Let’s stop kidding ourselves. Just like “muffin” is basically another word for cake, granola doesn’t have to be strictly “health food.” In fact, some granolas are so sweet they could easily qualify as candy. But since I tend to spend the better part of the day roaming around my apartment, sticking my hand in various boxes and jars of stuff to eat (some that qualify as health food, while other things that don’t quite fit that definition), I wanted to come up with a granola (called muesli, in French) that I didn’t feel so guilty about dipping my hand into throughout the day.
Results tagged honey from David Lebovitz
When I take visitors through those big glass doors of the La Grande Épicerie in Paris, the first stop may very well be the spectacular pastry section, where fanciful cakes wrapped with ribbons of chocolate, or covered with a spun-sugar lattice topping, are proudly displayed in glass showcases like jewels.
In the corner, less obvious, are the sweets for le grignotages, or snacking. (Which they also call le snacking, in French.) Among the sugar-topped chouquettes and scalloped madeleines, are squares of candied almond-covered shortbread, called miella. Although they don’t grab your eye with the same intensity as the surrounding pastries, they are my favorite thing in the showcase and I am borderline addicted to them. When I point them out to people, they rarely show the same enthusiasm as I do, being more transfixed by the rows and rows of colorful macarons and glossy éclairs. “Tant pis” (tough sh*t, or more politely “too bad”) as they say – more for me!
Fortunately, I am able to limit my consumption to the occasional trips across Paris, when I feel the need to do some damage at the grandest culinary supermarket in town. Not that I need an excuse to go there, but it’s probably best I don’t have easy access to those caramelized almond-honey squares. (And the three aisles of chocolate bars.) Well, until now.
I don’t regularly watch American cooking programs and competitions, although occasionally I come across them on TV here in France, dubbed (Version Française, or VF), which makes them less interesting to watch. And I don’t go to those cooking vacations where chefs come and cook for guests on tropical islands because, frankly, I’m never asked. (Although unbelievably, I did just get an email from a public relations person, which contained links and photos to one of those food festivals, asking me to write a post on my blog about it…even though I wasn’t there.)
So I decided to spare you a post with someone else’s photos about an event that I didn’t even go to. But while everyone else was frolicking on the beach sipping tiki cocktails with their favorite chefs, I was at home, reading. One thing that caught my eye in the newspaper was an article about Bobby Flay – who often appears on television and probably gets to go to those food festivals – regarding a new restaurant he is opening in New York after a hiatus from restaurant cooking.
Unlike writing about faux vacations, I was much more intrigued by a recipe for Chicken with Roquefort cheese that accompanied the article. So I went to the market and came home with a big hunk (unfortunately, not the guy from the Auvergne who sells sausages and terrines, with the dreamy smile..) of the blue-green veined cheese that happens to be the first AOC designated food in France.
(The AOC designation was enacted in 1925, and was meant to control and protect production and quality standards. See how much more important reading and researching is, rather than sitting at a bar by the ocean, drinking rum cocktails with warm sand under your feet?)
Due to our closeness to Italy, it’s fairly easy to find an Italian épicerie in almost any Parisian neighborhood. (Although locating an authentic Italian espresso is a little more elusive.) I’m fortunate because there are two excellent Italian épiceries (speciality food shops) close to where I live, but most of the places get their items from a distributor, which means the selection is somewhat narrow. Few places have farro, and I’ve never seen anyone selling farina polenta taragna, the mix of polenta and buckwheat that I first had in the mountains above Milan, and I’d never seen it anywhere outside of Italy. (So I’ve been making my own.)
That’s not a complaint – it’s great to be able to find Sicilian salumi and pasta from Tuscany. And Cooperative Latte Cisternino, an excellent Italian dairy cooperative, is a terrific place for Italian cheeses and other products. (Although they always seem to be closed when I go there.)
But artisanal products, items from small producers, are a little more challenging to find. So I was charmed when my friend Terresa and I took a field trip to discover RAP, which offers rarely seen Italian foods, imported directly by Alessandra Pierini, who curates the selection in her jammed-to-the-rafters shop in the 9th arrondissement.
