My brothers are good for many things: teaching me how to shoot a gun, making me laugh until I am clutching my stomach in pain, and (in Ry’s case) providing an exquisite meal in Paris for two very weary girls after a 12-hour walking marathon of Versailles with only a few nibbles and two bottles of water to sustain us.
Amy and I started out bright and early that October morning, the air crisp and cool as we crossed the Seine and headed to the train station.
We arrived in Versailles in the full glow of morning sunshine, walking along the tree-lined drive towards the Chateau. The gold-plated gates were blinding and it was all we could do to keep our eyes open for a quick picture.
After a lengthy fiasco attempting to track down our reserved tickets, we joined the hordes roaming the Chateau. I feel at a loss to adequately describe the soaring ceilings, enormous chandeliers dripping with crystals, mirrored hallways large enough to hold balls, beds with canopies right up to the ceiling topped with ostrich feathers, lush fabrics, carved furniture, fine paintings, inlaid floors, rich curtains tied back with tassels in candy colors, delicate porcelain, molding like fine embroidery, and gold, gold, gold everywhere we looked.
I was staggered to learn the King had 200 courtiers watch him wake up and go to bed, EVERY SINGLE DAY. I can’t imagine. I know there are perks to being royalty, but I can’t fathom a life with nary a moment of privacy ever. Just the thought made me want to duck into a side room for some alone time.
Everything was exquisite, but after a while it got too much, my eyes just couldn’t take in anymore, and it was a relief to escape to the gardens with soothing stretches of lawn punctuated by topiary, statuary and flower beds overflowing with the last of summer’s glory.
We ambled down the wide steps to the Grand Canal and up cobbled boulevards to the Grand and Petit Trianon. It was a gorgeous walk with stunning vistas of woods and water at every turn. The buildings were beautiful, but on a less opulent scale than the Chateau, changing from a frenzy of gold and crystal to white molded woodwork with lush tassels to simple stonework and subdued tones.
In fact, the farther we got into the property the more simplistic the domiciles became. Suddenly we caught our breath as over the rise of a hill we saw the Queen’s Hamlet, a rustic village built for Marie Antoinette where she could go to play milkmaid. The village instantly became my favorite place, a fairytale setting on the edge of a lake.
A stone bridge crossed a stream, geometrically laid out gardens were filled with cabbages and squash, lovely pumpkins in orange, dark green and pale cream. The cottages were festooned with pots of cheery geraniums and dripped with climbing vines in gorgeous shades of red. Vine-covered arbors led outside the village, and entering one we discovered the whole thing was a grape vine! The sun glowed through the green leaves and the dusty purple globes begged to be tasted. I obliged. 🙂
I could quite happily have lived there. It was so peaceful, so carefree, and I felt an ache inside as I thought of Marie, only 13 when she was betrothed to a man she’d never met, yanked from her beloved Austria and plunked down into the French court far from everything and everyone she loved. No wonder she adored her little hamlet so much. It truly is escapism at its best.
By the end of the day Amy and I were hobbling like old women, so stiff and sore from lugging cameras and bags and water bottles over acres of marble floors and cobbled walkways. Ryan met us at his apartment then led us to his favorite Paris restaurant where we were greeted warmly with handshakes and Frenchy kisses.
Sinking into our seats we settled in for a wondrous meal (which I will tell you about another day). The wine relaxed our aching muscles and soon our groanings were forgotten as we laughed and swapped tales about our day.
After that amazing meal (and I can’t wait to tell you about it!) our lovely waitress forced dessert upon us, not once, but THRICE! How could we say no to chocolate mousse made by her very own hands? Or to pear clafouti made from pears grown in her own backyard? And honestly, could we offend her by declining a shimmering goblet full of brandied cherries? I think not!
Hours later, sated in body and spirit, we strolled home and fell fast asleep. Good night, Versailles.
Almond Pear Clafouti
4 firm-ripe pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup sliced blanched almonds
3/4 cup milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 large eggs, beaten lightly
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (preferably pure)*
3/4 cup self-rising cake flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Preheat the oven to 400°F. and butter a 10-by 2-inch round (1-quart capacity) baking dish. In the dish toss the pears gently with the lemon juice and spread them evenly in the dish.
In a blender grind fine 1/2 cup of the almonds, add the milk, 6 tablespoons of the butter, the eggs, the vanilla, and the almond extract, and blend the mixture until it is smooth.
In a bowl whisk together the flour, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and a pinch of salt and stir in the milk mixture, stirring until the batter is combined well.
Pour the batter over the pears, drizzle it with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and sprinkle it with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and remaining 1/4 cup almonds.
Bake the clafouti in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes, or until it is golden brown, and let it cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Serve the clafouti warm.