Friday, January 26, 2007

The wonders of Paris - Food and the Delicacy of Independant Travel -OR- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Butter

Paris has a singular smell. Cold paint thinner hinting with concrete and detergent, similar to the UK but sharper, wiser, more independent of Europe.
Julien picked me up at the drizzling airport and we arrived in St. Mande, just barely outside of the main city on the eastern edge by the Bois de Vincennes. With this smell suddenly blooming in my nose, flashbacks of my first trip to Europe shook me and warmed me again, that smell, that smell, that Europe smell, like cold, night washed metal, some form of city perfume that was so entirely not Los Angeles. Prickling all over we strolled down in the dusk to his place, up the winding wooden stairs that echoed our steps, to the bed until I collapsed on his mattress drooling on the red duvet, pulled in piling swirls around my head.
When I woke up, daylight had passed and though my eyes were wrung out on jet lag, I popped up and crept downstairs to the background voice of Julien. He was being cool as always, even after a year, but I didn’t care anymore, my flush of energy after an hour long nap was unwounded by his boyish superiority complex. He took me out to the bakery just across the street from his place and, like a good authority figure, bought me whatever I pointed at, in quick, quiet French, sliding metal chocolate coins over the counter as I slipped the deliriously beloved "Chausson au Pommes" into my hands. Oh my dear Chausson...
Squealing with the purse of apple pastry cupped in my hands, buried against my nose, I trotted (he stepped) down the curb to take an introductory stroll of the small town. It was a like a miniature Paris, sharing the same traits; tall stacked buildings with small square windows and slanted grey and blue rooftops like the top of a trapezoid. It was harder to tell at night, but it seemed to wind around itself at every turn, with it’s shoe repair stores and green lit pharmacies crowding the curves. We continued on toward the park; bright black night, lights glowing frosted and billowing out at the edges from tall wilting street lamps, frayed into the rest of the black...everything seemed so sharp and clean. My cheeks battled the cold and the flurry of it carried up to my nose. With the pastry stuffed against my face I must’ve looked like a 5 year old, beaming at the simplest of things; a golden light in a bedroom window, an elderly couple holding hands in the darkness of the park. I murmered sweet nothings to the Chausson and gasped at the width of the cobblestone. Julien’s eyebrows lifted or tightened as he escorted his oh-so-American food-luster as discretely as he could up the slowly lifting street.

I had come to Paris to see the band Muse in concert. It was the end of October and getting cold but not yet snowing, not yet losing leaves. I had just left my recent ex-boyfriend behind in the San Fernando Valley, to sit at perfect cafes and feed culinary wonders to my slowly diminishing curves, to live the life that Paris promises. I had three weeks to spend with the platonic charm of another ex, L’ex Francais, Julien, who I had met long before the beautiful sparkling Southern boy who I was now trying to escape. No matter how much I loved the weight of unrequited love, the weight of dough and butter resting in my hand like a sleeping kitten was what I needed now, and this was the place to be. Details don’t matter. It was Paris, and Paris’ role was a given: Highly romantic and essential setting for either the milk of a broken heart or the blood of a new love. Thank god for getting dumped, I knew exactly where I was. I would do as I pleased until Julien's friends arrived around the 2nd week and we’d crash into Bercy stadium to see Muse with the rest of the cult.
Until then it was just me creaking my way around the well-bred, simple two-story apartment, made of iron colored window lace, white paint and wooden floors, and tables smoothed down to their nails. In the morning I would wake up while Julien was at work and turn the same color as the walls hitting the sunlight. Opening the windows was like kissing them, they were crafted so well. I gently took them in my hands and pushed into the morning sky. There I was met again by that smell, cold, cold city air breathing bitter sun into my mouth and closing my eyes at the same time. Leaning out the window in my pajamas, I would gaze at the tops of heads and hints of green from the park at the end of the narrow block like a indoor cat. Turning on the tv for company, and fluency by osmosis, I’d barefoot into the white tiled kitchen, lit by cloudy light, and drink a small glass of blood orange juice. Scaffolding draped itself and billowed plastic curtains against the window, and on some mornings a mix of French and Spanish from the workers peppered the air like clucking chickens, echoing from above while I smiled in the shower.

