We’ve set a date! The renovations are wrapping up in our new place. And we are set to move in next week. But sweet nostalgia is sinking in. I’ll miss our untamed little garden out back. The warm tradition at our local boulangerie. The peeling paint. And the curtains of cobwebs. The assortment of wildlife that creep into our bathroom. The defunct washing machine which serves as our only counter space. The scars on my shoulders reminding me of our ongoing war against bedbugs. The upstairs neighbors and their Saturday morning smooth jazz sessions. Wait a minute, let’s blow this joint!
Just like any other day, aside from the crisper drawer full of Kodak, the fridge is barren, except for a well-rounded collection of condiments with nothing to put them on. But regardless of what’s inside, there are always a few zucchini lurking about. They are sturdy, reliable, adaptable, and have already outlasted Kodak.
I never cared much for zucchini in my previous life, pre-France. Growing up in the Midwest, zucchini was yet another victim of the deep fryer. And in the summertime, my mom always thought buying a 5-pounder from the farmer’s market would satiate our annual zucchini consumption. But in reality, half went to a zucchini bread and the other half was lost to the fridge. Just like avocado chocolate mousse and peanut butter & banana sandwiches, zucchini bread was another cultural over-share with mon mari qui fume. But that’s ok. In France, zucchini always seems to be in season and the price is always in reason. Mixed with a little creme fraiche and sprinkled with cheese, it bakes up into a beautiful gratin. I usually slice it and sauté it over a medium heat in olive oil with a crushed garlic clove until it caramelizes on both sides.
Mixed with anchovies and pasta or made into an omelette, this super-simple preparation heightens the nuttiness of the zucchini in less than 5 minutes. Now, what to do with all those condiments?
The April showers turned into May showers. Come on June! Kick out the precipitation and bring in the picnics! But enough about the weather already.
I just committed the terrible sin of running errands in my nightdress. A real Franco no-no. In a culture which firmly separates the public from the private, flip-flops, pajama pants, and convenience clothes are only found behind locked doors. Needless to say, I did dress up my nightgown with a French touch, one of my husband’s v-neck sweaters. I’d like the think it was California casual with Midwestern roots. Anyway, the moment I left my flat (with all my Crocs and Snuggies padlocked behind me), I felt the first ray of premature summer sun hit my ankles. And so it begins…
Terraces and cigarettes. Rosé and the summertime. Radishes and butter. Radishes and butter? Yes! As a Ranch-dipping American, this came as a bit of a surprise to me . (How does one butter a radish? Have the French found an excuse to dip things into butter now? I admit to sneaking single-serving Country Crock packets under restaurant tables as a kid, but this is absurd!) In France, butter is the assigned spouse to radishes, with a sprinkle of extramarital sea salt just to keep things interesting. Although everyone does it differently, according to mon mari qui fume, the butter to my radish, the radishes are cut into four parts which create the surface area for the butter. The beauty of the pairing instantly makes itself clear; the smooth butter flatters the crisp, occasionally spicy radish. Give it a try! Anyone know where to get some Country Crock around here?
I am a real foodie now! I’ve started buying locally and seasonally. Farewell, sweet bananas and pineapples from faraway. See you sporadically! However, I made a recent discovery. Over Christmas vacation, we spent a few days at a friend’s cottage in the mountains near La Cévennes. The only fruit in the house were tiny kiwis no bigger than my thumb. And they were local, harvested just nearby. I always assumed that kiwi’s acidity and zippy vitamin C meant their origins were more tropical than domestic. But as winter fruit, they add a bit more variety to the apples, clementines, and grapefruits that fill the colder months. But since Spring has sprung, I should scrap this watercolor. It’s completely out of season!
Does this discovery come as a surprise to you, too?
We are in the demolition stage of our new apartment. This morning, as we walked into the place for our daily visit, our quirky 1950s flat to-be was transformed into the town of Bedrock. Before I could even say “Wow, what a dump!”, “Ohmygawwwwputainmerde!” My first step into the apartment, I got a nail in the foot. The throbbing pain was the least of my worries. Since I have the undisputed Generation Me dilemma of not having had health insurance since my shatterproof undergraduate days, I was sure I could feel my jaw locking in the matter of moments. Luckily, I had an unsuccessful semester in grad school that got me up to speed on that important tetanus shot. Phew!
To help ease the pain, I was whisked off for lunch at the hyper-popular food truck Le Camion Qui Fume by mon mari qui fume. Le Camion Qui Fume ends the search for an authentic American cheeseburger in Paris. Although there are imposters on every cafe menu, 18 euros for a dry, uninspired hamburger on an industrial bun is not worth the ho-hum indulgence. Food trucks have not taken off in Paris yet, partially considering that the French cannot eat with their hands alone. But fellow American expat Kristin Frederick has mastered the right fatty mix of ground beef, the soft, butter-brushed sesame seed buns, real cheddar and shoestring fries to cheer up any expat having a bad day. Although the truck changes locations everyday, we dug into our burgers on the steps of the Église de la Madeleine overlooking the Place de la Concorde. And at just 10 euros for a burger and fries, there is no better bargain or breathtaking view.
