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Edible Paris by Amy Patterson

Unlike the water line that was turned off at our rental apartment days before our arrival (rendering our kitchen virtually useless), my eyes unleashed a slow but steady stream of tears after leaving a bordering-on-perfect meal chez l’Ami Jean two days before we left Paris.  Our month in the city of culinary delight was coming to a close. 
 
I spent my collegiate junior year studying and stage-ing in Paris.  Rewind twenty years and the younger version of myself yearned to be French.  I wanted to leave my seemingly ordinary life behind and effortlessly blend into the mysterious aura of a foreign city.  Slip into a black leather jacket, tie a scarf nonchalantly around my neck, attempt to smoke a cigarette with finesse on the chairs spilling out from a café.  As much as I tried, opening my mouth belied my cultural identity.  Fortunately, an unwavering continuum of emotional ups and downs in the city steadied out on the highs and I did not want to leave.  My love of France and most notably its cuisine had settled into my soul; the well still runs deep.
 
This time, I wanted to share “my” Paris with my husband Gage and seven year old daughter Lily.  My focus was not on being French; after several more years dans ma peau I am not apologetic about where I was born, just an unapologetic Francophile.  Gage magically intertwined business with family vacation to make a month long sojourn a reality.  
 
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rue des Tournelles

We found an apartment in my old neighborhood, the Marais.  After ma petite famille criss-crossed Paris on foot for a month, we all agreed that our location on the rue des Tournelles bordered on perfection. Despite our kitchen issues on the rue de “has everything you could ever wish for” our apartment was comfortable with the added bonus of doors opening out onto a terrace.  Punching in our security code, we all felt distinctly Parisian disappearing from the street into our courtyard; for a month a little slice of the city was our own.  The street is hemmed in by picnic-perfect Place des Vosges to the west and the boutique shopping artery rue des Francs Bourgeois to the north. To the east, a seat at a café, feather-light Lebanese falafels or the awe-inspiring market beckon on the roads that radiate from Place de la Bastille.  Morning croissants aux amandes and a lunchtime baguette jambon beurre were secured just to the south at the boulangerie on rue Saint Antoine.  Our street itself offered bistros that would become familiar and welcoming favorites.  Serendipitously, my two friends in Paris each lived within a five minute radius à pied

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Perusing la carte

As in anywhere that I travel, cuisine is the ideal milieu to intimately explore a city.  Autour de la table, we simultaneously taste a bite of the culture and contemplate our day.  Months of delectable anticipation allowed us to plot out our culinary adventures. I scoured food blogs, referenced notes from past trips, jotted down advice from helpful Francophiles and refined it with the help of my equally-as-enamored-with-edibles friend Landi who has luckily been working in Paris for over two years.

 Our first meal was a sort of culinary baptism to the spirit of French food.  We ordered saucissons secs and were presented with an enticing assortment on a huge communal wooden tray – only to be taken away when you had sliced to your heart’s content.  Alongside was a generously sized glass jar filled with cornichons and pearl onions to be plucked out with wooden tongs.  We tried and failed to envision this scene stateside, where everything seems overtly sanitized.  We enjoyed with pleasure and washed it down with a regional wine.  
 
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Macarons

Gage tracked our steps with the pedometer on his phone.  We passed sixty miles (or should I say one hundred kilometers!) after our first week.  Not one second thought of a heavenly Jacques Génin pistachio caramel, a scoop of Bertillon ice cream, or a Pierre Hermé macaron passing our lips sailed through our minds.  I imagine that would be very un-French anyway. 

Navigating culinary Paris is made easier armed with key French phrases, a smile, and the indispensable A-Z of French Food: Dictionnaire Gastronomique.  In a land populated by regional specialties a menu can be daunting even to those familiar with the native tongue.  After a lapse of many unpracticed years, my French is faltering but serviceable and my ear was filled with a flurrying mystique of unknown words but we managed each day with relative ease. The service was warm and generous; they would proudly elaborate chef’s specialties or provide insight on the menu.  I can safely confirm that the stereotype that Parisians are rude is a myth.  The only time service chilled was when we were alongside (again – a stereotype) an obnoxiously loud and rude American making not a single effort with a simple bonjour or merci.
 
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In the kitchen at l’Ami Jean

A month all to quickly emptied the contents of its seemingly endless bucket and a lifetime of gastronomic experiences still await.  We decided to embrace comforting French fare despite the mercury increasing as our departure loomed.  We visited l’Ami Jean our first week and were still reminiscing a spot-on meal and warm attention from the chef and staff.  We returned for lunch and were delighted once again with a table next to kitchen where Lily curiously watched the chef attend to each plate with passionate precision.  We ordered a bottle of crisp white Burgundy and settled in for our treats.  A dazzling entrée of sautéed chanterelles and an orzo tinted with squid ink topped with mi-cuit saumon arrived.  The chef eyed Lily watching him prepare octopus; as we finished our first course a plate with a gently curled tender tentacle surrounded by smoky eggplant and blueberries arrived for our curious onlooker.  We transitioned to a bottle of earthy red Bordeaux and our plats followed: succulent Veal Cheeks, 7-hour Beef Shoulder and Basque Chicken in its jus accompanied by sweet baby carrots and the creamiest potato mousseline.  A generous help-yourself bowl of their signature rice pudding “grand-mere” made its appearance with little bowls of whipped salted caramel cream and candied pistachios.  Sweet and salty; heaven and tears. 

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My family

Masquerading my eyes with big sunglasses, we walked the age-old streets of Paris back to our apartment.  The currents of melancholy and nostalgia and were swelling up to the surface.  Vintage memories intermingled with freshly minted time with my family swam through my head.  It was going to be difficult to leave this magnificent city, rhapsodized and chronicled by thousands of souls, yet again.

We have just returned chez nous in Glen Ellyn.  The waterworks have abated, but I still stem the flow of a rebellious tear.  To ease my adjustment home, I will challenge myself to recreate the sublime food in my freshly appreciated American kitchen: a perfect baguette (I have my eye on the beautiful Emile Henry baguette bakers); a cumin scented Moroccan tomato sauce, a pistachio panna cotta topped with raspberry coulis…  The colorful stacks of Le Creuset enamelware that line the shelves at Marcel’s will surely encourage a smile and I am already anticipating a glorious stinky selection of fromage at Marché come fall.  My hope is that the souvenirs of a remarkable month spent en famille will leave as much as an impression on Lily as Paris has had on me.  Perhaps just not tinged with as many melancholy tears.  
 
Au revoir, Paris.
 

Comments

  1. Celia Rodee says:

    Thank you for sharing this lovely memory of a perfect Parisian month! Did Lily enjoy the octopus?

    • Celia – Yes, Lily loved the octopus. When we returned home I asked her what she wanted me to make at home from Paris. Her reply – octopus and the dish daddy had with squid ink…

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