When Julien got up for work he was nothing but French, an open book and secrets of his culture seeping everywhere like water from a broken pipe. Did you know, for example, that the French freeze their vodka, cut their pizza with a fork and knife, and wear the same pinstriped jeans everyday? He drove me delgihtfully insane - smoking and talking too loud when I was trying to watch t.v. at night, calling me over to cuddle with him before he fell asleep, shouting "Putain!" at the computer screen when Paris lost a match. I could’ve cradled myself in the charms of cameraderie, my little square of the apartment, for the entire trip. But sooner or later, I had to have coffee and I had to have bread.
It was a few days, however, before I got up enough courage to actually order something on my own, other than "une truffe" from the St. Mande Chocolatier on the corner. Je parle Francais un peu, but I was locked into the polite, intimidated silence that so many Americans have likely experienced. So I would shatter around on an empty stomach for hours, forgetting my appetite, distracting myself with the blurry black and colored poster walls of the metro, and the antique streets pulling away in every direction. Until one afternoon I finally found a café that smiled at me. Inside it was starkly warm and pulling off my gloves I approached the Frenchman watching my arrival.
"Un café, s’il vous plait" and that was all I could manage. He had broken his conversation with an older woman who wore "French" on her face as deeply lived and elegantly as the city itself, and they were now both casually clinking ceramic behind the counter and paying no heed to my obvious origins. It worked! The secret code! French! just for my one, splendid espresso. After a minor debacle involving dropped coins and a midol pill, I blushed and settled into a table facing a world of stone and flowers. A rattling cup and spoon, slow French music, sweet woman’s voice in French, man’s voice like bubbling water, spoons in a jar, change jingling, kids calling, buzzing motorcycles and ocean-sounds of cars... the café had bloomed around me. A row along the top of the wall was decorated in a black band with little pictures on it saying, for example, "plat du jour" or "croque pain poulain" painted in cartoon images of wine glasses and slices of bread. This was my first city breakfast and I wanted to be alone, slowly consuming these views and thinking my own English thoughts, and I was left alone. After countless years of artists and writers flocking to their city for inspiration, Parisians seemed to know the importance of being independent, because, as I soon found out, the city personifies independence.
Before I left I caught a sweet smell, like rose flavored hookah smoke, "un Chocolat" and "ah oui, exacte" from invisible customers, while the machine rose up again, frothing. I left in love with the bar mistress’ voice and the shake of coffee grounds on metal.
Back outside, I immediately skirted across the street and bought an earl grey chocolate truffle with a picture of a blue ship painted on the top. High on caffeine I came to the conclusion that I should probably look into gathering some little orange tangerines from the farmer’s market one day on the way home so as to have a more balanced morning routine. A morning routine! In Paris! The domesticity of the traveler, what bliss...
Gratefully, I began to sink into this role of cultivated loner over the next week. It helped when Julien not only came down with a bad cold, but a big deadline at work as well as a sprained ankle. It was comical actually, especially when one night I caught him vacuuming in a flurry on both feet, drunk and scowling at scattered bread crumbs on the floor before retreating to the couch to smoke and pout about the stress.
Forced to venture into the city alone everyday now, and often well into the night, I was able to slip between it’s cracks one metro stop at a time, from St. Mande on the yellow line straight into Bastille, Hotel de Ville and the Louvre in no more that 15 minutes. On the metro when the windows became mirrors in the black tunnel, I stared into the space of reflected faces, the flat slipper-like sneakers, dark knit sweaters and skirts with stockings in different patterns. Everyone was so cold looking, cool like colors, not temperature, in a winter shade of character that I had never seen in the bleached out population of LA. They were beautiful faces, winter faces.
On my big shopping day I started out on the sunny Rue de Rennes past the Ecole des Beaux Arts, my fat and buttery "crepe mixte" heavy in my hands, oozing heat all over my fingertips. I walked hour after hour through streams of quickly moving Parisians rushing down the same one-way sidewalks as if they were all late for lunch or for an art class. I would shop, get cold outside, sweat sweat sweat inside, carry my jackets, sweat, go outside, cool, then cold again, back inside for heat, and sweat again, feeling beautifully peeled away in my exposed dressing room skin. Back outside I caught the faces once more, this time without reflection. Each person looked completely independent of the other, yet they were all flowing through the same veins; cells working toward the common goal of keeping something greater than themselves alive.

