Dinner & a Pirouette

© Jessie Kanelos

One of biggest differences between La France and Les States is the drastic difference in space.  In France, each metre carré, or square meter, has bragging rights.   Things like fondue fountains and Easy Bake Ovens don’t exist because there’s never a garage or attic to stuff them away.  But I must admit to being very lucky indeed.  Along with the ultimate luxury of holding out both of my arms and twirling without touching the walls, we also have room in our new kitchen for a very narrow marble bistro table for 4.  So dining chez nous is nothing less than a dinner and a pirouette.  Although there is nothing more intimate than being seated to eat on the host’s bed in France, there is something a little more comfortable and convivial about crowding into the kitchen for a little carpaccio/frites.

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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?

Paris for 4th-timers

Monumenta

So what do you see when you’ve seen it all?  My parents just packed up and set off.  But we spent the past week together not seeing the sites.  But like any great capital city, there are plenty of new things to discover in Paris that have not yet been immortalized on postcards.

1.) Daniel Buren’s Monumenta 2012.  What better way to wrap up a visit than with VIP passes to a vernissage at one the most impressive monuments in Paris, the Grand Palais!  Thanks for the passes, mon mari qui fume.  Buren planted 72,000 meters of candy-colored table trees.  It is as if Mary Quant was Avatar’s production designer.  The plastic-topped trees link together to create an interactive forest, flirting with the reflection of daylight and the passerby.  Catch it until June 21st.

2.)  The Bois de Vincennes.  Just east of Paris lies its largest park, complete with a proper chateau, free botanical gardens, and a forest almost three times the size of Central Park.  After getting lost in the streets of Paris, why try it in the forest?

3.)  Want to take a daytrip?  Want to see a castle?  How about the Chateau de Chantilly.  Check it out here.

4.)  The Marche aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, the ultimate flea market, one of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Take line 4 to Metro Porte de Clignancourt and walk toward the expressway to a find a tented market.  Unless you need a new Bob Marley t-shirt or a cell phone cover, keep walking.  I can never trace my steps because I always end up meandering through the small side streets of packed antique malls.  There’s a bit of everything, from museum pieces, to postcard vendors, to button booths.  My favorite little haberdashery is Daniel et Lili, tucked away at stand 128 at the Marche Dauphine.  With an immense stock of carefully organized vintage brooches, antique postcards, and bargain bins of original odds and ends, it is the perfect place to find an oddball souvenir or two.  Or stumble upon a little bit of music and catch a bite to eat at  La Chope des PucesParis’ premier Django Reinhart bar.  LIve music plays in front of the house, and the restaurant in the back beckons the jazz age.

Can you add anything else to my list?

Even the kiwis are French!

I am a real foodie now!  I’ve started buying locally and seasonally.  Farewell, sweet bananas and pineapples from faraway.  See you sporadically!  However, I made a recent discovery.  Over Christmas vacation, we spent a few days at a friend’s cottage in the mountains near La Cévennes.  The only fruit in the house were tiny kiwis no bigger than my thumb.  And they were local, harvested just nearby.  I always assumed that kiwi’s acidity and zippy vitamin C meant their origins were more tropical than domestic.  But as winter fruit, they add a bit more variety to the apples, clementines, and grapefruits that fill the colder months.  But since Spring has sprung, I should scrap this watercolor.  It’s completely out of season!

Does this discovery come as a surprise to you, too?

Nail in Foot, Burger in Hand

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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.

French yogurt and its culture

Yaourt.  Although my tongue still hasn’t wrapped around the right pronunciation yet (Is it yAo-oort?  YA-OOrt?  Ya-oURt?), I’ve never loved yogurt more.  Just take a look at the selection!

Today, on this dreadfully dreary day in Paris, jessiekanelos.wordpress.com delivers its first taste of hard journalism.   I will test the limits of my curiosity and my lactose tolerance for the hard facts on my neighborhood grocery’s yogurt isle.

I never really like yogurt in the States because there really is not much variety.  It is often overly sweet with cloying artificial flavors.  Wouldn’t you think yogurt cultures would be canceled out by a cotton candy flavor?  It gets more and more difficult to find a plain version.  However, according to Wikiyogurt, the French eat around 21 kilos of yogurt a year.  French fridges are continuously well-stocked.  It is a go-to breakfast, snack, and dessert.  But the word yaourt can be deceiving.  It often refers to the cream desserts, pudding cups, and often single-serving desserts that share the yogurt isle.

How clever!  Yogurt with the granola already mixed in!

Licorice and mint?  Some flavors are better admired than tried.

Porfiteroles, clafoutis, creme brulee, chocolate mouse.  Just take a look at the Greatest Hits of French desserts carefully disguised among the yogurt.  Everywhere I look in Paris these days, there is a new USA burger, bagel & cookie diner.  The yogurt isle is just as trendy with its “le cheese cake” and “les cookies”.

Oh hello, cottage cheese.  Fancy seeing you here!

Speaking of plain yogurt, there is just as much variety to be found.  I am one spoon away from exposing it tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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 aI Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!® – Spray.