Category Archives: food

Double Your Fun (Weekly Harvest)

My particular panier subscription is an annual deal, including 40-some-odd weeks of fresh produce (minus the spring, summer, and winter holidays, clearly). If I am out of town at any other time, I can elect to stop my delivery for a chosen week and get a double-dose of veggies the next time around.

I had planned to be in Tunisia for two weeks in late June as part of a workshop between our laboratory and collaborators in Egypt; however, with political tensions on the rise, our trip was cancelled at the last minute. Unfortunately, once changes have been made to the panier pick-up schedule, they are not reversible at the last minute. Sadly, this means that I missed out on the one week of cherries this season. The next week, though, I received an epic amount of produce (the photo above is 1/2 of the loot): six artichokes, two heads of lettuce, two large cucumbers, several zucchini, many, many apricots and two bags of waxy potatoes.

I have finally ‘discovered’ greek yogurt. Consider me a convert – I could (and maybe do) eat that stuff morning, noon and night. It was the perfect partner for those apricots for breakfast (remind me to do this the next time I get stuck with interminable quantities of kiwi). In order to not let any of my take go to waste, I also established a dinner routine – steamed artichokes and salads every night for a week. Don’t get me wrong, I love the ‘choke, but let’s just say that we’re taking some time apart after this binge.

With the first half of the zucchini, I decided to try my hand at making Ratatouille. For the first time, I actually looked up a recipe for this quintessential Provençal dish. Turns out, it is quite similar to the vegetable stew I have been making for years. Cleary, no one can deny the deliciousness of tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and zucchini stewed together, nor the irony of me going immediately out to buy even more vegetables to make this dish. It was warm and hearty directly out of the pot, but was even better a day or two later, making for great weekday lunches.

With the remaining squash, I could not wait to make this pasta. Ann’s post perfectly captured the sense of comfort that food can bring when all else seems unsure and out of control. As I had been feeling a little overwhelmed with big decisions and overwhelming to-do lists, her simple, filling recipe made a perfect weeknight meal. Her trick of using egg + parmesan + a bit of pasta water to make a quick binding ‘sauce’ has now become commonplace in my kitchen for any vegetable-based pasta dish.

Cucumbers just don’t do it for me – most of the time they are just soggy and bland with very little redemptive value. Because of this, I am normally at a complete loss for what to do with them, let alone in excessive numbers (for me, two is excessive). Enter this recipe – not only did it use both potatoes and cucumbers, but it was an easy sell. In tzatziki form, I could eat innumerable cucumbers and love every minute. I was not disappointed. Not only did I find a go-to dip that I am excited to bring to every BBQ, football game, and picnic in the near future, but in combination with the potatoes, a few green olives and feta, the salad jumped to the top of my favorite summer foods list. I had to stop myself from eating it with a wooden spoon, directly out of the mixing bowl. Later I just pretended that all that cucumber, dill and yogurt made it a perfect (if not supremely healthy) choice for lunches in the emerging summer sunshine.

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Timing is Everything

(Empty dining room of Lost Society, site of pop-up dinner)

Sometimes you end up in exactly the right place at precisely the right time. Such was the case with a visit to Washington, D.C. in late February. I had traveled to the Florida for the wedding of a close friend, and decided to take a few more days to travel up the coast to DC to visit a few more friends before heading back across the pond. Upon returning from the wedding I received an email from Catherine, a now-DC friend (and editor of the wonderful Edible DC) whom I had first gotten to know when she interned at Paris by Mouth, “Have to go to this tomorrow night for work. Care to go??”

(Bouillabaisse with chorizo, mussel juice, kaffir lime leaves and hot cream; cocktail – champagne)

What she referred to as a duty was, in reality, a multi-course pop-up dinner, complete with matching cocktails and only 13 other diners plus the chef, who was using this format to test out new menu options for a restaurant in development. There was never a question of my attending. I flew in, dropped off my bags and hailed a taxi just as fast as my little legs (and DC traffic) would let me.

(Roasted sunchoke, blackened onion aioli, Arbois foam; cocktail – gin with vermouth, peach bitters and caramelized grapefruit zest )

Summed up? It was more than worth every harried minute. Dinner was extraordinary, the cocktails creative and perfectly paired with the flavors of the food, the company delightful and the chef, Aaron Silverman, down-to-earth, humble and excited about his cuisine. He was especially generous with permissions for photos and details about the preparation and ingredients of the food itself. I scrambled to record his descriptions on my iPhone and to get the best photos possible in the low light of the lounge restaurant our group had taken over for the evening. I promised, at the end of the night, that I would write all of this up, including the photos and email it around to the staff and guests ASAP.

(Dungeness crab, artichoke, sabayon, dill)

And then there are those moments in which you find yourself at exactly the wrong place at the precisely the wrong time. One week after returning from DC, while riding the metro home from work (at a completely reasonable hour and on a ‘safe’ line, I promise), I was mugged. My iPhone was snatched from my grasp and yanked out of the car, taking me along with it, as I was still connected by the big, nerdy headphones that Parisians – and now me – favor. The thief and I tussled on the train platform before he was able to break the cord connecting us and run off. I spun around, discombobulated and feeling not a little violated. The other passengers stood still and silent, necks bent out of the open car doors and windows from where they had watched our fight. It was not until my shoulders slumped in defeat and I got back on the waiting car that they all started speaking at me, at once, commiserating and exclaiming how awful the crime in the city has gotten – although not one of them had stepped out to help me only a few minutes before.

(Caramelized cauliflower with greek yogurt, country ham, truffled breadcrumbs and raisin purée; cocktail – Calvados, ghost and habenero pepper-infused, brown sugar, lemon juice and zest, i.e. AMAZING)

A few days later I sat down, my (mostly) optimistic outlook restored to finally record my amazing DC meal and realized that all of my notes from that night were gone. Lost, along with the rest of what I had stored in that machine, which had become a notepad, address book, music collection, photo repository (oh, the FFFFPs that I had for you all!) and phone all rolled into one. Dejected and angry, I kept questioning myself: Why did I sit right next to the metro door making me such an easy target? Where was all that self-defense training when I actually needed it? Feeling disappointed all over again, I put the photos and the beginnings of my post away.

(‘Caesar salad’, fried brussels sprouts, parmesan and caesar dressing; cocktail – rye whiskey, tamarind, brown sugar syrup, allspice, lemon)

Miraculously, just a few weeks ago, I was poking around my email account – looking for an old, unrelated message when I realized that, somehow, all of my iPhone notes had been synched by Gmail. This included all the details and contacts from Aaron’s amazing dinner, as well as my optimized pattern for the perfect knit beer coozy, clearly two priceless recoveries. Good on you Apple and Google – I know you both are tracking my every move, charting my personality for advertising purposes and probably invading my privacy in ways I cannot even begin to understand, but for today I am totally A-OK with that. Under my nose, in an attempt to make my life easier, you had stored up all those notes and thoughts I had made and, by doing so, brought back the memory of one of the best meals I have eaten in recent memory. Sweet.

(Chilaquiles, Modelo especial) 

(Menudo, roast pork and tripe)

In reality, all credit for this meal go to Catherine (for the invite) and Aaron (for the chef-ery). As I thought I had lost Aaron’s email – I have not kept in touch – but am hoping that the arrival of this much belated post in his inbox will gain me an update on how those restaurant plans are progressing.

(Cheese course, mini monte cristo with housemade raspberry jam)

To all my DC folk – if there is the possibility, please seek this one out. He knows his way around the kitchen and and has a great time with it. It is more-than-about time that I owe him a thank you. Maybe we can all make the trek together when I return to DC in October?

(Apple pie, Ritz cracker ice cream, Ritz crumbles, caramel, roasted apples, apple syrup, Cabot cheddar)

(Aaron (left) and Co. after the dinner, deservedly smiling) 

Last Call

I received an extremely crucial (and insightful) piece of advice from Meg not so long ago. No nonsense, eye-to-eye, I-know-what-I’m-talking-about words of wisdom: “Figure out what your priorities are for the rest of your time in Paris and DO them… the lab is not going to love you back…” Her blunt honesty stunned me into several long seconds of silence, followed acceptance of the truth and, finally, by a slow, affirmative (and still silent) nod: Yes.

Don’t get me entirely wrong, I have been working hard on (and still love) the science (especially now that the countdown is always ticking in the background) and I’m not about to toss my lab coat in a corner and never look back. However, there is a lot of Paris, and France (possibly even further afield in Europe) that I have not yet seen. Knowing that I am easily caught up by my overdeveloped sense of obligation, I need to be sure that I set aside time for me, in addition to the lengthy (always growing) list of experiments.

