La Gastro

When I used to get sick in America, I would get congested, a sore throat, sometimes a runny nose, and a fever.

In France, whenever I get sick, it bypasses every other organ and heads straight to my stomach.

I don’t know if it’s the rich foods, the dubious rules of storage, or a new set of germs as foreign to me as the 14 different tenses of French verbs.
But since arriving in France a few years ago, I’ve been felled by a few serious bouts of la gastro.

Yes, even though some people think I’m too careful about hygiene than I should be (and no, I don’t scrape up chocolate off the floor and re-use it either), I suppose it’s just a matter of taking chances before all those unrefrigerated dairy products, rosy-pink, barely-singed beef and pork, eating an unusually large amount of raw cookie dough, and touching the petri dish-like metal handrails on the mètro, would eventually catch up with me.

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The changing face of French hygiene?

So last week my descent began when I was at le cinema, watching Walk The Line. I started feeling dizzy. Figuring maybe I was sitting too close to the screen, I moved back. I still felt funny in the gut, so I unbuckled my belt (Now I wonder if anyone was looking and thought I was the neighborhood perv.)

By the middle of the movie, I was fighting the urge to race to the bathroom. The movie was so good and I didn’t want to miss the last part, where Reese Witherspoon had her hair all teased-up in the front, real pretty and all.

Luckily I made it through, but I got home and was shaky, feverish, and ready to hit the bedroom.
(After a slight detour to another room pronto.)

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I may be shallow, but the good thing about stomach flu is that you can eat whatever you want when it’s all over. Hell, you’ve just lost 10 pounds. The whole experience wasn’t pretty nor was it easy, was it? So eat up. You’ve earned it. And those new abs ain’t gonna be around forever.

But while you’re lying in bed, semi-delirious, mustering all your energy to lift the remote control, all you want is a bowl of nice, hot chicken soup. Unless if you’re Jewish. Since at the same time you’re imagining that you’re certain to be remembered as the first person in France to fall victim to the Avian Flu.

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Is that me, on the right?

Which certainly presented me with a deathbed dilemma: If the chicken from the market I ate made me sick and will be the end to life on earth it as we know it, how does one justify eating hot chicken soup as a cure? Is it like making anti-venom for snakebites out of the venom of the deadly snakes? Is it another of the great Jewish dilemmas?

(The other dilemma is bacon at half-price.)

So I got into bed with my laptop, the modern equivalent of the teddy bear, armed with the remote control, to watch the Olympics. A bit too much gyrating, sequins, and glitter…would I later suffer from Post-Glitter Disorder, like Mariah Carey, I imagined? All those twirling, glittery dudes gliding across the rink. (Is there anyone in the universe, outside the skating world, or a few Eastern European countries, that finds those men’s outfits even remotely attractive or flattering? And why do the men have more glitter than the woman? And since I’m asking questions, can someone should ask those men who speed skate to slow down a bit as a courtesy to viewers trying to get a closer look?)

The beauty of France is that if you need any medication, there’s at least one (usually more) pharmacie on your block and they’re ready to send you home armed with as many as you can carry. And the doctors here still make house calls. Gladly, I might add.

The bad thing is if you need something simple like a battery for your thermometer, you need to mètro across Paris to the special shop that sells batteries for thermometers. When you get there, they’re invariably closed that particular afternoon. They’re open from 9:45am to 11:15am, Monday through Tuesday, and from 2:45pm to 4:15pm on Wednesday.

Except in February, when they’re open on Thursday, instead of Wednesday.
But only from 2:45pm to 3:45pm.

Unless the people who sell batteries for thermometers are on strike.

In my stupor, I wondered if the few ‘comfort foods’ (a word I hate, but it’s appropriate here, I think) that I depend on in these rare hours-of-need are available here. If I manage to drag myself to the supermarket, will I find Canada Dry Ginger Ale? (yes) or Campbell’s Chunky Chicken Soup? (no).

(I did have one dream-like vision over and over, in my delirious haze. It was the Most Fabulous-Looking Chicken Soup Ever. I swear I had a dream about that soup. Would they send me some? Could I call Germany? How many numbers do I need to dial? Will they think I’m insane? How far is Munich? Do they deliver? Did they really somehow manage to link Bob Ross with food?)

But unless I had some chicken stock in the deep- freeze, chicken soup wasn’t gonna happen chez David. The idea of being vertical for longer than 10 seconds was impossible to imagine, let alone buying and eviscerating a chicken, then simmering and straining the stock. And yes, I know all you Americans sitting there all smug with your freezers are loaded up with chicken stock. I hope it’s all freezer-burned next time you need it. Ha! That’ll teach you to be prepared when I’m not.

