Barbecue Pork Roast, Corn, Avocado, Tomato

bbq pork

What is home? I know that I’m not alone in not knowing. While the same question used to cause me an unbelievable amount of anxiety, I feel as though it doesn’t trouble me quite so much anymore. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it.

I started out with what felt like so many homes, spread across continents: the life of an expat, I thought. But expat life, sometime between 22 and 27, stopped feeling like an adventure and started feeling like normal. I never wanted to live out of a backpack. I wanted to live in a different country. Pay my taxes, rent an apartment, do my grocery shopping, buy socks. The concessions I made to this lifestyle at the beginning — traveling home twice a year, plus a handful of trips to meet visiting friends and family in other parts of Europe — were just that: concessions. Not that I’m complaining about my concessions. But they weren’t the end goal. That wasn’t the point.

Now, years later, most of my friends have decided where they want to live. Many are in New York, some are in Chicago. Of those who are not from Europe, I can think of a handful still living here. They’ve settled down elsewhere, and I’m not the only one who doesn’t return home for summer. For Christmas. I find myself missing my concessions. My fractured sense of home.

Paziols

I wasn’t planning on going to Paziols this year. It hurt too much to think about returning. I don’t remember if I mentioned it here, but for a brief but very intense moment, I had considered buying the house there, making that my home, a home that, when I first saw it, had terrified me with its raw unfinishedness, the exposed beams, the mattresses on the floor. I came from a world where everything had always been in its place. I had never felt so displaced before. And then, slowly, Paziols became one of those many homes, and I fell in love, again and again, over and over, the kind of love where you feel like it could never get any better, and then it does. And when I had to make the decision that buying the house couldn’t come at a worse time, I was convinced I would never want to see it again. I knew that it would break my heart to say goodbye, over and over and over again, when the last time I had said à bientôt instead of au revoir.

Paziols

I’m not convinced I was wrong, but I’m going back this year anyway.

Cannes

A bientôt has always been easy for me. I say it even when I don’t believe it, but I’ve believed it for Cannes. To be completely fair, for years, it was true. For years the trip from Paris to Cannes seemed as easy as that from home at Pont de l’Alma to my favorite bar at the Luxembourg Gardens. I don’t even know how many trips I made there in the first few years I lived here. But slowly, my connections to the place faded, and trips there seemed fewer and more far between. The last time I went was in 2010. I was so sure I would be returning at the beginning of 2011 that I left a box there, filled with books and Jergens lotion. I wonder if it’s still there.

I’ll be going to Cannes this summer, too. I’m scared to see how much it’s changed.

I don’t have the same liberty with the homes I’m supposed to call home, my “real” home, though my connection there feels no realer than any here… just different. The home that I grew up with, the home that was so normal that I don’t have any pictures of it at all, is no longer ours. It belongs to someone else, someone I know, which means I could go. But saying goodbye is even worse when goodbye comes a year too late. Long Island isn’t home anymore. New York isn’t home anymore.

Saint-Sulpice

I think what I have to come to terms with — if you even can use such a phrase when the thing with which you are coming to terms is living in Paris — is that this is what home feels like as an adult. It feels like normal. It feels like knowing where the corner of the coffee table is in the dark. It feels like recognizing your neighbors.

Saint-Sulpice

It feels like having memories of another home, a home that someone else built for you, a home that you existed in but that was never really yours. I hope that someday I can give that sense of home to someone; I don’t know if I’ll feel it for myself again.

bbq pork

 

Barbecue Pork Roast, Corn, Avocado, Tomato (serves 4)

1 pork tenderloin
1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce (I like this one)

2 cups corn kernels (fresh, if possible — leftover corn is great for this)
2 avocados, diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
juice of 1 lime

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Coat the pork loin in barbecue sauce on all sides. Place on a rack and roast for 25 minutes per pound. Baste with more barbecue sauce if it looks dry during cooking.

Meanwhile, combine the corn, avocado, cherry tomatoes, onion, oil, lime juice and salt and pepper. Allow to marinate, outside of the fridge, while the pork finishes cooking.

Remove the pork from the oven and tent for 10 minutes before slicing. Serve slices of pork on top of the salad.

Krakow and Polish Sausages

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Last week, I saw my grandfather’s face beneath the black cap of a priest with a floor-brushing robe, dusting the frost from the streets of Krakow as he moved with a purpose to God knows where. God probably does know, in fact.

I saw his bow-legged stance, the one that I usually saw as he jauntily pushed a wheelbarrow through the woods, his pipe affixed to the corner of his mouth. This time, it was a on a construction worker shoveling stones into the pitted road outside Krakow as I left, what felt like moments after I had arrived.

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Krakow wasn’t on my list of places to visit. I do have a list, a list that has been languishing for a good three years now, ever since I moved back to Paris and realized that travel cost money, particularly if you didn’t want to be sharing foot water with filthy fellow backpackers who snore themselves awake. Krakow just sort of happened by way of my Godmother, who was planning to spend Thanksgiving there and asked if I would like to tag along. While I had my own Thanksgiving plans — plans that I intend to describe at length at a later date — I decided to take three precious days off work, and so from Monday to Wednesday last week, I was in Poland.

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From the moment I arrived, there was something about it. The language that brushed past me, so far removed from anything I could understand that it became a lyrical white noise. It’s not the same noise as Dutch; I’ve never been to Germany, so I can’t make the comparison. It reduced me to a state of embarrassed humility when I found myself doing what I so hate and asking a blonde woman on the shuttle bus, “Do you speak English?”

