Prior to leaving Paris for good, many of my LCB friends stocked up on gourmet ingredients and quality bakeware, filling their suitcases (or, in some cases, their spouses') with madeleine pans, tart rings, sugar lamps, kilo-size containers of praline, gelatin sheets, vacuum-packed packages of duck confit, etc. I thought they were crazy for packing so much baggage. I knew that it would be expensive sending all of my things home after a year abroad, and it was - although the majority of what I own is of the clothing and accessory variety. But, I figured, how hard could it be to find all the food stuff at home? As it turns out: very.
November brings two important holidays. First up: my brother's birthday. Second: Thanksgiving. Baked goods are my standard birthday gift to others because it serves the dual purpose of making the recipient very happy while disguising the fact that I'm terrible at shopping for others and therefore incapable of selecting a more conventional present. And as for turkey day, now that I'm back from culinary school, everyone is vying to get a taste of those famous French pastries. I'm happy to oblige, but getting access to the tools and ingredients I need is a challenge.
In Paris, essentially all of the restaurant supply and specialty ingredient supply stores are clustered around Les Halles, the city's former central market vividly depicted in Emile Zola's The Belly of Paris. I'd bike there from my apartment in the 5ème, get what I needed from Mora and G Detou, and cram the fruits of my shopping into my purse and the Velib bike's sizable front basket. The Bay Area has many restaurant supply stores, but their inventories are (to put it euphemistically) eclectic. I managed to find true tart rings at one store (not the weird ones with scalloped edges that Americans apparently buy), but only in the individual size. And don't even get me started on the ingredients. I asked my chef at work where I could go to buy good quality chocolate and nappage (neutral glaze).
"Honestly, it's probably easiest if you just by some from us."
I spent most of my afternoons this week driving from store to store, gradually checking things off my shopping list. I'm fortunate that my work hours mean that I mostly miss peak traffic. But, still, whenever I find myself cruising below the speed limit, I can't help but think, "What did I get myself into? Los Angeles?"
By comparison, Paris was easy. No parking to worry about, and highly reliable public transportation. (Well, not counting the RER and SNCF). SF has a public bike-sharing system now, but aside from all the hills, there's something about American drivers that makes me hesitate to share the roads with them. Maybe it's the size of the cars.