Wednesday, 23 April 2014

15 French Language/Cultural Tips to Get By in Paris

So you've planned your trip to France and you've booked those plane tickets! 

You've also brushed up on your high school French, taken French lessons, listened to French podcasts in the car and read over your French survival guide phrase book with your best over the top, theatrical, exaggerated Paree accent (picturing yourself with a beret, stripey blue and white top and baguette in hand of course ;).

You arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in Paris and are ready to show off all of your hard work and connaissance. 

It is now officially your time to shine.

You open your mouth fairly confidently to ask a well-practised question, it goes smoothly enough until your inner deer-in-the-headlights decides he/she needs to take over. You were great at the question, but now you have absolutely no idea what the response means. Your eyes begin to dart from side to side awkwardly. Umm help..?

Or, you manage to answer a question in passable French and are pretty chuffed with your effort, only for the Frenchie to switch to English after hearing your accent. Appreciate the gesture and all but ouch. Obviously your French wasn't good enough to continue.

And how about when you manage to exchange a few sentences, everything is going well, until you are thrown off by one word, one response, one question, one look, one change in body language. Uh oh, that damn deer is coming back.  

Any of these situations sound familiar?

I'm a self-confessed geek. I used to work 12 hour shifts as a pharmacist from 9am to 9pm, come home, eat dinner then study French on my own until 3am in the morning. I tried every single possible French learning strategy and approach in the book to cram in as much as possible in preparation for my move to Paris. At one point in time I had 4 tutors on the go!
Yet even with all this intense studying, upon arrival in Paris I still found myself in those exact awkward confusing situations I was hoping to avoid.

What I gradually learnt over time was that the best study I could do was of course, a combination of

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Stuffed Zucchini Flowers with a French Twist

So I'm still in Cannes visiting John's parents (and enjoying the good weather down here at the same time) which is why my blog posts have been a little sporadic lately, sorry!

This morning we went to Marché Forville and picked up some beautifully fresh zucchini flowers! I got so excited at their price of 10 for 2.50€ (with the zucchini still attached) and 10 for only 1.50€ (!!!) (without the zucchini attached!). 

John had to literally tell me to calm down, Nhan calme-toi! because I was trying to tell him too many things at the same time while looking around and running off in different directions in my hyperactive farmers' market state. I always get overstimulated at farmers' markets, especially the ones in Italy and France. I don't know if it's the colours, the smells, the language being spoken or just the general European market atmosphere but I'm like a (hyperactive) kid in a candy store. 

Oh so beautiful!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Easy Peasy Provençal Ratatouille

At least twice a year, we pop down to Cannes to visit John's parents. Once during the Summer holidays and at least another time during the Spring school holidays when John's daughter breaks for two weeks. 

This time around, I asked John's Mum to share with me some of her French Mamie "grandma" cooking tips. Something typically French, typical to the region and not too difficult for me to follow ;)

We started with a classic French Provençal recipe - ratatouille, a really simple slow-cooked vegetable stew of eggplants, zucchinis, capsicum and tomatoes that is typical to French cuisine in general as much as it is typical to the Provence region. 

John's Mum has simplified her ratatouille recipe over the years to require less oil, less time and less effort (woo hoo!) while not compromising on how a traditional ratatouille is meant to taste like.

The success of a good ratatouille she says really comes down to the quality of its ingredients. Good quality olive oil, juicy red sun ripened tomatoes, flavoursome deep-coloured eggplants and zuchinni and sweet brightly-coloured capsicum. This I learnt too well during my extended time based in Rome last year. You can really notice the difference in the taste of good produce when you are based in an area where it is more accessible, where people take it seriously, where there is more sunshine and obviously better natural growing conditions. Even the supermarket produce in Rome was better than that of supermarket Paris. I suppose maybe because there was a higher chance of finding hydroponic/artificially grown tomatoes in Paris than in sunnier Rome..? 

French ratatouille purists will insist on cooking the vegetables separately before merging everything together however John's Mum has done both over the years and she was happy popping everything in the same pot, as long as you paid attention to the correct order in which the vegetables were added to avoid one vegetable getting too soft before the others. 

Ok here we go!


