When I went to get the chicken to make my bisteeya, I wanted to follow the recipe to a T. So I went to the butcher to get a precise amount of chicken in grams. Since I wasn’t sure what one chicken thigh weighed, I took a guess that I might need 3 or 4 thighs. Judging from the reactions I get when ordering things by weight, they don’t get a lot of recipe-testers or cookbook authors shopping at my butcher shop. When the butcher put the poulet fermier thighs on the scale to show me, I wavered, thinking that the quantity looked a bit stingy and perhaps I should get a few extra. Then I started thinking (which often gets me into extra-trouble), “Well, since I’m here, I may as well get a few more.”
The good news about my trip to Sicily is that it wasn’t all eating almond cookies and cannoli, looking for parking spaces in Palermo (and paying one of the fellows lurking about to keep an eye on the car), gorging on fresh ricotta, and wiping and everything you possible can in generous drizzles of the amazing olive oil produced there.
There was “pasta” – made from almond paste, a plate that’d fool even those with sharper eyes than I. We had the aforementioned spleen sandwiches, which I was relieved to hear were not made from pancreas, and we ate salumi (charcuterie) because it was so good that it would have felt like a crime not to. (And I didn’t want to get into trouble in Sicily, if you know what I mean.) Since I only had one week on the island – two days of which were travel days, and two other days were dedicated to work that landed in my Inbox right before the trip – we managed to make the time for a quick trip to Modica.
From day 1, I was instantly smitten with the almond cookies I had in Sicily. Most cafes I went to in Sicily served a variety of sweets to choose from, to go along with coffee – and it’s probably a good thing that cafés in France don’t, because otherwise they’d have to force me out of there with a crowbar.
I’ve been living in what is arguably the center of Europe for a while now (and I’m certain someone will get out their ruler and argue that technically, I don’t actually reside in the precise center of the continent – but let’s just go with that for the sake of the story), I don’t visit other countries as often as I’d like. It’s so easy to just stay home, not worry about airline tickets, packing, making sure you bring enough socks and don’t forget shaving cream, getting to the airport on time, the stress of unpacking everything to pass through security, and being herded onto, then cooped up in, a tight plane for a few hours in a seat that’s just barely big enough to hold a small child.
The reward, however, is arriving somewhere, leaving the airport, and realizing you’re somewhere magnificent. Even if you have to nearly blow-up like a smoldering Sicilian volcano to get there.
Sicily has been at the top of my list for a while now, but by the end of fall, less folks want to travel there. And because it’s not a popular winter destination, airlines heavily reduce their flights to Sicily and I had to do some sleuthing around to find out which one would actually take us there.
I’ve been terribly remiss in a lot of things. I have piles of paperwork stacked around me so high that the mess of papers are tumbling into the others. (Who knows what kind of catastrophe is waiting for me when I accidentally mash-up a recipe, and my French electrical bill?) There are reams of e-mails that I’ve starred so much that my Inbox looks like a planetarium. And I just got back from a trip I and returned to find my apartment a frosty 15º (59ºF) since the heat seems to have stopped working.
And since I’m on a roll here, I spent 3 hours last night trying to figure out how to put a group of pictures into a folder in the new photography program I got to help me organize my photos (which, like my office, aren’t very well-organized), which shouldn’t be that hard. Does anyone else wonder why we spend so much time wrestling with technology, when it’s supposed to make everything easier?
Another thing I’ve been remiss about is getting back to a number of recipes that went away when I changed blogging platforms back in 2006, losing them all to cyberspace. However they apparently continue to exist on search engines because I get messages at regular intervals from random folks wondering where those recipes went.
I don’t gush all that often, but one of the people in Paris that I really admire is Gregory Marchand. He’d probably be a little irked that I said that (or maybe not), but he’s one of the few chefs in Paris that’s been successful at creating what have become some of the best places to eat in the Paris. His restaurant Frenchie is always complet, and I went to Frenchie wine bar the other night, getting there just before opening time, and there was already a line of folks waiting outside for it to open so they could snag a table. And the food, from cornmeal-crusted “nuggets” of sweetbreads to the pulled pork sandwich, was as good – if not better – than dishes I’ve had in multi-starred restaurants. A friend who I worked with in San Francisco was there as well, and he kept giving me the thumbs-up from across the room.
Gregory took a previously deserted street, set up shop, and now it’s a bustling, charming little rue with a seafood shop where the fish is purchased directed from the fisherman, an excellent butcher, and a vegetable shop that has bins of things that you rarely see in Paris, from gorgeous (and giant) citrons from Corsica to leafy greens like dinosaur kale, and crates of curious root vegetables – parsley roots, tiny celeriac, and something else that I forgot the name of, but went by a Latin name that I never heard of before. (So, of course, I want to try it – whatever it was.) I was tempted to pick up a bag of the bright-yellow, smooth quince that were no larger than tennis balls, until I realized how much peeling would be involved. So I put them back.
His other talent, which is perhaps the most profound – and rather challenging, is that he’s great at taking American flavors and using French products, making them appeal to the French palate. This is obvious when you bite into a sandwich at Frenchie To Go, a take-out place with a few stools for those who want to eat & run.
I’ve been thinking for eons about making macaroni and cheese. Well, I suppose I could whittle that down to say that I’ve been thinking about making macaroni and cheese for at least for the last six years. Yet I’d not gotten around to it, even though I live in the land of les fromages exceptionnels. And because of that, there are always knobs and ends of cheese floating around that I’m always looking to use up.
So I was thrilled when I got a copy of Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, a whole book dedicated to the cheesy, carby subject close to many of our hearts. And with gorgeous photos that’ll make you want to grab hold of your grater, knuckles be darned, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find it’s hard not to jump up, head to the kitchen, and start shredding away.
Although there’s some dispute as to where the croissant was invented, it’s become an iconic symbol of Paris. Or at least of Paris bakeries. The most popular story claims that croissants were invented in Austria, during (or after) a period of conflict with Turkey in the 1600s, whose symbol is a crescent. And people were happy to bite into, and chew, a pastry representing their nemesis.
Food everywhere is wrapped up in lots of “who made what,” and there are endless discussions about what belongs to whom, who made it first, who makes is better, who is allowed to claim it, and who has permission to use it. (And so far, I haven’t seen any signs of an international organization overseeing all of that.) So depending on who you believe, it may have been the Austrians, the French, or another butter and pastry-loving country. But it’s hard to imagine Paris without croissants.