Recently in Parisian Culture category

The Two-Hour Goodbye

Clock - two hour goodbye

I am definitely slowing down, because ever since arriving in France, when I’m out and about, as midnight approaches, my head starts rolling back toward my neck, which I have to make an effort to snap back when I’m à table or at a party with mes amis françaiss. When I was younger, I regularly stayed awake until 2…but usually 3am, with friends and co-workers, drinking wine, bowling, or just watching tv after work, unwinding with the baker’s favorite dinner: A big bag of tortilla chips and a jar of salsa. Times have certainly changed, and now by 11pm, I’m ready to brush my teeth and hop in the sack, exhausted from another day of this constantly challenging thing called “life.”

I’m not much of a social animal, as people who’ve tried to corner me have discovered, which (judging by some of the awkward situations that I’ve found myself in), proves I’m not all that great at socializing. A lot of it comes from being squirreled away in the back of restaurant kitchens for thirty-five years, where it seems most conversations are about food, sex, cooking, sex, our lack of sleep, sex, who makes the best salsa, raunchy jokes, sex, and making sure the dishwasher is on your side. Because if not, they can really f**k you up. (And believe me, they will.) Nowadays, though, my biggest concern at night is simply remaining vertical.

When you go to a party in France, be it a dinner party or a get-together of another kind (even a rendezvous at a bar or restaurant), leaving is simply pas possible. Okay, it’s not impossible, but the process can take a good two hours or so. At restaurants in France, it’s considered rude to give someone the check before they are ready to leave. So people will linger as long as they want. (And they like to make sure that they do.) To me, it seems to be rude to be the first person to suggest leaving, even long after you’ve finished up. From the looks I get when I suggest getting the check and settling up, it’s like you’re telling your friends, “I’ve had enough of you. Time’s up.” And no one wants to be that person who’s the first to make a move toward leaving. Because no one wants to be the spoil sport, which seems to fall on my shoulders.

Continue Reading The Two-Hour Goodbye…

Bread, on the table…s’il vous plaît

Sesame baguette

One of the things that I see when dining with visitors to France is that right after they pluck a piece of bread out of the bread basket that is invariably set on the table in cafés and restaurants, they start looking around – a little nervously – where to put their bread down. While the conversation is going, I sense a bit of multitasking – their eyes nervously scanning the table, darting back and forth, looking for something — a plate, a board, an extra napkin…anything to put their bread on.

Finally, they settle on the side of their plate or bowl as that’s the only option that seems to be available to them. But that’s tricky since the sides of plates are sloped. Their minds continue to race as they mentally calculate the engineering behind finding the exact correct angle to place the bread on the plate, usually close to the rim, so it has something to hang on to (because, darn, those porcelain plates are slippery), while trying to look nonchalant and continue to appear unruffled. But soon, the slice of baguettes starts inching down towards their dinner, and they have to keep propping it back up to keep it away from the food. Or worse, to keep it from sliding off, and onto, the table.

Chez Dumonet

Continue Reading Bread, on the table…s’il vous plaît…

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.

Continue Reading The Making of My Paris Kitchen…

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.

Continue Reading Some Thoughts on French Cuisine…

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.

Continue Reading Belleville Brûlerie & Holybelly…

Purple Paris

Paris

I was buying a bike recently and, for some reason, the store offered the bike I wanted in two shades: black and prune (plum), one of the many variations on purple (which include, but are not limited to, violet, purple, and magenta) in the French vocabulary. I wasn’t sure I wanted a purple bike, but then I thought about how purple has invaded Paris – especially evident when an old-fashioned, traditional French butcher shop reopened this fall after an extensive renovation…

But it wasn’t just the butcher…

Paris

It was also the purple pâtisserie and pain maker…

Paris

And the purple pane-maker…

Paris

And the eyeglass maker…

Paris

Or you can peep across the street, to another eyeglass maker…

Paris

And there’s the make-up maker…

Paris

The phone broker…

Paris

And the salad maker…(ie: me)

Paris

The ticket maker…

Paris

Continue Reading Purple Paris…

Étamine

Étamine

Sometimes when I’m asked about what I miss from “home” (ie: the US). I might answer dried pluots, crunchy organic peanut butter, aluminum foil that you can’t read the newspaper through, and an unending supply of Sharpies. (Although thanks to a slew of well-meaning friends and other folks passing through, I now have an unending supply of them here in France.) But I no longer sherpa over cheesecloth, because I’ve found something better: Étamine.

Étamine

Way back when, I brought over a few packages of cheesecloth for such culinary projects as soaking fruitcakes in liquor (with mixed success), at times…and draining cream or yogurt for homemade cheeses, marmalade-making, and labneh. Then I discovered the gauzy, wispy fabric known as étamine and I haven’t gone back to cheesecloth. Nor have I asked anyone to sherpa some over for me. (And I can finagle them into bringing other things, such as dried pluots.)

Étamine

Continue Reading Étamine…

Boudin Noir

Boudin Noir

I’m not one of those “extreme eaters” and I doubt you’ll ever see me on one of those television shows showing off how brave I am, boasting about eating Lord-knows-what. In fact, I am the opposite end: I’m a defender of those who don’t want to eat certain things. Who cares what other people’s food preferences are?*

A few years back I got to cook with Andrew Zimmern, the host of “Bizarre Foods” who had come to France. To be honest, I didn’t know who he was because I’ve been away from the States for a while. I was amazed when we went to my local market to shop on a sleepy Sunday morning, when suddenly, out of the woodwork, swarms of Americans descended on him. (Notice I said “him” and not “us” – hrrmmph!)

But being the gentleman that I am, I stepped aside to let the crowd through. And after spending a day with him, I’d have to agree: Next time I see him, I’m going to swarm him (again), too. He is one of the loveliest and most fun people I’ve ever met.

Boudin Noir

As much as I kind of fell for him, I still don’t share his proclivity for eating all sorts of oddities, although I am sometimes curious about them. People have asked me, “Why are Americans so squeamish about what they eat?” which is rather odd because Americans eat a lot of hot dogs – and Lord knows what’s in those…and some eat whatever is in that packet of orange powder that comes with boxed macaroni & cheese. (Which I recently bought on a whim because I saw it in a store, which was definitely not as good as I remembered.) And I have French friends who would never eat rabbit, kidneys, brains, or any of les autres abats (offal).

Continue Reading Boudin Noir…