Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Parsi Food: Part Two


6" knob of ginger.
5 cinnamon sticks and a small cannister of cassia bark.
9 Thai bird chiles.
2 roasted sweet potatoes.
1 cup of moong dal.
3 cups of rice (first two came to me with bugs).
6 pieces of 'kitchen twine' made from cheesecloth with holes too big to make panir.
1 mushy banana.

These are just some of the ingredients that went into two days of Parsi cooking.

Above are several steps of Taro Rolls, with chard substituted for taro leaf. A paste of spices and chickpea flour and banana was pureed and then spread onto chard leaves. These were tied and steamed, and then cooled until firm enough to cut, at which point they were fried in an inch of oil and sprinkled with salt and a squirt of lime (and later, some of the Seared Ginger Raita). I served them with an Everyday Dal, Caramelized Rice (a bit burnt, but not in a yummy tadik type way), and a seafood dish with sweet potato instead of fish.

The only challenge? I haven't used those three spice mixtures yet.





Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Parsi Food: Part 1

Do this four more times. Don't ask why. Just do it. It's magic.

By the time I got to this line in a panir recipe, I was in love with My Bombay Kitchen by Niloufer Ichcaporia King.

The panir never looked like a cloudy sky breaking up, leading me to believe I just don't know how to coax curds from milk. Nonetheless, I packaged up the cheese cloth, pressed it with a can of coconut milk, and enjoyed it spread across hot chapatis with turmeric/ginger pickle and yogurt cheese.

I spent yesterday grinding spices and ginger for two of the triumvirate of Parsi spices: Parsi garam masala and dhana jiru (a garam masala of 17 spices). I tied a scarf around my nose while I ground then pressed the toasted spices through a strainer (see the dhana jiru above).

I then processed 3 oz each of garlic and ginger to make a paste that was the beginning of wafer par ida (aka eggs on potato chips) - King assures me that Bombay is filled with potato-chips works (Liam wasn't convinced).

Consider it Parsi breakfast food for dinner. The chapatis with cheese and pickle to build our immune systems (and my yellow, yellow hands) and eggs steamed on top of potato chips fried with ghee, onion, chiles, and coriander.

Next time I'll heed the advice of King's acquaintance who tells her "next time, try it with a little bit of cream poured over the chips before the eggs go on."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Le Sel (and the Holidays)

I was into the salt before Paris, but in Paris I truly fell in love with the thick, wet, gray fleur de sel from brittany. the salt man at the bastille market had tremendous patience for my terrible french and would give me free bags of 4-spiced salt and free caramels and i bought more salt than i ever had previously.

So I made fleur de sel toffee from Martha Stewart and the now-yearly salted chocolate caramels.

I tried world peace cookies again, and again, I failed.

The bits of chocolate alongside the sea salt are tasty, but crumby dough was not the vision that Dorie or Pierre had in mind when they came together to create this war-ender.

tea mix. I've packed away spoon cookies and wrapped up lemon bread and measured out baggies of chai. I've peeled and simmered applies for applesauce and fried up latkes to accompany.

I've gone through a 5lb bag of sugar and just over 2 lbs of butter.

Last Sunday it was 6 months since we were married and soon after, 6 months since I left Paris.

For every morning these days that I miss a slow cup of needle-thin green tea, I build relationships with another family grateful for the opportunity to have this school for their child. For every evening that I work too late to come home and roast sweet potatoes until they caramelize, I have a conversation with a child that moves them that much closer to meeting our behavioral expectations.

We have already seen more snow in a month than we've seen in 10 years. We have a favorite local restaurant for a weekly date and a market nearby (although I'm hesitant to reveal to you the price of butter). We are thrilled to be back in the US with some of our oldest, and newest friends. We are glad to to be blocks away from Prospect Park and to both have cell phones.

We continue to gorge on jalapenos and nachos and Annie's mac and cheese.

And on the shortest day of the year, when Susan Sandburg came onto weekend edition to talk about the longest day of 2008 at le fete de la music in Paris, we smiled knowing we made the right, toughest, decisions this year, and with a little more patience we know 2009 will be even better. My school will have a location, a name, a staff, a student body. Liam will have gigs and a new album.

We'll have had at least 6 months physically together since married.

(you might even say we've had a lot going on)

And if you were here, I'd invite you over for some sweets. Straight outta my Brooklyn kitchen with a salty detour in Paris.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Jamoncillo de Nuevas


I am newly obsessed with jamoncillo de nuevas.

Two weeks ago in the depths of a Brooklyn chill, friends trooped across several boroughs to join us for huevos rancheros, spoon bread with various home made salsas and farm-made relishes, and beans and rice galore.

The inspiration for the Mexican theme was a recent issue of Saveur which featured sweets from Pueblo mainly focused on sweet potato, sugar, milk, some more sugar, and gorgeous crystallized fruits. In this sea of glowing pink hearts etched with Pueblo in white sugar and piles of tart-like sweet potato cookies there were flat expanses of jamoncillo. Milk fudge. With nuts and candied fruit.

I'm not one for candied fruit, so I stuck with just pecans and hoped for the best with the fudge. The milk and sugar took the full 35 minutes to caramelize and I doubted my candy thermometer most of the way until it began to smell like burning and I pulled it off before it hit 240 degrees.

5 minutes after waiting for the glossiness to subside, I stirred carefully with a wooden spoon and the hope that I had waited long enough to end up with fudge and not sauce.

I poured the searing liquid into the brownie pan and within minutes, I watched it harden. Shortly after, I picked out a corner and swooned - the canela was subtle enough to enhance the milk but not overpower with a cinnamon taste. The nuts were toasty and the fudge melted creamily.

The jamoncillo was a hit the next day. More so than the pepita brittle and polvorones (which were tougher than usual). As I think about my holiday baking, I'm tempted to bring these back for a second showing. Might go well with a box of salted chocolate caramels and spoon cookies.

Eating Out

We ate out differently in Paris than we do here. We lived in a tourist trap of 18 euro bagels with lox and mediocre menus for 34 euros. We had falafel. Tea. Croissants. Hot Chocolate.

We've realized we eat differently in New York. Our friend left her menus in this apartment so we could get take out. Each week we determine how to best eat out - Wednesday luxury or weekend date? Then we find ourselves out of town and Wednesday takes us to Franny's for homemade celery soda and a white pizza that I will write about twice because we adore it that much.

Last week we attempted to branch out to another local eatery, Flatbush Farm, that we'd eaten at previously. Relaxing and romantic with frisee salad and Bonnie Prince Billy playing and out of nowhere good, a fat roach crawling on Liam's still-on-the-table napkin. Two days later, a friend goes there only to see two.

I don't like to write about unappetizing things, but when they chose not to comp us, I chose to tell everyone how disgusted I was. And then I was cranky, "this is what we get for eating out," I grumbled at Liam and pledged to return to Morningstar Farm Chik Patties and haricorts verts the next night with Cheerios the next day for breakfast.

Or just go back to Franny's (pizza above), which has never failed us.

If only we could get into ordering in, we'll have fully made the transition to being (or at least seeming to look like) New Yorkers.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What I've Been Cooking

We're still getting used to me leaving at 6am and not returning until 7pm on a good night, and I'm not even an actual principal yet. To manage this new life together, busier than last winter in Paris, we have divided eating into parts: 2 meals a week that I cook, the one that Liam cooks, and a weekly date to Franny's to keep us inspired.

After days of apple pie with cheddar cheese for breakfast, we're back in Brooklyn and ready to

Recent favorites for me have been Lemony Chickpea Stirfry and the more wintery Kale and Mushrooms with Creamy Polenta.

I am planning my holiday baking with the nouveau classics: pepita brittle, chocolate caramels with fleur de sel, and spoon cookies stuffed into tiny boxes for co-workers and friends (these long hours bring us closer).

