December 10, 2014

A Special Time of Year

"Do you like lentils?"

It was an innocent, straightforward question to a friend of mine in town who is going through a difficult time. I wanted to do something nice for her, but I remembered that she had always left something on the plate when a guest at my house (white beans, green peas). I figured it made sense to ask her if she liked lentils before I attempted to make her a culinary cadeau.

The reply came in the affirmative, and ten minutes later, some chopped onion was gently heating in a stock pot with some olive oil. A shower of finely chopped carrots followed, a fresh bay leaf, a twist of the pepper shaker, and a blizzard of lentils hit the pot next, all of which I dusted with curry powder before covering the whole in chicken stock. I let it bubble for 30 or 40 minutes, until the lentils and carrots were tender, pulsed everything (minus the bay leaf) in the blender until "chunky smooth." I tasted, thought it a delicious lentil soup, and divided it into two Tupperwares: one for my family, one for hers.

I dropped off my soup with her daughter and, a few hours later, got a text from my friend. "I got your box. Many thanks. Just a question...Do we have to heat it? Is it a soup? Or can we make toasts with it?"

This was starting poorly.

I explained it was indeed soup, and that she could add some crème fraîche or lardons to it if she desired.

The next day, I spotted her in the street in front of her house. She invited me in to give me the container back, and told me that the whole family had eaten some of the soup the previous night, even her mother (who is in her 80s). "It was good," she said.

I tried to maintain my balance under this tidal wave of gratitude.

Her mother, after greeting me with four kisses (two on each cheek), said that they "don't have a habit of eating lentils like that." She continued, "C'était spéciale." Alarm sounded in my head. When the French say "spéciale," it does not mean special like a fur coat or caviar. While it can connote extra-ordinariness, it more frequently means "uncommon" or "abnormal" or, my favorite, "against nature." 

My friend and her partner quickly said it was good, even "very good," but...well. I wonder.

And that was my first experience giving food as a gesture of kindness in France. As I consider whether I will do it again, I am thinking about how "special" I want to be.

1 comment:

  1. Cher Ami !
    Quand j'ai dit que c'était "good, even very good" j'étais très sincère !... les questions idiotes que je t'ai posées c'était simplement parce que nous n'avons pas l'habitude de manger de la soupe aux lentilles. Nous avions eu cela une fois chez Luc et Catherine mais cuisiné d'une autre façon.
    Et alors as-tu eu l'occasion de recommencer avec quelqu'un d'autre pour voir la réaction ?
    Encore une fois un G R A N D M E R C I !!