Ok, that doesn’t make any sense and was kinda mean. I’m still delirious, so at least I have an excuse. (But did you see what Mariah Carey wore at the Grammy Awards? What’s her excuse? Is she the only person in the world who can wear couture and make it look like she’s getting ready for a gynecological exam?)

The first thing you do when you’re better is go to the refrigerator and toss out anything that you ate within the last few hours, before you first got sick. Even if it wasn’t the culprit, out it goes. I was more than happy to toss the rest of the leftover rotisserie chicken, or as CNN would have politely said, “He culled his roast chicken.”

Most Americans who move to France wonder, “Where can I get canned chicken stock?” For some, canned chicken stock is the magic ingredient in the pantry, able to turn a plate of rice into risotto, or pilaf with the turn of a Swing-A-Way™. Last minute batch of jook? No problem.

When I moved to France and couldn’t find it, that surprised me. The land of great cuisine, and no ready-to-pop stock. So I began making my own. And what did I learn? Homemade chicken stock makes everything taste so much better. And from then on, I vowed I would never use the canned stuff again.
Which admittedly is easy to brag about, since I don’t exactly have a choice in the matter.

So on the mend, I trekked out to one of my new favorite food shops, where I bought the chocolate bars with quinoa a few weeks ago, called Markethic. They have lots of unusual things from all over the world, mostly organic, and I seem to always find something to bring home, from tamarind pâte de fruit to fragrant shards of brilliant-red mace.

Then I saw them up.
I swore I would never do it. But I picked them up.
The culinary version of going to the ‘dark side’…

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Les cubes

My only experience with dried soup was years and years ago, and it was so salty and tasted like stale spices that I couldn’t imagine using one again. It felt like taking a deer at a salt-lick. It was about the time when we were fixated by all-things-Knorr™, blending the dried-vegetable soup mix with sour cream, thinking how sophisticated we were for graduating upward from Lipton Onion Soup™ Dip. But in my case, with my head facing bowlward most of the weekend, I fondled the tight little box as something to have on hand in case I needed a quick, emergency broth-fix.

But after I got home and opened it up, I sadly looked at the pathetic, dry little square, and tossed it in the back of a drawer where I would most likely never see it again…

…and entered the Munich telephone code into my speed dial.


Ingredients for American Baking in Paris

cupcakes

Although we can’t expect things to be like ‘back home’, many of us do miss certain things and for us bakers, it’s often a challenge to adapt to new ingredients or ones that behave differently than what we’re used to. Here’s a list of commonly used baking ingredients and where you can find them, or what you can use in their place.

americanbaking paris

Buttermilk, Heavy Cream, and Sour Cream

Many grocery stores and cheese shops sell lait ribot, fermented milk from Brittany. Arabic markets also sell fermented milk (lait fermenté) as well. In many recipes you can substitute plain whole milk yogurt or you can milk 1 tablespoon of white or cider vinegar, or lemon juice, with 1 cup (250 ml) of whole milk and let it stand ten minutes.

For sour cream, full-fat (20%) fromage blanc is the closest substitute for baking. Crème fraîche, which is usually at least 30% fat, can be used as well, but is richer. I also use Bridélice, a low-fat dairy product (called crème légère, or “light cream”), whose 15% fat content is similar to American-style sour cream.

(A reader mentioned that smetana, a type of sour cream, is available in Eastern European shops.)

Heavy cream is called crème liquide, crème fluide, or crème entière in French. Both are liquid pouring creams. They are available in supermarkets. (Be aware that entière is full-fat and légère is low-fat, which containers thickeners and will not whip.) The fat percentage of crème entière is usually around 30% whereas American cream is about 36%, although it behaves the same in most applications. (For whipping, get the cream with the highest percentage possible.) Fresh cream is available in supermarkets in the dairy case; be aware that sterlized UHT cream is common in France, which can be challenging to whip, and is refrigerated or unrefrigerated. Some fromageries sell heavy cream, although most offer UHT cream. Beillevaire fromageries carry fresh, raw heavy cream.

Monoprix carries their own brand of heavy cream in small plastic bottles, and Elle & Vire is one brand that sells UHT cream in paper cartons, as well as crème entière épaisse, which comes in a pouch and is quite thick, but works well in most applications that call for heavy cream.

sucre vergeoise

Brown Sugar

To replace the sticky brown sugar used in American recipes, there are two options. One is sucre vergeoise, which is beet sugar sprayed with caramel-coating (to resemble brown sugar) and sucre cassonade, which is unrefined cane sugar. Both are available in dark and light variations: light (cuivrée) or dark (ambrée), for cassonade.

Sucre vergeoise is more available, found in supermarkets, although I prefer cassonade, which can be found in supermarkets (most often under the Daddy brand, which they sell online at La Boutique Daddy and you can find other brands at natural food stores, like Naturalia and Biocoop.

