Beignet d’oignon sounds much too fancy for a humble onion ring.

© Jessie Kanelos

Although I have no complaints in regards to my culinary transition to France, every now and then I get a little nostalgic for certain things Stateside.  For example, I miss New York and its 31-flavors of take-out.  And like all Americans in Paris, I can’t help but sniffle when speaking of Mexican food.  But not enough to test the new Chipotle that just opened, which has all the Americans in town speaking Spanglish again (If nostalgia permits, it can be found at 20 Boulevard Montmartre 75009 Paris).

But all my Yankee Doodle cravings were properly satiated having recently completed the food styling for the cookbook of Paris’ first wildly-popular food truck, Le Camion Qui Fume.  It will be the most authentic collection of American recipes to ever be published in French.  Needless to say, I never had feelings for onion rings or pulled pork sandwiches until the shoot.  And embarrassingly, it has inspired me to put ketchup on everything again.  But I quickly learned that although most Frenchies will turn up their noses at chili cheese fries, they can’t help going back for a second bite.  Vive la révolution!

Très Brooklyn

© Jessie Kanelos

Paris is amidst a burger blitz.  USA is the chicest marque about town.  And of all the breaking news in the world, Parisien burger trucks splashed the front page of the International Herald Tribune earlier this week in Julia Moskin’s article  Food Trucks in Paris? U.S. Cuisine Finds Open Minds, and Mouths.  There has already been an endless flow of coverage on this sensation, thefrancofly included.  But one thing that struck me was the article’s coining of the ultimate praise from French foodies, being “très Brooklyn”.  As most Parisians don’t understand, Brooklyn is usually something to be avoided by New Yorkers.  However, the Brooklyn philosophy of local, sustainable, simple food is exactly the idea borrowed from France that revolutionized American cuisine decades ago, thanks to other American expats candidly looking in like Julia Child and Alice Waters.  So what is the big deal?  The real fuss is the discovery of quality food without the formalities of traditional eating rituals.  Instead of sitting down to an hour-long lunch, eating with the hands, eating on the go, or my personal favorite, eating standing over the sink, are all creeping into the new French food culture.

So what’s up next in this mini-Americanization?  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for bodegas and/or CVS.  Will the food truck brigade start a revolution?  Raise your biodegradeable fork and say ‘oui’.  Or are Parisians adapting the “très New York” pastime of voracious food trends?  I will know when I hear “très Long Island City.”

Paris TO-DO List- The Cheap-Ass Summer Edition

© Jessie Kanelos

Things to get excited about this summer!

1.) Apricots!  They’re starting to show up at the market, but they are just a taste of what’s to come.  Cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, mirabelles!  I cannot wait to turn all of these beautiful summertime fruits into beautiful cakes, cobblers, and clafouti(s).  Unfortunately, corn in France does not evoke the Midwestern summertime pastimes I think of.  It’s basically pig feed.  But it does not prevent me from being on a mission to find some proper sweet corn!  “Chéri, fire up the barbie!”

2.) Fête de la musique.  On June 21st, ringing in the summer solstice, France is bumping with free concerts, barbecues, block parties and dancing in the streets.  Why can’t all festivals be for the sake of music’s sake?

3.) Cinéma en Plein Air de la Villette.  When Paris transforms into a ghost town from July 25-August 26, the ‘left behind’ flock to free movie screenings every evening at dusk.  Round up the friends, pack up a picnic, and the lawn chairs.  I would recommend camping out early; the place fills up quickly.  And if the sun is still out, I like to follow in the very big footsteps of Yogi Bear and creepily cruise around to see what is in other people’s picnic baskets.  Anyway, «Métamorphoses» is this year’s theme.  Check out the excellent schedule here.

4.) Living in a new place.  Starting over and leaving the black mold behind.  I wish that were a metaphor!  Although our budget has been blown on the flat in favor of enjoying a proper vacation, we can still indulge in vacation pastimes such as bi-daily napping and stone fruit binges from the comfort of our new home.   I don’t need no Loire Valley, I will have the Chateau de Vincennes on the way to the Metro now.
What’s on your summer to-do list?

Moving out, moving on.

We’ve set a date!  The renovations are wrapping up in our new place.  And we are set to move in next week.  But sweet nostalgia is sinking in.  I’ll miss our untamed little garden out back.  The warm tradition at our local boulangerie.  The peeling paint.  And the curtains of cobwebs.  The assortment of wildlife that creep into our bathroom.  The defunct washing machine which serves as our only counter space. The scars on my shoulders reminding me of our ongoing war against bedbugs.  The upstairs neighbors and their Saturday morning smooth jazz sessions.   Wait a minute, let’s blow this joint!

 

99 problems but a zucchini ain’t one

Just like any other day, aside from the crisper drawer full of Kodak, the fridge is barren, except for a well-rounded collection of condiments with nothing to put them on.  But regardless of what’s inside, there are always a few zucchini lurking about.  They are sturdy, reliable, adaptable, and have already outlasted Kodak.

I never cared much for zucchini in my previous life, pre-France.  Growing up in the Midwest, zucchini was yet another victim of the deep fryer.  And in the summertime, my mom always thought buying a 5-pounder from the farmer’s market would satiate our annual zucchini consumption.  But in reality, half went to a zucchini bread and the other half was lost to the fridge.  Just like avocado chocolate mousse and peanut butter & banana sandwiches, zucchini bread was another cultural over-share with mon mari qui fume.  But that’s ok.  In France, zucchini always seems to be in season and the price is always in reason. Mixed with a little creme fraiche and sprinkled with cheese, it bakes up into a beautiful gratin.  I usually slice it and sauté it over a medium heat in olive oil with a crushed garlic clove until it caramelizes on both sides.  

