Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Cuisiner, Manger, et Deguster- To Cook, To Eat, and To Savor

This draft has been in my list for three months--it is an overwhelming project to talk about food in this country--but I can definitely say the experience has been an evolution for the inhabitants of this apartment.  

Produce - fresh, local produce- is abundant.  We arrived in Nice at the height of citrus season.  The Cours Saleya marché was full of beautiful lemons, huge oranges from Italy, and tiny clementines from Spain.  The French apples are yellow to light green, best for apple tartes or in recipes, but we have found the Chanticleer are great for eating.  Throughout our stay, strawberries have ripened; asparagus, artichokes, and tomatoes have come into season.  There have always been gorgeous ruffled heads of lettuce and purple garlic.  It is hard to shop the market without wanting to take pictures.  

Then, combine the produce with an amazing assortment of cheeses, less expensive than in the US and tasty.  Emmental and Comte have become go-to's for quiche and crepes.  Big, salty chunks of Parmesan are everywhere and we shave them for pastas and salads.  We love Tomme, which we never see in the US, on sandwiches.  We have all developed a taste for chèvre (goat cheese): the pepper encrusted version, toasted on toast points and drizzled with honey on a salad, or in wraps with arugula and pine nuts.

The BREAD- no one in France should ever be gluten free.  The croissants are 1 euro and heavenly, you can buy a pain au chocolat for .90 euro at most boulangeries or the grocery.  The baguettes have become a staple:  crust that will cut the roof of your mouth, big open bubbles in the soft inside.  No one in American can bake like this--for this price.  Our bakery downstairs has decent baguettes, but Blanc bakery on the Rue de Alexandre has the best (.10 euro more).  Both of my children are always happy to run out before dinner to grab a fresh baguette.  Many times, they hand it to you in the paper sleeve still warm from the oven.  It is truly hard to resist just biting into it.  

And the meat...the butcher is still frightening.  The cheval/boeuf grinder still freaks me out and my fear of ordering some kind of organ... but the Porc Rôtis already tied and sprinkled with herbs de Provence or the beef daube never disappoints.  I did have a fiasco the first trip to the butcher.  In my angst to do the transaction in French, my brain was preoccupied translating languages so I went the wrong way with pounds to kilograms.  In my head, I thought I needed to double the amount of beef needed for us and the Bullingtons.  The butcher's eyes got really big when I said "Douze kilo" (equivalent to 24 pounds)--I think he thought I was a new caterer.  He talked me down to 4 kg which fed both families- two nights.  

Those first weeks, we enjoyed the walk to the market and the experimental cooking in the tiny apartment kitchen.  I had a
french cookbook and we bought a crêpe pan and spreader, made Beef Daube, roasted pork with apples, fresh tarts, Salade Lyonnaise, (think really yummy lettuce, vinaigrette, bacon and fried egg..) and Pissaladiere (pizza with caramelized onions).  Even the shopping was an adventure, translating labels and reading the origins of all the produce at the Cours Saleya.  We also have plenty of time here, without driving to after school activities, to cook and enjoy meals together.

Sandwiches have become a major food group for us.  Most boulangeries sell sandwiches on fresh baguettes for under 5 euro(3euro average).  These are 12 inch baguettes filled with mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil drizzled with olive oil, salami with pickles and butter(yes, it is a condiment), ham and butter, tuna, you name it.  Even though the bread can sometimes be a jaw workout, you can barely finish the sandwich.  And they travel well.  Picnics account for at least a third of our meals.  Even if we just take a sandwich to the Promenade des Arts or Promenade des Anglais to watch the people.  And we never board a train without a Savoreux sandwich from our favorite train station bakery, Paul.  

The Deguster (to savor) portion of this trip hit a high point in Lyon.  A beautiful, centuries old city, Lyon celebrates the local cuisine.  They had the Méres Lyonnaises, the Lyon Mothers, that were the first women to make the small family style restaurants famous.  They have their set of celebrity chefs like Joseph Viola and Paul Bocuse.  And a great many new fresh restaurants- one where we took our cooking class with Guillaume.  Guillaume by the way, holds a degree in chemical engineering but had his pastry exam within the last few weeks to be certified as a French Pastry Chef.

As much as we enjoyed all this at the beginning, I can tell you that slogging bottled water in my rolling cart from the Monoprix has gotten old.  I bailed the kids out of trips to the grocery so they could work on school.  Sometimes, the French cheese stinks up the refrigerator.  The tourists have begun to crowd the market, and more lavender and soaps kiosks have popped up.  There are nights when my kids don't want the subtle French flavors and crave Mexican or stir fry.  And that is okay.  We have all learned new things and learned to appreciate new flavors.  Pete ate Foie Gras in Lyon-"it is the world champion, how can I not try it"- and Camille continues to order canard, veau, and lapin in restaurants.  But we have tried lots of new things and broadened another horizon.