And It’s Only Wednesday

So far, this week…

…I ran over a not-quite-yet-dead pigeon by accident with my shopping cart.

…My mobile phone died.

…My ATM card expired.

The bank told me to wait for the replacement card.

Which was sent in May.

…My credit card was cancelled, which I learned while at the cashier with a overloaded cart at BHV.

There were thirty people behind me. And they were not happy.

…I’m almost completely out of money here.

…I got a letter from the IRS that said I underpaid my taxes, and owe more.

Plus interest.

…I got a letter from the State of California that said I underpaid my taxes, and owe more.

Plus interest.

…The cash wire transfer paperwork that I filled out when I was last in the US was incorrectly prepared by the person at the bank.

So they told me I have to go back to the branch, in California, and re-do it.

…A French friend explained that iced drinks make you very sick, since they cool down your stomach too much.

(Er, I suppose traveling a few minutes through my digestive tract won’t have any effect on warming up the cold liquid.)

…I got falling down drunk at my friend Olivier’s last night.

(He has air-conditioning and my original ruse to to pretend I was drunk and had to spend the night, but then I really did get drunk and was worried about making a fool of myself.)

…I was giving myself a haircut and my hair clippers inexplicably quit halfway through.

I would go to the BHV and get another pair, but my credit card was cancelled.

And my hair looks a little funny.

…There’s a new movie with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock coming.

…My absolute favorite olive oil shop in Paris, which has the best selection of oils, is closing for good this Saturday.

(All oils are on sale, 30-50% off, at Allicante, 26 blvd Beamarchais.)

…When I went to pick up my sheets at the cleaners, I found out they’re closed until the end of August.

All my sheets are there.

…World War III appears to have started.

…George W. Bush, the most powerful person in the world, has over two years left on his term.

…My manuscript for my book is due on Friday and my Mac feels like it’s on fire.

…The temperature in my apartment hasn’t dipped below 100 degrees in over a week.

The government says“…go into a store for 2-3 hours a day, to cool down.”

( Gee, I wonder if Monoprix would mind if I set up my laptop there?)

…I have a canker sore.

…I feel another one coming.

…I made Peanut Brittle, and left it to cool by the open window…

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…then I came home later and found a pigeon feather next to it.



Absinthe Cake Recipe

When I told Luc-Santiago from Vert d’Absinthe here in Paris that I didn’t like anise very much (or, stupid me, how long have I lived in Paris? I should have said, “I don’t appreciate anise very much.”), I wished I had my camera cocked-and-ready, as the look on his face was priceless. While I appreciate the culture and mystique of Absinthe and its cousin pastis, I’m not a fan of anise-based drinks.

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But luckily I am a fan of anise-baked anything, and do like that flavor when baked in cakes and cookies, such as biscotti and the like. I had a suspicion that a buttery cake with a healthy shot of Absinthe in the batter, then more Absinthe added as a crunchy glaze would be a success…and it was! Happily, the flavor of anise goes amazingly well with chocolate too, so feel free to pair this with a favorite Chocolate Ice Cream or a dark, slick chocolate sauce.

But it’s also lovely with a compote made of fresh or dried apricots, or a Nectarine and Cherry Compote. During the winter, I plan to make a colorful fruit salad of navel and blood oranges with a few rounds of tangy kumquats to serve alongside, since I’m suspicious of that green bottle on my shelf, with an alcohol content of 72%, may fall and explode. (Now that would have made a good opening for an episode of Six Feet Under.) But mostly I enjoy serving this Absinthe Cake all on its own and if you make it, I’m sure it won’t fail to get your guests full attention no matter how you serve it.

If you don’t have a convenient source for finely-ground pistachio meal, you can use almond meal (sometimes called almond flour). I’ve tested this cake with stone-ground cornmeal too, which provided a nice crunch, but Parisian friends found it a tad unusual since they’re not really used to desserts, or anything else, with cornmeal.

And I didn’t have any candied angelica on hand (like, who does?), but next time I make this cake, I’m definitely going to add a handful of finely-chopped angelica to the batter. I think tiny flecks of green flitting around in this cake would be rather festive and certainly in the spirit of le fée verte, aka; The Green Fairy, oui?

If you live in a country where you don’t have the freedom to get Absinthe, move. Aside from that, write a letter to your highest-ranking elected official whose job it is to protect the good of society from such ills, you can substitute an anise-scented apertif, such as Pernod, pastis, or ouzo, although they don’t have that sublime, sneaky herbaceous flavor and aroma found in true Absinthe. The other downside is that you won’t see any green fairies floating around your kitchen…which may, or may not, be a good thing…depending on which highest-ranking elected official you last voted for, I suppose.

Oops, and before I step down down from my high-horse, I do recommend that you use Rumford baking powder, or a similar brand, that doesn’t contain any aluminum. Most natural-food stores and Trader Joe’s carry aluminum-free baking powder and you’ll notice a major difference in your baking once you go aluminum-free. You’ll never miss that tinny aftertaste you get when using other brands.

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Don’t be put off by the sugary-looking glaze. As the cake cools, the glazes melds beautifully with the cake, which won raves from all who tried it.

