Lockdown Lunch Catch-up

Inquiring Minds have let me know that I’ve been delinquent in my Lockdown Lunch series. My excuse is that I succumb to Post-Ingestive Narcolepsy and wind up taking a nap after stuffing myself on such good fare. But, I hear you, so I’m catching up here with some highlights:

One of my favorites, Chicken Piccata with lemon and capers, served with toast and a nice red Chardonnay. Ridiculously easy to make, heaven to consume.

Inspired by The Lebanese Taverna in Arlington, Virginia, we made Hummus Special with pita. This is fresh hummus topped with grilled hamburger/lamb, spices, pine nuts, and olive oil. We accompanied it with a bottle of Le Triporteur, a tasty red blend.

To celebrate the beginning of Spring, we created a salad of apples, bleu cheese, and Parma ham, served with fresh bread and a nice Chateau Cavalier Rosé.

Finally, we used a Greek recipe to make baked, stuffed zucchini, with a salad of lettuce, feta cheese, garbanzos, and pine nuts. A chilled glass of Le Triporteur rounded out the meal.

Since you asked, Le Triporteur is an inexpensive Southern Rhone red blend we enjoy, made up of Grenache (70%), Syrah, Caladoc, and Carignan (30%). This is a typical French “bistro” wine, everyday wine that goes with all types of Mediterranean cooking.

I hope your lunches are terrific, too.

Au revoir!

National Theater At Home: Treasure Island

In response to the closing of theaters in the U.K., the Royal National Theater in London is showing seven of their plays online.

We’ve been watching them and the first two shows, One Man, Two Guvnors and Jane Eyre were kind of duds, we thought.

However, last night we watched Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of pirates, mutiny, and treasure and it was entertaining. But we were blown away by the set. This is a challenging show for a set designer, to say the least. She had to provide sets that included a wharf, a tavern, a boarding house, a sailing ship, an island, subterranean tunnels, and more.

This was beautifully accomplished using a giant “turntable” platform. This is usually a rotating platform set into the stage floor, but in this show it was more than that. I read that the National Theater staff calls it a “drum revolve” and it really is more of a cylinder than just a platform.

Early in the show, set elements magically rise out of it and later sink back into it, including a substantial mast and multiple ship decks.

Then, later in the play, the entire turntable itself rises out of the stage floor to provide the subterranean tunnels setting. Wonderful physical effect!

There are also some great lighting effects, including a display of the constellations in the night sky above the set.

Treasure Island will air on YouTube until April 23rd, so see it now if you’re interested. Information can be found here: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

Easter 2020 in Paris

I’m pretty sure we’re all experiencing Easter a little differently this year. I found a gold-wrapped Lindt chocolate bunny waiting for me at breakfast this morning, so I’m happy. I hope your Easter is happy, too.

The French, not surprisingly, have some unique Easter traditions. This one caught my eye: for the French, it’s not the Easter Bunny who brings chocolate treats on Easter, it’s the bells.

Church bells, that is. If you’re in a French city during the three days leading up to Easter, the church bells that usually ring for the hours, half hours, and church services are strangely silent. This is because, according to French tradition, the church bells leave their belfries to fly to Rome on the Thursday before Easter Sunday. Yes, you read that right: they “fly to Rome” – what a sight that must be.

The bells apparently come back early Sunday, bringing chocolate eggs and other treats to children, before returning to their homes in soaring stone steeples, and ringing in the joy of Easter morning.

Now we know where the money in the collection plate really goes: to pay for round-trip tickets to Rome. Man, the Pope must have some special pull with the airlines, what with so many flights canceled these days.

It’s a charming story and I’m sure the European Chocolate Manufacturers Association insists it’s true, so who am I to question it? In the meantime, regardless of how it got here, I’ll enjoy my chocolate bunny.

By the way, some French bakeries are offering chocolate bunnies that are in step with current government health recommendations. Note that the bunnies also come with their own supply of pink toilet paper.

