Last week I took advantage of a promotion at the verger down the street – €3 for a big bunch of asparagus! I ate them for dinner, prepared two ways. I snapped off the ends and placed them in a baking dish, drizzled them with oil and sprinkled on some of my lavender salt from last summer, and roasted them in the oven until they were just done. I hard-boiled an egg and sliced it on top.
I had too many asparagus for the size of my dish, so in a moment of genius, if I do say so myself, I grabbed the extras and stuck them on the grill pan we use for toast. I ate them “naked” – the lovely charred flavor was the only thing they needed.
In the middle of my cooking, the 90-year-old woman who rents me my room came in and asked me what I was making. She does this every time I cook, and it’s fine since I love talking about food. I showed her what I was doing, and when she saw me putting the asparagus on the grill pan I wanted to gently lead her out of the room and have her sit down, I was so scared she was going to have a heart attack. I’ve known this about French people ever since as an au pair I put a vinaigrette on some sliced cucumbers instead of yogurt-mustard sauce and the little boy wouldn’t eat them. Somehow this aspect of the French still manages to make me laugh (or annoy me depending on my mood).
The fact that I was not going to peel almost all the skin off and then boil to oblivion my asparagus shocked Madame so much that she had to ask me over and over, really? really really?? what on earth would you possibly do instead? and then when she saw the grilled ones, she was laughing for about five minutes after. “Les asperges grillées, tu me fais rire, tu me fais trop rire…”
My friend Phoebe pointed out to me once that the rigidity of French cuisine is why it’s so good – because their dishes have been conceived of, perfected, and then never changed for generations. It’s sometimes a beautiful thing – confit de canard that always comes with roasted potatoes, sandwiches in whichever boulangerie you go to having the same combinations, croissants always have millions of layers of butter, etc. are all comforting because they are good, and because you can wait months in between eating each thing and know that the next time it will be the same. And sometimes, it’s a boring thing. It’s why sometimes I think that I’ll never leave France, and sometimes I can’t stand it and search Kayak for a one-way ticket home.