15 Things I Don’t Like About Paris

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“Paris. The most gorgeous place in the world. The CIty of Light. Romantic and sexy, Paris beckons people from all over the world to bask in it’s splendor. But scratch beneath the surface…”

1. Everyone’s always in a big hurry.

…except the ones who are waiting on you.

2. Could there possibly be any light more unflattering than the lighting on the Paris métro?

3. All the newspapers are in a funny language.

And the Sunday New York Times is 13 euros.

4. The coffee is universally awful.

Yes, much of the coffee in America is horrid and/or disgusting, but at least the possibility exists of finding decent coffee in America.

5. Parisians will just walk right into you. Even if you’re on a deserted sidewalk, they’ll veer away, then curve around, and bam!…walk straight into you.

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“Remember what happened the last time I tried to walk around Paris minding my own business…taking great care with my freshly-baked cake?”

6. Les Madames.

I don’t mean hookers, I mean those mean women of a certain age who wield their shopping chariots and expect you to move outta their way. You can easily spot them; they wear squared-off wire-rimmed glasses and are proudly bundled up in overcoats, and cut in line pretending not to see you. Then when it’s their turn, they spend 5 minutes arguing with the vendor over the price of one fig or a slice of cheese (and then take forever trying to count out the centimes to pay, acting like it’s a big surprise and inconvenience when they have to fork over the cash.

As my pal Kate pointed out, this is the last generation of them.

Good riddance.

7. Everything is so damn expensive (except bread, wine, and cheese).

Le Creuset cookware, made in France, is cheaper in America than in France. My Delonghi heater (Italian) was 3 times the price it is in the US… and why is a Phillips Sonicare (Dutch) toothbrush twice the price?
Can’t they just truck stuff across the EU border?

8. Dog crap is everywhere…and it’s disgusting. Even most French people think so.

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“Ah Paris, isn’t it beautiful? Yes, I think I’ll just step over here and admire the view of…hey…oh my God…what-the-f%$k!…what did I just step in? That is, jeez, like so gross. Oh man!”

If you have a dog, pick up after it. I had a dog. I picked up after it. It’s part of ownership. If you have kids, you clean up after them. It’s a unknown concept called “responsibility”.

(Although I should let you know that with all the dog poo here, the last time I stepped in some was in, of all places, San Antonio.)

9. The French language has 14 verb tenses. English has 6.

Really, how many past tenses does one language need?

10. The French are explosive.

An organic bakery I visit often, Moisan, is lovely. Everything is picture-perfect. Glistening, caramelized fruit tarts, rustic hearth-baked breads, golden croissants, and little savory pizzas bubbling with melted cheese and fragrant with fresh herbs. I go in there all the time and the saleswomen could not be nicer.

Last time I went in, there was a lovely tray of fresh-baked Madeleines; deep-golden, buttery, and still warm from the oven. And they were picture-perfect.
So I complimented them, “Ce sont très jolie, madame.” (“Those are very beautiful.”)

The saleswoman, who’s always been so very nice to me, snapped back, “Ce ne sont pas jolie, Monseiur. Ce sont delicieux!” (“They’re not beautiful, they’re delicious!”)

And with that one little interchange, she will no longer wait on me or speak to me. If she happens to get me in line, she ignores me.
Salope

NEWS FLASH: At a dinner party tonight, I asked some French friends about this. They said if you use the word jolie (beautiful) to describe something, it’s rather pejorative. Like saying it’s ‘cute’, in a trés-Disney kind of way.
Who knew? (see #9)

11. The French don’t seem to be as interested in coming to conclusions, instead preferring to discuss things forever without resolution. Everything takes a lo-o-o-o-ong time.

You also realize that it’s not about helping the customer, but about employing as many people as possible to keep them working (25% of the people in France work for the government.)

Last week, for example, I needed shoelaces.
Simple task. Right?
The enormous BHV department store has everything.
Sure enough there’s a wall of shoelaces…every variety, material, width, brand, color, and size imaginable.
Except, or course, the one I needed.

