French Cuisine - Basque Style
We are already on week two in Spain, and I am eager to write more about our time here so far. But since travelling brings a whole lot of photos to download and sort through, I realized there is a post about cuisine. French cuisine naturally!
I am not one to take photos of my food, especially in restaurants. Not only because it feels impolite and odd, but because I feel that any image of food should be perfect. How easy is it to be turned off of a dish with one poor quality shot? And since I am such an amateur when it comes to photography, I withhold. And being the oversensitive type, I embarrass all to easily.
So I don't have an image of that chopped bacon salad topped with raspberry vinaigrette, that had 4 gooshy little slices of goat's cheese on wedges of baguette smothered with warm honey. Perfectly tart. Deeply salty. Richly sweet. Fresh and filling. Chased with a glass of rosé (always there is rosé... even as I type now, there is rosé). Followed by the perfect cup of dark and intense espresso. No photo of this meal, just memory.
I don't know what it is about being France. It does something to my appetite. Rather, a more adventurous side of me shows itself. Our first Christmas here, in 2011, was spent with Daniel's family. Having not seen them since a more bumpy time in the summer, I was nervous. I still didn't speak a lick of French, and they still looked at me like I was an empty vase.
I didn't know what to expect that Christmas. What did the celebration look like, do we bring a dish with us? Should we bring gifts for everyone? So, I went into survival mode; my ever-so-polite toothy Canadian smile, nod hey it's all good! mode. Smile some more. Gift everyone with wine. Bring treats for the littles. Don't say no to anything. When Daniel's cousin handed me a plate of hors d'oeuvres he made special himself, I smiled and politely took a cracker topped with... something. I bit in and fell in love with whatever it was. I asked Daniel to translate it for me, and he cheekily told me he would tell me after. It was Foie Gras. At the time I couldn't remember what that was? He told me he would tell me later.
I really liked it. I know I shouldn't. But oh, with figs, and a crisp piece of fresh bread. A glass of bubbly at hand. Damn.
This time around, our Home Away hosts had invited us to their place in Anglet for a Basque-style dinner, true to his roots, she being from the Normandy region (butter!). I felt bold enough to try some food photography photos here, and our hosts were patient and accommodating. When we arrived, after the introductions were made, and the glasses of rosé poured (bit of a theme here isn't there!), we started on the hors d'oeuvres. Bread sticks and a tuna dip. A basket of sliced fresh bread and a bowl of foie gras was placed in front of me. Oh I couldn't resist it. Raphaël, we quickly learned, had taken to the fatty dish too. He was eating all of the spread on top and leaving me with the over-licked, now soggy bread slice.
When it was time for the main course, it didn't matter what was in front of me. Being raised between two lakes in BC, Canada, sea food is not something I ever think about, nor do I crave. With that said, being the Canadian girl I am, I smiled and said I would try as much of what they were serving as possible. open mind, open palatte. As I settled the kids in front of a movie with a plate of heavily buttered pasta, I overheard Daniel saying to our hosts, "Maybe just tell her it's pasta."
I took my seat with the adults. In front of me was a small bowl full of thin black and light grey strips - which I later found out to not be strips at all. I took a fork full to be greeted with a salty, almost nutty flavour with the texture of bean sprouts. I looked up to see everyone watching me, I smiled and said, "J'adore des pâtes!" I turned to Daniel and demanded he tell me in English what it was I was enjoying so thoroughly and making him look at me with such cheek.
It was baby eel.
Oh god... I liked it. A LOT.
Who am I?!
After I mopped up the last of the oil and salt at the bottom of my bowl with slices of bread, there was two massive white foam boats put in front of us full of shrimp, snails, clams and crab claws. I ate shell full after shell full of fresh squeezed lemon drenched clams, pinches of shrimp and even started on a delicious monster sized crab claw until Raph climbed up onto my lap and ate the whole thing. By then we were into a beautiful bottle of a crisp white Riesling from Alsace. The French was flowing, the toddler was occupied and still. My big kid was snuggled up on the couch in my sweater, happily watching a movie. I understood little but felt connected and happy.