One of the biggest challenges in moving to a foreign country is having to rebuild all those life pathways you have created over years and years. How long have you used your favorite brand of toothpaste, or mascara, or cereal? How do you know where to buy your clothes or kids’ shoes or birthday party decorations? Moving to another country is to disrupt those worn pathways almost entirely, to give yourself a reset for all those routines you fall into without really questioning why.
While at first I was overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of almost everything here, I have also come to appreciate the shake-up. I was listening to a podcast I enjoy, Dear Sugar, in which they were talking about how major life changes like a birth or a death or a big move can be a chance to “swirl the waters” of your life, and in that, make you reexamine the choices you make every day and find out what does and doesn’t work for you anymore. I’ve found that I have been happy to disrupt some routines I had fallen into back at home. For example, rather than having the kids in 4 different extra-curricular activities each after school and on weekends, here it’s been school and that’s it. We have had more time to explore what’s around us and spend family time together on the weekends. Back at home, it’s hard to resist the pressure to over-commit your child, especially when you hear how Susie down the street is doing music, art, science, and language lessons after school not to mention ballet and basketball. But that leads to exhausting days and weekends filled with commitments—I feel much more confident now about limiting our activities to just our very favorites, and with that, taking back some weekend time to relax and take advantage of the wonders of our own awesome city, Washington, D.C.
On the down side, I’ve found that I miss all the knowledge I’ve cultivated about how to eat responsibly and feed my family well. I had a good routine of what to buy at the regular grocery store, the Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, the farmer’s market, and my regular local veggie delivery service. And my own garden of course! I knew where to find organic vegetables, what cheeses are locally made, and what fish is most responsibly farmed. Here in Paris, while the overall quality of the fruits and vegetables is much better than most of the U.S. I would guess, it is also harder to find organic food. And I’m not knowledgable enough about farming here to know whether non-organic meat is as terrifying as it is in the U.S. Are there factory farms here? And pesticide-ridden vegetable farms? I don’t really know, and researching in French is difficult and time-consuming at best. I have learned that the stalls in the farmer’s markets that say “Producteur Maraicher” mean that the people selling the food have actually come directly from the farm (rather than from the huge daily wholesale market outside of Paris), so I try to seek out those vendors, despite the fact that their produce is often not as pretty as many of the others. It is easier to know where your produce is coming from overall, since everything is labelled with the country and sometimes region of origin, both at the markets and in the grocery stores. And I look out for the term “bio” or “a.b.” which stands for “agriculture biologique”, or organic—there is usually at least one vendor at the big street market near my house. I haven’t made it to the one of the two large organic street markets yet since they are not that close to our apartment, but it’s on the bucket list!
But my biggest win so far has been the discovery of La Ruche Qui Dit Oui. Translated, it means “the hive who says yes,” and it is a community geared toward connecting consumers with local farmers and foodmakers. There are several “food assemblies” throughout Paris—you join one in your neighborhood, and then every two weeks you receive a link to a website where you can preorder food from a bunch of different vendors, all of whom are within 150 miles of where you live. Then, on a certain day, you go to a specific location where the vendors have set up tables, and you go around and collect what you have ordered. There are almost 50 in Paris right now, more throughout France, and some now in the U.K. For my first order, I got some fresh yogurt, delicious strawberries, fresh eggs, shiitake mushrooms, and two beef filet steaks. The steaks were just wrapped in some butcher paper—straight from the farm indeed!
I seared them gently on both sides and then served them with the shiitake mushrooms, which I sautéed and then made into a sauce by cooking down some beef stock and red wine. Delicious. The next day, I turned the leftovers into this pretty steak salad. I felt like trying an Asian-type dressing with the steak, so I used the vinaigrette from this recipe for Asian Steak and Noodle Salad. But, instead of noodles, I just tossed the steak with greens, leftover small roasted potatoes, sliced tomatoes, chickpeas, and some sliced pickled radishes I had in the fridge. Fresh and delicious—make sure you pick up an extra steak the next time you are cooking one, and you can have an amazing meal with your leftovers...