Coarse crystal, free-flowing cassonade is available in most grocery stores as the French use it for coffee and baking, and can be substituted in some recipes, although I prefer the sticky varieties when a recipe calls for light or dark brown sugar.

You can read more detailed information in my post: French sugars.

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Flour

Flour varies from country-to-country. French ‘all-purpose’ flour (type 45 and type 55) is closer to American cake flour: it’s milled very finely and has less-protein and gluten (strength). In most cases, you can’t just substitute French all-purpose flour in American recipes like cookies and cakes. I know too many Americans who opened the oven door and found all their carefully rolled-out chocolate chip cookies, melded into one, giant blob.

If you’re interested in the precise composition of both flours, you can read about them American vs French flours and French flours. Chow published a French & American flour equivalent chart.

type65.jpg

In spite of the listing, I found that organic type 65 flour is the closest, which you can find in natural food stores like Naturalia. You can also buy type 65 organic flour at Monoprix and other supermarkets. It will say on the side of the package.

Regular whole wheat flour can be found in most groceries stores, as well as in natural food stores. Type 110 is equivalent to regular whole wheat flour, and Type 80 bise is a lighter flour, similar to whole wheat pastry flour.

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Molasses

You can buy mélasse at natural food stores, but it’s sulphured, unrefined, and very strongly-flavored. When using it in recipes, I cut it with some mild-flavored honey. Otherwise it can overwhelm all other flavors in whatever you’re baking. Unless you like that strong, molasses flavor…then go for it. American-brands of mild, unsulphured molasses, as we know it, is available in stores that cater to the expat community.

Treacle, available in British stores and markets that carry British foods, is a close substitute, but is similar to blackstrap molasses and quite strong. In a pinch, cut it 50:50 with mild honey, unless you like the strong molasses taste.

yeast.jpg

Yeast

You can ask your local boulanger if they’ll sell you some yeast, or it’s available in supermarkets (not in the refrigerated section, like in America) in packets like the one shown above. You can also buy it in small tins in Arab markets, under the SAF brand.

Since yeast is a living organism, the yeast in Europe behaves a bit different than American yeast, but I’ve had few problems. You can test yeast by adding a teaspoon to half a cup slightly-warm water; it should start bubbling within a few minutes if it’s still good. You can find a yeast substitution guide at the Red Star yeast website for swapping fresh yeast for dry yeast. Fast-acting yeast in France is available in the baking aisle of some supermarkets called levure rapide or “action express.”

chocolate & butterscotch chips

Chocolate Chips

Finding chocolate chips is regular supermarkets is nearly impossible. In Paris, G. Detou carries them at a reasonable price (although they contain the sugar substitute, maltitol) and expat stores carry them, as well as Le Grand Epicerie. You can simply chop up a bar of chocolate, or buy Callebaut pistoles (as shown in the photo) available at professional baking supply shops, such as G. Detou and Metro.

Butterscotch, and similar-flavored chips, may be available in shops that cater to the expat community.

corn syrup

Corn Syrup

American corn syrup is expensive, and sold at stores that cater to the expat community. But Asian markets often carry corn syrup cheaply, as it’s used in Korean cooking. Stores in Paris are Ace Mart and Kmart (both are on the rue St. Anne) and Tang Frères (in the 13th.)

Professional baking supply shops, such as G. Detou in Paris, also sell glucose, which is essentially the same thing. If you need dark corn syrup, add a generous spoonful of molasses to the corn syrup. For more information about corn syrup: When To Use (and Not Use) Corn Syrup, which lists other substitutions.

yellow cornmeal

Cornmeal

Various grades of cornmeal can be found in ethnic markets, mostly catering to the Arabic community. Polenta and cornmeal, such as those that are used for cornbread, can be found in those stores as well as in natural foods stores, labeled farine de maïs which is fine corn flour, or coarser, often called semoule de maïs. In Paris, many of those are clustered around Belleville and near the marche d’Aligre. Natural foods stores sell it as well. The best advice is to go and look because the nomenclature can vary.

Corn starch is available in supermarkets under the name Maizena. It’s available in natural food stores under the name fécule de maïs or amidon. Potato starch is commonly used in France and works the same as corn starch in most applications. It’s available in Kosher stores.

French peanut butter

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is available in France and now many supermarkets carry it. American brands, like Skippy, can be expensive. But “natural-style” peanut butter can be found in ethnic stores, especially those that cater to the Indian community. (In Paris, many of those are clustered around La Chapelle, behind the gare du Nord.)

