so... Nice. in happier times.

A couple of years ago we found ourselves in Nice, somewhere on the blog there are pictures from that trip, I'm sure, and unsurprisingly one of my most vivid memories of that trip is one of the silliest. And of course, one related to food.

While we were planning the trip I came across a magazine article by a well-known food journalist. It was the annoying kind of travel article, elitist, smug, "you'll never be worthy of the kinds of experiences I can have" but the writer did mention some discoveries in or near Nice. One of these mentions in particular, as my mom would say, got my Irish up.

we know who you are and why noone reads your stuff any more
It seems that with the help of an admiring local contact, our hero made his way through narrow, confusing and possibly even dangerous streets in the old town to a tiny restaurant known only to a few. The restaurant had no phone and didn't take reservations, and when asked, staff were quite "shirty" about it. Travelers found the place by accident or were led there by local friends, with whom they stood in the street until a place or places opened up. The food was the purest and most authentic of local specialties, etc etc. You, O lowly reader, will never find it, never achieve admission, never live as I have lived.


So we got to Nice and the first night it was pouring and we ate at the hotel and the next morning the sky was blue and the sun was shining and we decided to try to find the mysterious tiny restaurant by  daylight. We walked from our hotel in the direction of the Cours Saleya (where the markets are). As in many cities smaller streets "T" into the pedestrian-only zone, and we decided to walk up and down a few of these.

Did I mention that I travel with a man who can find food anywhere? I'm not so bad at that myself, but my ability is instinctive and hasn't changed since I was a kid (as in, follow that man, he looks like he likes a good meal - and yes, that really was Orson Welles), while Himself's talent has been carefully and lovingly honed over years of practice.

We walked right to the restaurant. Far from dangerous-looking, the street had some little shops of the "cute" variety and a small branch of Sonia Rykiel. Merchandise - well, not the Rykiel sweaters, but a lot of everything else - was out in barrels to be picked over by strollers. You don't see this in dangerous areas. In dangerous areas, you see bars on windows. Hey, I'm from New York. I know stuff like this. So anyway, I bought my sister a set of ceramic house numbers, and I bought some lavender to freshen my carry-on, and we looked around.

A door was open, we peeked, saw a long bar with stools, a few tables with benches. Marvelous aromas - garlic, spices (cardamom? toasted coriander seed? garlic garlic garlic) dive-bombed our noses. I stepped inside, greeted the nice young man behind the bar, and asked if they were open for lunch. "We start lunch service at noon," he said. "If you don't mind leaving your name, I'll be happy to hold a table for you." I nodded, then remembered I was in France, and said 'Yes please, that's very kind of you." After I was introduced to his wife and to a lady in the kitchen who looked like she enjoyed food, he gave me a card with his mobile number on it and asked that we call if we changed our minds about lunch. Thank-yous and handshakes all around, and I rejoined Himself outside.
"We have a reservation for lunch, it starts at 12, and they'll hold a table for us. We just have to call if we change our minds."

"I thought they don't take reservations."

I shrugged. "We can call if we're not going to make it back for lunch."

"Call? I thought they don't have a phone."

I flashed the little card at him. "He gave me his mobile number."

We walked around, came back for a very good and filling lunch, everyone seemed to know everyone else, local merchants and politicians are the same the whole world over....

And as we left, I asked Himself how he knew the direction to start our explorations.

"Oh, the place is listed in the Michelin."

On the Top Secret--Eyes Only page, no doubt, because otherwise a responsible journalist (or at least a sober one) would have done some basic fact-checking, no?

"Now I have a question for you. How did you get the phone number?"

I smiled as mysteriously as one can when Food Coma is about to set in. "Your tax dollars at work," I murmured.

So the restaurant is called La Merenda, it's still there, I checked, and above I've included some pictures from its website.  The food is local specialities, and if they have zucchini blossoms when you're there, you should beg for them.

I heard sirens again last night...


There is no such thing as the State 
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

a quick introduction to Gemma Corell

I probably should have said "a tribute to Gemma Corell."
I picture Gemma Corell sitting with pad and sharpie, 
on a tastefully decorated drone that has its GPS set to follow me around 
but is hidden behind a cloud of neuroses 
so that I don't catch her observing my life.

The drone is set to follow me shopping, too.

It looks like Gemma Corell also has observed me ordering lunch.

If I ever finish the libretto for Retail: the opera, I will beseech Gemma Corell to do the set design.

here a Grail, there a Grail

I seek perfection in all things, a sage once said.

This must be a tiring way to live, unless that sage had someone else doing his shopping for him. The individual selection of carrots and string beans comes to mind. Otherwise put, sages don't know everything.

But who among us can escape being bombarded with 10 Best lists?

And doesn't every 10 Best list, or 3 Best, or Absolute Best, have an equal and opposite list or statement? Wasn't that sage made to take high school physics?

