Pull up at roadside stand.
Be happy you’re with people who speak Arabic.
Pull up at roadside stand.
Be happy you’re with people who speak Arabic.
The most common bottle of crisp white that you’ll find in any Parisian apartment isn’t a musky Muscadet from the Loire, or a Petit Chablis from Burgundy. This one comes in a plastic bottle, has a screw top with a little opening just underneath so you can squeeze out a stream as needed, and costs less than a buck. It’s le vinaigre blanc, and it’s obligatoire to keep a squeezable plastic liter bottle handy in your kitchen.
(Not to say the other kinds of whites aren’t obligatory as well. Each just help hurdle different kinds of obstacles.)
Before I moved to France, I rarely paid white vinegar a second thought. My pantry was stocked with red wine and sherry vinegar, and a little bottle of fancy balsamic. But their importance is secondary to white vinegar, which does everything from keeping your wine glasses spotless to making sure your dishwasher doesn’t seize up on you mid-load, completely clogged by the infamous calcaire, never to wash another dish again.
I arrived completely unaware of it, and in my first apartment, apparently neither did the person before me because right after I moved in, one day, my dishwasher simply ground to a permanent halt. However I was fortunate regarding the laundry machine because a friend confided in me over lunch in a café shortly after I arrived, as if it was some big unspoken secret in Paris that you can’t just wash clothes or dishes without adding a little something “extra” to the load. (And now you can stop wondering what all those French people are talking about in Parisian cafés, if you don’t speak French.)
She advised Calgon, but a well-meaning friend from California came to visit and reprimanded me for having a box, saying it was an environmental catastrophe. Apparently the word hasn’t made it six thousand miles away because I see it in almost every household I visit, tucked under the kitchen or bathroom sink. But it was then that I made the switch to 100% white vinegar.
I know. It’s hard to get people excited about turnips. But on a recent trip to the Middle East, one of the things I loved most about the generous spreads of salads, roasted meats, and creamy-white cheeses that were a part of just about every meal, were the pickles – including pickled turnips, which were served even at breakfast. As someone who generally favors toast and butter for breakfast, I found myself quickly adapting to the Middle Eastern habit of fresh vegetables, herbed breads, vegetables brined in vinegar, and spicy sauces in the morning, which are a much livelier way to start the day that what I’m used to here in Paris.
It’s somewhat of a common thread amongst pastry people that we all universally crave salt and vinegar because we’re around the sweet stuff all day. And as an American, for some reason, we’re hard-wired to like spices – and lots of garlic. We tend to go full-tilt on both of those things, and I used to hold back on using them in some of my cooking here because I tend to lean heavily both of those directions. But I’ve been dialing them up as I go along, and no one seems to have any complaints.
So, when I made these pickled turnips recently, I snuck a lot of garlic into the batch, which I’d put on the table to go with dinner. And everyone couldn’t stop themselves from reaching into the glass jar for more, even though we were still on pre-dinner nibbles. Yet in spite of my protests that the tang might contrast a bit sharply with the Champagne we were swilling, my objections were waved away, and the pickles continued to disappear quickly.
It always curious to me, when I see “French breakfast radishes” in the states. I know that’s the name for them, according to seed packets and so forth. Or perhaps it’s just in my particular circles. But I’ve never seen anyone offer – or even eat – French ‘breakfast’ radishes for breakfast in France.
Still, the French do eat a lot of radishes. (In fact, they were one of the first things I wrote about on the site after I arrived in Paris.) And with good reason: their radishes are excellent. And because radishes are so popular, they’re often sold in bunches of two at a slightly more attractive price than if you were to buy just one. Radishes in France are often two-toned numbers, glowing red at the stem end, and ruddy white by the thread-like roots.
Sometimes you wonder if people do eat all the stuff we think they eat in other countries. Do Russian people really eat blini and follow them up with shots of iced vodka? In Hawaii, are people sitting around dipping their fingers into bowls of poi? Do Americans actually eat the skins of potatoes? How many Parisians actually nibble on macarons? And is it so that Swiss people eat copious amounts of melted cheese, stirred around in pots and heaped on plates?
People in Switzerland actually do eat Fondue and Raclette, as I found out on a recent visit. But eating Raclette outside of Switzerland is like eating a New York hot dog anywhere but standing on a crowded sidewalk in New York. Sure you can do it, but it’s not as much fun. (And somehow never tastes as good.)
Continue Reading Raclette…
I had a wonderful trip to New York City recently and shared some of the places that I visited (see links at end of post), but there were plenty more places that I ate at, which didn’t get mentioned in previous posts. So here’s a round-up of them…
Most of the good delis are gone in New York City, but Katz’s is an institution and I like to believe it’s never going to let me down. I’ve had great meals there, but on this visit, my corned beef was tough and almost all of the meat inside my sandwich was inedible. A sandwich that costs $14.50, plus tax, should be museum-quality.
The one thing I crave almost every day is a good burger. Oddly, I rarely ate burgers when I lived in the states. But for some reason nowadays, I just can’t get enough. Go figure.
So we went to Serpentine, whose burger was exalted in the virtual world, as well as in print. For some reason, as soon as we sat down, I was craving a cocktail. I haven’t had a cocktail in ages since aside from Mojitos, Parisians don’t drink mixed drinks.
(I once made Cosmopolitans for my friends and they barely got halfway through the first one without becoming close to falling-down drunk. And when you live in a rooftop apartment, having inebriated people milling around your place—or worse, stepping out on the roof for a smoke, is not really a good thing.)
I’d say a good 20 to 30 percent of my refrigerator space is given over to pickles. I love anything pickled—onions, cabbage, cauliflower, zucchini, and chile peppers. If it’s pickle-able, you’re likely to find a jar of it buried away in my far, deep recesses of my refrigerator. In fact, all of the above (and more) are in there right now, marinating as we speak. Or as I type, I should say.
Unfortunately that doesn’t leave much room for anything else, which is something I have to live with. I suppose I could start canning them, but then I’d have to find somewhere to put all those jars. But there’s no way I’m giving up a single pair of the thirty-two sets of shoes in my closet, or a single space on my groaning cookbook shelf, to give way to a place to store them.
I think I’m almost at risk of turning into one of those people who die, and afterward pictures of my apartment filled to-the-brim with stuff, appear on websites and daytime talk shows, to the horror of viewers from coast-to-coast.