The title is a pun of my own creation, combining la gastronomie—the typically French ideal of the art and science of good eating—and l’économie—the typically Home Economics ideal of feeding oneself as well as possible on a tight budget.
Except for one fantastic meal Rosie’s dad so kindly bought for a few of us when he visited, the only restaurant foods I’ve eaten in France have been pizza, sandwiches, and crêpes (that is, things that are tasty but ultra-cheap).
It would be nice to eat out more often, in the bitty hole-in-the-wall sorts of places all over France that serve fantastic food, because I’d like to try a variety of French specialties that cost more than one euro. Luckily, though, grace au marché plein-air, I have been taking great pleasure in preparing my own meals.
What have I been making?
I don’t have an oven, which rather drastically limits my options of what to make and I’ve always found it challenging to prepare meals for one, anyway.
I can’t do the Just Make Enough Soup for a Week method of cooking for one. I avoid having leftovers because, unfortunately, they tend to become neglected at the back of the fridge. (Which is a passive way to say that I don’t eat them.) (Which is a passive way to say that I’m a privileged, wasteful First World brat.)
I don’t have a ton of ideas of what to feed myself and I don’t use recipes. I’m sure there’s some vegan hipster in Brooklyn who writes a blog devoted specifically to ovenless recipes for one that I could, theoretically, read for ideas, but I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that I am categorically incapable of following directions.
So I keep it simple. I’ve been eating much more produce than I do in the U.S., which somewhat balances (or at least makes a good supplement to) my diet of bread and beurre demi-sel, among a few other staples.
A typical day in EJ’s gastroconomie
-Special K (which is totally different than American Special) (by which I mean, what’s inside the box is exactly the same, but everything on the outside of the box is written in French)
-Toast made of yesterday’s bread, topped with butter and either Nutella or apricot jam
-Fromage blanc sprinkled with sugar*
2 clementines and/or a banana
-2-egg omelette, usually made with an extra bit of pasta from last night’s dinner. I learned that trick from Cameroonians, who add pasta (cheap) to eggs (expensive) to make them go farther.
-Breakfast potatoes, seasoned with a generous pour of herbes de Provence and sautéed in a bit of butter
-Toast, if there’s even more bread left
-Fromage blanc sprinkled with sugar
-Earl Grey with a splash of milk
-Pastry (usually an almond croissant) or cookies (usually almond tuiles)
-And sometimes fresh bread
-Small glass of red wine if I’m alone, 2 or 3 if I have company
-Fresh bread and cheese (I went through a lot of chèvre until I discovered store brand garlic & fine herb Boursin. Then I fell in love with the market. Last week I bought fromage du lait cru de vache—semisoft cheese of raw cow’s milk—and this week I chose a super creamy brie.)
-Mac & Cheese à la française (my own creation of torti, buttered and sprinkled with herbes de Provence, then I stick it in the microwave to melt in some gouda and some chèvre)
-Steamed garlic green beans and/or broccoli
-Fromage blanc sprinkled with sugar
-Cookies and/or a hunk of dark chocolate for dessert
Not half bad for around 7E per day, right?
I take a long time to prepare my meals. Presentation is everything, of course, so I set myself a place and arrange everything on the plate just so. I’ve been taking pictures of most of my meals, which means I’ve taken a lot of pictures of omelettes and potatoes…
Allow me, s’il vous plait, to quote Elizabeth Gilbert. I recently reread Eat, Pray, Love because it’s been on my mind a lot. (If you’re scoffing at me for that, then you haven’t read the book. Shut up and go read it.) Musing on her love of Italy, Gilbert says:
Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one. [Italians, however] ‘are the masters of il bel far niente.’ This is a sweet Italian expression. Il bel far niente means ‘the beauty of doing nothing.’ [It] has always been a cherished Italian ideal. The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement. You don’t necessarily need to be rich in order to experience this, either. There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi—the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich.
And so, like a proper French (or Italian) lady, I sit, relax, enjoy my simple arte d’arrangiarsi, and linger. I’m usually alone in the apartment when I eat, so I sometimes watch something or read something or listen to something while I eat—but often, I toast il bel far niente and simply…eat.