Rather than filling the closet or the fridge with BESTS - which will be consumed by marauding husbands (fridge) or sisters (closet) or daughters (other closet) - or co-workers (long spiral-bound notebooks with narrow lines and wide margins, where have you gone?) - should one accept that there may be no best, or that a Best may be at best transitory?
I saw a scarf in a store window that was the (my) Platonic ideal of scarf-ness. The design was witty, the colors worked with colors I find myself wearing often...
rare and lovely but doesn't seem ever to have been reissued;
occasionally said to have turned up in vintage stores
The store was closed because it was late at night - Himself's favorite time to "browse" - and we were leaving the next morning. I couldn't find the scarf in the US, and then life intervened, and by the time I had a few minutes to think about scarves again, the children were in school and I was being asked to volunteer in classrooms. Granted, that didn't last long - I remember bringing an old fashioned ice cream churn and ingredients to the school, lining everything up, and then sending the children out to wash their hands before we actually got started. The teacher, horrified, bleated about not wanting to stifle spontaneous creativity. I countered with wanting to stifle spontaneous salmonella. End of digression.
another rarity, originally issued in 1947 and reissued in 1990(?)
So I looked for my scarf, chatted up salespeople, trolled eBay, trolled other sites, got some work done inbetween, and years later the scarf appeared on one of the secondary market sites. Turns out I wasn't the only one stalking it. Sigh.

I don't have Grail shoes. I admit to owning a lot of shoes, but...

For a long time, I had a particular kind of necklace (torque) in mind. I had no idea how such a thing would come to be mine, unless I went crazy and bought it at the jeweler's retail store. However, people I love were depending on me.... My patience and dare I say self-sacrifice were rewarded when someone listed the necklace on eBay. The pictures included close ups of the hallmarks and of a defective hinge. I pounced. I had the hinge repaired at the retail store. Very little "optional" spending for a while all the same.

Here's a Grail recipe - Best ever Chocolate Pot de Crème! Typically a pot de crème is a baked custard in a little pot, very fussy because the little pots have to bake in a water bath and have to be snatched from the simmering water in the hot oven without being dropped, and then cooled in a particular way. So what good is a famous recipe if noone is ever going to survive the making of it? Fortunately I came across this recipe, a lot of people have reprinted it in a lot of books, so you don't have to credit me with a discovery, but you should make this.

Organize some cute little cups, this is very rich and this is one time you don't want to put forth generous servings. For convenience, put the cups on a baking sheet or other flat pan.
Put into a blender: 
1 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips
1 ½ tablespoons of cognac, or rum and cognac mixed
2 egg yolks  
Bring one cup of light cream to not exactly a boil but you want it to have tiny bubbles around the edges of the pot. Be sure it's light cream, the recipe won't work otherwise. Note: half & half is NOT light cream.
Pour the hot scalded cream into the blender jar, put cover on tight, and blend until the chips stop rattling. Pour the mixture into the little cups, and refrigerate at least 4 hours. I usually cover each little cup with a piece of plastic wrap. You can do these a day ahead.
To serve, put a blob of whipped cream on top of each little cup. Smile.
I hope the shirt shows up as white on your screen,
my screen isn't having a good day

White shirts. It appears we will never be able to live at peace with our friends and neighbors without a white shirt. Frankly, whoever made a list of "musts" and "best things to have in a wardrobe" that instructs the reader to own "one white shirt" has never tried to live with only one white shirt. If - and this is a BIG IF - you are going to spend the rest of your days and nights in a white shirt - just not possible. We live in a world full of hostile condiments. Ketchup. Mustard. Hot sauce. So if you're going to do the white shirt thing, you don't need one, you need several, and to me this means that you're looking at a serious investment. However, close to the top on the list of things I don't want to spend eternity doing, is wearing a gray t-shirt everywhere. So, after due consideration and a lot of returning, I nominate the white shirts sold at Uniqlo stores and on the Uniqlo website under the heading "IDLF." Those initials stand for Inès de la Fressange, and the minute I tried on, one of these shirts, I recognized that she had given the white shirt situation even more thought than I had. Here are some of the good points: properly sized collar, 100% cotton, fabric, lapped seams (no serging!),  "pearl-y" buttons, manageable cuffs, enough room at the bottom without looking like a vintage minidress. I'm particularly happy with the cuffs, because they can be comfortably rolled up or turned up without having to create the Flying Nun's wimple at each wrist or elbow. Here is the best part -  the cost is quite reasonable,  as there's always a promo or a markdown, and for what you'd spend at the IDLF store in Paris, you could buy 3 or 4 of these babies on the web and spend your time in Paris - um - otherwise.

I'm back, but first things first: as Ellie dwindles I think of her

I'm sure many of you have visited Ellie's blog, - I've been following her battle with ALS. Ellie pulls no punches, holds very little back, is no saintly invalid suffering in martyred silence, but rather, along with good and loving moments, shares frustration, impatience, irritation, rage - ok, she's a real person.

Ellie has made me ask:

 Would I react as she has if I had an inevitably fatal disease? I think so. 

Would I have her desperate courage? I hope so. 

Will I think of her, pray for her, in the days to come? Oh, yes.

                                                       so, with thanks to e.e.cummings,

this is for Ellie: