At first, as you step into the cluttered, vast space, nothing is recognizable to the uninitiated eye. Little by little, you begin to make out intimidatingly large machines and collections of tools beyond comprehension. As you learn to see the order in disorder, things come into sharp focus : tangible sculptures and beautiful objects created from pure craft, ingenuity, and talent.
What is it about the simple word gratinée that makes food so delicious ? Everyone loves crisp-browned and bubbling cheese on top of gratinéed potatoes or on the ultra-classic French onion soup. Only kids have the guts to ask for “more crispy” – plus de croustillant – but when it comes time to clear the table, I’ve seen friends fight to take the gratin dish away. Why ?
Nestled between Monaco and the French-Italian border, Roquebrune Cap Martin is where the steep Alpes Maritimes tumble right into the Mediterranean Sea. Perched on three “shelves,” the town includes turquoise sea coves on the cape, staircases running in all directions, and a hilltop medieval village featuring one of Europe’s oldest olive trees. But all these features were secondary during my recent visit : I’d chosen the destination for the architectural gems that sit right along the coast.
Paris in summer is a ghost town. Even though the juillettistes are back (those vacationers who leave in juillet or July), the aoûtiens (“Augusters”) are away for at least another week. In just a few days, I’ll also be joining the ranks of aoûtiens who have left the city in favor of sunnier climes. And one of the first things I’ll do when I get to my destination – the Var – is to pick up a Tarte Tropézienne.
Amuse-bouche ? Palate-tickler ? Mise en bouche ? Mouth-entertainer ? Or how about chef’s greeting, “appeteaser,” mouth-pleaser, or pre-appetizer ? Whatever you call it, the tiny bite you’ll eat at the beginning of a meal is usually found only in gastronomic restaurants. But why not chez toi ? Read on to find out how.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not the kind of person who spends her time swanning around a Relais & Châteaux junior suite in the complimentary bathrobe and slippers. And I almost never eat a 6-course meal for lunch… and dinner, at a Michelin-starred restaurant, on the same day.
When summer finally arrives, there are two kinds of Parisians : those who invite others to visit their country homes, and those who are invited. Falling into the latter category means that I usually spend time every summer bouncing from one country home to the next, a French version of sofa surfing. But the term “country home” can seem ridiculously inappropriate – especially when I discovered just what one – or a few – might look like.
Who’d want to eat a sickly pink gelatin ring cake, or fluorescent bologna ? Or how about a brunch plate that looks nothing like you’d see in a magazine, but rather one you’d find at a diner somewhere in hell ? When you get a look at photographer Martin Parr’s Real Food, you might just feel like skipping your next meal.
Ah, almost summer ! As the days here in Paris finally begin stretching out easily to ten p.m., on the sunniest early evenings, people everywhere are lounging on outdoor café patios or terrasses. In my ‘hood, we’re catching up on local
gossip news, and just watching people go by as they leave the Père Lachaise cemetery. But some of us are taking advantage of what used to be called l’heure verte, or the green hour.
Last week, a friend who was getting married asked me to make her a wedding cake. She wanted an uncomplicated dessert : nothing like the traditional French pièce montée, nor was it to be an American-style tiered wedding cake. She wanted simple ? I kept it simple.
On a blustery day last February, I navigated my bicycle down to the Seine River. Along the quai d’Austerlitz floats a slightly dilapidated barge, where I had an appointment with two architects, Michel and Julien. They’re in charge of restoring Paris’ first-ever floating monument, a river boat called the Louise-Catherine. The goal of our rendez-vous ? A private tour of this unsinkable memorial to fascinating times past.
Urban poetry ? Mirrors of a changing society ? A sense of helplessness, or a search for balance ? Fragmented and isolated figures, or just insignificant clowns ? Whatever Philippe Hérard’s street murals represent to you when you gaze upon them on the walls of eastern Paris, don’t expect him to tell you what they mean. He just paints them.