Joyeuses Pâques! (Happy Easter)

What Do Flour and Toilet Paper Have In Common?

What do these two unrelated products have in common? No, they’re not interchangeable. They are, in the Current Situation, often hard to find in stores. When looking for them, we’re often greeted with empty shelves.

The common wisdom is that this is caused by horrible, selfish hoarders stocking up for Eternity. However, my research has discovered a different reason for these shortages.

It has to do with increased demand and mismatched manufacturing processes.

In the case of flour, mills provide for two types of customers: commercial kitchens and bakers and home consumers. For commercial customers, mills sell flour in 50-lb (or larger) bags. For home users, it’s sold in much smaller bags: 1-, 2-, or 5-lb bags. Usually, commercial sales account for over 95% of sales but, with the lockdown restrictions in place, home baking and consumer demand for flour have soared.

The result: mills aren’t geared up to fill that many small bags, so we have shortages in grocery stores. In the U.K., for example, flour mills have recently switched to round-the-clock operations to meet the increased need for small packaging.

The answer to the Missing TP Mystery is similar: paper mills are geared up to produce vastly more paper products for commercial use than for consumer use. They use a different kind of paper pulp and different machines to make commercial TP. This variety of TP, for use in restrooms in airports, restaurants, sports venues, etc., has been the majority of their output, while TP for home use was a much smaller percentage of their output.

But now, due to coronavirus lockdowns, average household daily use of TP has jumped (as much as 800% in some countries) resulting in a mismatch between current market needs and typical paper mill output. Once again, producers are adjusting as quickly as they can to the new demands.

So now, when I see empty store shelves, I’m going to try harder to think better of my fellow shoppers and not reflexively blame hoarding as the cause, and I encourage you to do the same.

Au revior!

Today’s Lockdown Grocery Shopping Experience

Today was a beautiful, 75-degree day here in Paris and we decided to walk a bit further than usual, to a different grocery store. Our choice was Franprix (yes, pronounced just like “Grand Prix” but with an “F”) and we found the steps taken there during the Current Situation to ensure everyone’s safety were great.

Like many stores here, during the crisis Franprix has reduced the hours that they’re open. They haven’t gone to having a special early morning shopping hour just for seniors, as some stores have.

Also, like most stores, there’s a doorman/woman who keeps a strict limit of 10 people in the store at a time. So we spent 15 minutes in line out on the sidewalk, practicing good social distancing and trying to keep our face coverings from falling down without touching our faces.

Someone inside has a sense of humor. I enjoyed the sign on the front window that said “Votre chat, chien, ou poisson rouge n’est pas autorisé dans ce magasin.” which means “Your cat, dog, or gold fish is not allowed in this store.”

When we were allowed into the store, we were immediately directed to a giant dispenser of hand sanitizer, which we happily used. Nice touch.

Forget getting a basket or cart with a gross, germ-laden handle. You fill the trolley or bag(s) you brought with you as you shop, empty them at the checkout, and then reload them after paying.

Franprix is a nice, large, modern chain grocery store with a great food selection, wide aisles, and good lighting. However, either there’s an embargo against it or someone has cornered the market on my favorite breakfast cereal, Weetabix, because there was none to be had. I’m not hoarding it, per se, but I do like to have a good stock at home, just in case.

You really feel like the store is all yours when there are so few people in it, which is very pleasant. Franpix was pretty well-stocked, even at 3:30 in the afternoon, despite the absent Weetabix.

Signs in the vegetable and fruit areas notified us that “If you touch it, you buy it”. So, there’ll be no groping the pears and then putting them back in the bin. Good policy, too bad if you can’t spot ripeness just by looking.

The now-familiar taped lines on the floor, 6-feet apart, were present for queuing at the checkout lines. After we paid, the cashier ran a sanitizing wipe over the card machine face and keypad. Very nice!

Eager faces in the line along the sidewalk greeted us when we left, knowing our departure meant two of those waiting could go in.

We had a successful shopping event and I suspect we may be returning to Franprix more often now. How does this compare with your grocery shopping experience these days?

