Meals I Cook in France

Friends are usually surprised when I tell them that we eat differently in France.  Sure you can still get eggs and dairy products, plus there’s an array of vegetables and fruit available.  But, in general, products in the marchés and supermarchés vary widely when compared to home.  It’s really obvious when selecting meats for dinner that “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

When is the last time you were able to purchase rabbit in the grocery store, for instance?  I know that I can get it frozen at Latham Meat Market, but I’ve never seen it fresh like we do here.  Since my father was a hunter, I don’t consider rabbit a strange dinner option and we’ve had it during the last week.  The old aphorism “it tastes like chicken” is not quite right in this case, but if well prepared, it’s quite tasty.  Years ago when our family spent a year in Lyon I found a recipe in the local newspaper for lapin aux olives So, just in case you feel like going to Latham Meat Market (or its equivalent near you), here’s how you might decide to prepare it.  First, salt and pepper the pieces of rabbit and brown them in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  Add in a minced clove or two of garlic, one can of tomato sauce, and a cup of red wine.  (You could also add some herbes de Provence or a shallot or onion, if you want.)  Let the mixture cook for about a half hour, then slice in some green olives, with or without pimento.  The resulting sauce is dark and delicious.  You might serve the dish with rice, noodles, or just bread.

Another common meat choice in France is duck.  Magret de canard, or duck breast, is seemingly always in the meat counter.  Larger cities in the U. S. have specialty shops where you can go buy it as well.  There are many ways of cooking duck and it is quite easy to do.  Most preparations entail adding some kind of fruit to the sauce.  The other night I simply put a few slashes in the duck fat and cooked it fat-side down for about ten minutes.  Then I flipped it over, covering the pan with aluminum foil for about 10 more minutes because it was a rather thick piece of meat.  It’s important not to overcook the duck; medium rare is the best way to eat it.  To make a quick sauce, I added a couple of tablespoons of apricot jam to the juices in the bottom of the pan.  Very quick and very good. 

For those of you who are thinking “yes, but I can’t get any of those meats around here,” I’ll include one last dish: escalope de dinde à la crème, or turkey cutlets in cream.  The original recipe I found for this called for veal, which would be nice; you could use chicken breasts, too.  I first salt, pepper, and flour the cutlets and brown them in a mixture of butter and oil.  Then I add in some chopped red pepper, onion, and mushrooms.  Cook until the vegetables are done, then pour in some white wine and about a half-cup of heavy cream.  It’s a very good meal and I’m not sure why I only make it in France!

Anyway, I hope you’ll give some of these recipes a try. 

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Alien Attitudes

Travel in another country can often make one feel strange and out of sorts.  There are so many new things to interpret: customs, signs, gestures, mindsets, not to mention vocabulary and pronunciation even in English-speaking areas of the world.  Recently though, I’ve come to realize that there are moments when one can feel as disconnected within one’s native land as in a foreign country.

Just last week at the pharmacy counter in our hometown grocery store, a man named Dominick waiting in line began a conversation with my husband and me.  We’ll long remember the exchange we had with him because of his cynical attitude.  For starters, according to him all government officials are corrupt—from Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Governor Andrew Cuomo to the lowliest local official.  A former state worker himself, he felt “the government” was even to blame for the incompetence of the drug store employees at Price Chopper!  How he figured that I haven’t a clue!  But that wasn’t all.  He believes that everyone should carry a gun…that we would all feel a lot safer right there in the supermarket if that were the case.  He suggested that by the time we reach his age—he was about 7 years older—we might mature and come around to his point of view.  Lord, spare me from that!  He told us that we are the type of people who welcome illegal immigrants from Mexico.  When we mentioned our plans for a semester in Paris to try to change the subject, he replied that the French capital should be destroyed because of its government’s decision not to let U.S. planes fly over their country at the beginning of the war in Iraq.  Everything out of his mouth was negative; how sorry I felt for his wife and family!  It was impossible to discuss anything with him or simply to present one’s own side of the issues.  While we laughed at the so-called “conversation,” it really left us with an empty, alienated feeling.

By contrast, our initial contacts with the French and other Europeans on this trip are going swimmingly.  Of course, it’s not our first opportunity to live abroad and being fluent in the language helps enormously.  Americans often ask me if French people are arrogant, impolite, and treat us poorly; the answer is hardly ever.  The night we arrived, for example, we had dinner in a nearby couscous restaurant.  We discussed Algeria and the Berber culture with the owner and his son the waiter.  A client from Anjou about to leave for Agriculture Sans Frontières in Haiti talked about his experiences all over the world.  A Dutch couple, who spoke English, not French, encouraged us to come see windmills in their town, Zevenbergen. 

Naturally, that is not to say that there aren’t any Dominiques around who are just as negative as the guy in Price Chopper.  It’s just that when confronted with such a person, we shouldn’t generalize that all of the French are like that, just as we wouldn’t want to be put in the same category as Dominick.  Europeans that we’ve met on this and previous trips mostly have an open attitude toward us, including an important ability to separate individuals from governments; not all Americans are so open-minded.  Once again, attitude on both sides makes a difference.  We don’t expect them to act American or to speak English.  My basic advice is always the same: approach others with a smile, greet them in their language, and learn to say a few phrases wherever you might be traveling.

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