Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shoe Lust

Leila Kerze and her friendly Italian cohort, Nico.

Shoes. I love them

At any given time, I'm about two pairs away from becoming The Crazy Shoe Lady. But I rationalize my habit by buying vintage, which usually rings up less spendy at the cash register than buying new (plus, it's in line with my reduce-reuse-recycle philosophy). Krze Studio's new line of shoes kind of ruined all that for me.

J'adore the tough-girl aesthetic of these boots.
Leila Kerze's shoes capture the essence of the  LA girl; glam, beachy,  and fashionably outdoorsy.
Sparkly Cinderella shoes for the conscious girly-girl.

A wedge with edge.
Leila and one of her studded bags, which retails for (gulp) around $700.
Leila Kerze is the woman behind this new, high-end vegan shoe line. Her background is in design (she's worked on footwear lines for BCBG Max Azria and  Donald J Pliner), and her passion is creating beautiful shoes (and gorgeous handbags) that borrow from the tradition of artisan shoe makers in Italy, but without resorting to using animals in their production.

Statement-making red shoes with shine.
This one's for the fellas.
I met Leila last week at Who's Next, the big retail fashion expo at the Paris Expo center, and got to fondle some of her wares with my own hands. The most intriguing thing about each pair are the tiny details; each buckle, stud, and zipper has been chosen for its function, style, and quality, too. Leila takes particular pride in her shoes' insoles, which were created with breathable, comfortable, synthetic materials that outperform their leather counterparts.

Hey! More shoes.

Side view of the fancy bag, which, like  Krze Studio shoes, sports high-quality details.

Flashy footwear for the confident man (and woman).
I just noticed it says "ware"--is it a typo? Not sure!
All this beauty and function doesn't come cheap; shoes, boots, and a gorgeous line of bags start in the hundreds-of-dollars range, but, then, she's out there competing with the luxury fashion-house brands whose prices are in that same range.

When I land my next big book deal, I'll be investing in a pair. Until then, I'll be over here, ogling from a safe distance.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Supermarket Surprise

My latest find at Carrefour, a treasure trove of edible mysteries.
I popped over to the giant Carrefour market after French class on Thursday with one thing on my shopping list: Earl Grey tea. On the right side of the tea aisle sit rows of boxes and canisters of my favorite beverage; the left side is dedicated to all things "bio," or as we anglophones like to call it, "organic stuff."

On the shelf just above the chocolate-covered rice cakes, my eyes were drawn to a low-fi brown box with the words "Galette de Soja" on it. I was intrigued. I reached for the Mediterranean flavor (plain-sounding "vegetable recipe" burgers were the other possibility), flipped the package over and scanned the ingredients list--soy, eggplant, millet, olives--and discovered they were vegan. In my basket they went.

Vegan-approved ingredients list.
The burgers don't need to be refrigerated, which  seems a little creepy to me. 
I made them for dinner that night, following the cooking directions and baking them in the oven for 8 minutes. (It was also suggested that I could fry them.) They were OK. Not fabulous, but pretty good. The texture was ... soft and occasionally chewy, rather than totally firm like a Boca or Gardenburger patty. Jeff thought they were the best thing since ... Tofurky, maybe. "I wonder if you can cook these in the microwave?" he asked, and I could see he was imagining all the different burger possibilities for lunch next week. (Microwaving was not one of the cooking methods printed on the box.)
My burger tasted pretty OK with a bit of salad and a side of  beans.
Would I give them another shot? Sure. Maybe sandwiched between two pieces of baguette, with a slice of tomato and some lettuce, too. And fries. Lots and lots of fries.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Research with a Kick

The lovely Clemence, my cohort in caffeine
The deadline for my second book, Moon Metro Paris, is in just two short months. Eek! (My first book, Moon Living Abroad in France, was published in 2012.) The fun part of researching a travel guidebook falls under the overarching theme of "first-hand reporting," which means if I'm writing about how good the coffee is at a specific cafe, I darn well better have tasted a steamy cup of the stuff with my own lips.

Inside Coutume Cafe
Last week, I met up with Clemence at Coutume Cafe, one of the new drinking-and-dining additions to the "Invalides" section of the book. (For those who don't know Paris well, "Invalides" relates to the neighborhood, which is named after the giant military hospital/museum complex that dominates the quartier. Napoleon is buried therein.) We came for coffee and conversation (and research), and even though I wasn't hungry, I gave the menu a good once-over. 

