Recently in David’s Favorite Posts category

Pineapple-Ginger Sparkling Wine Cocktail

champagne cocktail

Whew! It’s been quite a year. There were some ups and a few downs. Looking back as the year draws to a close, I’m not sure they balanced out this time around. I had my share of moments when I just had to stop, take a deep breath, and do a little reassemble and reassess. One highlight might include the day at the mobile phone office when I purposely drew my head back then banged my head on the counter. (And no, repair of forehead dents isn’t covered by the French sécurité sociale, the national health insurance.) Another was when someone explained to me – and yes, with a straight face – that they don’t have USB ports in one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.

There were a host of other things that were a little more serious, that I won’t inflict upon you. But I am pretty sure there are enough to stories from this year to fill a book. But I am also pretty sure that no one would believe me.

Continue Reading Pineapple-Ginger Sparkling Wine Cocktail…

White Vinegar (vinaigre blanc)

vinaigre

The most common bottle of crisp white that you’ll find in any Parisian apartment isn’t a musky Muscadet from the Loire, or a Petit Chablis from Burgundy. This one comes in a plastic bottle, has a screw top with a little opening just underneath so you can squeeze out a stream as needed, and costs less than a buck. It’s le vinaigre blanc, and it’s obligatoire to keep a squeezable plastic liter bottle handy in your kitchen.

(Not to say the other kinds of whites aren’t obligatory as well. Each just help hurdle different kinds of obstacles.)

Before I moved to France, I rarely paid white vinegar a second thought. My pantry was stocked with red wine and sherry vinegar, and a little bottle of fancy balsamic. But their importance is secondary to white vinegar, which does everything from keeping your wine glasses spotless to making sure your dishwasher doesn’t seize up on you mid-load, completely clogged by the infamous calcaire, never to wash another dish again.

I arrived completely unaware of it, and in my first apartment, apparently neither did the person before me because right after I moved in, one day, my dishwasher simply ground to a permanent halt. However I was fortunate regarding the laundry machine because a friend confided in me over lunch in a café shortly after I arrived, as if it was some big unspoken secret in Paris that you can’t just wash clothes or dishes without adding a little something “extra” to the load. (And now you can stop wondering what all those French people are talking about in Parisian cafés, if you don’t speak French.)

She advised Calgon, but a well-meaning friend from California came to visit and reprimanded me for having a box, saying it was an environmental catastrophe. Apparently the word hasn’t made it six thousand miles away because I see it in almost every household I visit, tucked under the kitchen or bathroom sink. But it was then that I made the switch to 100% white vinegar.

Continue Reading White Vinegar (vinaigre blanc)…

Les Vacances

dinner setting

The French really have it right with the five weeks of paid vacation a good number of them get a year. It’s a great way to truly relax and one week isn’t enough. I know, because my stingy boss (…and that would be me) limited my vacation to a measly seven days. But for that one week, I took part in the annual mass exodus of Paris, because as we know, all work and no play make Jacques, or Jules – or David – a dull boy.

dorade

Continue Reading Les Vacances…

Fromagerie Pascal Beillevaire

goat cheeses

I’m not going to say it’s the top reason I live here, but one of the main reasons that I live in France is because of the cheese. It’s not just that I like cheese – which I do very dearly – but it also represents something that France has held on to, and still defies modernization. You just can’t make Comté or Bleu de Termignon with a machine. Each is made in a certain region, with milk from certain pastures, then molded and ripened, then sent to a skilled fromager to be offered to customers.

camembert de normandie

My dream job used to be to work in a cheese shop, until a friend who worked in a cheese shop told me how hard it was. (As those of you who read my Paris book know, I found working at the fish market quite different than I initially thought, too.) But no matter what people say, the idea of being surrounded by cheese in every direction, learning about the different regions and styles of cheesemaking, and just inhaling the funky, pungent aromas also sounds like heaven to me.

Continue Reading Fromagerie Pascal Beillevaire…

Moist Chocolate-Beet Cake

chocolate-beet cake

It’s interesting reading some of the talk regarding if the internet is ready to replace cookbooks. Sure, there are people furiously clicking around wherever they can for a chocolate cake recipe. And there are hundreds of thousands of chocolate cake recipes that you can find using a search engine. But to me, that’s not enough. When I want to spend my precious time and funds making something to eat, I don’t want to merely find a recipe. There’s nothing compelling about a downloadable list of ingredients. It just leaves me cold. I want the author or writer to tell me about the recipe, what inspired them to create it, or how it came about.

beets

I want to know why someone chose that recipe, what twists they gave it, what made the cake or casserole they were making so special to them that they wanted to share it. Was it an unusual ingredient? Did they like the description they read of it elsewhere? Were they inquisitive about how a root vegetable from their garden could make its way into a chocolate cake?

Continue Reading Moist Chocolate-Beet Cake…

In-Room Coffee

hotel coffee

One of my great joys in life in in-room coffee. Hotels do a lot of head-scratching things, like inventing ‘turn-down service.’ Aside from a free piece of chocolate, does anyone like or want someone rummaging through their room while they’re out at dinner? Or the “hotel channel”, which shows and glorifies the splendors of your hotel, which is kind of silly since you’re already there. Plus it always takes me a few days to figure out how to bypass that channel and get to the tv stations. (Although it takes me quite a bit longer to get that syrupy music from the hotel channel out of my head.) But I’m a happy hotel camper when I find a coffee-maker in my hotel room, wherever I find myself in the morning.

Continue Reading In-Room Coffee…

Chez Panisse at Forty

Chez Panisse 40th Anniversary

Before I started working at Chez Panisse, way back in the early 1980s, I didn’t really know all that much about the restaurant. Prior to moving to California, I’d read an article about “California Cuisine” and of all the places listed, the chef of each one had either worked at this place called Chez Panisse or cited it as inspiration. So I’d picked up a copy of The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, which listed menus and the recipes featured in the restaurant.

As I read through the book over and over, I was intrigued by this place where people injected tangerine juice for multiple days into legs of lamb then spit-roasting the hindquarters so that those syrupy-sweet juices not only moistened the meat but caramelized the outside to a crackly finish. There were descriptions of salads of bitter greens drizzled with walnut oil that were topped with warm disks of goat cheese, which were made by a woman who lived an hour north of the restaurant and had her own goats.

Thinking about it now, I am sure that I’d had goat cheese on backpacking trips through Europe, but never really paid attention to it. But these fresh disks of California chèvre that oozed from the bready coating that were part of one of the menus in the books sure sounded pretty good. And a tart made of sliced almonds, baked in a buttery crust until toffee-like and firm, and meant to be eaten with your hands, along with tiny cups of strong coffee alongside. I kept that book on my nightstand for bedside reading for months.

Continue Reading Chez Panisse at Forty…

Paris Was Ours

Even if you’ve never been to Paris, it’s obvious that the city has a special allure that no other city in the world has, and a multitude of books get written about Paris by past and present residents. Readers look for answers to how French women miraculously stay so slender, or offer guidance for mastering the eternally sun-drenched foods of Provence (which don’t hold back on the lavender, although I’ve never seen anyone eating lavender anything in Provence), or promise to unlock the secrets of how Parisians have so much flair and maintain their certain je ne sais quoi.

I was thinking about those when I was reading Paris Was Ours, a thoughtfully edited anthology of thirty-two stories written by writers who live in Paris, or whose lives have been somehow profoundly affected by their time here. While those topics have their audience, there’s many sides to Paris that aren’t often broached, which is why I found myself so caught up in this book.

Continue Reading Paris Was Ours…