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  • Writer's pictureAine Dougherty

Week Fifteen in France: Caviar and crémant d'Alsace

28/12/2019: The Christmas gifts and cheer continued with a reservation at one of the hottest restaurants in Philly this year – Jean-Georges Philadelphia, a stunning space on the 59th floor of the Four Seasons with an absolutely jaw-dropping view of the city (and a stomach-dropping elevator ride up). The weather was perfect, and the spread was even better. My sister, aunts and I started off with a nice bottle of Sancerre and a lychee raspberry Bellini featuring crémant d'Alsace! I can't escape it. The first course came out, a crispy poached and fried egg topped with caviar, lying on a bed of fresh herbs. We were starstruck from the very first bite. Next up was the "brunch tower," featuring spicy avocado lettuce cups, ham and smoked salmon, almond pancakes, thin crispy latkes, and delicious rolls with whipped butter and jam. Once we'd finished the first tower, the waiter brought out a second. We stopped him before he even set it down, completely stuffed. (He put it in a doggie bag for us.) But the gluttony didn't end there. The main course then arrived, impossibly tender wagyu beef, Béarnaise sauce and onion rings for me and Aunt L., luxury fish and chips for the other A. and L. By this point we could barely move, but then dessert landed before us. Once we'd finished ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the colorful and geometric presentation, we dug in. Every bite was another revelation: chocolate passion fruit mousse, what we soon discovered was bright purple pea cream, chewy caramel, honey peanut ice cream... What a special experience shared between special, special people. I'm so, so lucky.

29/12/2019: This Sunday was a day full of Wawa iced coffee, packing, goodbyes and plane food. For the record, I – the one who used to hate cheese – am now obsessed with spreadable cheese and crackers on a flight. Who cares about the main course (some bland chicken) when there's a salty, creamy bite for after? Sometimes I shock myself with how far I've come. Anyway, I barely slept on this redeye flight. Great.

30/12/2019: Once I finally arrived back in Mulhouse in the afternoon, after an absolutely exhausting 12 hours of travel, I couldn't keep my eyes open. Luckily, I pushed through long enough to stop by Super U and grab a microwaveable chicken and mushroom risotto. But don't worry, I glammed it up with a fried egg on top. I miss my mom and my sister and everyone back in the States already, but god, it feels good to be home again with my French family. This is where I belong.

31/12/2019: My first New Year's Eve (Réveillon) in France – and hopefully not my last – was a huge success, far better and more interesting than I ever could have imagined. I started off with my prof référent and her family, before she left the kids and I (and A., who was the Fulbright ETA in Mulhouse four years ago and was back to visit for the holidays) to fend for ourselves. We carefully (well, some of us) speared cubes of beef and placed them gently into the fondue pot of boiling oil, accompanied by frites and a variety of sauces. Around 9 p.m. I said my goodbyes and headed out to a party in J.'s friend's basement. The colorful crowd was super nice (even though I feel like I committed a few faux pas at the beginning by not giving everyone the bise), and got even nicer as midnight came and went and the crémant flowed. The night ended in wild dancing to the Pussycat Dolls, watching other guests get lap dances, petting an adorable puppy named Pookie and setting off fireworks by the rond-point like a bunch of gilets jaunes. Happy New Year! Bonne année, everyone!

01/01/2020: Turns out the insane fog outside from last night's slow drive home at 3 a.m. continued all day today, so I spent January 1 nursing a little headache and starting 2020 off on a lazy note. Nothing cures a mini NYE hangover like slow-braised rabbit (graciously gifted for lunch from T. & E. downstairs), a chocolate lava cake and late-night fried rice. Clearly this year is off to an extremely healthy start, and I have no problems with that.

02/01/2020: I got the urge to cook today (although I did absolutely nothing else – it's vacation, give me a break). It felt empowering to start my 2020 in the kitchen (that sounds anti-feminist but that's not how I meant it...). Anyway, I made a recipe from NYT Cooking – orecchiette pasta with sage, brown butter, butternut squash, crispy browned sausage (I used chipolatas) and lots of parmesan. Nothing beats the feeling of pride when someone you love enjoys something you cooked. Although I almost had a heart attack when J. dumped a can of tuna on top... for... "protein."

03/01/2020: Another lazy day, but this time I can't even claim that I cooked something. Instead, I lounged around until J. came home from work, and we headed out to get sushi from his favorite place. He didn't believe that I would eat everything I'd ordered, and... he was right. I made it through half of the salmon and tuna sushi, California rolls, miso soup and dumplings before I had to tap out. Oh well, I'll finish it tomorrow. Netflix to finish out the wild Friday evening – we're watching You!

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