Home from France for one day, I'd found myself facing the prospect of going cold-turkey on two habits I'd acquired during my week in Reims, Nancy, and Dijon: wine for lunch and French bread with every meal.
With work pressing upon me, wine for lunch was tragically out of the question, but the habit of eating French bread, or some approximation, was much easier to re-acquire.
So my first stop Monday morning was at Red Hen Bread, which makes a baguette that's "close enough" to the kind I enjoyed in France. When attempting to score my French bread fix, Red Hen Bread is the only bakery in our village I'd consider.
Years ago, I got together with a large group of my food friends and did a blind-tasting of maybe 50 loaves of French bread from sources high and low. Red Hen came in very near the top.
But Red Hen's French bread is different than the bread I'd been eating in France. I think the crust of bread in France was a little more crackly and tender and less flour-y, with an interior fluffier and perhaps an overall lack of consistency (inconsistency being a marker of artisanal products).
But finding an exact duplicate for French bread anywhere but France is maybe impossible.
I'm not sure even a skilled kitchen in Chicago could turn out French bread or green papaya salad or Hainan chicken that tastes just like those foods do in France, Thailand or China.
Owing to the terroir of the local ingredients, the water used, the barometric pressure in the native locale, the yeasts in the air, the way the sunlight falls on the kitchen table, you probably can't make food from other countries in our own country and expect those foods to taste just the same as they did in their native lands.
On a related but entirely different and admittedly Andy Rooney-type note: why is it that bags for French bread are never quite long enough to cover the tip? It's kind of revolting to buy long-format French or Italian bread at a grocery store and then place the naked loaf on a conveyor belt that's been exposed to godknowswhat kind of bacteria.
Still, when I buy French bread at Red Hen, I'm fine with the shorter bag because I stick the whole thing in the basket of my bike, with the bread poking out the front like a figurehead on a ship's prow. Then I pedal home, feeling very French.