I’ve noticed a definite trend in my letters to my family in the US: I spend a lot of time writing about food. Not raving, not criticizing, just . . . trying to describe it all.
Take weeknight suppers – a four-course affair of soup, a main dish, cheese, and a dessert. We’re talking serious business.
Then take company suppers. Here is the menu from my host family’s most recent soirée:
Aperitif: Bailey’s (or whiskey, if you have a better head for liquor than I do), peanuts, and crackers. I find it odd to eat snack food just before dinner, but my host family assures me that I’ll get tipsy if I imbibe even a few teaspoons of alcohol without eating something. The aperitif lasted about half an hour. When my host mother rose and disappeared to the kitchen, reappearing with candles for the supper table, I knew we were about to proceed to…
Course 1: Soup. Tomato soup. In fact, tomato soup prepared from tomatoes that resided, an hour earlier, in the garden below the window.
In-between course: Bread.
Course 2: Green salad with vinaigrette. Puree of white carrots, squash, and potatoes. Pastry the size of my fist, with ham and a little cheese. Red wine.
In-between course: More bread.
Course 3: Cheese. Refer to the title of this post for further clarification. I have learned that French cheese is served in block form, or in a round, or in a log — Kraft singles are a very dim memory from the distant past. You cut off a slice or a wedge and eat it with a fork. If you are extremely proper, you place said wedge on your plate and cut it with your knife, like a piece of meat, instead of with the edge of the fork.
In-between course: The omnipresent bread. Don’t put it on your plate — set it on the side.
Course 4: Mint ice cream, folded and shaped like ribbon candy, with chocolate on top.
Course 5, proposed and voted down: Green tea.
Alternate course 5: Digestif. A thimbleful of very strong liquor – mine was a citrus-flavored somethingorother that my host family brought back from Italy.
And voilà! You get up from the table feeling, amazingly, not stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey, but only pleasantly full, with a sense of having accomplished something.
It is conveniently bad etiquette for company to help out with the dishes, so if you are company, or if you are a foreign student whose family treats you with a certain degree of formality, you are off the hook.
See you at the next sign-up-for-IES Nantes meeting. As soon as my dysfunctional camera gets its wits back, I promise you pictures.