30 May 2020

A face on the street


Graffiti on a wall where two streets meet in Montmartre.

***

Every time I'm on the rue Gabrielle I can't help but think of a lovely young American, a writer, who settled in Paris and we became co-writers/editors on an online franco-zine. We met when she'd had a close bout with the infamous administration française and contacted me, but in no time at all she was off and running and didn't need me at all. The next time I saw her she'd gotten herself ensconced on the rue Gabrielle with two fluffy cats in the most charming sort of atelier with sweeping romantic rooftop views. She made a mean cup of tea and we'd swap great laughs and great stories. Her self-effacing enthusiasm and bottomless creativity was refreshing to be around and as contagious as the coronavirus, and made me (almost) consider taking a break from Paris to re-discover the land of frozen margaritas.

Gabrielle, if you're reading this, wherever you are, thank you for those unforgettable times and equally unforgettable cups of tea. BPJ

29 May 2020

A summer soupe



My recent post on gazpacho andaluz inspired another cold soup, this one a personal variation of the (American!) classic, Vichyssoise.

***

Recipe in June newsletter

27 May 2020

School rules


Schools in France reluctantly re-opened their doors May 11 and so far, into the third week, all seems to be going well.

Above: posted outside elementary schools, "To protect me and to protect others!"

26 May 2020

Oasis


Marcel's on Avenue Junot has become our new daily stop, just up the stairs from our usual café.

25 May 2020

Gazpacho in heat



Above: a cobbled street in Cadaqués, Spain leads to a small market square on the bay; gazpacho andaluz w/traditional toppings

***

As temperatures climb towards June our Paris kitchen has been the scene of an outpouring of gazpacho, that queen of the cold soups from Spain that magically appears each summer as a primer plato, entrada or even refreshing drink in almost every restaurant, tapas bar and café from the Costa Brava to the Costa del Sol. Sometimes served with ice cubes bobbing on its surface, this simple and refreshing sopa made its way to France and now, as in Spain, it's a seasonal menu staple.

During my years in Barcelona and Cadaqués everyone I knew - including me - kept a freshly made supply cooling in the fridge. So when an industrial facsimile began showing up on supermarket shelves it didn't make sense: with a hand blender, gazpacho took almost as much time to make as it did to pour from a box, faster than you can say “¡Hace calor!

But mind you not just any gazpacho would do. All over Spain, at least, it had to be gazpacho andaluz from the sunny south. Less tomato and more cucumber meant a much lighter color than expected. When visiting family in Rome from Spain, I'd whip up a pitcherful in the late afternoon at the urging of my Aunt Maria, an excellent cook who preferred hers with extra garlic and a dash of cayenne pepper, a version she’d call “Gestapo" and declare, “This replaces all of the minerals I lost in my sweat!” (She also used to insist that spaghetti al dente with nothing in it but parmesan and butter was a "complete food" containing "everything anyone needs to live.")

Some like their gazpacho sieved until creamy smooth; others, like me, prefer it slightly textured. Either way, accompaniments of fried croutons and assorted chopped raw veggies such as tomato, cucumber, onion and avocado add yet more texture and flavor. BPJ

***

Recipe in June newsletter

23 May 2020

Street food



All over the butte Montmartre small restaurants* have set out tables for not only takeaway meals but often coffee, a glass of wine and a friendly chat.

- Addresses in order of appearance below -





1) Marcel - 1 Villa Léandre 75018
2) Etsi - 23 rue Eugène Carrière 75018
3) Imagine - 105 rue Caulaincourt 75018
4) Au Virage Lepic - 61 rue Lepic 75018

* These are just 4 of many. Check for opening times.
 

21 May 2020

Sparkling rosé


Unopened cafés + sparkling spring weather = apéritifs at home.

Above: it's rosé season and shelves are being restocked as quickly as they're emptied

20 May 2020

Hamlet


An artists' hamlet, that is.

Above: tall windows of ateliers in a secluded enclave off Avenue Junot

Below: a private balcony overlooks the garden courtyard; easy-to-miss sign, "Hameau des artistes"

19 May 2020

Pots and pandemic


With travel restrictions still in place one way we've been experiencing the world (besides news, films, zooming...) is through food. Well before I spent three months in Tokyo, with stops in South Korea and Thailand, Asian cuisines were high on my list. The secret to whipping up authentic tasty dishes is having the right ingredients at hand and happily, Paris has no shortage of small (and large) Asian supermarkets. But many ingredients - ginger, coconut milk, soy sauce, green onions, hot pepper flakes, garlic, curry paste, basmati - can be found anywhere and don't require a trip to Chinatown. All of the recipes in today's post use skinless chicken breasts (look for poitrines de poulet), best from local butcher shops. BPJ

Above: a Japanese hot pot w/chicken slices, green onion, sweet potato

Below: Thai coconut chicken aubergine curry w/brown rice; spicy Korean garlic chicken w/basmati
 



***

Recipes in June newsletter


16 May 2020

Truffle shuffle


Specialty shops selling hard-to-find ingredients are now open.

