Grilled Onions And Peppers

I did not write the food entry I had in mind yesterday night, and my excuse for that is as valid as it will ever get : I couldn’t get back into my apartment until a late hour, for the seventh floor of our building was on fire.

Important forenote to reassure everyone : no worries, I’m fine, Maxence is fine, everybody’s fine, and the apartment’s fine!

Coming home from work, I went to the grocery store to run a few errands. When I got to the foot of the stairs that lead to our apartment complex, it started to feel like a scene from a movie. I saw the firemen’s truck, I saw the thick water hose, I saw that it was leading up the stairs, I heard someone say “C’est au 2” (“It’s at number 2″), which is our building number, I climbed up the stairs, seemingly in slow-mo (but then again I was laden with plastic carrier bags, which may explain the slowness of my ascension), until I reached the top, looked up, and saw flames and thick smoke coming out of the windows of the seventh floor.

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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

Yesterday was my 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 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 bounteous collection 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 breezy and scrumptious.

The texture of these is lovely: cakey, but airy and light, with slightly crunchy edges. They are not too sweet, the vanilla flavor is nicely present, and matches the toasted and crunchy pecans beautifully, with a subtle rum afterkick. Interestingly enough, a slight almond flavor comes through as well, though there is no almond at all in the recipe.

The book recommends those squares to accompany vanilla ice cream, which does sound good. They tasted great with tea , as we taste-tested them earlier that afternoon, and were perfect with a cup of champagne.

The recipe also seems like a very good basis for variations : next time I will try replacing the vanilla with some other extract or with lemon zest, using other nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, or topping the squares with chocolate chips or raspberries.

Vanilla Pecan Squares

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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

Christophine

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!

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