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Pimandes: Chocolate Covered Almonds with Chile

Chocolate-Covered Almonds

I don’t know where they get these, and I don’t really care. But if you stop in da rosa and don’t pick up a bag of them, you’re making a terrible mistake.

These little dusty ovals of chocolate enrobe a Marcona almond tucked in the middle and there’s just a touch for the smoky taste of pimente d’Espelette, the bright-red Basque chili powder that I like to sprinkle over everything from pumpkin purée to chocolate-peanut bark. Once I open the bag of Pimandes, it’s assured that the rest will soon be history.

To be honest, I wanted to show you the inside of one.

Really I did.

Continue Reading Pimandes: Chocolate Covered Almonds with Chile…

Breizh Cáfe: Buckwheat crêpes in Paris

When a British travel writer asked if I’d like to meet for brunch last week, he also asked if I could suggest a reasonable place for the article he was doing. So I put on my thinking cap, kicked off my slippers, tossed my funky pajamas in the laundry bin, showered and…get this…shaved!…and actually took a break from my project and got a few breaths of fresh air.

Imagine that! (This is getting to be a habit around here…)

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Le Brunch is indeed available at some places in Paris, but je deteste being around people first thing in the morning—and I’m not so fond of Le Brunch either. So we compromised on the more civilized hour of 1pm. Not much is open in Paris on Sunday, which our President is fixing to change, so I suggested Breizh Café a tidy corner spot specializing in galettes de blé noir, commonly known as buckwheat crêpes.

There’s no shortage of strollers or hipsters hanging out in this part of the Marais on Sunday. Once you get by all the folks peering in gallery windows, cigarettes perched in the corners of their mouth and the obligatory Sunday am dark glasses, it’s a relief to find an inexpensive place to eat where the food is anything but trendy.

Breizh Cafe

Because owner Bertrand Larcher is a true Breton, the Breizh Café focuses on the quality of the products and lets them shine, rather than trying to mess with the originals: there’s no red pepper dust on the corner of the plate or twirls of squiggly sauces that have no business being there.

Continue Reading Breizh Cáfe: Buckwheat crêpes in Paris…

Beaufort d’Été

When I was in Méribel avoiding the steep slopes waiting in line at the cheese coopérative, I wasn’t alone: the joint was seeing more action than all those gasp-inducing ski runs.

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And just about every person ordered a nice hunk of Beaufort. And since they were in front of me in line, being France, of course each person had to have a 5 minute conference with the saleswoman about how to cut it, where they wanted it cut, exactly how much to lop off, if the other hunk on the shelf was better than the one they were getting, did they have another one in the back?…etc…etc…

The person in front of me scared me a bit when he requested a chunk that were as huge as a baseball mitt. It barely fit on the scale!

Naturally when it was my turn, it took me all of 1.3 seconds to tell her what I wanted and I ended up with a nice-sized piece as well—albeit of a more modest size—and could barely wait until I got home and dug into my chunk.

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Meribel

Les Alps

For the holidays this year, I decided to take up a friend’s offer to visit their family in Méribel, a village way high up in the French alps. As you can see, it’s a spectacular place. And I’m not just talking ‘gorgeous sunsets’ or ‘charmingly quaint’ spectacular. I mean, Méribel was mind-blowingly, insanely hallucinante.

Seriously, I wasn’t prepared for the awesome beauty of it all. Although I haven’t strapped on a pair of skis in over thirty years, there I stood, at the top of the mountain on my first day on skis in decades, ready to slide down.

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Let me tell you—skiing isn’t one of those things that you get more comfortable with as you get older. *sigh* Especially when you’re with a group of skiers that include some crazy teenagers who, at the top of a particularly steep run, simply point their skis in the straight-down position, and shove off with their poles and a banchee-like “On y va, Daveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed!”

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And off they’d go…

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Camp Cassoulet

Cassoulet

Most people when they think of France, they think of only two places: Paris and Provence. While I’ll admit both are lovely spots for a visit (or in the case of Paris, to live in), there’s a lot more to this country than those two destinations. I suppose the romance of lavender in everything and hoards of tourists does have its appeal, but to me, Gascony is one of my favorite destinations in France.

Boat

And during my recent trip to Kate’s kitchen, near Agen, we spent last weekend cooking up cassoulet of all sorts, tasting local products, and drinking Armagnac with great restraint (that stuff is st-rong!) There was lots of choose from, but to keep our wits about us, our primary fuel was the darkest vin rouge in France: Cahors, often called ‘black wine’, made from just up to the north of us, from the canal and boat I called home for the weekend.

(Note: This post contains photos of animals used for cooking, some resembling their natural state. It’s part of life in the French countryside where that’s part of their way of life. Just a mention in case you’re sensitive to seeing things like that.)

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Camp Cassoulet Weekend

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I’m at Camp Cassoulet this weekend!
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(More pictures on my Flickr page.)

