A contribution by Sarah Sahel
Many a time have I woken up to the exhilarating odor of the “crêpe beurre-sucre,” or butter-sugar crepe. In the absolute darkness of my Breton house’s first floor, I could faintly hear the clinking and clanking of dishes from the ground floor, where my grandmother was dancing around the stove. When I finally decided to wander out of my comforter, I braved both the tiled floor’s glacial cold and the general feeling of idleness that shrouded me, as if the oh-so-sweet and familiar aroma were guiding my steps. My grandmother smiled when she saw me, a little girl still half-asleep. She had me sit at the old oak-tree table and placed in front of me a circular plate with three crepes delicately folded into perfectly symmetrical triangles. It only took me a minute to devour them, following an order that my little mind thought strategic, keeping the best one for last. Everything had to be well melted and the butter-sugar balance perfectly in check. Sitting by my side, she looked at me appreciating her cooking with an air of bliss.
The grains of semolina lightly twirl in her hands. They hop. They spatter and sputter. They are free in the open air, free from the supermarket’s aisles where they were trapped in cardboard. The butter helps them glide, it helps their movement, and the curls of smoke emanating from this happy medley are but a feeble hint of the turmoil that prevails within. Mom rolls the semolina, and I with her.
“You have to try this!” He hands me his fork, his lips curled into a smile. I stare at the object with curiosity and barely touch it, and already he exclaims again, “The cauliflower! You won’t believe it!” I let myself be tempted and savor each and every bite. “It melts in the mouth and is spiced to perfection.” He laughs: “See, my restaurant was a good one after all!” We are both delighted by our find. We will come back.
“Oh no, making soup is very, very simple! You add onions and garlic in a bit of oil, a couple of vegetables, spices, some water and broth. That’s it. You need to try it.” Margot looks at me flabbergasted when I confess that I don’t know how to make soup, yet am dreaming of having some in these winter days. She takes her pans out, shuffles through her kitchen drawers, and has me discover her little culinary specialty that warms the heart.
It’s five and raining. We had planned on going to the museum, the modern art one, which we had talked about for weeks on end. But it’s raining. So we peer through the window, extend the arm and discover that this rain falling almost horizontally is truly unbearable. “Should we stay in?” she suggests, “If you want, I can make us some tea.” This invitation to indolence comes at just the right moment, as the word “tea” is pronounced – one syllable, but such a brief, sensible one. The leaves infuse in the black teapot, and we capture its warmth by placing our hands around it. Another afternoon spent chatting around a cup of tea.
Dad’s specialty: scrambled eggs. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing better. But he makes them following state-of-the-art rules – using low heat, in a sauce pan, with cream, and perfectly seasoned. The toasted English muffin simply cannot wait.
He can cook meat; she cooks vegetables.
The sun’s first rays beckon her to her medley of oatmeal, fresh fruit and warm milk. In her pajamas, sitting at the table, she is ready for breakfast, and the day. Camille reads the paper and comments on the news. Few words are exchanged. Her friend, although engulfed by emails, does not forget about her spoon, which automatically plunges in and out of a piece of lemon pound cake.
I like words and food, and even more the people with whom I share them. This is about them, about me, and about our little creations. Every day holds the possibility of a new culinary encounter.
Illustration by Forsyth Harmon
Translated by Erika Kahn