The daily salad looked great on paper, and even better when I saw it served to the woman sitting next to me. Colorful and almost too-fresh for mid-winter. The Toasts aux Champignons sounded mouthwatering, too: Whole-grain toast topped with sauteed shiitake (spelled incorrectly on the menu--oops!), oyster, and button mushrooms and served with a mesclun salad. Vegan, so far as I could tell. (But I'd always ask before ordering.)

I already knew Coutume Cafe offered soymilk for hot drinks, but today, when I asked, they were all out, and the manager, Nico, explained that they're in the middle of sourcing a new brand, since the one they were using had a tendency to curdle when blended into chai, cafes au lait, and other drinks that call for a milk of some sort.

This is what a €4.20 chai latte looks like up close.
I ordered a simple, rather innocuous-sounding "cafe noir," which was described as a double espresso with a bit of hot water added to it. It was tasty. What I wasn't expecting was the intoxicating buzz that followed immediately after polishing off that diminutive cupful. So intense was my coffee high that I had to cut the visit short to go burn off some of that brain-sizzling energy. It wasn't a horrible feeling--I wasn't jittery or queasy as can sometimes happen after a potent cup--but I was a little too wired, mentally, for comfortable conversation.

I can't wait to go back for another cup!

Warning: May cause extreme brain activity!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Adventures in Blue-Green Algae

This is what spirulina, aka cyanobacteria aka blue-green algae looks like.
Last Saturday night, I met up with Pierre-Andre at Le Bloc for a drink and a chat.

I'd never met Pierre-Andre before, but he'd sent a message via this very blog saying he's a spirulina farmer in the south of France, and if I was interested, we could meet up when he was coming through Paris the following week and I could give the greeny-blue stuff a try.

This was a first for me--both the spirulina bit as well as meeting a complete stranger for a drink. I had no trepidation whatsoever, and it turned out my instincts were sound. Pierre-Andre was a lovely person, funny and interesting, as well as frank and forthcoming about spirulina's potential benefits. ("It's not a miracle product!")

We spoke for nearly two hours--in French (another first!)--about life in the south and how it compares to Paris (sunnier!), vegetarianism and veganism, and then, of spirulina and how exactly it might benefit someone like me. I learned that it's particularly dense in some vitamins and minerals--vitamin K, magnesium--and that it really isn't a solid source of vitamin B (though it does have a component that mimics the effects of B12 in the body).

Pierre-Andre was kind enough to give me a good-size bag full of the stuff. 
A slightly more intimate glimpse of the spirulina.
We spoke some more about how the cyanobacteria is cultivated (in pools of lightly salinated freshwater), and then, how you go about ingesting it. Digging into one of his sacks, he pulled out a little brown bag and tipped a teaspoon or so into my hand. It was a puddle of dry, thin rivulets, like angel-hair pasta, broken up into minuscule bits. I took a pinch and popped it in my mouth, and was surprised that it tasted like mushrooms.

"Ah, bon?"

Apparently I was the first person to suggest the similarity in taste.

Whiskey in a jar? No, but the taste is equally potent, without the deleterious effects (nor the feel-good variety).
Before going our separate ways, Pierre-Andre gave me a full package of the stuff to try. What a fun surprise! I told him I'd do a little experiment: Each day, I'd take the recommended dosage--a teaspoon--and down it in a glass of water and note any effects, positive or negative. Today is Jour Six, and so far, nothing new to report. No real suppression of appetite or mental/physical energy boost--two of the potential effects. Neither has it made me feel particularly more "healthy." But I'm not done yet.

I figure there's about a month's-worth of spirulina in the bag, and I'm seeing it through to the end. If I sprout horns or develop a sudden affinity for trigonometry, I'll report back here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Misadventures in the Marais

The limited lunch menu at MOB. We went for the burger and fries.
I can't explain exactly why, but I wasn't in a real hurry to get to MOB, the Paris outpost of  Maimonide of Brooklyn, otherwise known as one of the newer vegan joints to hit the trop-hip upper Marais. The miniscule fast-food spot opened more than a year ago, and after one weak attempt to enter the first week they opened (the woman inside just stared at me a as I tried unsuccessfully to open the locked door. I guess they were closed.), I kind of gave up on the place.

