A Diet of Baked Beans

A Diet of Baked Beans

From the ages of ten to sixteen, my parents sent me on séjours linguistiques (“linguistic stays”) abroad each summer. The idea was to spend two to three weeks living with a family in an English- or German-speaking country and immerse myself in the culture and the language. It did tremendously improve my language skills and was also, to put it mildly, a definite character-building experience: I was miserable, but I learned to put up with it.

This fascinating tidbit of personal history helps explain the special place Heinz Baked Beans have in my heart and on my palate: on one of these stays in England, I stayed with a family in which the girl, though my age, could not have had less in common with me. Her number one interest was boys; I was bookish and quiet. She had a brand new curvaceous body to try out; I still looked like a ten-year-old. With glasses. There was, consequently, little communication to be had between the two of us, but I learned my fair share of slang and swear words, and I also learned to fight in a foreign language. Add that to the “useful skills developed” list.

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Vanilla Pecan Squares

Carrés de Noix de Pécan à la Vanille

[Vanilla Pecan Squares]

Yesterday was my dear grandmother’s 92nd birthday. On this occasion, my parents, myself and a few friends and relatives gathered at her place for a celebratory drink, before we all headed out to eat dinner. My mom had asked me if I felt like making a few sweet nibbles to go with the champagne. Me? Sweet nibbles? Have I ever *not* felt like making sweet nibbles? Ever? Not that I can remember! So I accepted, with glee.

After a happy leafing through my wealth of cookbooks, magazine clippings and saved web recipes, the winner of the day was this recipe, found in the excellent cookbook “Mes Petits Plats 100% Naturels” : Vanilla Pecan Squares. Easy as a breeze and scrumptious.

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Rose Bakery

Rose Bakery is a small bakery-cum-restaurant run by a French-British couple on rue des Martyrs, a few blocks from where we live. I love this place and find myself going as often as I possibly can, on my own or with friends.

A low semicircular wrought iron door opens onto a long and narrow room. Historically, this used to be a chartil, where produce merchants stored the wooden carts they sold their fruit and vegetable out of. The walls are painted white, with a large abstract painting covering the furthest wall. The floor is bare concrete and the tabletops are mat metal. The staff — all young foreigners — wears white aprons, the food is served in polished earthenware plates, and the combination of all this gives off a quietly chic vibe.

Rose Bakery

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Chayote Squash


This morning, Maxence and I went for a stroll towards Barbès and Chateau-Rouge, a more ethnic part of the 18th arrondissement, just a few blocks from where we live. In the rue de Clignancourt, we stumbled upon a few small stores selling food (mostly) from the Antilles – the French Caribbean. We both love browsing around exotic grocery stores, and these reminded us very nicely of our recent vacation, as the Seychelles cuisine is somewhat similar to that of the Antilles.

We ended up buying a few goodies : coconut milk, a jar of hot mango pickle and a jar of tandoori paste, whole smoked herring, a piece of dried salted cod (we decided to try and get past the strong smell), plantain chips and sweet potato chips, passion fruit, guava fruit, sweet potatoes from Egypt, hot peppers, and a few christophines, white and green.

Christophines, also called chouchous, chouchoutes or chayottes, are these weird-looking vegetables, and are said to taste like potato or zucchini depending on the source. Intriguing, no? The most popular uses seem to be au gratin or boiled.

Ah, the sweet and distinctive happiness of finding a new vegetable to try!

Spiced Pumpkin Soup

[Spiced Pumpkin Soup]

I am ordinarily not a huge winter squash fan. I used to dislike sweet and savory together when I was little, and that seems to vaguely remain when it comes to pumpkin and its brothers and sisters. But I do love the look of them and how they come in all shapes, sizes and colors and look like a little munchkin tribe. And the other day at the grocery store, I could not resist buying a big plump slice of bright orange courge musquée – also called courge muscade (literally nutmeg squash), which is your typical Jack-O-Lantern shaped pumpkin. I looked at it, and suddenly I knew : soup. That’s it. I will. Make. Soup.

After researching a little for inspiration – and this included washing my hands thoroughly to leaf with care through Stéphan’s precious Larousse Gastronomique, which he let me borrow under the absolute promise that I would take care of it as if it was my firstborn child – I came up with the following recipe.

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