May 9, 2013 § 1 Comment
So I’m sitting trying to write one of my final papers, facing the window, watching white cherry blossom leaves blow in the wind outside. Yesterday, it poured and it poured. Anyway, I thought I’d go back and share some of the photos from a spring break trip to Paris. We ate well, we ate everything. You’ll mostly just see the desserts here (and breakfast!), but my boyfriend who actually likes to…like….eat normal things…like sugar-less things…actually had us sit down to meals twice a day. The escargot chocolat pistache is from Du Pain et Des Idées, the tarte tatin from a venture into La Goutte d’Or for a lunch of huge plates of paella on our final afternoon. Tartines of mozzarella and sweet chili sauce and coffees at the Tuck Shop, butternut squash soup and quiche (and a slice of lemon citrus bread to go for the walk up to Sacré-Cœur) at the Rose Bakery, a wonderful first meal at the cosy Verjus bar à vins, where the butternut squash angliotti, with roasted garlic, brown butter, sage, and parmigiano reggiano is over-the-moon twice good.
July 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
The first striking thing about Athens is the heat — it hangs like a heavy blanket over the city, beating down not as the scorching sun but more like a sluggish lag that permeates all movement. But despite this, activity is not smothered. At the corner of my block, a man stands at the window, roasting meat on a large stick, surrounded by trays of various sauces, creamy white ones and pasty, hot reds. He beckons me to come in with a smile and a nod, but I’m more focused on finding the grocery store, which is just across the street.
Before diving into the local cuisine, I was more eager to get back to cooking. It seemed a bit crazy to arrive and immediately turn on the heat, but there’s currently a batch of walnut-fig granola, dusted with Greek honey, roasting in the oven, and I’m now enjoying — despite the lack of pans and cutting boards in the kitchen — the feeling of having a knife in my hands again and being able to just eat slices of raw tomato, dipped in honey mustard, without getting weird looks from a waiter for not ordering the four-course menu. I already can’t wait to make breakfast tomorrow morning.
I had a lot of misgivings about coming to Athens, which consisted of the now commonplace warnings of protests, economic collapse and all-out disorganization, but also of several lackluster, or downright negative, accounts of the city from people I have met on this trip, and also from some very good friends back home. However, the drive through the city from the airport, and then the quick three-block walk to the grocery store, were reassuring. The streets may twist and branch off every which way and some of the sidewalks may have garbage piled up on them, but there are smiles everywhere. I don’t even know how to say hello, thank you or excuse me yet, but it doesn’t seem to matter to the old women debating types of grains in the grocery aisle.
Before I sign off and head out for drinks with the owner of my apartment, I thought I’d share some Paris moments. I spent the majority of my (unexpected and unplanned) time in Paris sitting in my hotel bed, or at the small table on my balcony. I spent some time reviewing posts from last summer, particularly one I wrote following a weekend visit to Paris. Last summer, I commented that revisiting Paris, after having spent the fall semester living here, was slightly bizarre, like experiencing a past life, only this time behind a plane of glass. Walking by my old apartment, the patisserie where I used to buy tri-colored slices of Turkish marzipan, my favorite street-side crepe stand, with the orange awning, inspired a bout of homesickness. But I don’t think it was ever really homesickness for my life in Paris, but rather an inability to imagine living that over again, a feeling of exile from the city I once fought really hard to call home. This time around, I lay around in bed in front of my computer, feeling pretty alone in a city that people always say, in adoring tones, is full of light and love and unparalleled opportunities of discovery, whether your passion is art or architecture, or eating.
And then, finally, I shook myself awake and went out. I walked to the Pierre Hermé boutique by Saint Suplice and ordered myself five macarons, some dusted with edible glitter, in flavors such as jasmine tea and peach cardamon. I laughingly remembered the feeling of never feeling like I was chic enough to be in the store, feeling like the ladies behind the counter could see right through my clothes and knew that my underwear isn’t 300 euro lacy lingerie from the boutique down the street. Then I wandered over to Les Deux Magots and had a café crème next to a dapper old man who had to lean in an inch away from the paper in order to read the morning news.
