Saturday, August 12, 2017

Le Kitchen

There was this moment in a cultural training course that Josh and I took with three other couples in Greenville who were going to expatriate. The course was mostly useless - lots of high-level thinking about cultural foundations of France vs. the USA, very little concrete information that would actually help us acclimate to those differences - but then the moderator told us that the majority of children in a big survey of expatriates, when asked who the move was hardest for, answered "my mom."

We started talking about this as a group, processing it, and brainstorming ways to manage the stress of the move. My first instinct was to think of ways to protect my kids from my anxiety, anger, and stress - all of which are inevitable in an international move. I suspect the same was true of the other moms in the group, because they too were discussing ways of keeping those emotions private. But then a light bulb flicked on in my brain, and I realized that the answer, at least for me, wasn't to hide my stress, but to (duh) actually manage it better. So I promised myself that I would carve out time for self-care, find a babysitter when we arrived, and accept offers of kid-free time when they came.

I've done pretty well with those goals! I've swapped babysitting days with one friend and made time for myself when Josh is not working. But I let the babysitter idea slide for way too long - until last week, when another friend gave me the name of a British teenager who watches a bunch of expat kids. I had her come for a couple hours one afternoon this week, then immediately booked her for Friday night. Josh and I had been out for a late dinner once already in France, thanks to a very kind friend, but this was our first time letting someone else put the kids to bed. Freedom!

We started off by walking downtown from our apartment and stopping in to this great restaurant, Le Kitchen, to make a reservation for later. Then we had a beer in Place de la Victoire, right next to the beautiful black cathedral. Smelling smoke and drinking Affligem and La Chouffe, we watched as a woman coaxed and dragged her tiny French bulldog puppy from their front door across the plaza. This little guy was brindle colored, with one ear sticking straight up and the other flopped over - just about the cutest thing I'd ever seen. I started to relax.

After we finished our drinks and some passable chicken wings, we walked back toward Place de Jaude, the center of town. This was the sight that greeted us.
Gorgeous. We had to stop and just take it in.

Then we arrived at Le Kitchen and started reading this menu. Three courses for 19 or 25 Euro, depending on your tastes - can you make out the choices?
Entrèes are appetizers here, and Plat means main course. Dessert is the same. :)
Josh went with the Menu Règional, and I chose the more expensive carte, or regular menu. We were both in for quite a meal.

Monsieur started with the "terrine au bleu d'Auvergne," which was a cold, mild blue cheese dish that seemed to have been whipped, with tiny minced vegetables added. It was accompanied by caramelized onions, a tiny slice of tomato, and balsamic vinegar reduction, and even for I the non-blue-cheese-fan, it was delightful. My appetizer was the "poivron farci avec fromage frais au basilic," also known as a skinned, cooked red pepper stuffed with fresh, basil-scented cheese and resting in a room-temperature tomato sauce with a hint of cinnamon. It was unreal.

Next were the plats.

Josh ordered coufidou, which is this incredible dish of green lentils - a food Josh normally avoids - with stewed beef and carrots on top, all cooked in a flavorful beef stock of some kind and so tender he barely had to use his teeth. I've never seen him eat lentils without great effort, but he loved these, and so did I.

I chose something a bit lighter - "filet de saumon rôti, bouillon coco citronelle." A roasted filet of salmon served in coconut citrus broth (and foam!), with delicious rice pilaf of some kind and zucchini (courgette), cut into a beautiful oval-ish shape that probably has a fancy French name I don't know yet. The skin on the fish was so crispy the next table turned to look when I cut it with my fork. The broth was so delicious I could've had a bowl of it by itself. I was in heaven.

Naturally, we had wine - La Vieille Ferme, or the old farm. It was delicious and cheap and offered by the glass, carafe, or bottle. So tasty I took a picture so we'd remember to buy some for home.

Speaking of wine, I secretly took a picture of the couple at the next table! It's tempting for Americans to think of all French food as super fancy, expensive, and superior. But a three course meal for 25 Euros is pretty darn affordable, and when this couple to my right ordered white wine, the server brought ice water to keep it cold. A clear plastic bag of ice water. See it, to the right of their wine glasses? Super fancy!

So that's what I'll say about dinner out in France. It's almost always delicious, prepared expertly, and made from fresh ingredients. It's fancy in that there are courses and small menus and wine pairings - but that's all. Unless you're specifically "fine dining," you can expect to see relatively casual clothes, inexpensive wine, and friendly smiles. The details will have been considered, the wine will be kept cold, but probably in a nifty bag the owners found at a restaurant supply store or Ikea, not a fifteenth century silver bucket. It is outstanding, but unfussy. And if you find a place that isn't good, there are a dozen around it that will blow you away.
We finished our dinner with pompe aux pomme for Josh, which is a lightly sweetened apple pie, and îles flottantes (floating islands) for me. I foolishly tasted just the meringue at first, which was bland and unappetizing. But then I took a spoonful of meringue and dipped it into the vanilla creme anglais, with a little bit of that incredible caramel drizzle that stained the dish from above, and my eyes rolled back into my head. I was so full I couldn't eat it all, but it was one of the best desserts I've had so far.

Finally around ten o'clock we arrived back home, where Caitlin the babysitter told me that they'd played Monopoly, read a chapter of Harry Potter, and had a grand time. Both kids were sleeping so soundly that they didn't stir when I kissed their foreheads. And both Josh and I felt some of the stress of this enormous change melt off of our shoulders.

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