Gluten-Free Eating and Dining in Paris

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Since I originally wrote this post, I’ve updated it several times (most recently in 2012) since Paris has become more gluten-free friendly. For those who need to avoid gluten, France may present more of a challenge than other countries. But recently gluten-free eating has gained a bit more visibility. That’s not to say you can easily eat anywhere, but even supermarkets are carrying gluten-free products and natural food shops offer fresh gluten-free pastries and breads, and have aisles of gluten-free products.

You may get a few perplexed looks when you ask if something is without gluten, but it is possible. So here are a few helpful hints that will help you navigate French restaurants and dining, how to deal with waiters, and where you can find gluten-free products and foods in Paris, including a few gluten-free restaurants and a wonderful French pastry shop that’s 100% gluten-free.


-Familiarize yourself with some of the natural foods shops in France.

Well-known ones include Naturalia, La Vie Claire and Biocoop. Many carry gluten-free products and grains. Natural food stores here are some of my favorite places to shop anyways since they carry many regional, organic, and unusual products which are hard-to-find elsewhere in France. Biocoop is perhaps the most varied, although Naturalia has more shops.

Some of the supermarkets like Casino are also now carrying gluten-free products, too.



-Check out some of the gluten-free restaurants in Paris.

Noglu is a completely gluten-free restaurant and épicerie. You can read my write-up of Noglu.

Café Pinson in the Marais has gluten-free options.

Tugalik offers gluten-free choices, which are specifically noted on the menu.

Thank You, My Deer (112, rue Saint Maur) is a gluten-free cafe.

Fée Nature (69, rue d’Argout, 2nd) is a vegetarian restaurant that reports to be gluten-free.



-Check gluten-free “friendly’ restaurants.

Soya (20, rue Pierre Levée, Tél: 01 48 06 33 02) is a hip vegetarian restaurant which has clearly marked gluten-free dishes on the menu. The restaurant isn’t strictly gluten-free, though, so that might be a consideration.

A reader alerted me to Le Potager du Marais, and organic vegetarian restaurant which she noted had clearly marked gluten-free dishes and desserts on offer as well.



-Learn the terms for various grains and other French products.

Check an online dictionary here, although I recommend a good French Menu Translator. Although there’s plenty of people who speak English, many of the grains and other terms – and their names in English, may be unfamiliar to them.



-Check out a gluten-free French bakery.

Helmut Newcake (36, rue Bichat, 10th, Tél: 09 82 59 00 39) is a gluten-free bakery, everything sans gluten! There is also a take-out as well.

Papy Bio gluten-free macaron bakery is scheduled to open at 51, rue Richelieu in the 1st.

Chambelland Boulangerie (14, rue Terneux, 11th) Gluten-free bread bakery and café.



-Explore ethnic restaurants.

When people think of Paris, they think of old bistros and bustling brasseries. But Paris has some great ethnic restaurants, including Ethiopian restaurants which bake with teff instead of wheat (although you should confirm to be sure), as well as a slew of great Asian restaurants clustered in the 13th arrondissement.

Chinese restaurants abound in the city, although they do use soy sauce, there’s lots of Vietnamese and Laotian places with big salads and rice noodle dishes. Le Bambou is a favorite.

There’s also a new appreciation for les sushis in Paris. Aside from the mediocre spots springing up all over town, there’s some very good options on or near the rue St. Anne, by the Place de l’Opéra. You may wish to buy wheat-free tamari at one of the natural food stores listed above and bring it along.

Strawberries

-Bring some supplies and snacks from home.

Take with you some gluten-free energy bars and what-not to carry around and hold you over in case you get hungry and all that’s open are bakeries. They may seem icky to you, but when you’re starving in an airport or train station, where the pickings may be slim, you’ll be thankful.



-Rent an apartment so you can prepare meals yourself.

Sure it’s nice to go out to eat. But it’s equally fun to shop in a Parisian supermarket or outdoor market. It’s also a great way to sample lots of the cheeses, make big salads, sample the fruits, and enjoy other specialties that you can’t always get in restaurants.

Look for signs for traiteurs, gloriously-stocked take-out shops. And keep an eye for things that are de maison, or a similar term containing the word ‘maison‘, that means they’re made on-premises and should know exactly what’s in them and how they’re prepared. And don’t be afraid to ask questions—French people love to talk about food!



-Print out a small card that’s easy-to-read, in French, which very briefly explains your condition.

Servers in France are much busier than their American counterparts since they don’t have busboys, runners, etc…and dining rooms are short-staffed. So make their job easier since they may not have time to play charades with you, and blow you off. Don’t take it personally; just realize they’re busy. Keep it brief so they’re more likely to read it. You can find cards to print out in French here.



-Go to the same restaurants over and over and over.

Although it’s tempting to try lots of place, most Parisians themselves go to the same restaurants over and over (they call their favorite their cantine.) Make a nearby restaurant to where you’re staying your cantine where the staff knows you. Even if you’re in town for just a week, by your second visit, you’ll be recognized and they’ll look more kindly on you and they’ll be much nicer.

