Right when I am relaxed, my to-do listing begins for the week. Alas, another weekend has come and gone. Notably, this weekend included the season’s first, much-anticipated barbecue. Nothing satisfies more than the pending promise of sunshine and a grilled merguez on baguette! But more on the French BBQ very soon…
Whenever I meet new people, once I get outed for my accent and asked what exactly a styliste culinaire does, the question of how I like France is still posed. My life in France is verging on its 5-year mark. And frankly, my life in France has humbly become just my life and a string of habitudes. When one nibbles macarons everyday, the thrills in life are far fewer. (joke!) I’ve tweeted it before, but being a food stylist is one part prep and two parts schlep. I’ve got the toned arms and arched back to prove it. When the weekend rolls around, it is all about traveling light!
Speaking of which, once the sun is shiny (in the words of mon mari), our ceremonious sauercraut Sundays transform into Rue Sainte-Anne Saturdays. We grab a late Japanese lunch (a bento box at You or noodles at Naniwa–Ya) followed by a caffeine kick at TÉLESCOPE and a bubble tea at ZEN ZOO. I can confess I haven’t indulged in a bubble tea since my teeth were in braces, but mon mari‘s obsession is of teenage proportions. Bubble teas in hand, a stroll through Palais-Royal or a walk through the Marais tops off our Saturday afternoon thing.
. . . . .
Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest
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.
I’m still in the French Alps. Remember I mentioned eating 5-course meals gracefully? Well, I thought raclette, being a single-course and all, would be a good breather. Mind you, it was my first time. But alas, at the end of the day, it’s just a glob of melted cheese. Poured on top of potatoes, accompanied with charcuterie, it is hearty, mountain food at its best. But I feel like I really should have skied or chopped wood beforehand to truly enjoy it. It’s a good thing we did not order a cheese fondue for the first course. After 4 days of eating 3 courses (onion tarte, boeuf bourguignon, caramel tarte) at lunch and 5 courses at dinner (veloute de cepes, escargot, filet de lotte, fromage, royal chocolat) my moderation is finally sinking in. Does this mean I’m becoming more French?
Anyway, I love a multi-course meal. It’s always been treat since I first discovered the soup, salad, entree, jello/rice pudding option at the local Chicago Greek diners of my youth. However, after 5-courses, I am usually on the brink of explosion. And what’s a proud member of the clean-plate/waste-not club to do? But here is what I have learned from experience. Although everybody loves a generous plateau of Alpine cheeses to choose from, choose either cheese or dessert. Or eat a small portion of each. Incorporate vegetables when possible, if given a choice. Stay hydrated during the day. And move around as much as possible. I’m starting to feel a bit of empathy for food critics…
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…
There’s nothing like a soon-to-be mother-in-law! Fortunately, as of now, I’ve only good things to tell. 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 C, I learned Sunday was the ultimate day of family, too. Whenever we weren’t glued to the couch or scavenging for food after noon, we were more than likely on our way to his parent’s place in the 15th arrondisement. C’s mother is a very striking beauty. She’s impeccably preserved with radiant, olive skin and dark tresses. Only her slow walk gives away the fact she’s in her early 70s. She’s a retired primary school teacher. Thankfully, she speaks clearly and simply enough for both a 4h grader and a barely bilingual Americaine like me to understand. And she just adores her son. She beams when she sees him and buys him a chocolate basset hounds every Easter and is quick to pull out his childhood photos. But I knew she finally warmed up to me when she whipped out the vegetables just for me! And plenty of them! Carotte rappe with just a touch of olive olive, cucumbers simply dressed with vinegar, and the most beautifully sumptuous red pepper and tomato salad/confiture/thing you must try at home!
So, it’s just a kilo of tomatoes and a kilo of red peppers. It’s that easy. They are scorched on either an open flame or in the broiler until their skins are completely black and pull away from the flesh. From there, wrap them in a papertowel and wrap in a plastic bag until they cooled. Remove the skins and slice into strips. From there, place the sliced peppers and tomatoes into a skillet with some olive oil and let them slowly concentrate until they morph into their own sauce. Add a little water here and there to keep them from sticking to the pan and to continue the caramelizing. After about 45 minutes-1 hour, you are left with is just the silkiest and smokiest thing that has ever come out of 2 kilos of vegetables. The sweetness of the peppers mellows out the acidity of the tomatoes brilliantly. With the necessary addition of baguette, you’re set for a terrifically light lunch or first course. Or reserve a little for your omelet the day after. Or place on top of a crostini with a little goat cheese for an elegant hors d’oeurves. But from my experience, the salad won’t last long enough to consider sharing.
From this day on, I still haven’t seen this little salad anywhere else! Unlike the Thai chicken wraps or the Mexican tortilla soup my family has adopted as our own family recipes from the supermarket periodical aisle, I can assume this recipe is one of those time-treasured Marseillaise recipes made in C’s family for at least a couple of generations. And nothing can taste as good! Not even a molten chocolate Martha Stewart recipe from my family recipe vault. Enjoy.