Moonlight in Odessa – Cultural Surprises and a Giveaway

29 10 2010

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting Janet Skeslien Charles, a native of Montana who now makes her home in Paris, and who has written an engaging first novel called Moonlight in Odessa.

Moonlight in Odessa

Faced with graduating college with a minor in Russian and lacking any practical experience with the language, Janet got a fellowship to move to Odessa, in Ukraine,  for two years to teach English.  I think it was a daring thing to do, but then, I can barely read Russian.  While there she learned a lot about Odessan culture, and gained an appreciation for the hearty, comforting food.  Later, her experiences there inspired her to write this novel, with a bright, determined, young Odessan woman named Daria as its heroine.

When the story opens, Daria is working as a secretary for a shipping company.  She has a tense relationship with her boss, who drops not-so-subtle hints that sexual favors are part of the job.  After a particularly awkward encounter, Daria begins to worry about her job security and begins moonlighting at a “dating” service designed to fix up Ukranian women with American or European men.  In the course of translating letters and emails for the mail-order brides, she starts corresponding with a couple of the men herself.  One ends up proposing, offering her a new life in America, the Land of Opportunity, which leads to a series of difficult decisions for Daria.  What is most important?  Family?  Love?  Security?  Happiness?

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More Football Baking

26 10 2010

It’s getting to be a bit of a thing, this football-watching.  I’ve really taken to baking or cooking up something delicious to share with my friends on Sunday, and it’s really nice to have something fun to look forward to on Sunday night – a nice cap to the weekend that lets you forget about Monday morning for a few more hours.

Gotta love the muffin method!

Two Sundays ago, Melissa was hosting, and she wanted to make a big pot of chili.  She requested that I whip up some cornbread to go along with it, and of course I was game.  But I didn’t want to stop at just plain old cornbread.

Jalapeño and cheddar make everything better!

No, only the best in home-pickled and hand-imported ingredients will do.  That is to say, I found a half-full jar of pickled peppers lurking in the fridge, and the Baby Loaf of Tillamook cheddar needed to be put to good use, because moldy Tillamook is not an option in my house.

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Around Paris: 5th: Boca Mexa

24 10 2010

Friday night I met up with Katia and Kyliemac, Paris’ most famous expat podcasters.  We started off with a few happy hour margaritas at La Perla in the marais, but before long we were hungry for something more substantial than guacamole and chips.  I’ve eaten at La Perla before, and have found their food to be hit-and-miss.  Mexican sounded pretty good, though.

The Great Wall of Hot Sauce

Fortunately, my companions had recently heard tell of a new Mexican place on rue Mouffetard.  Preliminary reviews were of the raving variety, so we decided to go on a little adventure.  Walking down one of the Left Bank’s liveliest streets, we discussed how none of us came over here very much, and whether the area was more touristy or if it was the habitual convergence of foreign students that makes it what it is.  Which is generally, pretty fun, although there may be one too many English pubs catering to study-abroad types.

At any rate, thanks to the internet and smartphones, we quickly found the address we were seeking, and lo and behold, it was indeed a Mexican place.

Boca Mexa, rue Mouffetard

It was getting close to closing time, but the friendly staff patiently waited for us to make up our minds and quickly prepared our burrito, tacos, and quesadilla once we had.  They said we could take our time, so we settled in across from the Hot Sauce Wall (pictured above).

Burrito bite

I got a beef burrito, which featured a weirdly Indian-esque spice blend.  Katia, Kyliemac, and Nick assured me that their chicken-filled items were much better, so I’ll be sure to keep that in mind for next time.

Corn tacos

Tacos are available in either corn (three) or flour (two) tortillas.  The tortilla chips on the side were industrially made and unremarkable, but the salsas were pretty good, especially the hot one (not really all that hot for true spice lovers) and the tomatillo one, which was tangy and fresh-tasting.

