Essays

Daffodils! Bona fide this time!

Daffodils

Ha! I knew they were coming! These here ladies just needed a couple more days to doll up and get ready for their grand debut. They do not disappoint. (Same park, different lawn.)

No matter what the calendar says, today is really the first day of Spring: you should see the glorious weather we are having today, bright patches of blue sky between the cut-stone buildings, a breeze so warm you happily shed scarf and coat, but more importantly, the first terrace lunch of the year and its unique taste.

Favorite terrace near my office: Café Fusion, 12 rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles in the 13th (01 45 80 12 02).

Le printemps est là!

Spring

Spring is here! Spring is here! First daffodil sighting of the year, yesterday at the Parc Montsouris, which I cross on my way to work. I spotted them first after a client lunch, walking by with two of my coworkers (“Oh, des jonquilles!”, exclaimed I loudly, but they have ceased to take notice of my strange bursts of enthusiasm), and again a few hours later as I was going home. I could swear they had already grown by an inch. Now I hope the weather stays mild mild mild — we don’t want those daring spring pioneers to be cruelly seized by a new wave of cold.

And I cannot think of daffodils without thinking of Wordsworth and his poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, which my 10th grade English teacher had taught the class during a trip to the Lake District in England, some 11 years ago. Reluctant at first (we were 15: what were we not reluctant to?), by the end of the trip we all knew it by heart and recited it happily at every half-occasion.

Important note: of course, considering this is a food blog and everything I had to research daffodils and cooking but no, daffodils are not edible. “The bulb of daffodil contains lycorine or narcissine a toxin that acts as an emetic [read: induces vomiting] in small amounts and can cause collapse and death by paralysis of the central nervous system in larger doseages.” Oh. Not such a good idea, then.

Update: Ahem. So, as an observant and more horticulturally-savvy than I pointed out, these are in fact crocuses, not daffodils. Oh well. Still pretty, still springlike!

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The Music I Cook By

iPod Mini

All right, all right! Obviously, resistance is futile: I have been tappedtwice! — in the Music in My Kitchen game that’s been going around our little world of food blogs. I usually try to keep things more or less focused on the edible around here, but since my kitchen is a “cuisine à l’américaine” that opens onto the living-room where the hi-fi gear is, musical ambiance is an important aspect of my cooking life. So here goes.

What is the total amount of music files on your computer?

I have very few files directly on my iBook: most of my music lives on the mp3 server that Maxence has set up, from which our stereo reads via a cool wi-fi device. Um, wait: is this getting too geeky for the general public?

The CD you last bought?

Nolita, Keren Ann‘s latest album. The next one I will buy (I know you didn’t ask, but whose blog is this?) is likely to be Coralie Clément’s new album Bye Bye Beauté: it comes out on Monday and I’m going to her concert on Thursday night, so I’m going to have to act fast!

What was the last song you listened to before reading this message?

Over breakfast this morning, I had a sudden craving for Arte, a song by the Spanish group Nosoträsh (on the album Popemas). We discovered Nosoträsh a few summers ago, as our friends Nathalie and Damon were visiting from San Francisco. Nathalie, who works in the music industry and therefore has very sharp tastes, knew about this group and about the mini-concert they were giving that night on a péniche called Le Batofar, a bar/disco barge on the Seine. So we all went, and we spent the evening drinking mojitos and listening to the Spanish girls sing. A soft, slightly melancholy (although of course I speak no Spanish and have no idea what the lyrics say), beautiful song.

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Galette des Rois

Galette des Rois

Looking for a recipe for galette des rois? See this post.

It is a typically French tradition to celebrate l’Epiphanie: this holiday celebrates the day on which the three kings Gaspard, Balthazar and Melchior came to pay their tribute to the world-famous baby born just a couple of weeks before. In French those wise men go by the cool name of Les Rois Mages (the Magi), and their first names are totally coming back in fashion these days, let me tell you. (Well, except maybe for Melchior, that’s a tough one.)

Like many a Christian holiday, this one has lost its religious significance in most French families, gaining a sweeter, much more buttery one in the bargain: on the day of the Epiphany, families share a Galette des Rois, a flaked pastry pie filled with frangipane, a butter-rich, smooth mixture of crème d’amande (almond cream) and crème pâtissière (pastry cream)*.

The actual date on which to have the galette has gotten fuzzier and fuzzier: some families celebrate on the 6th, some on the first Sunday in January, but it’s mostly considered fine to celebrate it all through the month of January. (I must however protest against the sale of galettes before the new year, and sometimes as soon as November. I mean, really.)

The fabulous thing about a Galette des Rois, apart from its deliciousness, is the family ritual that goes with it: the youngest child of the family hides under the table, an adult divides the galette in even slices, and the child calls out which slice goes to whom.

Why all the fuss you ask? Aah, it is just this small thing I haven’t yet mentioned: la fève is hidden in the galette. Historically a dry fava bean (hence the name), it is now a little porcelain figure. (That figure used to have some kind of religious meaning but that, too, has gone the way of the dodo.) Whoever gets the fève in his serving is named King (or Queen) for the day, gets to wear the golden paper crown that came with the galette, picks who the Queen (or King) will be, and glows with pride for weeks hence.

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Good Pain d’Epice, Bad Choucroute

Pain d'épice

How do you tell a true friend? She lets you buy her a hunk of pain d’épice in her hour of need and smiles to show it does help, if only a bit. And then when you meet again, she surprises you with a return hunk (in a signed ziplock bag), bought at her favorite market.

This in turn allows you to take a little slice with you on that 6:52am train to cold and rainy Luxembourg where you have to spend the day on business. This slice is a teeny handheld comfort zone to nibble on as you awake, disoriented, from one of those early morning, neck-straining half-naps on a train seat.

You might as well enjoy that slice while it lasts: it is the only thing you’ll eat for the better part of that day, as lunchtime will give you the opportunity to take a blood-chilling taste of The Worst Choucroute Ever at the cafeteria of an industrial zone just outside of Luxembourg. Names will remain confidential to protect the innocents. And me.

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