Last month was the rentrée, the period when everyone in France returns home from their summer vacations. I have to admit, it’s my least favorite time of the year. It reminds me of the dreaded back-to-school period when I was a kid, which marked the end of the summer with my friends, and meant we could no longer play all day in the woods and swim in the nearby brook. It was time to head back to the classroom, and come home with a night’s worth of homework. It was, indeed, a bummer.
In Paris, it means that the city is filled with the sounds of luggage wheels screeching across the bumpy sidewalks and families unloading their cars after a month or two at their maisons secondaires, or second homes. Being a social bunch, Parisians like the keep summer going as long as they can, so as long as the nights stay warm, people are out en masse, partying well into the night.
So in the name of getting a good night’s sleep, which has increasingly become my greatest goal in life, I decided to take a trip to the States.
While there, France and the U.S. came to blows over a submarine deal between allies and amis, which resulted in France calling back its Ambassador from the U.S. I don’t know how much that changes things, aside from making a statement, but I think being an Ambassador is a pretty good gig and if the position ever comes open for that spot in Paris (and I could live in the sumptuous residence on the rue Saint-Honoré), I’m happy to fill that role. Just putting that out there…
(On the other side of the Atlantic, my friend lives down the street from the former French consulate in San Francisco, currently valued at $19 million, which is gorgeous and has an outstanding view of the Bay. I wouldn’t want to be called home from there either!)
These are odd times and every month seems to bring something goofier and a little kookier. Everything from a pinch of pepper in a recipe, to a rather innocent post about French soap, can be cause for alarm on the internet. In a world where many have so much less, I feel fortunate to be able to go to the market and have my pick of some of the most beautiful food in the world, but it’s funny what sets people off.
I want my head, and my world, to be filled with delicious desserts, nice wine, good company (…that means you!), spectacular cheeses, ripe fruits and vegetables that follow the season, and open minds. So I’ve been moving more things here to my newsletter and sending out extra posts and recipes each month, keeping the conversations amongst us friends.
Speaking of fruit, I did my best last month to use as many plums, nectarines, and berries that I could get my hands on, before succumbing to the season and baking up a tarte Tatin to ease back into apples. A caramelized apple tart is never a bad thing and a few questions my reducing the butter in the classic recipe but I try to only present recipes that I really love, and that one is truly worthy of the beautiful Honeycrisp apples I got at the New York greenmarket.
I’ve been known to sometimes be a grouch myself about new things and have a fondness for pommes anciennes (old-fashioned apples), but opening my mind, I wanted to give the new-ish Honeycrisp cultivar, that was introduced to the American public in the 90s, a go, especially since I’ve not seen them in France. We have many wonderful varieties of apples in France and arguably, French apples are great for baking, but not necessarily eating, and Honeycrisps seem to embody both qualities. In my tarte they baked up well, holding their shape, and their tartness worked well against the demi-butter caramel. No disagreements there!
Interestingly, sometimes when I post pictures on social media from the markets in Paris, people comment, “Why can’t we get beautiful produce like that in America?”
And when I post pictures from a market in America (where I got those gorgeous raspberries, above) people comment, “Why can’t we get produce like that in America?”
So there’s some good news in the world — (finally!): You can find great food everywhere!
I found this wonderful clip about the old Les Halles market in Paris, which looked like this:
I love when Romain tells me stories about his mother taking him shopping there, and after the market was torn down, they used the big open space in the middle of Paris to shoot movies. (Until it became a modern, and notoriously ugly, shopping center, which underwent another renovation a few years ago, which was an improvement.) He also said the area around the Place des Vosges, adjacent to the Marais where he grew up, was filled with produce vendors selling their wares on the streets and sidewalks, and the butcher shops that were there have now been replaced by upscale clothing stores.
In the last few years in Paris, a lot of small produce shops have opened in Paris, featuring either locally grown fruits and vegetables, or produce that’s direct from the producteurs, at stores like Biocoop, Terroirs d’Avenir, Maison POS, Au Bout du Champs, and Le Zingham. And I’ve been doing more and more of my shopping in them. I still love the outdoor markets, but the lines are shorter at the small shops and they’re open every day, so there’s less angst about the missing market day. (Although going to the outdoor market is sort of a social ritual, like going to the bakery and I like running into friends, and chatting and bantering with the vendors.)