Next week we'll have a few friends over for a Mexican-themed brunch spanning the country with a chilaquiles verde, huevos rancheros, and some milk-fudge candies I just read about from Puebla.

Trying to keep it real this winter, or at least not as far from our previous lives as it feels.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Pumpkin Fondue


After busy weeks of work, a new job, a new life and a funeral, it seemed time for some comfort food.

I read a description in Gourmet of Pumpkin Fondue and then tossed the magazine.

There I was at the Grand Army Plaza Farmer's Market re-thinking the plan - which is how we ended up with two decorative pumpkins rather than a sugar (what I wanted) or a 7lb one (called for in the recipe).

I picked up gruyere and raclette (there's something about emmental I just don't like), a baguette and some cream. Like Riechl, I found myself wondering how all of these delicious ingredients would go together.

Liam asked, "why are we putting it in a pumpkin?"

They were so cute - even when one look at their yellow flesh confirmed my suspicion that these weren't the best eating pumpkins. I toasted the baguette and defrosted vegetable stock. I grated in some nutmeg and then the cheese in a pile bigger than the two pumpkins, and then I stuffed them.

They emerged from the oven burnished and oozing. While the flesh didn't allow me to scoop it out into a bowl of melting comfort, we dipped our bread pieces into the shell and scooped until we could scoop no more.

Who needs a Raclette when you have an American pumpkin?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gourmet Ice Cream Truck

My transition back to the US was eased by the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck. I mentioned, when I first got to New York, that there was a truck parked a few blocks from the dorm I stayed in this summer, and that if I were awake and about after 8:30 pm, I would stop by for a cup of this hormone-free, organic, ice cream (mint chip or ginger or espresso) with homemade hot fudge and fresh whipped cream. All eaten with a biodegradable spoon.

I obsessed about it to Liam. He'd ask about the leadership institute I was attending, and I'd tell him about trying ginger after being on a mint chip binge for a week. He'd ask about my jet lag and culture shock, and I'd wax poetic about pre-bedtime sundaes. He'd ask how I liked the dorm food post-30, and I'd reply with my own culinary dilemma: should I continue along with the combination that I favored, or should I branch out and try each flavor while the yellow truck was parked just 5 blocks from me?

When Liam was here at the end of July, we found ourselves in SoHo trying to use a Crate and Barrel wedding gift card, and it occur ed to me: the truck was parked here in the day! We scoped street corners and intersections and found it. The teenagers working were perhaps confused by my glee, but I was thrilled to share it with Liam - at this point, afraid I'd built it up too much.

He took his first organic spoonful and smiled.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September at the market ...

This past weekend, I went to the market armed with a September list: Sungold cherry tomatoes for a pasta dish with fresh mozzarella, parsley to fry up for tacos with lemon, basil to add herbal essence to a lemon sherbet, and my weekly new-to-me-greens (this week? purslane).

The final item on my list was basil - for dessert.

I hadn't made any ice cream yet this summer and was interested in a lemon sherbet flavored with basil. I read her description of herbs best infusing liquids when cold, but wasn't quite convinced.

Then I had my first bite of sherbet.

There I was, holding the dasher in place since I'm missing the plastic ring that goes around the top and watching the ice cream freeze, bits of rind gathering around the bottom and I couldn't resist sticking my finger in to taste.

I often find myself adding Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips to most ice cream that even I make - but this one I didn't want to mar with anything else. I just wanted a bowl. And another. The only thing holding me back from finishing it after a dinner of parsley tacos and fried chickpeas or pasta with tomatoes, was trying to hold out until Liam gets here next week to share it.

Or, I can just head to the market this weekend and grab some more while it's still September.

Special thanks to Sara for sharing her great market photographs with me.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Grocery Store Maven Stumped

I used to call myself a Grocery Store Maven.

In Oakland, I knew the prices of coconut milk at Berkeley Bowl and Trader Joe's and 99 Ranch and Piedmont Grocery. I had opinions on where to buy dried garbanzos and whole coriander (Vik's) and the cost effectiveness of having a Full Belly Farm CSA Box.

In Paris, I began again to memorize the cost of Bordier butter at Le Grande Epicerie vs. the fromagerie at Marche d'Aligre. I knew that Monoprix was not the place to get anything Asian and that it was worth a trip to the 13th to Tang Freres for 10 items for under 3 euros. I charted the costs of American ingredients and weighed that against my desire for chipotles ($9) molasses ($6) and cans of pumpkin ($5) at Thanksgiving and other ex-pat merchants.

I realize that since we left the country, food prices went up. I realize that New York City has the most expensive food around. I am appreciative to have a gourmet market a few blocks away and bodegas that carry Fage yogurt and that I don't have to carry my groceries if I want to order from Fresh Direct.

What I didn't anticipate complaining about at BBQs and the water cooler, was the sheer price of items. It's like I'm shopping each day at Thanksgiving or Le Grande Epicerie yet I'm in the country the items come from and each place I go to lacks 2 or 14 that I wish I could have (why doesn't Fresh Direct carry bags of Tazo Tea or buttermilk? Why doesn't the gourmet grocery have French lentils?)

The Grocery Store Maven is stumped.

I've inquired into CSA boxes (all full save East New York). I take the train into the city and trek the vegetables back. I have researched the Park Slope Food Co-op but here 10:1 negative stories and worry about how my hours will change when the school opens next year and the sheer disorganization of 12,000 members and yet everyone needs to work every 3 weeks?

So I ordered Fresh Direct to stock my pantry. Sans beans and tea. I paid 2.79 for DeCecco spaghetti at the store. I'm scheduling a trip to Astoria next weekend to go to the Indian market or to Midwood to check out the new Kosher one.

I'm determined to find an answer before I suck it up and pay twice as much for yogurt and milk and cereal and refried beans than is necessary.

Whole Foods is the cheapest option. (I'm not even kidding). I might have to switch careers and open a store.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Squash Runners


I like to find things I've never cooked before.

Union Square's Greenmarket is full of them this summer. Bush basil. Cuban basil. Purslane. Chicory greens. Squash runners.

The woman at the stand did not know how to cook them. "It's a lot of work," she says, and hesitates. I ask if I can eat the leaves. She has no idea.

I google squash runners. I am the world's worst internet searcher, so I end up with people who run and play squash or who eat squash and then run. Then I figure out how to search the phrase and add 'cook.' Bam.

Sicilian. Leaves from a plant that produces a nearly flavorless squash. Cook up a soup with tomatoes and basil and sprinkle in some romano and it's like a tonic. Room-temperature, they say. Since I prefer piping hot hot things and chilly cold things, I go hot and toss in a handful of cheese. Yum.

Hard to eat through those curly-cues though.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Suddenly it's August at the market ...


The last two months have been crazy for many reasons chronicled here, but nothing that can't be fixed by a trip to the Greenmarket. 45 minutes and 2 trains later, Liam and I arrive to play it cool on our last day together until he moves here permanently.

I give him the tour I've been giving other friends, full of obnoxious statements that begin 'in Paris they don't have ...' and ending in bags full of kale, chiogga beets, small dark purple eggplant, bush basil, New Jersey raspberries, and even some maple syrup.

We drink yogurt drinks and eat maple candy. Sample blackberries and raspberry preserves and breathe in the sage and Cuban basil and cilantro over the summer Saturday subway stench.

I spend a lot of money - nearly twice what I would spend in Oakland, or in Paris for that matter, but our bags smell great. When we check them at Guitar Center for Liam to buy new strings the girl exhales 'the cilantro is amazing!' and I take some kind of responsibility for picking this up myself and schlepping it back to Brooklyn.

Tonight I will cook the squash runner's with a Sicilian recipe and am still eating my old Zuni favorite of fettuccine with corn and butter - something I wasn't able to have since last summer.