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The ride to the city center was cold and uneventful, and yet I couldn’t allow my eyelids to close for even a moment, couldn’t stop staring at the landscape that was so different and yet rang so true.

It’s hard to believe, perhaps, but I didn’t fall in love with France at first sight. It crept up on me, the way that love so often does, until it suddenly seemed inevitable. But the outskirts of Krakow, for some unknown reason, became mine at first glance, the way good friends of good friends can suddenly and without warning become integral parts of your life, the way the cousin of your cousin becomes your cousin before you know his last name.

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My Godmother is an experienced traveler; she’s been to Poland before. She knew, when I arrived, that what I would want to do for the next three days was wander, and wander we did: in and out of cafés, where I ordered mocha without exception once I tasted and categorically refused black Polish coffee. Up and down streets, in and out of boutiques and gourmet food shops.

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And of course, there were the Christmas markets, where we spent the majority of our time and money. More on that at a later date.

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The more we wandered, the more intrigued I became. My aunt told me the story of the church on the main town square that played host to the Christmas markets we were so enchanted by: a horn player who, in announcing the arrival of the Huns with his trumpet, was shot through the throat. Every hour, the horn that announces the time is hushed half-way through its song, in deference to this strange bit of history. I soaked up little moments like this, tried to find common ground with the people I couldn’t understand.

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Or maybe I felt some sort of kinship with this country. My great-aunt would find this alarming; we’re German, not Polish. But with a name that ends in -ski and birth certificates somewhere in a town that now exists within the Polish borders, there’s a reason that I saw my grandfather’s face everywhere I looked.

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I brought two Polish sausages and a slab of lard back from the Polish grocery store and served them with potato pancakes and applesauce and roasted Brussels sprouts. The Country Boy thought they tasted good. I thought they tasted like home… whatever that means.

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Potato Pancakes (makes 6)

400 grams potatoes, shredded on the large holes of a grater
a hefty pinch of salt
4 Tbsp. lard
1 egg

Place the potatoes in a strainer and toss them with salt. Allow to drain for at least 1 hour.

When ready to cook, heat the lard in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Transfer the potato mixture to a bowl and add the egg. Mix to combine.

Test the heat of the lard with a small piece of potato. When it sizzles, dollop large spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the lard. Cook for 2-3 minutes per side, until golden-brown and crispy. Reserve on paper towels.

If you happen to have delicious Polish sausages on hand, put them in what remains of the lard to brown on all sides. Serve with mustard and applesauce.

Jambalaya

Jambalaya

It’s easy, when you first move to a foreign country, to over-generalize everything.

First, you generalize based on stereotypes, expecting that all French men have a moustache, a beret and a striped shirt, that all French women are impossibly thin, smoke, and have a lover for every day of the week. You arrive; you get to know a handful of real French people that don’t come from billboards and 1950s movies. Your expectations change.

And yet, it’s still easy to generalize, though the new generalizations come not from cardboard stereotypes but rather are based upon the people you meet. You hang out with a handful of French people who drink whiskey, and you start to assume that everyone here drinks whiskey. You meet some people who are left wing; you start to think that everyone is left wing. Maybe it’s just me; maybe it’s a mechanism I’ve developed to define or categorize the people that live in this country, a way to make sense of the ways in which we are different from them.

But if that were the case, I wouldn’t be boxing myself into stereotypes as well.

Because there’s another kind of over-generalization happening in my life: the longer I live in France, the more I start to cling onto things that are “typically” American… whether they were interesting to me when I lived in the States or not. For whatever reason, in the past six years, this native New Yorker has become a country music fan, the proud owner of no fewer than three pairs of cowboy boots and an amateur student of the American Constitution and the values of our founding fathers. My Masters thesis involves a comparison of these values in France and in America at the beginning of the 19th century, and yet when we studied American history and politics in school, I couldn’t have been more bored.

I over-generalized the French when I first arrived here, assuming that all families were like my host family, that all girls were like my host sister. Later, I assumed that all boys were like my first French boyfriend, all of which I’ve since learned not to be the case. I know that there’s still a wealth of different sides of the French that I have yet to see, different people I have yet to meet who will expose yet another facet of the nation I love. I know that, even today, as aware as I am of how silly it was to generalize when I first arrived, I’m still doing it; I’m still assuming that because the majority of my French friends studied computer science, like to dance and sing at karaoke bars, and ride motorcycles on the weekends that most French people do those things… and while I realize how silly it is, I have a hard time stopping. I want to be able to make sense of the cultural differences between America and France, and yet I know that neither one really exists as an entity, but rather as a composition, made up of hundreds of thousands of differences that form a heterogenous whole.

And yet I’m still doing it, for whatever reason. Trying to draw lines between “the French” to create a portrait, while simultaneously grasping at anything and everything that seems “American” in order to feel closer to the country that is such a part of me and yet remains so far away.

Jambalaya - Madeline Monaco

Case in point: jambalaya. My first ever jambalaya was one I made on request in Paziols a few years ago. It was good but nothing special; after seeing Jennifer’s – yet another American expat in France — I decided I needed to try my hand at this dish once again. The new version was delicious, though far from traditional, as the chicken legs are roasted instead of stewed, and even further from all-American, with merguez sausage and a bouquet garni on the ingredients list. But all the same, it made me feel slightly closer to home… wherever that is.

