Reines-Claudes Plums

The first of the Reines-Claudes plums are at the market.

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These tiny, super-sweet little green plums are 18% sugar, one of the highest percentages of all fruits. The true French reines-claudes plums are grown in Moissac, near Toulouse, and are available for just a short time during August.

Get ‘em while you can…

Lamb Tagine Recipe

One of the first lessons I learned on my way to becoming une vrai Parisian was to never, ever be on time. I should backtrack and say: One should never to be on time when invited for dinner party. The hosts, who called with my first invitation to a soirée about a week after I arrived in Paris, said “Come at 8pm…But you know, in Paris, that means to come at 8:30pm.”

Subsequently when I have guests for dinner, I expect them to be around 20 minutes late, although there’s much debate on how late you’re actually supposed to be. But if you’re on time, or early, you might acidentially catch your hosts either in their little DIM skivvies.

Or less-appetizingly, stashing away the Picard boxes.

It’s a tricky balance when you inviting folks for dinner, trying to make sure what dinner’s gonna be hot and well-cooked without having to spend the last 30 minutes trapped in the kitchen while your guests drink up all the rosé. And it’s now become fashionable to be even more late, as if to show that you have oh-just-so-much on your agenda, which has made being tardy something of a status symbol. But if your friends show up one hour late, and you’ve made something like Pork Roast, which can dry out in a minute, you’re screwed. Then you’ll only be thankful for them not arriving early and catching you in your petit slip français.

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In Paris, with so many Arabic butchers around, it’s easy to find cuts of meat that lend themselves to slow-braising and making North African stews like Tagines. Being a pastry chef since the beginning of time, I was always a little terrified of meat, never quite knowing how to handle it. But I bravely started going into the butcher shops, inspecting the enormous slabs of meat trying to look as if I knew something about them, then I’d make my pick. Conveying how to cut it for me is another story, but most of the time, chopping my hands through the air like Helen Keller doing karate seems to get the point across. My Arabic is terrible, so most of the time, I end up brining home a lamb shoulder, since it’s inexpensive, not terribly fatty, and most importantly…easy to point to since they keep them right in front of the butcher cases.
(Ok, lamb shoulder’s also hard to ruin.)

For some reason, leaner cuts of meat usually tastes better in restaurants than when I make them at home. I don’t know why. But stewing cuts of meat, like lamb shoulder, I find I can make taste equally as good, or better, than anything I get when I go out. I’ve been making Tagines for the past few years with great success and once you start with a solid master recipe, like the one below, you can vary it for different kinds of meat or poulty, and you can make them as spicy or aromatic as you want by adjusting the spices. And since most benefit from long, leisurely braise in the oven, they’re perfect when you’re entertaining guests who arrive at various times, leaving you free to assist in the all-important task of making sure you guests have plenty of cool rosé in their glasses. But don’t neglect yours either.

Lamb Tagine
About 6 servings

You can substitute chicken for the lamb. Cut it into 8 pieces and reduce the oven time to about 1 to 1½ hours. I also like to add a handful, say about 1/2 cup (75g) toasted, blanched almonds to the stew during the final 30 minutes of braising, or some green olives. Another option is to add prunes or dried California apricots, which add a sublime sweetness. I used to add strips of salty preserved lemons, but I’d always wake up in the middle of the night ravenously thirsty and have to chug a few liters of water, so now I don’t anymore.

Often Tagines are served with big hunks of softly-baked bread sprinkled with anise seeds, I prepare cracked wheat or bulgur to serve underneat with a bit of chopped parsley added at the end. I’ve find it preferable to bread of couscous since it’s a whole grain and the fabulously nutty and crunchy grains are really a delightful chew.
And so friends can customize their Tagine, I pass little dishes of plumped yellow raisins, homemade sweet shallot marmalade, and toasted chick peas (pois chiche brun) which I find in the Indian markets near La Chapelle, places I often spend hours poking around in.