The peanut butter you find is generally 98% peanuts, with a small amount of vegetable fat added. You can also make your own by roasting raw peanuts in the oven and whizzing them in a food processor, while warm, until smooth. Natural food stores also carry “American-style” peanut butter, which is similar to our natural peanut butter, but not the same as brands like Jif or Skippy, and won’t behave the same way in recipes.

cocoa in pan

Cocoa Powder

Virtually all the cocoa powder in France is Dutch-processed, which means the cocoa powder has been acid-neutralized and is generally darker. It often will not say so on the front label, but may list the alkalizing agent (often potassium carbonate or bromate) as an ingredient.

Although one should, theoretically, used what the recipe calls for, you can usually do just find swapping out one for the other.

More information can be found at my post; Cocoa Powder FAQs.

chocolate

Chocolate

When a recipe calls for bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, you can use any of the dark chocolate baking bars found in supermarkets. If you live in Paris, G. Detou sells chocolate in bulk, in bars and pistoles. The membership only Metro stores also carry chocolate (and other supplies) in bulk.

G. Detou also carries unsweetened (sometimes called ‘bitter’) chocolate in bulk, which in France is called 100% cacao, or 100% pâte de cacao. Some gourmet stores carry it but in general, you won’t find it in supermarkets as the French don’t bake with it like Americans do.

You can learn more about chocolate varieties and uses at Chocolate FAQs.

baking soda

Baking Soda

Some supermarkets carry baking soda (bicarbonate de soudre) and Indian markets usually carry it as well. It can also be found in pharmacies; you’ll have to ask since they don’t normally keep it on the shelf.

evaporated milk/lait concentré

Evaporated Milk and Sweetened Condensed Milk

Evaporated milk is lait concentré non sucrée (concentrated, unsweetened milk), and is available in most supermarkets. Sweetened condensed milk is well; it’s known as lait concentré sucré, which is sold in cans as well as tubes, like toothpaste.

Kiri

Cream Cheese

Cream cheese can be found in supermarkets under the St. Môret label, or store-brands, labeled pâte à tartiner, in the familiar rectangle shape. Ed discount markets has the best prices if you need a lot. Also cream cheese is available in Jewish grocers in the Marais, and some French people use Kiri squares as cream cheese for making le cheesecake.

Philadelphia-brand cream cheese has decided to become a bigger presence in France due to its popularity with the French and can now be found at many supermarkets in France at reasonable prices.



Shops Specializing in Anglo Products in Paris & France

Here’s a listing of the stores mentioned above, or shops that specialize in products for expats. I’ve noticed that the everyday supermarkets in Paris, such as Franprix and G20 often have sections that sell anglo products at decent prices, and those are worth checking out, too. There are a couple of places that do mail-order and although I haven’t ordered anything from them, if you really need something, they might be worth the extra expense.

For cake pans, muffin tins, bakeware, and paper cupcake liners (and more), I prowl around ethnic neighborhoods. A favorite is the rue de Belleville in Paris; there are lots of stores scattered along that street, that carry baking items at very low prices. For those who want more professional-quality equipment, check out The cookware shops of Paris. It’s a good idea to measure your oven and baking equipment, especially if you’ve brought items to France from other countries as items like silicone baking mats are sized differently and may not fit.

Thanksgiving (Paris)

G. Detou (Paris)

Naturalia (France)

My American Market (France & Europe)

The English Shop

Biocoop (France and Europe)

Izraël

American Market (Switzerland)

English Shop (Germany)

Mr. 10% (France)

British Superstore (England)

The Real McCoy (Paris)

Monoprix

La Grand Epicerie

Auchan

E. Leclerc

Carrefour

How to Find Foods and Other Items Mentioned on the Site



More Paris links:

Paris Restaurant Archives

Gluten-Free Eating in Paris

Paris Cooking Classes & Wine Tasting Programs

10 Delicious Things Not to Miss in Paris

Tipping in Paris

Romantic restaurants in Paris

Accessible Travel in Paris

Where is the best duck confit in Paris?

Paris Dining Guides

Hungry for Paris Guide

Some Favorite Paris Restaurants

Vegetarian Dining Tips for Paris and a list of Vegetarian Restaurants

Where to Find a Great Hamburger in Paris (Kid-friendly)

Pâtisseries in Paris Guide

Sunday Dining in Paris

Site News

We’ve been tinkering with the web site and blog here for the past few weeks, making some changes and adding some features based on some of your feed back. As the blog continues to evolve, I realized that it had quickly outgrown some of the previous formats so I’ve been working with my long-standing (and long-suffering) web master to improve the site

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Wondering where you can find these Orangettes from Jean-Charles Rochoux here in Paris? Try the new search feature.

Search

We’ve added a search engine to this site so you will be able to search for whatever you’d like.
So, let’s say you’re in Paris and you need to find an escort.

You probably won’t find it here.

But If you’re looking for advice about chocolate shops, my favorite wine bars, recipes, great bakeries I visit, knowing the maximum prison term for punching out a Parisian, and restaurants that I recommend, use the search feature to find whatever information you’re looking for.
The search engine is currently at the top of this page in it’s beta form and searches the blog entries and archives.

