Monday Night Pizza


Every other week I’m forced to leave my modest little apartment because my housecleaner comes. I split since it’s pretty small and there simply isn’t room for the two of us to co-exist. So I leave and let her do her thing, whatever it is.

Oddly, it seems to take her an inordinately long time to clean it. A neighbor once told me she said my apartment was “…very messy.” But I don’t think that’s the reason, since I’m not really messy at all. I’ve seen messy, and my apartment ain’t it. Perhaps she’s been pilfering my chocolate stash and when I leave, she slips into my bed, flips on the tv for an hour or so, and armed with a nice box of assorted chocolates on her lap, takes une petite pause.

During that time, although I usually begin with lofty plans to spend those few hours at a museum or do something cultural, invariably I end up at the movies. This afternoon I went to see Gone Baby Gone, which was particularly devastating and quite a difficult film. Paris is a great place to watch a movie: usually people take them seriously and no one talks. After the film, there were plenty of sniffles as the whole audience seemed to have been as moved by the film as I was. When I left, I walked by my apartment, noticed the lights still on, and decided to stop in the little café I like to frequent.

As many have reported, including me, France has gone non-smoking, which is such a relief to those of us who hate eating dinner while the neighboring table lights up cigarette-après-cigarette, ruining our dinner by clogging the air with noxious fumes. Non-smoking as well, the cafés are a bit different, since they serve another purpose in the social fabric of France that restaurants don’t. They’re places for people to gather and chat. Which sometimes they do after work, but anytime of the day will do. In the morning, folks line up at the bar for their start-up jolt of expresso while others sit and read by themselves in the afternoon, with a pot of tea. Others simply have a glass of wine and stare off silently into space for hours on end, which is a talent I just recently acquired myself.

As I looked around, tables were filled with people drinking with friends or reading, but the air was clean and the tables were void of any ashtrays. I breathed in the air, which felt good and clean and pure.

But then I realized I missed it.

The place was a bit too clean and tidy. It’s like something happened and sanitized France, removing a part of it that maybe was vital to it. As someone who was anxiously waiting for the ban to take effect, it felt odd to be missing that lingering smell of smoke. Maybe it’s the funky side of Paris that’s now a bit lacking, which the reason why many of us like Paris. I’m not sure why, but something was amiss and it may take a while to get used to it.

Hungry, I left. But as I walked by my building, the lights were still on. I was getting famished and although I had some leftover polenta with greens and sausage in my refrigerator, I craved something not-so-healthy. So I went into Picard, the chain of frozen-food stores that are cold, impersonal spaces, with all the charm one would expect from a frozen-foods store.

Yet behind all that shiny glass and plastic, there’s seems to be the promise of something better; figs, fava beans, turnips, ice cream, foie gras, and fish sticks. (I’ve been eyeing those fish sticks for years!) People rhapsodize over their food, but sadly, what I’ve tried hasn’t been very good. Sure, the dreamy, soft-focus food-porn pictures on the packing offers the promise of deliciousness. But the reality is you slide it out of your oven, take that first bite, and you may as well close your eyes and transport yourself back to the dinner you recently had in Seat 21F.

I’m not sure why I came home with a pizza fromage champignon jambon, which set me back a whopping 2.10€. But I did. I was a little embarrassed to go in there and buy it, but figured, “Like is anyone else shopping in there going to judge me?” It wasn’t like when I lived in San Francisco and would run into chef friends at the supermarket and there’d be that quick scan of each others shopping carts, searching for incriminating evidence like canned ravioli or Lean Cuisine.

So I had a quiet dinner tonight in my nice, clean apartment, which I finally had all to myself. Here I am, living in Paris, eating frozen pizza right off the cutting board. Something was missing, so I pulled out a bottle of decent red wine, and drank a few glasses with my pizza, which helped a little.


Actually, it helped quite a bit.

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  • Jules
    January 7, 2008 4:24pm

    Even though I am somewhat famous (in my small circle) for homemade pizza (dough, sauce, sometimes sausage), at times I just go and get a frozen California Pizza Kitchen thin-crust pie and doctor it up a little. A few glasses of a nice red does help.

