Saturday, February 23, 2013


While prepping for the class I'm teaching next week, I thought it would be helpful to students to have access to some tangible vegetarian-oriented resources. Over the years, I've collected scads of books on vegan food, animal rights, veg travel, etc.--though I've given most away, so it's no longer the carefully curated "vegan library" I once possessed. Thankfully, my friend Mary Margaret, who is the food editor at Vegetarian Times, recently gave me a gazillion veg cookbooks she was ready to part with. I'm thinking I'll loan those to whoever is interested, or simply let them leaf through the stack after class.

I thought it also might be helpful to tout our local bibliotheques (aka libraries), so students know that we have a cool, diverse, polylingual resource at our disposal as Paris residents--and it's free! This past Wednesday, I pedaled up to the Bibliotheque Batignolles and went on the prowl for books with a veg focus, and found three; two cookbooks (one of which I brought home) and one guide: Paris Vegetarien.

When this pocket-size, 110-page paperback came out last year, I was kind of bummed; I'd been working on a vegan Paris guide of my own and even pitched the book's publishers, Parigramme, a similar title. (No response, and no surprise. Non-response-as-NO is how the French roll.) But when I saw it sitting on the library shelf, shiny and new and barely touched (if ever), I tossed my resentment and that smidgen of jealousy to the wayside and carried it to the counter.

What a great book--even if I didn't get to write it!
In bed later that night, surrounded by reading material and one interested little dog, I leafed through the book expecting nothing new and was pleasantly surprised. Inside were indeed oodles of places I was utterly and completely familiar with, but there were also a solid handful of listings that were totally not familiar, and therefore totally exciting. And good timing, too; ever since finding a breathmint (not mine) in the spinach curry at my favorite Sunday lunch spot, I've been looking for new restaurants to try.

With Paris Vegetarien, I've got some good weekend possibilities lined up. For instance, Mille et Une Beautes. If the place sounds/looks like a beauty salon, that's because it is. A beauty salon that serves vegetarian lunch! Weird, right? But wait! There's another retail/resto melange serving veg fare: Carmen Ragosta. It's a clothing boutique-slash-Italian restaurant. Brilliant mix. (Only it's probably best to try on clothes before trying out the pasta.)

The most exciting entries I discovered might be the bits focused on the Paris suburb of Montreuil; apparently, there's a vegan boulanger at the Wednesday market there, and at Casa Poblano, a non-profit arts association, there's a little cafe serving veg (and non-veg) food that's run by our old friend Falko. Falko was the guy behind Oscar Cafe, the Tuesday night vegan supper club we looked forward to each week when we lived in Paris back in 2004-2005.

Writers aren't thanked enough for the good work they do (IMOHO), so this is my thank-you to Alcyone Wemaere, wherever you are, for researching and writing a useful guide for novices and experienced vegan Parisians alike. To quote the title of one of my vegan cookbooks, "I am grateful"!

Thursday, February 14, 2013


One of the best things about being vegan in Paris? Bo bun!
Those who know me well know that I am impulsive. I'm known to leap off metaphorical mountain tops without excessive rumination, and while the regrets have been few, there are a couple of things I'd have done differently if I were given the chance for a do-over.

Vegan cheesecake from Cafe Ginger.
Moving to France wasn't one of my typically impetuous maneuvers. I planned everything meticulously and thoughtfully, taking into consideration every facet of such a big geographical shift. One of the aspects that required the greatest investment of time and energy was figuring out how to work here legally; not many countries freely distribute working visas, unless the person asking is highly skilled/educated, and the need for his or her particular talents is high.

Buying in-season produce at the marche is one way vegans can fully experience  la vie francaise.
Thankfully, I was able to pull it off by submitting a proposal for a Carte Competences et Talents, a visa that allows artists to live in France to work on a project of their choosing for three years, and to get paid for it while they're here. (If they can find a way to earn money from their project, that is.)

Did somebody say "organic wine"?
Two weeks from today, I'll finally be able to tick off one of the goals I'd outlined in that initial proposal when I teach my very first class on the subject of vegetarian living in Paris. The class is offered through WICE, a non-profit cultural organization for Anglophones and others who want to learn new things, meet interesting people, and enjoy the process in a language they understand.