The most exciting thing about Boca Mexa, however, may just be the small selection of Mexican products they have for sale near the cash register.  Cans of chipotle chilis in adobo seem a little expensive at 3 euros, but I haven’t seen them for sale anywhere else in Paris in almost three years of living here, and believe me, I’ve looked.  Bags of masa – essential if you want to make your own corn tortillas at home – cost 8 euros, which is half of what Nick paid for the Last Bag of Masa in Paris a little over a year ago.  Now we don’t have to hoard it anymore!  And perhaps best of all, the hot sauces.  Southern Californians will be excited to see the wooden-topped bottles of Cholula, and I think Nick actually got a tear in his eye upon seeing his beloved Valentina’s.

So we’ll definitely be back to stock up on Mexican ingredients, and while we’re there, we might just have to have a quick, cheap bite.  I’ll be sure to get the chicken.

On this day in 2008: Chicken’s in the Microwave, Beer’s in the Freezer

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

French Baking For The American Football Crowd

19 10 2010

Come fall, many Americans living abroad miss the excitement, camaraderie, and all-around fun of watching NFL football.  Nick and I are no exception.  But this year we’ve joined forces with a group of friends to get a pass which allows us to watch all the games we want over the internet.  We’ve been getting together every Sunday night to watch the day games live.  People take turns hosting the gathering, and everyone brings beer and snacks to share.  It’s a convivial atmosphere and a fun group – I dare say I’d have fun even if I didn’t enjoy football.  (But since I do, go Niners!)

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Sablés

Nick and I missed the first couple of weeks of the season, but we’ve been going for the last three weeks, and I’ve baked something every time.  The first week we went, I brought these rhubarb crumble bars – I didn’t have any quince jam, so I just doubled the amount of rhubarb filling.  They were devoured.  Then following week, I made the ever-popular bacon-onion dip, but I felt that a sweet of some sort was expected of me, too.  (That’s what happens when you make pastries for a living.)  So I took the opportunity to try one of the many, many recipes I have flagged in Pierre Hermé’s Larousse du Chocolat.

Ideal vs. actual

Looking at those squiggles and imagining the crisp butteriness that surely accompanies each bite, my thoughts somehow turned to peanut butter.  I figured I could swap out half the butter for peanut butter and the cookies would be that much more delicious (and more American football-watching appropriate).  Well, as you can see in the above picture, it didn’t exactly go according to plan.  It turns out that peanut butter is a lot drier than butter, and as a result my dough was way too stiff to be piped out into dainty swirls.  That’s what I get for trying to bake something fancy for a football party.  Still, the familiar rounds with the classic fork design let my friends know that these were indeed peanut butter cookies, despite their chocolatey appearance.  Rolling subsequent batches in sparkly sugar felt even more American.  The only thing that belies the French origin of these cookies is the crumbly texture typical of French sablé cookies – “sablé” being French for “sandy.”  And if you wanted to serve these at your next football get-together, I don’t think anyone would complain.

A French-American alliance

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Sablés

The refined tea cookie gets a homespun twist with the classic flavor combination of chocolate and peanut butter.

4.6 oz. / 130 g all-purpose flour
4.6 oz. / 130 g cake flour
1 oz. / 30 g cocoa powder
4.4 oz. / 125 g butter, softened
4.4 oz. / 125 g peanut butter (smooth or crunchy is up to you)
3.5 oz. / 100 g powdered sugar
A pinch of fine sea salt
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
granulated and/or turbinado sugar for rolling (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 355 F / 180 C. Sift the flours and cocoa powder together and set aside.
  2. Whisk the butter and peanut butter until soft and creamy. Sift in the powdered sugar and add the salt. Continue whisking until evenly combined. Measure out 4 tablespoons of the egg whites and whisk them in.
  3. Add the sifted flours and cocoa powder to the bowl with the butters. Stir gently with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dough comes together. It may help to incorporate half the flour at a time.
  4. Form the dough into 1” / 2.5 cm balls. Roll in sugar, if desired, and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Flatten the cookies by making a crosshatch pattern with the tines of a fork.
  5. Bake about 10 minutes, until cookies are firm with a slight give when poked with a finger. Repeat shaping and baking until all the dough is used up. Cookies will keep for about 3 days in an airtight container.

