May 21: Madeleines and grated carrots

Anyone who’s seen the Great Bed of Ware at the Victoria & Albert museum in London has probably imagined themselves lounging around in it. It’s a carved oak four-poster, which measures about 10ft square. Apparently it was made in the 1500s as a sort of advertising gimmick for an inn in the town of Ware, and is even mentioned in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. It can sleep about 10 people. I love the concept of those enormous Tudor beds, where the wealthy aristocrat owner would hold audiences dressed in his finest jammies while eating or washing.

Madeleines (and me)Well, Joel and I don’t have one like that. However, we do respect the tradition of lounging, eating and receiving visitors (at least by phone and Skype) in our bed. Ted upholds the tradition of washing. Now that Joel is working flat out again, we’ve made every morning a bit Sunday-ish by having breakfast in bed before he leaves. Coffee in a pot, milk in a jug, a little tray, sometimes soft-boiled eggs… We used to do Bonne Maman chocolate-dipped madeleines regularly, but then I discovered the boulangerie in rue de Lepante.

I’m sure the boulangerie has a name, but it must be a secret. When I asked the girl serving behind the counter she seemed embarrassed and said she’d ask the owner. We call it “the one with the madeleines”. Their baguettes are fabulous too, and their repertoire seems to know no bounds. Every time I go in, the boulanger has just taken some special bread or cake out of the oven and arranged it on the counter at just-under-nose level. The madeleines, 10 to a bag for €3, are big and fat and with just the right amount of crumble; buttery, a bit lemony, and sometimes I swear there’s a pinch of cumin. As Joel says, no wonder Proust went on and on.

Halles LepanteAnother great thing about the boulangerie is that it’s very near Les Halles Lepante. This is the mother of all corner grocery stores. If one existed like it in London, it would have long queues every day, and people would name-drop it at dinner parties. It sells fresh eggs from baskets; there’s a big glass jar of pine nuts to buy by the measure; the cheese is always perfect. I love their carottes râpées, carrot grated into tiny batons. It’s a French classic. I asked the woman at Les Halles Lepante what they put in theirs to make me keeping coming back and she said just lemon juice. Of course they add at least oil and a bit of sugar, too. Perhaps she thought it was an ignorant foreigner sort of question, although she was otherwise friendly and chatty.

Rue de Lepante is my street of the moment, and not just because of the madeleines and grated carrots. There are no modern buildings on it for a good few blocks. Some of the entrances even have art nouveau doors, which you don’t see much in Nice. Most of the buildings have small, wonderful details, like ornate iron railings and swags of stucco fruit over the windows. One of the last buildings is so wildly decorated it’s downright fanciful. It’s recently been painted a shade of mustard, and a trendy coffee shop called Charlie’s and Co has opened on street level. It sells what they think are bagels (considered a bit avant-garde here) and models itself on a NYC cafe. Charlie is a cute young woman whose parents have been living in Miami for 15 years. “and Co” must be her handsome husband, though he didn’t get that at first when I joked about it. (Note to foreigners: don’t quip in anything other than your native tongue.) The coffee shop is so contemporary-looking it’s a bit jarring beneath that bizarre building: a sort of modern pot out of which a gnarled old tree has grown. They do good coffee, though. It would be a nice place for breakfast if ever Joel and I get out of bed for it.

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About Suellen Grealy

In 2011, a series of coincidences led my husband Joel, our cat Ted and me away from London, where we lived quite happily for 30 years, to Nice, where Joel grew up. While he and his sister ran their restaurant, I wrote a novel. Family being family, Joel and his sister no longer work together. Writing being writing, the novel lingers on... Meanwhile, we've found ways of living a completely different life from the one we had in London, including running our own restaurant together, 7 Villermont. The only constants are our Ted, our now-battered Peugeot, and each other. Everything else is a complete surprise
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