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  • Writer's pictureAine Dougherty

Week Twenty-Nine in France: Dalgona coffee and Petits Écoliers

An unexpected joy on a lazy Monday.

This week, I'm trying to look out for the little everyday joys because it's so easy to lose them in the uncertain, restless, terrifying time of coronavirus.

04/04/2020: The day began felicitously, with a box of éclairs delivered by a neighbor. Despite the fact that the French around me were shocked that I would eat such a pastry for breakfast, I dove into the generous café éclair with its nicely caramelized pâte à choux and creamy, luxurious coffee crème patissière. Keeping with this lockdown's theme of waste-not, want-not, I then threw together a fritatta with frozen roasted veggies and the rest of the leftover feta for lunch. But my next task was a little more frivolous: Internet sensation Dalgona coffee. My friend I. alerted me to this trend, and considering that it's basically an Insta-famous Greek frappé, I knew I had to try it. Several minutes of vigorous whisking later, I had those iconic soft peaks of fluffy coffee foam, which I spooned on top of oat milk with a splash of vanilla extract – the slight nuttiness paired deliciously with the sweetness and bitterness of the instant coffee.

Later that night, the boys cooked up crêpes for the family, which we ate with cheese, chorizo and an assortment of savory fixings. C. brought out a gorgeous homemade strawberry tarte for dessert, while I presented my (quite... labor-intensive) mint chocolate chip cookies from Bon Appétit, which had a lovely, subtle mint tea flavor thanks to all the fresh herbs in the dough. All the validation I needed was V., family friend and quarantine buddy, eating four of them. Even though I may feel stressed in the kitchen sometimes (like when there are five steps to do at once and J. and I are clashing, lightheartedly, over cookie decoration), it's a good kind of stress – after all, it always leads to some quiet pride.

05/04/2020: Who can say no to leftover crêpes? Certainly not me. We supplemented our Sunday brunch (crêpes, jam, confiture de lait) with a hearty English breakfast, featuring beans, grilled bread, bacon, scrambled eggs and sausage. It was so, so satisfying. I'm sure many of us have been worried about staying inactive for so long while eating the same amount, if not more. Weightlifting with J. in the basement helps me feel a bit better, but I can't escape that anxious feeling about my body. However, I need to be gentle with myself. I'm happy, I'm safe, and I'm eating delicious food and nourishing my body and soul – I'll do what I can in terms of working out, going on walks and eating a balanced diet, but whatever happens, happens. And I'm okay with that. For my goûter, E. offered me a tasty, moist (sorry...) homemade apple-ginger muffin in the shape of a heart, and dinner was a chicken and duck baeckeoffe, an Alsatian casserole normally made with pork, potatoes and other veggies. Talk about comfort food – after all, that's where I find the most comfort, and I won't let my fears about confinement take that away.

06/04/2020: Time for the weekly big ol' grocery shop, latex gloves, scarves, hand sanitizer and all. Instead of getting some work done like I was planning, J., C. and I spent a few convivial hours playing Yahtzee in the sun, before J. and I headed to the village next door to pick tulips for his mom (cute!). At first, I thought, "Are we going to steal them from a neighbor's backyard, or what?" But when he turned the corner, I saw an enormous field of colorful flowers right by the highway. Shocked and delighted, I filled my arms with bunches of orange, red, yellow, purple and pink tulips while J. dropped 10 euros in the donation box. Even in the time of COVID-19, I was still able to stand in a field of flowers in France, and I'm so grateful. Then, we dug into tender turkey osso buco and basmati rice for dinner, with the bouquet adorning the sunlit table in an explosion of warm colors.

J. cueille des fleurs!

07/04/2020: Big surprise – I actually did some work. It's been a bit difficult figuring out how I can be most useful to my fellow teachers and students during this time, but today I sent some e-mails out to some students who want to work on their English. I think I'll start a weekly Zoom English club with discussion questions, games and more. Stay tuned! I also felt productive after a great tutoring session and receiving an email from a potential new client, which could give me something to do during the summer months. Tonight, another bonne nouvelle – J. was cooking for me! And once again locked me in my bedroom. He was even more ambitious this evening, first starting with a beautiful appetizer – avocado and feta domes with smoked trout, lots of lemon juice and some red pepper flakes (wow!). I have never been the biggest fan of smoked fish, but the powerful flavors in his dish blended so well together, I couldn't put down my fork. Then, he brought out the entrée – his take on poulet Basquaise, or tender chicken breasts cooked in an herb-forward tomato sauce with peppers and onions. After the homemade lava cake debacle of last time, we decided to go with Bonne Maman chocolate fondants for dessert, which were the perfect sweet ending to a delicious meal made with love.

08/04/2020: Snack time today featured a blast from the past – Petits Écoliers, butter cookies with a layer of sweet milk chocolate that my dad used to give my sister and I when we were kids. The taste always brings back a rush of nostalgia and emotion. They'll forever be my favorite cookies. After a workout, I took another trip back in time to my high school field hockey days to make a chocolate, peanut butter & banana protein smoothie using some of J.'s (disgusting) whey powder and a scoop of Skippy that gave me major pangs of homesickness. Then, back to indulgence – for my apéro, I decided to make a rosemary gimlet, a cocktail recipe I found in David Lebovitz's new cookbook, Drinking French. After fighting with some ice cubes and using my knockoff S'well water bottle as a makeshift cocktail shaker, the drink turned out more lime-y than rosemary...y, I think because my rosemary simple syrup was a bit weak. Maybe I should start actually measuring in recipes? Not tonight, though, because we were having burgers with the family downstairs. I topped my toasted bun with a beef patty, a fried egg, greens and ketchup, American-style, to close out today's trip down memory lane.

09/04/2020: Bon Appétit's recipe arsenal saves the day again, and in 20 minutes, lunch was ready – delicate angel hair with thyme, crispy prosciutto, peas, parmesan and lemon juice. It fueled me to get through some more tasks on my to-do list: I wrote and sent a birthday card, ordered a birthday gift (watch the mail, Mom!), and bought myself a hot-pink velour sweatsuit to pass the rest of quarantine in style (yes, you read that right). They're little things, but it feels good nonetheless. As I sat and dawdled on my computer, occasionally glancing at the sunset through my bay window, small town sounds cut through the serene silence outside – the neighborhood church bells at the top of the hour, Carmelito, the rooster next door, making his presence known. J. and I took one of the dogs for a walk to get a bit of fresh air, and I saw some houses on the block that I've never gotten the chance to look twice at. They're gorgeous, especially when the golden light of the fading sun hits them just right. For dinner, we went simple: a hasty Greek salad with leftover feta, green pepper, cherry tomatoes and plenty of olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, followed by a fruity Mort Subite brew and a bowl of microwave chicken and mushroom risotto (listen, we all need a break from three-course meals sometimes). Plus, E.'s homemade olive and bacon loaf went perfectly with our spontaneous supper.

10/04/2020: We've continued to spend some of our quarantine evenings around a board game, one that I'm sure my brilliant, word-loving dad would have liked – Scrabble! I've been winning our bilingual games 90 percent of the time, and this evening is no different, which puts some extra wind in my sails. Dinner with the family is as merry as ever, too, as we nosh on pork Italian-style (aka, braised in milk), accompanied by a mountain of farfalle (my favorite pasta shape) and peppery, melt-in-your-mouth cauliflower. Plus, a cheeky chocolate mousse for dessert – because we cannot skip dessert.

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