Crêpe expectations

How many French folk does it take to change a lightbulb? Well that question is completely irrelevant on February 2nd as any request for handy help will fall on deaf ears as the whole country will be far too busy eating crêpes.

Kim crepe 1Ah, those delicious golden discs of batter that require such deftness with a frying pan, and untold patience given that most of us only have one with which to manufacture an appropriate stack. Don’t the French eat them between every meal? Aren’t they the warming cold weather vehicle for Nutella in a carbohydrate yin-yang partnership with the fair weather baguette?

Not quite… Crêpes are indeed nestled within the gastronomic heart of France, wafting their goodness via many a batter-toting kiosk, though not something that is considered a daily treat. Once in a while, for sure, but it’s not like the French give a toss even weekly. But that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to hold a party for our circular, pan-dwelling friends. If food is to be championed, then this is the country in which to champion it in.

Kim crepe 3Exactly 40 days after Christmas on 2nd February is when over here we celebrate La Chandeleur (Candlemas for the non-French speakers), when we do just that. It’s the one day of the year where crêpes are held aloft and idolised, though they can’t claim to be the belle of the ball as there’s a hell of a lot of traditional legend and religious symbolism tied up on the same date in the calendar.

Depending on which religion you subscribe to, the 2nd February is the day to celebrate the presentation of Christ at the temple, the feast of the purification of the Virgin, or the blessing of the church’s beeswax candles. Non-religious traditions dictate that in France, the UK and the USA the weather on 2nd February predicts the forecast for the rest of the year, in Scotland a big snake will appear from the ground (which promises not to ‘molest’ anyone), and if you’re a sailor, it’s a day to give a jaunt on the ship a miss.

Kim crepe 5In France, the ‘crêpe party’ element (as my friend Arthur likes to call it) means that superstition is expressed through the medium of food, i.e. the lowly pancake. It’s not about using up ingredients in time for Lent which underlies the Anglo tradition of Shrove Tuesday (this year 13th February), but more a celebration of light, and the transition between the last dark days of a cold and sombre winter and the fledgling days of the approaching spring. The crêpe is supposed to reflect the image of the round, golden disc of the sun.

As well as making sure your wrist action is on form to indulge in the obligatory tossing, tradition also states that the first pancake out of the rank needs to be folded up and placed in the wardrobe to encourage a plentiful and abundant harvest for the coming year. It sounds to me like that’s just a recipe for attracting an abundance of the neighbourhood mice, but hey, maybe enticing them from the fields and into the home is the whole point.

Kim crepe 6Let’s assume you’re a sensible, rational being and you’ve opted for crêpe worship above any other 2nd February signification. The only choice now is what to fill your spoils with. Banana and Nutella, classic sugar and lemon, or a sinful mountain of cheese and ham? Today I opted for (in practice for the big day) a savoury oven baked roll up of crêpes (made with beer instead of milk) filled with veg and a goat’s cheese sauce topped with parmesan, followed by a sweet duo of blueberry and honey, and good ol’ lemon and sugar. Now I can’t move (lucky for you my fingers still can).

This Friday residents of France can follow my stunning example, those in a country where pancakes are fashionably late will have to hop on the spot until it’s your turn later on in the month. Just look into the light whilst you’re at it.

Time to face the music

Kim phil 5Comparing Paris to Sydney might seem as daft as comparing French humour to its British equivalent, given that one of the few things they have in common is the fact that both cities have been lucky enough to have me as a resident. Different hemispheres, polar opposite cultures and climates, and entirely contrasting philosophies regarding space. I’ve seen bathrooms in Australia’s biggest city larger than my whole apartment. No word of a lie. But finally, as of last Wednesday, there’s one thing that binds both cities together, making them artistic siblings in a sense – they both have outlandish concert halls to boast about.

Kim phil 1Located in the up-and-coming 19th arrondissement on the site of Napoleon III’s ancient slaughterhouses, the brand new Philharmonie de Paris is nestled in the south-eastern corner of the Parc de la Villette in the Cité de la Musique. It may not resemble mating turtles like its antipodean counterpart (as it is often described), but its space-age silver design definitely follows the trend for modernity when it comes to famous music venues. If we really want to stick with the mating theme, then it’s reminiscent of two giant, silver space creatures being squashed by a small meteor mid-coitus.

Kim phil 3Paris’ newest resident is the work of architect Jean Nouvel, the man behind two of the city’s other famous buildings, the Arab World Institute and the vegetative Museé de Quai Branly, amongst other global projects. And it’s closer to Sydney than you’d think since the acoustics were designed and calibrated by a two-man team, including Yasuhisa Toyota, responsible for the sound quality of Australia’s opera darling. Both buildings went seriously over budget too, though Paris only went a conservative three times over budget, compared to Sydney’s gulping fourteen and a half.