Above: view from inside La Maison de la Truffe, Place de la Madeleine

14 May 2020

Tart as art


Boulangerie-inspired savory tartelettes of sweet potato, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and hazelnuts atop a pesto base.

- Freeze leftovers, if there are any, then bake to refresh -

13 May 2020

11 May 2020

You can come out now


France's first-phase déconfinement goes into effect today, but with new rules....

Above: art naif painting from a group exhibition at Halle Saint-Pierre
(artist unknown)

***

They say that for an action to become a habit it has to be repeated at least seven times. When you think about it, the pandemic has managed to alter behaviors in a very short time.

Before leaving home there would be certain items I'd make sure I had on me - keys, cellphone, wallet, navigo (travel) card, sunglasses, small umbrella, lip gloss. Check. With the lockdown the list stayed the same except added to it was mask, hand gel, filled-out attestation (an app on phones made that one simple) stating "acceptable" reasons for being outside and with it, I.D. to prove I was who I said I was - small adjustments that didn't take that much longer, but adjustments nevertheless. Now new habits.

Many became used to télétravail (working from home), discovering it suits them, with some opting to continue. Whittling life down to essentials was easier than thought, not to mention budget friendly. We don't know anyone who got into the un-French habit of hanging around in a bathrobe all day and, if anything, it seemed people were creating schedules to get the most out of each day. When it came to food shopping, many Parisians changed their behaviors to take best advantage of their sorties, resorting to bringing along a list - something one usually doesn't see. Food shops and chain markets remained open, yet most roving markets were forced to close: competing for that last hunk of monkfish or bunch or radishes entails elbowing up to the front of a stall, the antithesis of social distancing.

Shopping carts, caddies and baskets were heaped higher than usual - and not with toilet paper, as pointed out in a previous post - another French food shopping habit that was altered. We're used to picking up whatever we need for two, maybe three days at most at a time, and everything we need is within a block or two, which simplifies life. But since the start of the lockdown in March we'd stock up for extra days - en plus some shops had changed their hours and sadly, some had become collateral casualties on the heels of a two-month grève that had already weakened the economy.

Now that this first step of déconfinement has cautiously been set in motion, with it comes a mixed sense of dread and optimism. For the past week, beneath the masks more chatting could be heard in what had been eerily silent lines. Or perhaps that was simply a result of being confined a bit too long. BPJ

9 May 2020

Tribute to an Old Etonian


Above: my interview of Clem (Boulevard France magazine - July/August 1996) on his role as President of France opposite Michael Douglas and Annette Bening in “The American President” (director Rob Reiner)

***

“Barbara, is your couch free?” The resonant voice on our answering machine with its distinctive English accent belonged to Clement von Franckenstein, the “c” dropped by a certain Mary Shelley writing a first novel. He was heading to England from Los Angeles, his adopted home - but first, a quick stop in Paris.

We’d met in the late 80s at a New Year’s party in LA. I was between husbands on hiatus from Europe, about to spend a year in San Francisco. The host was a friend of my daughter’s self-appointed godfather, British author, explorer, poet - and near-miss member of the House of Lords (he refused to pay the £10,000 “ridiculous” fee on principle) - Michael Alexander. No sooner had our small group made its entrance when Clem, as we came to call him, dapper in a tuxedo, shot over to greet us. He'd recognize “Eurotrash” anywhere he said, adding, "Join the club!" When Michael told him he’d been friends with his father, Baron (later Sir George) von Franckenstein, Austrian Ambassador to the Court of St. James, it was a gift from above. Clement had lost both of his parents in a tragic plane accident when he was just nine and had little recollection of them. He came to love Michael, who would recount to him details from that friendship that Clem greatly cherished - and on whose London couch he was crashing when Michael passed away in late 2004.

Trained opera-singer-turned-actor, Clem played cricket in the shadow of the Hollywood sign alongside Julian Sands and was friends with Billy Idol’s mother. On the Gallic front digestifs, Bordeaux wines, Renoir and Yves Montand topped his list. He approved of my French husband, adored daughter Danielle (in a happy coincidence they were cast as father and daughter in the same film) and was a staple at family events. His address book throbbed with A-listers and rock stars, and no matter what day of the year we’d land in LA, he'd be off to yet another private bash that same evening, and invite us along: parties in gated mansions overlooking city lights or the ocean, catered rooftop soirées where the hired musicians might sound exactly like The Beach Boys... because they were.

One of my favorite Clem stories was the time he asked me to be his guest at the Viennese Opera Ball at the Beverly Wilshire. We knew it would be quite the occasion but were unprepared for the sheer number of tiaras, and felt slightly under dressed. Still, holding our heads high, we entered the Grand Ballroom and waited our turn to be announced, as the other guests - including Joseph Cotten and an assortment of international glitterati - had been. “Miss Barbara Pasquet James and the Baron Clement von Franckenstein!” As we walked in, flanked by a lineup of smiling onlookers, a woman in a red gown (that "made her look like a London bus" Clem was to quip) was overheard loudly telling her husband, “Honey, that's the name of that monster!” Clem stopped in his tracks, and, with all eyes upon him, calmly turned to face her. "My dear Madam," he boomed in his most engaging theatrical voice, "Frankenstein was the doctor!”