When looking up into the visage of a looming church or the blackened walls of buildings, I found the same was true of the city itself. There were the quintessential "must sees" of Paris: L’Opera, L’Arc de Triomphe, Le Louvre, holding court ever so subtly, despite their blatant lineage. But alongside them sat the equally dignified creatures of everyday life, from the Librarie Monte Cristo, which bought and sold Jules Verne books, to Muji the Japanese design store to Chez Papa, a youthful bistro serving deep bowls of salad layered with potoatos, melted fontina and fethered prociutto, to my personal favorite, Miroirs Anciens. From shops designed to sell one thing behind their colored doorframes, to the Euro equivalent of Target, they were all as full of quiet, established pride and style as the people themselves. All serving their purpose.
Eventually I graduated to ordering brie and tomato crepes for dinner in the Marais, and laughing it up with the waitress when I made an unintentional double entendre involving "La Toilette". I would pick up a small steak wrapped in brown paper and some "Desperado" in a giant bullet shaped beer can for Julien on the way home, and we’d eat, cutting haricots verts and meat together with our knives in one bite. With the Southern boy thousands of miles away in the flat lined night of the valley, Paris revealed it’s infamous hand for me to kiss. I was being courted by independence, in fine details falling quietly in twists of falling yellow spades from it’s black trees, and black chocolate cake breaking apart into creme anglais.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Food Muse 2- Chocolate! and it's addictive properties

Hey Everyone-
Long ago when I was thinking of making Foodie a 'hard copy' magazine, I called for chocolate/food articles. Local LA writer, Tina M. Courtney, responded with enthusiasm and a great article about said topic. Since I finally have the proper venue, and I happen to be chocolate musing today anyway, I thought it would be the best time to post it. at last!

The Addictive Properties of Chocolate – Myths Dispelled and Truths Revealed
By Tina M. Courtney

Few foods are held in higher accord than our beloved chocolate, and for good reason. Even the mightiest among us have succumbed to a late-night cocoa craving, so when you find yourself combing through the cupboards at 2 AM itching for a fix, take heart – it’s chemical. Chocolate has many psychoactive qualities, but you don’t need to hit the nearest rehab. This is one addiction you can be proud of, and there’s even evidence that regular consumption is heart-healthy and improves longevity. Sounds too good to be true? The proof is in the pudding, so read on for the delicious details.

Chocolate is derived from the tropical tree Theobroma Cocao - theobroma means “food of the gods” in Greek. You’re already feeling better, aren’t you?
Chocolate contains small quantities of anandamide, a chemical naturally found in our active little brains the induces a sense of well-being and peacefulness. Chocolate contains two structurally similar chemicals, and some believe this accounts for the soothing feeling sparked by a chocolate binge.
Chocolate also contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid most commonly found in turkey. Think of your last Thanksgiving meal – you felt fat, happy, and super-relaxed in the aftermath, right? Chocolate can have the same effect. The tryptophan in both of these foods assists in the production of serotonin, our mood-modulating neurotransmitter.
Hardcore chocoholics swear consumption triggers an inner-glow like none other. Science can prove it. This sweet treat assists in releasing endorphins, the body’s own opiates. These little honeys ease pain sensitivity and give us a little buzz – and it’s all legal!
Know any wise women who swear that PMS sparks serious chocolate cravings? There’s proof of that as well. Chocolate is rich with magnesium, and during the pre-menstrual days, women are low on this essential nutrient. These cravings are, in part, the body’s way of staying healthy.
The key player in this heavenly snack is phenylethylamine, the beloved substance that releases dopamine in our pleasure-center, setting off feelings of attraction, excitement, and full-on euphoria. The amount of chemical giddiness chocolate is truly responsible for remains debatable, but believers speculate some are simply more susceptible to phenylethylamine than others. It’s also common knowledge that women produce more phenylethylamine than men. It’s all making so much sense.
Lastly, chocolate may even be linked to a longer life span. A recent study of 8,000 male Harvard graduates showed that chocoholics lived longer than abstainers. This may be derived by the high polyphenol levels in chocolate – a substance the vehemently protects again heart disease.

There’s enough backlash out there about the negative repercussions of this sinful treat, but enough with the chocolate bashing. Yes, of course unreasonably large consumptions of high-fat chocolates will cause weight gain and related health issues, but those in the know embrace the darker varieties as a truly healthy snack. Consider these facts justification for your next bona fide craving – tell the nay-sayers it’s biological, and get yourself a guilt-free fix.

(And now thanks to Tina's article I'm sure we all could do with a healthy chocolate indulgence! Here are my top favorites and suggestions. yumyumyumyumyum stuff chocolate into your mouth!! :))
(First things first, this is Tina's blog site! check it out of course. honestly it makes me hungry just looking at it)
(Jacques Torres: Charming. French. Chocolate obsessed. totally worth shipping from NY.)
(Like, one of the best candy bars ever)
(a FANTASTIC tea house and british store in Santa Monica, with, most importantly, a divine British candy selection. You can get yer Violet Crumble there luv! and I also highlyreccommend the Aero bars. OO! and Twirly Whirleys!)
(Ok maybe a bit of a stretch 'cuz it's in France, but I love them. really tasty spicey conncoctions. They too are worth the shipping. Just look at the pretty dark chocolate site! drroooool)
(ok, not a huge scharffberger fan, BUT their Gianduja (Hazelnut) bar is UNREAL. unreal. again... unreal.)

