A Menu for Hope II


I am proud to be able to participate in the second installment of A Menu for Hope, the charity brainchild of our tireless crusader Pim. Just one year ago, the world was reeling from the shock of the Asian tsunami which devastated 13 countries, left 150,000 people dead and half a million homeless. In January Pim organized a charity event in which several well-known food bloggers contributed courses to an Asian-inspired ‘Menu for Hope’, with which they intended to inspire readers to donate. Little did we know that scarcely ten months later Asia would have experienced a second disaster that would rival the tsunami in terms of sheer devastation; at last count there are 75,000 victims and over three million left homeless as a result of the October earthquake in India and Pakistan. This time, Pim has hatched an even better plan – dozens of food bloggers have promised to contribute items to an open raffle, and all the proceeds from the raffle will go to Unicef for earthquake relief. But the best part? A raffle entry costs only $5.

There are some amazing prizes on offer, running the gamut from photography classes to restaurant vouchers to food baskets and favorite recipes. There’s also a healthy selection of cookbooks to add to your collection, and this is the category in which I am contributing. I have 0471287857.01.TZZZZZZZ.jpgchosen to donate Culinary Artistry, one of my favorite books about food, a book which falls halfway between a conventional cookbook and a reference manual of taste. The award-winning authors Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page have consulted with dozens of top chefs and put together a culinary resource that touches on many different areas of food preparation: what tastes go together, how to construct a balanced menu, and reflections from chefs on what makes food great. Most useful, I think, is the near-encyclopedic flavor catalog – a list of practically every foodstuff under the sun, and a list of flavors that complement each one (many of them non-traditional). And unlike many ‘normal’ cookbooks, this one encourages creativity and improvisation instead of reeling them in. A bargain at only $5, if I do say so myself.

All you have to do to enter the raffle is click on the ‘donate to Unicef’ button below. You’ll be taken to the site FirstGiving.com, where after donating there’s a handy comments section for you to specify what prize you want should you win. The donation lines are open until December 23rd, after which the prizes will be announced. Don’t forget that the more $5 donations you make the more different prizes you can request! But even if $5 is all you can afford, please donate – though it may seem like a drop in the bucket, with many drops is the bucket filled.


Photo © Heidi Swanson

Gluttony 101: Three Days in Paris

Just a selection of the flavors of macaron on offer at Pierre Hermé: salted-butter caramel, matcha and chestnut, plenitude (chocolate and caramel), plaisir sucre (milk chocolate and hazelnut), chocolate and passionfruit, and olive oil and vanilla. Not pictured was our favorite: white truffle and hazelnut! 

Yes, the rumors are true. In need of some intensive digestive therapy (is that the gastronomic equivalent of retail therapy?), I jetted off to Paris last Thursday for three days of marathon eating with my dear friend Michele. There was no Louvre on my itinerary, no Sacre Coeur or Notre Dame or even admiring the Eiffel Tower (though we had a lovely view of it as we raced to a particular lunch reservation). Nevertheless from my perspective, speaking as one who prefers patisseries to museums, there were still plenty of landmarks on this trip – landmarks which, I can assure you, were infinitely more tasty than the Eiffel Tower (though in all honesty I haven’t actually verified that myself).

Day 1: I arrive at midday, hungry and ready to hit the ground running. I hand my list of ‘must-visit’ places to Michele and watch her eyes bug out for only a second before she regains her composure and says, "sure, no problem". (What are foodie friends for?) After dropping my bags at her place, we hop on the metro and go on a macaron-buying spree, tasting just about every variety that Pierre Hermé, Jean-Paul Hévin, and La Maison du Chocolat have to offer. Still sucking the macaron crumbs from our teeth, we squeeze in a three-scoop gelato at Amorino. We then breeze through the aisles at La Grande Épicerie, the nexus of all gourmet energies swirling around Paris, where I proceed to purchase seven varieties of jam (more remarkable, however, is the restraint I show in not purchasing the other 30 varieties I want). We stumble upon an outlet of O&Co, where I buy even more jam, this time of the olive kind. We meander home via window shopping in St-Germain-des-Prés in order to drop our purchases and gasp for breath before racing out the door for dinner. We meet up with Paris’ most famous non-blogger Alisa for a hearty three-course meal at the bistro everyone is talking about, L’Entredgeu, where I have a salt cod and chorizo soup that qualifies as one of the most delicious forms of liquid I have ever put into my mouth. We bravely soldier on through dessert, and stagger home at midnight, stuffed and sated and babbling deliriously about what we’ll eat tomorrow.