Makes about 60 cookies.

On this day in 2009: Le Cumin et Les Noix de Pecan

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Worthwhile French Beers: Val’Aisne Blonde

16 10 2010

Blondes have more fun?

We sampled a lot of beers, French and otherwise, while my brother-in-law, Casey, was in town a few weeks ago.  Somehow, we only got tasting notes and pictures of two of them.  I guess sometimes it’s just more important to enjoy the company and the beer in your glass than it is to try to document every last moment.

This beer, Val’Aisne Blonde, is brewed by the Brasserie Val’Aisne, located to the Northeast of Paris and just Northwest of Reims, the heart of Champagne country.  All their beers are top-fermented (read: ales as opposed to lagers), unfiltered, and undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle to produce the carbonation.  The brewery is open to the public for tastings and sales, and they even sell kegs for special occasions!

Upon pouring it into glasses, Nick, Casey, and I noted its lofty khaki head and sweet, malty aroma which gave way to more complex smells: sour-citrusy, banana ester, and warm spices such as ginger, nutmeg and coriander.  The first sip was very effervescent, with a tangy finish – the sort of acidity that leaves your mouth watering just a bit.  As we drank, a thick Belgian lace formed on the sides of the glass – unlike so many French beers, this head had some staying power.  Unfortunately, at the end of the day the Val’Aisne Blonde was kind of nondescript.  It was pleasant and all that, but not particularly memorable.  Still, I think it is a well-made beer, and wouldn’t hesitate to try another of their offerings, if the opportunity presents itself.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

On this day in 2008: Tonight’s Dinner in Real Time

Luxury Leftovers

11 10 2010


Chicken Liver and Sage Crostini

Savory Pumpkin Tartlets

Royal Marquissac Saumur Brut


Velouté de Cèpes

Mustard Twists and Rosemary Crème Fraîche

Domaine Prieur-Brunet Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot 2007


Pork Roast with Prunes and Hidden Bacon

Smoky Herbed Bread Pudding

Tangy Braised Swiss Chard with Pine Nuts

Spiced Persimmon Sauce

Vaucher Père & Fils Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits 2008


Bleu des Causses with Fresh Figs

Château Les Rochers Sauternes Voigny 2008


Vanilla-Gewurtztraminer Poached Pears

Caramel-Praliné Ice Cream

Warm Chocolate Sauce and Praliné Crumbles

Eau de Vie Poire Williams


I adore planning menus.  I had a lot of fun with this one, and was almost relieved when I didn’t advance in Project Food Blog, because it meant that I could really enjoy the meal I had created.  Of course, I had planned to do lots of it ahead of time, but in the end it all got done the day of the party, except for the pears and ice cream, which I had the foresight to make earlier in the week.  Believe it or not, I didn’t even know what the meat was going to be until I went out to the butcher on Saturday and scoped out what he had that would go with the sides I had planned.  (I’m also the sort of person who starts her outfit with the accessories I want to wear.)

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Worthwhile French Beers: Agent Provocateur

9 10 2010

Agent Provocateur

It almost feels like cheating to call this a French beer, since Agent Provocateur is brewed by a Scotsman.  Craig Allan studied the science of brewing and distilling in Edinburgh, and after a decade of brewing for Scottish microbreweries, as well as working in the whisky trade and on Burgundian vineyards, he struck out on his own to brew fine craft beers in France.  It may seem like a strange choice of locale, but his aim is to prove that good microbrew has all the merit of fine wine.  If he can win over the French, mission accomplished!  Besides, he’s got the Auld Alliance (which has been in effect since the 13th century, and until the early 20th century gave all Scots French citizenship) to back him up.

