Friday, October 29, 2010

Sweet (Tooth) Denial

I've always claimed to be that rarest of human specimens: she who does not possess a sweet tooth.

"I can totally live without dessert for the rest of my life," I'd boast to anyone who'd care to listen. "Just don't try to take my salted nuts or potato chips away. That's the stuff that makes life worth living." (OK: that and the wine.)

Well, turns out that I'm full of baloney.

While it's true I've never had a thing for marshmallows, Gummi Bears or Jujyfruits, I must admit to having a thing for chocolate, and for anything that's sort of simultaneously sweet and salty, like peanut-butter cups or salted caramels--both of which are rarely-to-never vegan.

Yesterday, with an hour to kill between dog-walking assignments, I decided to wander into Carrefour, deep in the heart of the bourgeois and ever-so-boring 16e.

The place is deceptively ginormous; moving through the chocolate aisle alone took 20 minutes. As I trolled the aisles, eyes bulging at the sheer quantity of choices in every food category, I proceeded to fill my basket with all kinds of goodies: bags of salty corn-nuts from the "Middle East" aisle, hefty bunches of those delectable Muscat grapes I've become addicted to, and giant jars of yummy lupini beans I first fell in love with in Italy last summer.

Finally, toward the end of my shopping excursion, I found the "bio" aisle, dedicated to all things organic. Here, I discovered something that made my heart skip a beat: dairy-free chocolate with, of all things, caramelized quinoa inside. Sold! (And what is it with the French and quinoa? They even sell quinoa milk at Naturalia.)

When I got home, I decided to study the packaging one last time before tearing into it. Definitely no milk, butter, eggs, or meat. But what I didn't see the first time was that this chocolate I so desperately wanted to sink my teeth into does contain decidedly non-vegan honey. Dammit!

I nibbled a square anyway, the buzz of a million stunned and dying honeybees providing the background noise inside my head. It was dark and delicious, but not worth the psychic discomfort.

While I continue exploring the mysterious world of French chocolate bars, my sweet tooth can safely indulge in two predictable favorites, hazelnuttylicious Chocolinette, and cheapo brand Belle France Caramel Popcorn. (The latter of which tastes divine when mixed with salted peanuts.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rainbow Bright

It happened so fast.

One second I was upright on my bicycle, cruising down the bike lane on a gray Friday in Montmartre, happy and sated from a delicious meal at Chettinadu. The next, I was face down in the street, spitting blood and checking for missing teeth and broken bones, while strangers disentangled me from my bike and stuffed tissues and bottled water into my bleeding hands.

It's one of those cyclist's hazards that I have a habit of falling victim to every few years. Sometimes, it's the other guy's fault; a car cuts you off or a pedestrian steps off the curb without looking. But sometimes, it's no one's fault but your own. That was the case in this situation. A guy on a Velib bike had just passed me, but he didn't get close enough to propel me over the handlebars and mouth-first into the ground. I managed that all on my own.

There's nothing quite as excruciating as the pain of having people stare at you for all the wrong reasons. I got quite a few double-takes while out and about with flesh-colored bandages holding my face in place. And never, ever, have I had more people stop to ask me for directions, or inquire about the dog I was walking, or smile at me expecting the same in return (which I could not offer) as I have this week. Je ne comprends pas!

It's been nearly a week since my wipeout, and wounds are healing, and the bandage on my face has finally come off. Looking forward to laughing again, whistling again, and saying words that begin with "B" again.

p.s. That's not a wine stain on my lips for once! That's the bruising that comes with knocking your mouth into the pavement :0(

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dejeuner Drama

Yesterday, after making the trip across town to return library books at the Faidherbe-Chaligny branch (Paris isn't like San Francisco; you have to return your checked-out items to the exact location where you borrowed them), we made a trip to our favorite daily market, Marche d'Aligre, then rode over to Boulevard Beaumarchais to finally give Loving Hut a try. For those of you who don't know about Loving Hut, it's a global chain of vegan restaurants run by the Supreme Master Ching Hai folks. The name they chose is kind of awful, but the food is actually rather delicious.

We walked in and were told we could sit wherever we wanted. It was cold outside, but the front of the restaurant had lots of direct sun streaming through the windows, so I did like any cat-in-a-last-life would do and chose the sun-shiniest, warmest seat. (Jeff wore his sunglasses indoors throughout the meal.)

The cheerful waitress came and took our order, and right about the time our food arrived, three well-dressed teenage-ish boys came through the door and walked straight to the back of the restaurant. One of them was carrying a piece of paper slipped inside a plastic sheath. I didn't see what it said, but I'm sure it was something along the lines of "Would you please take pity on me and give me some free money? I REALLY need another pair of these designer shoes I'm wearing." I was glad they didn't visit our table. After all those years in San Francisco, I've definitely maxed out my compassion for panhandlers.

A moment later, the cheerful waitress, sounding less so, could be heard telling paperboy to move along on his merry way. "You can't do this in the restaurant," she insisted, before escorting him to the door. I watched him exit, a dejected look on his face, and walk westward before disappearing around a corner. A moment later, the other two young men followed in the same direction.

After this somewhat peculiar kerfuffle, we carried on chatting and eating our scrumptious meals--Jeff got the Feuillete aux legumes and I chose the Galette aux champignons (that's mine in the foreground above)--before the calm was again pierced by a rather loud and jarring voice, in English again, exclaiming, "Yes, I definitely saw a wallet in his hand. Oh, I should have said something!"

