Monday, July 25

An Occasion for Roasted Peaches

There can be an occasion for food but food can also make an occasion out of anything.

Mother. She came to stay. Filled up my apartment with the perfume she has worn all my life, commentaries about what she is doing in certain moments of the day, and her swaying to my music while we made dinner together.

The week started with me not here much. Food begs you to nurture it before 7am when you work in a restaurant. So every morning she would cut fruit from the fruit bowl and pour a small jar of yoghurt over it. It was only natural that I wanted to introduce her to how we do things here, at my place, considering she has never come to stay in a place of my own before.

Before she woke up on a day when the markets had filled the pavements along side the canal, I walked down to them and bought fresh fromage blanc, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, fresh dates and peaches. The oven was turned to 200° when I got home, the peaches were halved and sprinkled with a little brown sugar (don’t be too generous as the fruit has enough sugar to caramelize itself) and cinnamon and then the halves were placed in the oven for half an hour. Towards the end of the peaches cooking time, my homemade granola was whipped up in a few seconds and placed in there with them to golden for about 8 minutes. And then I plated everything and called mum to a breakfast of granola made from scratch, slow roasted peaches and real French fromage blanc.

I left the music on, specifically Angus and Julia Stone’s Another Day, for her to sway to as she cleaned the dishes and sing to a song she had never heard before.

Tuesday, July 19

Food Industry in Paris: Cafes

There are only a few cafes in Paris that are genuine quality. I know that may be hard to believe, I have already been through the grieving process and have come out the other side. And the other side drew my attention to the five or so cafes in Paris that can actually stand unmoved in their deemed genre; the cafe. I work at one of them. And it is filled with some pretty amazing chefs who should each be renown, except that beyond their customer’s praise and the café’s visor, they’re not.

And then there is this other one, and it makes the best coffee in Paris. As I’m sure you are well aware, that is quite an achievement. So if you come here, you must ask me for their name. And his weekend I am filling-in for an absentee in their kitchen. All I can think is that I am seriously getting around these genuine cafes in Paris. I can’t explain through worthy-enough words, how settling it feels to finally have connections in a city you have only lived in for five months. Connections that make you a part of the network that makes up the food industry in Paris.

New Zealand is up-up-and-away in the world when it comes to authentic and trustworthy café food. We’ve got the quiche filled with onions, ham, spinach, Edam cheese and it comes with a salad on the side, to which France would respond; “Why would you put salad greens on a plate!?”

We understand the combinations of sauces, fruits and varying poultry in salads.

Sometimes, when all you want is portobello mushrooms, pesto and cream cheese on a slice of toast, we get that and we wouldn’t make a fool out of you for it.

And we even offer Gorgonzola soufflés! I haven’t even seen a soufflé on a menu in France. We have focaccia bread filled with garlic aioli, sautéed vegetables, shredded roast chicken with slices of emmental from Farro; gourmet pies filled with creamy mushrooms and baked chicken dow at The Chiller; and thick steaming pumpkin soups with coriander and crispy brown seeded bread. I think we can all come to an agreement and write here, that as a nation we understand lunch food.

France, you only have a few places who see what we see.

Like Sesame down on the canal who thought about duck and goats cheese, apple, balsamic and almonds and then put it all on one plate.

Or Coutume, who with brilliance mixed chicken with basil and cream cheese and placed it on a velvety black bun.

France you may not understand lunch like we do.
But then you did give us galettes and filled them with herring and potato and crème fraiche.

And then there are your bistros with chicken caesar salads that rely on their understanding that cheese should always, always come in large quantities, even when it is parmesan.

And so I will not be that hard on you, even if you don’t see food how it should be eaten, in a form that is light, explosively flavoursome and nutritiously filling. I promise I will not be that unfair, except that I will remain amongst these five or so cafes here...

Well at least most of the time.

Sunday, July 17

Corn and Carrot Soup, Minus the Coriander

I didn’t really expect it to end like this. “Don’t forget me. I have your tea towels ready to hang in my kitchen,” implying I wouldn’t forget her. I had already made it my kitchen even though our photos and letters still covered the walls. She smiled and then I leaned forward and she hugged me on the side, nuzzling into my arm and stomach. “I love you,” she said and I knew this. Even when she said it, it wasn’t new or something I needed to know right then. It was confirmation of something that wouldn’t go away. And so I replied, “I know.”