July 15, 2012 § 2 Comments
I’m sitting on the balcony of my hotel room in Paris, eight floors above the street, below, just steps away from the Saint Michel fountain, where crowds of tourists are still applauding two men performing some sort of bizarre sequence of body movements, which, in my opinion, hardly qualify as art or as acrobatic contortions. Horns are blaring, and I’m sure in some parts of the city — perhaps even a couple blocks away — parties are well under way for Bastille Day. I walked around about a four-block radius of my hotel and then retreated to my sanctuary of a hotel room.
Lately, I’ve been longing to be home, or at least somewhere I can call home for a couple of weeks, dreaming about having a kitchen again and starting each morning with a bowl of oatmeal with maple syrup and a cup of fresh coffee. Craving strange and random things that I certainly never thought would be at the top of my list — non-fat milk, whole grains, avocado, and curry. Homey, healthy, and flavors with a kick. Believe it or not, one cannot eat croissants forever, though I have certainly put it to the test.
Thankfully, it will be exactly one day until I have a kitchen again — though it still could not be farther from home —, as I have a growing list of desserts, and surprisingly savory dinner items, to make. In honor of this occasion, I thought I’d share something I made in the days leading up to this trip (read, almost two months ago). Fresh California strawberries sit atop a thick layer of vanilla pastry cream. The crust is crunchy, and just slightly overbaked to the point that it’s crystallized and caramelizing. Before filling the tart, I dipped a knife and a couple of spoons in a jar of hazelnut jam that my mom picked up at a local bakery, and spread the crust with nutty goodness. This tart disappeared in a flash, I think because it became of a favorite breakfast item of my dad’s.
January 12, 2011 § 3 Comments
My Paris. It doesn’t even feel strange to use the possessive when referring to the city. Ironic though it is that I say this right as I am preparing to leave, I am not leaving with a neatly packed, cohesive New York Times article “Paris in 36 hours.” Indeed, my list of favorites may at first seem random, packed full of tiny places where this little American was once happy, often clustered in quartiers the tourist wouldn’t often happen upon, unless he was the type that could stand being out of sight of the Eiffel Tower for significant periods of time. It doesn’t include many decadent cafes (though Café de Flore was a lovely experience), where one dreams of sipping a chocolat chaud à l’ancienne and eating a croissant on a lazy Sunday morning, reading the paper, whose headlines scream updates on the French grève. Much of the eating centers around 3-course lunchtime meals and snacks snatched from the streets. And the shopping, well that’s another story altogether but needless to say I didn’t spend a lot of time on the Champs d’Elysées.
I’ll start with the food, because that’s the reason people come to Paris, no? I haven’t done a lot of croissant testing so I am afraid I am ill-qualified to recommend the best when it comes to them; Just be sure to get them in the morning, and only a croissant beurre, as a standard croissant is made with margarine and therefore, not as good. However, I have made the crepe rounds here and now get all my crepe Nutella and galette oeuf-jambon-fromage from the vendor with the little orange storefront on the Boulevard Saint Germain (at St. Michel), right next to the Haagen Dazs. You can tell the guy with the unibrow behind the counter a little blond girl from San Francisco sent you. There’s usually a couple of people in line, as they make the crepes on the spot (many places these days seem to pre-cook and re-heat on the skillet) but there are a few seats inside and the prices are right (crepe prices go up by about 5 euro if you order them in a restaurant).
Eric Kayser (8 rue Monge) makes excellent pain viennoise (long, slightly sweet loaves) with nuts, chocolate and dried fruit varieties. The patisserie opened up a small café a couple of storefronts up the hill, where I spilled an entire café crème on one of my first days in Paris trying to sit down at a wobbly table. In contrast, I’ve spent some pleasant mornings on the circle at the bottom of Rue Mouffetard, reading with a coffee and half a baguette spread with butter. Their bread and butter is quite good, and all I can attest to, besides good service, by a pleasant, smiling blond girl, which is in itself, a rare find here. In you’re in the area, Les Caves de Bourgogne across the street is worth the wait for dinner. I had a perfectly cooked fillet of fish served with butter-herbed pasta and a summer rosé when I was there in September. Another good restaurant in the area, and a bit higher end, is L’Agrume, which has a five-course tasting menu (45 euro). When I went, it included a tuna-mango tartare, stewed lentils with truffle shavings, and a poached white nectarine with crème Chantilly served alongside a slice of crusty puff pastry.
