La Première Semaine

My first week in Paris is coming to a close and I must say the days vanished.

One view from the tower of Notre Dame de Paris
The activities of week 1 were varied and relaxed.  At this point, exploration is my main focus during down-time.  I want to familiarize myself with Houilles, Paris and anywhere else I might find myself on a regular basis.  Paris is relatively easy to explore without feeling lost as a landmark can always orient you.  So, as of yet there has been no real anxiety on my part about being lost or feeling unsafe.

One of the nicest Parisian pastimes is window shopping.  Not only fancy department stores put real effort into their displays; chocolatiers, shoe shops, and stationary stores all have impressive or pleasing arrangements.  

Murciano shop window in Le Marais 
Patrick Roger chocolate showpiece in the window

One would, however, be remiss in just looking. Sometimes, it's necessary to head on in and try. Especially where food is concerned.  

So far, I have eaten some pretty delicious food. It's a treat to be in a new place and try all there is to offer.  I think it might take me the full seven months to even scratch the surface of Paris' food scene.

Strudel au Pavot
One of the most memorable delicacies I have tasted this week was "strudel au pavot" from Murciano.  A soft, sweet, pastry dough sandwiches a moist filling of poppy seeds and dates.  It was also certainly filling, so worth the 3€. 

There is a Crêperie everywhere you go.  I have had two this week.  One sweet - chocolat noir avec amandes -  and one savory - complet.  The savory variety is made with buckwheat flour, so it's vaguely healthier and slightly darker in appearance.  In my case, "complet" was filled with egg, ham and cheese and finished with butter.  It can be mesmerizing to watch the sellers whip up your meal to order.

admittedly an unattractive photograph of my crepe chocolat noir avec amandes
The most posh morsel I've eaten thus far was a pistache et abricot macaron from Pierre Hermé.  I went to the small storefront on Avenue de l'Opéra with elegant automatic doors, dark luxurious interiors and absurdly helpful employees who spoke to me in English even when I tried French.  For the record, I continued speaking my meager French.

maracons arabesque
Before the Villages de Noël closed for the season, I did have the chance to browse and try a warm dish from the French Alps called tartiflette.  It's a heavy meal consisting of potatoes, cheese, meat, and seasoning.  PSA: if you get this, share it with a friend.  

Today, I went to the local market in Houilles with my host mom.  The market is open on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.  There are vendors of all sorts, yarn, shoes, jewelry, and lots and lots of food.  My host mom likes one grocer in particular, so we bought lots vegetables and fruits from his stall inside the covered portion of the market.  He was exceptionally friendly and spoke no English, but told me that he has family in New York.  Truly, he was so kind and gave us extra haricots verts and a container of lychees just for me.  The point was to prove that French markets are better than American ones, though he conceded that in the US we have better organic markets.  In terms of friendliness and generosity, he certainly proved his point.  My host parents joked that now if they want to go to the market they have to take me so that they can get a little extra for free.  I can't wait to go back next week.

gratuit lychees

Of course there is much more to share: experiences, anecdotes, foods and happenings, but for now...

à bientôt


Bonjour à tous : Henrianna in France

In a few days, I will find myself outside of my comfort zone.  Christmas Eve will find me in an airport en route to Paris, France.

I know it will be strange to find my feet on the ground at Charles de Gaulle on Christmas morning and not on the familiar Persian carpets at my family home.

It will be odd to know that I won't see the Virginia trails for at least 7 months, that I won't see my nieces and nephew.  Much will be different.

Isn't it interesting how in this realm of "firsts" I am so very aware of "lasts" as well?  Knitted into life are yarns of contrasting colors.  Black and white, firsts and lasts.

So reader, I hope you will join me for this new adventure.  There is sure to be excitement, photographs of food, snippets of life, and thoughts galore.  Give me your wisdom, your suggestions, your requests.

 À bientôt



Pan Seared Mahi Mahi

It's not often that I get the chance to really plate a meal, but I do enjoy the construction of a balanced plate.  A week or two ago I made mahi mahi and it was fun to take a second to arrange it with sweet potatoes, lemon and herb aioli.