Jambalaya - Madeline Monaco

Jambalaya (inspired by Amateur Gourmet and Chez Loulou)

1 pound headless jumbo shrimp, shells on
3 cups homemade chicken broth
1 bouquet garni (bay leaf and thyme, held together with kitchen twine)
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
220 grams (7.75 ounces) fresh chorizo, merguez or other spiced sausage
6 chicken drumsticks
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup long-grain rice
salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco sauce, for serving

Jambalaya

Shell the shrimp, setting aside the meat. Place the shells in a medium saucepan. Add the chicken broth and bouquet garni. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover and turn off the heat. Allow to infuse 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy stockpot with a lid. Cut the sausage into bite-sized pieces and add it to the oil, turning to brown on all sides. Remove to a plate. Salt and pepper the chicken drumsticks, then add them to the pot to sear on all sides. You are not looking to cook the chicken and sausage through; just to sear them. Remove the chicken drumsticks to the plate.

Add the onions, pepper and celery to the pot, along with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables have cooked down and just begun to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.

Open the can of tomatoes. Use your hands to remove each tomato, crushing it as you add it to the pot. When all of the tomatoes have been added, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, line a baking dish with foil, and lay the chicken drumsticks on it. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

When the tomatoes and vegetables have thickened, add the sausage and any juices that have run off from the chicken and sausage to the pot.

Strain the broth into a measuring cup, reserving the bouquet garni. Add the juice from the tomatoes and water if needed to get 3 cups of liquid. Add the liquid to the pot, and then add the rice and the bouquet garni. Cover and cook on low for 25 minutes, or until the rice is tender.

Meanwhile, place the baking sheet with the chicken drumsticks into the oven, and roast 25 minutes, until cooked through with crisp skin.

When the rice is cooked through, season to taste with salt and pepper. You can also add more liquid if needed to achieve the consistency you like. Turn off the heat and add the shrimp, tossing until they are just cooked. Serve in bowls with the roasted chicken drumsticks and Tabasco sauce.

Jambalaya

autumn roast pork, potimarron, chestnuts, onion

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When I first moved to France, I was convinced that I would glide effortlessly into a group of French people, and these people would be my French friends. Co-expats, you may now stop laughing at my naïveté. Those who would move to France… sorry I burst your bubble.

The thing is, French people, in general, have a fairly hard exterior that’s tough to crack. There are, of course, exceptions, like the handful of girlfriends I’ve made who wanted to better their English, or the two French boyfriends I’ve had, one of whom had a grand total of 0% French blood (which does make a difference here), and the other of which I “met” for the second time when he was living in the States and had no French-speaking people to talk to. I was like a memory of the country he left behind, but let’s be fair, that’s what he was to me, back then.

For the most part, however, it’s tough to meet a French person who’s interested in you further than why you speak French and whether you teach English. And it’s not because they’re necessarily being unfriendly… it’s just that they already have friends, and the friendliness factor is low here as compared to my native country.

Case in point: this summer, when the Country Boy and I were visiting New York had met up with some of my friends for drinks at a midtown bar, we gained access to the roof, where TCB immediately lit up a smoke, as French boys are wont to do when the moment they are in a smoking-friendly zone. Soon after, other people came up to the roof, including one American boy in particular, complete with khakis (sorry American boys, but TCB has a feud with khakis, ever since I showed him a picture from the Polo website, and he, aghast, turned to me and asked, “Why would anyone wear anything that ugly?”)

But I digress. The khakis-wearing boy came up to TCB, a dollar in his outstretched hand, and asked if he could bum a smoke. Which to TCB sounded like gibberish, especially considering the dollar. He looked at me for clarification, and I explained that the boy wanted to buy a cigarette from him. TCB found this very strange, gave the boy a cigarette and refused his dollar, and they immediately began chatting. Now, this boy spoke no French, and TCB, while trying very hard, doesn’t really speak all that much English, but somehow, they had a nice little conversation about Sarkozy.

TCB found this entire interaction very strange.

I didn’t really know how to explain why it was appropriate, but it was. It didn’t bother him; it just confused him. Which is fair, I suppose, but it got me thinking about all of the social norms that I had to get used to, once I finally drifted into TCB’s very French social circle two years ago.

With my expat friends, parties were made for drifters. The host might have said 8, but unless dinner was being served, you could come at 10… under the assumption that everyone else would already be drunk. At French parties, even if people have started snacking, no one starts drinking until everyone has arrived. Overgeneralization is the rule when it comes to social norms; I do realize this, and I’m aware that every group has their own thing. But there is one norm that I will never, ever forget that seems to transcend any other rules in France. It is the rule.

When you arrive at an American party, it’s acceptable, even expected, that when you show up, you’ll mutter “Hi,” in the general direction of the room, maybe do a sort of windshield wiper wave, and then grab a drink. But at a French party, you say hello — and goodbye — to everyone. Individually. Handshakes between men, unless they are very, very close, and bises if a woman is involved. No exceptions. Even if you’ve been sick, you come stand in front of the person, say hello, and then apologize that you can’t say hello “properly.” Which makes for awkward exits when you stand up in the wee hours of the morning, suddenly realize you’re trashed, and try to sneak off quietly.

