In celebration of the 14th of July, we attended an apero on the 6th floor of an architect friend’s place in Belleville. It was younger crowd than usual. And every single one of them was an architect. But I was feeling confident. My outfit was banging and I brought fleur de sel brownies which always gives me a leg up on friend making. In America at least.
It went on like any other apero. I bought myself some time at the buffet and put out my feelers, scanning the crowd for a little eye contact and resulting chitchat. No luck. Luckily, I became well-acquainted with a friendly couple named Tarama and Blini. But it was only a matter of time before the fireworks erupted far in the horizon. In the nick of time, “Firework”, Katy Perry’s fist-pumping anthem of self-esteem came on. Her Swedish songwriters sure tugged on my cold heartstrings as I watched the Eiffel Tower blowup in the distance. Come on Jessie, just “ignite the light and let it shine!” “Boom boom boom!” You too can be brighter than the “moon moon moon!” I said to myself as I mussed up a little courage to confront the second half of the soiree. I refilled my drink.
Seconds later, as the last firework fogged up the Parisian sky, Dionysis and the little-g party gods were with us as the whole flat erupted into a collective, full-throttle dance party. Damn, these architects could flail. They could even dance to Celine Dion. Somewhere between “No Diggity” and “Wannabe”, I became fast friends with a 20-year old Danish Erasmus student. She pulled me close as we were jumping around to House of Pain, “I have a question. How old are you?” “I’m 26.” ” You seem like you are finished with partying. Why aren’t you drinking?” At this point, I already drank a whole bottle of wine and dug deep into my 1990s subconscious to recite every word of Shaggy’s “Mr. Boombastic” by heart. How dare you tell me I’m not fun! Yes, Joni Mitchell and collecting digestive teas can lead to an equally interesting evening. But those things are reserved strictly for Sunday nights. Defeated, my husband and I returned home. As my hangover carries onto its second day, I accept the fact that my idea of fun™ is not exactly the same as it was when I first arrived in Paris 4 years ago. But Shaggy will be with me for life.
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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.
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?
Artichoke season is upon us. I can’t help but pick them up these beauties from the farmer’s market. Partially because they still remain a mystery to me. What’s one to do with that exoskeleton of tough scales? I know, I’ll watercolor it!
I must admit, I am still mastering the art of artichoke carving and preparation. But they will get my asparagus treatment, splitting them in half and baking them with a welcome smattering of garlic, lemon zest, parmesan and breadcrumbs. I need your help, dear readers. Please send me your favorite artichoke recipes!
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?
Very few cafes have the same open charm and open arms as Cafe Titon on the corner of Rue Chanzy and Rue Titon. On a no-frills corner in the 11e arrondisement, Cafe Titon opens up like a clamshell onto the street. Maybe it is the ancient stone mosaic tiles geometrically breaking up the floor or the makeshift loveseat of beatup leather armchairs pushed together. Photos are hung back-to-back to engage patrons and the passerby. The wraparound bar’s stocked shelves of Paulaner glasses and a currywurst special on the menu are a subtle wink to the fact that Cafe Titon is Paris’s Germanophile bar. An overhead projector broadcasts football matches, riling up a rowdy crowd in the evenings.
It is one blueberry scone and chai latte away from being a coffee shop in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, Wicker Park, Chicago, or anywhere but here. But I will spare the comparisons and embrace the currywurst, the beer on tap, and maybe even football!
34 Rue Titon 75011 Paris 09 53 17 94 10
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.
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.