16 March 2008

A Rich Life

The French have rightfully earned their reputation as connoisseurs of cuisine: if there’s one thing they do well, it is to eat. Meals are an affair surrounded by formalities, tradition, and intentionality. Main courses are scrupulously paired with wines, the meal proceeds through certain stages in a certain order, and everything has its purpose. A few basic guidelines of French mealtime ideology:

Eat with someone: No one should eat alone, especially if there are other people in the house. Eating is a social activity, the focus being the discussion and the time passed together, with good food as a backdrop. Take time to be together.

Begin eating only when everyone has been served: Since each meal is considered more an experience than a necessity, that experience has a definite beginning (bon appetit) and ending.

Stay at the table: Forget time efficiency—this is no time to get up and run the vacuum while others are finishing their soup before the cheese course. There is a sort of “team mentality." You can’t very well begin one thing before you finish another, and you can’t very well be finished until everyone is. Sometimes there’s even transition time between courses, while one is being cleaned up and the next one warmed up, when you’re left with only conversation on the table (which, among friends, is sustenance enough).

Appreciate everything: From the smells wafting through the room to the color of the food on your plate to the feeling of it in your content stomach, every aspect of a meal is meant to be enjoyed. Take time to do so, and thank your host. My two particularly favorite moments of a meal are the mixing of wine and cheese and bread in my mouth and the smell of the last sip of coffee after the last bite of dessert.

So, a week ago a friend and I decided to forgo solo dinners (I rarely eat at the same time as my host family, since I cook for myself and often return home late evening; Alex’s host mom was gone for the week) and take part whole-heartedly in this French tradition. We spent much time cooking, more time talking, and the best time enjoying ourselves and our meals. Here’s what we came up with:

Always cheese: you can see here some goat cheese (chèvre), comté, gruyere, and camembert. The wine was Alsatian pinot gris in traditional Alsatian wine glasses.

Baked potatoes with onions, beets, and pureed carrots on a bed of peas; bread; red wine from Anjou in the Loire Valley.

Cubed squash simmered in white wine with dill, served on a bed of rice; classic Alsatian riesling (white).

“Pot-au-feu” or vegetable soup with cabbage, carrots, onions, celeriac, leeks, and rutabaga; bread; olives; red wine from Corsica.

Homemade bread: although very, very unnecessary in France, it still felt good to get back into the flour and bake some.

Go clean yourself up—you’re drooling.

1 comment:

Hilary said...

So, we should all expect a home cooked French meal when you return Ay????