Friday, July 13, 2007


I’ve finally figured out why everything takes so long in this country …
Everyone is high! A new study was just published in Gallic newspaper Le Monde with the headline: “Cannabis: a French Addiction.” According to the report, 1.2 million French people regularly smoke “hashish,” 550,000 of whom smoke every day. By age 17, half of the French population has already experimented with marijuana and 200,000 Frenchies admit to growing their own “shit” (pronounced “sheeeet”).
So THAT’s where the famous expression “Paris is burning” comes from. This explains so much. Why is my waiter taking 1.76 hours to bring out a boeuf tartare not even in need of cooking? He’s smoking a doobie with the pastry chef in the back room. Why can’t I get anyone on the phone before 11 am? They had a little “herbal tea” with breakfast. Why are there no taxis to be found on a Saturday night? Because the cabbies are cultivating their plants at home, of course. France spends an estimated 832 million euros per year on the drug (yet they can’t afford to give me free health care mind you.) French history makes so much more sense now.
Take this weekend’s upcoming Bastille Day celebration. Why did the people of Paris rise up and storm the Bastille on July 14th, 1789? Well, because the state prison symbolized the absolutism and arbitrariness of the Ancien Regime, right ? Mais non. In fact, there was a secret stash of weed hidden inside so storming the place with force was the only way to get a hold of the hash. When authorities questioned said druggies, they simply responded « it was in the name of freedom ! Vive la revolution ! » and the holiday was born.
The « Dark Ages » actually represented the years when the hashish crop was suffering and the French had to endure years of limited marijuana supplies.
And Louis XIV ? Nicknamed the « Sun King » of course because he was always wearing protective shades to hide his red eyes. Napoleon was so short because his growth was stunted from all of the pot his mother smoked before he was born. And how else do you explain all of the mirrors in Versailles ? When Marie Antoinette said « let them eat cake » she was actually referring to the munchies. The Eiffel Tower is really just a very tall joint. And why do you think Jacques Chirac always has that sly smile on his face ? Not to mention that US comedy “Weeds” is one of the most popular TV shows here. And you’d need to be high to laugh at most French humor. It’s all so clear now.

Resto of the Day: La Ferme Opéra. It’s the only “farm” you’ll probably ever find me at. “Le Ferme,” located just a stone’s throw away from Opéra, is my latest obsession. Totally “bio” (organic), La Ferme offers homemade, fresh products for breakfast and lunch. My personal favorites include their heavenly scones (dipped in a “noisette noisette,” an espresso mixed with milk, hazelnut syrup and shaved hazelnuts), amazing carrot cake, healthy salads (quinoa with avocado, almonds and tomatoes or bulgur taboulé with feta, olives, tomato and a mint pesto), wraps (chicken with eggplant spread, coriander and cucumbers or lemon-marinated chicken with avocado, carrots, and cucumbers), quiche (feta and sundried tomato or cucumber carbonara), rice pudding with mango and strawberries or fromage blanc with dried fruit, meusli and honey. Sit in the cute “garden” in the back room or take advantage of their free wireless in the main area in the front. And – sacré bleu! – they’re open on Sundays! (and do a great Sunday brunch mind you).

Crazy French expression of the day:
“Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué.” (“Don’t sell the bear skin before you’ve killed the bear.”)
In English, we say “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

Musical selection of the day: Martin Rappeneau’s “Poupée Russe.” Martin Rappeneau, son of director Jean-Paul Rappeneau, is currently wowing France with his soft, lyrical tunes such as this wonderful ballad from his CD “L’Age d’Or.”
“Oh ma poupée russe, Le passé est semé d'embûches.” (“Oh my Russian doll, the past is scattered with traps” – yes doesn’t everything just sound better in French?) and “Sous ton visage d'autres visages, Dans tes yeux d'autres paysages Bien difficile à effacer. Dans tes mains d'autres caresses, Dans ta mémoire d'autres adresses,
Que l'on devrait laisser cachées. Oh ma poupée russe, On trouvera bien quelques astuces. (“Under your face, other faces. In your eyes, other landscapes, difficult to erase. In your hands, other caresses. In your memory, other addresses, that we should leave hidden. Oh my Russian doll, we’ll find tricks.”) Martin, feel free to Rapp(eneau) your hands around me any day ;)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Night with the French Rat