  • 1 lamb shoulder, cut into 6 pieces (have the butcher do it)
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1½ cups (375 ml) chicken stock (or water)
  • 1 teaspoons dried ginger
  • 1½ teaspoons coarse salt, plus more if necessary
  • 1 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch cilantro (coriandre), rinsed and tied with a string
  • 20 threads of saffron
  • juice of ½ lemon

Up to three days before you plan to make the Tagine, massage the lamb shoulder with the salt and let it sit in the refrigerator before you cook it.

To make the Tagine, in a heavy-duty Dutch oven, heat a few tablespoons of oil and sear the lamb pieces very well, turning them only after they’re nicely dark, browned, and crusty (this helps add flavor to the Tagine.) As you cook them, don’t crowd ‘em in. If your Dutch oven isn’t big enough to cook them all in a single layer at once, brown the lamb pieces in batches.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 C). Once the lamb is browned, add the onions and some of the stock, then scrape the bottom of the pan with a flat wooden spatula to release the flavorful browned bits. Add the remaining stock, then the spices, the bunch of cilantro, and the saffron.

Cover the pan and bake in the oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, turning the lamb over in the liquid a few times during the oven-braising. The liquid should just be steaming-hot and simmering gently. If it’s boiling, turn down the heat (some Dutch ovens conduct heat differently.) When the meat starts to fall apart easily, that’s when it’s ready. It’s hard to overcook lamb shoulder, so even an extra hour or so in the oven won’t hurt it.

Remove the lid and let the Tagine remain in the oven for another 30 minutes, so the juices reduce, becoming rich and savory.

To serve, remove the cilantro and discard. Squeeze some lemon juice into the liquid and add more salt if you think it needs it. Serve mounds of cracked wheat underneath the Tagine, with lots of the juices poured over. At the table, make sure you have a tube of harissa handy, the fire-y Moroccan hot sauce, for those of us who like spicy food, as I do.

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For dessert, I recommend something fruity and refreshing, like a scoop of Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt, from my book The Perfect Scoop.

I like it served with a fruity coulis made from red raspberries and cassis (black currants), mixed with sautéed cherries, made from the last cherries of the season, which I’m going to miss terribly.

Cell Phones in France: Staying In Touch On Your Trip To Paris

Paris Sunset

(Note: Some of this information was updated in October 2013. Plans and policies are all subject to change and revision by the various providers. Some updates are at the end of the post.)

If you’re traveling to, and within France, many folks like to stay in touch with home, or want to be able to make and receive phone calls and get messages. So why not pick up a pay-as-you-go phone?

You purchase the phone (most start at 20€) then buy minutes in increments from 5€ to 100€ at any phone store, which are good anywhere from a few weeks to several months, although they do expire at a certain point.

The three principle phone companies in France that offer pay-as-you-go mobile service are:

-SFR

-Bouyges

-Orange

You’ll need to show your passport when buying your phone and signing up for service. When you buy your phone, there are certain phones that are compatible with pay-as-you-go services, while others aren’t, so you’ll need to let them know what kind of service you want.

If you’re French isn’t very good, many of the young people that work in the various mobile phone boutiques in Paris are often interested in practicing their English (yes, really…) and if you get a good one, they can be really helpful. My success rate is about 50/50. And unless you like lines, avoid going first thing in the morning or during lunch hour(s). The other companies mentioned offer similar pay-as-you-go as well at the same price but Orange and SFR have the most locations around France.

Once you buy the phone, you’ll need to buy and load in minutes. You can do this at any phone store and most Tabacs, as well as at some guichet automatiques, or ATM machines. With Orange, for example, you’ll get a receipt with a 16-digit number which you enter into the phone.

You get three tries, so don’t mess up!
If you do, quelle dommage…you lose the minutes.


    Advantages

  • You get your own phone number (all mobile numbers in France begin with 06) that you can hang on to as long as you want. If your minutes expire and you don’t recharge after a certain period of time, you lose your number and will get reassigned another the next time you visit.

