Terraces and cigarettes. Rosé and the summertime. Radishes and butter. Radishes and butter? Yes! As a Ranch-dipping American, this came as a bit of a surprise to me . (How does one butter a radish? Have the French found an excuse to dip things into butter now? I admit to sneaking single-serving Country Crock packets under restaurant tables as a kid, but this is absurd!) In France, butter is the assigned spouse to radishes, with a sprinkle of extramarital sea salt just to keep things interesting. Although everyone does it differently, according to mon mari qui fume, the butter to my radish, the radishes are cut into four parts which create the surface area for the butter. The beauty of the pairing instantly makes itself clear; the smooth butter flatters the crisp, occasionally spicy radish. Give it a try! Anyone know where to get some Country Crock around here?
Tag Archives: c’est ma vie
Every now and then, we married folk give our MacBook Pros a rest and we get some fresh air.
Most recently, we caught Molière’s Le Malade Imaginaire at the Comédie-Française, where his plays have been produced since Molière himself. Unfortunately, the opulent Salle Richelieu is closed for renovations, but steps away in the Palais-Royal, the Comédie-Française is camped out temporarily in the Théâtre Ephémère. With 746 places, green construction, exceptional visibility even from the nose bleeds, and the unparalleled production values of the Comédie-Française, it was an evening of high culture with a very small addition. 65 places with an obstructed view are available at the last-minute, starting at 7:30 for just 5 euros. For all the young lovers under 28, free tickets are available on the first Monday of every month with the presentation of an id. When the curtain goes down, there is an obligatory stroll through the designer galeries of the Palais-Royal. Fortunately, Rick Owens does not frown upon a smiling window shopper.
To top off our evening, we grabbed a bite just nearby on Rue Sainte-Anne, the Japanese quartier of Paris. The long lines are a testament to which places are recommendable. One of our favorites is Aki at 11 Rue Sainte-Anne, 75001 Paris. Although there is a variety of soups and menus, the okonomiyaki, the seafood and vegetable omelette, is the highly-recommended specialty of the house.
It was such a wonderful evening, I had to run back home to my MacBook Pro and tell you all about it!
What are your favorite cheap dates?
Mon Chou Tchouchouka!
Long before my mother-in-law was my mother-in-law and before I knew the proper name of tchouchouka, I wrote about this star recipe, which always makes an appearance at my in-law’s. Traditionally, tchouchouka is a cooked Berber salad of red peppers and tomatoes. Although not traditionally French, it has become one of my fondest food memories of France.
When I moved to France, I quickly learned that Sunday was the ultimate day of relaxation. I mean a ‘watching 3 movies, not moving the couch’ type of Sunday. And thanks to France, I was finally able to train myself to do this without feeling a drop of guilt. When I started seeing mon mari qui fume, I learned Sunday was the ultimate day of family, too. Whenever we weren’t glued to the couch or scavenging for food after everything closed in the afternoon, we were more than likely on our way to his parents’ place in the tony 16th arrondisement. Although they have recently relocated to Nice, making this salad reminds me of our times together. It brings me back to mortifyingly breaking the wicker chair I was assigned at our first dinner together. And piecing together what little charm I could in my limited French at the time. All embarrassment aside, I instantly appreciated these warm, patient, curious people who would soon become my family. And I remember tasting this deceptively simple salad for the first time. Made from 1 part red peppers to 1.5 parts tomatoes, the vegetables are charred and pealed, then cooked down with a bit of olive oil and garlic until they form a smoky and sweet confiture. Served as a first course with good bread, there is no better, healthier, or cheaper way to kick off an excellent meal among friends or family.
1 kilo red peppers
1.5 kilos ripe tomatoes
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
salt & pepper
1.) Place peppers and tomatoes on a sheet tray. Cook under broiler until blackened. Turn and repeat until all sides are charred.
2.) Let cool. Peel and de-seed peppers and chop into small pieces. Peel and chop tomatoes. In a saucepan, heat oil over a low heat. Add the peppers, tomatoes, and garlic. Simmer over a very low heat until thick and caramelized. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Nail in Foot, Burger in Hand
We are in the demolition stage of our new apartment. This morning, as we walked into the place for our daily visit, our quirky 1950s flat to-be was transformed into the town of Bedrock. Before I could even say “Wow, what a dump!”, “Ohmygawwwwputainmerde!” My first step into the apartment, I got a nail in the foot. The throbbing pain was the least of my worries. Since I have the undisputed Generation Me dilemma of not having had health insurance since my shatterproof undergraduate days, I was sure I could feel my jaw locking in the matter of moments. Luckily, I had an unsuccessful semester in grad school that got me up to speed on that important tetanus shot. Phew!