Absinthe Cake

One 9-inch rectangular cake

From The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway Books)

For the cake:

  • 1 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds
  • 1 1/4 cup (175g) cake flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (65 gr) pistachio or almond meal or (1/2 cup (70g) stoneground yellow cornmeal)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (preferably Rumford)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (105 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) Absinthe
  • 1 orange, preferably unsprayed

For the Absinthe glaze:

1/4 cup (25 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) Absinthe

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 C). Butter a 9-inch loaf pan, then line the bottom with parchment paper.

2. In a mortar and pestle or spice mill, grind the anise seeds until relatively fine. Whisk together the cake flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and anise seeds. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, until they’re completely incorporated.

4. Mix together the milk and Absinthe with a few swipes of grated orange zest.

5. Stir half of the dry ingredients into the beaten butter, then the milk and Absinthe mixture.

6. By hand, stir in the other half of the dry ingredients until just smooth (do not overmix). Smooth the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

7. Remove the cake from the oven and let cool 30 minutes.

8. To glaze the cake with Absinthe, use a toothpick and poke 50 holes in the cake. In a small bowl, gently stir together the 1/4 cup (25 g) sugar, and 1/4 cup (60 ml) of Absinthe until just mixed. (You can add a bit of orange zest here if you’d like too.)
Be sure not to let the sugar dissolve too much!

9. Remove the cake from the loaf pan, peel off the parchment paper, and set the cake on a cooling rack over a baking sheet.

10. Spoon some of the Absinthe glaze over the top and sides of the cake, allowing it to soak the top and spill down the sides a bit. Continue until all the glaze is used up.

(Note: The photo at the top was this cake, but baked in an individual-sized cake mold.)



Related Links

Absinthe Ice Cream

The Sweet Life in Paris

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How to Survive Paris in the Summer

I’ve been wondering lately why I live here.

Winter is freezing cold. You can barely go stay outside for more than a few minutes without the icy blasts (which sound good now) sending you back indoors, to get under the covers, snuggly with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

Then we have spring.
Which this year lasted 4 days.

Then summer comes, and Paris melts down. You can see it on every face of everyone in the city. From people waiting for the bus, straining to stand in a tiny sliver of shade, to the women fanning themselves furiously on the buses and métro, everyone here is hotter than heck. Yesterday I went to the movies just to get cool, but unfortunately the film (The Squid & The Whale) was a measly 1 hour long. Who makes a 1 hour movie? I was tempted to stay and see it again just to bask in the coolness of the cinema but it was hard to stay awake the first time around.
Anything to escape my rooftop apartment, just under a zinc roof, which yesterday was104 degrees F. A few friends of mine have similar rooftop apartments, and I decided that no one’s allowed to complain to us how hot they are, since we’re invariably 10 degrees hotter than they are. So there.

But this time of year, visitors start coming to Paris in droves. I don’t know why so many people choose to come to Paris in the summer, but everyone’s surprised when I tell them that many of the shops are closed and it’s really hot. And I’m leaving.
But come, they do.

So if you are planning to come to Paris in the next month or so, here are some tips to keep in mind:

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1. Drink rosé.

For some reason, Americans are reluctant to drink rosé, which is inexpensive and delightfully served icy-cold. Rosé in France, for the most part, is dry and very drinkable. And it goes down very well in the summer, speaking from recent experience. Order it by the carafe since there’s little difference between that and what comes in the more expensive bottles.

You’ll be drinking it so fast that it doesn’t really matter.

2. Never order anything they call ‘iced coffee’ or ‘iced tea’.

It’s invariably very, very sweet. If you order iced coffee, no matter what you’re thinking it’s going to be, stop before you do. No matter how tempting it sounds to you, just stop.

If you order something called ‘iced coffee’, you’ll be served a very small amount of dark liquid (very sweet) in a large glass, with a straw, and it will be really sweet. And expensive.

Iced tea is inevitably from a can. And flavored.

And very sweet as well.

(Disclaimer: Yes, that was me you saw on the Boulevard St. Michel at, gasp, Starbucks drinking a Frappucino. It was so hot, we had no choice. But I have a question: Is there any coffee in those things? You’d think if they’re gonna charge 4.50€, about $5.50, they would at least taste the slightest bit like coffee. Would it kill them to toss in an extra espresso without charging extra for it?)

3. There is no ice.

You may get a cube or two in your drink, but French people don’t use lots of ice and few places have those jumbo ice machines like in America. When I worked in restaurants in the US, the worst thing that could happen was when the ice machine broke. People freaked. I mean, they really freaked. It was like they couldn’t deal with drinking room-temperature water. And now, some places in America are charging extra if you don’t want ice. It’s like there’s this vast conspiracy to get you to use lots of ice or something in America. Perhaps someone’s putting something in the ice?

(Because whenever I request “No ice” in the US, the waiter gives me this funny look, and I can see him thinking, “Oh great. Why do I get all the ass#%$les in my section?”)

Speaking of drinking: You’ll notice that it’s customary not to fill wine or water glasses to-the-brim full. In France, glasses are generally filled half-full. And in some places or in homes you’re expected to use the same glass for both wine and water, so if you fill it too full with wine, you gotta finish all of it before you get any water.

