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comfort market food

2 Oct

I re-read Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal over the holidays. (I also re-read at least 16 detective novels, of which I had forgotten the endings, and started to see the world in Dalziel and Pascoe tropes.) When I returned to Paris, the leaves outside my window had crinkled and crisped around the edges, like a good lasagna, and the light had a misty quality that breathes spring or autumn, filtered through a haze of pollution.

To celebrate being back in the city, I planned to go to an exhibition with some friends. There was a 45 minute queue, of course, not because it was opening or closing day, but because Paris. Instead of waiting, we sat in green chairs in the Luxembourg gardens, absorbing the last of the sun. I introduced my friends to another cultural activity in the quartier: Pierre Hermé’s shop, which has the reverent atmosphere of a museum. And I discovered that if you ask nicely at the Café de la Mairie on the place St Sulpice – something I never dared in the last ten years – they will let you eat Hermé’s pastries with your coffee, and the people at the next table will stare with envy at the individual boxes, and the cakes within that shine like polished marble.

The next day, I took a basket to the market, and filled it with vegetables, and even if the men at the stand only pretended to recognise me, it felt like I belonged. They threw in a bunch of coriander for free, and more smiles than the usual Parisian quota. At home, with the help of another friend, I Tamar-Adlered all the produce, which means: fill up the sink, put a pot of water on to boil, and heat the oven. Wash everything, stick the halved fennel and the butternut and some shallots in the oven to bake, and start trimming the beans and leeks for their turn in the boiling water. Blend the herbs into a too-hot garlicky paste with chili and oil and lemon. Cook a couple of eggs in the now-green hot water for exactly seven minutes, and toss the cooked beans and leeks in oil and salt and mustard. Leave the fennel in the turned-off oven so that even its hard centre relaxes into caramel.

In half an hour or so, there were vegetables ready for half a dozen future meals: the butternut and herb sauce would become a puree, with crunchy toasted seeds, and then turn into a lasagna; the fennel and leeks would go on top of goat’s cheese tartines. An Everlasting Meal is all about circular cooking, being inventive with leftovers, and leaving scraps like writing prompts to begin again the next day.

For lunch, we had an assiette du marché: an array of greens and oranges around a soft egg sprinkled with salt, and a brief feeling of everything where it should be.

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a picnic fit for a prince

15 Aug

chantilly castle

Less than an hour away from Paris – 30 minutes on the train and a short walk – is the Chantilly castle with its enormous, pristine grounds. Designed by Le Nôtre, the landscape architect for Versailles, the place feels virtually empty in comparison. Perfect setting for a picnic. Or two picnics, for the truly serious outing/eating.

We had several cheeses, three kinds of bread, including my favourite nuage tressé (plaited sourdough with crème fraîche), salami, Tyrrells crisps, peaches, hummus with preserved lemon, aubergine dip, and roasted aubergines. Cubed and baked with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano and whole coriander seeds, packed in more oil, they were silky and delicious piled onto baguettes with extra aubergine dip.

It was gloriously hot as we followed the shade around the ‘jardin anglais’ (the English section of the garden is supposed to be more wild, sauvage, than the manicured geometry of the French half). We said hi to the sheep and donkeys then cooled off in the château, admiring the gilt trimmings and the crooked nose of the prince that lived there, the duc d’Orléans. (The main castle is actually a reconstruction of the original destroyed in the French Revolution.)

