JE SUIS ICI ENFIN! My francophone famille gave me a hearty and warm welcome on Sunday night. To my astonishment and glee, my aunt’s mother-in-law, Marie-Luise, a lovely Portuguese lady, whipped up a spread of pâté with mushrooms, charcuterie, and crusty bread for me at nearly midnight when I arrived. I savored my first pork (O, delightful ambrosia, you scourge of my arteries, how I have missed you!) since September and swapped catch-up stories with my aunt and uncle.
In the morning, we had croissants au chocolat and hot coffee and I talked shop with my aunt about my future plans while my two cousins, two girls ages 9 and 7, watched cartoons and American TV shows dubbed in French, such as The Suite Life of Zach & Cody and Hannah Montana. Neither of them, though having been born in France and moved to the States only a few years back, can speak much French but they can understand a good deal. We commiserated on that fact a bit, as I am still suffering language gridlock. I can understand most of what is said to me, but producing words is a problem because of my L1, L3, L5 interference (English, French, Arabic, respectively). After a few hours of chatting together it was time for lunch.
My first lunch in France, quite appropriate:
- a very small glass of fruity white wine
- bottled water (Evian)
- hunks of baguette
- foie gras, jambon
- beef cutlets, pork cutlets
- cheese plate of Camembert, creamy Bleu de Bresse, Brebis Petit Basque, a peppery Roquefort, an authentic Parmesan, Chèvre, and Selles Sur Cher
- shredded carrots, tomato slices, sliced fennel
- a square of dark chocolate to finish
Next, we packed into the car to visit the Paris Natural History Museum, Gallery of Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy. I was definitely in my element with my somewhat macabre interest in anatomy, forensic anthropology, paleontology, and human evolution. I am fascinated by bones, tissues, organs, and organisms of all shapes and sizes so I was very very happy. (Plus, being under 26 got me in for free!) Thankfully my cousins were equally enthused and we talked herbivore teeth and bivalves as nonchalantly as if we were discussing favorite pop stars.
The collection here started in the 18th century and many of the labels are handwritten in French from at least before the 1950s. It was often hard to tell the common names for things, but it is still a beautiful and comprehensive collection.
Next we went to Rue Mouffetard, which is a family favorite in Paris. The decorative lights were on and it had just rained, giving the narrow street a lovely glow.
We had ventured out to Rue Mouffetard for some chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) but didn’t quite make it to the intended destination. Instead, we stopped in this tiny cafe that specialized in tarts, both savory and sweet. The girls (my cousins) had chocolat chaud, I a peach tea, and between all of us including my aunt and uncle we gormandized on apple rhubarb crumble, pear tart with frangipane, Tarte Tatin (a sort of apple upside-down pie), and a dark chocolate pear tart (me).
Driving back through the rain, I couldn’t help but laugh that I was living a cliché–everybody admires Paris in the rain–especially since I was wearing the only hat I packed from the States–a grey beret.
Not to let lunch fool us into thinking lunch was the best she could do, Marie-Luise had a fantastic spread ready for us for dinner. For me she had escargots cooked in a sort of pesto. Note: I have had escargots before, at a 5 star restaurant in the States (this was a high school graduation gift–not something I do often, mind you!), and they were alarmingly awful– oversalted, cooked in far too much garlic, gummy, and too big to eat comfortably. Marie-Luise could definitely teach that cook a lesson! These were delicate and pungent, smooth in texture, and possibly some of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. I finished my tin of ten and mopped up the sauce with bread. Mmmmm…
The little fork on the right is used to poke into the shell and spear the snail. You can see that it is curved and tapered exactly for this purpose. Also, the tin that this is served on says a lot about French cuisine–you can buy escargot pans like this made specifically for escargot!
Dessert was galettes des rois, a holiday tart made with puff pastry and almond filling that is a traditional holiday thing here. Whoever finds in their slice the tiny ceramic figurine that is baked into the cake is king or queen of the party. Naturally, my cousins both received that most venerable honor!
Last I had dark dark coffee and calisons d’aix, a sweet made of almond paste, a wafer bottom, and a sugar crust. I was in heaven.