She yelled, “Sur la table!” We all sat down for the evening meal. The conversation began immediately. It was when I first arrived in France. When they still took the time to translate. Dominique’s cousin said they were talking about food. I smiled and looked at the full table. “Oh, not just this food,” she explained. “You see in France, while we’re eating the meal, we talk about the last meal we had, the one in front of us, and the next meal we’re going to make.” Food is life here.
I was never really a fast-food American. Some of my favorite memories with my mom included the slow intake of small portions over a long evening in my apartment. I would buy the best of what I could afford. The tiniest cut of cheese. Bread from the Great Harvest. A bottle of red. We gathered in the memories of the day that moved between laughter and tears, back to laughter again, all tender. Then decaf coffee with a morsel of chocolate. There were no left-overs to settle, but for the occasional giggle. From my bedroom, I could hear her rustle in the living room. She could hear a giggle burst down the hall. This continued until I squeezed her air mattress next to my bed, and we finally went to sleep.
Even with this, the transition to the art (and it is an art) of French cooking and eating took some time. As much as you will find paint on my everyday clothes, you will find handprints of flour. Traces of sugar, or jam. I am a part of it now. The meal before. And the ones to come.
It was 105 degrees yesterday. Yet, I knew I needed to bake cookies. French cookies. I mixed the dough. Rolled it on the table. Cut out the circles. Used my fork to make the criss-crossed lines. Brushed with egg yolk for the golden color. The test cookie came out perfectly the first time. My mother-in-law lay passing just a short-drive away. The last meal was over. But our house is filled with the scent of butter, sugar and sweet memory.
Dabbing the crumbs with fingertips, not to miss a taste, we speak of what’s to come. The next meal. This is life. And it is delicious!