(And forget asking for help; it’s non-existent. Their normal tactic is to send you to another floor just to get rid of you. Now I’m on to that ruse and don’t fall for it.)

12. Why does it take 2½ hours to wash your clothes in a French washing machine?

(See previous entry. Perhaps the washing machines are also more interested in the “process”, rather than the “results”.)

And good luck finding unscented laundry detergent. I took me months and months to finally find some. The smell of the normal laundry detergent was so strong and fragrant that I couldn’t sleep in the same room with my freshly-laundered clothes.

13. Charles de Gaulle Airport is consistently rated the worst airport in the world. It’s a major embarrassment that one of the world’s greatest cities has an airport that would rival one in a third-world country. Gee, I wonder why?

For two years, all the bathrooms were broken in the Terminal #1 Arrivals terminal, where you pick up your luggage. After sitting on a plane all night, you gotta go.

How many years does it take to fix a bathroom?

Last time I arrived, each and every elevator in the terminal was hors service (broken). People in wheelchairs and those with luggage carts were scratching their heads figuring out how to get downstairs.

How long does it take to fix an elevator?

And once you check in and go through security in Terminal #1, there’s no bathroom. Since you need to check in two hours in advance, you have to leave the waiting area and re-go-through security.

Gee…that’s efficient.

(I am sure the Olympics organizers who arrived at the primitive and crumbling Charles de Gaulle were as shocked as most visitors, and it sealed the fate for Paris hosting the games.)

14. Le President™ Camembert

France has the greatest cheeses in the world. Walk into any cheese shop, or even a supermarket, and you’ll find a bounty of delicious products from dairies and cheesemakers across France.

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C’est magnifique, le vrai Camembert de Normandie!

So why do the supermarkets stock some of the worst cheeses in the world right alongside the good stuff?

Because people buy them. They’re vile, rubbery, flavorless cheeses with little resemblance to the real thing. It can’t be the price difference, since they’re roughly equivalent or a few centimes more.

15. French people smoke too much.

I don’t mind cigarette smoke. Really I don’t. I’m used to it. But recently, the past few times I’ve been out for dinner, the people next to me as soon as they sit down they drop their packs of cigarettes on the table and chain smoke the entire night. I don’t mean one to two cigarettes, I mean lots of cigarettes. The other night the woman next to me had six cigarettes during the course of her meal.

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Read it and weep, Frenchies!

I’m not on an anti-smoking crusade, but how many cigarettes does one person need to smoke during a dinner out?

And did you know that one-third of all people in France smoke, and 50% of all teenagers between the ages of 15-24 years old smoke too?

The French parliament is taking up the no-smoking ban in restaurants this fall, as they’ve done in Italy and Ireland. I think it’ll pass.

What are the French going to do? Take to the streets and go on strike in support of smokers?

Whew!
Once you get started, it’s hard to stop.

10 Reasons to Live in Paris…con’t

For some reason, people keep asking, “Why do you live in Paris?”

Well…

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1. No one freaks when they find little black flecks in their vanilla ice cream.

2. If introduced as a pastry chef and cookbook author, I hear oh-la-la la’s instead of a litany of complaints about everyone’s diet.

3. The chocolate popsicles you buy at the supermarket are studded with real cocoa nibs.

And no one freaks about it.

4. Teenagers have three-course meals with their friends in restaurants. With wine.

5. Coffee, water, and wine are all the same price.

6. I live next door to the best croissants in Paris.

7. I can go to Laduree for a dark chocolate macaron, Berthillon for a superb scoop of their new salted butter-caramel ice cream, Pierre Hermé for an Ispahan fix, Poilâne for just-baked, crusty levain bread, and Jean-Charles Rochoux for chocolate pavéswhenever I want.

Every day if I want.

8. You can talk pharmacists into giving you cool prescription drugs if you have a good story.
(I don’t personally know if this is true, but I’ve, um…heard it is.)