To that end, I am currently writing from a hotel room in Caen (one of the larger towns in Normandy) where I am taking in the sites with visiting family. For the first time in almost four years, I have taken a week off of work and stayed here. I am giving myself the time to get a bit more organized, see the sites and enjoy the time I have with my family on this side of the world. It is glorious.

As both a way to hold myself accountable and get the word out to my Paris friends, I thought I’d post my ‘to-do for FUN’ list here and keep track of things as I see them (and write about them, of course).

So, here is my dream list of places to see and photos to take before I depart in November. I would also really enjoy hearing your suggestions – food, landmarks, museums and/or views that are wholeheartedly recommended as ‘can’t miss’ when visiting the City of Light. Please, give me more ‘work’ to do!

Paris (and vicinity)

Museums:

Musée Rodin (27 July 2012)

Musée des Arts et Metiers (26 July 2012)

Musée de l’Orangerie

Espace Dali (this is embarrassing as it is around the corner from my house)

Jardin des Plantes/Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle

Musée Dupuytren (yes weird, possibly disturbing, but still fascinating)

Musée Carnavalet (did this past weekend-post forthcoming!)

Churches/Landmarks:

Madeline (did this past weekend – post forthcoming!)

Pantheon

Opera (the building definitely, but also – if I’m lucky – a performance?)

Galeries Lafayette  (for the building this time, not the shopping – I am on a post-doc salary, a French one, no less…)

Fontainebleau

Versailles (I have seen the gardens, but never the chateau)

Basilique Saint Denis

Night cruise along the Seine

Views

Arc de Triomphe (29 July 2012)

Tour Eiffel (yeah, have not done this yet, shaking my head in shame)

Tour Montparnasse (top of)

Dome of Basilica Sacre Coeur

Towers of Notre Dame Cathedral

Cemeteries

Montparnasse

Montmartre (28 July 2012)

Beyond Paris

Normandy (23-25 July 2012)

–       Mont Saint Michel (24 July 2012)

–       Omaha beach (25 July 2012)

Tours

Rouen

Bruges (mainly because of this and because it is GORGEOUS)

Yeah, so remember I did say dream list. However, please do suggest other things I may have missed. And, Paris peeps – let me know if you want to join the adventure(s)!

On risotto and laughter (Weekly Harvest)

One of the few advantages of my unexpected blogging hiatus is that I have stockpiled enough panier posts to get us through the next several weeks sans new fodder. Although I will never get used to receiving the notification that my vegetable deliveries are stopping just when things are getting good, through the month of August (images of overflowing baskets of warm summer peaches, tomatoes off the vine and copious zucchini dancing through my head), I do recognize that this is la vie française – here vacations are untouchable, even for vegetables. Knowing that my return to California is inching closer each day, I have been trying to see friends as much as possible. Between my long days in the lab and their varying vacation schedules, this has been a bit of a challenge. Yet, with birthdays to celebrate, vacations to kick-off and a truly summery panier (peas! In their pods! More strawberries! The first of the summer’s zucchini!), this evening came together with very little effort and was filled with tasty food and raucous laughter. Food-wise, once I saw the green peas and zucchini, risotto immediately jumped to my mind as a good option to serve our group of six (especially as it includes a few dedicated vegetarians). For me, risotto used to be something relegated to a fancy dinner out – a dish that I always enjoyed but could not imagine making myself, especially as a superficial glance at risotto recipes across the internet did nothing to abate my fear of spending the entire evening slaving over a hot stove. Camille’s excellent tutorial debunked that myth for me long ago and today, using her template as a starting point, risotto has become a familiar dish in my kitchen, especially as a delicious way to use extra panier fare. On this particular evening, I sautéed shallots and mixed in roasted zucchini, fresh peas and goat cheese. Good reviews were given all the way around, which means even more coming from Camille, she of the initial inspiration for my culinary creativity.

Having (almost) all the girls together for the first time in many months to share stories, food and (not a small amount of) wine was such a pleasure. Especially when one of them pulled out a collection of Fingerstaches, a stellar birthday present she was gracious enough to share with the rest of us. General hilarity ensued, as can be imagined. I laughed harder than I have in a long time – hard enough that my abs hurt the next day (probably a comment on my abs – or lack thereof – but also very positive commentary on the wit of my friends). I spent the evening constantly reminded of how incredibly lucky I have been to connect with such amazing people and also sad at the thought of walking away, yet again, from people I love.  However, I know that friends like these do not fade with distance. Plus, a girls (long) weekend to San Diego is going to sound mighty fine come the cold, dark days of February in Paris. See you there???

Paris Bites: Verjus

One of my favorite feelings has always been one of community. I find it deeply gratifying to have a sense of place and belonging among a group of people or the intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of a quiet neighborhood. As an adult this is epitomized by individual relationships built over time at places where, after many late nights, everyone knows your name. I have found a few of these places in Paris where I actually feel like a local. I have recently discovered another – Verjus – and I am completely infatuated.

Let’s start by acknowledging that Verjus is no longer the hidden jewel it had been since their opening last October. After recent reviews in Saveur and Bon Appetit, this muchbuzzedabout, American owned and operated wine bar/restaurant is definitely on the map for food savvy tourists and the Paris ex-pat community alike. This means, mainly, that it is mostly English spoken around the bar – a fact that, to be honest, does not bother me at all. Sure, perhaps we are indulging in a bit of Anglo-self-segregation, but stepping into a room where most everyone speaks my language, gets my humor, plays my music (this playlist rocked my world) and plies me with indulgent food and drink after a long week (or long Monday) can feel like heaven.

Speaking of otherworldly goodness, let’s gawk at and drool over the food. Verjus is divided into an upscale, multi-course/chef’s tasting menu-type restaurant upstairs, and a wine bar serving small plates in the cave below. Although I did have the pleasure of indulging in the full restaurant dining experience once and highly recommend it (if your budget allows), what I cannot get enough of are the small plates at the funky wine bar down below.

Combined with a tasty and affordable list of wines by the glass, a few of these small plates can easily be combined to complete a stellar dinner – especially if you bring a few friends and can try one of everything. Case(s) in point:

Celery root dumplings with dan-dan sauce, chives and toasted peanuts

Skillet broccoli with Korean rice cake, anchovy and parmesan

Buttermilk fried chicken with napa cabbage slaw and micro-greens

Veal meatballs, shaved fennel, lemon and truffle oil

Crispy Basque pork belly, grilled and pickled chiles, spicy mayo

Shoestring fries with togarashi and catsup

Selection of cheeses and house accompaniments

I have been several (ahem) times in the past few months and every time the food is deliciously spot-on, the company (both with me and behind the bar) is good fun and I leave wondering when I can return next – just so they remember my name, of course.

Verjus Bar à Vin

47 rue de Montpensier

Paris, 75001

01 42 97 54 40 (reservations not accepted at the bar)

Strawberries! (Weekly Harvest)

June has arrived and our paniers have restarted, refreshed after almost a month of vacation. This week marked the first real spring basket I have seen thus far – asparagus (more white, bah!), lettuces, artichokes and strawberries. There were also potatoes, but at least they were fingerlings and not russets – it seems we have even come full circle with the year-round (apparently) potato cycle…

Artichokes always strike me as communal food – something to be eaten around a table with friends, sharing a common dish of garlic butter and tearing the leaves off, one by one, as we all push the inevitably political conversation forward (despite well-meaning warnings to the contrary). At least that seemed to be the perfect place for them this evening… I invited a few friends over to enjoy the vegetable bounty now that spring had finally sprung. The overarching themes were vegetarian, election year drama and bringing friends together (still have a California visitor – hi Arne! – therefore good to introduce good CA friends to good Paris friends). Food was enjoyed and much wine consumed. We did well…

As an entrée, the five of us shared three artichokes. I steam, rather than boil them – as described in last year’s tutorial. This time around we dipped the leaves in garlic butter, an easy stand-by to prepare and a crowd favorite. With four Californians sitting around the table (and one Brit, who had been previously well-versed in artichoke etiquette), the globes disappeared in no time. We divided the hearts judiciously amongst ourselves and feasted, dipping them in the remaining salty, garlicky goodness.

We followed this indulgent appetizer with a green salad and potato and cheese gratin. Decidedly simple in preparation and nature, both of these dishes count on the inherent quality of the ingredients used. This was clearly the case as we scraped the last tender, spring potato from the dutch oven and swiped the last sprig of arugula from the salad bowl.

The source of our reserved excitement was, of course, strawberry shortcake. The smaller, riper French strawberries are known far and wide for their sweetness and fleeting season. With friends joining for dinner and not being especially patient when it comes to cooking desserts, I decided to stick with what I know: strawberry shortcake. With the berries were in hand, I went ahead and baked a whole wheat variation of my stand-by buttermilk drop biscuit (thanks, Cooks Illustrated). After they cooled, we topped them with strawberries macerated in vanilla sugar and a spoonful of crème fraiche.

(token photo of my window box herb garden for Margaret)

I am very lucky to have found friends in all corners of the globe who are intelligent, funny and welcoming. I look forward to the days when my friends in Paris will have the chance to co-mingle with those friends from CA and/or Boston. For now, I will satisfy myself (and, hopefully, them as well) with panier-inspired dinners and stimulating conversation… and look forward to see how can top this dinner next week…

Tourist Trap (in the very best way)

Recommendations of places to eat in Paris are a dime a dozen. After a while, however, you start to notice when the same hole-in-the-wall restaurant keeps popping up on the “to eat” lists to over and over – not only in the ‘reliable’ guidebooks (I am a fan of Lonely Planet) but also, reassuringly, on foodie websites as well. Refuge des Fondues is one of these places, continuously mentioned and fawned over on the Paris tourist-y internets and happens to be around the corner from my house. It took almost three years of living in the neighborhood before I finally gathered the umph to check it out – how special could it be, it’s just melted cheese, right? Remind me (and often) that assuming that I know anything about what I am doing (or talking about) in this city mainly makes an ass out of me – this place is fantastic and fun on any brisk (re: cold) evening – even more so when I am hosting family and friends.

The space itself is tiny, a narrow, deep single room, flanked on both sides by wooden tables. The walls have long been covered completely by chalk drawings and signatures of past patrons, and two men work the back stations – one, constantly stirring a combination of gruyere, wine, butter and cream (um, yeah, ’nuff said) and the other continuously filling baby bottles of wine for the next round of suckers (couldn’t resist) who walk in the door.

Once you confirm that your party is completely present, the process of seating begins. At least one of you will be helped by one of the two waiters to step up and over the main table allowing for seating flush against either wall. This process is highly amusing to those of us who have already run this gauntlet and gets increasingly entertaining to watch from afar when there are skirts and stiletto heels involved (we are in Paris). Once finally situated, citrus-y aperitifs arrive and two questions are asked: 1/ viande or fromage? Followed by, 2/ vin blanc ou rouge? Fromage (cheese) and rouge (red wine) were easy decisions and we sat back to people watch and enjoy the food that began to descend upon us.

First to arrive was the appetizer plate. Small dishes of different cured meats, a bit of cheese, pickles and spiced potatoes were a great way to whet the appetite and ease us into the idea of fighting over negotiating the last bite of food. In addition to the small bites, the waiters also dropped off our beverages – red wine served in  baby bottles. This is the main gimmick of the restaurant, mentioned so often in reviews, yet still everyone giggles and poses for wine-suckling photos.

Quickly thereafter the cheese and bread arrived. The cast iron saucepan was filled with a fragrant emulsion of cheese, butter, cream and wine and the basket of bread set down beside was overflowing. We dug in, dipping and twisting each piece of bread through the vat of cheese, openly mocking each other when a piece was lost, albeit briefly, to the bottom of the pot. There were burnt tongues, strings of cheese everywhere and, in the end, very full bellies.

On one of my two recent visits, my dining companion bravely ordered dessert – what arrived was a bit like a mini chocolate ice cream cake, covered in sprinkles and filled with rich, smooth dark chocolate confection. While I can attest to it being delicious, upon my second visit I made sure that there was no space for dessert, all of it being currently (yes, right now) occupied with melty cheese.

The four guys running the place have their roles and serving patterns down pat and they know how play to their strengths (vats of melty cheese are hard to beat), as well as to the expectations of the tourist hordes who follow their guides off the streets of Montmartre and into their establishment. They stop to pose for photos helping girls over tables and can each juggle at least six of those baby wine bottles at once. Rather than overwhelming kitsch, the ambiance is one of fun and adventure. Both times I have visited, my dining companions and I have gotten caught up in conversation with our table neighbors, exchanging travel stories and suggestions for tomorrow’s touring (or dinner) destination. Most noticeably, everyone is smiling – despite the growing cheese food babies in their bellies. My only regret? That I had not brought a Sharpie along to record my enjoyment for posterity… Guess I will have to go back the next time a cold breeze blows into town.

Refuge des Fondues

17 rue des Trois Frères

Paris, 75108 (Montmartre)

01 42 55 22 65 (reservations strongly recommended, and not difficult to get)