Years later over lunch at the Chelsea Arts Club's communal table where James Whistler had entertained Monet, Clem said to me, thoughtfully, “You know Barbara, had you married me you’d be the Baroness Von Franckenstein.” I told him it was tempting, pointing out that I wasn't "buxom" (one of many Clem terms) enough for his tastes. And we couldn't stop laughing.

But Clement was, as Michael used to say, "not husband material." An insatiable ladies man, in 2001 he found himself on People magazine's "50 most eligible bachelors in America" list along with Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Matt Damon. He was that rarity in life, a devoted and true friend. He was offensive, hilarious, debonair, outrageous and generous, all at the same time. He could burst into a flurry of insults if cut off in traffic as easily as a litany of limericks. He was in over 80 movies, mostly under-the-radar roles, but for us, his biggest and most starring role was being part of our lives. BPJ

R.I.P.
Clement von und zu Franckenstein
May 9, 2019


He talked too loud. He drank too much. He cursed like a sailor. But he also sang like an angel, let strangers crash on his couch, and cried like a baby when his kitten was sick. He offended some, charmed many, but was forgotten by none.” From one of his many friends

***

Below: at Michael Alexander's wake in London w/me, Danielle; magnificent Christmas lunch in the English countryside; Berlin red carpet film festival (w/George Clooney, his friend Tilda Swinton, Ethan Cohen, Alden Ehrenreich, Josh Brolin, Channing Tatum, producer Robert Graf); joining us in Cadaqués, Spain (his hair dyed blonde for a film role); last year w/one of his paintings in his LA home, one of the last times Frédéric and I were to be with him



6 May 2020

Shell game



Mussels and shrimp with home-made aïoli and chilled white wine, en confinement.

***

In Paris, most of our fish and shellfish arrives fresh daily from the rich waters of Brittany, which is not that far away. And almost always, giant gambas from Madagascar, Alaskan king crab and salmon along with other fishy imports comfortably share space on the fishmonger's counter. As with fruits and vegetables, some seasons are better than others (case in point: oysters) and right now we are on the cusp of the moules (mussels) season. Reports that restaurants, brasseries, bistros, cafés and other establishments that serve meals and make up a huge part of the demand are still closed, creating a surplus, translate into, there are bargains to be had. So yesterday, grabbing my basket early and armed with my attestation de déplacement pour effectuer des achats de première nécessité (in short, documentation stating that my reason for being outside is to buy life/death items only), I ventured to a local poissonnerie to see what I could find. And I found lots. BPJ

4 May 2020

Santé!


"Santé!" (to your health...), the standard toast in French, has never been so apt.

Above: setting up for Sunday night's multi-time-zone Zoom session when everyone raised a glass

***

The grissini I use is by Mario Fongo - whole wheat hand-rolled grissini integrali at Eataly Paris (online), Italian specialty shops and wine / cheese épiceries. Call first.

2 May 2020

Aloft in Montmartre


Yesterday's muguets.

- Happy Fête du Travail weekend -

***

During le confinement, and with recent downpours, these days our lush courtyard has taken on the feel of a miniature rain forest. The usual species of birds chirping away each morning have been joined by a chorus of new voices, voices I imagined native only to the Arizona desert. High on our checklist when shopping for an apartment in Paris - besides hardwood floors, high ceilings, tall windows, fireplace (and, I insisted, a gas stove) - was “quiet courtyard with trees.” As long as we had that, we felt, we could work with almost any architecture and, if necessary, renovate. For years we’d lived in an apartment in the Marais district that faced onto a street, and though it was on a higher floor, had reinforced windows and loads of caractère, we soon understood why, in the world of Paris real estate, “coté cour" comes with a price.

Montmartre was our first choice. In truth, nowhere else would do. We'd had a place on the busy Abbesses side of the hill, a gloriously quiet rental. No one would guess that cafés, restaurants and small shops lay beyond the threshold of our street door. This experience, along with the all-sacred calme yearned for by Parisians that I'd known living in a garden flat in frenetic central London, had spoiled me.

Today our small city apartment, transformed into a loft in an historic building on the west side of the butte, overlooks a leafy courtyard. Not a single sound from a single car, motorcycle, trash truck or late-night reveler wafts up - nor does pollution waft in. No screaming sirens, no honking buses. We still marvel that we stumbled into such tranquility and that, amazingly, just outside, the bustle of the street goes on, but we'd never know it. BPJ

Adapted from my talk:

Buying a Paris apartment: Pros and (possible) Cons
 

1 May 2020

Quiet fête


Place Marcel Aymé three weeks ago.

***

Today is Labor Day, La Fête du Travail, in France.

- Traditional muguets can be found at florists and grocery stores -