3 onions (sliced)
5 cloves of garlic (crushed into decent sized chunks)
3 eggplants
7 zucchinis (green and yellow if possible)
5 tomatoes
3 capsicums (red, yellow, green)
Fresh basil and parsley
Dried thyme, basil, parsley, herbes de Provence
Olive oil 

1. In a large pot add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to gently sauté onion and garlic. 

2. Reduce heat soon as onion and garlic have started to brown, add sliced capsicum. 

3. After about 5 minutes, when capsicum has started to wilt and reduce, add zucchini in big chunks. 

Use decent sized chunks

4. Add some salt to taste. After 5 minutes or so once the zucchini has softened, add chunks of eggplant. 

5. Add dried basil, herbes de Provence and thyme 

Dried herbs can be used to supplement fresh herbs

Remember to use big chunks of eggplant
6. Add fresh basil and parsley (chopped)

7. While the eggplant is slowly cooking with the herbs on low heat, prepare the tomatoes. Remove the seeds and juice and put aside in a bowl. Cut tomatoes into large chunks. 

*Some ratatouille recipes will call for the tomato skin to be removed by plunging into boiling water then removed quickly and put into cold water causing the skin to split and easily removed however in this recipe, to keep things simple it doesn't make too much of a difference to leave the tomato skin on :) 

Try to find deep red sun ripened tomatoes
8. Add chunks of chopped tomato and stir ratatouille gently being careful not to break up the pieces of soft zucchini and eggplant. 

A little smoky sorry!
9. If the ratatouille needs more liquid, add tomato juice and seeds from before. If it still needs more liquid, add some water.

10. Taste and add salt if required and gently simmer over low heat until vegetables are soft.


Miam miam

There we go! 

A slow cooked Provençal ratatouille recipe that gently brings out all the flavours of different vegetables to fuse and melanger. Rustic Summer French cooking at its best. Simple, light yet hearty and most importantly (for me at least), easy peasy to put together. 

You can eat it as a side with rice or pasta, served simply with some seared fish or chicken, or even on its own with crusty bread to dip in and mop up those flavoursome juices.

Bon 'app everyone..!

PS - don't worry if you can't finish your ratatouille, leftovers while they may not look as pretty the next day always taste better after the flavours have gotten to know each other better and intensified overnight ;)

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Parisian Notting Hill in the 12th

Rue Crèmieux in the 12th arrondissement, just around the corner from Gare de Lyon is a gorgeous little street to wander down if you're looking for something not necessarily in the guide books to do. I used to walk past this street each day going to work but being myself I was always running just on time and never had the chance to turn off and have a proper wander. Now that it's Spring, the lighting is even better for me to drop by and take some snaps of rue Crèmieux.

It's a bit like the Parisian version of Notting Hill, proving that Paris isn't just hues of grey, white and terracotta orange all the time. But like anything French, it is done in moderation, ie there is only one street in the area splashed with colour. 

I mean it wouldn't be Paris after all if they went all out, right?

This is my favourite shot - quite possibly my favourite apartment on this street. It ticks all the boxes, the red potted geraniums, the classic French simple wrought iron balcony, a beautifully warm door to welcome you home each day and a bike parked out in front for good measure.

Quite possibly my favourite apartment in Paris

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The 37 Bridges of Paris - Le Pont Neuf

Europe is home to some of the most beautiful bridges in the world, each with their own special signature style. I love London's iconic bridges like London Bridge, Tower Bridge and Millennium Bridge. I love the bridges in Italy like Rome's breathtaking bridges over the Tiber (I love Rome full stop, I spent 6 weeks 'living' in Rome in Trastevere last Summer and had an amazing time), Venice's Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs, and of course Pont Vecchio in Florence! And who can forget Prague's breathtaking Charles Bridge, especially at night time with its amber lighting.

But for some reason, I have a soft spot for Parisian bridges. 

They are so pretty, so romantic, so picturesque, like a painting..

They are also so well preserved and maintained, beautifully detailed and restored. 

I have always had this idea ever since I first moved to Paris to cross all the 37 bridges over the Seine and choose which would be my favourite. I haven't seen them all yet but so far, the Pont Alexandre III sits at the top of my list. 

Anyway, what better way to get this project rolling again than to receive a task from my friend in Australia to photograph her favourite bridge, the Pont Neuf, from the 1991 French film "Les Amants du Pont-Neuf", starring Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant.