I was never a cook. I love to eat and I do enjoy to cook, but I do just the basics. When it finally hit me how expensive going out all the time had been turning into, I desperately needed a new hobby. One day, I was watching Julia Child on Youtube and thought to myself, “I have never been great at it, but I am going to improve!” So I went to rule #1 and poured myself a glass of rosé and began my newest indulgence.
I know a delightful american couple that sold most of their belongings stateside and retired to France. They have a stunning apartment in the 6eme and have became like family. There are no words to describe our summer, fall, winter, and automne days of lounging on the balconies, overlooking the treetops and the city discussing life. We also happen to become cooking buddies. Now mind you, she is an exquisite cook and I learn much through our adventures. I now can cook a mean pie crust (the trick is to freeze the butter) and a cooked squash with a maple syrup filling that will make your lips melt!
We trade ideas, recipes, cooking secrets, a bit of Lyon gossip here and there, but most importantly where to find those dreaded ingredients. In France it’s not possible to just have a whipping cream, they have like 1,900 different types. We don’t just have light cream, we have 10% light cream, 30% light cream, 50% light cream and not to mention that then we have the 10% liquid light cream, the 30% liquid light cream, and the 50% liquid light cream. Tracking down powdered cloves requires indepth research, first just to see if it even exists here and then a journey to a huge algerian spice shop in the middle of the city that will tickle the fancy of any baker. Must I even mention trying to find the moist, condensed brown sugar that we have back in the States because here it is sugary and very grainy, but alas through another expat I discovered a “sorta” brown sugar, but of course we then have the darkened molasses version brown sugar or the light version brown sugar. It never ends.
Corn syrup-forget it. Vegetable shortening-forget it. Yes there is Végétaline but it’s really for french fries. Do I need to bring up pumpkin spice? Yes, many of these you can recreate yourself, but this takes time and resources. So one does learn to substitute and make do. Us novice cooks require bloggers, the Internet, cooking friends, and a good brandy or in my case a good chilled glass of Chartreuse to get through this journey of cooking abroad.
Once you have found all your little treasures, garnered much new cooking vocabulary, spent just as much money on ingredients and food as you would have had you went out, you are ready to create something spectacular. Oh but wait, then we must convert cups to grams, ounces to centiliters, fl ounces to milliliters, farenheit to celsius just then to only realize that you don’t own a rolling pin. Back to the store yet once again!
With every new dish comes new knowledge. Some dishes are delicious, others are average, and a few are beyond disasters. Such as the maple crusted pumpking whipped cream cheesecake that took 3 hours to prepare and only to find out that the molasses here, unto which you can only find at the Bio store, is so incredibly thick, strong, and pungent that I needed half of what the recipe called for. Then the brown sugar that I had used was the dark kind, which made the crust even more unedible because it too was laced with molasses, but as any good chef says, “C’est la vie.” Thus I then go back to rule #1 and refill the glass and say, “What can I tackle next?” This is Erich Child saying, “Bon Appétit et Bonne Chance!”