Between us we polished off a dish of real chantilly cream – as I learned at pastry school, whipped cream sweetened with 10% sugar and flavoured naturally. And then, when tired of culture, we picnicked again in the hameau (not a hammock, sadly, but the hamlet that was the inspiration for Marie-Antoinette’s ‘little farm’), eating the leftover chocolate choux puffs and wondering lazily if the enclos de kangourous at the end of the park had real kangaroos in it, or if it was a euphemism. We took naps instead, under the loosely waving branches.

~~~

To get to the castle: catch a train to Chantilly-Gouvieux from the Gare du Nord, then follow the signs to the Château, past the Hippodrome. About a 20 minute walk. You can buy tickets just for the grounds, or for the castle as well. (Includes Horse Museum, which we did not visit.) Highly recommended as a peaceful alternative to Versailles, as is Vaux-Le-Vicomte, at Melun on the RER D; or Chamarande on the RER C: less grand, but with beautiful grounds.

A Pocket Feast Paris

6 Aug

0 - acover (1)

Two summers ago, when a friend came to visit Paris. I was out of town but determined that she eat this, that and the other – that she dare not try an inferior macaron or miss out on the best Vietnamese fod in town. So I spent an afternoon in a coffee shop (Helmut Newcake) drawing all of my instructions into a notebook. Each page had something to eat and something vaguely cultural to do nearby.

I don’t know how many she followed. But the notebook was passed around, people ate things. Probably left a few buttery fingerprints on the pages, a good sign. Someone said, “but most of the cultural things are ALSO food things.” Which may have been a criticism but I took it as a compliment.

08 - helmut newcake

One summer ago I bribed another friend into helping me make the notebook into a real book. She is both computer genius and wise editor. We sat in the garden in the south of France, dinking wine and brainstorming titles.

A Greedy Guide to Paris? Hungry Hippos Eat Paris?

I can’t remember when we thought of “A Pocket Feast” but it seemed appropriate, a nod to Hemingway’s Paris, a literal description of its size.

26 - les musees1

One month ago the books arrived from the printer. Glossy and colourful, still with the hand-made, scribbled drawings from its initial conception. We are pretty proud of it. And of the website that Florence made: foodie recommendations based on the Paris book, but with tips for Berlin and Sydney as well. (More cities coming soon!)

Another friend made us beautiful wooden stands for the books: they are currently on display at Shakespeare and Company and La Cuisine Paris. Someone else is working on a very cute video advert. I am so so grateful for all of the support and help and love that went into A Pocket Feast. It took a whole family to make it real.

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If you would like to support us too: you can buy the guidebook A Pocket Feast Paris through our website – we ship worldwide. Buy one for yourself and one for presents – everyone comes to Paris evenutally! And you can like our Facebook page for more news and updates.

Thank-you a million – mille mercis! Et bon appétit!

paris apéros: le baron rouge

21 Nov

oysters

Around the corner from the place d’Aligre (and the best market in Paris) is the convivial wine-bar Le Baron Rouge. Lean on an old wine barrel, for it is often busy, standing room only, and enjoy a plate of rich charcuterie: salami, ham and rillettes. Ask for a recommendation for the wine, as they really know their stuff. Don’t be afraid to taste and reject either: the first suggestion was too sharp for both us, the second just right. They sell bottles as well as wine by the litre from enormous barrels. Outside, there are crates of oysters from Normandy or Brittany cracked in front of you and served with brown bread and butter. An picturesquely gruff French man was waiting for the servers to crack a dozen so he could take them home for his dinner.

My friends persuaded me to try the slippery things – a dreadful lacuna in my food education – or at least, two of them did. The third swore blind that they were horrid, salty, gross. We poured cold water on her by inventing a new idiom: she was oystering our experience. Later that same night there was a tipsy argument as to the true signification of said phrase: whether it meant to deliberately sabotage or just to be a pessimist about X. Eventually we agreed to accept meanings one and two in our imaginary modern compendium of food phraseology. Common usage: don’t oyster my idea!

All of which is besides the point: my first oyster was simply lemony and refreshing. The brown bread and butter was a perfect accompaniment, the bar lively and the wine delightful.

Le Baron Rouge: 1 Rue Théophile Roussel, 75012, metro: Ledru-Rollin – closed Monday

paris pâtisserie: chez bogato

14 Oct

chez bogato

After corridors of bones, a whimsical coloured café.

Chez Bogato is just around the corner from the Catacombs of Paris – hence the grotesque ‘Tarte Denfert’ above. Long twisting tunnels from an ancient quarry became an ossuary when the city pushed its limits; whole cemeteries of bones were uprooted and moved, eventually stacked into neat rows of femurs. I had read ‘Pure,’ a fictional account of the exhumation of Les Innocents – and was intrigued to see the real thing. Underground it was damp and oppressive. At one point my friend and I were alone, peering into a locked grate.

What’s that? she said.

Didn’t you learn anything from horror movies?! I replied.

Something shifted in the darkness, made a large thump. We jumped, squeaked and hurried on. There were displays of geological interest, fossils as well as bones and poems about death in Latin and French. After a while the walls of bones adorned with skulls in heart-shapes or crosses lost their morbid fascination and became simply sad. It was a relief to escape into bright sunlight – in a back street fully two metro stops from where we began.

We found refuge in the polar opposite – the display of colour and life and parties that is Chez Bogato. It is a baker’s paradise: full of edible glitter, dinosaur-shaped cake moulds and alphabet letter stamps. Everything you need for a children’s party, sweets hats, presents. They even do fantastical cakes on order – a diplodocus, a fairy castle –  a rarity in Paris which tends to stick to round fraisiers and square chocolate mousses on special occasions.

The tarts we tried were excellent. Beneath the marzipan skull, the ganache was smooth and bitter, almost melting. The pastry and nougatine had sesame seeds in them, a nice touch. The ‘Domino’ was a chocolate and walnut brownie, with a white chocolate mousse flecked with real vanilla seeds. All with an excellent cup of Kusmi tea at the coloured table. Otherwise they had a dessert that mimicked a tiny burger, a large flower macaron and various other ludic touches that are very original amid the mostly traditional patisseries in Paris. Full of imagination, and inspiration for the home baker. Pastry classes available for children and adults.

Chez Bogato – 7 rue Liancourt 75014, metro Denfert-Rochereau – closed Sun/Mon

Catacombs – 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy – open 10am-4pm

NB. There is normally an enormous queue of two hours or more at the Catacombs. It is worth arriving at 9am with a cup of coffee and a book to be the first ones in. It can be quite damp, so wear sensible shoes too.

paris apéros : l’antipode

30 Sep

canal de l'ourcq, da cruz graffiti

