Our Tour de France, Part 2

I, myself, have recovered better than my camera’s memory card, which is en route back to Sony, who said they would try to recover the rest of my trip photos. (Yes, I tried recovering software, none of which worked. And I passed on local outfit in Paris, who said they could give it a try…for €400 to €1000.) So in lieu of me shelling out the big bucks to get the photos back, I’m going to wait.

France: Loire & Burgundy

And we’ll all have to be content with some photos I pulled from my iPhone because as much as I like you all, for a thousand euros, I could spend a week on a beach in Greece — with a hefty budget for Retsina.

France: Loire & Burgundy

(On a related topic, two photographer friends advised downloading and backing up photos daily, using high performance memory cards, and realizing that even new memory cards fail, so keep backing up as much as possible. Storing the photos on an external hard drive, or in a cloud, such as Flickr or Dropbox. Although they aren’t fool-proof, they are other ways to guard and store your photos.)

France: Loire & Burgundy

Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, we were heading toward the Loire, where a friend of mine was spending the month. She’s a good cook, and an easy-going vegetarian, and I was happy to arrive to find platters of beautiful fresh vegetables and locally produced goat cheeses, which the Loire is famous for. She was also delighted that we brought vegetables from our friends garden in the Lot, which included a fresh piment d’Espelette pepper, typically used in Basque cooking, and something I wish were grown (and sold) closer to Paris. I love them. If only just outside my window, the landing wasn’t awash with cigarette butts from the neighbors, I could grow something livable out there.

France: Loire & Burgundy

Arriving in the Loire, we were greeted by more iffy weather, that always seemed to be arriving just as we were. But that didn’t stop us from hitting the market in Loches, with a château (another thing that the Loire is known for) overlooking the city.

France: Loire & Burgundy

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Fresh Corn Soup

corn soup recipe

When I was on book tour last spring, a charming woman brought me a personally signed cookbook that she thought might have once been mine. As some might know, I am still waiting for the two cases of cookbooks that were signed to me, that I sent from the states to Paris when I moved over a decade ago. Yes, I’ve been patient. Every time there’s a knock on my door, I think that – yes – this is finally the moment when me and my precious, irreplaceable cookbooks, will be reunited.

corn soup recipe

Yet I have to tell you, I was starting to lose faith. I know, I know. I should keep my optimism aloft. But that woman brought a glimmer of hope (thanks!) by handing me this worn, paperback volume of The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis.

Edna Lewis Cookbook

However two pages after the dedication to “David,” in June of 1987 (which would be about the right timeline), there’s another dedication to someone whose name begins with “S”, who had it signed by Miss Lewis in March. So there’s a mystery there, as somehow it got re-signed just three months later. Hmmmm…another mystery begins?

eggs and vintage gratin dishes

I had the pleasure of meeting Miss Lewis, as she was called, who had a lovely, quiet dignity about her. She was probably the most soft-spoken person I’d ever met, and you had to lean in very, very closely when she spoke. She was also beautiful, with a lean face, a prominent nose, and exquisite long grey hair pulled tightly back into a bun or ponytail, as if she was already ready to cook something. Famed cookbook editor Judith Jones took her on as an author, perhaps seeing the same appeal of her honest Southern cooking, that she did in Julia Child’s book – and take – on classic French food as well.

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Our Tour de France

Goat cheeses

The French often say, “There’s no need to leave France – we have everything here!” While it’s easy to brush it off as chauvinism, it’s true — for a country that could fit inside of Texas, there is a huge diversity of climates and terrains in one, single country. You can find everything in l’hexagone, from the windy shores of Brittany (where we’ve huddled around the fireplace, wearing sweaters in Augusts of yore), to the sunny south, where beaches are clogged with tourists and the few locals that choose to stay in town, to bask in the abundant sun of the Mediterranean.

The Lot

After living in France for a while, I sometimes get the feeling that the country never gets a break on the summer weather. While it can be gorgeous, we were told that the day after we left Paris, the weather turned grey and cool. And while we had some nice days during our two weeks of travel, we hit quite a bit of uncooperative weather ourselves, that always seemed to be creeping up on us.