    I got your book and the sweet little Krups ice cream maker for Christmas – need to make ice cream!

  • joolian
    January 7, 2008 4:57pm

    We won’t judge you David, I’m sure we all have our guilty little secrets. I love to cook but when I’m beyond famished and my hands are shaking and can’t manage anything time consuming, I reach for a packet of instant noodles (I drop in an egg for a bit of nutrition). I’m ashamed to say it, but that taste of msg and chemicals (usually curry flavor) is actually quite satisfying!

    Does anyone else agree??

  • January 7, 2008 5:03pm

    Well, it looks good. I didn’t know Picard had their own stores. I’ve only ever seen them in Monoprix, Franprix or Casino.

  • January 7, 2008 5:12pm

    god bless a glass of wine…it can bring class to just about anything… well that and living in Paris… I saw those Picard’s while walking the streets of Paris last month and was rather confused by them… I thought they were some weird place selling prescription drugs… I should have gone in…

  • January 7, 2008 5:40pm

    I know just what you mean about the whole smoke-free thing. I was in Argentina last year, and they passed a similar ban about 2 months into my stay…it was nice not to have smoke blown into my face during dinner, but there is something so naughty and cool about sitting alone in a cafe with a cafecito and cigarette! Oh well, I suppose it’s for the best…

  • Maryann
    January 7, 2008 5:52pm

    What the heck. Cleaning day, movies, a little sit down at the cafe, frozen pizza…it all seems to fit together somehow. But the leftover polenta with greens and sausage does sound delicious, David :)
    You must see the visit from La Befana on my site. It was lots of fun.Happy New Year!

  • January 7, 2008 6:16pm

    I think the fact that you had to skedaddle so that someone *else* could clean your house trumps the frozen pizza class factor!

  • January 7, 2008 7:41pm

    I always have “emergency pizza” in my freezer, for those times when I just don’t want to cook or bake. I make one for dinner, share it with my husband, and don’t feel the least bit guilty. It tastes better without the guilt.

  • January 7, 2008 8:24pm

    Sometimes a frozen pizza is just what the doctor ordered. Trader Joe’s has some great frozen pizzas under the Trader Giotti’s brand. I’m thinking there are no TJ’s in Paris, but a little vino will make any frozen pizza a little better. Bon appetit!

  • TikiPundit
    January 7, 2008 8:31pm

    David, there was a “night shop” very near our apartment in Brussels with a frozen food section. We hit it from time to time when we had the munchies and the stores were closed in that underrated culinary semi-Mecca. Besides pizza (which I think is better in the US than in Europe), they sold the most amazing variations of frozen, bakeable potato goods.

    joolian: I agree. I keep a couple of styrofoam cups of Yuki Jan Hot Taste (kimchi-flavored) ramen in the cupboard. When you add some ingredients to the instant noodles, like meat, scallions, bean curd, or shrimp, it’s not a darn bad meal, and for cheap!

  • pf
    January 7, 2008 8:50pm

    Now that you’re on the subject of pizza, how about a follow up with a wonderful pizza dough recipe (thin, crisp crust). I’ve tried several and still haven’t found “the one”. Thanks.

  • January 7, 2008 9:47pm

    Sounds like bliss to me. What I wouldn’t give to have the house to myself and eat a frozen pizza in front of the TV once in a while! ;)

  • January 7, 2008 9:55pm

    Isn’t it amazing how disgusting frozen cheese looks? I’d scrape the green stuff off old cheese and eat the rest, but frozen cheese gives me the shivers!

  • DebbieN
    January 8, 2008 12:55am

    If Picard’s has frozen artichoke hearts at a decent price, grab them up and squeeze a lemon over them (ok, not in the store, wait till you get home), add a large mashed clove of garlic and a glug of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of thyme, (and a spoonful or so of white wine) and nuke them a couple of minutes til tender (3-4 min. for ~ 2.5 c. or 12 oz. frozen hearts), then stir. Then fork a few of them out onto your pizza and crumble some feta or chevre. The garlic will go a little aqua from cooking in the lemon juice (no botulism) but they store for a couple of weeks in the fridge and taste good even on real pizza.

