When I started working at Chez Panisse, there was something called crème anglaise on the menu…and my job was to make it. Of course, I had no idea what crème anglaise was – other than something with a funny name that I got in trouble for pronouncing wrong on several occasions. But I pretended I knew what it was when everyone was talking about making it to go with the desserts. And luckily for my career, after a few years, I probably made at least one batch everyday for the next thirteen years, and stirring up a batch of crème anglaise became second nature to me.
Results tagged milk from David Lebovitz
The last time Peggy Smith, co-owner of Cowgirl Creamery, came to Paris, we did some cheese tasting and shopping. We’d worked together at Chez Panisse for many years and she’s one of my favorite people—ever, and I wish she’d come visit more often. As we roamed a salon de dégustation of cheese, looking around at all the astounding cheeses from France (as well as a couple of beauties from Ireland, England, and Italy as well), I said to her; “What is the one cheese you would tell someone from the United States that they absolutely should try while in France, which is not available in America?”
Many years ago I worked in a restaurant in New York with a group of other cooks, who were mostly women and we were all friends. We’d gather in the cold morning kitchen, working around a communal wooden counter near the warm stove armed with cups of strong coffee as we set about our various tasks while engaging in conversations while doing all the repetitive work of chopping the piles of vegetables we used for soups, salads, and other things that we were going to prepare the rest of the day.
One woman, who I’ll call Mary Smith (and who, for some reason, we all called her by her complete name, “Mary Smith”, rather than just “Mary”), was bookish and almost librarian in her demeanor, and she was attending a local Ivy league institution, getting her doctorate in Russian and Russian studies. She worked very efficiently with no unnecessary movements, and always had perfect posture, like a ballerina, along with pristine skin and straight brown hair pulled sharply back in a tight ponytail.
One quiet morning we were all going about our usual business of silently peeling onions and chopping celery when Mary put her knife down on the counter, looked up, and simply announced, “Who do I have to bl-w around here to get some carrots?”
Startled at the suddenness of her request, as well as the straightforward delivery of it, we all just kind of froze for a moment in mid-action, and stared at her until someone broke the stone silence of disbelief.
My recent trip to Mexico was probably my fifth or sixth in my life and I thought I’d tasted almost everything I could, so it was odd on this trip that I’ve never heard of, or tasted, atole. Although it was served at breakfast in a steaming cauldron, when I asked when people in Mexico drank it, a local chef told me “All the time.”
The consistency is similar to crème anglaise, a pouring custard made with eggs. But since corn always figures prominently in Mexican cuisine and their culture, the drink is thickened with Maizena (corn flour or corn starch.)
I was recently joking that when I’m forced to wake up very early in the morning I’m not sure if I should feel sorrier for myself, or for the people around me. So when my friend Jean-Louis, who works with the people who make Comté cheese finally gave in to my incessant pestering to join him for a visit, I was excited when after three years, he finally said “Oui”. Actually, he speaks very good English. So he said “Yes”.
Over dinner on my final night in Ireland, one of the other diners who is Irish said to me, “I just came back from Paris…”, and he hesitated for a moment, and continued “…and the food wasn’t very good.” It’s probably unimaginable a few years ago that someone from Ireland would be criticizing the quality of French cooking. But it shows how far Irish cooking has come.
I was recounting that story to someone over lunch yesterday back in Paris, who assured me that I was fortunate to have eaten so well during my trip. So of course, there’s good and not-good restaurants in every country, but over my dinner in Cork, Ireland, diving in to a pan-seared dry-aged steak, a pile of freshly sautéed spinach, and crisp French fries made from real potatoes and cooked so each one had a deep-brown crust, I had to say that in addition to the multiple Irish coffees, the rest of the food I had in Ireland was fresh, well-prepared, and surprisingly good.
Popular legend has it that Irish Coffee was invented in San Francisco, but, of course, it was invented in Ireland at the Shannon Airport. Which was the first place transatlantic flights landed when planes started flying across the ocean, their destination being Ireland. I’m sure the trip took a lot longer than it does now. But it easy to see why the Irish Coffee was popularized 5000 miles away, although going to the source is the kind of adventure I’m always up for.
And when you’re in Ireland, and an honest-to goodness Irish lad, whose mum is a cheesemaker) offers you a drink, even if it’s barely 10:30 in the morning, one could reason that since it’s coffee-based, then it’s fine. Which I did. However when I saw that giant jug of Irish whiskey come out, and tasted my first sip, it was easy to see why Irish eyes are always smiling.
There is an interesting emergence of things that are ‘green’ or écologique, in Paris. Words like commerce, responsable, équitable, éthique, durable and solidaire are being seen on more and more products in supermarkets, and even on some restaurant menus these days. Paris has two popular organic markets and discount grocery stores are now offering products like bio (organic) crème fraîche, butter, and pasta. And the city even has an official to preside over sustainable development and ecological initiatives.
(Although no one has asked me, I’m sure quite a few trees could be saved if there wasn’t so much paperwork to fill out, photocopy in triplicate, classify, then re-classify, around here.)
The forward-thinking action that got the most press internationally was the Vélib’ bike program. The program still has a few kinks to work out, though, most notably the costs and excessive vandalism: a recent article in Paris Magazine estimates that the annual upkeep for the program is €20 million and if the roving bands of repairmen were to stop fixing them, there would be no operable bikes in Paris within ten days.
As a user of the program, I think it’s pretty great, considering that they had to reconfigure a good portion of the city, and some attitudes around here, to accommodate it. Yet in spite of the obstacles, it has survived the initial grousing by drivers and other naysayers. And the bikes, along with various other initiatives that have been applied by the local government, has helped to reduce pollution in Paris by approximately 30%.