This week, I was invited by one of my good friends to eat a homemade lunch made by a French woman I am acquainted with from my dance studio. She is in the US for a temporary assignment, and she loves to cook authentic French food for people.
I asked Amanda about it, and we didn’t even hesitate. Yes. Yes. A thousand times, oui.
We love French food. I was introduced to it in college by a professor who took us to Cafe Alsace, a French restaurant whose quality I have not seen surpassed. Yet. My friend Heather, who invited us, was eating French food for the first time today, and it was fun to see her and her boyfriend, Moises, experience those flavors for the first time.
Our hostess, Catherine, prepared traditional dishes for us, starting with foie gras on bread. I had actually never had foie gras before, and I loved it. It was hearty, salty, smooth, mild, and creamy. No grittiness to it, and the texture didn’t call attention to itself. After seeing it banned in various places in the U.S., I was excited to try it and even more excited to find I liked it.
With the foie gras, we enjoyed an aperitif called kir. It is black currant syrup and sparkling French wine (such as brut). At first, I worried that it was red wine (which I can’t drink), but this was light, sweet, bubbly, and so, so delicious. Like, you have to be careful or it’ll mess you up – delicious. I can’t wait to recreate that drink at home.
We then moved on to the appetizer, Souffle au Roquefort. Cheese souffle, y’all. Roquefort is a stronger cheese, comparable to blue cheese, and it was so delicious – light and airy and cheesy.
The main course was Blanquette de Veau, or veal with rice, vegetables, and a creamy sauce. Catherine was apologetic that the veal wasn’t the exact right cut that she would use (and be able to find easily) in France, but this American girl thought it was delicious, very tender and flavorful.
And can we pause for a second? She’s making this stuff in her house. On a Sunday afternoon. Some of the best French food I’ve ever had around her kitchen table with friends. I’m just saying. My Sunday kind of rocked.
By this point in the meal, I was beginning to feel my food coma coming on strong. My eyelids were heavy, my stomach full, my feet inexplicably swollen inside my shoes (probably unrelated, but I’m trying to paint a picture for you).
My friend, Moises, blew my cover: he told one of Catherine’s sons that I speak French, which is only sort of true. I explained that I took French in college, over five years ago, and have not had a chance to practice and so have lost most of what I’ve learned. I can read it a little, I speak it poorly. He asked what I know. I unabashedly stumbled through saying I would like the bread (Je voudrais le pain). I left out details of knowing how to say I am very turned on (a mistake one of my classmates made and a teachable moment my professor seized on so we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves), how to order coffee, and how to explain that I speak very little French because I learned in college (Je ne parle que un peu de francais. J’etudie en l’universite.). I likely even got these passages wrong.
But the beauty of enjoying this delicious meal in someone’s home is that it lacks the pretensions of a restaurant. I didn’t feel put on the spot or like I was being judged. Catherine’s son laughed when I mentioned that I’m fluent in franglais (a mix of French and English), and he didn’t push me to speak French (badly).
What’s a French meal without dessert? Catherine made creme brûlée, and her (grown-up) children torched the dishes, crystalizing the sugar on top of the adorable little dishes. We each ate a creme brûlée, and then Catherine brought out the Verrines a L’Ananas, sort of a pots de creme but vanilla with pineapple and spices folded in.
At this point, I gave up. I nibbled at the Verrines a L’Ananas, wishing I could eat more. I asked for water. I leaned back in my seat, willing my stomach to digest faster. I gratefully accepted a plastic bag of the little cakes, Canneles Bordelais, to take home and enjoy later. I came home and put on elastic-waist pants and digested.
And I thought about eating and serving people and hospitality. I had such a wonderful time today. The food was amazing, and she made it with such joy, such obvious enjoyment in preparing food. When Moises and I sheepishly took photos of our food, she confessed that she and her French friends did the same when they went out and ordered American cheeseburgers and fries.
Sitting around her table today, listening to Catherine and my girlfriend swap stories about American Navy and French Army, gushing with Heather, right next to me, over the food, and trying to avoid speaking French, even for Moises’s amusement, I found myself enjoying the trade-off of eating and serving. Whether we’re people who have never tried another cuisine, people who think we might not like it, or people who jump head-first into slices of foie gras without a care, we’re all hungry. We all need to eat. I am thankful for the people who let me serve them the food I so enjoy preparing, and I’m thankful for people, close friends or new friends, who take me into their homes and feed me the food they enjoy cooking as well.