Wendy Hack #2: Relishing the Radish

It’s time to introduce a new hack, as in a shortcut or tip. Consider the radish–eaten in a certain way, as a starter course, particularly at lunchtime. [see previous hack here: Wendy Hack #1: Making Perfect Rice]

Shortly after moving to Paris we were invited to a long Sunday lunch, “style familial”, [family style] in the apartment of my husband’s administrative assistant. Traditional to such gatherings, there was a mixture of ages from toddlers to grandparents around the large dining table. There was a casual centerpiece of low flowers, printed cloth napkins and tablecloth, baskets of chewy baguette slices, small dishes of butter, and, of course, there was wine.

The unexpected was that a small plate of elongated red radishes with short green stems was already at each place setting. Also on the plate was a little pyramid of sea salt. After sitting down, our hostess said, “I will show you one way to eat radishes in France.”

IMG_7113

She picked up a radish in one hand and a butter knife with the other. She smeared good French butter on the surface and, with her fingers, sprinkled sea salt over it all. She bit into the radish down to the stem.

IMG_7120

IMG_7116

That was the first course of our first French family lunch.

Recently, a former Paris friend [who is American] was back for a visit and came to lunch “chez moi”. I planned to serve a small casserole of “Latvian Lasagna” that I had already made. [More on this counterintuitive recipe in a future story.] I wanted a different kind of starter than plain old green salad. Early spring radish season was in full swing so that became the plan.

The great thing about French radishes is that they have no harsh “bite” or spicy bitterness to them. Sometimes radishes in the U.S. seem to leave a coating on your tongue that takes forever to wear off. The French ones are simply a beautiful mouthful of sweetness,  crunch and moisture. Combined with creamy butter from those Norman-grass-eating cows and salt crystals from the sea, a single red radish becomes the perfect trilogy of taste and surprising satisfaction.

IMG_7118

My friend delighted over the surprisingly subtle combination of butter and radishes. She had forgotten how refreshing they were to eat. And how easy to prepare.

Another way to serve radishes is with homemade guacamole–simply mashed avocado, minced red onion, salt, pepper, and lime juice. Step by step recipe here: Sipping Avocado Margs in Summer

IMG_7307

IMG_7312

radishes and guacamole with other tasty things for a wine and unwind party

Buttered radishes would be an inspired idea to try anywhere else in the world–outside of France. You can’t call something so well known here as “inspired”, unless you are a foreigner. So, wherever you are, tantalize your guests’ taste buds in an unexpected way, wow them with a “new” starter combination, and save yourself the effort of making a whole salad. But if you do serve salad, remember to make your own vinaigrette, as told here: Babies and Rice So Very Nice

Happy Mothers’ Day and tell Mom to eat her radishes!

IMG_5097

french radishes in farmer’s market, laguna beach, california

Kindle Some Candlelight

IMG_3077 IMG_3966 IMG_3968

I’m obsessed with flames. Growing up in a family with fire-making and fire-tending rituals, I come by this naturally. Wherever we lived, when the outside temperature dropped, it was time to lay wood in the fireplace and watch it burn. Now I live in a Parisian apartment with seven fireplaces. All of them literally sealed shut. In the dark winter months, there is only one alternative. Between four and five in the afternoon, as the sun is waning, I start lighting candles, room by room.

IMG_3081

or group impact

IMG_3074

single

Recently, it became apparent that this is not a tradition others follow as consistently as I do. On a late December afternoon, earlier this month, my friend Lesli invited a group of women for “wine and unwind” time. This is when we gather in someone’s home, open a bottle of something and see what conversational banter arises.

On this occasion, we met at her apartment. Which happens to be furnished with a spectacular crystal chandelier from another century. While studying it admiringly, I noticed it was not electrified. It was outfitted with white candles. They had never been lit since Lesli moved in, three years before. She needed little encouragement to change this. With partially burned candles already in place, I climbed on a chair and broke off the blackened wicks before re-lighting them. Once in full glow, this antique beauty became a Versailles-worthy candelabra. Although no “ugly duckling” before, it transformed into a stunning swan.