It also makes for interesting arrivals when, as in TCB’s family, giant parties attended by about a hundred people are thrown. Because you do go around and say hello to everyone, even if it takes you 45 minutes.

Perhaps the best illustration of this, for me, is a scene I witnessed a few weeks ago. TCB and I were sitting in his parents’ kitchen, watching as his father and sister made a fondant aux pommes (which is ridiculous and essentially apples suspended in butter held together with just enough flour… I endeavor to obtain the recipe soon). A friend of the family arrived and came over to shake hands with Thierry… who offered an elbow. I looked at TCB incredulous… he just smiled.

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This pork roast recipe has become my standby… it’s easy to make and delicious. But it’s definitely the sort of recipe you wouldn’t want to be making if a French person dropped by; you might have to offer your elbow to shake, lest the visitor get a mustard-covered hand.

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The side dish is what I really want to talk about, though. The delicious combination of potimarron (red kuri squash), chestnuts and sliced onion makes for a perfect autumnal treat.

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Autumn Roast Pork, Potimarron, Chestnuts, Onion

1 2-pound pork roast
4 tbsp. grainy mustard

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, (I used 2 small onions) thinly sliced
2 cups potimarron (or pumpkin), diced
salt to taste
1 cup cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Brush the entire pork roast with the mustard. Place in a a roasting pan with a rack, fat-side up.

Toss the oil, onion, potimarron and salt. Place in the bottom of the roasting pan. Roast for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, add the chestnuts to the bottom of the roasting pan and toss to combine. Continue roasting for an additional 30 minutes.

Remove the roast to a plate and tent with foil. Allow to rest 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

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Pork Roast with Cherry-Beer Sauce

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I think I’m getting old.

And yes, I’m fully aware of the irony of that statement.

But it doesn’t make it feel less true. I feel like I’m getting older, like there’s less “spring-back” in my way of seeing the world. It takes me longer to get back into rhythms and patterns, and I have a harder time leaving things behind, something that has never bothered me before. I used to pack up and leave without so much as a second glance, and now I feel like I’m always glancing… or staring… soaking up as much of my surroundings as I can, because it feels as though everything is moving so fast, and I have no idea how to slow it all down.

This summer, in New York, I was greeted with a heartswell that almost had me crying the second I got off the plane and stepped onto the sidewalk… and I had just arrived. Never mind that I intended to stay for a month; leaving it already felt impossible, not only because of how much I love New York, but also, perhaps especially, because Paris doesn’t feel new anymore.

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It’s hard to imagine getting tired of something like Paris, and I don’t think that’s what I’m describing… not really. It’s not that I don’t want to come back to Paris or that I want to leave. I still love Paris, honestly I do… it’s just that it’s not exciting anymore. It doesn’t feel like a discovery. I used to wake up and laugh because of how simultaneously wonderful and absurd it seemed to be living in a place like Paris. And while it still is, it’s also home to my adult life and everything that comes with it: bills, getting up early to go to work, bad weather (it’s been raining constantly for two weeks), annoying people who elbow you in the métro….

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I don’t think it has very much to do with Paris at all; I think it’s more a time. It’s a moment in my life where I’ve been out of school long enough to feel like I should be well on my way to reality, and yet I still feel young enough where the future is unclear. And so I’m stuck somewhere in the middle, on a bridge between old and new. But I can’t get a clear grasp of old, and I don’t really have much of an idea of what lies ahead.

I just know that that feeling of urgent change that used to hit me is gone, and so is the ease with which I abandoned the now. When I first came to Paris, it was an adventure, but it was also just a stop on the way to somewhere else. When I left it the first time, for Cannes, and then the second time, for San Sebastian, I had no problem saying goodbye. But I feel as though whatever I do next, whether I stay and make Paris even more of a home than it already is or whether I leave for somewhere new, the decision won’t be an easy one.

I can only hope that it’s as exciting as the ones that have brought me to here and now have been… and hope that, in time, I’ll know what this in-between feeling is supposed to help me decide to do.

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Pork Roast with Cherry-Beer Sauce

1 2-pound pork roast
4 tbsp. grainy mustard
1/2 pound fresh cherries
1/4 cup stout
1/4 cup water or chicken broth 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Brush the entire pork roast with the mustard. Place in a a roasting pan with a rack, fat-side up. Roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, pit the cherries.

After 20 minutes, place the cherries in the bottom of the roasting pan. Continue roasting for an additional 40 minutes.

Remove the roast to a plate and tent with foil. Allow to rest.

Meanwhile, place the pan over a low flame. Deglaze the pan with the stout and water or broth. Allow the liquid in the pan to reduce slightly while the roast rests for 10-15 minutes.

Slice the roast into thin slices and serve with the cherry-beer sauce.

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Pork Chops, Mushrooms, Roquefort Sauce, Broiled Figs

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When last we spoke, dear reader, it was summer. I was posting about tarts topped with berries from Paziols and looking forward to going back to the States for a month. Well, summer is over now. I’m back in Paris, and it’s undeniably autumn.

I don’t really know what’s kept me so long. It’s a combination of things, really. I haven’t been cooking much. I’ve been traveling a lot. I’ve been busy. I haven’t had much to say.

But then last night, over dinner of pork chops and mushrooms with blue cheese sauce, the Country Boy asked me how I decided to start cooking. And as I told him the story, I remembered Tomato Kumato. And then I thought maybe, just maybe, those of you out there who are still reading (I don’t blame those who have given up after my spotty posting for the past few months) might be interested in the answer. After all, it has to do with this blog.