Kim phil 2There were also similar dramas with the chief architects, both Pritzker Prize winners and demanding to a fault. Though Jean Nouvel saw his entire project through, Jørn Utzon didn’t have the same fortune, resigning before the completion of the Sydney Opera House and never seeing the finished building in the flesh. Both architects were notably missing from the lavish opening ceremonies (taking place on the 14th January in Paris), with Nouvel refusing to attend claiming that the new home of the Orchestre de Paris isn’t finished and has opened too soon. Diva behaviour maybe, but he does have a point – a week later and the cranes are still hanging around.

Kim phil 6Francois Hollande was present though, enjoying the opening concert in the main 2,400 seater auditorium, whose acoustics have been described as ‘stunning’. The building also boasts educational rooms, two restaurants, six rehearsal rooms and an exhibition space. In an effort to reflect its modern, futuristic design (perhaps), the first exhibition to be held in it (beginning on 3rd March) will be a tribute to David Bowie, celebrating his life, music and unique style. If buildings were people, then Bowie this would surely be.

If you’re a classical music fan, you’ll probably be happy to pay the 50+ euros you need to spend to take in an evening of music, but for non-appreciators, it’s worth a visit anyway to take a look at Paris’ most weird and wonderful new addition. Modern critics have often accused of Paris being stuck in the past, its reputation nothing but a colourful shadow of golden ages past, but high in the corner of the 19th, it’s great to see a modern wave of culture finally taking hold. And if David Bowie’s on board, then I am too.

Check out the official website here.

Seasons eatings

IMG_1389Last year, as you devoted readers will surely remember, I used to write a monthly ‘in season’ post, detailing the fruit and veg on offer in France at different times of the year. But Paris is just such a fun-packed dame, there were just too many other cracking things to write about to keep the idea going.

But I still consider eating with the seasons to be an important practice, being good for the planet, superior in both nutrition and flavour, but more importantly in the context of the frugal nature of my mission, kinder to the wallet. It may be now a bit of a bobo (‘bourgeois bohème’, i.e. a bit hipster) trend, but back in Victor Hugo’s day, the peasants relied on seasonal and local produce out of sheer survival, whilst the super rich gorged themselves on pricey produce from far-flung lands. In the 21st century, that comes with a huge ecological sacrifice.

Instead of writing a monthly update as before, I’m going to deliver this essential info in one fell swoop for you to keep with you throughout the year, as a handy list to glance at before heading to the market. It’s by no means exhaustive or set in stone (every single table of seasonal produce I stumbled upon during my research was different, so I’ve tried to shoot straight down the middle), and I’ve tried to include the produce that’s most popular and usually found at French markets and supermarket shelves. Anything in italics is either coming in to or going out of season, meaning it’s usual available, but you might not get the best quality possible. Happy cooking!

Kim farm 4JANUARY Apples, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celeriac, clementine, endive, garlic, fennel, Jerusalem artichoke, kale (now available in French supermarkets!), kiwi, leeks, mandarin, mushrooms, onion, parsnip, pear, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, swede

FEBRUARY Apples, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celeriac, endive, fennel, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, kiwi, leeks, mandarin, mushrooms, onion, parsnip, pear, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, spinach, swede

MARCH Apples, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celeriac, chard, endive, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, kiwi, leeks, mushrooms, onion, parsnippear, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, spinach, turnip

asparagus

APRIL Asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, chard, celeriac, endive, garlic, kiwi, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, radish, rhubarb, spinach, spring onion, turnip, watercress

MAY Artichoke, asparagus, apricot, aubergine, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, chard, cherry, cucumber, garlic, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onion, peas, potatoes, radish, raspberries, rhubarb, spinach, spring onion, strawberries, tomato, watercress

JUNE Artichoke, apricot, asparagus, aubergine, beetroot, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflowercelery, chard, cherry, courgette, cucumber, fennel, French beans, garlic, kale, lettuce, melon, mushrooms, onion, peach, peas, pepper, plum, potatoes, radish, raspberries, rhubarb, spinach, spring onion, strawberries, tomato, turnip, watercress

IMG_1630JULY Artichoke, apricot, asparagus, aubergine, beetroot, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, chard, cherry, courgette, cucumber, fennel, French beans, garlic, kale, lettuce, melon, mushrooms, onion, peach, peas, pepper, plum, potatoes, radish, raspberries, rhubarb, spinach, spring onion, strawberries, tomato, turnip, watercress

AUGUST Apples, apricot, artichoke, aubergine, beetroot, blackberries, blueberries, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chard, cherry, courgette, cucumber, fennel, fig, French beans, garlic, grapes, kale, leeks, lettuce, melon, mirabelle, mushrooms, nectarine, onion, peach, pepper, plum, potatoes, radish, raspberries, rhubarb, spinach, spring onion, strawberries, sweetcorn, tomato, turnip, watercress

