Category: dear reader

Clarence Rides The Rino

So you know how it goes when you have a really great friend and you haven’t talked to them in a long time and you really ought to get in touch but it can’t just be a “hey, how ya doin’?” kind of catch-up, it has to be long and involved and messy and full of apologies about what a cruddy friend you are for being MIA for so long?  And because that interaction is so dread-inducing, you keep putting it off, and putting it off, and putting it off.  Which only makes things worse, of course, but you aren’t really thinking about this rationally anymore. You’re just a jerk-off who hasn’t been in touch for months.

Part of the problem is that I’m admittedly kind of a train wreck about my t-minus 50 days left in Europe. I’ve been crying over my dissertation. I’ve been crying at the cheese store. I’ve been crying over Godard movies. I’ve been crying over commercials. I’ve been crying over shoe returns, papercuts, the homeless couple who have taken up residence on my block with their two wee dogs, and my last day of a job that I didn’t particularly like in the first place. I’m a capital M Mess, people.  It’s no excuse for abandoning this here blargh, but it’s definitely contributed to the paralysis I’ve been feeling with regards to catching up.


Let’s start small, shall we?

I ate at Rino!

The occasion was my mother’s visit, which was lovely. We decided to take her to Rino, as she had been hearing all about the goodness springing forth from talented young chefs in Paris working outside the conventions of the Michelin star system. That is to say, she (like everybody else I know) watched the hundredth episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, in which our sourpuss host treated the contemporary culinary scene in Paris as if it was this fraught battle ground between stuck-in-the-mud, Michelin-starred chefs (Eric Ripert was his co-host for the episode) and young, impertinent Le Fooding-backed geniuses who are reinventing the landscape with every licorice-smoked langoustine tartare they prepare.  Which, yes, okay, sure, I guess that’s basically what is happening, but also, can we say also file this under rich people problems? Yes, there a lot of amazing new restaurants in Paris, some of which have a price point that can be met by proles like me and my boyfriend, provided we don’t buy shoes and eat dry lentils for the rest of the week (adding water would put us over budget). But it’s hardly a “revolution,” and it seems kind of gross to use that sort of language to describe the culinary landscape in Paris when uh, well, there are kind of a lot of real revolutions happening elsewhere in the world.

(Aren’t I fun to hang out with now! Do you see what kind of self-loathing monster I’ve become since we last spoke? Did I mention that I’m actively contemplating becoming a vegetarian! Should we quit this entry, bury our face in our sixth consecutive Margaret Atwood novel, and plan another tear-drenched trip to the Louvre this afternoon? No?!  You mean you want to hear about the food?)

Okay, let’s do this.

Rino (46 rue Trousseau, 75011 Paris, Métro Ledru-Rollin) is the brainchild of Giovanni Passerini, the former second-in-command to Petter Nilsson of La Gazzetta, which is conveniently across the street from Passerini’s newish digs.  Winner of Le Fooding’s 2010 “Meilleur bistrot d’auteur,” Rino is a delightful fusion of Italian forms with a decidedly progressive New York via Paris, seasonal ingredient-driven sensibility. If that makes any sense. (I’m rusty.) It’s really good!  It’s unfussy!  You don’t have to make any decisions, aside from if you want five or seven courses. Culinary proles we may be, but when you finally get a table at a place where you have to reserve months in advance, the answer to that question is always seven. Especially when the add-on courses involve lobster and cheese, which they did on the night we dined at Rino. Done and done.

I was excited to share this kind of beautiful, rarefied cooking with my mother, who is definitely Clarence’s mama and a lover of food. But I was also psyched by the relaxed, casual atmosphere of the place, which makes catching up with family and drinking a little too much while you enjoy your seven course meal a pleasure, not a white-linen headache. The servers were extremely knowledgeable about the menu and very kind to the Americans. And we had a great view of the kitchen, where Passerini himself had his hands in every single thing we ate, which is something I really appreciate about the Le Fooding-sponsored “revolution.” If I am spending 250 euros to experience a particular chef’s cooking, I damn well want to see him in the kitchen.