When I was growing up, I had the good fortune to be raised by someone who loved cooking. Her favorite moment of the day was preparing the meal that we would all enjoy together in the evenings, talking about our days. When I visited friends and saw that not everyone ate dinner as a family, I felt disoriented and dépaysée. And while I was jealous of others’ Gushers and Dunkaroos snacks, when I finally made it out on my own at Toronto and saw that most people my age were eating frozen pizza and pasta with jarred sauce, I realized I would have to learn how to cook.

Unlike many, who learned to cook at their mother’s elbow, my cooking knowledge didn’t come from the woman who inspired me to cook. I always loved participating in the kitchen, but the small tasks I was assigned only gave me glimpses of the big picture. When it came to making an actual meal, I had to rely on what little I knew from being in the kitchen and the half-recipes my mother gave me over the phone. After a few tomato sauces that tasted more like burnt garlic than anything else, I abandoned the idea of cooking like my mother and resigned myself to cooking like everybody else… starting with Giada de Laurentiis.

I had received one of Giada’s books for my birthday, just before starting school, and so I pulled it off the shelf and tried her recipe for spinach lasagna. It worked. I made little else for a month.

But slowly, I realized that even if I couldn’t cook like my mother, reaching for things to add to the pot seemingly at random, I could follow a recipe. And there were a lot of recipes out there to follow. I started making lists, collecting links from Epicurious, being a regular at Kensington market, and setting off my fire alarm 3 times a week.

Over the course of my two years at Toronto, I tried a little bit of everything, but I didn’t really become good at making anything. Worse, I was a horrific grocery shopper. I had bottles of oyster sauce and hot sauce that I used for one recipe and never touched again. I bought a pound of chicken, made one thigh and accidentally let the rest go bad. I marinated tofu and forgot about it for a week. I was disorganized… but I was learning.

When I moved to France, a combination of having a tightened budget, a smaller fridge and a bitty baby blog that I was just starting to fill with recipes, helped me learn how to cook. Not just to follow a recipe, but to get to the point, now — the Country Boy loves to watch me do it — where I can open a seemingly empty fridge, pull out things at random, and make dinner. I’ve become my mother… I’ve never been happier.

One of the recipes I tried when I was living in Toronto was a fig recipe. The figs were stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in prosciutto. If I had to guess, I’d say it was this one. I didn’t consciously remember it, but I do know that when I went to the butcher to order pork chops, which I knew I’d be making with a sauce from the leftover roquefort in the fridge, that day, that recipe, that kitchen experiment is what made me know, even subconsciously, that figs would go with it. The Country Boy asks me how I know things will go well together… and all I can say is, I know it now, but I didn’t always know. Those days of trying in the kitchen may not have been the most fruitful, from a culinary standpoint, but they’re part of what made me the home cook I am today.

All this to say… yes I’m still cooking. Yes, I’m hoping to post more often now that I’m back into the swing of things. And yes, even if I’m not here quite so often, this blog will always be an important part of who I am in the kitchen.

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Pork Chops with Mushrooms, Roquefort Sauce and Roasted Figs (serves 2)

For the mushrooms:

250 grams mushrooms
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
salt and pepper, to taste

De-stem the mushrooms and wipe them clean. You can rinse them if they’re really dirty; just be sure to dry them well. Slice them thinly.

Heat the butter and olive oil together in a heavy skillet over high heat. When the butter stops foaming, add about two handfuls of sliced mushrooms. Spread them out in the pan, and then let them brown. Stir occasionally until they’re browned, then push them to the edges of the skillet. Add more mushrooms.

Continue until all of the mushrooms have been browned. Push them to the sides, and add the onion. Season with a heavy pinch of salt. Sauté until lightly browned. Mix in with the mushrooms. Taste for seasoning and season to taste. Remove from the pan and keep warm.


For the pork chops:

1 tsp. olive oil
2 pork chops
salt

In the same pan, heat a teaspoon of olive oil. Season the pork chops on both sides with salt. Sear them about a minute on each side. We’re not looking to cook them here; just to sear them. Reserve on a plate.

For the sauce and the figs:

1 glass white wine
2 oz. blue cheese
6 Tbsp. crème fraiche
1 Tbsp. butter
black pepper
4 figs, halved

Preheat the broiler.

Deglaze the pan with white wine. Reduce the heat to low. Add the blue cheese and cream. Stir to combine. When the cheese has melted, add the pork chops back to the sauce, presentation side up. Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the figs in a baking dish lined with foil, cut side up. Place under the broiler to heat through and caramelize the tops a bit. This will take between 3 and 7 minutes, depending on your broiler. Reserve and keep warm.

When the pork chops are cooked through, turn off the heat. Place a mound of mushrooms on each plate. Top with the pork chop. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the sauce and stir it in until it melts. Season with a bit of black pepper. Drizzle some of the sauce over each plate, and serve the rest on the side. Garnish with fig halves.

sanglier, gaulois, dol de bretagne

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I’m afraid that I may not have been entirely frank with you, friends. You see, as I reread past posts about my life here in France, you get all of the good stories. The funny encounters. The moments that have people writing me, telling me that they wish they could just move here, too. And while those moments exist — I may be a fiction writer, but I don’t lie — there are a whole bunch of other moments buried underneath, moments that I definitely don’t evoke when people ask me, “So… you love it here?” I just stand there, nodding and grinning, extolling France’s virtues.

