A few years ago, a good friend who has sadly moved away, was kind enough to take me to Restaurant Le Meurice for dinner. The first memory of walking into the done-up dining room was the way the waiters brought her an Hermès stool for her purse, which was an Hermès Kelly bag. The second memory I have, was shortly after when we sat down and they asked if we wanted apéritifs. I’d heard about the house apéritif they were serving back then, which was famous, so I ordered one.
People often ask me what Parisians do for Thanksgiving. And while many French holidays are celebrated in America, Thanksgiving is one that doesn’t cross the Atlantic.
I’ve done a Thanksgiving dinner for friends and it takes quite a bit of time to find and assemble all the ingredients. And although a few stores that cater to American expats stock everything, it’s more fun to make fresh pumpkin puree for pies, break up a pain au levain for stuffing, and to get a free-range French turkey – which I found out that many poultry sellers with rotisseries will pop it on their spit-roaster for you, which is a boon for those in Paris with dinky ovens.
And, if I may be so bold, Thanksgiving is a holiday where we spend eating food that doesn’t especially appeal to people outside of the United States. The French eat pumpkins, but roasted, and not in dessert. (Nor with marshmallows!) The French version of stuffing, or farce is mostly meat, with a bit of seasonings to round out the flavor. And flour-thickened brown gravy isn’t quite the same as sauce au jus de volaille.
So while we Americans love all that stuff for nostalgic reasons, people in France don’t have that same set of references we do, and most seem to politely “appreciate” it, but I don’t know any French people who hoard molasses or stuffing mix, or spend the few months prior to November downloading Thanksgiving recipes.
My favorite thing that I bought this year is this old battered gelato dish, which was my score at a street market in Palermo. It was sitting there all by its lonesome, and there I was, to give it a happy home – it was kismet. (Or maybe it’s called something else in Italian, but I’m just happy I stumbled across such a fabulous find for only €2.)
So I’ve been trying to use it at much as possible. But since I only got one, that means I have to share. Which is pretty much a good thing when it comes to desserts anyways, as few of us can eat a whole cake, pie, or quart of ice cream.
When I went to get the chicken to make my bisteeya, I wanted to follow the recipe to a T. So I went to the butcher to get a precise amount of chicken in grams. Since I wasn’t sure what one chicken thigh weighed, I took a guess that I might need 3 or 4 thighs. Judging from the reactions I get when ordering things by weight, they don’t get a lot of recipe-testers or cookbook authors shopping at my butcher shop. When the butcher put the poulet fermier thighs on the scale to show me, I wavered, thinking that the quantity looked a bit stingy and perhaps I should get a few extra. Then I started thinking (which often gets me into extra-trouble), “Well, since I’m here, I may as well get a few more.”
The good news about my trip to Sicily is that it wasn’t all eating almond cookies and cannoli, looking for parking spaces in Palermo (and paying one of the fellows lurking about to keep an eye on the car), gorging on fresh ricotta, and wiping and everything you possible can in generous drizzles of the amazing olive oil produced there.
There was “pasta” – made from almond paste, a plate that’d fool even those with sharper eyes than I. We had the aforementioned spleen sandwiches, which I was relieved to hear were not made from pancreas, and we ate salumi (charcuterie) because it was so good that it would have felt like a crime not to. (And I didn’t want to get into trouble in Sicily, if you know what I mean.) Since I only had one week on the island – two days of which were travel days, and two other days were dedicated to work that landed in my Inbox right before the trip – we managed to make the time for a quick trip to Modica.
From day 1, I was instantly smitten with the almond cookies I had in Sicily. Most cafes I went to in Sicily served a variety of sweets to choose from, to go along with coffee – and it’s probably a good thing that cafés in France don’t, because otherwise they’d have to force me out of there with a crowbar.
I’ve been living in what is arguably the center of Europe for a while now (and I’m certain someone will get out their ruler and argue that technically, I don’t actually reside in the precise center of the continent – but let’s just go with that for the sake of the story), I don’t visit other countries as often as I’d like. It’s so easy to just stay home, not worry about airline tickets, packing, making sure you bring enough socks and don’t forget shaving cream, getting to the airport on time, the stress of unpacking everything to pass through security, and being herded onto, then cooped up in, a tight plane for a few hours in a seat that’s just barely big enough to hold a small child.
The reward, however, is arriving somewhere, leaving the airport, and realizing you’re somewhere magnificent. Even if you have to nearly blow-up like a smoldering Sicilian volcano to get there.
Sicily has been at the top of my list for a while now, but by the end of fall, less folks want to travel there. And because it’s not a popular winter destination, airlines heavily reduce their flights to Sicily and I had to do some sleuthing around to find out which one would actually take us there.
I’ve been terribly remiss in a lot of things. I have piles of paperwork stacked around me so high that the mess of papers are tumbling into the others. (Who knows what kind of catastrophe is waiting for me when I accidentally mash-up a recipe, and my French electrical bill?) There are reams of e-mails that I’ve starred so much that my Inbox looks like a planetarium. And I just got back from a trip I and returned to find my apartment a frosty 15º (59ºF) since the heat seems to have stopped working.
And since I’m on a roll here, I spent 3 hours last night trying to figure out how to put a group of pictures into a folder in the new photography program I got to help me organize my photos (which, like my office, aren’t very well-organized), which shouldn’t be that hard. Does anyone else wonder why we spend so much time wrestling with technology, when it’s supposed to make everything easier?
Another thing I’ve been remiss about is getting back to a number of recipes that went away when I changed blogging platforms back in 2006, losing them all to cyberspace. However they apparently continue to exist on search engines because I get messages at regular intervals from random folks wondering where those recipes went.