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September 2019 Newsletter

The first night of my vacation last month, I slept for twelve hours. I kid you not. When I woke up and looked at the clock, I was stunned to see how long I remained oblivious to the world, and was happy with how refreshed I felt because of it.

It's true that in France, especially if you live in a lively neighborhood in Paris, it's difficult to get enough sleep. Constant contact with computer screens, noise from late-night revelers (which is why every pharmacy in Paris has earplugs by the cash register) who like to linger outside long after the cafés close, and a variety of other reasons, cause people to get less sleep. So it was heaven to wake up every morning for a few weeks, and feel relaxed and ready to hit the day. Or in some cases, sit around and do nothing, or maybe just pick blackberries, roam a local market, or drink wine. After all, that's what vacations are for. Right?

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We started in France, weaving our way through Burgundy, drinking plenty of Chablis and eating way too many giant gougères. I always figure - hey, they're hollow, so it's okay to eat a lot of them - right? We visited a mustard factory in Dijon (one of the bummers of not planning too much in advance was that the tours were booked), but I bought a few jars of mustard in the gift shop, and we had a great lunch just down the street at La Dilettante, that we happened into by chance. We hadn't reserved so had to wait for everyone to leave, and ate after the other guests had. The downside was most of the menu items weren't available - I wanted that Croque monsieur, darn it! - but the upside was we had a great chat with the owner, and had excellent wine. I highly recommend stopping in, if you're in Beaune. Just be sure to reserve, especially in August.

We stayed with a few friends in the region, and part of the trip had us cooking and baking for a birthday party, where I (and a team I recruited of other houseguests) put together 50 0r 60 tarts. I don't remember the exact number anymore because I was in an ingredient-arranging daze, but the most popular were the Pissaladières, Niçoise onion and anchovy tarts (recipe in My Paris Kitchen), which were enjoyed with local sparkling crémant. Like French summer fêtes can do, this one ended around 4:30am. I was in bed a few hours before, working on that sleep deficit, and was glad I made a dent in it when I saw the condition of the others the next morning.

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From there it was down to Spain to visit my friends Michael and Sylvie Sullivan. I've known them both for years and Michael and I worked and cooked together at Chez Panisse. We usually only get to see each other when we happen to be in Paris at the same time, so it was nice to spend a few days really catching up, as well as catching some beach time on the Costa Brava. He made a fantastic paella (below) which even Romain loved. He was scarred by a less-than-wonderful version he had in Paris, and was happy to get a taste of the real deal.

We also tasted the best anchovies I've had in my life, from the region. Michael told me that Alice Waters liked them so much, she convinced him to start importing them to the U.S. and they're available on his website, Beaune Imports. (He's now a wine importer.) In Paris, they carry them at Épicerie du Verre Volé (52 rue de la Folie Méricourt, 11th). We ate as many as we could when we were there, but I ended up bringing three good-sized jars home because you can never have enough good anchovies.

It was hard to leave Spain. I love the food there so much - the ham, the sherry (which Romain was also delighted to taste, for the first time), and those anchovies, but we headed back north, stopping in a small town that had quite a few tourists who also wanted to enjoy the beach, then spent a week with our friends who grow much of their food, and when they have to buy it, get it from local producers. We felt so clean and refreshed that it was a little tough to be stuck on the clogged highway on the way home. (It was also tough to be stuck in traffic when it was 93ºF/34ºC, in a non-air conditioned, non-moving car on a steamy autoroute, but I survived by taking most of my clothes off, which I think scared - or scarred - a few passing motorists.)

Fortunately, most Parisians were still away on vacation so we could ease back into life a little more smoothly. Within 24 hours, I was unpacking, catching up on a backlog of paperwork, cooking and baking, and stocking my kitchen with lots of vegetables, grains, and the kinds of food we enjoyed during our travels.

It's fun being back in my own kitchen (and making only one tart at a time!), with sharp knives: Next time, I'm not going to forget to travel with my own knife - This post got 249 comments, and not everyone agreed with me that you should bring your own cooking utensils along with you, but they obviously didn't have to cut 40 pounds/18kg of onions with a butter knife.

Hope you have a good rentrée (re-entry) if you went away, and (now that I've been reunited with my knives) you can look for some new recipes and stories on my blog, coming up...

- David

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Say "Oui" to the new SNCF (French Train System)

In case you've been trying to book a ticket on the SNCF website for a train in France, you may (as I did) think that you landed on a bogus site. After refreshing my browser a few times, I discovered that the SNCF TGV has been rebranded to inOUI. The new name is meant to evoke the French word for "exceptional" (or, "unheard of.")

Um, okay. Regardless, the name has changed for the website as has the URL. Another change is that a new low-cost TGV train service named OUIGO has begun to get people around France just as fast, but cheaper.

When searching for tickets, OUIGO tickets may be offered in the search results. Fares vary but start at 10€ one-way, which is a bargain for high-speed train service. However, as one journalist wrote, "They took the things people hate about flying and applied them to trains." So if you want to bring a suitcase, that'll cost extra. There's no bar or food car, some seats are three across, and you can't reserve a seat when you book; it's chosen for you. (If you purchase tickets with someone else, however, you should be seated next to them.) You also need to be at the station 30 minutes before the departure of the train, which is a big change, and for some reason, they don't have garbage bins. That didn't work out so well, and now agents roam the aisles collecting trash. I took it once and it was fine but the seats were narrower than others and the trains lacked the features I liked about train travel, so I prefer to pay a little more and get a more comfortable seat, have electrical outlets...and not have to look at the brightly-colored turquoise and pink vinyl color scheme they used in the OUIGO trains for a three-hour ride.

If you're overseas and find the website unwieldy, or you want to connect between countries, Trainline is the official retailer for the Eurostar, Thalys (Belgium), Lyria (Swiss-French), and other European railway systems.

One last tip. The SCNF website is great and you can store your bar-coded tickets in their app so you can save a sheet paper and not print it out. However... on a recent trip, the bar code disappeared and the agent couldn't scan it. I had my confirmation number, but (oddly) they can't look up a reservation by that number, only by your birthday. Mine wasn't showing up but he let me ride. Whew. So while I usually take a screenshot of my bar code, I forgot on that trip. But I won't forget in the future!

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Recent Recipes and Posts on My Blog

I updated my Sidecar Cocktail post, a three-ingredient cocktail that's easy to make...and drink!

A visit to Isigny Ste-Mère, where I shared how those amazing French butter and cheeses are made.

Champagne on-the-rocks? Bien sur! At least according to a few French champagne producers...

Top Ten Places to visit during the annual Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Days) in Paris.

This tasty Lemon-Almond Snack Cake combines tart lemon juice, moist almonds, and a little amaretto, for good measure. (And, because it tastes good.)

La Cidererie serves up French cider in Paris. It's one of my new favorite places to hang out, and drink cider, of course.

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