petite anglaise

August 24, 2006

one lunch, or two?

Filed under: city of light, miam — petiteanglaiseparis @ 8:22 pm

I am woken by a text message and realise that

beer + ill advised gin based cocktail because it was cheap in happy hour + beer + beer + beer + ?

is a disastrous equation which can only = feelings of nausea and throbbing pains behind the eye sockets.

The text message invites me to lunch. At 2pm. At the “Zéphyr”. It is 10am. The idea of eating food, even drinking water, is uninviting at this juncture, but I dare to hope that things may feel a little different in four hours’ time. And the message clearly reads “buy you lunch”. <a href="Le Zéphyr is rather nice, in that artfully shabby, old fashioned sort of way which Paris does so well. It’s even within walking distance of my house, which is a thoughtful touch. Such an offer cannot be refused. I text back “ok”, hoping my inability to type anything further will not be construed as rude.

Shortly before 2, I make a triumphant dive for the one available table on the raised decking outdoors. The sky is making a respectable attempt at blue, although experience over the past two weeks has proved that caution should be exercised. I inspect the awning overhead: it wouldn’t protect us from one of the bibilical style deluges Paris has been subjected to of late, but is better than nothing.

I take out my book and find my page. The fact that I have reached a section written in a sonnet sequence does not make it ideal hangover reading, but I perservere, wishing I had brought a Voici from the stack Mr Frog’s mother so thoughtfully brought to Paris. My friend calls to announce his lateness and I hunker down in my seat, unperturbed. It’s a nice spot, the sun is (almost) shining and I am determined to savour my well-deserved screen break. I don’t have a clue I have been waiting for almost three quarters of an hour until the waiter comes over to warn me that his lunch shift is almost over.

I panic and call my friend, and after some confusion – the menu seems to have changed since he last ate there – I order us both a steak and he promises to appear in time to eat it.

Ten minutes later he phones back (apparently not for the first time, but my phone is vibrating quietly in the depths of my bag, the sound indistinguishable above the grumble of passing traffic.)

“Hi, where are you? I can’t see you anywhere.”

“In Le Zéphyr, sitting out front!” I reply, craning my neck, seeing no sign of him on the pavement. In any case, the terrasse is now almost empty, I really shouldn’t be too difficult to spot.

Suddenly I realise what has happened here, and suppress a violent urge to bang my head against the window. Repeatedly.

“I’m guessing that there is more than one Zéphyr in Paris, am I right?” I sigh.

Indeed I am. My friend is at the Café Zéphyr, halfway across town, at Bonne Nouvelle. He doesn’t have his motorbike with him today. He could never manage to get here in time to eat his steak warm. This is officially A Fiasco.

As I reassure him, through gritted teeth, not to worry, that it will be fine, I’ll cancel his order, the waiter appears, bearing two plates.

The phrase “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” springs cruelly to mind, as I start to wish I’d never crawled out of bed in the first place.

August 16, 2006


Filed under: city of light, miam — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:52 pm

I glance down at my watch, startled to see it is already way past two. Time for a change of scenery; an hour or two outside my own head. I grab a book, at random, from the teetering tower by my bedside, find my purse, and, noting the ominous colour of the sky, arm myself with an umbrella.

The rue de Belleville is a wasteland of shuttered shops and extinguished lights. Welcome to Paris in August. A whole city to myself, with the exception of the most obvious tourist traps, but much of it closed for business.

I hesitate outside a shabby looking Thai joint with a seven euro lunch menu which I have never eaten at before, usually favouring the flashier Thai further down the hill, which pulls in the crowds on the strength of a favourable review in the ’98 Routard.

A little girl with sleek black pigtails, presumably the proprietor’s granddaughter, captures my attention. She darts among the empty tables with her older sister, shrieking in a language I do not understand. She must be Tadpole’s age, give or take a few months. Momentarily overcome by a rush of tenderness for my own absent daughter, I picture her sleeping on her belly, fingers curled into a fist in front of her face.