Maybe I should have gone for the popcorn instead.
Last weekend a friend and I tried to squeeze into Cafe Pinson, a block away from MOB, but the crowds were so thick we could hardly breathe inside. Deciding we'd rather starve than suffocate, we made a demi-tour and wandered into Marche des Enfants Rouges, where we scoured menus and ogled plates of food being served from the many enticing food stalls. Exiting from a side door and a little disoriented, we got our bearings when we realized we were standing directly across from MOB. We were famished by now and they were definitely open this time, so in we went.

The guy in the backward baseball cap behind the counter dished up some serious slacker-style service, barely looking up from the book he was reading to acknowledge us as we moseyed up to make our order. Thankfully, it got better from there. (Then worse again, but I'm getting ahead of myself.) Slacker-dude kindly took our orders (there was really only one thing on the menu, and that was a burger and fries, so that's what we got), then rearranged a few platters of cheesecake on the counter-top so we could sit and eat (the one communal table was already full).

Slacker dude prepping our burgers. I wish I hadn't seen this part.
So we're sitting there talking, and out of the corner of my eye, I see slacker dude in the back maneuvering toward us with a giant tray with two indecipherable mounds on it. Midway to the dining area, he stops, opens the door to anoven, and slides the tray with the two mounds inside. Now I recognized the mounds as our lunch. The whole shebang--bun, burger, and side of greasy, thick-cut fries--were basically either frozen or refrigerated and were now being unceremoniously reheated in the oven before being served to us.

That was kind of a buzzkill.

Two minutes later, our meals were presented to us, with the thoughtful addition of a little thimbleful of ketchup. No lettuce, no tomato, no vegan cheese, no onion, no funky serrated pickle, no nothin' in terms of adornment. We tucked in anyway. My friend isn't vegan and as I bit into the mushy, funky-tasting burger, all I could think of was how I ruined her new year's resolution to eat less meat with one poor restaurant choice.

Note absence of additional vegetable matter. Some lettuce would have really helped this burger out. That's cheesecake we didn't try in the background. 
The bun was good. Crunchy and surprisingly fresh-tasting. I don't want to talk smack about vegan restaurants, so I won't tell you about the rest except to say we each ate ever last bite, even if it was one of the least exciting meals of my life.

I give MOB a neuf sur dix (9 out of 10) just for being vegan, but dudes, you've got to liven up those burgers (and expand your menu possibilities) if you want to make a repeat customer out of me.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Constructive Caffeination

The understated exterior at Tuck Shop. The "understated" theme carries throughout .
Late last week I met up with my dear friend Sophia for breakfast at a new cafe near Canal St. Martin. We rendezvoused for a good reason: To get this girl (moi!) organized. Organization is one of those things that just doesn't come intuitively, but it's kind of a necessary skill to have if you want to reach your creative, professional, and personal goals. 

Thankfully, Sophia is an organizational expert, and when she offered herself up for the challenge, I didn't hesitate to say "oui!!" (Which also might have been "Weee!")

The communal table with books, terrariums, and one really organized human.
Besides being a talented photographer and visual artist, super-smart Sophia is an early adopter on the technological front--and most other fronts, too. She's the kind of techno-geek that must have all the latest iStuff in her hands the very day it's launched, and she's willing to stand in line for hours and hours and HOURS to get it. (But with careful planning; she brings a friend so they can trade-off trips to les toilettes and alternate food breaks, and she scouts retail destinations that will likely have the shortest lines and best amenities.)

The food board. (Bored?) The vegan selections were a tad pedestrian.
Our meetup point was Tuck Shop, a vegetarian breakfast and lunch spot that opened back in November. It's on a street made hip by Bob's Juice Bar and in a neighborhood that's vying for the title of "Top Hipster 'Hood" (currently neck-in-neck with the northern Marais). All I knew about it was that it was vegetarian, with roughly 50 percent of the menu vegan.

Sophia was there when I arrived--late--having encountered some Velib' trouble. (The first two bikes died while I rode them.) The place was nearly empty, so she sat at one of the big communal tables, upon which  artfully arranged vintage books were stacked alongside glass terrariums (for sale) overflowing with greenery.

After examining the two chalkboard menus, and getting to choose between toast with avocado and "pain sportif" with almond butter (the third tartine on offer was served with dairy butter), we each opted for the avo tartine with lemon and fresh pepper. And coffee. 

Espresso-makin'. We'll take four of those, please.
The LSD--a soy latte with dandelion--sounded interesting until I found out there was honey in it.

Lo and behold: That's exactly what we got.

