L.A.

LA

I’m one of those people who loves Los Angeles. Even rarer, I’m one of those San Franciscans who loves Los Angeles. Each sometimes writes off the other, and the two big cities in California are often at odds with each other. One is serious, grey, and a little foreboding and mysterious. The other sunny and warm, with an upbeat attitude that even after visiting for the umpteenth time, I find refreshing. And it always makes me happy to be in LA.

LA

My first “Aha!” moment on this visit was when I woke up the morning after dinner at République, the stunning restaurant that took over the space of the former Campanile restaurant. I took the elevator up to the breakfast room of my hotel, on the top floor. When the door opened, my eyes took a moment to adjust after being greeted by a sky so bright-blue, I was wondering why I had spent so many years trying to stay warm under the blanket of chilly fog of San Francisco.

So a poolside breakfast it was, a plate of scrambled egg whites with kale, squash, avocados and Sriracha sauce, along with a thermos of coffee, and a terrace view. I was ready to move in.

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Onward…

Stiles BBQ in Austin

One thing vegans and vegetarians don’t have to worry about is going into a “meat coma.” But I do, as I’ve been in one twice during my week in Texas. On a previous trip, my friend Matt (who own Tèo gelato and espresso shop, in Austin – and is a must-stop) whisked me away from the airport and took me straight out to Lockhart, known for its excellent bbq joints. However since my free time was limited to little less than three hours, total, we decided to stay within the city limits of Austin (or at least nearby) and get my bbq fix there.

Stiles BBQ in Austin

Matt told me the two places that were more convenient, since I was pressed for time, and when we drove by Franklin Barbecue and saw what is said to be a three-hour wait (people were, indeed, lined up, sitting in lawn chairs, with coolers of beer), I said, “Keep going…” and we pulled up to Stiles Switch BBQ.

And once inside, I was glad we did. The super-friendly staff at the counter provided yet another Texas-style welcome, spending time telling us about the different kinds of meats, after they found out I lived in Paris. While I appreciated the introduction, I had already honed in one the brisket, the beef ribs, and the pork ribs. All were excellent, but the beef rib was especially good and if that had been my last meal ever, I would have been happy.

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The Readjustment, and Lockhart Smokehouse BBQ

Lockhart Smokehouse BBQ

It takes me a few days to readjust to life when I come back to the U.S.A. On our last trip, as we stepped off the plane at Dulles, we were confronted with a huge picture of a giant overstuffed sandwich plastered on the wall of a restaurant, which was aptly named, Potbelly. Like the clever titling of The Pretty Kitty salon that I passed the other day in Dallas, whose speciality was Brazilian waxing, I admired the witty double-meaning. (Albeit referring to a place a little farther south.) But I had assumed the only places where a big belly was à la mode were Polynesian places like Guam and Hawaii. Years back, I did an event with a bunch of nice Hawaiians on the Big Island, who invited me to an after-party. Hûi! I’d never seen so much unrestrained indulging in my life. It was funny being at a party where their weren’t many people, but it was very crowded nonetheless because a big belly is a sign of contentment. (Am not sure what a Brazilian waxing is a sign of.)

Lockheart Smokehouse

After arrival in the States, some things I get up-to-speed with right away – customer service, sidewalks not being a constant game of “chicken”, folks politely apologizing if they happen to get in your way, and clean public bathrooms. Other things, like men calling each other “bro”, waiters stopping by every three minutes to see if anything has changed since the last three minutes that they stopped by to ask you if everything is okay, the proliferation of cooking as a competitive activity, and total strangers taking an intense interest in your welfare: My hotel was kind enough to call my room two hours after I’d arrived, after eleven hours of flying, to see if everything was okay. I wanted to say, Well, it was…until you called and woke me up.” But slipping into my polite American mode, I mumbled under my fog of jet lag into the phone, “Everything is okay” instead of saying, “Actually, no, everything is no longer okay. You woke me up and now it’s going to take me seven hours to get back to sleep.”

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Wild Garlic (or Ramps) Pasta

Ramp/Wild Garlic pasta

I’ve become weary – and wary – of the American aisles in European supermarkets. And have come to the conclusion that people think we all eat badly because we live on bottled salad dressings, orange cheese in squirt bottles, and strawberry Fluff, which is something I’ve never seen in America. And I like Fluff just fine. (Just the plain, though. The red scares me. However truth be told, I’ve been known to succumb to the magic of Lucky Charms, a long time ago.) But when that’s the sole image representing American food, it’s sad to me, because we’ve had a wonderful renaissance in the last few decades of marvelous farmers’ markets sprouting up everywhere, even in the middle of the most urban city in the world, New York.

Ramp/Wild Garlic pasta

Of course, no one is exporting fresh American goat cheese to France, farm eggs, small-batch jams, or artisan honeys, since they have those things in abundance here. (And the French have their share of goofy foods, too, including unusual flavors of tinned ravioli, but they don’t seem to make it across the Atlantic.)