  • You can receive incoming calls from anywhere in the world, free. (In France, you only pay for outgoing mobile phone calls.) You can make calls internationally at the same rate that Mobicarte calls cost.

  • All calls within France are included at the same price.

  • You can buy as much, or as little time, as you wish. If you’re here for 2 weeks, you can just buy 45 minutes worth of calling time. If you need more, just stop in any Tabac of phone store and buy more in a few minutes.

  • Since none of the public phone booths take coins anymore, you don’t need to make a special trip to the Tabac to buy a phone card to use one.

  • You can use the phone over and over, on every trip during your lifetime. In other countries, you can buy a SIM card to transfer the phone service to their system.

  • You can have the phone set in English, so the on-screen instructions are in easier to understand.

    Disadvantages

  • French cell phones can be notoriously quirky. I’ve had several different phones, and many times my phone doesn’t ring if someone calls. More often, there’s no notification that I have a new message, so I have to call and check my voicemail every so often.

  • For Americans who are used to very low-priced cell phone calling, the price here is more expensive, so you may not want have a long, leisurely phone conversation. But remember, you only pay if you initiated the call.

  • France uses 220V, so you’ll need to recharge your phone in France, not in the United States. I recommend fully-charging it before you leave, so you can use it when you step off the plane on your next visit, if you need to.

  • The mobile phones are overly complicated. You have to scroll through a gazillion menus to get to what you want and press a lot more buttons too. And your phone number isn’t displayed, so you need to write it down elsewhere. (When I asked why, I was told it was “For security.” When I asked what kind of security that provided, they simply shrugged.)

  • The functions are not always explained with on-screen commands, so it can be frustrating to figure out how to do simple tasks like how to change your outgoing message or delete messages, which took me 2 years of asking at the different Orange boutiques to figure out…which no one seemed to know, oddly enough.

Updates

Competition has come to the French mobile phone industry and Virgin Mobile, as well as others, are entering the fray. The prices are similar but worth checking out.

A company called Call In Europe offers SIM cards and inexpensive calling plans, which you can arrange in the United States prior to your trip. Another service is Cellular Abroad, which rents phone for international use and sells various phones with international coverage and SIM cards.

If you have a laptop, Skype works very well and is inexpensive. All you need is an internet connection and a microphone or a laptop with a microphone embedded in it. Skype is also available for iPhones and you can use it wherever there is a WiFi or internet access.

BIC and Orange France have introduced a simple cell phone that’s sold pre-loaded with 60 minutes worth of talk time, for about €30. You’ll get your own number immediately and the phone can be recharged. The phones can be purchased at most Orange boutiques, in train stations and certain tabacs. These are quite easy to use and a good solution, especially since the phone can be reloaded with minutes, as you wish.

For those interested in knowing about their iPhones, check out the article: Using an American iPhone in Europe Without Going Broke, which has options and suggestions for saving money and which phone settings work best to avoid charges.

A company called My Travel Mate offers smartphones to rent on a daily basis with data packs and internet access. Rates start at 5€/day. Other companies that offer phone rentals, some with internet access. (Check fees, which can vary.)

You can rent a WiFi hotspot. I’ve not personally used one, but a few to check out are Bienvenue Telecom, Travel Wifi,

La Poste, the French post office now sells, in addition to calling cards, mobile phones and pay-as-you-go cards and plans. However if you don’t speak French, you might want to bring someone along who does.

How to find and use Wi-Fi in Paris will help those looking to get connected to the internet in Paris.

Seaweed Sandwiches

My first experience with eating seaweed was when my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Barnett, brought in a big bag of gnarled dried Japanese seaweed, presumably to familiarize us with foods from other cultures. Few of us kids growing up in sheltered New England would touch the stuff, although I took a little taste, but didn’t share her enthusiasm for the sea-scented tangle of salty greens.

So she ate the whole bag herself.

Later that day, Mrs. Barnett went home early, doubled-over, and clutching her stomach.

