Every week I would walk to the farmer’s market where I would meet Mose, an Amish farmer whose family supplied me with fresh eggs and raw milk. And every week I would take swaddle my treats into a basket and take them home to cook up the week’s staples: baguettes fresh from the oven, butter churned from my own cream, and yogurt curdled from my own blend of custom Pennsylvanian cultures.
Each night was a three course affair, always ending with my homemade yogurt or berries with freshly whipped cream, and the nights that weren’t were enjoyed with a heel of freshly baked bread and wedge of locally made cheese. These simple pleasures gave me a taste of Europe in the comfort of my own kitchen, and I lived for it. Every night felt like a love-affair with Paris. I even started a food blog to celebrate it!
But eventually my digestive system got the best of me. Over a period of three years my occasional indigestion became enduring stomach pain, and my sometimes bloating became chronic constipation. Every day felt like a fresh bout of appendicitis despite the fact that doctors couldn’t seem to figure it out. I should eat more fiber, they said, I should be less stressed. But the only cause of my stress was my stomach pain, so I finally decided to seek out specialized treatment.
Blood tests, stool samples, and saliva samples revealed what the doctors beforehand had not been able to diagnose: I had food sensitivities to gluten, dairy, and eggs.
I was relieved at first. I had a cure! Six months without eating my offenders had released me of years of chronic and debilitating pain. But my happiness at living pain-free was soon eclipsed by the detriment of living it without French cooking. Butter, cream, and baguettes were now on the “no” list. And even goat cheese caused a horrible reaction. Very quickly, what had once been my passion, had now become my poison.
I gave away my yogurt making, butter making, and cheese making equipment and resigned myself to a life spent eating whatever was easy. Chicken with steamed vegetables. Or store bought gluten-free mac & “cheeze” when I didn’t want to bear the burden of cooking. Without the allure of French cooking, food became bland, but worse still, my life had lost all flavor. I no longer felt like a pretty little French girl cooking a Provencal meal, I felt like a sad American doing an abhorred chore.
After five years, I finally had enough. I got out all my old French cookbooks again rifled through them, determined to find things I could eat. There had to be something I could get into. If not baguettes and yogurt, perhaps there was something else. But cookbook after cookbook I became discouraged. The French were notorious for their beurre blancs and their dollops of yaourt. And without bread, it all just seemed hopeless.
But then I started (re)reading Mireille Guilliano’s book French Woman Don’t Get Fat, followed quickly by her French Women For All Seasons, and finally, her French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook. I was amazed! I could eat almost every recipe she wrote. And they were French! It occurred to me then that everyday French cooking was much different from the rich French food so often found in the cookbooks.
French cookbooks were full of buttery, creamy foods. The kind of food that Americans think of as quintessentially French, but that, in France, would be considered much too rich for a weekday. But Mireille’s books had everyday French cooking. The kind you would eat on a Monday. The simple, beautiful meals that made up the true heart of everyday French cooking.
I realized that though I couldn’t make my own yogurt or churn my own butter, I could pickle my own vegetables, salt my own meats, and cure my own ceviche. That though I couldn’t have bread and cheese for dinner, I could have prosciutto and olives, and sundried tomatoes. And in this realization a whole new world of French cooking was open to me. And I was ecstatic about it.
Following the recipes in Mireille’s books I got back to work mastering the art of French cooking, but this time with food allergies. I braised scallops and served them over a bed of pees, drizzled with champagne sauce. I cultured my own apple cider vinegar using the peels leftover from an apple crisp, and made homemade rhubarb and strawberry compote to serve with gluten-free coffee cake for dessert. I even started buying Sherry and Marsala to sip before dinner, and Grappa to serve with a twist of lemon for dessert.
Suddenly I was no longer bothered by cooking. In fact, I once again adored it. The evening I wrote this article I baked artichokes filled with tapenade, made a beet salad with a champagne vinaigrette, an asparagus soup topped with lemony kale, avocado, and shrimp, and raspberry scones with decaf coffee for desert. All of it is gluten-free, dairy-free, and egg-free, and yet, so completely French. And once again, I feel like a pretty little French girl, sitting on the terraces of Paris, right in the comfort of my own home.