What’s for Dinner?
Preparing dinner night after night is always a challenge. Try doing it when your are in a different kitchen every week and the kitchen is or is not outfitted with the utensils you need or are used to. Keeping it simple is not only a must but may be your only choice. What really makes the difference when you have to keep it simple is the freshness of the ingredients that you cook with. We have always read about how the French pay more (percentage wise) for food than Americans. We were somewhat puzzled by this because over the years we have noticed that chain supermarkets such SuperU, Leclerc, Carrefour and Intermarché seem to be almost everywhere in France and so you can buy just about any kind of food you desire at prices that are comparable to the U.S. And there isn’t a lack of customers either. But what we are becoming more and more aware of is why most French rush to the farmers’ markets early in the morning and purchase most of their fresh foods for the day there.
Out of necessity, the first week or two we bought all of our food at the local supermarket. And I’ve prepared what I thought were some decent tasting meals. Since arriving in Périgueux, however, we have gone only to the farmers’ markets. The difference in quality is astounding. Fruits and vegetables taste like what fruits and vegetables used to taste like when we were just kids. Ripe, juicy and full of flavor! I mean flavor that with every bite you keep nodding your head and saying to yourself “this tastes amazing!”. The French have long insisted on freshness and traditional growing and harvesting methods of unmodified foods. Unfortunately, most of the supermarkets I’ve mentioned sell produce that is imported and mass produced. The quality varies widely and freshness and, therefore, flavor suffer greatly.
We’re on our second box of strawberries purchased yesterday and this morning at the local farmers’ market that is just a short walk from here. They have so much flavor and are of such a consistent texture that every one, every single one is completely ripe, deep strawberry red in color, juicy and delicious. Rarely if ever have we had anything near this experience back home. Usually, the strawberries are picked too early, have little flavor and so you might add sugar or honey and as they “ripen”, they tend to develop soft spots or rot quickly.
Most French understand what we used to understand as well — that the best quality of any produce follows the seasons. Peaches, cherries, strawberries, summer/winter vegetables all have their seasons. And one must change one’s diet along with the seasons. Think about it. Watermelon in December? Tomatoes all year long? Unfortunately, unless you buy your produce at a local farmers’ market, freshness and flavor will most likely be absent. Maybe this is why Americans tend to add heavier amounts of salt, pepper, and herbs to their foods. When eating the freshest foods possible, very little condiments are needed.
So, I think we are beginning to change not only where and when (seasonally) we buy our produce, but how much we really need to eat to feel satisfied. You’ll be amazed how satisfied one feels when one makes an effort to slow down. Make a meal last an hour or more. Eating slowly, savoring every bite will bring satisfaction and your waistline will benefit from it as well.