(They have REALLY good dark chocolate from Belgium ("pound plus") that's less than $3. seriously. Good for, oh say really strange hormonal late night cravings where you want to eat frozen cherries and feel gobs of rich, melted, dark chocolate sliding down your throat. ahem. just as a purely hypothetical example, of course. Check them out to find a store near you.)
(AND just for fun, as a healthy reminder, pretty much my fav. candy ever - junior mints! Dark chocolate and "low fat"! wheeeee. Try them slowly in a movie theatre with popcorn. yes.)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Food Muse - TEA!

I just bought me some Lapsang Souchong. My friend just smelled it last night and sort of reeled, coughing "it smells like campfire"..
yes it does my friend. yes it does. and that is the beauty of Lapsang. Smokey, slightly burnt-caramel oakey flavor, it's a heavy, meaty, gorgeous cup. and by meaty I mean totally not like meat. you know what I mean!
In general I love tea, and when I sat at Peet's coffee in Studio City for hours one day a little over a year ago, "feeling it out" to see if I wanted to maybe-possibly-consider-thinking-about working there, I browsed thier fabulous tea brochures. (They have one for coffee too, but keep focused!)
It was then and there, as I shifted the crunchy tan pages between my fingers, that I decided to have a "I fell in love with tea in that moment" moment.
I imagined myself becoming a connoiseur, breathing in the tea leaves and telling people at parties which hidden tea-tones went best with which tea cookie. Shocking my family and friends when I began to dreamily recount the history of tea production in India, or how exactly one determines orange pekoe to, say, broken orange pekoe. "That's it!"I thought. "I've found my 'it'!! TTTEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAA!!!!"
Needless to say this faded pretty quickly, as with most of my grand sweeping fantasies, (unless we're talking about guys, but that's another blog).

BUT I did get a job at Peets, my love for tea DID increase beyond the black tea, melting clotted cream sex-faint with warmly baked scone partnership, and now I'm sure that I dont' want to be a tea guru. I just want to love tea, try tea, and buy tea. And I suggest you do the same. It's really good for you, the flavors are amazing (I bought a caramel flavored tea in London... hellllloooo? seriously?? uucucucuch, drool) and, just as with wine or coffee, the tea plantations, roasting techniques and cultivation etc. all play a hand in a particular teas taste, even if it's the same type of tea. (Incidentally the same is happening with chocolate - it's a foodie revolution!! Let's all fly to Paris!!!!! EWAN MCGREGOR!!)
Moulin Rouge, "children of the revolution" and all that... ahem.

Anyway, here are some great places to explore tea in LA:

8422 1/2 west 3rd street
Los Angeles Ca 90048

I think they have like, 200 teas or something, just amazing. The menu has little descriptions of all the teas and where they come from. buttery yummers mouth watering... just reading the menu will inspire you and inform you of teas you've never even heard before.

Yes, they are going a little corporate, but they really do care about the quality of thier products and that really does set them apart from Starbutts, for example. and no I'm not biased.
Working there was great because you truly beleived in what you were selling. well, I did at least cos I'm a food snob! YAY!
They have lots of featured tea samples, and if you buy a tin of tea (or coffee) you get a free cup to try. And even though we're supposed to be experts, it's not always easy to remember the flavor characteristics of every tea and coffee, so ask for the tea wheel! it's really cool.
And I highly recommend the Studio City store (my Alma Mater). Good people.
Ok enough about tea!! I'm gonna go have some, I'm getting a caffeine headache.
Happy eating! (drinking)

Burdgeoning food business tips- or- "How I procrastinate making chocolate in the morning"

Good morning! (afternoon) ish

I have started a small business. in small theory, and very small practice. But my heart is clear (now) and my labels (which arrived yesterday!!) are gold and shiny. It's been sort of difficult lately...well actually always, because I get in my way so damn much that I end up doing nothing. Fortunately I have a dear friend, who, if he ever reads this blog, will be glad to know that I think he finally cracked the egg. Or rather, I think I finally heard him. (oh my)

For those of you who understand what it's like to battle a relentlessly evil and stubborn ego, you know what I'm talking about. You spin yourself into chaos, fear, anger... and of course it only gets worse when the bad side starts to see the good side struggle through and wants to kill it. Think Richard E Grant in "How to Get Ahead in Advertising"...

