Thursday, January 29, 2009

American Pie

I'm a self professed America criticizer. This makes it easy for me to sit through French dinner conversations as well as modern theater pieces about how much Americans suck. I do not feel offended because I agree, a lot of Americans do suck. Yesterday, when I was purchasing Aubergines, the man selling them to me asked me where I was from and when I replied "California" he told me Bush was crazy. I tend to believe that he was more stupid than crazy, but I agreed with the man and had to hold back from declaring "Vive la France!"

Something else happened to me yesterday as well. Something that I didn't have much control over...something I didn't really think about until after it happened...I made an apple pie. Now, I don't necessarily like apple pies. I'd never made one before and my grandma didn't bake them for me when I was young (we made key lime instead.) I've even stated previously on this very blog that I don't believe in baking...but for some reason I picked up a pre-made pâte, diced up some pommes and drizzled on the buerre, sucre, and jus de citron. Belinda's boyfriend poked fun "that's the only thing American's know how to make!" but it was a damn good pie and for a fraction of a second, it made me proud to be an American...having Obama instead of Bush helps out a lot too...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Le Loup Blanc

Ok, yea, I know I just made a post about how I never go out to eat but now I'm going to write a post about a place where I went out to eat, so just stop judging me. Thanks.

My friend Bruno's boyfriend was in town and had just had his anniversair so Bruno made reservations at Le Loup Blanc: restaurant atypique. When we arrived we ordered drinks to start. I got a pêche Kir which is a flavored white wine. Some olive tapenade with super skinny breadsticks were brought out to snack on in adorable little ramekins laying neatly on a black slate platter. Our menus were brought out and I think we all got a little shock when we first attempted to open them and realized that they were bound with sheets of metal. Upon lifting the metal slab I was greeted by a list of meat dishes, followed on the next page by the seafood, and lastly a whole page of vegetables. There were 4 froids (cold) options and 4 chauds (hot) options.

Now, next to the meat & seafood dishes there were three prices listed. Technically, the vegetable dishes were counted as sides, so the idea was to choose your protein and then pick either 2, 3, or 4 side dishes to accompany it with the price increasing for each additional side. There was also a note that if you were a vegetarian, you could simply choose 4, 5, or 6 sides as your meal. I was reading this all in French and I was pretty sure I understood, but in the back of the menu they had everything printed in English so I read through it quickly to make sure that I had it all figured out. Of the froids dishes, everything sounded delectable. There was one that was just tomatoes served several different ways, including tomato sorbet, there was a melon salad with coconut milk and lime sauce, mandarin and greens with a rosemary sauce, and a quinoa tabbouleh. For the hot, it wasn't too hard to find my selection, it was Fondue of something and the something didn't really matter. I passed on the mashed potatoes, artichoke and I can't quite recall the last one.

I generally feel a little silly ordering in front of a large group of French people, but imagine the horror of listing off six different items. It's not that it was any more difficult because of the amount of words involved, it was more like humiliation of being the greedy American boy who was ordering almost 1/3 of the entire menu. I will say, it was all worth it if for nothing more than that amazing tomato sorbet. Lucky for me, I even got to finish off somebody else's who was a little offput by the nonstandard preparation of the most delicious fruit/vegetable around.


Being money conscious in Paris is not very easy. This is a major city, therefore, it is expensive to do just about anything. I try as hard as I can to fill my day with 0€ activities. Walking instead of using the metro is the first step, and if I do use the metro I make sure to buy my tickets in un carnet which is a reduced price for buying ten at once (technically un carnet is a notebook but contrary to the name, they do not give you a booklet of tickets, just a stack of ten.) I try to walk to gardens and parks because these are free to enjoy. There are lots of museums that offer free or discounted dates for students or people under the age of 25 so I always check for information online about specific locations. The easiest way to save money in Paris, though, is not to eat out. This city is serious about food. We're talking multiple course meals, apéritifs to start, and wine with dinner. So far, I've only eaten out four times and I generally spend more in one meal at a restaurant than I do for en entire week's worth of eating at home. Now, if money is not an issue for you, obviously Paris has plenty to offer, and don't worry there is one thing in Paris that is gratuit (free.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fondue de Poireau

My amazing friend/culinary partner in crime and I hold a special place in our hearts for the leek. In my life before Paris, I'd only ever eaten it in one dish, a dish that my friend and I perfected together one amazing winter vacation a few years ago. His mother emailed us a recipe for potato leek soup and we gathered the ingredients, washed the creepishly grimy leek folds and made a damn good pot of soup that we topped with crushed kettle chips, the ultimate secret ingredient (i went on to create a kettle chip battered tofu recipe after this as well.)

Now that I'm in France, I can't help but see leeks everywhere. It seems like every shopping bag in town has some tall green stalks shooting out of it. In the interest of fitting in, and trying to use leeks in a new way, I bought a few at the market and looked at them for a while before shoving them into le frigo. As luck would have it, Belinda decided to use the leek that I had picked up for her to make Fondue de Poireau that very night, and I just happened to lurk around the kitchen long enough to memorize how she did it.