IMG_9755

IMG_9754

candelabra transformation, chez Lesli

She also had six or eight candles in heavy glass jars from the crème de la crème candle store, Cire Trudon. This is the oldest and most prestigious wax manufacturer, since 1643. The wicks were deeply buried in hardened wax having not been lit in a long time. It took some digging and trimming, but those, too, were put into active use. Soon the living room was ablaze with candlelight, bubbling “coupes de champagne”, and good conversation among friends.

IMG_3176

trimmed and untrimmed wick lengths

It’s one thing to describe creating ambient light and warmth with candles. The truth is, for many people they are messy and off putting except on special occasions. This is easily remedied by a bit of maintenance know-how. For anyone inclined to light up the night with candlelight, here is the most basic tutorial, as requested by a few friends in France.

  • ALWAYS trim the wick before relighting a candle. It will break off in your fingers at the perfect starting point. Otherwise, over time, the smoke from a too-long wick blackens walls, ceilings and pollutes the room.
  • Prevent excessive dripping messes by keeping lit candles out of drafts. This seems obvious, but it’s really important to be aware of changing air currents wherever candles are burning. For safety reasons as well as dripping.
  • If you light a LOT of candles, it’s better to use a candlesnuffer for extinguishing rather than blowing them out. This dramatically reduces smoke pollution and spraying wax on walls and horizontal surfaces.
  • IMG_3105

    use candlesnuffer by

    IMG_3107

    covering and holding 5-8 seconds

    IMG_3109

    voilà! no smoking candle

    Whether you engage in regular candle usage or not, there is other interesting etiquette to know.

  • Never display new candles [taper or column] in their holders with white wicks. If you leave them unburned, it looks like they belong in a store rather than in your home. All wicks should be blackened, by lighting them briefly, even if not using the candle right away. [I make an exception with votive candles because they are small and often in containers that don’t show their wicks. I also have a lot of them. A purist would say to blacken those too.]

    IMG_3112

    a pair of votive monks

  • Don’t burn candles during the daylight. Candles are for darkness only—morning or evening. Breakfast before sun-up with candlelight is a mellow way to start the day. Evening is natural timing. A candle lit bath can be a regular luxury.

    IMG_3062

    breakfast candles with flea market match holder

  • When a drippy mess occurs, as it will, consider it part of the experience. A spatula easily scrapes wax from hard surfaces. Hot water does the rest, melting it away.
  • As column-shaped candles burn, empty the wax pool [while it is still liquid] right after extinguishing. As it burns deeper into the column, occasionally trim off the top to make it even with the wick. Use a cutting board and a large knife. This prolongs a natural burning life until it becomes a stump, ready to discard.
IMG_3124

living room candelabra, paris

IMG_3213

best of both, electricity and candlepower, colorado cabin

I can’t explain how fire and candle lore came to be so second nature to me. But, I do believe that our “indoor lives” are  enhanced with strategic candlelight. It’s a personal and creative choice as to the selection of candle holders, shapes, and colors. Almost any non-flammable container will hold some type of candle. Oil lamp candlelight is a good low maintenance option.

IMG_3090

mixing regular and oil burning candlelight

IMG_3159

colorado coffee table

IMG_3956

shadow play

So light a candle or two at home tonight. Enjoy a few flickering flames with family or friends. After all, ‘tis the season.

IMG_3237

santa says ho ho ho & hippobirdday dar

For premier candles: http://www.ciretrudon.com

Cire Trudon USA, Inc. 358 Fifth Ave., Suite 901 NY, NY 10001

In France: 78, rue de Seine 75006 Paris

My Market Street

IMG_2656

When our son made his first trip to Paris in 2008, he wryly observed that the city seems to be founded on the notion to stop, have a drink, and talk with someone every 50-100 feet. It’s true that café culture is built into centuries of French history. Within almost any radius of where you stop walking, a “sit down” opportunity presents itself. Locals find a favorite café in their neighborhood or “quartier”. Here, you take a load off your feet, eat, drink, talk, muse, or hang out. It’s also the best entertainment around.

I told one of my French neighbors about my ritual at a particular café on our market street. She nodded and said it’s simply the establishment of my “poste d’observation”. Now that’s what I tell my husband when he calls wondering where I am. I’m involved in an activity of great importance–assessing the cast of characters on any given day. When he can, he hurries home to join me.