    And the wine will help you mull over the question of what your cleaning lady is doing for so long in relative comfort, or at least complacence. (And pick up a copy of Julia Child’s “My Life in France” for a fascinating read and an extremely comforting comparison between your cleaning lady and hers)

  • Cheryl
    January 8, 2008 4:43am

    The only way I have found to get pizza dough uber-thin is to run it (a knob about the size of a lemon) through the pasta machine attachment on the stand mixer- from 1 (thickest) up to 4-5 (thinnest) and then ever so carefully stretch it. Recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen family cookbook (4 1/4 c flour, 1 envelope quick yeast, 1 1/2 t salt, 2 T olive oil, 1 3/4 c water. Knead about 10 minutes- dough hook of stand mixer). Sorry for the hijack- it’s just a fab recipe I take no credit for, lol. My husband actually had the idea of using the pasta machine because pizza makers here (we live in France also- Lyon) all use them to roll the dough.

    LOVE the blog!!

  • Flavia
    January 8, 2008 5:26am

    My kids and I just had frozen Picard 3 cheese pizza the other night!!! Maybe it was the excess foie gras (with pain d’epices- my new favorite thing) and too much “vin chaud”, chartreuse, vacherin (my alltime favorite cheese) -we are spending sometime in Savoie- but I have to admit it felt quite right!! the kids love it and I too, drank a nice Bordeaux with it!!

  • Judith inUmbria
    January 8, 2008 5:34am

    If instead you whip up my pizza dough recipe and return to cook it up after 12 hours or so, you’ll love both you and me better. Look at “Sloppy Dough Revolution.”

    I do drink wine with it, but not because I need to. Unfortunately my cleaning woman is me. I’m both a bad cleaning woman and a terrible boss.

  • shira
    January 8, 2008 8:10am

    I agree on the trader joe’s pizza, they have one with dollops of goat cheese which is just heavenly on a night that you are too tired to cook! I always keep one on hand.

  • January 8, 2008 8:18am


    You guys are killing me with all this Trader Joe’s talk. Next thing I know, you’ll be telling me about dried cherries and cranberries, tortillas, 3-packs of chapstick, organic nuts, unscented laundry products, chocolate chips, cottage cheese, and…be still my heart…carrot juice!

    Have you no mercy??

  • Joan
    January 8, 2008 9:05am

    Don’t worry about missing the cigarette smoke in cafés…. there’s been no smoking in cafés and restaurants for 3 years in Italy now and you’ll soon not miss it, believe me!!

    PS Was in Lisbon over the holidays and their non-smoking ban also came into effect on 1st Jan – although a waiter wouldn’t give my husband an ashtray at 11.15 p.m. on the 31st!!!!!! saying smoking wasn’t allowed any more!!!

  • Alisa
    January 8, 2008 9:09am

    Yo! Must take you Picard shopping, and point out the what and what nots to buy. Gorgonzola, Pine nut Pizza a definite thumbs up. Oh, and hey, hi! xo

  • January 8, 2008 9:21am

    Sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do. I won’t judge you, David.

  • January 8, 2008 10:27am

    I’m always afraid that people will judge me for what’s in my cart! I realized how silly this was the other day, when I looked around and everyone’s carts were filled with soda and boxes of something called “Donut Sticks” (I guess there was a sale).

    I haven’t had a frozen pizza in years, but lately I’ve been craving it. But I want a nice Trader Joe’s frozen pizza, not the awful ones with the strange crust, dry cheese, and oddly sweet sauce. My dad and I (who both believe that any pizza is good, even if it’s bad) always speculate about why they can’t just make a nice, normal pizza, which we know from experience freezes just fine, and freeze that instead of making some crazy processed creation.

    The other night I made a similar pizza by topping a flour tortilla with canned tomato sauce and crumbled feta, and popping it in the toaster oven. It wasn’t half bad.