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As an adult, I’ve broadened my horizons, overcome any aversion, but most of the seaweed I consume comes surrounding tekka-make rolls, or other sushis as they’re called in France. (They add the “s” to pluralize them, even though you don’t pronounce it.)

My salt man, Monsieur Dion, who I used to get my fleur de sel and grey sea salt from (before he closed), appeared at my market on Sunday with a big barrel of Salicornes Fraîches, pickled in vinaigre de vin blanc with carrots, onions, and a few branches of thyme, which his brother made in Brittany. When I visited Brittany last summer, we visited Algoplus, where I tasted the locally-harvested salicornes, which had the curious taste of green beans. And in fact, the French call them haricots de mer, or green beans of the sea. In English, they’re called ‘glasswort’. According to Judy Rodgers in, The Zuni Cookbook (a book anyone interested in cooking should own) she includes a recipe for Pickled Glasswort and says the English used to call them “chicken claws”.

While the haricots de mer were tasty, just a forkful was enough, although perhaps anything served with a dollop of crème fraîche, as they were served, certainly seems more appealing. And although I conceded that they were tasty, I resisted the tempation to buy a jar, assuming they’d end up in my ‘Too Good To Use’ shelf (which I feel will soon collapse.)

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After considering their vinegary, cornichon-like taste, I mentioned to Monsieur Dion that they’d be good served alongside or atop something fatty and meaty, like pâte or a rich smear of rillettes, and before I could finish my sentence (which, as a rule, takes much longer for me in French than in English), he produced a platter bearing slices of crusty baguette spread with rillettes de porc, topped with a piece of salicorn. The next day, I used a few slices of toasted pain aux ceriales to make my own sandwich layered with juicy, vibrant-yellow slices of tomato, cured salmon with lots of fragrant dill, a thin layer of coarse-grained mustard, all finished with a squeeze of puckery lemon juice. I topped them off with a few ‘sprigs’ (I guess they’re sprigs, although in French, there’s probably a special word used exclusively for ‘sprigs’ of les salicornes.)

My sandwiches were terrific, and I spent the afternoon not clutching my stomach, but visiting the breathtaking Musée de l’Orangerie, then walking home along the Seine, without incident…and nary a rumble from below.

Algoplus
Zone du Bloscon
Roscoff, France
Tél: 02 98 61 14 14

Finding a Hotel In Paris

red hotel sign

Here’s a listing of a few notable hotels in Paris that you might want to investigate if you’re planning to come for a visit. I’ve been traveling to Paris for many years before moving here, and some of the hotels listed I’ve stayed in, while others have been recommended by guests and friends. There’s a pretty good selection, including one located on the top of the public hospital! Some are in the budget category, while a few are nicer if you’re looking for more comfort.

There has been a spate of hip, hi-design hotels opening in neighborhoods outside of familiar areas and these hotels offer design-oriented rooms at reasonable prices. MamaShelter and Hi Matic are examples of them, and they are becoming more and more popular, especially with travelers looking for something more off-beat.

There are a few caveats to remember, which I’ve listed below, since everyone has different standards and concerns when staying in a hotel. Only you know if you’ll be comfortable in a ‘budget’ hotel with few services, possible street noise, and standard bedding. Price makes a big difference and a hotel that’s less than 100€ per night is likely to offer few amenities, while one in the higher range is, of course, going to be a nicer place to stay. Prices listed are just to give readers an idea of how much the hotel was at the time when I created this list. They are subject to change so do check the hotel websites for the most up-to-date information.

Oops! Budget Hotel
50, avenue de Gobelins
Tel: 01 47 07 47 00
Fax: 01 43 31 17 74

Contemporary, hip hostel, with shared or private rooms, with baths, WiFi, A/C. and very economical prices.

MamaShelter
109, rue Bagnolet
Tel: 01 43 48 48 48
Fax: 01 43 48 49 49

Philippe Starck-designed budget hotel (rooms start at €79/night) in off-beat neighborhood. Quirky and interesting, but beware that dining in the hotel isn’t as affordable as the rooms.

