Time still feels different but gone is the molasses. Enter the caffeine, as days become achingly short. They’re naturally short because of the season. But now they’re literally short. Until yesterday, we were living under “le couvre feu”, curfew. The term literally translates as “cover the fire” and it dates from the Middle Ages when people were required to put out their fires at a certain evening hour. In English it became “curfew”, and until yesterday it meant we had to be off the streets until 6 a.m. As of today, the “couvre few” became “confinement”. Now, we have to be off the streets 23 hours a day.
Which makes the day REALLY short. We race around to get everything done outdoors in one hour. It makes last weeks’ “couvre feu” seem like wild freedom, though at the time it was odd. And it created some amusing situations, like the birthday party I went to in the 16th arrondissement which is about 20 minutes away by bike. We were six; five guests, from different parts of the city. We began outrageously early by French standards, at 6 p.m.( A typical “soiree” in France begins at 8 p.m. with a meal being served closer to 9 p.m., or later.) The “Birthday Girl” gives opulent parties and this was no exception – we had amuses bouche, champagne, more champagne, then we sat at the table to begin a four course meal.
Let me digress about the meal, which was international as were the guests. It included ethereal Portuguese salt cod fritters, which are usually fatty and heavy. Then, we had richly flavored watercress soup, an ode to green. And then, la pièce de résistance! One of the guests is Finnish and he’d just returned from Finland, where his father-the-hunter slipped a gift into his suitcase: Reindeer loin! It was cooked to melting tenderness in cream and herbs, then served on a bed of truffled mashed potatoes. Its flavor was mild and while it melted in the mouth, it had opulent texture. (As much as I would like to, I won’t be re-creating it for you – reindeer loin is just too hard to procure).
The cheese course was two versions of Comté, one 18 months old, the other 24 months, a brilliant way to highlight one of France’s finest cheeses. Then there were two birthday cakes, one made with pears and pecans, the other a chocolate dream gently flavored with mint.
There we were in the magic of the moment, reindeer and all, when one of the guests stood and said “Oh my god we have to go.” There was a mad scramble for coats and bicycle helmets, and those of us who didn’t live in the apartment ran to the elevator and onto the street. I flew home; I’m sure the others did. And when I got there I realized no one had helped with the dishes; we hadn’t finished our conversations; we had hardly said goodbye.
Today, that experience, rushed ending and all, seems dreamy. It’s a memory to savor, to live on. Here in confinement land we watch the numbers and wish them to fall; the health ministers are watching too and President Macron will give us an update in two weeks. If they are down, we will gain freedoms. If they are steady, continued lockdown. The hottest controversy on the radio this morning? Bookstore closures. As if the entire country has risen to say “Anything, anything but bookstore closures.” Vive la France.
I’m sharing a recipe with that has nothing to do with my story EXCEPT the mouth-melting tenderness part! But it’s seasonal, while farm-fresh peppers are still here. Make it, enjoy it. It’s from my upcoming book PLAT DU JOUR, which is ready for pre-order. Make it, share it, love it! Bon Appétit!