Thursday, August 17, 2017

Haïti at Home: La Cuisine Créole - Part 2

No Haitian meal is complete without a little something sweet to finish it off. One of my favorite desserts is blancmangé. This coconut-based gelatin dessert perfectly highlights the sweet island flavor of coconut in an unconventional texture of dessert.

Blancmangé is a well-known and widely enjoyed all across the French West Indies. When I told some Martinican friends of mine that I was preparing this dish, the excited expressions on their faces perfectly captured the sentiment shared among me and all my family members when my aunt brings out dessert at the end of our family celebrations.

To begin my preparation of blancmangé, I started with a journey to TropicMarché, an Antillean supermarket in St. Ouen. This is where I purchased the coconut milk, condensed milk, cinnamon, and vanilla essence.

TropicMarché - façade
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

They also sell a powdered mix of pre-prepared blancmangé which only requires the addition of hot and cold water, but I wanted to make it from scratch.

The most important part of going to an authentic Antillean supermarket to buy my ingredients was finding the right vanilla essence. Back home, my grandfather prepares vanilla essence from scratch and that’s the kind we always used in my household. I wanted to make sure I could get something as close to Grandpa’s essence de vanille as I could find. I found a brand that had a stamp indicating its production was in the French West Indies.

Vanilla essence (extract)
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

The rest of the ingredients, which were simply a packet of gelatin sheets and sweetened shredded coconut, I was able to find at my neighborhood Monoprix.

Ingredients for Blancmangé
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

For the recipe, I had to make a call to my Aunt Chantal, who is the blancmangé expert in our family. She guided me through the process to make sure I captured the right flavors and consistency of the dessert.

The first step was to prepare the gelatin. I used gelatin sheets, but you can also use powdered gelatin.

Be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging for the correct measurements of hot much water to add! This can make a big difference because if you add too much water, the blancmangé will not solidify to its proper consistency.

Soak 5 sheets of gelatin in cold water for approximately 5 minutes.

Soaking the gelatin sheets
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Then, bring 20 cl of water to a boil. Add the wet sheets of gelatin to the boiling water and stir until the sheets have completely dissolved.

Dissolving the gelatin sheets
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Next, in a large bowl, mix 400 g of condensed milk, 200 g of coconut milk, the dissolved gelatin mixture, and an additional 15 cl of water. Thoroughly whisk these ingredients together until they are evenly distributed. Add a dash of vanilla essence and a pinch of cinnamon and whisk them in.

Milk mixture and vanilla
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

After you’ve prepared this mixture, transfer it into a relatively flat mold. Any baking mold will do, but traditionally a circular bundt cake mold is used for the most aesthetic final product.

Put this mold in the fridge and let the blancmangé sit for a minimum of 6 hours. For the best results, leave it in the fridge overnight.

Blancmangé in the refrigerator
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Now, for the coconut shreds. To garnish the blancmangé and give it a little crunch, toasted coconut shreds are sprinkled on top the dessert once it has fully set.

To toast the shreds, simply put a frying pan over medium heat and spread the shreds across the pan, periodically moving them around in the pan until they reach a brownish color.

Toasting coconut shreds
Images courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Store the toasted coconut shreds at room temperature until you are ready to serve the blancmangé.

Once it has fully settled and you are ready to eat the blancmangé, flip the container onto a plate or any flat serving tray, sprinkle the toasted coconut shreds on top, and voilà! You have yourself a delicious Haitian dessert that everyone is sure to enjoy.

Blancmangé - plated and garnished
Image courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Tatiana Balabanis is a rising junior at Stanford University. She is currently serving as a summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.


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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Josephine Baker’s Heyday: The 1930s

Josephine Baker reached the height of her career a mere five years after being catapulted to stardom on October 2, 1925, the day that La Revue Nègre opened at the Théatre des Champs Elysées in Paris.

Between 1925 and 1930, her stage persona evolved from savage to sophisticated. Through relentless effort by her manager and lover, Pepito Abatino, she became a music hall icon and the inspiration for a line of cosmetics called Bakerfix. After a tour of Europe and South America, the couple purchased an apartment building in Paris’ 16th arrondissement and the villa, Le Beau Chêne, in the Paris suburb in Le Vésinet.

The stage was appropriately set for what was arguably the most important performance run of her career – Paris Qui Remue at the Casino de Paris.