History aside, this is a fantastic beer.  Nick’s family visited us for a week and a half in September, and his brother Casey is quite the beer enthusiast.  (This is putting it mildly – his beer bottle collection could fill a small museum.)  Nick directed him to a couple of our favorite beer stores, namely La Cave à Bulles, near the Centre Pompidou, and Terres de Bières in the Marché St. Quentin.  He came home a few days in a row with a selection of beers to try (and, if possible, bring home for the bottle collection).  One of said beers was Agent Provocateur, which was recommended as hoppier than most.

We poured it into three glasses and noted the pillowy, cream-colored head over a hazy, dark-golden liquid.  The aroma was quite hoppy, with fruity hints of grapefruit.  On the palate, it exhibited strong hop bitterness balanced with a very lightly sweet malt background and flavors of fresh-cut grass.

“This is the first good beer I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Casey declared.  I found it incredibly refreshing, and hands-down the most West Coast American IPA-style beer I’ve had in France.  That’s a good thing.

* * * * *

Just a quick reminder, if you haven’t already, to enter to win a $75 gift certificate to CSN stores!  I’ll be choosing a winner at random from the comments tomorrow, Sunday October 10th, at noon Paris time.  The announcement will follow shortly thereafter.

On this day in 2009: Kir Bourgignon

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

My First-Ever Giveaway!

7 10 2010

(Not counting the time in college when I was hosting a radio show from 3-7 am and offered up all the change in my pocket if anyone could correctly identify the song.  I don’t remember what the song was, but I do remember that nobody claimed the seven cents.)

I have a $75 gift certificate to give away to one lucky reader.  It’s for CSN stores, which I had never heard of before they contacted me, but I looked into it and they seem legit.  They have over 200 different online stores, so whether you’re in the market for new bed sets, shoes, or (my favorite) cookware, you can probably find something that strikes your fancy.  And I can give you $75 towards purchasing it!

All you have to do is live in the USA or Canada (or have a mailing address there) and leave me a comment on this post.  I’ll give you a topic: College radio in the ’90s.  Discuss.

If you don’t have anything to say about that one, how about: Got any good ideas for a Halloween costume?  Or: What is your favorite thing to cook in the Fall?  Yeah, that’s more like it.  I’ll start.  Cassoulet.

I will randomly choose a winner on Sunday, October 10th at noon, Paris time.

On this day in 2009: Gâteau Tatin

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Can’t Win ‘Em All

4 10 2010

I want to thank everyone out there in internet-land for your votes, tweets, comments, and general support of me in Project Food Blog.  The Powers that Be have decided that I’m not moving on in the competition.  So it goes.  I was a little sad about it, but I tried to look at the bright side: I was still having a dinner party, but I didn’t have to photograph it or write about it, leaving me free to enjoy the food and the company of good friends.

That said, if I’m going to lose I want someone Really Good to win.  It’s been fun finding so many new blogs as a part of this competition, and here are three who really deserve your votes.

1. Pastry Methods and Techniques

Jenni's citrus shortbread

I’ve been reading Jenni’s blog for a while now, and not only does she really know her way around the pastry kitchen, she’s also hilarious.  You can vote for her here, or by clicking the picture of her scrumptious-looking citrus shortbreads.

2. Life on Nanchang Lu

mah jong dessert

Fiona is an Australian living in Shanghai, China.  Her stories are fascinating and her pictures are great.  Plus, she made my all-time favorite Chinese dish for the last challenge!  You can read about her fabulous 10-hour Mahjong lunch here.

3. Fresh Air + Fresh Food


Lindsey writes a fresh and fun blog from my home state!  Her awesome dinner party featured the best local products, from her husband’s homebrew to my favorite berry.  Read all about it here.

I’ll be back soon with some more French beers for you.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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