It's been a very busy September here at the Flophouse. Not only are we busy with our house project but we have had many visitors this month.
Earlier this month, my mother-in-law came to stay since my spouse was abroad for business and the family agreed that leaving me here by myself was a bad idea. Did I mind? Not a bit. My French mother-in-law is one of the smartest women I know and our conversations are always interesting. Over 80 years old this woman was young when France was invaded during World War II. Later she married a French army officer and moved to Algeria where my spouse and his sister were born. They came back to France in 1962 and lived in various parts of the Hexagone including Versailles. On Sunday we went to mass together at the chapel at the convent of les Sœurs Servantes du Sacré Cœur de Jésus and as we walked she pointed out their old house and the school my sister-in-law attended both of which are very close to our new house in Porchefontaine.
My mother-in-law hails from the Limousin, a sparsely populated region in France that has a very long history. The city closest to the town where she was born and raised is Limoges which was founded in the Roman era (around 10 B.C.) and is best known today for its porcelain.
On one of my very first trips to France my future husband took me out to that region to spend Christmas with his grandmother (my mother-in-law's mother) in Saint Junien. So my first impressions of France were not about Paris but about what they call La France Profonde (Deep France). I remember our trip vividly for two reasons: the grilling that I experienced on the first day by Mémé (she would have made a fine "Inquisiteur" in the Middle Ages) and the quality of the dinner. We had goose from the market and chestnuts. Delicious.
Like her mother, my mother-in-law is one of the best cooks around. What she can do with some inexpensive cuts of meat and a few vegetables is nothing short of miraculous. She is also a great believer in using "les restes" (leftovers). There was some rice left in the fridge and she made a lovely gâteau de riz which I ate for breakfast several days running. To those who argue that copious amounts of money must be spent for the highest quality ingredients in order to eat well, that simply isn't true. What one really needs to eat well and frugally is time. The stew for lunch goes on in mid-morning and preparations for the dinner meal begin not long after lunch. I ate so well during Maman's time here that I gained 2 kilos (about 4 pounds) - something that delighted my doctors at the clinic.
My parents arrived from Seattle via Reyjavik and Amsterdam about a week after my mother-in-law left. Both my parents were born on the U.S. West Coast in the states of Washington and California. They are the perfect guests from out of town. Both are very well-travelled and you could probably drop them just about anywhere in the world and they would make do just fine. My mother who was born in Seattle (which makes me a very rare beast - a second-generation Seattleite) spent her summers working at her grandparent's farm near the village of Naches (population 700) which is close to Yakima in Eastern Washington. Just call this l'Amerique profonde (Deep America). As a result she has a number of skills that are rather uncommon today. In addition to being a fine writer and photographer, she knows how to milk a cow, churn butter, sew, and bake delicious bread and pies (and the pie crust is always hand-made). Of the four skills I've listed here (and I'm sure there are more I don't know about) I've only inherited two out of four and I think the Frenchlings only have one (they love to bake).
They went down to both the local market at Porchefontaine (about 10 minutes away from our apartment) and the main market in the center of Versailles and came back each time with butter and cheese, lamb, and fresh fruits and vegetables. To say that I ate well during their stay would be an understatement. My mother made an open-faced pie with hand-made crust and four kinds of fruit that I am still eating for breakfast. I got on the scale this morning and I've put on roughly another 2 kilos. And it was all good food too - like my French family, my American family doesn't do "Coca-Cola and chips" though I used to sneak these things into the house when I was a teenager. And when my mom found out (as moms always do) there was hell to pay - it was seized as contraband and disposed of forthwith.
So thus far the month of September has been a kind one. I had visits from people I love and don't get to see nearly as often as I would like. There was intellectual stimulation, good conversation and a steady stream of fine food that I didn't have to cook. I am also about 4 kilos heavier - a good thing since, like all the folks in my family with Norwegian blood, I tend to be on the tall and thin side: 173 centimeters (5 feet 8 inches) and about 54 kilos (119 pounds). Not the best place to start when you are facing 5 rounds of pretty aggressive chemotherapy.
Fortunately for me, "Mom" and "Maman" have made it their mission to correct this and today this particular problem is well on its way to being resolved. Between you and me, I feel a lot better and stronger. Which for me just proves beyond a shadow of a doubt Michael Pollan's food rule, "Don’t eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food." Only way to do better is to actually have grandma/grandmère come by and cook that "real food" for you.