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  • Writer's pictureAine Dougherty

Week Twenty-One in France: A quenelle de brochet and chocolate lava cake

A very wise sign from a bouchon in Lyon.

08/02/2020: A. and I woke up peacefully, unaware that we would be in for quite a day. We met up at a coffee shop with my old friend N., with whom I'd studied abroad in Arles almost three (!) years before. Our morning walk around the Croix Rousse neighborhood of Lyon was fueled by a fluffy, still-warm praline bun studded with those crunchy, sweet bright pink pearls. Somehow, that bun also got us up almost 70 flights of steps to the Basilique de la Fourvière perched on a hill at the very top of Vieux Lyon. The stunning view nearly offset my shortness of breath. Nearly. After a lot more wandering around the quaint (and crowded) streets of the historic old city, we finally stopped for a late lunch. The planchette à la provençale, with its tapenades, babaganoush, ham and crusty baguette, rescued me from the dangerous depths of hanger, as did my kir with peach syrup. Recharged, we spent over an hour exploring the insanely cool Musée de cinéma et miniature, where I could have spent days staring at all of the tiny little scenes created by the museum's founder, Dan Ohlmann.

One quick espresso later, A. and I headed to a traditional dinner at a bouchon – specifically, the Bouchon des Cordeliers, an understated but cozy spot in the center of Lyon. After some red wine, my tender beef cheek and squash risotto appetizer, a quenelle de brochet in Nantua sauce (an impossibly light fish dumpling with warming notes of nutmeg) and a praline tart for dessert, we wanted to die. So stuffed we could barely move, but wildly impressed with the quality and prices of the bouchon, we finally headed home to sink into our hostel beds. As I lay awake at 1 a.m., I heard strains of Cher floating through the window, a group of rowdy French jeunes screaming the lyrics from the street below: "Do you believe in life after love?" Despite my exhaustion, I couldn't help but smile – I live for these little moments of shared joy.

09/02/2020: On our last day in Lyon, A. and I met up with some more of my friends, this time fellow Fulbrighters, for a nice tart and creamy mango passionfruit cheesecake and a London Fog latte (which I haven't been able to find in ages!). We did a bit more shopping in Vieux Lyon before boarding the extremely cramped bus back to Mulhouse. Our five-hour journey happily culminated in a convivial but chill evening of Chinese food with the family back at home – and the threat of an impending storm the next day.

10/02/2020: We ventured into the biting wind and raindrops in Mulhouse for breakfast at Biscotte, a patisserie I've had yet to visit – and I'll be back, that's for sure. My flaky croissant stuffed with raspberry jam was tasty and unique enough to help me forget the terrible weather outside. After a few minutes of walking and sightseeing, I sheepishly confessed to A. that she'd probably seen almost all the sights there are to see in Mulhouse, even though she'd only been here for a few hours. Oh well, I boosted our spirits with a stop at another cute café in town, Temps d'une pause, for homemade cookies and cappuccinos before I headed to class and left A. to fend for herself. I rushed back out to meet up with her for mini Moricette (soft pretzel-like bread) sandwiches from Alsace favorite Poulaillon before we finished out the day shopping at the bougie Maison Engelmann for gorgeous pastries and a bottle of wine to share with our hosts this evening. We settled in for another comfortable and content dinner at home with T., E., J. and the rest of the fam. As we laughed and talked and snuck bites of chocolate-Earl Grey and raspberry-pistachio pastries, I couldn't help but think how happy I am that I get to introduce all the people I love in my life to each other.

11/02/2020: It wouldn't be one of my blog posts if I didn't go to Le Nid at least once, so A. and I dug into banana and pomegranate-topped pancakes, yogurt, granola and rustic bread with butter and quince jelly for brunch. Despite her nerves, A. then came to class with me and chatted to some of my students, who were delighted by photos of us as kids and clamored to ask her embarrassing questions about me. After I gave them what I thought was a very interesting assignment – write a creative piece about a school shooting from the point of view of anyone involved – A. and I said our goodbyes and headed to lunch. I couldn't help but beam about the fact that my best friend of 22 years got to see me in action as a Fulbright ETA! Later that day, my bright smile would unfortunately fade.

We were on our way to the market, absolutely stuffed after a delicious lunch of ham, cheese and egg galettes, a decadent chocolate and coffee ice cream crêpe and a bottle of cider at Crêperie Crampous Mad, when disaster struck. The moment we walked into Les Halles, A. looked at me with despair – her phone had been stolen out of her pocket by a pickpocket. What a great first impression of Mulhouse. Sad and stressed, the day took a turn for the worse, but once things were closer to being figured out, we decided not to waste our dinner reservation. And so, we gorged on a classic Alsatian dinner to drown our sorrows, complete with more pig-themed décor than you've ever seen – or ever wanted to see – in your life. I downed a duck breast and a crispy rösti, basically a French latke, and, in what seems to be the theme of the trip, we ate and ate until we simply could not eat anymore.

12/02/2020: Every vacation needs a lazy day, and that's what we did today. A. and I woke up late, sipped on cups of coffee, went grocery shopping and cooked for the dinner party I'm hosting for my friends tonight, all while yelling in exaggerated Italian accents and making each other double over laughing. I can sometimes feel excluded and isolated (because of my generally shy personality, my suburban location, etc.), and I was a bit nervous and hopeful that all my friends could come tonight. As usual, I had nothing to worry about – the night turned out to be absolutely perfect. We began with a casual apéro, where we munched on frozen tarte flambées, Apericubes and Tucs and waited for everyone to arrive. Finally, I served up the baked pasta with spinach and artichokes we'd made, and everyone sat around the apartment, talking, laughing and enjoying each other's company. For dessert, I brought out our homemade cream puffs! Drizzled with melted chocolate and raspberry coulis, they were total showstoppers. The evening took a lot of work tp put together, but I swear I'm at my happiest when I'm cooking for and entertaining my friends.

13/02/2020: After a rude awakening at 5 a.m. and a quick trip to the train station in T. and E.'s car (I got to drive – that was fun!), I had to say goodbye to A. :( Later that day, I headed out to a couple classes, including a little movie viewing that shocked me with how impressive it was. A group of 14-year-old students produced personal videos about an adult in their lives, like their grandparents who had immigrated or survived wars. Wow, just wow. I snacked on cookies and gummy candy at the film showing and headed home with a love note from a student in hand... oh dear. One of my kind co-teachers picked me up in the evening for dinner at her house with her family, and we spent a lovely evening together, from the apéro with plantain chips and tropical rum to the delicious choucroute to the nutty cookies and airy chocolate mousse for dessert. Not only did I eat well, but I spoke so much French and left feeling like we'd all really bonded.

14/02/2020: Happy Valentine's Day! After texting my friends and family that I love them and trying to pry myself away from the flood of lovey-dovey Instagram stories to click through, I got to work. I spent the day making another batch of baked spinach and artichoke pasta to share with J. (which he devoured). Then, I jazzed up Bonne Maman microwave chocolate lava cakes with raspberry sorbet and chocolate-covered strawberries for dessert (along with a bottle of rosé crémant d'Alsace). Simple but sweet.

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