Cream soda, anyone?

Saturday evening, we went to a little Christmas party with friends, which featured a “White Elephant” gift exchange. Just like last year, we each had to bring a gift that cost less than 5€. Michel and I ended up with a set of six “tapas glasses” — which we’re going to use as lowball glasses — and a box of …

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Bottle Caps

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Continue reading Cream soda, anyone?

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Back in the Kitchen

In my last post, I mentioned that I’ve now spent four Thanksgivings in France. I think it’s probably the time of year when I feel most like an American expatriate. What I mean by that is that it’s the day when I feel the pangs of homesickness most acutely. Thanksgiving’s not a holiday here, of course, so I get pretty nostalgic watching my Facebook newsfeed fill up with status updates from back home about thankfulness, good food with family and friends, and even travel headaches. Looking back across the Atlantic at what you’re missing can easily give you the blues … which is why expats just have to make Thanksgiving right where they are! To be frank, I haven’t always succeeded on that score. Out of the first three Thanksgivings I spent on French soil, only the first featured a traditional American feast, so it really was high time for me to get back in the kitchen … Continue reading Back in the Kitchen

Even Americans Want a Taste

For better or for worse, there’s no denying that American fast food has become arguably as popular in France as it is back home. If you live in a city, there’s always a KFC, a Pizza Hut, or a McDonald’s in the neighborhood. What’s interesting from an American perspective is how these places can feel simultaneously so familiar and so foreign. The idea, of course, is to take an American brand and make it appeal to a French consumer, so sometimes you end up with some interesting cross-cultural creations. Some are very clear efforts to transform traditional favorites. Take, for example, the one that even made the news back in the States: Continue reading Even Americans Want a Taste

That was one FAT Tuesday!

Last year, I wrote a fairly popular article about Mardi Gras. In it, I talked about the HBO series Treme, my attraction to the city of New Orleans, the history of Mardi Gras celebrations there, and the story of my first attempt at making a New Orleans King Cake. It was really quite informative and pretty entertaining. (In case you missed it, that was a plug for you to go read it. Go ahead … you can get to it from here.) The article got a lot of hits this Mardi Gras season, too, apparently from people searching for the correct way to pronounce “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” — that infamous Cajun expression that absolutely no one says in France … except for Americans!

To be honest, last year’s attempt at making a New Orleans King Cake here in France bore almost no resemblance to the real thing. Since we didn’t have an oven, we had to depend on the local bakery for our brioche, and they just don’t make brioche here in Paris in the form of a ring or crown. On top of that, we couldn’t find colored sugar or the right food colorings at the local supermarket, so we improvised with candied fruit. And in place of the little plastic Baby Jesus, we used a ceramic Virgin Mary, the fève from one of our several galettes des rois from the Epiphany season. The result — as delicious as it most certainly was — looked more like a shrine to Our Lady of Candy Land than a King Cake.

King Cake à la je parle américaine—You have to work with what you've got! © 2012 Michel Denis Pouradier
King Cake à la je parle américaine — You have to work with what you’ve got! © 2012 Michel Denis Pouradier

This year, I tried my hand at it once again, and the result was a much better approximation of the real thing. Continue reading That was one FAT Tuesday!

The Versailles of Cafés

I just happened to be passing through Place de l’Opéra this afternoon when I was reminded of a place I definitely ought to share with you. Now, to set this up properly, imagine that you’re standing in Place de l’Opéra. The first thing you notice, of course, is the Paris Opéra house, its gilded rooftop statuary glimmering against a blue sky (or gray as the case usually is this time of year). As you turn counterclockwise to look down the avenues that converge there, you next catch sight of Place Vendôme to the southwest, and the column erected there to commemorate Napoléon’s victory at Austerlitz. Continuing counterclockwise toward the southeast, you then make out the gray slate rooftop of the Louvre at the far end of avenue de l’Opéra. Finally, turning back towards the northeast and peering up the boulevard des Capucines you glimpse a familiar green sign:

Starbucks-Capucines

Now, before you throw up your hands and tell me how ridiculous I’m being … what you don’t know is that there is a real gem hidden behind those doors.
Continue reading The Versailles of Cafés

Three Parisian Thanksgivings


My first Thanksgiving as an expat was in 2010.  It was the first time spending this quintessentially American holiday in France, so I really wanted to go all out and impress my French family with a traditional Thanksgiving experience. I even posted a little article from French Wikipedia on Facebook for them, explaining what Thanksgiving was — that it’s about more than just parades, football games, and oven-roasted turkey. Then I ran off to a little American épicerie in the Marais (incidentally called “Thanksgiving”) and loaded up on the traditional fixin’s. Here’s my Facebook status from November 24, 2010, pretty much summing up my grocery list: Continue reading Three Parisian Thanksgivings

Sugar Daze

Two big things happened in my life this week:

I reached the weight loss
goal I’d set for myself earlier this year …

… and I celebrated that fact with the best cupcakes
an American can find in Paris!

