We now know: it's two hours on the TGV. So our second weekend in Luxembourg, we went to Paris. Highlights:
- The best playground we found is in the Jardins du Luxembourg (irony!). You have to pay to enter the aire de jeu, but you're not in Paris to save money, are you? Of course not.
- Astoundingly and I must say tragically, there are no real playgrounds in the greenery along the Champs d'Elysees.
- Sam insists that Orangina is "too spicy."
- Stores that specialize in comic books and action figures are on rue Dante, in the 5eme. This too is probably not why you're in Paris, but you're a grown-up; if you were a non-grown-up, this might be exactly why you're in Paris.
- There's nothing as great as being able to control the subway doors BY YOURSELF!
- You wait a long time to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower; you climb a lot of stairs to get to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Both are worth it. The aquarium at Trocadéro, on the other hand, is decidedly not, unless you're obsessed with undersea-themed feature films, because, oddly enough, the Paris aquarium seems to be mainly a half-assed museum of genre cinema.
Not similar to our last visit. Then, we wandered around the Marais, we bought brocante at the flea market, we went to the one-guy museums (Picasso, Rodin, etc.), we had a six-course, four-hour dinner. This time, we barely glanced at the museums as we cruised by them on the Batobus; we had a lunch in a chain restaurant where Alex refused to relinquish the plastic hippopotamus-shaped toothpicks that came inserted in his hamburger.
So by the time Monday morning rolled around (toothpicks still in Alex's possession), and Madeline was off to the "future of" conference that was our excuse to be in Paris, we hadn't yet had a truly good meal. I wanted one. And I remembered sitting in a SoHo brasserie with its owner, meeting about his cookbook. We’d finished discussing our business, but there was still coffee on the table, and neither of us was in a rush. Madeline and I were going to Paris a few weeks later, so I asked his advice on where we should eat. His face lit up. “There’s a little brasserie on the Île St-Louis,” he said, “called, I think, the Brasserie Île St-Louis. It was one of my models for this place.” He looked around his restaurant. “You must go there.”
That was seven years ago. So now, Monday evening, the boys and I get to Île St-Louis on foot from “the superhero store," where after much debate (about 30 minutes, no exaggeration) we bought a Superman for Sam (because of initials) and a Batman for Alex (because five of them were not enough). Madeline hasn’t arrived at the restaurant, and I don't want to squander any well-behaved-in-a-public-place time until we're ready to put food in our mouths, so I forego a table. I tell the boys to just plop down and play with their new toys on the sidewalk, right there at the foot of the Pont St-Louis, across the little slip of Seine from Notre Dame. They start enacting some type of drama, during which I learn that Batman is Superman’s father. At one point, the two superheroes are separating, turning in for the night. Sam is using the high falsetto that means he's speaking in a non-Sam role; this is how he talks about a quarter of the time. “Good night, Dad,” Sam says as Superman. “I love you.”
Batman is walking away. Alex pauses Batman, turns the action figure around to address Superman: “I love you too."
The river is shimmering silver in the gloaming, and warm windows pop up in the endless procession of stone buildings that line the banks; Paris is as breathtaking as ever. Madeline and I ate better, as a rule, the last time we were here. But back then, I had no idea that Batman and Superman exchanged I-love-you's before bed, which is ample compensation for the loss of Michelin stars.
a recipe: slow-roasted rosemary-garlic pork shoulder with applesauce
We are shown to a table—a little RESERVÉ placard in the middle of the red-checkered cloth—by a familiar-looking waiter, in a room full of other familiar-looking waiters. Our first priority is to scour the menu for something the boys will eat. The most likely possibility seems to be pork with applesauce. But I'm a little worried that I can't translate the words that surround porc, which, as it turns out when the dish arrives, signify that what we've ordered is a cured hock, with a creamy gravy as well as the applesauce. The boys consider it warily, then don’t much enjoy it, eating only as much as they think they must to be rewarded with ice cream, from the renowned Berthillon across the street. As they grimace at the delicious pink meat sitting regally in its ramekin, it occurs to me that I make a roast pork that the boys eat with gusto. So I'll make it this week, back in Luxembourg (back home? can I call it that, yet?), and we’ll be able to enjoy one of those rare meals at which all four of us eat the same thing.
Salt and pepper
Pork shoulder, trimmed of any ridiculously thick deposits of fat, but still left well-larded
Onions, sliced thin
Apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
Combine equal amounts of rosemary and garlic with generous portions of salt and pepper, along with a drizzle of olive oil, and mash into a paste. Rub it all over the pork, and set aside to marinate for as long as you can spare.
Line a roasting pan with the sliced onions, place the pork on top, and pop it into a low oven; I like to do this at 200 or 225 F, which means it's going to take somewhere like a full workday to cook. This is the point of this dish. The lower the temperature, I think, the juicier the end result. Turn the thing every few hours, to crisp up the outside uniformly. Although I'm typically a stickler for measuring internal meat temperatures, I don't bother with this cut and method, and it has worked out fine; but if you're worried about erring too much in either direction, take out the meat when the center hits 150 F.
Meanwhile, put the apple chunks in a saucepan with a drizzle of water. Set over low heat and cook until the apples break down completely, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. I happen to think that applesauce isn't particularly improved by cinnamon, salt, or pepper, but nor have I ever really harmed it this way; sometimes, though, it could definitely use a few pinches of sugar, especially for tart apples like Granny Smiths. Whatever you add, mash up the apples when they're mashable, and there you go.
Take the finished pork out of the pan, and remove the onions with a slotted spoon; save the onions for serving. If you want to make gravy: set the pan atop one or two burners over high high heat, add a cup of water or stock, and scape up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Cook until reduced and thickened; if you're the type to add butter, then add butter. Season with salt and pepper, then strain to remove any large, charred pieces of rosemary and garlic. This pan gravy only works hot, but the meat with applesauce is good at any temperature, especially if the pork is sliced very thin.