I appreciate it now than I did when I lived here. I have been an expat for 15 years now, and the
past 7 to 10 years, coming back to France has been a pilgrimage of
sorts into my past, my childhood. Perhaps expats have this little bonus: their
past is embodied in a concrete place. It somehow makes the past more real, more
Coming back to Paris
for me is like having dinner with a long lost love. I know there were many
things I hated about her in the past, but I can only remember the good times. Yesterday, I was fortunate to have my good friends looking
after Pablo for an afternoon. Bicycling through the streets, visiting and
chatting with friends, stopping at the bakery, I felt at home again. I felt
very free. I felt happy.
with it, the country is my new, exciting, exhilarating love. I did grow up in a small town in the country,
but was so concerned with going far and away in my youth, that I never saw
what was right in front of me. Sunday, Pablo and I went with my best friend and her two
boys, to visit her parents at their little house in the countryside, in Haramont, a small village of stone houses, an hour from Paris.
Last time I was here, my best friend and I were going to school together, about 17 years ago… As soon as we drove up the driveway, I felt so thrilled to be there. My friend C’s father is an avid gardener, he has gardened all his life, and this place is his haven, his world. The children come here every weekend in the summer, they love it.
As we get out of the car, the kids run to the back, through
the vegetable patch, to feed biscottes to the chickens, goats and sheep. I follow, discovering zucchinis, spinach, salads, chamomile, parsley, tarragon, green beans, melons, chards, leeks, carrots… and those gorgeous hazelnut and apple trees. I am as excited to be here as the children… and then I remember. Quick, my camera.
Shortly after, we sit down for lunch, a platter of
charcuterie with artisan pâté en croûte, hams and dry salami (called saucisson in French).
Then Mrs. C brings out her ratatouille. To her, this is a
very simple lunch and dish, she improvised with the garden vegetables. She
serves it in an old pan with an old camping ladle.
As I marvel at everything, the food, the bowl of freshly
picked hazelnuts, and that old ladle, I sense their puzzlement. “What has happened
to Helene? She’s photographing a simple ratatouille with an old camping ladle?
What did they do to her over in America?”
All this isn’t “charming”, or “vintage” or “country rustic” to them. It is just
normal, boring stuff. Boring for one, thrilling to another.
Later in the afternoon, as I go around the yard taking
photographs, 4 year old H is intrigued. “What are you taking? Why?” I tell him
this isn’t old boring stuff at all, it’s a wonderful haven, it’s beautiful, and
I want to capture every little corner of it. He’s excited, and takes pictures
with me (he took that great picture of the sheep above!) Maybe sometimes it
takes a stranger to come into our world to make us see our world with new fresh
eyes. I wonder what I’m missing back home, what am I not seeing and
appreciating? May friendly strangers come open my eyes soon.
So, much to Mrs C’s surprise, I decided to share her very simple
ratatouille recipe here. But I made that decision half-way through the meal, that’s why my pictures here show you an almost empty pot!It’s not traditional ratatouille, it’s a homey simplified
ratatouille with just zucchinis and tomatoes, perfect for children and adults
alike. I can just picture the look on her face when my friend shows her the post
on this blog. “Ah that Helene… she’s very sweet, but just a little weird”… J
hope to be sharing some yumminess from there with you very soon, so stay tuned.
Mrs Chéron’s Ratatouille
Age for babies: 6-8 months if each ingredient has been tasted before. This might be a good opportunity to introduce cooked tomato to a baby.
6-8 zucchinis, peeled, seeds removed, diced
5 large tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed, quartered
3 tbsp short grain rice
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, crumbed laurel
3 whole cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper
In a large saucepan, sauté the zucchini in some olive oil,
until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, mix and let simmer
for a few more minutes. When the tomatoes have produced a bit of water, add the
rice, herbs and garlic cloves (whole), and let simmer for about 20-25 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.