Known as “l’or rouge” (lor rooj) saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Each red thread represents the pistil of a crocus, gathered by hand, and the harvest has started throughout France. Until the French Revolution, saffron was harvested by the ton in France. After having fallen out of favor, saffron is now very à la mode.
Each flower is delicately plucked by hand. It takes a great many to produce saffron. For one gram, 250 flowers must be gathered, for a kilo, 250,000 flowers are required. This is why saffron is so expensive – French saffron sells for 35,000 Euros a kilogram. This is twice the going rate for pure gold.
Each gram of saffron is the result of one hour of labor. The delicate pistil is separated from the flower by hand and only the red part of it is kept. When it is cooked, saffron gives up its aroma. It’s more than a spice; it’s an invitation elsewhere
Saffron was brought back from the Crusades, and became known for its flavor and medicinal properties. In the Middle Ages, saffron was combined with opium and used to stem the tide of the plague.
Saffron is available at a variety of price points from several countries, including Spain, Iran, and France. How can you know you are getting top quality saffron? According to chef Olivier Roellinger, you get what you pay for. Powdered saffron is usually blended with cumin; up to 80% is not actually saffron at all. Inexpensive filament “saffron” is worse; it is often fine leaves that have been dyed red. There is no short-cut for a labor-intensive natural product. And a little bit of saffron goes a long way – one gram is sufficient to flavor 100 dishes. Bon appétit.
My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories
Today’s word is clairsemé (klare-sem-ay), which means “sparse, thin, scattered, or dispersed.” The origins of the word are agricultural; semer means “to sow” and seeds can be clairsemé. Hair can also be clairsemé. The word can also apply to figurative situations as well; ideas can be clairsemé so can optimism. The large langoustines in the photo, above, are clairsemé compared to the rest of the seafood in the market in Metz. Why, however, is the stack of projects I have to grade not clairsemé?
Mastering French Vocabulary with Audio MP3: A Thematic Approach
Today’s word, exaucer (ex-oh-say) means “to grant” someone’s wishes or prayers. If I had a fairy godmother, I’d ask her for an apartment in Paris. I’d probably want to be in the 6th Arrondissement, near the Jardin du Luxembourg, my summer home. It has everything – museums, shopping, restaurants. Or would it be in the Marais? Maybe it would – two of my favorite museums (the Carnavalet and Cognaq Jay), dozens of great boutiques, and two of my favorite places to eat (L’As du falafel for a quick bite, and Breizh for crêpes). Maybe I’ll need two fairy godmothers – one for an apartment in each neighborhood.
The Paris Apartment
I love the word gazouiller (gaz-oo-ee-ay). This mellifluous word means “to chirp” or “to cheep,” when it refers to birds, “to babble,” when it refers to babies, and “to gurgle,” when it refers to a brook or stream. This is a photo I took this spring at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. You can almost hear the water gazouille, n’est-ce pas?
Later this month, on October 27, the Fondation Louis Vuitton will open its doors in the Bois de Boulogne. Architect Frank Gehry was commissioned by LVMH chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault to create an appropriate setting for the Foundation’s extensive art collection. The building, sheathed in glass, resembles a ship in full sail, moored in a reflecting pond. This is the perfect image, considering that Paris’ coat of arms features a ship, honoring the maritime heritage of those who first sailed down the Seine and founded what would become the most beautiful city in the world.
Gehry refers to the glass shell as la Verrière (lah vare-e-air), which refers to a glass roof or wall. Inside, there are, indeed, solid walls on which to display all of the art. I’m not a huge fan of contemporary art, but when I’m next in Paris I’ll be heading to the Jardin d’Acclimatation to check out what are reputed to be spectacular views of the Paris skyline, if nothing else.
Fondation Louis Vuitton, 8 Av. du Mahatma Gandhi, Paris 75116
Frank Gehry : The Houses
Best-selling author Mireille Guiliano came out with a new book based on the French Women Don’t Get Fat formula ten months ago. This time, it was French Women Don’t Get Facelifts: The Secret of Aging with Style and Attitude. I’ve been nibbling away at it for ages now due to the rather “intense” year I’ve been having.
Based on a combination of traditional French lore and Guiliano’s observations based on her Franco-American life, the book is full of sensible, and sometimes surprising, advice. Apparently, many French women schedule their haircuts to coincide with the full moon, swearing that their cuts turn out better. Another rather original beauty tip was to try a fish pedicure in Saint-Rémy de Provence. The fish nibble off your dead skin. Sounds ticklish!
I loved her simple advice about how to eat a balanced diet – count your colors. Aim to have three different colors during each meal and five different colors over the course of the day. That’s so much simpler than counting grams of this and ounces of that, and it seems to make eminently good sense.
I also really like the saying she shared, “Doucement le matin, pas trop vite l’après-midi, lentement le soir” (doosemehn luh matahn, pah troe veet lahpreh-meedee, lehn-te-mehn luh swar), which means “Gently in the morning, not too quickly in the afternoon, slowly in the evening.” In my hectic world, Giuliana’s call to calm and balance is truly welcome.
It’s the weekend and if you’re looking for a movie to watch, I’ve got a couple of suggestions for you. I saw both of them over a month ago, but it’s been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to blog about either one. I’m glad they’re still playing!
The first is The Hundred-Foot Journey. Helen Mirren stars as Madame Mallory, the uptight owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant. When the Kadam family moves to a charming little French town from India, they open a traditional Indian restaurant right across the road from the very correct Madame Mallory. Madame Mallory claims to be able to tell all that she needs to know about a chef from the way he or she prepares an omelet. Helen Mirren does a fairly decent French accent, and her elegant, understated clothes are so beautiful.
The second recommendation is Magic in the Moonlight. Colin Firth essentially gets to reprise his role as Mr. Darcy in this Woody Allen film. Firth plays an arrogant magician who has been brought to the south of France to unmask a swindler, played by Emma Stone. If you’ve read or watched Pride and Prejudice, you can predict every movement of the plot, down to a super-awkward marriage proposal, but it’s good fun.
Today’s expression, faire tout un cinéma pour (fair toot uhn sin-ay-mah poor) means “to make a real fuss to do something.” I hope you won’t have to faire tout un cinéma to get to see one of these films this weekend. Enjoy!