Although the word fondue simply means "melted" and when you say "melted leeks" nothing that interesting pops into mind, I can't help but salivate when I hear the same word in French. If I see a fondue something on a menu, I'm ordering it. No questions asked. True, it's probably because my brain has been wired to associate fondue with cheese and cheese always sounds appetizing, maybe that's why I modified my Fondue de Poireau a bit to include some parmesano. I also wanted to add a starch to the meal that wasn't just hunks of baguette (not that going that route would be bad at all.) So here is my recipe for Fondue de Poireau based on observing Belinda and incorporating another element which you could easily knix if you decide to simply dip hunks of bread into your melted leeks.

So, this is not necessarily a traditional quiche but I'm not sure what else to call it, so just go with me on the name, ok? Thanks.

Quiche aux Pommes de Terre et Fondue au Poireau
(there has to be a simpler way to say this...)


• 2 or 3 potatoes
• a few eggs
• some milk or cream
• some oil or butter

• 1-2 leeks
• garlic
• butter
• a little crème fraîche
• salt
• pepper
• parmesano reggiano

I started by thinly slicing my potatoes, you could also shred yours if you prefer. I almost always leave the peel on when cooking potatoes, but feel free to remove that as well. Next, I got a pie pan and lightly rubbed it with olive oil. I layered my potato "coins" into the oiled pan until it was completely covered. I baked the potato-only crust for about 15 minutes at around 425˚F. While it was baking, I got out a bowl and cracked an egg into it and whisked in a little bit of milk (which in France means that it was actually half&half.) I then lowered the heat on the oven to about 300˚F and poured the egg/milk mixture onto the crust and let it continue to bake for another 20 minutes while I prepared the fondue.

For the fondue, I diced up my leek (only use the white part) and added it to a saucepan with a heap of butter and some sea salt. I let it sautée over medium low heat for about ten minutes before adding a few cloves of minced garlic. I put a cover on the pan and let it simmer for another 10 minutes on low heat. After the leek seemed like it was melted and broken down with the butter I removed it from the heat and added a few spoonfulls of crème fraîche and some shaved parmesano reggiano as well as cracked pepper. Then I poured the hot fondue onto the freshly baked crust and and Matthias and I devoured it within a few minutes.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lafayette Gourmet

Leave it to me to walk into one of Paris' most famous department stores and make a b-line past the clothing straight to the second floor grocery store. Lafayette Gourmet is the biggest food purchasing space that I have encountered in France. Similar to Tokyo's food dedicated department store floors, Lafayette had the feel of an upscale supermarché mixed with in-house dining options. There was an Italian themed deli counter as well as an Asian food stand with chefs cooking right in front of you, an Eric Kayser mini boulangerie and a chocolatier in the corner. These were mingled throughout the typical refrigerated cases of milk, cheese, and yogurt as well as mountains of confiture, a relatively huge salt and pepper section, every type of oil and vinegar imaginable, a fish monger, flavored syrups, good old coca-cola, and duck confit around every corner.

I like this quote from a French website that I found on google:
"Temple de la gourmandise et de la gastronomie, l’espace Lafayette Gourmet, situé au 1er étage du magasin Homme des Galeries Lafayette du boulevard Haussmann, propose... de nombreux produits originaux et innovants, pour le plus grand plaisir des papilles !"

They seemed to have packed every basic item as well as a huge list of rare and unique ingredients into this slick, clean space. I probably spent at least an hour ogling all of the goods. If my financial situation allowed, I would have departed with a mountain of culinary delectables. While the prices were not unreasonable for most of the basic items, the specialty things got a little scary. For instance, the Japanese isle had packages of 10 sheets of nori seaweed for 8.50€($11.00)...back home i buy 10 packs for $1.00 or less.

Some of my most wanted include: balsamic glaze in three different flavors, basil flavored sugar, Himalayan sea salt, this insanely expensive olive oil that came packaged in a small clay pod which kept it completely light protected and had to be broken open to get the oil out, the entire chocolate isle, saffron threads, vanilla beans, the yummy looking tofu they were cooking at the Asian counter, these adorable homemade looking pots of confiture with cute pink polka dot fabric covering the lids and handwritten labels, lavender syrup, shizo leaves (the quintessential Japanese herb), and anything that the Eric Kayser Bakery felt like handing over.

