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  • Aine Dougherty

Week Thirty-One in France: Take-out pizza and coq au vin

Updated: May 9, 2020


Unglamorous but necessary.

19/04/2020: This sunny Sunday consisted of an afternoon barbecue on the terrace with the family, featuring grilled pork belly, spicy and summery merguez sausages, and a homemade rice salad with veggies, corn, black olives and hardboiled eggs, for which I inherited my dad's disgust – but I ate them anyway (sticking to the yolks and avoiding the slimy, sinister whites). We lunched in the shade, a light breeze in our hair, tranquille. And that evening, we did something even more beneficial to my mental health. We got pizza. In our first jubilant takeout outing since the beginning of confinement over a month ago, we headed to a nearby open pizza restaurant, gloved and masked, and picked up five steaming hot, enticing pies for the family. I could barely contain my happiness at an evening of no dishes, of pizza better (and greasier) than we could ever make at home. I stuck with a simple, cheesy margarita pie, and downed it, alongside a bubbly Cherry Coke, with the kids of the family up in my apartment. We spent the next hour joking and laughing and talking shit in my living room as the light slowly faded with the setting sun, until we all went our separate ways and prepared for another week of confinement. I finished the evening in bed, voraciously tearing through the first installment of Elena Ferrante's book series, My Brilliant Friend. Thanks to my brilliant sister, A., for the recommendation!


20/04/2020: It may be a controversial opinion (Carla Lalli Music of Bon Appétit has long voiced her vehement opposition), but I love angel hair pasta. I attribute it to a childhood spent devouring the thin, delicate strands, and I've been buying pack after pack of it these past few weeks. Tonight, I cooked up a pot of the pasta in salty water and served it with Barilla's flavorful pesto rosso, sautéed chicken and crispy roasted Brussels sprouts. Simple, but so, so satisfying. I love when I make a good meal without having to spend hours laboring over a recipe with 500 steps and just as many ingredients – even though that can be fun, too. A sweet and tart smell hit my nostrils as we headed down the steps to chat with the family, and I walked into the kitchen to see C. putting the finishing touches on a hot pink strawberry rhubarb pie for dessert. After waiting (im)patiently for it to come out the oven, we pounced on it as soon as it was cool enough to cut. Our mouths puckered at the acidity of the seasonal fruit, but I couldn't put down my fork, especially with a dusting of powdered sugar on top.



21/04/2020: Retour en éte this evening as I decided to take a page from my Greek cookbook and make gemista, or stuffed peppers and tomatoes, for the family. The dish brings back good memories, as I learned to make it during a cooking class with a lovely Yia Yia in Kefalonia a few summers ago. A smile crept over my face as I thought of that sunny summer afternoon, eating around a beautiful table decorated with local delicacies: homemade gemista, garlicky homemade tzatziki, shiny fried sardines, chilled Greek white wine. I managed to corral J. and his siblings to help me cook. From browning the ground beef for the filling, to cutting the potatoes and nestling them amid the vegetables, to mixing the Greek yogurt with garlic, cucumber and lemon for a tzatziki, everyone took on a task, giving the kitchen a lively, friendly ambiance. All that was missing was the Yia Yia.


22/04/2020: Every morning this week has begun slowly, with J. bringing me a café (milk and sugar, of course) from the machine downstairs, alongside a fluffy Bonne Maman marbled madeleine – a little sweetness that helps establish a routine in this chaotic time when weeks blur into days blur into hours. Luckily, lunch is always on time, and today, it was a piperade (a fritatta full of colorful peppers and smoky lardons). And each week comes the hour where I'm locked in my bedroom while J. cooks for me. This evening, like Icarus, he flew too close to the sun. Pouting, he presented to me a duck breast with a foie gras sauce and duck fat potatoes for dinner. Now, you might be thinking, what's so bad about that? I asked the same thing. Unfortunately, he was disappointed with the texture of his sauce, which was – granted – a bit thicker and gloopier than desired. But I couldn't help but smile as I tasted the meal: duck is one of my favorite foods, and the potatoes were wildly tender and savory. By the time we were plunging spoons into tart lemon cheesecake for dessert, his smile had returned. How and why are French packaged sweets so damn good?


23/04/2020: This afternoon had in store another surprisingly delicious store-bought dessert enrobed in plastic – a light, fluffy mint mousse laced with ribbons of chocolate. I swear I could spend hours in this chilly aisle of my local French supermarket. After a rejuvenating FaceTime with Triple A (my sister and best friend), full of grins and encouragement, I headed outdoors with C. to go on my first run in years. Despite my fears, things went better than expected, and I felt even stronger and sure of myself after our 30-minute outing. Not bad for a couch potato. In other shocking news, J.'s brother and kebab-lover F. cooked dinner for the family tonight, one of my favorite dishes of this household – filet de porc en croûte with pâté (a riff on beef Wellington). And even in summer temps, a side of chou rouge with apples and spices was a welcome, warming bite.



24/04/2020: I embarked on a hideous but necessary task this afternoon, one that (like the dishes languishing in the sink) I've been putting off for far too long. Armed with the garden house and Lysol wipes, I set out to deep clean my trash can. It was at this moment that I wondered: Is being an adult really worth it? But I changed my mind later that evening, when I attemped a new task – this time with much more agreeable tools (chicken thighs, a bottle of red Bourgogne, lardons, adorable little pearl onions and a bouquet garni). I've made coq au vin once before several years ago, but now I was up against savvy French tongues. At my very first bite of the juicy, burgundy-stained meat, I knew it was a major success. To celebrate? A pyramid of Toblerone, and a merry birthday FaceTime with my college friends whom I miss deeply.


Socializing, exercising and cleaning... this really has been quite the week.

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