Food, Lifestyle

An American in Paris

Find the recipe for kale soup with chopped clams, pictured, below.


“Would you like to have long weekend in Paris?”  

Would I ever!

My daughter Danielle had been living in France for about six months. My son George had “won” a weekend in Paris at a benefit auction.  

“We could go to Toulouse after, to see Danielle,” he proposed. I was thrilled. I’ve always found it a treat to have one-on-one time with my children, and I’ve never looked down on a trip to Paris either, so spending a weekend at a great hotel in a fancy section of the city with my son sounded great.

On the way over I shared with Georgie some of my Paris memories. I visited Paris on my honeymoon (with his dad), setting up a great story designed to let him laugh at his mother. I schlepped my electric rollers all the way to France — the high-fashion 20-year-old that I was back then — assured that I wouldn’t have a problem using them because I’d brought a converter.

We arrived at a fifth-floor walkup in a tiny hotel on the Left Bank. After trying on several of the many shirtwaist dresses I’d brought and choosing an appropriate one for the unexpected warm weather in early September, hair and makeup followed. I was looking forward to dinner in the little bistro on the first floor of the hotel, but before I could lock the first wave into my hair, the curling iron had overwhelmed the antique electrical system and the power went off. In mere seconds, the hotel manager was climbing the five floors and he knew exactly where the problem came from: the American couple that had just checked in. By this time, I was hiding in the armoire, letting my brand-new husband take care of the situation.

But the story ran true for my son. “That’s so you, Mom.”  

Once I received the invitation from Georgie, I read up on fine Parisian restaurants. A recent edition of Vogue featured an article about a hot new place, Indochine, which looked gorgeous. With George’s laughing approval I made a reservation, although our departure was still weeks away. My bachelor son would have been more impromptu, but he agreed it was a good idea since it was likely to be so busy given its international reputation.  

When the time came to visit Indochine on the first night of our getaway, I expected we’d be entering a packed, exciting atmosphere. Instead, we walked into an empty restaurant for our 8 p.m. reservation and I thought, “Oh, my, I must have made a mistake on the date!” I was concerned, as I don’t usually eat so late, that it would be hard to secure a table elsewhere. We sat down to eat, wondering how a place popular enough to be written up in Vogue was doing so poorly.

Our server brought a basket of several fresh herbs; cilantro, purple basil, flat leaf parsley and other annuals.  My white fish was wrapped in banana leaves, more herbs and poached to perfection. A Tart Citron, one of my favorite desserts, was the perfect ending with the delicious dessert wine Georgie had chosen.

Other diners had straggled in, but it wasn’t until after 9:30 before the restaurant started to fill up; I felt safe admitting to my son that I’d been concerned. “I could have told you Mom, Parisians don’t go out ’til 10.”

I wish I’d known; as a big part of the experience for me is people-watching, checking out the fashions and observing how the French relate over dinner, something as a restaurateur I was accustomed to paying attention to.

My considerate son suggested a stop at a cafe for an after-dinner drink, and I got to take in the scene to my satisfaction. I needed to use every minute I was there to absorb the habits of French women and figure out how to look like them, be thin like them and eat like them, as well as to get a sense of how they think — a girl thing, I assured him. That’s one of my favorite parts of travel.

Our visit to the city of Toulouse to see Danielle was great. To see my youngest child keeping house with the man in her life at the time and maneuvering the daily life of work and play in a strange culture and mastering a new language was exciting. She was doing a great job tackling it all while working as an English teacher at Airbus, the big European jet plane builder, and finding her own identity away from her mama for the first time. It was a big deal and I couldn’t have been prouder.

We went dancing and sightseeing, but my favorite activity was visiting the outdoor markets to see the vendors of home-grown vegetables and fruits, vans with quail and other game birds cooking on rotisseries, baked goods made with fresh figs, berries and the variety of breads, pates, jams, fresh flowers. I quickly wanted to move there.

The French dish cassoulet originated in the area, and every bit of the bean, duck and sausage stew was one of the most delicious dishes I have ever experienced.

The reason I have France on my mind is because my friend Kate invited Todd and me to dinner last Friday. In the morning, Kate made us poached eggs, which were wonderful. She served the eggs on a platter that looked like a work of art; bright colored slices of perfectly ripened avocado, tomato and grilled garlic bread on the background of bright white dishes were a feast for the eyes.  

And she gave me a book, “Bonjour Kale,” which is a memoir of Paris, love and recipes. It is a perfect read for me — I am loving it because I am working on a memoir as well. The author, Kristen Beddard, found herself in a new country with a new husband and struggling to make herself feel like she was home. She wanted to cook a favorite dish to fill the void but couldn’t find any kale. The book is about her search for kale and it is humorous, romantic and delicious.  

Inspired by the book, I share my recipe of real comfort food for a cold, snowy spell in January.     

Kale Soup with Chopped Clams

(serves four medium portions)

  • Roughly chop 1 carrot, 2 ribs of celery and 1 small onion. Saute in 3 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Place in a pot.
  • Cut up 5 small potatoes — no need to peel them — and add to the pot.
  • Place a sprig of thyme, 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 bay leaves broken up in the pot as well.  
  • Pour in 4 cups of chicken or veggie broth, canned is OK.  
  • Allow to come to a boil, lower the heat and add a bunch of washed, chopped kale. Remove pieces that are too ribby.  
  • Cover the pan and simmer for about 5 minutes.  
  • Add 1 16-ounce container of chopped clams (I get them frozen at Connelly’s in Gloucester), stir to combine and bring back to a simmer. Cook for just 5 minutes. Add a little water or broth as needed.
  • Be careful not to overcook. As Woody Allen once wrote in a review of a pasta dish with clams for the New Yorker, you don’t want the clams to taste like baby erasers.

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