Perhaps it began with my grandmother’s elaborately themed birthday cakes that made me feel sooo special. Or my mother’s simply-the-best apple pies that she baked every single holiday—plus one extra to savor the next morning for breakfast. Or maybe it’s my great grandmother’s doing; she lived to be 103 and right up to the end tottered into our kitchen every Thanksgiving with a bowl of her homemade oyster stuffing and a mincemeat pie.
In my family, there was no antonym to the word homemade.
Or perhaps I must go back further, to my lineage who hailed from New Jersey—farmers all. Food was, in every sense of the word, our sustenance.
I was newly married and living just north of Detroit when Pat told me that corn and tomatoes could be procured from a grocery store.
“No way,” I replied.
Corn, I explained, came from Lenora who ran a farm stand in my tiny hometown of Allenwood, New Jersey. My mother and I stopped in each day on our way home from the beach. Lenora was tanned as brown as a pecan and had the shortest hair—and the most dirt-encrusted fingers—I’d ever seen on a woman. She and my mother would ferret out the freshest and tastiest options that day, and then my mother would proceed to select our dinner. I have few fonder memories than an August night and a plate of hot buttered corn.
Unless perhaps it’s my father’s tomatoes. One ruby-red slab covered an entire slice of bread and required no further adornment than a smear of mayonnaise and a dash of salt. He harvested the lot before the first frost, wrapped each one in newspaper, and stored them by the bushel in our garage. On a good year, we ate home-grown tomatoes until Christmas, after which our tomato consumption went on hiatus. Winter in our house was Le Sueur canned peas and baked potatoes—or basically any vegetable that didn’t suffer from a farm-to-table comparison.
This is a long-winded way of saying that food is my passion. And my lodestar. It’s no coincidence that the two greatest food cities I know, farm-ensconced Charlottesville, Virginia and epicurean-beloved Paris, France are the two places I call home. In both cities, the importance of a good meal is sacrosanct.
And so it was that when I returned to work recently, I set my hours from 9 to 3. This allows me time to squeeze work between my morning coffee and croissant and the afternoon dinner prep. Although Pat knows that our lunch routine has been suspended on work days, at noon he invariably taps on our bedroom-cum-office door. “Just checking. We’re on our own for lunch, right?”
I have a savant’s ability to remember every meal I have ever eaten. How can I not love that Pat shares my devotion to mealtime?
Sometimes, people ask me how I decide where to travel. In general terms, I follow my nose. Take this morning as an example. My local French bakery, Petite Marie Bette, introduced a new pastry called the pithivier. When I questioned the name, they explained that it is an enclosed pie which was invented in Pithiviers, France.
As I sipped my coffee, I googled this place—a village south of Paris and north of Orleans. Since we are heading to Paris for a few months in late March with a wide open agenda, I mapped out a train from Paris to Orleans, a day or two there, and then a bus up to Pithiviers. I walked home after breakfast with a pithivier in hand and a trip planned for April.
In my mind’s eye, I’m sitting in the sun on a square savoring something breathtaking (which very likely will not be called a pithivier) while reading the culinary musings of Waverley Root. In this most perfect moment, my ancestors will not be top of mind.
Yet I realize that three generations instilled in me a devotion to really good food. And although each one is now gone, they are here, next to me, every day of my life as I sit down to dinner.
Categories: Life in Paris