The Readjustment, and Lockhart Smokehouse BBQ

Lockhart Smokehouse BBQ

It takes me a few days to readjust to life when I come back to the U.S.A. On our last trip, as we stepped off the plane at Dulles, we were confronted with a huge picture of a giant overstuffed sandwich plastered on the wall of a restaurant, which was aptly named, Potbelly. Like the clever titling of The Pretty Kitty salon that I passed the other day in Dallas, whose speciality was Brazilian waxing, I admired the witty double-meaning. (Albeit referring to a place a little farther south.) But I had assumed the only places where a big belly was à la mode were Polynesian places like Guam and Hawaii. Years back, I did an event with a bunch of nice Hawaiians on the Big Island, who invited me to an after-party. Hûi! I’d never seen so much unrestrained indulging in my life. It was funny being at a party where their weren’t many people, but it was very crowded nonetheless because a big belly is a sign of contentment. (Am not sure what a Brazilian waxing is a sign of.)

Lockheart Smokehouse

After arrival in the States, some things I get up-to-speed with right away – customer service, sidewalks not being a constant game of “chicken”, folks politely apologizing if they happen to get in your way, and clean public bathrooms. Other things, like men calling each other “bro”, waiters stopping by every three minutes to see if anything has changed since the last three minutes that they stopped by to ask you if everything is okay, the proliferation of cooking as a competitive activity, and total strangers taking an intense interest in your welfare: My hotel was kind enough to call my room two hours after I’d arrived, after eleven hours of flying, to see if everything was okay. I wanted to say, Well, it was…until you called and woke me up.” But slipping into my polite American mode, I mumbled under my fog of jet lag into the phone, “Everything is okay” instead of saying, “Actually, no, everything is no longer okay. You woke me up and now it’s going to take me seven hours to get back to sleep.”

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Wild Garlic (or Ramps) Pasta

Ramp/Wild Garlic pasta

I’ve become weary – and wary – of the American aisles in European supermarkets. And have come to the conclusion that people think we all eat badly because we live on bottled salad dressings, orange cheese in squirt bottles, and strawberry Fluff, which is something I’ve never seen in America. And I like Fluff just fine. (Just the plain, though. The red scares me. However truth be told, I’ve been known to succumb to the magic of Lucky Charms, a long time ago.) But when that’s the sole image representing American food, it’s sad to me, because we’ve had a wonderful renaissance in the last few decades of marvelous farmers’ markets sprouting up everywhere, even in the middle of the most urban city in the world, New York.

Ramp/Wild Garlic pasta

Of course, no one is exporting fresh American goat cheese to France, farm eggs, small-batch jams, or artisan honeys, since they have those things in abundance here. (And the French have their share of goofy foods, too, including unusual flavors of tinned ravioli, but they don’t seem to make it across the Atlantic.)

Ramp/Wild Garlic pasta

In Switzerland recently, while touring with my group, I noticed at the sweet little auberge near Lausanne where we had dinner the final night, that the blackboard propping the door open said the plat du jour was fondue with bear’s garlic (ail des ours). Although lunch that day was cheese beignets, and dinner the night before was fondue at Café Grütli, and we’d had a cheese-tasting that afternoon at a cheese-ripening cave, for some reason, I was hungry for yet another hit of melted cheese. Happily, the owner was kind enough to bring me, and my group, a small pot for a taste. And let me tell you, if we weren’t facing another full-on dinner of Swiss food, I would have scraped that entire pot clean.

Ramp/Wild Garlic pasta

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Bacon and Radicchio Risotto

Bacon and Radicchio Risotto

I don’t make risotto nearly as much as I should. I never order it in a restaurant unless I’m absolutely sure they’re going to do it right because there’s nothing worse than a not-very-good risotto. But there’s nothing better than a good one. Especially a good one with bacon in it.

Bacon and Radicchio Risotto

One night, back when I was working at Chez Panisse, Paul Bertolli, one of the world’s great cooks (Italian, and otherwise), was standing over the stove, tending to steamy pots of risotto for diners. So I go over to him and ask him for a lesson. And he was happy to teach me. As he presided over several pots of barely simmering rice, I got a few pointers from him.

Bacon and Radicchio Risotto

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Lillet

Lillet

I’m not sure how I discovered Lillet, an orange-infused apéritif wine, made in a town on a road between Sauternes and Bordeaux, but I remember driving through the area and making my friend screech to a halt when we (almost) passed the Lillet factory.

Factory probably isn’t the best word, but macerbatorium probably sounds a little dodgy, but when we walked in, we found ourselves in front of an astounding amount of oranges and shards of bark, bobbing up and down, as they macerated in vats of wine. While that was certainly a riveting sight, equally enticing was the silver daddy who was very easy on the eyes, who took us through the facility, explaining the process of making the famed apéritif wine, then joining us for a little dégustation.

