The Ambassador

ImageDuring my childhood years in Kolkata, when I was growing up in it and so used to seeing the Ambassador cars spilling all over the roads of Kolkata, I could not imagine that there could be other places in the world that wouldn’t have even a single Ambassador on the roads.

Yes, living in Kolkata, one gets very used to seeing this ‘ancient’ wonder on the roads. It is the first car to be manufactured in India by a company called Hindustan Motors, and has been around on the Indian streets for more than five decades! And there has been negligible changes or improvements made on it since the first model that was introduced by the British. It’s wide spacious body, dependability to go miles on the Indian roads and comfort, are factors that make it popular for indian families.

The Ambassador is also the official car to be used by the Indian politicians. The Amby in the photo above is an official car belonging to perhaps a minister. Usually there are signs that lets one know it is an official car, and they are usually painted white.

It is only in Kolkata now that one gets to see so many Ambassadors still plying on the roads. Other cities in India would hardly have such cars anymore. While in Kolkata, I loved the sight of seeing so many Ambassadors, almost like giant bugs flying by in the city. Of course, the regular folk don’t buy them anymore, but a large majority of Kolkata taxi drivers use them. The Ambassador taxi is always painted a bright shade of yellow. Riding inside of such a taxi is a unique experience of it’s own.

I am sharing below some photos of the Ambassador taxi in Kolkata. The photo below has my sweet friend’s daughter posing in front of the car. Check out the headlights, they have the face of the Goddess Durga sketched on them!

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Saint Ouen, the biggest Flea Market in Paris

ImageWith the arrival of summer, the tourists almost outnumber the French, even in remote places having little touristic interest, it’s not uncommon to hear foreign languages.

Yesterday, I had to go to the Tuileries (a big nice looking garden), a famous touristic spot in Paris, close to the Louvres, and I was amused to see a French ice cream vendor girl having a tough time communicating with a legion of foreign tourists. Aside the topic, the ice cream was the famous Italian ‘Amarino’ brand, which has ice creams shaped like flowers and taste so heavenly! She let out a ‘Bonjour’ to one of the tourists standing in the front, and this particular tourist (Italian I believe) was so delighted to be addressed, he took a while to reply, rolling out the bonjour from his mouth. The very French and perhaps new girl, must have hoped for the summer to pass quickly and for France to return to it’s normalcy with regular French people speaking French! 🙂

Keeping in mind the touristic season and the rush that tourists have to see everything that Paris has to offer before they rush off to the next country in their Euro-trip program, I have a place that is a treasure trove to offer. A delightful place called ‘MarchĂ© aux Puces de Saint-Ouen’ or simple the Flea Market at Saint Ouen, definitely a popular must-see in Paris.

The first time I’d been there, I wasn’t sure what to expect, maybe old and not nice looking antiques, but by the end of three hours (my husband and I grabbed sandwiches for lunch so we wouldn’t waste any precious time), my head was swimming with the the lovely beautiful things I had seen. I was completely dazzled and taken to another era at the Saint Ouen.

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Here is some history information on Saint Ouen:

It was set up sometime after 1870 by rag-and-bone men who had to be moved outside of the city limits for health reasons (but now, the Saint Ouen is very much a part of Paris). In 1908, this popular ‘Flea Fair’ became reachable by metro. After 1945, junk dealers and rag-and-bone men were replaced by brocanteurs ( second hand furniture dealers), antiques and clothes dealers. Since then many new markets have appeared, each with their own identity and style, from XVII furniture to art deco, including all kinds of trinkets.

Very important to know the Flea Market hours!! (not open during week days!)

Saturday from 10am to 6pm, same for Sunday. Monday from 11am to 5pm.

Here are some lovely antique furniture that I found in the flea markets. Most of them are pricey but there are, surprisingly, some that one can take home with. Below is a photo of a beautiful piece of furniture that has been designed with a special style called ‘marquetry’ meaning inlaid work made from small pieces of variously colored wood or other materials.

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The furniture below has beautiful hand painted art work on it:

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The antique typewriter below is hilarious because of the note stuck on the top of it saying ‘Compatible iPhone WiFi’

ImageHere are some more wonderful sights and objects that I came across:

ImageImageImageImageOne of my favourite parts of Saint-Ouen was the vintage clothes, shoes and jewellery. They were mind-boggling. I couldn’t imagine that clothes had been kept so preciously over the ages, and in relatively good condition. And I would have never thought that vintage clothes could be so pricey! Such a pity photographs weren’t permitted inside such shops. One of my favourites was ‘Chez Sara’ that was selling clothes made by the big French couturiers since the early 1900’s (you can also see the sign for no photography).

