Forty French Dishes

Today’s tête-à-tête is about love.

Actually, we’re going to talk about love and food. In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe we can do much talking about one without talking about the other.

I think feeding someone is an intimate act – even if you’re not one half of that too-touchy couple scooting closer and closer to trade spoons. Sidenote: Why can I not stop staring?

When you’re cooked for, it’s usually a safe bet that someone has gone to a certain amount of trouble on your behalf. “Oh, it’s my pleasure!” can be a perfectly genuine exclamation, but the fact is, if you hadn’t been invited to dinner, the host might have been perfectly content to start and finish with a paper-plated peanut butter & banana sandwich [with a good book on the side, and fleecy pajama pants immediately to follow].

When I first careened across the Atlantic to visit my boyfriend’s hometown, he made me something like forty homemade French dishes. In two weeks. I know; he’s a keeper.

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We got to know each other over those shared meals, even when they consisted of little more than a torn-off piece of bread from the neighborhood boulangerie [how do they get that crisp, crunchy crust and slightly chewy center?] and impossibly strong espresso.

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Conversations that started about flavors and textures would turn into something else entirely, until we’d be so full of each other’s words that there’d be no room for anything else.

Dating a Frenchman is every bit as romantic as you’d expect [especially with an occasional riz au lit or rice pudding to sweeten the deal], but we do run into cultural barriers all the time. When we’re both tempted to bash our heads against the wall, food is our great equalizer. Even when he does wear the scarf to lunch.

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When you’re sharing crêpes one night and fondue the next with a family that already makes you feel like one of their own…it’s really rather easy to overlook the obstacles anybody without rose-colored glasses would see.

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When you partake in a traditional French breakfast on a summery Sunday morning, it’s much less unnerving to consider abandoning readily available maple syrup and crispy bacon.

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When you’re feeling a little homesick on the Fourth of July, cassoulet and tartiflette [both multi-layered casseroles of comfort] will make you forget all about the fireworks at home.

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When you want a night off from cooking, there are tournedos de boeuf à la sauce aux truffes et pommes de terre Sarladaises [only the most delicious rendition of meat & potatoes I’ve ever had] and escargots farcis au confit de canard [the lesson here: nod your head yes when you only understand the words “snails” & “duck”].

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When you’re feeling adventurous, there’s steak de cheval [roast horse, served saignant or rare, rare, rare!] and homemade foie gras.

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When you’re craving something sweet, there is a tiny apple tart to happily horde and giant tarte tatin [which might as well translate to “work of art”] to split and savor.

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…And when even black no longer feels slimming, there’s ratatouille [an eggplant, zucchini, and tomato/pepper mixture] for lunch, which can easily turn into a sort of poulet Basquaise [with the addition of chicken and Herbes de Provence] for dinner.

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All in all, it’s enough make me say: Je sais ce que je veux! [“I know what I want”].

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