The Roamin' Roman

Benvenuto! You have happened upon the blog of a wandering Catholic American college student studying for a year in Rome, the Eternal City. You will find here my pontifications, ruminations, reflections, images, and ponderings on my life in Rome. Ciao!

Wednesday, September 7

Introducing stir-fry to the French...

Well, life continues to be sunny, warm and dry here in Nantes (they are currently suffering from a draught actually, no washing cars or yards, so it's beginning to look a bit like fall here). Today I walked down to the city center to go to morning Mass and then wandered around for awhile, I actually went "shopping" for the first time since I got to Europe - I finally got fed up with my poor clothes selection in having too many skirts and not enough shirts (hey, I packed my one suitcase for a month in only 10 minutes remember?) and scouted for some shirts that would travel well and still be nice enough to use all year. The city center is not really the best place for students to be looking for "deals" on clothes, but I managed to find a place that was not too bad (and prices are higher in Europe anyway I have discovered - they don't look like it at first, but then you remember that the dollar is not doing very well against the euro, and once you factor that in you realize that it is common to be spending about $2.50-3.00 for a bottle of Coke! Trust me, that helps you to kick that Coke habit!).

One thing I have been missing here is Asian food, for all the Asians that are here there are very few Asian restaurants (and of course, nothing like St. Paul's Cleveland Wok anywhere on the entire continent I'm sure). On Saturday morning Caroline was put in charge of going grocery shopping for the household, and I was sent along so that she could also get "Mary food" (I protested that I was perfectly happy eating whatever food they normally got, but they insisted that there would be some things that I would want that would be cheaper at the big supermarket... I guess they remembered me coming home a few days earlier with a huge pack of individual yogurts that I pretty much devoured in only a few days! :) Well, we got to the supermarket and wow, I was impressed. Here I had been told by all kinds of people how "supermarkets don't exist in Europe, everyone buys from little grocers and markets" and "forget places like Wal-Mart, Europe doesn't have any!", and lo and behold, as we walk in to this place I would swear that I am walking into not just a Wal-Mart, but a Super Wal-Mart (or Target, whatever). Maybe even a Super Wal-Mart on steroids (I mean, this place had a full service BAR, not just a "snack bar"). So, we grab our carts (another sidenote - Europe is smarter with shopping carts - there are little slots on them that require a 1-euro coin to release them from the corral, and the cart keeps the coin there until you lock the cart back into the corral... that would sure solve the problem of carts ending up all over Midway) and head for the grocery section. I won't bore you with all the details, but it had been agreed that I would try my hand at cooking for the family dinner at least a couple of times - the only two things I know how to make (and how to make well) are stir-fry and meatballs. Not typical French fare, but they were open to trying it, so we got all the ingredients for those meals, and stocked up on real milk and yogurt for me. :) They don't drink milk in Europe like we do in America (at least some of us in America. At least like I do in America.), they get this milk that comes in these Armegeddeon-proof containers that don't need refrigeration and can stay in the cupboard for months. Caroline, realizing that my reaction to having a PB&J sandwich (I had already acquired the ingredients for THOSE :) with "army milk" might not be a good one, led me to the real milk section. As for yogurt, that is one thing that Europe definitely leads America in! Yogurt here is far better than any American yogurt I've had, and it comes in zillions of different varieties (from flavors to consistency). For someone like me who loves yogurt, I have entered yogurt heaven! According to Caroline this is because in Europe they use a different kind of "germ" culture for the yogurt - one that the FDA has not yet allowed to be used in yogurt in the USA (note to mom - no, NOT because the FDA says its "unsafe", but because it has not "fully evaluated" it yet). At first this made me a bit concerned, but then I shrugged it off - as the saying goes, 60 million Frenchmen can't be wrong.

But anyway - back to the stir-fry. So we got the stuff at the supermarket (and while we were there Caroline's dad went to the farmer's market and got all the fruits and veggies we could possibly desire), and then promptly left town for the weekend... Oh. I guess I should mention my weekend. Don't worry, we'll get to the stir-fry eventually! The Pesneau family also owns a lovely "summer home" outside the town of Pornic on the west coast of France, about a 45 minute drive away. It is not right on the ocean, but close enough that you can smell it! The family goes off to the "cabin" (in MN parlance) pretty much every weekend in summer, and it is a great place. This is no mere cabin in my book, but practically what I would call a "villa" - modest, but large and open. There is a main house building that wraps around a central area, and then a "guest house" (perhaps once stables or a carriage house?) that opens out onto a pool. They just bought the place a few years ago I guess and have been fixing it up ever since. So I pretty much spent my weekend lounging by the pool and reading and eating good food! Sunday Mass was in the church in Pornic, very nice (and packed, which I thought was good considering the general apathy towards churchgoing that seems to exist here), and then we wandered through the town markets. Ok, yes, that was pretty much the whole weekend.

Stir-fry. It kind of sounds anticlimatic now, but oh well. On Tuesday night I staked out my spot in the kitchen and, after bumbling around for about 20 minutes trying to find all the pans and ingredients I wanted, finally started whipping up "my" stir-fry. My family and roommates know that I love to make a stir-fry, with pineapples and peanuts, and so I felt pretty comfortable doing this even here in France. It turned out pretty well I thought, pretty close to what I thought it should taste like. French soy sauce is decidedly weaker than what I am used to (I ended up using practically the whole bottle!) and they don't exactly have the same kind of Asian veggie variety that America does (no water chestnuts here, or baby corn for example), and there are no woks in French family homes - I made do with a frying pan. As I was cooking random members of the family would poke their heads in, the younger daughter (Clare) was a bit suspicious of the whole thing, and made sure to investigate all the items. Apparently the thought of putting pineapple and peanuts in a meal like this was "weird" to her :) The final result tasted good to me, and the family seemed to like it too - I used Clare as my barometer, I figured the others might be polite no matter what, but that Clare's expression would show the truth! :) The first time she saw me take two slices of bread, slop some peanut butter on one and jam on the other and stick them together I thought her eyes were going to bug out of her head. She couldn't resist sticking a spoon into the peanut butter then and trying some herself, but I'm afraid it is a taste that requires acclimation, LOL. :)

On Thursday I will probably cook the meatballs... That will probably not be as foreign to them as the stir-fry, since they do cook some Italian. But the fact that my meatballs are more of a "sweet n sour" meatball and served with rice threw them a bit ("you make meatballs and you do not need any pasta?"). We'll see!


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