The Two-Hour Goodbye

Clock - two hour goodbye

I am definitely slowing down, because ever since arriving in France, when I’m out and about, as midnight approaches, my head starts rolling back toward my neck, which I have to make an effort to snap back when I’m à table or at a party with mes amis françaiss. When I was younger, I regularly stayed awake until 2…but usually 3am, with friends and co-workers, drinking wine, bowling, or just watching tv after work, unwinding with the baker’s favorite dinner: A big bag of tortilla chips and a jar of salsa. Times have certainly changed, and now by 11pm, I’m ready to brush my teeth and hop in the sack, exhausted from another day of this constantly challenging thing called “life.”

I’m not much of a social animal, as people who’ve tried to corner me have discovered, which (judging by some of the awkward situations that I’ve found myself in), proves I’m not all that great at socializing. A lot of it comes from being squirreled away in the back of restaurant kitchens for thirty-five years, where it seems most conversations are about food, sex, cooking, sex, our lack of sleep, sex, who makes the best salsa, raunchy jokes, sex, and making sure the dishwasher is on your side. Because if not, they can really f**k you up. (And believe me, they will.) Nowadays, though, my biggest concern at night is simply remaining vertical.

When you go to a party in France, be it a dinner party or a get-together of another kind (even a rendezvous at a bar or restaurant), leaving is simply pas possible. Okay, it’s not impossible, but the process can take a good two hours or so. At restaurants in France, it’s considered rude to give someone the check before they are ready to leave. So people will linger as long as they want. (And they like to make sure that they do.) To me, it seems to be rude to be the first person to suggest leaving, even long after you’ve finished up. From the looks I get when I suggest getting the check and settling up, it’s like you’re telling your friends, “I’ve had enough of you. Time’s up.” And no one wants to be that person who’s the first to make a move toward leaving. Because no one wants to be the spoil sport, which seems to fall on my shoulders.

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Double Chocolate Pudding with Caramelized Cocoa Nibs

Chocolate pudding recipe

I’ve been a bit out of sorts recently, getting a little buried under things that are less-fun than cooking and baking. Fortunately, I gotta eat. And I also have to have chocolate, frequently. (As in, daily.) Otherwise I turn into some kind of crazed person. It’s a little strange, but I guess there are odder things to be addicted to. But if I don’t have a tablet of chocolate in my kitchen (or living room, or bed room, or…), I go a little mental and find myself wandering around wherever I am, searching for a bar to break the end off of and nibble on.

Which is why unsweetened chocolate is so vexing. While it’s great for baking, and giving things like chocolate pudding an especially intense bitter chocolate flavor, it’s hard to keep my hands off the little chunks when I can chopping it up for a recipe.

Double Chocolate Pudding

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Chez Dumonet

Chez Dumonet French bistro in Paris

One of my downfalls is that I do not have a photographic memory. Sometimes I go out to eat and the next day, I have less of a recollection of what I ate (and drank) than some of my esteemed colleagues who write about restaurants so eloquently do. (My memory is gradually been replaced by the camera on my phone.) In this case, as soon as I got home, I wrote up some notes from the meal and quotes from the chef, which some rather concerted efforts to find on my computer failed to turn up.

Chez Dumonet

That said, all the meals that I’ve had at Chez Dumonet, a spot-on classic Parisian bistro, have been memorable – regardless of the evolving ways that I have of preserving them. The memories last long after that feeling of being absolutely stuffed have diminished — the next few days after a meal here are invariably “salad days.”

Chez Dumonet

Fortunately, not much changes at Chez Dumonet, which is sometimes still affectionately called Joséphine. For those who want a place that is carrying on the traditions of the Parisian bistro, you can’t do better than Chez Dumonet. The only concessions they’ve made to modern times (and waistlines) are offering half-portions of certain dishes, which are massive enough to make you wish le doggy bag was more popular in Paris. (I, personally, do not mind rewarmed bœuf bourguignon the next day for lunch.)

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Rödel Sardines

Rodel sardines-8

I know. It’s hard to get people excited about tinned sardines. I’ve eaten them casually for most of my life and never gave them all that much thought. But with sustainability issues and delicious spreads that you can make with the flavorful fish – and the fact that they make an almost instant lunch – I’ve found myself making sure that I always have a stock of them in my pantry.

Rödel sardines

In France, there are several very good brands of sardines that are available, from the Connétable brand (found in supermarkets), to fancier brands – and tins – like Conserverie la belle-iloise, who recently opened a shop in Paris. But the best — le top du top of French sardines, are from Rödel & Fils Frères, who claims to be the first sardine conserverie in France.