Well, what did we eat?

First course was pecorino ravioli, served in a sweet pea sauce and topped with fresh licorice. The salty tang of the pecorino wedded perfectly with the springy sweetness of the peas, and the whole thing was elevated by the unexpectedly bitter aftertaste of the licorice.  It was smart, but not so smart as to be anything but totally delicious.

Next up was maigre de ligne in with both conventional and wild asparagus and roasted onions. It was perfectly cooked and an exquisite use of spring vegetables.

Third course (the optional one the night we dined at Rino) was tagiatelle and lobster in a cucumber broth. I was excited as soon as I spied Passerini lovingly pulling out each individual strand of fresh pasta.  The cucumber broth was light and perfectly balanced with the lobster.  Europeans have gotten me thinking that the American thing of drenching lobster in butter is overkill. Light vegetable broths, like celery or cucumber, actually help the lobster’s sweetness to sing more than a heavy dose of butter.

Our meat course was a sinfully-tender pigeon served with bing cherries, another kind of pea sauce, and braised cabbage. I’m a total slut for small birds, so this was the best thing I’d put in my mouth in a long time. Nevermind that thing I said about becoming a vegetarian.

Then we had a cheese plate, which was well-balanced if otherwise unmemorable.  What completely did me in, however, was our dessert.  Strawberries, rhubarb, Greek yogurt ice cream, and fried cubes of a sweet semolina custard. Lord have mercy, I could eat cubes of sweet semolina custard all day long and never tire of it.

There! That wasn’t so terrible! I have a feeling that this is like ripping off a bandaid. Stay tuned for tales of a life-changing vacation to Georgia and Ukraine (What?! I know!), our mother/daughter culinary odyssey in London, and a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT. And feel free to leave your vitriolic comments about what a lousy blogeuse I’ve been in the comments! I’ve missed you, dear reader. You’re looking more comely than ever.

xoxo t.

Hungerdome! The Battle of the Hip Right Bank Crêperies

Hey peeps! It appears that spring has finally sprung in Paris and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve resumed my loose-skinned, loping runs at the Promenade Plantée, which should officially be filed under “one of the most awesome things about Paris that nobody seems to really use.” Not that I’m complaining. But FYI, dearest reader, the flower beds on the elevated section are filled with daffodils right now, so if you are looking to get a springy fix, get to it. I’ll be the one shuffling along in a sad, out-of-shape, half-run, half rich-Orange-County-lady power walk.

But who cares about my fitness!  This website is all about exercising your inner fat kid! To those very ends, our NUMBER ONE FAN has established a FAN PAGE on Facebook.  Our dearest M has created a “Incarnations of Clarence” group where she is posting various guises that Clarence has assumed through the ages. Even better, friends of Clarence are now beginning to post delightful chronicles of delicious things they have eaten lately. We’ll use Incarnations of Clarence as a way of posting new updates to the blargh and foodie meet-ups over the next few months in Paris. So please join the fun, if wasting time on Facebook is your bag (and if you are a reader of this blargh, I strongly suspect it might be).

Okay, I know you’ve been waiting around for a HUNGERDOME!  That’s right, today we have another installment of everyone’s favorite segment here at The Beargarden (We’re thinking of shortening it!  What do you think?!). Two restaurants enter, only one leaves. Need a refresher course?

