Sometimes I get the feeling that my life revolves around food. Well, now that I’m going to pastry school in Paris, I guess it kind of does. But even before I came here, I remember planning trips that centered around places I wanted to eat at or markets I wanted to visit. (In the middle of planning one such vacation, my friend informed me that his roommate, who was coming along, was “not such a big food person”. I distinctly remember my brain screeching to an unceremonious halt. I take great pride in the fact that I converted a guy, who drinks 0.1% milk, into a waffle lover. With whipped cream, strawberries AND pure maple syrup. Have you ever seen the look on a Canadian waiter’s face when asked for sugar-free syrup? Try it sometime!) If you’re reading this blog, you probably understand my obsession with food. Now imagine living in Paris surrounded by 47 other people who are similarly obsessed! It’s like meeting people who finally understand your language (and don’t think you are at least a little crazy when you marvel over the beauty of purple carrots).
I had the pleasure of sharing a Sunday brunch with such friends recently. One of the greatest joys of living in Paris is the easy access to several open-air markets with products so fresh, you need to do the bare minimum to let their flavors shine. One of the most famous is the Bastille market, which also has the added advantage of being open on Sunday when most other places in Paris are closed. As I waited for my friends for our little market rendezvous and took in an impromptu music performance, my fingers inched towards my camera as usual. But this time I decided to forgo recording the experience and give the market the undivided attention it deserved. (I promise to go back soon for another post dedicated wholly to the market.)
We walked around taking in the fresh produce, oozy cheeses, sizzling rotisserie chickens, bright olives, fragrant tapenades, glistening seafood; buying this, choosing that, practicing our rudimentary French with the vendors. Even though we were buying food to go home and prepare a Sunday brunch, none of us could resist stopping at the crepe stand and sampling a crepe (each) for breakfast. (“We need the energy to haul all this stuff home!” You can see why I love these people.)
Shopping complete, it was time to prepare the food for the feast. This is how you do a fabulous Sunday brunch with minimum effort:
1. Rendezvous with your friends at the market.
2. Let the fresh produce inspire you (and try to resist buying everything you see).
3. Come home, turn on the radio, gather around the kitchen table and cook, gossip, laugh and sing along.
4. Oh, don’t forget the wine.
And if spring/summer has arrived in your city as it has here, you can take your ready-to-eat-or-assemble goodies to the park and have an old-fashioned picnic on the grass.
Colorful carrots, roasted peppers and sundried tomatoes need no gilding.
Dips are easy and fun – avocado, hummus, parsley go well with flat bread or pita.
A good loaf of cereal bread will never let you down.
Cherry tomatoes, greens and a drizzle of vinaigrette make for a vivid and fresh plate.
Forgo the potato salad laden with mayo for a sweet-potato salad with capers and olive oil (recipe below).
And how can you forget the cheese? With encouragement from ma cherie Masha, I was bold enough to pick cheeses I had never tried before. I think I hit the jackpot with a creamy slice of Mont d’Or Coupe, Fromage aux Noix – a soft cheese with walnuts and the slightly crumbly Chaource. (Thanks to her, I have also become addicted to a breakfast of cereal bread and soft cheese drizzled with honey. Try it!)
What better way to end an amazing meal than a beautiful, golden rotisserie chicken. We bought ours at the market (and given the aromas that paper bag was emanating, it’s a wonder it made it’s way home intact), but you can make a fabulous roast chicken at home – step-by-step recipe here.
Sunday’s almost here. What are you waiting for?
Sweet Potato Salad with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Capers
Recipe adapted from the very talented Masha
(Note that the quantities here are more suggestions and you can modify them as per your taste.)
1 pound sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped capers
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped dill
1/2 tablespoon chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Wash the potatoes and put them in a saucepan with enough water to cover them by 1/2 an inch. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat and cook on a simmer until the potatoes are tender and a sharp knife pierces through them easily. Drain the potatoes in a colander and cool slightly. Peel the potatoes as soon as they can be handled and mash gently with a fork. (You don’t want a mashed potato puree but enough texture as shown in the picture.)
2. Mix the potatoes in a bowl with the sun-dried tomatoes and capers; avoid crushing the potatoes.
3. Drizzle with olive oil and toss the potatoes gently with the dill, parsley, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.