Things are settling down, boxes have been and will be delivered, furniture assembled, and before I know it, Liam will return.

Until then, I'm happy to spend August at the market.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

S'mac

The avocados here are expensive. This was my epiphany yesterday, when after 9 hours of principal training my colleagues and I went to a pub next door to relax and do some work. 11.00. 15.00. These are guacamole prices.

It was nearly 8.00 at the taqueria Kristen and I went to on Saturday in East Harlem.

Avocados.

I miss you California.

My days are filled with dining hall grits and student center curly fries and dorm room hot-pot tea.

But the dining halls are closed on the weekends, allowing me, along with new Fromagette Lindsay, to head to S'Mac.

I was fresh off the French airplane and ready for some skillet-cooked mac and cheese. Lindsay wastrying out the Greek version of the classic.

The fact it was about 85F and muggy did not deter us.

We waited in line. Stole a seat. Sat under a dripping air conditioner and nursed our hip sodas. We debated topics ranging from the best place to buy cheap earrings, the best sites to online date, the best versions of mac and cheese.

She favors 4 cheese. I was thrilled to dig into the classic.

It was as bubbly as Amy's frozen fresh out of the microwave with an incredible crisp crust reminiscent of 'fresh bread crumb' but actually a gluten-free one that gave so much crunch you were amazed you couldn't actually see it. I lamented my nosh (small) order and drank more root beer.

The best news? Unlike the guacamole, it put me back just under 6.00. Not too bad for New York.

I think I will get used to this place.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Transitions

Last Saturday, we got married at the mairie in Le Marais and celebrated in Jardin de Luxembourg with a box of Herme macarons, plenty of champagne, and some of Trotte's best cheeses lined up on a park chair.

This Saturday, I am walking home from the Subway to my NYU dorm room and there's an organic ice cream truck on the corner where I debate between mint chip with hot fudge and ginger and decide I'll just have to go back the next day too.

And so, here in New York where I arrived just 36 hours after my marriage to learn all I can about leading a new school, I have a belly full of a bagel a day (pumpernickel toasted with butter and cream cheese), a plethora of Whole Foods snacks that never cease to amaze those around me (black sesame with molasses! almond and coconut! what are those whole wheat honey pretzel sticks and why are they so good? where did you get a peach?!), and twice a day Weinstein Hall Dining Hall food - a vegan stir fry with fake chicken (the worst seitan I ever had, but I appreciated the effort), a veggie burger grilled and on a white bun with American cheese, a salad bar with black beans, and a cheese omelet in the morning.

One week of sticky New York summer and I see the streets in blocks of food. I suggest a team meet at Dean and Deluca. I walk by Moaz and dream about the hummus Lindsey and I had in Israel. I pass Crumb and hold out for Magnolia. I even smell the kebabs and hot dogs on the street and start to get a little hungry. At my new bank, Chase, where I have the best banker I have ever had who is certainly a new friend and also potentially a parent of a child who will come to my school in a few years, they have a stand outside with fresh fruit.

I do (heart) NY.

But I even miss Paris too. (And, it goes without saying, the new husband I had to leave for now)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Book Recommendation

Jasmine introduced me to many a great food tip - the top two being cheese biscuits and Clotilde's blog. Long before I imagined I'd be in Paris for nine months, Jasmine and I would drool over chocolatier recommendations, bread and mie commentary, and absorption pasta recipes.

So it is with mixed emotions that Clotilde's book (pictured to the right) arrived as I prepare to depart. So many great places I had yet to visit, and so little time.

I started with the places that I'm always seeking out in Paris with little luck - 'ethnic restaurants.' In a city where Italian is listed as 'world cuisine', finding decent Indian or dim sum can be quite difficult. Yet, Clotilde recommended one of the best Indian places I have been to here - Muniyandi Vilas.

Liam and I ate there for less than 10 euros and my mini-plat of two vegetables, a moong dal, fresh hot paratha and chai was the most perfect meal I've had in Paris.

Total: 2.90.

Liam had the vegetarian thali and was similarly impressed as his tab crept up past 5 euros. Each dish is accompanied by amazingly dry and delicious coconut chutneys - my first visit had coriander and another more spicy. My second visit kept a similar spice and also included a caramelized onion dish.

We had less success at Tricotin, recommended for dim sum - but after many an analytic conversation with other Americans here, we think it's simply impossible to get the kind of dim sum you can get in the U.S. (and we've tried many a place in the 13th which is the quartier chinois and location of Liam's work).

More success was had with Japanese 6th - Azabu - a nearly perfect formule that Johanna and I enjoyed at the bar (the pickles! the radish! the sauce on our calamari! the tea AND glace included!) and at Cafe Panique in the 10th where Dana and I celebrated her birthday last week.

Liam and I had Saturday dinner at Urbane and were partially impressed - tempura sardines kept these fish on my mind for days contemplating ways to replicate at home sans fryer or panko. Liam's veal looked great perched on melon and his dessert of roasted rhubarb cheese cake was lovely. My vegetarian dish was later explained by the hostess as 'the least interesting' of the dishes. As much as I love an option, I would also prefer for the restaurant to maintain their level of dish integrity across the carte - even Momofuku Noodle Bar does that and they have a disclaimer that vegetarians shouldn't visit. But perhaps my expectations in this world are too high ...

Alas, I adore this book. I love that she recommends Le Loire dans le Theiere - a place that saved me this winter with their fresh made desserts and tea gouter after 3pm. I love that there are chocolate shops and confisseries and that because of this book I trekked out to the 17th to visit Le Petite Rose and gorge myself on the much photographed mendiant chocolat. I appreciate that there are sections on etiquette and customer service and the ways of the French.

I also can't resist saying that you can get it in Paris - I got mine at my most favorite petite English book shop down the street, The Red Wheelbarrow.

Marriage Countdown

High predicted for Saturday: 21. Low: 16.

Number of minutes of wedding ceremony at the mairie: 15

Percentage of French spoken at the ceremony: 100

Percentage of French-speaking participants: 50%

Number of translators that we elected to refuse: 1

Number of bus line that will bring us from the mairie to Jardin de Luxembourg: 96

Number of incredibly large, all-city music festivals happening on this pagan day in every corner, metro station and place: 1

Anticipated number of friends, visiting relatives and neighbors, and relatives participating in the pique-nique: 21

Total cheeses being served: 5

Total Pierre Herme macarons in a box: 35

Total Michelin stars for the Wedding Night Dinner For Two restaurant: 1

L'Arrondisement of Wedding Night Hotel: 4eme

Time of sunset on Saturday, June 21: 9:58 pm

Number of days after the wedding that I depart for New York: 2

Number of days until I get to see my husband again: 29

Hours per day I will be in school leadership training: 9-12

Days per week I will be in training: 6

Days we will have to 'honeymoon' in New York together: 6

Years we'll have together: Forever!

(awwwwwwww......)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Strawberry Rhubard Mint Compote

I tried, this week, to get more red rhubarb, but the farmer was intent on giving me green, in fact, he rolled his eyes at Liam twice: once when he asked for more rouge rhubarb, and once when he ordered les petites courgettes without specifying how petite (and what we got were more moyen than not).

I like this stand, even though this guy gives me a hard time about my French and then my lack thereof, my choice of potatoes and then second-guesses me, but he has a stand with piles of eggs and now rhubarb and herbs and the Swiss chard that a girl who moved here from California aches for.

A handful of eye rolls later, we were off with a bag full of greens and sticks, and I wondered what exactly I was going to do with it all.

We had a dinner of Swiss Chard pie from a Bittman recipe that I didn't really like (was it because I didn't add mayonnaise and hard cooked egg to the filling? Why was my 'biscuit-like' crush so like an uncooked then overcooked pancake?) and closed with the most brilliant idea I've had recently: compote.

