Recently in Paris category

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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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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Some Things from the Friday Market in Paris

Ail frais nouveau

It’s Friday and hallelujah. Not just because it’s the end of the week. But also because I discovered an open hole in my schedule, with the entire day free. And the lure of sunshine coming though my windows was all the prompting I needed to grab my market bag and take a leisurely stroll to the outdoor market on the boulevard Richard Lenoir (M: Oberkampf, Tuesday & Friday). After one of those never-ending winters, it was nice to be able to walk in the sunshine, sans gloves and not being all bundled up in a wool overcoat.

When I arrived, the market was teeming with people who obviously had the exact same idea (although don’t know how they got a day off as well), and I was squinting in the sunlight, taking in the fruits and vegetables, noting the changing of the season. In addition to being able to go out without gloves and an overcoat, another sure sign of spring in Paris is ail nouveau, or “new garlic.” Garlic has a season and it’s starting right now, with violet-hued heads of garlic, piled up in baskets. New garlic is slightly soft, without any of the harsh pungency of garlic that’s been stored for months and months. It’s beautiful and wonderful in aïoli.

potimarron

While squash is considered a winter vegetable, all the stands seemed to be carrying small potimarrons, whose name is a mash-up, reflecting their pumpkin (potiron) and chestnut (marron) flavors. Perhaps it’s time to use ‘em or lose ‘em? I like them roasted and the small ones are particularly attractive when served that way.

rostello ham

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Paris Flea Markets and Thrift Stores

Paris Flea Markets

When I lived in a small apartment, I had to dial down buying everything. As folks in Paris say: “Something in, something out” – meaning that if you brought something in, you had to get rid of something to make room for it. I lived ”smaller,” with fewer things, which was great because I pared down my collecting, and kept only what was essential.

Paris Flea Markets

What a difference a few years, and a few more square meters, make. And now that I’ve got some more space in my apartment after moving a couple of years ago, I’m hitting the vide-greniers and brocantes again, scooping up odds and ends. (And looking for places to put everything, all over again. *sigh*) When I put photos on my Instagram stream as I wandered the markets recently, the invariable question comes up: “Where are you?” So in response to folks that want to know where I shop, this listing is for you.

Paris Flea Markets

The bad news is that there are relatively few bargains in Paris. The good news is, that’s not exactly true. There’s plenty of stuff that people get rid of because it’s old-fashioned or not needed, so it is possible to pick up vintage cookware, linens, and other things that locals cast off. And I’m happy to buy them!

Paris Flea Markets

I’ve developed a bit of a “bottom feeder” mentality and avoid the traditional flea markets, the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen (usually referred to as the Marché Clignancourt), and the Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves, and stick to the brocantes that pop up in Paris during nice weather in the neighborhoods. Prices are much lower and it’s more fun to see what pops up as people are unloading their trucks. Below are tips on how to find them, as it’s not obvious to visitors (and some locals). Though I didn’t used to mind spending money on things, I am now more selective (and maybe more French?) and have become radin (cheap), focusing on things that are truly bargains.

Paris Flea Markets

It’s good to know the nomenclature. Flea markets (Marchés aux puces) refers to the larger, fixed-location markets in Paris, but it’s the brocantes and vide-greniers that I find the most interesting. Basically, a brocante is an open-air sale that includes professional dealers, but they’re lower priced than the fancy antiquaire markets and exhibitions. Most brocantes in Paris are a mix of dealers and particuliers, or individuals, who are non-professionals.

Paris Flea Markets

Garage sales and sidewalk sales aren’t permitted in France, so vide-greniers, or “empty the attic” sales, are the closest equivalent. These are collective sales held in various neighborhoods and folks in the quartier bring objects that they want to sell. These can be hit-or-miss. Sometimes it’s a lot of plastic children’s toys, other times, people are cleaning out their kitchens, and you can score. A braderie refers to a sale where things are marked down and there are rarely professionals, and a braderie often refers to a sale when things are sold rummage sale-style. (For the sake of discussion, I’m just going to refer to outdoor flea markets as brocantes, as they are referred to in Paris.)

Paris Flea Markets

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Caillebotte

Caillebotte restaurant

I never feel the need to be the first person to hit the latest hotspots. For one thing, I worked in restaurants and I know that the first few weeks (or in some cases, months) can be tough and it takes time to sort everything out. True, they are open to the public and serving meals, but since I’m just a regular diner, and not a food critic, I think it’s better to wait and let everything fall into place. Another reason, which happens too frequently, is the throng of people who go to a hyped new place. I’ve been disappointed by places I’ve read and heard a lot about, only to find that they don’t live up to the buildup. (Which has me scratching my head, because so many people are talking them up.) I figure the good places will still be open months and months later, and the bad ones will beat a hasty retreat.

