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My French Life: Hold the cheese… please!

Now that we are fully ensconced into the French rural way of life we hardly ever seem to go out for a meal in the evenings. Here in Nord Pas-de-Calais we have plenty of choice and lots of delicious regional cuisine dishes to choose from – there’s traditional French, Belgian influenced dishes and a lot of Flemish style dishes so its not because of lack of choice.

There are several reasons reasons for our stay-at-home attitude:

1. We have dogs and cats who like to sit with us in the evening and we hate to disappoint!

2. We are too poor and too knackered! What with the massive renovation of our hovel, 28 animals to care for, our plans to move towards self-sufficiency  a fledgling but very demanding and currently income-less career as a writer to fuel for me – we don’t have a great deal of time for leisure or a great disposable income… yet (I am the eternal optimist).

3. We live at least 10 minutes drive from the nearest bar or restaurant and drink driving rules are very strict so the Other Half, who is the driver, doesn’t really get to enjoy a nice glass of wine or beer with his meal which spoils it a bit for him. He is the driver because being an ex professional driver he moans about my driving.

My driving is admittedly not great. I lack concentration and I love to look out of the window – at everything, not just the road in front of me. I once crashed into my neighbour’s parked car when I was watching the gas man walking along my road doing his meter reading rounds. I once pulled into my parents’ drive – taking their gate with me as it wedged on the wing mirror thanks to my misjudgement on its proximity. I have crashed into a slow moving car in front of me in a traffic jam when I dropped a CD and leaned down to get it pushing hard on the accelerator as I went… I have many more such sorry stories so… we agreed, he would do the driving as it might not be so much fun to deal with the administration of my ahem… little errors in France as it was in the UK (actually not fun at all but we figured it would be worse).

4. The Other Half is allergic to cheese and no matter how many times I tell people in French restaurants this fact it never seems to stop them putting just a little cheese on his food. When I say people in restaurants I don’t mean other clientèle I do of course mean waiters and waitresses. I don’t run up to strangers eating their meals saying “non frommage svp”. I am sure that waiters understand my request perfectly well but French chefs seem to think it a terrible insult to French cuisine not have cheese on the food if the recipe calls for it.

A typical example of this behaviour was the day we went to IKEA which was an almost 200 mile round journey so we chose what looked like a lovely restaurant for lunch in order to pacify the Other Half (he was not amused by the long drive just to “visit a bloody shop”) but we were a tad close to the cut off time of 2.00 pm when pretty much all restaurants stop serving food. They gave us a table nevertheless then said “non” to practically everything we chose from the menu until we got down to what they actually could serve – burgers. Burgers with Roquefort sauce to be precise.  So – one for him sans frommage, one for me with fromage. Off went Monsieur. We saw him run past the window to the take away burger joint next door and return a couple of minutes later with a brown bag! A short while after two burgers appeared – both smothered in Roquefort sauce. I explained again – my husband has an allergy to cheese – no cheese please. Off went Monsiuer Le Waiter to the burger joint again, back he came with burgers – the OH’s burger wasn’t smothered this time, the cheese sauce was hidden under the burger. The OH is an expert sniffer of cheese – the allergic reaction is so unpleasant that he is very thorough at checking – not always a pleasant sight but I am used to it and believe me its preferable to dealing with an allergic episode. On the third time of presenting a burger from next door it was okay but we’d pretty much lost our appetites by then!

French chefs are equally obstinate when it comes to well-cooked steak – asking for it “bien cuillé” (well done – to you and me) brings a supercilious smirk to the face of the French order taker. It is then of course completely ignored by the chef and you are presented with a barely dead slice of beef à la French cuisine!

Bon appètit!


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