Souvenir de Paris

As much as I am continually charmed by the life in France, some things lag behind. For example, to complete most bureaucratic tasks (banking, visas, health insurance), a secretary hands me a blank piece of paper to put my request in writing. Most secretaries have a desk piled-high with said requests. Hmm.

Peeling paint and spiderwebs are often a part of the decor.

Our old washing machine has been bust for months now. I’ve been begging my husband to ditch it. However, there is only one issue; it is also our only counter space. How I long for one of those stainless steel and granite American-style kitchens with a French-doored refrigerator and a freezer larger than a shoebox!

Finally, the other night I was brushing my teeth on my way to bed. Not only to find a worm on the bathroom floor. Of all the things that could come off the street and into our humble bathroom, a measly little worm is the least of our troubles. But it doesn’t mean I want to have my bare feet in the proximity of an unannounced worm.

Old world charm, first world woes.

Twee for Truffe

In France, instead of calling something cute, choux (or cabbage, respectively) is a term of endearment of choice.  Does this have anything to do with the unfortunate invention of the Cabbage Patch doll?
 
And mind you, baguette refers to not only to the staple of my ex-patriotic diet, but also to magic wands and chopsticks.
 
And dogs noses are affectionately given the name of truffe.  Or the 2000 euro/per kilo mushroom. What could be more precious? Shameless plug for my pending birthday present….darling, if you are reading this, a german short-haired pointer is much less expensive than a kilo of truffles!
 
 
 

Les Marchés Parisiens

After eating lentils all week, I often lose track of what day of the week it is!  Not that you should not try the delicious aforementioned recipe.  However, it very well could be just a side effect of freelancing; any day could be Saturday.  But what always keeps me on track is the local market, every Thursday and Sunday morning.  In Paris, there are several markets in every neighborhood, twice a week.  And it takes a tremendous amount of effort and resources.  Sanitation workers set up a row of metal frames and tarps are rolled out to commence the market.  Everything is promptly cleaned up and hosed down without a trace of the bustling, haggling, crate-strewn bi-weekly tradition.  The only trace is the fruit and veg seen in the still life above. 

The tremendous joy of food shopping in France is unparalleled in the States.  Although there are supermarkets and aptly titled ‘hypermarches’ to make a weekly grocery run, just looking at the streets of Paris will give you a clue of the sensibilities of shoppers.  On my short walk to the Metro from chez moi, there is a boucher, a fish shop, four boulangeries, a cheese shop, two Kosher sushi places, four sandwich shops, a honey boutique, and a handful of grocery stores.  I cannot tell if the French are just completely obsessed with food or they just value the craft of their neighborhood artisans.  To faire le course, the mundane task of food shopping, can take several stops.  Although it would be more efficient to stock up  (American-style) at the grocery just once a week, our fridge is half the size of those which can accommodate a proper trip to Kroger.  This is precisely why I love the market; twice a week, I can stock up on the freshest products that I need in just one place.  Take a look at these quick tips.

Tips 

1. If you are visiting Paris, click here (http://marche.equipement.paris.fr/tousleshoraires) to find a market near you.  Spring is just around the corner. And there is no better way to assemble a fabulous picnic.

2. Shop around.  There is something for everybody and a booth for everything: bouchers, chicken specialists, fish mongers, Greek specialties, eggs, cheese.  Prices and quality vary with each vendor.  In general, the deeper into the market, the less expensive.  Often times, prices are cheaper than the grocery stores and the quality is superior

3.  If PRODUCTEUR is advertised in a stall, the fruit and vegetables are coming directly from the source.  Although the produce may not be as impeccable-looking as neighboring booths, its freshness is top.  

4.  Say hello to your vendors.  I have been going to the same bargain booth for years now.  And the venders recognize my loyalty.  They call me princess and give me free avocados.  And they don’t give me a hard time when I beg them not to use plastic bags.  Hypermarche be damned!
Although the farmers market trend is going strong in the States, the bi-weekly market is a simple pleasure, deeply engrained into everyday life.  So you can have your still life and eat it, too.



Lentils Continued…

Yes, here is the recipe for lentils I promised you a few weeks back!  Oh, Lentils.  The mighty, high-protein, highly-economic standby food!  Like all simple foods in France, they get the VIP treatment.  Lentils are always dressed up with bits of foie gras or smoked salmon.  However, considering we just bought an apartment, they rest unadorned, but nonetheless delicious.

