Orange-Glazed Polenta Cake

Orange-glazed polenta cake

Apparently I’m not the only one who loves polenta cake. The Italians like it so much that it’s called Amor Polenta. Which means “Polenta Love.”

Well, at least that’s what I thought it meant, because amour in French means “love.” And I assumed that it was the same in Italian. (Another reason for finally getting on that life-long ambition to live in Italy and learn Italian.) But for now, checking in an Italian dictionary, I found out that “amor” means “sake.” (As in, for the purpose of.) So I’m not sure how it got its name, but this cake makes a pretty good argument for the sake of whisking polenta into a cake.

Orange-glazed polenta cake

I’m one of those people who is completely crazy for anything with cornmeal, from corn bread to even a kind of kooky polenta ice cream that I’m sure no one else has ever made, because I used a completely obscure polenta that very, very few people can get their hands on. But I felt compelled to make it, for the sake of using up a little bag of that polenta that I had.

Orange-glazed polenta cake

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La Tuile à Loup

La Tuile a Loup

Zut! Just after I walked into La Tuile à Loup, the owner of the shop was presenting a customer with two cassoles that he’d retrieved from his store-room, to choose from. As the customer scrutinized each one, I also was eyeing them both longingly, with the same feeling that you get when you’re at a flea market and someone is holding something that you really, really want, and gently negotiating with the vendor. But there’s nothing you can do except wait for that precise moment when they set it back on the table and their hand unclenches the object. And it’s fair game, and ripe for the taking.

La Tuile a Loup

No such luck for me, as of the two presented, the guy took the one that I wanted. (The other one that was for sale was just like the one I have. Although thou shall not covet another’s cassole, I wanted the one, shown – that he bought – because it had straighter sides. And because greed is not a sin – at least in my book – I felt it okay to want both.)

La Tuile a Loup

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Cranberry-Glazed Meatballs

Cranberry glazed meatballs recipe

It’s cranberry season! Well, it was back around the holidays a month or so ago. And now that it’s over, as much as I love cranberries, it’s hard to get people enthusiastic all over again. And that’s made even harder when you live in a place where cranberries don’t hold the same sway over Parisians, as they do with Americans.

Cranberry-Glazed Meatballs

People often express dismay that expats exalt certain foods that “foodies” (which doesn’t have a translation in French) would otherwise find reprehensible, such as stuffing mix, canned pumpkin, and tinned cranberry sauce. (I still don’t know why the expat food shelves at stores in Europe have powdered cheesecake mix. Is that really a thing? I’ve never ever seen that back in the states.)

But we all need a break, especially around the holidays – (me especially) – except I think everyone should take a pass on anything labeled “cheesecake mix” – and while kale-sweet potato casseroles and “best-ever”, newfangled ways of roasting (and brining, and deep-frying) turkey invade magazines, newspapers, and websites around the holidays, sometimes you just want to be goofy, and present a little reminder of your past, such as store-bought cranberry sauce.

Cranberry-Glazed Meatballs

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Baked Marsala Pears

marsala baked pears recipe-

Because it’s one of my common pantry items, shortly after I’d moved to Paris, I went to the supermarket to get Marsala, to stock my larder. Much to my surprise, the supermarket didn’t have it. So I went to another, then another. Then another. Then I went to some liquor stores, where I thought for sure it would be on the shelf, but no one had ever heard of it. They kept trying to sell me Madeira, which is kind of like comparing Champagne to crémant. Both can appear to be similar, but are world’s apart – although I like them both.

I was pretty perplexed because Marsala is something that is sold in almost any American grocery store and since we shared a border with our Italian neighbors, I figured it’d be something easy to find here in France. (Perhaps because of the prevalence of Chicken Marsala in the U.S., one of those sure-fire dishes that has become so popular in red-checkered tableclothed Italian-American restaurants, and with home cooks?)

Marsala-Baked Pears

Marsala is made in Sicily, in the city of Marsala. It’s a naturally sweet, fortified wine with woody, subtle molasses-like flavors, which come from being aged in oak casks. Interestingly, Marsala is a wine perpetuo (perpetual), meaning that as wine is taken out of the casks, more is added. So the wine goes through a natural oxidation process. (You can read more about it here and here.)

Marsala-Baked Pears

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Dessance

Dessence restaurant in Paris

Like Espai Sucre in Barcelona, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to eat at Dessance, in Paris. It’s not that I don’t love dessert (which is a good thing because I think it’s a little late to change careers…), but because the idea of an all-dessert menu – or as Dessance calls it, a meal featuring cuisine du sucré – just didn’t appeal to me.

When I went to Espai Sucre years back, I made sure to stop at a local tapas bar beforehand and fill up on savory foods to prepare/steel myself for the multi-course sweet extravaganza. But instead, I found myself dining on food that skirted the line between sweet and savory, featuring lots of herbs, grains, (there may even been some meat), and vegetables. Nothing was overly sweet, even the desserts. It was a completely satisfying meal and experience, and I was glad I overcame my reluctance to eat there.