In a not-unusual scam conducted in cities around the world, the young man with the paper had spotted a wallet on the table of a man eating lunch, and as he approached, he set his "Please give me free money" sign over the wallet, and when the man declined, he simply lifted his paper--with wallet beneath--and walked on.

The "victim," a rather handsome, middle-aged Frenchman sporting a dapper suit and a surprisingly OK-looking sun-bleached bob, didn't seem too worried about it. He left, then the police came, then I put on my nosy hat and had a chat with the loud Canadian woman who saw the whole drama go down.

After getting the scoop, I went to the counter to check out the goods for sale, discovering several different varieties of vegan cheese, loads of Tartex, and some books, including Colleen Patrick- Goudreau's The Joy of Vegan Baking. As I paid for my dairy-free smoked cheddar, blond bob man came back in. Standing beside him at the counter, I looked up at him with the most sympathetic face I could muster and said "Je suis tres desolee. Quelle dommage."

He just winked at me and smiled as if to simply say "C'est la vie."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Marché Surprise

I got these at the Marché d'Aligre today.

You might be pondering the same question I did the first time I saw them: What the hell are they?

Underneath all that somewhat disarming browny-green organic matter you'll find fresh noisettes, otherwise known as hazelnuts.

If you've never tried a fresh hazelnut, you must. Like fresh dates and almonds, they barely resemble their traditionally consumed dried counterparts in flavor or texture. They're still crunchy, but more akin to a carrot's crunch than a peanut's.

I've wanted to try these ever since they started appearing at produce markets around town a few weeks ago, along with the très autumnal chestnuts and chanterelles, but the 10-euro-a-kilo pricetag always put this notorious tightwad off. At Marche d'Aligre, they're only 4 euro a kilo. I like that price better.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Vegan Food Porn (kind of)

Try to look beyond the non-planet-friendly Styrofoam packaging and visualize instead undressing and then tasting the first burrito (that's mine on the left!) I've eaten since those two awful numbers consumed at SFO (didn't notice the cheese until after the first bite) and Dulles (they didn't bother to warm the tortilla) on the way to Paris back in June. These, from Paris' only taqueria, El Nopal, were stuffed with refried black beans, rice, guacamole, nopales, and probably some other things that my taste buds didn't even register because I snarfled everything down too fast. They need to work on their hot sauce, but otherwise, El Nopal get three stars. (And please note how I've resisted the temptation to add "olé!" to the end of this post. Merci.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Living the Dream Cliché

I never thought of my life as clichéd in any way--it's been far too awkward, bumpy, and uncharted to truly fit that designation--but that hasn't stopped several people from pointing out that my path, which has led me back to France to fulfill a strong desire to live "differently," is actually a stale and hackneyed idea boasting absolutely nothing novel about it.


"If I'd moved to China instead of France, my life wouldn't feel so clichéd," said a friend who really had her heart set on a future in non-hackneyed Asia. That was before her heart really became set on a guy who just happened to live in Paris, and two years later, she's grown somewhat accustomed to life as a walking, talking stereotype.

I don't see her or her life that way, though.

I mean, I see where she and the others are coming from. France is sort of an obvious choice, right? Just watch one of those wistful and dreamy 1950s musicals set in Gay Paree; is there anyplace more romantic, more beautiful, more wonderful for a starry-eyed American girl (woman? old lady?) to reinvigorate her life? And am I the first one to want to give it a whirl? Uhm, no.

Paris is definitely not as adventurous as a move to, say Kabul. Or Kinshasa. Or even Kiev, for that matter. But it's also not San Francisco, or New York, or Los Angeles, which is where--I think--most Americans' minds go when we think of "fulfilling the big-city dream." And besides, I've proven my ballsy spirit with months of travel in India, Cambodia, and Indonesia. (And I'm still aching to cross Sri Lanka and Algeria off my must-visit list.)

Frankly, I'm just grateful that I didn't end up "settling down" in Loomis or Penn Valley. That's not living the dream, is it? Well, for some, it is, and they're entitled to that dream. In fact, you can have it all to yourself! I'm happy to share my dream with thousands and thousands of others. Rough And Ready, California, is all yours!

France, however, is steeped in clichés. And it should be--the French invented the word, after all. It's from "clicher," a typographer's term that relates to moveable type, otherwise known as "stereotype." And while I might fit into the cliché category, the others who share that spot with me are really much more interesting. Take striped shirts, for instance.

Ever since Jean Seberg (American in Paris!) hawked copies of the International Herald Tribune in that form-fitting striped T-Shirt in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, the French sailor look has gone iconic. Every few years Vogue does a "France inspired" spread that features some pretty young think done up like Leslie Caron or Audrey Hepburn, a stripey shirt on her back and a copy of the Herald Tribune tucked beneath her arm. This cliché is one I like a lot. I hope France keeps it up so I can feel good about adding to my striped-shirt collection.

And the French really do love their poodles, too. And other sorts of chiens, petit et grand. Homeless people here, too, love their dogs. I'd previously mentioned seeing a fluffy, chow-like dog in my old 11th arrondissement neighborhood who I thought had been turned out on the street while his "parents' went on their summer holiday. Turns out he belongs to the homeless boozers who live in the square across from Nathalie's office on rue de la Roquette. He seems semi-well taken care of.

If I have to be a stereotype, I'm glad it's here, in this funky corner of Paris that I call home.

And now, I'm going to go chow a baguette.