29 June 2007

Copper Bowls from E. Dehillerin

The day we visited E. Dehillerin was sunny and mild with a barely perceptible mist in the air. I was a bit apprehensive, having heard how snooty the sales staff could be. Would they turn their noses up at my Wisconsin-accented French?

Founded in 1820, E. Dehillerin wears the patina of its age well. It is everything it is reputed to be: Cluttered and cramped and a bit dusty.

No matter. Here is where the serious cook finds serious tools for the kitchen.

Dehillerin is best known for its copper and our mission was to buy a copper bowl for whipping egg whites.

Egg whites whipped in a copper bowl are more stable than those beaten in a glass bowl, thanks to copper ions, which migrate from the bowl to the egg whites. It will take longer, but the result is high-quality foam.

As we entered Dehillerin, we were met by Kim, a charming man of about 45 who knows his stuff and sells it. Our conversation was half in French and half in English, as it often is in France. We talked of Julia Child and chefs and the properties of copper. My husband, whose vocabulary grows with each trip, joined in.

We explored the basement, at Kim’s suggestion, and found all manner of kettles and pans and boilers and pots that would not fit in our suitcases. But, oh, how lovely they would be in my kitchen!

The basement is a place of mystery, with a blocked off set of stairs in one corner and a dark sub-basement crawl space filled with boxes. Descending the stairs, I felt as if I were moving down through time. Imagine the hundreds of chefs, long forgotten, who had done the same!

We followed our trip to Dehillerin with a visit to the park atop the former site of Les Halles., a hop on the westbound No. 69 bus, and a shopping spree on Rue Cler.

It was the perfect Paris day.

The trick to navigating E. Dehillerin, I believe, is to know what you want and to know something about the store and its specialties.

As we left, Kim predicted we would return. Of course we will. Always.

16 June 2007

Paris: The Bakery Under the Eiffel Tower

Grandma Annie was fond of bakeries and - as family legend goes - spent her first paycheck as a young dressmaker on sweets.

In her later years, she shopped at different bakeries - our town had nearly a dozen at one time - for different specialties, this one for its white bread, that one for its cakes, another for its pastries.

How she would have loved the choices in Paris. I imagine her, a small-town woman of French Canadian heritage, wild eyed and enthusiastic about Parisian offerings. I wish she could have seen Paris. I wonder if she ever dreamed about it. . .

We have sampled the goods at about 8 Parisian patisseries, and have always been satisfied.

But the croissants from F. Fegueux, the bakery less than a block north of the Eiffel Tower, have us craving more. They were soft and moist and flaky with a touch of sweetness on the top crust, equally good with ham and cheese, egg salad, or jams and jellies.

We scarfed them down too quickly to take photos. But we also loved the baguettes, and often split the three-Euro sandwhiche jambom for lunch.

The desserts were equally good, and I will share photos in future posts.

This place may be one of the best-kept secrets in Paris. Can you add another? Or share information about a good bakery in your town?

09 June 2007

Paris: Rue du Cherche Midi

I did not want to visit Rue du Cherche Midi in the rain.

Any street with a name that implies a yearning for the sunny south requires a visit when the sun is shining. Alas, it was rarely shining when we visited Paris.

So it was a cloudless day (and one of our last in Paris) when we strolled down this narrow street, which is quieter than I imagined. It was mid-afternoon and the market on nearby Boulevard Raspail had just closed.

I wanted to buy a loaf of the famous Poilane bread, but since it was nearly our last day in Paris, my French frugality gene got the better of me and I decided to wait until our next visit. We already had a fresh baguette waiting in our tiny kitchen and more shopping to do, so it seemed prudent.

But I did take a few photographs. I was enchanted with the boutiques along Cherche Midi; the clothing in the windows really spoke to me (and now I understand why the French use the term “faire du leche vitrine,” which means to lick the windows, for the process we call window shopping).

“I have to go lick the windows,” I told my husband when he sauntered on and I wanted to linger.

Pretty things in windows (which always include food in Paris) are the stuff of dreams. We cannot always afford them. But they give us something to yearn for.

Sometimes a taste (or a lick) offers more long-term satisfaction than a whole meal.

Note: I've heard several explanations for the charming name of this equally charming street. The one I like best is "seeking the mid-day sun." It is my understanding the street got its name from a sundial on a building there.

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.