Hôtel Saint Pierre
4, rue de l’Ecole de Médecine
Tel: 01 46 34 78 80
Fax: 01 40 51 05 17

Good budget option in the student-oriented Latin Quarter, free hi-speed internet in the rooms and television. Rates start at €63 per night. Just down the street from my favorite hot chocolate place in Paris, Pâtisserie Viennoisserie, where you can take breakfast too (closed weekends.)

Hôtel Bourgogne-Montana
3, rue de Bourgogne
Tel: 01 45 51 20 22
Fax: 01 45 56 11 98

In the relaxed seventh, very popular, good quality for the price. Good breakfast buffet and excellent staff.

Hôtel Amour
8, rue Navarin
Tel: 01 48 78 31 80

This hip hotel is well-priced, with rooms starting at about €100, especially considering its proximity to the rue des Martyrs. Rates are low, and the popular dining room is known for good fare, with the locals as well as guests. The artist-designed rooms are popular during fashion week, hence rates go up 20% when the fashionistas are in town.

Hôtel Hospitel
1, Place du Parvis Notre Dame
Tel: 01 44 32 01 00
Fax: 01 44 32 01 16

Located on the top floor of the historic Hôtel Dieu Hospital! It’s just next Nôtre Dame in the center of Paris. AC and WiFi.

Hi Matic
71, rue de Charonne
Tel: 01 43 67 56 56

Offers stylish “cabanes” with an ecological bent, designed by Matali Crasset. Rooms start at around €145/night.

Hôtel Bourg Tibourg
19, rue Bourg Tibourg
Tel: 01 42 78 47 39
Fax: 01 40 29 07 00

In a lively area, the Marais, but on a quiet street. Chic rooms designed by Jacques Garcia. Rooms that start at 190€. Wi-Fi (pronounced wee-fee, in French), interior garden, and air-conditioning.

Grand Hôtel Jeanne d’Arc
3, rue de Jarente
Tel 01 48 87 62 11
Fax 01 48 87 37 31

In the Marais, close to the Place des Vosges, this hotel is an outstanding value for its location (and it’s just a short stumble from (Vert d’Absinthe) Consequently, this hotel books quickly. No air-conditioning or fancy services. Doubles are around 79€.

Hôtel Castex
5, rue Castex
Tel: 01 42 72 31 52

Air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi. Well-located on a quiet side street near the Bastille.

Hôtel Chopin
46, Passage Jouffroy
Tel: 01 47 70 58 10
Fax: 01 42 47 00 70

In a passage near Montmarte. Inexpensive, lively area near the major department stores. Upper rooms have more light; request the forth floor.

Hôtel de la Place des Vosges
12, rue Birague
Tel: 01 42 72 60 46
Fax: 01 42 72 02 64

Rooms 100-140€ per night, with Wi-Fi No air-conditioning, but perfect location on small street leading into place des Vosges.

Hotel des Chevaliers
30, rue de Turenne
Tel: 01 42 72 73 47
Fax: 01 42 72 54 10

Great location a stone’s throw from the place des Vosges in the Marais. Air-conditioning, WiFi, and safes. Rooms begin at around €105/night.

Hotel Duo
11, rue du Temple
Tel: 01 42 72 72 22
Fax: 01 42 72 03 53

Very nice, modern hotel in the heart of the Marais, near lots of cafes and nightlife. Can be noisy during summer months if you leave windows open due to the neighborhood. Mid-priced.

Hôtel Britannique
20, avenue Victoria
Tel: 01 42 33 74 59
Fax: 01 42 33 82 65

Located near Chatelet. Clean and soundproofed rooms. The rooms are a tad on the small side but located overlooking a nice square in the center of Paris. Rooms start at 139€.


A few tips to keep in mind when researching hotels…


  • I never travel anywhere without my Tempur-Pedic Eye Mask. It’s simply the best travel product ever! Super-comfy, it blocks every bit of light so you can get a good night sleep in hotel rooms or airplanes.

