My market basket

July 4, 2010 at 7:13 AM | Posted in Paris 2010, Paris markets | 3 Comments

I am the worst budgeter ever. Or, to be more specific, I am not a bad budgeter except when food markets are involved. Then all bets are off.

I live about a ten minutes’ walk from Marche Auguste Blanqui, which is a giant street market between the Place d’Italie and Corvisart metro stations in the 13th arrondissement, where I life. It is about seven blocks long and completely teeming with activity. There are multiple fromageries (cheese stands), charcuteries (cured meats), boucheries (raw meats), volailleries (chicken shops), poissoneries (fish shops), boulangeries (bakers), traituers (sellers of prepared foods), ethnic food stands, and that’s even before you get to the stand upon stand of fresh fruits and vegetables. I get weak in the knees just thinking about it. This market is one of the best parts of my neighborhood.

Today I set out around noon, with a “firm” budget of 15 euros, knowing my tendency to get carried away at the market. I was buying food for the week (5 lunches and 3 dinners), and I figured that 15 euros would get me half a roast chicken, some olives, some cheese, and a few fruits and vegetables. I set this budget as challenge to see whether I could do it, but gave myself a little cushion of cash in my wallet in case I saw something too good to pass up.

I know myself way too well. I arrived, and all good intentions were dashed the moment the scent of the chicken rotisseries hit my nose.

My haul?

  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 200 grams (a small plastic bag full) of picholine olives
  • Half a rotisserie chicken
  • A disc of Saint-Marcellin cheese (creamy cow’s milk cheese with a soft, edible rind)
  • A wedge of Saint-Nectaire cheese
  • A wedge of Roquefort and a large round of goat cheese with a thick, edible rind (I was getting ready to leave, and then I saw a stand selling cheeses for 1.5 euros each and totally couldn’t resist. This is a lot of cheese, even for me. I figure it will last me awhile)
  • 2 zucchini
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 giant artichokes
  • 6 apricots
  • 1 Charentais melon (a small, highly scented cantaloupe)
  • 3 nectarines
  • 500 grams of cherries
  • 1 baguette
  • 1 sac of 10 chouquettes (sugar-crusted pastry puffs)

Basically the only thing that I successfully resisted was some kind of cured ham product, although I was sorely tempted by a dry-cured sausage with pistachios inside, a specialty from Lyon. With all that cheese, I figured that I had enough saturated fat in my market bag to last me awhile.

I profoundly overshot my budget (like, by almost double)…but how often will I have access to a market like this? Plus, the (highly subsidized) canteen at work closed on Friday, so I will have to start bringing my lunch. The canteen is a story for another day.

A petit sac of chouquette

The sac, a little more petit after I was unable to hold off until post-photo shoot. Look at those delicious insides!

Tonight I’m looking forward to a dinner of a steamed artichoke with the leaves and then the heart dipped in melted butter, various cheeses smeared on the fresh baguette, some olives, and a ripe nectarine for dessert. I’m officially in France.

An only-in-Paris day

July 25, 2009 at 10:27 PM | Posted in Paris 2009, Paris markets, Wanderings | 2 Comments

I don’t leave Paris for another 3 weeks, but it’s already starting to feel like it’s winding down.  Maybe because everyone has pretty much left work for vacation, or because I just booked my plane ticket to Spain for next Friday, or because this is my last weekend in Paris (I’ll be in Spain for the next two, and we leave Paris on Saturday the 15th)….but in any case, I realized that there were so many things I had been meaning to do that I haven’t gotten around to yet.  And since most stores and things are closed on Sundays, this felt like the last real weekend day.  Where has it gone? Today was going to be un jour gourmand.

I woke up around 11 (yeah…) and by noonish was heading out the door.  I decided to test myself and not use my map book at all, just to see how well I knew the city by now.  The first neighborhood was the chefs’ supply district that I so loved last summer, and which I hadn’t been back to at all this year.  So off I went.  First to G. Detou (say it out loud in French and it’s pronounced the same as j’ai de tout–“I have everything.”  It’s a baker’s paradise just off R. Montorgueil, packed into a deceptively small space.  The first time I went in, I thought that I was in the wrong spot because the store that everyone had been raving about couldn’t possibly be the same as this tiny little shop.  And yet–it felt like they really did have everything, once you looked.  In bulk.  Mega-bulk.  For example, I had heard that they have pearl sugar (used for making choquettes, which are little puffs of heaven in choux-pastry form, studded with big chunks of sugar), and when I asked, the man working there proudly hefted out a 1 kg-bag of sucre perle when I asked.  Now, I really like choquettes, but this was the size of half a bag of flour, and even at just 2.20 euros, I couldn’t quite justify lugging it home, especially because I know myself and I’ll probably make choquettes twice in the next year–once when I come home to try and re-capture the greatness, and once before I move out of my apartment because I have to use up the damn pearl sugar.

