The first time I ever had gelato was about 20 years ago when it seemed to be all the rage in the 80’s, that staggeringly over-the-top era of excess, when we all seemed to be fascinated by Studio 54, record-shopping at the Gap (anyone else remember that?), Bianca Jagger, ultra-suede, and Bill Blass-designed Lincoln Continentals.
There was place around the corner from Chez Panisse in Berkeley where I would stop before work. Although it had some fancy Italian name, it was known around town as ‘The Lesbian Gelato Place’.
I don’t know if the women who made the gelato and scooped it up were lesbians, but since it was Berkeley and it was the 1980’s, they may have been a ‘womyn’s-owned collective’, if memory serves me right. It was the time when blending politics (Wendy Yoshimura, the SLA cohort of Patty Hearst, worked at the Juice Bar Collective next door), social change and gastronomy somehow becoming all linked together and made what you were going to have to eat a ‘social statement’, instead of just filling your gut.
Soon there were gelato places all over the place, but that wonderful lesbians gelato bar was a revelation to me.
(Hmmm. I wonder if I will now start getting lots of hits from lesbians looking for good gelato?…)
Anyway, they eventually they closed, as some diet probably became the rage and it perhaps was time to Stop The Insanity making it forbidden to eat delicious gelato or anything except mountains of potatoes. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that lesbians weren’t the only ones who made good gelato. In fact, gelato is the national obsession in Italy, where you’ll find everyone from sleek businessmen to groups of Vespa-driving teenagers (and lesbians) getting their licks in.
Italians just adore gelato and it’s rarely consumed sitting down. It’s gooey and soft, and meant to be licked and slurped while walking down the street, swirling your tongue around it and catching every little chocolate-y drip that begins its inevitable slide down the side of your cono.
Il Gelato di San Crispino (Via della Paneterria 42), has been dubbed the “laboratory” of gelato, since it’s gleaming and spotless. And amazingly efficient…something that you begin to appreciate the more time you spend in Italy. You take a number and they serve you in order. And this one woman happily served everyone, without flinching, in several different languages, keeping the place spotless..and with a big smile.
You can’t get an ice cream cone at Il Gelato di San Crispino, according to Maureen Fant, who’s writes about Rome who I met up with. She explained that a cone is considered unhygienic. Instead you order your gelato by the cup (which I don’t mind, since you don’t waste any when it drips.)
I was told by several Romans to be sure to taste the meringa, which baffled me until I tried it. When I ordered cioccolata along with two meringas of hazelnut and chocolate chips, the cheerful scooper told me I had made a great selection.
And…oh my God, was that good. The gelato of course was excellent, but the meringa was a frozen meringue studded with crispy bits of dark, bitter chocolate, toasted Piedmontese hazelnuts and crackly, sugary meringue. Each little mouthful revealed something new to me…a whole new world of frozen desserts had expanded right in front of me.
My other favorite gelato was at Giolitti, close to the Pantheon. The place was enormous and pandemonium ensued, as tourists tried to figure out the system (or lack of) then fight their way to the front of the counter through the bustling mob of excited Italians (in Italy, it’s common to pay in advance at the cashier before ordering your gelato or espresso at the counter…and in Italy it’s not common to line up in any particular order!)
There were lots of fruit-flavored gelati to choose from; I loved the beautiful colors and there was every flavor you could imagine, from a dark, inky blackberry to a dreamy-pink white peach. Each server, wearing a chic jacket-and-tie, would generously smear your cono with up to three flavors then top each with a blob of panna, or whipped cream.
I saw a few non-Italian women scraping theirs off once outside, into the wastebasket.
Another counter at Giolitti featured a dizzying array of granitas, flavorful, intensely-flavored ices that are ground up into
little crystals and explode in flavor when you eat them. Usually they’re topped with a flourish of panna as well: the contrast between the sweet richness of the cream and the lively flavor of the granita makes this a Roman favorite.
While they all looked delicious, I was still teetering from my granita di caffè from nearby Tazza d’Oro, which perhaps has the best espresso and was my daily stop in Rome.
At Giolitti, where I got my daily cono of chocolate gelato in Rome…
via Uffici del Vicaro, 40
tel: 06 6991243
I’m one of those people that don’t like wine and chocolate together.
There’s something about all those diverse flavors going every which way in your mouth…all I want when I enjoy chocolate is to taste rich, dark, unadulterated chocolate without any distractions.
I’ve been meaning to write more about chocolate, and when Clotilde announced she’s hosting Wine Blogging Wednesday 13, it was the perfect excuse to add some notes here about chocolate.