We ate in bed. Even though she wasn’t going to be sleeping over that night. Because it was going to end like this in only a few hours. It was the usual; corn, rocket, tomato, avocado and a hard-boiled egg with cider vinegar and olive oil. And then I walked her to the train station at Gare Du Nord, in the dodgy part of Paris, and all I could think was that we had made a home together so well.

Sometimes it can be easier to live when you list the things you know:
  • A home is only home when those who live inside the house choose to love each other.
  • Different people feel and know they are loved in different ways.
  • Therefore it is only natural that a home takes a while to become established as we learn these things.
  • But it works really well. It is a really good place to live in.

It hadn’t poured in Paris since March. But that night my feet and hair were saturated in dirty Parisian rain. My blue silk skirt clung to my legs in what seemed like a forlorn fear. I squelched up five flights of stairs and spent the evening cleaning and scrubbing my apartment. The light turned out and everything sparkled in the green luminescent Hotel sign from across the canal.

When it was morning I remembered that on a blazing hot summer day in the used-to-be summer here, which has become disguised by all the fallen brown leaves on the streets left over from the diseased chestnut trees, flatmate had made a carrot and coriander soup. I didn’t want coriander and it was too cold to walk to the markets, and so for lunch I used up last night’s corn and made a carrot and corn soup instead.

And here is something else to know and to list to help you live a little easier:
Corn and Carrot Soup goes exceptionally well with goats cheese. And it is incredibly simple to make for those meals when there is only you to feed.

Corn and Carrot Soup (for one)

2 carrots, pealed and cut in 1 cm rounds
1/3 cup of corn kernels
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp cream
pinch pepper
goats cheese diced or crumbled
decoration: corn kernels and rocket

Place your corn, carrot, water, bay leaf and salt in a pot and bring to boil. Cover and boil until the carrot pieces are easily pierced with a knife. Take off the heat, and remove the bay leaf and leave only about ¼ cup of liquid in the pot. If all your liquid has been used up, pour ¼ cup of boiled water into the pot. With a hand-held processor, or normal processor, blend the vegetables to a pulp. Add the cream and pepper. Mix well and add any extra hot water necessary to get it to your desired soup consistency.
Pour in a bowl, sprinkle over goat cheese and anything else you want to decorate your soup with. Toast a piece of brown bread and as my friend Jonathan would say, “you’re away laughing.”

Friday, July 15

Bastille Day Pasta with Friends from Home

One magnum bottle of Bordeaux, a few six-packs of Kronenbourgs and a couple of great conversations over great meals later, I found myself reflecting on what she’d said; that “We could cook together,” and that, “It’ll be fun.”

There is so much about food. I would never try to take that away from you. If there is anyone I know who gets that; that food is for more than its function of consumption, it’s me. Food finds us in one of our most creative minds, tears can come on from discovering a new way of putting together three of your favourite flavours, whether it be during the cooking process or even just in the manner of presentation. The discussions with people who also get this are the conversations you over-indulge in as you throw back-and-forth how you could puree goats cheese with cumin and mix incredibly thinly sliced raw cabbage through it.

And then friends come along after a thirty-hour plane ride from the lower part of the globe where the world turns under itself, and food becomes about so much more than everything you had recently thought it was. And you think to yourself; how far had we allowed food to fall from its intended pleasures?

The evening started with a bottle-opener being used to crack walnuts, then we moved on to a crispy sticky baguette with cheese that if you had three friends with you, you could finish off the entire slab. The magnum was cracked open, glasses were poured by cocktail-making-genesis-friend, tomatoes were blanched, pealed and deseeded by three woman who took the leap over to the unfolded part of the world, spaghetti that had been made in our neighbouring country was cooked in salted water, chili and garlic were finely diced and then on our new National holiday we sat out on the balcony with our plates on our laps to watch a casual evening of two men in dreads from our local Parisian gang, Klap, be arrested on their raft in the middle of the canal.

Eating together is not over rated. Because she said, “We could cook together,” and that, “It’ll be fun,” and it was everything she said it would be. And I am becoming even more convinced that food was not only created to maintain life, but also to enhance it, through its sneakiness of always drawing people towards it, and therefore to each other.