To help ease the pain, I was whisked off for lunch at the hyper-popular food truck Le Camion Qui Fume by mon mari qui fume. Le Camion Qui Fume ends the search for an authentic American cheeseburger in Paris. Although there are imposters on every cafe menu, 18 euros for a dry, uninspired hamburger on an industrial bun is not worth the ho-hum indulgence. Food trucks have not taken off in Paris yet, partially considering that the French cannot eat with their hands alone. But fellow American expat Kristin Frederick has mastered the right fatty mix of ground beef, the soft, butter-brushed sesame seed buns, real cheddar and shoestring fries to cheer up any expat having a bad day. Although the truck changes locations everyday, we dug into our burgers on the steps of the Église de la Madeleine overlooking the Place de la Concorde. And at just 10 euros for a burger and fries, there is no better bargain or breathtaking view.
Gervita, mon amour.
If I have not lost you already, now it is going to get interesting. Walking down the double-sided yogurt isle, I am always perplexed by the plethora of options for seemingly plain yogurt. There is yaourt nature, fromage blanc, caillé, faisselle, séré, yaourt au bifidus, and drinkable yogurt, all made from different kinds of milk. Although technically not yogurt, one of the things I quickly learned to adore in France is fromage blanc, or white cheese. It varies in textures and tanginess, but the style I love has the same texture of a fatty Greek yogurt, but is surprisingly low in fat and calories. How can this be ? Fromage blanc is a simple cheese made by boiling fresh, unpasturized milk and cream with a bit of présure, a fermentation starter. Although its texture is often likened to cream cheese, playing starring role in French cheesecake, its consistancy is more comparable to a high-fat yogurt. Fromage blanc is often on restaurant menus as the sole light option. Served with a berry coulis or honey, it is a protein-packed, simple dessert. I often eat it for breakfast with oatmeal and fruit. Or I will layer fromage blanc, sliced fruit, and maple syrup for a quick parfait. A welcome nudge for Mr. Meat & Potatoes, my husband, to eat fruit.
Speaking of the varieties of fromage blanc, it is onto a reader favorite, Danone’s Gervita. In Gervita’s packaging, a spoonful of this whipped fromage blanc floats among the clouds in a blue sky. It’s a spoonful of pleasure coming in for landing. On the first bite, the mousse melts on the tongue with the smooth, fresh milk taste of cream cheese, then that characteristic yogurt tang kicks in. And then it’s back to the smooth taste of cream again. Although I was a bit surprised the mousse was just a layer on top of a bed of fromage blanc, it is a pleasing flip flop of changing textures and character. Here is a 4-pack that won’t last more than a day at chez moi.
I have seen Gervain Petit Suisse in the refrigerators of most families and all of my serious friends who have a properly stocked fridge. It’s an after-dinner kiddie treat. Although I’ve tried unsuccessfully using a spoon to just dig in, Petit Suisse can be a bit deceiving. The Petit Suisse must first be squeezed out of its container and carefully disrobed of its colorful paper sleeve and served standing tall on a plate. Kids love presentation, eh? With 9.2 % fat content, this fromage blanc is more comparable to cream cheese. Although it lacks the fresh cream taste of Gervita, it has the decadently rich texture of strained Greek yogurt and the tangy punch of crème fraiche. Hence, a perfect accompaniment to all chocolate and fruit desserts.
So there you have it. I love fromage blanc, I like Petit Suisse, and I would marry Gervita. But I think it is all gone.
EuroDisney. A gobsmacker’s moveable feast.
Paris is begrudgingly hailed by some Parisiens as a Disneyland for Americans. Frankly, it is a moveable feast for all the world’s wealthy gobsmackers. But did you know that EuroDisney is the most-frequented attraction in France? Hands down, it beats both the Eiffel Tower and the new Abercrombie & Fitch on the Champs Élysées. (But don’t worry, I still have seen Parisien women wearing neither sweatpants nor the A&F bedazzled bottom variety.)