If I have not lost you already, now it is going to get interesting. Walking down the double-sided yogurt isle, I am always perplexed by the plethora of options for seemingly plain yogurt. There is yaourt nature, fromage blanc, caillé, faisselle, séré, yaourt au bifidus, and drinkable yogurt, all made from different kinds of milk. Although technically not yogurt, one of the things I quickly learned to adore in France is fromage blanc, or white cheese. It varies in textures and tanginess, but the style I love has the same texture of a fatty Greek yogurt, but is surprisingly low in fat and calories. How can this be ? Fromage blanc is a simple cheese made by boiling fresh, unpasturized milk and cream with a bit of présure, a fermentation starter. Although its texture is often likened to cream cheese, playing starring role in French cheesecake, its consistancy is more comparable to a high-fat yogurt. Fromage blanc is often on restaurant menus as the sole light option. Served with a berry coulis or honey, it is a protein-packed, simple dessert. I often eat it for breakfast with oatmeal and fruit. Or I will layer fromage blanc, sliced fruit, and maple syrup for a quick parfait. A welcome nudge for Mr. Meat & Potatoes, my husband, to eat fruit.
Speaking of the varieties of fromage blanc, it is onto a reader favorite, Danone’s Gervita. In Gervita’s packaging, a spoonful of this whipped fromage blanc floats among the clouds in a blue sky. It’s a spoonful of pleasure coming in for landing. On the first bite, the mousse melts on the tongue with the smooth, fresh milk taste of cream cheese, then that characteristic yogurt tang kicks in. And then it’s back to the smooth taste of cream again. Although I was a bit surprised the mousse was just a layer on top of a bed of fromage blanc, it is a pleasing flip flop of changing textures and character. Here is a 4-pack that won’t last more than a day at chez moi.
I have seen Gervain Petit Suisse in the refrigerators of most families and all of my serious friends who have a properly stocked fridge. It’s an after-dinner kiddie treat. Although I’ve tried unsuccessfully using a spoon to just dig in, Petit Suisse can be a bit deceiving. The Petit Suisse must first be squeezed out of its container and carefully disrobed of its colorful paper sleeve and served standing tall on a plate. Kids love presentation, eh? With 9.2 % fat content, this fromage blanc is more comparable to cream cheese. Although it lacks the fresh cream taste of Gervita, it has the decadently rich texture of strained Greek yogurt and the tangy punch of crème fraiche. Hence, a perfect accompaniment to all chocolate and fruit desserts.
So there you have it. I love fromage blanc, I like Petit Suisse, and I would marry Gervita. But I think it is all gone.
Yaourt. Although my tongue still hasn’t wrapped around the right pronunciation yet (Is it yAo-oort? YA-OOrt? Ya-oURt?), I’ve never loved yogurt more. Just take a look at the selection!
Today, on this dreadfully dreary day in Paris, jessiekanelos.wordpress.com delivers its first taste of hard journalism. I will test the limits of my curiosity and my lactose tolerance for the hard facts on my neighborhood grocery’s yogurt isle.
I never really like yogurt in the States because there really is not much variety. It is often overly sweet with cloying artificial flavors. Wouldn’t you think yogurt cultures would be canceled out by a cotton candy flavor? It gets more and more difficult to find a plain version. However, according to Wikiyogurt, the French eat around 21 kilos of yogurt a year. French fridges are continuously well-stocked. It is a go-to breakfast, snack, and dessert. But the word yaourt can be deceiving. It often refers to the cream desserts, pudding cups, and often single-serving desserts that share the yogurt isle.
How clever! Yogurt with the granola already mixed in!
Licorice and mint? Some flavors are better admired than tried.
Porfiteroles, clafoutis, creme brulee, chocolate mouse. Just take a look at the Greatest Hits of French desserts carefully disguised among the yogurt. Everywhere I look in Paris these days, there is a new USA burger, bagel & cookie diner. The yogurt isle is just as trendy with its “le cheese cake” and “les cookies”.
Oh hello, cottage cheese. Fancy seeing you here!
Speaking of plain yogurt, there is just as much variety to be found. I am one spoon away from exposing it tomorrow. Stay tuned!
Paris is begrudgingly hailed by some Parisiens as a Disneyland for Americans. Frankly, it is a moveable feast for all the world’s wealthy gobsmackers. But did you know that EuroDisney is the most-frequented attraction in France? Hands down, it beats both the Eiffel Tower and the new Abercrombie & Fitch on the Champs Élysées. (But don’t worry, I still have seen Parisien women wearing neither sweatpants nor the A&F bedazzled bottom variety.)
Considering my childhood dreams were A.) to convince my parents to take me Disneyworld and b.) become a Snow White impersonator by trade, it was not difficult to enjoy EuroDisney. Regardless of its European sensibilities like Perrier on tap, like any Disney institution, the pizza at Euro Disney is still bad. But how about those Mickey Mouse meringues?
What are your thoughts on Euro Disney?