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  • Writer's pictureAine Dougherty

Week Twenty-Two in France: Blanquette de veau and Mont d'Or

A very friendly guest at a wild Carnaval parade in a tiny Alsatian town.

15/02/2020: I challenge you to find me something worse than a failed hand-whipped chantilly. This Saturday morning I was excitedly hoping for a bit of vanilla whipped cream to top the brioche French toast that I'd made, and alas, we spent almost an hour fighting a losing battle with some chilled crème liquide and making all the dirty jokes that go with the process. Despite this insurmountable obstacle and the lack of a light and creamy element, our pain perdu with raspberry coulis and strawberries was nonetheless delicious. Rest was then needed (our poor arms), but then we headed across the border to Germany for a quick "shopping trip" that turned into an over-the-top ice cream extravaganza. Bailey's, caramel ice cream, hazelnuts and a literal mountain of chantilly – that was fully taunting me – came together in my coupe to create one of the best ice cream sundaes I've ever tasted. It was so good, I forgot all about the fact that we were seated outside in winter in Deutschland. And if this day of sugar and carbs wasn't enough, we came home to a dinner of perfectly salty and luxurious carbonara pasta made by my housemate C.

16/02/2020: Yet another lunch with J.'s family awaited me this sunny Sunday. This time, we feasted on a blanquette de veau with wild rice and a homemade tiramisu for dessert before J. and I headed to Dessenheim, a tiny village deep in Alsace, for a Carnaval parade. Not quite knowing what to expect, I suddenly got the lay of the land when a costume-bedecked parade participant casually smashed a handful of confetti on my head and all down my back as he walked by. Minutes later, another one dressed as a pirate smeared a star of bright red paint on my face. All of this was accompanied by unreasonably loud Alsatian pop music and some truly terrifying outfits. I loved it. I loved it even more when, after I'd mimed drinking a beer several times to a leprechaun on the passing Irish float, he motioned for me to run after him and gifted me a warm, just-opened bottle of Leffe. Ah, small town manners. Finally, a quintessential Alsatian vista on our walk back to the car – a giant cow roaming the streets.

17/02/2020: Monday of vacation tastes sweet, but not as sweet as the oatmeal I had for breakfast, just like my mom used to make me. Boring rolled oats, a healthy dash of milk, and brown sugar, honey and cinnamon to make it all palatable. A wave of nostalgia came rushing back as I tasted the near-tooth-decaying bowl, and I thought longingly about my family back home and eating oatmeal with my sister in the mornings when we were little brats. My love for France is overwhelming, but it's true that if I stay here for good, there'd be a big hole in my life the size of my twin.

18/02/2020: After a long day of doing mostly nothing (I did get to see my sweet tutoring student), I headed to J.'s dad's house with his family again for their weekly Tuesday night dinner. Thrilled to have scored the coveted invite twice in one week, I walked in behind J., armed with a slightly-nicer-than-average bottle of wine and my most charming smile. We gorged on homemade tarte flambées and tiramisu, and as we smiled and laughed together, I couldn't help but notice how I was slumped in my seat, comfortable, a world away from my rigid, nervous posture from those first few family dinner just a few months ago. I feel like a part of the tribe, and I don't want this feeling to end.

19/02/2020: In another generous turn of events, after volunteering at the Repair Café (E.'s local organization that repairs Mulhousiens' broken stuff for free) for several hours, serving coffee and chatting with visitors, the family invited me to dine with them yet again. To continue this pleasant and useful feeling, I bustled around with the rest of the kids to set the table while T. and E. finished cooking, and eventually we sat down to burgers with homemade mustard and warm, melted Mont d'Or over potatoes. I wasn't sure if I'd like the cheese, but now I can definitely say that we can add it to my repertoire, right up there with the fan favorite, raclette.

20/02/2020: As I sat at the counter eating chicken in soy sauce for lunch with T., E. and their daughter C., the fluffy white rice carefully molded into mounds like at La Tour de Jade in town, I counted my blessings that I've gotten the chance to live with such kind, smart, generous people. They sat with me chatting for a good three hours about my future goals and opportunities, swapping stories and advice over glasses of mid-day rosé. It wasn't necessarily validation I was seeking from our conversation, but I left feeling hopeful nonetheless that this family I've known for just five months believes in me and my goals and sees a way for me to make them come true – and will stick with me for the journey. I just want to make myself and everyone proud, and to end up doing what makes me happy, in a place that I love, with people who care about me. Thanks to our long, existential lunch, my dread and anxiety quieted a bit in favor of simmering confidence and excitement about my potential life in France. Voilà, another feeling I want to stick around.

21/02/2020: After another morning of tutoring, making the most of school vacation, I was wasting time in my apartment, doing laundry and getting ready to pack for my trip next week, when suddenly, C. knocked on my door. "Grab your bag, we're going out." Seeing as this was the first time we were going to hang out together, I dropped everything and ran. We piled into her friend's car en route to visit another friend in a small town called Riquewihr. Although it was a bit of a surprise visit, and I was anxious, as I often am, I couldn't have made a better choice. That's because sitting in the back seat with me was a little ball of black fur named Peanut. During the afternoon, the three of us chatted, admired the adorable puppy, wandered the streets of the quaint village, visited C.'s friends in a nougat shop and cheese cave, ate a pastry – mine was a giant, perfectly tart raspberry and yuzu creation – and watched the fiery sunset over the mountains on the way home while loud French rap music drowned out the girls gossiping in the front. I sat there, Peanut in my lap, content.

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