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Vert d’Absinthe: Absinthe in Paris

Paris is always full of little surprises, like any major city. It’s always fun to poke around and find something new and unusual. And there’s plenty of the unusual in a big city like Paris, as I often report. I think of Paris as a big village, full of colorful characters with lots of stories to tell and unusual offerings. And getting the know the people in your neighborhood, especially the vendors selling fine foods and drink, can be especially rewarding since often if you stay for a while and talk to them, there’s always something fascinating to learn.And, of course, taste!

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Getting ready to prepare a glass of absinthe, French-style, of course.

I’ve been meaning to take you to visit one on my favorite shops in Paris for quite a while: Vert d’Absinthe. This little shop is located in the Marais, but a bit removed from the busy tourist streets, just off the Place St. Catherine. Owner Luc-Santiago Rodriguez tells me his shop was the first boutique anywhere dedicated just for the purpose of selling absinthe, that wickedly suspicious elixir that’s recently been getting a lot of attention lately.

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Luc-Santiago Rodriguez of Vert d’Absinthe in Paris.

Although the drink was originally produced as a cure-all medical tonic in 1792, Absinthe became a rather popular drink amongst Parisians in the late 1800′s, mainly with hedonists living in Montmarte who would sip it in cafés and clubs, like Le Moulin Rouge, before it was ultimately banned by the French government in 1915.

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Dishes with numbers were to let patrons know how much their glass of absinthe cost. Think of all the paper they saved!

Although experts are as unclear as a cloudy glass of absinthe on exactly why it was banned, the most colorful theory was that people went mad drinking absinthe due to the rotten wormwood used to make the drink. It was dubbed le f&eacute’e verte or ‘the green fairy’, since it was said to inspire hallucinations as well.

(Absinthe was banned in the US in 1912, and so far, it’s still technically illegal to import into the US.)

But nowadays, most people, including Luc-Santiago, agree that the powerful French wine industry at the time was upset that people, especially the artsy bohemians who lived in the north of Paris, were drinking cheap, hi-test absinthe (at 70% alcohol) instead of pricey wine (around 12% alcohol), in an attempt to get a better buzz for their buck. Since the French wine industry had suffered a severe set-back from the phylloxera infestation which killed most of the grapevines in France, the price of wine had gone up enormously. So it’s thought that the wine industry pressured the French government to put the kabosh on absinthe production.
And that was that.

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It’s my one-stop shop for all things absinthe!

In 1988 absinthe made a comeback and the French government once again made it legal to sell and drink the anise-scented exilir, absinthe attaining a bit of a cult status in the process. With all the ceremony of pouring something previously forbidden in a fancy glass, pouring water over a sugar cube to make it cloudy (called louching), then slowly sipping it while staring into space in a deserted café…how could anyone not be entranced by the romance of absinthe?

If you come to France and want to try or purchase absinthe, be aware that not all drinks that look and sound like absinthe are indeed absinthe. You’ll come across ‘absente’ (missing the ‘h’), which has a bleary picture of Van Gogh on the packaging (it was said he went mad drinking absinthe and cut off his ear because of it, which to me is a rather iffy marketing move), but these impostors use a wormwood that’s different than the variety of wormwood (artemisia absinthium) used in true absinthe.

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The true herbs of absinthe.

The wormwood used to make true absinthe contains thujone, the most important compound in real absinthe.

Anyone interested in absinthe should make the trip to visit Luc-Santiago’s little shop Vert d’Absinthe, where 25 different kinds of absinthe are stocked. All are French except for one, which is made in Switzerland, and most of the French absinthe varieties are made near the Swiss border. Monsieur Rodriguez stocks all the proper paraphernalia for properly preparing and drinking a glass of absinthe, from vintage to contemporary; spoons, glasses, fontaines, and, of course, the bottles themselves.

And perhaps you’ll get a demonstration and a taste-test. Although drinking absinthe French-style means louching the drink by pouring water over a sugar cube through the special spoon before it clouds up the absinthe, the more flamboyant Czech-style method involves lighting the cube of sugar dramatically on fire, which I’ve yet to see him do.

Vert d’Absinthe
11 rue d’Ormesson
Paris
Tél: 01 42 71 69 73
Open daily, from 11am to 8pm (closed Monday)



Related Links

Absinthe Cake Recipe

Chubby Hubby: The Green Fairy

In Absinthia

The Wormwood Society

La Fée Verte



A few unusual places for absinthe in, or near, Paris:

-Hotel Royal Fromentin (11 rue Fromentin, Paris, tel. 01 42 81 02 33) serves absinthe at their historic bar, a former cabaret at the foot of Montmartre.