The show opened on September 26, 1930. Baker performed what would become her signature song, “J’ai Deux Amours,” for the first time. And she became irrevocably identified as an animal lover when made a house pet of a stage prop, Chiquita the cheetah.

Paris qui Remue was updated and renamed La Joie de Paris in 1932. After over 300 performances, it traveled to several European capitals as well as to Alexandria and Cairo.

From 1933-1935, Baker starred in her second film, Zou Zou, with French actor Jean Gabin*;

her third film, Princess Tam-Tam, with French actor Albert Préjean;

and her first serious stage acting role as Dora, the protagonist in Jacques Offenbach’s operetta, La Créole.

She returned to the U.S. to appear in the Ziegfield Follies in New York City in late 1935. The trip was disastrous and led to Baker and Abatino's break-up. Abatino returned to Paris alone and moved out of Le Beau Chêne. He died of cancer a few months after Baker returned to France.

During the last weeks of her NY tour, Baker was recruited by the Folies Bergère theater in Paris to return to their stage for a musical performance run. She opened in En Super-Folies in October 1936 and established a second Chez Josephine club in the Hôtel Frontenac on rue Francois I in the 8th arrondissement. (The first Chez Josephine in Paris operated in rue Fontaine from 1926-1927.)

Baker married a Jewish Frenchman named Jean Lion in November 1937 and obtained French citizenship shortly thereafter. She began a series of “farewell” performances to appease her husband’s desire for a stay-at-home wife. She reportedly became pregnant and lost her baby (one source says that she never conceived).

Shortly thereafter, she returned to performing full time and went on a second tour of South America. She filed for divorce while in Brazil.

Returning to Paris in July 1939, she found France in the throes of preparing for war. She and Maurice Chevalier performed for French troops stationed at the Maginot line and then returned to Paris to star in a revue called Paris-London at the Casino de Paris. The proceeds from the first performance were given to charities – Baker donated her portion to the Red Cross.

Newspaper announcement for benefit performance
Le Journal, 30 November 1939, p. 5**

This same year, Baker was recruited for undercover work by Captain Jacques Abtey and filmed her fourth movie, Fausse Alerte. The film opened in France on May 1, 1940. (It was released in the U.S. in 1945 under the name The French Way.)

When Holland and Belgium fell to the Germans in May 1940, France was overrun with refugees. Baker worked at a homeless shelter in the 13th arrondissement to help the new arrivals. Business at the Casino de Paris dwindled and the theater was shut down. Baker then volunteered for the Red Cross to help refugees. She left Paris for Les Milandes, her château in the Dordogne, in June 1940.

In December 1940, she staged and performed in a revival of Offenbach’s La Créole in Marseille prior to traveling to North Africa to continue her clandestine activities for the French Resistance.

*Baker's first film was La Sirène des Tropiques. It was released in 1927.
** Thanks to Bob Tomlinson for supplying the name of the newspaper in which this announcement was published.


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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Alexandre Dumas in and around Paris

By Tatiana Balabanis

Alexandre Dumas père (1802-1870)
1 January 1855 - Nadar

France has produced a considerable number of talented and timeless artists, including one Alexandre Dumas. Dumas was a French-born writer of Haitian descent who did great service to the belletristic world of literature. He wore many literary hats, from playwright to novelist, and his works have had a global impact, with some of his novels having been translated into nearly 100 languages! But Dumas’ lasting impression on the world is not exclusively through the magic of his pen to the paper. His reach extends much farther than The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, and this presence can be seen all around Paris.

First, a little background. Alexandre Dumas was born in Picardy, France in 1802 as the youngest of three children to Marie-Louise Élisabeth Labouret and Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. Not much is known about his mother, but his father was mixed race and born in Haiti to a French nobleman and a Haitian slave. When Thomas-Alexandre was 14, his father sold him to a French lieutenant and that marked the beginning of his journey to France.

Thomas-Alexandre went on to be the first man of color to become general-in-chief in the French Army. In his adulthood, he took his mother’s name “Dumas” and was known as General Dumas in the army, or at times less tenderly known as “Black Devil” by lower ranks who were resentful of his power considering his skin color.

Choosing “Dumas” as the family name was an interesting choice considering the juxtaposition of his father’s status as a French nobleman and his mother’s status as a slave. Nonetheless, Thomas-Alexandre kept his mother’s name and passed it down to his son, and now that name carries pride and all of Alexandre's accomplishments with it.

At the ripe age of 20, Alexandre packed his bags and moved to Paris. This is when and where he began his literary career. Just as much as the city left its mark on him, he returned the favor and left his mark on the city.