Okay, now that your day has immeasurably improved from a dose of Tina, let’s get to it.  Today, we pit two mega-bobo Breton crèpe joints in town in a head to head battle. If you read food blogs—or design blogs, or Paris blogs, or any of the other kinds of blogs that make you look around your own sad apartment wistfully and wish that you had some truffle oil or midcentury Danish furniture—you’ve likely heard about Breizh Cafe (109 Rue Vieille du Temple, 75003 Paris, Métro Saint-Sébastien Froissart) and West Country Girl (6 Passage Saint-Ambroise, 75011 Paris, Métro Saint Maur).  If you want a greasy, drippy street vendor crèpe filled with supermarket cheese and salty lunchmeat for less than five euros, these are not the establishments where you should be headed. But if you want a full meal of inventive crèpes of spot-on consistency, a fantastic cider list, oysters in season, and a bit of see-and-be-seen, then these are the restaurants for you.

Breizh Cafe, with additional locations in Cancale and Japan, is on quite possibly the most bobo street in all of Paris. John Galliano’s anti-Semetic fiesta at La Perle took place just a few blocks down the road.  Rue Vielle du Temple is chock-a-block with achingly hip bars, interesting restaurants, and the kind of clothing stores that are so expensive that they give you a tote bag when you manage to buy something (Surface to Air, I’m looking at you). Oh, and the perpetually-under-renovation Picasso Museum. It’s cool, Paris. I didn’t expect that in living here for two years I might be able to visit. No worries.

Breizh, which has a suprisingly warm and comfy interior full of bright paintings and wood furniture, is right in the thick of it all.  There can be quite a crowd come brunch or lunchtime, but late afternoons and early evenings it’s a great place to take a load off if you’ve been doing some consumerist combing of the streets in the Marais. At the center of this enterprise is chef/restauranteur Bertrand Larcher, winner of a 2010 Prix Fooding d’Honneur.

Larcher’s concept is Brittany and Japan by way of Paris, focusing on the best artisinal products from around France. Le Fooding informs us (I’ll translate for those of you who wish that Le Fooding should hire me as their English-language correspondent) that the andouille sausage at Breizh is from Guémené, cheese and salted butter by Bordier, jams and preserves by Raphaël de Saint-Malo, and the oysters by Saint Kerber of Cancale. If this means anything to you, I suggest that you check out a more sophisticated food blog.  In addition, various Japanese ingredients find their way into the Breton crèpes at Breizh, including a variety of mushrooms, green tea ice cream, red bean paste, and kuromitsu, a revelatory (to me) bitter-sweet Japanese black sugar syrup. The cider list is extensive and the tea is properly brewed, as you would expect.

On a recent visit, we split a bottle of cider that the carte described as “supple and fleshy” (Le P’tit Fausset brut, Paul et Gilles Barbe, Merdringac 22) and each ordered a savory gallette de sarrasin and a sweet crêpe.  Standouts from the savory end of things included the Normande (camembert au lait cru, jambon de Savoie, salade verte) and the Savoyarde (Reblochon au lait cru, poitrine grillée, pomme de terre, salade verte).  While the cheese was especially lovely and molten, the gallette themselves at Breizh aren’t my favorite consistency, as they verge on chewy and tough. Perhaps this is a real Breton thing and I am just missing the boat, but I like things on the less fleshy side.  The sweet crêpes are really where Breizh shines, in my opinion. We ordered a classic citron (lemon and sugar), a green tea ice cream and kuromitsu, and a salted caramel with vanilla ice cream. Holy mother of caramel, Batman. I could eat that last one all day long and never be satisfied. And the slightly-smoky, slightly-bitter combination of kuromitsu with creamy green tea was positively genius. If this battle were totally dessert-based, we would have a winner.

West Country Girl, a (relative) newcomer to the scene, is in a bit more up-and-coming area of town. I like it now, and suspect it will become increasingly chic over the next ten years. Right now, it’s a bit out of the way for this Maraisienne, but well worth the trip. The cozy interior, friendly staff, and well-priced menu all make for a lovely experience, but the real draw is owner/chef Sophie Le Floc’h gorgeous, perfect-consistency gallettes and crêpes. When we visited, we were given a table that allowed for me to gawk at her industry in the kitchen. The woman is a machine. We started—as per David Lebowitz’s blog’s recommendation—with the sardine rillettes, a creamy, fishy, citrusey concoction that we devoured like hungry wolves.