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I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip to Saint-Ouen with me! 🙂

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An unusual French recipe

ImageUnusual because the main ingredient of this soup recipe is something that took me by surprise. I think I know a bit about French cuisine, or at least not to be taken by surprise by any recipe or ingredient. Yet, this simple and humble ingredient was a surprising change for last night’s dinner.

This recipe was shared to me by my mother in law, who is an excellent cook. Not only by my opinion but by those of many others. She follows the traditional french cooking, and it is always with some awe and deep interest that I observe her while she goes about her cooking or showing me her larder. French cuisine, as I found out, is ‘infatigable’ or in English, indefatigable, and both ways they are a mouthful. It’s really not easy to really know all about French cuisine, one can read books and books on it.

Ok, so the secret ingredient of this meal is…. Leaves ..of ..the… RADISH! A bit weird, and certainly uncommon, yet something that you can try it, since I have made it, and ate it, and found it delicious in a homely sense! The taste isn’t spectacular, yet there is something distinct about it. For all the times I have bought radish, and I buy them frequently, they make a tasty appetiser with salted butter, I could have made so many soups, instead of binning away the leaves, which I have done always.

Here’s the recipe in French, with the ingredient translation below (sorry if the paper’s a bit crumpled, but it’s still readable):

ImageSo, the ingredients for this soup, which makes 4 portions, are :

1. Leaves taken from a bunch of radish, and to be washed carefully, and then roughly chopped.

2. A large potato, peeled and chopped roughly

3. 2 onions, peeled and chopped roughly.

4. 4 pieces of toasted bread.

5. One and half liter of water (I used vegetable stock instead, to give it added flavour)

6. Salt and pepper to taste, butter or margarine, whatever your preference.

ImageFirst, place your onions and potato into a heated pan that will have the butter melted in it. SautĂ©e it for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables seem to get soft. Add the leaves now. Stir them around for about 2-3 minutes. Don’t be alarmed if the quantity of the leaves seem lessened while cooking. It’s meant to do that. After this, you can add in your hot water, or stock. Check the seasonings, to make sure salt is OK, and if you need any pepper.

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Now, I cover the pan and let it cook on a low-medium flame for 30 minutes. After that, I lift out the cover and add in the 4 pieces of toast which I have broken into bits. The toast dissolves very quick into the stock, and I take my blender and blend all the ingredients very well.

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I check the seasonings again. Perfect. Now, I take my soup bowls, already preheated in the microwave, and pour in the soupy goodness. I garnish the soup with cream and form a heart shape, and sprinkle on top some pink peppercorns or ‘baie de roses’ as it is called in French. My husband is Crazy about the pink peppercorns. I served the soup along with a slice of tart that my MIL made using tuna, tomatoes and mustard.

Et voila! I hope you found the recipe interesting, and know what to do the next time you buy some radishes, and make sure nothing goes to waste! 🙂

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My Herbs, and a Jittery Gardener

ImageI got myself many pots of herbs and aromatic plants, and unlike previous times, decided that I’m going to roll up my sleeves, and sit in front of the computer and learn all there is to learn about how to keep delicate plants alive. I’ve probably let out that I’m a lousy gardener.

I have burnt holes in my pocket persistently and stubbornly buying plants and seeing them wither, become thorny and hard, and looking soon a sorry sight, as soon as I pot them and put them out on my windows. Well, this time, I decided to learn and take notes! So, I bought : tarragon, thyme, rosemary, laurel, basil, chives and rosemary. I know from past experience that basil is tricky to grow, and thyme is relatively easy. I won’t get to parsley. I have had to make a firm mental note never to buy them again. It’s easier for me to get them off the stores and keep them in a glass of water. They seem to have no difficulty lasting long that way.

I love growing basil though! They look beautiful with their full leaves and they emit such a lovely smell! It’s a joy to see them flourish. A while ago, in one of my gardening experiments, I had a small forest of basil growing on my window. I was just very lucky, and now I wish I had made use of the oportunity to make plenty of pesto, because inexplicably the next week they just died out. So far I am loving the way my basil looks!