Ramp/Wild Garlic pasta

In Switzerland recently, while touring with my group, I noticed at the sweet little auberge near Lausanne where we had dinner the final night, that the blackboard propping the door open said the plat du jour was fondue with bear’s garlic (ail des ours). Although lunch that day was cheese beignets, and dinner the night before was fondue at Café Grütli, and we’d had a cheese-tasting that afternoon at a cheese-ripening cave, for some reason, I was hungry for yet another hit of melted cheese. Happily, the owner was kind enough to bring me, and my group, a small pot for a taste. And let me tell you, if we weren’t facing another full-on dinner of Swiss food, I would have scraped that entire pot clean.

Ramp/Wild Garlic pasta

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Bacon and Radicchio Risotto

Bacon and Radicchio Risotto

I don’t make risotto nearly as much as I should. I never order it in a restaurant unless I’m absolutely sure they’re going to do it right because there’s nothing worse than a not-very-good risotto. But there’s nothing better than a good one. Especially a good one with bacon in it.

Bacon and Radicchio Risotto

One night, back when I was working at Chez Panisse, Paul Bertolli, one of the world’s great cooks (Italian, and otherwise), was standing over the stove, tending to steamy pots of risotto for diners. So I go over to him and ask him for a lesson. And he was happy to teach me. As he presided over several pots of barely simmering rice, I got a few pointers from him.

Bacon and Radicchio Risotto

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Lillet

Lillet

I’m not sure how I discovered Lillet, an orange-infused apéritif wine, made in a town on a road between Sauternes and Bordeaux, but I remember driving through the area and making my friend screech to a halt when we (almost) passed the Lillet factory.

Factory probably isn’t the best word, but macerbatorium probably sounds a little dodgy, but when we walked in, we found ourselves in front of an astounding amount of oranges and shards of bark, bobbing up and down, as they macerated in vats of wine. While that was certainly a riveting sight, equally enticing was the silver daddy who was very easy on the eyes, who took us through the facility, explaining the process of making the famed apéritif wine, then joining us for a little dégustation.

Lillet

It was hard to concentrate on the beverages clinking in our glasses, but I did my best. (I swear.) And I bought a bottle as a souvenir, likely as a pretext for letting us snap a picture of the two of us together, which had a hallowed place over my desk for well over a decade. I don’t know what happened to that picture, but I still pine for Lillet to this day. Interestingly, it’s rare that you find Lillet served in Paris and if you ask around, you’d be hard-pressed to find very many people in town that even know what it is. (Readers of The Sweet Life in Paris know what I was served the first time I tried to order it in a café, which I’m still living down.)

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My Paris Kitchen book tour

My Paris Kitchen

I’ve finally reached a milestone in my life because I am actually going on a book tour. Yes, I can barely believe it myself. After years of publishers hiding me, aka “the loose cannon,” they are releasing me into the wild. I’ll be heading to the U.S. and Vancouver for a series of events to mark the release of My Paris Kitchen. While I’d love to go everywhere*, there’s only one (1) of me, and fifty (50) states – not to mention the provinces, territories, and wilds of Canada. However, if anyone can get me to Hawaii and arrange an event close to the beach, I will work on my publisher to find a way to accommodate that one. (But you may have to invite them to come with me.) So, in spite of how easy the airlines make it to change tickets, and the low-fees involved in doing so, this is it.

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The Making of My Paris Kitchen

My Paris Kitchen Photoshoot

(Photo by Ed Anderson)

My Paris Kitchen is finally here! It’s taken me a few years to get to this day, and I thought I’d give you a little look behind-the-scenes of how the book was created. There’s a certain amount of conversation about blogs versus cookbooks, and since I have a foot in both, I am keenly aware of the connection between the two, but also what makes them different.

My Paris Kitchen Photoshoot

There’s a lot of talk about whether food blogs are overtaking traditional cookbooks. What’s changing – in my view – is that people are looking for something else in a cookbook – not just collections of recipes, which can be found online, but a storyline that carries the book. I read blogs when I’m sitting in front of my computer, but I love settling into a chair (or cozy bed) with a good cookbook, and reading all the stories that accompany the recipes.

So when people ask me, “What’s your book about?” I answer that it’s a story about how I cook in Paris – where I shop, how I find ingredients, the friends I like to cook with, as well as recipes from Parisian friends, chefs, and pastry chefs, with plenty of photos (and stories) of the outdoor markets, pastry shops, bread bakeries, bistros, and cafés. The book starts with recipes and stories for l’heure de l’apéro (cocktail hour), and goes through soups, salads, and main courses, before heading to dessert, ending with a spectacular bûche de Noël, that concludes the year across France on a sweet note.

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