Le Parfum du Pain - Paris, Chapitre Un

Another whirlwind vacation -- Paris -- has come and gone. A week in the City of Lights, walking, talking, eating, shopping, taking in the sights, laughing, and having a great time with my mom.

The last time I saw Paris was in 1973. Mama, Nini Belle, our French teacher Camille Kessler, and Nini Potter and Julie Neil, two other French students at Vicenza American High School, boarded the Orient Express in Vicenza, Italy, bound for Paris. We had reserved seats for each segment of the trip to Paris (Vicenza to Milano, Milano to Lausane, Lausanne to Paris) -- a must if you didn't want to stand for the 12-hour trip. We got on in Vicenza, or tried to anyway. We never got to our seats, because the entrance to the train, the little section between cars, was packed full. How full? Passengers were shuffling chicken crates and bundles of goods to make room for the 6 of us to squeeze in. Squeeze in for the one-legged ride to Milano. Each of us stood the whole way, one leg on the floor, the other bent-kneed on our little suitcases. Mama was fortunate enough to be packed in face to face with a gentleman who understood enough English to laugh heartily every time one of us spoke. Unfortunately for Mama, this gentleman had consumed a hearty, bowl-you-over dose of garlic before getting on the train and she was stuck there enduring one hellacious dose of ozostomia. Fortunately for Mama, there was no way she could fall over :) Thirty six years later, we still laugh about that one.

We arrived in Paris the next morning, took a taxi to our hotel in the sixieme arrondissement (6th) on the Left Bank, the Hôtel de Chevreuse, quickly unpacked and headed out to explore our Parisian wonderland.

Fast forward to 2009. We arrived in Paris in the morning, took the Air France shuttle to our lodgings in the seizieme, the Gentle Gourmet B&B, unpacked, had a cup of tea and some gluten-free biscuits, chatted with Deborah (the lovely and gracious owner), then headed out for a relaxing week of whatever we wanted to do. No plan, no agenda, except to have fun together.

And we did just that. Each day we set out on the Métro in one direction or another, thinking we might like to visit this or that museum, or shop here or there, or eat at this or that vegetarian restaurant. In fact, we'd get on at either the Argentine (Ligne 1) or Victor Hugo (Ligne 2) stop and head towards our destination, exit the subway, and act like we knew where we were going. I guess we looked like locals because quite a few times we were stopped and asked in French (by French tourists) if we knew where a particular monument or metro stop was.

Désolée. Nous ne sommes pas d'ici. "Sorry, we're not from here," Mama might say.

Or, Oui, le Petit Palais c'est la. "Yes, the Petit Palais is there," pointing in a given direction towards the museum.

A constant in our daily adventures were the boulangeries/pâtisseries, the bakery/pastry shops. Windows laden with beautiful golden baguettes and other pains (breads), like pain au chocolat (chocolate-filled croissants), or Rubenesque braids of mixed grain. Then there were the little jewelbox pastries and tartes, fruity gem-like concoctions presented like crown jewels. I was oohing and ahing each time we encountered a new neighborhood bakery. It is said one eats with the eyes first. To be sure, these "daily breads" were beautiful to behold. But, to me, it was the scent wafting around the bakeries that was intoxicating.

I've always thought I could truly live on bread alone. I l.o.v.e. bread in just about every form. All the different flatbreads, like the yeasted pita, barbari,and crackers. Unyeasted chapattis and sprouted corn tortillas. Black and whole grain breads. Challahs, Stollens, sourdough and sweet yeast loaves. Caramel cinnamon rolls, injera, naan. Scones and muffins, both the quick and English types. Name any bread -- I love it. Mm, mir läuft das Wasser im Mund zusammen. Mm, my mouth is watering.
I used to bake breads all the time, too. Especially yeast breads. I guess it's the activity of the yeast that I really love to smell. There's no more comforting scent to me than bread baking. It evokes warmth and satisfaction, and every good memory possible.

And that's what I smelled at around 2:45 a.m. of our last morning in Paris. One sleepless second I was breathing in the scent of one of the perfumes I'd been spritzed with at the Galeries Lafayette department store and the next I inhaled the perfume of bread. And inhale I did. Inhaled till I couldn't distinguish the smell anymore and wondered if I'd actually dreamt it up.
It may as well have been a dream because of all the breads I saw in the shop windows, I couldn't eat a single one. Surrounded by some of the most incredible breads on the planet, and I couldn't have even a single, teeny tiny little bite, as not one was gluten-free.

Well, I actually did have some nice bread while in Paris. Deborah found some gluten-free loaves made with quinoa, teff, and chestnut flours. Dense and flavorful, they were wonderful sliced and toasted for breakfast. Although I couldn't have the breads of my dreams, I feasted on some rather tasty and nutritious gluten-free ones. One morning we were discussing whether or not these breads could be made into french toast. Deborah mentioned making vegan french toast with a banana and soy milk batter. Not sure if that would work with those dense breads, but it got me to thinking about how I hadn't made my vegan french toast since I went gluten-free. So guess what we had for breakfast this morning? Vegan french toast made with Udi's bread. It was perfect!

One of Firefighter's friends in high school was a vegetarian from India. He spent the night once and fairly early the next morning I heard him getting ready to leave. I guess he thought I'd be serving eggs and bacon with biscuits and gravy for breakfast. I assured him I'd been vegetarian longer than he was old and would make him some breakfast without using dairy or eggs. I whipped up some french toast served with maple syrup and tempeh "bacon" -- he ate every bite. A few days later I had a call from his mom, wanting to know if I could give her my recipe because Shubham kept talking about how good it was.

I don't remember how I came up with the recipe -- no doubt it's a combination of many different vegan versions I read about in books and on the internet -- but it's a good one. Best of all, it's vegan and gluten-free, and good enough that I just might make it again for breakfast tomorrow :)

Without further ado, here's my vegan pain perdu, or french toast...

French Toast - Vegan and Gluten-free
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
1 cup coconut or soy milk
2 tablespoons brown rice flour (or gluten-free or other all purpose flour)
1 teaspoon sugar or maple syrup
Sliced bread
Coconut oil for pan-frying

1. Mix the tahini and flax seeds; slowly stir in the milk. Whisk in the flour and sugar.
2. Heat a large saute pan.
3. Soak as many slices of bread in the batter as will fit in your saute pan. Turn to make sure the bread is covered. I usually soak mine for about 5 seconds per side.
4. Add about 1 teaspoon coconut oil to the pan and swirl to coat.
5. Lift the bread slices from the batter and carefully lay them onto the pan. Flip the toast when the underside is golden and crispy, and allow the second side to saute until crispy golden brown.
6. Serve hot.

I like to serve mine with maple syrup and apricot-applesauce.

NB: I like to use raw tahini, but any good tahini, or even cashew or almond butter, will do. This makes enough batter for about 4 or 5 slices of bread, but it also depends on how long you soak the slices. I don't let mine get too soggy, otherwise the slices are too hard to lift out of the batter and are custardy inside.

1 comment:

  1. Le parfum du pain...mais oui, I remember it well! All around, it has been a most delightful week spent in a fascinating city. Merci bien!


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