My children remained unaware of our new living arrangements. Today, on the first day of their Thanksgiving break, an undeniably American holiday, I set out a kiddie-style charcuterie plate for lunch and broke it to them, “Kids, we’re not where you think we are. Sunday night, while you slept, your father and I moved the family to France.”
We discussed the wrinkles in time and space necessary to accommodate our new living arrangements. They were surprised that I always dreamed of living in France. They were surprised I had dreams.
Once I assured the kids they could keep the kittens, and have turkey and sweet potato pie tomorrow, they gave a cheer and even agreed to try the pickled asparagus and okra in my impromptu attempt at a French-ish lunch we could all enjoy. Rosemary ham, dry salami, cheddar, gouda, soda crackers, three kinds of pickles and soda water with orange bitters. It wasn’t authentic or even that nutritious, but it would have to do.
I spent the morning finishing “Provence, 1970“, and I found myself thinking in the breathless style of all the food writers. It seemed things would always “have to do” as they threw fresh herbs over broiled shellfish or plated store-bought fresh foie gras and filled glasses with an especially haughty vintage of wine. In the other room my kids watched PBS Kids, and I read in my bathrobe, but the spirit of world-weary, mid-20th century, well-to-do food royalty filled my heart and belly.
In the book, our heroine, MFK Fisher, confronts the inherent snobbery of her passion for French cuisine and culture. Although she always wanted to retire to France, a nostalgic 1970 trip back to the hotels and restaurants of her youth convinces her that France is, in the parlance of 2014, OVER. Fed up with not just the other people in the culinary celebrity scene, but of herself in the scene, she decides to spend the rest of her life in California.
The author included actual quotes from letters people like Julia Child, James Beard and all their influential friends wrote to one another, often sniping about someone else. As I read their gossip, I considered that I was at least fifty years late getting to France. Then I remembered that this writer’s residency isn’t bound by time OR space. I can conjure any France, from any era. I just have to figure out which France is the one of my fantasy.
As much as a I love food, I can’t hang with the big boys when it comes to cooking, wine, and especially paté. I want to believe I can, but all my cookbook author interviews as a radio host taught me that I am small potatoes in the kitchen. It’s naive to confuse asking good questions of great chefs with being able to do what those great chefs describe. So, I know I’m not pursuing the Cordon Bleu path. (No, there will be no “Megan & MFK” to compete with “Julie & Julia“.)
Luckily, my children are even more unsophisticated than me. They don’t know le jambon from a hambone. So, when I told them we’d be trying to assimilate to our new country of imaginary residency, they accepted that my cheese and crackers plate was something exotic. They asked to learn more about France.
I told them the table would be called la table, and would no longer be an ‘it’, but would heretofore be referred to as ‘she’. They picked up the vocabulary lesson amazingly fast. Already, we outstripped my feeble attempts at sign language when they were babies.
They asked me what made me always want to go to France. I told them, “I don’t know what – perhaps the je ne sais quoi.” I explained my joke, since we hadn’t gotten that far in our one word French lesson. My son howled. He thought it was the funniest thing ever. We spent the next several minutes describing everything in our lives with that phrase of ambiguous praise. The whole house became instantly more chic.
If it’s not mastering the art of french cooking, then what is my reason to spend A Year In France (In Tacoma)? Right now, it’s definitely the je ne sais quoi.