Also dining during slower times, the waiters and cooks will be under less stress and able to look after you better. If dining in a fine restaurant, tell them your needs when you make the reservation so they have time to prepare and it’s not such a big surprise.



Find gluten-free bread in Paris.

Although there are no dedicated gluten-free bakeries that I know of in Paris, Biocoop sells fresh gluten-free bread (although it’s stored on the same shelves, next to the regular bread) as do Naturalia store. Biocoop also has some freshly made gluten-free cakes as well. As mentioned above, both shops have gluten-free sections in their stores that sell a variety of snacks and other foods.

L’Autre Boulange has gluten-free breads, although they are made in a bakery that produces regular bread as well.



-Apologize for being a bother.

This is the hardest thing for Americans, who are used to the ‘Customer Is King’ concept. In France, you may find people less-accommodating that you’re used to. There’s not much you can do to change it (and believe me, don’t try to either.)

Instead, work with it. Don’t demand that they serve you gluten-free food, but instead, apologize for being a bother – then make your request nicely. They’re likely to take better care of you if they are on your site. And when your health is concerned, you want to be! French people can be quite helpful: You just need to make them want to be. As in many places in America, people don’t understand how careful you must be.

If for some reason they’re not taking you seriously, or you’re concerned that you may be getting something with gluten in it, it’s okay to leave before ordering. Apologize for leaving, thank them, and leave. If you make a scene, you’ll regret it. Don’t let it ruin your vacation. Just move on.

If you’ve already ordered or been served, nicely ask the waiter if you have any concerns without being accusatory. If you’re unsure, just drink the wine and ask for a plate of cheese or a salad with oil and vinegar à parte, on the side, since bottled dressings (which are used frequently) often have wheat starch. Or ask for some fruit.

In France, it’s very rare to return food or to change food once it’s brought to the table (or even after it’s been ordered) so you’re likely to be charged for the meal even if you don’t eat it or it’s not to your liking. Or has gluten in it.

Once again, don’t let something minor ruin your vacation. Imagine if a non-English speaking person came to America with a strict dietary need that was not well-known. Imagine how they’d be treated.

And if you’re frustrated, take another sip of wine and let out an exasperated *sigh*…you’ll fit right in amongst the Parisians!

Bon Appétit!


Gluten-Free Links

Ten Insanely-Good Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris: Plenty of great suggestions that are gluten-free.

Gluten-Free Girl.com

Gluten Free Paris: A gluten-free Bed & Breakfast in Paris

Health Care Tips for Traveling to France

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (US)

A Gluten-Free Guide to Paris

l’Association Francaise Des Intolérants Au Gluten: French Association of Gluten Intolerants (In French)

Gluten-Free Passport Travel Guide for France & Italy

Living Gluten-Free For Dummies

Gluten-Free Paris: Links, Tips and Information

Schär Gluten-Free Products: Available in Europe—site has search engine for stores which stock their products in France.

The American Hospital of Paris has English-speaking doctors in case you need medical care. You will likely have to pay out-of-pocket then apply for reimbursement when you get home, if you’re American.

Groupe d’Etude et de Recherche sur la Maladie Coelique (In French)



French Gluten-Free Food Blogs

La Belle au blé dormant

Les Carnets de Miss Diane

Ma Cuisine sans Gluten



New York Noshing, Part 2

I think I need to move to New York City for a whole year to eat at all the places that were on my list to try. Although, honestly…I could certainly just go to Zabar’s everyday and die a happy man. And for all the scoffing that Whole Foods gets, I’d be thrilled to have a store with the range of fine products that they do. Sure it’s not all local, or organic. But it’s nice to find a major supermarket chain carrying healthy foods, unscented products (which I stocked up on), a huge selection of local cheeses, plus chocolates from all over the place, near and far.

And for anyone that wants to complain about ‘Whole Paycheck’, go out and pick a basket of raspberries in the blazing-hot sun…then figure out how much it’s worth if you were to sell it?

So I came back cranky, probably because I had to suffer the indignity of the flight attendants physically unhooking my fingers from the outside of the airplane door at JFK Airport so we could leave. Luckily I brought an extra empty suitcase and stocked it up with maple syrup, dried California apricots and sour cherries, and a few other odds and ends as souvenirs. But while in New York, I had plenty of delicious moments…

If I had to name one of my Top Ten foods of all-time, it would be the Black & White Cookie. Although it’s getting harder to find freshly-made ones that aren’t shrink-wrapped, in New York. But good things come to those who search…

Black and White Cookie

I once made them (from a recipe in here), and realized it was a dangerous proposition. The good thing about making them yourself is that you can make them slightly smaller than the jumbo 7-inch disks you normally find.

And speaking of abnormally-sized Black & Whitesholy mother-of-Black & Whites!

Black & White...Cake!

It’s a Black & White Cake!

Continue Reading New York Noshing, Part 2…