The thing is, most days, I do think about France’s virtues. I don’t spend a lot of time mulling over the parts of my life here that are difficult, and I especially don’t spend all that much time thinking about my first months here, back in 2001. There was no way I would ever have admitted it to my fourteen-year-old self, but I’ve come a long way since then. I can be honest now: I was pretty miserable.

I don’t think it’s really possible to go through the sort of challenge I faced when I first came here and not have a small amount of misery… at least not if you want the outcome I so dearly wanted. When I came here, I was convinced that three months would be enough time to make me fluent. I was also convinced that being the best student in my middle school French class would make becoming fluent a piece of cake. I was wrong on two counts. It’s not that my French didn’t get better; it did. It’s just that there’s a whole lot of space between knowing a handful of vocabulary words and some verb tenses and actually being fluent in a language. Even today, I find myself staring at Facebook statuses (the universal equalizer), trying to come up with a witty response in French that will actually make sense. I generally answer, instead, in English, which has the joint result of making me look intelligent and a little bit like an ass. There’s speaking a language, and then there’s speaking a language; the second level is the one that’s always just a little bit better than what you actually speak.

When I first got to France, I thought I understood a lot of French. I watched movies every evening with my host family, sat around the dinner table with them and told them about my day. I tried to relay stories of American culture to my friends at school, but mostly I just stayed silent and nodded a lot. I surrounded myself with people all the time, something that isn’t natural for me; I’ve always liked being alone. But I knew that none of this would be worth it if I didn’t learn something, and I could feel my French getting stronger every day the more I spoke. Still, I relished my time alone, which came once a day, during foreign language classes: French students learn two foreign languages, English and either Spanish or German, and while I attended English, I was exempted from the second. Instead, I found myself in the school’s CDI — kind of like a library and computer center rolled into one — with the entirety of the Astérix and Obélix comic book collection.

I could get completely lost in the books, devouring one and sometimes two every hour. I loved learning about the cultural stereotypes the French had for other European nationalities, and I loved, finally, being able to read something aside from the four novels I had brought with me from the States (the fact that, ten years later, I still remember which novels they were is a testament to how frequently they were read.) To discover stories that, I would later learn, were firmly rooted in the childhoods of my French peers, was something that would allow me to become closer to these same peers later in life; it’s strange, the day you realize that most French people have never heard of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street.

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Astérix and Obélix taught me a certain amount of useful French, but mostly I just got a feel for reading in a foreign language and accumulated a pile of words I would probably never need, words like Roman legionaries, druid, magic potion and menhir. Still, there’s something to be said for knowledge that, if I had moved back to the States, I might have never used: this summer, when I visited Dol de Bretagne and saw this, I knew immediately what it was.

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The more time I spend with French people, the more I realize how not-French I am. Still, I’m learning every day, and there’s something to be said for still finding delight in things that are commonplace to others. I have been wanting to try sanglier for ten years, ever since I saw it in Astérix et Obélix. While my version may not be roasted, at least it’s not boiled, like that of the Bretons.

Oh, and another fun and slightly unrelated tidbit: this sanglier was actually purchased at Picard, the frozen food store that sells everything from macarons to sushi. Plainly on the label, it says that it comes from Australia. The Country Boy remembered this and told his family; they all had a chuckle, because you see, while wild boar may be foreign for this American girl, in France, you’re more likely to hit a sanglier than a deer on the autoroute.

Civet de Sanglier

1 kilo frozen or fresh wild boar, cut into 2 inch cubes
1/2 bottle red wine
a few sprigs of thyme
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion
1 Tbsp. flour
salt and pepper to taste

Place the boar, frozen or fresh, in a plastic container. Cover with the red wine. Add the thyme and garlic. Mix and cover the container. Refrigerate overnight.

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat. Drain the sanglier, reserving the marinade. Add the cubes of sanglier, a few at a time, to the pot. Brown on all sides and remove to a plate. Cover to keep warm.

Mince the onion and add to the pot. Sauté until translucent and slightly browned. Sprinkle the flour over the onion and stir for about a minute. Slowly add about a half-cup of the wine and stir to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the wine and bring to a simmer. Cook about 10-15 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Add the sanglier.

Cover the pot and cook over low heat for about an hour and a half (this can also be done in the oven at about 250 degrees F). Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with mashed potatoes.

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pork roast, cornbread, cucumber salad

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Sunday lunchtime is a serious affair in France. Around noon, the stairwell in my seven-story building starts to smell like garlic, onions, roasting chicken skin. The line from the bakery goes out the door and along the glass wall as people pick up assortments of pastries and tarts for dessert. I learned today that one can call the police if anyone is doing building construction between noon and two on a Sunday, lest it hinder one’s enjoyment of Sunday lunch. It’s serious business.

Around here, Sunday lunch is really more like Sunday breakfast, and since Sunday is pancake day, there is very little room for anything akin to roast chicken, even if that is what I smell when I walk in the front door after church. By the time I get off on the sixth floor, I could kill for a roast garlic clove… but it’s panake day, and so pancakes I make. They’re actually quite delicious. I usually forget about the chicken.

Still, there’s something very satisfying about cooking a whole bird, a whole roast, something large and meaty that has to be carved. I can do it, but I prefer to ask the nearest gentleman, which has the dual purpose of making said gentleman feel useful and allowing me to do other more interesting things like pour glasses of wine.