Lillet

It was hard to concentrate on the beverages clinking in our glasses, but I did my best. (I swear.) And I bought a bottle as a souvenir, likely as a pretext for letting us snap a picture of the two of us together, which had a hallowed place over my desk for well over a decade. I don’t know what happened to that picture, but I still pine for Lillet to this day. Interestingly, it’s rare that you find Lillet served in Paris and if you ask around, you’d be hard-pressed to find very many people in town that even know what it is. (Readers of The Sweet Life in Paris know what I was served the first time I tried to order it in a café, which I’m still living down.)

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My Paris Kitchen book tour

My Paris Kitchen

I’ve finally reached a milestone in my life because I am actually going on a book tour. Yes, I can barely believe it myself. After years of publishers hiding me, aka “the loose cannon,” they are releasing me into the wild. I’ll be heading to the U.S. and Vancouver for a series of events to mark the release of My Paris Kitchen. While I’d love to go everywhere*, there’s only one (1) of me, and fifty (50) states – not to mention the provinces, territories, and wilds of Canada. However, if anyone can get me to Hawaii and arrange an event close to the beach, I will work on my publisher to find a way to accommodate that one. (But you may have to invite them to come with me.) So, in spite of how easy the airlines make it to change tickets, and the low-fees involved in doing so, this is it.

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The Making of My Paris Kitchen

My Paris Kitchen Photoshoot

(Photo by Ed Anderson)

My Paris Kitchen is finally here! It’s taken me a few years to get to this day, and I thought I’d give you a little look behind-the-scenes of how the book was created. There’s a certain amount of conversation about blogs versus cookbooks, and since I have a foot in both, I am keenly aware of the connection between the two, but also what makes them different.

My Paris Kitchen Photoshoot

There’s a lot of talk about whether food blogs are overtaking traditional cookbooks. What’s changing – in my view – is that people are looking for something else in a cookbook – not just collections of recipes, which can be found online, but a storyline that carries the book. I read blogs when I’m sitting in front of my computer, but I love settling into a chair (or cozy bed) with a good cookbook, and reading all the stories that accompany the recipes.

So when people ask me, “What’s your book about?” I answer that it’s a story about how I cook in Paris – where I shop, how I find ingredients, the friends I like to cook with, as well as recipes from Parisian friends, chefs, and pastry chefs, with plenty of photos (and stories) of the outdoor markets, pastry shops, bread bakeries, bistros, and cafés. The book starts with recipes and stories for l’heure de l’apéro (cocktail hour), and goes through soups, salads, and main courses, before heading to dessert, ending with a spectacular bûche de Noël, that concludes the year across France on a sweet note.

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Fromage Fort

Fromage forte

At any given time, there are between two – and fourteen – nubbins of cheese in my refrigerator. Those odds and ends are the result of me getting too excited when I’m at the fromagerie, usually going with the intention of buying just one or two wedges. But after scanning the shelves, and seeing a few cheeses that also look worthy of my shopping basket, ones that I am sure need to be tasted, the friendly women who I buy cheese from wrap them all up neatly in paper for me to take home. The bill is always more than I expect, but it’s the one bill that I’m happy to régler (pay up).

As fond as I am of cheese, as are my fellow Parisians, they’re not quite as fond of loading things up with garlic as much as other folks. You rarely see anything heavily dosed with garlic (forty cloves, or otherwise) in Paris restaurants, nor have I ever been served anything with more than the barest hint of garlic in someone’s home. (I’m not sure why because there is so much garlic at the markets. So someone must be buying it.)

Fromage Forte

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Some Thoughts on French Cuisine

France Map

French cuisine is, once again, a popular topic of discussion these days. Actually, anything controversial about France seems to foster a lot of heated debates. On one side are the folks decrying French-bashing, complaining that the French are unfairly picked on. Then there are the others who eat up books about how superior the French are, because they are better at parenting, they miraculously stay thin, they don’t have plastic surgery, everyone enjoys months of vacations, and Paris is a magical place where love, fashion, and fine food, flourish on the cobbled streets of the city. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between and, like any where, there is the great, the ordinary, and a bit of the not-so-good. I want to play the referee but there’s usually a bit of truth in most compliments and criticisms, and the reality is more complicated.

French cuisine gets its share of praise and criticism, some deserved, some not. One truth I’ve learned after living here for over a decade is that people really like to eat. The outdoor markets are crowded, lines snake out the door at bakeries, and cafés and restaurants are packed – even on Tuesday evenings – in spite of la crise (the economic crisis).

But what is French cuisine? Traditionally, cuisine du potager (cooking from the garden) or cuisine du marché (cooking from the daily market) were the foundations of French cuisine. Cuisine du potager was born out of economic and common sense; you cooked and ate what was closest to where you lived. Part of it was out of necessity (there was no Chinese garlic or avocados from Peru way-back-when), but mostly because the food was either free, picked from your own garden, or grown nearby. So you were always eating seasonally and locally. In France, you were cooking and eating local products; fresh cream, butter, and cheeses made in your region, peas from your garden, eggs from the neighbor’s chicken coop, and bread from the village bakery.

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