-Musée de l’Absinthe (44 rue Alphonse Calle, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise, tel. 01 30 36 83 26, about fifteen minutes outside Paris) is open on the weekends and holidays and sports all sorts of memorabilia and paraphernalia from absinthe’s heyday. Take the train from the Gare du Nord.

-Cantada is a heavy metal bar, and one of the few bars in Paris to serve a wide selection of absinthe.

-La Fée Verte (108, rue de la Roquette), is a neighborhood café with absinthe on offer.


Currants? Oui, Currents? Non

I am a bad food blogger.
I mean, who would post a picture like this?

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GRRrrrr!Seeing Red…

The most successful and popular food blogs start with a clever idea or beautiful image, and generally follow it with a witty or an emotionally-involving story behind it all.

Instead I’m posting this picture of the room where was to spend the entire weekend locked inside, which was to be my private retreat. Think Edvard Munch and The Scream, and I think you get the idea of my internal torment.

Last week I had left Paris to work on my next book, since it’s impossible to get anything done around here with all the caramels, chocolates, and glasses of red wine interrupting all the time. So off I went to the countryside for the weekend, armed with my laptop, some paperwork, too-little chocolate (which I later discovered, in a panic) and a good book.

So I arrive, start unpacking, and Merde!, I forgot my powercord! No electricity, except for the few hours on my battery, which luckily was new enough to get my through the first day. Since I’m two hours from anywhere civilized, and the hope of finding an Apple retailer is undeniably nil (although there is a nice egg farm & retailer next door) I was stuck doing nothing but reading and baking all weekend. So when you buy my next book, and find the last third of it blank, you’ll know why.

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Seeing Red…Currants

But all was not lost, since the house was surrounded by red currant bushes and the branches were loaded with tiny red berries, I spent a good portion of the weekend picking the little red orbs, relieving the branches of the tiny clusters of gorgeous little fruits.

And as I greedily filling my mouth with the puckery berries, I was overcome with a feeling of having to bake something. So all was not lost, and bake something I did!

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Rhubarb-Red Currant Crisp

For dessert the first night, I made a terrific Rhubarb and Red Currant Crisp with Polenta Topping. I sliced rhubarb into little pieces (about 8 cups), tossed it with some sugar (about 1/2 cup), some flour (about 3 tablespoons), a vanilla bean, and a few big handfuls of freshly-picked red currants, and voila, we had dessert practically right from the garden. Except for the sugar and vanilla and flour, although the house was surrounded by wheat fields, which was too green to pick and mill into flour. And besides, I’m not thatcrazy. Although I did go picked some wheat and cracked it open, but it was too fresh and I’ll sadly have to wait a few more weeks.

Aside from red currants, there were black currants (cassis) too, but they weren’t quite ripe. But the white currants were sweet and lovely but too precious to cook with, so I enjoyed them right off the branches. And next time you, or anyone around you, complains about the price of a basket of berries, go outside and pick a few hundred red currants and tell me what you think each basket is worth.
There’s a few running debates about the price of locally-produced, hand-picked berries, but you’re welcome to post comments here. And if you feel like picking any red and black currants, we’re heading back in a few weeks and could use a few extra hands.
(Warning: The pay stinks, but the rewards are delicious.)

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Seeing White…Currants

Oddly enough, last year I saw a few baskets of white currants in my local convenience store. (You know, the kind of place where you can buy milk or butter or wine on dimanche if you urgently run out.) In their tiny, miserable produce section, just next to the shriveled carrots and brown, wilted lettuce (who buys that?), there were three baskets of plump white currants, so I made a mental note that if it’s ever a Sunday and I need some white currants in an emergency, I’d know exactly where I could get some. But finding a powercord in an emergency?…c’est pas possible.

No, the grapes weren’t quite ripe for picking yet…

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No Wine…Yet.

But the egg farm nearby had lots of fresh eggs, so I made a Tortilla Española with bacon, and pomme de ratte potatoes, which everyone tries to tell me are called ‘fingerling’ potatoes in America, but I don’t think they’re the same thing, since I’ve never tasted any potatoes in the states that were as good as these. But if anyone out there can define what exactly is a fingerling potato, please let me know. Is it just any tiny potato?

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There Was No Apple Store, But There Was An Egg Store

So since this is summer, I’m becoming obsessed with making a lot of fruit crisps (instead of earning a living). One of my favorite ways to top them, and to ensure they live up to their crispy moniker, is to make a topping with polenta, coarsely-ground cornmeal. It can be difficult to find in Paris, and although instant-polenta is available, I bought it once…and that was one time too many. (C’mon folks, we’re friggin’ right next door to Italy!) But I was happy a few years back to find a good source for coarse polenta at the Arab markets that I like to prowl through, which they stock in abundance.

