I spend a great deal more time with eighteen-year old boys than one might think based on the description of WWOOF. The reason being that Kin (Claude’s son) is eighteen, has friends, and lives in the middle of nowhere. When his friends visit they usually spend about three nights because it’s such a long trip out here, and they can bring things like BB guns and four-wheelers and anything you can light on fire and have free reign. The boys (les petits garçons or mes chéris as I typically call them) are alternatively excruciatingly irritating and nul – a useful little French word that means some combination of stupid, worthless and pathetic – and highly, highly entertaining. Each boy on his own, particularly Kin, is intelligent, helpful, funny, and kind, but put him in a group of even two, and the best they can manage together is entertaining. The irritating episodes are exactly as you can imagine. They seem to be saying, “Hello, I am an adolescent boy. Watch me act like one with these matches.” The entertaining moments, though, are priceless. A few days ago, Kin picked up my flashlight that I had left in the living room and asked whose it was. “Oh, that’s mine,” I said. “Chad [Kin’s four-year old godson who came to visit] and I were playing light sabers and he was using it.” I took it and demonstrated my light saber technique, saying “brrring, brrrring” each time I waved the flashlight. “No, no, that’s not it at all,” said Kin. “Yea,” said his friend, “the light saber sound [you must imagine the words “light saber” here with a French accent, it makes it funnier] is more sheeew, sheeew.” And they were off. For the next five minutes, I sat on the floor doubled over with laughter, and Kin and his friend had a full-out light saber war. The joy in their eyes was pure and boundless.
Like the nul-ness of adolescent boys (yikes, this is a rough transition, but whatever), packaged food is also found across the pond, much to my chagrin. I had this idea that in France everything was bought freshly made or made at home. Last night, we ate frozen raviolis from a bag (or, rather, we cooked them so I guess they were no longer frozen, but you get what I mean). They were horrible, needless to say, but everyone was too tired to cook. Even crêpes and croissants come in bags here. I don’t know where the market is for a crêpe in a bag because they take about 30 seconds to make, but who am I to judge? Americans buy instant miso soup. The packaged croissants are worse than the crêpes, but more understandable. We live half an hour away from the nearest town of 1,500 people. Nice is another hour and a half after that. Fresh croissants just aren’t a reality. And to its credit, packaged food in France contains no unlabeled GMO ingredients, and brags about its real butter and sugar when it can.
The French way of eating packaged food is sort of oxymoronic: when Americans cook fast, it’s because they don’t have much time, so of course they’re going to eat fast too. The French do not eat fast. Two days ago, I served myself more beets, took one bite, and then got up to bring out the zucchinis and rice. Immediately, Claude and Valérie said, “Sit down, eat, take your time! We’ll bring out the rest of the food later.” Their tone was that of calming an overexcited dog, and their shared expression seemed to say, “What the putain is with the American?” Another un-American tradition in France is that of cheese. You do not finish dinner until you have had even just the smallest taste of cheese. Cheese often concludes lunch as well, though not as religiously. Kin recently said to a friend during the cheese course of dinner, “Oh mec [French for “dude”], mec you gotta try this goat cheese. This stuff is strong.” A rare sentence to hear from the mouth of an eighteen-year old American, but there you have it. Cheese has outlived God in France. (While the American Enlightenment was the reassertion of Christianity’s power in the United States, the French Enlightenment, 100 years earlier, was the beginning of the intellectual unraveling of the Church’s power, namely the Catholic Church. Few French believe in God, and the State is truly separated from the Church. But they’ve been eating cheese probably since they lived in caves.)
The greatest part of our meals comes from the garden, so I guess that makes up for whatever packaged food we do eat. The other day I made fresh pasta with a cream sauce, and when I realized that it needed parsley, I was able to run outside and pick exactly what I needed. I’ve done the same thing with fennel, onions, zucchini, cucumber, lettuce, beets, potatoes, basil – essentially everything that’s ripe right now. And if I eat too fast, or sometimes am not in the mood for cheese, I think I save myself by doing a good deal of the cooking, which I love. I’ve made fresh pasta twice now, I’ve cooked a chicken (blech!), I’ve made vegetable salads and pasta salads and more zucchini dishes than I can remember, I’ve baked chocolate chip cookies (a major hit and huge step forward in foreign relations), and at least help mix or chop the meals for which I’m not the primary chef. Today, though, is the true test: it is Laetitia’s birthday (Claude’s daughter who is visiting from Spain), and I’ve been asked to make éclairs. I have made éclairs before, but that was in the U.S., for American taste buds. I am using Julia Child’s recipe, but she warned me in her memoire that French flour is different. I’ve used French flour before on American recipes, but this time I’m making éclairs! If I succeed, I will be a legend, if I fail, I might have to commit hari-kari. Or not. Pastry cream tastes just as good with a spoon as it does inside pâte à chou. At any rate, I’ll let you know how they turn out. But please wish me luck.