Probably one of the most evident parts of Dumas’ lasting impression is the metro station named after him on the border of the 11th and 20th arrondissements. The station was renamed to honor the writer on September 13th, 1970.

Alexandre Dumas metro station - Line 2
Clicsouris (Creative Commons License)

In addition, a bust of Dumas lies right outside of the metro station at the intersection of rue Alexandre Dumas (named for the author in 1875) and boulevard Voltaire.

Bust of Alexandre Dumas
Apartment block at 201, boulevard Voltaire and 2, rue Alexandre Dumas
FLLL (Creative Commons License)

Additional representations of Dumas can be found at the Comédie-Française theater in the 1st arrondissement

Bust of Alexandre Dumas
Comédie-Française theater
© Discover Paris!

and place du Général Catroux in the 17th arrondissement.

Statue of Alexandre Dumas père
Place du Général Catroux, 17th arrondissement
© Discover Paris!

Until recently, a reproduction of Dumas' recipe for escargots à la bourgignonne was part of the decor of the dining room at Au Bourguignon du Marais, a restaurant in the 4th arrondissement.

On what would have been Dumas’ 200th birthday, November 30th, 2002, former French president Jacques Chirac honored the great writer by holding a ceremony moving Dumas’ coffin to the Pantheon. The guards who transported it were even dressed as four musketeers! In the Pantheon, Dumas lays right next to two other amazing authors, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola.

President Chirac said a few words at the ceremony about his decision to transfer Dumas to the Pantheon:
Cette année est aussi celle du bicentenaire de la naissance de Dumas. Il était le plus populaire des romantiques. Il reste à ce jour le plus lu des écrivains français dans le monde. Il était juste que notre pays lui manifeste sa reconnaissance. Voilà pourquoi j'ai décidé le transfert de ses cendres au Panthéon, où il retrouvera un ami.

This translates to:
This year is the bicentennial of Dumas’ birth. He was one of the most popular romantics. Today, he remains one of the most read French writers in the world. It was only right that our country should show its gratitude. This is why I chose to transfer his ashes to the Pantheon, where he will reunite with a friend.

Dumas’ legacy doesn’t end there. Right outside of Paris in the department of Yvelines lies a beautiful castle, Château de Monte-Cristo, where the author made his home for quite some time before he fled to Russia to evade creditors who were after him for his large sums of debt. This castle was turned into a museum and has operated as such since 1994. It is open to visitors Monday through Saturday and it also harbors various contemporary art exhibitions.

Château de Monte-Cristo
Moonik - Creative Commons License

Alexandre Dumas served Paris well and he is never to be forgotten for all the pieces of literary art with which he provided this world.

Tatiana Balabanis is a rising junior at Stanford University. She is currently serving as a summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.

Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Haïti at Home: La Cuisine Créole - Part 1

By Tatiana Balabanis

Food has the incredible ability to transport you to any location at anytime. Whether it’s the smell of freshly baked baguettes that reminds you of your favorite boulangerie in Paris or the preparation of your favorite meal that brings you right back to your kitchen at home, the power of food is insurmountable and incomparable.

Being in Paris means that I'm a a long way from my home in Miami. I often miss eating a home cooked meal with my family, which happens to be comprised of several great cooks, each with their own specialty. To remedy this homesickness, I’ve taken to the kitchen. I made some FaceTime calls to get the recipe from my mom and was lucky enough to have my aunt visiting me when I tackled this project. She was on the scene to offer some help and guidance when I got stuck.

Paris is, without a doubt, one of the gastronomical capitals of the world. It also happens to be home to a diverse group of communities from all corners of the world. This comes in handy when I’m looking to buy all the ingredients to make one of my favorite meals - poulet créole en sauce avec maïs collé (chicken creole in sauce with cornmeal and beans). So I hopped on the metro and went over to the 18th arrondissement to find all the ingredients I needed.

The Ingredients

My first stop, naturally, was Haiti Market. This is where I purchased all my produce: a lime, 2 onions, and a bulb of garlic. I also picked up some Maggi, a specific brand of cubed seasoned salt. and for the main dish, I bought a kilo of coarse maïs moulu (cornmeal) and a kilo of dry red beans. This was a much greater quantity than I need to make one meal but those were the smallest packages available and the deals couldn’t be beat! All of this cost under €10!

Ingredients from Haiti Market
Photos courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis
Collage © Discover Paris!

