Patti Bess: The French connection in Nevada County
Last year, I was lucky enough to spend some time in the gloriously creative culture of France.
I drank in their reverence for art and beauty, dined on their commitment to preserve historic architecture and relished the pervasiveness of the world of fashion.
Cultural events — museums, art galleries, concerts — are affordable and easily accessible (if you can read a French map).
In France, the pace of life is more gentle, the appreciation of life more palpable.
And then there’s the food.
I asked a young man at the travel information office in Chartres where we might eat our last dinner in France.
My husband and I walked narrow streets and plazas and crossed a river and finally found the place he recommended.
My first course was served in a large white plate that looked like a nun’s hat from “The Sound of Music.” In the center was a small “well” which contained the tenderest of lobster, leeks, and French sorrel in a butter sauce with herbs I could never decipher.
Main course was a piece of salmon lightly cooked and still moist with a hint of ginger, but the skin side (which I often remove) was crispy and tasty. The vegetables were sautéed in butter and tarragon — but oh, so subtly.
Mashed potatoes were not potatoes at all but maybe rutabaga, turnips and what we call salad radishes.
That was the dinner of a lifetime.
What truly fascinated me was how French women eat. (The men weren’t as interesting).
In every restaurant, café, and patisserie, I watched them carefully cut each morsel of food into moderate size bites. They eat slowly.
They aren’t prissy about this, just precise and do this while conversing and laughing over a long leisurely meal.
In the U.S., we have the “over-generalized” concept that the French eat richly — which is true, but there is very little obesity in France. Perhaps one reason is quality of food is far more important than quantity.
The way we eat is illustrative of the way we live.
Those who pause to put down their forks for a moment and admire their meal — you might say, “to stop and smell the ratatouille” — are also those that will take time to enjoy a sunset.
The social engagement and interaction during a meal is equally important for nourishment of the mind and emotions. This ritual of dining we often leave out of our hectic daily lives.
Seasonality — eating the best at its peak — and seasoning — the art of choosing and combining flavors to complement food — are vital.
We are bound to eat too much, if we seek satisfaction from volume instead of the interplay of flavor and texture that comes from a well-thought-out meal.
The French are masters of seasonality and seasoning.
They literally demand that food is fresh and prepared with care.
The Farmers Market in Paris was seven blocks long and filled with items that I didn’t even know were edible.
It was inspiring, to say the least, but it also gave me a deeper appreciation for where we live.
Think about it!
Almost everything you’d like or need to eat well and live healthy either grows or is raised within 150 mile radius of Nevada County.
That includes: citrus and most all non-tropical fruit, vegetables and varieties that you probably didn’t even know existed a few years ago, olive oil, rice, almonds, walnuts and locally raised meats and fish from the sea.
In print media, cooking shows and the internet the last 25 years, we’ve seen a revolution of interest in food.
It brought us a growing awareness that counteracted the trend, started in the ‘50s, toward “fast and convenient.”
But primarily we write and teach cooking classes about “what” to cook. Rarely does anyone ever observe or think about the why and how.
Like everyone else, I would like to drop a few pounds this year, but I’m not one to buy into the latest commercialized diet.
I’m interested more in fine-tuning my habits.
That’s one reason I have taken to fasting once or twice a week. To be perfectly honest, what I do is more a “partial fast.”
I begin the day with fruits and some yogurt or a smoothie. I drink juices, water and tea all day and then finish with a salad at night.
It probably isn’t a great way to lose weight, but fasting helps to observe these thoughts and habit patterns.
I watch how fast I can eat and not taste a thing.
Slowly I am learning to savor every mouthful, do only one thing at a time.
It’s not about a new diet, but a lifestyle. No deprivation; just paying attention.
No fantastic French recipe offered here, this is my favorite morning start on fast days. It takes only minutes.
I’m finally using up the last of the berries picked and frozen last summer from Riverhill Farm.
You can use any number of different fruits, frozen or fresh. Bon Appetit!
Easy Berry Smoothie
One large handful of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries or a mix of them
One very ripe banana, frozen is better
A couple big spoonfuls of yogurt or kefir
About a cup of juice or water or some of both
One tangerine or part of an orange (optional)
Add to a blender whatever you choose to use.
There really isn’t any specific amounts.
Blend until smooth.
Sometimes I wait a few minutes until the mixture is not quite so cold to drink.
Patti Bess is a local freelance writer and cookbook author. She is blogging about her travels at besspatti.com
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