Since I don’t have my ear to the ground, I hadn’t heard about Caillebotte. But I had heard of Pantruche, which has been around a while and is known for the quality of its food. And since a friend who loves to eat was in town, I thought it time to consult the little list I keep of places I’m eager to visit. At the end of the list was Caillebotte, which was at the end because it was the most recent addition, suggested to me by my friend Zeva, who runs Yelp in France.

Caillebotte restaurant

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Salon de l’Agriculture

Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

Every year, beginning in mid-February, thousands of farmers, wine makers, cheese makers, sausage makers, and an arks’-worth of animals, makes it way to Paris for the annual Salon de l’Agriculture. The salon began in 1870 in a country that was, and still is, justly fond of its agriculture, which is celebrated on tables, in steaming cauldrons, on picnic blankets, in restaurants, and ready-to-slice on cutting boards, all across France.

Paris Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

The best of France converges on Paris and last year, there were nearly three-quarters of a million visitors, filling up the massive, grand halls of the Porte des Versailles, on the edge of Paris.

Paris Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

There are exhibitors from twenty-two countries in addition to France, as well as foods from tropical French regions. And four thousand animals are trucked to Paris from the provinces to bring the taste – and smell(!) – of the country, to Paris.

Paris Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

Like many agriculture fairs, there are competitions, too, honoring everything from the liveliest livestock to the best wines in France. But to me, it’s really an astounding place to enjoy the best of France in one hectic visit. However, it’s impossible to see it all in one day unless you have the stamina of one of those massive bulls in the pens, or the men who stir (and stir and stir and stir) the giant pots of cheese and potatoes.

Paris Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

 

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Belleville Brûlerie & Holybelly

Belleville Brulerie

Hoo-boy, do I remember the bunch of flack (to say the least!) for mentioning way-back-when that the coffee in Paris could use a bit of, um, upgrading. I was recently reminiscing about that with my friend Pim, who wrote about it in 2005. People were up in arms, which was a little bizarre since the French often refer to café coffee as jus de chausettes, or “sock juice.”

Belleville Brulerie

If you’ve been to Paris, you know that there are lots of cafés but the quality of the coffee isn’t the focus. However, like all cities, Paris evolves, and in the past few years, a whole battalion of younger folks, some French, and others from elsewhere, have opened shops sprouted up far and wide, at a rate that was so fast, that I couldn’t possibly try them all. (And with all that caffeine surging through my system, I would have lost 6 1/2 years of sleep.) And other people were doing such a good job of cataloging them all, that I just sat back and focused on other things.

Belleville Brulerie

Being from San Francisco, where coffee-culture can be obsessive compulsive – if you didn’t study the micron size of each granule of coffee grinds or have your water analyzed to ensure your coffee was as clear as a sleek Chemex carafe – you, and your coffee, simply weren’t up to snuff. I went to espresso school in Italy, where I watched and learned from the Italian experts how the seemingly simple task of extracting a perfect espresso actually depended on having mastered a few key techniques and having the right grinder and espresso machine.

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RAP Épicerie

RAP Italian Epicerie

Due to our closeness to Italy, it’s fairly easy to find an Italian épicerie in almost any Parisian neighborhood. (Although locating an authentic Italian espresso is a little more elusive.) I’m fortunate because there are two excellent Italian épiceries (speciality food shops) close to where I live, but most of the places get their items from a distributor, which means the selection is somewhat narrow. Few places have farro, and I’ve never seen anyone selling farina polenta taragna, the mix of polenta and buckwheat that I first had in the mountains above Milan, and I’d never seen it anywhere outside of Italy. (So I’ve been making my own.)

RAP Italian Epicerie

That’s not a complaint – it’s great to be able to find Sicilian salumi and pasta from Tuscany. And Cooperative Latte Cisternino, an excellent Italian dairy cooperative, is a terrific place for Italian cheeses and other products. (Although they always seem to be closed when I go there.)

RAP Italian Epicerie

But artisanal products, items from small producers, are a little more challenging to find. So I was charmed when my friend Terresa and I took a field trip to discover RAP, which offers rarely seen Italian foods, imported directly by Alessandra Pierini, who curates the selection in her jammed-to-the-rafters shop in the 9th arrondissement.

RAP Italian Epicerie

I haven’t seen such a varied and curious selection of products all together outside of Italy since, well – ever. (Eataly, eat your heart out.) Granted RAP is tiny; imagine if someone pushed eight phone booths together, and you’ll get some idea of its size.

RAP Italian Epicerie

Yet I was incredibly excited to be surrounded by shelves and shelves holding many of the foods I love from Italy, including unusual chocolates, citron soda, and pure, unadulterated pistachio spreads, which were in danger of being eclipsed by things that I’d never seen or tasted.

RAP Italian Epicerie

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