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  • Writer's pictureAine Dougherty

Week Thirty-Three in France: Grilled cheese, tomato soup and take-out brunch

Rhubarb bars pre-bake!

02/05/2020: The moment has finally come. I've been going through Le Nid withdrawal, until I read in the newspaper and saw on Instagram that they're offering take-out brunch! I could not contain my excitement, so I ordered the classic brunch for 18 euros for Saturday morning at 11 a.m. J. and I trudged through the rain, passing through streets and squares that I haven't seen in months, until we arrived outside the holy grail, my favorite spot in Mulhouse. The two friendly owners were there, working hard, smiling behind their masks, ready to pack up and hand us (from afar) our meal. The second we got home, I spread out all of the homemade goodies on the table: cheese and charcuterie, bread, croissants, bredzels, pancakes with raspberry coulis and caramel sauce, banana bread with chocolate chips, lemon cake, yogurt with strawberries and fresh green juice. I couldn't hide my grin as I snapped some pictures while J. waited impatiently to dig in. Who would've thought that a take-out brunch could bring tears to my eyes? The highlight of the meal had to be the tiny container of the caramel-butterscotch-maple syrup hybrid sauce that we doused everything in. I can't wait to try their take-out lunch and apéro – here's to supporting local businesses! Later that evening, the enticing smell of choucroute wafted through the house and up into my apartment, making for a comforting confinement dinner. (I can confirm that sauerkraut is just as good in spring as it is during the winter.)

03/05/2020: After forcing T. to pose for a photo with his irresistible homemade bread, I sat down with the family for a one-of-a-kind Sunday lunch featuring a white Corbières from the south of France. I love a unique wine label. And, the pièce de résistance, E.'s salmon baked in puff pastry with snail butter (you know, the garlic-parsley butter they serve with escargots?), which was fall-apart tender and so, so flavorful. Then, for dinner, we celebrated making it through another week with a glass of sweet, fizzy Prosecco – it's SUNDAY, baby!

04/05/2020: I dug around in the back of my fridge today and emerged with a bag full of carrots, leftover from the coq au vin I made last weekend. Duh – carrot cake. But despite my pouring in a full sachet of French baking powder, the cake fell a bit flat as it came out of the oven. I tried to rejuvenate it with a tangy cream cheese icing, and I was proud that it wasn't too sickly sweet, but I'll have to try again to perfect that fluffy texture. The rest of the day, I felt tired and headachey, so I tried to rest as much as I could while J. did my grocery shopping for me like the angel he is. The malaise lasted through dinner time, all the way until bedtime, when I received a shock that immediately lifted my mood – one of my pitches was accepted! Well, the editor asked for a draft "to see if it would be a good fit," but still. My first real step towards success! I was absolutely thrilled, and fell asleep itching to write.

05/05/2020: And write I did. Today was a big ol' work day, featuring the draft of my first (potential) freelance story, more pitches to send out, and two resumes for a teaching job at the local university. Finally, drunk on pride, I sipped on an ice-cold gin and tonic during a Northwestern in France Alumni networking happy hour on Zoom (what a horrific combination of words...). Although I was dreading the call, it ended up being a nice way to spend an hour, and I even made some exciting connections. When I hung up, J. called me to eat, and I devoured the pasta with chicken and spinach in a delicious cream sauce that he'd made (sans recipe and using a ring mold to plate, no less). The raspberry tiramisu was the cherry on top after our meal. What have I been telling you about store-bought desserts?

06/05/2020: On the menu this afternoon? An American classic – grilled cheese & homemade tomato soup. Although I felt a bit like a camp counselor setting the tray full of sandwiches on the table, all worries disappeared when I took my first bite. I am the PERFECT ambassador of American school cafeteria food, apparently. The grilled cheeses were crunchy and toasty on the outside (thank you, butter), and warm and melty on the inside. No soggy or dry, once-warm sandwiches here. This simple meal might be one of my confinement favorites. Fueled by cheese, I settled in for an afternoon of cover letter-writing, with the help of J. and his dad – I'm so lucky to be surrounded by so much support. For dinner, we chowed down on a beautiful salad, with creamy mozzarella, leafy greens, tomatoes, mushrooms, radishes, balsamic and fresh mint from the garden. But with the arrival of a freelance rejection in my inbox late at night, anxiety struck. I know, they're to be expected, but my thoughts started spiraling anyway. What do I even have to say that's unique and original? What if I never publish anything, ever? What if I'm a failure? I tried to breathe through the doubt and decided to drown my sorrows in a late-night sliver (okay, large chunk) of leftover carrot cake.

07/05/2020: Thursdays are always one of my favorite days of the week, because I get to hang out (virtually) with my students during English Club. This week, we presented their hilarious memes and discussed how popular music has changed over the past few decades. Sometimes I really feel like I'm from a different planet than this generation... but they're adorable, nonetheless. I took over the reins again tonight to make a dish from my childhood – when my sister A. and I were kids, we took a week of cooking classes during the summer in our hometown. One dish stuck out. It was simple, just angel hair pasta with roasted veggies (cherry tomatoes, zucchini, onion, mushrooms...), a ton of garlic and several good glugs of olive oil, but we made it over and over again throughout the years. Something about the taste just stuck with us. So, I made the pasta for the family tonight, alongside grilled chicken with ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend, and it tasted just like it used to.

08/05/2020: What to do when you have a bunch of rhubarb hanging out in the fridge (courtesy of your elderly Alsatian neighbor)? Answer: NYT Cooking's new rhubarb custard bar recipe. One of my happiest food memories happens to be making lemon bars for my grandma as a young teenager, just beginning to take an interest in the kitchen – I still remember her smile as she joyously exclaimed how delicious they were. I was excited to try this new take on an old favorite. C. and I did our best with the pretty pink topping, but we used most of our fruit haul for the sweet, tart custard filling. They ended up tasting more like lemon than rhubarb, but the texture was perfect, and the crust was one of the most delicious, most buttery I've ever tasted (only four ingredients, too!). Finally, that evening the whole family heard the siren call of kebab, and we ended up sitting around dining room table, styrofoam boxes splayed out in front of us, chowing down on our takeout. For me, a cheese pide, a carb-heavy Turkish flatbread topped with an egg. And, for dessert, rhubarb bars and an email from an editor – "Your story is gorgeous." Sweet, sweet success.

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