I asked two friends and chocolate experts (I love having chocolatiers as friends)from two of my favorite chocolate companies how they felt about pairing chocolate with wine. You may not know this, but most chocolate is a blend of various roasted beans, plucked from pods and roasted to achieve a certain flavor and profile that the chocolate-maker is seeking. Like wine, chocolate is often blended from various beans, which of course can vary. Depending on variety, origin, fermentation, and roasting, cacao beans can have amazingly different flavors, so often they’re blended.
And in spite of what you’ll read and hear, there’s often no advantage to single-origin chocolates over blended chocolates, unless it’s really important to you that your chocolate is only made from one particular kind of cocoa bean.
A few chocolate companies make excellent single-bean chocolate, such as Amadei, E. Guittard, and Domori; all are extraordinary and well worth eating, but I find other single-bean chocolates a result of good marketing and no more exceptional than some of the blended chocolates.
As a former winemaker, chocolate-expert John Scharffenberger transitioned from sparkling winemaker to mastering the art of blending fine chocolate. During his explorations and tastings, he was intrigued by discovering similar flavor components in wine and chocolate, finding nuances that both had in common.
“In tasting Chocolate and wine, there’s a definite fruit acidity (cocoa beans in chocolate, grapes in wine) in the beginning. Next is a bit of a respite in the mid-palette (the fatty cocoa butter for chocolate) and finally sweetness (sugar in chocolate, the alcohol or yeast of sparkling wine.)”
He describes a similar finish when tasting wine and chocolate “defined by tannins, sometimes long and soft, sometimes short and harsh.”
Chocolate and wine both have tannins, which can makes them remarkably similar, and I agree with John Scharffenberger (although Hershey’s ain’t making any offers to buy my business!)
The problem arises when those tannins compete with each other. That’s why I prefer a sweet, smooth, rounded ruby port wine with chocolate, rather than a bracingly intense wine, like Cabernet or Zinfandel.
Often the two just obliterate each other and cancel out each others fine qualities.
So I admit that for this chocolate and wine pairing, I fudged a but.
(Sorry, bad pun…)
I opted to pair chocolate with something unusual: Spiritueux de Cacao, a clear, distilled liquor made by steeping and heating cocoa beans then capturing the essence by collecting the aroma and bottling the liquid created by the steam.
That’s why good eau-de-vie is rather pricey. Jörg Rupf of St. Georges told me he uses 60 pounds of Bartlett pears to make just one bottle of Pear William (pear eau-de-vie).
I discovered my Spiritueux de Cacao at Lavinia, the 3-story wine emporium here in Paris. At Lavinia, there’s a roomful of eaux-de-vie made from every flavor possible: quince, thyme, sour cherries, honey, lime, and…chocolate. I recommend visiting the 3-story wine emporium if you come to Paris, located near the historic Place Madeleine and visit the collection of open bottles. You’re welcome to take a good sniff and sample from their selection. (Now that’s my kind of wine store…)
Naturally I chose the chocolate one, and left the garlic one behind!
Frederick Schilling, the ‘alchemist’ of Dagoba, one of my favorite organic chocolates (his Dagoba Xocolatl bar with chilis, cacao nibs, maca, and a hint of nutmeg is simply amazing), finds that the nuances of some of his exotically-flavored chocolates pair well with wine. Frederick loves pairing his floral lavender chocolate with a pinot noir and his delicious lime-scented milk chocolate with a crisp pinot gris.
But when I pressed him for tasting specifics, Frederick replied that he thinks that chocolate tasting comes down to “there are no rights or wrongs. Taste is a subjective art … If it tastes good, you’re having fun, and are surrounded with people you love, it must be the right pairing.”
So here’s my ‘wine’ and chocolate pairing for Wine Blogging Wednesday 13: little rich, individual chocolate cakes.
I make one for each person because I don’t like to share my chocolate! Each is studded with liquor-soaked prunes, adding soft, sweet little bites that meld perfectly with intense dark chocolate. These petits gâteaux can be made in advance and the flavor improves as they sit. (Trust me, I ate all four cakes over the course of the day I made them. They kept getting better and better and better).
If you don’t happen to have a bottle of chocolate eau-de-vie in your liquor cabinet, either come to Paris and pick one up (sorry, I don’t deliver)…or macerate the prunes in port wine or dark rum.
(Little Chocolate Cakes)
4 individual cakes
For the prunes
6 medium-sized pitted prunes, cut into little-bitty, bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons Metté cacao eau-de-vie
For the cakes
4 ½ ounces (125 gr) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¼ cup (50 ml) heavy or light cream
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
In a small bowl, mix the prunes in the eau-de-vie.
