20 March 2015

A Dinner in Dijon

Hi, Gang! Long time no blog. Greetings to all of you who check in now and again, and a big wave to those whose Google searches have turned up my Expat Survival Kit, or who've landed here from Expats Blog. Hope you're enjoying your adventures in your new home!

It occurs to me I should write about something besides the ins and outs of traveling with a small child. It's true, this is a topic that spends a lot of time at the front of my mind--we're never sure when we're going to lose our easy access to Europe, and we still have a lot of places we want to visit before that happens, so I'm almost always planning the next trip (sometimes, even while I'm on the last one). Right now, I'm two trips ahead: planning a trip to France with my parents, when they visit us at the end of the summer.

Early spring vinyard near Baune
We manage to visit France at least once a year, and while we're in France we try to hit Dijon--wine country; cheese country; many-different-fancy-stews country; millennia-of-human-history country--for at least a day. Gino spent a term there as a student and still talks about the apple tart the mother of his host family used to make, and about his daily before-school second breakfast of croissant and hot chocolate.

Twice now his host family has had us over for wonderful meals (including that apple tart!) during our visit. We're planning another trip at the end of this summer and this time it's our turn to treat them to a nice dinner.

French markets
are some of my favorite things.
My first preference would be to cook. I don't have enough opportunities to throw dinner parties, honestly--especially not French ones. And Dijon has an absolutely wonderful market, so planning a menu and making dinner could be a complete French Fantasy Come True: shopping in the morning, getting inspiration from the stalls rather than cookbooks; spending the afternoon in the kitchen; and then cracking the crément for pre-dinner drinks as our guests arrive.

Due to logistics, this plan is unlikely to fall into place, and I'll end up using a combination of Fodor's, Lonely Planet, and TripAdvisor to find a restaurant that can accommodate eight people of three generations and two languages. (Speaking of which: it's a good thing I'm comfortable reading French, because once you leave Paris a surprising number of restaurant websites don't offer website translation, and while Google Translate does its best, as soon as you use it all the links die on you. Adds an extra layer of suspense to calling for a reservation--which I'm probably going to make Gino or my dad, both of whom speak fluently, do anyway, because my French isn't quite good enough to handle the phone.) 

But let's dream, shall we? Let's take a deep breath, close our eyes, and imagine ourselves: waking up in a rented farmhouse in Burgundy, munching on butter-and-jam tartine, drinking coffee, and scrolling through a few French food blogs for inspiration before heading to the market...

These wouldn't take up too much room in a carry-on, right?
...and because it's August and everything is in season, I've managed to come home with the ingredients to a Franco-Italian feast I can make largely from recipes and techniques in my head (since my cookbooks will still be in Ireland).

We'll start with a goat's cheese, fig, and walnut tartine from Rachel Khoo's Little Paris Kitchen, a cookbook I fell in love with after her BBC cooking show shamed me out of complaining about the stove in my Large Dublin Kitchen. (It really is a little Paris kitchen. A teeny-tiny one. This woman makes a cooking show using basically a two-burner hot plate.)

We'll have the goat's cheese and fig tartine with cured meats and cheeses from the market, of course. If we haven't snacked our way through everything we brought home during the cooking process.

My Company Dinner is a roast chicken. This has gotten more true since Gino gave me a Le Creusset casserole for my birthday a few years ago. I had already learned, at cooking class, the trick of roasting the chicken with water or broth, and then pouring in a glass of white wine twenty minutes before you think it's done. That plus the high walls of the uncovered casserole (plus the onion, garlic, herbs, and lemon you've stuffed in and around the chicken, and the oil or butter you've rubbed over the bird itself) make for a flavorful, moist bird when you take it out of the oven. I'll add white burgundy instead of pinot grigio and slather it with butter instead of olive oil, and voila! My roast chicken becomes un poulet rotî.

An actual company dinner I cooked last year:
roast chicken, ratatouille tian, Provencal roast
vegetables, and chickpea-flour pancakes. It was good.
The recipes for everything but the chicken came from
The French Market Cookbook.
The vegetable/side depends on exactly how nuts I've gone at the market, and how nuts I'm now going about time now that the chicken's in the oven. Oh, and how many sous-chefs have I? If my mom is helping me cook, and the holiday house has decent knives, we can make Clothide Desoulier's ratatouille, a melange of vegetables (eggplant, tomato, and zucchini) and herbs which, in her own nice touch, she roasts in the oven. (Actually, if I was really smart, I've made this ahead--every ratatouille I've ever made has been better as leftovers than it was the day I made it.)

Or, if I'm at the point of making things easy for myself, I bring out a recipe I've been serving to company since college: fusilli pasta tossed with chopped tomatoes, parsley, basil, olive oil, and parmesan cheese. (This is the Italian part of the Franco-Italian feast.)

And once that's staying warm, my job's pretty much done. Of course, I could make a dessert. Of course I could make a dessert; what do you take me for? But then, why on earth would I make a dessert, when I've just been to the Dijon market (and nothing I'll make would stand up to that apple clafoutis Gino's host mother makes, anyway)? We'll have ice cream, fresh from the farm. Or tarte tatin. Or house-made chocolates. Or all of the above.

Where would you go, if you could have any dinner anywhere? What's your dream feast?

This post was suggested by web-translation service Smartling. They did not pay me for this! They asked if researching local food options in a foreign country was something I'd like to write about, and I decided it was. And it's been fun! So thanks to Smartling for suggesting the post idea.