It provoked a sardines rillettes mania around our house for nearly a week, as I experimented with fromage frais / canned sardine / lemon juice proportions. Let’s just say we got more Omega-3 that week than we have in our entire lives previously.  I settled on something I like (which includes raw shallots and chives), but it is nothing compared to the light, fluffy perfection at West Country Girl. So make sure and get it, okay? Paired with their house AOC cider (Manoir and Kinkiz Cornouaille), it was a great way to start a meal.

Next came our savory gallettes, which included bacon/mushroom/Camembert and egg/spinach/Mimolette combinations, both expertly cooked and delicious.

But, far and away, the winner of the evening was my gallette topped with boudin noir (blood sausage) and a whole roasted apple. I’m going to completely out myself as a competitive only child here, but isn’t it the best feeling when you order the best dish of the meal and everyone is envious? I used to do it all the time, but when I priggishly declared it aloud about six months ago, karma came around and bit me on the ass and I’ve been on a losing streak ever since. But me and boudin noir, we go waaaay back. I knew it would be amazing. One bite of the creamy, crumbly sausage paired with the sweet, earthy apple and I was dunzo. West Country Girl, with your crooked smile and heart-shaped face, you’ve won my heart.

For dessert, we split a classic citron and an amazing whole roasted apple, salted caramel, and vanilla ice cream extravaganza. I’d read in numerous foodie blogs about the beauty of Le Floc’h’s salted caramel, which is apparently stored in a giant bucket in the kitchen. I’d like to steal it and eat all that caramel out back with a giant ladle. It’s that good. I know that salted caramel is sort of like what sundried tomatos were in 1992 to the foodie landscape, but man oh man, what a bandwagon to hop on.

So without further ado, let’s tally up the Hungerdome results:

1) Restaurant ambiance. A close call, but I have to say this one goes to West Country Girl, which feels like the house of that super-cool older artist girl who you can’t believe actually wants to hang out with you. She lives a bit out of the way, but in a neighborhood you know is going to be super-cool in a couple of years.

2) Cider list. This one goes to Breizh, which has a far more extensive selection of ciders and very knowledgeable servers on this subject. The servers at West Country Girl are far more knowledgable about other things, including movies by the Cohen brothers. I’d take the latter anytime, but that isn’t the category, now is it?

3) Staff and servers. West Country Girl. They are really sweet and know about all-night screenings of classic Cohen brothers films.

4) Gallette and crêpe consistency. West Country Girl. The ones at Breizh—while delicious!—are a bit too tough for my taste. Purists and/or French Provincials should feel free to school me in the comments section.

5) Ingredient quality and creativity. A tie. Both have a far more inventive selection of ingredients and clever combinations than you see at most run-of-the-mill crêperies in town, and both have boudin noir on the menu. They both also obviously prioritize finding the freshest and most ecologically responsible sources possible for their food, which is something you can taste.

It was a close race, but if we make those sardine rillettes into a lightning round, West Country Girl is our clear winner. I can’t wait to go back, and hopefully this time M will order her own damn apple and boudin noir gallette and keep her dirty mitts off of mine.  Clarence isn’t a big fan of sharing.


Clarence Finally Gets His Dim Sum On: La Chine Masséna

Dearest reader, how was your weekend? Mine was pretty damn delicious. It also didn’t really end until yesterday. This week is inexplicably “Winter Break” at our university, so I have the week off.  And by “the week off,” what I actually mean is: “I didn’t have to go to work on Monday and half of Tuesday like I usually do.” Would it make you feel any better that most of the rest of my time is spent reading dead peoples’ letters about their gonorrhea symptoms and fighting off an overwhelming sense of career-related dread? No? No. I didn’t think so.

