Samantha and Cassidy take a break in the Chammonix Alps of Switzerland, half way up Mt. Blanc, Europe's tallest mountain.

Food in France and Switzerland

Our stay in Switzerland was short and centered in Geneva, a very international city on the border with France. Although our budget once again dictated eating at home (we were staying in a friend’s apartment) rather than dining out, we managed to sample some international cuisine (mostly of various kinds of grilled meats and sausages) at an Argentine’s birthday party. Once we managed to put together a cheese fondue in honor of our locale in spite of the fact that we didn’t have a proper fondue pot (it turned into a big cheese pancake after a while, but it was still good). And of course, the legendary Swiss chocolates and cheeses were as good as their reputations, and all the better for not being shipped.

From Switzerland we moved on to France. We had been warned that food was ungodly expensive in France and determined upon our arrival that we simply would not eat in restaurants. (We broke that vow only three times: lunch before taking the train to Paris (see Cassidy’s story, "The Ferrari"), McDonald’s at Versailles, and our last night in Paris when we ended up at a little Italian Bistro because it was the only open restaurant in the vicinity of our hotel on a Sunday night.

The rest of the time we bought crepes from street vendors, vegetables and fruit from Gypsies who spread out blankets of produce on the sidewalk, and bread, cheese, sausages, wine and juice from little local shops for picnics in parks or at our hotel. We were careful, and we ate well for very little. We are happy to report that the French do not put up with poor quality food!

But the real treat was when we were invited into a French home to share a repast and tales.

Home Cooking

We had been invited for lunch, although we were simply unknown vague relations through my brother-in-law, Laurant (Larry). When we arrived, the table was spread with a variety of wonderful cold sliced meats and sausages, cheeses, salads, pickled vegetables, fresh breads and wines. The sun streamed through the window of the airy Paris flat as we came to know our hosts Denise and Jon-Marc over a lingering repast.

By the time each of us had had a third helping of Denise’s potato salad, I asked for the recipe. Denise looked puzzled that something so straight- forward and ordinary could provoke such admiration. And I suspect she felt a little consternation at actually having to think about how she prepares it – different each time, and entirely by feel. So the recipe is inexact, and you’ll probably want to play around to get the ingredients and proportions to your liking.

After lunch, their daughter, Andréa, disappeared with Cassidy to play with Barbie dolls and their son, Clement, talked George into setting up camp – complete with a tent - in the entry way. We strolled through Jon-Marc’s imaginative illustrations and photographs (he is an illustrator by trade), and engaged in lively conversation about life as an ex-patriot (Denise was brought up in San Francisco, but attended school and now practices law in France) and the differences and similarities in French and American societies: workers strikes, welfare, smugness, terrorism, language (Europeans usually speak many, Americans usually only speak one), Versailles vs. the Smithsonian, hot dog stands vs. crepe vendors, warehouse shopping vs. any small marché, quality vs. quantity.

By the time we left, the shadows were long, and we knew we’d met kindred spirits.

Denise’s French Potato Salad

  • Potatoes - Three cups or so, boiled until barely tender when pierced with a fork, (about 20 minutes). Be careful not to overcook them, or you’ll have mashed potatoes! When done, peel and slice them (about 1/2 inch thick) or cut them in cubes. I recommend using potatoes that are both firm and flavorful, such as Yukon Golds or red new potatoes. Adding fresh garlic to the cooking water is a subtle addition.
  • Onion - 1 medium to large, chopped fairly small (or you might use a variety such as red, Bermuda, or green)
  • Good olive oil - About 6 Tbs., I think. You’ll know by consistency.
  • Vinegar - At least two kinds of : Balsamic, wine, perhaps cider (you can also use lemon juice or wine) — about 3- 4 Tbs. vinegar in all. Or you could use up to 1/4 cup lemon juice or wine in place of some of the vinegar.
  • Whole grain Dijon-style mustard - About 1 tsp.
  • Salt & pepper - to taste (optional additions: olives, capers, anchovies, fresh green beans, tomatoes, parsley and/or other herbs)

Mix the potatoes and other dry ingredients in a bowl. Combine the liquid ingredients and flavorings and pour over the mixture while the potatoes are still warm. You may need to add more vinegar and olive oil. Let sit for at least an hour and serve at room temperature.

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