June 2021 Newsletter

There are a number of reasons I’m glad it’s June. Yes, because the strawberries, apricots, nectarines, basil, and summer vegetables are showing up at the market. But also because I can finally give a definitive answer to the question that people have been asking me for the last fourteen months: When can I visit France?

As a cookie baker, it was tough for me to give a definitive answer as I’m not a government official nor an infectious disease expert, so I wasn’t privy to any intel. (But in reality, even those folks couldn’t predict that.) But now I can give you an answer: The French government has announced the borders are opening June 9th to visitors.

(Note: After writing this newsletter, some of the points were clarified as the opening date got closer. Please be sure to read the ADDED UPDATES at the end of the next few paragraphs.)

A few tips for travelers: First, welcome back! You were missed by many. By the time you come, you’ll find the daily curfew bumped back to 11pm, museums will be open (with capacity limits and some requiring time-specific tickets purchased in advance to avoid overcrowding), and restaurants will be open for indoor dining at half-capacity. As of now, the terraces are open with certain protocols, such as distancing between tables and a maximum occupancy of six people per table. (An informal survey of places I’ve walked by or eaten at, I saw neither of those happening. So if you plan to eat inside or out, expect to be seated close to other patrons.) Also expect restaurant reservations to be a “hot commodity” so make sure to reserve in advance, and keep in mind that you may need to call the day before, or day of, to confirm. Let them know if you’d like to dine inside or out when reserving, be on time - due to reduced seating capacity, restaurants may assume you’re not coming if you’re overly late and give your seat away (which would be a bummer! But they’re struggling and can’t afford empty tables…) And if you can’t make it, always call to cancel even if it’s just 5 minutes before your reservation time. (But preferably as soon as you know you won’t be coming.) There are always walk-ins that would love your place at the table.

If renting an apartment or staying in a hotel, the extended café terraces and relaxation of protocols have created a noise issue and younger Parisians are celebrating hard (and loudly) outside. So if you want peace & quiet, ask if they have any rooms not overlooking the street or sidewalk when booking, especially in the summer when you’ll probably want to keep the windows open. Masks are still mandatory although quite a few people either didn’t get that memo, or haven’t figured out that a mask should cover your nose, not just your mouth. Or your chin or your arm.

(Just a note that Covid cases have decreased 42% over the last two weeks in France and 16% of the population is fully vaccinated and 37% have received one dose, with news reports now saying 65% of people want to get it. Second doses in France are spaced out longer than they are in the U.S. to get a first dose into as many people as possible.)

A “Covid Pass” will be introduced in June/July, although it’s not clear what it’ll look like but you’ll probably need either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid PCR test, or both, to enter France. The government recently announced that they will offer free PCR tests for those arriving. (Not sure if it’s going to be upon arrival because right now, you need a negative test to board the plane. So more shall be revealed, I presume.) If you travel, note that quarantine rules may can change; France just announced a mandatory 10-day quarantine for people coming from the UK, for example. You’ll need PCR test results from a swab taken within 72 hours of your departure*, which can be tricky if you have an evening flight as most labs close at 6pm so getting a test 72 hours before your flight may pose an issue since you’ll need a lab that will give you results in a shorter window. (In NYC, you can get fast results at one of their rapid results labs.) The situation is evolving and the website of your airline or the State Department of your country will likely have the most up-to-date info. France updates the rules here and here. And the French government is requesting that people download the TousAntiCovid app, which is available in French and English. (Note: You may not be able to upload the QR code from a U.S. vaccination site.)

IMPORTANT: For any documents that may be required to travel, it’s best to download and print them out and bring them with you. Electronic documents may not be accepted and a paper document (preferably with some sort of official stamp on it) is still the gold standard in France.

Lastly, not to be Debbie Downer, but after our lockdown last spring, everyone insisted “It’s over!”…which seemed a little premature since the virus was wreaking havoc elsewhere. I was shushed quite a few times for my skepticism (although some experts agreed) but, malheurseusement…the virus returned, and France racked up some of the highest infection rates in the world, which have fortunately dropped substantially in the last few months. But wherever you travel, while things may seem to have gone back to ‘normal,’ it’s always best to soyez prudent, or be careful. And do check your health and travel insurance to see specifically what’s covered, what is, and what isn’t, covered if traveling during a pandemic.

*ADDED UPDATES: Just a note that if you plan a trip to France, you may wish to avoid departing on a Monday or Tuesday if you need a PCR test taken within 72 hours of your flight as, at present, there are no labs open in Paris on Sunday and most are closed Saturday, with just a few open Saturday morning. (I did manage to find one open Saturday afternoon here and did get my results back in time for a Tuesday flight, but Monday would have been tough.) So it may be a challenge getting an appointment, and results, before your flight if it’s on a Monday or Tuesday.

