And so, finally, six months later, I’m back in France!
It’s almost unbelievable to think the last time I saw my boyfriend was on a dark, wet morning in December as he dropped me off at the airport, our last kiss between two face masks.
What with border closures and the UK government banning civilians from leaving the country, international relationships are seemingly discouraged these days. It was only on the discovery of the campaign group Love is not Tourism did we find a solution out of this confusing and backwards time, and, upon hearing about potential further closures and restrictions, I impulsively booked my ticket to France for four days later.
I’d like to think I’m a pretty relaxed gal, but alas no, this experience launched my stress levels to new, unknown territory as I prepared for every eventuality, gathering statements and evidence that, yes, we were in a relationship and live together, and also I can’t believe we live in a time where proving relationships is a thing. My dad drove me to the airport at 5am, and I sat there, clutching my folder full of precious documents, mentally preparing for the return journey home an hour later.
Despite all that high excitement, I did board the plane! Walking through French border control was even an anti-climax. Half-expecting a security guard to charge at me, throwing me to the floor in a rugby tackle as I attempted to break into Marseille, I walked into a deserted and apocalyptic arrivals terminal. I couldn’t even tell you where the other passengers from my flight had gone; it was just me looking awkward, wondering if I’d taken a wrong turning, and a few humming vending machines.
Disturbed by the eerie quiet, I marched out into the sudden blazing heat of the south of France.
So yes, I have returned in time for a heat wave with air so thick you need a knife to cut through it, a few weeks of thunderstorms and insipid grey skies all thanks to contrary old Mother Nature, and a summer of sport. (Gaylord is clapping his hands in glee at this and dedicatedly marking down all the Euro scores.) Good timing for some, bad timing for others.
I have had my fourth turn at quarantining and I’d like to think I am now an expert. So, how do you quarantine you might ask? Oh it’s exciting I tell you.
We’ve taken a stab at reorganising the kitchen cupboards – by just giving our food a sense of order I immediately feel like a grown up – and attacking the jungle that is our garden. Gaylord returned home from Paris to find the grass at knee-height and ivy wrapping it’s coaxing tendrils around anything that stayed still long enough, digging its roots into the hard ground. We spent two days of shearing and sawing, filling ten bags with garden detritus, and god it feels good. The garden is our battleground and that ivy doesn’t stand a chance (just writing this and I want to leap outside screaming a battle cry, shears in hand).
We also eat. We’ve eaten sandwiches which spill out their filling as soon as you lift it from the plate, chunks of chicken and slices of red onion spilling out with every bite, bowl after bowl of fresh salads coated in limey sesame dressing, or panzanellas with balsamic and oil, and Gaylord painstakingly proved naan dough, rolling out flimsy circles and filling them with cheese before frying on our tandoor oven replacement, the plancha. We ate them piping hot, dipped in creamy coriander sauce.
I baked brownies studded with peanut M&Ms at 9pm, we devoured crispy-thin crème fraiche and potato pizza while watching Nadal versus Djokovic (I understand enough sport to keep track of who’s playing but that’s as far as it goes), and piled squirty Chantilly cream from a can on our morning waffles topping the pile of summer berries and Nutella.
After all this eating, we sit in the living room in the twilight, dusk settling around us and listen to the birds having a raucous party in the freshly trimmed hedge. It’s warm and peaceful, and I’m so happy to be back.
Furthermore, what is the literal cherry on the top of my return? Fresh summer fruit and cherry clafoutis.
Peaches, apricots, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and cherries fill the supermarket shelves here and, currently, peaches are in their absolute glut, with trays upon trays filling the fruit aisles with their intoxicating sweet scent. Upon hearing that France’s cherry season is ALREADY OVER mon Dieu, I felt downcast as any normal person would (right?) until I spotted an abundant display of them at the supermarket last week. They seemed to glow in ruby smugness as, yes, the price was extortionate. We bought them anyway, and baked half of them into a clafoutis.
Every late spring and summer in France, when cherries, then peaches and apricots are in their prime, the clafoutis emerges – a French summer-time staple. A creamy batter of eggs, milk, sugar and flour is poured over your fresh cherries glittering in sugar, then it it slides into the oven.
The British will recognise this batter mixture from our beloved Yorkshire puddings and Toad-in-the-hole, but if you want the dessert version with juicy cherries tingeing your lips red, try clafoutis.
The cherries collapse gently as the batter puffs up around them, and their juice oozes out. Upon taking it from the oven, immediately sprinkle it with sugar for that hit of sweetness and crunch with every bite. It is the taste of French summer.
The day we made it, after dinner, Gaylord called me from the kitchen asking if I wanted some clafoutis. Of course I did. He then brought through the whole dish of clafoutis, not just a slice. In response to my questioning look, he said, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to have to stand up every time I want some more.’
I am so happy to be back!
Gaylord Sztulman’s recipe
This recipe does not require removing the cherry pits, so, obviously, be careful when eating the clafoutis – no broken teeth please – eat slices while sitting outside, spitting out cherry stones. If that doesn’t appeal, just take the stones out first.
- 300g black cherries
- 50g sugar
- 10g butter, softened
- 100g plain flour
- A pinch of salt
- 2 eggs
- 2 litres of milk
- Wash your cherries and remove the stems. Tip into a bowl and toss with half of the sugar, then leave them to macerate slightly for thirty minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan. Rub the butter around the edges of a high-sided baking dish, or cake or tart tin, then sprinkle with a little flour and shake off the excess.
- Sift the flour into a bowl, then add the salt and the rest of the sugar. Beat the eggs and add them to the dry mix, and beat well to combine. Pour in the milk and mix again.
- Tip the cherries into the dish, then cover with batter.
- Put the dish in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. When golden and puffed up, sprinkle with a little sugar and leave to cool. Serve cold, cut into slices.