Sadly, my husband is opposed to spice.  He will find ways to eat around herbs.  As I heard so eloquently said recently (in David Lebovitz’s blog), Americans are into fireworks when eating.  However, the French prefer something truly simple and well-made. It goes to show that my own personal style is to throw a handful of cilantro on everything.  Needless to say, the following recipe is tasty whether you choose to dress it down for dinner for two, served with some baked potatoes and grilled sausages.  Or in my case, incorporate some chopped ginger, garam masala, creme fraiche and a handful of cilantro for lunch!

Compromise be gone!

Lentils for one and all (or 8 people)

1 ½ Cup Green Lentils, soaked for several hours or overnight

2 leeks, finely chopped

3 small onions, finely chopped

1 clove garlic

2 carrots, shredded

3 plum tomatoes, grated

1 tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. olive oil

6 cups water, more if needed

1.)  In a heavy-bottomed pot, sauté the leeks and onions over medium/low heat until soft and translucent.  Add bay leaves, carrots, garlic, pepper and tomato.  Cook until softened and lightly caramelized

2.)  Add the drained lentils and cover mixture with water

3.)  Cook for 30 minutes until the lentils are soft and stewy.  Add salt

4.)  Enjoy!

Spring a Leek!

By George, I’ve sprung a leek! Excuse the unforgivable pun; at least it’s a tad bit more sophisticated than ‘taking a leek’.  Eh? Eh?  Whenever I speak to my parents about one of the lesser-known members of the onion family, it’s the first thing out of their mouths.  Hence, proving my point that Americans are sadly unfamiliar with the said vegetable!  However, it is one of the first things I noticed  in French markets and menus: braised leeks, a light potato and leek potage, and the principle cure of obesity in Mireille Guiliano’s book French Women Don’t Get Fat.  The secret to not plumping up in these conditions is a magical leek soup which allows the occasional taste of wine and cheese with the promise of looking as svelte as one of Godard’s gals.  So I encourage you to take a liking to leeks, too!

When the tough, green leaves are cut off of the leeks, they can be subtle addition to soups, stews, and even salads.  However, I learned the following recipe from an Italian transplant in Paris, which explains the parmesan cheese.  However, you could replace the parmesan with emmental or swiss or simply omit it.  Either way, the leek is the star here !  So enjoy as a light lunch with a green salad.  And according to Mlle Guilano, because you are eating leeks, you are permitted to a little wine and cheese, too.

TARTE AUX POIREAUX Leek Tarte

Any kind of savory pie crust will work here, but homemade is always better.  The egg yolk in the dough makes it both tender and cracker-like.

Pastry :

1 1/4 Cups Flour

4 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into ½’’ pieces

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1 egg yolk, beaten

2-4 tablespoons ice water, more if needed

Filling :

2 large leeks, green tops cut off, white portion cut into 1/4’’ rounds

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup creme fraiche or sour cream

¼ cup milk

4 eggs

¼ cup parmesan, emmental, or any flavorful cheese

1 tablespoon chopped chives

salt & pepper to taste

1.)  Mix flour, salt, and chilled butter.  Using a pastry cutter, two small knives, your hands, or a food processor, cut the butter into the flour until the butter resembles small, pea-sized pieces.  Add the egg yolk.  Add ice water one tablespoon at a time until a soft dough forms, being careful not to overmix.

2.) Turn the dough onto a floured surface and kneed several times until the dough is smooth.

3.) Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

4.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

4.) In a saucepan over medium-low heat, sauté leeks in olive oil until soft and caramelized, about 7 minutes.  Let cool slightly.

5.) In a bowl, mix the eggs, crème fraiche, eggs, salt and pepper.

6.)  Roll out the pastry dough to 1/8’’ and spread carefully in a pie pan.  Add the prepared leeks.  Pour in the egg mixture.  Sprinkle on the cheese, it will nice caramelize in the oven.

7.)  Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the custard is set and the top.  Enjoy!

Even thought the winters in Paris are a moderate step up from the brutal winters I have known in Chicago and New York, there is still nothing more comforting than a hearty bowl of soup.  This is one of the things my mom always whipped up on weeknights when I was a kid.  A leftover chicken would make a rich tortilla soup.  Or a few pantry basics would inspire an avgolemono. Even if the soups were quick, she would always steal a few moments to make her famous cheese muffins.  Turns out the trusty recipe was found in the recipe booklet of our avocado green blender.  Or we would quickly whip up some baking powder biscuits together.  My American friend Catherine just returned from the States gifting me with a jar of apple butter.  This brought me back to the Midwestern winters of my childhood.  With no further haste or nostalgia, I had to make biscuits and an accompanying soup.

