Even in Paris I miss certain food items from back home. Even Paris can’t give me everything. When I think of home, my childhood home, it’s a collection of memories from the American South, Palm Beach, Florida, and Ontario, Canada. So you can imagine that when I walk into my Parisian kitchen and search around for some good-ol’ homemade, take-me-back-to-childhood food, the combination is a little bizarre and rather difficult to satisfy so far away from American über-stores (which is a detail about my new life that I like, most of the time.)
My mom regularly sends me a few items in care packages from home. She sends these care packages because she’s a quintessential mom, but also because I either refuse to pay 20€ for something worth less than $5 back home simply because it’s now considered ‘imported’, or because I actually can’t find them in Paris, or sometimes just because I like the fact that my mom sends them to me from home. 🙂 (Still, always, a kid at heart.)
My list of ‘Can’t Live With-Outs’ even in Paris (and where you might be able to find them):
Do not let my belle-mère read this, please! I now belong to a family that has made their own mayo for centuries and considers store-bought mayo a travesty of real food (they may have a point, but some habits die hard). I now live in a country where mayo is made with mustard, which is not bad, but not quite what I’m used to in my deviled eggs. Hellmann’s can be found in Paris at either of the two American food stores: Thanksgiving in Paris in the 4ème or The Real McCoy in the 7ème. It can sometimes be found at Le Bon Marché in the international food section and in some local grocery stores. Beware, it’s going to cost you like truffles cost you.
When I was growing up, I much preferred Wheat Thins when it came to crackers, but now that Triscuits have introduced all these fabulous flavors like Cracked Pepper and Oil Olive or Cumin and Rye, I just can’t get enough! Unfortunately, I can’t find them in Paris. Of course, the French don’t eat crackers. They eat baguette. When my in-laws were visiting my apartment a few weeks ago, my mother-in-law looked down at the appetizer platter staring hard at the small squares she couldn’t quite place. When my husband took a Triscuit with a square of pre-cut cheese (already cut by me in preparation for their visit rather than served à la française, that is the whole cheese on a platter to be cut by the eater), I thought she’d blow a blood vessel in her eye. (Sometimes we mix and match the cultures on purpose to give her a friendly stir – devious, I know.)
Of course, so much American baking calls for baking soda, but so does my cleaning routine with white vinegar. Baking Soda is essential to my household! So my mom sends me tons of it in the mail. Luckily, we’ve never had the problem of spillage as I’m sure one of us would be hauled into Customs to explain the remarkable similarity to a certain white, powdery controlled substance. I have scoured the shops in Paris to find a suitable substitute, and I’ve been told it exists in France (it’s apparently called bicarbonate de soude alimentaire), but I have not been able to easily get my hands on any. And what I do find is not quite the same as our Baking Soda. Who would have thought something as common place as Baking Soda would be a source of stress? Baking Powder and (I think) Baking Soda are available for a pretty penny at the two American stores listed above.
Philadelphia Cream Cheese
For the last five years, this item has been on the top of my ‘I miss’ list. That is until six months ago when, thank you Monoprix, it arrived on the shelves of my local grocery store. For obvious reasons, this was one of the products my mom couldn’t send me, so I’m delighted to now be able to smear some on a hot bagel… oh wait, there are no bagels in France (well, very few). I smear it on most everything nowadays. And I can finally make butter cream icing for carrot cake!
They say Polenta is the same thing as grits, so they say. Somewhere back in the history of food, it probably was. But the grits I grew up with from my great-grand mother’s stove were not Polenta in a bowl with butter. They were, well, different somehow. This is one of the items I ritualistically receive in the care packages.
I’m a peanut butter nut. As an outrageously ridiculous creature of routine, I eat it for breakfast every morning. I know, I know, I have fresh croissants and pain au chocolat – the real things – at my finger tips and I eat sliced bread with peanut butter? I blame my childhood. The truth is I can’t eat French pastries everyday and maintain a reasonable figure. My husband and his family eat bread and/or pastries at every meal and they are all stick figures. I’m not that lucky, I guess. So I stick with my one slice of whole wheat bread covered with a thick layer of creamy Jeff or Skippy. Peanut butter can be bought at grocery stores in Paris and at the American stores, but it is one of those items considered ‘imported’ and therefore costs you. I get mine imported via those care packages.
Thank goodness for Moms!