Amanda Travels, children's literature, cooking class, Darlene Foster, humor, international travel, kid detective, La Cuisine Paris, life, mystery, Notre Dame, Notre Dame on fire, Paris, Paris markets, travel
A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.” —Thomas Jefferson
“Meet at Metro Maubert-Mutualité, in front of Café le Métro” the message said.
My market cooking class was gathering at the oldest outdoor market in Paris to choose the ingredients and determine the menu we’d be cooking that day. I got there early to allow time for the day’s first cafè crème, but when I emerged Chef Justin was already standing in front with several other students. His colleague handed out large market bags with La Cuisine Paris’ logo, and we followed Justin into the market like a group of anxious duckling tourists.
Justin led us past meat and vegetable stalls, while keeping up a steady flow of information about the history of the site, some of the vendors who’d been coming for generations, and prestigious awards won by famous shops like Laurent Dubois for cheese or the bakers with their incredible brioche. After a quick group conference in which duck was rejected (sob!) as well as escargot (I could live with that one), we settled on scallops and—for those like me who couldn’t eat shellfish—salmon. Let the buying begin!
A month earlier, when I was shopping in Indian markets, it was all about the bargaining. In France, though, your goal is to score the absolute freshest items. Chef was full of tips:
- See these onions and carrots with their greens cut off? Never buy them. That’s the first part to wilt, so a sure sign the veggies are not the freshest.
- Only buy fish with bright eyes and red gills. Headless fish are probably trying to hide aged eyes and gills. (Then again, maybe they just have heavy, ugly heads…)
- The white asparagus is actually the same as the green stuff, but it was raised under a tarp that causes it to grow short and fat instead of tall and thin. It’s a briefly-available treat not to be missed when fresh, but never, ever, eaten from a can.
- In this stall, wait until Madame is free. That skinny little guy with her is drunk 90% of the time.
- In that stall, the incredible variety of mustards form the essential base for your vinaigrette – and of course no self-respecting French cook would be caught dead with a store-bought vinaigrette.
- In front of the cheese stall, let’s just keep talking in hopes that the proprietor will offer samples. No? Well, we’ll buy some anyway.
- This thing that looks like a cross between a potato and some confused ginger is a Jerusalem artichoke. Most of France survived on them during WWII, and then nobody wanted to eat them for decades. It’s making a comeback, although it needs to be cooked for long periods.
- What might look like a green modern art sculpture is actually Romanesco. It tastes like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. But the amazing thing is that it’s an almost-perfect fractal (a repeating pattern based on the Fibonacci sequence that reproduces from the large form down to the individual florets.)
As we headed back to the school, I chatted with some of my fellow students, who came from all over the world. Two women had just run the Paris marathon, and one mentioned that it was her twentieth marathon. Another woman was there with her fifteen-year-old son, already an accomplished cook and celebrity chef fan.
In the airy upstairs kitchen with the windows overlooking the Seine, we set out the vegetables and had a quick lesson in basic knife work. (Grasp the knife blade between your thumb and index finger, and curl your remaining three fingers around the handle. Fold in the fingertips on your other hand and use the flat edges of your fisted fingers to guide the blade so there is never a chance of fingertip-tartare added to your meal.)
With that in mind, we got down to getting those scallops out of shells that were remarkably determined not to allow anything of the kind, and then trimming them for cooking.
This was followed by Egg Breaking 101, in which we learned that Mom was wrong. We were not allowed to crack the egg on the side of the bowl and hope we don’t have to fish out too many shell bits. Instead, the approved technique is to tap it against the flat of the counter, and then with one hand cupped over a bowl, pour the egg through your fingers (yuck!) while catching the yolk in your cupped hand. (Can we just admit that I am a complete egg-breaking failure and move on?)
With our hand-separated yolks, we made lemon hollandaise sauce. I’ve done that before, but the difference is that here it actually worked. Apparently, when they say not to put the pan directly onto the heat source, they mean don’t even let it get any hotter than you can comfortably touch. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was determinedly not thinking about salmonella as we moved on to emulsifying the sauce.