9. I can buy a mind-altering selection of cheeses from my fromagerie for way less than the equivalent of $10.

10. Lucques olives…

…and the open-air markets!

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Coming Soon: Ten Things I Hate About Paris…!

Italian Chocolate Kisses

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I like the word ‘addictive’.
I use it when it refers to something I like a lot and can’t stop eating.
So instead of implying a substance abuse problem (the jury’s still out around here whether or not chocolate is an abusable substance), the word has positive connotations for me. But I tend to use the word a lot, so much so that I fear that using the word addictive has become another addiction to me.

My friend Joanne recently came to visit me in Paris after a trip through Piedmont, the region of Italy famous for white truffles, hazelnuts, and chocolate (for some reason, though, she didn’t bring me any fresh white truffles.) But she did bring me a lovely box of something dark and chocolaty:
Baci Cherasco.

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Perhaps you’re familiar with Baci or Bacio di Dama, the little blue & silver foil-wrapped circle of Italian milk chocolate with a nice crisp hazelnut in the middle. Baci di Dama translates to kiss of a woman.

So I’m now in the possession of a very big bag (another reason I love Italy…big portions!) of Baci Cherasco; sinful little buttons of dark chocolate with crushed roasted hazelnuts.

The tasty Baci Cherasco were invented in 1881 when the confectioner, Marco Barbero, had make some a batch torrone and had some leftover hazelnuts bits left over…

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Torrone: Made with Honey, Almonds, and Pistachio Nuts

Thinking quickly, Signor Barbero gathered up the remaining hazelnuts and had the good sense to coat them in bittersweet chocolate and made little ‘kisses’ from them.
Nowadays the hazelnuts are hand-crushed with rolling pins to assure they’re still in irregular chunks before dipping.

(Whenever I have any remaining tempered chocolate, I scramble through my kitchen cupboards to see what else I can dip. I’ve enrobed coffee beans, pretzels, honeycomb, prunes…you name it, I’ve dipped it.)

Baci Cherasco are suspiciously simple…just two ingredients: dark chocolate and crunchy hazelnuts. They’re delectable and truly addictive; the hazelnuts are perfectly roasted (always toast nuts, folks…) and the chocolate used is some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Consequently, I’ve become addicted to the little dark nuggets with the powerful aroma of Piedmontese hazelnuts and bittersweet chocolate. So much so, I almost ate the entire bag of chocolates as if it were a sack of popcorn.

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Barbero
Via Vittorio Amanuele, 74
Cherasco, Italy
Tel/Fax: 0172-488373

Prune Recipes

Announcing the first (and only)…

Prune Blogging Thursday
October 27th
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This week Meg and I went to the Salon Fermiers here in Paris. Similar to a trade show, the exhibition hall was filled with food producers selling everything from chestnut honey, fleur de sel, foie gras, artisan goat cheeses, and wines from various regions close to Paris.

But what we loved most was the prunes.
When I tell visitors to France that they must try the pruneaux de Agen (prunes from Agen) they snicker. Why do prunes have such a bad rap? Prunes are very good for your health; they’re high in iron, with no added sugar but lots of fiber…and yes, they keep you, um, ‘regular’.

These prunes from Agen were amazing and I was later sorry I only bought one bag. They were moist, plump, and super sweet, with hints of chocolate and spices. We both later wondered how we could get more for this particular producer.

There are close to 3 million plum trees in the southwest region of France, known as Gascony. The finest plum for drying is called the prune d’Ente, a variety that’s better dried than fresh. The first time I had pruneaux d’Agen was when I visited my friend Kate, who happens to live adjacent to Agen, the veritable kingdom of prunes, where prune-lovers from ’round the world congregate to enjoy the world’s best prunes.

The French adore prunes and in fact, after California, France holds the second spot in world prune production. When I visited Gascony Kate, we went to a Prune Museum…and I say “a”(meaning not singular) museum, as there’s more than one in Agen.
One even had a gift shop featuring a comic book super-hero who was prune-fueled!

