Shopping in Paris. Do you also have visions of impossibly chic little bags or dainty, bebowed shoes right now? A gossamer scarf or patent leather sandals? That used to be what I thought of when I thought about shopping in Paris. But then you start a food blog and write a book and spend most of your time at home in jeans or sweatpants, which makes shopping for clothes sort of lose its appeal at some point, and anyway, aren't French toast spreads and baking equipment so much more interesting than filmy blouses or St. Tropezian sandals? Aren't Monoprix, G. Detou and E.Dehillerin more thrilling than any Colette, Isabel Marant or Bon Marché? I thought you might agree.
I first heard about this spread that looks like peanut butter and tastes like molten Speculoos cookies from David and, to paraphrase him, holy cow, it is good. Buttery, toasty, not too sweet. Move over Nutella, indeed. You can find this at any chain grocery store for just a little over 2 euros. Expats in France! I have officially found your Christmas gift to all the members of your family and friends for the rest of your life.
G. Detou is one of those stores I had to move away from Paris to find out about - I think Chocolate & Zucchini was where I first read about this emporium for bakers, cooks and anyone in desperate need of industrial-sized packages of Valrhona chocolate. I bought a vial containing eight very plump, very fresh and moist vanilla beans for a whopping 6 euros and 40 cents, which - if you know your vanilla bean prices - is beyond a steal. They're practically giving them away! I'm going to use these for a fun project coming up soon that I can't wait to tell you about. One word: video.
I love weird packaging, I really do. This baking powder looks like it hasn't had a redesign since about 1951. And that pink! (Anyone know why the "Alsacienne" is in quotes? Is this levure meant only for Kugelhopf?)
At E.Dehillerin, I did an admirable job of performing restraint. Don't you think? I mean, I could have come out of there armed with more pastry rings than City Bakery could ever need, whisks for every size bowl I own, paring knives for an army, a vinegar vat, mustard crocks, not to even get started on the perfect copper bowls. Instead, I got a metal bench scraper and then, because Kim Boyce said so, a little plastic dough scraper. She uses them for scraping batter out of bowls or getting sticky dough off a counter and says she loves them more than fancy handbags or shoes. Isn't that sweet?
And a tapered rolling pin. Because. It is beautiful. And smooth. And tapered. And beautiful. I was warned about the unfriendliness of the E.Dehillerin sales people and lo, they were indeed unpleasant. But a few minutes after leaving, beautiful rolling pin in hand, I'd mercifully forgotten all about them.
At Fnac, where I could have spent hours poring over the cookbooks (Germany's cookbook sections in chain bookstores continue to be, for the most part, a demoralizing wasteland), I scored a cheap paperback copy of Christine Ferber's jam-making classic, Mes Confitures. There are so many recipes in this thing that I, quite possibly, may never need another jam book again. Shall we make a winter jam very soon? Yes? Yes.
And then, as I was leafing through Atelier Tartes by Catherine Kluger, my eye caught something wondrous: a rice pudding-rhubarb tart. Oh yes. Sweet tart pastry, fresh rhubarb filling, rice pudding on top. Rice pudding pie! Sold. It is killing me to have to wait until spring for rhubarb to try this. What do you say, is this an occasion to buy frozen rhubarb and give it a go? Yay or nay, folks? Are you as impatient as I am?
Finally, because you cannot go to Paris and not buy tea, I braved Mariage Frères (insane, as usual) on an errand for my mother and spent a blissful hour at Le Palais des Thès (quiet, friendly, personable) browsing and sniffing teas to my heart's content. It's my favorite tea store, that place. Such a treat.
There were only a few meals worth mentioning, in case you're going to Paris anytime soon. First of all, we had a very, very good lunch at Cafe des Musées on Rue de Turenne in the Marais. It's the kind of place where the waiter plonks a big crock of cornichons on the table for you to help yourself when you order the terrine to start. There was a gossamer cauliflower soup that made me want to go home and cook nothing else, and a French version of shepherd's pie (parmentier) made with delicious ground pheasant and topped with the most wonderful mashed potatoes.
The ever-reliable Chez Shen on rue au Maire in the 3rd arrondissement is a good place to stop in for a bowl of Chinese soup and noodles for lunch if you're watching your budget and/or simply can't handle another rich meal. I have an emotional attachment to it since I used to come here all the time all those years ago. It's a little cleaner and brighter than it was ten years ago.
If you happen to find yourself in the 19th arrondissement, near the Jaurès or Bolivar métro stations, Boris Portolan's bakery on Avenue Secrétan is worth a visit. His chausson aux pommes is a buttery wonder and it's filled with just the right amount of perfectly puckery applesauce.
But, really, best of all is if you find yourself in Paris with a kitchen. Then you can go to the grocery store, buy a can of pale green flageolet beans and a can of peeled tomatoes and stew them together with some olive oil, garlic and salt for a while until you've got something savory and spoonable and perfect with that crusty baguette you bought just before dinner. Or you can make a whole meal out of a little salad you put together at the market and a bunch of cheese you bought from the affineur (St. Marcellin, I miss you!). You can buy a sack of incredibly flavorful, boiled crevettes rose from the fishmonger and make a mayonnaise at home for dipping. You can go to the market and buy great boiled beets, slipping out of their skins, to dice up and dress at home. You can buy a hot roast chicken from the boucherie and ask for a portion of the tiny football-shaped potatoes that have gone all brown and crusty below the rows of birds, soaking up several chickens' worth of juice and fat.
Shopping for food in Paris is a treat far better than any restaurant, I find. It's hard to be disappointed by a green market or a grocery store in Paris, besides the fact that it keeps your budget down and allows you a wide variety of wonderful meals. And, nicest of all, it makes you feel, just for a little while at least, like you're a part of the glittering city, not just a tourist with a map in her pocket.