Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Churches and Company

In a typical day in a small French town, my life was interrupted with pleasant encounters from the time I left the house at 4pm until 9:00 that same night. Lily, Puck and I went out for a walk. We had two goals; to pick up some aluminum foil for the fish and explore the XIth century church in the village.

Half-way there we met up with Pierre's grandmother, on her way home from having her hair done. Even at eighty-eight, she is elegant and gets around on her own. We walked the rest of the way up the hill to the village, facing the afternoon sun all the way. It did not bother me at all to slow down a bit, it was hot! We picked up our foil, then made our way across the square to the church. Lily had been there before, but she had not been encouraged to stop and look at either the construction or the architecture. We began by examining the steps; ancient, worn down in spots, but not smoothly, the way marble wears down in most churches or castles. These steps were made of limestone and sea shells, looking like a sponge from the front and the holes like craters on the moon. The wall surrounding it is made of similar material, thick, solid, built in Roman times to protect and endure. The church is a beautiful example of a Roman structure, rather squat and rounded, reminding one as much of a fort as a church. We entered for a few moments. The organist was rehearsing and one family was praying, the father walking the stations of the cross on his knees, the daughters lighting candles, the mother sitting quietly. Back outside there were enough lizards to keep the kids amused for ages; little tiny ones that like the warm rocks in the sun. Lily caught one, to Puck's great delight, and they pet it and thoroughly checked it out before releasing him.

Pierre's grandmother, who lives right across a path from the church, invited us up for something to drink. We all had water with mint syrup or orange syrup. Puck figured out enough French to say he only liked the orange syrup, I was quite content. She gave the children flan with as much whipped cream as flan, and chocolate and bread. Following the feast, she called over her neighbor and friend of fifty years to show off her jewels of grandchildren. The two of them are terribly competitive concerning all off-spring, so this was an opportunity not to be missed.

We returned home from our half-hour jaunt two hours later, after once again stopping to explore the church and its lizards.

Soon after-wards, the other children arrived with their Mamie and their uncle and cousin. I was just getting the fish, all wiggly and slippery, ready for the oven. This time I remembered to have it cleaned, only to find that the sellers did a hasty job of it. I found hooks in two out of three of them. Three of the kids decided to accept Mamie's invitation to spend the night at her house. There I was with fish sliding all over, threatening to spew fish juice on me at any moment, six munchkins all excited to see each other again and running all over my suddenly small apartment, and I had to pack an overnight bag, quickly.

Once they had left,sigh, I realized that three out of seven of my eaters of fish had just taken off. And the darn things were in the oven. The uncle and cousin were still there; Didier and sweet little Camille, so I inquired if they would not mind staying to dinner and helping us eat the fish. Pierre's sister had to work, so it was just the two of them. They didn't mind, so with a little shuffling (company can't use the table cloth we've been eating on for two days, napkins and wine glasses are de rigeur and must be hunted up, an extra sippy cup, silly things) we were soon all seated for dinner. Camille and her cousins adore each other. She did not want to go home. At 8:30, the two little ones (Puck, almost three and Camille three and a half) were still playing very sweetly with silks and blocks. They were gone by nine and we were ready to settle down for the night.

Here is the recipe for last night's dinner: My online translations are calling "Merlu" "Hake." If you google images for it, you will see what it looks like and what wicked teeth it has. Puck had a blast being "bit" by the sharp little things while I was struggling with hooks and innards. It is REALLY REALLY easy, I bet you even have ideas for improving it, send them please!


Hake, as fresh as you can find it
White wine
Shallots, chopped, 1/2 per fish
Garlic, minced, 1 clove per fish

Lardons (or diced prosciutto or thick-sliced and diced bacon)

Olive oil
salt and pepper

You will need; aluminum foil and a dish, like a casserole dish, that goes in the oven

Clean one good-sized hake per two persons, leaving head and tail intact for aesthetic effect and flavor. Spread out a sheet of foil big enough to completely wrap us one fish. Don't fret if it's not big enough, you can always add another, the point is to keep the juice, wine and bits of shallots and garlic together. Set the fish on the foil, shiny side out. Add a little bit of wine over it, salt and pepper. Cover with garlic and shallots. Wrap up in foil, add a piece or two if necessary to completely cover the fish. Bake at 350 for about 20-30 minutes, test to see if done by actually tasting it, this fish's flesh feel soft but need a little more time in the oven, depending upon how you like it done.

Rice, basmati or jasmine is our favorite. Cook according to directions.

Fry lardons, add chives at the end of cooking, add both to rice.

Wash some nice, green-leaf lettuce, add some leaves of spinach, if you'd like, spin it all out in a salad spinner or in a towel bundled up like a knap-sack, ever-so-carefully, outside over the balcony. Make sure your neighbor is not down below, especially if she is your uncle-in-law's mother and owns the house.

For the vinegrette: the recipe is 3-1, oil to vinegar, which means if you use 3T olive oil, you mix it with 1T vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. You can get fancy and add 1t mustard, the good kind. You could also choose to add a clove of garlic or a shallot or chives. Use your imagination and, above all, enjoy!

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