So, if you are in Paris and you are searching for some esoteric foodie joy, go to le premier étage of Les Galeries Lafayette Homme and I guarantee you will not be dissapointed, until you hand over your credit card to pay.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lait Chaud

Sitting in le café (the place where you order drinks) for hours and sipping...un café (a coffee) is quite simply a required part of life in Paris. It's part of the cities charm. People fly here from all over the world to engage in this activity. The French love to take it easy. They work 30-35 hours a week, compared to the U.S.'s 40. Many businesses close several days a week, and almost the entire country takes the month of August off. I have been trying my best to fit in around here. I walk around town with my baguettes, down bottles of wine, ingest the stinkiest of cheeses, stroll by the Seine, and refuse to take the elevator to the top of Le Tour Eiffel. See, I didn't even call it The Eiffel Tower! The one thing, though, that I cannot do, is drink un café. I have never reacted too well to coffee, it makes me nauseous and jittery. The French version would make me even worse since they only serve espresso shots here. Every time we stop at a café I get overwhelmed with fear. There is one other warm drink that I ordered back in the States, although I called it by another name. Here in Paris, I ask for un lait chaud (a warm milk) which tastes like sugary melted butter. Sure, le serveur who delivered my lait chaud yesterday set it down and said "pour l'enfant" (for the child) with a smile, but at least everyone sitting around me saw my steaming mug of liquid and assumed I was just another Parisian, enjoying the sweet life.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Krishna Bhavan

This week, an old friend arrived in Paris for a two year stint at AUP. I was pretty excited to hang out with not only a fellow American and fluent English speaker, but a vegetarian as well. There are quite a few vegetarian restaurants scattered around the city that I found on this website and I've been waiting to try them out.

My friend was craving Indian, which I could never get tired of, so we met at Place de Clichy and walked about 15 minutes to Krishna Bhavan. Although the sign out sign said Indienne Végétarienne there were also meat options on the menu. We chose the reasonably priced set lunch menu for 7€ which included an appetizer (either a vegetarian samosa or a battered, fried, eggplant) a main course (your choice of curry, vegetables, beef, or chicken) and a dessert (a semolina cake or a tapioca pudding.)

The Semolina Cake

The Tapioca

We also ordered naan and lassys, she had mango, I had rose. The only negative was the tiny overpriced naan, which in true French dining fashion was served first even though you aren't suppose to touch it until your main course arrives. It was cold and hard by the time our curry came. I'll definitely return but next time I'll skip the naan.

I'm sad that I didn't get a shot of these when they were full, the colors were so bright.

Rose Confit

Super awesome grocery store discovery of the week:

Man, the french will turn anything into confit (preserves.) Luckily for me, this rule applies not only to duck and garlic but to rose petals as well. I have a weak spot for anything floral flavored. Just ask my bag of candied lavender or my bottle of orange blossom water waiting back in the U.S. for me.

So I brought home the rose petal confit with no special plans for it, other than spreading it on my morning tartine or spooning a dollop on top of my post dinner yogurt. But last night, I walked into the kitchen and discovered Belinda eating (what I thought was) a quesadilla. I yelled "quesadilla" and Belinda looked back at me blankly while Matthias laughed. I realized I was in France and quesadilla shaped things in France are called crêpes. Belinda had once again created a delicious sugary french treat and was kind enough to share.

The rose crêpe eating commenced and I disintegrated into a pool of ecstasy. I wonder if I should go back to the gourmet supermarché and buy the 12euro jar of hibiscus blossoms to put into flutes of champagne...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ratatouille Pizza

When the movie Ratatouille came out I had never eaten, nor heard of, the actual dish. Like the rest of America, (except the real foodies and the French Americans) after discovering it wasn't just the name of the rat in the film, I was curious to try it. Luckily, I met a seductively mysterious young French man just 5 months later. Matthias and I had only known each other for a few weeks when he told me that he was preparing a French dinner for his roommates and I was welcome to join. When I arrived at his apartment he was sitting at the kitchen table diligently chopping an onion. I ask if I could help and he handed me a head of garlic. I looked around the table at the ingredients and realized that this real live French man was going to make real live ratatouille. It was en exciting moment indeed. After rudely criticizing his knife skills (sorry!) Matthias started to sautée all of the vegetables and in not too long we gathered around the table with big bowls of delicious food and let the Ratatouille (the movie) jokes begin.
I was always too self conscious to try making it with Matthias around, so after he left for Paris in July, I finally decided it was time to make it on my own. I generally don't follow recipes when I cook or if I do, I inevitably make adjustments to ingredients and I knew that the main idea of ratatouille was so sautée a bunch of veggies into a soft warm mélange so I decided to put my ratatouille on a pizza in lieu of a sauce and top it with a simple grating of parmesano reggiano and a thick, sweet, balsamic glaze.

