ME: I'm shitting my pants here.
FB: Why? What's going on?
ME: OK so here's the deal...hold on...I have to stop typing...
FB: Why? (pause) HELLO?
ME: OK I'm back. You HAVE NO IDEA. The woman from 5 1/2 (downstairs apartment) is outside our front door talking to some guy and all I could pick up was...renters.....problems....oh la la..then..OH LA LA again...REALLY LOUD....they're talking about me, I KNOW THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT ME!
FB: Don't worry about it, we are legitimate renters there with a contract, stick your nose out and ask what's going on if you want to..
ME: STICK MY NOSE OUT??? WHAT???? (typed from under covers in the bedroom after manic rush to turn off all music, nosedive into bed to pretend no one is home) It's just THAT EASY for YOU. I'm not gonna STICK MY NOSE OUT so they can talk at me and glare at me and hate me and speak French to me that I WON'T UNDERSTAND. Do you have ANY IDEA of what foreign terror feels like??? ANY IDEA??? NO. NONE. You have no understanding of terror at ALL.
FB: OOOOOOOK....just ignore them and I'll deal with it if it gets to that level.
ME: It's AT THAT LEVEL. We have to get out of here.
ME: Yes! They are making war every time they pull this shit on me. Standing complaining outside my front door, making me all paranoid, upsetting my stomach, I can't even go into my own kitchen now. We have to get out.
FB: Ok, I have to get back to work.
ME: Yeah, yeah....I'll see you later if they haven't torn our door down to get at me...
December 27th marked my two year anniversary in Paris and I'd like to think the foreigner terror has subsided but all it takes is some strangers outside my front door to send me right back to Anne Frank's house.
I was in Bourgogne with my French family over the holidays so on December 27th to celebrate the honorary occasion of my two years in France, I decided to do something that has terrified me too much to try since I arrived. I would enter their well worn French kitchen where many a perfectly cooked French meal has been prepared for me....and I would cook for my French family for the very first time.
On the menu?
Chocolate chip cookies.
Simple YET complex.
Chewy AND crunchy.
I've made these a million times in the US of A.
Until the cookie chain quickly started unraveling....
It started when I forgot to buy the key ingredient before I left Paris...packed brown sugar. Eh, whatever, I thought. I'll just use the regular sugar and they'll be cakey or whatever. It'll be FIIIIIINE.
As I entered the kitchen, I asked my mother-in-law for some flour. I was handed a package and my heart dropped...it wasn't the right kind of flour....you know, the white Gold Medal stuff I never ever thought about when buying. This is like....yellow stuff and like, a totally different texture.....it dawns on me suddenly that I have no internet here to research this yellow substance and now my aunt is in the kitchen asking me what she can do and how she would like a cookie lesson from me and now I am starting to sweat and my throat is closing and I'm gonna freak out in just a couple seconds and I wish I never offered to do this and....PULL IT TOGETHER. YOU HAVE WATCHED TOP CHEF, OK? YOU WATCH TOP CHEF. YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO.
Controlling my breath, I put my aunt to work on chopping some fresh walnuts from the tree in the yard, that should take her a little while so I can figure out what to do with this new flour. Change is bad. Change is bad.
Blow two comes swiftly. To the face. The vanilla extract I thought I saw there is actually coffee syrup. Omg...omg....okokokokokokokokok...substitute it or not? Substitute it or not? Coffee cookies? Well, it's still in the same syrup family but....but....make a decision make a decision.....yes, no, ok yes...but maybe the vanilla extract does something scientifically to the batter that you don't know about because now it's really clear that YOU DON'T ACTUALLY KNOW HOW TO COOK, JUST HOW TO READ A STUPID RECIPE AND NOW YOU ARE TOTALLY FUCKED AND WHY DID YOU EVEN TRY THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE THIS IS SO STUPID SO STUPID.....PULL! IT! TOGETHER!
OKOKOKOKOKOK deferring decision, deferring decision, asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, strength not weakness...
Interrupting the card game in the other room as inconspicuously as possible (as in, not making eye contact with anyone seated), I quietly ask my MIL in French
"Uh....yes...sorry....but I see this bottle, I think vanilla but now I taste coffee. It's not vanilla and I..."
WHOOSH! She's up faster than I can finish my sentence and into the pantry. She whips through the spices and upon exiting the pantry she apologizes saying she has no vanilla when my aunt bursts out "J'ai de la vanille dans mon sac!" with triumphant conviction and WHOOSH! out she goes and up the stairs to get the vanilla.
From her bag.
Where she apparently keeps a spice rack.
WHO CARRIES VANILLA IN THEIR PURSE??? Apparently, French women do. I suddenly have the vision of what's in French purses everywhere....foie gras, vanilla, a wheel of cheese, sprigs of rosemary and thyme, white wine vinegar, leeks....
Back she comes in a jiffy with some handwrapped fresh vanilla beans.
Handing them to me, she looks proud for providing a missing ingredient as I swallow hard and pretend I know what to do next. 'Cause it's not syrup.
It's the bean.
So.....um.....(putting it on counter and fake cutting it open while I try and decide what to do next......yyyyyyyyeah....uh......uh.......YOU ARE A TOTAL SHAM OF A COOK, YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW TO USE A REAL VANILLA BEAN, YOU ONLY KNOW A BOTTLE MARKED SYRUP FROM THE GROCERY STORE YOU IDIOT AND NOW YOU ARE FAKE CHOPPING?? WHAT ARE YOU DOOOOOING???....ok think think.....I got nothing here. Nothin'. I stop fake chopping and slink into the card game again where my MIL has resumed her cardplaying...."um....sorry...haha....um....yes so....I could see you in kitchen?" WHOOSH! She herds me into the kitchen before I can stutter out "so....um....do you maybe have that thing you grate things with?" She gently takes the bean and shows me how to cut it in half and scrape some out.
I KNEW THAT.
YOU KNEW THAT!
I swallow my pride and say "so....um....how much do you think?"
MIL: Oh, about a spoon will do, it's stronger than syrup.
ME: (bright red and half smile) Of course..thanks.
YOU'RE MAKING AN AMAZING CULINARY IMPRESSION.
As I mixed all of this into a batter, it became crystal clear I had one giant, extraordinarily heavy chunk of a hot mess. Frantically, I poured the rest of the flour in which just made it worse and worse.
Screw it....just throw it on the cookie sheet and bake it, it'll be FIIIIIIIIINE.
I wanted to die when I took them out of the oven....crawl up into a corner and just DIE. Instead of the delicious goodness I planned, THIS is what came out....
I walked into the card game and announced (a little too dramatically) that the cookies were horrible, all the ingredients weren't what I planned and I am terribly terribly sorry but I am throwing it all out and just forget I ever said anything about cooking. "MAIS NON!" cried my aunt and MIL, "it can't be THAT bad!" I knew in my heart it WAS that bad but I couldn't let them down so I skulked back into the kitchen alone and tried a second batch, this time turning the oven down, putting very small balls of dough on the sheet and sticking a half walnut on top of each one out of sheer desperation.
They were still not very good but at least they were edible.
"Delicious!" cried my father-in-law.
"So good!" cried my aunt and mother-in-law.
"I love your cookies!" cried my 6 year old nephew.
I didn't believe them but they did eat the entire plate.
That night, I pushed my "Top Chef Fails Miserably" aside and made dinner for the whole family. Butternut Squash Risotto which I have made a million times in France and for which I brought every ingredient with me, including a sprig of fresh sage.
From my purse.
Bonne anniversaire to me.
Maybe I am more French than I think.