I have been to Paris exactly three times.
The first was exactly as it should be, Eighteen, tormented lover who was, in turn, tormenting me. March, dismally gray, and all of our money on a disgusting hotel. We lived on bread only, with the occasional can of tuna fish for sustenance.
The bread was a revelation.
The second was eight weeks later, at the end of the same trip. This time too was exactly as it should be. Lover gone, and I, free and newly tattooed from my wanderings in Eastern Europe, had money this time, and the sun shone every day. A whole week with Sarah, who was staying with a friend who had a bathtub in her kitchen. There was wine that we bought on the corner, and several croissants a day.
As hard as I’ve tried, I’ll tell you those croissants have not been forgotten.
My third visit to Paris was just last year, in the middle of my work trip, when I was, it seemed living someone else’s life for a bit. I was only at the airport, so I wouldn’t normally count it, except that I take my Paris visits where I can get them. And I flew into one airport and had to fly out of another, so technically I did drive through the city. And of course, right before I got on the plane, there was a croissant.
It was hard, with not flake in sight. That one’s not sticking with me, though. It was the exception, I know for sure, and I forgive it entirely.
Despite these three limited experiences, France hangs around here in my own fabrications. Less than original, I know, but more and more, I find myself using France as an adjective rather than a proper noun, a word to emphasize the goodness of things.
I guess the word would be French.
Luckily, I have a few French people around to give it all a bit of authenticity. But either way, on good days these moments of France have their delicious ways of working their way in. When there is good cheese, and it is just at the right temperature, it is French, even if it was made right here in this part of the world. In fact, its localness might make it even more French- because it is local just like if I were in France. The verveine in my garden? French. Children in lovely unstained dresses? (as if!) French! Late dinner after the little ladies have gone to bed? Of course!
Using a country in my vocabulary without adequate experience of the place makes me feel like I’ve never left this country, like I’ve never left this town…like I’m smoking fancy cigarettes in my little kitchen just to bring in the exotic.
My passport has many stamps on it, after all. But sometimes I feel this way anyway. It is August, and I like to yearn a little.
As the moment came again to ponder my weekly summer fest offering, this month of missing led me to France. And for me, the most French place in my whole yard is the middle of my overgrown herb garden. And so I thought about herbs, and about what herbs want–about what I could eat to bring France right here. It had to be simple and effortless, perfect but able to be cooked in heels–chunky Julia heels. It had to be eggs.
Eggs and herbs have the most natural and romantic affinity for each other. Eggs hold herbs with strength and support, and for one like me who will eat fresh herbs all day long directly from the ground when given the chance, eggs are the perfect excuse. Really, I am not one for subtlety when it comes to herbs. And in the hope of really doing it, and really closing that bridge between me and my semi-imaginary France, it had to have cream and butter, and roughly ground salt and pepper. You might know it as shirred eggs, but today, we’ll call it oefs en cocotte.
Oefs en cocotte are eggs baked in ramekins or gratin dishes or any little thing you might use that’s, you know, French. They are sometimes over ham, but here over cream, and showered with a blizzard of herbs.
I know. When it snows it Paris, I’m sure it’s snowing tarragon.
Sometimes they will be baked, but today we’re putting them under the broiler because I am impatient. Impatience is not very French at all, but I’m working on it. More time sitting in that overgrown herb garden of mine should just about do it, I think.
serves one (while staring off at the distance)
3 eggs (make ’em good ones- it really counts here)
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs- any combination of parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme or basil
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat your broiler to medium high. In a small bowl, combine the herbs, parmesan, and garlic. Crack the eggs into a ramekin or tea cup. (They must be ready so that you can act fast). Put the butter and cream into a large ramekin, small gratin dish or other oven safe dish. Put the dish about six inches under the broiler until the butter and cream starts to bubble and sizzle. Watch it carefully–it will burn quickly. Remove the dish from the oven, and pour the eggs into the hot dish over the bubbling cream, taking care not to break the yolks. Sprinkle the herb mixture over the top, and add a bunch of salt and pepper. Put under the broiler and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the whites are cooked but the yolks are visibly liquid.
And you? What are you bringing to the pot luck this week?