Day 2: We’re up bright and early and waiting at the door to the Salon des Saveurs when it opens. The Salon is an enormous exhibition of food products that happens twice a year – artisan producers of everything from butter to Armagnac bring their wares from all across France to sell to hungry Parisians. The great thing about the Salon is that you can try almost everything before you buy, and that’s exactly what Michele and I do, naturally starting with the alcohol and foie gras (this is breakfast, after all!) and moving on to cheeses, saucissons, honeys, jams and chocolate. Two hours later we’re stuffed with samples, giddy from the sheer scale of offerings, and clutching little vacuum-packed lobes of the most delicious foie gras we’ve ever tasted. We rush the precious morsels home to the protection of the fridge before heading out again for our lunch date, somehow managing to coax our appetites back into service along the way. This is important, since what awaits us is a three hour multi-course 3-star culinary extravaganza chez Pierre Gagnaire, and in the company of no less than the blogosphere’s own Michelin Olympian herself, Pim [but more on lunch a bit later]. When we stagger into the light of day again, there isn’t much of it left, as hours have mysteriously disappeared as we sat enraptured over lunch. Michele and I eschew the metro in favor of walking off our meal, and after strolling for a while find ourselves at the doorstep of E. Dehillerin, a monstrous and confusing homage to kitchen equipment in every size, shape and finish imaginable. I ponder buying a pot big enough to whip up a paella for 200 people, but instead content myself with some mini tart pans. A metro ride later and a brief rest at home somehow revives us enough to contemplate dinner, which ends up being decided for us as Pim is eager to trek out to Le Bambou, one of her favorite Vietnamese eateries in Paris, and promises us the best bowl of pho ever. Seeing as we’ve never had pho, the promise isn’t hard to keep, but she sweetens the deal by also introducing us to shrimp skewered on sugar cane, spicy steamed pork dumplings and crispy rice pancakes with seafood. The restaurant stands in almost comic opposition to our lunch venue – it’s noisy, crowded and fast-moving, but the food is fantastic and we scarf it down with the appetite of people who haven’t eaten all day. When we emerge into the Parisian night Pim tempts us with the suggestion of a nightcap of Berthillon ice cream, but alas, I have finally reached that frustrating point where simply nothing else will fit in no matter how badly I want it to. With regret, we bid adieu sans ice cream.

Day 3: The day starts inauspiciously as we cancel our lunch reservation at L’Ourcine, not being able to face another multicourse meal again so soon. Instead, we set off to the Marais and make the rounds of Mora, a slightly more user-friendly kitchen-equipment venue, and G. Detou, a purveyor of all kinds of edible things in large quantities I wish I had room for in my luggage (including a 7-lb sack of Valrhona chocolate that I come dangerously close to buying). All the shopping has started to revive our appetites,
however, so we swing by the Jewish quarter in order to pick up falafel for lunch, messily downing them on the curbside as we watch one-legged pigeons fight for the crumbs. Our next stop is Izrael, another purveyor of specialty foods, this time with more of an international scope, and we marvel over crammed shelves stocking everything from pumpkin pie mix to angelica jam. I’m really wishing I brought another suitcase and about 1000 euros more, but I don’t really have time to dwell on what I don’t have as Michele is leading me towards the Île St-Louis, the island heart of Paris in the middle of the Seine. Here we stop for what might qualify as the best ice cream of my life at Berthillon (their salted caramel flavor has us furtively licking our tiny cups clean), and to pick up some honey at the upscale L’Epicerie, a haven of gourmet jams, honeys and mustards in flavors you never dreamed possible. After that it’s a pit stop for hastily-devoured pastries at Eric Kayser, a leisurely cup of Marco Polo tea in the elegant Mariage Frères tea rooms, yet another macaron stop at Gerard Mulot and a return trip to Pierre Hermé (complete with the requisite standing-in-line for half an hour just to get inside the shop) for some to-go dessert. And just when it seems we can consume no more, a couple of hours later we rally for one last gasp of appetite and end the day supine on the sofa, feasting on cheese, rabbit terrine, fig salami and wine, oh yeah, and topping it off with those incredible pastries from Pierre.

When I arrived back in Edinburgh yesterday morning, so early the wet skies were just beginning to shed their darkness, I had a hard time believing that the whole trip wasn’t just a particularly vivid dream. Had we really managed to fit in that much gastronomic ecstasy in three short days? If my pants are anything to go by, it is – just don’t ask me to fit into them anytime soon.

Merci, chère Michèle… I hope your pants are fitting better than mine! đŸ˜‰ 

P.S. Did I mention that my hot chocolate photo came in second overall in this month’s DMBLGIT? Now that was some news worth coming home to!