Ratatouille Pizza


•pizza crust (I bought mine but feel free to use homemade)
•olive oil
•balsamic vinegar
•your favorite cheese
•some herbs (I used herbes de provence, fresh basil would go perfectly on top after baking)
•salt & pepper
•whatever vegetables you like, diced into small similar sized cubes
I used
- eggplant
- zucchini
- potato
- tomato
- onion
•garlic cloves, minced

I try to use equal parts of each vegetable, with slightly more tomato. Start off by heating up some olive oil in a pan and dicing up the potatoes while it heats. Add the potatoes to the pan first and let them start cooking while you dice the rest of the vegetables. Add onions next, then the eggplant and zucchini but DO NOT ADD the tomato or garlic. Keep the heat relatively low, you just want to soften things up and start caramelizing the onion. Put your crust in the oven and cook for about 1/4 of the total time necessary. The vegetable mixture is going to be very moist and i like to give the crust a chance to crisp up a bit before getting it soggy with oil and juice. When the vegetables in the pan seem like they are getting soft enough to eat (mainly the potatoes) turn off the heat. Mix the tomatoes, garlic, salt & pepper, and your herbs and add them to the pan, which should still be warm, but turned off. Stir everything together and add it to the 1/4 cooked crust. Mine looked like this:

At this point, feel free to grate some cheese on top so it can melt into the vegetables in the oven. While the pizza is finishing in the oven, heat up some balsamic vinegar in your sautée pan with a bit of sugar and keep swishing it around until you notice it change in consistency from very runny liquid to more of a loose syrup. Take out your pizza and spoon the balsamic glaze on top. I added some fresh tomato slices. You could also put fresh basil on at this point.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Weight Limit

During December, Belinda had a break from work so we spent our Wednesday mornings going to the marché together. Now Belinda is back to being a financially responsible adult and I'm back to being...unemployed...still. So, today I set off tout seul to fetch goodies and Belinda was kind enough to let me use her super french blue gingham grocery bag.

Matthias and I have been putting 20 euros each into a food fund every week. I start the week by getting essentials at the supermarché on Monday which is around 20 euros for eggs, milk, bread, yogurt, hummus, jam, butter, milk, etc. Then I spend 10 euros at the marché on Wednesday for all of our fruits and veggies, and the remaining 10 euros go to restocking at the grocery store or going to the boulangerie on the weekend. Breakfast for us is a tartine (toast) or baguette with butter and jam, plus fruit juice and a café for Matthias. Most jobs in France include meal vouchers, so Matthias uses those for lunch near his University and I have pasta or a hummus sandwich. For dinner, I try to utilize whatever fresh ingredients I happen to have on hand from my trip to the marché. So far, I think we have been doing exceptionally well with a very meager budget. Having a set amount of money to use has put me in a very creative food mood. I've been trying out lots of new recipes as well as relying on old favorites and have been attempting to use at least one new ingredient a week.

For today's trip, Belinda had requested a poireau (leek), some menthe(mint), and a kilo of clémentines. I usually get clémentines, carrotes, aubergines (eggplants), pommes de terre (potatoes), and anything else that looks particularly appealing. But this week, everything looked appealing and I couldn't stop myself from buying all of this:

*pommes de terre, potiron (french pumpkin), poireau (leeks), tomates, menthe, courgettes (zucchini), clémentines, poivron rouge (bell pepper), aubergines, carrotes*

Moneywise, I only went a few euros over budget which is no big deal, but carrying all of that back home has left me rather sore. Honestly though, tell me you would have been able to walk right past this plateau des tomates for one euro!

From now on, I think I need to impose a weight limit. spending 14 euros was a bit too heavy, next week, it's back to 10.

Speaking Math

I have always had the desire to become multilingual. My neighbor when I was young had a Caucasian father and a Nicaraguan mother and I remember listening to him speak to his family members in Spanish with just a tinge of jealousy. I studied French in high school and was extremely passionate about learning the language but even though I made it to Advanced Placement French Level 6 my skills weren't actually very advanced at all. Naturally, part of moving to Paris included me finally being able to work on my French language skills. To be honest, I'm still not speaking very much French even though I live in France, but my comprehension of written and spoken French really has made a surprising leap in the past month and a half. My biggest problem getting around Paris though, is with speaking math.

Unlike languages, I hate math. I have always hated math. I have never wanted to be multimathematical. The reason that I am dating a mathematician is so that I never have to do math myself. "Hey Matthias, what's 15+12?" *rolls his eyes at me*
Back to my point, when you buy things, people tell you how much you owe them , IN FRENCH. If it was just about memorizing numbers (and as long as it's a whole number below 69 I'm fine) that would be one thing, but the way that French numbers work is very ...mathematical. I hate math so much that I refuse to really learn how it works, but it's something along the lines of adding and multiplying to get big numbers. For instance, the number "70" is said "40 + 30" but to make it even more confusing, the number "80" is said "20 x 4." Add whole euros and centimes together and my brain really isn't cut out for all that work. Overpaying is a nice option, the issue there being that Parisians pretty much demand to have exact change. Coming from the land of credit card bliss where I almost never ever ever used cash the idea of always having exact amounts of cash on me at all times is just not really very realistic. Besides, euro coins are heavy and the smallest bill available is a 5. So I'll just keep going along giving people too much money or sometimes not enough because being yelled at in French is so much lovelier than doing math.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Huile D'Olive

As an American living in the 21st century, there are certain things I've come to expect in life.

1. I don't think I should have to wait...for anything...ever.
2. I think people should be nice to me when I buy things from them.
3. Merchandise should be clean and of good quality if you expect me to purchase it from you.