Test it out and let us know what you think.

Comments

Due to the unrelenting amount of spam, I’ve turned off comments in posts that are archived. While I’m sure that many of you might be interested in increasing the size of your private parts to gargantuan dimensions, or watching videos of sorority girls doing what we all suspected they do when they’re having slumber parties, or helping the Royal Family of Ugibanzubia recover their family fortunes during the horrible revolution of 1998, it was taking too much of my time deleting the spam flooding in so I closed the comments in archived entries.

All comments submitted to the site may be edited and are subject to approval for posting. If readers have any concerns with that, visit here or here, for further information.

Schedule

The Paris Chocolate Exploration Tour is now sold-out with Mort Rosenblum in May.

My Chocolate Classes at On Rue Tatin with Susan Loomis in November of 2006 still has spaces available, for a limited time. We’ll be doing a series of hands-on cooking classes at Susan’s fabulous professionally-equipped kitchen at her home in Normandy, one-hour from Paris, as well as offering an extra day exploring Paris’ outdoor markets, chocolate shops, and bakeries with us.

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KitchenAid and Central Market Appearances and Classes

I’ll be appearing at the KitchenAid Experience in Greenville, Ohio at noon on March 27th, for a free demonstration on making chocolate desserts. Come visit, have some chocolate, and get your book signed!
I look forward to meeting many of you there.

The week of April 4-8, I’ll be teaching a series of chocolate classes at Central Market stores in Texas, one of my favorite markets in the world. Their classes are great fun, the staff does a terrific job, and there’ll be plenty of chocolate desserts to sample…I can’t wait to return for a big Texas welcome (and some Texas B-B-Q!)

You can find the exact dates on my Schedule Page and sign up by clicking on the links there.

Les Carottes Rapées

You won’t often find much in the way of vegetables on the menus of many cafés in Paris. I don’t mean the over-hyped restaurants with the fancy chef names attached that the slick food magazines tend to worship. There you might find a coin of grilled zucchini, a dot of sauce, and perhaps a leaf of parsley as a carefully-draped garnish. But most of the time, those places are filled with Americans with Zagat guides sticking out of their pockets. What I mean are the places where most Parisians actually eat lunch.

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Many French workers get financial help footing the bill, courtesy of le Ticket Resto, a program that allows employees to buy discount coupons via their employer to dine out. The advantage to that is that it keeps many small restaurants thriving, so most of them offer a prix-fixe menu that anyone’s welcome to enjoy, usually costing less than 15 euros for a 2- or 3-course meal.
Another advantage is that it gives workers time to have a proper lunch with co-workers and friends.

(Sidenote: Having worked in restaurants all my life, I was once at a dinner party and mentioned that I never had a job where I got a true a break. All conversation stopped, forks in mid-air, and everyone turned and looked at me in disbelief. When I left the restaurant business I vowed I would never eat standing up again. And I haven’t!)

What that also means is that the food must be quick and relatively easy to prepare. Menus offer steaks or long-cooked stews, and perhaps a sauteed piece of fish. But since vegetables require washing, peeling, slicing, pre-cooking, and a bit of finesse, it’s quite difficult to find freshly-cooked vegetables on menus of ordinary restaurants. The most popular side dish is les frites; all that’s needed is a quick drop-in-the-deep-fryer, and they’re done. Sadly, most of the time, they’re the pre-frozen frites, which arrive undercooked and insipid. I make it a point to find restaurants with real, honest French fries.
And I go back as much as possible, as a show of support.

Even ratatouille, that famous vegetable dish from Provence is just a big bowl of overcooked, soft vegetables. And please don’t tell me that I haven’t had a good version of ratatouille…I have, and I still don’t like it.

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There is one vegetable dish that’s so popular that it ranks right up there with foie gras and le baguette as classics of modern French cuisine. That’s carottes rapées, a crisp pile of freshly-grated carrots. There’s well-known aversion in France to undercooked vegetables (or as they say, ‘American-style’) and you almost never find raw vegetables offered in Paris.

Corn is always served spooned right from the can onto a salad, or worse, on pizza (with a sunny-side up egg cooked in the middle.) Tiny haricots verts are always cooked until tender. And the little pointed end of the green bean is always removed…and I’ve heard various compelling arguements why.
“C’est indigestable” (I hate lying awake all night trying to digest all the green bean ends I’ve consumed), or “It gets stuck in your teeth” (that is the worst, isn’t it?)

But my favorite reason, “That’s where all the radiation concentrates.”

um, okay…so now like a good Parisian I remove the end of the green bean, or the “boot”, as it’s called.
To limit my exposure to radiation.

