France is a magical place for me because the French value aesthetic experiences in a way that we don’t typically here in the USA. Their desire for beauty in everyday life is a kind of spiritual practice, good for body and soul. Food, art, nature, craftsmanship, relationships. Laboring over the process of creating, sharing and enjoying these things makes life worth living. Valuing beautiful results gives purpose to work. This attitude is particularly apparent in Dijon, the culinary capital of France.
Now for three things…
- Edmond Fallot mustard is superior to Maille. It just is.
Fallot remains the last family owned mustard producer in Burgundy. Their shop in old Dijon is a delightful gallery of all things mustard. Flavored mustards include tarragon, walnut, pinot noir, truffle, white wine, basil, balsamic honey, ginger and a bunch I can’t remember. Each one is available in small jars that can be packed in carry-on luggage.
I love to make salad dressing from tarragon flavored dijon. It reminds me of our day trips through Burgundy and Provence with its Frenchy savoriness. It’s available in the US at Amazon and other retailers.
- Poutine doesn’t have to be bad.
We had lunch at a small café near the farmers’ market in Dijon, where poutine was on the menu. In my Canadian mind poutine is a yucky heart attack-in-the-making conglomeration of french fries, brown gravy from a can and cheese curds. This is not the case in Dijon.
Poutine there consisted of perfect hand cut skinny frites cooked in peanut oil, tossed in a Mornay sauce flavored with mustard and herbs and topped off with some shredded slow cooked pork shoulder, served with the freshest mesclun salad I’ve ever had. I think the greens were picked from the kitchen garden ten minutes before they landed on my plate.
What is Mornay sauce, you ask? It’s a cheese sauce like the kind you find in casseroles of mac and cheese. It’s a basic sauce all French cooks learn to make using equal parts flour and butter for the roux, then adding milk or cream and shredded cheese.
When I arrived home I deconstructed this dish in my head and rebuilt it around my home cooking preferences.
To reduce the fat, I used an air fryer to cook hand cut fries made from Yukon gold potatoes. The Mornay sauce used a quarter cup each of flour and butter, a generous tablespoon of whole grain Fallot mustard, two cups of skim milk and about a half cup of grated Gruyère. I didn’t have any pulled pork hanging around so I topped it off with tinned Whidbey Island albacore tuna that I keep in the pantry.
Easy and delicious. I saved some left over Mornay sauce to make a side dish of pasta the following day.
- Finally, I learned how to make a fast lunch at home using high quality, nourishing food.
The boulangeries or bakeries in France make sandwiches, including open faced ones called tartine. Using fresh bread, salad greens, a simple protein such as canned fish, smoked salmon or leftover chicken, and a punchy dressing, I can have a gourmet lunch on the table in ten minutes. Make it vegan using hummus, beans or lentils and avocado instead of fish, meat or poultry.
In the photo above, I toasted a slice of sourdough and layered on greens, cucumber, smoked salmon, and a dressing made from olive oil, lemon juice, dijon, champagne vinegar, diced shallot, salt and pepper.
The photos of the both the tartine and poutine are worth a thousand words. No written recipe required to make something that suits your aesthetic sensibilities from fresh ingredients available where ever you are.
It seems to me that the French mindset speaks to how well we regard ourselves. We ought to be willing to make even a small effort to bring beauty and goodness into the ordinary activities we sometimes take for granted, such as grabbing the worst possible version of something at a fast food restaurant. Our well being is worth taking a moment to craft something nourishing with our own hands. Connecting with others begins with cultivating the best versions of ourselves. After all, we are what we eat, and, I would argue, how we eat.
That’s all for today. My gift to you is the possibility of great food at home in less time than it takes to deal with Door Dash. Save the delivery tip for your next trip to a place that inspires you to cultivate your best life every day.