Considering my childhood dreams were A.) to convince my parents to take me Disneyworld and b.) become a Snow White impersonator by trade, it was not difficult to enjoy EuroDisney. Regardless of its European sensibilities like Perrier on tap, like any Disney institution, the pizza at Euro Disney is still bad. But how about those Mickey Mouse meringues?
What are your thoughts on Euro Disney?
Trim a branch, strike a pose.
One of the major differences between New York and Paris is the pockets of greenery scattered about Paris. Once getting past heavy, Haussmanian doors with ubiquitous door codes (the right of passage to reach any French person, place or thing), the majority of apartment buildings hide a small garden, most likely amidst parked bicycles and garbage cans.
When I met my husband, I was instantly taken by his own private petit jardin. (“He’s got a car, an accent and a garden! Instant upgrade!”, exclaimed my 2009 self). Living on the ground floor, it fills our apartment with clean air and a terrific breeze from the nearby forest, the Bois de Vincennes. And it allows me to indulge in an urban impossibility, compost. As of late, it is a bit unkempt. Case in point, winter rolled around before we had the chance to cut the grass. Ideally, I would love to plant sweet pea seedlings. However, as any photographer/stylist duo, we utilize gardening simply for impromptu photo shoots. In my one-track mind, dress-up always trumps gardening. Trim a branch, strike a pose.
What’s your gardening philosophy?
A Blurb on Butter
France is known for many delicious things. There’s charcuterie with all its nuance and varying levels of porkiness. Then there is the abundance of cheese. Charles de Gaulle himself so famously exclaimed, “how can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?” Additionally, there is butter. It is the undisputed backbone of traditional French cuisine. It is butter that gives a croissant its flaky altitude of layers. And then there is the butter of the unknown, that special ingredient that creates sensuous sauces and envelopes vegetables on a restaurant plate.
However, there is a new realm of butter that I have never known before. One recent morning, I whipped up a tartine for my husband comme d’habitude. I sliced a day-old baguette lengthwise, threw it in the toaster oven, threw a little butter on top, and let the oven do the work. I spread on a thin layer of plum jam and awaited my ‘merci’. “I don’t like it when the butter is melted”, he said. My jaw dropped. It’s toasted bread! The butter is supposed to be melted by the heat of the toast! That’s magic of breakfast right there. I shrugged it off; so particular, this husband of mine. Then over our Alpine vacation, over one of the many chats about food over coffee with my mother-in-law, she exclaimed the same disfavor for the taste of melted butter, like in pound cake. But butter is as butter does, non? I’m an intelligent person. I saw The Tree of Life. And I liked it. But somehow, I never thought about the difference between butter in its many mediums. Alas, at the end of the day, I have lot of work to do. And I am still as American as I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!® – Spray.
I usually have no problem putting my own foot in my mouth, but my phone has been helping me out a lot lately. Bless its heart though, the poor thing isn’t completely bilingual yet either. It has not adapted its predictive text to French yet. Consequently, I have sent a few doozies lately.
When a friend texted proposing to get a coffee, intending to reply “oui, avec plaisir” (aka “I’d love to!”), my phone responded with “oui, avec plaudit”. No, we did not plan a rendezvous, but rather a rigoletto. Comment-allez vous? Comment-allez voucher. Fortunately, my phone has a thing for the opera; he will do just fine here.
Picture a Pita
I have been on a bit of a bread-making kick lately. As of now, I have not whipped up anything to give the four boulangeries on my block a run for their money. Most everything has been a bit doughy and heavy-handed like all amateur homemade bread. However, I came across a terrific recipe for pita on one of my favorite foodie sites, Gilt Taste. (Check it out here at http://www.gilttaste.com/stories/4806-make-perfect-pita). ‘Pita, you say? How granola of you to make,’ you must be thinking. ‘You might as well start making your own Windex and growing your own flaxseeds.” But at the end of the day, it’s something a bit less traditional to mess up, right? To my chagrin, it’s more or less the same recipe as pizza dough. But with the dough, there is more rolling than the Harlem Globetrotter-twirling pizza treatment.
And what’s the greatest part about homemade pita? Although there is no instant gratification in bread-making, there will be instant gratification when it hits the table. And I can attest for a lot of friends who have minimal NYC and/or twenty-something kitchens. Pita can be cooked either in an oven or in a skillet. Alongside some store-bought hummus, tabbouleh, and other Mediterranean accoutrement, it’s an instant party!