Au revoir!

What’s Your Daily Lockdown Routine?

Have you fallen into a daily routine based on the Current Situation? Here’s a typical day for us here in Paris:

7:30am – Wake up, say “Let’s get the show on the road”, get going, eat breakfast, clean up kitchen.

8:30am – Watch Lester Holt and the NBC Nightly News broadcast from the previous evening online.

8:50am – Process shock and dismay at situation in the U.S. based on the NBC news.

9:00am – Peruse email and social media, read latest French and European lockdown news and directives, daydream about traveling again or just sitting at a sidewalk cafe.

10:30am – Shower, get dressed, review (and possibly ignore) daily To-Do list.

11:30am – Do chores and cleaning, respond to emails, write blogs posts, do personal accounting. Marti works on her freelance projects, while I read the Washington Post online.

12:30pm – Think about making lunch, select a wine.

1:00pm – Make lunch, eat it, and clean up the kitchen.

2:30pm – Prep to go outside: put on outdoor clothes and face covering, take passport, take shopping bags, print and sign required “explanation of presence outdoors” form, spray anti-viral air cleanser in the apartment.

2:45pm – Get out of the apartment for a walk, possibly around the perimeters of two nearby closed parks, maybe stop at the grocery/bakery/butcher/wine shop on the way home.

3:45pm – Return to apartment, liberally apply hand sanitizer, wash face coverings, wash hands, put groceries away, air out the apartment.

4:00pm – See what we missed on social media, read books, write emails, etc. FaceTime/Skype with friends/family in the U.S. who are 6-9 hours behind us.

5:30pm – Apero (cocktail) hour, sans friends.

6:30pm – Think about making dinner, select a wine.

7:30pm – Make dinner, eat it, and clean up kitchen.

8:30pm – Fire up PBS Anywhere, Netflix, etc. on the boob tube and watch something good.

10:00pm – Hit the sack.

Then, as my friend Robert would say, “Rinse, Wash, Repeat”.

Once a week we clean the apartment and twice a week do laundry. Every night we thank our stars for surviving another day in “Lockdown Hell” and appreciate just how good we have it, and say a prayer for those who don’t.

What’s your daily schedule like?

Au revoir!

France To Distribute Free Wine to Every Household

No, sadly, France is not really passing out free wine nor have I succumbed to Lockdown Lunacy. It’s APRIL FOOLS DAY! Happy AFD!

The French have a slightly different take on the day than the U.S. does. On April 1st, people here use paper fish to play an April Fools trick. This involves sticking a paper fish onto the back of as many adults as possible, and then running away yelling Poisson d’Avril (April Fish!). Sounds like something from Monty Python, doesn’t it?

This is a tradition that dates back to 1564, when the French King switched the country from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, moving the New Year from April 1st to January 1st. No, that’s not more AFD tomfoolery from me. But, if I was you, I’d check my back…

As long as we’re discussing strange phrases, today’s local expression of the day is Couilles dans le vin rouge. Its literal translation is “testicles in the red wine” but it really means that “things are going pretty well”. It’s not the only testicle-related French phrase available, of course, but most of them signify something bad.

Bourgeois Pig Wine

Although it sounds uncomfortable and is certainly a waste of fine red wine, it’s used to signify that everything’s good, the equivalent of “rolling in clover” or “being as happy as a hog in shit”. Like most good French phrases, this one can be traced back to Napoleon.*

Last Sunday, we had pancakes on the breakfast menu, but neither one of us wanted to actually mix the batter and cook pancakes. Instead, we took the easy, Monoprix way out with a few packages of ready-made, toaster pancakes. Unlike the ones you see in the U.S., these were fresh, not frozen, and they were very tasty.

Marti had a nice jug of real Massachusetts Maple Syrup on hand that she brought back from the U.S. and it was just the thing for our breakfast. Are “pancake breakfasts” still a fund-raising thing? I remember when fire houses, high schools, and churches used to have them all the time for that purpose. Apparently the Kiwanis Club is still holding them.

