We spent several days in the Alps, last week, and crashed a dinner party the last night. Read on, in today's story.
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TODAY'S WORD: s'incruster
to invite yourself
to worm your way in
to overstay your welcome
to sneak in
to crash a party
ECOUTEZ - Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word: Download MP3
S'incruster: Lors de notre dernière nuit dans les Alpes, on s'est incrusté chez nos amis, Isabelle et Eric, où on a mangé un dîner très très simple, très convivial, à l'improviste.
To invite yourself: On our last night in the Alps, we wormed our way in to our friends', Isabelle and Eric's, where we ate a simple, convivial and improvised dinner.
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A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE
by Kristi Espinasse
During our 4-day stay in the Alps we had the chance to catch up with so many of Jean-Marc's friends, most of whom he has known since lycée, or high school. On days one and two of our trip, we were invited to an outdoor méchoui. The amount of food at the barbecue ("assez pour un régiment" as my husband always says) meant that we didn't need dinner, each of those nights, but could return to our room to enjoy a warm and fragrant tisane de berger (an herbal mix of verbena, lime flower, citronella, peppermint and orange flower) before drifting off to sleep--our hotel windows cracked open for the cool night's breeze (...and the hourly gong of the clock tower, located 20 meters away).
On day three we joined friends in the quaint Alpine hameau of Plampinet, where we ate the plat du jour--just across the path from the community bread oven. Filling up on garlic-laced aioli and all the trimmings (hard-boiled egg, cabillaud fish, potatoes...) we were already planning on a warm mug of tisane for dinner when Jean-Marc received a call from his friend Bernard... "On joue au boules ce soir!" Come over tonight for a game of pétanque!
I was doubtful, wondering about the timing of it all. It was nearing 8pm, or dinner hour! Though Bernard's offer was kind, he was, in fact, inviting us over to the home of Isabelle and Eric--where Bernard himself was a guest! Were they aware of this plan?
Almost as soon as the flurry of worry began, I cut it short and gave no further attention to the familiar voice in my head--a practice made easier over these past months, when life has found a way of bringing ce qui compte or what's important to the surface. And friends are important! As for doubts, if you have them, voice them!
"Bonjour, Isabelle," I said, kissing our friend (and Bernard's host) on both cheeks. "On s'incruste!" I added, letting her know I was uneasy about showing up at the dinner hour.
"Mais, non!" Isabelle smiled. "We have plenty of leftovers from yesterday's barbecue." Next, our accidental hostess went over the inventory, "On a beaucoup de fromage... and there is some couscous ... and a bit of lamb...."
As the guys took turns tossing the steel ball across the dusty field, I threw out my arms and waved my hands. "Isabelle, let me help you set the table!"
Isabelle and I left the boules court to walk across the prairie where four chalets are sprinkled across the grass--all homes belonging to Eric's family. The couple's dog, a cairn terrier, Léa (along with Yoda, an Australian shepherd, all their dogs are named after Star Wars characters), trotted ahead of us. "Elle est rigolotte," she is a funny dog, Isabelle laughed, as we walked up the wooden stairs to her chalet.
That's when we discovered that all the cheese had been eaten, the couscous was rancid, and there were no more bits of meat. And 9 of us were about to sit down to dinner!
Completely undaunted, Isabelle took a second inventory. "Let's see... we still have a head of lettuce, some cantaloupe and (peering into the freezer) twelve sausages."
I watched Isabelle, remembering that here was a girl (now a woman) that Jean-Marc had a serious crush on all those years ago. And I could understand why. I too had a crush on this keeps-cool, down-to-earth natural beauty! And over the years I had so admired her style.
Isabelle grabbed a large wooden bowl, poured in olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and began whisking together a traditional vinagrette. She handed me the lettuce and I searched for a salad spinner. But when the spinner I found was missing a handle, I paused.
"It broke off a long time ago," Isabelle said. "I didn't want to toss it out. Just use your finger to turn it!"
The lid of the spinner had enough traction so that I could place my index finger on the rotating surface and "draw" an O (each "O" producing a spin of the basket beneath). It was a little awkward, but it worked! And it saved the trash dump from one more broken spinner!
"I still have my broken salad spinner, too," I bragged, hoping to gain points with Isabelle and celebrate a quirk we had in common! Instead she pointed to the blackened parts of the salad. "Toss those ends out." There was no use kissing up to Isabelle. Her friendship was uncomplicated and for keeps, and this was my chance to fit into an accidental production line including Isa's other guests.
Laure cut the melon, jazz musician Denis set the table, Alban barbecued the 12 merguez sausages, and Margot, Isa's daughter, searched for wine... locating some magnum's of Jean-Marc's rosé! I studied the whole friendly enterprise when it suddenly hit me: You could do this too! You don't have to panic each time people come for a meal! You could keep it simple, like Isabelle!
At last we placed a mishmash of chairs all around the deck and enjoyed the colorful feast on the table--green salad, orange melon, grilled merguez and lots of good French bread. I hurried to grab the seat next to Isabelle. It went against the rules of politesse (in which we offer the best seat to others), but if I have learned one more thing over these past months of uncertainty it is this: stay as close as possible to people who inspire you.
Jean-Marc, me, Isabelle and Eric. Another picture, from years past, and the end of this post.
I spied this favorite towel of the French in Sanary-sur-Mer. Click here to order.
FRENCH HERBAL TEAS - TISANES : my family enjoys a good tisane every day! We grow many of the herbs here, but you can buy them in a convenient sachet. ORDER HERE.
STRAW HATS - a good selection here.
Beautiful French Kitchen Towels by Garnier-Thiebaut. Order here.
Espadrilles - seen them everywhere this time of year -in the south of France and elsewhere! Click here.
Paris Peace T-shirt - "so many people have stopped to ask me where I got it" -Betty. Click here
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety