The inside of my mind looks like my bedroom used to when I was a teenager. I know where everything is, organised into piles of chaos, but from an outsider’s perspective it’s just mess. This last month has been – I won’t use the word crazy, too cliched – distracting. I locked myself away in a studio apartment in Toulouse for a week, deserting my husband and kids while I gave myself a talking to. It’s taken me 11 months to be writing the book I wanted to start in January, but that’s ok. I’m well on the way now, and it’s consuming many of my wakeful hours, some of my sleeping hours, a large percentage of my brain power and way more emotion than I expected it to.
All these piles deserve a post of their own, but for now, in the spirit of ensuring I stay on track with this book, I’m reverting to a dot point each in order to share them with you. I’m relying on the good work of others to bring you some kitchen inspiration this time.
- I recently travelled to Barcelona and took part in a Paella class with the gorgeous Marta. She is not only a passionate cook but she reminded me of the school teacher you’d never forget from high school. You know the one who was efficient, quick-witted, strict in her ways but ultimately had a huge heart for people? Marta is a little pocket-rocket and learning Paella from her in her top floor city apartment was a memorable experience. You’ll have to travel to Barcelona for her famous recipe, but one tip I will give you: the days of the Paella Crust are dwindling. Most cooks these days won’t serve it this way because of new(ish) information about the cancer causing properties of carbon. So the 3 paella I tried in Spain were without the crust I was expecting. Marta’s paella still had tons of flavour and I have taken to using her sofrito as a base for other rice dishes, as the capsicums here at the moment are plentiful in reds, yellows, greens and oranges and they are beautifully sweet. I have a paella dish waiting for me back in Australia, but our rented apartment here in France doesn’t extend its culinary offerings quite so wide. I highly recommend looking Marta up next time you travel to Spain.
- Speaking of lovely ladies with more wisdom than I, do you remember Emma from Tuscany? I recently made her Apple Cake with pine nuts again and was reminded how the simple things can be so appreciated. It is so easy and caramelises perfectly. She’s happy to share the love by giving you her recipe. Make it with the kids … it won’t fail.
- Something strange is happening to my body … for the first time ever it’s edging away from it’s historically carnivorous ways and asking for more vegetables. I can’t seem to get enough. I’m eating upwards of 6 types of vegies a day! Admittedly, the produce here tastes so good. I’ve even found a local who grows the most magnificent kale I’ve ever tasted and she cuts it Wednesday morning for me and brings it to the boy’s soccer training Wednesday afternoon … it’s heavenly. So aside from kale chips and kale salads, Kelly Gibney’s rich lentil and mushroom pie (think vegetarian shepherd’s pie) has been a regular in my kitchen. My 6yr old’s comment the last time we ate it: “Mum, I love the mince in this, it’s delicious!” I explained they were actually lentils. So the next time we ate it, my 6yr old’s twin sister commented: “Mum, these mentals are awesome!” I nearly spat my ‘mentals’ out from laughing so hard.
I watched a documovie called Foodies recently, which delves into the subculture of mostly wealthy people who spend their time and most of their cash, on fine dining. I have, of course, always thought of myself as a foodie. Until I saw this film. I was half enamoured (by the craft of the skilled chefs), half repulsed (by the wastefulness and the attitudes of those eating). I walked away feeling like I needed to write about the different subcultures within this subculture. I do not identify as a ‘foodie’ if all they do is travel the world to visit Michelin-starred restaurants. I would go so far as to say these people are more so obsessed eaters, out of touch with reality, than people who appreciate the goodness and simplicity of produce grown, prepared and shared with love. They eat alone in these fancy restaurants and I almost feel sorry for them, knowing what little joy they may get from a beautifully boiled egg with fresh toast and butter shared with family, or a humble cherry tomato freshly picked and tasted at a local market. Their world is so far from mine, that I think the film should be renamed to ‘Rich Solo Eaters’. Could I even use the word snob? Probably. I guess there is more than one way to enjoy food, like anything. Take cycling for example. I prefer the Sunday afternoon jaunt as opposed to the 5am sprint, so perhaps I should reserve my judgement. All I’ll say is that a ‘foodie’ can be many different things. An essay, perhaps, for another day.
Aside from these points, my mind and my heart is still reeling from the nasty business that happened recently in Paris, and continues to effect us globally. It severely challenged my optimism and made me want to be home (but not go home, if that makes sense) in Australia more than ever. However, that would have ended our time here in France on a sour note, and I couldn’t have that happen. I turned to the comfort of simple routines in the kitchen and in nature with my family to take my mind off such sadness.
On a happier note, and now more relevant than ever, we are attending our very first all-American Thanksgiving dinner on Friday night. We have friends who live here, originally from Texas, and they go all out each year with a dinner for 50 people. I’m helping out with some of the cooking. I’m making a Sweet Potato Casserole, which I thought was a dessert when I saw the recipe, but apparently it’s served with the Turkey as a side. Hmmm, even my Texan friend joked about the American’s desire to sweeten everything. I may secretly tweak the recipe … or I may just do what I’m told and sit back to observe and enjoy the whole experience. Either way, we have much to be thankful for and I’m looking forward to sharing a meal with my fellow humans from all over the world.
Wherever you are in the world, I pray there is peace in your hearts and good food on your plate.