So I went to Monoprix, our local supermarché to buy some extra virgin huile d'olive and came back empty handed, for not just one or two but all three of the reasons listed above.

I have yet to go anywhere in Paris that did not have a line. I'm pretty certain that they like it this way too. Sure businesses could stay open 7 seven days a week (as well as 12 months a year) or hire more staff, or install self checkout lanes, but then your huile wouldn't seem so exclusive, would it? This issue arose when planning our trip to Versailles as well. The Château has about 4 million visitors a year...and three people at the ticket counter every day. That means that you get to wait in line for at least an hour just to buy a ticket. You can purchase online ahead of time, but then you have to wait for your tickets to be mailed to you.

It is also laughable to bring up the notion that "the customer is always right" in France. Here, the customer is always lucky that they are breathing French air and that's about it.

The last, and perhaps worst, item on the list is one that still continues to shock me. It's basically ok to have dirty, broken, crumpled up, used, old, junk sitting around and still expect to have someone pay for it. Although I did bypass the congealed huile, I ended up breaking down and purchasing un râpée to grate my vegetables even though the white plastic on all of the râpées in the store were covered in black dirt or soot of some kind. IN A GROCERY STORE. So I brought it home and washed it and used it and everything was fine and Matthias explained that its natural for oil to congeal (!?!) and that I need to get over my American ideas about perfection and then he asked "oh god, you're not gonna make a post about it are you?" and I probably said no but it's late and I can't sleep so there you have it.

And just in case you're thinking "wow, what a jerk, he's so lucky to be living his dream life in Paris, how dare he complain about lines and dirt!" I totally agree. My lovely friend, Jeannette said to me recently, "Paris is terrible and wonderful." I totally agree, and that's why I love it so much. Tomorrow, I'll go wait in line to purchase my grubby oil from the sneering old lady at Monoprix and I guarantee I'll be smiling the entire time.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Les Soldes

Unlike America, where a vigilant shopper can track down sales almost any day of the year, in France, the government regulates sales to just twice annually. The coutrywide event occurs every January and July and is called Les Soldes.Due to this occurrence, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to walk anywhere in Paris without having the urge to stop in to one of the hundreds of clothing shops that are sprinkled throughout Paris and purchase absolutely everything, "but, it's on sale!." So, today I stopped resisting. While some people may think that being deprived of year round sales would be awful, I think I rather prefer the French method. Since Les Soldes only happen twice, when they do happen, they get real serious. Prices drop 50%-70% on basically everything, everywhere. Sure, you have to fight through throngs of scary Parisians and rip the best deals from the clutches of the old and weak, but I think my new silk v-neck was worth it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dans Ma Cuisine

The other night as I was chopping and sautéeing up some vegetables to throw into a few bowls of miso soup (yea...i know, miso in France...) an adorable french man appeared with a camera to document our cute (tiny) kitchen and my amateur (terrible) knife skills. "it's for your blog!" he declared. And how could I refuse this kind gesture?

It may not be a fully equipped gourmet kitchen (what, your hot water heater isn't situated above your toaster?)

Yes, the strainer may have a very large hole in it, and it's true, the only spatula is missing its handle. Kitchen knives? bah! we employ the use of the multifunctional butter knife.

Mais, J'adore ma cuisine.

Le Café D'Amélie Poulain

My first night in Paris, I met Matthias at Starbucks near The Opera. He took me home and I passed out for...well...I don't quite remember how long. My second night in Paris, Matthias took me to Les Caves Populaires, the local wine bar, and I met all of his closest friends. I was still pretty tired and experiencing some language shock when Amélie Beau walked up and french kissed me (you know, once on each cheek...) with a smile and a "ça va?" I couldn't resist the urge to chuckle a little. I still can't resist the urge to refer to her as Amélie Poulain when Matthias is the only one listening.
You see, there is basically only one French movie that Americans know. The title was shortened simply to "Amelie" for the U.S. release but the original was "Le Fabuleux Destin D'Amélie Poulain." I probably don't have to explain any further since it seems like everyone has seen this movie but lets pretend you haven't. So the movie is about a girl named Amélie (quelle surprise!) who works at a little café/tabac (a place where tabacco is sold) in Paris. Today, as my friends and I were walking down my favorite street in Montmartre, they started talking about Amélie Poulain. Our actual friend, Amelie was not with us so I assumed they must be referring to the film. When I gave them a puzzled look, Bélinda said
"The bar of Amélie, c'est en face."
"What!? it's behind where?"

So apparently I've been living like 5 minutes away from the actual café where they filmed Amélie! After perusing les soldes (the sales) we wandered down a few side streets until we found Les 2 Moulins. I was giddily excited and literally could not stop smiling for at least 5 minutes after we had arrived and sat down. To be fair, my French counterparts were pretty into the experience as well. There were some various Amélie related articles hanging behind the counter and on the far wall was a giant movie poster signed by Audrey Tatou, the actress who played Amélie. There were, however, two major discrepancies between the real place and the one in the movie.