Rue Montorgueil, my local market street

Rue Montorgueil, my local market street

Next it was on to the cook’s supply stores, which are quite close to G. Detou (this is all right near Les Halles, which until the late 1960s was the main Paris food market and the destination for chefs–hence why all this culinary greatness has sprung up there).  The stores are pretty amazing and last year I went frequently to gawk and sometimes to buy, but despite the fact that I live a ten minute walk away, I hadn’t been back yet this summer.  You can get everything needed to outfit a restaurant, from menu covers to fifteen kinds of madeleine molds to copper sauciers and Staub cast-iron pots big enough to curl up inside (and weighing about twice as much as a human adult).  They’re all great–A. Simon, Mora, Bovida–but my all time favorite (and everyone else’s too–including my grandmother, my aunt Pam, and Julia Child) is E. Dehillerin.  Where else can you find a wall of ladles, seven kinds of mezzaluna, and enough tartlet and candy molds to….well…make a lot of tartlets and candy.

Ladles, anyone?

Ladles, anyone?

There are lots of specialty shops on R. Monmartre near the cooking stores, including one devoted exclusively to the sale of foie gras.

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Where else on earth could you find a foie gras store?

I stopped at the Moroccan epicier (spice-merchant) for fennel seeds and a few other spices that are hard or expensive to get in the U.S., then it was over to the Marais, a neighborhood which I have gotten to know quite well this summer and which I can now navigate without a map, despite its maze of curving streets.  I stopped in at Mariage Freres, which is a tea merchant that is a step back in time.  The French may not be particularly famous for their tea, but Mariage Freres is one of the finest tea merchants I’ve encountered anywhere (including England, Madagascar, and Taiwan, all known for either growing or retailing tea).  You step in this store and just inhale the mingling scents of tea leaves, flowers, and herbs–it’s both familiar and exotic teas, displayed with a French sensibility.  The walls are lined with huge tins of teas, each box in its own cubbyhole, and the people behind the counter discuss the teas the way a sommelier discusses wine.  After smelling and discussing (in French) 12 Earl Grey varieties with the tea merchant, I settled on “French Blue,” which is très parfumé (highly fragrant) and pas amer (not bitter)–100 grams, or a medium-sized sachet, beautifully packaged of course.

I worked my way up R. du Temple towards Place Republique, in search of Le Goumanyot, supposedly the spice shop to end all spice shops.  I rang the bell to get in, and was greeted by a youngish, friendly guy who, once he sensed that I was serious about his products and liked to cook, gave me a full (at least 30 minutes start to finish) tour of everything they had to offer.  It was so much fun.  First, I smelled 15 or 20 kinds of pepper (and none of this chemistry-lab wafting business for the French.  He stuck his nose all the way into the container and encouraged me to do the same)

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Then he showed me (and let me smell) all his tea blends, which are house-made.  Then all the honey.  Then all the mustards.  Then to the house-made spice mixtures.  Then to the herb essential oils.  Then the vanillas.  Then the whole spices.  Then the saffrons.  It was total sensory overload, and so interesting to hear about all the different places where the products are sourced (he said, a bit regretfully, that he’s not the one who goes on scouting trips, though we talked a long time about Zanzibar and how much he wants to go).  I tasted saffron caramels, which were out of this world, and of which he stuck a handful in my bag when I left.  He had a more realistic-sized container of pearl sugar, which I bought.  I explored the cave, or wine cellar, which also has a tasting room.  We had a grand old time.  I’ve seen my share of spice shops, but nothing like this one, ever.

By this time, I had spent a decent portion of the day thinking about making choquettes and, armed with my bottle of pearl sugar, I was seriously craving them.  I stopped at a cute bakery and bought a bag of six (they are each about the size of a golf ball, hollow) to eat on a park bench while contemplating my route.  Eggs, butter, and sugar–how could they possibly be bad?

I wandered down through the 11th and near where I used to live, finding a cute cookbook store called La Cocotte (more boutique-y, and a bit less geared towards the serious cook, than La Librairie Gourmande.  Towards the Place D’Aligre, which was my market area last year.  Even though the fruit and vegetable vendors were gone since it was 5:30pm, all the stores lining the streets are permanent, and I found an Israeli wine merchant.  After tasting from multiple open bottles (and probably consuming a whole glass of wine in total–he kept refilling my cup), I bought a bottle of 2001 Burgundy, which I had tasted and for which he slashed the price because I spoke 4 words of Hebrew (the only 4 I still remember that aren’t better suited to the inside of a synagogue) to him.