Next, I went down the street to Rue Dejean. This street is packed with vendors and their loyal buyers on Saturdays, selling everything from watches to watermelons. The hustle and bustle of this street is unique to the people who bring it to life, and it’s quite the experience getting to be a part of that, even if just for a few moments.

I made my way over to one of the butcher stands and proceeded to buy what I needed for the protein of the dish- chicken thighs. After a friendly exchange with the butcher, I was on my way back to my apartment to commence the preparation of this meal.

Left: Marché Dejean; Right: Chicken Thighs
Photos courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis
Collage © Discover Paris!

The Preparation

Fixin's for Poulet créole en sauce avec maïs collé
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

This meal is not the quickest in terms of preparation and cooking time, but the final product is definitely worth the effort. The bulk of the preparation time comes from cooking the beans.

To start, rinse the beans thoroughly with water. Measure out ½ cup of beans, place them into a bowl, and run water over them. Run your hands through the beans to make sure you get all of the dirt off of them.

Next, drain the beans and place them into a pot with 2 whole cloves of peeled garlic, a pinch of salt, and 3 cups of water. Put medium heat under the beans and cover them.

Let the beans cook for 1 to 1½ hours, until they are thoroughly cooked and semi-soft. Make sure to check them periodically as the water may completely evaporate. In this case, simply add more water and continue cooking.

Left: Washing beans; Right: Red beans and garlic
Photos courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis
Collage © Discover Paris!

While the beans are on the stove, season the chicken. The pieces of chicken I purchased were on the large side, so I cut them in two. This, along with making incisions in the flesh (see image below) allows for more surface area to absorb the seasoning.

Scored chicken
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Next, the chicken must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. To do this, start by boiling approximately two cups of water. Then, with the chicken in a heat-resistant container, rub it down with lime halves (two should suffice). When the water comes to a boil and the chicken has been coated in lime, carefully pour the boiling water over the chicken and let it sit for 2-3 minutes. I recommend doing this in a sink for minimal cleanup in the event of water spilling over.

Cleaning chicken
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

After the chicken has sat in the hot water for 2-3 minutes, drain the water and move the chicken into a container big enough to season it.

For the seasoning, mix the juice of 1 lime, 1 cube of Maggi, 1 onion (chopped), and 3 large cloves of garlic (also chopped) in a small bowl. Pour this mixture over the chicken and turn the chicken over in the seasoning repeatedly to assure that every inch of chicken is seasoned. Next, cover the chicken and place it in the fridge until you are ready to cook it.

Chicken with onions and garlic
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

After about an hour, the beans should be soft. Using a draining spoon or a skimmer, transfer them into another pot. Keep the water that they were cooked in; you’ll use this to cook the maïs (cornmeal).

Transferring beans
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Sauté the beans in 2 tablespoons of oil with ¼ of an onion, chopped; 2 minced cloves of garlic; and salt to taste. After these ingredients are sautéed, add the water from the beans and 1 cup of cornmeal to this pot.

Adding bean water to the pot
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Stir continuously for 3 minutes or until the cornmeal begins to absorb most of the water. Then, leave the pot covered and on low heat for approximately 10 minutes, stirring the cornmeal and beans every minute or so.

Cooking beans and cornmeal
Photos courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis
Collage © Discover Paris!

Now to cook the chicken. Place the seasoned chicken in a pot with roughly 3 tablespoons of water and set it on the stove over medium heat. If you have tomato sauce or tomato paste handy, add 2 tablespoons to the pot to give the chicken some color. The tomato flavor also helps bring out the flavors from the seasoning. Leave the chicken cooking on the stove, covered, for approximately 25 minutes, checking on it occasionally and flipping it halfway through.

Browning chicken
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Once the chicken is fully cooked and tender (there should be no pink parts when it is cut into), remove it from the pot. Preserve the juices it made while being cooked; this will be the base of the sauce.

In the same pot in which you cooked the chicken, add ¼ cup of water and ¼ of a onion, chopped. Feel free to add some tomatoes or red bell peppers as well, if you have some available. Let this simmer before pouring on top of the chicken, la pièce de résistance!

Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

The Final Product

The meal is officially complete! All that is left to do is serve the chicken with the sauce and maïs with the beans and enjoy your home cooked Haitian meal!

Left: Chicken and sauce; Right: cornmeal and beans
Photo courtesy of Tatiana Balabanis

Tatiana Balabanis is a rising junior at Stanford University. She is currently serving as a summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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