Thursday, January 31, 2008

winter light

dried lemons craddled in a carved wooden vine leaf bowl from my childhood. The past can be recalled. washed out and blue.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

disparate harvest

for days, I have been eying the warped tabletop left by my neighbour on the sidewalk. Shall I plop it in her garbage bin, because no one wants it, not even the scavengers or.... use it as a surface ? After all it has "character", like an old unpainted Greek terrace on the Island, the one that the old man will repaint when the sun finally shines sometimes in early spring .... So here it is as a background to my bowl of just picked Meyer lemons from my little tree in my back yard: Marmelade, sorbet,lemon curd tartelettes ??? Let me think about it a minute .....

Monday, January 28, 2008

the river for M

chocolate dream

we were looking for a place to rent, in the center of town, close to the Louvre where I could walk easily to help Anselm finish his monumental piece commissioned by the Art program that I belonged to. I always wanted to be part of something that would endure, where generations of chocolate-mustached school children would have to stop in a group in front of the speared man, and a teacher would drone endlessly while the little girl in the back would by accident, lick the corner of her mouth, and discovers the crusted bits that she would promptly lick, both in shame and pleasure. So our new place was going to be both a lovers' nest and a work space: big white bed on a platform, Japanese style, and some painting tubes in a wood box.The view, minimal, but if you jutted your head out, you could see a triangle of the river, grey green, with little crests. The kitchen was a simple temple devoted to the art of food.Small appliances, but a fair enough pantry, with holes to the outside, so you could keep your wines always at the ready, and your chocolate truffles fresh. C.D was exploring the neighborhood that day, when he noticed in the window of this expensive shop, the perfect gift for our first night in the apartment. A little celebration of sort.
When I opened the box, he asked if I could be his Cinderella and try on the shoe to see if it fits.It did, I put both on and took a pose a la Chanel ,legs crossed, dangling from the bed, head on a billowy pillow.After biting the area of the big toe off, the chocolate shoe began to melt, C.D continue to break pieces, cleaning the mess between the toes with the corner of the linen
comforter.With my feet licked clean, I was ready to move in for good.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Sunday meal

Growing up French, the apotheosis of the week, was the Sunday lunch. A tradition of family togetherness, of a rich meal prepared with wine reduced gravy and finished off with a platter of fancy pastries ( 2 a piece), wine, espresso, leisure and pleasure followed by either a nap or a brisk walk depending on your age and urgent desire to experiencece more of life....
My father was, as they called them sometimes, a meat and potato man. He liked his roastbeef bloody and his fries golden. Since I never liked red meat, I would invariably request a double laddle of mashed potatoes with a pond of said gravy, or a generous pile of nicely crusted cubes of sauteed new potatoes..... As a new arrival to this country, I sorely missed the dominical pause with a good meal.What, a quick sandwich will do, a salad and a hike will suffice ??? May be it was the family that I missed more then. Last Sunday morning, Significant announced that he would like a nice French meal for lunch. It was a wonderful key word,a magical call to revisit a moment of pleasure and may be.... potatoes.Just because I am totally in love with potatoes right now and I want to tackle as many recipes as I can find using the wonderful spud. I will tell you another time of my patatas bravas success, but the other day, since I had some cream and gruyere on hand: a gratin would do.served with a herb omelette and a red cote du rhone. I felt back there, in mouth and spirit.

Gratin Dauphinois:
5 or 6 small to medium size organic russets
3 cloves of minced garlic
1 cup of half and half
1 cup of grated gruyere( cave aged)
sprinkling of nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste( I rather like a lot of each)

peel potatoes, toos them in bowl of cold water and slice them thinly ( I use the mandolin for evenness)
overlap them, salt ,pepper and nutmeg to your taste, cover first layer with half a cup of cheese and the garlic, repeat the overlap of potatoes, pour your cream or half and half, pressing it down slightly , top with remaining cheese and spicing as needed.
cook in preheated oven at 400o for about 35 minutes or until a golden crust has formed.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

anatomy of a winter salad

Back at Thanksgiving, my friendJ. brought a most different salad that she had make with raw kale. It was so good that I have been trying to reproduce it many times, craving it so much in between.Kale is notoriously difficult to cook to a tender bite, but what a revelation: just chiffonade the dark beast,make a zippy vinaigrette with garlic, salt and pepper, sherry vinegar and a good olive oil, add some toasted pine nuts and organic thompsons, mix it, dust it with freshly grated parm and you are good to go , with a glow and a healthy heart.


If I am right, it all started at the now famous La Duree tearoom, on the rue Royale around 1860, created in part to give a place for women to sit, have a cup of coffe or tea with a little pastry and not be harassed. My mother swore that in her day, if a woman went in a cafe alone, she was looking for IT, and might even be considered a slut ! or something...So,to the tearoom it was, conveniently located close to the luxurious rue Saint Honore,the Place de la Concorde and all the big departement stores It became a destination to a few in the know back then. As a child, I have very warm memories of stopping there with my mom on the way home after some big shopping spree, and entering a very small wood paneled and carpeted room, women in furs, waitresses in uniforms,carrying on silver trays the macaroons already sought by some. Back then, the rich chocolate ganache envelopped by the two crispy almond cookies was the best in Paris.I remember three flavors:chocolate, coffee and vanilla. It was ,in a busy and tumultous world, an affordable luxury, a nostalgic voyage into a time of leisure, pleasure, decadence,and privilege. Then, a pastry chef named Pierre Herme started working for them and changed it forever, they opened 2 new outposts ( in the most touristy neighboorhoods) and expanded the flavors of the macaroons , creating a mosaic of colors and tastes.Soon, it was on all tour guides and Pierre Herme left to start his own boutiques and finally garner the sucess that he deserved.
I went on this trip to the Saint Germain outpost with my Parisian friend F.The upstairs room was dark and cosy, but a single harsh light was right in F's eyes.The server bringing tea in similar silver teapots, got the order wrong, and we had to plead for sugar, milk and my mini macarron "red diva" which was I have to say divine.( you can see displays of them in the original laDure window, couture red with bay fruits, chocolate and winter spices...
Then on to try some Herme creations for the season: white truffle and hazelnut, salted caramel. I was uterly seduced by the melting earthy buttercream with the hidden roasted crunchy hazelnut in the center. Always a play of textures and suprises in the mouth.To make it even more special, a dusting of silver adorn.

moods in colors

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

French faces

From Berkeley suburbs to big city Paris.... a shock of crowds.If anyone is recoiling from shopping at the busy Berkeley Bowl of note, then, this person shouldn't attempt Paris. Everywhere I went, mobs of coughing, sneezing noses congesting in public transports, or shopping on a grand scale, or drinking at popular spots, or crowding around pieces of art..... But on the other hand, the allure of a place is made in great part by its inhabitants. The French can be so generous, friendly, gossipy,artsy, perfumed.Here is jacques, the sweet owner of a micro art bookstore, specializing in small publishing houses, a Franco-american family met at the train station, a college friend ..........

Monday, January 14, 2008


In muted tones, I walked through windy streets where the past still exist ,making the impermanence of the self even more acute.After seeing a retrospective of the works of Alberto Giacometti (brilliant), and reading an autobiography of Vladimir Nabokov, I became even more keenly aware of our short time on this beautiful earth.As I told my friend G. over a deliciously lemony grogg at the Bar des Editeurs: " life is but a succession of pleasures", at least that is how I want my life to be, and by pleasures, it could be a bird song, a smile, a strong lemony grogg one winter day in Paris, a walk through the Tuileries gardens bordering the Louvre, or stumbling upon the surprising shop of a famous ceramicist on a very fashionable street. I had just left the trendy"Colette"concept shop that I deemed over with ( It had been open 10 years,capturing trends in Japan, the U.S and other hip centers): I thought it looked tired, and gold plated motorola cell phones didn't look very exciting. The shop I loved is very old and uses that inspiration for their displays of incredibly delicate white tableware,glasses and notebooks.It is old and new, delicate and crude,with a nod to a time when everything was handmade. Even the Balzacian staircase dividing the front of the shop to the back rooms, was left pure and intact in its muted past.

Friday, January 11, 2008

back from Paris

I am still a bit dazed and slightly confused after coming home yesterday. I will write details about chocolate shoes,skull portraits,white truffle macaroons,silly art books and more later. For now I will leave you with the iconic view of the heart of Paris, a view countless times reproduced, but always glorious.The Pont des Arts is where I stood, mesmerized, as usual by the beauty.this time a late afternoon winter scene. a cold January 1, 2008.

Just click on the image to see it bigger, if you want.