I’ve been thinking about blogging a lot lately. Everybody seems to have an opinion about what I could do to get a few more people here. B thinks that a name change is in order. I agree, in theory. But thinking about changing the name to something like “Tasty Paris!” or “A Cupcake Rides in France” immediately causes the barf to rise to the back of my throat.  And I really like “Keeping the Bear-Garden in the Background,” though I’ll readily admit that it’s not very Google-friendly. Another friend suggested that my site become “more lifestyle oriented.”  She was an advertising and marketing major, surprise, surprise.  I think that this is code for “more posts about shit that other people can buy.” There are several problems with this plan, not the least of which being that I myself don’t have a lot of money to buy things and purchasing things in general makes me feel terribly guilty. After years of hiding shopping bags from my mother, I still feel compelled to hide shopping bags from B, despite the fact that he couldn’t care less how I spend my money. The last thing I want to do is announce to the whole Internet how I’m part of the vast system of consumption that is literally bleeding the world dry.  So I don’t think any posts entitled “What I’m Coveting This Season!” are going to be making it here anytime soon. Also who is coveting the entire hardbound Cambridge edition of D. H. Lawrence’s correspondence anyway? Nobody, that’s who.

Many other people have suggested that I need to publicize my blog more in other internet forums, which I don’t really know how to do and makes me feel squeamish. I did, however, figure out how to add a “share” button to the bottom of each entry. It includes such useful applications as “print,” just in case you, like my mother, are compiling a binder of hard copies of each and every thing I write. On the off chance that, uh, the Internet ceases to exist. No wonder I have such an exaggerated sense of apocalyptic thinking. All of that was my longwinded way of saying that there is now a share button at the bottom of each entry, added as part of a reluctant and half-hearted attempt to increase traffic on this site. I say half-hearted, because who needs other people, right? We’re just fine on our own, all eight of us. That’s right, there are eight of us now! Practically a small army. Anyway, now you can now Digg or Share on Facebook or Tweet about me, if you want. No pressure.

Gah, I feel gross. Let’s talk about food.

This weekend was particularly awesome because it was a veritable SOVIET INVASION in Paris, what with M’s husband AC and their (our?!) friend R sweeping into town simultaneously. AC and R are the best kind of visitors because they both have been to Paris a million times before, so we can basically do the normal things that we are planning on doing and they are perfectly happy. Case in point:  I’ve been craving dim sum for about two years now and had read everywhere that La Chine Masséna (13 Place Vénétie, 75013 Paris, Métro Porte de Choisy) was the place to go in Paris. I suggested it for Friday night, fully expecting to be shot down in favor of a stuffy French bistro. To my delight, everybody rallied and schlepped all the way down to Porte de Choisy, all in humoring my desire to eat steamed dumplings off of carts.

La Chine Masséna is pretty great if you want to go somewhere that feels nothing like a stereotypical Parisian restaurant. It’s huge, seating over eight hundred people in a dining room with an enormous, neon-lit dance floor, gaudy red lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and more flat-screen televisions than at your local Best Buy. Along one side of the dining room are a dozen giant fishtanks, holding everything from lobsters, crabs, and sea snails to sole and enormous, beady-eyed carp.  We were seated directly next to the tanks, which meant that every time someone ordered fresh seafood, we would get to watch the waiters come and fish out dinner. I got splashed several times in the process, which was half-awesome and half-grody. The tanks don’t smell excellent, to be honest, so if you are sensitive towards that kind of thing you might want to request a table on the other side of the room. I was happy to watch the lobsters swim around and gleefully heckled the waiters when the slippery sole evaded their nets. But B, who was still recovering from the übervirus, confessed later that the whole thing made him totally nauseous. So, caveat emptor.

As you might expect, the menu is absolutely enormous, with everything from modest bowls of noodle soup to two hundred euro seafood towers fit for a king. We made a beeline for the dim sum, because Clarence hadn’t stopped talking about it for forty-eight hours and nobody fucks with Clarence when he’s got something stuck in his craw.  I’m no dim sum expert, but I really like the format of pointing at what you want to eat on a moving cart.

