Bon Paris-versaire

The other day, a feeling came over me that I was forgetting to do something. You know that familiar sensation when a to-do list item is just out of reach from your mind’s grasp. It’s common for this to happen to me these days, between managing work and major house renovations and day-to-day life in general. Finally I looked at a calendar and realized what it could be this time.

I should be planning my next Paris-versary party. And I would be, if we still lived in Paris.

Let me explain. 
Paris-versary (n): The festivity that ensues on the weekend nearest the calendar date of moving to Paris, marking another year of life in France and celebrating the friends that made it wonderful. 

The thought that we couldn’t celebrate one this year made me a bit blue, so I started reminiscing about the parties we threw over the years through photos. Looking back at the Paris-versaries we’ve celebrated on rue de Thorigny, I realized that even the event itself each year tells a bit of our story of moving to Paris and acclimating to French life. So here it is:

Year 0

Two kids from NJ made a somewhat spontaneous decision to move to Paris and touched down at Charles deGaulle airport on the 16th of March. Within the first month, we went out apartment hunting with the help of a broker and fell in love with the first place we toured. By mid-April, we officially took up residence in the Marais.

We were relieved to have the stress of finding a home over and done with, thankfully pleased with the final outcome. (We had been warned that the apartment market in Paris is fierce and the whole not-speaking-French thing concerned us.) I assumed that settling in would be the end of that chapter - but then a new friend asked when our crémaillère would be.

A look at our living room in our one-bedroom apartment // One thing that made our apartment unique was that our landlady owned a few modern art galleries, and decorated her rental in that style. Though not everything was to my taste, I did appreciate that our apartment was far from an Ikea cookie-cutter sterile space. After all, who doesn't love a fertility chair and golf-ball table?

Thus our own would be my first introduction to a French housewarming party. It turned out that there would be many more occasions to participate in the crémaillère. I can’t make a definitive comparison between French and American housewarmings, but I can say conclusively that looking back on those 3 ½ years in Paris, I went to far more housewarmings than I ever have in the States. And even a decrémaillère - a party just before moving out. I take it to illustrate another example of the French joie de vivre, enjoying life and embracing any reason for festivities. 

It hadn’t occurred to me to host a housewarming party because having just moved to town, we hadn’t had much time to form friendships. That didn’t seem to be a problem though - when we counted them up, we had met plenty of nice people who would come out to help mark the big event of really making Paris “home.” So with that, we organized our crémaillère - and you can see that it was the most American of our fêtes (even Thanksgiving was more French!).

Exhibit A: I had no idea what one should serve to munch on at a housewarming party. Looking back, my table seems very américaine - chips, sliced apples, some cut up fruit with hummus, supermarket cookies...

Exhibit B: This though, may be the best indication of my early days in France. My cheese plate looks like it is sufficient for one French person. We did have more on hand, but we couldn't imagine going through all the cheese on the plate in one night so we held off before replenishing the supply.

I will take a moment to pause and add that despite the small amount of fromage, the event still was a success. A handful of friends made the crucial call to miss the last Metro of the evening and stayed up playing board games until it resumed service in morning - so I think we did ok!

Year 1

I think we were the only ones out of our friends to start having “Paris-versary” parties. It just felt like a big milestone - to have lived in Paris for one year, to have acclimated somewhat, to have shown ourselves that we could survive in a foreign land fully independent of our families. And besides, what’s better on a Saturday night in chilly March than have a house party? Thus the Paris-versary was born, and the party gathered up our friends who had become our Paris family to help commemorate the one year mark.

As you can see, I think this spread is an improvement from our crémaillère - and you can see our progress in acclimating by comparing the cheese plate to the previous year's. 

I learned a lot living abroad that first year - more than I can begin to detail here (though if you want more food-related insights, pop over to this post) - so I’ll just say I had gained some more experience with French food and the lovely way the French arrange and decorate their tables. I decided to be brave and to try to give my guests a little token of appreciation for all they had done for me in the last year. I made macarons.

My mom and I had taken a macaron class when my parents visited, although I hadn’t tried to replicate the recipe since their trip. It’s hard to justify all the effort when Pierre Hermé, Carette, and other wonderful pâtisseries were minutes from the house. Buying enough for a party was cost prohibitive though, so I dusted off the instructions and started baking away. The results were not perfect, but I don't think my guests minded too much.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about pulling off macarons in my Parisian pad was baking the outer cookies. When we looked for our apartment, I told the broker that I wanted to have an oven, and she laughed it off, telling me that of course French apartments had ovens. And then I fell in love with an apartment that only had a stove top and microwave. We bought a glorified toaster oven (you can catch a glimpse in the next photo) that got us through our time in Paris, but baking half a sheet of macaron shells at a time was quite tedious! 

