My French class, our apartment, and taste memories

June 15, 2009 at 10:12 PM | Posted in Paris 2009, Paris markets, Recipe | 1 Comment

I started my French class today, and I am so, so glad that I decided to take it.  I’m doing an intensive program–four hours per day, five days per week, for two weeks–at Alliance Francaise, and they have a well-deserved reputation for being the top French language learning program.  My class, which is for complete beginners, was entirely in French and I understood 80-90%, either through context clues or the integrated reading-speaking-listening-writing approach that they take.  There are about 15 people in my class and everyone comes from very different background with very different reasons for being there.

This afternoon, my colleague Grace and I moved into our beautiful flat today, after what feels like months of searching online.  It’s near Les Halles in the first arrondissement, near the corner of where the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th arrondissements meet.  You can see the top of the Pompidou Center from our street! It’s definitely in the middle of things and is definitely the nicest place I’ve ever lived as an adult.  It’s in a sixteenth century building on the fifth floor, fully furnished with antiques, and includes lots of neat architectural details like exposed wood beams in the ceilings.  The neighborhood, being near the Louvre, is a lot more tourist-centric than where I lived last summer–whereas I would pass ten to twelve boulangeries/patisseries on my way home from work last year, I actually had to seek one out today! But it’s a pretty incredible (and central) place to live, and my bread-hunger was sated with my first “pain traditionelle” (also sometimes called “pain ancienne”)–in my opinion, the consistently best kind of baguette.  It’s shorter and fatter than a traditional baguette, with big holes, a springy crumb, and flour usually dusted on the outside.

I also found a wonderful shop this afternoon that sells only cookbooks, called La Librarie Gourmande on Rue Monmartre in the 2nd arrondissement.  I walked in and started chatting (in French) with the owner, explaining that I was just learning French and I also love to cook, so I wanted a cookbook in French so that I could learn as I cooked (this took a good 5 minutes to explain to her).  In trying to explain to her the kind of food I like, I said, “Mon livre de cuisine favori est Chocolat et Zucchini,” and she knew exactly what I meant (the French version of C&Z happened to be right there).  We talked for about 20 minutes, completely in French, and I bought a book of salads and other vegetable-centric dishes, since the produce is so good here and I don’t want to have to buy too many extra ingredients that I can’t finish before I leave.

IMG_3936Last year, I invented a special breakfast tartine that I ate almost every day.  A tartine is a sort of open-faced sandwich, usually containing some kind of spread and some kind of topping.  And this one was not to be believed.  I don’t know what inspired me to come up with the combination of sea-salted butter, apricot jam, and goat cheese (chevre) on a split toasted baguette, but oh my…the first bite brought back so many wonderful taste memories, I closed my eyes.  In Boston, I spent a lot of time and a decent amount of money trying to recreate this non-recipe, but the ingredients I gathered in a basic French grocery store (Franprix) and bakery were worlds better than when I made this in Boston with bread from Clear Flour (a fancy bread bakery), cheese from the farmer’s market, and good jam.

To make it yourself: Get the best baguette you can find, split it, and toast it lightly.  Spread with salted butter (preferably sea-salted butter), then apricot jam.  Top with thin rounds of goat cheese.  I am partial to the Sainte-Maure brand, which has a mild flavor, a nice rind, and isn’t too crumbly.  Let the hot bread soften the cheese for a couple minutes before eating.  It’s great for breakfast, but today I was so excited to have all the ingredients that I ate it for dinner (along with a petit tart au citron, which was just okay–not mind-blowing).


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  1. As I read your description of the delicious goat cheese and jam sandwich, the saliva pooled on the desk. In fact, it sounded so good, I may just have to come to Paris and try it for myself!

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