There are a couple other good places to eat that I recommend across the river in the 9eme. Tout Autre Chose (13 rue Rodier, M: Cadet) is the restaurant front worked by volunteers which funds a non-profit run by an American woman. They serve a daily set menu (entrée+plat+dessert or any of the two) of simple, in-season cuisine, which may include a brothy soup of only green vegetables, poached salmon on a bed of wild purple rice, and a syrup soaked orange cake for dessert. Coffee during the holiday season comes accompanied by house-made caramels au beurre salé.
Another good restaurant in the area is Cacahuete, where the chef himself came out with an extra bowl of crème Chantilly after my French colleague smothered her face in the first spoonful off of our perfect moelleux au chocolat.
And then in case you ever get sick of French food — which is more possible than you would think — there’s Aux Delices du Liban (3 Rue Estrapade). You’ll find a lot of Lebanese, Thai and North African restaurants scattered around different neighborhoods especially around Place d’Italie, where you’ll find Chinatown, and in the 20eme. When a friend of mine lived in the 20eme, we frequented a bar called Les Deux Marches (M: Alexandre Dumas), where our favorite bartender is there every night but Monday and the last drink of the night is always on the house (presuming you pay for all the others, which we never did). We spent an incredible amount of time in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres area, where you’ll find rue Princesse (M: Mabillon) with the hopping Frog and the Princess, usually bartended by several English guys. On Friday and Saturday nights, the crowds spill into the street between the bars and the people you meet outside can be the start of some very interesting, random nights. I’ve always been curious about the mozzarella sticks at the Frog but our late night eats have always been frites at Café Mabillon, which is supposedly the “place to be seen” though I never would have guessed it at 3 a.m.
December 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
The metal gates of the passage du Grand Cerf clang open on a late Sunday morning to reveal a red carpeted passageway, off of which we find the apartment which will host our first, and likely only, cooking class in Paris. I should start by saying that baking is something I usually like doing alone, or with my family, or one friend. Several of my best friends can attest to times we have excitedly decided to make gingerbread houses for example, only to have me take over the whole project because I wanted it to look “just so.” Or times when I have refused to hand over the wooden spoon to my little brother because I like being the one mixing for that moment when the cookie dough begins to come together and starts looking like real dough.
I like sitting in front of the oven, peering into the little window, with the oven light on, watching cakes rise, watching the tops of soufflés turn golden brown, watching the edges of cookies crisp in the seconds before you take them out of the oven. I could do this for the entire hour it takes for the bread to finish baking. Or for the fifteen minutes in takes for these little choux pastries to rise and the pastry to puff around little balls of air, making perfect little capsules in which to pipe Chantilly cream or pastry cream, perfumed with vanilla bean and folded with some extra butter (you know for that glossy finish, and because, let’s admit it, it’s France, and a little extra butter goes into everything French).
So I’m afraid I spent much of this Sunday afternoon sitting on the floor in front of the oven window watching the first batch of choux puffs fail miserably as they turned into flat, eggy patties, and then smiling excitedly as the second batch puffed up brilliantly into sugar-crusted balls of hot air. And then I spent the second half of Sunday licking pastry cream off my fingertips, abandoning any semblance of dignified consumption.
December 16, 2010 § 3 Comments
The last time she came to visit, my best friend asked me if I believed Paris was the « city of love, » as people often say. I think I replied to the negative, laughable as it was that this city full of aggressive French men coming at you in every direction could ever hold the keys to my heart. Afterall, this is a city where it is hard to walk out of a restaurant without a waiter’s number, where we have bartenders who have never charged us and take us out to questionable places after they close up the bar. A boring Tuesday night might include bringing home two red roses, my crepe vendor keeps requesting my email so that I can send pictures from America but I keep going back because I swear they’re the best crepes in town. I have now finally learned to avoid eye contact after being followed through several metro changes. One of my very first days here I was shoved into a wall in broad daylight on a busy sidewalk by a guy who wanted to kiss my face, you can hardly walk down the street without having to say, “Désolée, je n’ai pas de numéro de téléphone.” I have sat in smoky bars at night, wishing only for 5:30 to come so the metro would start running again and I could escape the griminess of men sitting uncomfortably close to me.