We didn’t eat that many

The U.S. Embassy in Paris notified me today that I can apply through the local police for an extension to my 90-day Schengen visa, and directed me to the police prefecture website, which has a page of information about doing so. It said to apply I have to provide various documents, including proof that the situation back in the U.S. is “too awful to return to”. I thought perhaps a photo of Donald Trump might suffice for that document.

I was already digging in when I remembered to take a photo

The Paris Lockdown Lunch for the last few days has included one of my favorites, steamed Artichokes with garlic mayo and butter, and a Spanish Tempranillo wine and, today, steamed veges with sausage, butter, and parmesan, brown bread, and a lovely Cotes du Bourg Bordeaux.

Stay safe, practice strong social distancing, and keep your body parts out of the wine,

Au revoir!

* Yes, Couilles dans le vin rouge is just another April Fools joke.

Day 14 Checkpoint

Looking out our window, one could almost think we’re near the Mediterranean – white-washed buildings, red tile rooftops, and bright sun – instead of in Paris in March.

Yes, Paris is going through a remarkable period of weather. If I didn’t know better and didn’t look at the temperature, I’d think I was waking up at the beach each day. We’ve had a run of absolutely luminous, clear skies without a hint of the famous “Paris Gray” usual at this time of year. Temps have been all over the place, and too chilly to be fooled about being in Southern France but the days when we’ve gone into the high 50s and low 60s have been a treat.

Here we are fourteen days into the French lockdown and I’ve detected a change in demeanor, mine and everyone else’s. We seem to have gotten through the novelty phase of this and now we’re now bracing for what comes next, including lockdown extensions. When the authorities said “15 days” at the outset, we knew they were just breaking it to us gently and that extensions would come, of course. And they did, we’re locked down until April 15th now. I’ve grown weary of the unending bad news, though, especially from the U.S. where really evil people at the top are making things unimaginably worse. Well, buckle up, friends, we must persevere.

I’m happy to report that all my technology tools are working well and doing a great job. Those would be my iPhone, my iPad, and my Microsoft Surface laptop. All of the online services that support my retired, nomadic lifestyle are also still delivering beautifully. I’m also staying well-entertained and am sure the homicide rate would skyrocket if not for Netflix, PBS, and similar streaming services.

I belong to a Facebook group for retired, nomadic folks like myself and have recently heard from quite few others who are stranded in Europe for the duration. Many, like me, are in their first year of the lifestyle, and we share a dark humor about our luck, current circumstances, and imperiled future plans.

FaceTime and Skype have been wonderful, allowing me to periodically talk to and see some far-flung family members and friends. Much better for the psyche than just emails and texts. If you haven’t done it, try it out.

I’ve fallen behind a bit on my Paris Lockdown Lunch reporting, but rest assured that we have continued to dine in style. Last Saturday we treated ourselves to take-away pizza, and yesterday we had the nice fluffy omelettes shown above (stuffed with Beef Stroganoff) with bread and a bottle of Brouilly. Today we had steamed artichokes with garlic mayo and butter (fantastic!), with a full-bodied Spanish Tempranillo red wine.

Au revoir!

Keeping in Touch with the World

Now that so many of us are in mandated isolation, I wonder how you’re keeping in touch with family and friends. Email and texts, of course, keep the basic contacts going, but there’s nothing quite like hearing and seeing someone to give me a lift.

I use FaceTime on my iPad for video meetings with friends and family back in the U.S. who also have Apple products, and I use Skype on my Windows 10 laptop for those in the Microsoft camp. Both work very well, although it’s slightly more complicated to get things going with Skype. The 5-8 hour time difference is a nuisance, however.

There are lots of tips available online for getting the best video meeting results. Among them, I especially like the one that suggests you ensure that your camera angle is level or only slightly upward – this keeps you from looking like a hippo and avoids giving your friends a tour of your nasal passages. Checking the background behind you is also recommended, so that your head isn’t framed within some distracting colors or images.