I made my way home through the 12th, by the Bastille, and then down the quays where Paris Plage is set up (Paris Plage is an annual event in which the highway that was built into the Right Bank quays is temporarily converted to a giant beach complete with sand, beach chairs, umbrellas, and frilly drinks).  By the time I got home, it was past 7pm, I had been walking for seven hours straight, and my feet were–and still are–aching.

I loved today.  I loved that today could not have happened anywhere else in the world.  I loved that I took out my map book only twice, and that both times it was to find a specific address rather than to figure out the direction in which I wanted to go.  I love that I didn’t speak English until I ran into Grace at 7:30pm.  I, quite simply, love this place.

Five random things I love about Paris

July 20, 2009 at 12:02 AM | Posted in Paris 2009, Paris markets, Wanderings | 3 Comments

These are a few photos I snapped on a walk on Saturday morning:

1. The seriousness with which le pain quotidien (daily bread) is taken

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I had known that each neighborhood’s boulangeries rotate the days on which they are closed, so a neighborhood will never be fully without bread. What I didn’t know is that they extended this practice to their vacations.  The translation of this note, which is taped onto the metal shade of Boulangerie Julien, my #1 neighborhood bakery that is temporarily closed for vacation:

This boulangerie belongs to Group 1.  Closed for annual vacation between July 13 and August 2.  The closest bakeries are…

What struck me most is not that they would helpfully point you in the correct direction for an alternative source of baguettes and croissants and religieuses and mille-feuille, but that the bakeries are actually organized into groups to help keep a neighborhood in bread for those who remain in town during the national holiday month of August.

The problem now is that Gosselin, their first suggestion, was my backup baguette for when Julien was closed on Sundays.  So now I have to find a backup for my backup, because Gosselin is closed on Saturdays, and while they are pretty good, a) it’s a bit far for a pre-coffee, pre-work baguette run (about 3 blocks, whereas Julien was about 2–yes, you can feel free to slap me if you want to), and b) I’m just not totally convinced that it’s worthy of moving up to the coveted #1 favorite baguette spot.  The eclairs and chocolate tarts were good, but not especially memorable, and it’s just missing that je ne sais quoi.

2) Telling it like it is

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Sign outside the sandwich shop on R. St. Honore (actually right next to Gosselin).  At least they’re not pretending to be something they’re not.  In a moment of hungry desperation I once got a sandwich here…and let’s just say that they don’t engage in false advertising.  But to be fair…I was on the same side of the street as the shop so I couldn’t see the awning, and it was Sunday so everything else was closed. I guess I thought there would be some osmosis effect from Gosselin. I was wrong.

3) Really great samples if you are a woman

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I’m not being sexist or exploiting my gender, I’m just being honest–women, especially youngish foreign women who make an effort to speak French with the vendors and end up (I hope) sounding charmingly foreign rather than annoyingly foreign, are offered samples incessantly at markets. When I went to the Marche Bastille with my parents and Judy and Rusty, and happened to be wearing a strapless sundress (mega bonus sample points!), they couldn’t believe how many offers I got of slices of melon and cherries and tomatoes and olives and cheese.  Anyway, I stopped by the Marche St. Honore–honestly, pretty puny and empty–and got accosted by a bored vendor of dried fruits, glaceed fruits, and olives.  First, he gave me a sample of every single dried fruit (there were probably 15).  I had zero intention of buying so I felt a little guilty…but so it goes. They were too sweet for my taste, although the fraise de bois (wild strawberry) was pretty good.  Then I saw the olives and moved over to look at them, and he eagerly began offering tastes of every kind of olive that was there.  Again, I had no intention of buying, but he got a distraction, and I got to practice my French and have a snack, so I think it all worked out okay in the end.

4. Packaging

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I stopped by the Pierre Herme boutique on R. Cambon, because really, who cares about the Chanel store when you can gawk at chocolates?  The nice thing about confiseries and chocolateries is that you can go to the fanciest places in the city, like Laduree or Pierre Herme or Jean-Paul Hevin, and try their most famous product for pocket change (well, 3 euros for a macaron and a bonbon is not exactly pocket change, but it’s a lot less than a Chanel purse! and a lot more delicious! and, thanks to this blog, just as immortalized!).  So I continued my cross-boutique comparison of bitter chocolate (chocolat amer) macaron, and also got a bonbon caramel buerre sale enrobed in dark chocolate.  I have to say, for all my exultation of Laduree, Pierre Herme’s macaron was better.  The cookie part was fleshy with just a little give, and the ganache was fresh and thick, and the store’s ambience felt a bit more focused on the food, rather than on creating an atmosphere of opulence (but sometimes you just want to feel opulent while eating your amazing macaron, and in that case, Laduree is still where it’s at).