On my run along the canal the other day, I noticed a few novelties sprung up since the summer holidays. There were a group of teenagers slacklining between the trees (like tightrope walking, close to the ground). Someone had hung up four or five birdcages in another tree, each full of coloured parakeets for sale. There was some new street art: someone had cemented green tile mosaic frogs (not pixellated like Space Invaders but realist) low down near the playground, and a blue dog by the bridge. My beloved canal, the centre of my quartier, the 19th arrondissment is becoming more and more cool – no sign more obvious than the new frozen yoghurt stand near the MK2 cinemas. And the hipster with a ponytail and a ukelele case, giant teddybear in his bikebasket.

Every now and then an English magazine will run a story about the Canal St Martin as the lastest hip spot in Paris – in wide-eyed wonder, almost, they let you in on this secret area beyond the Marais, way beyond the Latin quarter and miles from the Eiffel Tower. It has bars by the water, boutiques, plenty of space for picnics and a little park. Rarely do they go up as far as MY canal, actually the same one further north, with a different name: the Canal de l’Ourcq. When I moved here three years ago I didn’t know the area at all well except as between Montmartre and Belleville, about five past two on the Parisian clockface. It had that cinema festival which seemed so far from the centre (all of 25 minutes on the metro).

I came to see the apartment, already paid for, on a cold January morning. Our street had a drab pizzeria, a miscellaneous Asian restaurant, a kebaberie and a large bakery on the corner. The apartment was large and light with two small balconies, so I approved the Italian’s choice. We celebrated with pizzas and Peronis amongst our suitcases. Over the next few weeks, we found that the surroundings streets contained Indian, African, Chinese and kosher supermarkets.

What seemed to be an unprepossessing area, inbetween, plain, turned out to be a godsend. First we discovered the 104, the old state morgue, now a centre for art and community, with a bookshop, junkshop, cafe and a sort of indoor village square where mothers share sandwiches and breakdancers practice all hours of the day. Then there are the two best parks in Paris in the 19th: the Buttes Chamont up the hill on my own street, and the enormous Villette where they have that film festival, a concert hall and the science museum. When I run past there is always something going on. Once I got to see the soundcheck for De La Soul. My run was cut short, as I watched in wonder, audience of one.

canal de l'ourcq, bar ourcq

Between the Villette and the square at Stalingrad there are numerous bars. There is the newly renovated rotonda that now hosts brunches and parties. There are the bars at the two cinemas that reflect neon rainbows of colour into the water at night. There is the Bar Ourcq where you can get wine, beer, a killer homemade ginger juice and best of all, you can help yourself to balls for pétanque. Throughout the spring, summer, autumn there will be groups of people with crisps and beers lazily throwing those metal balls at their target, whooping when they knock their friends out of the way. There are table tennis tables too: bring a bat and ball for a match with a friend or a cheap date.

My favourite though is the Antipode, a bar on a boat, one of those large, long péniches. On the same stretch of water there is also a cinema péniche, one for opera and one that is a floating cave à vins. Stop by on the way home from work for a recommendation on the right bottle to match your lamb stew. Everything is better for the novelty of being on a boat. (Similar to the wider phenomenon of living in the Disneyland of a foreign culture, everything is an Adventure.) The Antipode will sell you a glass of wine at €2, a plate of tapas or a selection of cheeses that you can take up onto the deck and sit right on the water, watching the reflections. It is cosy, relaxed enough to allow you to bring in a birthday cake to accompany your pints (staff bribed with a slice of course). They have plays and concerts in the belly of the boat too.

When the boat disappeared over the summer, I was panicked that it wouldn’t return. It had moved out of the way of the Paris Plages, now including the Canal de l’Ourcq not just the Seine. But I found it on another run, 3km further along by the abandoned factory with incredible graffiti. And in September it came back to its usual spot, half way up, just past the footbridge that bounces.

canal de l'ourcq, peniche antipode

There is so much I love about this area, now, now that I have traced most of it on endless runs. I love the graffiti art from Da Cruz and Marko 93 that form whole murals on condemned walls. This summer photos from JR, of the project and film ‘Women are Heroes‘, with his classic black and white, expressive faces were pasted along the bridges. As the area becomes more gentrified, buildings are being knocked down and made into high-rises. Which means, sadly, the graffiti is disappearing. I learned the word for this: embourgeoisement. Bourgeoisification? There is an organic supermarket and the aforementioned frozen yoghurt stand. The pair of bistros (one red, one blue) near the Antipode are always packed with locals, so if you get too cold in the boat you can escape inside for aubergine-parmesan crumble, a large gigot d’agneau and a slab of pear tart.

While it is still warm, I will making the most of the canal, walking back from the cinema at night, watching the grey mist over the rooftops from my breakfast coffee in the corner bar and huddling around a rickety table in the convivial atmosphere of the Antipode. Anyone up for an apéro?

La Péniche Antipode – 55 quai de Seine, 75019 – metro: Riquet, line 7

paris pâtisseries: l’éclair de génie

6 Feb

les eclairs de genie

The cupcake is dead, long live the cupcake. Everyone is looking for the next trend, that one simple item that can be customised in a million ways and sold for a fortune.

The man behind L’Éclair de Génie  may indeed be a genius. After the multi-coloured macarons, the American cupcakes, on the heels of Popelini’s range of cute choux puffs, comes the éclair in infinite flavours. Christophe Adam knows what he is doing – not least because he made the éclair into a luxury item at Fauchon back in 2003 – because he now has a designer boutique in the Marais, that sells only éclairs and truffles. Even at 4.50-5€ each, it is apparently doing so well after only six weeks he plans to open another shop straightaway.

I had to see what all the fuss was about – and to see, more importantly if his éclairs could beat the neighbouring pasteis de nata. Those custard tarts are my favourite example of one quality product, made fresh and perfect every day.

The boutique is egg-yellow and white, with elegant vendeuses wearing sleek black gloves. The line of éclairs stretches almost the length of the shop, a rainbow selection adorned with rose petals, striped icing and the Christophe Adam classic: arty transfers that make the pastry into a Louvre-worthy painting. I paid €14 (somewhat begrudgingly) for three small eclairs and carried the box home as if it contained delicate jewels.

The choux pastry seemed just right – not too tough nor too flimsy. The cream inside was liquid silk. Pistachio and orange was more subtle than I expected, the crème de pistache the palest green with just a touch of bitter orange. The Madagascan vanilla covered with a rubble of toasted pecans was a nice contrast of textures – with enough real vanilla seeds to pop between your teeth if you listened carefully. While the lemon and yuzu was rich and lovely, the extra-bitter twist that should have been the yuzu flavour – another ingredient à la mode at the moment – was a little lost. But that is the only criticism I can find; they were excellent eclairs. Well, that and the cost. Half the size of a boulangerie éclair, and twice the price. But they are special enough to rival even my beloved custard tarts. L’Éclair de Génie is inspired.

l'eclair de genie box

