Saturday, October 15, 2011

Three bottles of olive oil, three variations on salt and "where do you think they keep the non-stick spatula?"....

     Renting an apartment instead of staying in a hotel has lots and lots of advantages. If you've walked your feet off, you don't have to go out to dinner. If you've had an enormous three-hour lunch, same thing. If you find yourself sighing whenever you pass a market, you can go in and buy that hunk of duck pâté, or gloriously mature cheese, then pop in the next boulangerie you see for a fresh baguette, and take it all to your temporary home. So far, so good but more complicated if you want something other than takeout. You may have to stock up on the basics before you can start cooking--or even making a simple vinaigrette. Obviously, everyone who has stayed in the apartment we're in now has mixed their own salad dressing. Including the one we brought with us, we can choose from three different olive oils. For salt, there's sel de Guerande, sel de Camargue and the sel de mer you see everywhere in the blue container with the whale on it. We have three sources of pepper.
    In rented apartments, cooking is always an adventure as you discover what your kitchen is equipped with. Or not. Lateral thinking becomes the norm. No water pitcher? Use the thermos jug. No carafe for the coffee machine? Balance filter-lined funnel on the top of the thermos jug. And so on.
    A typical Parisian kitchen is so tiny that you can basically stand in one spot and reach fridge, sink and stove without moving. When I say stove, I mean two electric hot-plates and a microwave (the microwave, in our case, is outside the kitchen area, beside the piano). Where we're staying now is typical. The cooktop segues seamlessly into the draining board, and the only other work surface is the top of the waist-high fridge. But, while I wouldn't scream with joy at having to cook a traditional Christmas dinner here, I can produce a decent four-course lunch, as we proved today.
   Minuscule kitchens and tiny fridges mean that Parisians eat out a lot, and shop more often too. One lemon, not a bag of four. Six eggs not a dozen. Back and forth they trundle, towing their purchases in shopping bags on wheels. There's one here in the apartment but I left it behind this morning believing, foolishly, that a carrybag would be enough. Which is how I came back balancing one bulging carrybag, a bag holding a rotisserie chicken, another bag containing a big bunch of parsley, and two baguettes.
   Most of it was bought just up the street at the Marché des Enfants Rouges. Quite small and packed with unutterably tempting foods, it's the city's oldest market, built in 1615. To put it in perspective, this place had already been going for well over a century when the French revolution took place.
Off with their heads, or rather the ends of their stalks. Prep work in process. Here's a look at the main, what am I saying? the only work surface.
 Lardons crisped and draining (those little thingies at bottom right). Mushrooms, onions and garlic cooking in much too much butter.
  A dish towel doubles as table cloth. Parsley instead of flowers... Are we chic or what?

   The finished plate. The warm mushroom mixture piled on two slices of toasted baguette. A little salad on the side.
    And then we had the roasted chicken, accompanied by basmati rice and ratatouille. Impressed? I've got to be honest here. Both were frozen and came from an incredible French store called Picard that's so highly respected that the BBC recently devoted an entire half-hour Food Programme to it. There's one three streets away. I'd never been in Picard before so I had a quick look round there yesterday and was amazed, amazed, by the choice. (If you can read French, have a roam around ). Enough to say that Picard saved the day when we got to the main course.
    From then on it was easy-cheesy. A lovely, ripe, heart-shaped raw milk Neufchatel, followed by sections of pomegranate and "wife cookies," both of which I picked up yesterday at Tang Frères.

1 comment:

henri and Susan said...

...and what a grand lunch it was! Those chante-relles indeed sang with joy in their garlic and butter!
Thank you! Thank you!
Susan and Henri