Thursday, March 26, 2009

It just takes one hit.

We've heard it all before. From parents and teachers, and Oprah and Dr. Phil -- SAY NO TO DRUGS. We watch on television, morbidly fascinated, as countless degenerates tumble down the slippery slope of addiction, and transform themselves from stable, ordinary people into dependent, infantile beings who will do anything for just one more taste of their particular poison. It can be gruesome, really, and even though sometimes you have to watch the inevitable decline through your fingers, you still can't look away. Maybe it makes us feel superior, knowing that we have the self-control, the fortitude and morality to resist those evil temptations; that we would never be as reckless or irresponsible as those poor souls who have been snatched and held tightly by the powerful grasp of drug addition. And while the credits of Intervention flash on the television screen, we all think, that will never be me. 

And sure, there was that time in university when you had one too many swigs of cheap champagne and threw up in the cab. And you try to ignore that fact that your hand shakes just ever so slightly whenever caffeine is absent from your morning routine. But surely you're not addicted. Not like those delinquent junkies on Dr. Phil. And maybe you do possess the self-discipline that will keep you from ever ending up on the floor of the bathroom at Burger King, mixing your next dose of heroin on the bottom of a dirty Coke can. Or maybe you just haven't found the intoxicating substance that will push you to plummet that far. 

It was last Wednesday that I was over at Scott's for a typical week-night dinner. I was responsible for the menu that night, and when it came to the question of dessert, I knew there was only one answer. They had been calling my name since I had last tasted them only days before. I was thinking about them constantly; they were a relentless presence, a dull ache that could only be satisfied by another taste of their sweet little bodies. Just one more bite. That's all I needed. Really.  

And it didn't seem so wrong if I was going to be sharing them, generously, and not buying a box for myself only to shove them crudely into my mouth while still walking down the street, unable to withhold my display of obvious gluttony until safe in the privacy of my own home. Not that I would ever do that anyway. 

They are decidedly delicate. Made from a base of egg whites and almond flour, they are a multitude of textures -- crisp, and then chewy, finished with a soft and impossibly smooth ganache filling, bursting with flavour and fantasy. They are handled only by gloved hands, or by specially-purposed tongs, to make certain that their perfect shells remain unblemished. They are presented in boxes that look like they would be better suited to contain glittering jewels on velvet pillows, or expensive silk lingerie. And they are a frequent visitor of my dreams. 

They are macarons

And they are wonderful, really. Something I might even consider adding to the menu of my death-row meal. But that doesn't mean that I'm not in complete control of my cravings. I can totally stop at anytime. Not that I would ever want to.

The fact that I might have just a bit of a problem only occurred to me following that Wednesday night dinner at Scott's. We had finished our meal and were sated and content, our plates and palates cleared, ready for our mid-week treat. I had been anticipating our macaron consumption ever since the glossy Pierre Hermé bag was placed in my hands only a few hours prior. And sadly, in just a few bites, it was all over. I lay on the couch, my eyes unfocused and my vision hazy, buzzing from the overwhelming flavours that still lingered on my tongue, and when I glanced over, it appeared that Scott, stretched across two footstools, was in about the same condition as I was.
We were almost incoherent, faintly babbling about iridescent cinnamon dust and salted-butter caramel. My mind and my pulse were racing, yet I could barely move. I felt weighted to the couch, but at the same time, I had never been lighter. And slowly, as I gained the energy to turn my head to look at Scott once again, I realized that we likely had the same, singular thought -- I want more

The next few minutes felt like hours, days even, and as I began to regain lucidity, I had another realization. I looked around, still slightly disoriented, taking in my surroundings. The crumpled remnants of the Pierre Hermé bag, ripped open desperately only moments before; the open bottle of wine, nearly empty on the coffee table; my only company sprawled, unmoving, in what seemed to be a fairly uncomfortable position; and the sound of our laboured breathing, punctuated sporadically by some nonsensical mumblings. I had seen this tableau before, or variations of it. It was a familiar scene that appeared every week on Intervention. 

Okay, so maybe I did have a problem. 

But the realization that I may be cultivating a dangerous addiction didn't stop me (or Scott) from returning to our dealer -- I mean, Pierre Hermé -- a few days later, more than ready, and anxiously anticipating our next dosage. 