Mixed with anchovies and pasta or made into an omelette, this super-simple preparation heightens the nuttiness of the zucchini in less than 5 minutes.  Now, what to do with all those condiments?

Walking around in our summertime clothes…

The best part about the weather heating up is the complete shedding of all sartorial grey.    I have recently taken a liking to the 86 bus, which crosses smack dab in the middle of Paris.  It keeps me more in tune with the colors and dynamics of the city, unlike the zombie slog fest of the Metro.  I can attest that lIterally overnight, the boots and parkas transformed into vivid color, legs, and fluid trails of fabric.  It’s not even just the girls with their sheer tops and microshorts, even the chic little old ladies are sporting a little shoulder.   Although I was scolded at an apero last weekend for sporting bare legs (“T’as pas froid? T’es sûre?”), Paris has officially begun its season of pleasantry.  And it’s just one big communal sigh of relief.

Clouds over Saint-Mandé

 

The April showers turned into May showers.  Come on June!  Kick out the precipitation and bring in the picnics!  But enough about the weather already.

I just committed the terrible sin of running errands in my nightdress.  A real Franco no-no.  In a culture which firmly separates the public from the private,  flip-flops, pajama pants, and convenience clothes are only found behind locked doors.  Needless to say, I did dress up my nightgown with a French touch, one of my husband’s v-neck sweaters.  I’d like the think it was California casual with Midwestern roots.  Anyway, the moment I left my flat (with all my Crocs and Snuggies padlocked behind me), I felt the first ray of premature summer sun hit my ankles.  And so it begins…

 

Truite Rose en Papillote

One of the first things I have learned living in France is that non happens much more quickly than what you want to hear.  Similarly, customer service follows the same philosophy.  Every time I ask where to find something at the grocery store, I get a few shrugged shoulders and a je ne sais pas.  But luckily, I have found a place where useful information is generously rationed, at the biweekly, neighborhood market.  And wouldn’t you much rather take advice from an artisan?  Recently, I’ve been experimenting with smaller, inexpensive, more sustainable fish like mackerel and sardines.  Truite rose, or rainbow trout, a distant cousin of salmon, caught my eye.  I quickly inquired how my fishmonger would prepare it.  He suggested en papillote, or wrapped up and baked in parchment paper.  I brought the little beauty home, stuffed her with a few lemon slices, parsley, plopped on a nob of better, sea salt and sealed her in egg-brushed parchment.  Cooking the trout precisely for 15 minutes at 250 C or 480 F, we were left with a perfectly cooked fish for two.  Although the truite rose itself is not as tasty as its oilier predecessors like sardines and mackerel, this non-recipe recipe can be suited to any fish with any combination of herbs and aromatics.  Just ask your poissonnier!

Which aromatics would you add to your truite en papillote?

Just Another Apero’

I apologize if it comes across that France is all daffodils and Laduree.  In reality, like all great capital cities, a quarter of my time is spent on the Metro.  Another quarter is a bureaucratic wild goose chase.  And as a freelancer, another quarter is spent working and/or stressing about not working.

The weekends are welcome change of pace.  The only excuses to leave the flat are buying bread and attending the ubiquitous aperitif, or French house party.  The apero is quintessentially French, reminding me of what I am not.  In short, it is nothing short of a bowl of mixed nuts, carrot sticks, a strict byob policy, and a smoky room of heated conversations.  Unlike the All-American, all-inclusive parties I know, at an apero, one must fend for oneself.  I try not to read up so much on all the The French Do the Darndest Things books that stack the shelves of all the anglophone bookstores in Paris, but I did find a particular a-ha moment thumbing through Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow’s take Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong.  Nadeau and Barlow compare conversation in English-speaking countries to badminton.  Both parties must keep the conversation afloat by tossing it systematically back and forth.  On the other hand, conversation in France is a proper duel.   Wit, knowledge, and general fun facts of Haussmanian architecture are used to formulate an attack to outsmart the rival.  And conversation is not something that everyone can engage in.  It must first be engaged with guile.

I am an extroverted introvert, finally accepting the fact that I lean more towards the introverted side of the pendulum, feeling like I must be crass and crude for people to like me.   So this leaves me in an uncomfortable place at aperos.  I cling to mon mari for a while, but my smiles and head nodding can’t initiate me into the conversation.  I usually just plant myself next to the buffet and desperately make eye contact.  One bowl of cherry tomatoes and a wine mustache later, I am still immobile and impersonal, kicking myself for not throwing myself into the ring.  I try spotting out someone I can use my impressive knowledge of American primetime sitcoms from the 1990s.  But no one’s even looking at me!  I make eye contact with a few guys.  All they want to know is the origin of my accent and if I’ve heard of Bon Jovi.

Yes! I’ve finally reeled someone in!  An acquaintance of mon mari, you know, that chick with the bangs.  Someone finally feels my desperation and comes up for a little chat.   “What are doing at this moment?”  “Uh, nothing really.  I’ve just discovered steak-flavored chips.  And you?” “No, what are you working on at this moment?”  “Oh”, I say, whipping up the roster of expos I’ve seen in the last six-months to keep me in the intellectual joust.  Before belting out how how fabulous the Matisse was at the Pompidou, I’ve lost her to the kitchen.  After several hourly trips to the toilet and a bottomless verre, the soiree is over.  Phew!

So what’s a conversationally disenfranchised expat to do?  Fortunately, alcohol is welcome in these settings.  And thankfully, not all aperos are like this.  But after a long week, sometimes I would rather spend an evening with company of Don Draper and the gang at Sterling Cooper Draper Price.  Much like sussing up the illusive extroversion inside of me, it takes a little bit more courage just to take a deep breath and be myself in my new social climate.    But all in all, it is much easier to do, especially if I can scope out someone who speak intelligently of the Cosby Show.