Gâteau aux Pommes (Apple Cake)

Autumn apples are ripe for the picking and ready for eating.  Did you go to the orchard and come home with more than you meant to?  Get creative with your baking this year.  Who said apple pie was all there is?

Last week, I mixed up a simple hazelnut cake batter and arranged some apple slices on top.  I used one of my favorites: Granny Smith.

Happy Fall Y'all!


Butter Pecan Ice Cream

This weekend my family celebrated my Gramps' 87th birthday.  My sister always remembered that Gramps' favorite ice cream flavor was butter pecan.  So, I asked if I could make some for the soiree.  I researched a few recipes and came up blank.  How is it that the internet has no satisfactory butter pecan ice cream recipes?  Come on, internet!  I mean, ice cream should not include sweetened condensed milk or copious amounts of cornstarch.  Real talk.

In my humble opinion, - okay...I'm not being very humble right now...- maple syrup is a great way to intensify pecan flavor, so my recipe includes a splash of Grade B.  And check out my post from last week to see how to make the pecans crunchy and buttery.


-5 eggs yolks
-16 oz heavy cream
-16 oz whole milk
-pinch of salt
-1 vanilla bean
-230 g (~1 c.) light brown sugar
-120 g maple syrup (~1/3 c.)
-desired amount of caramelized pecan pieces

1. Heat the cream, milk, salt and scraped vanilla bean in a medium saucepan to a simmer.

2. In a bowl, whisk together sugar, maple syrup and egg yolks.

3. Pour the hot cream mixture into the bowl over the eggs and sugar, whisking and adding only a little at a time until fully incorporated.  Pour the mixture back into the saucepan.

4. Cook mixture, stir constantly with a wooden spoon.  Cook until any bubbles dissipate and the mixture coats the back of the spoon when a finger is dragged across it.

5. Strain and chill the ice cream base until cold.

6. Spin ice cream per the instructions on your ice cream maker.  Fold in pecans and freeze.


Caramelized Pecan Pieces

This week I am making Butter Pecan Ice Cream.  It's a classic, right?  The process obviously requires pecans, so I've decided to caramelize mine for extra crunch.  Plus, now I have some deliciously addicting pecans coated in buttery sugar sitting around for snacking.  Ain't nothin' wrong with that.

Caramelizing pecans is as easy as can be.  All you need is some toasted pecans - I broke mine into pieces - sugar, butter and a pinch of salt.


-200g pecans
-65g sugar
-30g water
-1/4 tsp. salt
-2.5 T salted butter

1. In a large pot, heat sugar, water and salt, stirring with a wooden spatula until the mixture has reached 110 F. This is also known as the "thread stage" so it is easily tested by sight if you don't have a thermometer.

2. Add the pecan pieces and stir constantly.  Add butter when the sugar begins to turn color. Pour pecans onto a parchment lined baking sheet when the nuts are coated and the sugar is light brown.  Use two forks to separate the individual pieces.

Butter Pecan Ice Cream Recipe coming soon...


Pumpkin Cake Truffles

Chefs tend to be very conscious of food waste.  Of course, nobody likes wasting food, but in an industry where margins are already low, it's extra important to eliminate waste.

The last few years saw the rise of the "cake pop" or "cake ball."  These cute, bite-sized creations are just a baker's way of getting rid of leftover cake and frosting.  There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but you should know that as a home baker you are perfectly able to re-create these often pricey treats at a low cost.

All you've got to do is crumble together leftover cake scraps and frosting, roll it into little spheres and get some chocolate for dipping.  There is no exact ratio, just wing it.

Today, I used leftover pumpkin spice cake and cream cheese frosting.  Use any flavor combinations you like.  If you have these two ingredients left-over after a cake assembly, just freeze them until you're ready to use.

If you know how to temper chocolate: do it.  If not, no sweat, just keep all of your ingredients cool before dipping and store the finished product in the refrigerator or freezer so your chocolate shells don't get too soft.


Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Coconut

Some days it's just best to keep desserts simple.  Today I'm sharing an easy recipe for cookies with just one extra ingredient.  You don't need any fancy equipment; a bowl and a wooden spoon will get the job done.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Coconut

-1/2 c butter, softened
-1 c brown sugar, packed
-1/2 c granulated sugar
-2 eggs
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp salt
-1 1/4 c flour, spooned and leveled
-1 c oats
-2/3 c coconut flakes, unsweetened
-1 c chocolate chips

1. Mix together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until fully incorporated and fluffy.

2. Add eggs and vanilla, mix until combined.

3. Mix in dry ingredients until almost incorporated, then add the oats, coconut and chocolate chips and stir until fully mixed.

4. Chill dough until firm.  Scoop onto a cookie sheet and bake in a 350F oven until golden, 10 minutes.

What's your favorite cookie add-in?


Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Cream Cheese Buttercream

My sister and her husband asked me to make a cake for their son's 2nd birthday.  Of course, I'm happy to oblige.  It's always fun to make birthday desserts for them because they know what they like in terms of flavors, but give me some room for artistic license.  

In this case, they were thinking about a pumpkin cake.  We came up with the idea for a pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting and here is the result. 

I adapted this awesome recipe for the cake.

I figure one tier for every year of life.  I may have to discontinue this when he turns five.

Cake making can be therapeutic; it's nice to have a project with lots of steps that all come together for one show-piece of a product.

First things first, I whipped up a double batch of pumpkin cake batter.

Then I baked the cakes...

This cake is very moist, but it never hurts to add a little vanilla-steeped syrup.

Cream cheese frosting should just be the standard cake frosting, right?

Once I had my buttercream made, it was time to assemble.

Confessions: I had a little leftover cake.

Props to my nephew for having a birthday so I can exercise my cake muscles.


Recent Good Eats

While I'm on a roll with posting about food other people made, I figured I may as well write up a recent food adventures post.  Another post about something I actually made with my own two hands is forthcoming.

Here goes nothing, I've eaten at...

Boiler Room

Vivian Howard could very well be the best chef Eastern North Carolina has ever seen.  If you haven't seen her show on PBS, you really ought to check it out.  Boiler Room is Chef Vivian's heavenly oyster bar, serving up exquisite local fare for a great price.  The staff was incredibly helpful, knowledgeable, and friendly.  They really make you feel like you were in North Carolina...which you are.  Nothing beats that kind of hospitality.   

If you watch A Chef's Life, you'll know all about the Butterbean Burger and fresh oysters from Cedar Point, both of which I eagerly consumed.

10 minutes until opening for lunch and there is already a line.

Stellar Cedar Point Oysters

Hail to the  Butterbean Burger with tobacco onions, smoked gouda and housemade pickles

Not pictured, but enthusiastically consumed: Oysters Boilerfeller, Fried Chicken with Honey 

Mussel Bar and Grille

Are you sensing the seafood theme?  Mussel Bar and Grille is Chef Robert Wiedmier's casual restaurant with yummy eats and great patio happy hour deals.

$5 cocktails are always a good idea.  

L: "Ziggy Stardust" R: "Purple Haze"

The Heirloom Tomato and Stone Fruit salad had the whole delicious and beautiful thing covered.

Not pictured, but definitely enjoyed:  White Wine Mussels, Mediterranean Mussels, Classic Frites, Brussels Sprouts


This little space is DC restaurant titan, Chef Mike Isabella's, Japanese branch.  Yona is a little on the pricey side, but many of the offerings are worth a splurge.

Foreground: Stanley Background: Lucky
My old man drinks suit me just fine.

The Kimchi-Brined short rib buns were flavorful, even if the filling:bun ratio was off.

Crispy Gyoza Dumplings are always a joy when done right, and in this case they were a joy.  Also, in the corner of this photo sneak a peak at the delicious pickled summer vegetables. 

Not pictured and consumed with mixed feelings: crispy ginger beef buns (worth a try) and mountain yam ongiri rice ball (not worth a try)

It's always fun to take a look at what I've eaten over the last few months...even if it does make me hungry.

Any recommendations on where I should eat next?