I wanted a recipe for the rhubarb that paired it with its soul sister strawberry, but the berries that we had (it said fraise des bois and while they didn't look the part, I couldn't pass up the mis-labeling) were small and sour and soft. I thought about roasting it, like the rhubarb cheesecake Liam had at Urbane over the weekend, but that didn't seem sweet enough. Then I found this recipe.

Dipping my spoon into the still hot mixture, I was surprised at how easily the sweetness and sourness fit - like the pie filling you've always had but freshened with the mint - and soaked up by the almond cakes that Kate had baked to celebrate our last Cheese Club.

Yes, I'm ready to dive into piles of peas at the Union Square Greenmarket and go to Queens to the Indian groceries but this kind of serendipity of dinner made me happy to be right here.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hot Mango Chutney


In Paris there's a passage like Bangladesh - cardboard boxes weighed down with manioc and bitter melon beneath graying light and lunch specials. It was here that I first found knobs of turmeric huddling between splashes of coriander and white-striped aubergine.

We all have our alternate-life fantasies, our wish lists where we romanticize the lives of those who have less than us. When I was young, it was the horhound candies of Laura Ingalls Wilder or the soda crackers of this series of books of a handful of Jewish children on the Lower East Side at the turn of the century.

As an American in Paris trying her best to cook up the food she adores from the Bay Area, my fantasy is that of an Indian mom taken out of her homeland and trying to survive in a foreign place - popping mustard seeds in oil to fry up shitakes from the local market. A mother with piles of dough softening on the counter each night when her husband comes home - sometimes 1/2 atta other times, when that's run out, all-purpose flour, sometimes speckled with black pepper and oil added to resemble the flaky parathas she cooked at home.

It maintains, this alter-ego, as I prepare a dal with potatoes for a Friday night picnic on the tip of Ile St-Louis - dishes filled with warm lentils, topped with homemade tamarind chutney, yogurt and the most expensive hot mango chutney I'd ever seen. I didn't find it in the passages that I imagine are necessarily rank with an authenticity that I know nothing about, but rather in the chic aisles of Le Grande Epicerie (Au Bon Marche) - each jar wrapped in a plastic bag, stacked carefully above packets of Thai curry pastes and sheets of forest-colored nori in the Asie aisle.

There I was one day, trying to use up end-of-the-month cheques de restaurant, wondering if the price is high because of the trip from India or the ingredients (and hoping it's for the latter). Alas, we mothers of the diaspora, as I imagine us, in our world known only to white American women from fiction, we find 'home' wherever we can get it, claiming what might be ours, or not, as we make up our lives each day.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Yaourt Citron

I spent a significant portion of 6th grade lunch devoted to lemon yogurt.

In my on-going quest to convince my parents that I wanted to be a vegetarian (it started in 3rd grade when Liza and I gave up bologna and hot dogs after my dad warned us of what was hiding inside), I won the battle that yogurt could constitute the main part of my lunch. As much as I had loved roast beef on marble rye with mustard, lemon yogurt was a relief. It was different. It was tangy and comforting as I transitioned into those lonely middle school years.

One day at the Pompidou cafe, I was attempting to use one of Liam's cheques de restaurant to purchase cookies and tea when I spotted this yogurt.

Something about the glass container, the pieces of lemon rind, the salted butter short breads in between spoonfuls and sips of Earl Grey did it for me. It was my new favorite snack.

Devotion to Lemon Yogurt: Part II. Except it's citron yaourt not Dannon Lemon, and the setting is usually a Parisian apartment, not the left-side of the Herberg Middle School cafeteria.

It's this kind of snack that gets me through the waiting for the package. The snack that keeps me calm when Liam's birth certificate arrives from Rhode Island with an apostille attached while my mom drives across Massachusetts secure mine and then drops a small fortune to return it to me by Monday (in order for me to get it to the translator to have it back by the end of the week to give the paperwork to City Hall to wait 10 days for our intent to marry to be public and then, only then, can we set a date).

This kind of snack makes me glad to be here, almost makes me sad to leave.

Last night, as we stood in line to see Sex and The City: Le Film, an American behind us interrupted to ask if we were also in line for it, "the movie starts at 7pm and it's 6:55 and we're still in line!" I re-assured her that this was normal, "this is how they do it" I responded confidently as she wondered aloud when she'll get her popcorn.

It was not lost on me that with less than a month before I depart, on a day I'm fully appreciating small pleasures like yogurt, that I would find myself in a "this is how they do ..." conversation.

I'm not sure that I ever figured out how to make it through middle school, but I'm just figuring it out how to make through living abroad. At least that's what I tell myself.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Waiting


For nearly 24 hours I have been in my apartment. No, I didn't poison myself again, and I don't have a cold, I'm just waiting for a package. I gave the person in the US my door code. He didn't include it. The package shows up yesterday with a delivery date of January 1, 1900. I call 4 numbers, 3 in the US to get 1 in France, and give the French operator my door code.

I wait all morning. I invite my writing group for homemade chai and halva rather than risk missing it while at a cafe. I make one girl sit here while I run out to the store to buy milk so that I'm not leaving my door code'd apartment unattended. When I return, a man rings and I let him in. Oil-covered hands with a blue jacket, he says he's here to look at my pipes. In the kitchen. I say, "Pardon, what? " "what?" and then in English, "I will call my landlord. Thank you" and shut the door.

I have friends who have told me this is a scam, but I have no idea if this is true, but he's not my package.

The girls leave at 12:30. I check the status. At 10:20 they tried to deliver it. No code.

I yell at an operator who doesn't speak English, and then at one who does. Do I have to continue to sit here all day I ask? He assures me it's now 'at a special level' which includes a request for re-delivery. 'But I gave you the door code yesterday!' I shout. He assures me this is the right level.

I call Liam to complain, and he's at the Office Depot to 'overnight' my $90 birth certificate to my mom so she can get in her Batmobile and whizz away to Boston in order to pay another $6 to get an Apostille. The signature that verifies the signature. Then she'll send it back to me.

How many times do I need to prove my birth? a new ex-pat asks the other night.

Now I'm asking, how many times do I need to prove the proof?

Liam tells me it will cost 100 euros to send it, and for reasons too boring to go into, this needs to go on the American credit card. While I'm waiting, I'll let you do the math.

Waiting. All day. And maybe tomorrow. Sometimes I can wait: stirring polenta straight for 45 minutes, roasting leeks and spring onions and carrots for stock, fresh ricotta dripping or whole wheat honey bread rising, the anticipation of opening a spring matcha chocolate from Aoki.

Yes, to answer our friends and families questions, we CAN wait to get married, but we want to do it now, and in Paris.

Of course, I have other things to do while I wait for this package for my new job: spreadsheets for moving budgets and packing up art supplies and rolling up maps into travel rolls and devising ways to cook 1/4 c lentils with 1/8 c azuki beans and figuring out a plan for my spice cabinet.

I guess it all depends on what we're waiting for.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Normalcy

I made halva this week for the first time. Took three tree-length stalks of rhubarbe and stewed them in a sour dal served with peppered fry breads. We hosted friends for dinner and served up our favorite dishes from Greece: favas, spicy feta dip, a whole roasted fish with coriander, lentil salad, asparagus with mint. It was a mostly normal week for us.

Except that we've decided to get married. And move to New York. And so, one of these 'normal' days this week I found myself with two pieces of paper certifying to my celibitaire status from the US Embassy sitting in my purse while I sipped the above tea, a favorite mint one by a favorite market. The market near the apartment we lived in our first two weeks here.

