A few weeks ago, I introduced mon mari to the crucial foods of my upbringing, his first Thanksgiving included. We made a long overdue trip to my hometown, Chicago, Illinois. It was a walk down memory lane regaining my Midwestern appetite. There was the the vital deep-dish slice at Lou Malnati’s, cookie pizza included. My all-time favorite Clark Street omelet at Salt & Pepper Diner, including a Chicago celebrity siting of Ronnie Woo Woo. (You try explaining that to mon mari) And I shan’t forget the fine institution of Margie’s Candies. Eating 3 scoops of ice cream out of a shell with a gravy boat of hot fudge will one day be folklore for my 1/2 French children.
But our last night in Chicago deemed unparallelled kitsch. We took the fateful drive up to Superdawg®. Mon mari had his first Chicago hotdog under the watchful eyes of two life size winking hotdogs.
Superdawg® drive-in 6363 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60646
One of things I never expected as an expat is how curious everyone is about where I come from. New York and San Francisco are always first on the Frenchie to-do list of Les États–Unis. And poor little Chicago, my hometown, always gets left behind. So I always attempt to boost future tourism by painting a picture of my Windy City, beyond the usual suspects Barack Obama, Al Capone, and Michael Jordan. I always say something along the lines of “Beautiful architecture! The lake the size of an ocean! Pizza as tall as me! Tacos on every corner! What are tacos? Oh, nevermind.”
My mouth has never watered from the site of my own watercolor until I sketched out this Italian beef sandwich on the right, a true Chicago classic. For those who have never tasted one, I am going to continue this self-torture by illustrating the elusive Italian beef sandwich further. Thinly shaved roast beef is soaked in its own rich, Italian-spiced broth for several hours. The beef is spooned onto a torpedo of mediocre Italian bread which is then baptized or “double-dipped” in the beef’s own juices. Topped off with sweet green and red peppers and giardiniera, the least-hip pickled vegetables you have ever seen. It is a soggy, old mess which can only be eaten alongside an obligatory order of french fries and a fully-loaded napkin dispenser.
Since it has been 3 years since I have set foot in Chicago, I think I am in store for a visit soon. In the meantime, maybe I can start a Kickstarter campaign to get Portillo’s to deliver an Italian beef shipment to Paris. Just an idea…
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The first time I did the dutiful deed of making my then-boyfriend, now-mon mari a roasted chicken, I gave him first pick of its parts. “I like the wings and the skin.” I turned to him and smiled, “Perfect! That is exactly what I never eat!” Moments like these, I am reminded of what different places we come from. Chickens now have nothing but boneless breasts in the States. And I’ve been missing out on all the tasty bits.
Nevertheless, it is my pleasure to present a new series on how very different something can be between Parigot & Chicago. First up, l’hot dog.
My relationship to Julia Child, like those of countless generations, goes back to Saturday mornings on public television. I was never much into cartoons. But I was always first to wake up and tune into the Saturday morning lineup of cooking shows. It was a mixed bag. It was long before superchefs inscribed their names on packaged spice blends and spatulas. Cooking talents came and went. There was Joanne Weir with her poodle perm and her tales of a place called Tuscany. There was Rick Bayless with his shirtless enthusiasm for mole. There was that vegetarian cook with something called seitan. And then there was Julia. I had no qualms with Julia. She was knowledgeable, a little clumsy, and unlike the rest, she had a sense of humor. Gangly and slightly hunchbacked at this point, she had tremendous knife skills for someone so unassuming. And it made for terrific television.
At this point I had never had real French food. And it certainly had a mystique of its own. Crepes were a fancy specialty item covered in whipped crème and saccharin fruit topping on the menus of the local Chicago greasy spoons. And they had a pronunciation all of their own. And I squeamishly tried escargot for the first time at the Chicago staple The Bergoff on a special trip with my family “downtown”. But luckily, Julia was not my only introduction to the cuisine of elsewhere. A big part of my food education is much credited to the adventurous daddy-daughter dates I shared with my father. We drank real unsweetened hot chocolate on silver platters and devoured elegant whipped crème tartes with our pinkies up at Lutz bakery on the Northside. And I was the only adventurous spirit to join him on our first taste of Ethiopian together.