But the packaging.  The other nice thing is that, even when you buy 3 euros’ worth of candy when the person next to you is dropping 100 euros or so, your purchases are still treated with care.  When I told the woman that I wanted one macaron and one bonbon, she got out a pair of scissors, carefully cut the confection bags so that the candy wouldn’t look like it was drowning inside, and wrapped it up, no questions asked.  Pierre Herme is one of the more famous chocolateries in Paris, so she also put in the catalog of chocolate and macaron flavors (this brochure is more detailed and should give you a taste of the willpower it took to buy just 1 bonbon and 1 macaron)

I will add the caveat that in some ways Pierre Herme is the exception, because in most cases when you buy food, things are wrapped up beautifully (cheeses, croissants, patisserie) in minimal packaging.  Rather than shrink-wrapping cheeses, they are wrapped in individual pieces of paper that are either taped or folded shut, which not only lets the cheese breathe, but also helps reduce packaging waste.

5. Its location as a crossroads of Europe and the world

Between the two summers I have spent here, I have either been visited by (in a dedicated trip) or met up with (for people who happened to be coming through Paris) probably 15 different sets of friends, family members, and friends-of-friends.  Between plane layovers, Europe trips, friends flying in for long weekends, and full-on, week-plus vacations, everyone seems to come through Paris.  This past weekend, one of my friends from HSPH was doing some contract work for the WHO in Geneva (where she lived for a year) and came to Paris for a night.  It was fantastic to see her, and really fun to get to explore parts of Paris together.  Forget all roads lead to Rome…it seems to me, in my TOTALLY unbiased opinion, that more roads lead to Paris.

My salad days

July 1, 2009 at 11:54 PM | Posted in Paris 2009, Paris markets, Recipe | 2 Comments

“Pique-niques” are a huge part of the Parisian summer experience.  Especially when it’s hot out, there’s really nothing nicer than sitting by the Seine, or in a park, with some good food (and usually copious amounts of wine) and some friends.  Last summer, I’m pretty sure that I picnicked at least twice a week.  And people here are serious about their picnics–while there’s certainly nothing wrong with getting a panini and sitting by the river to eat it, tonight I went on a walk and saw full sets of dishes, elaborate spreads, the classic picnic basket, beautiful blankets–on a Wednesday evening!

Today at lunch, the grad students, post-docs, and younger employees in the research unit where I work decided to “faire une pique-nique” for lunch and walk to a park about 15 minutes from the office.  It was really nice–about 10 people, most of whom I knew from last summer, and most of whom are around my age–and everyone brought their own lunches to eat together.  I actually haven’t been cooking much since I have been here, and I brought a sandwich and a yogurt with me, but I was so impressed (and jealous) with everyone else’s lunch.  Beautiful salads with fresh vegetables (okay, one guy make his salad solely out of frozen vegetables from Picard, but it still looked amazing), fresh fruits, breads…it was very inspiring.

So after another sweltering day at the office, I decided to finally crack open the salad and vegetable cookbook I bought my second day here.  I checked out a few of the fruit and vegetable markets in the Marais that are open in the evenings, and I have to say that I was underwhelmed.  The quality at the Marche des Enfants Rouges was not great, and although I got some beautiful tomatoes, peaches, and haricots verts from the Marche Baudoyer, there were only two vendors to choose from.  I then traipsed around to find a supermarket and pick up the remaining ingredients needed to make a Salade Niçoise, the quintessential French composed salad.  It was really nice to cook, and I got excited about spending more time at the markets and trying new ways of cooking vegetables. Or not cooking them, if the weather continues to be this hot.

Salade nicoise

CLASSIC SALADE NICOISE

  • 12 tiny potatoes, cut in half
  • 300 grams (about 3 handfuls) haricots verts or green beans, trimmed
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 3 eggs
  • 150 grams mesclun salad or spinach leaves (probably about 1 bag)
  • 1 can good-quality tuna
  • And sadly I didn’t have any olives on hand, but if I did….I would have chopped up some little salty black ones
  • 1/4 cup wine vinegar (I found shallot vinegar in the Franprix market but any white or red wine vinegar will work)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 shallot, chopped finely
  • A few good glugs of olive oil
  • Parsley, finely chopped, to taste

Steam green beans until tender and, once tender, plunge into water to shock them and stop the cooking.  Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan of water, and when it boils, add the eggs.  Boil the eggs 9-10 minutes, then plunge them into the same cold water as you used for the beans.  When cooled, peel and slice.  In the water that you used to cook the eggs, boil the potatoes for 8 minutes, or until there is just a bit of resistance when you stick in a fork to test them.  Shock the potatoes in the same cold water as you used for the beans and eggs.

