Hell’s Kitchen

Ever since my kids were old enough to quit crawling up my legs while I was in the kitchen, I have loved to cook and have used it as a creative outlet, as well as one for relaxation.  However, since I got to Paris, I just haven’t been feeling the love.

Maybe it’s the challenge of the gathering process.  I do not have one of those lovely neighborhood markets one associates with France, so if I need to shop quickly and close to home, it has to be done in a grocery store.  As you can imagine, the stores are nothing like my beloved Bunker Hill HEB, or even the red-headed stepchild Dairy-Ashford HEB.  These are more like large convenience stores, but they don’t smell as good.  I have two of those within a 10 minute walk, as well as a nicer, larger, better smelling store on the Champs- Elysees, which is a slightly longer walk. I am happy to say that I have learned how to use the produce scales and the check-out lines, and I find more things I recognize every time I go.  A small triumph, but an important one, since my family seems to want to eat every single day.

So we had been here for four or five days and had eaten out for every supper, and some days for lunch AND supper, when I finally came to grips with the fact that I was going to have to cook a meal at some point.  The bills still seem like play money, but eventually there will be consequences to spending huge wads of it several times a day (or at least I assume there will be).  The day after the memorable meal at Heaven’s Kitchen seemed  like a good time to start.

I give myself credit for having the sense to keep my ambitions in check.  I did not let Ina or Dorie lure me into their French Food Made Easy Fantasy.  Instead, I chose a go-to pasta with roasted tomato and breadcrumb topping that heretofore had been quick, easy, and fool-proof.  Little did I know that this time it would be different.  Very different.

The gathering was easy- I found all the ingredients at my little store and proudly arranged them on the counter.  I halved all my little tomatoes and spread them out for roasting.  Next step was to mix up fresh bread crumbs with garlic and parm and seasonings.  I felt so thrifty that I was using up the stale half of yesterday’s baguette for the breadcrumbs. WARNING: HERE IS WHERE THINGS GET UGLY.  I pull out my trusty Cuisinart food processor, so carefully shipped across the ocean, and feed it my stale bread.  I plug it in the kitchen adapter mechanism and hear only a slow moan- no whirring of the lethal steel blade.  Puzzled, I try my KitchenAid mixer with the same adapter, and it spins happily.  Hmmm.  My  liberal arts (not engineering) mind starts wondering if maybe the adapter is wrong for the Cuisinart, because it has only two prongs, while the adapter (and the mixer) have three.  To test my complicated hypothesis, I yank an adapter off of a lamp, stick it on the Cuisinart plug, and insert it in the outlet.  What happened next was something that never happens on Food Network.  A loud POP came from the plug, all the power in the apartment went off (I was praying it was just our apartment and not the entire bleeping building) , and then, horrors of horrors, smoke began wafting from the back of my Cuisinart.  I don’t know which of those three occurrences freaked me out the most, but the combo was impressive.  When I felt it was safe to walk away from my poor food processor, I paced the kitchen a few times and then reluctantly called Mark to make my confession.  He (of course) was on a call and couldn’t even hear my confession, so I called our Blessed Relocation Guy (he’s awesome) and begged for assistance.  He walked me through how to get the power back on and confirmed my fear that it was probably best to say a benediction for my fried Cuisinart.

SO, having recovered from that little adventure in electrical engineering, I chopped up the damn bread with a knife and threw it in with the other stuff, sprinkled it on the tomatoes, added the olive oil, and prepared to roast it to a redolent topping for my penne.  Not so fast.  How to get the oven to come on?  I had used it in April with my friends, and I didn’t recall having a problem.  However, this time I was not so lucky.  Ever resourceful, I reached for the collection of eight stove manuals in eight different languages–none of which was in English?? Really??  So I consulted the French one, of which I could understand approximately every third word.    After much button pushing and potty talk, I finally was able to make it heat up, but I had no idea what setting I was using.  The result was nicely crispy breadcrumbs and tomatoes, but it took way longer than it should have.  Mark, however, was way later coming home than I had expected, so it all worked out in the end.  Everyone loved  the (late) dinner, the power was back on, and we had our first family meal at our dining room table.

