Thursday, September 30, 2010

A month of Sundays

I've never quite known what to make of this expression. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? It depends on the Sunday, if you ask me. There are those Sundays where we have absolutely no agenda, Remi's not working, we sleep in as long as baby lets us. Those can be nice. There are those Sundays in spring when we spend all day at his parents' business/home so Juliette and I can see him. Tiring to be there all day and have my own stuff waiting for me at home. And in the "off season" like now, there are some Sundays where we spend at least part of the day with his family for a meal.

Last Sunday fell into that last category. And as we sat in his grandad's dining room turning on and off the light depending on the semi-gloomy weather outside, I realized that there are a lot of patterns in these Sunday gatherings. Of course, it's structured around the meal, which this time started with big shrimp as an appetizer. His grandad had asked me to chill the champagne or champagne-like sparkling wine before-hand. Remi's dad poured a tiny bit of blackberry liqueur into each glass to add the flavor while Remi kindly deshelled my shrimp. We clinked our glasses, each person clinking with the others individually, as is the French way. Juliette always joins in with her plastic sippy cup and wants to keep going long after we've finished.

The champagne must have been strong last week 'cause when I stood up to get something in the kitchen for Juju I could really feel the effects. It's funny how a little bubbly can really get your mind lolling and your mouth talking. Like a few weeks ago when his family started talking about how Ethnic Group A or B is always like that and they'll never change. My family-in-law can be very kind and intelligent, but we just don't see eye-to-eye on race relations. No amount of my playing the meek devil's advocate can change their minds. But the champagne made me speak a little more easily as I went on my spiel, which I really do believe: that you have to treat people as individuals and that just because a person is of a certain ethnic group, it doesn't mean they're thieves or wife-beaters or whatever. Not that I'm perfect myself or always open-minded and free of stereotypes. Champagne or not, it still fell on deaf ears, but at least I said it.

Once Juliette finished up her meal, stuff I'd prepared at home and some of the meat Remi's mom had cooked up, I put her to bed in Dédé's room. Out in the dining room the meal continued with pintade or guinea fowl. Basically like chicken but maybe a heartier taste. And mashed potatoes and spinach from their garden. If I'm not watching or my reflexes are dulled (see paragraph above re: champagne), I can't fight off Remi's huge servings on my plate. Which puts me in the embarassing situation of having to finish what he gave me (though sometimes I don't). So I plodded along with my honking portions, generally the last to finish anyway.

While eating my Popeye portion of spinach, I asked his mom how she'd prepared it. Ah, food, a much safer topic anyway. His mom is a pretty good cook and they've introduced me to some new foods like some vegetables called bettes (Swiss chard) and black radish (only black on the outside) and of course, the famous patty-pan squash.

And then it was the cheese course, where here again I was coaxed to eat big portions and had to fight off offers for second helpings. Then dessert, this time a pie made with applesauce filling. Here again we talked about how his mom had made it, by using a special presse-purée (apparently called a potato ricer) to smash the apples. The advantage of this being there's no need to peel the apples before-hand as the apparatus just smears the peel off and you can remove it.

Dessert is always the moment when Dédé trots out his famous joke as he looks at me and says, "Vous n'aimez pas ça?" (You don't like that?) For Dédé knows I have a sweet tooth. So now I've started saying the same thing to him, as he downs his pastries pretty rapidly, too. And you'd be surprised the types of jokes an 85-year-old is capable of telling in mixed company. I guess age is liberating or he's always been a bit naughty? There's the riddle about why the hair on your head gets white where elsewhere it might not? Something about color staying where there was pleasure. If you're blushing, imagine how I feel. I generally just smile weakly and pray he doesn't continue or ask me if I truly got it.

By this point we'd been sitting there for at least two hours and the digestion process started to get to me. I commanded my eyes to stay open so I wouldn't seem rude nodding off in my pie.

On to coffee, thankfully, but here I'm always left out. For the moment I'm not a coffee drinker, though I've started taking a bit of coffee milk when I must start at 8 during the week. Everytime Dédé asks if I want some and marvels that I don't drink the "only" caffeinated after-meal drink he could imagine. All in good fun, it is, but again, here his family will never understand that a nice cup of tea is lovely, too. They generally make some kind of "yuck" sound and matching expression when I say that tea is good. Or they think it's only for when you're sick. It's never stocked in their house but sometimes I bring my own tea bag so I'll feel like part of the hot beverage club.

And another Sunday came to a close, our bellies filled, family time duly respected, cooking traditions learned. Apparently his mom was listening attentively, because later in the week Remi came home with a brand new presse purée she'd picked up for me and some Swiss chard from the garden. Anybody got a good recipe for that?


Lindle said...

I felt like I was right there around the dining table with you and the Tourbezs after reading this entry. The European Sunday dinners are long and complex and require so many levels of conversation interspersed with different beverages. Kinda like having Thanksgiving every Sunday (sans football). I'm ready to go after a half an hour of food. You win the endurance award!!!
Dede is a bit bawdy, huh? Never knew...

Crystal said...

I loved this post :) I know just how you feel as well, because Sunday lunches are always the same at Max's parents' house too. We don't go back very often now, but I remember that when we lived in the North, it was an unspoken rule that we had to eat with them every Sunday. For the most part, I didn't mind, but I felt pressure to eat a lot more than I normally do (and usually things I wasn't too fond of).

P.S. I love the presse purée! You'll have to post a recipe with photos when you get around to it :)