Your standard kitchen shelf space.
  • Your standard kitchen shelf space.
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It's funny how traveling somewhere foreign changes our tolerance for things.

For a month-long sojourn to Paris, my family of three rented a cramped one-bedroom apartment in Montmartre. We – who are oozing at the seams of our 1,800-square-foot home – got along well in the tiny French apartment.

Rather than use the living room, which doubled as my son's room, we preferred to pile onto the bed in the bedroom, each person amusing him- or herself with a book, toy or computer. We relished such close quarters, and once we returned home to our “giant” house, still preferred to stay within arm’s reach of one another for days after our trip.

Of course, there were practical reasons for our proximity. With Europe's worst winter in years howling outside (and sometimes through) the ancient windows, there was warmth in acting as a pack, as any wolf would tell you.

When I wanted to stretch my legs, I'd amble down the kitchen hallway, my thick socks slipping silently on the hardwood floors, down to the unused living room. I loved peering out the icy windows at night. Our apartment sat upstairs, across from a fondue restaurant that served alcohol in baby bottles. Twentysomethings huddled outside, committed to smoke despite freezing temperatures. This never ceased to amaze me.

I'd watch immigrants carrying their plastic bags of groceries home, young couples, their hands affectionately thrown in one another's back jeans pockets, and old men being walked by equally old dogs.

When we did brave the chill to head outside, it usually involved a trip to the grocery store. A tiny kitchen necessitates daily grocery trips, as does the hankering for fresh baguettes.

Returning with food treasures, we'd squeeze past one another in the hallway kitchen, which seemed to have been built as an afterthought. French cereal, brown sugar cubes and packaged sweet waffles teetered precariously on the shelf above the sink. Cheese, whole milk (so much better than our cream) and smoked salmon threatened to pop open the knee-high refrigerator.

Simply to keep from drowning in food, we cooked. Fingerling potatoes crisped in butter and shallots, then finished with a sublimely simple cream sauce. Baguette slices with fresh French cheese. Even the kebab sandwich from the shop on the corner seems magical in my memory. Funny how the simplest of meals becomes grandiose when you eat it in an apartment in Paris.

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