Fruit crisps are perhaps the best and easiest of desserts to make during the summer, when all the great fruits and berries are at their peak. They’re incredibly easy to put together if you’re anything like me and keep a bag of Polenta Crisp Topping in the freezer, so you can make one at a moment’s notice. In general, I find that 2 to 4 tablespoons of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of flour, plus a dash of vanilla is just about right for almost any mix of fruits and berries. Mix it all together and put it in a 2-quart baking dish. Cover with crisp topping and bake in a moderate oven until the fruit is bubbling and the top is crispy and nicely-browned.

If using plums or apricots, double the amount of sugar, since they get rather tangy once baked. Although I used rhubarb and red currants in mine, you can use any mixture of peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, and plums. Add a few raspberries or blackberries as well. Although I wouldn’t necessarily use white currants, you’re certainly welcome to. But if it’s Sunday and you’re fresh out, go check at your corner store to see if they have any in stock.
There’s something nice about living in a country where it’s impossible to find a powercord in an emergency, but white currants are available whenever you need them. Talk about priorities!

(More pictures from the country are on my Flickr page.)

Polenta Crisp Topping

Enough for about 8 cups of fruit filling

3/4 cup (105 g) flour
2/3 cup (90 g) polenta
1/2 cup (55 g) almonds or walnuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup (110 g) firmly packed light brown or cassonade sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons (115 g) salted butter (chilled), cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Put the flour, polenta, almonds or walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a couple of times to mix everything together.

Add the chilled butter pieces and pulse until the butter is finely broken up. Continue to pulse until the crispy topping no longer looks sandy is just beginning to hold together.

If you don’t have a food processor, chop the nuts finely with a chef’s knife then work the butter in with your hands or use a pastry blender.

Storage: Topping can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Can also be frozen in a zip-top bag for up to one month.

Recipe Adapted From: Ripe For Dessert.

Chocolate That’s “Too Good To Use”

Once upon a time, I worked in a restaurant that was well-known for using ingredients of exceptional quality. The most magnificent fruits and vegetables would come barreling through our kitchen door every day, from plump, rare black raspberries to teeny-tiny wild strawberries, fraises des bois.

While I can’t really guess the psychology behind it, we would often treat these marvels like precious jewels, reserving them for the perfect moment.

Or we’d just forget about them, then throw them away.

Unfortunately, because they were so fragile, they’d often last no longer than a day or so, and we’d arrive the next morning to find they hadn’t been used the previous evening and had to be tossed. While I don’t want to apologize or make excuses for this inexcusable behavior, restaurants are odd places full of strange people acting unusual…and no, it’s not just the customers. There’s mis-communications, too much going on all at once, and frankly, things don’t always happen like they should. And don’t tell me that you haven’t let something accidentally spoil in under your eagle-eye either.

Because I’m not buying it.

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So one day, one of the other cooks started to dub things as they came through the door, “Too good to use.”
He used the phrase to refer to things that were so special, that we just couldn’t bear to use them. And soon, the rest of us picked up the phrase too, and when something beautiful would arrive, it became the joke to label it as being something that was “too good to use.”

So, last year when I led an Italian Chocolate Tour through Tuscany and Torino, we stopped at Slitti in the tiny town of Monsummano Terme. Although Slitti started out in 1969 as a coffee-roasting company, Andrea Slitti (the son of the founder) started applying his roasting expertise to chocolate-making and now Slitti is regarded as one of the top chocolate-makers in the world. After our visit, on the way out, Palmira Slitti (Andrea’s wife who runs the shop) pressed a jar of their Crema da spalmare al Cioccolato Fondente ricca di nocciole into my already loaded-up bag of chocolates with a cheerful ciao bella.

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When I got home, I put the jar on my kitchen shelf so I could admire it, and it sat there day-after-day. Each day I would gaze up, all glassy-eyed, imagining the chocolate-y goodness through the glass of the jar, and I could practically taste the tiny bits of roasted Piedmontese hazelnuts, embedded in a rich, dark chocolate paste that were speckled throughout.

One day I decided it was no longer “too good to use” and abruptly pulled the jar down from its perch, opened it up, and with knife poised, got ready to spread.

Ugh!
Instead of dipping into the tasty spread, I peered inside first and saw that the entire surface was covered with green, dusty mold. Ick! So at 6:30am, I had the unenviable task of cleaning moldy chocolate. Not a pretty thing to wake up to. I managed to get all visible signs of mold off, then I poured in a shot of Jack Daniels (which around here is definitely not too-good-to-use) and swished it around to kill any microscopic traces of green hairiness.

Thankfully I didn’t toss it, and the hazelnut-chocolate paste was the best I’ve ever tasted. Unlike commercial hazelnut and chocolate spreads, this crema da spalmare from Slitti was made from the best, just-blended chocolate imaginable, studded with the world-famous Piedmontese hazelnuts from Langhe. And I’ve been enjoying it for the past few weeks, the warm weather in Paris makes it the perfect spreadable (ie: heap-able) consistency for my morning toast.

