Notes from San Francisco to Paris, Vol. 1, #1

Some days we get reminders of where we have been. Other days we also realize where we do not wish to return. On rare, magical days, all of this may come together, along with where our hearts really want to go. I have been taking some quick lunch hour refresher cooking classes at our local William Sonoma store near my office. I say refresher because I had stopped doing much real cooking for a long time. I started going into William Sonoma, a US based cookery store, poking around to remind myself of what I use to be able to do. I was pretty fearless back then, and would try all kinds of things. Times and our lives can change though, but now it was time to tap into some of the new techniques being used today. I have actually subscribed to several upscale cooking magazines, along with being a consummate cookbook collector. I have always collected cooking utensils and cook books even if I did not use them often. From the books I have learned about cultures and cuisines of the world, which I find fascinating, while the utensils were reminders to keep my dreams alive. Some day I knew I would return to things that had been passions, and this time I wanted to learn how to actually make some things that I only held as dreams in my head. I had never gotten to make such things as Madeleine’s, French tartes, coq au vin, quiche, crepes, and old fashion pound cake. I have made all of these now, along with returning to make some of the traditional foods of my parents home town of New Orleans. I must say that after such a long break things were actually pas mal! Perhaps “time out” gives us renewed energy we do not realize we had buried inside, because we are taking on new things? I have been updating myself on certain foods and techniques because earlier in this new millennium, I finally started going to Paris! This was a buried dream, one which was a long time coming. One block was that I had the idea frozen in me was that I could not go unless I was able to speak perfect French. The myth resolved itself, and my Franglais seems to be fine… for now. We do have some wonderful French cafes, bistros, and restaurants in the Bay Area, and I like to try and replicate some of the things that I have enjoyed at them. The whole thing of eating with the seasons is truly coming into being around here, and along the West Coast we are hearing “terroir” more and more. I have found locally grown charentais melons, as good as those I have eaten in Paris, and la ratte potatoes are soon to be available. We can now find French butter, true crème fraiche, and bakeries, who’s small, delicious pastries and macaroons would possibly rival any in Paris….I am here to tell you. Our Farmer’s Markets are beginning to thrive, and are pushing even the traditional hyper marches to “up” the quality of their produce. The vendors I seem to go to, are not always able to tell you when a product will be at its peak of ripeness….for a given day and meal. Paris markets still have the edge here, but I can see that if we keep pushing, and are aware of what we truly want for ourselves, excellent information will become a necessity for the marketeers. Getting back to the magic that happened to day….the petite William Sonoma class was on glace, i.e.: ice-cream, gelato, and though described in the hand-out, sorbets were only mentioned. The rich vanilla bean custard was made from scratch, both egg and non egg based. As Lisa, our instructor gave directions, we talked about the home made types we may have grown up with. Oh, those memories can make your heart sing. As toppings she had soaked fresh strawberries in aged balsamic vinegar, made a Larousse Gastronomique chocolate sauce, and a blueberry puree to add to the base ingredients. We were able to sample an ice cream cake with more layers than clothes needed for our proverbial summer in San Francisco, choose a topping, or have some of the blueberry infused cream. I saw no one turn down small samples of all… including me. My taste buds were in heaven! When the class was over, Lisa had gone to get a magazine she had brought for me. It had photos of an 18th C collection of women’s shoes, owned by a woman I have worked for and Lisa had shopped with in San Francisco, an American, Lillian Williams. She is a noted world class collector, who has homes in various parts of France, including Paris. I was delighted with the article, the class, and Lisa’s thoughtfulness. As I turned to leave, a woman walked up and asked what we were doing. Lisa offered her a sample, and I guessed from her speech, that she was French, even as she turned down the treat. When I told here what it was made from scratch, her eyes lit up and she said she would have to taste that! However, she took a few tiny bites and said that she was satisfied. She also said that where she worked, there was always food around… too much food! …
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