I think a lot of this comes from suburban Denver high school nostalgia. A boy I had a crush on for most of high school took me to my very first dim sum restaurant on what I hoped was a date (it wasn’t) when I was fifteen. It was in a part of town I never spent any time in and the whole affair seemed incredibly exotic. He drove us there in a tricked-out hearse and nonchalantly ordered plum wine for both of us.  I barely remember what we ate, or if I even enjoyed it, but I do remember thinking that the whole thing made me exponentially cooler that I was earlier that afternoon. I do remember him taking the lid off of the pork buns and saying something like “Now these are the best.”  I still think pork buns are the best, and I’m not sure if it isn’t because my high school crush declared them so. Later, I bragged about my glamorous non-date to my best friend, who subsequently started dating the guy the following weekend. He thanked me later for laying the groundwork with my much-hotter friend. I thanked him for introducing me to dim sum.

We ordered a pretty standard array of dim sum at La Chine Masséna, including pork and shrimp dumplings, shrimp ravioli, crab and bamboo shoot ravioli, mushroom dumplings, chicken feet in spicy black bean sauce, pork spare ribs, deep-fried spiny lobster croquettes, and of course my beloved pork buns. While the restaurant has an extensive wine and Chinese liquor list, we stuck with several rounds of cold Tsing-Tao.

M revealed her deep love of chicken feet and treated us to a story from her childhood about her mother making chicken feet soup. We all enjoyed sucking the succulent flesh and fatty skin off of the tiny bones.  From the first second he saw them AC was deeply suspicious of the pork buns.  After spending a good long time poking at them with his chopsticks, he declared that he was having none of that. I guess you need a good-looking teenage boy to break you in to the idea of porc laqué au brioche early on in life.

The dim sum wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was totally delightful by the standards of other Parisian Chinese food I’ve eaten. And the ambiance of the place makes it a fun place to go with a big group of people.  Did I mention that the music is a non-stop hit fest of Brian Adams and Richard Marx? I think that my childhood orthodontist had the exact same lite rock soundtrack. Amazing! La Chine Masséna is actually a pretty fancy restaurant, and most of the Chinese people dining there were dressed up in suits and evening dresses. I suspect that this was in anticipation of karaoke and dancing, which we didn’t stay late enough to enjoy. But we’ll certainly be back. I do a mean “Lady in Red,” especially with a few Tsing-Taos and pork buns under my belt.

Clarence is Hopelessly Besotted with Brother’s BBQ in Denver, Colorado

It’s Christmas Eve, people! Merry merry, if this holiday is something you observe. Many (most?) of my friends are secular Jews, so my mother’s insistence upon wishing everyone she sees a “Merry Christmas!” has been getting on my nerves. Between that and the bb gun that she is keeping next to our door as part of her interminable war on the woodpeckers in our neighborhood, things are getting positively Palinesque around here. I told her that and she quickly responded that Santa could always rescind my subscription to the New Yorker, so I better watch my smart-mouthed ass.

B and I are not spending the holidays together, which has been weirder than I imagined. I’ve gotten used having him around, narrating my every annoying thought to his patient ears. I’m beginning to realize just how patient he is, especially with regards to my many obsessions (Italian cinema, Mexican food, watching people lance giant boils on the internet, etc.). For Christmas, he sent me a handsome hardcover copy of Frederico Fellini’s Book of Dreams, a gorgeous reproduction of Fellini’s amazing dream journals published by Rizzoli in conjunction with Jeu de Paume’s Fellini retrospective last year. It was something I had declared I wanted more than anything in the world and then promptly forgotten about, so it was a grand surprise. My parents have been mighty patient with their temporary custody all of these strange fixations of mine, but my mom finally declared that she couldn’t eat any more Mexican food or watch one more episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Fair enough.