So maybe you have something in your cabinet, something you picked up on a trip that you’re holding on to. Or do you have a bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion? Or is there something else that’s so special that you can’t bear to open it?

Do you have something that’s “too good to use”?


Slitti
Cioccolato e Caffè
Via Francesca Sud, 1268
Monsummano Terme
Italy
Tel: 0572.640240


Note: Slitti chocolate but you might want to try the Askinosie Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread, or try my Chocolate Hazelnut Spread recipe.

The Rules: Bringing Food Home From France

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“Can I bring it back?”

Answering many of the questions visitors have about what’s allowable to be brought back into the United States (legally), here are some articles and posts about what can and can’t be brought back into the United States:

- Think Twice Before Stuffing Your Suitcase (USA Today)

-Transportation Security Administration

-Importing Food Products into the United States (FDA)

-Travelers Bringing Food Into the US for Personal Use (US Customs & Border Protection)



(Please note that rules and regulations are subject to change and revision, and it’s always best to consult with the US government websites for the most current information.)

Favorite Paris Restaurants

Here are some of my favorite places to eat in Paris. This is not an exhaustive list, and I’ve mentioned many of my other top picks here on the site, so you can use the search engine to find them. And there’s others on My Paris page here as well.

Several of these are also not fancy places. Sure, many people come to Paris for fine-dining, and you can find many of those addresses floating around guidebooks and online. But sometimes you just want a big plate of vegetable salads instead of half a carrot garnished by a shredded basil leaf with a dot of saffron sauce. I’ve included a few stand-by, reliably decent restaurants in case you happen to be in Paris on a Sunday, when many places are closed.

If you have some favorite places that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them since I’m always looking for new places to try and I’m sure others would too.
Feel free to leave your dining suggestions in the Comment area.

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Before you start, here’s a few tips when dining in Paris:

  • It’s always a good idea to reserve a table. Even if you arrive and the place is virtually empty, they like to know you’re coming and you’ll get a warmer welcome. Unlike the US, often you can call most restaurants that afternoon and get in easily. Hot restaurants, or ones that are fancier, you should call about a week in advance, or longer. Don’t bother using email links on most restaurant’s websites here since you’re unlikely to get a response.

  • Don’t be embarrased to order wine or water by the carafe. You probably think you’ll feel like a cheapskate…but get over it. If you look around, most of the Parisians are doing the same thing. And yes, the water is safe to drink in Paris. Why do people keep asking that?

  • Adding a tip is not required, but in spite of what you hear, most people leave a little extra for good service. If the check is 28€, you could leave 30€ if you were pleased. Or if your meal is 95€, you could leave 100€. But remember that it’s not required and if they don’t bring you back your change, request it. I’ve had a few places pull that one (in Paris and in the US.) It’s rude and presumptuous.

  • LIke anywhere in France, always say Bonjour or Bonsoir when entering a restaurant, and when you leave, say Merci. Preferably add a Monseiur or Madame along with it.

  • Many restaurants have ‘deals’ at lunch, or fix-price menus that are often a bargain. Some have them at dinner as well, and they’re generally a good value.

  • Please, do not bring out your hand sanitizer at the table. Do your grooming in the bathroom.

  • No one has doggie bags, so don’t even ask. (Although a friend of mine showed some cleavage and got one. Once.)

  • No one has ice, so don’t even ask. (Ok, well, you might get one or two. Wear something low-cut if you plan to ask.)

Rôtisserie Beaujolais 19 quai des Tournelles, tel 01 43 54 17 47. Grilled and spit roasted meats, and typical French fare. In the 5th. Avoid seats just next to the opening to the oven…it’s très hot and they like to stick out-of-towners there, who they think won’t complain. But I do since they invariably lead me to it. Open Sunday night.

Chez René 14, blvd St. Germain. Tel 01 43 54 30 23. Great French classics. The best Coq au Vin in town, with a sauce as smooth as velvet. If you don’t order the fix-priced menu, be prepared for a lot of food. It’s quite an experience and the cheese plate(s) is/are insane. Dinner menu, approximately 40€. In the 5th. You didn’t hear it from me, but there’s a clear brandy digestive hidden behind the bar…with a snake in it! I haven’t been since there was a recent change of ownership, but I hear the food is still very good.

Cuisine de Bar 8, rue Cherche-Midi (M: Sevres-Babylon), tel 01 45 48 45 69, in the 6th. Open-faced tartines, or sandwiches, served on pain Poilâne, the famed bakery next door. Order the 12€ formule with a salad, tartine (I like the one with sardines and flakes of sea salt, or poulet with anchovies), a glass of wine or bottle of water, café and a spiced cookie. Very casual yet chic. And friendly. No reservations…lunch only. If the wait it long, they’ll often pour you a welcome glass of wine.