SEPTEMBER Apples, artichoke, aubergine, beetroot, blackberries, blueberries, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chard, courgette, cucumber, fennel, fig, French beans, garlic, grapes, kale, leeks, lettuce, melon, mirabelle, mushrooms, onion, parsnip, peach, pear, pepper, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, raspberries, rhubarb, spinach, spring onion, strawberries, sweetcorn, tomato, turnip, watercress

???????????????????????????????OCTOBER Apples, aubergine, beetroot, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage; carrot, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chard, chestnuts, courgette, endive, fennel, fig, French beans, garlic, grapes, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onion, parsnip, pear, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, spinach, spring onion, swede, sweetcorn, tomato, turnip, watercress

NOVEMBER Apples, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sproutscabbage, carrot, cauliflowerceleriac, celery, chestnuts, clementine, endive, fennel, garlic, grapes, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, leeks, mandarin, mushrooms, onion, parsnip, pear, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, spinach, swede, turnip, watercress

DECEMBER Apples, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sproutscabbage, carrot, cauliflowerceleriac, chestnuts, clementine, endive, fennel, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, kiwi, leeks, mandarin, onion, parsnip, pear, pomegranate, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, rhubarb, spinach, swede

Give it away, give it away now

IMG_2250If December is all about giving and receiving, the guilty pleasure of excess and the warmth of celebration, January is the polar opposite, when we all decide to be our most angelic and virtuous selves as the real winter cold stabs us to the bones.

The diet’s on, the wine’s been relegated to the cupboard to sulk for a month, and the good intentions are spilling free. Now is the perfect time to sort through those unwanted Christmas presents and help someone else for a change.

IMG_2243Happily my family know me so well that unwanted offerings just aren’t something I have to deal with, but for those who have a reindeer jumper or soap on a rope too many, clearing out the present cupboard is a fine idea this week, now that the Christmas dust has well and truly settled.

Back in dear old Blighty, this task is made all the easier by the rainbow parade of charity shops to be found on every high street, meaning you can dispense of the outcasts almost guilt-free. From when I was a student and beyond, I loved hunting for one-off bargains on a budget, something I looked forward to with relish anticipating my move to Paris.

IMG_2248But Paris, for once, did disappoint. I pictured myself snapping up vintage Agnes B for a mere pittance, profiting from the French snobbery that likes to buy new. But it’s partly down to this snobbery that to my dismay, there were just no charity shops to be found.

In fact, it took me three desolate, bargain-void years for me to find the city’s principal philanthropic retail contribution (those with long memories might remember my Guerrisol post from last year, but that’s a purely commercial endeavour, albeit providing the same rummaging fun).

IMG_2249Its name is Emmaüs, and with 15 or so outlets of varying size and quality, there are hours of great value, second-hand fun to be had. Just like in the homeland, you could dress yourself and furnish your home and more in a single visit (to the bigger ones at least), with clothes and bric-a-brac up to the rafters and a good cause winking at you behind it.

Once you’ve muscled that woman out of the way to win that pair of red leather boots for a tenner, you can reflect on what your purchase means, other than a gold star in the vintage style stakes. Your money will be going to help the homeless and those in poverty, a philosophy that dates from 1949 when the charity was set up by Priest Abbé Pierre to do just that.

IMG_2252

I SWEAR I did not touch this display

As well as providing financial aid, Emmaüs also provides employment and housing, and some of those in need are offered work helping to restore and prepare donations for sale. And this is not just in Paris either; there are hundreds of locations throughout France, and the philanthropy has exploded on an international level. By the early 90s, the do-gooding had spread to over 40 countries, kicking off in the UK in 1992.

You might share the (thankfully fading) Parisian instinct that cast-offs aren’t worth the energy to find them, let alone a few euros, but in my many visits hunting for used treasure, I’ve seen many a hipster and fashionable young thing searching for that unique piece to offset their designer wardrobe core.

IMG_2244Unlike many other of the city’s second hand shops, the prices aren’t jacked up amongst cries of ‘vintage’, meaning you’ll always get a cracking deal. If you need further persuading, check out my spoils. My shopping list of awesome finds include branded walking boots for seven euros, Mango jeans for five, and the jewel in the crown (you can’t help to be impressed with this one) a big, orange Le Creuset crockpot for a paltry 2 euros (yes, I had to clarify with the shop assistant at least three times). It needed a good scrub, but hey, don’t we all?

So rather than ignoring your unwanted Christmas presents at the bottom of the wardrobe hoping they’ll take themselves to back from whence they came (they won’t), donate them to a good cause and feel warm and tingly inside instead. To find out where you can dig for glory (buy) or become a saint (donate), check out the website here. Just make sure you take your rejected goods to a different area from where your relatives live, or you’ll be getting coal in your stocking next year.