So now that I’m heading back to town, I’ll be out and about at the markets and produce shops, gathering what autumn brings, namely apples, pears, quinces, and grapes, as well as hard squash (potimarrons, or kuri squash, are a favorite), all keeping me company in the kitchen. Of course, there’s always chocolate, caramel, and ice cream in there too, so I don’t get too lonely…
Breaking: I was thrilled that Drinking French was named the Best New Cocktail Book of the Year by the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. Being a newcomer to the cocktail and spirits world, it was quite an honor, and I learned so much writing the book and met so many incredible people along the way, from distillers and winemakers, to bartenders and cafés waiters. So big thanks to all of them, and to those of you who’ve bought the book and enjoyed it so much…cheers!
Links I’m Liking…
Parisian Olivier Giraud humorously (and accurately) explains how one finds an apartment in Paris. (Olivier’s Facebook page/video)
I don’t know if it “Broke French Twitter” but the French media picked up on an American tourist’s delight at finding “easily the best baked potato he’s ever had” at a chain restaurant in France. It resulted in the French chain naming a baked potato dish, Pom’au four américaine in his honor. (Eater)
…it also prompted Elle.fr to interview me about how French people sometimes view American cuisine. (Elle, in French)
Who called the carbonara police? Item for Discussion: I’ve had a number of badly-mangled Caesar Salads in Europe (and in America). Why not the same respect for the greatest salad of all time? (Taste)
A guide to Paris thrift shops focusing on vintage clothing. (Secrets of Paris)
Streaming platform for French films and television launches in the U.S. (French Culture)
Stop! You’re using too much dish soap…and laundry detergent, too. (NYT*)
U.S. set to reopen borders to Europeans in November. (USA Today)
Wow! - How an architect on a budget brightened and opened up his “micro” Paris apartment. (Never Too Small)
*Good news! Because I’m a subscriber, articles linked to in the NYT and WaPo are free to read if you use the link in my newsletter.
Recent Recipes and Posts from My Blog and Newsletter
Savon de Marseille is the French, eco-friendly, and natural way French people have been cleaning themselves and their clothes for hundreds of years. I moved to the “72% side” a few years back and love the lack of perfumes and other stuff that I don’t want or need in my soap. Even better, a block lasts forever.
This lowfat tarte Tatin is a version of the classic for everyone, including those on le régime (in spite of best-selling books to the contrary, yes, the French do go on diets…), and will please anyone who wants a caramelized apple tart that keeps the dynamic apple flavor in the forefront, but is a little more modérée. I’ve been making this tart for years and it’s the perfect fall dessert to use those fall apples, folks.
You’ve got permission to have cookies for breakfast. These Breakfast Cookies are loaded with seeds and stuff, like granola bars, but they’re decidedly on the less-sweet side so you won’t feel guilty about having one with your morning coffee - or after your afternoon workout.
Sea salt+almonds+caramelized white chocolate+toasted almonds+smoky Scotch = Yes please! This Caramel Almond Pie is a modern treat. And this one would certainly not be out of place on a Thankgiving or holiday buffet. Just sayin’…
One of the things I miss about America is the baking aisle. Of course, there’s the baking aisle in France, but it’s more edited and I pine for those nostalgic boxes of Arm & Hammer baking soda, boxes of cake flour, selection of leavenings, and containers of rainbow sprinkles. You’ll notice in the top right of this photo all the sprinkles are sold out, and it wasn’t me. (Promise!)
Diving back into my bulging files of recipes I’ve been working my way through, this easy, almost no-bake Chocolate-Hazelnut Tart is foolproof, rich, and delicious. The crust is easy-as-pie, even though it’s a tart (easy-as-tart reads weird to me…) and a small slice is all that’s needed to please.
Quiche got a bum rap back in the 80s but never fell out of fashion in France. This Quiche Lorraine is filled with bacon and custard, with a little cheese added for good measure. It’s the perfect lunch in France…or wherever you are! Just add a green salad, or to be really French, some haricots verts (green beans), and you’ve got it made.
One of the greatest films of all time, enjoy this trailer for the 1976 film PlayTime by Jacques Tati, which was restored and re-released in 2014…
(You can watch the film on Amazon, YouTube, kanopy, Criterion, Apple TV and other places. Some options listed are based on subscriptions. Availability and viewability may depend on your region which, if appointed Ambassador, I vow to look into changing.)
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