For most of this winter, the weather here in New England has been unpredictable. Unlike last year when we had two feet of the white stuff covering the ground and huge icicles hanging from our roofs, the snowplows have laid dormant in 2012. And the temperatures have fluctuated wildly—yes, there have been plenty of days with below freezing temps, but we’ve also seen the thermometer climb into the fifties a record number of times.
This fluctuating weather pattern has put me in a quandary about what to wear. I pull out all my heavy gear to stave off the cold, and search madly for a light jacket or sweater that’s been packed away when it warms up.
But even more of a challenge is what to cook. I try to plan hearty dishes for chilly nights, but look for something less filling for those miraculously balmy days. One dish I have served throughout the winter–whatever the weather–is a vibrantly scented thick tomato soup topped with dollops of airy mascarpone whipped cream.
My husband marvels at how easy it is for us to entertain when we’re in Paris. The secret lies in following the “cook some, buy some” philosophy I use here. Take a small dinner that we had for a couple of friends recently. I cooked a delicious winter vegetable and sausage soup topped with grated Gruyère, and prepared the vinaigrette dressing for the salad, but I purchased the rest. That’s right—I made two dishes and bought the other courses. In Paris there’s a fromagerie(cheese shop), boucherie (butcher), charcuterie (deli), boulangerie (bakery) and patisseriewithin walking distance in every quartier.
For appetizers, I set out bowls of Provençal olives, pistachios, and French radishes that were spread with sweet butter and then dipped in sea salt. The glorious main course soup came next accompanied by garnishes of grated cheese, parsley, and a warm crusty baguette. A salad assembled with purchased greens and sliced mushrooms (both cleaned and ready) plus a couple of delectable cheeses followed. Dessert came from a near-by patisserie. Voilà! There was my “make a little, buy a little” menu.
The French potage (based on a recipe for a “soupe du chalet” I had spotted in a French cookbook) was the star of the night.