The family secret

November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

I didn’t realize how much I had settled into a routine in this strange foreign country until I left it for an even stranger foreign country and returned, very early one Sunday morning to a light rain, misty skies and wet streets. Quite soon after I returned, I was forced to bundle myself up and run a couple blocks to the closest convenience store because my shelves were empty and it being Sunday, every grocery store in the area was closed. As I walked out of the door, in a sleep-deprived educed haze, I stumbled into stands and stands of furniture vendors, French women selling vintage hats and men trying on classic suit jackets in the middle of the street. I thought for a moment I had turned down the wrong street, and wondered if I had forgotten my neighborhood that easily, until I spotted the couples dancing at the fountain at the base of rue Mouffetard, clustered together tighter than normal under a white awning, and I knew I was home.

Since my return, I have been trying to force myself outdoors but find it increasingly harder to leave the warmth of my bed and my apartment’s heater, which may or may not work consistently. Walks home from work are enjoyed only with the first gingerbread cookies of the season, but even then with the longing for the gingerbread men I used to make in my kitchen in San Francisco — the French boulangeries it seems, are not champions of the baked goods not requiring pounds of quality butter. But the spice, even if the cookie is a bit too hard, is much appreciated, as is the simple sugar glaze that never ceases to make me quite content.

And then I’ve been baking some things as necessity arises. For instance, I made my mother’s famous chocolate torte for a class party, which resulted from no one knowing what they were supposed to bring to accompany wine tasting and thus bringing whatever they could think of. My mother makes this quite a few times a year, for family birthdays, for dinner parties with close friends. This is the cake I would invariably wake up to sitting on the kitchen counter a couple times every year whenever the family had somewhere important to be or someone important to celebrate. It has never been perfectly smooth on top (and I confess my ganache-making that morning left much to be desired), but it never ceases to impress. As a child, I found it much too strong and chased it properly with an exorbitant amount of whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. But now I can enjoy it as is, with its simple chocolate ganache on top. I am convinced that French alcohol is much stronger than its American counterparts as this cake tasted decidedly of rum this time I made it. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as my (French) professor declared it the best chocolate dessert she had ever tasted.

Chocolate Torte

6 tablespoons or 75 grams butter
6 oz. or 150 grams semi-sweet or dark chocolate
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup or 120 ml sugar
1/4 cup or 60 ml flour
6 T or 90 ml ground almonds
1/4 cup or 60 ml rum

Preheat the oven to 190/375 degrees (C/F). Butter and flour (I use cocoa powder for the “flouring”) a 8-inch pan. Melt the chocolate over the stovetop. Cream together butter and sugar. Add the melted chocolate and run. Beat in egg yolks. Fold in flour.
Beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
Fold the egg whites into the batter, minimizing stirring. Some egg whites can remain unmixed.
Bake for 30 minutes.

Salon du Chocolat

November 4, 2010 § 2 Comments

Around 7:30, when I’m in class, you can hear out the window the cries of young adults, students, and their voices carrying up and down the streets, shouts of “A la Concorde!” Then the music begins to play, shortly followed by sirens that seem to last much longer than the demonstrations that have since traversed into another quartier. In the morning, you read in the newspapers about la grève, which has transformed into a social movement, particularly in the universities, against Sarkozy’s government, which many criticized for failing to negotiate on the issue of retirement age and now criticize for failing to represent the French people. In the midst of this social movement, life in Paris seems to roll on: transportation seems to be running more or less by routine — with the exception of the next strike day which is set for this Friday — and tourists can be found clustered around Notre Dame and the Tour Eiffel despite the heightened security alerts issued by the U.S. governments and the bomb recently directed at the French president by mail. That does not mean to imply that the bomb threats are in any way connected to the student movement, but you get the general picture of disorder here.

Indeed, when we were in Marseille, after only 5 days of strikes by the garbage collectors, the city was already strewn with bottles, food wrappers, rotting leftovers. Days later, merchants began taking their garbage to the dump themselves because the rank smells deterred customers from entering their shops. It makes you contemplate, noticing the differences between how citizens demonstrate their displeasure in different countries, why the French loudly take to the streets when they are unhappy and why the Americans simply vote Republican.

But my classes seem to exist in the bubble in which most ex-pats sit at the sidelines of the French movements, criticism and general complaints (which my professor likes to say is the national pastime). We sit at the window and hear the shouts but with nothing at stake ourselves, we do little but ask why. Otherwise we continue about our daily lives, which this weekend, included this marvelous Salon du Chocolat at the Porte de Versailles Expositions. We ran around like crazed children sampling chocolate of every kind and form…mousse and truffles and biscuits and pain d’épices and ganache filled macarons and even chocolate fois gras…I could go on and on and on as you can very well see. There were matcha tea croissants and chocolate butter lotions and even a chocolate statue of a small boy peeing liquid chocolate!

And we sampled it all. And came home to the huge Champs d’Elysées box of Lindt chocolates that could only be a birthday gift from a friend in the 16e.

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