So this is what I've learned so far, without giving voice to my bad bad little ego. shame on you ego.
1.Dont' spend 3 months picking a name.

That's what I did, and I see now it was a frantic, scared attempt at overmanagement (of myself) and perfectionism. much as I still LOVE to know that I am a bit of a perfectionist, an image maker, and a control freak, which I think might work lovely for a good food astehtic and an eventual work ethic in a difficult business, it gets in the way when you end up making doodles of signs and menus for things you haven't even made or told anyone about yet. again, for MONTHS. To take a page out of my friends book - it's just avoiding DOING anything. The JOY of getting a name that clicks will be worth it. Go about your business, (literally and figuratively) and it will come to you. Or maybe I'm the only one obsessed with a name...

2. (if you type in that will work too)

best site ever.
If you are reading this blog, chances are you know the site, but still, go on, have a look. give yourself a cheer. the colors are pretty, you can search recipes, shows or topics, you can type in keywords (such as "caramalized apples") and VOILA pages of recipes file down and are rated on scales of easy-difficult. And it's great to see each chef's different method and to find one that suits you.
It's simple, incredibly helpful, and you can print really cute little recipe cards too! ahhh, i'm a girl. but seriously, it's not just a site devoted to thier shows, there is a wealth of knowledge there, and I owe my ganache recipe.. hell pretty much my entire ganache knowledge to Sara Moulton. There is MUCH more on the site, but I use the search feature so religiously, and with such great results I haven't even seen what else they can offer! so have fun. trust your cool tv chefs.

3. Keep Track of Your Expenses n' shit.
so I havent' been doing this lately and this is why I tell you. For my first business idea, that has now morphed into chocolate truffles, I had a binder devoted to all things relating to the business. Just get a good ol' 3-ring grammer school binder and sort it according to your taste with those little colored tabs. It's also a good idea to have a page devoted to expenses. Though I haven't been doing this lately (shame) I know from the real adults in my life who actually manage thier finances, that this is an invaluable thing to do. ESP. if you are wanting to have any idea what profit you are making vs. what you are spending on materials, etc.

4. DBA/government-y stuff

When I was searching for all the complicated, red-tapey government stuff involving tax ids, seller ids, DBA ("doing business as") registration, etc. and what it all meant, I found this site:

This guy is cool. and the site is helpful in general. All subsequent info on this type of stuff I pretty much gleaned from this article and all it's links.

enough about that, I still have to practice a lot of this preach, but I hope what I have learned is helpful!

also, check out
it's a great chocolate forum. very helpful, knowledgable people, free to sign up.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The First Official

After much reworking, i finally have a new blog, on the 'new and improved' blogger. This blog is designed for the true foodie in mind. So whether it be a food prose poem, a 'food theme of the day', recipes, or rants and updates and info pertaining to my ever more challenging but quietly fascinating turn as an amateur chocolatier(ish), I will fill these brown electronic pages with food love and try to guide any and all to better, more fulfilling, lustful, well-informed and scintillating food understanding and sympathy. or something.
and so first and foremost I think i need to say "on these chocolate pages"... oooo
la dee da!

ok now for some reason the italic is refusing to be un-clicked.

arrrrrrggg!! elegant scream!

not the best start. so I will finish well, with a description of my family's thanksgiving breakfast tradition. I'm rusty in my writing, as I've become a little apron wearing, glaze-eyed housewife with an Imaginary boyfriend. Maybe that goes hand in hand with single girls and chocolate. shit. a cliche. sorry! bad again. ok the writing. here it is copied from my food book, (WHICH I RECOMMEND TO EVERYONE TO BUY FOR FOOD MEMORIES)
to lull you all into a fat, content little food stupor. well, hopefully. Give us a sec, we're new to this blogging thing.

The Wonderful Things:
Cynnie brings pumpkin bread with whole black walnuts from her friend Judy's mom. I envision it with large, polite slabs of softening butter, and my wishes come true. Now one triangular-type piece is waiting for me and my vanilla hazelnut tea to brew. Bob clacking in the kitchen making eggs. I was learning how to crips homefries, I added rosemary, little pastel chiclit-sized onion slices with the potato squares and the skins - sprinkling the sea salt that doesn't melt. I poured orange juice into a milk jug and the table is waiting, while the kitchen steams up, bacon flavored, and we munch out-of-appropriate-order on cynnie's peanut butter/chocolate cornflake balls and my homemade peppermint bark. And earlier on Bob's Pepperidge farm chocolate bisquit cookies. I'm blessed. My nose is blessed, my food my sight my senses my family my love of cooking.