Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Les Frites Sauvage

Sometimes when it's late at night and I'm really just very hungry, all I want is some In-N-Out Animal Fries. My two year stint at the West Coast fast food restaurant was not always so fantastic, but it did afford me access to mountains upon mountains of free animal fries every week. When I finally moved on to bigger and better (but not more delicious) things I lost ten pounds within a month. The French are sneering at me. I can feel it. I can hear my roommates voice in my head saying "ugh, that's hawful!!!" While Matthias generally craves his junk food fix from QUIK (also known as Quality Burger Restaurant) when I mentioned that I had animal fries on my mind, his eyes glistened and he quickly asked me if I knew how to make them. True, I did work at In-N-Out for two years, and technically, yes, I do know how t make them but they aren't really a process intensive meal. It's all about a few simple ingredients. Simple ingredients I wasn't sure that I could find in Pairs (food capital my derrier...) But now we both had a craving and I couldn't really justify calling in my first foodie lifeline to the friends back home after only a week away.
I headed to the supermarche to see what I could round up.

Unlike America, where one can choose from any number of variously flavored pickles, from bread&butter to sweet or dill, France believes in one kind of pickle. The cornichon (french for gherkin.) I once bought these from trader joes and my dad (who we lovingly refer to as the garbage disposal, per our ability to send any amount of uneaten scraps of anything his way) was less then pleasantly surprised and told me never to make that mistake again. They have a very distinct taste and are quite small. There were no American style dill deli pickles (the kind used at In-N-Out) but they were my only option, so I grabbed them. I have since become rather fond of munching on my cornichons after a night of too much wine (read: every night in Paris.)
Next was the issue of spread. Often referred to as "sauce" "special sauce" or "secret sauce" spread is quite simply, thousand island dressing. The supermrache only has one kind of dressing in Paris, vinagrette (which Matthias made fun of me for purchasing, since apparently in France if you don't make your own, you are American?) so I had to refer back to my grandfather. The only salad dressing he will eat is thousand island. The reason? the ingredients of thousand island are mayonnaise, pickles, and KETCHUP! his favorite ingredient of all time. Lucky for me, I had seen my mother whip up emergency thousand island for grandpa using these simple ingredients and since I already had gherkins in my tiny euro sized shopping basket, I picked up the ketchup and french style mayonnaise. Next up were frites. I headed down the street to Picard, a food store comprised ENTIRELY of frozen goods. From frois gras and escargot, to buche de noel and glace au chocolat. It's like a slice of French heaven in a freezer case. Picard sells 1kilo of frites for less than 1euro. score. The last item on my list was the cheese since we already had an onion at home. I needed American cheese, which other than on these fries is something I do not eat, nor could I find, nor would I have had the courage to purchase in Paris. Thankfully, Matthias found a pack of individually wrapped cheese slices and bought them for the good of the cause. So I mixed up the spread, diced up the cornichons, grilled the onions, baked the frites, melted the cheese and assembled the goey delicious mess.

I was really surprised at how well the French ingredients translated into authentic tasting animal fries. Matthias enjoyed them so much he asked for seconds and wanted them not once but twice more that same week. We still have some leftover cheese slices so Les Frites Sauvage may well be making a return this week. But you know, this is Paris, so obviously we had to eat them with a fork a knife like proper, civilized citizens.