Mix together the vinegar, oil, mustard, shallots, and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the lettuce between two large plates.  Flake the tuna and divide between the plates.  Arrange the eggs, tomatoes, green beans, and potatoes over the lettuce.  Sprinkle with olives, if using.  Dress the salads and serve immediately.

Une mélange du mercredi

June 24, 2009 at 10:27 PM | Posted in Paris 2009, Paris markets | 2 Comments

A few random Wednesday thoughts…

Today on my way from Alliance Française to work, I cut through the Luxembourg Gardens as usual, and again there was an orchestral concert in the covered performance space in the northeast corner of the garden where I saw those kids perform on Sunday.  The sun was shining so it is hard to see the non-shaded parts of the garden in the video–but given what I have heard about the weather in the U.S., I am not complaining about having a sunny day!

Last night I met up with Liesl, one of my friends from grad school, who lived in Paris with her family when she was younger and was back in France for a wedding in Brittany.  It was great to see her and have an alfresco meal sitting on a patio at a restaurant in the Latin Quarter.  Although the company was fantastic (one of her closest friends just got to Paris for a visit yesterday, and we met up with another HSPH alumna and her husband, so we had a really interesting group) I have to say that this is the third time I’ve had a rather uninspiring, and uninspired, meal off of Rue Mouffetard, which is very cute and fun, but also very student-oriented.  I think I have learned my lesson once and for all that a 15-euro formule (which is a kind of set menu where you can choose one each from a limited range of appetizers, entrees, and desserts) is just not worth it, because in this case you really do get what you pay for.  If you are going to spend 15 or 20 euros (with wine) on dinner, you might as well spend 5 to 10 more to have it be really good, and either eat out less often or save somewhere else to compensate.

And…I have definitively found my neighborhood caviste, or wine retailer.  There is a small independent wine shop on the corner of R. St. Honore and R. Lingerie, literally steps from my apartment (across the street from the award-winning bakery) called Caviste Contemporaine, and it’s pretty small but very thoughtfully stocked with a wide range of French wines at a variety of prices, AND they have a plate of chocolate-covered almond pralines at the counter to nibble on while you chat with the caviste and weigh the options.  I told him (in French) what I was planning on having for dinner and asked if he could suggest a wine for it.  He thought for a bit and suggested that I try a rosé, since I was making pasta with zucchini.  Last year when I came to Paris I definitely had a prejudice against rosé–all I could think of was sickeningly sweet White Zinfandel–but I have had it many times since (it’s popular here in the summer, since it is served chilled), and this particular one was really good.  Fruity but not sweet.

Plus, the bottle is “hermetically sealed” (doesn’t that sound intense?) which means that instead of a cork made of wood or rubber, the cap is a completely non-porous glass stopper with a rubber ring to hold it in place, and the top was sealed in plastic.  He explained to me that this prevents any air at all from getting into the bottle and allows you to keep it in the fridge for over a week without a noticeable change in quality.  AND, we only had to switch to English once or twice–mostly because I hadn’t yet learned the words for “hermetically sealed.”  Granted, he spoke slowly because he could tell that I was still learning French, and the linguistic style was not especially elegant on my part, but it was a nice confidence booster to have a real conversation.  And alongside the glass of wine in this picture you can see the meringue that I bought from the boulanger/patissiere and had for dessert.

I realize that after going on and on about the cork, the photo cuts that part off.  Oops!

I realize that after I went on and on about the not-cork, the photo cuts that part off. Oops!

The day I walked 7km for a cookie (and inadvertently saw Paris’ Greatest Hits)

June 18, 2009 at 11:46 PM | Posted in Paris 2009, Paris markets | 3 Comments

Today has been my favorite day in Paris so far.  I went to my French class in the morning, which I am still really liking, although the pace is a bit slow for me (I think I’m in more of a total immersion situation at home/work than my classmates, so I am learning pretty fast).  My class ends at 1 pm at the west end of the Jardin de Luxembourg (in the 6th), and my job is in a southeast suburb of Paris, so I’ve tried four different ways of getting there and it pretty much takes an hour no matter what I do.  Today I decided that I’d rather walk through the Luxembourg Gardens and the Quartier Latin than through the underground tunnels of the huge Metro stops, and as I walked through the gardens I heard orchestra music in the grove of trees on the east side of the big pool.  Turns out there was a visiting orchestra giving a free concert, and I stopped for 10 minutes to listen to the music and eat my sandwich, and then passed by the Pantheon and the market street of Rue Mouffetard on my way to the metro.