And vice versa.

4. Don’t expect air-conditioning.

Or I should say, very little is air-conditioned, especially like the icy-cold turbo-blasts experienced in the US. Electricity is very expensive in France. That, coupled with a general dislike of cool breezes (or open windows…or any kind of ventilation in general) but it can get uncomfortably and unbearably hot and people will sit in restaurants and apartments with the windows firmly closed.

That includes the métro, which can be downright intolerable in the summer. Especially when it’s jammed full and your face is directly in some dudes hairy armpit who forgot to take his weekly shower. but you can’t move. Most of the buses aren’t air-conditioned (except I got on the #63 recently, and it was un peu de paradis), nor is the RER from the airport, which is downright miserable in the summer and you should avoid it. Spring for a cab or a shuttle.

5. Spring for some decent sandals.

Parisians do wear sandals and flip-flips (les thongs, except you don’t pronounce the ‘h’) but in general they wear rather sporty ones. If you want to wear rubber flip flops, stop at Pay-Less and get pair that doesn’t look skanky.

(And while you’re at it, make sure your feet look decent. Like mine do.)

5a: Don’t ever wear dark socks with sandals.
5b: Don’t ever wear dark knee socks with sandals.
5c: Don’t wear socks with sandals, period.

And remember, you can only wear two of the following at the same time: sandals, shorts, or a tank top. Never all three (if you do, then it’s obligatory to add a fanny pack and carry a Rick Steve’s guidebook.)

6. Spring for some nice shorts.

Parisians do wear shorts, in spite of what you hear, but do not wear them if you’re planning to go into sophisticated places or nice shops.

Do not wear your ultra-short shorts, or anything that looks like something Mariah Carey would wear…unless you’re trolling for les clients on the rue St. Denis.

(And men: If you’re planning on doing any shoe shopping during les soldes, please remember to wear undershorts. A friend of mine was a shoe salesperson and was always amazed how few men didn’t wear undies and whenever she looked up to ask about the fit, she was greeted with an eyeful.)

7. Take time to relax.

I’ve seen too many people coming to Paris who want to take in six museums in one day, rush from place to place with a rigid schedule, and generally make themselves and their friends crazy. You’ll notice that Parisians sit in cafés for lo-o-o-ong periods of time, thinking, reading, or doing absolutely nothing. It’s a skill I’ve finally mastered.

Just sit around and watch the world go by. Remember that citron pressée that you paid 6€ for? It’s for the privilege of doing just that. And it’s hot, so just relax. Or go to the movies. Paris is a great movie city. And most cinemas are air-conditioned.

8. Get out of the Left Bank.

While there’s lots of interesting things to do in Paris; fabulous chocolate shops, great bakeries, and shopping galore, there’s other neighborhoods in Paris worth exploring besides the Boulevard St. Germain-des-Pres.

Have you been to Belleville and Boulangerie 140 at Place Jourdain?

What about the Canal St. Martin for a stroll in the evening?

9. Parisians eat much later in the summer.

The sun doesn’t go down until around 11pm, so things happen later. No one will be eating dinner at 7 or 7:30pm, and many restaurants won’t even be open before that.
So plan accordingly.

If you want a seat outside (en terrasse, make sure to specify that when you reserve, as they’re the first to go. Otherwise, if you want a seat near the window, those go second and it’s best to show up earlier in the evening rather than later.

And if you’re staying in a hotel in a popular neighborhood, and need to keep the windows open, bring ear plugs to block out noisy Brits getting pissed or the Aussies and their birds drinking cans of 1664 under your window.

10. Prepare for les vacances.

Realize that lots of places close for a month, mostly in August but starting in mid-July. It’s said that Americans “live to work” and Europeans “work to live”, which is rather true, and they are outta here.

The upside is that you’ll have Paris much to yourselves and it’s very pleasant and uncrowded. But expect many, many places to be closed.
Any other tips?

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.

absinthedishes.jpg
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.


One Recipe, Six Tries

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Some Very Sad News

This sad news arrived in my inbox this morning:

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The Pillsbury Doughboy died yesterday of a yeast infection and trauma from complications from repeated pokes in the belly. He was 71.

Doughboy was buried in a lightly-greased coffin. Dozens of celebrities in the food community turned out to pay their respects, including Mrs. Butterworth, Hungry Jack, the California Raisins, Betty Crocker, the Hostess Twinkies, and Captain Crunch.

The grave site was piled high with flours.

Aunt Jemimah delivered the eulogy and lovingly described Doughboy as a man who never knew how much he was kneaded. Doughboy rose quickly in show business, but his later life was filled with turnovers. He was not considered a very smart cookie, wasting much of his dough on half-baked schemes. Despite being a little flaky at times he still was a crusty old man and was considered a positive roll model for millions.

Doughboy is survived by his wife, Play Dough, two children, John Dough and Jane Dough, plus they had one in the oven.
He is also survived by his father, Pop Tart.

A funeral was held at 3:30 for about 20 minutes, or until done.


Happy Bastille Day!

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