If you’ve ever wondered how French pastry shops make cream puffs with that distinctive decorative crackly topping, look no further. (If you’ve never wondered, you can skip to the next entry.) The topping is called craquelin, a simple dough that’s easily put together and is a nifty little trick to gussy up ordinary cream puffs.
Although it doesn’t quite translate, Dieu merci, c’est vendredi – or as I’m going to say in English, Thank God It’s Friday (TGIF), because it’s been quite a week. (On a related note, I was recently informed by a French friend that a 4-day weekend is not a vacation – it’s just a few days off, or a pont (bridge.) But even though I took an actual vacation, it’s been tough getting back up to speed.
Since we all live in a 24/7 society, as you likely can attest to, just because you go away doesn’t mean you can “get away from it all.” There is always something to deal with; urgent recipe questions (It’s funny when people say something food-related is “urgent” – unless there is a famine or a natural catastrophe…or another disaster of similar proportion, I’m not sure it quite qualifies as “urgent”), paperwork, sorting through pictures, and dealing with travel arrangements, including the all-important act of making sure you have a decent seat on the plane home.)
Then there is a pile up when you get back; stuff that needs to be dealt with right-away; a backlog of mail, correcting typos and grammatical errors in blog entries, accepting invitations, declining invitations, writing back to the response you’ve gotten after you’ve declined, reading and responding to the response asking if you’re available another time, figuring out why teenagers would congregate in the alcove down the street that smells like pipi, realizing that there is a near-urgent need for you to restock your butter supply, and testing some recipes that have been on your mind for your blog.
The fun of having a blog is that you get to try to share recipes that you find interesting. I try to put a mix of original recipes, recipes from recent cookbooks, a few oldies but goodies from cookbooks in my collections, and occasionally one from a cooking magazine that catches my eye. Along the way – especially this week – there have been a couple of goofs. The King Arthur Flour company always presents a hilarious round-up of their test kitchen goofs each year on April Fool’s Day. But since I can’t wait that long, I decided to share a few.
I was recently inundated with a few barquettes of fresh figs that I bought at a local flea market, where all of the vendors seemed to be from the countryside (who, as this map points out, Parisians consider paysannes, or peasants.) Call me a paysan, but I happen to like them regardless of what other’s say or think, and as I picked up a number of vintage jam jars, I also was able to trade valuable jam-making tips with some of the friendly men and women selling their wares.
One guy had three barquettes of figs and because he’s not Parisian and in a constant hurry, he had to count out each fig, one-by-one, speaking aloud about what kind of price to come up with, and how he needed to charge me per-fig. (We have a lot of fees and stuff in France, so at some point, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when there is a per-fig surcharge.) Um, okay. He slo-o-o-wly told me about the history of each fig as I stood there hyperventilating because of the all the bargains that were being snapped up around me, and my shoulder ready to fall off with my bag-full of heavy glass jam jars and the Saint James marinière (striped sweater) that was almost new and was a mere 50 cents, which I got so I can look a little more French. Although I’d have to stop shaving for three days if I really wanted to complete the look. (I also saw a hipster wearing a half-length cape the other day, and I’m not ready to go there, either.)
Many moons ago, I worked with Bruce Cost at the now-shuttered Monsoon restaurant in San Francisco. Bruce is an amazing Asian cook and I’ve rarely had better Chinese food than what came out of his wok. Early on, he prompted me to make a sharp, gingery syrup that we could serve at the bar, as an elixir, mixed with fresh lime juice and sparkling water. And although the customers loved it, the reason I later found out why I was going through so much ginger syrup every week was that the staff liked it even more.
In Australia, I remember seeing big bins of fresh ginger in the supermarket (I always try to go to a supermarket in a foreign country – it’s one of my favorite things to do.) And when I was telling some Australians how intriguing it was how they’ve adopted Asian ingredients, like fresh ginger, into their cuisine, a few looked at me kind of funny,and said that they considered fresh ginger just be to an ingredient they happened to use frequently – not necessarily Asian.
