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  • Writer's pictureAine Dougherty

Week Twenty-Seven in France: Boeuf bourguignon and (key) lime pie

Busy completing lockdown transformation into Grandma Aine, apron and all.
Pâtes al limone for dinner.

21/03/2020: It may be confinement, but weekends are still my favorite because I often get to eat some richer, more special dishes with the family. This afternoon, we had slow-cooked boeuf bourguignon for lunch with mashed potatoes – the dish I'd been hearing about from J. for months, finally. The beef was wildly tender and flavorful, and I sopped up all the sauce on my plate with T.'s homemade bread. I practically licked the plate clean. Next up on the agenda, waiting until we can eat again... Tonight, I made pâtes al limone, a recipe I'd seen my old boss from the TV show Très très bon make on his Instagram recently. Simple spaghetti jazzed up with a lemon and butter sauce, buried in parm, lemon zest and black pepper – and the best part is, when I posted my creation on Instagram, my boss responded to ask how I was doing. This may not seem like a big deal to most, but considering how shy and eager and awkward and American I was during my internship three years ago, I'm thrilled that this cool Parisian journalist remembers me.

Everything goes in the PASTA bowl.

22/03/2020: In an effort to use up some of the ticking-time-bomb produce in my fridge, I threw together an asparagus, crispy potato and mushroom hash, which, topped with a fried egg and Sriracha, made for the easiest and most delicious breakfast ever. How have I not discovered this before? It's Sunday, so the eating is far from over. Sunday lunch kicks off with a glass of wine and moves into chicken and dumplings, a revelatory marriage of roasted chicken and vegetables with toothsome, cheesy mounds of biscuit dough dotting the plat. Finally, I call up my mom to check in – and to solicit her advice. She makes some of the best chili I've ever had, a chili that can actually make you feel healthy while eating it. After some smiles, we hang up and I get to work. Ground beef (she usually uses turkey, but, you know... shortages), kidney and white beans, red and green pepper, canned tomatoes, spices (cumin and cayenne come to mind), and corn (my favorite food, as everyone knows). Spooned over rice and topped with avocado, Mom's chili had that same nostalgic taste and texture I remembered. It was perfect, even as we sat on the floor and watched TV as we ate it. But not just any TV. We were watching Les Choristes, the heart-warming movie about singing children that made me love French when I first saw it in school many years ago. Something about coming full circle?

Key lime pie, sans key limes but avec amour.

24/03/2020: I hadn't made something sweet in a while, so I let my whims take me straight to key lime pie. Well, lime pie, but that doesn't sound as good. I've heard that using regular limes to make this pie is akin to joining the devil in Hell, but I assure you, I had no problems with the taste of this sweet, tart, promise-of-warmer-times-ahead dessert. After a hearty dinner of surprisingly delicious meatloaf downstairs, I broke out my creation – a Speculoos and Petit Beurre crust filled with velvety lime custard and a light, sweet blanket of whipped cream on top. The French-British family around the table (and even their 100% French family friend and quarantine buddy, V.) all loved the pie, despite it being the first time some of them had ever tasted anything like it. Nothing makes me happier than when people enjoy what I cook. Nothing.

25/03/2020: I'd been loving (well, as much as one can love during this terrifying global health crisis) the chance to cook so much these past few weeks, but tonight... J. cooked for me! Wanting it to be a surprise, he had locked me in my bedroom for an hour, so all I heard was pots and pans clanging and all I smelled was the tantalizing scent of garlic and onions sautéeing. Finally, he sheepishly summoned me, and I was stunned by the result. He had made salmon en papillote, or cooked in a paper pouch, with honey, curry powder, crème fraîche and caramelized onions, plus a beautifully plated mountain of bright yellow masala rice. Although he was grumbling about the meager portions of fish he'd accidentally bought, he made me melt with his adorable shy, proud smile when I told him how delicious everything was. But he didn't stop there. In the oven were two chocolate and caramel lava cakes, which he intended to serve over a bed of fresh strawberries for dessert (swoon). Unfortunately, as he tried to take one out of my tiny toaster oven, he lost his grip and the aforementioned chocolate lava ended up all over the kitchen floor. Nevertheless, we were still able to enjoy the second cake – and enjoy it we did.

26/03/2020: In the midst of a quarantine, the impossible has occurred. I've been working out. J. has some weights and a bench in the basement, so we've been lifting once every couple of days for the past two weeks. I'm astonished at how good it makes me feel to sweat. I'm still weak, but I'm hoping that by the end of this lockdown (whenever that may be), I'll be able to beat my sister A. in a push-up competition. I'm coming for you... We celebrated today's workout session by eating fleischnacka with the family, "snail-shaped" rolls of meat and dough that are beloved in Alsace. I feel like I need to keep reminding myself I'm here and not on Mars, and eating delicious regional cuisine helps me do that.

27/03/2020: Thanks to my over-the-top grocery haul from last week, I have some quick and easy options for breakfast before I need to rush out the door to– oh, wait. Anyway, handy snacks still come in handy despite the current situation, and I ate a few sweet, chewy pre-made crêpes with delicate, lacy edges for breakfast this morning before spending all day alternating between my bed, the couch and the patio. Thrilling. The siren song of dessert called to me, so I made chocolate cake from a box, although I tried to jazz it up with some exorbitantly priced Reese's from the local grocery store sprinkled on top. But even a sugary taste of home can't make me unsee my meager weekly step count.

28/03/2020: I'd been looking forward to this dinner all week, despite the work it entailed. C. had decided to make nems from scratch (the equivalent of egg rolls in America), and I jumped on the Chinese food train with homemade scallion pancakes. Between the kneading and the flouring and the rolling and the scallion sprinkling and the coiling and the rolling and the frying, somehow I found time to rest in the kitchen nook reading my book (The Gourmand's Way by Justin Spring) and watching the sunset before dinner. The finished pancakes didn't taste exactly quite like the ones I love at dim sum restaurants in the States (read: not quite as greasy and delicious), but they were tasty all the same, especially dipped into the sweet, salty and spicy sauce we'd made to accompany them. Big projects like this don't always pay off, but when they do, it's so worth it.

If I had to give myself one piece of advice after this week of cooking and eating, it's this: Try to be nice in the kitchen, you control freak!

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