Like Nutella, only better, since it doesn't have milk in it!
I'm excited to meet my students and learn why they're interested in vegetarianism. My greatest hope for this experience is that I'll be able to impart some of the wisdom and experience I've collected over the years and offer it in a way that will support them on their path toward compassionate living. That will require gentleness, a non-judgmental attitude, and patience, which I intend to deliver in the spirit of fun and adventure.

Does anything lift your spirits more than a flower stall erupting with springtime blooms?
And food samples, of course. That's the surest way to win someone's heart, in my experience! If you have teaching tricks, words of wisdom, or any suggestions for successful information sharing, I totally welcome them! 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Cafe Pinson Experience

Steamy windows and all at Cafe Pinson.

The cafe's whitewashed back dining room.
Pinson means "finch" in French. I never did figure out the connection between the name of this new organic, vegetarian cafe in the too-cool north Marais and the petit oiseau, but it definitely doesn't have anything to do with "eating like a bird"; come here for Sunday bunch and you'll waddle out the door like an overstuffed penguin.

My friend Sophia and I tried to squeeze in the first week Cafe Pinson opened, but that was a futile experience. It was standing room only that Saturday, and so thick with hungry people that the big picture windows sported a curtain-like layer of opaque moisture. We thought it best to let the shiny veneer of novelty wear off before giving it another shot. A month later, with a noon reservation, Jeff and I arrived to find a much more relaxed, less damp and frenetic atmosphere inside.

A little inside-looking-out perspective.
The lady in the silver jacket slipped on a giant fur coat as she got up to leave. That's something I never thought I'd see in a vegetarian restaurant!
Right away, we noticed the professionalism of the staff. Smiling (in Paris! For real!) and attentive, we were seated within five seconds of giving our name to the bespectacled hostess. Our table for two in the back dining room where was already adorned with the entree pour deux: slices of soft, chewy bread and three little dishes of homemade tartine spreads: Banana-lime, chocolate hazelnut, and "butter" made from coconut and almond oil. (The chocolate was my favorite, followed by the butter. Neither of us really knew what to make of the banana spread.)

Breads and homemade spreads.
The chocolate-hazelnut spread was to-die-for yummy.
A dreadlocked server arrived within a minute of us sitting down and explained the brunch menu: Two courses--one salty, one sweet, both with vegan options--, all-you-can-drink coffee and tea at the front counter, and fresh-pressed juices for an additional six euro. Jeff went with regular ol' veggie (they serve eggs here, but no dairy), and I went the normal vegan route.

We filled our coffee mugs and immediately set to work stuffing our faces with the delicious bread (served in a little brown to-go box) and spreads. We got seconds, then thirds on the bread. It was that good. When our meals arrived, we gave it the skeptic's once-over; how was this bowl of daintily-proportioned goodness possibly going to sate us two gluttons?

Modestly proportioned and deceptively filling. 
The cooks' quarters.

The no-fuss brunch menu.
Where Jeff had a poached egg, my plate had a white-bean spread. Where two savory madeleines were tucked into his celery rave-parsnip puree, I had chia-sesame triangles. The most exciting thing on the plate, visually and otherwise, was the kale salad (KALE SALAD!!!) with fennel, carrot, and pumpkin seeds.

Kale up close!
Everything tasted pretty damn good. Simple, but good. And, as usual, there was no salt or pepper on the table, but it didn't really need anything. (Though we did talk about how, at home, we'd have doused everything with hot sauce, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast. And that would've been just the start.)

Between courses, I introduced myself to the chef, who I recognized from Pousse Pousse, the raw vegan restaurant in the 9th where she worked until being wooed over to Pinson. She, in turn, introduced me to Agathe, the owner, who was dining at a nearby table. She was friendly enough.

Soy yogurt, house-made granola, and puree of ... ??
At last, our sweet course arrived. Mine, homemade granola atop soy yogurt. The granola was divine: crunchy, fresh, with lots of nuts and dried fruity-things inside. A fruit puree--apple? pear?--came along for the ride. Jeff got more madeleines--sweet ones, this time.

Madeleines: not vegan, sadly. 
This meal wasn't cheap--€50 for two, without wine!--but that's the going rate for brunch in the City of Light. It was filling, and tasty, and the service was really, really good. We got the feeling that we could have stayed all day and no one would have said a thing. We might have, too, if the coffee was better, but still, two hours was plenty. When this place ditches the eggs, it'll be perfect.

Worth every centime? Just about.