L’As du Falafel On 34, rue des Rosiers in the Marais (M: St. Paul), closed Friday night and Saturday for the Jewish holidays. The most famous falafel anywhere! Join the crowd clamoring at the window. No reservations.

For something vegetable-oriented, Chez Marianne in the Marais at 2, rue des Hospitalieres St. Gervais, tel 01 42 72 18 86. Come here for decent Mediterranean salads. You choose a combination plate of 4, 5, or 6 salads. This is a good address to know about if you’re craving something without a lot of meat. Perfect with a bottle of house rosé. Approximately 20€. Reserve, or wait for eternity. Open every day and night, but be aware of the often abrupt servers.

Chez Omar is one of my favorite restaurants in town. Specialties are couscous and they have excellent steak and French fries as well, but I always have the roasted lamb, or méchoui d’agneau. Very lively, no reservations. Open daily for lunch and dinner, as well as Sundays. If you go for dinner, be prepared for a wait after 8:30pm. Don’t let any Parisians cut in front of you! A simple shove with your shoulder, followed by a very apologetic “Oops! Pardon” is usually all it take to get them to recede. Do it firm enough and you’ll only need to do it once. Trust me. Moderate prices, which do seem to keep climbing each time I go. In the 3rd, at 47 rue de Bretagne. (M: Temple or Arts and Metiers)

Another couscous place that’s less-hectic is L’Atlas, with fine Moroccan food. Feathery light couscous and savory tagines. Skip the first courses. Not fancy nor too pricey considering the fine food and gracious service. Dine in the lovely tiled dining room, or outside in fine weather. Located at 12, St. Germaine des Pres. Vegetarians will appreciate the large selection of seafood tagines. Tel 01 44 07 23 66 (M: Maubert-Mutualité), in the 5th.

Bistrot Paul Bert 18, rue Paul Bert, tel 01 43 72 24 01 (M: Faidherbe-Chaligny) Out of the way, but definitely worth going to. I love this restaurant. Some of the best desserts in Paris too. Offers a 3-course fixed menu for 32€. In the 12th.

Les Papilles 30 rue Gay-Lussac, tel 01 43 25 20 79. Wine bar and light, ‘market-fresh’ food. Menu approximately 30€. In the 5th. Nice portions, and cheerful staff.

You can follow along at my Paris Restaurant Archives for more suggestions, as well on the My Paris page.



Related Restaurants and Wine Bars in Paris

Le Rubis

Le Garde Robe

Le Verre Volé

Les Fine Gueules

Café des Musées

French Menu Translation Guide

Meat? No Meat?

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When I was young and had no deadlines or mortgages (or a blog), I was footloose-and-fancy-free right after I finished college. So just about the day after graduation, I hitched on a backpack and headed to Europe. In was the 80′s and it was the thing to do. As I traversed the continent, I met scores of other kids my age doing the same thing and we world-wise travelers (or so we thought of ourselves) were a friendly bunch and would easily meet up and just go off and travel together. My fondest memory was when a small merry group of us banded together and decided to hitchhike through the former Yugoslavia with the intention of ending up in Turkey where we’d explore the entire country in one exhilarating month.

One fellow that came along was a very, very blond fellow named Kaj, who was from Finland. His hair was stark-white and wherever we went, people would drop everything, stop and gape, having never seen locks so blindingly void of color. Occasionally, their curiosity would get the best of them and the locals would reach over and caress his hair. In addition to his popular noggin, Kaj was a vegetarian, which made dining out a challenge. Luckily the Turks are very friendly and they were happy to take us into their restaurant kitchens to look over what was available so we could decide without deciphering the menus. Speaking no Turkish, Kaj would point at the various pots and cauldrons simmering away and ask, “Meat?” while pointing at one. Then “No meat?” while pointing at another. Then “Meat?”…No meat?…Meat?…”, while working his way through all the dishes simmering away.

It because a source of amusement during our travels and the question would crop up at the most unusual times. Whether we were sitting on a bus taking one of our many long voyages, shopping at the Grand Bazaar, or just sunning ourselves on a pristine beach, one of us would completely out-of-the-blue pop the eternal question…“Meat? No Meat?”

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I don’t know where Kaj is now, but he would have not been very content traveling with me this time during my recent US tour. I ate so much meat that I’m about to get fitted for a turban and become a card-carrying veg-head for a few weeks. Yes, I think I’ve reached my fill of ‘ol Bessie. But let’s face it, it’s hard to beat meat. She’s an integral part of American cuisine. We Americans are real meat eaters and in between the most exceptional plates of beef ribs I had for lunch in Fort Worth, Texas at George’s Bar-B-Q, to the beef brisket I had at Sonny Bryan’s in Dallas, I sampled the best of the best.

