This week I got to meet David Lebovitz and picked up a beautiful (and heavy) copy of his latest cookbook, Ready for Dessert. Full of mouth-watering photos, clearly-presented recipes and loads of baking tips, it simply makes me want to get in the kitchen- and bake. While many of the recipes are reminiscent of classic favorites (like, chocolate-chip cookies and berry cobbler), Lebovitz’s lively personality has most certainly jumped into many of the others. He’s added pep (in a pleasantly refined way) to dessert. Among the first I’m going to try: Polenta Cake with Olive Oil and Rosemary, Guinness-Gingerbread Cupcakes, and Pink Grapefruit-Champagne Sorbet Cocktail. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
Once a pastry chef at Alice Water’s Berkley-based restaurant, Chez Panisse, Lebovitz now lives in Paris. On his blog and in his books, he not only shares recipes, but also comical anecdotes about his everyday life in Paris- many of which the rest of us can identify with. My first glimpse into the chef/author’s world of witty sarcasm and goofy observations came as I was leafing through the introduction of an earlier book, The Sweet Life in Paris. Here, he describes the “exact” moment he “became Parisian.” This story alone is worth a trip to the bookstore, especially for we foreigners who will undoubtedly chuckle and say, “That’s so true!”
At the WHSmith-sponsored reading, Lebovitz kept joking about one of his recent blog posts and his misadventures at the grocery store. I, too, have grocery store stories, but more generally I seem to have plastic bag stories. This, in fact, is one of the five or so items I’ve cried over in France- well, it’s never really the bag itself, but the callous person behind the bag who is always the last straw in an already long line of straws. One of the bag stories put an end to my buying produce at the grocery store. The other story put an end to frequenting one of my favorite boulageries.
I don’t actually know what the real policy is because each grocery store employee seems to dictate their own rules. Until that day (incidentally, the same day Obama was sworn into the White House), no one had ever abided to the “all produce must be in a much-too-big plastic bag” mantra. In many European grocery stores, you must weigh your produce and stick the price on it before proceeding to the cash register. In some stores, there is someone who does this for you- usually they are friendly enough. The weighing process often involves a large plastic bag- which I never want (and, in my opinion, goes directly against the grocery stores’ marketing ads supporting sustainable development). Sometimes, there are small paper bags that you can use, but it seems I’m always having to ask for them. Thus, for thick-skinned, easily-portable items (such as a single lemon or three attached bananas), I’ll get them weighed without a bag. Usually, no one cares and I leave the store happily counting the lack of non-biodegradable items in my canvas shopping tote. One day, however, the antagonist of my story not only says (in a very unfriendly tone) that my lemon must be in a plastic bag, she refuses to give me a paper bag (stacked in a neat pile next to the scale)- even after I tried to explain why I didn’t want yet another plastic bag (that would be sealed with the price sticker and, once broken, not reusable). I went on about how it was the store’s policy to be sustainable. When people aren’t friendly, I don’t buy- unfortunate for me, because I couldn’t make lemon bars that day.
My other plastic bag story was at the bakery, about three years after moving to France. Had it been any old bakery, I might not have cared so much, but this was the very first bakery I had ever been to in France and, thus, it had quite a bit of sentimental value attached to it. I remember buying my first pain aux raisins from a cheerful, blonde girl with a bouncy ponytail. It was the most wonderful thing my twenty-something self had ever eaten. Throughout that entire first year I went there all the time. Thus, my deception when, years later, a grumpy woman refused to give me a plastic bag (the only reason I wanted one was because I had just bought two items, it was raining and I didn’t have any room in my book bag). Completely unprepared for the storm that was to hit me, I was paralyzed by the bark that informed me the bags were only for the sandwiches. I tried to insist, and was hoping the people in line behind me would support my cause, but all I ended up with was a pool full of water about to overflow from my eyes. I managed to get out of there before the tears really started flowing and my face turned all red.
These stunned, helpless moments don’t happen that often, but when they do- I wonder, “Was it my fault?” When I ask Sébastien (who in the evening can probably still see the blood simmering under my skin), he says, “No” and that “It’s not normal.” This is to say that even French people find this sort of behavior shocking and wonder where it comes from. Since neither of us are from a big city, we wonder if it’s that. Or maybe it’s the latitude and the lack of sunlight in winter that creates a handful of grumps. Unfortunately, I’m afraid it’s these few cranky people who give France a bad image. Think about it, if I came to Paris for a week-long vacation and encountered the woman at the bakery, I’d probably say “the French are rude,” too- something we know isn’t generally true.
Back to Lebovitz, go out and get his latest book if you’re up for baking (and stories). Also, if you’re interested in meeting him, he’ll be at Café Etienne Marcel on Friday, May 28th. Check the WH Smith website for details.