This month, the cookbook club got together to cook from David Lebovitz's book My Paris Kitchen, which is the best kind of cookbook to me, one that is also an interesting read. What I loved best about this book is that he accurately describes life in Paris so well. A couple years ago, I visited Paris with my husband and son, and couldn't help but notice how much it didn't live up to its hype.
Here's a picture of me near the Eiffel Tower. Doesn't it look fantastic? What's not shown in the picture is all the panhandlers surrounding me. I'm from Detroit and used to very aggressive panhandlers, but I've never experienced anything like what happens in Paris. Between the little sad faced boys trying to get you to buy colored metal Eiffel Tower key chains to the very attractive young woman pawing my husband trying to convince him that she found a ring that she wanted to give to him to the extremely tough looking Nigerian men trying to weave a "friendship" bracelet onto my son's wrist without his consent, you can't go anywhere without being preyed upon. Rick Steves described all of these and more ahead of time, so I was well prepared to fend them off. You might wonder what the view is like from the top of the Eiffel Tower? Me too! On this day, we couldn't go to the top because the workers were mysteriously on strike that day. This happens often in Paris, the government workers are constantly walking off the job for one reason or another. Some parts of the Metro might not be working unexpectedly. Also, the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. Why Tuesdays? Because it is France, and nothing can ever be easy!
Here we are, enjoying a meal at a Paris bistro near Notre Dame. Doesn't it look great? It actually wasn't all that hot. Most of the meals I ate in Paris were pretty lackluster. And sitting outside at a Paris restaurant, no matter how nice the weather is, is a huge mistake because everyone smokes like chimneys in Paris. People often wonder how the French stay so thin and eat such rich food; their secret is that they are all chain smokers. I learned very quickly that the smoking area is outside in French restaurants and not to sit there. To me, the great things about Paris is all the history, the beautiful gardens, the ice cream, the fantastic bread that is served everywhere, and the wine. My son liked it too....he is 15 in this picture, and a Coke cost 3 Euros (about $5) for a dinky little glass served warm with no ice, so we immediately relaxed our no alcohol rule when we were there for him. At least he got to experiment with some really great wine instead of Boone's Farm like I did at his age! Also, I'd recommend getting out of Paris.....I really enjoyed the Alsace region much more. The food was better, the people were much nicer. Would I go back to France some day? Sure, but I've spent enough time in Paris, thanks!
David Lebovitz captures all that is Paris very well in this book....the good and the not so good. He's pretty frank about the fact at a lot of French food isn't all that great. He worked for Alice Waters before he moved to Paris on a lark, so he compares American food with France very well, and also humorously highlights the biases that many Parisians have about l'americain.
For our cookbook club, I made the leeks with mustard-bacon vinaigrette and the eggplant caviar. I didn't think the eggplant dish was worth the effort, although I was surprised that the smell of the blackening eggplant reminded me of the scent of le shit (French slang term for marijuana). When I make these leeks again, I will slice them. It was too difficult to eat them whole and they fell apart anyway. I liked steaming them instead of boiling them, as he described. I also tweaked a few other things to my liking:
Leeks with Mustard-Bacon Vinaigrette
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish
3 large leeks, cleaned well and sliced
For the vinaigrette
1/2 lb thick cut bacon, cut into lardons
1/4 c. sherry vinegar
3 T olive oil
2 T. dijon mustard
1 t. kosher salt
For the garnish
2 hard boiled eggs, diced
3 T. chopped parsley or diced chives
Steam leaks until tender over a pot of boiling water, about 10 minutes. Put the leaks in a strainer and allow them to cool. Meanwhile, cook bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. In a pint canning jar, add the vinegar, oil, mustard, and salt and shake until emulsified. Add half the bacon and shake to coat. Pour over leaks and garnish with eggs and remaining bacon and parsley or chives.