Anyhow…les carottes rapées is simply grated carrots tossed in fresh lemon juice, a bit of salt, and sometimes a little olive oil. If you want to get fancy, you can add a bit of chopped flat-leaf parsley. But it’s one of those things, the simpler the better. Simple restaurants like Chartier just toss a plate of carrots at you with a wedge of lemon. Other places arrange les carottes rapées on a plate with tangy celery rémoulade and beets.

I make it often when I’m home by myself, since it’s nice to have something easy to prepare and fresh, and I always seem to have carrots around. I make a plate of carottes rapées, and eat it with a few chunks of Tradigrains baguette from my local boulanger, a nice wedge of soft, fresh, ooaing cheese like a ripe brie de Meaux or a goaty Selles-Sur-Cher, and perhaps a slice of pâte from my local charcuterie.

Here’s my how-to guide for making your own Grated Carrot Salad, French-style.

Alligators and Flies

When I was a kid, it seems like everyone was wearing Lacoste polo shirts (they were also called Izod shirts back then). The shirt was introduced in 1933 and named for French tennis star René Lacoste who was nicknamed “the alligator” after winning a game bet, the prize being an alligator suitcase.

The shirts came in a riot of colors during the 60’s and 70’s, and it was the fashion at the time to dress in the casual, but dressy Lacoste polo, accenting your outfit with something outrageous and in-your-face (but still acceptable at the country club.) Soon others designers catered to people who wished to be ‘preppy’ by advertising a genteel lifestyle, featuring people turning up their collars. I dubbed it “The Vulcan Effect”, since most of the people looked rather stupid with the tip of the stiff color scraping their ears with a Star-Trek like rigidity, rather than the “I-don’t-care-this-is-how-I-put-my-
shirt-on and that’s-how-it’s-going-to-stay-because-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-turn-it-down”
look that real preppy people did.
I went to prep school and if you flipped up your collar on purpose, you would have had the crap pounded out of you by an upperclassman named Rand or Tad.
Guaranteed.

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Eventually the Lacoste shirt fell out of favor until recently, thanks to a spiffy new ad campaign, and the fact the shirts last forever and are wonderfully comfortable and timeless and well-tailored…all that stuff that makes classic clothing come back into style. And so I searched around some boxes of mine last time I was in the US to see if I could find any old ones (the blue-alligator is the giveaway for vintage Lacoste, they switched to green some years back.)

I had lots of Lacoste shirts during my childhood.
My mother came home with the shirts for me, in super-saturated greens and reds, their scratchy fabric softened beautifully in the washing machine and fit like nothing else. Afterward you broke them in, there was nothing like a good, slightly-faded, generously cut Lacoste shirt.

Except there was one demon that I had to exorcise from my past:

The alligator.

I was terrified of the little blue devil. Baring sharp teeth, his menacing red tongue licking his chops, and a sharp, whip-like tail…it was all too frightening for me to deal with on my little chest, and I was scared.

So I did what every healthy, red-blooded American boy would do: I snipped them off with a scissors, leaving a gaping hole in my shirts.

(I also used to wear my Fruit-Of-The-Loom briefs backwards, since I liked pulling out the waistband several times a day and looking down at the colorful fruits lined up on the label.)

I did manage to find a vintage Lacoste shirt that for some reason has escaped my snipping. The fit was still fabulous and the color, Bordeaux, was a deep, wine-like red, still rich and robust after all these years. Wearing it was like finding that perfect partner who you can take shopping at a nice boutique or to a decent restaurant, but comfortable enough for lounging around with in your flannel pajama bottoms.

So I went to the Lacoste store in Paris and bought another new polo shirt last year.
The color?
Acidulé; a wildly-vivid hue, reminiscent of Chartreuse liquor mixed with Orangina. Then electrocuted. I immediately wore it to a café and was swarmed by tiny flies, apparently as attracted by it’s traffic-stopping color as I was.

Last week I made even more progress in getting over my fear of the Alligator and bought two more shirts. The Lacoste shop near the Bastille was having a liquidation avant traveaux (before the construction), and selling off all their stock at a rather nice discount, something you don’t see too often in pricey Paris. The salesperson loaded me up with a stack of polo shirts, pointed me towards le cabine d’essayage, and before I knew it I was standing at the register with a stack of neatly-folded shirts, in insanely over-the-top colors like Bonbon, Framboise, and Tomate.

I shouldn’t be too hard to spot on the streets of Paris, come this spring.

I’ll be the one swarmed by flies.

Lacoste
70 rue du Faubourg St. Antoine

Miss Edna Lewis

One of the nice things about working at Chez Panisse for so long was that I got to meet a lots of famous and important chefs and cooks. James Beard would walk through the kitchen and say hi, Richard Olney brought bottles of Y’quem for us to taste, and Danny Kaye grabbed the whisk out of my hands while I was making soufflés to show me the correct way to beat egg whites into a meringue.
Well, the correct way…according to him.

