After we walked everywhere, saw everything, and had done all there was to do, we did something strangely wonderful. We meandered. It was a beautiful spring day in Paris two years ago. We wandered with abandon, winding and turning down small cobbled streets, directed only by whim. With no agenda, Brian and I eventually found ourselves sitting at a sidewalk cafe in the early afternoon, at last, finally relaxed. Sometimes it can take a while on vacation. I am discovering that my favorite days of all, are days without plans. Letting a day unfold on its own, with no schedule to adhere to, is pure luxury. And, a day with no plans often brings the best surprises. At the cafe, we ordered something very simple to share, and surprisingly, it become one of our most memorable meals. Isn't this often the case?
It starts with fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut in half ( about 4 inch pieces) and roasted in the oven with good olive oil, salt and pepper and lemon zest. You could stop there and it would be perfect just like that.
Fresh eggs....if you have access to fresh eggs, these are by far the best. Otherwise, organic, hormone free.
A few slices of bread....also drizzled with olive oil and placed in the oven.
While the asparagus and bread are in the oven, poach some eggs and make a warm bacon vinaigrette. Instead of bacon, you could use mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, Spanish chorizo, red peppers, or pancetta. I really enjoy the smokiness of bacon or chorizo paired with the soft poached egg and asparagus, but this is a personal preference. To make the vinaigrette, sauté a quarter cup of finely diced shallot or onion in some olive oil. Add 1/3 C crumbled cooked bacon. Let it warm up for about 1 minute. Whisk in a teaspoon of whole grain mustard and a small splash of balsamic.
There is much advise on poaching eggs "perfectly". I am not sure my way is the best way, but I will tell you how I do it. If you have never attempted it, it may be beneficial to watch a video demonstration on u-tube, to give you an idea. For poaching more than one egg at a time, fill a 12 inch saute pan with an 1 1/2 inches of water. Heat until water its just about to simmer. Not a simmer, but just before. Add a generous pinch of salt and a splash of white vinegar. One at a time, crack 4 eggs and carefully place each one into the water. You could place them in a small bowl or ramekin first if you prefer. As you slide the eggs into the water, they will actually cool down the water, so adjust the temp up just barely to keep it almost at simmer. At this point they will look frightening, but don't despair. After a minute or so, gently slip a spatula under each egg to make sure it is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. For a very soft egg, poach 3 minutes or until whites are opaque. For a medium poach, cook 4-5 minutes. You could gently baste the top of the eggs with spoonful or two of hot water. Remove with a slotted spoon, and carefully blot on paper towels, to remove some water.
When your asparagus is just tender, after about 12- 15 minutes in a 400F degree oven, pull it out.
Lay the slices of bread on a plate. Place 5 pieces of asparagus in the same direction. You could use the ends for the bottom layer. Drizzle a little of your warm vinaigrette. Then place your second layer of asparagus, crosswise, tips all on the same side. Place your poached egg on top, garnish with more warm vinaigrette and lemon zest.
The french have a name for this type of open faced sandwich, or "knife and fork sandwich".
It's called a tartine.
One of my favorite things about Paris, are the all the tiny markets on just about every block that have fresh eggs, a small selection of seasonal produce and simple basics. Close by there is a cheese store, and down the way, a bakery. I don't even remember seeing a "supermarket".
This alone, creates a much different lifestyle than ours. They stroll from one place to another, carrying their groceries in hand. We drive and park at one big grocery store, fill up our big cars, and then fill up our gigantic refrigerators. We are so efficient, aren't we.
We live in a different world here. Our lives are busy. Time is always too short. In our effort to be efficient with time, we find, that we loose it all together. All this hurrying right now, just so that we have more time later. We all know the sad truth about "later".
I am reminded by that lovely day in France ... to slow down. To clear a day every now and then to just meander. To let the day unfold and surprise me. To stroll. It reminds me also, to reexamine my priorities, and begin to cut out the extraneous. Yes, we must work to pay the bills. But if we simplified our lives enough, and needed less stuff, perhaps we could work less? Do we need to be constantly filling up our days with so many activities, meetings, appointments, that we spend all our time off, driving around town?
In the spirit of taking responsibility for the life I have created, I need to take ownership of the fact, that there must be a part of me that likes all this busyness. And the question, I must ask is.... why?
Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.
Naomi Shihab Nye