C is convinced that soup is strictly an appetizer.  But if I dress it up with some homemade quick bread, he doesn’t complain.  I can see why he feels this way though; I’ve noticed that soup in France is usually pureed.  We don’t have a blender, one of the wedding gifts that never transpired.  So I have to dig back into my mental archives for other ideas.  I never ate much lentils growing up.  But when slowly stewed with leeks, celery, and garlic, they could have easily been in my mom’s soup repertoire.   Recipe to come… Bisou!

C has tapped the secret of scrambled eggs.  Not even just the secret of making them, but the secret revelation of what they can be.   I have never had the best pastime of scrambled eggs.  They have always been a bit lost.  Somehow the rich sensuousness of the yolk is lost in the technique.  The dowdy other-half to bacon.  More of a showcase of salt and pepper.  I have become arrogant in my omelet abilities and have always attempted scrambled eggs with the same high-heat, pan-moving treatment.  However, they are always too dry and half of the final product gets lost to the pan.  I love the instant gratification of eggs, but sometimes a little added technique and patience can reintroduce something so simple and satisfying!

Low and slow is the way to go!  Turn on the stovetop to its lowest setting.  Beat best-quality eggs with a splash of milk, a small drizzle of water, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.

Throw a hearty nob of butter into the pan, about one teaspoon per egg, pour in the eggs, and be prepared to stir!  Much like a risotto, these eggs need both affection and attention.  Keep stirring

Cooking the eggs at the lowest temperature creates smaller, silkier curds and a creamier, velvety final product. Once you can draw a smiley face on the bottom of the pan, BRAVO!  You are almost there.

Depending on the temperature of your stove, it can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes.  Keep stirring until they are just barely set.  When done right, they will have a a custard-like texture.  Serve with chopped chives and crème fraiche, or with a tranche of smoked salmon.  Serve them however you would normally serve scrambled eggs.  However, they do not need much more than a sprinkle of sel de fleur and a piece or two of toast to sop up all the delicious creaminess.  Or reunite these made-over scrambled eggs with their other-half, bacon.

Happy 2012! I apologize for being a bit absent.  Since I last wrote, there was a wedding, a trip to New York, a honeymoon holiday in Nice, and many trips to the Prefacture de Police.  As of today, I have my residence permit, which means I will be bureaucracy-free for the next 9 months!  (Unless I decide to apply for a bank account, a library card, a masters program, leave my apartment.  Wait a minute…)  I wish I could celebrate by torching the rainforest of paperwork I have accumulated the last few months while singing ‘J’ai Deux Amours’ at the top of my lungs.  But alas, from now on I need to adopt the ‘French touch’ of maintaining a color coordinated bureaucracy binder.

Paris is cooling down.  Although my style integrates fairly well, I’m inevitably challenged to layer gracefully.  I’ve noticed on the streets, many women deal with either a ‘doudoune’, a duvet of a jacket or carefully calculated cashmere layers.  Me, I have a few chunky long, wool sweaters that I wear under either a camel jacket or my wool vintage herringbone blazer.  However, this recently backfired.  Case in point, on a quick trip to the local health insurance office, after I taking a number, I was quickly ushered by the hostess to a chair because I was mistaken as being ‘enceinte’ or with child.  Bundling up should not be mistaken for a bundle of joy.  “EXCUSEZ-MOI!!!” I gasped.  “JE SUIS PAS ENCEINTE!!!” The hostess was just as mortified as I was.  (Take that, bitch!)  Half-hearted apology unaccepted, I walked out of there forever mortified.  Maybe it is time to swear off my dear chunky knits.  Maybe it is time to lay off the fromage.  And maybe an Hermes Kelly Bag would certainly solve all of my problems…

Carottes Râpées

Photo by Jessie Kanelos

Oh, carottes râpées!  One of the few ways to eat raw vegetables in this crazy town.  Other than an obligatory green salad, the French prefer their vegetables cooked to death.   But when I need to eat something on the lighter side (meaning I have less than 2 weeks to slim down to the size of my vegan NYC days in which I bought my wedding gown.  Lay off the fromage, Jessie!), this quick recipe is as satisfying as it is simple.  I love carrots, but chewing them can be a bit tedious sometimes.  So this is a happy medium between carrot sticks and carrot juice.  Just grate fresh carrots on a box grater.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Easy.  I have tried dressing this up with glug of white wine vinegar, lemon juice, chopped garlic, or even maple syrup.  But at the end of the day, if the carrots are fresh, there really is no need to dress them with anything.  Maybe just a little bit of olive oil for some added sheen.  Hmmm, this might not be a far-off plot to slim down like a French woman….