Posts from the “france” Category

Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes

Posted on April 3, 2014

snackcakes

 

I have a good friend who bakes Duff Goldman-style cakes. She does this for fun when she’s not teaching flamenco.

One year this friend made a hula monkey birthday cake for my daughter. I mean, this monkey had it all: a flower fondant lei, bold red lips and a sassy grass skirt. The detail was one thing. The flavor was out of this world. I have never been able to replicate the almond-flavored buttercream she made that day. Nor have I ever been able to bake a cake that moist and gently sweet. Kids fought over this cake in a way that was far beyond “I want the piece with balloons on it.”

So I bow down to anyone who can bake cakes with that level of artistry and flavor.

The one cake I can bake successfully (knock wood) is a yogurt cake. These cakes are a popular snack item in France for two reasons, a. because they’re really easy for kids to make (which means that even I can’t mess it up) and b. because the cakes turn out moist with a hint of sweetness. Everyone from Clotilde to Molly to Dorie has got a memory of or twist on this treat and it’s little wonder. There’s something about them that makes your household smell like comfort and warmth.

Although I like the classic recipe, there’s really nothing like goosing the simple batter with ribbons of melted dark chocolate, I’ve found. That’s what food blogger and cookbook author David Lebovitz did in his memoir The Sweet Life in ParisI used his recipe yesterday to bake an afterschool snack for my little one. It was such a hit that snack became dessert and breakfast too. When I asked my daughter which version of this cake she preferred, she got this dreamy look in her eye and said “I don’t know…they’re both pretty awesome.”

Indeed they are.

Lebovitz’s latest cookbook comes out next week and I’m looking forward to checking it out. I’m also looking forward to Alexander Lobrano‘s latest, Hungry for France, which came out Tuesday.

What cookbooks are you enjoying right now and why? Are there any recipes that bring back good memories for you? If so, what are they and what is the memory?

Tomorrow: I’ll be featuring an interview with Karen Pery, who has been featured in this space before. I’ll be catching up with her and sharing how she uses things like racecars and surfboards to help people tap into their hidden potential. It’s a pretty cool story and she’s a pretty cool lady, so I hope you’ll stop by tomorrow and see what she has to say!

A Spring Update

Posted on April 2, 2014

I just finished teaching a six-week class about the French for LSU’s Continuing Education. As a lifelong introvert, I knew it would be challenging (and exhausting) for me to stand in front of a group of people for a couple of hours each week, even though I’d be telling them stories about a topic that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. But as I’ve said before, I really wanted to get better and less fearful about speaking to groups this year, no matter how bumpy and ugly that road to “better and less fearful” was. And I can honestly say that I couldn’t have asked for a better and kinder group of people a. to teach and b. to learn from as I figured out how to get my sea legs in a classroom setting. Two weeks into the class, I seriously considered bidding teaching adieu after this class was done. Now, I know I’ll give it another shot in the fall. I am pretty excited about that and will be submitting a new class description to the curriculum committee in the coming weeks.

What does all of that have to do with a picture of green beans and a trellis? Well, I had to plant the seed in my head that teaching was something I could do, in whatever imperfect way. Now that I have done that, and haven’t managed to kill anything (or, heaven forbid, anyone) the next step is to encourage this little plant to go forth and prosper in whatever way it knows how. Right now, my teaching and writing seem to cross-pollinate each other nicely, so I don’t want to mess with what seems to be a good thing.

Knock wood.

After my last class on Monday morning, I finished revising a major project, before turning my attention to the vegetable garden I started a month and a half ago. That’s where you can find the above haricots verts, as well as some potatoes and kale, eggplant, wild garlic, asparagus, Vidalia onions, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries, among other things. We’ve had to fence off the space so Murray the rapidly growing office dog doesn’t dig it all up. And as I got to thinking about it, I started hatching some evil plans to add some fruit bushes and other things along the inside of the fence to maximize my gardening haul. My friend Karen told me recently that gardening is such a hopeful activity. I had never really looked at it that way due to my long history of killing plants. But now that I’ve had a couple of years of successes with a vegetable plot of some sort (not to mention some successes in other areas of my life), I suppose I’m willing to see how, yes, it is hopeful, and I am hopeful too. I have good reason to be.

