Saturday, March 12, 2011

March 12, 2011: Grenoble - Marché, Tram, Hypermaché, Baking

On Saturday morning we went to the local market after breakfast, which is fast becoming a tradition. We went back to the same cheese stall as last week and got a new kind: Morbier. This one has a thin layer of ash through the middle - Wikipedia tells me this is because the cheese (made in the village of Jura Morbier) was made from the milk farmer's had left over after making Comté; since there wasn't enough milk for a full round of cheese, the curd was covered by a thin layer of ash to protect it from insects until the next day's addition of milk.

We also got take-out paella for lunch. It was so pretty in its large pan: bright yellow rice, huge shrimp, mussels and red mini-lobsters. We were a little underwhelmed when we ate it though - the paella had totally cooled off, the rice was a bit bland, and we didn't finish all the mussels as they weren't that good (actually Mark judged them not that good - I have nothing compared to since this was my first time eating mussels). So - no more paella until we travel to Spain!

In the afternoon we went to check out how the tram system works, since Mark will need to use it next week when he gives a lecture at the university. It turns out that it's super easy - there are automated ticket dispensers at all the boarding platforms, you can pay by cash, credit or debit, and we could select to have the instructions in English. And the tram itself was very nice - it's much longer than our streetcars in Toronto with many doors for entry/exit, is a smoother ride, and runs very efficiently. The trams have streets dedicated just to themselves, so they rarely have to stop. Even though those streets are tram-only traffic they're some of the busiest and most popular in the city for restaurants, shopping and pedestrian traffic. Rob Ford should come see these for an idea of how well above-ground dedicated transit lines can work - once you've ridden it you have to question why you'd ever go to the enormous expense of digging subway tunnels.

We rode to the end of the line without much of a plan apart from testing out our tram skills. I chose the A line that ends in Sassenage, because I'd read about some caves beyond the end of the line that I want to visit (although they aren't open to tourists until April), and was wondering if it would be possible to walk to them from the tram line. We didn't see any directions to the caves, but we did end up next to one of the famous French hypermarchés - like the biggest of the big new Walmarts that combine groceries with every else - except bigger. There must have been 50 check-out counters or more - what a contrast to the farmer's market! Although we're not big shoppers it was pretty handy that we ended up there, since there were a few things we'd been wanting to buy that I hadn't really seen around elsewhere: inexpensive Tupperware, slippers, a hair dryer. And we also spent a long time in the baking aisle debating what to make for Monday - we decided on a chocolate cake/brownie mix. We also bought a ceramic knife - I'll admit, I was sucked in by the video that was playing, extolling its virtues. But we did need a decent knife for the kitchen, and it was reasonably priced compared with the metal knives. Since using it we've found it a bit odd - it doesn't have the heft of a metal knife and the white ceramic looks like harmless plastic - all the instinctual cues to avoid cutting yourself are missing. We're going to have to be extra cautious.

For dinner, in an effort to use up our Hubbard squash leftovers from Thursday in some way that wouldn't dry them out (since we don't have a microwave for re-heating) I came up with the idea for a rice casserole. I bought a three-rice blend from the grocery store and added chicken broth, tomato paste, some sautéed mushrooms of some kind from the market, onions, prosciutto and a little bit of finely chopped cheese rind, then baked it all in the oven for an hour. I think I may have combined all the possible savoury umami-rich ingredients in our kitchen for this dish, and it was delicious.

After dinner we made the chocolate mix, with the addition of a mashed banana. The banana was just the thing to elevate it beyond a made-from-the-box dessert - the "brownies" turned out moist, delicious and wonderfully banana scented. This trial batch is for us - tomorrow we'll make the batch for Mark's co-workers.

The wall of roast chicken at the market

Morbier cheese


Riding the tram - I love the lime green and yellow (and mauve seats) colour scheme - it's like an Easter tram

Inside the hypermarché - photos do not do justice to how large it is (and we have since found out that it isn't the largest one in town)

Walking by the cliffs of the Bastille - I'm the tiny figure standing in the undercut in the rock

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