Cover, and let macerate for a few hours.
Butter four 2 3/4-inch (7 cm) paper cake molds and set them on a baking sheet. (See note.)
To make the cakes:
1. Preheat the oven to 375° F degrees (190° C).
2. In a medium bowl set over simmering water, melt together the chocolate and cream. Remove from heat.
Mix in the prunes and any liquor in the bowl remaining, then let cool to room temperature.
3. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, at high speed, beat the eggs and sugar with a pinch of salt until thick, about 5 minutes.
4. Fold one-third of the beaten egg mixture into the chocolate, then fold in the remaining egg foam.
5. Divide batter between each cake mold.
Bake for 30 minutes, until cakes are tender and still soft when you touch the top. Each will rise, then gently sigh down a bit.
Remove from oven and cool a few minutes before removing the paper cake mold (use a scissors to cut it away).
Serve warm or at room temperature with very cold crème anglaise and perhaps a scattering of crisp-toasted sliced almonds.
Note: If you can’t get paper cake cups, you can use paper muffin liners in a muffin tin.
Ok, how’s that for a nice, rich little chocolate dessert?
I’m so wiped out from all that chocolate, I need a break.
Let’s see, where should I go this weekend?
I took someone into a fromagerie the other day and he was asking me to describe a perfectly ripe, oozing camembert cheese. “Musty gym socks”, “funky undies”, and “barnyard-like” don’t exactly sound appealing, but were the most accurate descriptions that came to mind at the time (looking back now, however, perhaps next time I need to do some pre-editing in my head). The trick to is to make something as special as a perfectly-ripened wedge of cheese sound so good that you can’t believe it will taste better than it smells.
Conveying an exact sensation is the difficulty of food writing. How do you describe something that you think tastes good, and make it sound good enough for someone else to want to taste as well? (and if you think “musty gym socks” or “funky undies” taste good, you’re at the wrong web site).
Dianne Jacob, a seasoned culinary journalist and instructor with a long string of success behind her, shares her secrets and suggestions while explaining what food writing is all about: how to succeed, how to get published, and what you can do to make your food writing more evocative and compelling.
Will Write For Food is one of the best and most comprehensive workbooks I’ve read on this topic and if you’ve fantasized about writing about food or wanted to know what it was like to write a review restaurant or well-loved cookbook, read the suggestions she culled from experienced food writers like Russ Parsons, Anthony Bourdain, Deborah Madison, and Alice Medrich.
Heck, I’m even in there too!
I was tapped to do this meme back in July, by Shuna, and I began to write it up.
Then I stopped, and began writing much about my culinary travels. So the file got moved somewhere on my desktop, obliterated amongst the mess of files and folders here at chez Dave. As someone else mentioned when she got tagged for the meme, it’s kinda like getting a homework assignment.
And who wants homework when you live in Paris?
Then last month Clotilde, who effortlessly manages to both live in Paris and respond to food memes, and she tagged me again, so I felt guilty and decided I’d better sit down and do this.
The meme asks Food Bloggers what 5 Favorite Childhood Food Memories they remember most. Here are mine. I suppose I should be taking only about things like usual suspects like ‘comfort food’, but frankly, these are the things I remember (and miss) the most…so, ok…there’s one ‘comfort food’ entry tossed in…
Chocolate (or Rainbow) Sprinkles
I love sprinkles, or as we called them, “ants”, since they resembled everyone’s favroite picnic critters swarming all over your ice cream. I remember going to Friendly’s Ice Cream in Connecticut and ordering Chocolate-Marshmallow Swirl Ice Cream and once it was scooped, the server dipped the whole she-bang in the container of sprinkles, covering everything. A few years later, soft-serve ice cream made its was to New England and I discovered Rainbow Sprinkles, which are almost as good as their darker cousins, when smushed into pillow-y soft-serve ice cream once it emerged from the swirling machine at Foster Freeze.
(I wonder what they would say if I asked for sprinkles at Berthillon?)
Chicken and Rice with Apricots
My mother was a great cook.
And I never appreciated it fully until I got to college and other guys told me what lousy cooks their mother’s had been. My mother was an artist who specialized in weaving and spinning. And she was kind of a character and very well put-together . She had a remarkably strong resemblance to Mary Tyler Moore (before Mare’s Joker-From-Batman-like face lifts) and Jacqueline Susann…both were very well put-together, and mom and Jack’s shared a penchant for stiff, high hair, opulent jewellery, and swirly Emilio Pucci outfits.
I remember her stepping into her shiny Mercedes, with her Louis Vuitton handbag and a bag lunch (her Yankee thrift prohibited her from stopping at Howard Johnson’s for lunch), and driving up to Vermont where puffy bags of fresh wool from the hippies and beatniks who sheared it off their sheep for her. Somehow she managed to fit right in.
