The first time I went to Paris, I got off the train at Gare de Lyon. I walked out and was welcomed by a spectacular array of oysters. And a spectacular array of palaces. It was love at first sight.
Other visits have followed. Also this time, I was bewitched.
Paris is tiring. Among my memories of it, endless walks, cycles and metro stairways play a considerable role, without counting the miles you can walk inside museums. I’ve always known this, but somehow left it in the back of my mind: I was always fit and well, apart from that night spent with food poisoning after eating the aforementioned oysters. I’ll spare you the details, but I had a really rough time. As you may remember, I spent quite a while without walking lately. I’m not back to my usual shape yet, but in Paris for the first time I tested myself and had the impression I could make it.
I had a lot of fun, actually.
I got sunburned in Versailles: endless gardens, no shade. This is just the typical thing I always end up doing. I am the fairest skinned Italian ever. I got sunburned in Ireland and in Denmark, just to say. The weather was gorgeous, just plain summer, with the bonus of blooms in every corner. Oh, the flowers!
I got lost in Saint Denis among ethnic hair shops. There was a lot of hair locks on the pavement. It must be easy to lose extensions I guess. It looked as if some animal was changing its fur for spring.
I queued for falafel at ‘L’as du falafel’, where I ate the best thing ever (note: triple the amount of cumin in the recipe and serve with fried aubergines). And was so smart to go back for it, in the heart of the Marais, the Jew district, on a Saturday night – it is the quieter street in Paris that night. Everything closed, of course.
I decided salted butter caramel is probably the best food you can eat. Especially when served with whipped cream and crepes. Especially when eaten here.
I perused the free bicycle renting scheme, Vélib. A great way to soak up a bit of pollution, and a lot of atmosphere. Hilarius when the metro broke, we were expected for dinner at a friend’s place, and we rode uphill for several kilometers zigzagging among jammed cars. And I’m alive to tell the tale!
I bought madeleines in almost every baking shop, and croissants only at the Levain Du Marais. I did not try any macarons. It just did not happen.
At the musée Guimet I walked the paths of Buddhism spreading from India along the Silk Road towards China and towards Thailand. I decided Chinese and Japanese porcelains are the prettiest objects on Earth.
I spent hours trying to decide the diameter of my new fluted tin at Mora. I can witness that the clerks will be happy to help if required, and to leave you to your deep meditations if you are so inclined.
What I loved about this trip is that it was completely unstructured. I’m lucky. I’ve been to Paris enough times now to have no pressure to tick all the tourist boxes. And there is more than a lifetime worth visiting.
A few practical notes on what I’ve used this time to guide me in my explorations, just for future reference. All of my references were excellent. I used David Lebovitz site a lot; not only, I also read his book, the ‘Sweet life in Paris': although I found the book a bit uninteresting here and there, and did not agree with some of its opinions on society – cultural differences, I guess – I do agree with all of its food suggestions, and the recipes are great. I also read again several suggestions on Dorie Greenspan’s website. She is such a pleasant writer, her posts are so inviting, and also her suggestions are perfect: as you’d expect, they do overlap considerably with David’s. For some unfathomable slip of the brain, I did not think of using Clotilde’s website, which I regularly read, until I bought one of the magazines she writes for, Elle à Table: it was at the airport while waiting for my flight back, and as I saw Clotilde’s article, I banged my head and wanted to walk out and start it all over again. I also seriously considered whether I should make a subscription to that magazine. I decided against it just because I am going to move again in a few months time. I also used this guide in Italian and French from Il cavoletto di Bruxelles. It was consistently reliable.
And just because I could not leave this rêve behind without a good recipe of French food, to keep me company until I can make it back to Paris, I’ve been making mousse au chocolat. Do you need another mousse au chocolat recipe? Yes you do. It is the next best thing after going to Paris. The recipe comes from Pierre Hermé (via this blog) and is just perfect for a real chocolate lover. Everyone who has tasted it has gone berserk over it. It will taste just as good as the chocolate you use, so go for the best (I made some intensive chocolate shopping at G.Detou); the chocolate will have a light, foamy consistency and the taste will be amplified by it. The last time I used a chocolate bar containing whole cocoa beans: the resulting mousse had a very intense flavour and little crunchy cocoa bites in it. I think it worked well. As you may notice, I kept the presentation very simple. You can easily do something more fancy since the mousse it quite stable once it is cold (it is also barely sweet if you use dark chocolate, so if you have a very sweet tooth you may want to pair it with a sweeter sauce). However, the recipe only takes a handful of minutes to make once you get used to it, so it is my latest go-to dessert when I don’t really have time to make dessert.
This amount is enough for four people, but if you like your chocolate, you can easily polish it off in two. I never make much more because it is dangerous. You can easily eat the whole thing without noticing, it is so deceivingly light.If you have considerable self-control, you can make a good amount of it: it does keep a few days in the fridge and it gets actually better the day after. I also tried making half of the amount while adding a whole egg yolk: it was still very good although a little less intense, maybe.
Mousse au chocolat
170 gr 70% dark chocolate with cocoa nibbles, or any dark chocolate
80 ml milk
20 gr icing sugar
4 egg whites
1 egg yolk
pinch of good salt
Put the chocolate in the freezer for about 15 minutes until very cold, then finely chop it with a serrated knife (a bread knife works well). If using cocoa nibs chocolate don’t overchop it or you will destroy all of your nibs. Have a double boiler ready – two pots, one fitting inside the other. Fill the external one with boiling water, and keep it simmering. Put chocolate, milk and a pinch of salt in the internal one. Heat, stirring regularly, until the chocolate is perfectly melted: take care not to overheat it by leaving it longer than necessary. Take off the heat and let cool slightly, the add in the yolk.
In a big bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form; when almost there add the icing sugar, sifted, and keep whipping until very stiff. Add about a third of the egg whites to the melted chocolate, mix delicately to incorporate, then add this to the rest of the whites. Make sure you mix until you have no white bits left but take care not to deflate the mousse. Arrange in individual pots or in a big one and let cool at least three hours in the fridge (better overnight) before serving.