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The original Sonny Bryan’s in Dallas opened in 1910. Nowadays the parking lot is full of pick-up trucks and once you step inside, it’s pandemonium trying to reach the counter to place your order. Even though I live in France and am used to people trying to wedge in front of each other, I assumed that it’s not prudent here to cut in line…especially after eyeing the fully-loaded gun racks in the trucks parked in the dusty lot outside.

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Seeing as I left my overalls back in Paris, I did my best to fit in and ordered a combo plate, speaking with a bit of a drawl. My platter was some soft, warm slices of beef brisket and turkey (I added the turkey since I’m beginning to sport a ‘muffin-top’ after this trip.) But I couldn’t resist those jumbo, cripsy onion rings, which tasted every bit as good as they look.

The past week has been an orgy of meat, and it all began at Salumi, in Seattle. I was attending a culinary conference and my friend Judy proposed a multi-course lunch there, how could I say no?

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Armandino Batali is the owner of Salumi. And if his name sounds familiar, his son is the muffin-man himself, Mario Batali. After years of working as an engineer for Boeing, Armandino packed up and went to Italy to learn the art of air-curing meats and making sausages. And when we showed up, the line was out the door with locals waiting for warm sandwiches crammed with slices of porchetta and spicy oxtail meat.

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As we crowded around the table, the family-style meaty platters began descending on the table. The first sausages were thin rounds of mole salami, with a curious chocolate flavor from a good dose of Guittard cocoa powder (which Armandino told me was very popular with the local Mexican community.) There were also slices of prosciutto made with flavorful lamb and cured pigs cheek, called guanciale. Armandino used to teach a class, ‘Make Your Own Prosciutto’, which sounded like great fun. On the first day, you’d be presented with a pig leg, then you’d return each week to rub your leg with spices and whatever else goes into making prosciutto. He had to discontinue to classes since he no longer has the time.

He then presented us with enormous, steaming bowls of tiny French green lentils from Puy, topped with warm rounds of cotechino sausage, softly-scented with real vanilla. The course that really got the most comments were little toasts covered with just-melted aged cows-milk cheese, topped with crunchy nuggets of salt. Yum! Was that ever good. And I ate pig’s ears for the first time (I abstained from eating the stewed tripe so I figured I needed to keep my ‘cred’ and not look like a lightweight with all those famous eaters around the table.) So I ate all my pig’s ears, which were really quite good. Served on a pile of mixed salad greens, the crunchy slivers of pig’s ears tasted like faintly-cooked, crunchy onions, but with a bit more ‘bite’.

Taking a non-meat break, we had a fabulous platter of giant white beans tossed with tinned white tuna, finely-sliced red onions, all tossed in a simple dressing of olive oil and vinegar. It was great, and I made a mental note that it would make an easy, and nice summer salad if Paris ever warms up.

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At that point, I was begging to stop so Judy reached in her purse (is there no end to what a woman will pull out of her purse?) and brought out the Italian secret weapon: grappa.

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Packed like cigarettes, each cylinder was a thin glass tube of grappa, a perfect shot of this high-test liquor, which primed us for the few more courses that were to follow.

Finally, after eating way too much and trying to scribble notes, we all begged ourselves away from the table before Armandino could set another platter amongst us.

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Salumi
Pioneer Square
309 Third Avenue South
Tel: (206) 621-8772

Sonny Bryan’s
Visit web site for locations.

Pay Dirt!

Why is it when you order French Fries, a disappointing majority of the time they come out in a limp heap, underbaked, greasy, and soft.
Does anybody really like their fries that way?

Anyone?

(start rant) I always want to take the plate back into the kitchen, present them to the cook, and ask why they didn’t leave them to cook until deep-golden brown and crispy? And don’t get me started on undersalted fries. French Fries need to get salted immediately when they come out of the blazing-hot oil, so it clings to the crunchy fries. (end rant)

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So imagine my surprise when my friend Dylan whisked me away from the recent culinary conference I was attending in Seattle to walk me a few blocks away to the Baguette Box.

The Baguette Box is a little hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop, owned by chef Eric Bahn, who also owns Seattle’s Monsoon restaurant where I’d eaten the night previously. I will spare you the details of the dreaded conference lunches I was forced to endure, but will let you know that it took very, very little prodding to get me to come along (and Dylan’s mom is the famous Fran Bigelow of Fran’s chocolate, inventor of the most amazing grey salt caramels, dipped in chocolate, and finished with smoked sea salt.) So since there the possibility of chocolate in there, it took little encouragement on his part to get me to play hooky for a few hours one afternoon.