Follow-up: Turns out my little electrical mistake took down our home phone system.  When Relo Guy came over to fix them, he also helped me decipher the mysteries of my oven and microwave.  According to him, I roasted my tomatoes on the Oven Cleaning setting, but I’m not sure I believe him, because the oven never locked or anything.  But those bread crumbs were nice and crispy.

And how about my stove, you ask?  Well, it seems that French stoves are induction, which means that they only work with certain types of pots and pans.  The only ones  of mine that work are my large All-Clad saucepan, my Le Creuset Dutch Oven, and a medium non-stick skillet, leaving  a small mountain of  useless cookery to go down to the “cave”, our storage area on the ground floor of the building.  I guess I need to start making a list of things to buy at BHV, starting with a new food processor.

Killed in the line of duty by user error. Goodbye, good and faithful servant.

As much as it pains me to leave you on this sad, sad note, I feel that it is important for you to realize that , even in Paris, some days just suck.  And don’t think I am going to spare you those days, because you guys are in this with me for good, bad, and ugly- whether you like it or not.

PS- did any of you catch Pioneer Woman’s debut episode on Food Network?  I would love a re-cap!  I bet her food processor didn’t blow up.


Filed under cooking, Uncategorized

16 responses to “Hell’s Kitchen

  1. Becky

    Ahhh, Kate. I don’t mean to laugh at your misfortune, but the giggles came anyway. Blessings to you for persevering and ending the evening with a meal on the table instead of a takeout box. And thank God it wasn’t the entire building that lost power. And may your Cuisinart rest in peace.

  2. Linda

    Gripping tale, Kate! Who knew that even cooking in France could be an adventure? Thanks for sharing. Bon appetit!

  3. Cindy

    This post made me laugh out loud too. Hopefully you can get a new french Cuisinart with English instructions. I’m impressed you finished the meal!!

  4. ellen

    You gonna give us your pasta recipe? Sounds delish!! Sorry for your loss, delighted for your new chapter!! xo, e

  5. Julie Little

    Now that’s a funny story!! I’m so glad you are a very good writer!!
    Sorry about the cuisinart. Maybe a French one will do the trick.
    Now you need to send the recipe.

  6. martha moore (you have too many marthas in your life to leave off my last name!)

    and don’t you remember one of our very last stateside conversations? You were telling me how important it was to save our older Cuisinarts for their motors because the newer motors aren’t as powerful. I’ll starting scouring yard sales and second hand shops and grab you one for when you return…i’m proud of you for persevering…

  7. kselz

    Somehow it is comforting to know that there are actually a few bad days in Paris. Your cookbook is going to come together very quickly – “Cooking in Paris – For Real!”

  8. nancy craven

    Kate, when my biking friends and I were in France we found a grocery in Gaen, loaded up on produce and went to check-out.
    We had not weighed anything. While the checker stood on one foot and another and the people in line glared and called us names we didn’t understand, 2 of us ran to the scale and mistreated the fresh produce . Then we didn’t have enough money until we found some coins in the bottom of a backpack. Someday I’ll tell you my laundromat story…….much the same. Always take coins is the lesson learned. I put in a 10 Euro note and ………well, coins are better.

  9. Mary Lipnick

    This was so funny. Looking forward to reading more about all your days – good and bad!

  10. Cynthia Kuhn

    Not being a mechanical person either, this whole situation would freak me out. I love the part about roasting the tomatoes on the Oven Clean setting. I’m assuming it didn’t give off that horrid smell that my oven does when cleaning? I’m afraid my family would be having pate, bread, and cheese for every meal!

  11. Cathy B.


    Just read this out loud to John and, after we finished laughing, he likened you to Julia Child during her first months in French. Great story and miss you!

    Cathy B

  12. Sounds as if you are having a great time settling in 😉 I promise it will come with time. I had a similar problem with my washing machine and its manual – no english. I did, with a little digging, find a PDF for my model in English online. Perhaps your oven will be there too?? Hope your upcoming meals run a bit smoother… sometimes it’s best to give in and purchase the French appliance.

  13. Margaret

    I’m with Stephanie about giving into consumerism when it comes to appliances having lived through many types of electrical outlet episodes in various European countries over the years. Very funny post, Kate! You’re a great writer!

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