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Monday, February 15, 2010

Lessons From a French Kitchen

While living in Paris and environs, I discovered to my delight many wonderful foods. Since I'm rarely hungry in the morning a cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa would start my day. Sometimes if classes were late, or I had the day off, I would eat some homemade yogurt. The yogurt was always homemade and I quickly became a master at making the yogurt too. My preference to this day is plain yogurt. No fruit on the bottom, no flavorings added, just plain. I will eat it with fresh fruit and honey on the side though. The machine would make 9 little containers of yogurt and it was made almost daily. When I returned home, a yogurt maker was one of the first things that I purchased. It lasted me several years. I have since discovered the Greek yogurt at the grocery store. It's the thickest yogurt I've ever had and the texture and taste are "perfection" in my mind.

If I did not have yogurt, I would always enjoy a soft, creamy cheese called Petit Suisse. I quickly became addicted to these little cups of high fat, creamy goodness. I was getting my calcium wasn't I? Sprinkled with sugar, the Petit Suisse could easily top a bowl of fresh fruit. Just reminiscing about all of the foods, makes me wonder if I can find this little gem of a cheese at one of my international stores here in Atlanta. I must take a look.

Orange juice for breakfast usually was fresh orange juice from the half of orange placed on an electric juicer. To this day, those have to be the easiest juicers for extracting all of the juice.

It's interesting how different sounds and smells can take me back to the Parisian kitchen. The "click, click" of my gas starter takes me back to Paris as well as way back to my childhood at my yia yia (grandmother) Maria's apartment. At least once a week, I am drawn back to France when I prepare my breakfast. It helps that I have a container next to my stove with French writing....

Trekking down about 100 steps to breakfast, I was always greeted with the sound of the coffee grinder noisily grinding beans for the morning coffee. At the time, I preferred my hot tea or cocoa as they were so easy for me to make myself. Oh, what I would have given to have had one of those travel cups that are so common now to enjoy on my way to the metro (subway) station.

Along with an occasional yogurt, petit suisse, or pain au raisin, I might have had a slice or two of baguette that was left over from the previous night. With my love of bread, Mme. always purchased more than enough bread so there would be some for the morning. Delicious butter from the western regions of France, along with strawberry, cherry, blueberry, or plum jam made the simple slice of baguette absolutely delicious.

I taught English conversation at a French high school for a few hours a week. The high school was called Lycee Sophie Germain and it was in the heart of the Jewish quarter of Paris. Needless to say, I quickly discovered the most delicious bagels that I have EVER had. This was before bagels were common at our local grocery store bakeries.

I learned to appreciate a really good cup of cafe au lait while frequenting an occasional cafe. Yes, the wonderful cafe, where after a time, the waiter knows your name and your order. Just to sit and drink coffee and watch the world go by is still one of my favorite ways to pass a few hours. I went to a coffee house this morning as we were out of school. Yes, I sat with my cup of tea, the newspaper, a book, and planned my day. Oh, how I wish I could start every day with a leisure cup of coffee watching the hustle and bustle of those running to work. Now, I'm part of that hustle and bustle, but not on my days off or the weekend. I'll enjoy the luxury of coffee with friends when I am able. Anyone want a Starbucks? Just give me a call.

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Ingredients I must have in my kitchen (It's a long list, but I try and have these items on hand)

  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Cheese
  • Cumin
  • Curry
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Fresh Bread
  • Fresh Cilantro
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Fresh Garlic
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Greek Oregano
  • Kalamata Olives
  • Lemon ( At least 3 or 4 ALWAYS)
  • Peppers (Wax, Jalapeno, banana)
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Regular Olive Oil
  • Rice
  • Salad Ingredients
  • Sea Salt
  • Spanish Olives
  • White Balsamic Vinegar