  • You get what you pay for. Any hotel under 100€ per night is likely to be a bit flimsy, the décor a bit tired, and the rooms may not be a quiet as you’d like.

  • More and more hotels in Paris have free Wi-Fi. It does pay to ask when reserving if that is a concern.

  • In general, rooms on the inside are far quieter than rooms overlooking the street. Take note, especially if you plan to come in the summer. The downside is that inside rooms can face neighboring apartments, and often garbage cans rumble around in the early morning.

  • Don’t judge a hotel by the lobby. Many places have a gorgeous lobby, which can be deceiving. It’s cheaper to make the lobby look amazing rather than the rooms. Look at the room before you accept it.

  • The ‘star system’ can be misleading. Hotels pay taxes based on how many stars they have, so places are reluctant to accept four-stars. So don’t let stars be the sole judge. Two-stars or less generally means there are shared bathrooms, however.

  • Print out and bring your confirmation. I’ve had friends staying in lower-priced hotels in Paris who were told their room was booked and had to leave.

  • Does the hotel have an elevator? Although most do, some older ones may not, which is something to consider if you pack ‘American-style’ (which I am guilty of sometimes) and have a lot of heavy suitcases.

  • If you like your hotel, befriend the manager and go back. They’ll remember you and you’ll get better treatment each time. Bring them some chocolates on the last day or make little gesture of thanks if you ask them for special favors, such making restaurant reservations.

  • Most of the time, breakfast is extra; it may be expensive and can make your budget hotel not such a great deal. You can have a croissant and coffee at a local café for a couple of euros, although sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself the hotel breakfast once in a while. Many places charge up to 15€ per person (or more), so it may or may not be worth it to you.

  • Air-conditioning in France is not like American air-conditioning and can be weaker than you’re used to, which is something to consider in the summer. Normally the air-conditioning in the lower-priced hotels can be weaker.

  • If you’re staying for around a week, it can be more interesting to rent an apartment, and there’s lots of them out there. Some are professionally-run places with services and concierges. Others are privately-owned apartments that the owners either rent out habitually, or rent when they’re not there. Prices are similar to many of the hotels I’ve listed. The advantages are you can do your own cooking after you’ve explored the markets and wine shops and you can save on meals (although you have to do the dishes…) The downside is no one is there to help you, and if you rent a private apartment, often they’re smaller than what you may be used to.

  • Lastly, there’s a whole other world outside of the Left Bank. Many guests think they have to stay there, and are comfortable surrounded by lots of tourists and English-speakers. But other neighborhoods in Paris are great to explore and staying in one for a few days can give you a better sense of what Paris is about.

  • The French hotel chain Citadines rents ‘apartment-hotel’ suites with mini-kitchens. Although the décor is rather Ikea-like and lacking in Parisian charm, the rooms are clean and well-kept, but if you want housekeeping or extra towels, you’ll pay extra. You can get find deals if you stay in a neighborhood that’s not-quite centrally-located (but it’s so easy to get around with the métro, who cares.) Search their site, or other travel sites, to find deals, especially off-season.

Other Links and Resources

Secrets of Paris

Paris 35 (Hotels around Paris for 35€ per night)

Paris Trip Tips

Eurocheapo: Paris

Air BnB (Vacation Rentals)

Messy Nessy Chic Paris Hotel Guide

Frugal Paris (NYT Frugal Traveler)

Renting an Apartment in Paris (My Tips)

Cheap & Chic Hotels in Paris (New York Times)-Annotated List

Dear Madame France

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“Did you see how hot it was? It was so sticky-icky!”

Dear Madame France:

Thank you so much for allowing me to live in your wonderful country. I love tasting everything I can, learning more about your rich history and curious customs, and even though I can’t conjugate the verbs in the plus-que-parfait-de l’indicative (come to think of it, all those verbs are so darn hard!), I’m trying my best, really, and hope to be able to do them all someday so as not to disappoint you.