I’m temporarily marooned here in Paris, as you know, but the embassy keeps sending me notices that all Americans should get out of Dodge right now, or be prepared to stay indefinitely. I’m prepared to stay, especially given the chaos, misinformation, and bad leadership I see happening in the U.S., but I do worry about my visa limits. I hope those limits will be extended or suspended during these strange days.

Cashier in her bio-containment area

I mentioned earlier that some grocery stores here in Paris have taken to swathing their cashiers in plastic as a health precaution. In the image above, you can see an example wherein there’s a small opening at the end of the belt for you to put your items on the belt, and at the far end there’s another opening so you can retrieve and bag your goods. Kind of kills any attempt to make a friendly impression on the cashier or have a conversation. So it goes in the Age of Coronavirus.

Last night we treated ourselves to extraordinary apple tarts. The local boulangerie (bakery) has won prizes for its croissants, its pain au chocolat, and its “Three Kings” cake (they won so many times for the latter that they’re no longer allow to compete). For me, getting in on the whole French relationship with their local baker and their daily consumption of fantastic breads and pastries is something wonderful. The tarts were outstanding!

Yesterday we had a nice Paris Lockdown Lunch based on that old favorite, Beef Stroganoff, washed down with the rest of the Haussmann Bordeaux. Today, we took a decidedly down-market excursion with the distinctly American Tuna Melt, with Veggie Chips and a nice 2017 Beaujolais. The tuna salad included capers, shallots, and sliced cornichons, with a nice sharp cheddar melted over it. Very tasty indeed.

Au revoir!

The Mysteries of Crows and UHT Milk

We have a family of crows in our neighborhood that is, of course, oblivious to the whole virus thingy. They may be curious as to why we’re all hiding inside and disappointed that there’s not as much discarded food laying about. It’s hard to say, but they do occasionally let loose with a lot of loud, coordinated cawing which, given the fairly quiet streets, makes quite a racket and echoes around the buildings. I still haven’t seen any of them, nor their nest, on the rooftops.

One week into the lockdown, the French Post Office has announced a temporary reduction in delivery days, from six days to four this week, and down to just three days starting next week. The authorities have also fine-tuned the restrictions on leaving the house a bit, turning the screws tighter. Some people, it seems, have been cheating.

It’s a strange thing, waiting for some invisible virus tidal wave to crash over us. Do we measure progress in the broadcast numbers of hospitalized and dead and suppose, when those numbers start to fall, that the end of the lockdown is near? I’m not sure that’s true, but we humans seem to be wired for progress indicators, and for hope.

It’s shocking to see the disarray and national leadership vacuum in the U.S. The notion, voiced by the President, that restrictions there, barely in place and not everywhere, should be lifted because the economy is being battered is the height of folly. So many more people are going to die if restrictions are lifted. Take note, voters, take note.

Turning to more mundane matters, one of the interesting things I’ve experienced since my seclusion here is Ultra-High Temperature (UHT) Milk. This is so-called “shelf stable” milk that lasts without refrigeration for months before opening. The French seem to like it; in fact, around 93% of all milk sold in France is UHT Milk. As with regular milk, the UHT version comes in a choice of fat levels (Whole, Skim, 2%, etc.) and bottle sizes. I can’t recall ever having it before and, while it does taste a little different from fresh milk, I’m quite happy using it in my morning cereal or oatmeal, and in my tea and coffee. Have you had it?

The French ardor for UHT Milk is charmingly at odds with the French reputation for using only the very best, freshest food ingredients, and with the vast selection of cheeses, yogurts, puddings, and other milk products typically found in grocery stores here.

Today’s Paris Lockdown Lunch consisted of a nice omelette containing Greek roasted potatoes and topped with gravy from the stuffed eggplant we had last week and parsley, accompanied by fresh bread, olive oil, Greek olives, and baba ganoush. A bottle of Haussmann Bordeaux filled our wine glasses and went down easy.

Au revoir!