(And, no, I’m not making that up…)

Prunes have borne the long-suffering brunt of poopy jokes in addition to the recent humiliation of being re-named dried plums, vexing recipe writers everywhere.
You tell me, does dried plum juice sound as appetizing as prune juice?
And how many times have you heard the integrity of prunes denigrated as a snickering joke?

It’s Time To Give Prunes Their Due!

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With a nod of inspiration to Wine-Blogging Wednesdays, let’s devote a day to prunes…the moist, wrinkled little nubbins deserve another glorious day in the sun.

So give us your best prune recipe or best idea for using prunes.

Mash some prunes into ice cream, bake prunes in a savory tagine, poach ‘em with some kumquats, or chop them up and beat them into a chocolate chip cookie batter. Stew them with Armagnac, toss them in a seasonal autumn salad with crisp Fuyu persimmons, or make prune enchiladas (…er, on second thought…)
Use your imagination to create something prune-tacular!

UPDATE: Here they are, the prune recipe round-up!

Quince…revisited

A week or so I wrote about one of my favorite fruits; the quince.

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After all the poached quince slices were eaten (at about the same rate as the batch of homemade vanilla ice cream which I made to go alongside), I reduced the delicious syrup on the stovetop until it was thick and the bubbles became large. Once removed from the heat, as the syrup cooled, the pectin in the fruit encouraged the liquid to be transformed into a lovely quince jelly riddled with dark and aromatic vanilla seeds.

I found a beautiful and tangy bleu cheese at my favorite fromagerie; it’s a perfect pairing.

Ph. Langlet
Fromager
Marché Beauvais
Tel: 01 43 45 35 09

Le Smart Car

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Is it called ‘Smart’ because it runs on chocolate?

Classes: Chocolate Cakes, Candies, and Desserts by David Lebovitz

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Next month, beginning in late November though December, I’m embarking on a cross-country tour of the US teaching my Holiday Chocolate Class from coast-to-coast. Come join me as I demonstrate my favorite chocolate holiday desserts…everything from savory appetizers to delectable chocolate candies and chocolate cakes…rich, French-inspired treats.

You can view the class description and menus at Sur La Table’s Culinary Program pages.

And be sure to check out my schedule page for other dates and locations if you’re city isn’t listed there.

My classes are always great fun and they’ll be be your opportunity to add some terrific new chocolate desserts (like a fabulous chocolate cake I’ve just come up with) to your holiday repertoire. It’s also your chance to get a personally signed copy of one of my books in person! And speaking of shopping, many stores will be giving out discount certificates for holiday shopping on most cookware throughout their stores. (Ask when you register.)

Several of the classes are either sold-out, or almost sold-out: additional dates will be added to my schedule page in the next few weeks.

Hope to see you there…

Hermès

Oprah gave us all the okay to return to Hermès.
She said it was all a misunderstanding and because one particular Parisian salesperson who was “rude and rigid”

I, for one, am so relieved that it’s once again okay to shop at Hermès.

If that one experience has been her only encounter with a rude salesperson in Paris…that’s a subject that deserves an entire episode! I’ve come across more than one or two Parisian salespeople I’d like to trap in a room for a good Dr. Phil-style slap-down…and I’d buy the DVD just to watch it over and over and over.

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So anyways, she kissed and made up with Hermès and a rush of relief was visible in the studio audience when she told everyone to that they should rush off to Hermés to buy a Kelly bag. Since there’s an 18-month waiting list for the more-expensive and elusive Birkin bag, I didn’t want to waste another minute of time in getting on that list.

( I had a brief flashback of Martha toting a Hermès bag during her trial, which many felt didn’t do her much good. Carrying a pricey Kelly bag many felt sealed her fate since it made her look ‘elitist’. So if you see a made-for-tv movie about my life starring Cybil Shepard, blame Oprah.)