Rödel sardines

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Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala recipe

Who knew I (or more to the point, Paris) was so ahead of the curve? Last year, when I wrote about the preponderance of purple populating Paris, a few readers pointed out that the color orchid was named The Color of the Year by tastemakers, Pantone.

Chicken Marsala

And recently, I made Marsala-baked pears, only to find out that, yup – this year, Marsala is the color of the year. So if you’re interested in finding out what the color of the year is going to be for next year, keep an eye on this blog.

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Bread, on the table…s’il vous plaît

Sesame baguette

One of the things that I see when dining with visitors to France is that right after they pluck a piece of bread out of the bread basket that is invariably set on the table in cafés and restaurants, they start looking around – a little nervously – where to put their bread down. While the conversation is going, I sense a bit of multitasking – their eyes nervously scanning the table, darting back and forth, looking for something — a plate, a board, an extra napkin…anything to put their bread on.

Finally, they settle on the side of their plate or bowl as that’s the only option that seems to be available to them. But that’s tricky since the sides of plates are sloped. Their minds continue to race as they mentally calculate the engineering behind finding the exact correct angle to place the bread on the plate, usually close to the rim, so it has something to hang on to (because, darn, those porcelain plates are slippery), while trying to look nonchalant and continue to appear unruffled. But soon, the slice of baguettes starts inching down towards their dinner, and they have to keep propping it back up to keep it away from the food. Or worse, to keep it from sliding off, and onto, the table.

Chez Dumonet

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Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

dulce de leche cheesecake recipe-7

Sometimes when I write posts for the blog, I write so fast that my mind can barely keep up with my fingers. (Hence the occasional frequent typo.) Ideas fly into my head and I literally have to jump up from my chair and make them. Such was the case with this Dulce de Leche Cheesecake recipe, which combines two of everybody’s favorite things: cream cheese and dulce de leche. The French are fans of le Philadelphia, a catch-all word for cream cheese (just like we say Band-Aids and Kleenex, which are actually specific trademarks) and they are also fans of confiture de lait (milk jam), their own version of dulce de leche.

Dulce de leche cheesecake

They don’t, however, have graham crackers, an all-American invention made with whole-wheat flour, and designed by Reverend Sylvester Graham, to discourage people (his followers were called “Grahamites”) from having impure thoughts.

(Not sure how I’d explain how a whole-grain cracker curbs lascivious urges to French friends. But somehow, I doubt that would increase the chances that we’d be seeing them anytime soon on French supermarket shelves.)

Dulce de leche cheesecake

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Meeting the Producers and Cooks in Paris

Paris Producers Fête - Belgian endive

An anonymous SMS (text) popped up on the screen of my phone late Saturday afternoon, letting me know that there was a journée de rencontre les producteurs on the rue du Nil in Paris, where there would be wine and food, and a chance to meet the producteurs (producers). There was no name attached to it — someday, I will figure out how to sync my iPhone with my contact list so that it doesn’t lose contacts. But I presumed it wasn’t a trap (albeit a tasty one…) or anything. And since the street is known for great food shops that carefully source their ingredients, and good places to eat, I arranged to meet some friends, including Sara, visiting from Italy, to see what was up.

Paris Producers Fête

After figuring out who had sent me the message (whew, it wasn’t some loony-toon, but the chef at Frenchie), we started off with some wine and cheese at Frenchie Wine Bar, which is normally packed solid from the moment the door swings open in the evening. But this afternoon, we just walked in and sat down at one of the many empty tables. (Which didn’t last long.) There were three kinds of cheese: Roquefort, Brie de Meaux, and Saint-Nectaire, a favorite of French people, although it’s not the one that I normally dive into first.

Paris Producers Fête

A great hostess in Paris confided in me once that the secret of a great party is to only serve three things. Basta. And it was, indeed, nice to have an edited selection of fromages to taste, rather than having to pick though dozens of varieties. Which start looking pretty funky once a bunch of people have attacked them from all angles.

Paris Producers Fête

I had a nice slab of pungently creamy Roquefort, a coarse slice of country bread, and butter. (French people often smear butter on bread before eating blue cheese or Roquefort, which sounds kind of crazy, but actually works.) It was hard to leave that table, but after we finished our wine and cheese, we headed back out to the street to see what was up. At this point, our seats had become a valuable commodity. Although unlike at other food events, people were very calm and friendly.

(I tend to avoid food events because people get carried away and it becomes a feeding frenzy. And I don’t particularly enjoying standing in a mob of jostling people, fighting for a postage stamp-size taste of something. I’m fine buying a bite, then sitting down and eating something in a civilized fashion.)

Paris Producers Fête

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