Meditations

Paris: From My Kitchen to Yours



Photo Credit: David Lebovitz

Today in the Foodists Guest Contributor column is a culinary adventure in Paris by new contibutor Lynanne Coffey. Look for more from her soon. Enjoy!
~Degan Beley, Editor

If I say “France” I am willing to bet that one of the first thoughts that come to mind when you hear or read this word falls into the food category. And probably even a thought about how good ‘this food’ or ‘that food’ is, or perhaps your mind settles on a particular café, on a particular boulevard where you once sat and watched the world go by while basking in the sun.  Though these thoughts may be true, little do those who have visited France realize the challenges and frustrations one will encounter being a chef at home in one’s own French kitchen.

When telling people I was moving to Paris to join my husband who had taken a job abroad the last thing anyone says is, “oh, I’m so sorry for you,” unless of course they are being sarcastic.  I was given looks of disgust, of disbelief, or of utter jealousy.  However, moving overseas was not what it had chalked up to be; finding yourself cooking in a foreign kitchen, not to mention trying to simply ‘cook’ without measuring cups or spoons, or the very basics in cookware.

My true discovery of the ‘cooking from home’ challenges began when I stumbled across an American-in-Paris food blogger and author, David Lebowitz.  He is renowned for his ‘sweet tooth’ and as such has written a number of books on the subjects of all things sugar.  I poured over David’s blog as would anyone new to Paris who has a knack (or perhaps obsession is a better word?) for cooking, and with my recent completion of My Life in France I was beginning to think I was on the fast-track to becoming Julia Child!  Alas, I had found my safety-net in the form of one ex-pat David Lebowitz’s blog.  By the time I had devoured the blog, behold, there was one, Banana Chocolate Chip Upside-Down Cake recipe to not be overlooked.  Silly, I know, but what’s a cook to do when left alone in a new kitchen in Paris?  Well cook and bake something tasty, of course!  How hard could it really be to make this upside-down cake after all?  Though what was provided in this new kitchen of mine was minimal, I at least had a glass baking dish and a convection oven– now all I had to do was to buy the ingredients from the local Monoprix, right?  Wrong!

Paris is overflowing with local, fresh outdoor markets in any part of the city at any given day of the week.  You just have to get yourself to the markets with enough time before the vendors close up shop (typically by 1:30pm), or before they sell out of their fresh goods – be it produce, baking, cheese, meats or any of the wonders beneath the sea.  Naturally, I purchased a bunch of bananas from the local market, realizing the majority would make their way into my upside-down cake.  And as one might do back home, I purchased the flour (whole wheat), white sugar, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla and even the bicarbonate at the local supermarket.  But I was stopped dead in my tracks with baking powder.  “Baking powder,” you ask?  Yes, baking powder…that bitter, aluminum-tasting white powder that sits unnoticed in your kitchen cupboards, only to be put to use three times a year.

Exploring more than ten different types of supermarkets, including spice shops, and the random epicurie, I eventually found myself searching the Web for an answer to my predicament of no baking powder in Paris.  I discovered through my searches that one could even make baking powder by using baking soda (bicarbonate) and cream of tartar – but I could not even find cream of tartar in the baking isles of Parisian supermarkets, or anywhere else for that matter! Growing increasingly frustrated, I was just about to give up, and as the bananas sat in the fruit basket slowly acquiring brown spots, I decided to make a last ditch-effort.  I read through all the comments posted by readers on David Lebowitz’s blog post for the Banana Chocolate Chip Upside-Down Cake, with a glimmer of hope on where I might find baking powder in Paris.  Within several hours I had my answer – there was a specialty baking shop on a market street which I happened to frequent, not far from my apartment called G.Detou.  David Lebowitz had saved me!  Not only did G. Detou carry the baking powder – it was dirt cheap, too!  We’re talking under €2 for the container that will likely last me three years plus.  This was very helpful since I paid a pretty price for the 100% cacao chocolate pâtes I also bought from G. Detou in lieu of chocolate chips or chocolate chunks, as the recipe called for.  I also managed to pick up some very rich, moist, brown sugar called sucre roux since I was quite sceptical of the blonde, fine-looking, dry, brown sugar I had seen in many a Parisian supermarket that did not appear to be ‘packable.’

With G.Detou rescuing my bananas, I could begin cutting them up and arranging them in the over-lapping pattern for the Banana Chocolate Chip Upside-Down Cake recipe.  All the fuss was not over an exotic ingredient, but over some measly baking powder.  Ah yes, life in Paris is…like a treasure hunt.  You never know what you will find until you have to go searching for it; and once you’ve found ‘it’ you likely ended up with half a dozen other ‘its’ you did not set out for.

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