An untraditional Paris gift guide
Books, treats, and places to give
Gift guides have gone from thoughtfully compiled recommendations to pay-to-play marketing schemes meant to drive revenue for the outlets publishing the guides more than they are to be helpful to anyone looking to potentially give a gift during the holiday season.of on Substack summed up the shift this way:
…The SEO-driven race to the bottom of media has meant two things: one, that getting kickbacks from on-site purchases, many of which come through Googling “gift ideas for women” or whatever, are more important to publishers’ bottom lines than ever, and two, that publishers need to recommend a lot more stuff to us to maximize those profits. Thus, no longer is it enough to publish a solitary gift guide from the editors at X publication — X publication has to release, like, eight gift guides into the universe by the time the bell rings on the first day of school to have a chance of ranking in search. (Read the whole piece— Do People Gift These Things?)
I certainly don’t want to contribute to the proliferation of stuff but I thought that a few books, a few treats, and a few causes to support might be a valuable addition. So with that, some Paris/France-relevant ideas:
(Books released in 2023 with the exception of one, mentioned below)
1- Fixing France: How to Repair a Broken Republic
I’d be surprised if this one ends up coming out in French but it should as it is a powerful analysis of a country at an impasse. Nabila Ramdani, an award-winning French-Algerian journalist, analyzes the social and democratic failings of or challenges facing France’s Fifth Republic— ongoing discrimination, colonial denialism, educational elitism, delusions of grandeur, as well as economic and gender-based inequality —while drawing from personal experiences and her family’s history in order to imagine a different future. There’s a whole lot of hard truths in this book but they are delivered with hope and concrete ways to move forward.
2- The New French Wine
I’ve talked quite a bit about Jon Bonné’s exceptional new two-volume deep dive into the evolving world of French wine but it truly makes a perfect gift for oenophiles and Francophiles. It may take you until the next holiday to read but you will learn so much and be awed, in the process, by Bonné’s research and his supreme portraits of a country and an industry in great transformation.
Listen to my interview with Jon from October 2023
3 - Joie
The work to live vs live to work ideology was among the earliest characteristics of French life that appealed to me as a student. I didn’t know the extent to which that would bear out until I had lived in Paris for a number of years and discovered it firsthand. For
Listen to my interview with Ajiri from April 2023 (and read more about her in my book, The New Parisienne!)
4 - Paris Is Not Dead
A deep look at the housing crisis fueling gentrification in the city of Light — you can get a good sense of the book’s tone from my recent interview with author Cole Stangler (click below).
5- Madame Fromage’s Adventures in Cheese
Many moons ago, I sat down for a cheese tasting in Paris with Tenaya Darlington, a Philly-based professor and cheese-obsessed writer. She was in town researching and writing a new book and wanted to share a few of her favorite recent goat cheese finds with me as we talked about writing. From there, I introduced her to the wonders of Taka & Vermo, one of my favorite Parisian cheese shops. Years later and the result of her tastings, research, and interviews have come together in Madame Fromage’s Adventures in Cheese — an eminently practical guide to understanding and pairing virtually any cheese under the sun, structured around eight tasting journeys.
6 - Voilà Vegan: 85 Decadent, Secretly Plant-Based Desserts from an American Pâtisserie in Paris
I am not vegan. I am, however, a huge fan of Amanda Bankert who created Boneshaker Donuts & Coffee in Paris. She is also a supremely talented storyteller and baker so this book does double duty as a mini memoir of her journey from pastry school in Paris and baking in Ireland to opening her own business in Paris as well as a recipe book that is thoughtful and well-executed. It isn’t good for a vegan book, it is simply good! Should you be interested in vegan baking on occasion or being able to do so for vegan friends and family (or just want to support Amanda’s work!), this is one for your collection.
7- Taste the World in Marseille
When I reported this story for T Magazine a year ago, I had excitedly read Vérane Frediani’s book celebrating the multicultural cuisine of Marseille. At the time, it was only available in French but it was clear, given the surging global interest in France’s second largest city (by population), an English translation would be imperative. Thankfully, this fall her book was released in English and I can finally recommend it to all the people emailing for more Marseille insights! The city keeps evolving and new entrepreneurs keep moving south and opening businesses which tells me Frediani will need to get to work on a second volume before long.
8- Sweet France: The 100 Best Recipes from the Greatest French Pastry Chefs
My friend and colleague at Fou de Pâtisserie François Blanc has published a series of smart books with Ducasse Editions but only one exists in English. Actually, Sweet France combines two of his books, highlighting some of the exceptional recipes from France’s very best pâtissiers. Even if you don’t intend to use the book to challenge yourself in the kitchen, the book doubles as a best-of list you can use as a guide for your next visit.