There are many places in the city that peddle macarons, but I think there are really only two worth mentioning, both of which are noted for vastly different reasons. Firstly, there is Ladurée, where the double-decker macaron we know today was first conceived at the beginning of the 20th century, prior to which macarons were only a single, meringue-like dome and void of any filling. The fact that Ladurée can lay claim to the stroke of genius that transformed a fairly ordinary pastry into a gastronomic celebrity is enough to warrant the queue of patrons that usually extends out the door. The additional knowledge that your choice of dainty little pastries will be presented in lovely pastel boxes, embossed in gold and sealed with satin ribbon, is likely what causes the line to frequently stretch around the block. That, and the fact that their selection of macarons, in all the traditional flavours, is arguably unmatched. 

I feel that I have consumed enough macarons to hold a reasonably well-informed opinion on the subject, and while I am confident in my belief that Ladurée produces the absolutely quintessential macaron, I do concede that they will never be one for innovation. Just take one look around the 19th century tea room, gilded and mirrored and relatively unchanged since its establishment, and it is easy to understand that this place stands for tradition, not innovation. Maybe they realized that the legendary macaron they created over 100 years ago would be the only flash of ingenuity needed, one that possibly cannot be topped. I won't contend with that --they know what they can do, and they do it well. Very well. But there is also something to be said for the new and exciting and experimental. Enter, Pierre Hermé. 

Pastry chef Pierre Hermé, who has been referred to by food publications as everything from a "pastry provocateur" to "the Kitchen Emperor," is the mastermind behind the several Pierre Hermé pastry shops scattered throughout Paris. The shop interiors are vastly different from those of Ladurée; clean and modern, lined with glass cases filled with impeccable rows of perfectly assembled pastries, each one an experiment in taste and texture. 

And, of course, no Pierre Hermé store would be complete with the requisite winding line of impatient customers, faces drawn to the shop window like a plant towards the light. Some are in line for the first time, and some, like myself, had made the trip more than once in the span of a week. And as I looked at the excited faces of those yet to be intoxicated by the confections that would await them on the other side of the glass, I wanted to warn them, to be certain that they fully understood the magnitude of the commitment they were about to make. I had the urge to shake them and to tell them that they didn't know what they were getting themselves into. It just takes one hit. 

But, distracted by the thought of satisfying my craving, I kept silent, selfishly focused on my own indulgence. And once we made it through the doorway and were faced with neatly stacked trays of colourful macarons, all available brain capacity was focused on the task at hand. Even without the visual stimulation, the words printed on the individual labels would have been enough to intensify my aching desire and need. Chocolate and passionfruit. Vanilla and olive oil. Grapefruit and wasabi. I had tried most of these pairings before, but imagining each exotic combination of flavours dissipating on my tongue was still making me lightheaded, and I needed to focus. We had agreed; we could only choose six. Six was reasonable. Six was far from gluttonous. Six was enough. For now. 

The trip from the counter at Pierre Hermé to a park bench in the nearby Tuileries passed in a blur, and finally, finally, we were seated and Scott was pulling the package of macarons out of their carrier bag. 

It was an unusually sunny day in Paris, and our six carefully chosen macarons were glittering like little jewels in the bright light. We quickly decided that our strategy would be to eat according to strength of flavour, from the lightest to the most intense. That meant starting with the positively angelic jasmine (top left). This came close to being my favourite of the six. A perfect luminous pearl, its subtle flavour barely there; just a faint whisper of the delicate floral aroma, as if delivered by a gentle breeze. And after that first, unforgettable bite, my anxiety seemed to fade away and I felt like I could breathe again. Everything was going to be okay. 

We vigilantly worked our way through our other selections: the sweet, diaphanous rose; the highly anticipated, yet somewhat disappointing chocolate bergamot; and the intensely rich and heady chocolate caramel. 

And then there were two -- two identical, flawless orbs, remarkably iridescent and radiant in the sunlight. It was a combination we had tried before, several times, but one that couldn't be ignored. Pistachio, with a burst of sweet cherry in the centre, and a faint sprinkling of a sparkling cinnamon dust that clings to your fingertips. It was love at first bite. 

And it was over all too soon. The sheer joy of that first moment, when taste and aroma overwhelm your senses, followed by the feeling of deep satisfaction that is quickly replaced by sharp yearning. The gratification only lasts an instant before the craving returns, even more apparent and intense, and all you can think about is that feeling of euphoria, when the only place that matters in the inside of your mouth. And you know you would do anything to return to that moment, even if it was just once more. 

I've been a good girl most of my life. I've listened and obeyed when warned by the posters at school and the omnipotent Oprah to avoid the evils of drugs. I feel fairly confident that I will never find my place on the floor of that Burger King bathroom. And honestly, I have no desire to test my limits, to seek out whatever pleasures are driving drug users to follow the dangerous path that leads to addiction. 