I write this looking out my wide-open windows and the sound of construction down the street that has preceded us and will go on without us just the same. I write this with a new to-do list of papers to get together to get married here: birth certificates certified by Massachusetts and translated to French, our rental agreement, proof of our renter's insurance, Liam's livre de famille, all of this for our city hall to publish notice of our intent to marry in order for anyone who wants to to object.

Assuming no one does, they let us set a date.

We're hoping for just the two of us, some oui oui's and then an outrageously expensive French cake to celebrate along with some champagne before I head back to the US first - with my two suitcases of belongings - to a dorm room for the summer.

Romantic.

But I like this week of normalcy, of feeling like we finally do live here, of running down to the English-language book store to pick up a new Parisian eats book, hauling my winter coats to 5aSec to clean before I pack them, spilling chipotle all over the counter and then having the morning to clean it all up.

"This will be an intense transition back to normalcy!" a friend here writes, a friend who was joking last week that here in Paris we are all these shells of our American professional selves. I'm clicking boxes for people interested in teaching, but leaving here to be a Founding Principal at a new school for under resourced students in Brooklyn. She's a Physical Therapist but nannying for less then 20 euros a week. Everyone we know living a life of leisure, but yearning for the routine that our lives that we complained about in the US gave us.

It will be normal, in the next few weeks, to enjoy cups of tea and subsist on my still-lacking French. To pack up everything we have, again, and tote it on a plane and a taxi and a train. To decide that getting married and moving abroad, again, are just normal things for us in the span of a few weeks.

Normalcy.

Monday, May 19, 2008

"What's hard for Americans to realize in France ..."


Liam and I whisked through the Marche Bastille yesterday, looking for spring produce for Sunday dinner. We found sticks of rhubarb a meter long, our weekly eggs fresh out of the nest and white asparagus for 7.50 euro a bunch (pictured) that I insisted we get, "this is the kind of thing you can only get in France!"

Adjusting to living here has come in bits and pieces. I spent most of the winter saddened at the loss of chiles and corn and cupcakes and much of the spring yearning for our CSA box and an end to the rain.

After my recent trip to New York, I returned a bit more calm, a bit more adjusted. I don't think it's just the prospect of moving back, or the comfort even that I have now with two job offers in my pocket, but also the idea that one thing I had to realize about living here is that it's temporary, so many times to say "we can only do this in France!"

So I was saddened today to be interrupted as my writing group and I sat drinking cremes in a cafe at the tip of ile St. Louis, giggling over life changes and exploring issues of genocide and questioning whether the protagonist of a yet-to-be-published-novel would ever catch his Moby Cat.

Three American girls sitting in a corner, appreciating our walk over the Seine to this place, acknowledging the beauty of a sunny May day where we can review each other's work and give feedback and determine the best place nearby to get a French lunch, when an American man approaches us.

We'd noticed them, other Americans. In fact, the cafe was full of us this morning, appreciating the tops of Notre Dame sneaking outside of our horizon while we sipped our boissons. We had even shared that we are sometimes embarrassed as we heard a woman next to us ordering more and more loudly in order to make her herbal tea order heard.

So when this man approached us with a good morning, a small bow, "it's a beautiful day" - there was a collective pause.

"I need to share something with you ladies. The thing that we Americans don't notice is how loud we talk," he began, "in France you will notice that Parisians are very quiet, it's just something you come to learn...... " He went on for a minute while my adrenaline and anger battled each other as I tried to think of something to say.

"Are we bothering you?" Andrea asked incredulously, since we were tables and tables away from any other patron.

"Oh no," he backtracked, "but in a place like this your American voices can really carry. Anyway, thank you for taking time to listen to me. Enjoy your day." Another bow.

"It's internalized anti-Americanism!" Emily said, wanting to shout all the ways she's confronted the American stereotypes in her two years here.

"It's historical," Andrea countered, sharing the theory of space.

"He's just insecure," I added, "he's trying to let us little ladies know how to be more parisienne!"

We were determined to continue to sip our cremes and set up a date for next week, hoping someone might stop by and offer us another reprimand, now that we'd written out our responses, our angers, our ability to articulate what is really hard for Americans to realize in France.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Le Diner Etrange

Only in Paris, with a group of French people expected at a dinner themed Le Diner Etrange would the first thoughts of what to cook be peppered, excuse the pun, with the ingredients above.

Chili. Strange to French. Espresso Chili. Strange to the few Americans.
Chiles. A heavy hand with both the whole ones from Passage Brady and the flakes from Istanbul and homemade chili powder.
Spicy Hot Chocolate with the Mayan Chocolate from San Sebastian.
Donuts. Savory ones. Sprinkled in paprika. Sel de cannelle. Fleur de sel.

The strangest event of the day was the 80F temperature while I cooked kidney beans for hours and then melted chocolate into milk before steeping it with some cinnamon and more chile.

What am I doing?
I emailed Dana , why am I cooking these spicy things as I sweat in my 5th floor apartment?

How can I make jello shots out of sheet gelatin? Dana replied, and thus the collaboration of 2 American girls feeding a table of French people strange food began.

I served up fat bowls of the chile, which after cooking all day had the creaminess of mole ("it's a savory dish with chocolate!" I'm later explaining, with the help of the lone Chilean, to a Frenchman. "Chocolat?" he clarifes. 5 times. Then asks for exactly what I mean by the fact that there is espresso in the chili.).

I watched as people picked, very politely, bean by bean, mixing in the creme fraiche as their last hope - "there's more creme!" I offer, but they all assure me they love this chili, before putting it down and blowing their noses.

We 2 American girls and mostly-American Liam have cleaned our bowls and are salivating over the others'.

Dana cooked up amazing broiled shark and a watermelon and feta salad and people picked at the Lemondrop Jello-shots.

I spent a long time re-heating hot chocolate spilled so many times in transit that I was relieved to see Dana pull out shot glasses to serve it with fruit and donuts that failed miserably. Gourgeres. Sans fromage et avec sel de canelle.

"These are quite wet in the middle," a Frenchman cautioned me, "they should be more dry."

I attempted to explain how I didn't know how to use Dana's oven, how the hot chocolate had spilled on the parchment in my bag, and then I dropped it, winking my eye to say .. ."etrange? eh?"

Friday, May 16, 2008

Favas and Other Santorini Specialities


Greek favas are not the painstaking cloudy-sheathed green ones, nor their dried counterpart fatter than thumbnails. These favas are tiny, like moong dal if not actually moong dal: yellow and referred to by many Greeks as chickpeas.

I had been fooled by this faux ami week before in Brooklyn, ordering favas with cilnatro and imagining a pile of green filled with vitamins after a week of whole wheat crackers and camomile tea (all my belly could handle), and here I was again with a hummus-like dip in front of me.

And damn was it good.

We had favas at nearly every stop. Whipped up into a near-soapy mess at Captain Dmitri's and drenched in olive oil, above, at our fabulous hotel Ikies.

After a trip to the lighthouse and pictures on a crumbling-into-the-sea-quickly cliff, we stopped at a road side stand. The woman piled small plates high with capers, caper leaves, olives, and honey. She gave us tiny glasses of regional sweet wine and then a taste of the dry. She pointed out the gorgeous gems of canned produce - tomatoes, caper leaves, grapes, olives - all from the farm behind her, and I tried to explain in my slowest English that we just had carry-on bags. This was lost on her, but we left with a self-corked bottle that came straight from a blue barrel and a bag of favas still with the stones in them.

"You boil ..." she started, as Liam paid out the 6 euros for this bag, "4 of water, 1 of fava" she continues with the other necessary ingredients "2 of oil" (pointing at our shot glasses sticky with wine residue), "not garlic, you scrape" and we offer onion, which she agrees to ... "yes," she concludes, "yes, that's it."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Athens: Alatsi


On Sunday, I sat in Blackbird Parlour watching the hipsters roll by in Williamsburg, reading the Sunday Times with Emily, when I came to 36 Hours in Athens. How bougie is my life that I could say, "hey, I'm going to be there on Thursday!" and so Liam and I found ourselves just a few days later (with lengthy travel back to Paris in between) walking into Alatsi.