So I’ll be sharing news and views from my garden in the coming weeks, as well as pictures of what I do with this stuff once it’s picked.

But tomorrow? I’ll put a decadent twist on a popular French snack cake.

Questions? Comments? Story suggestions? Don’t hesitate to let me know what’s on your mind in comments, or by shooting me a message on my contact page.

 

 

 

 

A Place in the Pantheon

Posted on February 26, 2014

Photo: JR Artist

The Pantheon in Paris is a 224-year-old mausoleum that contains the remains of 73 great Frenchmen, among them Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Louis Braille and Emile Zola. Marie Curie is the sole woman to be interred in this building on her own merit (Sophie Berthelot was buried at Pierre Curie’s request). Now that’s due to change, as France announced this past week that it will be adding two female resistance fighters to the illustrious mix.

The Pantheon has been a pretty exclusive place since its inception, and late last year the Center for National Monuments released a report about how to make the grand old building more reflective of the country’s republican beliefs. Yesterday, the CMN announced it was partnering with street artist JR on a project called “Au Pantheon!” JR, known for his large-scale photographic works, will be collecting portraits of all sorts for the next month across the country and via a dedicated website. He’ll use the photographs to paper the tarp that now covers the Pantheon’s dome, which is currently under renovation. It’s the first time that the country has used art instead of a large, lucrative advertisement to cover a public building in the throes of a touch up. The project should last about two years and could include thousands of headshots and other ridiculous selfies taken by ordinary folks like me. It’s a really interesting project in the country of liberte, egalite and fraternite. Watch it unfold on Twitter by following the hashtag #AuPantheon, or join the fun by uploading a headshot to this website by March 29. The end result will be unveiled on April 22.

Palais Garnier: Fifth Most-Visited Paris Monument

Posted on February 7, 2014

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

A recent report in the French newspaper Les Echos said that the Palais Garnier was the fifth most-visited monument in Paris during 2013. There has been a 44 percent increase in visits to the building since 2010, in part because of its increasing number of events and exhibits. Known as the backdrop for the novel and Broadway musical The Phantom of the Opera, the Opera Garnier still stages operas and ballets as well as concerts with the occasional pop star like George Michael. But it also has one of the most rich and remarkable archives I’ve ever seen, the contents of which serve as an endless source of wonder for nerds like me and as the basis for many excellent exhibitions.

Here is a photo from a recent costume exhibit it had:

2013-10-17 19.19.18

Have you ever been to the Palais Garnier? If so, what did you think of it? If not, you should definitely put this building on your must-see list if you ever plan a trip to Paris.

Monuments Men

Posted on February 6, 2014

Pissarro

 

I’ve been working on an item about art restitution that’s tied to the recent release of “The Monuments Men,” the real-life story of international art experts sent to recover and return artworks stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The piece is also tied to the recent sale of Camille Pissarro’s impressionist masterpiece, Boulevard Montmartre, matinee de printemps (pictured above). Impressionist paintings have an enduring allure, but this one sold yesterday for $32.1 million in London in part because of its restitution backstory. It was once owned by Max Silberberg, a Jewish industrialist who was forced by the Nazis to sell his collection of 19th and 20th century art. Silberberg later died in the Holocaust and it took his family decades to find his prized Pissarro.

Governments are among the organizations dedicated to unearthing pilfered pieces such as these. Auction houses such as Sotheby’s also have their own restitution groups dedicated to researching all works consigned to them that were created prior to 1945 and working with a variety of interest groups to broker deals on this art.

Often there are really two victims: the person from whom it was stolen and the institution or person who bought it in good faith,” Sotheby’s specialist Philip Hook told The Wall Street Journal recently.