Oyé, oyé ! Tu as sûrement déjà essayé ce légume miracle venu de l’autre côté de l’Atlantique, le kale. Mais si ce n’est pas le cas, cours (ne marche pas) l’acheter dans un magasin bio – la meilleure source, et le moins cher, où trouver ce cousin du chou.
On the edge of Manhattan, in the Far West Village, sits an impressive brick building that overlooks the Hudson River. Once the home of Bell Laboratories – if you like television or movies, you have this company to thank for the research on those inventions – the building was renovated and repurposed in the 1960s to provide affordable housing to 384 artists and their families.
Normally I don’t write much about restaurants, nor do I review restaurants here on the blog. So many people do that already, and frankly, reviewing restaurants means working when I want to just sit back and enjoy the food and wine. Like most people, I relish a relaxing experience in a restaurant, far from the madding social media crowd and photos.
It’s no secret that I love my neighborhood, on the edge of Paris. Sure, I get to other areas : the Bastille in the 11th, the Marché d’Aligre in the 12th, and across town from time to time. But the Left Bank ? Not so much. So when I cross the Seine, it’s got to be for a good reason.
With the holidays behind us, lots of Parisians are trying to rid their bodies of the excesses of the fêtes and have resolved to eat better and get more exercise. Joggers dash past me on the sidewalk, the swimming pool is splashing mad, and the magasin bio – or organic grocery – near my apartment has a line out the door during rush hour. The word on everyone’s lips again this year ? Détox.
You, like people all over the world, might be popping a bottle of bubbly tonight. My man David-Nicolas will probably pick up a bottle or two of his favorite brand of Champagne, Ruinart. But did you know that not all sparkling wines, or even Champagnes, are created equal ?
If you’ve ever ventured out to the southeastern suburbs of Paris, you’ve probably been through Créteil. There, you might have seen a strange group of buildings known as the Choux de Créteil. And you might ask : what are those choux ?
Do you know someone who can drown a fish ? You might – without even knowing it. This expression – noyer le poisson – took me a long time to understand. I actually had to experience working within what should be a very precise system to learn exactly what it means to drown a fish.
Have you ever wondered why the rooster is the national emblem of France ? The word Gallic comes from Gaul, the name of France before it was France – back when Vercingetorix was kicking some Roman ass. But the Latin word gallus also means rooster. In French cooking, we talk about gallinaceous birds, otherwise known as poultry. But the real reason ? For some French people, it has to do with singing.
If you’ve spent enough time in Paris, you know that surrendering to the peaceful exploration that Parisians call flânerie is a perfect way to re-discover the city in autumn. Noticing everyone’s new fall
styles boots, uncovering an area of the city under a rain of golden leaves fluttering to the sidewalk, or even stopping in a pop-up, or temporary, exhibit, are all part of the experience.
Buckwheat crêpes, or galettes in French, are a staple of any Parisian household with kids, big or small. They make a great lunch, filled with ham and cheese, or quickly-sautéed mushrooms, or with any other filling you might have on hand. But for a more soigné meal, did you know they can also be filled with a soufflé ?
Belle Hélène pears are one of my very favorite French desserts. Succulent just-ripe pears, simmered in a spicy-flavored light syrup, served with vanilla ice cream and topped with warm extra-dark chocolate sauce… What could be more perfect for fall ? Escoffier got it right when he invented this dessert, a tribute to the operetta La Belle Hélène.
Autumn in Paris means one thing to gourmands all over the city : wild mushrooms ! Varied, earthy, and delicious, wild mushrooms are nature’s gift to Parisians courageous enough to hunt for the delicacy in nearby Fontainebleau forest. But centuries ago, mushrooms were suspect at best. And at worst ? They were downright scandalous.
Hot smoking ? Cold smoking ? Brining ? Huh ? When it comes to smoked salmon, sure – the best place to start is at home, IF you’ve got some space and a little time on your hands – that’s a big if ! So even though most busy Parisians buy their smoked salmon at the local supermarket, if they want a high-quality product, they don’t make it themselves : they know to head for the ‘burbs.
