been an anglo-wave sweeping across Paris the past few years, and the
latest to excite Parisians has been the return of Marks & Spencer.
Their last store in France closed over a decade ago and after a lot of
speculation, and anticipation, they’re back. Their initial rentrée was a
shop on the Champs-Elysées, which gives more room to clothes than it does
to the food. I’ve never heard anyone say they missed the selection of
clothes that were available, but a lot of people – French and otherwise –
got a little misty eyed over the loss of the availability of scones, le cheddar
streaky bacon, Chicken Tikka Masala and, my favorite, the crumpets. Since
then, they’ve gone on to open specialty food
stores in various neighborhoods, to great success.
British import that’s hard to explain is “curd,” which doesn’t quite
translate into something that sounds like it would be tasty, even in
English. Explanations tend to bring up notions of curdled custards, lumpy
messes floating in a cloudy broth. But in spite of the connotations the
word brings up, French people like lemon curd as much as Americans, and
British, and I am sure someone else will point out that others like it,
too. So let’s just agree that everybody loves lemon curd. (Okay, there
are probably some people who don’t like lemon curd. But I’ve not met
I’m trying to make it less-so, it’s rare that I go out to lunch with
friends. People tend to think that everybody in Paris sits around all
day, eating dainty macarons and sipping a coffee at the corner café
watching the world go by, while you’re all working away. But most of us
are swamped like everybody else (including you), hurdling toward
deadlines, waiting on hold to resolve problems, filing paperwork, or, as
in my case, washing sinkloads of dishes. (Honestly, I don’t know where
they all come from…)
it’s nice every once in a while to just say, f**k it, ping a friend, and
head out to lunch.
my list of places to go was A Noste,
the Basque restaurant and tapas bar of Julien Doboué. Upstairs is a
full-on restaurant, and downstairs is a lively tapas bar which has,
parked against one wall, a food truck. While my first inclination was to
think the concept of an indoor food truck silly, the truck is actually a
charming “grilling” station that turns out taloa
(sometimes called talo,
which at A Noste, is a pocket bread-style sandwich made with bread
crunchy with cornmeal. I’ve seen taloa
described as “skillet cakes,” which resemble Mexican-style tortillas, but
at A Noste,
they’re split and filled with everything from chorizo sausage to Nutella.
(Which is for dessert.)
since I heard about it, I’ve wanted taloa.
So it was nice to have a rendez-vous with one. But like the frequent fermertures exceptionelles
(closed for whatever reason), I was disappointed when the chalkboard
outside said “Seulement
à emporter” (to-go only). However when the server greeted us
as we walking in the door, I asked if we could have one at a table if we
ordered tapas, and he happily said “Sure!” One of the challenges in
France can be getting people to go from “Non” to “Oui.” And either I’m
getting better at it, or they are. Either way, it’s nice to find common
fruit that’s always in season is pineapple, and the spiky beauties really
help to brighten up winter, especially when you’ve had your fill of
apples and pears. I like eating fresh pineapple after a meal because not
only is it refreshing, but it has a pleasant acidity that tends to make
me feel good about eating it. Although not local (we wish! because that
would mean a tropical beach nearby…), pineapples are always available at
the markets in Paris. You can get regular pineapples, sometimes called
“Red Spanish” or “Cayenne” pineapples in the world of pineapples
(although I think that second variety might give spice-averse locals
pause), and there are also slender, smaller Victoria
pineapples, that are much sweeter, although yield less edible flesh. (In
the United States, there are Tahitian
pineapples, which have similar characteristics.
was reading Baking Chez Moi,
Dorie Greenspan’s comprehensive, and deliciously readable book, about
French home baking, and she notes that Parisians don’t bake the way
Americans do. Americans bake to relax or as a hobby – in France, it’s
something you do because, well…you need a dessert. They don’t make a big
fuss about it or are all that concerned about appearances. I think people
know they can’t compete with the professional pastry shop on the corner,
so they’re just content to make what they feel will be fine for their
guests. And in my experience, French people are always appreciative of
homemade desserts, since so many people do go to the corner pâtisserie.
one expects to go to a dinner party and find a spectacular cake for
dessert, unless it was picked up at the local pastry shop. And there’s
certainly no shame in that. People often ask me about how Parisians make
macarons or baguettes or croissants, and I answer that no one makes those
in Paris since you can buy them, good-quality ones, almost anywhere. Like
charcuterie, they leave it up to the experts. French home bakers also
tend to rely on reliable, tried-and-true desserts, always having a few in
their repertoire, often passed down from their mothers – or in the case
of chocolate mousse, the most famous recipe in France is on the back of
the Nestlé chocolate baking bar package, sold in le supermarché.
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I hope this newsletter finds you in festive spirits despite the changeable weather. If it's still wet next week, make the most of being indoors with Food Editor Claire Aldous' selection of four Christmas cookie recipes. The Honeycomb and Peanut Butter treats are my favourite bake this year - which is saying something! Have a delicious Christmas and a fantastic New Year! Online Editor,
Strawberry and Chocolate Frangipane Tart (gf)
No pastry required, just the lovely moist filling from a traditional tart topped with rich vanilla mascarpone and juicy red strawberries – the perfect Christmas day dessert.