I’m looking forward to seeing Monuments Men soon. What about you?

monumentsmenposter

For more on this topic:

*Here’s a feature about why restitution had such cinematic appeal.

*Here’s a story about how Robert Edsel, author of The Monuments Men, turned his obsession into a movie.

*Here’s TIME Magazine’s review of that movie.

*Here’s an item a recent auction involving sales of restituted artwork unearthed by the actual Monuments Men.

*Here’s an interesting read about how a slice of Edward, Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson’s wedding cake was auctioned off for $29,000.

 

 

On Faith and Writing

Posted on February 4, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to a third grade class about writing. My talk was about 50 minutes long and as I spoke I realized that I wasn’t really talking about writing, per se, but about following your heart, never giving up and being eager to learn from everyone you meet, both inside and out of the classroom.

I originally told them that I became a writer because I was a bad math student, and, come to think of it, a pretty bad science student and economics student too. But then I noticed I wound up writing stories that involved budgets, or scientific research, or economic trends, and so I had to learn how to ask all the questions I was too timid to ask in third grade and beyond so that I could understand these subjects in a way that would allow me to write well and convincingly about them.

This admission brought me to a story about a very confusing interview that I did with a nanoscientist. No one in the class knew what nanoscience was, and I told them I didn’t either, especially as the interview with this man progressed. So I found the nicest and most professional way of asking this very smart man to explain his work to me the way he might explain it to his five-year-old niece. He did, I finally understood the very cool work he was doing, and I wrote a story about it, and then several other stories about nanoscience, which I was convinced was a very cool thing that people needed to know about.

After having relayed that to the class, I told them that I began to understand that I really became a writer because it gave me the opportunity to learn something new all the time and to share that knowledge and those stories with readers.

Near the end of my talk, I told them about Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera House. I’ve spent some time researching his life and reading about his times, in hopes of writing a book about him. The kids were engaged with the Phantom of the Opera tie-in (Garnier’s opera is the backdrop for Phantom) and had a lot of questions about whether there were ghosts in the opera, for real. I told them there weren’t. But it did take everything I had not to tell them that I’ve been somewhat haunted (for lack of a better word) by Garnier’s rags-to-riches story and interested in the way it provides a different look at a Paris that was undergoing massive physical, political and social change. I told that Garnier was a cool guy who didn’t let his background or insecurities get in the way of building one of Europe’s most beautiful buildings.

And that should serve as an inspiration to them to beat the fourth grade in their reading challenge…or not be shy about any other pursuit that fills their heart.

One of the kids came up to me after the talk and asked what you do if you write something sort of personal and then turn it in and no one likes it, or gets mad, or you realize that you’ve written something totally embarrassing and you wish you’d never turned it in. I sat there knowing that I had a book proposal on Garnier out on submission that was fairly personal to me and that rejections could be trickling in as I was standing there. I told her that people who pour their hearts out realize the risks they’re taking when they write and understand that not everyone will like what they do all the time.

But that’s never any reason to quit.

For all those who may not feel like your work is for them, there will be those who love it. Have faith in your story and yourself and your agent and your work will find its way into the right, loving hands.

The French

Posted on January 17, 2014

Pictured above: A framed franc note from 1944. I got it in the mail yesterday from my mother, who sent it to me as a belated birthday present. Now it’s among the really French-y stuff that surrounds me in my office as I write or work on the very first class I’ll teach in a couple of weeks.

Yes: teaching. I’ll be teaching a class called “The French” for LSU Continuing Education. The class begins February 17 and it will explore French history through the lives of the people who shaped it and were shaped by it. As a profile writer, this is an ideal way for me to approach it because each class will have a theme (i.e. Saints and Saviors) and consist of a series of related profiles about prominent French people from all walks of life.