I was ready to order whatever the most Rustic Crete cuisine there. Cheese Fries. Except - they're not cheese fries, but rather, potatoes with staka - described by the waiter as 'full of cholesterol' but research shows is either a 'cooked goat butter' or a roux with clarified butter. It was good - like the lightest heaviest cheese fries you could imagine.

We paired this with a salad that he warned had bitter greens but also had pomegranate, candied quince and aged balsamic. [Unfortunately, our bread/oil/olives never came ..]

For dinner Liam and I both had pasta, since we had just gorged on a mezze plate at a cafe overlooking Athens where we witnessed a tourist cut open a water bottle to put her remainders in only to be stopped by the waiters who offered her foil to no avail.

The pasta was fresh made - Liam's was boiled in 'lamb juice' and mine had mostly pine nuts. It was good, not as great as staka but I don't think we did the best ordering here.

We saved room for our first Greek dessert, if you don't count the vacuum-packed baklava on our Olympic Airlines flight: loukoumathes, the donut puffs fried and soaked in sesame and honey and then some semolina halva that was covered in rose petal ice cream and sprinkled with lavender blossoms and closed with a cup of Cretan herb tea.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese Diaries

I first ate Annie's at Liza's house, I'm sure of it. I didn't tell her this when we met for Thai food in Union Square with two purple boxes in my new tote for the return trip home, but when I made it today with French milk, French butter, French kitchen, I thought about my first time.

For three days in a row in New York City, I had macaroni and cheese. Tuesday I found myself between two interviews, waiting to meet Liza, so I took myself to Whole Foods and ate in the 'picnic area' a mediocre version made with my least favorite pasta, bowties. Wednesday I was there again, between more interviews, microwaving Amy's version in the picnic area along with a hefty dose of salad bar. Thursday, in Crown Heights all day for another interview, I imagined iceberg lettuce salads in my vegetarian future but alas, one of the interviewers was coming from Whole Foods and brought along a little 'cake' of mac and cheese that I microwaved straight away in its plastic container in the teacher's room, with a falafel salad on the side.

One night I ate just refried black beans with jack and blue corn chips, another night I was so exhausted it was a few ak-mak crackers and some tea before bed. There were no cupcakes, but in the days I found myself at WF, I also was able to go to the Greenmarket, where I proceeded to try nearly every version of apple cider donut and at a maple stand: syrup, cream and candies.

I'm sure the New Yorkers are tired of apples in May in between a few ramps and sappy slabs of cedar, but I was thrilled with it all - only saddened that I had nowhere to bring great bunches of apple blossoms, dogwood or cherry.

I did pick up a travel mug though, and after I filled it with a japanese green after my picnic, I sat against a chain link fence and soaked up the sun, trying to focus before another interview.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Report from the Cupboard


It has been a crazy few weeks with a few more of craziness to follow. In London there was the jam (pictured to the right), which has yet to be opened, and the dulce de leche that found itself swirled into last week's brownies. There was a lot of candy from London: brown sugar fudge, Cadbury cream eggs, Cadbury mini-eggs, and some Turkish delight.

San Sebastian brought pimenton in everything: a confiture for cheese, a nougat with a spicy center, powdered in small tin cans taken for tchochkes, wrapped in plastic for the mole that never gets made.

Israel resulted in za'atar with too much citric acid and a chai tea in bags (there were some whole wheat honey pretzels, but they're long gone now).

This weekend we went to the Loire Valley for the first time with my parents and came back with wines and beer and remnants of sheep's cheese from a chateaux picnic and tilleul honey and walnut mustard for vinaigrettes.

Is there even room to bring things back from New York?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sesame (in its many forms)


Favorite sesame snacks in Israel include:

Sesame loop of bread with fluorescent za'atar for dipping all wrapped up in recycled newsprint. 5 NIS (about $2. Tourist price?)

Sesame roll with thicker dough, somewhere in between a kaiser and a bagel, slightly sweet like a simit.

Sesame-laden pita then covered in very tart za'atar and even when dropped on the souk floor it still tastes ok because the 5-second rule is legit. 2 NIS.

Halva halva halva. Mostly pistachio, but sometimes plain. Kosher. Non-kosher. Freshly made. 'Freshly made.' Sweating in a plastic bag when it's 96 in Tel Aviv or melting when it's over 100 in Tiberius, the way you can pull it into chunks and it melts in your mouth or sweetens your yogurt... yum.

Hummus

When I was growing up I would beg my dad to open a can of chick peas so I could eat them straight out of the can. It was the perfect treat -no lettuce that could get in the way. Later, he taught me to make hummus and I thought perhaps all dreams of vegetarianism had come true. Soon after, years of vegetarianism gone bad resulted in an aversion to humus, but then I visited Israel.

Above is what was called 'the best Hummus in Israel': by our guide book, my cousin, the Israelis sitting across from us at the most crowded of lunch tables. Tucked inside the souk in Old Acre (Akko), we stood in line and spoke English with smiles simply repeating 'hummus' hoping we'd get it. Our waiter, who spoke English just fine, laughed at us and brought us what you see above: a plate of tahina thick with oil and chick peas, a plate of onion, pickle, hot pepper, olive and tomato and some hot pita. Always one to be in Rome, I followed the men across from me as they ate it with their forks - only to have them turn to me later and say 'no fork!' and mime how to wipe my bowl clean with pita.

If only I were a plate cleaner.

The hummus we had across Israel and the Palestinian Territories varied - most was thick and creamy and delicious. Some was thinner, with a few sad chick peas on top. Others, even the one on the flight home on El Al, were creamy with something quick thick and, well, cream-y. Some were too bitter and not fresh, but this one - this one was incredible.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Markets of Israel

Markets in both Israel and Palestine were incredible. Piles of seasonal produce in a country that has incredible bounty - in fact, the vegetables I bought at Monoprix this week when I returned to Paris tanned and lazy, were all imported from Israel.

Above you can see in the main market in Jerusalem a typical sight of hot peppers and of course some radishes (masquerading as beets, I know) and even some corn that for some reason was ubiquitous across the country.

In Jerusalem, we visited as the entire city was picking up their food for Shabbat -rugelach, challah, whole heads of fresh spring garlic, raw almonds piled up next to glowing strawberries.

Jerusalem also has a souk that we frequented daily where I bought my first halva of the trip and tip-toed over fish juice on the Via Dolorosa.

In Tel Aviv the market was more commercial - lots of things manufactured in China but in between an old man selling 8 kinds of green beans: fava, haricort vert, peas, striped, and others I had never seen before.

Hebron had an intense market - dried herbs in piles and sacks, some even including mashed up cigarettes. On a restaurant-sized grill, a man fried up small pancakes that looked somewhere between a crepe and injera, that you wrap up with filling (we moved too quickly to try some). In Hebron we had tea brewed with sage and coffee with cardamon before heading back out among sesame-speckled bread products of all shapes and shades of yellow.

I have to say that while they had their share of year-round products, these places had a higher percentage of seasonal produce that I see around the corner at one of Paris' most famous markets. The piles of onions and garlic alone were enough to make you want to go home and put a sautee pan on the stove with some oil and just cook whatever was available - which is what many of the restaurants we went to did. More on that in a bit ...

Monday, April 07, 2008

San Sebastian

The other day I was re-telling a story to Jasmine and Jill about my reluctance to enter Berkeley's Cheese Board for the first time - last year. I hadn't been there, didn't know the set up or how to ask for cheese, I was sure that everyone was the cheese expert I longed to be and would judge me as such.

I had a nervous belly before I went in for the first time. And the fifth.