France

Being from San Francisco, I never look at forecasts and simply plan for everything. And anything. (And you’ll see that in spite of my best efforts with photo editing software, I was unable to add in sunshine to the shots.)

gazpacho

Since we were mostly éponging (sponging) off friends, by staying with them as we traveled, I had to brush up on my morning small-talk skills. I’m hopelessly terrible at responding to enthusiastic greetings of “Good morning!!” or “Hi! How did you sleep?” first thing in the morning.

Boucherie

It doesn’t help that Romain is so talkative first thing in the morning that I often check his back, to see if I can take the batteries out. I need at least thirty minutes, minimum, to adjust to the new day – preferably without any commentary.

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Chermoula

chermoula recipe-9

The editor for My Paris Kitchen came to Paris last week. Since we’d spent two years working together on a book about my kitchen, I figured – at long last – we’d be able to dine tête-a-tête, in my actual Paris kitchen. So I invited her for dinner.

Chermoula

We were in touch nearly every day for the last few months as I raced toward the finish line, and went had plenty of back-and-forths about every little detail. And since the dinner was somewhat of a celebration of finally leaning back after all that work and relaxing together, I wanted to make her something from the book. (Although I did think it might have been funny if I’d ordered a take-away pizza, and served that to her. But I thought better of it.)

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Ricotta Ice Cream

Ricotta ice cream recipe

When I was in Sicily, either it slipped my mind, or my mind is slipping, because for one evening, I was supposed to be responsible for making something for dessert. I was offered a number of beautiful things to cook or bake with, and my mind kept wandering back to the heavenly ricotta cheese that we’d seen being made earlier that day.

Since we brought home a few big strainers of the just-set ricotta, I couldn’t resist putting one to use in ice cream. I blended up the cheese with some milk, a few spoonfuls of local honey, and made a luxurious pine nut brittle to crumble into the ice cream, called a croccante. I figured, “Heck, we’re in Sicily. I’m dumping a whole bunch of pine nuts into ice cream. Whee! Here I go…!”, assuming they were not so expensive there.

candied citron

My gracious hostess didn’t say anything, but I didn’t realize until later that I used what was probably the equivalent of the monthly mortgage on the house to mix into my single batch of ice cream. Fortunately everyone ate every last spoonful of ice cream, so they didn’t go to waste. (Whew!) But when I got home, I decided when I shared to recipe, to take an easier…and less-costly…route.

Sicilian gelato is traditionally made with milk and no eggs, but I decided to go with cream when I got home because the ice cream would become very hard to scoop otherwise. (After the recipe, I give guidelines to make the version I made without eggs, although I recommend using half-and-half or cream for a better texture.) Gelaterias get around that problem by storing their ice cream in freezers that aren’t as cold as home freezers, so the ice cream is scoopable.

pistachio nuts

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Corsica

Corsica

I finally got to Corsica. I’d heard so much about it. But somehow, I’d never made it there. Corsica is a large island off the Mediterranean coast of France, which has had a rather back-and-forth relationship with France. But the short story is that it was back under French rule in 1796, where it’s firmly (although to some, precariously) remained.

Corsica

Its most famous resident was – and still is – Napoléon Bonaparte. And the airport in Ajaccio, where we flew into from Paris is named after him. since he was born there.

Corsica

Our friend who we were rendez-vous-ing with was arriving in the early evening, so we had some time to stroll around the city. We started at the excellent Musée Fesch, named for the uncle of Napoléon, who was a collector of Italian art. The current exhibition featured classic paintings, paired with recent work by Andres Serrano, an artist most famous for submerging a crucifix in pipi.

Corsica

The photograph of that was the only work in the museum that was protected by Plexiglas and there was an interesting few paragraphs that accompanied it, offering a little explanation, ending with “typical American culture….politically correct.”

When I arrived in France, my second French teacher asked me, “Why are Americans so politically correct?” It’s been over a decade and I’m still not sure I have an answer. (Or, being from San Francisco, know why that is even a question.) But a reader noted that there was an attack on the photo in France as well. So even if it’s not typique, I guess I should be glad to know we share the title, at times, for being PC. Or whatever you want to call it when it comes to religious icons. However perhaps in this case, it’s best to leave the “P” out of it.