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Roasting large cuts of meat used to fall into my food fears, the things I would never do with the worry that I would kill someone with undercooked chicken or create a tough, chewy, gray roast beef. I’m not sure how I started to feel so normal about pork roasts… it didn’t happen until after I had a toaster oven, which is not the best environment for roasting large cuts of meat, but it gets the job done, and I can do it perfectly every time now.

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While my Sunday lunches are, and probably will remain, of the pancake variety, this is something I would make for a Sunday lunch, should my French boyfriend ever decide he wants to stop being so American. The smells are the kind I’d like someone to smell coming up the stairs on Sunday afternoon, hoping that they’re coming from the doorway they plan to stop at. It’s the kind of meal that begs for a walk around the neighborhood afterwards; the Country Boy and I have taken to weekend wandering… late fall in Paris is pretty much begging for it.

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I take pictures, an d when we get back, we have Sunday dinner instead. It doesn’t have the same traditional quality, but then again, there’s something to be said for creating one’s own traditions.

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Mustard Pork Roast

1 onion
5 new potatoes, sliced into discs
1 tsp. salt
1 pork roast (~700 g.)
2-3 Tbsp. spicy French mustard (you can also use whole grain mustard, if you have it)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Slice the onions into thin half-moons, about 1/8 inch thick. Toss with the potatoes and salt, and spread over the bottom of a baking dish.

Coat the pork roast in mustard, using a pastry brush if you have one. Place the roast over the potatoes and onions and roast for 30 minutes.

At the 30 minute point, remove the roast and turn it upside down. Add 2-3 tbsp. of very hot water to the bottom of the baking dish and toss the onions and potatoes. Return to the oven and continue roasting for another 30 minutes. Serve with applesauce, cucumber salad and cornbread.

Cucumber Salad
1 English cucumber
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
fresh black pepper

Using a box grater or a mandoline, slice the cucumber into paper-thin slices. Place in a strainer and add the salt. Toss to coat. Allow to drain for about 2 hours in the sink. (You can also drain over a bowl overnight in the fridge.)

Add the sugar, cider vinegar and black pepper. Marinate about an hour in the fridge.

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Cornbread
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 can (250 g.) corn, drained and puréed
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a medium bowl, combine the corn, eggs, milk and melted butter. Add the qet ingredients to the dry, stirring just enough to combine. Pour into a buttered loaf pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Rôti de porc, homemade applesauce, “carrot fries”

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I’m pretty lucky when it comes to the Country Boy… as far as boys are concerned, he falls on the “fairly awesome” side of the scale. No housecleaning task is too girly for him; he was raised helping his mamma, so he does a lot of things (OK, most things) better than I do. (Yes, I got me a mamma’s boy. No, this poses no problem whatsoever.)

The Country Boy leaps into action when he knows what he’s supposed to be doing — or what could be done. When things are broken, he fixes them. When there are dishes in the sink, he does them. Sometimes, I come home to find him ankle-deep in cleaning products, rinsing off the shower. When I start to feel guilty and tell him he shouldn’t have, he just screws up his eyebrows, stares at me, and in the most adorable French accent with his nearly-correct English, he says, “Baby, how do you think I am?”

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He humors me, though whether it’s for my sake or his own sanity has yet to be confirmed. When I said I wanted to go apple picking a few days ago, not only did he tag along, but he carried the entire backpack — several kilos of apples, squash, tomatoes and carrots — the entire half-hour walk back to the train station. I prostested, but he wouldn’t hear it.

I love that boy.

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He doesn’t even complain when, especially as of late, pretty much everything that comes out of the kitchen is vegetarian. There have been risottos, pastas, roasted vegetables and fried eggs… but until the day of the apple picking adventure, no meat to speak of.

But then I met a woman at the morning market selling the most beautifully spiced, already cooked pork roast, and I know how well pork goes with freshly made applesauce… and how much TCB likes meat.

Pour deux personnes, s’il vous plait,” I asked, because at the market, you tell the vendor how many you are, and they tell you how much you can eat. But as she made the move to slice a couple of meager tranches, I faltered.

Au fait… mettez-en plutôt pour trois,” I corrected. TCB, while thin, can eat more than most people I’ve met. “Ou bien… tout ce morceau là.” I pointed to a large-ish chunk that she wrapped in butcher paper without slicing.

What can I say? I’m American.

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We ended up with enough pork for two meals; we ate the first few slices fried up quickly in a frying pan and accompanied by applesauce and roasted carrots and potatoes; TCB calls them “carrot fries.” He sneaks into the kitchen when they’re almost done and opens the oven to stir them, flicking one onto the counter deftly with a wooden spoon.

Oh mince,” he says, pretending to be surprised and sorry as he eats it in one bite. “She fell.” Because carrots, as everyone knows, are female.

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I don’t have a recipe for the pork roast, and the carrot fries recipe is the same as this one.

Chunky Applesauce

Note: This applesauce is unsweetened, so it goes really well with savory foods.

10-12 apples of different types (I used Boskoop and Jonagold)
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1/4 cup water

Peel and core the apples, and cut into chunks. Place into a large, heavy bottomed pot with a lid, like a Dutch oven. Add the cider vinegar and water, and cook over medium-low heat, covered. Stir about every 10-15 minutes with a wooden spoon, smushing the apples against the bottom of the pot.