But back to Julia, as my family woke up those Saturday mornings, they would all roll in one-by-one. First my dad, “Oh, Julia! I love Julia Child!” he would say plopping on the couch next to me with his cup of coffee. Then my mom would wander in, “And then you put the chicken in the souuuuuup!” said in her best Aykroyd does Child shrillness. “I’ve been watching her since I was your age,” she would coo, crowding around the tv. Then finally my brother come in and sat down with a bowl of cereal. “Can we change the channel?” Some things never change. But majority ruled and we would all watch Julia together.
Although I never realized any of her recipes at home, thanks to Julia, I started developing a food vocabulary from a very early age. I knew what chervil was although it took me 15 years before I could actually taste it for myself. I encouraged my mom to buy parchment paper so I could pipe merinque like Julia. And meringue was most definitely best whipped in a copper bowl. And I learned that with the right technique, something as mundane as eggs could be an elegant affair at any time of the day.
In college, working at a theatre company in the middle of Maine for a summer, I brought along both ‘Julie & Julia’ and ‘My Life in France’ for a summer reading double feature. Although I did not hear an end of it from my coworkers and roommates, I started piecing together more of Julia’s extraordinary character. In a time with strict social constraints on women, she was a true trailblazer. Whether moving to New York after university to figure it out or working for the OSS long before stumbling upon French cooking in her 30s, her life was not the product of expectations, but guided by her own discoveries and passions. And all in all, it was pleasure to read that there was still a great amount of hope for tall girls with distinct voices like me. Although I cannot pinpoint exactly my choice of moving to France, I relished reading about Julia’s first serendipitous bite of sole meunière. And I subconsciously knew I had to try it for myself.
So when I finally did arrive in France, I had already been formerly introduced to the edible world of Julia Child. And I am still enjoying most every moment of it. I aspire to treat food with the same amount of patience, dedication and zeal as Julia. And in the spirit of Julia Child, I look forward to seeing where it takes me. So regardless if these sentiments are a little late, Julia Child is still one-hundred years and one day as memorable.
I got a little too hasty after Tuesday’s posting. After following up on visa paperwork in the morning, I had a little time to kill before work. Where else could I celebrate the wedding excitement other than David’s Bridal! Now for those readers overseas or those not familiar with David’s Bridal, it was the epitome of middleclass, Midwestern elegance in my 5th-grade mind. Growing up in the city of Chicago, David’s Bridal had the mystique of something only found in suburban strip malls. Although I am a chick, I am not the type of girl who has obsessed over planning my wedding since the days I thought David’s Bridal was haute chic. Hence, that’s what inspired my first stop on the wedding trail. As someone with no budget, no set date, and no idea of what I am seeking out in a wedding dress, I figured I would start my search generically at David’s Bridal.
And generic is more or less what I got. However, Vera Wang is producing a very urbane and modestly priced collection for the bridal chain, White by Vera Wang. Every designer has attempted to design for the masses these days; last time I checked, she was unfortunately designing mattresses at Kohl’s. But thanks to Vera, I didn’t need to try on any pieces from the strapless taffeta graveyard surrounding her collection at David’s Bridal. I tried on a very demure ivory, v-necked, a-line gown with appliquéd lace on net. And heck, at $800, if I had money, I might be able to afford it! The second gown was an ivory, one-shouldered, drop waist satin gown with a cascade of organza “flanges”. This was definitely more in my world. Although this dress was a little more formal than the modest courthouse affair our big day might become, I learned a few things from the experience. I want to look more fashion than bridal! And I never knew it before, but ivory is much better on me than white. All things considered, although I had a pleasant trip to the bridal factory, my heart belongs to all things vintage! And the search must go on!