That being said, I know I've never been one to shy away from self-indulgence, and maybe sometimes my excess leads to less than desirable consequences. But addict is a very strong word, and I am not quite prepared to label myself with it. Maybe it's denial, or maybe I really do have as much self-control and -discipline as I think I do. Regardless, I've willingly acknowledged my persistent need to satisfy my frequent macaron cravings, and I think I would be prepared to seek help if it were to ever go too far. But for now, I can only think of the pleasure, of that moment of euphoria, and of returning to my rightful place in the winding queue of Ladurée or Pierre Hermé, ready for my next hit. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Only serious eaters need apply.

This statement may be obvious, but: there are a lot of places to eat in Paris. Many are good, many are not; but it still happens that each Saturday night is preceded by a lengthy and arduous decision-making process to determine where to eat. Most places are French, and most of those have an almost identical aesthetic, making it even more difficult to distinguish between what will be tasty and what will tasteless.

It also happens that in Paris, quality of decor is rarely an indicator of the quality of the meal that will be served and is therefore not usually a factor in the method of selection. In fact, little to no decor is likely preferable to any alternatives. I have learned to be weary of those certain establishments whose walls are over-decorated and whose plates are over-garnished, Franc-ified to lure unsuspecting tourists into their seemingly quaint interiors only to stuff them full of cheap cuts of meat, poorly veiled by a nondescript sauce, and served with the requisite frites.

But after a few disappointing dining experiences, one gains a bit of wisdom in the art of selection. And after having even one amazing, unforgettable meal, you start to feel the pressure to match or exceed that experience in every meal that follows, to never return to that place where you regret handing over your hard-earned euros for a meal that leaves you full yet unsatisfied, with a sour expression, and a bitter taste in your mouth.

And fortunately, after making a strict promise to myself never to consume another less-than-sastifactory meal in Paris (especially considering that there are many delicious opportunities that are still uneaten), I have had nothing terrible to report in recent months. Most meals I eat outside of my own kitchen are carefully researched, highly anticipated, and rarely disappointing.

However, once in a while, if you're lucky, there are those exceptional occasions that manage to surpass every possible expectation; when all the stars align and destiny or karma, fate or some higher power presents you with a single, unforgettable moment of gastronomic enjoyment. A miracle of meat and wine and conversation and atmosphere. A mouthwatering jewel amidst a sea of faded flavours.

One often hears that miraculous things can happen in the most common and unsuspecting of places. And so was the case on a typical Saturday in early February, at a small and unassuming establishment in the 11th arrondissement, Bistrot Paul Bert.

While decidedly unpretentious, made up of an odd cluster of small rooms and sparsely decorated with mismatched chairs and a few pictures tacked to the walls, Bistrot Paul Bert is humble but lively, and furnished with the only the elements really necessary, and those generally indicative of a good meal; a portable chalkboard menu, a sturdy table, and a sharp knife. The restaurant and it's patrons are legitimately unconcerned with designer furnishings or flattering lighting schemes. This place has only one purpose. Only serious eaters need apply.

After arriving, we sit for a moment at the bar while our table is cleared and set, and consider the prix fixe options listed in barely legible handwriting on the menu board. And while there usually tends to be just a slight inkling of competitive camaraderie between myself and my dinner companions (you're going down, Shucks), we still always manage to pull together as a united front, vigilantly and strategically selecting our courses so that we can both cover as much of the menu as possible, and still all leave with the satisfaction of getting exactly what we wanted.

We make our menu choices before we're finally seated, and as we travel the short distance between the bar and our lovely little table by the window, I can feel the excitement rising. Passing through the room filled with crowded tables of happy diners and the pleasurable aromas of food and booze, the anticipation continues to build and I suddenly have the knowing sense that this will be a fantastic meal.

They say that first impressions are both revealing and irreversible, a principle that is easily applied to that first bite, as it slides off your fork and on to your tongue, and you wait for your senses to relay the textures and flavours that are dancing inside your mouth. For this reason, it can also be said that the entrée is the most important course of your meal.

Scott ordered the most intriguing (but also most disappointing) dish from the entrée section, a pigeon ravioli in a very plain-tasting broth (pictured on the far left). It was still edible, and maybe compared to less impressive alternatives it would have tasted better, but overall it was quite bland. I think I expected something with such an exotic-sounding title to taste a bit more, well, exotic. But I guess pigeons aren't really exotic creatures, and their prevalence was reflected in their very ordinary and insipid flavour. On a positive note, I finally got my revenge on all of those vicious pigeons who have endeavored to attack me. Let this be a warning to them all.