Also a reader (American) who lives in France said they were able to go back to the U.S. with just an antigen test, not a PCR test, which are available at pharmacies and other facilities around Paris, and you get results back within 15 minutes. So check with the airline and the appropriate websites for what country requires what for entry and departure. (And to be extra safe, be sure to print it out and bring that with you as well, in your files.)

On June 4th, France announced a colored light system for who can enter the country and what requirements you’ll need to meet, depending on your home country or county of origin. More info here.

On June 5th, the French embassy clarified conditions for Americans who wish to travel to France. More info here. An important one states whether PCR or antigen tests are required, which can make a difference in your travel planning.

In last month’s newsletter, I started off saying I had trouble thinking of this year as 2021, and while I got the year right at the top of the newsletter (yay me!), I get the month wrong. Oops. Then in a recipe post for chocolate yogurt cakes, I wrote about the tricky art of adding metric conversions to recipes since having two systems of measurement adds between 750 to 3000 more places in a cookbook to make a goof. Fortunately, I didn’t get a single conversion wrong…but a reader kindly chimed in to let me know that “…2 1/2 inches is 6 cm, not mm.”

So I’m thinking of giving up on using dates, months, years, cups, inches, centimeters, and time zones once and for all, and moving to the country to raise goats because they’re so cute and don’t ask for anything but food and shelter, which seem like reasonable demands. They don’t care what time zone you’re in or how many grams is a cup of flour.

Aren’t they adorable? They’re just content to be nibbling on grass. They probably don’t have sleep issues, passwords to remember (aargh - aren’t those a pain nowadays?), and conjugating French verbs. Goats are so calming that people are now doing yoga with them. As a woman says in the video (below), “It’s impossible to be sad and depressed with goats around you.” I am relaxed just looking at them.

I don’t do yoga anymore, and am not sure if I would suffer from cuteness overload if I was surrounded by baby goats all day and night, but am willing to try.

When I was in San Francisco a few months back, I had dinner at the home of my friends, which was new and strange and wonderful. Dinner inside someone’s home…with someone fixing me a drink for a change! (Thanks Chris & John!) Before we rediscovered the outside, again, a favorite activity has been to discuss what we’ve been watching. Personally, I didn’t mind being homebound for a while as there was so much good tv to watch, but I really hate the violence in many of them. Ozark, for example, is outstanding. But every episode had a segment that was overly graphic and it didn’t seem really necessary to show certain things in detail - which I won’t recount here because you don’t need to know about them either.

Schitt’s Creek was simple, sharp, funny, and charming. Every episode made me smile, rather than hide my eyes from the screen. My friends recommended The Durrells in Corfu, a PBS series based on the true story of a British family, a widow and her four children, that packed up and moved to Corfu, Greece, in the 1930s. Michael Ruhlman also mentioned it in his newsletter. Someone had given me the book it’s based on, My Family and Other Animals, written by the youngest son, Gerald, and may be one of the best book titles ever.

What interested me about the show was that my own memoirs, The Sweet Life in Paris and L’Appart, may someday be on the small screen, too. I spent an inordinate amount of time when writing L’Appart making sure that the tone of the book was not a “hit piece” on anyone, but a tale of my experience as a foreigner who came into the situation with different expectations, which is natural, and how things can go wrong when you’re not prepared for them.

French friends who had also purchased and renovated apartments pointed out that my story was completely accurate…perhaps a little too accurate, and they understood and nodded in agreement about every foible (and catastrophe) I encountered. It was a tough story to tell, but I think it’s interesting to present different sides of a city, and culture. Yes, Paris is about macarons and baguettes and croissants, but it’s also a real city, where people actually live and work. I like to write about the jumble of things, which I think is fair to the culture. Not everyone is chic or skinny or sexy or lives in a fancy neighborhood.

Emily in Paris took some hits for how Paris was portrayed, and when asked by people what my take on the show was, I said that I hope in Season 2, the star gets to see a little more of the city and interact with different kinds of people. But as Heather Stimmler pointed out in our Q+A interview, “…how would they portray a friend who’s a single mom trying to raise three kids on a low-wage job and living in a crappy two-room apartment in a rough part of town, without coming across as patronizing or even insulting by minimizing her real problems?”

It’s true that not everyone wants to see all aspects of Paris, and to be honest, they probably don’t have a place in a rom-com, but I do like showing a city that is diverse, with different cultures, neighborhoods, and cuisines outside of the obvious. That’s why I like going to restaurants out in the Avenues in San Francisco, instead of walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, and in New York, I might head to Bay Ridge to the stores that sell Middle Eastern ingredients, not to Times Square or to shop on Madison Avenue. (Although other vistors might.)