Not all were wonderful. (Obviously.)
And in fact, there were a few jerks. Of course, the good outweighed the bad (although the bad had gave us much to talk about afterwards…) and I was so very fortunate to meet and work with some of the great cooks of our times, like Edna Lewis.

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Scott forwarded this photo of him and Miss Lewis, by Bill Osinski, with a note saying that it was their favorite.

I met Edna Lewis during a benefit that we were doing for Meals on Wheels in New York City. I walked in the kitchen and her long-time assistant and companion, Scott Peacock, was stirring what was perhaps that largest cauldron of steaming vanilla-scented milk I’d ever seen in all my restaurant years, using a giant whisk. He looked up with a big warm grin, kept stirring, and introduced himself to me. Scott is a big guy, not just in girth, but in his passion for what he cooks and as he stirred and chatted, he became like an old friend.
I instantly liked him: his southern drawl and charm were too sweet to resist.

Standing next to him, wearing a colorful shawl was Miss Lewis. Scott, the ever-polite southern gentleman and her best friend, always called her ‘Miss Lewis’.
(Imagine if my best friends called me Mr. Lebovitz!)

Edna Lewis offered her fragile, delicate hand to me. It was bony and rough, signs of a life spent in a kitchen; years of chopping, measuring, mixing, and carving. In a tiny voice that was barely audible, she introduced herself. And like a fragile scoop of vanilla ice cream uncontrolably melting on a slice of warm apple pie, Miss Lewis’ voice and manner had a way that would just make you melt.

A tiny woman, she wrote the book, (several books, in fact), on real, down-home southern cooking. Not “Y’all take a tub of Cool Whip, stir in some of this here possum-fat…”, but she taught true southern cooking and was the last of the well-respected authors and cooks to write about the subject she loved so dearly, alongside Scott.

My favorite story that she told me was the difficulty she faced when she wrote her first cookbook. She’d always cooked using coins for measuring dry ingredients like baking powder, salt, and the like. She learned to bake that way, scooping up a quarters-worth of baking powder and tossing that with a few handfuls of flour for making her feathery-light biscuits.
She soon changed how she baked; that a quarter became a tablespoon, a dime’s worth became a teaspoon.

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Edna Lewis passed away peacefully Monday in her home and she’ll be missed by many of us who were touched by her warmth and uncommon grace.

Bicerin Recipe

Bicerin

The city of Torino (or Turin) is one of the great centers of chocolate. In the early part of 1500, a Italian named Emmanuel Philibert served hot chocolate to celebrate a victory over the French at Saint-Quentin. And in 1763, Al Bicerin opened it’s doors and began making a celebrated coffee-and-chocolate drink called il bavareisa. The hot drink was a soothing mixture of locally-produced chocolate, strong Italian coffee, and topped with a froth of whipped cream.

The drink was often served in a small glass, called a bicerin (bee-chair-EEN), hence the name got changed to what we know now today as il bicerin.

Just across the border from France, Torino is the city where chocolate is an integral part of life, and where ice cream on a stick, the pinguino popsicle, was invented in 1935. Now there are exceptional chocolate-makers throughout the city, such as Peyrano and A. Giordano, who still make gianduiotto by hand, selling it at their historic chocolate shop on the Piazzo Carlo Felice.

The Piedmontese region is famous for a few other things than just chocolate and hazelnuts, most notably white truffles, but also for their exceptionally delicious hazelnuts. Back in those days, cacao beans were very expensive and rare, so a local chocolatier named Michel Prochet began blending hazelnuts into the chocolate to extend it, inventing gianduja (gee-an-DOO-ya) and is now perhaps most famously consumed as Nutella, which has become the most popular sandwich spread in the world.

But even now, every afternoon you’ll find the locals stand in one of the city’s historic caffès, sipping a hot bicerin from a small, stemmed glass. Or sitting at a marble-topped table and letting one of the waiters present them with your bicerin, savoring the atmosphere.

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My favorite place is the overly-ornate Baratti & Milano, where I like to sip my bicerin surrounded by crystal chandeliers and bronze sculptures. And I always am sure to pick up a few bars of their handcrafted chocolate or gianduja at the gilded-and-mirrored confectionery counter on the way out. Here’s my recipe…

Bicerin
Two servings

It’s important to use a clear glass; you need to be able to see all three layers.

To make a bicerin, warm one cup (250 ml) whole milk in a medium-sized saucepan with 3 ounces (90 gr) of chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. Whisk the mixture until it begins to boil, then let it boil for 1 minute, whisking constantly (the chocolate mixture will foam up a bit.)
Afterward, remove it from the heat and set aside. Make a small pot of very strong coffee, or good Italian espresso.