No, I'm not referring to my latest boyfriend, I'm actually talking about a French rat. THE French rat.
Step aside Mickey Mouse, there’s a new rodent in town. Remy the rat joined Disney execs and a stew of French stars at the Paris premiere party for animated hit “Ratatouille.” Following an afternoon screening on the Champs-Elysees, waiters with giant forks and knives, valets on stilts and singing waitresses animated the red carpet before guests enjoyed a night of dining and dancing under the Alexandre III Bridge.
Disney served up a magical evening with the Eiffel Tower sparkling in the distance and a massive food tent filled with gourmet grub from caterer Le Notre wishing all guests a bon appetit.
“I’m so proud of this film. I love Paris so it makes it really fun that the film was set here,” said director Brad Bird who flew into Paris for the occasion. Producers John Lasseter and Brad Lewis, Disney President and CEO Bob Iger and Chairman Dick Cook also made their way to “zee most beautiful city” for the gastronomic gala.
“It’s really quite a love letter to France,” said Cook. He added: “There’s no sequel in the works yet but a little dessert would be good.”
Speaking of desserts, Le Nôtre can be “le mien” anytime – not only was the room decorated with a giant puff pastry, but the chocolate fountain and colorful, tasty mini-éclairs were like out of a dream (actually, I’m almost certain I’ve had dreams just like that.) If you are what you eat, I’d like to be an éclair from Le Notre – long, lean, sweet, hard on the outside and smooth on the inside. Le Notre served up palette-pleasing cuisine fit for a king…or a seven-inch high rat with a keen sense of smell.

It was the cheesiest party I’ve been to in awhile. Literally – there were at least ten different kinds of fromage to choose from, and bread to accompany it. Chefs in white hats served differnt kinds of pastas, raviolis, meat and potatoes on tiny little plates. The Disney execs sat at reserved tables in a special “VIP” section as waiters brought them a selection of the culinary offerings. Us plebians, however, had to visit each food station ourselves, carry our own plates, lift our own forks to our own mouths – it’s a rough life, I tell you.
A handful of sommeliers also proposed wine-tasting for guests. After 178 glasses of said wine, the rat pack moved to the large dance floor of Showcase for night of tail-swinging and booty shaking.
Brad Bird told me on his way inside: “It’s great to be in Paris, especially when someone else is paying for it.”
I’m sure it is, Brad. Disney, would you care to donate to the “Rebecca Leffler is a poor journalist” Society? Cash, check or free catering from Le Notre accepted.
The event was star-studded, but certainly not a celebrity galaxy. French B-list stars brought their children to the event, and, to my utter disappointment, Guy Savoy was a no-show. However, celebrity chef Cyril Lignac, who lent his voice to the French version of the film, did make an appearance. It was love at first bite. No, he didn't actually bite me (not yet anyway) but I think his soup of life could use a little sprinkle of Leffler sauce. "The cooking world is very enclosed, so in order to achieve such detail, Disney needed to consult real chefs. It's thanks to their precision that the film succeeded," he told me. The conversation continued as follows:
Me: Do you make a Ratatouille in your restaurant?
Cyril Lignac: Actually, yes, it's funny, I make a stuffed zucchini flower filled with [insert long, complicated amazingly delicious sounding french recipe details here, I was too focused on his beautiful eyes and inviting smile to really pay attention but I know it sounded good]
Me: So when are you coming over to cook for me?
Cyril: Is that a proposition?
Me (speaking): Ben non!
Me (thinking): Of course, anytime baby!

Bob Iger told me: “We’re very pleased with this film. The reviews are well-deserved. It’s a magnificent film. It’s animation in its most evolved form. You could almost smell the food when you watched the film.”
He’s right. Pixar’s attention to detail is so incredible, I wanted to stick a fork into the screen and taste the little rat’s creations. It was honestly one of the best films I’ve seen all year – and not just the best starring a rodent, humans included as well. I had a smile on my face from start to finish. I sincerely hope an animation Oscar will fly into Brad Bird's nest of awards come February.
“One of the challenging things we didn’t anticipate was how difficult it would be to get the food to be delicious-looking,” said executive producer John Lasseter.
Well they certainly succeeded – santé!