1. In the movie, one of Amélie's coworkers is a hypochondriac who runs the tobacco counter at the entrance of the café. The actual café does not have a tobacco counter. They just added that in so the hypochondriac could have a job.
2. In the movie, there is a door in the back of the café that leads to a payphone and toilet. My first instinct was to grab Matthias and force him into the toilet to recreate a rather climatic scene from the film where two characters engage in some loud and earth shattering activities. To my dismay, the door in the back had the word "Cuisine" written on it. So it simply lead to the kitchen. When the door opened I could see in and I realized that there was no room for a real toilet.

With my dreams crushed I ordered a Mocha Menthe and NOT the Crème Brûlée D'Amélie Poulain. Luckily, as we filed out the front door after finishing our drinks, I looked up, and every wrong that had occurred was righted by the sight of our dear friend, Amélie Beau, standing outside with a smile. Nobody else got it (like that time when my plane landed in Australia and Kylie Minogue came on the radio after a short "Welcome to Australia" message) but I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Joy of Crème

The first time I tasted French milk I fell in love. You see, back in the states, I've been known to consume a sip of heavy creme here or a few ounces of half and half there. Whenever I'm at a restaurant with those little plastic creamers and jam, I can't resist chugging a few. I don't believe in ingesting any milk product with less fat content than "whole." Matthias refuses to even call that stuff milk. "oh, you mean that white water they drink?" While my desire for luscious fatty cream is simply a preference, for France, it's just the way things are done. You see, the French milk product classification is much simpler than the U.S.'s.

Americans have:
Heavy Whipping Cream (36%)
Whipping Cream (30%-36%)
Table Cream (18%-30%)
Half & Half (10%-18%)
Condensed Milk (7.5%-15%)
Whole Milk (3.25%-5%)
Reduced fat Milk (2%)
Lowfat Milk (1.5%-2%)
Skimmed Milk (0.1%)
Nonfat Milk (0%)

The French have:
Crème (36%)
Demi Écrémé (10%)
Écrémé (2%)

Obviously, we drink the demi écrémé (as most people in France do.) Drinking crème would make you sick and drinking écrémé is only for Parisian models trying to watch their weight. So I basically have half & half all the time. It's awesome. Especially when you get to enjoy it with a great big hunk of your roommate's delicious Charlotte au Chocolat.

16 servings

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine (use good quality chocolate)
3 tablespoons strong espresso
2 teaspoons dark rum
1 teaspoon olive oil
5 large eggs, separated
24 ladyfingers, split (preferably homemade)
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons dark rum
2 cups lightly sweetened whipped cream

1. In a saucepan or double boiler melt the chocolate with the coffee, 2 tsp. rum, and oil. Stir until smooth; cool.
2. One by one add the yolks to the cold melted chocolate, beating with a wire whisk.
3. In a separate bowl, stiffly beat the whites.
4. Fold the whites into the chocolate.
5. Leave in a cool place to set.

To assemble the cake:
1. Pour the milk and remaining 2 tsp. rum into a bowl.
2.. One by one lightly dip the ladyfingers into the milk/rum and line the bottom and sides of a 8-cup (2 qt) springform pan. (Use 8-inch or 9-inch springform pan).
3. Fill with half the chocolate mousse. Cover with a layer of ladyfingers, then with the remaining mousse. Finish with another layer of ladyfingers.
4. Refrigerate the charlotte for 8 hours or overnight covered in plastic wrap.
5. After unmolding, decorate if desired with swirls of sweetened whipped cream.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Glace Sidewalks

Today is Wednesday which is the day that I go to the Farmer's Market to get our produce for the week. It's in Barbes which is an ethnic neighborhood not too far down the street from our apartment at Place de Clichy. Even though it's been snowing this week, I thought it would be nice to walk. Matthias and I headed out and I soon discovered that there is a substance much more sinister than snow on the streets of Paris. Glace or ice was coating the sidewalks and gutters. I never knew this about myself before this morning, but I have a terrible fear of slipping on ice and cracking my head open. That's all I could picture as we carefully walked along. Luckily, there were work crews out combating the icy streets with handfuls of salt to speed up the melting process. After the initial slipping, falling, dying fear, a new despair started to well up inside of me. Mon Dieu! they are wasting so much French sel de mer!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Lamp Posts

I hate the idea of doing touristy things. I live here, god damn it. I am no tourist. But it was inevitable. I had to walk to the center of Paris eventually. What's there? Well, there's this arch thing

and lamp posts like these

as well as lots and lots and lots of fur. Rich women, young women, old women, and non women (well, you know, men) all draped in layers of soft fuzzy death. I am the first one to complain about the frigid air in Paris during winter but looking around at all the dead animals brought out the Berkeley in me. It's not that cold lady. Wool works too.

