A few years ago, a good friend who has sadly moved away, was kind enough to take me to Restaurant Le Meurice for dinner. The first memory of walking into the done-up dining room was the way the waiters brought her an Hermès stool for her purse, which was an Hermès Kelly bag. The second memory I have, was shortly after when we sat down and they asked if we wanted apéritifs. I’d heard about the house apéritif they were serving back then, which was famous, so I ordered one.
Results tagged French from David Lebovitz
I had to put a moratorium on jam-making this year because I realized I had enough jam to last a normal person, who doesn’t have a French partner, at least ten years. (I’m not naming any names, but one Frenchman in particular can go through half a jar at one breakfast alone.) But one thing I can’t make is honey, in spite of the fact that I am certainly capable of giving a nasty sting every once in a while. It wasn’t until I moved to France that I fell in love with the stuff.
When I led tours, I’d bring guests to honey shops and people would just kind of look around – or look over me, perhaps wondering when we were getting to the chocolate – as I started to explain fabulous wonders of French honey. And am not sure how convincing I was, but since I have a captive audience here (don’t touch that mouse!), as well as a cabinet-full of the stuff, I decided that as I started to clean out my honey larder, I’d also come clean about my love for the stuff.
Various honeys are said to have various properties. I don’t sit down to breakfast and think about all the polyhydroxy phenols and bioflavonoids, or how my body is going through phagocytosis or endocytosis while I eat my toast and sip my orange juice and wonder how the heck I’m going to make it through another day. (And I have nothing against polyhydroxy pheols or phagocytosis, it’s just that they’re not popular topics at my breakfast table.) On the whole, I eat pretty healthy stuff and am not one to think about the health benefits of food. I don’t need justification, ie: antioxidants, to eat chocolate. I just eat it – and thinking that you’re going to get healthy from eating cheesecake because you put a tablet of vitamin C in it is kind of ridiculous, if you ask me. So geez, just eat!
Someone told me that the English language has more words than the French language, which I don’t believe – although to be honest, I’ve never counted. I know English can be kind of kooky at at times, but I don’t think we have multiple words for the same things, from a dozen different words for sinks, to a panoply of words for helmets, depending on what vehicle one is sitting on when wearing it.
However I can attest that there are, indeed, fourteen verb tenses in French versus six in English, which is why I always get my derrière whooped when I play Scrabble in French. According to my handy book of French verbs, many of the verb conjugations are ‘mood related’, to express how someone feels. So je suis (I am) becomes je sois, because you or more to the point – I just absolutely, positively, have to be.
And then there’s the fact that even in one particular tense, like when talking about the present, each verb is spelled differently. Whereas in English, we say I think, You think, We think, They think – spelling the word “think” exactly the same way – in French, each pronoun determines the way the verb is spelled, which changes each time. So it’s Je pense, Vouz pensez, Nous pensons. And yes, I did have to consult my book of French verbs to make sure I got those write. Er, I mean, right. (Gotcha! And you were about to pull that “grammar police” alarm. I told you English can be kooky, too.) So if you want to know why the French are nervously pulling drags off cigarettes, it’s because of the stress of conjugating all those dang verbs.
Susan Loomis has lived in France for over twenty years, starting off in Paris, then moving with her family to an old house in Normandy that they refurbished, a story which she recounted in her best-selling book, On Rue Tatin. I’ve spent a lot of time with Susan at her home, cooking up a storm, then enjoying a wonderful meal afterwords, either outside on her lawn with the Gothic cathedral of Louviers towering over us, or in the winter, in her dining room, dining by the roaring fire.
Each meal begins with an apéritif, usually a nice glass of white wine or shot of pommeau, a barrel-aged mix of apple juice and Calvados, the local apple brandy. (Calvados usually makes an appearance after most dinners in Normandy as well.) But in all of France, l’heure d’apéro (apéritif hour) usually means that an assortment of snacks are brought out to accompany the drinks.
A while back, someone sent me a message asking about the availability of a certain French cheese that a French friend, who now lives in the United States, was constantly raving about. It took me a moment to figure out how I knew the name, until I realized that they were talking about fromage à tartiner, otherwise known as cream cheese.
Cream cheese is very popular in France and many pâtisseries even have a version of le Cheesecake in their showcases. It’s never as rich or dense as the American version because there isn’t the overload of cream cheese in it (I don’t have my recipe handy, but I think it calls for four blocks of cream cheese), but some aren’t bad. Many of the versions in France are made with a high proportion of fromage blanc, a fresh cheese with a gentle tang, vaguely similar to yogurt or sour cream, but not-so-rich and missing the aggressiveness of yogurt
The French have taken so much to cream cheese that last year, the company that makes Philadelphia cream cheese finally wised up and dropped their prices dramatically, making it the same price as the other brands. But none can replicate the appeal of Kiri.
Some time ago I switched my allegiance to grainy bread. Perhaps it was because I was thinking, “If I’m going to eat all this bread around here, I should at least be eating grainy bread.” Or perhaps I got bored with the one-note flavors of white bread, and began enjoying the fuller flavors of whole grain loaves. But over the last few weeks, while I’ve been in between kitchens (and toasters), I now wake up each morning with the sole goal of scoring a fresh baguette for breakfast.
I’m often asked what I would miss about Paris when I’m not here, and although you can pretty much get anything you want nowadays anywhere in the world (thank you, internet…well, I think…), the bread in Paris is still pretty great. Not every bakery makes a good baguette, but when you get a perfect specimen, one that crunches audibly when you bite through the crust and the inside has a creamy color and a slight tang from a bit of levain – save for a swipe of good butter or a bit of cheese – anything else is simply unnecessary.
I’ve been going through my kitchen cabinets, and refrigerator…and freezer…and desk drawers, which has meant unearthing all sorts of odds and ends. Some were long-forgotten for a reason, and others brought back fond memories. Like the Pyrex glass container in my refrigerator encasing some remarkably well-preserved slices of candied citron. When I pulled the sticky citrus sections out, I realized that they don’t look quite as pretty as they did last year – which is okay, because neither do I – but they still tasted great. And the flavor of candied citron prompted me to make something I love: panforte.
I just learned a few more words to add to my French vocabulary while in the throes of remodeling this week. I already wrote about the five or six words in French for sink. And I finally got the difference between a mitigeur and a robinet (a mitigeur has one knob “mixes” the water, and a robinet has two knobs). Fortunately the word is the same no matter what size sink you have. Well, unless you have a commercial sink, in which case it’s a mélangeur. So if you ever come to France and want to find a faucet for a hospital sink, you can thank me for saving you three weeks of work.
Speaking of work, my quest for regular floor tiles finally came to an end last Friday. I was looking for off-white tiles that had to meet three criteria; 1) They couldn’t be insanely expensive (which wiped out about three-quarters of the tiles I saw), 2) They couldn’t have beige in them (Why would anyone want white tiles tinted with beige, which right out of the box makes them look old and dirty?), and 3) They couldn’t be ugly. (I know they’re just going to see the bottom of your shoes, but why are the majority of tiles ugly?)