Where is this, you may ask, surely this is not the beautiful, classy, romantic Paris they show you in the movies. No, this is the Paris of real-life nights that end at 7 a.m., nights of pushing through crowds, dancing to house music that seems to shake your insides, the Paris that hardens you, makes people say “la vie à Paris, c’est dure non?” and then the Paris that, after a long fight, finally lets you breathe, lets your soul take that raspy first breath after hours spent in the smoke and the sweat, pressed against leather jackets and legs propped up in 4-in stilettos. Because it is Paris that has taken my heart afterall, not one of the “friendlier” French cities. And after three months here, when I went out for a Thanksgiving dinner with some Americans here, and the waiter actually thought I was French, I swore I never wanted to leave this country. This country where the espresso shot is not in fact taken as a shot to keep you awake while studying, but actually savored as a way to end a pleasurable meal, and where hazelnut is the only natural accompaniment to milk chocolate. Where strange noises like “Bah” seem to have been adopted into the language as if they were actual words, where one would never dream of being discreet about the giving of extremely critical once-overs on the street, where hugs are replaced by two kisses, even amongst people who have just met.
But despite its eccentricities and its failures — the lack of taxis being one of my main concerns — Paris allowed me to grow in a way no other city has. Being for the first time wholly and completely alone in a new city has forced me to have lunch with people I would never have spoken to in the states and who have ended up surprising me for the better. It has forced me to accept that things are usually — and especially in France — not going to go my way and when it comes down to it, life is about just letting yourself go where you know you want to go and forgetting the rest. For me, it has been about learning certain neighborhoods like the back of my hand so that I only need myself to get out of situations. And for all the times we have stood on street corners waiting for buses and taxis that never came, there have also been times when walking from the 16eme to the 5eme meant seeing the sunrise, times when a smile could get you a brioche from the local boulanger. And when, even though you ditched out on the 850 euro table he bought you at the club, he offers you money for the cab ride home and still wishes you a “bon voyage” the next week, you know you are leaving a lot of good people — and very good-hearted city — behind. And so Paris, even though you may sometimes come off as cold and standoffish, and even though I was sometimes scared and put off and felt like running away, je t’adore. Though I am still struggling to accept that “J’adore” means “I like” and not “I adore.” So when I say je t’adore, I really mean I adore you.
December 8, 2010 § 1 Comment
There are few things that make me happier than a group of rail-thin French women cooing with delight and diving into slices of a warm American pecan pie for their petit gouter alongside steaming cups of thé vert. Or when they profess to adore carrot cake, cream cheese frosting and all, and suggest I open up an American style bakery in Paris, because they just know it would be a huge success. Indeed there are several American-style places here, if you want to search out bagels and brownies — which seem to be the main focus — but few places to buy ingredients with which to make your favorite American treats. It’s surprising what Americans seem to feel they need imported — the likes of Betty Crocker icings in all flavors, yellow cake mixes, and colored marshmallows, although I think it was the French girls that were cooing over those in the Etats-Unis aisle of La Grande Epicerie at the Bon Marché.
But it was on that aisle that I finally found Grandma’s molasses and ordinary corn syrup, which are both still practically unheard of here. Actually I take that back. The minute you say corn syrup here, you get a quick intake of breath and a mumbled “c’est pas bon pour la santé” as if the pound of butter dumped in every French dish is bon pour la santé. So needless to say, you don’t see any French women dumping the container of corn syrup into their tarte fillings — because tart is the closest approximation I can find to pie — but they won’t hesitate to eat it when it’s placed in front of them in the form of this gooey-still-warm-from-the-oven tart that the little American girl brought in this morning. Because, eating is, afterall, about indulgence.
This pecan pie — or pecan squares as they go in my house — is a classic on my family’s Thanksgiving table. It has a strong molasses flavor and is packed full of pecans, avoiding that gooey, far-too-sweet layer of sugar and corn syrup that many pecan pies pack in the middle. Nothing horrifies me more than a badly made pecan pie, with a thick layer of cooked sugar and a sprinkling of nuts on top. I may have Frenchified the classic a bit by making a tart crust with a generous amount of sugar and egg, instead of the simple butter-and-flour combo my dad uses, and baking it in a fluted, rectangular tart pan instead of a brownie pan.