Desssance in Paris follows the same pattern and concept: A set menu with multiple courses, the savory courses borrowing a bit from the pastry pantry, with the chef skillfully guiding diners all the way though the meal, culminating in full-on desserts.

Dessance restaurant in Paris

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Pork and Beans

Pork and beans recipe

Cassoulet was probably the first French dishes that really hooked me on French cuisine. I was working at Chez Panisse at the time and when the new Zinfandel wine was released, in a style similar to the annual release of Beaujolais nouveau in France, or the garlic festival on Bastille Day (called 14 juillet, in France – if you called it “Bastille Day,” no one would know what you were talking about), the cooks would often make cassoulet. Because I was working and making dessert, I didn’t have time to actually sit down and eat any – because customers don’t really want to hear that their dessert is being held up because the pastry person is sitting down having dinner – I did get to take a spoon and scrape off, and eat, all the crusty, meaty, chewy bits that were stuck to the rims of the pans. Which, of course, are the best parts.

Making cassoulet is definitely a project. I know, because when I put the recipe in My Paris Kitchen, I made it at least a dozen times, testing all kinds of meats and beans, and playing around with cooking times. (And trying to explain – nicely – that once you’ve made cassoulet, that it’s actually better réchauffé, or left to sit overnight, then reheated.)

And if you’re going to make it, you make it in quantity, as it’s not a dish you’ll find in one of those “Cooking for One” or “Dinner in 5!” cookbooks. You need to gather the meats, fry up the sausages, prepare the beans, and cook the whole thing for several hours.

pork and beans

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2014-2015

Chocolate bars

In a film a while back, there was a line that became famous – “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Years later, Apple introduced a music device with the slogan “Life is random,” which referred to the music player that “shuffled” things around for you, randomly (so you never knew what you were going to get), although some speculated that it could have been a metaphor for Steve Jobs’ cancer diagnosis.

Fortunately I’m in good form, perhaps thanks to those antioxidants in all the chocolate that I seem to find myself surrounded by. But as much as we try, we never know what’s going to happen or how things are going to turn out. That’s particularly true when someone uproots and moves somewhere else. You’re not just moving out of your city or town, you’re moving out of your culture into unfamiliar territory – a new unknown.

When I first arrived in Paris, I’d bring people I barely knew treats to share; some chocolates, a couple of pieces of cakes, a tin of cookies, or other recipes that I was working on. From the astonished looks I got, I quickly learned that locals don’t bring edible gifts to shopkeepers and market vendors. However no one seemed to mind. (Although it doesn’t seem to be a trend that’s caught on…) It’s been over a decade since I arrived in Paris and each day is — well — like a box of chocolates. And it’s always amazing. Not always amazing in a “wow – that was great!” kind of way, but not always “amazing” in a bad way either. It’s just that each day is different, and like life in any city, it comes with challenges, an occasional defeat, a number of victories, and (fortunately) some lasting rewards.

Many of us who live in Paris often get emails from people wanting to move here, just like I did eleven years ago when I arrived on a whim. (Although as anyone who gets up and moves around the world knows, it’s not like it just happens. It takes a lot of planning and work.) Like me, most don’t have a clue as to what awaits them. I wasn’t quite prepared for what would happen to me in subsequent years and there were lots of hurdles to overcome. Yet I set up home, snagged a terrific partner (score!), learned the language (yet those French verbs continue to challenge me…), and managed to become, in my own way, a small part of the great city of Paris.

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Meyer Lemon Curd and Lemon Tart

lemon curd tart recipe

There’s been an anglo-wave sweeping across Paris the past few years, and the latest to excite Parisians has been the return of Marks & Spencer. Their last store in France closed over a decade ago and after a lot of speculation, and anticipation, they’re back. Their initial rentrée was a shop on the Champs-Elysées, which gives more room to clothes than it does to the food. I’ve never heard anyone say they missed the selection of clothes that were available, but a lot of people – French and otherwise – got a little misty eyed over the loss of the availability of scones, le cheddar (pronounced ched-aire), streaky bacon, Chicken Tikka Masala and, my favorite, the crumpets. Since then, they’ve gone on to open specialty food stores in various neighborhoods, to great success.

On British import that’s hard to explain is “curd,” which doesn’t quite translate into something that sounds like it would be tasty, even in English. Explanations tend to bring up notions of curdled custards, lumpy messes floating in a cloudy broth. But in spite of the connotations the word brings up, French people like lemon curd as much as Americans, and British, and I am sure someone else will point out that others like it, too. So let’s just agree that everybody loves lemon curd. (Okay, there are probably some people who don’t like lemon curd. But I’ve not met anyone yet.)

Lemon tart and curd recipe

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