The chicken and the egg

We have certainly enjoyed some frickin’ fantastic food in the past few days – and homecooked, none the less!

Hubby and I have been trying to cut back on our spending and eat chez dollhouse apartment more often this week. This involves a daily shopping excursion.  The French culture does not dictate stocking up on groceries a week at a time at the nearest Walmart Supercenter or Costco. In fact, les Francais would probably be horrified at such an idea. Here, it’s all about buying what’s freshest and most beautiful from a series of local vendors on any given day. Case in point, this afternoon while shopping for tonight’s dinner, I stopped into no less than four different stores. Each a small specialty vendor and conveniently all on the same stretch of street, it actually makes for a pleasant little shopping experience. Plus, this sneaky way of building more physical activity into the day is one of the reasons I’ve been able to enjoy pastries and cafe cremes every morning of this trip and still feel my pants loosening around the waist. 

First up on my list of stops — the supermarche, as much as it can be called one here, it’s really more like a glorified quick-stop mart. There, I bought toothpaste, baby food and a bottle of wine. The wine shopping here is really kinda ridiculous, in the best possible way. There are the specialty wine vendors up and down the streets who I’m sure sell nice wines, better than supermarket quality in any case. If we lived here, I would seek one out and build a relationship with him, asking his personal advice on what to buy for any given occasion or meal. However, I have had absolutely no problem with the supermarket wines I’ve had here whatsoever. We’re talking about wines on par with anything you’d get back home for more than a tenner and up. Only here, they cost about $3 or $4 a bottle. NICE. 

Next stop was the butcher for one of those aromatic temptress rotisserie chickens we’ve been admiring since we got here. At 10 euros a pop, this bird was a little pricier than the rotisserie chickens you’d get back home, but whatever. We couldn’t spend two weeks here and not try one. Then came a jaunt into the fresh produce corner stand for some super-skinny haricot verts (petite green beans), which set me back about $2. A final run into the boulangerie for the evening’s baguette (about a dollar) and a big slice of mouthwatering pear charlotte cake for hubby and I to split for our dessert. Et voila. The evening meal. It may get old shopping this way every single day, but for now, it’s really quite interesting, educational and fun.

When I got home and unpacked the groceries, hubby and I decided to walk out with the baby for a pre-dinner beverage at Cafe Rempart on the corner. Hubby’s been here a couple times lately and is becoming something of a regular. The guys who work there recognize him now and are jovial and friendly to us, a comforting bonus in a city legendary for its rudeness. I’m always sort of surprised when the locals aren’t complete jerks to us, but then again, we are making an effort to speak the language. From what I can tell, it’s all about your attitude. Paris is a perfect place to fake it ’til you make it. Even if you’re not in the inner circle, if you can act like you belong there just as much as anyone else, chances are you’ll do just fine. 

After two glasses of wine for me (my first white of the trip – a fragrant light Sancerre) and a couple beers for hubby, we returned to the apartment where I heated up the chicken, boiled the green beans for a few minutes until tender and topped them with a small spoonful of butter and a light sprinkling of salt, sliced some baguette and cheese and threw it all onto the tiny table. Delicious. The chicken was every bit as juicy and tasty as we’d imagined it would be, and the green beans succulent, cooked just to al dente.


me cooking in the dollhouse kitchen!

me cooking in the dollhouse kitchen!


Again, the French culture seems to dictate that less is more in these instances. When you start out with quality ingredients right from the get-go, they are already so delicious that they really don’t need much, if any, adornment to maximize their full potential.


who'd eat KFC when you could have this??

who'd eat KFC when you could have this??


Last night’s dinner was another example. Hubby did the shopping and came home with some farm fresh eggs and ham for an omelet. (With the requisite baguette, of course. Natch). With only two small temperamental electric burners on the cooktop, one big-ass pan and no spatula to work with, I must admit I was a little nervous about how it would all work out. I had some mushroom and zucchini left over from our pasta dinner the night before, so I sauteed it all up with some ham and shredded some lovely Emmentaler cheese for the omelet. The eggs themselves were huge with gorgeous bright sunshiny yellow yolks. I cracked four into a bowl with just the lightest splash of milk and whipped it all together. 

Having discovered that the best way to work the cooktop is to crank both burners up to high and hope for the best, I got the pan as close as I could to steaming, then dumped in the eggs. They cooked slowly, but seemed to set up just fine and by the time I scattered on the fillings and folded the whole concoction in two steps, the omelet looked great! I was thrilled. The end result – YUM. 

I don’t know if it’s the French methods of cultivation or what, but simple food items are so much more flavorful than the same versions back home. The eggs and the chicken are perfect examples. They both are so flavorful, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like they are a much more authentic version of themselves. I’m sure mass production and FDA requirements take something away from the end product in America, as well as our penchant for drowning foods in salt, butter, ketchup, gravy and whatever else we can get our hands on. All I know is that the eggs here in France are the most delicious I’ve ever had. Hubby and I have agreed to try the omelet again this weekend with a little cheese as the only accompaniment. Again, I have no doubt that simple is the way to go to ensure a stellar result.

This little piggy went to market

Ah, another day, another market… you’ve gotta love Paris.

We saw the stands being erected for a street market on one of the streets shooting off from Bastille while we were walking around in search of Valentine’s Day dinner. Sure enough, the next day it was teeming with vendors and throngs of shoppers. This market was a little more spacious than the one we came across up by the Eiffel Tower the other day, but no less busy or impressive.

We spent a happy half hour or so wandering up and down the stalls, checking out the wares. Mountains of sumptuous strawberries, oceans of fish the likes of which we’ve never even heard of, bins of olives, honey, hats, purses — you name it. It’s too bad the weather isn’t a little bit warmer, I found myself yearning to assemble the perfect picnic and seek out the nearest garden.


the Bastille street market

the Bastille street market

As an quick aside – Even the terms of endearment here are food-related. One such example, people call their children and loved ones “mon petit chou,” which literally means “my little cabbage.” How cute is that!