Besides all the fur, the best way to describe the Champs Elysees (the main street that ends at The Arc) and the buildings that border it, including the Arc, the Louvre, and a slough of other structures is BIG. While you can barely fit one person on a typical Parisienne sidewalk, the Champe Elysees is wide enough for fifty. I don't think any streets are big enough for more than a single Smart Car on the outskirts of town but here in the center of things the streets are literally so wide that they just stop having designated lanes. It looks more like an IKEA parking lot than a thoroughfare. It's obvious that this area is meant to be impressive. I guess I was impressed by the crazy scale of things but it also left me France trying to overcompensate for something?

My Paris

I've been creating a customized map of Paris for myself on google maps. I have posted a link to the right and will be updating it from time to time so check it out if you'd like to see the places that comprise my Paris.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Back in high school I was cast as Louis XIV in “The Three Musketeers.” That was at the height of my French class obsession and I was really mad that I didn’t get to actually speak any French as the King of France. Needless to say, since that play I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for the guy. He liked ridiculous gold gilded stuff, spending way too much time and money on his over the top wardrobe, and getting lots of portraits painted of himself. I can relate. You can’t really be into Louis XIV without being kind of into Versailles. It’s the physical embodiment of Louis’ love of garishly lavish French excess. I spent a brief portion of my life being mildy obsessed with Marie Antoinette as well. My desire to watch the Sophia Coppola film was largely influenced by the fact that it was actually filmed at/in Versailles. So today as I walked through the hall of mirrors (gallerie des glaces) I couldn’t help but think “that lucky bitch.” Kirsten Dunst, that is. She got to hang out at Versialles and film a movie there. That whole cast and crew had an all access pass to this amazing Chateau.

Unlike me. I was crammed into the place with thousands of Japanese/Italian/Australian/American tourists(the Italians were the rudest, just sayin'.) I could barely see where I was going, the majority of the castle was roped off and of the rooms you could enter, ¾ of the room itself was inaccessible. I know, I know, it was my own fault for going on the Saturday after New Year’s. I had initially decided to combat my impatient tendencies and hold off visiting Versailles until the weather got nicer. Much of the splendor is found our in the vast gardens and I wanted to enjoy a nice summer picnic next the bubbling fountains instead of freezing to death next to a frozen pond. But I had an excuse for going today. On our way back from Amsterdam I noticed a poster in the train station that wasn’t at any of the metros I had stopped at. It simply read “JEFF KOONS VERSAILLES.” Today was the last day of the show which I only found out about a week ago so it was now or never and I figured that if I was going to see Versailles at some point anyways, I might as well see it with some artwork that I had never witnessed in person thrown in the mix. I’m not the biggest Jeff Koons freak but when I saw those words together it just made too much sense to me. A contemporary pop artist, Koons was one of those guys that came up in my art classes at UC all the time. A lot of people loved to hate him, while others were hardcore fans. The artist’s esthetic is somewhere along the lines of garish kitsch. I think Louis XIV would have been a big fan. Apparently, so did some guys who have started a program to bring contemporary art into Versailles.

Matthias had never heard of Koons but was interested so he showed me the way to the Chateau, just beyond the western edge of Paris. There was no extra entrance fee to enter (just the regular 13.50euros which allows you access to one section of the castle only.) So I purchased deux billets and we were on our way. The pieces were scattered throughout the majority up the upper level rooms. These included ballrooms, the hall of mirrors, and the king and queens bedrooms. It was really creepy how well a few of the pieces seemed to fit into the scenery. In fact, in the queen’s bedroom, amongst the yards and yards of thick floral brocade and white fleathery plumes I couldn’t quite figure out where the Koons piece was, or if there was one at all. Then I spotted the vase:

And as we walked past the giant topiary “split rocker” I had a hard time imagining the space without it.

Although a bit more obvious, another one of my favorites was this inflatable lobster, hanging opposite an opulent crystal chandelier in a long ballroom.

I don't think many people were there for the Koons show and it was interesting to overhear the conversations regarding the work. There wasn't a whole lot of explanantion offered to the visitors as to why these strange objects were there. I'm really glad we got this chance to see the work and the place in the context of one another. I'm also looking forward to a less crowded, and warmer second trip in June.

p.s. I stole all of these images from google. I didn't think my camera would meet a very warm reception so I left it at home but next time I'll make sure to bring it along as even flash photography is permitted everywhere on the grounds.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The King(s) of New Year's Eve.

Le Galette Des Rois

Yesterday was Bon Annee or as my roommate Belinda likes to call it “Appy New Years!” Matthias’ friends decided to put together a dinner party for the occasion. It was a French dinner party, which meant a traditional five-course meal. My roommate bought an Appy New Years dress and Matthias tried to warn me about just how intense these events can get. I am paraphrasing, but it was something along the lines of: “We are going to eat for like four or five hours. We are going to eat a lot of food and drink a lot of Champagne. And then we are going to eat more.” I wasn’t all that worried except for the fact that I was going to be the only vegetarian in attendance. Like many other places, In France, vegetarianism can mean a lot of different things. Some French people say “Je suis vegetarien.” because they do not eat red meat. Fois Gras (the liver of ducks that have been force fed to death) is still fair play. Others believe that being a vegetarian simply means no land animals. They still feast on Christmas oysters without a flinch. I am an ovo-lacto vegetarian. If it has a nervous system, I say “Non, merci.” That means I still have the joy of lapping up thick creamy French milk and slathering kilos of salty French butter on my baguettes. I also enjoy the occasional orange hued French egg and I couldn’t pass a single day without…the cheese!

