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The unexpected lunch(es)

July 12, 2009

This weekend Hadrien and I went to have our weekly lunch with his grandmother Suzanne. Our habit is to walk to her house, about 15 minutes away by foot, and get there by 1 o’clock (This is thirty minutes later than I tell myself we will get there each week, but Suzanne doesn’t seem to mind, and she has never asked us to be there at a certain time).

Coming to Paris for the first time, I had never realized just how different a French person’s idea of “lunch” is from my own. I had of course expected some differences in cuisine, but divide goes deeper, from time spent eating and preparing and the number of courses to the regularity with which all this is carried out.

The first time I came to lunch with Suzanne I felt extremely spoiled by the

The champagne Suzanne brought for lunch today.

The champagne Suzanne brought for lunch today.

appetizers, desserts and choice of drinks, but as I’ve continued coming, I’ve realized that she just always make lunches (or at least Sunday ones) into a three-course meal. Today’s was even above par as she had bought champagne to celebrate.

We began with slices of quiche Lorraine. Suzanne hadn’t bought one for herself however, and she continued cooking the main course while we ate our egg-and-ham tarts. At first when she did this, I felt guilty and wanted to come back to the kitchen to help. Over the years, though, I’ve discovered that Suzanne seems to take real pleasure out of making these extraordinary dishes for us. She chooses appetizers that she isn’t particularly fond of seemingly on purpose (which is why the appetizer is often halves of cantaloupe). This way, we can get off to a delicious start while she cooks the main meal to perfection.

At this point, she is always careful to take away our silverware and plates in order to replace them with fresh ones for the main course. This is very often some sort of meat and potatoes, though occasionally she buys la choucroute (a specialty from Alsace similar to sauerkraut with Andouille sausage). Today we had turkey breasts with potatoes sliced to thin circles and cooked until their edges had turned golden. At this point, Suzanne finally sits down with us and while she eats, she makes sure that everything is perfect (This means mostly making sure that there is salt on the table as at this point the food could not be made better).

When I first came, after all I’d seen, I thought that dessert might mean some sort of grand cake or patisserie, but instead of overdoing things and completely overfilling our stomachs, Suzanne always sets out a few half-dollar-sized cookies and flat almond-flavored cookies that have been bent to semi-circles (called “tuiles” after the french word for roof tiles).

Tuiles!

Tuiles!

She also puts out at least two kinds of fruits (this week apricots, peaches and raspberries) and sugar to sprinkle on top of them. When I first came, she also put out cream, but when she found out that I didn’t care for it, she stopped buying it (one of the marks of a good hostess).

I’ve come to love these meals — in fact, we usually spend about 3 or 4 hours at Suzanne’s each Sunday (though some of that is spent playing with her collection of 20-year-old board games. The Monopoly game uses French Francs instead of Euros, which of course didn’t exist at the time). But really, more than eating, the meal is about getting together and talking, seeing someone you hardly get to at other times of the day (or, in our case, week).

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