I haven’t seen such a varied and curious selection of products all together outside of Italy since, well – ever. (Eataly, eat your heart out.) Granted RAP is tiny; imagine if someone pushed eight phone booths together, and you’ll get some idea of its size.
Yet I was incredibly excited to be surrounded by shelves and shelves holding many of the foods I love from Italy, including unusual chocolates, citron soda, and pure, unadulterated pistachio spreads, which were in danger of being eclipsed by things that I’d never seen or tasted.
Someone once asked me how I know when to give up on a recipe. Sometimes I realize after a few tries, that I should just forget about it. And others, like the tarte tropézienne in my next book, I made seventeen times until I got it just right. (Because I got a little crazy about getting it just right, including bringing slices around to local bakeries to get their opinions. Plus making a second trip to the bakery in the south of France where I had the one that inspired me to include it.) And the cake has four components, so multiply that times seventeen, but I still didn’t give up until I got it just right.
Speaking of my next book, I had a kind of funny idea (well, at least to me…) to end the book with a recipe that has been vexing me for ages: granola bars. And I would accompany my spectacular barre de müesli recipe with a triumphant story about how I was able to succeed in the face of multi-grain adversity, which somehow I could turn into a metaphor for my culinary life. (In that very special way that I do…which has editors scratching their heads as my writing curves from one completely different subject to eventually landing on another – which, if I/they have any luck, is on the recipe at hand.)
But after a whole other round of testing, as my deadline loomed – and I had depleted all the flacons d’avoine (oats) in the natural food stores of my neighborhood – I realized that it was time to give up my idea of including a naturally delicious dream bar, and move on with the rest of my life.
Then, one day, I had little peanut butter frosting leftover from a project, sitting in a bowl on the counter. And since we were taking a trip and I wanted to bake up something to take along to snack on, I mixed it up with some nuts, dried fruits, and whatever I had around – then pressed the whole shebang into a pan and baked it up. And you know what? Bingo! They were the best granola bars I’d ever had, hands down. C’est la verité.
There are a number of “have-to” lists in Paris, places where people just have to go while they’re here. Often people have limited time, and I hear ya, so I might suggest the departments stores on the Boulevard Haussman, Printempts and Galeries Lafayette (although even since Printemps started charging €1,5 to use the restrooms, I’m inclined to go to the Galeries Lafayette, just on principle.) Some of the well-known chocolatiers and pastry shops have kiosks in those stores, so you can hit the “big names” in one fell swoop. If that’s your thing.
For those wishing to shop on a smaller scale, there’s La Graineterie du Marché at the excellent Marché d’Aligre. It’s the only outdoor market in Paris that’s open every day, except Monday, and in the center of the market, you’ll find José Ferré tending to his lovely, old-fashioned dry goods shop.
The Middle East is a pretty fascinating place, and on this visit – as well as others – I am constantly surprised by what I experience there. Although we often see snippets of it, our images of the region are usually negative; people are fighting or yelling or demonstrating. Glimpses of people going about everyday life aren’t especially easy to come by outside of these countries. Because situations change seemingly daily, it’s not always possible to go to certain places when you want to travel to them. But fortunately, the time was just right for me to go to Lebanon.
The first thing you notice in Lebanon is that the people are quite friendly and as I started writing this post about my trip, two young boys are playing around me at the airport while my flight home is delayed (for nine hours!), gingerly saddling up beside me, touching my computer screen with curiosity. In western countries, we are afraid of people and we’re told not to talk to strangers. And if someone came over to you in the airport and touched your computer screen, you might have a coronary. Or deck them.
It’s too bad that so many people are only familiar with Middle Eastern pastries that aren’t so well made. If you sample them far from where they originate, often they’re made with old or stale nuts, they’ve sat around too long in plastic packages, or the cheeses aren’t exactly fresh. While it’s true that some of them can be a bit sticky-sweet for Western tastes, but when they’re made correctly, they’re just as lovely to look at as they are to eat.
At Al Bohsali in Beirut, all the pastries are made on the premises. As you get ready to sip your coffee, you can gaze at all the lovely pastries resting in a shiny glaze, presented in wide stainless-steel trays on the counter. Then make yourself a little plate to try a few, which I was happy to do.