But yesterday I took my walk and on the loop back stopped at Whole Foods to buy some oatmeal. They were selling baguettes for two bucks. I figured I’d take the gamble. It’s fashionable to talk shit about Whole Foods. But the baguette I got there was almost—almost—as good as my daily special from Eric Kayser. I brought it home, sat up with my wife and my kid and we all got high.
When I was leaving Paris, I wrote about how the things I valued seemed to be valued over there. High on that list are things you stuff into your body. And when I thought about what I stuffed into my body, while in Paris, I didn’t feel like a foodie. I didn’t feel special. I felt like I was learning French. But I guess I am a foodie now. I’ll take that. There aren’t many moments of peace and bliss. I can’t drink like I did when I was young. My life doesn’t really allow for marijuana. But I need a separate space. Dinner seems like a good place to draw the line.
It’s really true. I think people who disdain “foodies” think that we only like fancy food. A true foodie eats high and eats low, but always tries to eat well. As I write this, I have a brisket in the oven, slow-roasting for lunch tomorrow. It’s a slab of grass-fed beef from a cow we bought from a local farmer. I usually lard my brisket with bacon, but we have no bacon in the house, so I just put it in the Dutch oven atop a nest of thin-sliced onions. Rubbed the brisket with kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper. That’s it. And when it comes out of the oven four hours from now, it will be a thing of beauty and joy.
When I cook, I rarely cook anything that could remotely be called “fancy.” My favorite thing to do are stews and braises. French country comfort food is the ideal. You might remember my posting a country French recipe I’d come across a few months ago, and tried — chicken pan-fried in a red wine vinegar sauce. It was fairly easy, but the taste was special; I’d never had anything quite like it. All my dinner guests loved it, which made me happy. We’ve cooked it again since then, and it’s joined my kitchen repertoire. To me, it’s so satisfying not only to discover a new dish that tastes great, but also to learn how to cook it. In fact, it’s one of the most satisfying things I know.
As you will remember if you were a reader last October, when I spent that month in Paris, I often wrote about food. The French have a reputation for being fancy about their food, and it’s a deserved reputation. But we never ate a complicated meal there. When you’re traveling with three American children, you don’t really have that luxury. So we ate lots of crèpes, both savory and sweet. And bread, and cheese, and simple things you could buy at street markets, bakeries, charcuteries, and the deli counters at Monoprix. To be in a country in which food is taken seriously means that even people who eat simply can eat well. There were many moments of peace and bliss for me in Paris, and most of them had to do with something I was eating or drinking. I have in my pantry a small jar of Christine Ferber raspberry confiture; in my fridge is a half-eaten jar of Christine Ferber citrus confiture. Both were sent to us by dear friends who, knowing our devotion to Christine Ferber’s jams, picked them up on a trip this summer to Paris. These jams are so delicious that we parcel them out by the tiny spoonful, to make them last as long as possible. Call me crazy, but that jam makes me deeply happy and at home in the world, in the same way that my dad’s turnip greens and pot liquor make me happy and at home in the world. Foodies understand. And to be in France is to be in a country where just about everybody understands.