Getting this class down on paper has been one thing. The ideas have been flowing. Things have been fitting together like perfect little puzzle pieces. It’s all making sense and (most importantly) feeling like it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Delivering the class to a crowd may be something else. Last week, I wrote about my need to work on my public speaking skills. I did that, knowing that I would be speaking this morning to a room full of potential students, and, after that, presumably a class full of people I’d convince to listen to me speak for six more weeks. I’ve been getting a little whipped up about this and when I got my first class list earlier this week, I have to say I was a little nervous to see those first names there.

I got some good redirection from people who suggested I view this not as public speaking, but as talking about something I like and being myself when I do it.

So that’s what I did this morning. I behaved like myself, which is a very dangerous thing, indeed. Why? Because after explaining what the class was be about, I told a packed house that there would be no better way to spend Monday mornings than with a weird magazine writer lady who talks about French people behind their backs. A friend of mine quipped: “With lines like that, you could go into marketing.”

By next week, I should have an updated class list that indicates just how effective this more Paige-like approach was. In the meantime, the morning was good fun and for once I felt at ease speaking in front of a large group. Perhaps there’s hope for me yet. We shall see. All I know is that I met some wonderful people this morning and can’t wait to captivate them with stories about a country and people who have so thoroughly captivated me!

New Year, New Goal

Posted on January 10, 2014

A dose of sweetness at Pierre Herme.

A dose of sweetness at Pierre Herme.

This time last year I was returning from a research trip in Paris. I spent two weeks there by myself, both sifting through archival material about an architect who captured my imagination and indulging in goodies like the ones pictured above. In my waning moments in the City of Light, I told myself that if I did one thing in 2013, it would be to turn this research interest of mine into a book proposal that would capture a literary agent’s imagination too. By September 11 of last year, I did just that and I am beyond grateful to be represented by Jane Dystel of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. I spent the latter part of last year refining my book proposal to her and her fabulous business partner Miriam Goderich’s standards. Now that I’ve completed that milestone, I have a new goal: If I do one thing in 2014, it’s to become a published author.

Yes, I did say “goal” and not “resolution.”  Jane wrote about resolution-setting this week on DGLM’s blog, and like her I tend to set goals, rather than resolutions that seem made to be broken. It’s because I prefer to work toward something in my own little imperfect way, rather than resolve to do something, fall short of my resolve and then feel like I’ve bungled everything in my efforts to get from point A to point B.

All the same, it’s the beginning of the year, and beginnings are a good time to reflect on what you’ve done before and tweak where necessary. This article that Jane shared has a great list of things worth working towards, for better or for worse. Better sleep and less smartphone are my favorites on this list, along with supporting local businesses and donating to charity (my pick: The National Multiple Sclerosis Society because my sister was diagnosed with this a year ago).

I’d like to add the following to my own personal list:

1. Reacquainting myself with my yoga practice. My mat spent more time in the closet than under my feet at the end of 2013 and I need to change that for my own sake. Shame on me.

2. Improving my public speaking skills. I probably won’t be the first (or last) writer to say that I get a little nervous speaking in front of people. But I’m steadily working toward changing that. Last fall I spoke to an elementary school class about writing, and this spring I’ll teach my first class at LSU. Other speaking engagements are on the horizon and it is my hope that after each one I’ll get better and more confident in front of crowds.

3. Cultivating patience. I have a history of not waiting well, but I’m working on that. Although I made some strides in 2013, we can always stand to improve ourselves, non?

4. Sharing more here about writing, publishing, entrepreneurship and the latest and greatest reads. Plus, keeping up the eclectic and random stuff. Blogs and social media always seem to be a work in progress, something that shifts shape depending on a writer’s interests. This year, I’d like to open things up to readers who have questions about writing or publishing, share interviews with interesting folks and bring activity from my Goodreads feed into longer, more thought-out posts. If there’s something you’d like to see covered here, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line via my contact page, or shoot me a tweet on Twitter. You can follow me @paigebowers.

What goals have you set for 2014? Please share them in comments and let me know how you’re doing with those goals. And, if you’re not setting goals or resolutions, let me know why you don’t.

Here’s to a fruitful 2014!