The veal tongue salad (far right) was Mia's choice, and was a dish that I think I underestimated. It was delicious; the tender tongue combined with potato, onion, and tarragon, with that kind-of warm, gentle spiciness provided by the mustard sauce. It was perfect and comforting and gave that cozy feeling of reassurance and contentment.

I chose a "squid head" salad (centre), although there were also other parts of squid involved, all mixed with crisp peppers and cilantro and something citrusy. It was lovely and fresh, like a really pretty girl without make-up on, or a sprinkling of rain when the sun is still out. And after forks were stretched across the table and each dish was sampled by all, it was chosen as the winner of the entrée portion of the meal, and I was glad to have had something so light and refreshing as a precursor to the significantly more demanding challenges I had ahead.

While I usually spend some time deciding on what to order, often flip-flopping between two or three equally tempting choices, I think I knew, even before entering the restaurant, what I was going to order for my main course. I had a craving for meat; a big slab of something rare and salty and juicy. They had a côte de boeuf for two on the menu and so it was decided that Scott and I would combine efforts and take on the challenge.

I am generally a bit wary of "plates for two" as you always take the risk of there not being enough to sate two healthy appetites and then are left to resignedly divide the portion into two equal, but unsatisfactory parts that you know you could finish both on your own. However, any reservations I might have had were quickly diminished as the waitress arrived with a large wooden board topped with a hefty piece of cow, a pile of fries, and a couple little pots of bernaise:

My eyes widened and my pulse quickened. The steak was releasing the most wonderful meaty aroma of charred flesh and melting fat and was supplying rivers of savory pink juice that were seeping into the cracks of the board. Okay, forget what I said earlier about the entrée being the most important part of the meal. This not only deserved prominence, it demanded it.
We looked at it with gluttonous thoughts, with hunger and excitement and maybe just the slightest bit of trepidation. But I was confident -- in Scott's abilities, and my own. We could finish this monster and his little French fried friends. With pleasure. And a bit of bernaise.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the table, Mia had her own battle to fight -- a pot au feu that was intended for one, but that could have easily fed two:

Pot au feu is a relatively common French meal consisting of a standard assortment of root vegetables and herbs and some meat, all thrown into pot and then eaten with a bit of mustard. This particular pot au feu also had the distinct addition of a couple pieces of bone filled with the fatty treasure that is marrow.

And, being the selfless team players that we are, Scott and I were only too happy to help her out. What's a bit more meat, when you are already faced with several pounds of it? (And I mean literally, several pounds.)

And then there was that moment, one of pure decadence, when Mia reached over and smeared a knife-full of marrow on a small bit of steak left on my plate, and (after adding a dab of bernaise, obviously) I was transported to a place of incredible indulgence, where meat joins butter and fat in the pursuit of ultimate satisfaction and where the calories don't count (or where you don't count the calories). A place that I still think of often, with fondness and with longing.

Then, a moment of pride and accomplishment:

Yes, we did it. Completely filled and intoxicated by an excess of protein and a couple glasses of wine, we became almost delirious as we leaned back in our seats, trying to breath deeply and remain coherent. And then we remembered, we still had one course to go. Dear God.

Except dessert is my favourite course. And it goes into a different stomach, or something. And the desserts offered sounded entirely too pleasurable to just neglect. And, after all, we are not ones to shy away from any challenge, or let a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for gastronomic gratification pass us by. Even if it means that I have to undo my belt.

Our decision to continue with dessert was instantly justified when I was informed that the Grand Marnier souffle I had chosen was made to order and would make the journey from oven to table in about fifteen minutes. Our decision was further (although unnecessarily) justified after we were presented with these:

Mia chose the classic tarte tatin (far left), which is never complete without a little bowl of crème fraîche, thick and glossy, just waiting to be spooned onto the slice of warm apple-y goodness. It is a staple in most French restaurants, and I have ordered it often myself. But it's ubiquitous nature means that there are a lot of unsatisfactory versions out there, not to say that I haven't also had several memorable and thoroughly satisfying varieties. Regardless, this was the best I've tasted, surpassing it's competitors with the aid of a faintly bitter caramel sauce.

Scott, the cyclist, ordered the Paris-Brest (far right), named and created in honour of the bicycle race from Paris to Brest and shaped like a tiny, delicious bicycle wheel. It may look like a bagel with pastrami, but in reality it's a delightful ring of choux pastry filled with a velvety noisette filling and topped with a few slices of almonds and a bit of powdered sugar.