So I polished my shoes, paid off my Visa bill, and took the Métro to the fashionable rue du Faubourg St. Honoré to worship at the temple of sublime French style, Hermès.

…and I took a cue from Oprah: Don’t be late!

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Located just off the place Madeleine, the windows of Hermès were filled with all sorts of handbags, the featured ones were indeed the Kelly bags (who says the French have no idea who Oprah is? They put those pricey bags on display to torture all those women from Iowa who watch Oprah.) There was a pink ostrich one (10,000 euros) and an alligator model whose price made the ostrich one look like a beach tote from K-Mart.

Since I dressed-for-success, I didn’t hesitate to go inside. I pulled open the door and was warmly welcomed because I was white (…just kidding!) As the cool wave of American-style air conditioning swept over me, I pondered what I’d purchase.

I walked softly over the inlaid vintage tile floor as I passed shoppers rushing to try on Hermès scarves; knots and leafy wisps of silk softly trailing in every direction. The leather handbags were safely guarded within glass showcases and lots of them were being packed up in chic orange boxes.

No one (except me) seemed too interested in the horse saddles which were just hanging off the wall unattended (I guess shoplifters aren’t interested in leather horse saddles.) I paused in front of a tray of slender strips of leather meant to be worn around your wrist, which looked remarkably similar to the ones they sell at H & M for 5 euros. But who says the Kelly bag is all that rare? Aside from the models in the window, I passed by a Kelly bag with a diamond-encrusted Hermès “H”. I considered the purchase, but declined. Not because it was 100,400 euros, but simply I felt it was a bit over-the-top and I couldn’t imagine who I would give it to. Imagine toting that through the Métro?
So unlike everyone else that likes to follow her advice, Oprah would be so upset with me. I left without buying anything.
Do you think perhaps that’s why I never got on her show?

Dejected I left.
But not before checking out the colorful beach towels. Sadly, as the saying goes, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it”. So of course I asked.
One Hermès beach towel: 320 euros.

So what does this have to do with food, you’re asking?
Isn’t this a food blog?

I was prompted to visit Hermés since I had a fabulous Thai dinner at the home of a friend whos family oversees much of Hermés production and even has their own special mark on several choice leather pieces (And no, I didn’t ask about a staff discount. That would be tacky…er, wouldn’t it?)
I was stunned to have an excellent Thai dinner she had cooked, although not surprising since she lived in Japan for 12 years and in Thailand as well. Soon she is moving to Laos, and is trying to learn the Laotian language. She spoke French, Italian, Thai, Japanese, and perfect English. So today I figured I should go see what she did for a living since I’m so nosy.

(And speaking of nosy, this morning I actually explained who Gladys Kravitz is…in French. Then I had to explain the double-entendre of the title, ‘Bewitched’ as well. That was a real test of my French proficiency, I tell you.)

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Anyhow…
With my empty credit card burning a hole in my pocket, I found salvation nearby with a petit sac of chocolate macarons from Jean-Paul Hévin, a chocolatier whose macaron au chocolat won the title of the Le Meilleur Macaron de Paris in Paris this year.

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In there are six luscious chocolat, chocolat-praline, and chocolat-caramel macarons.
Price?
Just under 6 euros.

I strolled over to my favorite wine bar in Paris just down the street, located near a cramped, little oyster bar that I once had the nerve to send chef Thomas Keller to, which luckily he loved (whew!… otherwise that would have shot down my Paris cred big-time.)

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I had two nice glasses of Chinon, a fruity red wine from the Loire Valley, served slightly chilled.
Price?
2.6 euros per glass.

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So instead of being in the hole for 100,400 euros, I had spent just 10 euros and had a wonderful Parisian afternoon. And no one was rude to me! Maybe Oprah ought to give me a call next time she’s in town and I’ll show her a good time and perhaps she’ll buy me one of those nice leather Hermès bracelets as gratitude…although with my luck, it’ll be the saddle.