One thing that both of my folks will get on board with any day of the week is my infatuation with Denver’s best barbecue joint, Brother’s BBQ (locations around town, but the original location is at 568 Washington Street, Denver, CO 80203). Starting with one location in 1998, two brothers originally from England (!) have built a veritable barbecue empire in our fair city, one that while known for some yummy food, certainly doesn’t know much about barbecue. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking “what the hell do two BRITISH guys living in DENVER know about one of America’s greatest culinary traditions?!” Well, Chris and Nick O’Sullivan did their homework–traveling around the US and apprenticing at famous BBQ restaurants in various parts of the South. The result was a pretty fantastic understanding of various regional specialties, all served under one roof in a town where you couldn’t get good barbecue fifteen years ago.

Now look, I know I’m no Jeffrey Steingarten (swoon!) when it comes to barbecue. I hope to remedy this next year, and B seems pretty gung-ho about indulging my grand fantasy of a barbecue road trip of the American South (I’ve got to plan these sorts of things to keep y’all entertained when I leave Paris). But in the meantime, I do think that Brother’s BBQ does a pretty fantastic job. I especially love their Memphis-style pulled pork shoulder sandwich (served with two sides for $9.25). They’ve got that spicy, vinegary sauce down pat, and their meat is always perfectly slow-cooked for 15 hours (says the young grasshopper). I haven’t yet tried their signature sandwich, The Brother:  a thin layer of smoked hot links, topped with pulled pork, coleslaw, tangy vinegar bbq sauce, fresh jalapeños (hi Denver!) and fried onions. But how could that not be delicious? My mouth is watering as I type.

Even better is their Thursday night rib special, where you can order up to a dozen St. Louis style dry-rubbed pork spare ribs or hickory-smoked beef ribs (sweet sauce, of course) at half price.  This means that a slab of 12 pork ribs goes from being $21.99 to $10.99, and a slab of 10 beef ribs jumps from $23.99 to $11.99. Pair that with some bargain microbrew beers (god I love Colorado) and you’ve got yourself an evening and a half. Their sides are top notch, especially their spicy, tangy barbecued beans (with pork, of course) and their mashed, skin-on red potatoes with gravy. Perhaps perversely (though necessarily in super health-conscious bobo Denver), they also cater to the vegetarian market with bbq tofu (I know, I know, but remember, they are better, more ethical people than you and I, dear reader), salads, and a fierce mac and cheese.

The decor reminds me of that show starring that neo-Nazi that cheated on Sandra Bullock when she was having a really nice day.  Yanno, fancy-motorcycle and collector license plate kitsch? It’s not my bag, per se, but it also goes a long way in getting the manliest men in the door. If the smell of smoked meat wafting through the parking lot wasn’t enough. Please go here, should you find yourself in the Mile High City. I know the real know-it-alls might have something to say on this subject (And please say it! Why doesn’t anyone ever comment except my favorite reader Hattie?!). I’ll remedy my lack of down-home barbecue knowledge in the coming years, but in the meantime, I’ll be chowing down at Brother’s.

Happy Holidays, dearest reader!  You are my very favorite present, even if I can’t shove you under a tree.

Jesus Saves, I Spend: Holiday Shopping in Paris

Last week, in a particularly delightful class I teach to a group of bright law students, we somehow began discussing American shopping habits around the holidays.  In particular, I described the regrettable phenomenon of Black Friday and its attendant cut-rate bargains, all-night campouts, and homicidal stampedes.  In some regards, I felt kind of bad that I described it in such vivid terms – obviously, most Americans I know don’t shop on Black Friday.  Moreover, I don’t like to be complicit in the ways that the French feel smug towards Americans (and vice-versa, I won’t pick a fight over much these days, but the Republicans in my family can consider themselves on notice if they want to argue that people die in the streets here as a result of socialized medicine). Anyway, while my little Frogs were indeed surprised to hear that people have actually died in the pursuit of a bargain DVD player in the United States, they corroborated my sentiment that the French are just as bad when it comes to holiday shopping madness as those of us from the other side of the pond.  My own neighborhood here in Paris, the Marais, is testament to this very fact.  We live just a stone’s throw from BHV, one of the largest department stores in Paris, and our street has become atherosclerosis personified with blank-eyed exhausted shoppers with lugging huge bags of god-knows-what.

