My daily commute has become twice as long since changing jobs earlier this year, thus, exponentially increasing the chances of unwelcomed encounters, such as seeing the nether regions of a drunkard naked from the waste down and passed out on a metro bench first thing after getting off the metro in the morning. Today, the ride got a little too raw and up close for my comfort. Being crammed in the métro is nothing new during rush hour. But, with the warmer temperatures from this Indian summer we’ve been having, being packed like sardines among folks who have not quite caught onto the practice of using deodorant, especially on warmer days like today, is an excruciating assault on the senses. Having my personal space violated many times over in a box full of warm, sticky, smelly bodies was torture enough, but at the stop after I had gotten on, a horde of folks boarded the train, one of them being an awkwardly rotund teen, sweat dripping from his nose and upper lip and whose backside was covered in what looked like dandruff, further pronounced by his black t-shirt. I just hoped with all of my might that the train would not brake suddenly, because my face would end up splat in that pile of dry, white head excrement. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the trained stalled a couple of times, making the ride even longer than necessary.
I didn’t have any luck recovering the notebook that I had left behind at the grocery a couple of weeks ago. I called them twice last week to see if anyone was kind enough to turn it in, but after checking the objets perdus (lost and found), nothing turned up. Both gals whom I spoke to said someone probably took it or trashed it and since a week has passed since I lost it, they said that it isn’t likely that it will turn up. Ugh, I knew the chances were slim, but my heart sank after calling them. Nearly a decade of home recipes gone, the most precious ones being those from my grandma and mother.
I suffered a major setback in my cooking journey today. I realized, to my horror, that I had left my notebook of recipes that I have been recording notes and recipes in for the last 7 or 8 year at the grocery store yesterday! I remember leaving it in the shopping cart and I had made a mental note not to forget to take it out before returning the cart. But of course, having the memory of a fruit fly these days, I left it behind, and being in France, the chances of recovering this precious notebook of mine is next to zilch! After realizing that the notebook was nowhere to be found in the house, I started bawling like I had just received news that my dog Elroy had just crossed the rainbow bridge. The thing is, this notebook is that precious to me. I’ve recorded recipes that my grandma had taught me before passing away, those that my mother taught me, those that I have learned since becoming a wife, recipes that I had been developing. Having already had a really emotionally tough week, this immense loss was just too much to handle this morning and I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to recover from this. Though I can now make some of those dishes in my sleep, there are many that I was still learning how to perfect.
Yet another food magazine hit the newsstands in France last year, this one being dedicated entirely to baking and sweets. Fou de Pâtisserie is different in that top pastry chefs as well as up-and-comers in France and from around the world generously share some of their recipes. This is a fantastic magazine for those who would like to know any and all things about the world of French pastries. Not only does it showcase the artistry of French pastries and their historical origins, but each issue also offers readers a glimpse into the careers of the masterminds behind the gorgeous creations through interviews that reveal how they got their start, what motivates them, their style, etc. The magazine also comes chock full of tutorials of basic techniques. Though recipes of the hautes pâtisseries featured can be daunting, simpler recipes for classics, such as eclairs and muffins, are also included for amateurs with limited skills like myself.
Though I got rid of most of my belongings before moving here, I made sure to make some room in my suitcases for a few keepsakes that would remind me of home and my family and friends back in the US. One of the goodies that I brought with me was Ms. Janstch’s scone recipe. My good friend, Mrs. Moline, whose social reach is more expansive than I could ever imagine, introduced me to a whole host of lovely ladies back in Austin, TX. Ms. Janstch was among these lady friends. She graced us with dozens of scones at a lady’s potluck brunch one Sunday. Her scones without a doubt were the star of the brunch and I just had to have the recipe before leaving. Luckily, Ms. Janstch was gracious enough to share her recipe with me. I have since adapted her recipe to my own kitchen and tastes. Ah, the nostalgia invoked each time I make these lovely scones!
Our American cuisine has a pretty bad reputation here in France. Most of the French believe that our diet consists entirely of industrially produced foodstuff that impart essentially no nutritional value. I wouldn’t say that they are entirely wrong, as evidenced by the increasingly high rates of obesity in the US. Nevertheless, many American dishes still figure prominently on my list of favorite foods, stuffed mushrooms being one of them.
Though it’s been three and half years since I’ve made France my home, I’m still very attached to my American roots. France has introduced me to a whole new world of pâtisseries and has brought out the sweet tooth in me, yet I still have a fondness for making American baked goods, such as cookies, muffins, cupcakes, etc. Cookies are probably one of the easiest things to make, but the Frenchies haven’t quite mastered this goodie of ours. I find that their interpretation of our cookies is a bit too dry and crunchy for my liking. I myself prefer soft and chewy cookies. Ahhh, nothing like the nostalgia of my days back in the states brought on by biting into a warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie!
Since moving to France, I’ve developed quite an ardent appreciation for French desserts, both for the exquisitely refined pieces of art by pastry chefs such as Claire Heitzler of Lasserre as well as for the more mundane and quotidian desserts like chocolate mousse. Not too long ago, I discovered riz au lait, or rice pudding. Several of my old co-workers who occassionally grabbed lunch at the hospital café would often have it for dessert. I’m not sure which brand it was that they ate, but it came packed in a jar very much like this. When I saw that very jar sold in the dairy aisle at the market, it reminded me of my old co-workers and how much I miss seeing them (that is, those who didn’t my work life miserable) everyday. So, compelled by nostalgia and curiosity, I grabbed a couple of jars. I couldn’t wait to dig in and taste the creamy goodness.
Consecutive days of blue skies and sunshine coupled with warmer temperatures undoubtedly signal the return of spring, and the dark cloud that seemed to be following me everywhere is finally starting to dissipate. For the past several months, I had succumbed to what my friend has coined a professional depression, which extinguished my curiousity, motivation, and creativity. Living in France was starting to wear on me as well. It’s not easy being so far away from family and friends, especially since it’s been an uphill challenge trying to establish an equally strong social circle here. Consequently, I started to withdraw from pretty much all activities that brought me any sort of pleasure, including cooking.
Going out to celebrate new year’s eve has never been my thing. Even when I lived in the US, I always preferred to spend a quiet evening at home watching the ball drop with Dick Clark. Even here in Paris, a crowd of 300k people on the Champs-Elysées doesn’t appeal to me either. For me, the ideal way to ring in the new year is by preparing and feasting on a multi-course meal at home with my husband. Le réveillon, or new year’s eve dinner, is actually something that I look forward to with much anticipation all year long.