It amuses me to see outfits that promise to let folks “experience Paris like a local!” While there’s lots too see and do here as a visitor, I wonder why so many people want to come and experience the more mundane aspects of life in a city, such as calling the gas company to find out why your bill is 300% over what it is supposed to be, or dealing with a forest’s-worth of paperwork that would make the most anti-environmentalist weep, when they could be exploring world-class museums, dining in historic bistros, visiting amazing chocolate shops, and gorging themselves on sublime cheeses all day?
When I’m on vacation, I want to be on vacation, thanks. But every so often, I try being a tourist is my own city. Because I get to stroll around and discover wonderful new places, as I did when walking near the Jardin du Luxembourg and passed by La Coop.
A visit to France is, of course, a cheese-lovers dream. And for those who come and want to experience a variety of French cheeses in Paris, there are a number of places that offer dégustations (tastings) as well as tours and wine pairings with experts. Most are in English and in the boutiques that offer cheese tasting plates, there is normally someone on hand who will happily explain all the different cheeses. Here’s a list of places that offer a variety of experiences for anyone interesting in sampling les fromages:
Madame Hisada: Specialty cheese shop with salon offering dégustation platters.
Fil’O'Fromage: Cheese shop and restaurant, with tasting plates.
Meeting the French: Wine and cheese tastings.
Chez Virginie: Cheese shop with guided tastings.
Le Foodist: Wine and cheese pairings and tastings.
La Coop: Cheese cooperative from the Savoy region offers self-guided cheese tastings.
La Cuisine: Guided cheese tasting workshops.
Marie-Anne Cantin: Guided cheese tastings.
La Vache dans Les Vignes: Cheese tasting plates.
Paris by Mouth: Cheese tastings and walking tours.
Ô Chateau: Wine and cheese tasting lunches.
Cook’n with Class: Wine and cheese tasting, and pairing classes.
Note: In addition to the organized cheese tastings listed above, you can generally go into a wine bar and order a selection of cheeses (and wine, of course) to sample. Although the tastings aren’t guided, the staff will generally be able to tell you about the cheeses.
I usually have to spend a lot of time speaking in the conditional around here (using “it could be said that”, or “in most cases”…which is starting to make me sound like a politician) because there are always exceptions to every rule. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that one rule that is almost steadfast in France is that glasses are rarely filled more than half-full. (Noticed how slyly I popped in “almost” and “rarely”- which are obvious proof that it’s going to be a hard habit for me to break.) It was never explained to me why, or in the case of a glass being half-empty, why not. Yet I think it’s one of those “only in France” rules that gets implemented because a full glass is simply pas joli, or not attractive.
It’s a hard concept for us Americans to fathom, a place where full=better, and an oversized steak hanging over the edges of a plate is more appealing than a few slices of beef neatly plated up and arranged on the plate. And it amuses me that many people judge the quality of a restaurant by how full they are when they leave. Probably the biggest complaint, in fact, you hear coming from people when they didn’t like a place was because they left and weren’t full.
I don’t know how that’s possible because when I go back to the states, I can barely make it though my main course because the appetizers are about the same size as a French plat principal. And I am bound to be stripped of my San Francisco stripes because I can no longer make it through a Mission burrito. But when it comes to wine, I somehow find the willpower to get through whatever is put in front of me.
Whew! It feels good to be back. I go caught up on a whole bunch of stuff. But boy, do I need a drink. Good thing I have this barrel of Negronis on hand. I featured my rotund wooden beauty in a recent newsletter, although I was concerned about mentioning my Negronis on social media because I often get in trouble with auto-corrected text. But there’s nothing to “clean up” after a few Negronis except perhaps you, and your guests.
I am in love with my barrel and was delighted when a friend in Paris saw it in my newsletter and called right away to tell me she had an old barrel holding up a bookshelf in her house, and brought it by as a gift the other day. However when I filled the it with water, it became what is probably the first indoor water sprinkler, with water spraying everywhere from between the bulging staves. So I’m glad to have a “pro” model to fall back on.