In Search of Spices

Spices at the Salon du Chocolat

During the rest of my week in Paris I spent a lot of time wandering in search of spices, debating endlessly with myself about which ones I should buy, how much I should spend, what I should make with them…  Luckily, I had a number of social engagements that pulled me back from the edge of spice insanity.

Tuesday afternoon’s pleasures of the palate at Du Pain et Des Idées were followed by the pleasure of seeing old friends that evening.  Julie Gourdain and Adrien Pinès and I all found ourselves in Saint-Maur, graciously hosted by Anastasiya!  Without the help many spices, she whipped up a delicious cauliflower, potato and tomato stew, which we ate with black rice from the Camargue.  I wish I had taken a picture; the colors were beautifully autumnal.

I love spending time with Julie and Anastasiya.  The year we spent together at Wesleyan (and the semester in Charles Lemert’s Social Theory class!) gave us a strong bond, and I always feel very grateful for the time we can spend with each other.  Sadly, Julie had to head back to Switzerland the next morning, but I was lucky enough to stay with Anastasiya for the rest of the week!


Sheik Aaron Rajeev

I had alerted my old Sacred Harp singing friends Aaron and Amanda that I was coming to town, so for Wednesday night they organized a “Very Scared Harp Singing.”

The singing/Halloween party/birthday party was at their new apartment, which is incredibly situated at Métro Odéon in the 6e arrondissement.  As we were trying to figure out how to find our way through the maze of staircases and courtyards up to their apartment Anastasiya and I looked up and saw a very feline Amanda in the window above us, indicating the way.  When we arrived at their door the birthday kitty was there to greet us.  With a swish of her tail she led us into the apartment, which was lit only with tiny candles placed in the crooks of the wooden beams that criss-cross the walls.

The partygoers were a motley crew. The fact that it was a Halloween party only added to the effect, since it made it possible for a Russian/Italian girl to come as a cowboy, and for a Greek and American ex-pat foodies to come dressed in their Oktoberfest outfits…

While Nastya and I came unprepared for the costume part of the evening, others came unprepared for the singing part of the evening.  Seated on ‘poofs’ and the floor, we bravely made our way through tattered copies of our favorite tunes from the Sacred Harp.

Anastasiya se régale au Salon!

At the party we had singing for dinner and hummus for dessert, but on Thursday we had chocolate for lunch and falafel for dessert!  Our project for Thursday was the Salon du Chocolat at Porte de Versailles.  I came to these same exposition halls in February of 2009 for the Salon d’Agriculture, but this time instead of dodging manure, we found ourselves crunching cocoa beans underfoot.   By carefully rationing our questions, Lauren, Anastasiya, and I finagled a cappuccino each from the saleswoman stationed at one of the state-of-the-art coffee machines for sale at the Melita stall, and then headed over to taste some fair-trade chocolate bars.

Japanese pastry chef Sadaharu Aoki's display

Macarons were prevalent, even though they usually lack chocolate.  One of the most beautiful displays in the Salon was that of the pastry chef Sadaharu Aoki.  Remembering the pastries from his Rue de Vaugirard shop that I shared with Mia in 2009, I made my only purchase: black sesame, mâcha, wasabi, and green tea flavored macarons.  Our ability to ingest sweets flagging, we turned our eyes to the colorful displays of spices and candied fruit.

When we stepped out into the sunlight we felt like we had spent eons in Candyland, but we still had most of the afternoon and the evening in front of us.  Lauren had to go to lessons, but Anastasiya and I were free to do as we liked.  The greek take-away food we had at Aaron and Amanda’s house the night before had reminded Anastasiya of her friend Svetlana, whose husband owns a Greek restaurant on Rue Daguerre, not far from the Salon.  We found our way there, where I was immediately charmed by the proprietor–Ioan–and the tiny little tiled restaurant.  After getting directions to the hair salon where Svetlana works we headed out again with falafel in hand.

Little did we know that we’d spend the entire evening in that little resto, surrounded by wine from Greece and Crete, letting the aroma of Greek food soak into our sweaters, scarves and overcoats, and speaking Russian.  Well, I wasn’t speaking Russian.  But I liked listening to Svetlana and Anastasiya speak Russian.  And I liked the stew that Ioan served us.  And the tabbouleh.  And the hummus.  And the warm glow that crept into my cheeks as we finished our bottle of wine.

The next day Anastasiya had to go to classes, so I spent my last day in Paris on a treasure hunt around Bastille and le Marais, looking for cardamom and cumin and hot pepper flakes.  I ended up with peanut butter, coconut milk, and a very expensive small amount of cardamom pods.  Oh, and cheap and delicious avocados and limes.  Those I got at the Marché d’Aligré, which I was reminded of by David Lebovitz (by his blog, not by personal communication, unfortunately).  Jake Keyes first took me to this marché in May of 2009, and we bought mint and made mojitos and deliciously spicy chicken.  I bought mint this time, too.  Maybe from the same man?

I took David Lebovitz’s advice and stopped by Blé du Sucre bakery as I walked toward Bastille from the market.  I decided on a chausson aux pommes, since the articles on the wall declared Blé du Sucre to have the town’s best pastry of that persuasion.  I was not disappointed as I sat in the park in front of the bakery and watched Parisians loaf on their lunch break and leaves swirl around my feet.

The best treasure hunts are the ones that bring something unexpected.  That day’s surprise discovery practically bowled me over as I entered a bookstore, two tiny little polaroid windows into my summer in New York.  I felt like someone put them there for me.


About adventuresofaleece

Senior Project Manager at The Working World, a non-profit CDFI with an investment fund that focuses on loans and equity investments for worker-owned cooperative businesses. Recently graduated with an MA in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning from Tufts University. Formerly Executive Director of the BerkShares local currency program in Western Massachusetts and Director of Programs at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. Former line cook and prep cook at Txikito Cocina Vasca. Writer, teacher, and traveler.
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4 Responses to In Search of Spices

  1. Beth Greeley says:

    I love the vicarious life! There was a guy in one of your photos wearing a St. Olaf shirt. Who was that? I’m looking out to a house on the hill out back…there are Christmas lights on. Too early!

  2. Danielle says:

    Alice!! I must admit, I check here compulsively (Read: 3 times a day. At least.), anxiously awaiting your next post. And I am NEVER disappointed when one pops up! Oh what delicious looking… EVERYTHING. Plus, you are a brilliant writer. In other news, I am waiting to get my attestation from CampusFrance before making my appointment with the French Consulate in Boston. I am headed to Pont-Aven in Bretagne on January 28th! I cannot wait to track you down.
    love always

  3. Linnea McManus says:

    Oh Alice – what a wonderful adventure! I can almost smell the masala.

  4. julie fox says:

    Thank you Alice!!!!! Your blog puts me in such a good mood about life!

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