IMG_2314

entrance to market street, cast of characters assembled

IMG_2658

the ritual begins here

IMG_2269

Of course, there are market streets all over Paris—open markets, covered markets, farmers’ markets, daily markets, bi-weekly markets, organic markets. But the most important one is the one closest to where you live.

I venture to market street in late afternoon to see what looks delicious to buy for our evening meal. If, by chance, there is an empty sidewalk café table, I take it as a sign that I must sit down for a moment or two. In good weather, I count 11 businesses with sidewalk tables on this narrow street. For my musing and entertainment, I have pledged allegiance to only one. It’s on the corner, where all the action begins.

IMG_2121

There is a children’s book by Arnold Lobel called On Market Street. It tells the story of a little boy enticed by shopping on a particular street. He buys everything from A to Z, then trudges home carrying it all. This is my experience, too, because on this small pedestrian street is just about everything I want or need.

IMG_2663

chickens roast, flowers bloom

IMG_1506

Butchers, boulangeries, fish market, patisseries, florists, cheese purveyors, dry cleaners, books, jewelry, fruit and vegetable vendors, grocery stores, crepes, sushi, caviar, oysters, Italian-made pizza, middle eastern food, tiny cafés and restaurants, coffee, tea and chocolate shop, wine, champagne and liquor, Italian and Greek delicatessens, candles, household decorations, and a pharmacy.

IMG_2676

pastry art

IMG_2678

Before opening my wallet for the day’s necessities, I settle contentedly into an empty chair. Greetings are exchanged with the server. I order a glass of wine. This varies by the season or time of day. On a warm day, Côtes de Provence rosé is standard. In cooler temperatures, a red Bordeaux is cozier under the overhead heaters. Every beverage comes with a savory nibble on the side. Something salty and always slightly stale. Homemade potato chips are the standard limp offerings. Sometimes a tiny glass of pretzels fills in. It’s what I expect and is always perfect.

IMG_2109

standing order: rosé de provence

The tables on either side of mine are occupied. On the left—a couple moves seamlessly from kissing, to smoking, to drinking beer. On the right—two women of a certain age share a crepe sucré. One has coffee, the other sips beer. I give them only a cursory glance because my gaze is focused on the cobbled path in front of me. This is where the rest of the world strolls by.

The best times at my café are weekdays in the late afternoon or early evening. Sunday morning is also a perfect time to make important observations. The parade is constant. It requires my full attention. It never disappoints.

Sometimes I’m absorbed by the range of footwear–spiky heels, stylish boots, flip-flops, sandals, platform shoes, sneakers, orthopaedic shoes, even chic Italian shoes on a man with crutches.

 

 

Shoppers use rolling carts called “chariots” to hold heavy purchases. They carry armfuls of baguettes.

Or they may be laden with flowers, wine, fruits and vegetables, roasted chickens, oysters or prepared food from the “traiteurs”. On Sundays, a cacophony of sound permeates the air. Parisians are picking up ingredients for afternoon lunch “en famille”. Vendors hawk produce, servers rattle glasses and silverware, babies cry, friends greet each other with kisses, dogs bark and fight, children laugh and run around, music plays. And always, people talk, talk, talk over everything.

IMG_3736 (1)

The sweetest sights drifting by are small children and dogs, completely at home in the hubbub.

 

IMG_3764

Sometimes I notice someone watching me watching them. The ritual is recognized. Smiles are exchanged. The parade glides by.

As the wine and stale chips dwindle, I move on to the shops and my own errands.

IMG_2145

time to go

Trudging homeward with arms laden, I pass my “poste”. Someone else is sitting in the chair I occupied–watching me as I walk by…

 

 

 On Market Street by Arnold Lobel, illustrations by Anita Lobel

“The merchants down on Market Street were opening their doors. I stepped along that Market Street, I stopped at all the stores. Such wonders there on Market Street! So much to catch my eye! I strolled the length of Market Street to see what I might buy…

My arms were full on Market Street, I could not carry more. As darkness fell on Market Street, my feet were tired and sore. But I was glad on Market Street, these coins I brought to spend, I spent them all on Market Street…

On presents for a friend.”

IMG_2735

illustration by Anita Lobel from “On Market Street”