I have now reached the point in the semester where I’m finding English just as or more difficult to comprehend than French.
For example, before starting to write this article, I spent a good ten minutes trying to remember the word “spatula”—all I could think of was that it started with an “s” and that it’s used to flip pancakes. So, instead, I went on to describing something else entirely, only to hit a wall once more. Ah, the agonies of language immersion! If anything, I have become an extremely good real-life Charades player and can now enact and interpret almost anything with hand or body gestures. Which happens to be a huge asset when sitting down to family meals, regardless of the language or country.
At home in the States, it’s “fight or flight” come dinnertime; at school, it’s “eat as much as humanly possible until your satiated.” In Europe, however, it’s “try to express yourself while eating for at least two hours.” When you’ve eaten so much that you’re having difficulty choosing between taking a five-minute nap or a two-hour nap, conversing in a foreign language becomes somewhat difficult. Add the final course of wine, dessert, and coffee to the mix and hands start flailing, languages start getting mottled, and the definition of “family” becomes more or less everyone who is sitting around the table and experiencing the same sensation of “stuffed-ness.”
To this day, I still revel in the memory of one of my favorite “stuffed” family meals, or the four hour lunch of way too much bread, way too much cheese, and way too much champagne that I ate with my French home stay family in high school. Needless to say by the end of it, all of us ended up taking an hour-long nap before heading back to the kitchen for dinner. And, needless to say, I have tried countless times to reproduce the meal only to wind up back at the drawing board: I needed to go back to the south of France to eat some more.
Thanks to the wonders of highly efficient public transportation, I went back to visit my “French family” in Montpellier about a month ago. Coming back “home” three years later, I felt like Bilbo Baggins coming back to the Shire after seeing elves, after tunneling through the caves of dwarves and vanquishing dragons. My experience has been much more typical of a human being living outside of the fantastical world of the Shire—that of graduating high school, starting college, and deciding to live in France for a year.
But regardless of the differences between Bilbo and I, my welcome-home to Montpellier started off immediately where it had left off—with a 5 p.m. “gouter” of freshly-flipped crepes and gobs of Nutella straight out of the jar, this time with the addition of confiture made from the fig tree in the back yard and another made from the neighbor’s apricot tree. I just about died a million times.
My last day in Montpellier was thus spent having a similar Proustian-madeleine moment: my host mom decided to make the same meal that I had been dreaming about for the past three years! I woke up to her trilling into my bedroom, “Kathryn, on mangera de la raclette aujourd’hui!” And so about three hours later and over the course of two (not four) hours, I devoured a small mountain of potatoes, cheese, cornichons, bread, cured ham, and tarte citron. This time, I think I probably actually died for a moment from pure joy (and a massive influx of food to my stomach).
Needless to say, I asked for the recipe afterwards and have been lucky enough to experience raclette deux fois en plus! YOUMI.
Raclette for U.S. Ovens (sans fancy machine)
Raclette is the name of both the cheese and the apparatus that is used to melt the cheese. Generally, you slide the sliced cheese onto a mini pan and then into an “oven” to melt the cheese. Once melted, you put the cheese on top of potatoes and mix with other savory additions.
(Serves 1, but you can multiply it for as many people as you want.)
2 potatoes, already boiled
1/4 pound of raclette (or strong-smelling cheese that melts easily, like gruyère)
salt and Pepper
and of course one (or maybe 2) baguette(s)
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Meanwhile, cut the potatoes and mix them with extra-virgin olive oil, a sprinkling of salt, and a sprinkling of pepper on a pan lined with parchment paper. Cut the cheese into cubes and sprinkle on top of the potatoes. Put the potato-cheese mixture in the oven and roast for 5-10 minutes, or until the cheese is nicely melted.