Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Step Away From the Speculoos

I got a new regular-ish freelance writing gig and one of my first assignments was to pen a few "accidentally vegan" pieces. I proposed a few potential items, Speculoos spread among them. The stuff has a sort of cult following among Euro-savvy vegans, and I'd always wanted to try it. The ingredients are roughly 60 percent Speculoos cookies (the toast-colored kind you get at cafes and on airplanes that have a subtle cinnamony-ness to them), and the remaining 40 percent is stuff you wish you didn't know about, like oil and sugar.

Looks innocuous enough, right?
I should have known better than to think I could have "just one little taste." It took me all of five days to polish of the entire jar. All by myself. Spoonful by itty-bitty spoonful.

Going in for the kill. 
The aftermath. Deadly!
My next "accidentally vegan" review will be researched and written the old-fashioned way: using first-hand reporting methods that include interviewing people who've tried the product rather than indulging myself. That, or I'm going to have to start reviewing things like carrots and water.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The People You Meet

Terresa is a fan of natural wines, and thanks to her, I am, too!
A few months ago, I received a surprise email from Terresa Murphy, who runs La Cucina di Terresa, a vegetarian cooking school and catering company she operates from her impossibly adorable and compact apartment in the onzieme. How would I like to come over and have a chat? I'd never actually met Terresa, but had interviewed her for a couple of different food-oriented stories I'd written since moving to Paris. Intrigued, and always keen to meet new and interesting people, I wasted no time responding with an enthusiastic "oui."

Terresa whipping up polenta in her perfectly adorable kitchen
I arrived soaking wet and likely looking a bit disheveled, having crossed the city by bike and riding straight into an unexpected rainstorm. (It was just cloudy when I set off.) Yet Terresa welcomed me like an old friend, making me feel right at home with both her warm and engaging personality, and her incredible food. While we sat talking and getting to know each other, she would occasionally disappear into her kitchen and return with a plate of Italian-themed goodies like savory bruschetta or the mysterious and delicious castanaccio (chestnut-flour cake). Besides a mutual love of plant-based cuisine, we discovered we shared some other similarities,including having lived in San Francisco for large chunks of our lives, and having family who live in Grass Valley.

Not-so-stealthy (and not so good) photo of the Japanese designer's duds (and a runway model in the background)
Terresa at work, slicing her fresh chard pasta (yes, chard!) into perfect diamond shapes
Since that initial tete-a-tete, Terresa has welcomed me back into her home for a festive dinner party where four of us American girls ate like Italian principessas and sipped an array of tasty natural wines. A few weeks ago, Terresa even offered me a two-day gig helping her prepare lunch and dinner for a Japanese design house during fashion week. (The designer and his team were too busy casting models for the runway show to make time for food prep.) Last week, Terresa celebrated a milestone birthday and planned to have her potluck fete in a public garden near her home, but the damn weather got in the way again, forcing the event indoors.

We arrived at her apartment late (a flat tire impeded an on-time arrival) and wet (another unexpected rain storm), and were greeted by a small group of revelers, including culinary superstar David Lebovitz (so nice, so NOT a diva!), his partner Romain (who I refer to as the French Dan Piraro, since they share a certain physical je-ne-sais-quoi) and the charming, gorgeous Kiwi singer/songwriter/veg cookbook author Flip Grater. It was an honor to toast my new friend on her birthday with this charming group of creative, interesting, and welcoming people.

David and Flip: not a comedy act, but a talented pair of expat Parisians
Joyeux Anniversaire, chere Terresa!
Terrea's birthday pasta, brimming with veggies, nuts, and superb olive oil
"The French Dan Piraro" and Co.
Today is Bastille Day (aka La Fete Nationale). And while national pride isn't really mon truc, I'm headed off to the Champ de Mars to join Jeff and the Fat Tire crew for a bit socializing beneath a blanket of suspiciously moist-looking clouds, knowing full well I'm likely to get rained on as I have every other excursion this week. Why bother? Because each outing--whatever the weather--is an opportunity to meet another fascinating person, to delve into each other's histories over a plate of delicious food, and to reinvigorate my love for this beautiful and inspiring city I call home.