The perfect end to a day of exploring

August 19, 2010 § 3 Comments


Yesterday, I ventured out into the old town of Alexandria. I had a real reason for going; I had an appointment for a haircut at DeZen Spa purchased with a deal earlier in the summer. Making it to the appointment on time was a mad dash from the office, frantically pushing through the rush-hour people traffic at the Chinatown Metro station and finally hopping onto the Yellow line for a long ride into Virginia. But I did arrive on time, just in time to chop off all my hair…well most of it. My hair now falls just past my chin. I feel a little like Kate Hudson in Le Divorce when she cuts off her California blonde hair for a short, sophisticated French do. Only I’m not quite in Paris yet.

Afterward, I went off to explore Alexandria, as the last time I was there with my whole summer household there wasn’t much chance to see the area. I stopped in at Le Pain Quotidien, looking at the pastries and tarts behind the glass windows before moving in. I walked into La Madeleine and ordered a mango iced tea and a mini lemon tart, which was disappointingly not at all tart. On the way back to the Metro station, in search of an Old Town deli, I stopped in at a small clothing shop, An American in Paris. The front door was locked but the slight woman who owns the shop came hurrying to the door to let me in. The store was lined with clothes in rows on every wall and the woman instructed me on how to view each piece — take from the rack by the hanger, not the clothing, and gently feel the texture of the fabric between your hands. The key to good clothing is the fabric, she noted in a slight accent. She is originally from Avignon, though her father’s family is Italian and her daughter lives in England. She cooed with delight when I said I was moving to Paris, then proceeded to give me a lecture on being careful and not getting entrapped in the partying Americans that frequent Europe. We Europeans, we grew up being cautious, you American girls are so sheltered and naïve, she said. I just laughed and headed to the dressing room with a gorgeous pink dress with a huge appliqué flower front-and-center and crepe-like skirt that is longer than anything I have ever worn but made of such beautiful fabric I couldn’t resist. Glamorous, she said, was in.

I wanted so badly to make this woman happy that I actually considered buying one of the pieces, which were each priced at $295. But knowing what a shock that would give my bank account — and reason reinforced when she commented that she loved my skirt, which I think is the only clothing I have ever purchased at Wal-Mart — I resisted and said I “would have to check with my mom,” which means “no.” I think I can be an American in Paris without that price tag.

I have spent a lot of time in the past week researching Europeans cities and countryside, their hole-in-the-wall restaurants, stores and hotels. I’ve been mapping out travel routes and Eurorail tickets, trying to narrow down which weekend trips are feasible and which are going to remain dreams. I’m determined to make it to Barcelona and Dublin. But I also want to see the country, the farms; I want to go to Southern France and relive childhood vacations and explore the grandeur of Irish hills, as I’ve never before been. More than I want to taste the food everywhere, I can’t wait to recreate the food in my little apartment kitchen. I just hope I find people to eat it!

I brought this cake into the office, partly to get it off my hands and party to distract from the disappointing apricots in my previous post. It’s a cake you make in the middle of winter and likewise in summer, as I did. It seemed overly sweet when I first tried it, still piping hot, but the flavors melded together over the next few days and the sweetness lessened. I would say, best on the second or third day.

Jam Crumb Cake
From Epicurious, via Honey & Jam

For cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
1/2 cup jam or preserves

For crumb topping:
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Generously butter a 9-inch square or round cake pan.

For the cake:
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together butter, milk, and egg in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Pour batter into cake pan. Dollop jam all over surface, then swirl into batter with spoon.

For the crumb topping:
Whisk together butter, sugars, cinnamon, and salt until smooth. Stir in flour, then blend with your fingertips until incorporated. Sprinkle crumbs in large clumps over top of cake. Bake cake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides begin to pull away from pan, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.

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