Living in Paris now, I laugh at this story - my worst fear of someone laughing in my face has happened, a couple of times, and thankfully I don't always understand what they're saying! I would take the Cheese Board any day. But this asking, the language, the wanting to know what's best and eat what's freshest and drink the right thing - all very stressful again when we went to San Sebastian this weekend, except they smiled more at our Spanish than I get in an average day at my French.

No Basque attempted, but we did manage to order the olives above while we sat over-looking the clear blue bay and drinking txakoli, a local drink that Liam just pointed to in a magazine that I had. I don't know if it was the sun, but something about it became a little less stressful - although then I looked around and everyone else was drinking something red that looked like sangria but came in a bottle and I was overwhelmed with the options.

Our favorite finds on our trip were the pinxtos of olive/anchovy/hot pepper on a stick, some fried cheese that looked like a plantain and some ham cut from a leg above us that Liam enjoyed in a bocadillo.

On the drive from San Sebastian to Bordeaux, we stopped at a boulangerie to get a gateau basque creme which rounded out our train ride picnic of basque cheeses, piment confiture, a bread shaped like a cinnamon roll but oiled with olive, and a nougat filled with spicy pepper as well.

We bought these on the French side though, slightly side-stepping the language worries, but I let Liam do that.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Perfect Snack for Writing a Novel

As some of you know, I'm working on a novel in poetry for young adults. It's a coming of age tale of a 16 year old Nora Smith: 1/2 Jewish, 1/2 Catholic, trying to define her own identity in the year following the death of her best friend. She is taking a Black Studies course at her high school and falls for an African-American boy. Through the course of the novel, we learn more about Nora, her family, her grief and her growth.

She may even end up in Paris.

While there's not much food in the novel (Nora does prefer a Chai Latte to a cappuccino), there's a great deal of food fueling the author on her end.

A recent favorite any-time-of-day-while-writing snack includes brown sugar sea salt cookies from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian with a cup of homemade chai (all novels are based on some kinds of facts, yes?)

These cookies are incredible - the butteriness is shown off by the addition of semolina flour (sandy, but in a way that renders this writer speechless for a better synonym) and the fleur de sel on top makes you lick your lips and grab another. I've tried them several times in several different thicknesses - I don't have an electric mixer here, so my dough has ranged from crumbly to creamy (and subsequently frozen for cutting because I've melted the butter too much).

The recent batch pictured here started as a creamy dough and then baked very thin and crispy.

A handful with a cup of tea can fuel an author for a pre-lunch revision session, a tea-time hour of drafting two new poems for Part II or an after dinner re-read.

I cannot recommend How to Cook Everything Vegetarian enough, even for meat-eaters (indeed, you are Bittman's audience here), but until you buy it, here's the recipe:

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dark packed brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 C. semolina flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 t. salt
about 1 t. coarse sea-salt for sprinkling

1. Use an elect. mixer on low speed to mix the butter and sugar together just until combined, 30 seconds or so. Still on low speed, beat in the egg yolk, then the flours and salt, until the mixture barely holds together; this will take a few minutes.
2. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and shape it into a round, triangular, or rectangular log about 1 inch in diameter; wrap it in plastic wrap and refrig. or freeze until firm, about 30 minutes (or freeze the log for up to 3 mos well wrapped).
3. Preheat the oven to 325F. Unwrap the dough and slice it 1/4" thick, put the slices on an ungreased baking sheet, sprinkle each with a little sea salt, and bake right away until the cookies are firm but now browning, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, let them cool in the pan for a minute or two and then transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. Stir in an airtight container for up to 2 days (I've kept them a few more and they've still been good)

Makes 3 or 4 dozen.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Butter Tasting

It was a Fromagette reunion this month, with Sara here a few weeks ago and Jasmine this past week with Jill. To celebrate, we set out to sample the dairy product loved by both fromagettes and the future maman: les beurres des France.

"What would you say if you saw someone in the store with 6 kinds of butter?" I asked Jill as we watched people eying us.

"There aren't 6 kinds of butter at the American grocery store - unless we're talking butter substitutes?!" and we laughed as four kinds of doux and three brands of demi-sel passed by.

Using recommendations gleaned from Regal, a Parisian eGullet Butter Tasting and the generally agreed upon belief that Bordier reigned, we put all out on the table. Sweet to salty, we spread bits ranging from near white to a saffron yellow on baguette and paused.

Perhaps it was because I mistakenly I picked up the beurre tendre version but the Elle & Vivre recommended by Regal was a waxy loser. For Jasmine, the salted Bordier was Queen. Jill and I preferred the AOC Monoprix Gourmand brand.

Conditions weren't ideal - the Bordier was cut just an hour before by wire at the fromagerie while the others were still a bit firm from the grocery store shelf.

We kept out the demi-sel Bordier and Monoprix's Gourmand, added some bio bread (one loaf of nut, another of complet, a 1/2 roasted chicken for the ladies, some petit pois to get some green in and three cheese old and new to the fromagettes: chevre Reblochon, an aged comte, and a cone of soft tarragon and garlic (?) covered in paprika and pepper (Basque? Corsican?) and had une grande pique-nique!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Return of the Cheddar

Upon arriving in London last weekend, we went straight to Kensington High Street to visit the most beautiful Whole Foods I've ever seen.

Only living in Paris would render the airy, chalk-board sights of this store so gorgeous to me. I picked up some rose petal masala, a make your own muesli, chocolate with lavender, fennel toothpaste and a pound of flax seed (linseed as they call it there).

As we walked to the till, we passed a display of hot chili crackers - on the side it said, serve with aged cheddar so I grabbed the first one I saw and headed upstairs to eat a tostada with beans, cilantro, 'soured cream,' and fresh jalapenos.

We brought the cheddar to our dear hosts who added the Keen's Cheddar they had purchased - half of an incredible cheese plate that we ate this all weekend. The Keen's Cheddar is complex and strong and on those chili crackers? Perfection.

Saturday we went to the Borough Market. I filled my basked with danson jam and burnt sugar raw sugar caramel fudge and some dulce de leche from Spain and as we left, I eyed a cheese sandwich stand. Above you see the grilled cheese, greasy and wrapped, cut with some salad of onions and cucumbers and something else, that I ate on the way out.

If only they'd had macaroni and cheese at Whole Foods, it would've been the perfect cheese weekend.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bienvenue Printemps



We Pisces know that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb but surely in Paris there could be a better way to welcome spring than with hail and near-snow?

A dinner party. Some French friends, some American, and food that brings hope of sunny days.

What I miss is the glory of flipping through food magazines and newspaper sections for inspiration. What do I do instead? Click on Epicurious links which I don't enjoy as much, but which led me to some fantastic recipes.

We started with what's pictured here: Goat Cheese Crostini with Blood Orange Black Pepper Marmalade - the tart sweet spiciness of the marmalade was the perfect way to wake us up to the potential of spring, albeit with wintry citrus. The recipe was written by Amelia Saltsman, whose recipes I am always moved by when she's interviewed on the Good Food Market Report (she wrote a cookbook about this market).

Also inspired by Good Food, was Russ Parson's suggestion for making a Spring Potato Chowder - new potatoes (12 euros a kilo!), green garlic (the best I could do was green onions), and topped with a bit of vinegar, olive oil and pecorino - one guest said, "I know this might not be a compliment to you, but it tastes like bacon!"

To work on my goal of roasting whole fish, I succeeded in ordering a 4kilo bar de ligne (line-caught sea bass) for a recipe for Roasted Fish with Coriander and Vinegar Sauce. Liam and I worked together to stuff it with roasted almonds, lemon slices and coriander and then laid it out on a bed of bay leaves and set to roast for the good part of an hour. Topped with the vinegar sauce, it was pretty remarkable - tangy without being too, well, vinegar-y, and with all this great roasted crunch from the stuffing.