Year 2

Moving to a new place certainly teaches one things s/he would have never expected to learn. I never would have thought that in Paris, I would learn a ton about being a hostess - but I did. Countless dinners, house parties, brunches, baby and bridal showers, visits from friends and family from the US, our weekly church group - opening up our home became more natural with time. 

I’m not saying that I’m a pro by any means - but I did learn more about myself. Although I’d like to think I’m more laid back these days about not needing everything to be perfect for when company comes over, I found that one thing that made a big difference was giving myself lots of time to prepare.

When the clock is on my side, I am reasonably calm and generally pleasant to be around. I allowed a few hours prior to our bash to do all my food prep beforehand, so in the moment I could enjoy my friends as much as possible instead of running back and forth like a crazy person. 

The kitchen was one of most important features I considered when I was choosing an apartment because I knew I would log some serious time in that room! Even without a proper oven, I loved my cuisine. 

I have to admit, I impressed myself a bit with the results.

You know the drill by now - focus in on the cheese SLATE to see our progress. 

My spread says a lot about our time in Europe. I had some Spanish tapas-inspiration with French ingredients - goat's’ cheese with strawberries and leeks with blue cheese. My friend, Devon, taught me how to put together a lovely French apero, and her cucumbers with crème fraîche and smoked salmon made an appearance in the mix as well. I even thought ahead to gather some fresh flowers from my favorite outdoor market, and voilà! Pas mal, I say!

This celebration felt even more momentous than the first year. Initially, we were supposed to return back to the US just short of two years - in December of 2013. But we wanted to extend our time and managed to find a way to stay longer, making this Paris-versary even sweeter just with the opportunity to be able to throw another fête and proclaim “We’re still here.”

No potato chips needed on this table :-)

And talking about sweets, my table didn’t stop there. Dessert was served after everyone had some time to settle in.

The fun thing about these macarons the second time around was that I had some help with this intensive labor of love. I had the honor of introducing my talented baker of a friend to how I learned how to make macarons (and since then, she graduated from Paris’ top pastry school and can probably make these in her sleep). Her creativity enhanced my buttercream fillings with added flavors like nocino (an Italian walnut liqueur) and limoncello (an Italian lemon liqueur) which upped the macaron game to a whole other level.

I still couldn't get perfect looking shells (now I know why pastry shops can charge so much per piece!) but in terms of flavor, they rocked!

Year 3

If the progression thus far shows how we adjusted to our adopted home, then year 3 shatters it all. When I normally would have been preparing to host another Paris-versary party, I was running around Europe with some last minute sibling visits with my brother, his fiancé, and my sister-in-law. It would have been fun to pull off that last one, but I gave myself a pass because I knew we would have occasion for one more fête on rue de Thorigny - although it would be one to signify leaving, not staying.

It could have been tempting with all the moving preparations to bypass hosting our goodbye party. But as I said, Paris furthered my education in hosting by leaps and bounds. So instead of being miserable and stressed out in my last days living in Paris, I decided to give a nod to my home country and pull out an American card. I asked friends to bring something to munch on and made our afternoon festivity somewhat pot-luck style.

We did have drinks covered! Featured here are lots of bottles of our favorite sparkling wine - crémant - from one of our favorite independent winemakers in France, Poulet et Fils. 

The beginnings of our growing pot-luck spread. We were a bit preoccupied and didn't take many photos, but I know cheese definitely made an appearance at some point!

Left: Michael still did his normal party duty and went on a baguette run! | Right: One of our friends generously shared a 1.5 liter bottle of champagne for our going away - so I had to pose with it nearby one of our apartment’s well-loved pieces of modern art, the fertility chair.

I’m going to miss hosting another Paris-versary party this March. But one thing I hope to bring back from my time in France is the willingness to open up our home and the foresight to make gathering up people I love a priority - and not just an empty “We should get together soon,” sentiment. After all, the NY Times is reporting the death of the house-party - so someone needs to bring it back.

What unexpected thing have you learned from moving somewhere? Have any great party tips to share?