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Six-Word Reflection on the Food I Ate in France

By Deb Biechler
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When I think about the food I’ve eaten in France, the first word that comes to my mind is “slowly.” Lentement in French. My six-word memoir on French food would be, “Slowly prepared, slowly served, slowly savored.”

Several years ago, I heard a program on Wisconsin Public Radio, about six-word memoirs. Pick a topic, then write about it in six words on the Six-Word Memoir website run by Smith Magazine.

When I think about the food I’ve eaten in France, the first word that comes to my mind is “slowly.” Lentement in French. My six-word memoir on French food would be, “Slowly prepared, slowly served, slowly savored.”

Most businesses in the south of France, from boutiques to major chains, close for two to three hours in the midday, so that their employees can have a leisurely lunch. Hmmm, “lunch” does not feel like the right word. Lunch sounds quick and gobbled. Perhaps my definition is tainted by 30 years of hurried bites between classroom, lunchroom and recess duties.

The menu du jour, for the noon meal, usually come with courses; a starter, the plat du jour and dessert. In addition, evening meals often include salad, cheese and, perhaps, even a soup course. Here’s the line-up: starter, soup, entrée, salad, cheese and a finale of dessert.

Of course there are bottles of wine along the way. Provence is known for rosé but delicious vin rouge and vin blanc flow into the region by the truckful. Water can be plain or gazeuse.” You know . . . Perrier!

Water by the bottle costs euros. Carafes of tap water are free for the asking. The final beverage of a meal might be coffee, une tasse de thé or, on a hot summer’s day at one of the restaurants on the beach, a citrusy limoncello.

Back to the food! The second word that comes to my mind when I think of French food is “sauce.” The sauces are not only “on” food but they are also combined and put “into” food. J’adore sauce. I am a very happy camper when my food is served with a generosity of sauce. (You know . . . gaggle of geese, herd of deer . . . generosity of sauce.)

I thought the wait staff had forgotten to bring butter to the table when the baguettes were served during my first dinner out. After all, I’m from the dairy state! But, when my roast duck arrived, slathered in the most delicious sauce that I ever tasted, the idea of butter was cast aside like outgrown training wheels.  I knew exactly how to moisten that bread and used it to wipe every last drop of the sauce from my plate.

There are families of sauces, all having a “mother” sauce. By perfecting the mother sauce a variety of “offspring” or variations can be made to accent all kinds of food. I’ve been perfecting a cream sauce, using dried mushrooms brought back to life in a hot tea of vegetable juice, white wine and of course, cream.

It goes well on baked pork chops that are paraded through a series of steps. First they are seasoned, then floured, next doused in egg batter and pressed into breadcrumbs with more herbs, penultimately sauteed and finally slow-baked for an hour “sans” sauce and then for the last half hour . . . surrounded by the hot, creamy, flavorful liquid.

While house-sitting in France I was gifted with a certificate to a cooking course at Mireille Gedda’s Ecole de Cuisine Provencale. Although I could not understand all of the verbal instructions, given in French, I could easily get the gist by watching. There were hands-on portions, too. We peeled pears, separated shells from the languoustines – bay prawns – using the inedible shells to flavor the stock, and took turns stirring, rolling, pounding and tasting.

We learned techniques to create a perfect even, golden pastry for our Tarte aux Poires et Chocolat, “slowly” combining the ingredients with gloved fingers, a little at a time, on a very cold marble slab. Then, before baking it, we lined the crust with sterilized pebbles from the beach, to evenly heat the bottom as well as to prevent the crust from bubbling and cracking.

Mireille Gedda is a first-rate chef in her own right. She is also the daughter of the nearest neighbor to the east of the property that I cared for. Gui Gedda, retired chef and author of several renowned provençal cookbooks including my favorite, Cooking School PROVENCE: Shop, cook, and eat like a local.

I’ve made his Poulet Roti à l’Ail often There is a resounding “encore” from guests who love the crisp-skinned and tender chicken, slow-baked after being stuffed and rubbed with roasted garlic, oil and butter.

And, whenever my garden is overflowing with tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini, I make ratatouille.

I passed Gui’s house every time that I collected my mail or discarded my rubbish and recyclables. When there was something cooking at his place, you can bet that my steps past his house were lentement.