Bienvenue Printemps! I shouted with the dessert, welcoming spring with strawberries. whipped cream and boulangerie-made meringues - an idea that I got from the New York Times - so, perhaps, I'm still doing my 'flipping through the pages' anyway...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bebe Food


Last weekend Liam's family visited. It was a fun-filled three days of parks, drizzle, visits to Notre Dame complete with the "Who is God?" question, more drizzle, a tea party, and some nachos.

At one of our between-the-park-and-a-nap stops, we sat outside at Marche des Enfants Rouges, one of my favorite markets in the 3rd, to eat our lunch. Liam took off to get cous cous for everyone while I held it down with a middle eastern plate and 2 young ladies aged 5 and 3 eating dolma and hummus off of my fork.

Liam's sister pulled out the food for her youngest, a 9-month old that I lovingly refer to as Sweet Potato, and what was he having? Cous cous!

Later, a 5 year old and I played a game in the grocery store called, "If I were a baby, I would eat ..." which I created on the spot solely to memorize the fantastic array of foods for the bebe at the store.

The game went like this ...


If I were a baby, I would eat ....
duck and peas for lunch
ratatouille for dinner
creme caramel for dessert
more duck for lunch the next day ... and so on.


Canard avec petit pois for lunch? Who could say no?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dejeuner


Last week, Sara visited us, and we were able to show off our now-nearly-honed Tour Guide skills. Early morning walks to Ile St Louis for a cafe creme with a view of Notre Dame, pictures on various ponts, and petit sacs of macarons at Pierre Herme to be consumed at Luxemborg Gardens. Following the sunny walk and garden tour, we decided to avoid a touristy haunt and thus, we ended up lunching at Bread and Roses - a British place that I had passed many times on my way to French class in the fall, but had heard wasn't that good. It proved us quite wrong.

I had the "Ploughman's Lunch" that you can see above. A fat old slice of cheddar with a beautifully soft piece of Irish soda bread and some water crackers. A little bit of 'pickle' it was called in French, but was more like chutney and some salade on the side. I decided that despite my aversion to cold lunches, this was the perfect dejeuner for me.

Lunch has been a weird experience for me now that I spend most of my time at home in the day.

I went through a short-lived "I can cook lunch every day!" phase. What followed was the "Bittman was right, baking an egg is the way to go!" ramekin phase. Finally, there's been the "Alice Waters says you don't even need to cook to eat well a perfect loaf of bread can be a great lunch!" phase.

Today, I had a pain aux cereales from the fabulous Veronique Mauclerc with some 48 month aged Gouda and a few lucques olives with some hot peppers. Yummy, but I will admit publicly - sometimes I think it would be nice to have Annie's mac and cheese and a Smart Dog for a "I was a child in 1982 who ate Kraft mac and cheese and hot dogs but now I'm grown and eat organic/vegetarian lunch."

That is a favorite dejeuner phase too.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why I Should Stick to Buying Cheese

Setting: 5aSec, Rue Rivoli (dry cleaner's)
Time: 2:30pm
Major Players: A 'French-speaking' Fromagette and a kind cashier

[conversation translated into English for your reading pleasure]

C: Bonjour Madame!
F: Bonjour Madame!
C: Would you like to take a free card today to have a discount?
F: No thank you!
C: No, it's free, you just take a card for a discount.
F: No thank you Madame, it's good!
C: laughs
F: smiles 'knowingly' believing that she has not been scammed into some kind of 'membership card' to pay for a discount. C continues to laugh.
C: ringing up purchase. 8.60 please!
F: looking over at the cards and seeing that they're actually a free discount now that she has time to translate: March 1- 15 - Game Days! Free Discount up to 40%!. Hands cashier money.
C: I guess you had the correct change! another giggle
F: feeling stupid but not having enough French to say 'oops, can I grab one now?'. Yes!
C: They will be ready tomorrow!
F: I am in agreement! Thank you! Good bye!
C: smiling. perplexed? Good bye!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Grocery Store Maven Goes to Monoprix

Monoprix is like Trader Joe's meets Safeway. It has a small 'ethnic aisles' like the Shaw's of my college days, including one for Italian food. In another, you'll find coconut milk, tortillas, and peanut butter on the same two shelves.

For Chinese New Year, a seasonal aisle was chock-full of Vietnamese rice paper rolls and nori and nothing discernably 'Chinese.'

Monoprix, being a French grocery, has an extraordinary yogurt aisle, butter collection and four grades of cheese: regular packaged, a gourmet package, a just-cut-from-across-the-way fromager package, and a fromager. These are in four different locations in the store.

Like Trader Joe's, Monoprix doesn't seem to have the same inventory each week. They also seem to add new sections frequently - this past week I saw an all-bio (organic) vegetable section with some of the saddest plastic-encased vegetables I've seen. The same refrigeration weirdness that has tofu underneath zucchini at Safeway has cranberries by prepared salads and a fancy citron yogurt that I like hidden next to pre-made sandwiches here in Paris.

This week I explored an aisle I'd never paid much attention to. I imagine it's the Cocktail Aisle (or apero for aperitif). I turned from picking up honey for my Cream of Wheat and saw the display small packages with yummy treats that seemed perfect for a PMS week. My favorites: cheese puffs in a small package so they don't get stale and Pringles-like paprika chips.

We don't have any plans with friends for an apero over here any time soon, but I figured it'd be good to be ready - and by ready, I mean to have sampled them before I put them out there for guests.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

L'Arpege

With all apologies to Monsieur Passard, L'Arpege is decorated like a dentist's office (credit to his website for this photo). Warm and not too stuffy, but unlike the lovely squash you see here, we saw paintings and Mr. Passard's book translated into Japanese.

We sat at the table you see here and I'm regretful that I did not bring my camera - the dining room included a teenager wearing jeans, several large 35mm cameras and a couple that couldn't get enough of the sommelier (another picture taken) - and I was worried about what we wore and what we carried!

But I digress from the meal.

Liam and I both had the menu. Pas de viande! the waitress informed us, but she had just explained that one of the first courses included a foam of lardon, so perhaps this was 'without meat' the French way?

There was foam on everything, and this made me happy.

I fell first for a foamy oeuf flavored with sherry vinegar and maple syrup and tasted as amazing as it sounds terrible. A dish that followed that seemed to be buttery foam on potatoes was like the essence of dauphin - but this may be the fume of a good hunk of ham.

A slice of celeriac was covered in crispy chestnuts and black truffle - Liam did not like it - I thought it was a bit too salty. A final plate of roasted root vegetables - everything from slices of rutabaga to salsify to several colors of carrots all covered in, yes, saffron foam. There was an earlier beet dish which was one of the least sweet beets I have ever had.

Our main course was by far the best - a slice of abalone covered in another white foam, accompanied by onions caramelized in vanilla bean and an onion gratin that came to the table a few seconds later. I was nearly full at this point, but wiped every bit of foam off of that plate.

And while I was surely smitten with Liam for bringing me here for my 32nd birthday, I made a several-glasses-of-wine-later suggestion that if I am ever to leave him, it might be for the incredible wheel of salers that arrived on an oak bench with a 4 year aged comte, served only in L'Arpege (no where else in the city), and, I quote (this was in English so I know what I'm saying here) "raised as you would raise a child."

Needless to say, it was some of the best cheese I have ever had.

Dessert: a honeyed souffle with a 'heart of chocolate' was so light and deliciously honeyed without being too sweet and a plate of petits fours that ranged from fun (celeriac and beet macarons!) to classic (chocolate puff pastry).

Despite rain that started off the morning, there was sun streaming into our faces while we ate - some of the best ambiance you can hope for during a late-winter Paris lunch.