|Posing like a tourist with the kids in Paris.|
Immediately after college, when career, love, and life were still somewhat up in the air, people always asked me why on earth I was living in New York. As soon as they heard I was from France, they’d ask with this envious and confused look on their face, “Why aren’t you in Paris? Why would you choose to live here? I would kill to live in France.” I’d try to answer them, but they were never listening, their eyes were far away, no doubt dreaming of walking on cobbled streets arm in arm with a French lover, eating baguettes.
Even though the often repeated conversation frustrated me, I understood. Why would someone who had such romantic memories of France from a vacation or a few months studying abroad want to hear about unemployment rates, cost of living, and limited opportunities? It was much more romantic and pleasant to dream of biting into a croissant than to imagine yourself not being able to afford one.
Last week, I read a memoir that captured life in Paris so honestly and vividly that I wish I’d had it in my hand to give to everyone who ever asked me why I chose to make a life in the States. Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard is the story of how she fell in love with a Frenchman and came to live in Paris. There’s plenty about the markets and the amazing food you’ll eat in Paris. But she also talks about how cold many apartments are in the winter and how difficult it is to make friends with French people who have had the same group of friends since high school. It’s all told in a straightforward, thoroughly entertaining manner, and I alternated between laughing out loud and nodding in violent agreement throughout the book.
Elizabeth Bard met her prince in Paris and made her home there. She gave him some of her American optimism and entrepreneurial energy while adapting to making small portion meals without leftovers and a bikini-wearing mother in law. By taking France in her heart, she became a American-French hybrid, something she makes peace with through cooking. I met my prince in New York and my home here. I gave him some of my French palate and relaxed attitude towards time while adapting to strip malls and my mother in law’s matzo ball soup. I too became a hybrid, a Franco-American hybrid with my own set of recipes and memories. My home is here now, and I experience France as a visitor, stuffing all the tastes of my childhood in a week or two each year. I look forward to those food-filled weeks all year. I’m a tourist in France, a tourist with a treasure trove of childhood memories.
Each chapter of Lunch in Paris closes with recipes, wonderful recipes. I made the yogurt cake the other day, a simple cake to throw together that makes a perfect breakfast or snack treat. Its moist crumbs are pure comfort, and with one bite, I transported back as a little girl with a page boy haircut home from school in Paris, having my 4-heures snack with my mom, sisters, and our many dogs.
You should make the yogurt cake your own, with whatever fruit you happen to have on hand. I used strawberry kefir drinkable yogurt to make this and it gave the cake a pleasant strawberry flavor. Next time, I’ll try it with plain Greek yogurt.
Strawberry Yogurt Cake (Gateau au Yaourt) – adapted from Lunch in Paris
1 cup plain or flavored yogurt
1 cup sugar
a large pinch of kosher salt
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1/3 cups of vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 2/3 cups of flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 cup of sliced supermarket strawberries
optional: zest of 1 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Butter a round or bundt pan thoroughly.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, salt and vanilla. Whisk until smooth.
- Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking as you pour, feeling like a kitchen rockstar. Now add the eggs one at a time, whisking to blend after each one.
- Sift together the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Add to the yogurt mixture. Mix with a spatula or wooden spoon until blended. If you’re going with the lemon zest, add it in now.
- Transfer the batter to the cake pan. Top with the strawberries.
- Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes. Will be golden brown and will have risen. The cake is done when a knife comes out clean.
- This cake is delicious warm, or saved for breakfast for the next morning (or two). It’s moist and keeps well. Top with a little confectioner’s sugar for fun.
Special thanks to the From Left to Write book club who provided me with this wonderful memoir to read. I’m really looking forward to the Pot Luck lunch I’ll be hosting next week with the other Chicago members who also read the book. If you’re in the area and have an appetite for French food – let me know!