But the real hero of the dessert course, and possibly of the entire meal, was the Grand Marnier soufflé (centre) that was placed in front of me, direct from the oven, fifteen minutes later as promised. Flawlessly puffed and golden, warm and airy with just a hint of sweet liqueur, it was the consummate way -- the only way -- to end the meal. And when I think of that last, lingering spoonful of puffed perfection I can't help but think that it's dessert, really, that is the most important part of a meal. It's the last flavour that endures on your tongue, the last impression of taste and texture that follows you home and haunts your dreams. In fact, this soufflé still haunts my dreams. Although that may be because I keep a picture of it beside my bed.

We left Bistrot Paul Bert that night, the last patrons to walk out the door, fully sated and still buzzing with pleasure and satisfaction. The food had been wonderful, but by no means perfect. The service was prompt and pleasant, but not particularly engaging. The atmosphere warm and spirited, but not exceptionally so. Nevertheless, this was one of the best meals I have ever experienced. It wasn't overly expensive, or the mark of a significant occasion, and yet the distinct culmination of food and friendship and flavour succeeded in creating one of those perfect, fated moments and a lingering impression.

I am not sure if I can recollect another meal that was as gratifying as this one, so much so that I am almost afraid to return to Bistrot Paul Bert with the fear of tarnishing my memory, of recording over the experience with a lesser one. And however strange it may be, I honestly don't know if I'll ever have another meal at the place where I had the best meal. What I do know is that I am ready to persevere, to keep eating and discovering, searching amongst the cafés and bistrots of Paris for another culinary miracle.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The stuff dreams are made of.

Let me just preface this post by warning you all not to get used to multiple posts in one day. We all know how long it took me to post my first entry, although that being said, I don't anticipate there being months between posts. Maybe days. But keep your expectations low. 

Now. On to the main event. 

As previously mentioned, it has taken me an abominably long time to get this blog up and running, even though the concept has been marinating (or macerating?) in my little head for a while. Subsequently, I have several culinary exploits squirreled away, patiently waiting for their big debut on this blog. 

I have spent some time contemplating what my inaugural entry should be. I have certainly had a lot of wonderful things to eat in this city since I've been here (and, I feel I should mention, some not-so-wonderful things too). But I think the (quasi-)meal that has, thus far, garnered the most attention, conversation, and saliva has been at a small café in the Marais, curiously named Le Loir dans la Théière, but more commonly referred to as "the cake place" amongst my fellow eaters. 

As you may have guessed, they serve cake. Although to group these wondrous desserts under the same general umbrella of other ordinary, so-called "cakes" seems unfair. I give you exhibit A (humans and cakes shown to scale):

The visit depicted in the photo above had been my third in about a one month time period, and while I am easily able to enjoy each encounter with these delightful (if slightly grotesque) confections, no experience will compare to my first meeting with these sugary monsters, one grey afternoon in December. 

On this particular afternoon, we had been in search of refuge from the chaos of Paris the weekend before Christmas, the constant misery of rain and cloud, and the extreme disappointment of a missed flight home. We found our salvation in six inches of meringue and the glory of the chestnut. 

There is no menu, save a flimsy laminated card with a long list of teas and the requisite cafés and other steamed-milk beverages. Instead, one must take a tour past a crowded sideboard, heavy with the weight of about eight or so cakes and pies, and make the agonizing decision of which of the selections will be making the trip over to your table and into your waiting mouth. And I don't use the word "agonizing" lightly here. It truly is an excruciating decision, like choosing between one of your children, or which one of your limbs you'd have amputated. Although you may take comfort in the fact that in this case, regardless of what you decide, the outcome will most likely be wonderful.

In total I have tried five varieties of cakes/pies/tartes at Le Loir dans la Théière, all of which were superior creations, although I will admit that the apple-nut-spice-type cake (pictured on the far left in the photo) was by far the least favourite for myself and my companions. No matter. We had two other incredible options to wash it down with, one being the lovely, luscious, and ludicrously portioned chocolate banana tarte. The other being the reigning beast of the dessert world -- the lemon meringue pie. 

It may be an understatement to say that I am anxious to try every dessert that this place has to offer, yet every time we've gone, one of us has to order the lemon meringue. Maybe it's because it defies most laws of culinary engineering, or maybe because it's being sliced and served at such an astonishing rate, that you feel compelled to snatch the last piece before the French hipsters at the next table. Or maybe it's simply the hypnotic effect of that incredible meringue, towering and glossy-white in the soft light of late afternoon, beckoning, from across the room, for you to raise your index finger and skim it gently over the sweet and supple surface and then just take. One. Taste. 

Not that one taste would ever be enough. 

This is not the soap-sud meringue of your supermarket pie. This is the dense, creamy, and intensely sugary stuff that dreams are made of. Take one spoonful and be amazed as it expands exponentially in your mouth, filling every crevice until you almost can't breathe. In a good way. 
There has also been speculation that the lemon curd has been graded to compensate for the sloping character of the meringue. But it's just a theory. We could be putting more thought into this than is warranted. 

And while the lemon meringue will always likely be the star of the show, we cannot forget the unsung heros, the equally tasty, yet somewhat less aesthetically demanding confections that surely deserve a nod, a lick of the lip, or a deeply satisfied moan. The chocolate banana tarte, as mentioned above, for it's profoundly affecting chocolate experience; the orange crème brulée tarte for the incomparable sensation of silky, citrusy cream melting effortlessly on your tongue; and the chestnut tarte (oh, the chestnut tarte) for it's unmatched ability to induce a backwards eye roll and utter speechlessness. 

For those of you familiar with my eating habits, you will know that I am a lover of all things sweet. Never one to miss dessert, no matter how much I've eaten beforehand, there is nothing I would rather do than indulge in something lovely and sugary. And Le Loir dans la Théière certainly delivers on that account. But more than that, it's become a sanctuary of sorts, a place where crammed in the corner, at a table over looking the dumpster and amidst the din and clatter, nothing bad could ever happen. A place where a café crème and a slice (or two) of cake will relieve any problem, and where food becomes a friend rather than an adversary. And it's a place that when I look back, searching for my fondest memories, will remind me of Paris. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009


No, it's not a dream. It's not a hallucination. Or a virtual mirage happened upon while searching, parched, through the vast desert of lesser blogs. It's for reals.

My blog!

After months of promises, I have decided to end my long standing tradition of excuses and negligence and finally use the wonderful world wide web for what it was always intended for -- pictures and descriptions of food. 

When I crossed the pond more than four months ago, I had every intention of blogging my way through daily French life. Alas, due to chronic laziness and a mean streak of procrastination, that intention was never realized. And it wasn't that I didn't have lots to write about. Too much, maybe. But being completely overwhelmed by everything French and unfamiliar (which was, well, everything) did little to motivate me to record it, on camera, in blog form, or otherwise.  

The Paris of Haussman architecture and grand boulevards and impressionist paintings is lovely, really, and doesn't deserve to be completely ignored. But just google-image "Paris" and get a complete photographic summary, or rent Funny Face and stroll down the Champs Élysées with Fred and Audrey. That side of the city hasn't really been part of my own experience, and when I think back over the past four months, my memories of avenues lined with gold statues and museums filled with Mona Lisas and Monets have become somewhat faded. I know I've been there, I've seen those things, really, I have, but in the end that's not what I'd write home about. Instead, those visions of art and architecture have been overthrown by those of pastries and pâté, croissants and coq au vin. 

Finally, a worthy subject. 

And so, as happens quite frequently, food has been my primary motivation, and the catalyst for the creation of this blog. I may not be able to remember where I put my keys, or who the ninth Prime Minsiter of Canada was, or the year of the War of 1812 (just kidding, that one's a give-away), but I can describe to you, in detail, a meal I had three years ago. I like to think that recounting culinary experiences allows every meal to be extended and relished long after the last bite has been swallowed, and for someone who loves to eat as much as I do, this is a very good thing. 

For those of you who consider eating simply a means of gaining nutrition and caloric energy, this blog is not for you. Although cliché, I do give merit to the phrase you are what you eat. Although sometimes, after consuming a pack of Beuno bars and lying in bed, nearly comatose, I'd like to believe that the saying has slightly less validity. But if experience builds and defines our character, than eating -- something we do often, because we need to, because we want to -- is our most telling experience. 

I have often compared the act of eating to a battle, and food to an adversary (albeit a delicious one) that must be conquered. If continuing this metaphor, then Paris is one of the most grueling yet inspiring battlefields I have ever faced, but one that I feel confident that I can emerge from successful (although maybe a few pounds heavier). It will not be an easy feat -- I am certain that I have many arduous tasks in my future -- but there is no greater moment then when the steam has cleared and there are only empty plates left on the table, when you can lean back in your seat, sated and triumphant. A sweet victory indeed.