After vegetables were roasted and scallops seared came the best part of the class. We all sat down together to a fabulous meal of fresh market veggies and fish, baguette, wine, and our roasted rhubarb and fresh strawberry dessert along with market cheese.
Of course, the food was fantastic, but the fun of walking around Paris, buying and preparing it, plus the chance to meet so many people from around the world is what makes taking a local cooking class so special.
Walking around Paris, you experience a sense of history, of walking in the footsteps of generations gone by, of seeing what they saw. So it’s a particular shock when that changes dramatically.
This sense of stunning disorientation is seen through the eyes of Darlene Foster’s young detective in her latest release, Amanda in France: Fire in the Cathedral (An Amanda Travels Adventure Book 9). Please see my review below.
Amanda explores the exciting streets of Paris, the fabulous Palace of Versailles and the gardens of the painter Claude Monet, while being drawn into the mystery surrounding the destructive fire of Notre Dame cathedral.
Amanda is in love! With Paris – the city of love. She’s in awe of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, and Notre Dame Cathedral. While there, she gets to work as a volunteer and stay in a famous book store, along with her bestie, Leah, and Leah’s eccentric Aunt Jenny. A dream come true for a book lover like Amanda.
Except, while she’s at the Paris Opera House there is a bomb threat. Then the lights go out during their visit to the Louvre. Worst of all, a devastating fire blazes in Notre Dame. Why does a mysterious man, who claims to be a busker, writer and artist, show up every time something bad happens?
Join Amanda as she explores the exciting streets of Paris, the fabulous Palace of Versailles and the gardens of the painter Claude Monet, all the time looking for clues as to who would want to destroy such a beautiful, historic cathedral.
5 stars for Amanda in France: Fire in the Cathedral (An Amanda Travels Adventure Book 9) by Darlene Foster
She’s back! My favorite kid detective, Amanda, is visiting Paris with her best friend Leah and somewhat unconventional Aunt Jenny. To Leah’s dismay and Amanda’s delight, Aunt Jenny has arranged for them to volunteer at Paris’ famous english-language bookshop, Shakespeare and Company.
To the surprise of nobody who follows Amanda’s adventures around the world, trouble strikes almost immediately. Their visit to the Paris Opera is interrupted by a bomb threat, electricity is cut during a visit to the Louvre, and mysterious new acquaintances seem to show up wherever Amanda and Leah go. Most devastating of all is the visit to Paris’ crown jewel, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, only to have it followed by catastrophic fire. Amanda and her friends join the human chain desperately trying to save priceless relics and artwork from the destruction even as the cathedral is consumed. But they are forced to watch, helpless, as the spire collapses.
One lonely voice started to sing and then another. Soon everyone joined in singing “Ave Maria” softly in French, dedicated to the love of their church.
Although written for children, Amanda in France considers some mature topics such as peer pressure, gangs, and terrorism. We can all understand when she asks, “Should we still travel? What with terrorists, bombs going off, and all that scary stuff.”
As always, Amanda takes us racing through the places she visits, showing us the sights and landmarks through her interactions with the people there. As I said in my review of an earlier book in the series, like the mom who sneaks vegetables into the pizza, this series has another secret weapon. Geography—surely one of the least popular subjects in any middle school classroom—takes a starring role in Amanda’s adventures. We visit famous and quirky landmarks, see both Paris and Versailles, learn about French history, meet some of the people, and even discover wonderful food firsthand, as in the impromptu macaron baking lesson from her new friend’s mother.
One thing that makes this series stand out is that we see the very real immaturity and flaws of the characters. They are, after all, children who are naive, stubborn, and often wrong. Of course, that’s mixed in with their bravery, daring, and lots of humor.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this wonderful series to any middle school age children who enjoy adventure, bravery, and humor. But there’s plenty to entertain adults as well.