~~~

L’Éclair de Génie – 14 rue Pavée, 75004 Paris, métro St Paul – closed Mondays

*The name means ‘a flash of inspiration.’

paris restos: boco

12 Nov

Only the French are this good at transforming the ready-made into an art form.

Three courses, designed by three-star chefs, for only €15. In a city where a plain jambon-beurre baguette and a can of fizzy drink will set you back at least €8, this is amazing.

Boco is a play on bocaux, jars or goldfish bowls. Each starter, main course and dessert comes in a sleek glass jar that can be sealed for takeaway or heated instantly to eat in. Of the chefs (whose faces can be found on stickers on the jars they designed) I only know the patissiers. Michalak and Conticini are big-hitters: the former is a world champion, the latter owns of my favourite corners of Paris, La Patisserie des Reves. His rice puddingdid not disappoint: real vanilla, whipped cream and a marmalade caramel elevated the humble pudding above its usual bistrot status.

All of the jars, sweet and savoury, have clearly been created for a visual effect: tomato and fennel “tiramisu” shows off its colourful layers, marinated tuna sits on a pale green courgette flan. The desserts too play with the presentation: strata of pear compote, maple mousse and maple jelly look elegant and taste subtly sweet.

I was thoroughly impressed by the perfect poached eggs with star-anise spiked lentils – the yolk stayed runny even after a blast from my microwave.

