Say hello to Betty.
The year after I graduated from college I spent six months living in Paris on a fellowship. As part of the fellowship, I worked at a study-abroad center for American undergraduates as an academic advisor. In exchange I was supposed to receive a studio apartment, a metro pass, a museum pass, and access to the language classes at the center.
My arrival in Paris was traumatic to say the least. Three weeks before leaving for Paris, my husband and I got married. We picked the wedding date before I won the fellowship, and decided that it was too great an opportunity to pass up. For weeks before I left, people would ask me, “Where are you going for your honeymoon?”
I would tearfully reply, “To Paris, by myself.”
After a very tearful goodbye I sat on the plane in stunned silence and only then did I remember that I didn’t speak French. I mean, I studied French in seventh and eight grade before switching to Russian, but that was it. I had planned to do some studying before I left, but in the hubbub of moving, marrying, and beginning adult life it had never happened.
This is all a long way of explaining that upon my arrival in Paris, when the Center that I was working for explained to me that it was not possible to find me a studio apartment and that they would provide alternate living arrangements, I was too stunned and overwhelmed to resist. The alternative involved sharing a converted garment factory near the Bastille with seven women from Texas. It was a cultural experience of a whole different kind.
In Paris, my culinary life underwent a renaissance. I was on an extremely tight budget (about 35 Euro a week discretionary money, including food). Fortunately, you do not need much money in Paris if you have a museum pass, a metro card, and a kitchen. Because of my limited budget, I cooked almost all of my own food frequenting the twice-weekly farmers’ market and my local baker and butcher for all of my other needs. The shopkeepers in my neighborhood were my first friends, and some of the few Parisians that continued to be friendly to me after the U.S. started the war in Iraq.
The house had a very limited kitchen, really just a gas range, a sink, and a small refrigerator. However, it also had Pierre. Pierre was an ancient 5-quart Le Crueset dutch oven. He was well used, chipped and scuffed. He wore a dashing yellow enamel glaze. He and I had a love affair that was so intense that I almost brought him home with me.
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and my aversion to theft and inability to fit him into my luggage meant that Pierre had to stay in Paris. Since then, I have remembered him often and fondly. No domestic pot can sear and braise quite like he could. I know that I could buy another Le Crueset, but the price has always been prohibitive.
Honestly, Betty is no replacement for Pierre. She is a knock-off, a floozy, but I couldn’t resist her enameled-cast-iron goodness or her fiery sheen when I saw her today at Marshalls. Being very un-French in her origin, she is rather more voluptuous than Pierre. Weighing in at a healthy 8-quarts, she is oval and large enough for all sorts of applications. She also cost about 30% of what a new Pierre would have cost me.
Upon bringing her home earlier today, I couldn’t resist christening her.
That’s Betty, hard at work on some turkey stock.
She can really sear, delivering that lovely carmelized coating that adds a lovely richness and color to stock.
So far, we are getting on fabulously.