Fill the bottom third of a clear, heat-proof glass with the warm chocolate mixture. Pour in some coffee or espresso. (If you want to help it create a definite layer, pour it over the back of a spoon, into the glass.)

Top with a nice swirl of sweetened, freshly-whipped cream.

Places in Torino/Turin, specializing in local chocolates, gianduiotti, or to find an authentic bicerin:

A. Giordano
Piazzo Carlo Felice, 69
Tel: 011.547121

Al Bicerin
Piazza Consolata, 5
Tel: 011.4369325

Baratti & Milano
Piazza Castello, 29
Tel: 011.4407138

Caffè Torino
Piazza San Carlo, 204
Tel: 011.545118

Gobino
via Cagliari, 15/b

Confetteria Avvignano
Piazzo Carlo Felice, 50
Tel: 011.541992

Peyrano
Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 76
Tel: 011.538765

Platti
Corso Vittoria Emanuele II, 72
Tel: 011.5069056

Tropical Fruit Soup Recipe

Have you ever tasted passion fruit?

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If not, I suggest you do as soon as possible since now is their primary season in many parts of the world. If it’s your first taste of this amazing fruit, you’re in for a real treat. Slice one in half and spoon the seeds and pulp right into your mouth. That explosion of flavor is indescribable; a melange of every other tropical flavor that exists, all in one tidy purple orb.

There’s many different kinds of passion fruit. If you live in Hawaii, you’ll find brilliant-yellow lilikoi which grow prolifically everywhere, and in the southern hemisphere, there’s maricuja, which are large, russet-colored passion fruits. But most of the time you see Passiflora edulis, dark violet fruits, and the best tasting of them all. When sliced open, they reveal crunchy seeds and thick, luscious, fragrant pulp. But just in case you think this fruit was given the name ‘passion’ because of the lovely flavor, the name actually refers to the flower of the vine, which is said to tell the story of the Passion Play with it’s multiple tendrils and stamens.

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Spoon passion fruit over icy-cold slices of blood oranges for an instant, and beautiful, dessert

When buying passion fruit, unless you’re lucky enough to live in a climate where they’re abundant, they’re likely to be pricey (depending on the season.) Fortunately a little goes a long way: the pulp and seeds of one or two fruits will assert it’s powerful flavor into a cake, sorbet, or tropical beverage (with a shot or two of dark rum!)
Buy fruits when they’re inexpensive and freeze the pulp and seeds together. It freezes beautifully.

Don’t be put off by punky-looking fruits. Lots of wrinkles means they’re very ripe and at their peak. (I’ve found perfectly wonderful passion fruits in produce bargain bins, since people pass them over.) Signs of mold, however, usually means they’re too far gone and I’d take a pass on ‘em too.

If you’re making a beverage and wish to use just the pulp, slice your passion fruits in half and spoon the pulp into a non-reactive strainer set over a bowl. Use a flexible rubber spatula to force the pulp through the strainer, then discard the seeds. With a little searching, you can find pure frozen passion fruit pulp if you search though Asian markets or places that specialize in tropical products.

Tropical Fruit Soup with Passion Fruit
4 servings

Use whatever combination of tropical fruits you like or follow my suggestions. This is a fun chance to visit your nearest ethnic market and experiment with any unusual fruit you might find there. Don’t be put off if the soup base tastes strangely spicy by itself. Combined with the tropical fruits, the flavors work. Chill the serving bowls in advance so everything stays refreshingly icy-cold.

The soup base:
1 3/4 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 small cinnamon stick
1 star anise
4 whole cloves
4 black peppercorns
1/4 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Zest of 1 orange
1 piece lemongrass, 2 inches long, sliced (use the white part from the root end)
2 thin slices fresh ginger
2 teaspoons dark rum

The assembly:
6 kumquats, sliced and seeded
1 kiwi, peeled and diced
1 basket strawberries, sliced
2 blood oranges, peeled and sectioned
1 mango, peeled and diced
1/4 pineapple, diced
1 banana
2 passion fruit, pulp and seeds
Sugar, if necessary
Fresh mint to garnish

1. To make the soup base, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Coarsely crush the cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and black peppercorns in a mortar, or put them in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin or a hammer. Add the spices to the water then add the vanilla bean, orange zest, lemongrass, and ginger. Cover the pan, and steep for 1 hour.
2. Strain the soup base and discard the flavorings. Add the rum and chill thoroughly.
3. Toss all the prepared fruits together in a bowl. Taste for sweetness, and add a sprinkling of sugar if they’re too tart.
4. Divide the fruits into four wide soup bowls and ladle the chilled soup base over them.
5. Tear some mint leaves into tiny pieces and scatter them over the soup. Place a scoop of a favorite tropical fruit sherbet in the center.