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  • Writer's pictureAine Dougherty

Week Twenty-Eight in France: Seven-hour lamb and a smoothie bowl

The most photogenic thing I made this week – a carrot, ricotta and feta tart catching rays.

28/03/2020: After a stressfully crowded weekly grocery shop and a sunny, serene walk in the countryside with the dogs, J. and I headed home for dinner with the family. We had tender, saucy tagine over rice with a side of lively conversation, as usual, and we all got to try an English delicacy for dessert. E. made hot cross buns, which are quite a challenge for French people to pronounce, as it turns out. Going the non-traditional route, she added chocolate instead of dried fruit, which made the dense, biscuit-like buns much better than they might have been. However, and no shade to E., but I honestly think hot cross buns should remain in the song. I'd rather stick to fluffy, airy scones!

29/03/2020: Sunday lunch, my favorite part of the week. T. and E. went all out today, waking up at the crack of dawn to begin braising l'agneau de sept heures (seven-hour lamb), which transformed into falling-apart, succulent shreds of meat after many hours in the oven. A food coma then ensued, followed by two rousing yet relaxing games of Franglais Scrabble with J., T. and E. (I won one, against two English professors!) Tranquil and completely out of energy that evening, C. and I conspired to make homemade brownies to eat with a carton of fresh strawberries in the fridge. Sadly, due to a baking chocolate mishap, they were a bit of a fail (too runny in the middle, even for fudgy brownies), but they still tasted great as we dug in with spoons. We both shrugged J. off when he asked if we were now best friends, but shared sly smiles nonetheless. Turns out quarantine has quite the power to bring even the lonest of wolves together.

30/03/2020: When I hear toad in a hole, I think slices of toasty bread with a fried egg lounging in the center, but E. had a different plan. For lunch today we had a sort of baked Yorkshire pudding with sausages (Alsatian knacks) and cornichons hiding inside. It sounds absolutely nuts, and ten-year-old me probably would have run away from it screaming, but it was delicious, especially with a drizzle of homemade red wine gravy. The garlicky sautéed leeks and red peppers on the side added even more crunch and flavor, so much so that I was eating out of the pan by the end of the meal. Turns out this week is dedicated to haute English cuisine. For dinner, I took the reins and baked up a cheesy pasta dish with cherry tomatoes and cauliflower – Bon Appétit touted it as both kid-friendly and grown-up, which sounds perfect for a comforting confinement meal.

31/03/2020: Back to my American roots this morning with a good old West Coast-inspired smoothie bowl. With no NutriBullet on hand, I grabbed the immersion blender and threw together frozen fruits rouges, Greek yogurt, oat milk and honey, topping the creamy concoction with concentric kiwi slices, oats and dried cranberries. It was perfectly tart, not too sweet with a nice little bite on top thanks to the oats and faux Craisins. That afternoon, I gave up and leaned into the dog hair, cuddling with Phoebe on the couch for a good half hour. I've never been the biggest dog person, but something about quarantine is making me crave affection from n'importe qui. While carrying on an illuminating FaceTime with my sis, J. and I got to work on making NYT Cooking's carrot tart with ricotta and feta, which I would bring downstairs as my offering this evening. Despite not finding multicolored carrots at the grazed-over supermarket, almost chopping my fingers off while thinly slicing the veggies and ever-so-slightly burning the puff pastry base, I was overjoyed with how the galette turned out. It might have been the best thing I ate this week. Roasted (but not mushy) carrots were nestled atop a garlicky, creamy bed of ricotta and feta, baked into a caramelized, flaky crust. The family finished it in minutes. Even T., who abhors cheese in all its forms, gave it a try!

01/04/2020: The temperature may be climbing as we head into April, but the current situation (that sees cases in France and back in the U.S. climbing at shocking rates) definitely still requires warm, soothing soups for dinner. A few tweaks later, since kale seems not to exist in France, Bon Appétit's chicken and rice soup with garlic chili oil and spinach was sitting before us, ready to be slurped up. I was worried this soup would turn out to be fade and flavorless, but I was wrong. The chicken broth added plenty of depth, and the chili oil with fried garlic chips provided some much needed spice. J. ate two bowls before I finished my first, which comforted me even more than the dinner did.

02/04/2020: This morning began with a quick bilan – what do I have in the fridge that I need to use? Half an onion, an aging orange pepper, parsley, some extra feta, eggs and a leftover can of tomatoes from last week. Together, these ingredients mean only one thing, and they were practically screaming it from the refrigerator. Shakshuka. This version turned out even better than the last time I made it, even though the eggs were a touch over-cooked, and J. and I voraciously devoured the pan with the help of T.'s homemade grainy bread. Late lunch this Thursday consisted of my last triangle of creamy, salty Vache qui rit (Laughing Cow) cheese on five meticulously counted Tucs. This little combination is quickly becoming an unexpected contender for favorite lockdown snack.

03/04/2020: I woke up this morning with lots of weird, random, unfocused anxiety. I don't even know what triggered it – all I know is that lots of random thoughts were ping-ponging through my head, and I couldn't pinpoint or hit pause on any of them, putting a real damper on my mood. The big news story of the day? The bac (the big test at the end of high schools) has been cancelled, which made me worry about how to continue working with my tutoring student and any other students who reach out to me for help with English. Why do emails cause me such fear? How am I still stressed when I have barely anything to do? Luckily, I made fried rice with toasted sesame oil and sriracha for lunch and had a great session with my adorable student, which gave me hope that I'll still be able to help him (and continue earning money) even without the notorious exam in May. Dinner with the family helped me feel better too, with the first tender, green French asparagus of the season thinly sliced and simmered in a cream sauce atop penne pasta and a juicy chicken breast.

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