I also want to thank you for loosening up the rules around here and allowing me to wear shorts and flip-flops, which was especially important during the recent heatwave. To show my gratitude, I promise to keep my feet in top-top shape…I promise!

But that heatwave we just got over was a killer, wasn’t it?
Just putting on clothes was a challenge and I guess that most of my neighbors had the same problem wearing clothes too, which I could see from my window night and day (especially at night). You probably already know this, but in case anyone else is reading this, there is this widespread perception that all French people are slim and in good shape. But from what I could see (especially at night), the people who live in the apartments surrounding my place are getting kinda flabby and certainly not the image of the trim, well-kept Parisian that people think of.
(Especially those people just across the courtyard from me! I think they’ve eaten way too many of your yummy croissants!!)

But seriously, there is something else that I’d like to talk to you about:
How to deal with future heatwaves.

Although I’m told this is a relatively new phenomenon, it seems like since I’ve been here, we’ve had two; the last one killed 15,000 of your citizens. That’s a lot of people, don’t you think? Kinda sad.
I find it odd that a country where the summer temperatures now normally reach over 100 degrees (38 degrees C), very few places have any sort of ventilation or fans. I’ve heard from lots of your people that fans are bad for your health (and expensive, although mine was less than 30€, which I don’t think is expensive…do you?) but I’ve been using fans all my life and I’m fine. Really. And so has the rest of the world outside of this big hexagon that we live in.

I heard that the Tour de France riders from other countries almost passed out when dining and during their off-hours, since they couldn’t get anyone to open windows or turn on a fan, and were becoming severely short-of-breath. Please, Madame France, help your people see the error of their ways, lead them from the Middle Ages. I hate to see your people, as well as those of us who love and care for you, needlessly suffer year after year after year.

(Well, come to think of it, there’s a few people that I don’t mind seeing suffering, mostly that nasty woman at my bank who works at the desk and will never help me. She’s not very nice and your city would be a better place without her. Is there any way you ask her to leave? She doesn’t seem very happy here.)

France is a modern country and I really love it here. Really. You’re extremely technologically advanced and you’ve had so many breakthroughs in various scientific and medical fields that have changed the world. Yet I don’t understand why there are no ceiling fans anywhere. They’re perhaps the simplest and most environmentally-friendly method of cooling down interior spaces I can think of and I’m not a rocket-scientist like those brainy folks in Toulouse. Could you ask some of the restaurants and other public spaces to put them in? They’re really not that expensive.
Pretty please?
: )

(And tell the places that have air-conditioning that if they want it to work, they need to close the windows and keep them closed. It makes the machines work far more effectively, and they’ll waste less power so you won’t have to build so many nuclear power plants.)

I know sometimes you just say, c’est la vie and folks blame the government, but people here are exceptionally adept at taking to the streets for getting whatever they want (the government, the big bunch of sillies, always gives in…how cool is that?), and I’m surprised there hasn’t been some sort of an uprising. Maybe if you offered cold beer, people might go. Just a thought.

While at La Poste the other day, I almost passed out waiting in line from a combination of the heat, and from the bo of the woman in front of me who was furiously waving a fan, blowing the smell in my direction. I was tempted to back away from her, but I’ve learning living here that if you leave the slightest bit of space between you and the person in front of you, that seems to be an open invitation for someone else to step right in there. But it was really unpleasant…to say the least!

So here’s an idea that you should really, really think about:
Why not install some ceiling fans between now and the next lethal heatwave? I’ve visited extremely impoverished, totally destitute third-world countries, and most public and private buildings have them. Why not put them in Paris? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Maybe you could also replace the bus windows so that they could be opened in hot weather as well. Seriously, it wouldn’t cost that much, would it? I know you’re a little short on cash lately, so maybe just raise fares (oops…I see you’ve already done that this month.)

Gros bisous!

David Lebovitz
Paris, France

PS: While you’re at it, could you also please ask the Parisians to stop walking right into me as if I wasn’t there?

Thanks again! You’re the best!!!

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…

peanutbrittle.jpg

…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