Earlier in the morning, the baby and I hoofed it over to the supermarket to pick up some rations and supplies. As we passed a high school tour group, I heard two of the girls catching sight of us and cooing about what a cute little French baby I had! The ultimate compliment! Could we really be passing for locals?!?!

I’m afraid I committed a cardinal sin – I stopped into Starbucks. Hubby cringes as I write this. As a seasoned traveler, it is nearly unforgivable to him to frequent an American chain establishment when there are so many local authentic French cafes in proximity. I justified my actions by reasoning that I just wanted a cup to go on the way to the store. Plus, I knew the coffee would be consistent. Starbucks, alas, is the same everywhere. Disappointingly, quite a few cafes seem to serve coffee out of a machine, not the good perked kind you’d expect. 

So anyway, I ordered my grande latte and asked for directions to the supermarket, then went on my way. However, in wheeling the baby stroller over cobbled stones and streets, half of my coffee ended up sloshing out all over the pram. Divine justice, perhaps?

After a spin through the market, hubby offered to take the baby off my hands for a few hours so I could enjoy a visit to Sacre Coeur. My favorite sight on my last trip to Paris four years ago, I was really looking forward to a return visit to the scenic spot. I’d really hoped hubby would want to join me, but he declined and in retrospect, I’m glad he did. The stairs and crowds would have been difficult to navigate with the baby in tow. So, I hopped on the Metro and was on my way. 

Coming off the Metro in Montmartre, I got a little confused. For starters, the exit itself entailed about three flights of stairs up a narrow winding staircase. Ugh. By the time I and my fellow Metro-ers emerged into the daylight, we were huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf. The spiraling stairs disoriented me and I didn’t immediately see any directional signs to the cathedral, so I ended up setting off in the wrong direction. Fortunately, a big looping turn through a pretty residential area (more uphill climbing) deposited me where I needed to be. 

The white domes of Sacre Coeur gleam from the hillside like a sentinel, and although it was slightly hazy, I imagine that in the sunlight they shine as if they’ve been kissed by heaven itself. As noisy and thronged as the exterior of the cathedral is, the interior is reverent and quiet the second you step in the door. The sanctuary literally took my breath away, it’s hard to believe this kind of beauty actually exists. The sun streamed through the stained glass windows to illuminate the faces of the visitors below. Talk about a religious experience in the truest meaning of the word… I’m not Catholic, but it’s impossible not to feel in God’s presence here and I found myself reciting a silent prayer. I lit a candle in honor of my mom and one for my father-in-law as well and left feeling spiritually renewed. 

Once you step back outside into reality, the commercial side of Paris tourism slaps you in the face. The crowds here are unbelievable – groups of people in all shapes and sizes speaking every language under the sun, cameras and tour guides in hand. A duo of Polish wannabe rappers were accosting the eardrums of passersby with their boom box and their self-promoted street show, which as far as I could tell consisted of a few So-You-Think-You-Can-Dance-style hip thrusts, some juggling, and a lot of hype.

Hungry, I made my way slightly off the main souvenir shop drag into a cafe for a snack. The Six Nations rugby tournament was this weekend, and I found myself seated next to a table full of enthusiastic and loyal Scots, both the men and women decked out in kilts. I ordered a Croque Monsieur sandwich and my first Coke in about a week. Croque Monsieur is another French menu mainstay; you can find them in almost any cafe or bistro. It’s basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, but this being France and all, they find a way to make it richer and more decadent. The cheese is added on top of the bread, along with a little bit of creamy bechamel sauce, and then the whole thing is broiled. When’s the last time you had a grilled cheese that required a knife and fork? Delish. You can even get it topped with a fried egg, in which case it becomes a Croque Madame. (A reference to ovaries perhaps??)

Unlike in America where your food often arrives with a whole slew of condiments, the standard food adornment here is mustard. Servers bring a little carrier to your table that contains salt, pepper, and a small jar of spicy Dijon. And when I say spicy, I mean SPICY. This stuff will clear your sinuses and make your eyes water if you take too much. It’s yummy in small doses, though. Also, there seems to be one kind of salad dressing here and one kind only – a creamy tangy dijon vinaigrette. Don’t even think about asking for Ranch.

Hubby and I decided our tummies and our wallets needed a little break from dining out, so I embarked upon operation Cook-At-Home tonight, a real adventure in a kitchen the size of a closet. Two electric burners and a tiny cutting board made cooking here feel like a Top Chef challenge, but I managed ok. The knives, pots, pans and tools here are sparse, but what we do have is of the highest quality, so that helped matters quite a bit.

I’d stocked up at the store for spaghetti with a sort-of Bolognese sauce. The electric burner took about 20 minutes to boil a pot of water for my pasta, but that was the most difficult hurdle I had to overcome. I jazzed up a bottle of store-bought marinara sauce with some hamburger, mushrooms, zucchini and tomatoes. With a side salad and some fresh baguette, it wasn’t bad. It felt good to cook, but I really found myself missing my arsenal of spices from back home. I had also picked up a bottle of Cotes du Rhone at the grocery for 2.40 euros, and was pleasantly surprised to find the quality on par with much of the wine we drink back home at three or four times the price.

our first home-cooked meal in Paris

our first home-cooked meal in Paris

As I sit here writing this, it’s cold and misty outside, yet here I am, safely ensconced in a cozy little cafe with a cup of cafe au lait cooling on my table and a view of the Bastille monument just outside the window. At the table next to me, a stylish older woman feeds a small Yorkie terrier tiny pieces of sausage off her plate.

Ah, les Francais….