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On food shopping in France and re-learning to cook after an international move
As promised in my previous newsletter, this week I am going to tell you a little bit about how our move to France has affected the way I eat.
As someone who usually takes a full season to remember what kind of food I cooked the previous season that worked with the weather and made me feel good, maybe moving in together, then moving to France into a temporary vacation home with a kitchen not-really suited for cooking and then into a new permanent home that requires a lot of work and bureaucratic processes, wasn’t the best idea.
From my move to London in my twenties I already knew food-wise moving to another European country would be more of an adjustment than you might think. If the comfort foods and products you’re used to are even available, they’re always slightly different from what you know, so it’s never as comforting as you’re hoping for and often more disorienting instead.
So while I’d of course fully imagined myself living the whole French live-in kitchen/ country garden experience by now, I haven’t fully retrieved my cooking mojo or found my proper grind yet. I was hoping by now I’d be baking my own bread, conserving, prepping home-made basics for the freezer, grinding my own meat for sausages and burgers, eating produce from the garden, smoking my own oysters and all that… But the reality is I’ve only made a first ice cream this week, we’re definitely still on ready-meals, stuff from the garden keeps going off because we forget or can’t find the time and I’m not conserving or prepping shit.
That said obviously moving to France food-wise hasn’t been bad at all. I could just eat bread with butter and heirloom tomatoes all summer and I’d still be in heaven.
It just takes time to settle from a move (never mind an international one) and now that I’ve accepted these first few years just are going to be about settling more than anything else everything’s become a lot easier.
So what’s good about French food?
France is about 13 times the size of the Netherlands. So while the Netherlands exports about 75% the produce grown there and then imports other produce (whether this is really the best way to go is debatable of course), here in France it’s almost hard for me to buy imported goods.
I get kind of icky nationalist vibes from this, but nearly every product you buy will say whether it’s grown and/ or made in France, often with a cute little map explaining exactly where as well. You can find these statements on nearly everything and for nearly every type of product, down to the parasol stands I bought this week.
Because of this, while people in the Netherlands were sharing photos of empty oil and flour racks in supermarkets as Russia’s attack on Ukraine started showing its first effects, it’s taken about a month longer for cooking oils to be rationed here and flour is still widely available.
While obviously not the whole of France should probably count as local to us (some say a 400 km radius should be considered local, in the Netherlands everything from within the country could be considered local), but we can even shop hyper-locally.
Our village butcher for example sells meat from surrounding farmers including the pig farm that’s pretty much next door, markets all have stalls from locals, we’re surrounded by the vineyards of local wine and cognac houses who often sell on site and we’ve even bought potato chips that were made with ingredients from within a 150 km radius. Right up to the salt, because that’s how far away we are from the ocean. Besides the vineyards the most typical more massively grown crops here are sunflower and rapeseed (usually in rotation), so cooking oil can be pretty local too though you wouldn’t be able to identify it as such in the shops.
With everything having such a local focus and France harboring only so many climates this also means that spring, summer and early fall are the most exciting times produce wise. But eating with the seasons (because you have to) and seeing the way things turn up in the shops and then disappear again (beyond Easter eggs and asparagus) is kind of nice and I really hope once we’re more settled I can get into the eb and flow of the French produce seasons and get the most out of both our country garden and all that France has to offer.
French food confusion
Some smaller but interesting things we have noticed is that:
Produce has a much shorter use-by date and goes off much more quickly than in the Netherlands. If someone knows why, I’d love to hear it. Our best guess now is that shorter supply chains means less travel and storage times so less additives?
Bread here doesn’t toast, it takes AGES to crisp up and is very hard to burn. I’m assuming this is because there’s less sugar in it, which is probably also related to shelf life. Again: answers on a postcard welcome.
French ready-meals are far smaller than in the Netherlands (basically mostly 300 gram portions rather than “this is actually for 2 people but we know you’re going to eat this by yourself anyway”).
This past week I’ve been going ham on this grilled tri-tip salad with miso-tahini-sumac dressing recipe from chef Taffy Elrod. I struggled a little with the meat because the French use different names for cuts than the Dutch (or English) and a bavette de flanchet is not the same as bavette, but the rub was fantastic so I’ll definitely try again (and I think it’ll go nicely with Portobello shrooms or tofu as well).
The dressing though, which shall henceforth be known as The Dressing, is divine. So far I’ve had it with grilled eggplant (100/10 recommend) as well as a salad of lentils, beets and roodlof (a chicory/ radicchio hybrid) and again without the lentils and it’s so earthy, tangy and just al round amazing. If you’re anything like me you will be keeping a jar of this in your fridge for the rest of your life.
We’re beginning to enjoy the first fruits from our garden, pictured above: strawberries, mulberries and red berries. The gooseberries and black currants are coming in nicely as well (please let me know how I can tell gooseberries are ripe). The apples and pears are doing good so far and the plums (we’re guessing) are also off to a good start. Sadly the first figs seem to have died off when we had late frost in april and I accidentally killed our artichokes.
I finally updated my page ‘About The Ingredients’ this week, as I felt it lacked urgency compared to where the state of the world is right now, so maybe read that and see what you can do to turn this shitstorm around.
While I did not get signed because of my quantity of followers (which was and is relatively speaking still is low) but probably because my quality of followers (so many people I want to ask WHY ARE YOU HERE?) I was interviewed by the wonderful and amazing Deborah Reid alongside some of my favorite up and coming food writer’s in this article on Eater, The Numbers Driving New Cookbook Deals.
Whetstone Volume 9, with my piece on Indisch people and our food that I wrote with support and input from chef Titi Waber and historian Suze Zijlstra and a wonderful photo by Sarah Arnoff Yeoman, is out now.
I also ordered a sexy AF new stove, which should arrive in 4 to 6 months time. My current stove is awesome, but one of our main goals with the house is to make it more sustainable. Going off gas and moving to induction is a first step (solar power and heating, double glazing and more insulation are all for next year when we become tax payers and can apply for subsidies) but this baby was suddenly on sale for half the price from when I last checked. Since she’s also 18 years younger than our current stove and has an A-energy rating I’m hopeful she’ll be a bit more energy efficient than our current beast. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a real looker though.
Our car is now French.
We’re really enjoying hearing the sound of tit chicks growing up in a bird’s nest on our porch.
Next week we welcome our third guest, in the shape of my brother-in-law and for the next newsletter I’ll tell you a bit about the things I would have done differently regarding our move.