Even though the heat of July has mellowed into late August cool, I’m still craving the warm, sweetly perfumed white and yellow-fleshed peaches that arrive at the markets in Paris from the south of France. But nearly 150 years ago, Parisians stocked up on peaches that came from right here in Paris, or at least, in the neighboring suburb of Montreuil.
Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art ? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. One thing is sure : art reproduces what is in the depths of the subconscious mind, and that’s nowhere more evident than in the work of American artist Henry Darger. But when the line dividing art and life is indistinguishable, what you get looks a lot like the life of French-American creator Elizabeth R.
At the crossroads of four different arrondissements, Belleville is known among Parisians as a miniature Chinatown and for its rowdy bars. But who knew that the area’s history was so rich in entertainment ? Even before it was a part of Paris, Belleville was already the city’s most talked-about party district, beginning with the construction of a wall in 1785.
At some point in your education, if you were lucky, you had a transformative educator who was dedicated, enthusiastic, and funny. That teacher knew how to grab your curiosity and channel it in the most inspiring ways. Most importantly, that teacher shaped the course of your life. And if you were really lucky, the result ended up looking like something I’d call destiny.
When Jasmine Vegas steps onto the stage in Paris, she’s almost always armed with her shiny “suspender piano” (accordion), vintage cat-eye glasses, and maybe even a black panty-liner to match her black dress, as she once told a surprised audience when this short-lived feminine protection was first introduced onto the market. Just who is this provocative “Dada diva” ?
Get out your wicker basket and gingham blanket : it’s picnic season ! Pâté, hard-boiled eggs, ham, and fruit salad or a full-fledged fruit tart – whatever you can dream up to put in your basket is perfect, but don’t forget the corkscrew and a bottle of rosé. And of course, the condiments. The most important one is a jar of small French pickles or cornichons.
If you’ve ever spent any time in front of a Parisian news kiosk, you’ve no doubt run across lots of women’s magazines similar to the ones you’d see anywhere else, like Elle or Cosmopolitan. More contemporary magazines, like Causette or Bridget, have shaken up the traditional press by providing a feminist point of view. And then you’ve got the old stalwarts, like Femme Actuelle – or Modern Woman – which, in the end, isn’t really very modern at all.
What’s more important : how your food looks, or how it tastes ? Any professional chef, myself included, will tell you that both are essential. What your dish looks like whets your appetite, and makes you want to take that first bite. But how food tastes is the most important, and it’s what keeps you going back for more. Or is it ?
With such beautiful spring days here in Paris, we’re taking full advantage of being outdoors, whether in our sunny courtyard, or in the local parks and gardens, like the Buttes Chaumont nearby. But sometimes one of the best parts about living in Paris is leaving Paris.
Who hasn’t ever dreamed of living in a penthouse apartment ? For the views alone, a flat on the top floor of a city building is tempting, even if the price is far less so. Penthouses are also known for their luxury appliances and frequently large outdoor terraces. But whoever invented the penthouse clearly never visited Paris, where life at the top takes on a whole different meaning.
Many books have been written about how to dress like a Parisian. When I first moved to Paris, I thought I would just naturally soak up the local style, through fashion osmosis. In my mind, the process also included a fairy-like personal shopper, who would actually go into stores for me and do the dirty work. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who doesn’t like shopping, right ?
Ça roule, ma poule ? How’s my hen rolling ? Huh ? The last time I saw poultry roll was in a game of turkey bowling back in high school. Frankly, I thought the game was a waste of a good turkey – why roll poultry when you can eat it ?
Have you ever had a great cup of coffee in Paris ? If you haven’t visited the city in the last seven years or so, your last cup of caoua [ka wa] here was probably burned, bitter “sock juice,” a purely utilitarian beverage found in any number of the average-to-poor cafés around the city. No longer ! The “third wave” of coffee has arrived on Parisian shores.
Have you ever met the kind of person who says things were better “before” ? Before what ? Even though I feel passionate about the history of Paris, and especially eastern Paris, I’m not nostalgic by any means. Why is it that I keep running into people who say C’était mieux avant ?