Sunday, May 4, 2008
Save money; lose weight eating French pastry
There's nothing worse (or better) than finding yourself in a new taste bracket. You know - once you've tasted what the $20 bottle of wine tastes like, it's hard to go back to the $8 bottle. I made the mistake once of buying a (non-vintage) bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne, and now can never go back to Spanish sparkling wine again. It's a cruel progression. Of course, the upside is, since I now know how good the good stuff is, I rarely buy the bad. And I hardly ever buy the good, but when I do....well, it's really good.
In the last few years, my love of chocolate has gone down the same perilous track. It started when I moved to Asia, and regular old milk chocolate became unavailable for a while. After about a year of having no regular contact with North American milk chocolate, and completely unable to eat the brown wax Ghana and Crunky bars in Korean conbinis, suddenly my old friends Hershey's kisses became available in shops. Our reunion was not a happy one; after a year of not eating it, I realized that North American chocolate was barely above the brown wax I had been sneering at all along. Then, when I found it in the basements of luxury department stores in Seoul, I started buying Lindt - not the best chocolate in the world; granted, but certainly better than Hersheys. A few years down this road, and I now I can only eat small squares of Belgian dark chocolate. Peter has a standing order to snap up the excellent Bouchard napoleons in dark chocolate and mint whenever he sees them at the local Seijo Ishii shop. When I'm being exceptionally good, I can make a bag last a whole week. Now, that bag is roughly 700 yen - but over a week, that's only 100 yen a day. In the past, I could have easily gone through that buying crap, unsatisfying chocolate, and eating much higher volumes of it. With chocolate, once you go Belgian, you can never go back. Now I find myself staring at the stacks of Michel Cluizel bars at the Dean & Deluca, and trying to justify paying 1500 yen for 200g of dark chocolate. I haven't succumbed yet. I wonder if I could make 200g of chocolate last 15 days?
Chocolate and wine aren't the only taste brackets I've upgraded - I was foolish/clever enough last fall to hunt through the luxury hotels of Tokyo to find a branch of Parisian patissier Pierre Herme, in search of his famed macarons. One taste of his "Isphahan", a concoction of rose-flavoured macarons, sandwiching lychee puree, rose ganache, and fresh raspberries, and I swore off inferior pastry goods forever. It seems stupid to waste calories and money on anything that doesn't taste as good - in fact; in "French Women Don't Get Fat", the author suggests that this very strategy is how French women stay so thin in a country awash in chocolat chaud and full-fat Brie. Only eat it if it's the very best. This seems like an incredibly sensible diet regime to me, and so easy to follow where I live; since I only get monthly access to any really caloric western indulgences like French pastry, and the rest of the time am surrounded by sensible raw fish and microgreen salads, I have already lost 5 kilo.
(As an example : Yesterday, while we were window shopping in the Marunouchi Building, I found some Diptyque candles in the Terrence Conran shop - now, I can tell you, I really miss shopping with women, because I pointed them out to Peter, who then said, loudly, "Well, I hope they're good candles, for 6,200 yen each," and I sighed heavily and rolled my eyes, and made him smell them. To which he then said, "These candles smell better the way good food tastes better," I suppose that the easiest way to sum up the difference between mass-produced and quality. Things that are more expensive aren't necessarily better; but things made with real ingredients with care are often worth the extra expense and are true luxuries.)
When I do come across the real deal, I make sure I take the time to eat it. Today, when looking for the Prada shop in Omotesando (to take a picture of; sadly, I have not yet gone up a taste bracket in clothing; I've been spending all my money on Belgian chocolate) we stumbled across Pierre Herme's Bar Chocolat. Since we were already being so very healthy by walking from Shibuya to Omotesando, we agreed to have a small indulgence. (Actually, I saw the shop; gasped; and left Peter on the sidewalk outside and was drooling over the displays before he could say anything.)
The thing is, Pierre Herme's macarons are; in my opinion, pretty much the best you can do in the cookie world - I guarantee that they're better than any other cookie you've ever put in your mouth, and I'm including in this assessment the Double Coat Tim Tam; classic Oreos; and Viva Puffs. But he was selling them for - and this is criminally low! 230 yen a piece! Starbucks in Tokyo charge 260 yen for their crap, palm-oil based cookies! Pierre Herme is using only the best ingredients. Real butter, cream, vanilla beans - you can't imitate those flavours with inferior ingredients. I can never buy another one of those Starbucks cookies again, knowing that for less than the price of that cookie, I could be eating a rose-lychee macaron. God, if Starbucks ever starts stocking them, I'll be dead for sure. For now, though, eating Pierre Herme will remain viable dieting and money-saving strategy for me.