At work one of the doctoral students, Severin, was practicing her dissertation defense, so Grace and I went to hear her rehearse in front of the rest of the staff in the lab/research unit where I work.  When I followed along with the writing on her slides, I really understood 70-75% of what she was saying (it was in French).  And even more surprising, I could get about 50% of the question-and-answer afterwards, and even could hear some of the humor–her thesis is about cognitive decline in an English working population, and someone suggested that perhaps the problem was a result of eating British beef.  I feel like my French comprehension, and speaking abilities, have both leapt in the past day or two.  It is really exciting!  And I was reunited with the dataset that I had to leave behind in Paris last summer due to IRB restrictions, and so I can finally finish my paper that has been lingering in my queue for a year.

My local award-winning boulangerie

My local award-winning boulangerie

Then I decided that it was an absolute travesty that I had been in Paris for five whole days and hadn’t made it to one of my top destinations of this year, Laduree, for a macaron (never going was one of my big regrets from last year). It was high time to remedy this situation.  So I set off on Rue St. Honore through the 1st arrondissement to the Laduree location on Champs-Elysees in the 8th.  The very first thing I saw, not 50 meters from my apartment, was a bakery displaying its credentials for placing in, and once winning, the “mellieure baguette de Paris” (Best Baguette of Paris) competition five times.  I apologize profusely for ever suggesting that this neigborhood has bad bread.  This baguette tradition was even better, dare I say, than Eric Kayser (the one I got yesterday).

I continued on Rue St. Honore, glimpsed the outside of the Louvre and then the Garnier Opera, walked through Place Vendome, and at some point I noticed that all the sidewalks were being blocked off on one side of the street, and that there was a red carpet rolled out, and that limousines were rolling up.  Turns out that I was outside the Presidential Palace, and there was some kind of fete going on.  I don’t know if I saw anyone famous, but it was pretty cool!

I continued on, and found myself with the Church of Mary Magdalene to my right, and the Place de la Concorde, and beyond that the gilded Pont des Invalides and the gold dome of the Hotel des Invalides (Napoleon’s resting place) to my left.  Cut over to the Champs-Elysees, and there on my right was the Arc de Triomphe.  I strolled down what was once the grandest avenue in the world and is now the grandest commercial strip mall tourist trap in the world and went into Laduree.  Stood in line to buy 3 petits macarons: chocolat amer

They must need to employ a special person to wipe the drool off the case

They must need to employ a special person to wipe the drool off the case

(bitter chocolate), caramel buerre fleur de sel (salted butter caramel), and pistache, and couldn’t resist taking a few pictures of the pastries.

I ate the pistachio one on my way home, but managed to save the other two.  I walked back down the Champs-Elysees through the Place de la Concorde, with the Eiffel Tower on my left and the Tuileries spread out in front of me.  Through the Jardin des Tuileries (the formal gardens outside the Louvre), past the Petit Palais, through the courtyards of the Louvre to the famous glass pyramid (the museum was mercifully quiet outside, since it was past 9pm, and it’s really quite beautiful, even without going in).  Back down Rue St. Honore and up to my apartment, where my cheese that I had set out two hours earlier had softened to the perfect runny goodness and which was perfect with my mind-boggling bread.

And then to the macaron.  It’s essentially a really, really fantastic sandwich cookie, made with almond paste (I think), so the cookies have a crunch outside and a soft inside, and are flavored and colored according to the type of macaron.  They are sandwiched together with some kind of deliciousness: sticky caramel, cold pistachio cream, chocolate ganache with tiny chopped nuts.  I unfortunately crushed the caramel one in my bag despite my best efforts, but I’m happy to report that the taste didn’t leak out at all.  And my heart went out to an American high school girl at Laduree (obviously in Paris on some kind of class trip) who had  sought this place out and came in with her friends, and then one obnoxious girl said, “This place is ridiculous.  They sell these all over the place.  How good can they be? We’re leaving.”  The poor girl looked completely heartbroken, and had I been any closer to the front of the line I would have bought her one, because really, these cookies are quite an experience and completely worth the euro fifty (about $2) each, as well as the round-trip seven kilometers I walked to get them.

They are even better than they look.

They are even better than they look.

