Top | First Person

When an oeuf is enough

(article, Susan Troccolo)

[%pageBreakSettings nobreak=true]

Dear Dad,

Greetings from France, where Patrick and I are having a wonderful time. Walking and eating, eating and walking. And one unexpected visit to the emergency room. 

Honestly, Dad, for a country with such great food, a girl really has to work to get a decent breakfast.

You know how you always said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? That we should all eat like kings in the morning and paupers at night? Well, Dad, you were ahead of your time. I’ve been trying to do just that here: a big hearty breakfast, a light lunch, and a very light dinner. It’s what my stomach is used to. But in France, a hearty breakfast is hard to come by; a long, leisurely dinner is the big deal instead. 

I try, Dad, I really try — and with my best traveler’s French, too — but they always think I'm kidding. La céréale d'avoine? Oats in the morning? Ha ha ha. Les pruneaux? Prunes go in meat dishes, silly. Très Américaine — très sympathique! 

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="A soft-boiled egg, imperfectly cracked, as only an American tourist could manage."]

So instead I have crusty baguettes, croissants, jam and butter, and a huge bowl of café au lait. Not the best thing for acid reflux. Then, at 8 or 9 in the evening, comes dinner: poulet à la crème, filet de boeuf with foie gras and truffles, filet of sole in white wine with mushrooms. 

After the first week, I cottoned on to the oeuf situation, which helps. Eggs — which are served everywhere, but not often for breakfast — can be obtained if you can manage to purse your lips prettily while expressing disgust at the same time: eeewh, or ee with an O-shaped mouth. Eggs. Can I please have some eggs for breakfast? 

The oeuf problem, however, is this: Unless you manage to get one hard-boiled, you get one soft-boiled and perched upon a tiny and dainty Limoges cup just big enough for the oeuf. Then, if you smack it just right with your knife and peel off the top third, you have to slurp like mad while your oeuf is running, sticky and yellow, down the side of your dainty cup. Quelle horreur. You feel like such a barbarian.

Yes, Dad, I should have seen the problem brewing when I didn’t even want to share bites of my dinner with Patrick.

When Patrick said, “Here, let me take the last of those scalloped potatoes off your hands,” I said, “Back away from the potatoes, mon cher, I’m going down with these potatoes on my lips.” With roast pork loin and a green salad, oh, Dad, the gratin Dauphinois with milk, cheese, and garlic was so heavenly, I couldn’t stop myself.

By our third week, we were driving through all the small villages of the Normandy coast, making our way toward the island of Mont-Saint-Michel. Our plan was to stay on the island, as close to the medieval abbey on top as we could, until all the fire-breathing tour buses had left for the night, until the tides of the English Channel had swept in and surrounded the island — except for one narrow escape road — and until the mists and silence had taken back their ancient weathered stone. 

We checked into the hotel La Mère Poulard, which has a restaurant known for its fluffy egg omelets and soufflés mixed up by chefs wielding whisks and gleaming copper bowls. (Imagine, 12 people all whisking like mad at the same time.) Our room was on the third floor, across a stone bridge and up one more skinny stone stairway. I think I’ve gained a few pounds, Dad.

By 9 o’clock, we were hungry. We had to start with Trouville mussels, of course. Foie gras with port and pistachios. Then, the gigot d’agneau pre-salé, “pre-salted” leg of lamb from animals that have grazed on the salt marshes all around the island. For dessert, the crêpes à la Normande, with Calvados and apples. 

The Calvados is really good here, Dad. I may have had two desserts; I can’t really remember. I do remember asking Patrick if he had any Maalox.

You know, people say that the French can be snooty, but I find everybody to be very helpful. Especially those handsome paramedics, Sylvain and Serge, who found me on the third floor, over the stone bridge and up that extra stairway. The stairway barely had room for one person, but Sylvain and Serge really knew how to handle the gurney, so I hardly tipped over sideways at all. I kept my eyes closed most of the way, except for that second when I heard the maître d'hôtel gasping and trying to keep everybody from looking. Poor man, Serge and Sylvain needed an extra gurney for him.

Even in the emergency room — did I mention we hadn’t planned on a stop in the city of Avranches? — everybody was so nice, and everything was so beautiful. Sylvain and Serge wheeled me into the ER and — with an un, deux, trois, just like in the movies — onto a bed, where the sheets were as nice as ours at home. A white-on-white voile, smelling of lavender.


h1. Featured recipes

Culinate has two recipes for the classic hearty salad known as salade Niçoise: one from food editor Carrie Floyd, and another from author Susan Troccolo. 


But then all the questions, and no one with a word of English. What about shortness of breath? What medications did I take? Could I respirer profondément? I tried, Dad, to tell them they were barking up the wrong tree. These wonderful French doctors wanted to be sure I wasn’t having a heart attack. Six hours and lots of tests later, they were finally satisfied.

Je vais a little better right now, I said. Allez-vous me donner something for my poor old stomach, I said. This stomach that is not used to baguette and a few sips of oeuf when what I really want is a big hearty breakfast. A stomach that has been having three or four rich, creamy courses much too late at night, so that she doesn’t marche pas bien.

Il me faut salade Niçoise for dinner for the rest of the trip.

Well, Dad, in the end we left with a prescription for something like Maalox. Oh, and they even gave me some mousses de protection for the oignons on my feet. Bunions, I mean. Rhymes with soupe à l'oignon. 

Is this a great country or what? Everything is so much easier if you think like the French. 

So, salade Niçoise has saved our vacation, Dad. I have the hang of eating an oeuf in a tiny porcelain cup. And Patrick's nervous twitch is getting much, much better.


Your daughter

p(bio). Susan Troccolo is a writer in Portland, Oregon, where she blogs about travel.

reference-image, l