Life can be quite lovely

Gargoyles on Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris -  Crumbs de Vie

The ever-watching gargoyles of Notre Dame Cathedral

Paris held a chilly glint as I wandered the narrow alleys of the Marais. Perhaps because the cold winter winds have finally begun to whip around the city’s tight corners, or because the once festive Christmas decorations wait unlit to be removed from their perches, or because the city seems a bit empty without its inhabitants, many of whom are nestled in their country homes for the holidays. But perhaps this glint is instead due to the realization that I’ll be leaving Paris in just a month and the inevitable reflection that accompanies the start of a new year.

So reflect we shall. 2013 has been a year filled with both familiar comforts and new adventures. My family has grown even closer despite our physical distance. There were countless bouts of laughter and reflective conversations with old cohorts. My long-time goal of living in Paris was realized and accompanied with delightful new friends and delicious new food. While three months ago, I could stammer through only a few sentences in French, I’ve just returned from my Christmas holiday, having spoken only French for three days. I’ve biked through glaciers with my sister, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with my parents, eaten scones, ice cream sandwiches, and far too many cupcakes with friends, sung at Carnegie Hall and with Andrea Bocelli, lunched with one of my real-life inspirations, the Countess of Romanones, and truly enjoyed my work and coworkers. Certainly, I have much to be grateful for.

Locks on the Pont de l'Archevêché, Paris - Crumbs de Vie

Locks on the Pont de l’Archevêché

So after watching the sun set over Paris with the gargoyles of Notre Dame, I fastened my own lock to the Pont de l’Archevêché as a memory of my time in Paris and walked home along the Quai de la Seine, listening to the lapping waves of the river on its banks. I was reminded of the words a wise friend had told me the day before, “When you pay attention, life can be quite lovely.” How true, indeed. Here’s to 2014!

Quai de la Seine, Paris - Crumbs de Vie

A view of the Quai de la Seine

The Best Baked Good in Paris

Baked Goods at Vandermeersch Bakery, Paris - Crumbs de Vie

Pastries at Pâtisserie Vandermeersch in Paris

My most important mission while in Paris? Find the best baked good. This all-consuming mission has led me to pâtisserie after pâtisserie after pâtisserie. I’ve read articles, sifted through travel books, and asked the locals. Then I stumbled across a blog post by the famous pastry chef and reliable source, David Lebovitz, in which he claims that the Vandermeersch kouglof is not only one of the best baked goods in Paris but, “one of the all-time best things I’ve ever eaten, anywhere.” Well then. Having some sense, I hopped on the subway, tuned into my longest Christmas carol playlist, and ventured across Paris to the Pâtisserie Vandermeersch to put David Lebovitz and this kouglof to the test.

The bakery was buzzing with Saturday morning excitement. Strapping young lads hopped off their vespas to buy the day’s baguettes, inquisitive old men peered through the brightly lit shop window, and the salesladies within twirled about wrapping up little packages of pastries and counting change. I stepped into the shop and my eyes quickly alit on a happy pile of kouglofs in the far corner of the case. I chirped out, “Deux kouglofs, s’il vous plaît!” (never order just one pastry), and the nearest saleslady quickly slipped two of the pastries into a brown parchment bag, which she spun closed in typical Parisian fashion.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Paris - Crumbs de Vie

A view of the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

A believer in suspense, I tucked the package safely in my purse and hiked over to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, a lovely garden sculpted from an old quarry. The whimsical park is situated steeply on what can only be called a mountain, for by the time I reached the top I was entirely out of breath, certainly due to the added weight of the two pastries in my bag. Solving that problem, I settled myself on a bench with a lovely view and took my first bite of this famous kouglof. It was delicious. It was cakey, yet flakey. Sweet, but not too sweet. Delicate and moist, but with a nice crunch from the sugar coated exterior. Flavored with orange and raisins, yet not overtly so. It was simple, yet positively extravagant.

Vandermeersch Kouglof, Paris - Crumbs de Vie

The best baked good in Paris: kouglof from Pâtisserie Vandermeersch

By the time I finished, I was covered in sugar and a nearby crow was eyeing me unnervingly. So, comforted by the fact that I had another pastry in my bag, (never order just one pastry) I ventured to my last stop of the day, Galeries Lafayette, to see this year’s Christmas display. I squirmed my way through the sea of last minute Christmas shoppers and was rewarded with a jaw-dropping view of the beautiful center gallery, which was bringing smiles to the faces of both children and adults alike.

To conclude, what have we learned? Never buy just one pastry! You never know if you’re about to buy the best baked good in Paris. David Lebovitz, I concur.

Galleries Lafayette at Christmas - Crumbs de Vie

Galeries Lafayette at Christmas

A French Christmas Market

French Christmas Market - CrumbsdeVie

French Christmas Trees

It’s been quite some time since my last entry and we have a lot to catch up on: lunching with countesses, oven-less Thanksgiving, castles galore! Indeed, there are many posts to come. But first, I must share with you a tale from yesterday. I feel I owe you a warning in case you ever find yourself at a French Christmas market.

I spent yesterday working in my apartment with the curtains drawn, only to find that by the time I finished, the sun had already set. Determined to leave my couch, I took myself on a walk to the nearby Christmas market where I wandered through the warmly lit stalls, surrounded by overjoyed children and vendors selling handmade ornaments. Although the trees were a tad smaller, the Christmas lights glimmered not with a golden glow but with a bright blue tint, and the Santa was certainly less plump, I concluded that French Christmas markets live up to the joy of their American counterparts, perhaps with just a bit more angst.

But as I stood admiring the seasonal baked goods of a particularly jolly boulanger, I noticed that the odd music drifting through the market was getting closer. Naturally, upon hearing such a clatter, I turned to see what was the matter, only to find that I was within an arm’s reach of my worst nightmare: dancing mimes on stilts.

Suppressing a shriek of terror and nearly knocking over a stall in my clambering backwards, I ran from the most unsettling thing I have ever seen: three winged mimes with white painted faces swaying on stilts to the eery mechanical music of a sound system pedaled along by a fourth swaying mime. From my pitiful hiding spot behind a scraggly French Christmas tree (American Christmas trees are much better hiding spots) I marveled at the fact that the nearby Parisians seemed entertained by this sight and regained enough good sense to whip out my camera. So here you have it, a French Christmas market complete with dancing mimes on stilts. You have been warned: