07 June 2007

Paris: Rue Buffon

This post has nothing to do with food but everything to do with feelings.

In Paris, you walk a lot. That does relate to food, because we found that you can eat almost anything you want and not gain weight if you walk. Paris, it turns out, is the most perfect kind of diet there is.

One of the streets we walked down a week or so ago was unpretentious Rue Buffon, which runs along the east side of the lovely Jardin des Plantes.

The sky was leaden that day and the light was that pale gray color that makes you think of a delicate watercolor painting of spring. It seemed to bounce off the gray and tan buildings of this humble little street.

Somehow I sensed a sadness on Rue Buffon. We began at the southern end and made our way north to the spot near Place Valhubert where you can catch the westbound No. 63 bus.

I took photos because the light intrigued me. So did the buildings, which seemed almost abandoned. When we came to a plaque on a school building, I stopped to read it.

And then I understood. The plaque honored the memories of Jewish school children who were sent to death camps. I need not say much here: You can certainly visualize the images that conjured up for me. I said a silent prayer for the children of Rue Buffon.

I will not forget them, those long-gone children. They have become for me an inextricable part of a layered and beautiful city where sunny days are like a carnival and where rainy days are melancholy.

Such richness Paris offers. I feel so lucky to have tasted those riches, both the happy and the sad.

04 June 2007

Rainy Day Rhubarb Pie

It's been a rainy spring.

“Do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?” Grandma Annie always asked on rainy days this time of year.

Saturday my husband wasn’t taking any chances. He picked, cleaned and chopped several pounds of rhubarb from our two ancient rhubarb patches.

Sunday he made rhubarb pie, one of his favorites. Using a store-bought crust, he managed to make the best rhubarb pie I’ve ever tasted.

“Not too tart, not too sweet,” we agreed as we eagerly dug into the pie about two hours after he removed it from the oven.

My husband does not follow a recipe.

“And I don’t measure,” he says. Ah, true cooking from the heart.

Rhubarb Pie


  • 5 cups rhubarb, chopped into cubes
  • 2 cups sugar
  • two eggs
  • pie crust, your own or pre-made


Place rhubarb in large bowl and pour sugar over it. Mix with spoon, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Prepare pie crust and place in greased pan. Mix one whole egg and the yoke from a second with the rhubarb and pour into bottom crust. Top with second crust, venting it so stream can escape.

Place in pre-heated 400-degree oven, baking for about 40 minutes. After about 25 minutes, brush top with egg white and sprinkle with sugar, returning to oven. Allow pie to cool for 1-2 hours. Serve with French vanilla ice cream.

29 May 2007

Paris: Food Shopping On Rue Cler

Shopping on Rue Cler is everything it is reputed to be: A medley of aromas and a cacophony of sounds.

It is a rich experience.

Most of the vendors are friendly, some sing as they work, others unabashedly hawk their products. They tease one another but are respectful with customers.

French merchants keep careful track of their customers’ place in line, and try to wait on them in the order in which they have queued.

The fresh produce is perfection, and must fresher and tastier than anything I’ve found in my town. The cheese is aromatic, so is the fish and seafood.

We took a liking to fresh sausage on our last trip and have gone through several kilograms of it (back to lean meat when we get home). The hard salami is equally tasty, and we became regular customers at both Davoli and Roger.

Rue Cler has both a LeaderPrice and a FranPrix for basics like paper towels, toilet paper and items that come in jars. There is another supermarket around the corner on Avenue de la Motte Piquet.

I like French supermarkets. For one thing, the products are about half the cost of similar items at home, even when you translate euros into dollars.

Secondly, the house brands are generally high quality, something you do not necessarily find in the U.S., not in my town where choices are limited.

I like the mix of businesses on Rue Cler.

What I don’t like is the long trek over several busy streets, especially after a day (or even before) of walking around. After a week, it became a chore to drag the little cart over cobblestones. Perhaps we just have not acquired the knack.

We were happy to find larger FranPrix on Avenue de la Bourdonnais. It is a straight shot from our flat.

There are also several traituers nearby, one that sells Asian food and another that specializes in Mediterranean food. Our block has several Italian restaurants and two bakeries. When your feet are tired (which is always the case in Paris) and you are too hungry to cook, there is always a sandwiche jambonto purchase for just a few euros. You can add cheese, onions, tomatoes and pickles if you larder is well stocked.

Really, eating in Paris need not be expensive, if you cook most of your meals yourself.

I am not suggesting you abandon the experience of sitting in a café. It is the best way to people watch in a city that is rich in everything, including people.

Cooking in Paris: Onion-Cheese Soup


In 2007, we rented an apartment in Paris to save money on food. It was as simple as that.

Besides, I thought cooking in Paris might be a heady experience. I was right.

Part of that is due to the bottle of wine my husband opens about 7 p.m. as I head for the kitchen. The other part is the cheese.

I’ve been saving cheese rinds for nearly a week now, with the idea of making some sort of cheese-y soup to go with baguettes from area bakeries.

I opened my cheese rind bag the other day. Here’s what I had: Rind from Comte and St. Paulin cheeses, purchased at FranPrix and Leader Price, respectively.

(My game plan was to try budget-priced cheeses to see if I liked them before purchasing higher-priced versions from a fromagerie. Being from Wisconsin, I can live on cheese, so buying a lot of it presents no problems.)

I bought the creamy St. Paulin on a whim, because St. Paulin-Louiseville is the area of Canada where my great-grandmother, called Mémere, was born and raised.

Then at an Ed store in the 18th (an upscale Ed, more or less), I found a chevre from the Poitou-Charentes area, where Memere’s ancestors originated. It, too, had a rind.

I melted the rinds in a saucepan over low heat, first adding about a tablespoon of unsalted butter and then about 1/3 cup cream.

This is the result of that experiment, made with what I had on hand:

Three-Cheese Onion Soup
  • about 1 cup cheese rinds from Comte, St. Paulin and chevre
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • 3-4 sweet onions, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • dash extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tablespoon butter
  • 2 onion-garlic bouillon cubes
  • 2-3 cups hot water
  • 2 teaspoons Provencal sauce
  • dash herbes de Provence
Chop cheese rinds into small pieces and set aside. Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add cheese and cream. Maintain medium-low heat until cheese is melted.

Meanwhile, slice onions and mince garlic; combine with olive oil and butter in medium stockpot. Heat water and drop in soup cubes; stir until cubes melt.

When onions have begun to turn golden brown, add water and herbes. Cook over medium heat for about five minutes. Add melted cheese and allow flavors to marry over medium heat for about 15 minutes. You may want to fish out any large pieces of rind still left.

Serve with salad and a baguette. (You may not be able to find Provençal sauce locally. Same with the bouillon cubes. Vegetable bouillon and tomato sauce would do.)

I made this with budget-priced cheeses, and it was fantastic. I think it was the best soup I’ve ever made (she said modestly).

We paired it with a rosé from Provence. Maybe not the perfect choice but not bad at all.

Honestly, you cannot go wrong with food here.

22 May 2007

Cooking in Paris: French Toast with Nicoise Lemon and Vanilla Syrup

2207: After nearly five days in Paris, I hold fast to my theory that food tastes better here.

It is not a cockamamie theory. The explanation is simple. The French value good food. Good food needs the best ingredients. And that is what you find here. (At a far better price than in Wisconsin, I might add.)

We took the little cart to Rue Cler on Saturday and made the rounds. Salami from Davoli La Maison Du Jambon. Pork sausage from Boucherie Roger. Pont d’Eveque cheese from La Fermette. Fresh produce from Les Quartres Saison and necessities from Leader Price and FranPrix.

Even the cheapest items were a good value. My husband found a serviceable bottle of Bordeaux for fewer than two euros. We bought a pricier bottle of white Bordeaux from Magda Traiteur on Rue de Monttessuy last night.

To date, in my American kitchen in France (our flat is owned by an American), I have made salami sandwiches, salads, grilled cheese-and-sausage sandwiches, sausage and peppers and sausage and fettuccini — simple fare, to be sure. It all tasted better here.

Maybe you need to be very relaxed to make good food. I think that’s part of the equation. But the other part is that the ingredients are the best I can afford.

I feel better cooking here, even though the kitchen is smaller (and not very conducive to good food photos).

But I am not telling you anything you don’t already know if you have cooked in Paris.

And if you haven’t, you must. You really must. It is much more economical and certainly healthier on both figure and wallet than eating out all the time.

French Toast with Nicoise Lemon and Vanilla Syrup
  • 8 thick slices day-old baguette
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon sweet butter
  • ¼ cup vanilla syrup
Whip together eggs, cream, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Soak baguette slices for about 2 minutes. Lightly toast in skillet until golden brown. Serve with syrup; top with more lemon zest and powdered sugar, if you have some (I did not).

The second photo is taken from Rue de General Camou, in front of the American Library in Paris.

As Elouise put it, “I absolutely adore Paris!”

19 May 2007

Eating in Paris: Embarrassing Travel Moments


Jet lagged, lacking proper sleep, at 8:30 p.m. on the day we landed in Paris, we could not figure out how to get past the inner lobby door of our apartment building. We remembered the digicode, and successfully opened the outer door, but we’d forgotten that the inner door opened with the little plastic wand on our key chain.

(Never mind that this is how we open doors at the university where I teach journalism. On our first night in Paris we simply could not think.)

After numerous attempts at using the front digicode to enter the inner door, I said I’d go out in search of help. What kind of help, I had no idea. But I went to a café around the corner where the maitre d’ (or perhaps the owner) seemed friendly when I passed by earlier in the evening. He listened and went in search of someone who knew someone in the building. By some divine intervention, a waiter did know someone. He called his friend and the friend came downstairs to show my exhausted husband how to get inside.

Meanwhile, I found some friendly American women to talk to. It’s true, the 7th is filled with Americans. On our first night in town, that was comforting indeed.

The following night, we went to the café for an early supper. Simple but filling bistro fare, a bottle of wine we liked and crème brulee for my husband and profiteroles for me.

The waiter was all smiles and gave us extra attention. The maitre d’ inquired about our visit, and it was well worth the 60 euros we spent there.

There may be fancier places to eat in this neighborhood. But we were treated kindly at this one.

Au revoir until Tuesday.

13 May 2007

Fleur de Sel: From the Ile de Re to the Camargue


High on my list of things to bring home from Paris is fleur de sel.

Yes, I can find it locally, or I can pay a fortune for it online.

But buying it in Paris will no doubt be more economical and the jar or box will be a long-lasting reminder of our trip.

(Can you hear me knocking on wood and praying here. Last time, absolutely nothing went wrong. No lost luggage, no missed trains. A panhandler or two, but no incidents. Please, please let that be the case with this trip.)

I like the fact that much of the salt I find locally comes from the Ile de Re, which is near LaRochelle, birthplace of some of my French ancestors.

I also like when it originates in the Camargue, a place I have never visited, but plan to do so someday (armed with a good deal of organic mosquito repellent).

Fleur de sel, as everyone reading this already knows, is best added at the final moment in the food preparation process. When combined with herbes de Provence, it is an excellent means of both flavoring and wringing excess liquid from aubergines.

It is best used sparingly, too. That way each grain is a gift, an enhancement of flavor.

Do you use sea salt? Where do you find it?