Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's good to be a foodie

France is turning me into a foodie.

Maybe it's just finally having enough money to eat more than Ramen. Or being forced by the lack of American ready-made mixes and sauces to learn how ingredients go together. Or the exposure to different cuisines that comes with life in a city. Or maybe (likely) it's Tom.

In any case, I'm eating better now than I ever have. To start with, I'm eating out more often and more diversely. In the last week or so I've been to a French jazz brunch, a Vietnamese restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, and of course, several bakeries/brasseries for pastries, sandwiches, demi-pints and even a late-night rum & ice cream sundae. Delicious. And fairly affordable, too, if you do things wisely.

Even better than eating out, however, is eating in. Using the kitchen here is a social experience, and even if you're just boiling some pasta for yourself you're bound to run into a friend. The fourth floor community averages about two impromptu shared meals a week, which are a lot of fun and extremely tasty. The blend of nationalities and life experience means that everyone brings their own set of expertise and flavors to the stove. Tom has made fish n' chips, shepherd's pie and a mean curry, Alicia does Indian dishes, Maria has made a few delectable Greek dishes, Silvan brings some German to the table, Delphine does French quiches and cakes and Lucy specializes in desserts and Southern cuisine. As for me, I'm still learning, but I did manage to whip up a pretty hearty chili meal last week, complete with black beans and cornbread I had brought back from Christmas break.

I'm also learning secondhand how to manage French cooking, or cooking in France, at least. Many of the ingredients I rely on in the States are either expensive and difficult to find or completely nonexistent in Paris (examples: peanut butter, corn meal, black beans, anything spicy, baking powder, chocolate chips, brown sugar, canned broth, Bisquick, cake/sauce mixes, etc.). Instead, I'm discovering how to use foods like butter, tomato purée, cream, butter, lardons (cured bacon strips best translated as "lardlings") aubergine, butter, endives, fresh basil and herbs, and a range of cheeses. Oh, and lest I forget: butter. I've also been trying out a new sport of haphazard baking. Since I don't have measuring cups or correct ingredients, each time I bake I just approximate components and amounts until the batter tastes good and looks to be about the right consistency. So far I've made a batch of cake-like chocolate chip cookies and a banana bread which both turned out amazing well, considering.

Anyway, life is good, and tastes even better. If anyone has simple recipes to share I would love to have them. I might need to break down and actually buy some cooking utensils, though. Oh, and some new pants.

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