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This will be my first time with the laurel plant, tarragon and rosemary. Somehow I am a bit worried about the laurel plant. Apparently they require a lot of sun, water and fertiliser in the form of fish emulsion. To be on the safe side, I’ve places all my aromatic plants on the window ledge that receives the maximum sun. So far, it’s been a week already, and I am happy to report that all plants seem to be doing well and thriving! I am already reaping the advantages of having aromatics by using them in my cooking, and such a heavenly difference they make to any dish! I made small laminated notes and stuck them to the appropriate pots so I can be reminded of any particularities.

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ImageHere’s a last look of my herbs taken from the outside of the building. What a proud mama I’m turning out to be! I am beginning to understand how gardeners can be so caught up with their plants. I am starting to experience the anxiety, nervousness and the happiness to have healthy and lovely flowers and plants. Here’s a French saying for any one who’s looking to read/learn some French : Ne vous endormez pas sur vos lauriers. It literally means ‘Do not sleep over your laurels’ or otherwise, do not take things for granted, but continue working hard.

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Apart from herbs, I got myself many geraniums (and I love them, they’ve never failed me), some campanula and 3 small pots of cactus. After endless youtube videos on growing and maintaining plants, I decided to also try growing some garlic pods. Even though I know this isn’t the right season (fall is)! The stubborn part of me wants to go ahead with it and keep my fingers crossed that my garlic pods will grow roots and shoots. Here are more proud mama shots of my plants, do enjoy them!

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A trip to the local Flea Market

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This morning, my husband and I woke up early ( on a Sunday that’s not usual for us or anybody I know!) to go visit the local flea market in one of the nearby towns held only today. I was excited because the last time I visited a Brocante, or a flea market was a while ago. I looked forward to the busy air that brocantes have, I was hoping they would have a lot of antique items instead of the junk they are usually trying to sell off. I was glad that for a Sunday, there was something to look forward to in our sleepy little French place, with plenty of ease and no rush.

The weather today has been sunny and warm,  thank goodness. After the last 4 months of travelling to countries where the usual day temperature has been over 30 degrees, I wasn’t sure how well prepared I’d be for France’s usually frigid temperatures. But I do know that when France is warm, it is quite warm! Prolonged exposure to the sun in France gives me headaches unlike any other hot country!

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The only item I had my heart somewhat set on, in the brocante, was a set of 11 side-plates that had wonderful sketches of French soldiers who seemed to be having conversations. Each plate would represent a new sketch with a different soldier saying something witty that would appear as a caption at the bottom of the plate. The drawings were pretty and old-school like. My mother-in-law has a few of those plates, and they were the only thing I wanted badly at the brocante! But 70 euros to pay for used and slightly chipped plates was a bit steep! With that kind of price I knew I didn’t want to bargain either! Sorry that I don’t have a pic of those plates, they were quite something! Yves was taken up for quite some time with old French records.

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Something useful and tasty that we did buy were a kilo of fresh cherries and some rabbit patĂ©, and a lovely book with paintings of the region of Florence. Sometimes at brocantes, the food sold can be very interesting. They are usually straight from the farms and home made. The prices are a little bit higher than what’s found in the supermarkets but the taste is so much better! There was plenty of choices for patĂ©, one can see rabbit patĂ©, hare patĂ©, wild boar patĂ© (I guess that would smell a lot!). We chose the rabbit patĂ© infused with hazelnuts. The pâtĂ© was indeed very good! Here’s a pic of the farmer selling his different pâtĂ©s :

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I decided that I have no more worrying thoughts on ‘what shall I prepare for lunch’, because we would have the patĂ©! 🙂 I am lucky that Yves says yes to a lot of the things I say (well, mostly!). All we had to do now is get some baguette, or the long French bread which has such an amazing taste and which I’d missed a lot while travelling. I prepared some tomato and mozarella salad with some fresh basil snipped from my pot, and I washed and arranged all the cherries (delicious) and the baguette and patĂ©. We had a brunch listening to a record that Yves got of Vanessa Paradis, singing ‘Joe le Taxi’.

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Here’s a close up of the ingredients used in making the rabbit patĂ© : There’s 45 % of rabbit meat, 30% of the meat around the neck region, 20 % liver, 5 % spices, onions, white wine, salt and pepper. Also the pâtĂ© has been sealed off with a sprig of thyme, laurel leaf and plenty of hazelnuts. Enjoy the pictures, and hope you get to have some too someday soon! 🙂

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