I recently returned from several weeks in Paris with a renewed enthusiasm to eat my way through life. I grew up a believer in the transformative powers of food, and to this day, those around me know that a gourmet treat is the quickest way to put me in a sunny mood. However, the inverse also holds true, and if a meal disappoints my high expectations, I often deflate like a soufflé, depressed over wasted mastication. Lately, living in the workaday world of the hamburger heartland, food has fallen to, at best, fifth on my priorities list, largely due to the underwhelming nature of scrounged-up last-minute meals and worn-out restaurants.
But in France, I was reminded about how necessary the emotion of bliss is to a life well-lived, and how food can offer an attractive path to this beautiful state, when I spent day after day eating food that continued to please me, either through surprise or reassurance, at luxuriously leisurely meals that lasted well past the hour-long American lunchtime cut-off.
I had first made the important discovery that chocolate can be enjoyed at any time of day when I lived in France as an exchange student, but I then built up such a tolerance to fine chocolate that I was forced to consume four pain au chocolats and at least one Cote d’Or hazelnut dark chocolate bar a day to attain euphoria. This turned out to be an unsustainable state, mainly because I could not afford all new clothes, and I spent the following years avoiding fine food frenzies.
But this time, I returned to my old patisserie friends with a more healthy attitude toward quantity and a realization that when one is aware of the pleasures of every bite, it takes fewer bites to feel satisfied, both gastrointestinally and mentally. Variety is also a key to culinary contentment, and a city bursting with the olfactory outputs of dozens of different cultures is a great place to be reminded that variety can be appreciated as both the literal and figurative spice of life.
But what about those of us who do not live in a big city or work for business conglomerates that give Christmas bonuses sufficient to cover the costs of a subscription to Williams Sonoma’s cheese of the month club—how are we best to eat well? I am happy to say that this is one question I have the answer to: cooking! This most obvious realization came to me while perusing the cookbook section of my local library, when I stumbled upon The Ethnic Paris Cookbook. I was shocked to find a tome that offered me a second chance at mafé and yassa and corne de gazelle, $800 plane ticket not required.