Lockdown 2.0: France

Amidst the tumult of the last few months; the pandemics and politics, the masks, the job losses, and the general upheaval, I’ve quietly moved to France. It really was quiet – it was just me and a suitcase or two – and after a tight hug with my mum at Heathrow, I donned my mask and flew to the south of France, Gaylord and his collection of Pikachus.

Since then, only a matter of two days later, a second lockdown was announced by Macron, and swiftly followed by Boris Johnson. So, my big leap over the English Channel suddenly felt very minor indeed.

And so, it has begun. My new French life! We are mainly indoors so I occasionally forget. But when I do venture out to the supermarket or La Poste, equipped with my attestation, I gawp at the sun-soaked terracotta rooves, the apricot-coloured walls, the autumn leaves drenching the streets. The warm sun plays tricks on me here; it feels like early September when in fact it is 5th November.

It’s a weird time to move to another country. All the important rigmarole which is part and parcel of moving abroad, especially to a country where my handling of the language is poor at best, is currently dawdling behind, waylaid by Covid-19. That is the fun I can look forward to in the next few months! Nothing is ever simple and I am still waiting for a French SIM card, causing a lot of head-banging against my computer keyboard.

My natural instinct, as is anyone’s in this situation, is to go outside and acquaint myself with the surroundings and people – Gaylord and I are eager to explore our new city. Instead though, along with the rest of the country (or to those confinement applies – I’m talking to you, big group of guys who stand on the pavement at the end of the road), we stay inside and, while waiting for French language schools to reopen, I practice my French accent – my ‘ou’ and ‘u’, which immediately exit my brain as soon as I speak to a kind and incredibly patient French person – and Gaylord and I eat a lot of food.

When two people who are mutually obsessed with food and eating said food live together it is naturally a meal-time success story. Gaylord’s love of food stems down to his confident explanation of, ‘I’m French’ as though that clarifies matters. Happy cooks often resent cooking for one. Cooking for two, on the other hand, is another matter.

We already have a list. Gaylord is eager to make gyozas and stuff them with pork and ginger, pizzas laden with dripping toppings, and puffed, golden sweetcorn beignets. I’m craving homemade pasta cut into diamonds, glossy with sauce. We’ve started well, inspired by each other’s presence, no doubt! Chocolate profiteroles full of chocolate crème patissiere; risotto with prawns, calamari, fresh herbs and lemon; torn baguette thickly spread with pâté, goats cheese, or rillette; or a simple lunch of cheese and tomato on toast with softly-boiled eggs and green beans. Already, I’m doing better than last lockdown when I couldn’t muster the energy to make dinner.

Aside from that, however, the reason I’m here today is because of Gaylord’s red and black curry powders.

As I rather cockily thought myself a food aficionado, I was stumped when Gaylord introduced me to them. The UK loves curry. We’ve adopted it as our national dish. However, while supermarkets confidently sell ‘mild’, ‘medium’, and ‘hot’ curry powders, others are neglected, only to be found in specialist shops.

Maybe it’s these silver tins which I find so endearing. Or it could be their aromatic, floral scents – red is spiked with paprika and cardamom, black curry contains black pepper and coriander. They both pack a hit of gentle spice, igniting your meat, potatoes or vegetables, or used for a Thai curry paste. Sprinkled generously over chicken or steak, the meat juices run with colour and pool on your plate. All you need is some baguette to mop it up. The other night we made steak with buttery corn on the cob, covered in a good sprinkling of red curry powder, and a few days before it was crispy-skinned chicken thighs dusted black, served with diced sweet potato and butternut squash, and Gaylord’s homemade tangy coriander sauce.

It’s a comfort to eat good, homecooked food during a period of confusion, readjustment, and a pounding heart every time I need to navigate through French conversation. The taste of the familiar, even just the act of making and drinking a cup of tea with strange UHT milk, is reassuring, and, with this comfort, the exploring, the acclimatising and the SIM card can wait. I have enough keeping me occupied.

Coriander and shallot sauce

After gushing about the curry powders, this wasn’t the recipe I was expecting to leave! On second thoughts, however, I realised there’s not much of a recipe required to shake a tin of spice over some meat, and Gaylord’s coriander condiment/sauce was so good we scraped the bowl clean with our potato cubes and ripped baguette.

This is a kind of throw-it-all-together recipe; a bit of this, a bit of that. Taste as you go. Delicious as a side or even as a dip.

  • A jar or tub of crème fraîche
  • 1 small shallot
  • A bunch of coriander
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Finely chop the shallot and coriander.
  2. Scrape all the crème fraîche into a bowl and add the shallot and coriander. Beat together and season with lime juice, salt and black pepper.
  3. Taste and add more seasonings if necessary.

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