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The Baguette Box is basically one long communal table with a chalkboard above the open kitchen announing which sandwiches were on offer that day. Feeling like I needed a break from all the meat I’d eaten in Seattle (more about that in a later post), I chose the Tuna Salad Baguette with Sliced Boiled Egg, which came with crisp-sliced radishes. Dylan wisely chose the Salmon Gravlox Baguette which looked delicious but once you pick up one of these hefty sandwiches, if you put it down you risk it spilling its contents all over the place.

But the French Fries were what really astounded me. A pile of just-fried French Fries were piled into a nice-sized paper cup and generously sprinkled with very good salt. In fact, it was just the right amount. They were dark brown and crackly-crisp. Outstanding, and when I told Eric that I they were the best French Fries I’d ever had in my life, I don’t think he took me seriously (he obviously doesn’t read my blog!) but they were. And at $2.50, they were the best bargain in town. Hedonists can opt for a drizzle of white truffle oil, but I think that might ruin the sheer perfection of les frites.

Baguette Box
1203 Pine Street
Seattle, WA
Tel: (206) 332-0220

Inside The KitchenAid Factory

mixer melange

“You’re going to flip out.”That was the message I got from a representative and friend from KitchenAid when he found out I was finally going to visit their factory. It was a visit I’ve been waiting years to make.

I’d been meaning to visit the KitchenAid factory ever they brought up the idea to me a few years ago, asking me to give a baking demonstration there as well. I can’t imagine life without my KitchenAid mixer and most other bakers I know feel the same way (and I love seeing how things are made, anything. I just find it fascinating, no matter what I’m watching being put-together.)

And if you have a KitchenAid mixer, you know what I’m talking about. It’s without a doubt the one essential tool that most home bakers can’t live without. The mixer we used at Chez Panisse was a solid performer after twenty years of hard restaurant use (it outlasted me!) and my personal mixer has been in service for well over 15 years. When I began doing baking demonstrations over a decade ago, I was so enthusiastic that I reached my arms around the one that I was using and gave it a big, generous hug.

Word of that hug reached KitchenAid headquarters and ever since then, I’ve been lucky to get to know many of the terrific folks who work for KitchenAid, both in the United States and Europe. And when they heard I was heading to the US this month, we worked in a date to visit their factory for a private look at how the mixers are put together. They gave me special permission to take photographs so much of what you’ll see here was generously allowed by KitchenAid.

A visit to the factory begins with a viewing of some of the classic stand mixers. The first produced was the Model H, introduced in 1919 and sold until 1927. It weighed a hefty 60-pounds and stores were so skeptical of its saleability that it was lugged door-to-door by housewives, hoping to convince other homemakers of its value.
The price? The Model H sold back then for $199 which is the equivalent today of about $1400.

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The First Ever KitchenAid Mixer


Over the next several decades the designs changed to reflect the times, with my favorite being this one, totally streamlined with swoops and curvilinear lines, suggesting speed and industrialism. Someday I hope this one is re-issued as a Special-Edition, since I think it’s the most beautiful of all the models ever produced.

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I love the graceful curve of the (useful) handle, which you grasp to lift the head of the machine. And I love the little ‘fin’ that’s affixed to the back.

Others models were made of materials strong enough to withstand the rugged KitchenAid motor within.

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There were contemporary mixers on display too, including custom models made to commemorate certain events, including this one. One hundred of them were made and donated as thank-you gestures to the New York City Fire Departments for their efforts and heroism after September 11th.

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Another 100 were made later and sold on eBay, with the proceeds going to 9/11 charities.

I learned that KitchenAid is the only company in America which still makes counter top appliances in the United States. All others brands are made overseas, although a few select KitchenAid appliances like the heavy-duty Pro-Line Espresso Maker (which I seriously envy) is made in Italy. Each and every KitchenAid appliance manufactured out of the United States is taken out of the box, vigorously-tested, then re-sealed before it’s ready for sale.

color samples at kitchenaid

The first thing that I saw when I entered the factory are the newest models and colored mixers lined up, practically floor-to-ceiling! They ranged in hues like sunny Meyer Lemon, Martha Green (named after…), Caviar (black with silver flecks), a cheerful Green Apple, Olive, and colorfully-red Bing Cherry.

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Mixers Ready To Be Dipped in Paint

If I didn’t already own several mixers, I would have tried to sneak out the brilliant-yellow Meyer Lemon model under my jacket, although it’s being considered for retirement. New colors are constantly introduced, then retired, sop that new ones can be added. So if you ever see a color that you like, get it while it’s hot. One enduring color that’s been offered for years, with a new expanded product line, is the pink mixer, with 10% from the sale of each going to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. There’s no plans to retire that one, and in fact, they’ve added other products in that color range.

mixer assembly line

Each KitchenAid mixer takes about one-day to assemble. The actual building of the mixer is done in several stages: The engines are assembled and installed in the cast-metal housing by one team, the parts are heavily oiled (using three-times the amount of lubrication required for a lifetime of use), then sealed tight by another group, then the mixers are tested in another area, replicating 30 years of normal home use. Once they pass inspection, they’re packaged up and ready to be shipped off.

