Recently in Whining category

And This Time, I Mean It

granola bars

With just a week left before my move, things have gotten rather frantic around here. I won’t bore you with stories about delays, budget overruns, a bruised eardrum from someone yelling in my ear when I’m standing just a foot away, and so on, but I can now say with confidence that I understand why there are so many pills in the medicine cabinets across France. Chez David has become a mini Vallé des poupées (Valley of the Dolls), with most of my efforts right now concentrating on trying to obtain a minimum of three hours of solid sleep per night. And, of course, making sure blog posts don’t have a single typo in them.

Needless to say, visitors can forget my requests for bringing over corn tortillas or dried cranberries – I need a reload on ExcedrinPM. What I thought would be a relatively straightforward project has become a lesson in how much patience and good humor are left in me. I made the grave error of stepping in freshly poured cement, which has occurred only once during my 53 years on this earth, but someone on the job has not let me forget it and has mentioned it at least seven times since I did it. And it was only yesterday.

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New Digs

wiring

Well, I did it. After nearly ten years of living in Paris, I am finally going to have a place that I can call my own. After dipping my feet in, and checking apartments from time-to-time, I decided that it was time I went ahead and did it. So I bought my own apartment.

Hunting for an apartment in Paris is quite an adventure; there’s no multiple listing services like there are in other countries (and it’s estimated that over half the apartments in Paris get sold directly by the owners), so you need to spend an inordinate amount of time searching online, in the newspapers, and in real estate agency windows. And since each agency will only show you what is offered by their particular agency – and some real estate agents have a less-than-stellar reputation here – it’s a process that takes a combination of luck, timing—and of course, plenty of time.

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My Favorite Kitchen Tip, Ever

dirty dishes

This isn’t the most photogenic of posts, but one of the dirty secrets of writing cookbooks is the dishes. And this season, as the cavalcade of cooking tips comes tumbling forth in anticipation of all the holidays – and the cooking and baking that go along with them – this is the best tip I’ve ever been given.

Most of you probably know how many dishes to takes just to bake a simple cake: a stack bowls, a mixer and the whip, a gaggle of spatulas, and for my fellow Americans, a bunch of measuring cups and spoons. Now imagine if you made that same cake three times in a row, making a few other sets of dishes dirty. Then did it again.

In spite of that fact that I have a real dishwasher, I spend a few hours each and every day washing dishes. It’s funny because when friends call and ask me if I’m free for dinner, sometimes I have to decline because I have to work, and they don’t seem to understand that part of my “work” is washing and/or putting away dishes and pots and pans. It’s a cycle that’s part of my life and when I left the restaurant business, being able to hand off a bustub full of dirty dishes to someone else was something I missed a lot. (If you ask anyone who is the most important person in a restaurant kitchen, even more than the chef, it’s the dishwasher.)

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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.

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Slate Plates

assiette ardoise

Since I arrived in Paris a while back, a number of food tendances have slipped into our vocabulary. From appetizers served in Chinese-style spoons, to the alarming addition of adding sugar to savory hors d’oeuvres, I’ve learned to become diplomatic when faced with a plate lined with white porcelain spoons with a dollop of minted pea puree topped with a touch of crème fraîche and three salmon eggs in the middle, or a beef cubes dipped in caramel and garnished with a raw quail egg and a strawberry-flavored marshmallow. But I’m still having a little trouble with slate plates. And I’m not the only one.

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Cotogna Restaurant

beef tenderloin at cotogna cotogna pizza maker

I’m going to get this out of the way right off the bat: I worked with Mike Tusk at Chez Panisse – he was a cook upstairs in the café and I was downstairs in the pastry department, and although I knew he was a good cook, I was blown away the first time I ate at his restaurant, Quince.

Quince restaurant in San Francisco warm ricotta with figs

I went there shortly after it opened, when it was in a residential neighborhood in San Francisco. The kitchen was nice and rather large if I recall, and he explained to me that he was figuring out how to do everything that he wanted to do in that space. I had dinner later that week in the dining room, which is run by his wife, Lindsay, and was really delighted at the wonderful meal I had, especially the pasta dishes.

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Quelle difference

The TGV Lyria train makes the trip to Switzerland is just about three hours. If you buy your tickets in advance, first-class seats aren’t that much more expensive than regular fares (sometimes the difference is little as €5) and as a friend said to me, “Since I don’t use drugs, I spend the extra money on first-class train tickets.”

tgv food

Lest you think first-class is elitist, I often go second-class. The good thing about first is that the seats have electric outlets, which is great for getting work done. As in, all the 119 pictures you saw on the Swiss posts I processed on the train ride home. Plus there isn’t the usual “seating scrum” that happens in second class trains in France where it’s not surprising to board the train and find someone in your reserved seat. Then the process is you go sit in another seat. And when that person comes, they go find another seat. I always want to say, “Why doesn’t everyone sit where they are supposed to sit?” But Romain tells me, “C’est comme ça. You don’t understand.” And you know what? He’s right.

Aside from having a seat with an electric outlet, and even better—no one in it—when I looked at my ticket it said “Meal Included.”

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Why is the food so abysmal at Charles de Gaulle Airport?

aeroports de Paris

Because they recently asked, since my last trip out of Charles de Gaulle airport, I decided that I would try to imagine the perfect airport in Paris.

I sometimes take a bit of ribbing because being a good American, I can’t go too far without having le snack handy. And with airlines requiring earlier check-ins and cutting down on food service, a number of airports have gotten with the program and realized that there’s thousands of people passing through daily, many waiting…and waiting…and waiting, with nothing to do but eat.

I’ve given up on the food on the trains since those plastic-wrapped triangular sandwiches look terrible. If I was famished, I’d sooner eat the armrests. They apparently gave up the pioneering sous vide cuisine that three-star chef Joël Robuchon created for the trains, and while rail technology was embraced and swiftly moved forward, the food unfortunately didn’t zoom exactly in the same direction.

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