Two nights ago, I arrived at the grocery store just as the merchant pulled down the accordion-iron gate. “Desolé,” he said, pointing to his watch. I planned to go back last night, but things--important things, things involving mixed beverages--came up.
Which left me opening my refrigerator this morning to find nothing more suitable than beets and some fiercely ripe goat cheese staring back, neither of which seemed an appropriate complement for café au lait. In desperate moments like these, I cross the hall in my slippers to retrieve some toast and confiture from Jeanne’s refrigerator, all the while whispering prayers of gratitude for my apartment’s “other wing,” as Jason recently dubbed it.
Of course, it’s Jeanne's freezer that is by far the more interesting half of her frigo. It's composed almost exclusively of plastic butter containers--dozens of them. Their contents are labeled in red sharpie, and the words scrawled on the plastic are equally direct--porc chataignes, poisson riz, blanquette, or sauce champignons.
A simple exterior belies the home-cooked heaven inside--they are the vestiges of my aunt's phenomenal meals.
After a visit home, the last thing Jeanne will do before getting into her tiny Peugeot and careening through the countryside to the train station--(I’m telling you, my knuckles are white after every ride, even with France’s new speeding laws)--is to stock a small cooler with these leftovers.
I have been known to reap the benefits of my tata Marie-Line’s butter containers from time to time.
My aunt and uncle, Roger and Marie-Line, operate a dairy farm in a tiny village outside of Le Mans. When I say tiny, I mean less than 100 people, tiny. My father was born on this farm. So was my grandmother. (Talk about attachment to la terre, my family's got it. Big time). Every weekend that my cousin doesn't go home, she heats one of her mother's dishes. I know that it means a hell of a lot more to her than just convenience.
For me, even though my aunt’s cooking is certainly not my mother’s, and the farm is certainly not my home, the existence of both makes this experience abroad somehow less rocky. I am living 5,000 miles away from my friends and immediate family, but at the same time, an hour's TGV-ride from the place where my father spent his boyhood. The farm is my beacon.
I'll probably visit my aunt and uncle next month. Until then, there is the stock of home cooking in the freezer next door. Although obviously not useful for breakfast emergencies.