Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm back!

Well, I’m back. I’m exhausted, jetlagged; but I also still have a belly full of baguette, and I can finally call myself half-cultured.

If only I had the forethought to get the apartment all sparkly clean before I left, I wouldn’t have returned to formidable mountains of clothing. Then again, it feels nice to know that the backs of chairs, my chairs, are waiting to be covered in sweaters and towels, just because they can be: while living out of a suitcase was exhilarating, it certainly is no match for coming home (especially when that home has a kitchen).

I think that’s the thing I was missing while I was away: my kitchen, any kitchen. Other people miss the convenience of laundry machines while traveling, but I miss pots, pans, and an accessible stove. (Perhaps I’m not the perfect mascot for feminism?) Every farmer’s market we strolled through in old towns, along coastlines, and positioned quaintly next to age-old cathedrals, I longed to be able to take something home, a few eggplants and tomatoes, say, and try my hand at Nicoise Ratatouille. It was sad indeed, but I got over it. I quickly gave in to being spoiled by the regional food that others had prepared and the local wines they had produced.

And spoiled, I was. What is a girl to do when there happens to be the best crepe stand smack on the way home from a fancy, four course dinner? In all seriousness, she is to get one, slathered (in the best way) with Nutella and copious slices of banana, and enjoy. And then, if she really needs to justify, tell herself that she might only be in Paris this one time, that it would be a travesty to not try the local food, and that the full feeling she has (the one that makes her wish she wore looser clothes) is really just the feeling of Parisian tradition, taking over her body. That by doing this, she might even become French.

Unfortunately, I didn’t become French. (Come to think of it, I was probably closer to becoming an actual crepe.) Over two weeks and a day, I traveled wide-eyed around France, and even popped into Spain for a day or two at the tail end. And I came to realize and wholeheartedly appreciate the way they treat food. The way they respect it. Eating is considered a time of relaxation, of enjoyment, a slowed down version of even the slowest American meal. You’re not even allowed to get coffee to go: when we tried, we were handed espressos with makeshift tops, complete with straws stuck in the top. Hilarious, but also eye-opening. In a country where your coffee is to be enjoyed while sitting and your meals are to be taken seriously, I tried to absorb as much as I could in hopes of taking a little of that home with me. A little, but not the coffee bit. I’m sorry, I like my coffee made with water, and at times, I like it to go. Sorry, France.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bon Voyage!

So I was hoping to bring you a few more recipes before I left (namely, one with rhubarb, among other reasons because it's the season, and it's delicious), but with the whirlwind of packing and calling credit card companies and checking and rechecking flight numbers, I got caught up, and now, I leave tomorrow. Tomorrow. I haven't even left yet, and I'm already exhausted: I have little to say at this point, other than I hope all of the logistics go smoothly, and that I can bring all of you back some wonderful stories about food, and the pictures to go with them.

So, here's to sturdy planes, croissants, fair weather, and all the many unplanned adventures I may have. Well then, Bon Voyage, I guess, to me!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Foodies in a Foodie Store

I’m easy to shop for. Easy as pie. In fact, I’d love to get a pie as a gift; anything that has to do with food is right down my alley. That is why I love cooking stores, and that is also why I scored myself a modest Williams Sonoma gift card this past Christmas.*

Embarrassingly enough, it took me until just yesterday to use it. This, of course, is due to the massive headache of indecision I get every time I think about spending money in a cooking store, the kind that leaves you with a dull pain of frustration and excitement all at once, and that would land you, had you been a few years younger, sitting smack in the middle of the floor to escape your dilemma. Knowing that I’m not alone does help, if only marginally: I imagine I share this trait of mild insanity with all other foodies out there with slightly shallow pockets.

We’re like kids in a candy store. No, we’re worse. Kids in a candy store quickly reach sugar highs and stomach aches when they gorge themselves: their bodies send up little kid-sized red flags, telling them they’ve had to much. We, on the other hand, don’t have a physical reminder. In fact, it seems the only way to relieve the great headache of indecision is to spend more. We have only our own measly restraint, and that only goes so far. Or we have gift cards with limits on them.

And so yesterday, while I was searching the shelves for gadgets within my price range, I made a great leap in character and decided in favor of practicality. I really really wanted that ice-cream maker. Just as much as I wanted the pasta machine. And, every. Thing. Else. But, I pulled myself together and gathered a few things that would build my cookware arsenal, practically: I chose a French rolling pin (every household needs one of these) and a 10” steel for the fancy shmancy chef’s knife I had gotten for my birthday. Mission accomplished, for now; I still have $18 dollars left. I wonder what I’ll get next.

*Thank you, Nammie, for the wonderful gift.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Nothing Better

Sometimes there’s nothing better than throwing on some music and chopping up some vegetables. Cooking alongside music (that is just loud enough so you can still hear your pan crackling) is like the perfect date: lovely company that is always right on time, and never fails to disappoint. Depending on what you’re making, it might even be all dressed up for the evening.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Amy Millan lately. In my kitchen, she is the flavor of the week, and she goes particularly well with wild mushrooms. But lately, her whispery, ever so down-home-country voice has been making me desperate for something comforting. Like a cherry pie, or mashed potatoes, or the home cooked meal I had last night with my parents – because what could be more comforting than old-fashioned potato salad, grilled chicken, and being surrounded by the throes of your childhood? Not a whole lot.

In celebration of my Dad’s birthday and retirement (a smiling congratulations to him), I meandered the 20 minutes of winding, backwoods roads that lead to my parents home, where I grew up, and even though I don’t live there anymore, what I like to refer to as my home-home. My mom had planned for a summer meal just like what I was raised on: simple, unfussy, but better versions of old favorites than you could ever imagine. If there was ever a mother’s home cooking that make you reach for thirds and fourths, this is it. (Really, I’m still recovering.) My parents also have hearts bigger than most, and keep a house that is generally brimming with long, idiosyncratic stories and wonderfully awful puns. You should come over sometime, I’m sure they’d love to have you.

When I got there, there was already music playing in the kitchen, and, as moved by the atmosphere, I grabbed a knife and finished what residual vegetables needed to be chopped. Dinner was lovely, complete with a curled up lab at our feet, and as we talked, it felt just like the old days, only better, friendlier. (Consider this a formal apology for my various stages of teenage rebellion and a hearty thank you for such a saintly pardoning.)

Anyway, here comes the point where everyone is probably expecting a recipe, or two. I want to give them to you, I really do, but the problem is, my mother has yet to email them to me (curse the age of computers!). And in the interest of full disclosure, once I have them, I still may not give them to you. Wait, let me explain: I hope you’ll forgive me, but there are some recipes that are meant to stay in the family, to be passed down like little heirlooms, and by god, this potato salad is one of them. I may deliver on the chicken marinade front, though – that is still to be decided. I can’t help but daydream about the day I’m in my kitchen, all grown up, cooking with an old Amy Millan album on, when my daughter walks in for dinner. I’m going to want to tell her how to make this dish that my mother made before me, and that it exists only in our memories. And then in all likelihood, if she gets my genes, she’ll run and go publish it on her food blog, maybe. But that’ll be up to her.

*Thanks, mom, for being (unlike my lentil salad) very photogenic.