Back in July, you see, a blogger friend embarked on an epic a quest to find the best cupcakes in Paris and document the results for the world. Incidentally — perhaps fortunately for me — this all came about when I was also embarking on an epic quest … to lose the 25 pounds I’d packed on since coming to live in France. (Blasted croissants!) I say “fortunately” because I was forced to indulge vicariously in my friend’s cupcake caper … instead of following in her wake and packing on yet another 5 pounds!

Nevertheless, as soon as I reached my weight loss goal on Thursday, I knew exactly how I was going to celebrate. I dug out Nikki email’s announcing the champion of the cupcake competition, and I went in search of my victory prize at Sugar Daze! Continue reading Sugar Daze

Hot Dogs, Bagels, and Sticker Shock

I often complain about sticker shock in France, and with good reason. Everything here — except for French wine — is more expensive than it is back in the States. Part of the explanation for that is the TVA (or VAT, “value added tax” in English), which approaches 20% for some things. Another reason is that the cost of production is just higher here. For an American, the sticker shock can sometimes be eye-popping, even before converting the price you’re looking at into dollars. Translation: to appreciate the true impact on your wallet, tack on another 30% if you’re spending money you earned in dollars.

I commented on this most recently in my post about the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. Everybody already knows that the prices at Starbucks are simply outrageous, but Starbucks in Europe is just a whole other story. I mean, a tall latte for $6 is off the rails — not that it prevented me from buying one last week. After all, c’est la vie here in France; after a while, you just get used to it. These days, I’m completely accustomed to paying $3.50 for an espresso and $14 for a cocktail, getting one hour of talk time with unlimited texts and data for $60 a month, and thinking that a $12 Chipotle burrito isn’t too bad a price.

But last week, I stumbled across this: Continue reading Hot Dogs, Bagels, and Sticker Shock

Pumpkin Spice!

A few weeks ago, I noticed certain posts popping up on Facebook that made me wax nostalgic for fall in America. They were all about the arrival of:

The Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

© 2011 Starbucks Corporation

Ah, the memories of that delectable autumnal con-coction that has eluded me now for years! Living here in France and rarely traveling back to my homeland between September and December, I had resigned myself to the likelihood that I might never again savor this cinnamon- and nutmeg-laced libation to the gods of falling leaves. After all, I knew from firsthand experience that the French don’t quite understand the pumpkin … at least not a sweet, spiced one …

You see, on my very first Thanksgiving in France, I was psychologically scarred by my French family. Back in 2010, I decided to treat them to a real American Thanksgiving dinner. I even went to an American specialty store in the Marais (called Thanksgiving, by the way) to get all the necessary ingredients to make a real Thanksgiving feast. Now, my French family simply adored the stuffing and the homemade cranberry sauce. The pumpkin pie, on the other hand, well … it just confused them:

“Hmm. Interesting. It would make a good appetizer. You know, with a side salad,” was my sister-in-law’s reaction.

Alrighty then … no more pumpkin pies for the Frenchies. Continue reading Pumpkin Spice!

Bottle Shock

The French and wine. What can you say? They go together like a horse and carriage, right? In fact, after the Vatican City (communion wine?) and Luxembourg (which everyone overlooks), France is the country with the highest level of per capita wine consumption at almost 46 liters (12 gallons) a year. (By comparison, the United States’s per capita consumption is less than 10 liters, or 2.5 gallons, a year.) The French also produce more wine than any other country: over 4.6 billion liters (1.2 billion gallons) in 2010!

The wine section of a Paris convenience store. Notice how it's 3 times bigger than the beer section.
The wine section of a Paris convenience store. Notice how it’s 3 times bigger than the beer section.

We all know, too, that the quality of French wine is superb. No country becomes known for its wines without a long history of top-notch products. But we Americans also know how to make some exceptional wines (even if we don’t drink them up at the rate the French do). I sometimes point out that the best pinot noir in the world comes from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. (Don’t get me wrong — I’m no wine connoisseur or anything. It’s just that I’ve read that tidbit somewhere, so I try to sound as authoritative as possible when I repeat it to French people.) And, of course, you’ve all seen the movie Bottle Shock, right? Bottle Shock — “Le Choc  … de Bouteille“? The movie about how a Napa Valley chardonnay beat the pants off the best French wines in a blind tasting by a panel of Parisian judges? Oh, was that censored in France?

Well, the newest addition to the stream of American wines trouncing their French competition is Southern Sunrise BlushContinue reading Bottle Shock