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Cooking and Harp

FRANCE | Tuesday, 22 September 2015 | Views [447]

Saturday was a cooking class. Joe, Megan, Maria José, and Aimé were also signed up for that session. (This was the second of three sessions, each with a cap of six people.) The cooking took place at a private house about an hour from the center of Paris, and it was scheduled from 10-12.

Joe and I got on the RER at the same station, though we did not discover this until we saw each other upon exiting the train. So together, we found Madame Marsh’s house, and talked a bit about how my courses were taking, what classes Joe was planning on taking. (Paris 4 and Paris 8 have not started classes yet.) We were the first ones there, so after introducing ourselves and meeting her pets, (a dog named Minute and a guinea pig named Guinea Pig) she put us to work washing the lettuce, and we waited for the others to arrive before starting anything more complicated.

When Maria José showed up, she made the comment that in Peru, where she was from, people are guinea pigs. And that, in the smaller towns, you could pick which of the guinea pigs that were still alive and running around you wanted to eat. You could tell that Madame Marsh was struggling between a cook's appreciation of ingredients (if you're going to eat guinea pigs, you want to make sure they're good guinea pigs) and a pet-owner's horror. (but... Why would you eat an animal like Guinea Pig?)

Fortunately for all involved parties, Guinea Pig was not on the menu. Quiche Lorraine, Salad, Tomato Farsi, Basmati Rice, Clafouti with Rhubarb, and Pear Cake all were. Some of these dishes took much more work than others.

Madame Marsh had a lot of experience not just cooking, but in helping other people cook with her. So we we consistently given tasks that kept us busy and ensured the entire meal was ready at the same time. So we began by making the crust for the quiche, moved on to the stove part of the Farsi tomatoes, went back to the quiche, stuck that in the oven, stuffed the tomatoes, stuck those in the oven, made the rice, made the rice, and finally made the salad.

Cooking lesson

For reference, we had sheets of paper with the ingredients on them. We were that we should make whatever notes were necessary to help us remember, and that if we had any questions this semester, next year, or three years from now when we'd lost the sheets and could only remember there had been some kind of Rhubarb dessert, we should not hesitate to send an email to Madame Marsh (or more likely, to Erin them Madame Marsh.) Madame Marsh would walk us through all the steps, though she probably would have preferred it not be all of the steps individually. But we were all so afraid of making a mistake and ruining the entire dish that we needed confirmation after every step. ("Add sugar, flour, and an egg to this bowl. " 1 minute later: "We've added sugar. Now do we add the flour?" "Yes." 1 minute later: "OK, we have a sugar and flour mixture." "Now add an egg." "Just wanted to make sure...")

Apparently, I'm good at cracking eggs. And especially from separating yolks from whites since, the first time we had to, I was the only one who didn't have noticeable amounts of yolk in my whites. (This would have been more important if we'd been doing something with the whites. I guess it made my yolks slightly more complete?) And then a bit later, Joe gave me a compliment for my neat egg-cracking skills. So... Yay! I'm good at something.

At about 12:45 we were done with cooking and ready to eat. (We'd been ready to eat much earlier, but the food had not been ready for us.) We sat down to the meal, along with Madame Marsh, her husband, and their daughter.

Lunch gave us a chance to talk about things that weren't cooking. Over white wine, quiche, and salad, we did introductions. I believe both Monsieur and Madame Marsh had studied at Madison, though it was unclear where that fell in their lives in terms of them meeting each other. Over red wine, tomatoes, and rice we talked more about their children, (they had three. The youngest was 14 and their oldest was a senior at Brown) how Madame Marsh had started doing the cooking programme, (through Christine) some helpful phrases in French, and travels. Over a different kind of red wine and a platter of cheese, we talked more about Paris, France, and what we were liking so far. And then, over dessert and coffee, we reflected on the cooking.

It was a little incredible to me that we had done this. Because, although there was no way we could have done it without Madame Marsh, at the same time she only ever picked up a knife for demonstration purposes. We really had cooked everything and, with preparation and a lot more fumbling, we could probably do it again. I'm not sure if I would agree with Madame Marsh, who kept saying things like "see how easy this is?" but no single dish was horribly complicated, or even that terribly time consuming.

Megan and Maria José were in complete agreement that the rhubarb clafoutis was the best dish of the day. Not completely coincidentally, they'd been cooking that while the rest of us worked on the pear cake. They made comments like "critics all say it was the highlight of the meal" (me: "Critics being the people who made it?") and "Joe cried a little when he tasted it." (Maria José: "It's true. I saw him cry." Joe : "I haven't had any yet." Megan: "well, you need to!" Maria José: "and you need to cry a little.")

It was a fun and delicious meal, but we were only there for two hours when I needed to leave. I had an appointment at 15:30, which required being gone by 14:30. So, leaving the others to the rest of their dessert and conversation, I caught the RER transferred to the metro, and finally walked the last couple of blocks.

I got to the building with the right address and studied my phone for further directions. Take the staircase to the left, and at the base of the stairs there would be a door. OK, I see the stairs... There's a door. Follow that door down a corridor, and go down the stairs you see here. OK, check. Open the door into the courtyard. What? I can't open either door, let alone into a courtyard.

Backtrack. Did I enter through the right door. The instructions said something about finding myself in the welcome area. Hmm. No, that area didn't look particularly welcoming. What about over there? No, that didn't look welcoming either. Come to think of it, the entire building looked kind of cold and unfriendly. Way more like a courthouse than a conservatory. And would you look at that? The signs said "courthouse."

I left, walked one building up and, upon seeing a sign for a conservatory, entered that. This building was way more encouraging. The people looked happier to be there, there were melodies coming from behind closed doors, and I did not need to twist the directions to be able to find them. From there, it was easy to find my way to the harp room, and then only slightly more difficult to call the person who would help me get it. I looked around at the harps, trying to predict which one would be coming home with me. Probably the one in a case. It felt so tiny in comparison to the pedal harps there. (It would feel notably less tiny when I was carrying it to my apartment.)

The harp belonged to an old teacher of Madame Luce. That instructor wasn’t in the country right now, but another of her former students who worked at the conservatory was around to help me move it up stairs and call a taxi. Another person saw her with the harp and offered to help move it into the taxi, the taxi arrived, and the harp and I went in. And that was that. I had not yet paid for the harp, but, via the magic of networking, I was able to get a harp and leave with it anyway.

The taxi ride back took a while. Makes me glad that I don’t normally need to think about traffic in Paris, because it’s really not that much fun. As I moved it into my apartment, I really appreciated that I lived on the ground floor, and that there was more than enough room for the harp. (I probably would not have been able to have a harp if I lived in Megan’s apartment, since there would not be anywhere to put it without tripping over it, and tripping over a harp is a really bad idea.) Once it was settled, I was finally able to take off the covers, practice the pieces that I’d been given to work on on Tuesday, and play the instrument I’d just run around Paris to get.

My harp

She was absolutely beautiful.

Tags: cooking, food, harp

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