I choose a window table, amused to see I am seated directly opposite the famous trompe l’oeil advertising hoarding. A perfect reading spot.

Opening my book I plunge into the first short story and am slowly but surely reeled in, the sound of the girls playing receding as I become increasingly indifferent to my surroundings. When my food arrives, I am brought back to reality with a jolt, but luckily have the presence of mind to request cutlery, so I can keep one hand free to turn the pages as I bring forkfulls of beef and lemongrass salad to my lips.

An hour later I tip the owner and set off back home, resolving to eat out alone more often. With regular practice, maybe I’ll be able to master book in one hand, chopsticks in the other.

There’s something worthwhile to aspire to.

se mefier.jpg

December 20, 2005

definitely not ‘French bashing’

Filed under: miam, misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 3:30 pm

Last night, preparing my third batch of mince pies this month for yet another gathering involving mulled wine (mulled by someone else this time, thankfully, as I found my own attempt at the weekend was a little too dominated by the pungent taste of cloves), I had an out of body experience.

From my vantage point on the kitchen ceiling, I looked down in some consternation at the spectacle of a blonde thirtysomething year old (whose dark roots could bear a little retouche, incidentally, as seen from this particular angle) gently tapping icing sugar through a sieve with a teaspoon, onto a mince pie which was partially covered with a cardboard cut out of a star, with a smaller star inside it. The results (see photo) were undeniably very fetching, but I had to wonder whether this lady shouldn’t be devoting her energies to some other, more rewarding activity than drawing stars on pieces of card and cutting around them with nail scissors.

The domestic goddess thing (if one can qualify for goddesshood when the pastry is bought ready rolled, the mincemeat out of a jar, and one is not wearing an apron) may have gone just a little too far.

As I snapped back into my body again, with an elastic band like twang, I hastily grabbed a beer from the fridge and wiped my shaking, floury hands on my jeans, in an attempt to sully the tableau of myself as Pastry Goddess.

I did however keep the cardboard cut out. It might be needed again on Christmas day. You never know.


Later still, I reluctantly prepared to do some ironing. At the best of times, this is a task which tends to be deferred until not one pair of work trousers remains and it absolutely cannot be avoided. On this occasion, to add insult to injury, the (mostly black) garments which awaited their turn had accidentally been washed with a pink jumper of Tadpole’s (with a delightful cat motif, courtesy of belle maman), and were all, without exception, covered in a fine dusting of pink fluffy lint.

This was a job for the “sticky toilet roll on a stick” device, if ever there was one. I have no idea what this contraption is known as, either in French or in English, and, in case you were planning to take it upon yourself to enlighten me, I would prefer not to know, as there are some things in life that should remain a mystery.

But the sad fact of the matter is that it was only yesterday that it came to me in a sudden and unexpected flash of enlightenment that there are actually SEVERAL LAYERS of sticky stuff on the (loo)roll.

Who knew?

There was me thinking that the “sticky toilet roll on a stick” was the most wasteful invention in the Western world, because after cleaning the lint off a single T-shirt it had to be consigned to the bin and a new one (or a toilet roll refill) purchased. How misguided was I? How could I have been blind to the existence of the several layers of untouched, virginal, supremely adhesive roll which lie beneath?

So, in case any other poor souls are labouring under the illusion that sticky toilet rolls on a stick are single use products, I decided to share my (latest) epiphany with the internet.

Please tell me I was not alone in thinking this?

September 27, 2005

what not to eat

Filed under: miam — petiteanglaiseparis @ 2:49 pm

I think I will have to resign myself to the fact that I am doomed never to be mistaken for an elegant parisienne.

I haven’t the faintest idea how to knot a Hermès scarf just so around my neck. In fact, I’ll go so far as to admit that I don’t even care for Hermès scarves. Nor have I ever understood the whole jumper knotted loosely around shoulders over the top of winter coat look. Unlike most French girls, I am congenitally incapable of arranging my hair in a charmingly dishevelled little chignon, so that it looks as though it was twisted up and secured with a pencil in less than twenty seconds (a look which I suspect takes half an hour to achieve). I simply don’t look French, a point which was confirmed by several (disappointed) British bloggers I met recently.

Even if looks don”t betray my non French origins, my uncouth foreign behaviour inevitably will. Whether it be downing several beers in quick succession, or partaking of snacks in public places, something will always give me away.

Which brings me neatly to the story of the ill advised bolognaise panini on the line 7 métro.

The scene: horribly late for work, following a distastrous morning where a suspected, but in fact non-existent, infantile tummy upset and an errant nanny with no mobile phone conspired to force me to take a whole morning off work. One sixth of my precious three statutory days off to care for a sick child squandered for no good reason. Having finally deposited the irritatingly high-spirited, perfectly healthy Tadpole with the childminder, I realised I wasn’t going to have time to grab lunch before work, so there was no alternative but to eat on the run.

My hungry eyes spied a baker’s shop by the entrance to the metro. Upon closer inspection however, the sandwiches on offer did not look particularly appetising. French bread may in itself be A Very Lovely Thing, but many shops don’t use a great deal of imagination when concocting their sandwich fillings. Ham and plastic emmental cheese. Plastic emmental cheese with salad. Rosette sausage. Nothing which took my fancy. And after the stress of the morning, I craved something slightly naughty, as a pick me up.

My attention was arrested by a small, handwritten sign advertising paninis. I enquired about available fillings. They were a little odd. The classic mozzarella and cheese, or mozzarella and Italian ham had sold out, so all that remained were steack haché and bolognaise flavours. I opted for bolognaise, in what I can only describe as a moment of temporary insanity.

I regretted my choice almost immediately. It took for ever to cook. Standing next to a refrigerated cabinet of cakes, I tapped my foot nervously and glanced compulsively at my watch every thirty seconds or so. But it was too late to change my mind now, I had already paid. And the baker’s wife is a scary looking, red-faced person; not a woman whose feathers you would want to ruffle.

At last, the panini was toasted, and the lady handed it to me in its long paper bag with a single serviette. I snatched and ran. Into the métro, down the steps and onto the platform, where I paused, and first became aware of my predicament.

The paper bag was already translucent with grease, and rather a large amount of bolognaise and cheese filling appeared to have freed itself from the confines of the bread and and oozed down into a corner of the bag, which was visibly weakening by the second. The serviette was already drenched, my fingers slick with sauce. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the bag began to drip. Garish red liquid, which narrowly missed my clothes, occasionally splattering one of my shoes.

It also occured to me that the contents of my sandwich did not look dissimilar to the nappies I had changed that morning. Which clearly didn’t help.

Any sane person would have consigned the cursed sandwich there and then to the nearest rubbish bin, but my rumbling tummy and sheer pigheadedness prevented me from doing so.

So, drawing a small amount of comfort from the fact that Paris is a big city and none of the people sharing my métro carriage were ever likely to lay eyes on me again, I slumped down on an available strapontin and began nibbling gingerly at a corner of the sandwich from hell, studiously avoiding eye contact with my fellow passengers.

Pieces of minced meat leapt out and deposited themselves on the floor of the carriage around me. A piping hot chunk of chopped tomato landed on my toes. The bag continued to drip, drip, drip, even enveloped in my entire packet of emergency tissues. I had to hold the sandwich away from my body after every cursed bite, whilst I used a baby wipe on my mouth and chin, so as not to look like some sort of crazed métro vampire.

A perfectly groomed Parisienne got on at Chaussée d’Antin and wrinkled her delicate nose in distaste at the odour of my food. The only available seat was next to mine, and she declined to take it, preferring to stand well out of range. I could imagine what she was thinking only to well. Judging by her figure, she had never so much as sniffed a panini in her entire life, and the only thing which she would deign to put to her lips in a public place would be a bottle of Evian.

My journey over, I dropped the greasy packaging and remnants into a bin, wiped down my shoes and peeping toes, and inspected my trousers.

And emerged from the métro vowing never to buy a bolognaise panini as long as I live.

Even English girls have their limits.

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