Filled with Flavour and Balcony Worthy Tomato Spaghetti
Adapted from Bill Granger’s original recipe

1.5kg vine ripened tomatoes
1 Tbsp salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 lemon juice & zest
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 medium red chili, finely diced
freshly ground black pepper
packet of spaghetti
bouquet of basil
100g shaved parmesan cheese

Score the bottoms of all the tomatoes and them place in a large pot. Boil some water and pour it over the tomatoes making sure they are completely covered. After a minute or so, drain the water. We were blessed with fearless Laney who laughs in the face of boiling water, therefore she plunged both hands in to the pot removing each tomato and pealing it with her bare hands. You will not be blessed with such enthusiasm. Therefore, carefully remove the tomatoes from the pot, leave them on a chopping board for a few seconds too cool and then peal them, tear the flesh off making sure to throw the seeds away. Dice up the tomato flesh and place it all together in a sieve resting over a bowl. Sprinkle and mix through 1 Tbsp salt and leave for thirty minutes the drain. Discard the liquid once ready.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl add the olive oil, vinegar, lemon, garlic, chili and pepper. Once the tomatoes are ready, add them to the bowl, mix well and leave for twenty minutes to infuse each flavour with every other flavour.

Cook the spaghetti al dente and then drain well. Put the spaghetti back in the pot, pour over the tomato mixture, basil and mix well. Taste and season accordingly and then platter up with more basil and parmesan on the side.

Sunday, July 10

Let’s Just Call Them Authentic

When I started working at my current job I made the rookie mistake of using dill on a pizza. Dill can be used in a quiche with smoked salmon and pea puree, but not on a pizza that is trying to express what it would feel like to be in the Tuscan countryside. It was one of those moments when you’re new and have already asked so many questions that one more to add to the list would be pushing it. You don’t know where everything is, you don’t know where to look for basil when the only herb in the fridge is dill and so you chop dill, very finely, so it can be disguised by giant slices of mozzarella. I’m no herb slacker, I know the oceans far and wide between dill and basil and I know that dill can never (ever) be disguised by anything, especially when it is a giant white slab of something creamy that should always be enhanced by basil.

“There are not enough herbs on the pizzettes,” Le Monsieur said. That’s because I hid them so no one can ever, ever see them. But instead I said, “I know. I used dill because…” “What!?! You can’t use dill!!” But then he had finished talking and had shuffled into the corner with his hands over his ears as if he was trying to get rid of an awful noise that sounded like Smiggle whispering, “dill, dill, dill,” and he stood there shaking his head back and forth. I looked around me, unable to comprehend what was happening in this very very authentic French moment, to see if any of the other staff could see this. But no one seemed to notice this off-stage, in-reality comedic skit.

I won’t eat dill anymore, at least not for a while. But mint, mint can always be embraced. Flatmate and I have been attending to our mint plant, not very attentively, in anticipation of our cocktail-making-genius friend’s visit next week. However, the other day it was getting to the point of; ‘I’ve been watering you every day and been waiting long enough that I just need a taste of what is to come.’ And so I got on my bike and rode down into Le Marais to a bistro that fills up around 5 or 6 o’clock and plays Jimmy Durante. And I sat at a table that was arranged like this:

And as I pondered what delicious drink to order with mint in it, even though it was incredibly obvious and staring me right in the face, the waiter came out and put a shell on my table:

And then he told me the house specialty was a Mojito and I heard the jingle (which they should really have had written across their terrace), “You’ve come to the right place!” Not because they specialize in Mojitos or because you can find a 1987 edition of The Paris Review here, but because only in Paris could someone be bothered to rearrange your table while you sat there in the late afternoon sipping a cocktail on a day that was 37 degrees...

And then rearrange...

And rearrange...

And I had never thought about hosting a dinner party and changing the table arrangement all the way through the evening, until now.

Le Voltigeur
45, rue Francs Bourgeois,

Friday, July 8

37 Degree Salad (Cucumber and Peanut)

We’ve done a lot of talking; you and I.

There was that thing about peanut butter and chocolate. The combination? Do you remember? Except that recently it has become a reality minus the biscuit pie crust because the peanut butter alone in Paris is 8 euros fifty. This amalgamation could only have been inspired by Jacinda, who when we were living together in Lyon finished an entire jar of the stuff on its own. I think that is when I started to trust her.

Then there were those tid-bits about how one of the reasons for food was for the togetherness of people. How it could not? There’s not only a table concept designed specifically for getting people together, there’s also a room. It’s just known that sometimes some things great can happen around a dinning table, in a dinning room filled with people, butter, wine and a roast lamb that has been basted in mint and lemon syrup for three hours.