Another time I came home from school with friends and my mother was sitting in the front yard, wearing her bra, shorts and Frye boots, and spinning wool on one of her spinning wheels.
Anyhow, my mother made the best Chicken and Rice with Apricots. Her father was Arabic (her mom was Danish) and this dish has roots, I think, in his culinary tradition.
You take a whole chicken and simmer it in water with a sliced carrot or two, and a stalk of celery, until it’s falling-off-the-bone soft. Then you make a pot of long-grain rice and use the chicken stock to cook it, replacing the water. In a small saucepan, she poached some tangy California dried apricots in some water with a bit of sugar to serve atop the chicken and rice.
YUM! This is the best dish ever, and really simple too. I make it any time during the winter months when I’m not feeling very healthy: it instant restores me.
This was my first lesson in disappointment (unfortunately, there were many others to follow…), since the television ads showed the popcorn rosing up in a big, bulbous aluminum balloon in about 5 seconds much to the happy delight of the kids clustered around the stove.The bag just rose and rose until it was practically bursting open by itself. Then the steaming bag was ripped open with a fork and everyone squeeled with joy and hapiness.
Well, we bought Jiffy Pop, and it took about 5 or 10 minutes to rise and pop, and was very underwhelming and boring. And the popcorn sucked too…not as much fun to make, as it was to eat.
(Hey, who said this meme supposed to only be about good-tasting food memories?)
Dried Pasta Elbows
I used to eat dried pasta by the box. I don’t know why. I would grab a box of Mueller’s dried elbows and crunch on them all day long. It was very satisfying, even though my father would warn me that all that pasta was going to expand in my stomach.
I hate black licorice.
It’s gross. There’s nothing worse than having the taste of black licorice stuck in your mouth. It’s like licking gooey tar off of hot pavement. It’s disgusting…and yes, I know that there’s all this supposed great gourmet licorice out there that’s just divine and I just haven’t tried it yet. Well, some people eat dogs and monkey brains and you might think that’s disgusting…so stop trying to convince me to try black licorice. I don’t like it.
But what I loved was red licorice. It’s gummy, like those vibrant, jelled Orange Slices covered with lots of crunchy granulated sugar (…which I loved almost as much, which would be #6) and chewy all at the same time, with a red cherry-like sweetness. I now enjoy Panda bars from Finland, where they’re naturally-flavored and apparently good for you, since they sell them in health food stores in the US. So I don’t feel too bad eating one once in a while even though now I’m a more sensible adult.
The hardest thing about living in France (aside from speaking French) is that most of us Americans here expect things to be like ‘back home'; corn-on-the-cob, Office Max open on sundays, and cheery customer service.
I tried explaining that uniquely American concept of, “The customer is always right” to a French friend, and he just kept giving me this blank look as if I was explaining how aliens were impregnating Republicans in an effort to achieve global domination through procreation.
It seems like everything that I look for, I can’t find. Whatever I’m looking for, will surely elude me.
The good news is that everyday staples like…
…are easily available.
But I wanted to make Meg’s Pickled Onions a few weeks back. I couldn’t find white wine vinegar at any grocer. Last night’s risotto almost didn’t happen either…I couldn’t find Arborio rice and, naturally, the local Italian épicerie was (still) closed for vacation.
For the past few months, I’ve been considering an all-out search for a Cake Carrier.
Now, that’s not something that one searches for everyday. Perhaps you’ve never searched for one. Maybe you have.
But I knew it would take a bit of work; I began to gather my strength and prepare myself.
Sometimes takes me hours to prepare myself to do simple daily tasks, like going to the bank here. It’s exhausting. Or having a key made. Or choosing just the right baguette.
And never mind the amount of mental preparation it takes me to enter a French department store…the frenzy!…the jostling!…les resquilleurs who the cut in line!…(although when I try to do it, I always seem to get nailed.)
And just in case you think I’m picking on the French (I’ll leave that for the US government), it’s a chore to find exactly what you’re looking for, no matter where you live.
Don’t believe me?
Where can you find a Cake Carrier where you live? You probably wouldn’t know where to look either, whether it’s Portland or Peoria (and searching the internet doesn’t count. No cheating.)
Now imagine me mètro-ing around Paris, frantically searching for something that I didn’t even know the name for in French.
(And for some unknown reason, my otherwise excellent French dictionary doesn’t provide a translation for something so important, so vital to one’s existence, as a ‘Cake Carrier’.)