Everything is bio, or organic, and freshly prepared. If the jar size portions leave you a little hungry, grab some of the giant sourdough loaf sliced on the counter or an extra three-star chocolate chip cookie.

At lunchtime, the menu du jour is only $15. Even better, if you take away, they let you keep the glass jars to smarten up your fridge. But you will certainly want to come back for another visit; Boco is the best of France and the best kind of fast food.

Boco – 3, rue Danielle Casanova, 1er – metro Pyramides (open for lunch and dinner, closed Sunday)

or 45, Cour Saint-Émilion, 12e – metro Bercy (open everyday for lunch and dinner)

paris restos: nanashi bento

26 Oct

Everything at Nanashi Bento is simple and understated: the bare floors, the square white plates that fit together like Japanese lunchboxes, the neat staff aprons. The food: mixed grains, honey-roast vegetables, soy-marinated grilled duck or tofu. Everything, that is, except the clientele. In the heart of the haut Marais, this modern canteen attracts gallery owners, models, all-round artsy types dressed in uncomfortable trousers, perhaps a short kimono, certainly with asymmetric  haircuts.

That is to say, come for the fresh, healthy food (people-watching is a bonus). Enjoy a bento style lunch, with fish, meat or vegetarian options. Add sesame seeds and soy sauce, mop it all up with the dark sourdough bread. It is my favourite kind of modern food, the kind that takes inspiration from different cultures (in this case, France and Japan) but not just because. The wild duck with sour cherries and quinoa made sense, it was not just a haphazard combination thrown together and masked with drizzles of this and that. The fresh sushi rolls made with a small taste of foie gras turned out to be an excellent idea.

Peek over the kitchen counters by the entrance and choose a dessert from the Japanese pastry chef. Her pannacotta was one of the best I have ever tasted – made with black sesame paste, the cream was silken smooth and only just set. As grey as a moody sky, adorned with two blackberries and a raspberry, it was even beautiful in its simplicity. The next time we arrived for lunch at 2pm, they had sold out of pannacotta. Disappointed, I settled on another favourite, a matcha cheesecake. Not normally a fan of cheesecakes – too stodgy – but I love matcha (pure green tea powder) and trusted that it would have the same lightness of touch. It lived up to expectations, creamy but not rich. It had the same minimalist style too: one square of pastel-green cheesecake with a thin layer of whipped cream and a sole blueberry. No frills, nothing to hide the pure taste and aesthetic.

Nanashi Bento: recommended by pastry chefs and arty types from France and Japan.

Nanashi Bento – open every day for lunch and dinner (for which reservations are recommended) and takeaway

74 rue Charlot, 3eme – tel:  09 60 00 25 59 (click link for other locations)

stollen (step 1)

12 Oct

Since the beginning of September we have been determinedly preparing for Christmas. Long gone the days when, as children, my brother and I were forbidden to talk about Santa Claus until November.

In the bakery, we have been planning and executing Christmas logs for weeks. First the biscuit at the bottom, then the middle insert – a fine chestnut ganache or a passionfruit gelée – and finally the mousse. The freezers are small (space is limited in Paris for parks and bathtubs and commercial kitchens) and one of my most valuable skills is at the game of Puzzle, in order to find the space for one more log, a last stack of rum cakes into the chest freezers. That, and my unique ability to reach boxes down from the highest shelves. Like a superhero, me.

Besides these preparations one of my nicest colleagues has started on her Christmas presents. Just like for our rich moist rum cakes, the dried fruit in the stollen she is making has to be soaked for several months. Last year she gave away 25 of the sugar-dusted loaves, sweet with marzipan and the boozy fruit.

I love the idea: a universally appreciated Christmas cake, one that keeps and travels well. With 10 weeks to go (eek!) I might soak some fruit too, just in case I should miraculously find the time to bake stollen. Maybe not 25 of them. Worst case scenario, the dark rum perfumed with apricots, prunes and raisins can be skimmed off and used for Noel cocktails or added to hot grog with a little honey and lemon. Or the fruit could be stirred into icecream to make extra-special rum and raisin, or festive (alcoholic) pancakes or or or…

The recipe for stollen is still forthcoming, for the moment there is only the very easy:

Stollen, step 1

1 kg dried druit (raisins, apricots, prunes, cranberries, figs)

1 bottle dark rum (Negrita, for example)

Roughly chop the larger dried fruit (apricots etc). Tip all fruit into large container, cover with rum. (I used about three-quarters of the bottle.) Seal and leave for 2 months in a cool (not refrigerated) dark place.

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