Ils disent qu’ils sont perdus

September 17, 2010 § 1 Comment

My little apartment gets pretty cold in the morning. There is a little gap under the door and when I creep (or clamber) down the ladder in the morning and my feet hit the stone floor, I shiver a little. But I like waking up early, seeing the morning sun light up the little courtyard outside my window, through the lacey curtains, making myself a cup of tea and checking my email before heading out the door.

Lately, I have been getting some questions about my true happiness, whether life really is like I tell it in the blogs, whether I am really doing okay. What is life like, living alone, people ask. Well I am finding that I really do enjoy living all alone. I like coming home late at night to an empty room and puttering around in the morning without ever having to make conversation. For many people, Paris is a place where you come to find yourself. I don’t know how many people are actually successful in that endeavor, but that is their original reason for coming anyway. They end up staying a month, half a year, sometimes decades. People in my classes, ils disent qu’ils sont perdus. Some don’t like talking about the future for fear that their dreams won’t come true, some all they want to talk about is the future. Some say that they are currently sans-abri — indeed there are many, many homeless people in Paris, mostly old men curled up on stairways and in Metro stations. Most aren’t dangerous, indeed many will wish you a very pleasant day. One man sleeps on a stairway near my building, the same place every night, and he offers a smile every time I walk by.

But he wasn’t there this morning when I set out around 7 a.m. to walk to a metal bridge on the Seine, on which lovers have affixed locks engraved with their names. I chose not to run there, as I usually would, knowing there were some errands I needed to run later, and running errands (or being seen anywhere in public really) in workout clothes is franchement inadmissible in Paris. It was chilly this morning, the beginning of fall, and I had forgotten that Paris merchants get a slow start in the morning and most stores don’t open until 10 or later. I gave in and ordered the 4 euro café to sit instead of the 2 euro café you take at the bar, drifted through the pews at Notre Dame, which I have been meaning to do since my first days in Paris, and generally took my sweet time in order to arrive exactly as the doors opened at 10 a.m. As I walked, I munched on one of these little cakes.

I made two of these late last night, when I had been getting ready to go out and then decided against it. The pears are delicious fresh from the market, poached, served warm or chilled, or in these little chocolate cakes. I remain always surprised when my creations come out of the toaster oven looking just right.

Chocolate Pear Cake
Adapted from Confessions of a Tart

2 oz unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 oz dark chocolate, melted
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, or Dutch process cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 pears, poached

Poach the pears: peel, cut in half and core the pears. Combine 1-2 cups of water and 1/4 cup of sugar in a sauce pan on medium-high heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add the pears (add more water if needed to cover the pears), bring to a low boil and cook for 15-20 min or until tender. Drain and set aside.

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Butter 2 cake pans (4-inch diameter)

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Melt the chocolate in the microwave, being sure to check on it often. Add the melted chocolate to the sugar-butter-egg mixture and mixture thoroughly. In a separate bowl, combine the flour cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients and mix until just barely combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans. Arrange the sliced pears in a circle on each cake. Bake for about 20 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Le petit pain perdu

September 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

Le pain perdu. I love that name. The lost bread. What a wonderful way of thinking about those last slices of bread, or the end chunks, that sit on the kitchen counter for days on end until someone finally decides to chuck them in the trash. I’ve been eating a lot of bread these days; it is one thing you can always find in France. I eat it mostly alongside salads of arugula, tomatoes and chèvre for dinner and then smeared liberally with Nutella at all times of the day. Long white bagettes with their crunchy exterior, light, eggy yellow circles of brioche bread, perfect for pulling apart piece by piece, and hearty loaves of country pain aux noix from the Saturday marché. Eventually this afternoon, I decided I ought to stop my Nutella consumption and put the remainder of my pain aux noix to a better use. Not the Nutella is not a perfectly acceptable use for any kind of bread. All the time. In fact, it is much better than simply acceptable.

But seeing as I was finally sitting in my apartment and I had finally run out of things to write about, I figured I might as well try out this new toaster oven, which many of you know is now my sole means of baking anything. I have spent the weekend walking around the city without a map and sitting in parks and cafes writing in my travel journal and then blogging about my adventures. I have been seeing a lot of food, though I can’t say I have achieved much variety in my eating habits, which have been hampered by my Nutella obsession (see above). Since I have been out of the kitchen quite a bit and hitting the streets, a lot of my writing and pictures reflect that and can be found over at my new blog Un Je Ne Sais Quoi.

But back to the toaster oven. I bought the cutest little loaf pans the other day and I thought a little bread pudding was the perfect occasion for using them. Kind of like finding and reshaping the bread that has been lost. I consulted a couple recipes for bread pudding, including this one by Deb at Smitten Kitchen for raisin-studded apple bread pudding and one in a new cookbook I bought in Paris, Petites Cocottes. But in the end, I decided to just go with whatever felt right. The result was little loafs of pain perdu, soaked liberally in custard, studded with apples and topped with a little — you guessed it! — Nutella. I guess new habits die hard. I ate one for dinner, with a little coffee spoon, alongside a cup of black current tea.

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