++ Stay tuned for Blanc’s favorite pastries and pastry shops in an upcoming newsletter!
Plus: if you pre-order one book for the coming months, make it The French Ingredient by Jane Bertch, the sharp-witted founder of La Cuisine Paris cooking school. Jane’s story, which traces her journey to Paris and into entrepreneurship, unfolds with great heart and humor— the best kind of memoir! As you know from me banging on about this before, pre-orders are *very* important to a book’s success so please consider putting in your order for this one!
There’s the bûche de Noël and then there’s everything else that rolls out for our absolute indulgence this season. I’m generally obsessed with the seasonal chocolate bars from La Maison du Chocolat— both for myself and for gifts for family stateside since the company has a New York boutique and can ship nationwide!— and this year is no different. I am firmly on team dark chocolate but happily made an exception for the milk-chocolate toasted corn and popcorn bar that packs a perfect crunch.
The other two confections I love and can recommend:
1 - Panettone by Christophe Louie
No, it’s not a French cake but the version that has become the centerpiece of our holiday spread for the last three years has been perfected by a Frenchman. Christophe Louie spent 20 years working as a pastry chef in some of the country’s most prestigious establishments before shifting his focus to the panettone in 2018. He joined the École de Boulangerie Internationale and trained with the Master Panettonier (would expect nothing less) Mauro Morandin in Italy to be able to return to Paris with enough experience to create his own. Using sourdough adapted for this airy cake to create a singular texture, Louie has become the reference in Paris for panettone. He started with his own lab Montreuil, fulfillling orders online, but this fall he opened a namesake bakery in the north Marais where you can buy his absolutely fantastic panettone in addition to other pastries and sourdough breads.
If you don’t opt for the traditional, try to get your hands on the limited edition Christmas Rooibos panettone (shown above) created with tea from the brand Damman Frères. 12 Rue Dupetit-Thouars, 75003 Paris
2 - Chocolate and sea-salt covered pretzels from Madame Cacao
Christelle Brua handled pastry for Frédéric Anton’s 3-star restaurant for more than ten years, won several Best Pastry Chef titles and worked as the head pastry chef for L’Elysée — directly for the Macrons— for three years, but finally struck out on her own less than a year ago. Her chocolate shop, Madame Cacao, sits a few doors down from the original Poilâne bakery-boutique with a sunny yellow storefront that you can’t help but be drawn to enter. That’s essentially how I found myself buying chocolate bars months ago and why I returned when I needed a gift for friends more recently. It was on that second visit last month that I discovered something new and instantly nostalgic for me. Pretzels coated in chocolate and a smattering of sea salt aren’t only nostalgic for Americans (or maybe just this Philadelphian? You tell me) but for Alsatians like Brua who drew from her own childhood go-to sweets to create a few new ones of her own.
It hits all the requirements for me: sweet but not too sweet and crunchy with a hint of saltiness. Order your own or pick them up in Brua’s left bank shop. 10 rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris
DONATIONS / MEMBERSHIPS
If you don’t want any form of tangible gift, there’s always the option of making a donation and/or becoming a member of a Paris-based organization doing important work. Among those I support:
The American Library in Paris: The library has been an important refuge for Paris residents, among them American, French and some 100+ other nationalities, since 1920 and it continues to be a community space that welcomes some of the world’s most talented authors, poets, and thinkers. It’s also the largest English language lending library on the European continent — that’s huge! That robust book collection in addition to author events, reading workshops, research tools, and plenty of other benefits are something to support! You can make one-time donations, a charitable gift, or sign up for a membership.
Women for Women France and La Maison des Femmes: both provide invaluable support to women in need. The former offers resources in multiple languages for women residing in France who are faced with domestic abuse.
The latter is a family justice center based in Saint-Denis, that has since expanded outside of France, founded by Dr. Ghada Hatem Gantzer (a New Parisienne!) to assist women with a host of concerns, from contraception, pregnancy, and sexual education to sexual abuse, incest and other sources of trauma. For reference, 100 euros covers 4 sessions with a psychologist at the center but all amounts are welcome.
Okay, one bonus thought. If you love dining out and drinking in Paris and subsequently showing off your insiderness, you might like some of this very well-designed merch from Gift Shop, co-founded by my pal Julien Pham of Phamily First. I’m actually amazed it has taken this long for the American culture of merch to make its way here but it was only a matter of time. So if we’ve expressed ourselves for decades with the beloved concert tee, the preppy college sweatshirt, and the bookstore tote bag, now there’s a slew of options to display our attachment to a handful of Parisian institutions (among others in the U.S., U.K., and Korea). What would you choose?