Saturday, June 30, 2007

Coq au vin

Maybe it was the Elle Magazine "your eating habits reveal your personality" quiz I took this morning. Or maybe it was the stack of Bon Appetit magazines that I dragged over from the US four years ago and finally decided to go through and sort out this week, to recover a shelf in the baby's room. Or, most likely, I was simply grumpy that my end-of-pregnancy appetite was growing and the scales were threatening to tip beyond my self-imposed 12 kilos limit. Whatever the cause, I was feeling hungry and combative when I finally dragged myself off the couch to prepare the apricot tart that would be my contribution to dinner this evening.

I'm blessed with a husband who enjoys cooking and does it well. Since I've been pregnant, he's been taking over more and more of the cooking with absolutely no prompting, and since he takes care of most of the shopping, I just have to sit back and, as we say in the family, mettre les pieds sous la table: put my feet under the table.

Today he came back from the market with a rooster, and announced that the menu for tonight would be coq au vin. He's a traditionalist and, like many French, has rules for all things culinary. Duck breast goes with sautéed potatoes, mushrooms or green beans, point, for example. He believes, with much reason, that American cooks complicate things too much, and wind up disguising ingredients with overly complicated recipes. His personal approach to cooking is to buy quality and improvise, and he rarely follows a recipe to the letter.

Usually, the results are excellent, but I sometimes feel -- though I'll rarely admit it to him -- that his cuisine would benefit from a bit more method. Maybe I'm just being a snob, proud that I've mastered crème patissière and béchamel sauce. My husband is much less interested in technique. I rolled out my chilled, homemade pie crust to make my tart, carefully placed the fresh apricot halves in the center, and went looking for a little extra something to add. I found a jar of slivered almonds. My husband made a face.

"You're not adding that, it doesn't need it! Stick with what you did last time."

I glanced over at the coq au vin on the stove, which he'd turned up to a rapid boil.

"What are you doing to that poor coq?" I asked.

"I'm reducing the sauce."

"Yeah, and that way you'll reduce it to a layer of fat and layer of wine broth. Didn't you make a roux before adding the wine?"

What followed was a less-than-polite discussion about our differing culinary philosophies. What was wrong with my tart? He was cramping my creativity. What was wrong with his coq au vin? I'd never complained before, and now I was implying it was tasteless, worthless.

We finally understood each other, and I ended up apologizing: I should give more credit to the chef. Meanwhile, I skimmed off the fat at the top of the pot, put it in a saucepan, and proceeded to thicken up a portion of the sauce with a bit of flour and dump it back in with the rest. The resulting dish was exceptional, I'll have to admit, with subtly seasoned meat that fell off the bone, tender carrots and onions and yes, a nicely thickened sauce. The whole was much more to my husband's credit than mine, of course.

My tart wasn't bad, but in deference to my husband's French taste, I felt I'd gone a bit too easy on the sugar. Although he may have been right about the almonds. The crust, on the other hand, was perfect, even if I do say so myself.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Any day

I'm well into my 38th week of pregnancy, which means that, according to my guide Votre Grossesse, Petit is clinically considered to be all grown up and ready to meet the world.

Am I ready? I've finished all my childbirth preparation classes and I've so saturated myself with information from all sorts of books and conversations with friends and family that now I want to think about anything BUT the upcoming event. I'm happiest when I can escape into a good book. Of course, the minute anyone calls or comes around to visit the conversation turns back to the only possible subject of conversation. I fear I'm becoming that most irritating of creatures, The Mother Who Can Talk Of Nothing But Her Children.

I've taken the classes, decorated the nursery, figured out how to fold up the stroller and attach the car seat, and now I've nothing to do but wait. I'm gripped with a strange lack of motivation to do anything at all. I nap on the couch. I read. I listen to the radio and knit. But if I get to the grocery store or finish the vacuuming, I feel I've accomplished a major feat. Someone, please save me...

So, back to my question: am I ready? I can't say I feel enitrely ready, despite having checked off almost everything on my to-do list. I'm facing the scariest transition of my life, and all I can do is remind myself that I cannot ever feel completely up to the task because it's impossible. Instead, I'll do what every generation of parents has done before me: improvise. Ready or not, we'll figure it out.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Chivarly is dead

Now that I'm three weeks from my due date and extended periods of walking around provoke contractions or abdominal muscle aches, I rarely take the Métro. In fact, I rarely leave the apartment: the metamorphosis to sofa slug has been easier and more rapid than I expected.

The other day I managed to motivate myself to go out and find materials to make my own birth announcements. I'm no Martha Stewart, but I figured I'd make an effort, especially since getting exactly the right wording in French and English and the right conversion from kilograms to pounds seemed much easier to do on my own than to trust to some expensive printer. Of course, I didn't actually find the energy to go out until after five o'clock on the hottest, most humid day we've had this month of June. Rush hour had started early, and the whole of Paris was one hot, sticky, sweaty mass of people.

Yuck. When I pushed my way into the second, crowded Métro car, I started to think I should have just stayed home and waited for the evening's thunder shower to come through and cool things off. But I feel I must accomplish at least one thing every day. (Some days that one thing is simply going one block to the grocery store. As you may have noticed, I've been losing energy for everything, including blog entries.)

The Métro actually felt cooler than outside on the street, which is never a good sign. I had self-consciously left the apartment in shorts, and it was so hot I almost didn't care that I was commiting a terrible fashion faux pas. A parisienne in shorts on a Friday afternoon in the month of June is simply not done, even if she is 8 months pregnant. Perhaps it would pass in August on the beach at Ile de Ré, et encore! (Let me just say that faux pas or no, this pair of shorts is making the last six weeks of my pregnancy bearable, and many thanks to the kind person who bought them for me.)

Seconds after I got onto the Métro someone got up to offer me their seat, which I gratefully accepted. I would like to point out that in the months since I started to look pregnant to the casual observer, not a single one of the many kind people who have offered me their seat on the Métro has been a man. Not one.

What's up, guys? Are you so caught up in L'Equipe that you can't notice the people around you? Are women equipped with some special pregnancy radar? Or is chivalry reserved for women who aren't so obviously off the dating market?

I expect better. You've got three more weeks to prove your worth.