Yup. That's avo on toast, alright. Minimalist, but, admittedly, tasty.
The coffee at Tuck Shop comes from Coutume Cafe in the 7e, where beans are roasted on-site. We each had two and I, at least, appreciated the caffeinated kick of the potent brew.
Service started to pick up as the clock ticked toward lunchtime; a woman and her dog came in and ordered something to go, then a mom and her newborn infant came and took up residence in a comfy corner table. More items were marched out of the kitchen, including a lovely-looking plate of muffins, which I later found out had eggs in them. (the sound of tears rolling gently down my cheeks here)

While not the most scintillating dining spot for vegans, Tuck Shop still has a quiet charm about it, and I feel hopeful that the dairy-free possibilities will expand beyond soy- and oat-milk offerings for the hot drinks. If not, it's still a nice spot for a potent cup of tasty coffee that'll fuel you up for any organizational marathons penciled into your new-year agenda.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Trip to the Grande Herboristerie (And my liver shouts "YES!")

Moderation is definitely not my middle name.

I tend to do things in excess, for better or for worse. (Usually for worse.) Worrying is something I do to excess, and I tend to stress about things that really don't merit the time or the energy. To combat this, I should reach toward meditation, yoga, or other relaxation techniques, but usually I just reach for a glass of wine. Its efficacy is palpable immediately, plus, it tastes good! It tastes so good that I drink it even when it's not needed for medicinal purposes. As in, every day.

This year, however, I've made a promise to myself. OK: Let's call it a resolution, since that's what we tend to make this time of year. So: I've resolved to treat my body with more kindness and respect, and to attempt moderation on a variety of fronts. I like clean slates, so to get started with the physical component, I decided to make a trip to the Grand Herboristerie of Paris in search of some plant-based curatives to nettoyer the ol' liver and help support my health in a general way.

I fell madly in love with the place almost immediately (See? there's that excessive bit I mentioned earlier), because really, what's not to love about a vintage apothecary that smells nice, is filled with healing herbs, and is staffed by helpful, friendly people? (That last bit is somewhat of a rarity here in Paris.)

For mid-day on a Wednesday, the place was buzzing. When I walked in, a woman was being helped by one staffperson, and another worker zipped out from behind an old wooden counter to help me almost as soon as I'd crossed the threshold. 

"Do you want me to stay here in and help you or should I leave you to explore on your own?" asked the man, a thirty-ish fellow with a well-groomed beard and a long saffron scarf coiled around his neck.

"I'll have a look first and then pester you with questions afterward," I replied.

This branch--there are two in Paris (the other is near St. Michel)--has stood in this very spot since 1880, and some of the jars, canisters, and scales look like they are Belle Epoque originals. While I stared at the old medicine bottles and herb-y ephemera, I felt transported back to another time. I was only pulled out of my time-warp trance by the jangling chime of the doorknob bells as people came and went.

It didn't take long for me to realize I wouldn't be able to navigate this terrain on my own; I needed a guide, and I might as well take advantage of this attentive man who looks like he really wants to help me sort out my health issues. I just had to make eye contact and he was immediately at my side again.

"I'm looking for something to detoxify my liver," I told him. "Do you have something for that?"

"I've got just the thing for you!" he replied, gliding back around the mahogany counter and plucking a white  paper package roughly the size of a two-pound sac of sugar off the shelves.

"Voila. This is an herbal blend that you drink three times a day, until you've finished the entire packet," he advised. He explained how to prepare it, and warned me that it might be bitter to taste, in which case I could add a bit of sweetener.

While we spoke, a half-dozen people came and left. The demographic tended toward the silver set, which seemed surprising somehow. Didn't old people prefer Geritol and pharmaceuticals? Apparently not.

 He rang me up, and the total came to €14,80. It seemed a fair price.

Once I got home, I brewed up a batch according to the instructions: Put three teaspoons in a pot and cover with half a liter of cold water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for three minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool. Drink three times a day, every day.

The taste? Like the guy forewarned, it's somewhat bitter, with a woodsy sort of flavor. There's a hint of licorice, too, which, as I look at the ingredients, makes sense. Reglisse (licorice) is the last ingredient listed. There's also artichoke, corn, and green anise, and black radish in the blend.

It'll probably take three or four weeks to work through this bag, and while I'm not expecting any miracles, I do expect my liver will be in better shape then than it is now. Have you ever tried an herbal "cure"? What was it for, and how did it make you feel?

Did you make a new year's resolution, and if so what was it?