My own family has seriously pared down our Christmas gift giving habits in recent years, much to my relief. If I’m being totally honest, I’ll admit that I’m not particularly into Christmas.  I find the mandatory gift-giving holidays rather oppressive, and find meal-centric holidays far more to my liking (I’ll take a Thanksgiving dinner or an Easter brunch any day over a Christmas morning).  I’ve also always been stuck with the rather lousy situation of having a mid-December birthday, resulting in many childhood years of Happy Birthday/Merry Christmas presents from my more distant relatives. And while my parents always went all out on Christmas when I was growing up (perhaps in compensation for all the double-dipping presents I received for my birthday), we’ve definitely scaled things back to a bare minimum in recent years. I suspect I’ve always been rather difficult to buy presents for.  My only recollection of receiving a Christmas present that I genuinely wanted was the year that I asked for a coconut, which my parents obligingly stuffed into the top of my stocking.  Enthralled by my good fortune, I ignored the hundreds of dollars spent on toys and spent Christmas morning fondling my coconut. My father is relatively easy to buy for and seems psyched about whatever he receives as a gift.  My mother, on the other hand, is a nightmare.  I can’t say whether it is because she genuinely doesn’t want anything (a late capitalist anomaly if there ever was one) or if everyone in the world is just consummately terrible at buying gifts for her.  Either way, I can’t think of anything that I or anyone else has bought her that she’s ever really loved.  Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that my immediate family has finally come to grips with the fact that we are relatively lousy at giving one another presents. My father comes over on Christmas Eve for a big dinner and we swap small gifts (in recent years, he purchased me a dearly beloved apparatus that holds books open and a travel mug for coffee). My mother has gone the practical route, carefully wrapping up socks, sweatpants, and printer cartridges that she has purchased at Costco for me and placing them under the tree, much to my pragmatic delight.

The stakes have changed, a bit, with the introduction of B into my life.  B loves giving gifts and is quite good at it, much to my dismay. He began planning for Christmas in the beginning of October, prodding his family and friends for ideas and compulsively making lists of possible presents. While it’s nice to be the beneficiary of such carefully plotted giving, I do feel woefully inadequate. Gift giving is not my forte and the gifts I give are always leaden with expectation.

That bit of family and personal history aside, I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a shopping related post for a while.  I’ve been reticent to do so, mainly because I am already a bit uncomfortable about the level of consumption already chronicled in this space. It seems that the most popular blogs, or at least those ones written by women my age, are little more than a compendium of spending.  Artful spending, sure! Well-styled spending, of course! But it does seem that many popular blogs are entirely devoted to providing an account of the lovely things that the author buys and how she chooses to wear them or display them in her home. Don’t get me wrong – everyone is welcome to do whatever they please in their own corner of the internet, and I’ve spend more than a few hours thumbing through these types of spaces, green with envy that my own object world is not nearly so well-curated. But I didn’t want this to become that, perhaps because I already feel guilty about how much I like many of the things I buy and how much time and energy their acquisition occupies in my consciousness. I can feel smug about the fact that I don’t write about my quest for the perfect handbag, but that quest still exists. I already write far too much about the quest for the perfect slice of truffled foie gras, which I’m sure makes many people think of me as an unethical monster.

But it’s the holidays, and if the holidays do anything they make people act against their better judgment.  So, over the next few days I’ll be posting a Paris shopping guide, a list of places I spend my money over the holidays and during the rest of the year. Feel free to skip it, if voluntary simplicity is more your bag. In any case, should you be jumping into the madness this season, may your holiday shopping be joyous and stress-free, dear reader.