J'adore Food

I have always been bad at self documentation. I'm not so big on the whole "cherish the moment with a picture!" idea and as many beautiful journals as I have purchased, I rarely get past three entries before I give up. This past summer on my trip to Japan, however, I was determined to document my trip somehow. I decided that the best way to keep my interest was to somehow involve food. With my iphone camera always close at hand, it seemed natural to pull it out and snap a quick picture of every meal I ate. I have very good visual memory and I knew that by simply looking back at a photo of a meal, I would be able to remember where I was and what I was doing just before and after eating it. My Japanese companions thought that it was a little weird that I seemed so fascinated by every piece of food that was put in front of me, but in the end my plan worked and I now have a very good reference log to remind me of all of the amazing things I did in Japan.
I definitely remember a time in my life when food was a chore. I didn't necessarily look forward to meals and I ate more because I was hungry than because I wanted to taste food. I don't want to sound like a terrible, inconsiderate, insulting child, but I think that most of this was due to the food we ate in my house while I was growing up. My parents weren't really the adventurous foody types and much of what we ate were dishes that my mother grew up with. Some of those recipes were hearty Italian peasant dishes which were passed down from my maternal grandmother (and my mother's maternal grandmother) and the rest was white people food. Bland, boring, white people food. I love my grandpa but that man has the capacity for one simple taste. Ketchup. He won't put anything in his mouth that isn't slathered in the stuff. So my mother grew up eating my grandfathers favorite ketchup accessorizable food which was mostly pork chops, ground beef, potatoes, and canned corn kernals. All of which was slathered in shiny red corn syrupy tomato goo. When my mothered got married and started cooking all the meals, she pulled on her mental arsenal of recipes. Rice pudding, pasta, ghetta (the Italian things) meat, potatoes and sloppy joe's (grandpa's favs!.) My father cooked dinner one night a week. That night we either had frozen fish sticks (with ketchup!) or scrambled eggs and toast (with...yes....KETCHUP!)
I love my parents and I truly think they did a wonderful job raising my brother and I, but I really am sad about all those years of my life that I wasted not enjoying herbs, spices, and non preservative, fresh, delicious food.
When I became a vegetarian, I finally realized that not only could food taste fantastic, it could make you feel really good. Physically and emotionally joyous. In the past few years I have become a mini food freak. I now have the ability to shop for myself, where I choose, and buy what I want, and I get to prepare meals that make me happy. I can't imagine my life without food now. Luckily, my friends like food too and we pass much of our time planning, buying, preparing, and consuming food for every and any reason. I wouldn't have it any other way.
I don't plan on taking a picture of everything that I eat while I am here in Paris but food is how I am adjusting to my new life. My first outings were to boulangeries (bread stores,) markets, grocery stores, and China town to pick up some special Japanese ingredients. I have been trying to experience as much French food as possible (though it's difficult for les vegetariens) and prepare a homecooked meal with my French ingredients for dinner every night. I feel like this blog will have to become rather food based if my Japanese experiment proved true an I am looking forward to cataloging the difference between the food of France and home. I know there are many professionals who say that Paris is the food capital of the world, but The San Francisco Bay Area is pretty hard to beat.

The Name.

I will admit that I've been contemplating the idea of starting a blog about my life in Paris for over a month now. You may be wondering what has stopped me. Perhaps my Parisian life is all to exciting and I have no time? Maybe it's the fact that apparently, you have to have a French bank account in order to get almost anything in the city of lights, including free internet access at Starbucks? Or maybe my problem has been grappling to find just the right words to express myself in a place where communication is not quite what it used to be. While I would like to attribute my tardiness to at least one, if not all of the above, the fact is, I couldn't think of a name.
We are living in the time of the blog. All the cool kids have one. All the lame kids want one. The best ones have cool names. That's not to say that I think you are lame if you are reading this and don't yet have one. My life only became somewhat interesting enough to write about three weeks ago and only because I moved to a place where people say things like "ne touchez pas!" and "voulez-vous coucher avec moi?" Ok, so technically I've never heard that second one, but living in the red light district gives me some hope.
Anyhow, I finally sat down today and forced myself to start this thing even though I hadn't thought of a name that was clever or cool or just made me sound awesome. The name of my blog combined with the url are really just a very lame play on words. Champignon is the French word for mushrooms. It is pronounced "shawm-peen-yone" If I explain any further I will be entering douche mode so please forgive me every time you type in the web address, click on your bookmark button, or just happen to remember how very poorly named my life in Paris blog is.