  • January 8, 2008 10:32am

    Try their Hachis Parmentiers (Shepherd’s Pie). It’s actually quite good. And sometimes, you just gotta. Plus, they do have decent frozen fruit for making coulis, etc.

    Let me know if you need chapstick. I desperately craved it while we lived in France, and friends sent me so much, I am still opening new ones two years later and back in the US (despite having washed and dried several in my jeans’ pockets.) I’d be willing to mail it to you, perhaps in return for a tasty treat from ma ville préférée.

    So, what’s your flavor?

  • January 8, 2008 12:23pm

    Well this is all very helpful…
    I look at all the choices in Trader Joe’s freezer cases and go nuts. What to get? I shall test out the Giotto pizzas toute a suite.
    I took a spin thrugh the Marais Picard last trip and was completely mystified.
    They should have samples on offer like the Japanese food stores..

  • Steve
    January 8, 2008 2:14pm

    I can see it now–the photo of David L., furtively hunched over the freezer case in a Picard, sells on ebay for an unprecedented six-figure sum!

    And along with Joan, I surmise that you’ll be used to the cleaner indoor air in short order. That’s what happened in SF, too.

  • adrian
    January 8, 2008 2:51pm

    How bout some more stag?

  • January 8, 2008 4:02pm

    I am very fortunate to be married to a man whose idea of “gourmet” is any frozen pizza above $5.99. So, those nights that I’m too pooped to cook, we have gourmet night. One time we totally splurged and had a Wolfgang Puck frozen pizza with Pabst Blue Ribbon. Classy.

  • January 8, 2008 9:58pm

    I used to make all of my meals fresh, with what looked good at the store. I love to cook.

    But, these days, when I get home, I have a two-year-old hanging on my knee, a hungry four-year-old, and a seven-year-old that needs help with homework.

    So, I am an ugly American, but as much as I love food (and cooking) sometimes a frozen pizza will have to do to calm the masses.

    On the other hand, my boys do like good food when I can make it.

  • January 9, 2008 5:18am

    The light in the cafés is strangely bright and sparkling. Everything seems so clean, no haze to peer through when looking for friends.
    I also looked forward to the ban, but it is a bizarre adjustment.
    Something just doesn’t feel right…

    I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

  • January 10, 2008 4:20pm

    Your apartment is not messy, but dare I say that you do have a lot of stuff. Of course all very tasteful – and tasty might I add. Please, everyone, send David more books and appliances and chocolate! ;)

    If I had your place all to myself, I’d look for more of that délicieux chocolate mousse tucked in your magical fridge, curl up on your comfy Mid-Century Modern sofa, and stare off dreamily into space. That was the perfect way to celebrate the New Year. Thanks again.

  • January 10, 2008 6:41pm

    I like how you have no shame in the occasional frozen pizza! This is why you have sooo many fans, including myself :)

  • ally
    January 10, 2008 10:27pm

    you remind me that just about anything can be made better with food (yes even the frozen kind!), chocolate, wine, home, family, and friends!
    thank you!

  • January 14, 2008 12:53am

    Your housekeeper probably takes such a long time because she is doing all sorts of things that we Americans would not consider necessary, especially on a weekly basis. I see mine do the same since I DON’T get to go out for pizza and a movie when she comes, but what can I say?

    I know she thinks we’re terribly messy too.

  • Jeff
    January 14, 2008 2:35pm

    Glad someone else is suffering from ‘culinary guilt’. I’ve gotten really into cooking the last couple of years and love it. The worst part is the guilt I have whenever I try to make things the ‘easy’ or quick way these days. I guess I’ll just have to learn to live with it!

  • KatyBelle
    January 14, 2008 3:52pm

    Dr. Oetker’s Ristorante frozen pizza is actually quite good. They have a thin crust and interesting toppings, and make a good quick dinner with a salad, especially if I’m too tired (lazy) to make something proper after class.

    They’re widely available here in the Great White North and Europe, but I don’t know about down in the U.S.