But either way, this is the way to go come Thanksgiving (or for me, come breakfast) no matter where you live. A couple of weeks late to the Thanksgiving post, but there you go. Now excuse me while I eat the last piece with my cup of tea for breakfast. Can’t be worse for you than a café crème with a half a baguette, split down the middle and spread liberally with butter right?
Adapted from Jeremiah Tower’s New American Classics
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (or half unsulphered molasses, half corn syrup)
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups pecan pieces
One recipe of Pasta Frolla pastry dough or simply use your fingers to combine cold butter and flour until you achieve a shortbread-like consistency.
If using a crust made of just butter and flour (combine until crumbly and the dough stips together when you press it with your fingertips), bake pastry shell until golden (about 10-20 minutes) at 350 degrees Farenheit.
If using the Pastra Frolla, there is no need to pre-bake the pastry shell, just follow the directions here and press the rolled-out dough into the tart pan and fill.
Make sure your tart shell has no little holes as the filling with leak and burn in your oven.
Melt butter over the stovetop and set aside. Combine eggs and sugar. Add corn syrup, salt, bourbon, butter, and vanilla. Stir in pecans. Pour the filling into the pastry shell. Bake until mostly set at 350 degrees Farenheit, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Let cool before cutting.
November 24, 2010 § 1 Comment
Early Saturday afternoon found me scurrying across to the 16eme arrondissement to the Grand Palais to see the special Monet exhibition. I was meeting a couple of friends from class and as Monet is one of the few painters whose work I enjoy looking at in large quantities, I was quite excited. It was a brisk but sunny morning and the Christmas market stands were already set up along the Champs d’Elysées as I joined my friends in line outside the Palais.
Two hours later we were still standing there and contemplated for the first time, giving up and heading to a more accessible museum. And then the line moved a couple feet and we decided to stay. I had my hands wrapped up in my scarf and my feet seemed frozen at the soles but still, we stayed. Another hour later and we were finally in the final quarter of the line; I now had my scarf wrapped around my head, covering my ears and mouth. The old French ladies behind us had started sharing hard candies with those around them, the French couple in front of us had long abandoned the line and everyone was trying to make conversation in an attempt to distract themselves from the fact that they could no longer feel their toes. For my part, my teeth had started chattering and when we eventually made it to the very front of the line, I was huddled up in a ball on the bottom stairs of the Palais. It was only then that the stern French guard took pity on me and beckoned us inside.
The exhibit has had a grand amount of success, with tickets selling out in the middle of the week through the weekend; even those with pre-purchased tickets must wait in a significant line before being allowed entrance. Once inside, the first few rooms are packed with people, but the crowds slowly thin out as the exhibit progresses. It is surprising walking through the rooms, how many of his oeuvres have made it out of France to the United States, though somewhat understandable given the cold reception Monet’s style of painting originally received in France. I especially enjoyed the fact that we were able to view his works on lightplay — paintings of the exact same spot painted at different times of the day, under different lighting such as the two Le Pont du Chemin de Fer at Argenteuil, one of which is at the Musée d’Orsay and the other of which is in Philadelphia— side by side, as they might have been intended, and not separated by oceans of water between two museums.
As we pushed ourselves back into the cold, into the midst of the Marché de Noel along the Champs d’Elysées, we said it was a visit well-spent. Though perhaps it could have been a bit better organized, so as to avoid such long lines, as I have never before seen a French person abandon a line before getting what he wants. And perhaps we should have been better prepared to wait as well — I should have brought these little cakes, which are here by popular demand by several women in my class. Only in France would banana bread be a new, novel idea!
Adapted from Joy of Baking
1 cup (115 grams) walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
1 3/4 cups (230 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, browned and cooled
2 ripe large bananas, mashed well (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine the butter, bananas, sugar and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Gentry fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, making sure not to overmix. Bake at 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C in a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan for about 55 minutes or until the top is golden brown and knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
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!