I was in Paris, eating a Greek gyro on the steps of the Seine, below Notre Dame, while watching a juggler practice when a man walked down the steps to take a call on his cell phone. He ended his call, turned around, and noticed me.
"Bonjour," he said and then he attempted to have a conversation with me but he barely spoke English. And I, I only speak five words of French - bonjour, bon soir, merci, au revoir, voila! (The last said with a gallic shrug, of course.) Nonetheless, with a combination of smiles and hand gestures, we had a conversation that lasted for hours.
Somehow I managed to figure out that he was a Berber from Morocco. Some of the conversation went like this: "I sportive," he said as he held up his arms and flexed his biceps. "Tae kwon do. Vo vi nam." No way! He does Vietnamese martial arts? How cool is that? Picture me sitting there amused. Him talking and gesticulating wildly. And yet he tried so earnestly to communicate with me that I was flattered. He also bought me a rose from a wandering street seller.
So when the sun had set, we strolled along the lower banks of the Seine where spontaneous groups of people gathered around various street musicians. There was a group of people waltzing, a large group of Greek dancers who apparently brought along picnic baskets complete with watermelons, and a very lively group of salsa dancers. We joined in with the last group for a bit. It was one of those lovely aspects about Paris that I wouldn't have discovered otherwise.
We walked some more, stopping underneath a bridge when it began to rain. As he walked me back to my hotel, it being around midnight at this point, he stopped off an Algerian musician and requested he strum a few tunes on his guitar. I should have left it at that because it would have made a nice memory. But he was so persistent in asking me out again and again ("Moi invite' you a cafe'?") that I decided to say yes and met up with him the next day on my last night in Paris.
I imagined a candlelit bistro and a dinner of coq au vin. I had been enjoying three-course meals for around 10 euros so my expectations weren't completely unreasonable. He wore a nice black suit and a bold red shirt, no tie. And where does he take me to experience French food?
To his college cafeteria for a 2.60 euro meal -- dry chicken, fries, mushy broccoli. And yes, I even had to push a tray along a line. I should also add that the guy was 31 years old. He should have known better than to take a woman to a cafeteria for dinner. Sigh. Ah well.
We also went to a nice dark little cafe afterward. But by then, the moment was lost.
Oh, and as an addendum to my little story. He sends me an email in French a month later telling me how he'll always treasure the memories of our walk in Paris. He closes with a phrase that my fluent French-speaking friend insists isn't to be taken literally. But it's oh so lovely, that I choose to take the meaning as such. "Je t'embrasse tendrement partout et surtout avec délicatesse," which according to worldlingo.com means, "I tenderly kiss you everywhere and especially with delicacy."
While my sweet and then funny encounter didn't quite net me the meal I expected, I can easily make my own. Especially since my parents had sent me fresh chanterelle mushrooms that they had foraged themselves.
Coq au vin is a French stew of rooster in wine. We'll simply make that chicken instead. I usually make this when I've got extra red wine leftover, but you don't have to wait for that.
Coq au Vin (French Chicken with Wine)
For a 5-quart pot, you'll need:
4 chicken thighs, or any other part of your choice
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 lb mushrooms, halved or quartered
1 cup red wine, or more according to taste
4 strips of bacon, chopped
2 tblsp tomato paste, or if you like more like me, use the whole 8-oz can
1 tsp thyme, or more according to taste
2 tsp salt, or more according to taste
About 1/4 cup flour or more, for dusting
This recipe works best with a cast iron enameled Dutch oven to retain the heat and tenderize the meat, but any stockpot will do.
Liberally dust chicken thighs with flour. Fry in olive oil on high heat until browned. Set aside.
In the same stock pot, fry the chopped bacon until almost crispy.
Add chopped onions, carrots, and celery and saute until softened, scrapping the bottom of the pot to get any browned bits. Add browned chicken thighs and tomato paste into pot. Then add about 1 cup of red wine or more if you wish, and just enough water until the chicken and vegetables are covered by about an inch or so. Season with salt and thyme. Turn heat down to medium-low and allow to simmer for about an hour or until the stew is thickened to your liking.
About half an hour before serving, add mushrooms so they don't become too mushy.
Serve with crusty French bread.
And let's look at the old photo that necessitated this update. Eek!
My other French recipes:
Boeuf Bourguignon (French Beef Burgundy)
Clafoutis aux Cerises (French Cherry Clafouti)
Gratin with Purple Cauliflower, Fennel, and Leeks
Pate (Faux Gras with Chicken Livers)
Roasted Artichokes with Chili Aioli
Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary and Duck Fat