(Paris, from a distance. Can you just make out the Eiffel Tower peaking over the hill? That is all ambient light, by the way)
Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around the weekend cookouts my father and I would have with his parents in the San Fernando Valley. The menu was always the same: steak (grilled, of course), green salad, baked potatoes and garlic bread. While my grandfather manned the BBQ in the backyard, I would splash in the pool until dinner was ready, soaking up the sun and playing with their dog, Buck, whose talents fetching toys and rocks off of the swimming pool floor never ceased to amaze me.
We would usually eat at a table on the patio, visiting through the long summer evenings while waiting for the temperature to sufficiently drop so that it was tolerable enough inside the house (it often reaches 110F during a midsummer’s day), so we could enjoy whichever ABC Movie of the Week was showing.
It has been many, many years since I have lived in close proximity to my immediate family. Although we have always stayed in reasonably close contact (thank you, internets), I have tried to establish many of my own traditions to remind me of the calm and happiness that comes from being surrounded by those you love. For me, the preparation and sharing of a big meal with close friends – usually on a Sunday night – is the absolute best for this type of comfort. Wherever I go, I have found ‘families’ of friends with whom to share spare time, laughter, music and prodigious amounts of food – the perfect recipe to make any city feel like home.
Living in Paris has been no different. I have been extremely lucky to make a small number of close friends, with whom I have been able to explore the city or just take the time to relax together. Recently, one of these couples was expecting their first child. Because I can neither resist anything that has to do with babies, nor the urge to help out if needed (and by this I mean cooking, I am not such a good helper when it comes to, say, laundry), the three of us established a Sunday tradition of a big weekend meal and a movie (or two).
This emerging tradition has been great – on so many levels. First, these friends live outside of Paris, in the suburb of Saint Germain-en-Laye (the location of most of the photos above), a quaint and quiet village that boasts a beautiful chateau and an amazing view of Paris, from the remains of the city wall. As a history buff, this tickles me to no end.
Second, there is now a baby. Welcome to Alex. He is beautiful, and I am a very proud un-official Aunt. He already fits into the family perfectly, as no matter when he falls asleep for his afternoon nap, he is immediately awake (and hungry) as soon as dinner is ready for the rest of us.
Third, has to be the food. Prior to Alex, the official reason for my weekly visit was to give the parents-to-be a break from cooking. Nothing fancy, but with this especially frigid winter to push through, we made our share of lasagnas, shepherd’s pie and even enchiladas. Now that the baby has arrived, so have the grandparents. Both families are originally from the Caribbean and both sets of parents have brought culinary pieces of sunshine with them. And, they have been more than generous in sharing it with me as well (thank you!!). Now, instead of our heavy winter casserole rotation, we are having curries and home-baked bread. This past Saturday, while we were making squishy faces at the baby (oh, really, that was just me) and watching ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, grandma cooked up a feast. There was (from left to right), baked sweet potato, roasted yellow potatoes with garlic and herbs and homemade yoghurt sauce, beef roast with gravy (that tasted like the best sweet-vinegar BBQ sauce ever), rice cooked with onions, peas, carrots and raisins and eggplant sautéed with garlic. It was incredible. Discussions are underway about the menu for this upcoming Sunday, and my mouth is already watering.
Fourth is, of course, the friendship. Simply put, I am very lucky.
Maybe, someday, I’ll be able to have all of my loved ones (you know who you are – hi!) together for a Sunday BBQ. Preferably on a beach. That would be a dream come true. I will toast 1919 to that.