As pathetic as it might seem, my New York mentality of ‘I’ll just grab something/deliver something’ meant that I had absolutely no idea how to cook until I came to France. When I say I couldn’t cook, I’m not exaggerating. Just about the only thing I could make is pasta that someone could actually use as wallpaper paste. This is probably a crime in France, so let’s hope this blog post doesn’t go ‘viral’ or I might get in some real trouble!
Shortly after arriving in France, I was cooking with a friend and started cutting up mushrooms. He looked at me with big eyes and tried ever so sweetly to say, “Ummmm… maybe it would be better if you peel them first.”
Peel mushrooms? Oh my! Some people actually peel mushrooms? Apparently, yes, and while we are on the subject they peel tomatoes too! This was the beginning of my rude awakening. Thank goodness I made a lot of really great friends when I arrived. Most of them were younger than I, but all of them actually knew how to cook and didn’t mind helping out the poor American who gave Americans a bad name. Sorry, everyone!
A little more than 10 years later, I have made a lot of progress. I’ve managed to make a traditional Quiche Lorraine at the flip of a hat, and have even made a truly delicious Ratatouille from vegetables I picked with the family on a farm nearby Paris. Admittedly, it took me almost four hours to make my mother-in-law’s secret recipe (also not an exaggeration, in case you were wondering).
I stood… and stood… and stood some more while cutting and cooking to her exact precisions. As I did this, I heard myself say aloud, “Love is… making Ratatouille for your sweet French man,” and then let out a little giggle. Words escaped my lips, yet again, “If he ever wondered how much I love him, he will know now!” My smile became wide as I looked around at the kitchen and thought, if only my mother could see me now! My giggle turned to a laugh.
Yes, I talk to myself at times, especially when cooking but since my blog is G rated I’ll leave out some of the words that might have slipped out while I burned and cut myself. Although I do indeed love my French man, and the Ratatouille was as he put it, “even better than my Mom’s,” once was enough for me! Oh, and no, my mother-in-law doesn’t speak nor read English so I took the liberty of including that last line.
My sweet French man has also taught me a trick or two, so today I can say I do the ‘everyday’ kind of cooking. No, I’m definitely not patting myself on the back when I say that. When we want something more gourmet or when we invite people over I become completely unglued with panic at the thought of cooking for French people. As a result, I leave all of the serious cooking to my man! He has this fearless and admirable quality of trying out new recipes for guests that puts me in a tizzy. I mean really, what if it doesn’t come out right?
He just looks at me with a smile in his nonchalant French way, and says, “Don’t worry. Everything’s gonna be alright.” Personally, I think he got that expression from the song, but that is beside the point. Anyway, he is always right! Although the kitchen looks like a bomb has gone off when he finishes, what comes out is always delicious! That’s why I didn’t hesitate when he offered to cook New Year’s dinner at my in-laws when we realized that nothing special had been planned.
My sweet man searched the internet and came up with yet another new recipe. This time he found one from a website called 750 Grammes. It looked absolutely delicious! In French it is called, Turbot croustillant aux champignons, écume de champagne. Roughly translated, it means crispy mushroom turbot with champagne sauce… somehow it sounds better in French. Oh, and most importantly… they make no mention of the secret ingredient in the Recipe Name!
When my sweet man’s mother looked at the recipe, she kept saying, “Are you sure you want to make this? It sounds really complicated. Why don’t we just make something simple?”
Of course I supported him because I knew of his culinary talents. Although there were quite a few steps it didn’t look that difficult… even for my standards. It would be the perfect way to ring in the New Year!
We woke up early on the morning of the 31st and made a list of all of the ingredients. I know, there is nothing like last-minute shopping, but to be honest we are rather used to this kind of thing. No problem, or so we thought! My in-laws live in a small village, in the mountains of the south of France and well, Paris it’s not!
“Oh, you don’t have a fish market nearby?”
“No, you’ll have to go to a supermarket, about 40 minutes away.”
We looked at each other. I had panic in my eyes, yet in his he had somehow managed to keep his cool French go with the swing of things. I knew they had a fish department in that supermarket, but we’ve never bought fish there. Go ahead; don’t be afraid to say it. Apparently, we’ve become spoiled ‘Parisians’ who have not one but two markets around the corner. They are open 3 times a week, so this is where we pretty much purchase all of our fish, meats and vegetables.
My sweet man and his Dad decided to do the groceries (Yes, I know how lucky I am). When they came home he looked at me, and for the first time, I saw a fleeting glimmer of panic that quickly turned back to, “Everything’s gonna be alright.”
He opened the bags and this is what I saw!
“What are we supposed to do with that? You didn’t ask them to fillet and clean everything? ”
“Of course, but they said they don’t do that there.”
I don’t think my eyes could have gotten any bigger. My sweet man laughed at me and told me that the lady in the fish department told him it would be easy to do. If we didn’t have to drive 40 minutes each way, I would have gotten in the car to tell her how just how wrong she was.
At around 9:00 PM our 7-year-old came into the kitchen and said, “I’m hungry. Is dinner almost ready?” I looked at my poor sweet man trying to pull the skin off of the fish, then looked at my son and offered to make him a little sandwich to help him wait till dinner was ready. Of course our daughter followed, eating her own little sandwich.
I kept looking at the clock. With each click of the clock I began to feel more and more anxious. I started to notice that the cool relaxed feeling in the kitchen had become more like a well oiled machine. There was an increasing feeling of stress developing. Everyone was moving in all directions, busily doing something… and then there was me. I would try to help, but I’m not sure I was really much of a help at all. To make matters worse, every now and then I would say, “Wait, could I take a picture of that before you continue?” Sometimes I had to take 2-3 photos, moving the plate around to get the right angle. Terrible I know, but yes, I dared to do that!
I’m new at all of this blogging stuff, but have started to realize it is amazing what one will do for a blog post! I would have loved to take more pictures, but as time kept ticking, the room became a more and more active and I thought it wise to stop asking them to let me shoot a photo. I mean really, they were all walking around with knives! I’m not that crazy… even for a blog!
We were so busy rushing to eat this delicious meal before midnight that we didn’t take a photo of the finished, beautifully decorated dish. By the time we finally sat down for dinner, it was around 11 PM. The little ones thought this was the coolest day ever, “Can’t believe we get to stay up so late!”
Under the conditions of being in a remote village, and the fact that we are far from knowledgeable on how to clean fish, the preparation for this meal took so much longer to prepare than to eat. That said we are already looking forward to making it again… but ONLY in Paris and ONLY on market day! 😉 It was truly delicious and we highly recommend it.
A great big thank you to my very sweet man for not giving up on making us an absolutely delicious and special New Year’s dinner, and to 750 Grammes http://www.750g.com for such a delicious recipe.
*** For those who would like to check out the video for the recipe and see the finished product, here is the link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCDKmAg8UTc
Wishing you all a wonderful 2013… may all of your personal and professional dreams come true. I look forward to continuing my blogging journey with you.