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  • Aine Dougherty

Week Thirty-Six in France: Pastis and a PastaBox


View of Alsace from the vignes.

23/05/20: Now that France has come out on the other side of official lockdown, the whole country feels like it can breathe again. Whether this is a good idea or not (beware a second wave...), I must admit that it's been a time full of joyous retrouvailles, including this evening, where a few friends and I gathered to celebrate a birthday. Just before heading to the party, I scarfed down a carbonara PastaBox from the supermarket – far from glamorous, but effective. I spent the rest of the evening sipping Leffe Nectar beers, chatting, laughing and trying to stay six feet apart from the rest of the guests.


24/05/20: Sunday lunches, which sustained me during confinement, are just as delicious and convivial during déconfinement. This afternoon, the family shared chicken baeckoffe, a classic Alsatian dish, and fresh salad picked straight from T.'s garden. To finish, after the cheese course, a moist, rich chocolate cake and a homemade mirabelle tarte. I swear, I feel so, so lucky every single day. Not to mention a taste of the traditional pad Thai that I know and love for dinner, with leftovers for days. The evening came to a close with a phone call with my sweet and strong mom, who inspires me every day with her dedication and love.


25/05/20: One sunny dog walk in the countryside later, C. and I stopped at Patisserie ADN in town for a sweet goûter. One pastry caught my eye as soon as I walked in – the mojito tartelette. Shiny and puffy and beautiful, it was tantalizing. I knew my choice had paid off when I bit in a couple minutes later – the lime custard paired perfectly with the fluffy mint-flecked meringue on top, and the crumbly crust brought everything home. It's bites like this that make me wish I was a pâtissière.



26/05/20: At Tuesday night dinner, J.'s dad served me an apéritif that was as nostalgic for me as Proust's macarons (even though it doesn't taste as good). My glass of pastis, an anise liqueur popular in the south of France, brought back a rush of memories from my summer in Arles, when I drank plastic cups of the stuff in the street and danced during many a street party or festival. This southern starter then made way for a typically Alsatian meal – homemade tarte flambées, which I've mentioned many a time on my blog (plus a sprinkle of dried oregano from the garden out back, this time). The family is kind enough to leave the onions off for me, which makes me both ashamed and happy.


Mexican Night Part II – not so aesthetic, but definitely tasty.

27/05/20: Following the rave reviews from the first Mexican night for the family, I decided it was time for another. I've never made enchiladas before, but it seemed like a good choice for Part II. Turns out I was right. I did a little research beforehand and cobbled together several recipes to make my own enchilada sauce – which couldn't be spicy because 1. E. can't eat spicy foods and 2. do you know how hard it is to find chiles in France, especially during a pandemic? My experiment was a shocking success. First, I made a roux with spices like sweet paprika and cumin (for that red color sans chiles), then blended it together with chicken broth and tomatoes, green peppers and onions that I'd roasted over the stove's open flame for a smoky flavor. All my worries about taste and texture were for naught – the sauce was perfect, especially once mixed with chicken, cheese and corn and folded into corn tortillas, then smothered on top. I'll be making these again. The avocado, mango, cherry tomato, red onion, cilantro and lime salad on the side was an ideal fresh note next the cheesy enchiladas, even though the appearance of mango took some convincing for the French and British family.


The ill-fated Magnum Ruby.

28/05/20: This evening, my prayers were answered. J.'s sister C. invited me to a party with her friends, and although she had to remind me several times that "they don't bite," I had an awesome time hanging out with a bunch of French people my age. Now that a lot of my language assistant friends have dispersed, I need to put in some work. After a brutal (10-minute) uphill walk into the vineyards in Alsace (the Leffe six-pack I was carrying with me didn't help), we settled into a small clearing and set out saucissons, chips and chocolate cake. The atmosphere was chill and friendly, especially with the American classic oldies playing in the background. When the sun started to set, we said our goodbyes and headed back home, where J. bought me a Magnum Ruby that I promptly dropped onto the ground as soon as I'd unwrapped it and exclaimed, "It's so pretty!"


29/05/20: It had been a while since C. and I had tortured ourselves, so we set out to make pistachio macarons today. Several hours of almond meal, ground pistachios, food coloring and egg whites later, we were a bit disappointed, since the shells didn't have "feet" and weren't as shiny as smooth as they should have been. Despite our initial failure, after hours in the fridge, the macarons turned into absolutely delicious bombs of pistachio flavor. We closed out the week with an evening that C. dubbed "Pizza and Sunsets." Exactly as you'd imagine, it featured margherita pizza from the adorable Pizzeria Panettone in Mulhouse and a beautiful sunset, as seen from our al fresco dining table on the terrace at home.



 

I want to keep up with my weekly blog posts, and they make me happy, but it doesn't feel right to share art or content right now without at least mentioning the current state of America and the world. I've been donating (ACLU and Black Lives Matter, among others), signing petitions (Philly We Rise, etc.), having tough conversations with my circle, and reading articles and books to educate myself without putting that burden on POC (Black Enough by Ibi Zoboi, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and more). It's still not enough, and I know there is so much more work to do.


I am also loving the outpouring of support and awareness for Black-owned restaurants, but it's a double-edged sword – I (and others) need to acknowledge that this shows that we have not been doing enough to support diverse voices in the food world, and that we need to keep this energy going when the news cycle turns over. In the next few weeks and beyond, stay tuned for takeout and links for Black- and POC-owned restaurants and chefs in Alsace, because uplifting these communities needs to be something conscious that white people do on a daily basis – all over the world!

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