Boulangeries (and fromageries, and chocolateries) found

June 17, 2009 at 10:20 PM | Posted in Paris 2009, Paris markets | 2 Comments

I really love my apartment–the central location, the antique furnishings, the ancient exposed wood beams in the ceiling–but until this evening, I wasn’t crazy about the neighborhood.  It felt very touristy and lacking in some of the neighborhood shops and gathering places that I like about other parts of Paris.  Then, after learning that one of my favorite bakeries, Eric Kayser, has a location not far from me on Rue de Petits Carreux (in the 2nd arrondissement), I made it my business to take a roundabout route home and get myself one of the amazing baguettes Malsherbes that I’ve been craving for a year.  And was I ever rewarded!

First of all, the bread was even more wonderful than I remembered. Last night I got a baguette traditionelle from the boulangerie around the corner, and it was okay but kind of tasted like Paris water (which is very mineral-y and tres calcaire, or full of calcium–good for the bones, not so great for the food).  The one I got today at Eric Kayser was worlds beyond that–it was still hot (bonus points) and had some real substance to it.  Of course, I ripped off le coude (the “elbow,” or pointy end of the baguette) and ate it as soon as I got outside the bakery. Then, as I walked down the street, which is a pedestrian street called Rue Montorguiel, I noticed that it had all the things I had been sad that (I thought) my neighborhood was missing.  It had every “-erie” you could imagine–boulangerie, patisserie, chocolaterie, fromagerie, boucherie (butcher), charcuterie (cured pork and ready-to-eat dishes), poissonerie (fish), epicerie (spices), and lots of stores for “bons produits”, or specialties, including a whole store devoted to olive oil and another devoted to candied fruit.  And while I was so excited to see my first local fromagerie that I bought a crottin, or little button, of chevre (goat cheese), I soon discovered that the street had eight or so cheese shops, each with its own character.  Same for boulangeries–there are enough different breads on Montorguiel to keep me trying a new one every day for weeks.

As I walked home, I just felt so happy to be here, and fell in love with the city all over again.

I made a picnic dinner from my foragings: fresh bread, goat cheese, some Camembert that I had bought at the grocery store the other day but which is not bad at all (especially when brought to room temperature), a fresh zucchini that I sliced and lightly cooked, and a glass of Chablis.  For dessert, I had a chocolate-covered nougat with almonds and pistachios, and a few candied kumquats that I picked up (don’t know what possessed me to pick those, out of all the candied fruits in the store, but they are really good!).

My delicious dinner

My delicious dinner

and my equally delicious dessert, getting some fresh air on my living room window sill

and my equally delicious dessert, getting some fresh air on my living room window sill. Note how light it is outside: I took this picture at 9:30 pm

In unrelated news, I’m back at my job from last summer and it is so wonderful to see my colleagues and be working on this project.  They are really special people–especially the lab head, Marcel, and one of the head scientists, Marie–and I love working with them.  French class is also going well, and I can’t believe how much I’ve already learned (despite the long, long way that I have left to go!)

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).

Chefs’ Supply District Part II, and French toast for real

July 24, 2008 at 3:23 PM | Posted in Paris 2008, Paris markets, Wanderings | Leave a comment

I woke up with a shock today at 6am. The apartment complex’s stray cat was sticking his head through the sliding glass door in my bedroom (which I had opened about 4 inches to get some fresh air–no screens in France) and yowling–baying is more like it–while staring directly into my eyes. What a way to wake up. I think I shrieked a little–this cat is huge. Instead of falling completely back asleep, I started half-dreaming about Parisian cookware and the chefs’ supply stores. So I decided to go to work early, leave early, and track down the dough whisk I learned about yesterday, and perhaps some little tartlet pans.

After a productive day at work, I felt completely justified in leaving at 4pm. I got the last dough whisk from the hardware store/cookware store on R. St. Augustine in “Japantown” (more like Japan-block), and for probably the first time since I got to Paris, I had reverse sticker shock (it was way less than I had believed was possible)! I then stopped in a little Japanese cookware/grocery/gourmet foodstuff store on R. St. Augustine, and as I was looking at the sake pitchers, the saleswoman came up to me and said (in French), “You can taste anything in the store that you want”–and I understood her!! I then said (in my toddler-level French), “le sake froid c’est bon ajourd’hui…il fait chaud” (Cold sake is good today, it’s hot out–yeah, told you it was toddler-level) She led me to a refrigerator case in the back and picked out four bottles, then set them out on a counter with little tasting cups and told me (in English) how they’re all different as I tasted them.