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Blenders Are Tested With Cubes of Ice, Which Are Perhaps the Hardest Things You’d Put In a Blender.

Each person in the factory makes an average of 92 standing mixers per day, with 22 people working on the line at any given time. Christmas starts in June at KitchenAid, when temporary workers are hired to assemble mixers to meet the upcoming holiday demand.

I left my resumé.

kitchenaid

One of the newest improvements to the KitchenAid standing mixer is their sturdiest whip yet. Unlike the dough hook and paddle attachments, the whip has several different parts affixed together, making it the part that takes the most abuse (sometimes I think I know exactly how it feels.) I watched how each individual whip was spun around while a woman patiently threaded each wire, interlacing them and securing them to the core.

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A Woman Wields Her Whip


The happiest folks in the factory are not on the floor, but in a special, plusher chamber. These are the “call girls”, as they’re known. These happy cookers spend their days servicing clients, tirelessly, one right after the other. They’re the on-site customer service team, helping customers seeking advice about their appliances. Although the main call center is elsewhere (in Michigan), KitchenAid likes some of their customer service workers to remain in the factory, keeping them in touch with the manufacturing process, so they can respond to requests quickly and accurately.

So when you call KitchenAid, you can ask to speak to someone in the factory in Greenville. You’ll get connected to one of the highly knowledgeable service team members there (…and tell them I sent you…they’re not likely to forget me!)

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Is your mixer making a funny sound?
Hold the phone to the machine while it’s operating and they can diagnose it for you.
Wondering how you can raise the bowl so that the whip reaches the absolute bottom of it?
There’s a tiny screw located underneath the mixer head that you can turn counterclockwise (on the K5) that’ll do the trick. I’ve been using my KitchenAid mixer for years and never knew that.
Of course if I had read the instructions…and we all read instruction manuals, don’t we?

Just a short ride away is the KitchenAid Experience, an interactive center where everything that KitchenAid makes is available to try out and play around with.

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How Do You Decide?

There’s also a teaching kitchen with demonstrations throughout the day. I did one, making all sorts of chocolate treats for guests, including chewy Chocolate Financiers, Rocky Road with Homemade Marshmallows, Peanuts, and Cocoa Nibs, and Double Chocolate Ice Cream with Stracciatella, using the brand-new ice cream attachment, which works with all KitchenAid standing mixers.

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Homemade Rocky Road, Recipe From The Great Book of Chocolate


Each and every appliance is available on the floor to play around with and bargain-hunters should descend to the lower-level, a room packed floor-to-ceiling with factory refurbished mixers and blenders.

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When a KitchenAid product is returned to a store, it’s sent back to the factory. The box is opened, the appliance removed and thoroughly inspected and tested. Then it’s re-sealed and offered for sale at a substantial discount: Each appliance meets the same rigorous standards as a spanking-new model.

I saw hyper-powerful 6-quart KitchenAid mixers available for slightly more than $200 and chrome blenders being sold for less than half the retail price. And there was lots and lots of mixers and other appliances in colors that had been retired or in various experimental finishes that you won’t find anywhere else.
If you can’t make it to the KitchenAid Experience, you can shop find your own bargain on a reconditioned model at Amazon.

Big thanks to the staff at KitchenAid for taking the time to show my everything, as I poked through boxes and rifled through bins of parts. They answered all my questions and I’ll never rev up my KitchenAid standing mixer again without thinking of what went into it before it became a fixture in my kitchen and my life.

Related Links:

Bargain KitchenAid Mixers & Appliances

You can find amazing bargains on reconditioned KitchenAid appliances at Amazon, such as powerful K5 mixers for only $129, and gorgeous chrome-plated blenders for only $39, which will save you hundreds of dollars.

The KitchenAid Experience

The KitchenAid Experience is located in Greenville, Ohio, about 45 minutes from Dayton and 2 hours from Cinncinati.

The KitchenAid Experience
423 South Broadway
Greenville, Ohio
Tel: 1-888-886-8318

Factory Tours of KitchenAid

KitchenAid
1701 KitchenAid Way
Greenville, Ohio
Tours given Monday through Friday, at 10am and 1pm (subject to change, so call ahead.)

Local Bed & Breakfast

St. Clair Place
224 E. Third Street
Greenville, Ohio
Email: stclairplace@earthlink.net

110V-220V, and International Questions

Will my KitchenAid Mixer Work Abroad?

KitchenAid International