My Parisian partner has told me that he likes Paris because it’s “dur,” or hard. Things aren’t always easy, but they are always interesting. As they say: Paris isn’t a museum. What was interesting was how The Durrell’s in Corfu avoided tropes and managed to find the lovely, yet sometimes awkward balance foreigners face when integrating into a new culture, with curiosity and an ernestness, in good times and in bad.

As Jessica B. Harris noted in a recent NYT article on her book High on the Hog (see below) when your book gets turned into a film or tv show, “It’s like giving your child up for adoption, and you have to trust the adoptive parents.” So I am looking forward to my books getting a proper upbringing!

In what may be the World’s Longest Newsletter (sorry! and apologies for any grammar gaffes…I’m finishing this before running to a pastry shop opening this morning…), in the category of, "Yes, your dreams may come true,” after he wrote about well-known bartenders rendered in LEGO, I inquired in last month’s newsletter if there could ever be a LEGO edition of me.

I’m happy to say that Brad Thomas Parsons took the gentle hint and created a LEGO not just of me, but also a mustached Romain with a baguette and croissant. I’m one gap-toothed one brandishing a The Last Word cocktail, a scarf, and a Boston Cream Pie, ready for its chocolate glaze.

Bravo Brad! I can’t say if the action figures will ever go on sale, but am happy to have two first editions 😊

Lastly, most people in France spend a lot of time working on making plans for their summer vacations, which are extremely important to the French. It’s a hot topic that starts right after the New Year and reaches a peak crescendo as summer inches closer. But some are still undecided, as are. I haven’t been able to focus on anything really but getting by week-by-week. Honestly, how can you plan things if you’re not even sure what’s going to be open? All I know is that I’d like to be near a beach, preferably somewhere with rosé, and in a kitchen filled with summer fruits and berries, with perhaps a few goats grazing alongside me…


June Events

Last month I had my first event in over a year, which was a booksigning at Slope Cellars in Brooklyn. I also signed books at Café Méricourt in Paris. So if you’re in one of those places and you’d like a signed copy of Drinking French, they got ‘em. (Neither one ships, but Omnivore Books has bookplate signed copies, and they do.)

(I interviewed Alec in a Q+A for paid newsletter subscribers here.)

  • June 9: Join me in a Zoom chat with Dianne Jacob, author of the new, updated edition of Will Write for Food, the ultimate guide to food writing, and we’ll talk about what to know about writing a cookbook, how to launch a podcast or blog, what’s happening in the food writing world, and more! Register here.

Also, if you’d like a Drinking French Bar Box, you can get them at Slope Cellars and K&L Wine Merchants. Each contains a special selection of French spirits and a signed copy of Drinking French. Both are available for in-store pickup and delivery; check their websites for shipping info.

Links I’m Liking

Recent Recipes from My Blog

I dug deep to learn how to make Tahdig, the crisp rice dish from Persia, with the fragrance of saffron wafting through a mound of fluffy steamed rice. It took me a few tries to get it right, and I wrote it all up, so you can get it right, too! Honest, it’s not that hard…but it is crunchy, and delightfully so.

The Boston Cream Pie of my youth eluded me, leading me to conclude that the ones I so fondly remember may have been made from a mix. Now that I’m an adult, I avoid cake mixes and make cakes from scratch. Few know that the original didn’t have a a chocolate glaze, but I think bittersweet chocolate ganache is worth adding. (Purists can leave it off, but I’m glad to declare that I’m not a purist.)

I handed the reins of my blog to Emily, who works with me (and is a native Australian) to show us how to make authentic Anzac Biscuits, the crisp/soft biscuits that tend to raise hackles if not made correctly. But whatever you do, don’t call them cookies…at least in front of Australians or New Zealanders.

I’ve long loved these types of seedy crackers and had been sitting on a few recipes that put me off with too many steps and a lengthy list of ingredients. So I shelved the idea until I found these gluten-free seedy crackers, which I toggled to use furikake, the Japanese seaweed blend that gives them a delightful salty taste reminiscent of the sea. These Seedy Furikake Crackers are so easy, they can on your appetizer table within an hour. So what are you waiting for?

Lastly, it’s almost summer! Here’s a blast from my past, soaking up some sun with two of my bestest pastry pals (co-workers) from the early 90s (?) at a park in San Francisco…

Recent newsletters for paid subscribers included Favorite New York Food Addresses and my wondering why people avoid buying cookware made in China but are fine buying other things, like electronics from there. There’s also an interview with Paris-based food writer Alec Lobrano. If you’d like to upgrade your subscription, tap below. If not…I’ll see you here next month! 🙂