I just returned from my first culinary adventure in Paris and it was a dream. I took a group of five wonderful women for a week of cooking classes, tastings, market tours, and amazing meals. We walked from one corner of the city to the other, tasting our way through Paris’ best chocolates, pastries, cheeses and wines. We stopped at spice shops and flea markets and a North African crêperie and a nearly-200-year-old cookware shop! We collapsed into bed each night with sore feet and delightfully full bellies.
Thinking about the food we shared--sugar-studded brioche loaves, cinnamony lamb tagine, rose-scented macarons--still brings a secret little smile of joy to my lips. There were the perfectly executed classics, like a swoony Grand Marnier soufflé. (P.S. I don’t even like Grand Marnier.) And delightfully surprising combinations: Tender sauteed zucchini with almond nougatine! Boudin noir with roasted grapes, radish tops and cilantro! A meltingly tender chocolate cake with hay-scented ice cream and peaches!
But for me the food wasn’t the best part of the trip. I was most struck by the immense beauty of the city. The golden light reflected off limestone facades. Rows of carefully tended chestnut trees. Shops full of jewel-toned pastries and candies. Market stalls heavy with marbled cuts of meat, creamy cheeses, glistening olives--all artfully arranged.
And the people. I had forgotten that Paris is a true metropolis--urban and bustling. I loved the masses of Parisians making their way around the city with a nonchalant, haphazard sexiness that only the French can quite pull off. I loved the jumble of languages and skin tones. I even loved the perpetual haze of cigarette smoke hanging in the air for its quintessential French-ness.
And while the Parisians we met weren’t exactly friendly in the exuberant, American sense of the word, they had an openness, a curiosity and a charming willingness to strike up a conversation when wedged thigh-to-thigh on the terrace of a tiny bar or a crowded bistro.
The Parisians themselves are of course the soul of the city and watching them go about their daily business--ordering endless cups of strong black coffee, reading a slim volume of poetry in the Metro, flirting with the butcher, meeting friends for a glass of wine before heading home from work--was an inspiration in itself. It was a perfect reminder of how many opportunities there are in the day for enjoying oneself.
It’s easy to forget how delightful it is to sit down for a meal without simultaneously surfing the internet on your phone, thinking about work, or wondering how your salad might look on Instagram.
During my time in Paris, I rediscovered the pleasure of sitting down to a meal with nothing to distract me from it. I remembered that wearing a beautiful pair of earrings and a beguiling perfume makes your day a touch more exciting. A friend’s endive gratin and an inexpensive bottle of red wine reminded me that inevitably the very best meals are not the most critically-acclaimed ones, but the ones with cherished friends. I stepped outside my dialed-in daily rhythm by walking to my destinations. I discovered the restorative powers of a lazy afternoon nap in the park.
It was a great pleasure to be reminded of all these little lessons. And to get to know such a radiant group of women over the course of our week together. It was also sort of magical to (re)introduce them to Paris and watch them delight in the beauty of the city.
As I head back into the daily rhythms of my life in Seattle and a fall of silver-grey skies and rain, I hope to reserve a corner of each day to think about our adventure in Paris. To remember how essential it is to let yourself be inspired, and to create room--through good food and close friends and maybe a mist of French perfume--for that inspiration to come in.