So imagine my surprise when snooping around the enormous BHV department store and finding this cloche de gâteau!
And to top it off, it was only 9 euros!
(If Emile Zola referred to Les Halles as; “The Belly of Paris”, I’d dub the BHV; “The Digestive Tract of Paris” since everyone in Paris needs to go through it at one point or another. And no one comes out exactly the same way as they went in.)
But a Cake Carrier is not something one can easily do without, thank you very much.
If you think it’s not an essential item, you try schlepping a carefully-frosted cake on the steamy mètro, dodging the crush of Parisians during rush hour and see how your cake (and you) fare.
And speaking of baking essentials, here’s something I’ve re-discovered that I tucked into my suitcase at the last-minute when I returned last winter from the US…and you should discover them too:
These are the best!
Oxo tools don’t have a lot of bells-and-whistles: they just work.
These are the best measuring spoons I’ve found. They’re affordable, well-designed, and…if you put liquid ingredients in them, you can rest them on the countertop without them spilling or tipping over.
Sometimes it’s the small things in life that make a baker happy, and these measuring spoons are one of them.
And sometimes it’s the bigger things, like my new cloche de gâteau .
Now I gotta scour Paris looking for corn syrup and pecans in preparation for “Celebrity Foodblogger Survivor” for Katrina disaster relief.
Did you know you already speak French?
It’s true, and I’m not just talking about quiche and Tar-jay.
Franglais is the curious and unlikely (but perhaps inevitable) invasion of English into the French language.
Not since the un-easy (but remarkably convenient) alliance of Franco-American culture, as found in Franco-American ‘Spaghetti-O’s™’ (whose relationship seems more Italian-American…if you ask me), has there been such a near-fatal collision of two diverse cultures and languages.
Here’s some of the more popular Franglais words that I hear on the streets and in cafés;
Très People: Very celebrity-conscious, in reference to People magazine, which curiously isn’t available here.
Le Lifting: Le Plastic Surgery
Le Jogging: Jogging (like that’s something you see a lot in Paris!…)
Les Baskets: Sneakers…which Parisians wear for style, not comfort. Très chic.
Les Thongs: Plastic Flip-flops (in French, the ‘h’ is silent, so it’s not ‘thongs’, like G-strings, you say, “Les Tongs”). And ‘thongs’ (the underwear kind…for both sexes) as well as the plastic ones (for your feet) are quite popular in Europe. I almost bought a thong by accident (you know which kind…) when buying undies a few months ago.
Ouch! Those things look painful.
Les Preservatifs: Male contraception (aka; condoms), Don’t ask a chef is he uses preservatifs unless you’re prepared to get romantically involved.
Le Weekend: The weekend.
(This is interesting since there are only a 23 words in my French dictionary that begin with “W”, and all of them originated from other languages; Walkman, Water polo, W-C, Weekend, Wagon, etc…and when I play Scrabble in French, I always seem to get stuck with the “W”, which is like a cruel joke. It’s such a high-value letter, but I can never find a way to use it. Could that be why I always lose when playing Scrabble in French?… or could it be the unending fountain of points found in French verbs, which French Scrabble players have to their advantage…with 14 different verb tenses to pick and choose from, no wonder they always win!)
Le Shopping: Shopping (ok, that’s another no-brainer, but Americans are better at shopping so it seems fitting that they use an English word when there’s plenty of words they have already in their massive vocabularies.)
McDo’s: McDonald’s (Did you know the French are the largest consumers of McDonald’s in Europe?)
Les Emails: There’s lively controversy whether this is supposed to be plural around here.
We say in English, “I have a hundred emails to read.” but we also say “I can’t get to all of my email today.”. or, “I have a hundred pieces of email to read.”
“I could sure go for a nice, big slab of chocolate cake.”, and we also say (or at least I say), “I’ve could eat chocolate cake all day.”, but also, “Hmmm, look at all those delicious chocolate cakes.”
(Boy, am I glad to be a native-English speaker. Imagine if I’d had to learn to read and write in English…you might not read my blog if I spoke, say, Latvian or Estonian…would you!…unless you were Latvian, or Estonian, I supposed, but then you wouldn’t know who I was. But wait a minute, how do you know who I am??)
Les Teenagers: Teenagers
Les Top Models: Supermodels (however in America they’re revered, and here no one understands our fascination with them.)
Le Gadget: Gadget (which sounds cute when French people say it.)
Le Snack: A relatively new concept, and the reason that the French are getting rounder.
Le Fast Food: Another relatively new concept, and Reason #2 the French are getting rounder
Très Snob: Someone snobbish.
So that’s 15 new, and very au courant words you can add to your French vocabulary.