Couper la poire en deux


Two weeks ago, I had dinner at a French restaurant called La Table d’Eugène, on the other side of the Montmartre hill from me. As my friends and I were handed the menus, we all stopped to comment on their fetching design: on the front and back were dozens of French idiomatic expressions, all relating to food, each of them printed in a different, retro font.

Once we’d ordered our food and asked to keep one copy of the menu, I, as the only native French speaker in our party, went over each of the locutions, trying to shed light on their meaning. It was so much fun — you’ve perhaps noticed how dearly I love words, etymology, and linguistics — that I thought I would start a series on C&Z.

The French language, like all Latin languages, is particularly rife with culinary-inspired idioms, and I will offer one every week or so.

The opening, seasonal expression is, “Couper la poire en deux.”

It means, literally, “cutting the pear in two,” or reaching a compromise: if two people want the same pear, halving it is the most equitable way to settle the dispute.

For example: “Nos deux familles voulaient nous avoir à Noël, donc on a coupé la poire en deux : on va chez ses parents le 24, et chez les miens le 25.” (“Both our families wanted us to come over for Christmas, so we cut the pear in two: we’ll spend Christmas Eve at his parents’, and Christmas Day at mine.”)

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

Sustainable Seafood


I blame it all on my nephew.

Around the time that he was born, earlier this year, something clicked and I decided to take the whole sustainable seafood thing seriously: if he and his unborn cousins are to enjoy a long life full of lobster tails and skate wings, it is up to me to make informed and responsible choices now.

I had heard of the depletion of the oceans before, but I don’t think I had quite realized how dire the situation is: fish populations the world over are threatened by overfishing, overconsumption, pollution, and fishing techniques that wreak havoc in local ecosystems. If we don’t change our ways fast, major fish species may become extinct as early as 2050.

Like all environmental problems, this is an abysmally complex one, with multitudinous causes, implications, side effects, and collateral damages. And if you factor in other, equally pressing concerns, such as levels of mercury, PCB, and other contaminants, as well as the need to favor locally sourced ingredients, it all becomes rather overwhelming, befuddling, discouraging, check all that apply. Not everyone aspires to become an expert in marine matters, and not everyone has the time or inclination to decode what the experts are saying.

We just want to eat fish and be merry.

It is perhaps tempting then to sit on one’s hands and say, well, I’m just the one consumer, I can’t change the world, and that slab of red tuna on the fish stall or on the menu is already out of the water anyway, so I might as well eat it.

But no; it is best to let that slab of red tuna sit there, uneaten, for it is very much a chicken-or-egg (or rather, a fish-or-roe) matter. As much as we would want them to, restaurants and fish markets aren’t in the business of saving the planet; they’re in the business of making their customers happy.

And if what makes you happy is to feel sure that the fish you buy has been fished or farmed sustainably — that is to say, in a way that ensures that the fish population will be maintained or increased, and that the ecosystem it belongs to is protected — then it will become financially profitable for fish vendors and restaurateurs to care.

So, what to do, what to do?

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Reusable Shopping Bags

Reusable Shopping Bags

Paris supermarkets stopped giving away plastic bags for free last year. The deal is this: you can either 1- bring your own shopping bag, 2- purchase a jumbo reusable plastic bag, or 3- purchase a flimsy plastic bag if you really insist.

Despite the corporate claim that they’re pretty (um, hello?), the jumbo reusable plastic bags they sell at my supermarket are ugly. But I admit they’re sturdy and very large, which makes them handy when you have a lot of stuff to buy, or a lot of stuff to lug around for other purposes, like take junk down to the basement.

For the rest of my food shopping, however, when I buy things from smaller shops (they still give away plastic bags), or for impromptu purchases when I’m out and about, I keep a reusable tote bag in my purse.

In fact, I have two. The first one is a brown tote bag with curly pink lettering that I bought at Monoprix a while ago: it comes with a little pouch in which to stow the folded bag when not in use. The second one is a blue flip & tumble bag, which was sent to me by its designers, recent graduates of a design program at Stanford University. This one you scrunch up into a ball and flip unto itself — not unlike a pair of socks.

Both serve me well, as they are lightweight, have a larger capacity than they appear, and are comfortable to carry. And call me smug, but it always gives me great satisfaction to stop sales attendants mid-gesture and say, “I won’t be needing a bag for this, thank you,” as my magic tote bag materializes where there formerly was none.

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Best of 2007

Best of 2007

As 2007 gets ready to tiptoe out the back door, let me catch it by the sleeve and sit it down for a cup of tea and a chat, in remembrance of what the year has brought. It can then go back to packing its bags, and I to my New Year’s Eve preparations. (I have fifteen people coming to dinner and no game plan. Wish me luck.)

2007 has left me no time to idle: my cookbook came out in the spring, I went on a US book tour and on television to promote it, translated it into French, did more events in London and Paris, wrote another book on Paris restaurants and food shops, started a French version of Chocolate & Zucchini, created a silly side blog, and took on some freelance writing assignments.

It has been a good year indeed, but I look forward to 2008 even more: the French edition of my cookbook will be published by Marabout in February, my second book will come out in the US in April, I have a trip planned to Australia, and I’ve been nursing more projects and planting more seeds for the year to come — we’ll see what blooms!

And now, for the traditional list of personal awards:

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Best of 2006

Happy New Year! As we slowly ease into 2007, recover from the holiday season and draw up virtuous resolutions we’ll promptly forget so we can unearth them in December and have a good laugh, let us take a moment to bid a fond farewell to 2006 (where do years go when they’re over?) and reflect upon the good things it has brought. Here’s my Best of list:

Most Inspiring Cookbook: Rose Bakery’s Breakfast, Lunch, Tea. Contenders: Mes Recettes pour votre ménage and The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating.

Favorite Fancy Meal in Paris: Lunch in the gardens of Le Bristol. Contender: Dinner at Le Sensing.

Favorite Fancy Meal Elsewhere: Dinner at Cordeillan-Bages, where Thierry Marx officiates. Contender: How could I not mention El Bulli in Roses, Spain?

Favorite Simple Meal in Paris: a côte de boeuf pour deux with garlic potatoes at Corneil.

Favorite Simple Meal Elsewhere: The Crack’d Conch in Key Largo, Florida.

Favorite Soup Recipe: Beet Soup with Anchovy-Walnut Paste

Favorite Main Course Recipe: Le Poulet de Muriel served with Chicken Family Green Beans.

Favorite Addition to my Baking Repertoire: Gâteau Sirop.

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