A few nights before the dinner party, the women who were hosting came by my apartment for a visit and the discussion of being a vegetarian in France came up. That’s when I realized that they thought I was the fruits de mer (seafood) eating kind. Woops! I always feel bad about imposing on people with my special dietary needs and now I had imposed and confused and imposed again. C’est la vie. Luckily the hostesses didn’t seem to mind accommodating for me even further and interestingly enough, brought up the topic of onions in French cuisine. Apparently, one of their friends has an onion allergy and they seemed to be even more perplexed about the idea of preparing a French meal with no onions than about making a few dishes sans le meat. The party ended up being fantastic and the food went a little something like this:

As people were filtering in we drank a fruity spiked punch and nibbled on olives that Belinda and I had picked up earlier in the morning at our favorite marche (farmer’s market.) When I say “we nibbled” I mean, “I devoured.” There were several varieties all mixed in but I was mostly aiming for the basilique flavored ones. Yum.
After taking our places around the table we were served square puff pastries filled with sun-dried tomatoes and melted cheese. When I asked what to call it they told me it was "un briquet" or a brick….but I promise it was much more appetizing than the name implies. Our bricks were accompanied by salad with homemade vinaigrette (to further prove Matthias’ point that I mentioned earlier…nobody buys vinaigrette in France except for stupid Americans.)
White wine flowed like the Seine and my neighbor informed me that it was quite good. I thanked him for telling me because as I admitted to him, I don’t have very good taste in wine so it honestly helped to know.
Next up was the fish course. It was some thin sliced salmon on baguette rounds with a crème fraiche, I believe. I did not partake in the salmon but I was offered a second brick, which I declined in order to save room for…well, cheese.
After the fish came the meat accompanied by the red wine. There was a lovely dish of curried beef and rice. This may not sound very French but Paris is quite culturally diverse and full of really good ethnic cuisine so this wasn’t too out of the ordinary. I had a special bowl of curry reserved for me that was separated before the beef was added. It was delicious and I had coincidentally been craving curry all day.
The fourth course consisted of a platter of huge hunks of three different cheeses. Roquefort, which after putting in my mouth I exclaimed “this is the blue-est blue cheese I’ve ever tasted” comte, and some other creamy goo which I generously slopped onto a ripped off hunk of fresh baguette. I could have entire meals of French cheese. In fact, I often do. A lot of French meals also end with a cheese course. Even Matthias and I do this on a nightly basis with our frugal meal budget. We eat sliced cheese with jam (I’m obsessed with rhubarb which I generally only get a few times a year back in the States when my grandma prepares me my own special bowl and France is overflowing with rhubarb products, including my favorite jam) or honey and a yogurt because as Matthias says “It’s good for your tummy.”
This was not the end however. We still had dessert left! There were three delectable pastries to be had. One was kind of like a small dense muffin with a creamy center of nutella spread. The next was a canele, which is a small, looks like a bundt cake and has a custardy interior. Canele traditionally come from Matthias’ hometown of Bordeaux. He had mentioned them to me before but this was my first time tasting them and they were one of the best baked-goods I’ve ever put into my mouth. The last dessert was the galette des rois, or the King Cake. My roommate had been slaving over two of these all afternoon so luckily I had been filled in already on the history. The galette des rois is a special pastry served around the Epiphany (though in modern France, it is widely available and consumed from the Christmas season throughout January.) It is filled with an almond sugar paste and a small porcelain statue called a feve is baked into it. When the galette is served, the youngest person at the table chooses who gets the first slice. After each person is served, everyone digs in, hoping to find the feve in his or her slice. The person who does find the feve is named king (or queen) and gets to wear a paper crown for the remainder of the evening and has to choose their partner. Belinda announced beforehand that since we are very modern the person who found the feve could choose a partner of the same or opposing sex. I got chosen by the youngest person to receive the first slice of cake but unfortunately someone else got the feve. Since there were two galettes, we actually had two feves to find but nobody could get through their first pieces and the second galette was sliced but not consumed. Being somewhat influenced by the copious amounts of wine, I decided to search for the second feve without consuming and underhandedly stole the title of the second king.

These are the origami crowns that I made for the kings.

One of the feves (next to the tiny vanilla extract bottle.)

Midnight was nearly upon us and the Champagne bottles were opened and consumed. It was a bit strange to count down without the aid of a television set or large illuminated dropping ball but the fact that in France you get to kiss each person twice (once on each cheek) had its own sort of charm.

*please excuse the terribly unphotoshopped images.