Friday, January 24, 2014

Restocking the larder

One of the things I do when leaving France each time is to clean out the fridge.  Finishing off anything in it.  For obvious reasons.  Leaving half a head of lettuce in the crisper would be disastrous if you’re going to be gone for an extended period.
     So when I come back, like Mother Hubbard and her poor old dog, the cupboard is bare.  And the refrigerator even more so.
     Which means that one of the very first things I do is to go on a grocery run.  This is what that looks like.

Late morning and it’s starting to get hungry at my place.  I’ve eaten the half baguette I bought yesterday, upon arrival, to tide me over.  So it’s off on a Food Run.
     First stop - because it’s farthest downhill - is the G20 supermarket.  To Americans, it probably looks like Grandma’s supermarket, and not very super at that.  More modest than super.  But it packs a lot into a small area.  When I get to the check-out counter, the girl looks at my caddy and asks “For home delivery?”
     “How did you know?” I query.
     “One look at your caddy was enough.”  And yes, it is pretty full.  I take the frozen spinach and the half-dozen eggs and leave the rest.  I write my address on the sales slip, along with the code to the door on the street and the location of the apartment - ground floor, back of the garden - and slip the lady a tip, just in case she beats me home, which has been known to happen.  (A tip isn’t required, but I feel it’s only fair.  I live sufficiently uphill to merit a euro or two.)

     Then I start to retrace my steps.  I’ve bought a chicken and mayo sandwich for the young guy sleeping rough with his dog, but by the time I’ve finished at G20 he’s gone off somewhere, leaving behind his bedding and beggar’s bowl.  Probably gone to get a coffee to counter the cold and use their restroom.  I leave the sandwich for him, which I know he shares with his dog.
     First stop:  the shop selling specialties from the Massif Central region of France.  I shake the owner’s hand, as French etiquette requires between people you frequent on a fairly daily basis. She asks me how the States was, adding that the frigid temperatures and frozen Niagara Falls have been on the news here.  (It’s a comment I hear in almost every store.)  I buy a big wedge of her hard cheese from Cantal, a few slices of tangy salami with cracked pepper on the outside, a piece of boudin (blood sausage - I know, it sounds horrible but it’s delicious) and a package of lentilles vertes, those tiny, wonderfully delicious, dark green lentils from central France’s extinct volcano region.  Oh, and a thick slice of her wonderful pâté with morels, which will be dinner.  All traditional products made by artisans.
     Second stop:  the flower shop to buy a yellow primevère (primrose) to give the windowsill a bit of color amidst all the green plants, plus a hyacinth for the fragrance.  The seller tells me the blue ones are the most fragrant - which I didn’t know - and it’s sprouting out of a bulb so it can be planted in the garden when it’s past its prime.  Plus a bouquet of tulips, tied together with a bit of raffia... just because I'm tired of winter.
     Next on the dance card is the fish monger on the corner, where I buy some crevettes grises, tiny grey shrimp that I’ve never found in America.  Known in Latin as Crangon crangon, Wikipedia says that they’re “a commercially important species of caridean shrimp fished mainly in the southern North Sea, although also found in the Irish Sea, Baltic Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea, as well.”  Which would explain it.  I buy a handful of them for lunch because they’re so tasty.  You get the goods at the stall, then go “indoors” - although the whole shop is open to the air - and pay at the counter, where the old lady with the white hair looks frozen (it’s only 40°F today).  She tells me, with her Italian accent, that she’s off soon “back home” to Italy, where it’s noticeably warmer, a thought that brings a smile to her hardly wrinkled face.
     Off to the butcher shop, where I buy some joues de porc; that’s “pork cheeks”, a slow-cooking meat that’s delicious if you’re patient and/or have a CrockPot.  With the owner, Jacky, looking on, I ask the young butcher (an apprentice?) for some araignée.  That means “spider” because of the way the filaments radiate out in all directions, like a spider’s legs.  In English it’s called a “spider steak” which one expert explains as “a cut of beef that’s much more common in France than in the US, but even there you’ll need to go to a real butcher who works on whole carcasses. There’s only about 10 or 12 ounces of this cut in an entire cow. Here [in the U.S.], it’s thrown on the heap of meat that becomes hamburger; there [France], it’s turned into a gastronomic delight.”  The araignée is one of what are called “the butcher’s cuts” because they often keep them for themselves.  It’s inexpensive yet super-tasty.  And unfortunately not in stock today (see above), but he has something close.  I can trust him - and when I grill it up for lunch, to follow the shrimp appetizer, he was right.  It was tender and flavorful.
     Penultimate stop, the wine shop.  And as it’s Wednesday, the owner Emmanuel (or Manu, as we call him), is on duty.  After the requisite two-cheek kiss between friends, I tell Manu how many reds as opposed to whites and what price niche I’m aiming for; he does the rest.  His selection of a dozen bottles, mostly between $7 and $10, will be delivered to my door Saturday morning, but no longer by Cousin, who has now retired.  (He was called Cousin by the old manager, Serge, also now retired, even though Serge is from Normandy and Cousin is seriously black and from the French West Indies, but Serge called him his cousin, so who am I to quibble.)
     Last stop, fruit and veg.  Ever since they did a rehab job on their shop, bringing it from the 19th century into the 21st, Tarik and his crew are even more pleasant than before, in spite of the cold.  (Like the fishmonger’s, it’s open to the elements.)  While he’s busy with a customer, I walk about, admiring all the fresh produce.  I end up buying more than I probably need, but it all looks so good!  Potatoes, onions, leeks... even the brussel sprouts.  He asks if I want to taste a blood orange, so I take the slice he offers.  Then he says, “No, the whole thing’s for you.”  And it’s delicious.  Juicy and full of sun on such a grey, cold day.  I let myself be tempted by their dried fruits, sold in bulk (well, unpackaged).  Some prunes to cook with the pork, apricots because they’re not all shrively like most of their kin, and the biggest, lushest dates I’ve ever seen.  I’ve bought them from this shop before and they’re the kind you can only eat one at a time.  Samyr bags it all up, slipping a third Belgian endive in with the ones I bought - because he feels one of them may have a bad spot in it - and adding two dried figs and a second bouquet of radishes... just because he likes me.  As at G20 and the wine shop, he takes down my address, floor and door code for a delivery later in the day.
     By the time I climb the hill, I find the two boxes of groceries waiting in front of my door.  It’s a good thing I left a tip when I paid for the goods.  After all, there’s quite a slope from there to my door, not to mention the ten stone steps.  Not easy to do all that with a shopping caddy, even if I’m on the ground floor.
     I have enough time to unload the boxes and grill the steak for lunch before it starts raining.  Lucky I went out when I did and finished while it was only cold and not yet wet.
    In the middle of the afternoon, Samry braves the elements to deliver my fruit and vegetables.
     The fridge is full, the fruit bowl also.  Now all I have to do is cook and eat.
     There are worse lots in life.

P.S.  That was Wednesday.  On Saturday, I looked around for the tulips... and realized I'd left them somewhere along the way.  I went over my route in my mind.  Traced my steps back to the wine shop - maybe - and asked them if I'd left a bouquet of tulips behind.  "Oh, those were yours?  Oops! I gave them to a young lady.  She was very pleased."  At least they didn't let them wither.
     So I bought another bouquet.

1 comment:

  1. My refrigerator cinnamon rolls paled in comparison, but you presented an adventure and visions of a sumptuous repast.