And so in all this talking you may have a fair idea about the author of this page, the voice and the thoughts held by her. However, I don’t think you will realize, unless you too are like me, but there was a time when I wouldn’t have imagined putting cucumber and peanuts together. I wouldn’t have been able to get my mind around how anyone could ever have come up with such an idea. But then there’s Heidi and she’s so healthy and she makes things look so good. And so I tried it.

And because my work has recently encouraged me to grate raw vegetables (that you wouldn’t usually use) into salads, and because I’m entirely about combinations, there is this:

37 degrees


37 Degree Salad (Cucumber and Peanut)

2 cucumbers
1 medium sized radish
½ cup raw peanuts
¼ cup desiccated coconut
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp chili powder

Start by putting your oven on to one hundred and eighty degrees. Place your peanuts in a tray and toast them for about ten minutes until very lightly golden. Let them cool and if they have shells on them, rub them all together in a tea towel to get rid of the shells. Set aside.
Wash and then half-peal your cucumbers, making white and green strips all the way down them. Cut them length ways in half, get a teaspoon and take the seeds out and then cut into thumbnail sized pieces. Place in the bowl.
Peal your radish and grate it into the bowl along with coconut, lemon juice, olive oil, cider vinegar, chili and peanuts.
Mix really well, season, taste and serve.

Wednesday, July 6

Only Paris

“I think I naively expected it to be like it was in the twenties.” I felt an urgent need to look around the room to see if anyone had heard those words. “It’s done its dash.” I didn’t expect to feel this way; my stomach didn’t drop, there was no flicker of anger, this was not a justified response.

Everyone remained in their chairs finishing off their tomato and parmesan risotto and crepes with raspberry syrup. No body even flinched. I wanted to run up to him waving my hands through the air to get rid of his statement and in a very definite way, mouth, “Stop, don’t say that. People can hear you.” But then there was this other part. And it hesitated. It would have turned me towards all those people occupying steal industrial dinning tables and light wooden chairs and it would have asked them, “Is it really that true? Do we all just know it now?”

Breath would have left my body and I would have felt lighter in this skin that clings to me. My legs would have stood, unmoved, with hands heavy at my sides and shoulders slumped towards my belly button. There would have been a shuffling of leg chairs on concrete floors. Then all those eyes would have eventually moved back to their temporary happiness of pistachio cake laden with butter.

I’m no down-player. It is 6 o’clock in the morning and my feet feel lonely on the chilled pavement, but I can smell yeast being worked into soft white dough and butter melting into flour as it rises crisp and creamy. And it’s seven in the late afternoon and baguettes with their ends nibbled off are held by hungry hands and are walked home through streets of thick grey concrete curbs and bumpy cobblestones by their admirers. It could be midday, and I wouldn’t be there, but there’s something known by those who own or rent apartments in this city; that the first arrondissement is filled with gypsies pushed up close to Americans as their arms hide under their shoulder sacks and their hands move professionally into heavy pockets. And if you stand on any of those thick curbs, at any time of the day and you look up, you will see seven stories of cream or grey concrete decorated with statues, and if you permit your eyes to venture further to those cobalt tin roofs, they will make way to billowing blue and white speckled skies. I won’t take that away form you.

But then you leave your bistro of white and red table clothes and matching weaved chairs, the one you sat down in to devour duck confit or eat through a classic caesar salad. And if you came here; if you flocked here to this city for the fulfillment of the above paragraph, you will be struck by the bona fide realization that those whom you want to talk with over the free baguette with every meal and laugh with in between casual sips of Côtes du Rhône, never actually imagined the city of lights like you did; in all it’s glory of the nineteen-twenties.

You can’t laugh here like you would have, all flouncy-like in your flappers, and charmingly allowed a flip of the wrist and a shake of your hair in that way that you just know women would have back then. And in that café when you go to write in the afternoon, there actually aren’t many joyful older men to tilt their homburgs down and up again as they smile and walk on by. Day after day, you can’t sit in Duex Magots and find that crowd of writers that once filled its chairs with thoughts-a-little-risky and questions requiring no answers. Simone de Beauvoir has already laughed as Joni Mitchell sung in her park in Paris, France. But Joni, how could you mock me like this?

Let us just become acquainted with the past of the nineteen-twenties. Because you will come to see soon, that those who would appreciate the free baguette with every meal with you, were not even a little bit part of the intended flock North. And the way you wanted to live and eat here, doesn’t in fact reside in this city after all.