Franco File Friday: Mardi of Eat. Live. Travel. Write.

The trouble with living in Paris full time is that many of the foreigners you befriend are transient. You develop strong friendships with people from all nationalities only for them to be taken from you when their desire or ability to be in France expires. The upside is that they never stay away for too long.

One of these new, visiting friends of mine is Mardi Michels of the food blog Eat. Live. Travel. Write. An Australian French teacher to elementary school boys in Toronto by day, erudite foodie and chef blogger by night, Mardi (yes yes, her name means Tuesday in French) has been eating and writing her way through Paris since the beginning of July. We had coffee at Café Charlot on Bastille Day and instantly had a connection. We compared French administrative horror stories and laughed at the absurdity of French banks (when the ATM eats your card, expect a fight to retrieve it).

We parted ways with dinner plans and the sense that we had known each other for years. She invited me to her apartment to test a Sichuan dish (outstanding) she was preparing for her blog and we got to know each even more during the meal. I wish she could stay in Paris permanently, but I know she’ll be back. France is deeply ingrained in her life, after all.

Describe what you love about France in three words. 
food, culture, language.

How do you incorporate bits of French lifestyle into your daily routine? 
Well, I am fortunate that in my day job, I teach French to elementary school boys (ages 7-12) so I get to speak French, albeit it at a much more simple level than if I were living in France!) for a large part of my day. I am always hunting around for French films to watch on TV or at the cinema and occasionally, I will sneak a peek at Télématin (France 2) which is on in the mornings in Toronto. I don’t read as much as I should in French but two years ago I subscribed to Elle à Table which has been a wonderful way to keep up on my lecture as well as my knowledge of culinary trends in France. It has also expanded by vocabulary considerably!

Favorite French treat to eat and favorite French treat to prepare? 
I think my favorite French treat to eat might be a tie between the Croque Monsieurs that I always order with a side of haricots verts at Café Beaubourg (I know, I know, huge tourist haunt but still oh so lovely after all these years! I used to go once a week for a treat of a hot chocolate or a glass of wine when I was a poor student/waitress/teacher back in the late 90’s!). Another favourite has to be bavette à l’échalote-frites at Le Tir Bouchon (rue Tiquetonne). This is a dish they generally offer on their menu and it is always a winner. Nothing special or haute-cuisine about it, just a great way to cook a cheaper cut of meat. And of course, macarons….

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that my favourite treat to prepare for others is probably the macaron. Yes, yes yes, it’s “so 2010” but as someone who doesn’t let a baked good get the better of her, the macaron is a constant quest. My colleagues love me because quite often they will receive the fruits of my labour since even if I make a tiny amount of them, I cannot possibly eat them all at home (*Read about Mardi’s quest for the perfect macaron HERE).

I have now worked with four different chefs to learn how to make macarons here in Paris so I figure that very soon I will have THE recipe that won’t let me down!

Paris restaurant that surprised/pleased you the most? 
I recently had a meal at Chez Omar with friends from the quartier who are regulars. It was a rainy, Thursday and there was no queue, no waiting  (one of the reasons I had never been before, even when I lived here – I generally avoid restaurants that don’t take reservations). We were seated promptly and served the most amazing couscous-merguez-légumes with a “pichet” of Bordeaux – all for around 25€ each. In a beautiful, turn of the century space with the original zinc bar and tiled floor. Who could ask for more? Not as trendy as it once used to be but certainly still worth the detour. It’s also a place where I would be ok dining solo -the staff are very welcoming, not stuffy at all as one might expect from a place where long queues are the norm (and out the door!). A pleasant surprise!

I also spent a very pleasant couple of hours at Le Comptoir with Dorie Greenspan and even though I was only having a tiny plate of charcuterie and a couple glasses of wine, I never felt rushed or hurried. The servers were incredibly lovely, despite being rushed off their feet with a queue stretching up the block. (Kudos to them also on being featured in the 100th episode of No Reservations.)

French product you bring back to Toronto with you after each visit? Well, there is always wine! And always some sort of food product, generally specialties of the region we’ve been visiting. In December, 2009, we were in Dinan, Brittany where galettes au sarrasin were the specialty so I brought home some of the special “blé noir” flour to recreate the galettes at home. I am always on the lookout for books/DVDs/music to bring back to my students- the selection here is much bigger and less expensive than in Toronto! I try to buy things just a little below their level so that they look at them and realise how much they know and are impressed that it’s “real” (as opposed to textbook) French. It makes the language so much more alive for them. Neil (my husband) and I always buy posters and postcards as well -our house is a living souvenir of all the places we’ve been!


Read all about Mardi’s macaron classes and adventures in Paris on Eat. Live. Travel. Write! For all Dorie Greenspan fans, Mardi follows French Friday’s with Dorie religiously, so there’s always an outstanding dish at the end of each week. Hurry back to Paris, Mardi!
Twitter: @eatlivtravwrite

{All photos courtesy of Mardi Michels}
*News: after what has been a very rough and stressful week, a bright point. My piece on the restaurant La Maison Mère made it onto Travel + Leisure! Bon weekend ….

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