Then I found culinary heaven–E. Dehillerin. Seriously, the stores I saw yesterday paled in comparison to this. It’s much more a restaurant supply store than the ones I saw previously–for example, you can buy at least twenty sizes of ladles (some the size of mixing bowls), and the bowls come separately from the stems so you can customize your ladle to exactly how you want it. The store has the industrial feel of Home Depot, has about ten times the breadth of products as Sur la Table, is jammed from floor to ceiling, and is very reasonably priced for the quality (you’d pay a whole lot more at Williams-Sonoma). After forty-five minutes of happily browsing and trying to figure out the uses of the tools–an endlessly entertaining activity, especially with the occasional help of the salesman working in the gadgets section–I bought a set of nonstick, fluted tartlet molds with removable bottoms.

E. Dehillerin is in Les Halles (by the Louvre), and since it was gorgeous outside, I decided to walk home–down R. Rivoli and through the Marais area, which I love. On the way home, I ran across yet another kitchenware store–Le Vaissellerie–which sells discount china, ceramics, and other various and sundry kitchen goods. I started hearing the siren song of the amuse-bouche plates and mini mustard pots and cheese knives that I so valiantly resisted yesterday, and I’ll go back when I am not so deeply in the mindset of “my life will be incomplete without a Camembert knife.” (But speaking of which–cheese knives are brilliant! They have a blade like a normal knife, but the end of the knife is forked, so you can spear your piece of cheese after cutting it).

I finally got home around 8pm and decided that I would put the last stale five inches of yesterday’s “pain au tradition” to good use (pain au tradition is, incidentally, my favorite kind of bread here–shorter and squatter than a normal baguette, with a springy inside, big holes perfect for catching jam, chewy-crunchy crust, and a light dusting of flour on the outside, AND usually still hot when I buy it). I had some organic eggs, milk, and honey….so I made pain perdu (French toast–literally, “lost bread”) and ate it with some of the raspberry-peach compote that my housemate made last weekend. Using good bread and fresh eggs made a huge difference–the inside was like custard, and I think it actually helped that the bread was a little stale. Trés délicieux!

My spontaneous outing to the chefs’-supply district

July 23, 2008 at 1:51 PM | Posted in Paris 2008, Paris markets, Wanderings | 2 Comments

Today was one of those days at work that just dragged on and on–by 4pm my brain was tapped out. So I started checking some of my favorite websites to pass the time, including Chocolate and Zucchini, my favorite food-and-Paris blog. The latest entry on the blog was about a whisk used to mix thick dough batters, and Clotilde, the writer, mentioned the store in Paris where she got it. I had this moment of “Whoa! I can actually just leave work and go there and check it out myself!” I then looked through the archives of the blog to see if there were any other cooking supply stores that I could find while I was out. As it turns out, there are about six within one block of each other–near the corner of R. Montmartre and R. Etienne-Marcel in the 2nd arrondissement–which is walking distance from the store with the whisk. By this point it was 5pm and I was guessing that most of the stores would close by 6 or 6:30, so I hightailed it from Villejuif (the suburb where I work) up to the 2nd. These stores were fantastic, if a little overwhelming. Geared towards somewhere between the enthusiastic home cook and a chef at a fine restaurant, they had rooms and rooms full of stuff that looked so enticing but that I knew would be less charming once I left Paris. Some examples: a choice of ten types of escargot plates (which come to think of it would make a great earring-holder), multiple sizes of gratin dishes, a three-inch-tall round ceramic pot with two handles (I have no idea what it was for–I tried to ask the salesperson in French, and it was sort of embarrassing how poorly I was able to express myself), two-inch-square plates for amuse-bouche, a set of 24 tartlet pans–and yes, I briefly toyed with the idea of purchasing all these adorable items. I then had an attack of buyers’ hesitation, and the stores were closing so I felt kind of rushed and I didn’t end up getting anything, and by the time I got to the store with the whisk (the whole impetus for this mission), it was closed. But through all this browsing, I did make a mental list of cooking supplies that I want to get while I’m here, since I’ll have no choice but to make French things with them once I get home: tartlet molds (and maybe a big tart mold), a madeleine pan, the dough whisk, and hopefully some kind of antique/obscure kitchen tool at a flea market. The stores are a little expensive, but even I can tell how good the quality of the cookware is. I also heard about a few discount and overstock chefs’ supply stores in the outer arrondissements, so I may go check those out now that I’ve gotten a good sense of what I want and what’s out there.

Here are some really beautiful espresso cups I saw that all have a big wrinkle in them, as if the clay partly collapsed when the cup was being made (looking at them would make my mom carsick due to the asymmetry).

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