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Le Servan

Le Servan Paris chocolate caramel tart

I’m not always in agreement with those that say dining out in Paris is expensive. For example, last week I found myself with a rare moment of free time at lunch, and I pinged a neighbor, who unfortunately replied that he was out of town, like the rest of Paris in the summer. So I decided to go to Le Servan by myself, a restaurant I’d been hearing a lot about. And since it’s “hot”, I figured lunch would be the perfect time to go. And I was right. Although it filled after I got there, I managed to get there during the “sweet spot”, and grab a stool at the counter, where I had a terrific lunch for €23, all by my lonesome.

If you think about it, that’s three courses of food made with fresh ingredients, prepared by a highly competent staff. The price includes tax and tip, which in the states, would mean that about one-third of that total would be earmarked for those extras, and the meal itself would cost roughly €15. Yikes. Of course, one often adds a glass of wine – I had a nice Vouvray for €6 – so my meal deal clocked in at €29. But either way, I can’t imagine getting a meal like I had in, say…New York, London, or San Francisco. Because I liked it so much, I went back the next day with Romain.

aargh

Unfortunately the next day didn’t start off very well. Like, at all. But as Gloria Gaynor famously said — or sang — “I will survive.” (Although she didn’t sing it in French.) But good food, and wine, heals a lot – although not all – and it was nice to get a particularly bad taste from the morning affairs out of our mouths.

Two glasses of surprisingly inky rosé from the Loire did the trick. They were deeply colored, with the slightly maderized (sherry-like) taste that one often finds in natural wines, which have been left to their own devices.

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Update: A l’Etoile d’Or

A l'Etoile d'Or

If you’d ever stepped into A l’Etoile d’Or, the candy and chocolate shop located just down the hill from the Moulin Rouge windmill, near Montmartre, it wouldn’t have taken you long to know you had entered somewhere special.

It might have taken a few minutes, especially if Madame Acabo was occupied with other customers. But as soon as her attention was turned on you, you were immediately taken under her wing, and guided around the shop, exploring all the various soft and hard candied in the vintage jars, flavored with everything from bergamot to caramel. You might have learned what was hiding inside the vibrant-colored purple jellies. (It was liquid cassis, and tasted like purple manna from heaven.)

With a snip of her scissors, Madame Acabo might have given you a taste from one of the ropes of marshmallows, scented with Madagascar vanilla bean or fragrant bergamot peel. There were caramel-filled caramels, salted butter caramels by Henri Le Roux, mango-passion fruit caramels from Jacques Genin, crisp caramelized almonds from Montargis, and caramel-filled squares of chocolate, with a wisp of a brown sugar cookie tucked inside.

A l'Etoile d'Or

Speaking of chocolate, if you liked chocolate, this was the shop for you. Lining the shelves were bars from France’s best bean-to-bar chocolate makers, from Bonnat to Bernachon, and she was the only person outside of the original Bernachon shop in Lyon that was given the privilege of carrying their chocolate bars. (She told me she got down on her hands and knees and begged them to let her carry them. Happily for us – it worked!)

With a table heaped with tablets of their chocolate bars, with flavors ranging from Moka (made by grinding coffee beans together with cacao beans), Jour et nuit (half milk chocolate, half dark chocolate), and ivory-colored white chocolate bars, it was rare if I left there without at least two or three bars from one of the stacks, which would always include Kalouga, my gold-standard for caramel-filled chocolate bars, which oozed gooey salted butter caramel when you snapped off the end.

A l'Etoile d'Or

Denise Acabo spent decades sourcing the best chocolates and candies in France, many of which were rare and hard-to-find, which she displayed in polished wooden showcases. Her distinctive handwriting made everything more charming. It didn’t matter, who you were, or where you were from; the minute she caught your attention, you became part of her family.

It wasn’t unusual to find a small crowd in her little shop, with everyone from clusters of tourists, some just wandering in, curious about the shop with all the chocolates and confections in the windows, to famous actors and notable figures who lived in the neighborhood, grabbing a box of chocolate to take to a dinner party. Although it’s rare that chocolatiers heap praise on other people selling chocolates in Paris, the face of every chocolatier would bloom into a wide smile when her name was mentioned.

Continue Reading Update: A l’Etoile d’Or…