4 t. Black Pepper
1/4 t. Salt
Hand-held immersion blender
Place shallots, honey, vinegar, salt and pepper into immersion blender and pulse until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the olive and canola oils. Vinaigrette will become a smooth thick emulsion.