It was a jaw dropping moment, not in awe but in sorrow. Turning on the evening news last Monday, I was shocked and saddened to see a great architectural achievement on fire. Catastrophic flames leapt high into the sky. It was unreal. After weathering revolution, countless protests and two world wars, after eight centuries, Notre Dame was on fire.
I have visited Paris many times. After all, it was a quick three-hour trip by train from Geneva, my adopted home for almost two decades. Upon hearing and seeing the tragedy, my thoughts turned immediately not to my first trip to Paris nor to my last. Instead, memories of my first solo trip came flooding back.
Solo travel can be daunting, particularly for women. However, for those first few months in Switzerland, I was the new girl. I didn’t have a posse of family and friends to enlist in my travel goals. Fear and intimidation be damned, I resolved to spread my wings and visit all the great centers of Europe. Once a month, alone or not, I would hop on the train or find a cheap flight. At the time, I thought I’d only be there a year. I wasn’t going to waste it. From the leaning tower of Pisa to the tower of London, I wasn’t going to miss a thing.
I arrived in early August and it didn’t take long to settle into my new job and studio apartment. My docket as a research associate at an international leadership and management education institute (wow – that’s a mouthful) filled up quickly. The tiny apartment overlooked a different Notre Dame. It didn’t take long to unpack and find the nearest grocery store, farmers market and gym. I was settled and ready to see Europe.
From the start, I kept to the plan and spent weekends in Vienna and Munich. Paris was next. For a New England girl, it was amazing to leave work a few hours early on a Friday afternoon and arrive in Paris in time for dinner. Mind you, Parisians don’t eat at five or six but then neither do I.
I stayed in a cheap hotel, ate in neighborhood cafés and walked and walked and walked some more. It was October, a bit cool, mostly overcast but thankfully the rain held off. My feet took me from one great landmark to another. I wandered around and in Notre Dame Cathedral as well as the Arc de Triomphe, Les Jardin des Tuileries and a few interesting little shops. I took great delight in walking up and down the Seine and over its famous bridges. I drank tiny cups of strong coffee and glasses of dry wine. I feasted on croissants, steak-frites and oysters with raspberry vinegar and shallots.
Perhaps I was feeling a little homesick on Sunday afternoon. Before heading home on the train, I stopped for lunch at, of all places, a Greek restaurant. No, I’m not Greek but my mother and I used to go to the theater once or twice a year. We went to the matinée and before the show we joined the ladies-who-lunch at the Athens Olympia Café on Stuart Street in Boston.
A charming older woman sat at the next table. We exchanged polite smiles. After I gave my order, she asked a question or two. I replied in faltering French and a pleasant, only slight awkward conversation ensued. As I got up to leave, she commended me, not because I was anything close to fluent but because I made the effort. My mother would have been proud of me. I was proud of me.
Here’s to adventures great and small, safe travels and bon appétit!
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, plus more for the ramekins
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups whole milk or half & half or a mix
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
6 ounces goat cheese, crumbled and at room temperature*
4 large eggs, at room temperature*
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon minced chives
1/2 tablespoon minced rosemary
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter 4 (1-cup) ramekins, place them on a baking sheet and set aside.
Make the béchamel: Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and whisk until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly for 1-2 minutes. Continuing to whisk constantly, add the milk and whisk until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in the salt and pepper and set aside for 10-15 minutes.
Put the goat cheese, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano and herbs in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer or whisk with a fork until well combined.
Beating constantly, add the béchamel a little at a time and mix until well combined. Pour into the prepared ramekins.
Can be made ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated for several hours. Bring to room temperature before baking.
Bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking until puffed and golden, about 10 minutes more. Serve immediately.
* It will be easier to combine the goat cheese and eggs if they are at room temperature. If you forget to take them out of the refrigerator in advance – don’t worry just beat for a minute or two more.
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Do you have special memories of Paris? Feel free to share!
Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019
Notre Dame Cathedral photograph – courtesy of Peter Haas, CC BY-SA 3.0