This applesauce can be cooked for anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour, depending on the firmness of the variety of apples you use and the texture you’re going for. I cooked mine for about 30 minutes, so that some of the apples had fallen apart, and others remained in larger chunks.

Mustard Pork Roast with Apples

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It’s difficult to explain to people who don’t live in Paris how easy it is to forget that I’m here.

I’m not saying this to rub it in your faces, honestly. Sometimes I find myself sitting in front of movies about Paris, and I get homesick for the place that I discovered in my carefree years at AUP, when the only work I had was done lazily with Emese on the train back from Cannes, completely forgetting, for a moment, that my métro, boulot, dodo happens in the City of Lights. Needless to say, my daily rhythm has changed a bit over the past four years, and without my apartment in the 7th and groups of bright-eyed visiting students arriving every four months to remind me just how amazing Paris is, it’s easy to forget.

Which is why I’m so, so grateful for my job. You see… I work at Versailles.

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Versailles is the name of the château and the town, so let’s clarify my word choice: I do, in fact, work at Versailles, not in Versailles. Every Monday morning, I drag myself out of bed and onto the RER C for the hour-long commute to the gilded place of residence of several of France’s most famous kings.

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My job isn’t nearly as glamorous as that of Louis XVI, or even really that of Marie-Antoinette’s ladies-in-waiting, or the guy who shoveled out the royal stables. I teach English to the manager of a restaurant within the château’s park, so while my actual job involves lesson planning and verb tenses–fun, sure, but not in any way glamorous–my morning walk to work is made up of fountains and perfectly manicured trees.

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It’s not a bad way to wake up on Monday morning.

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On Mondays, the château itself is closed, but the park is opened, and while several locals jog along the paths of Marie-Antoinette’s famous garden, I’m mostly alone, the sun rising slowly and the mist lifting off the expanses of green lawn.

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I’m reminded of a game I played when I was younger, when I visited castles or huge mansions now converted into museums, imagining what the childhood of someone raised here would have been like. Would she have played hide-and-seek amongst the trees? Lain on the lawn to watch the clouds disappear behind the stone walls of the chateau? Splashed in the impossibly intricate fountains on warm summer days?

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It’s still a little cool for splashing in fountains, but with spring has come early sunrises, and so 8 am is the perfect time for slowly walking up the paths, listening to the birds in the trees, examining the nooks and crannies that, on my walk back to the station at 11:30, with tourists taking pictures and the midday sun firmly in the air, just isn’t the same.

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I guess I can’t blame it entirely on them. By the time my three-hour class is finished, I’ve moved on to the next thing on my to-do list. With the two or three cups of morning coffee coarsing through my system, I’ve got the rest of the day’s plans on my mind. Like I forget that I’m in Paris, I can even forget that I’m in Versailles.

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Spring has brought lovely, sunny weather, at least in this part of the world, and that’s a good thing. But when I’m preoccupied with my thesis, work, school, friends and spending pretty much every weekend riding the train back and forth to the Country Boy’s house for this birthday or that party, it can be difficult to take advantage of it. Still, I smell spring in the air, and I remember my last spring here. I was “being a writer,” so I spent a lot of time wandering, exploring Parisian markets and discovering little corners of the city I’m getting more and more comfortable in every day.

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But after so long, it’s easy to forget. I can walk straight past the Luxembourg gardens without even looking. I duck into Gibert Joseph without a glance at the St-Michel fountain. I’ve gotten too used to Paris.

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Almost a year ago today exactly, I was complaining on this very blog about missing Paris, about New York not living up to my expectations. A-year-ago me would be very displeased with my blasé attitude towards the City of Lights.

Well, no more. I’m done staring at my shoes like the inhabitants of Reality in The Phantom Tollbooth, letting the world disappear around me as I stare at my shoes. And I have Versailles to thank for it.

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This is an especially interesting discovery for me to be making now; I hate to admit it, but I’ve been starting to feel the same way about cooking as well. I still make dinner every night, but I don’t relish the creativity of making meals as much. I make the same things often, I don’t try new recipes. I still bookmark things that look nice, but I tell myself I don’t have the time.

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The other day, I took a breath. I stopped my constant mantra of, “I can’t, I don’t have time,” and instead told the Country Boy to invite his cousin, whose husband and daughter are away on a ski trip, for dinner. I picked up a pork roast–a new cut of meat for me–and rummaged through the fridge, pulling out an onion, an apple, a jar of French mustard. This is what happened, and it was delicious, not to mention inspiring.

I’m looking forward to next Monday, to see what else Versailles has to offer me.

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Mustard Pork Roast with Apples

1 green apple
1 onion
1 tsp. salt

1 pork roast (~700 g.)
2-3 Tbsp. spicy French mustard (you can also use whole grain mustard, if you have it)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Slice the apples and onions into thin half-moons, about 1/8 inch thick. Toss with salt and spread over the bottom of a baking dish.

Coat the pork roast in mustard, using a pastry brush if you have one. Place the roast over the apples and onions and roast for 30 minutes.

At the 30 minute point, remove the roast and turn it upside down. Add 2-3 tbsp. of very hot water to the bottom of the baking dish and toss the apples and onions. Return to the oven and continue roasting for another 30 minutes.

Rest the roast under foil for 10 minutes, then slice and serve with the reduced onions and apples.