I’ve been trying to convince Aaron that we should move to France.
Some context might be useful here. Aaron works in technology and communications, but his favorite thing to do is make things by hand. For the past few months he’s been playing with the idea of becoming a cooper. A cooper is a person who makes barrels for alcohol. There’s a grand total of two cooperages in Minnesota, both a fair drive from Minneapolis. And both of those cooperages are located in areas of the state we’re not interested in living. Most cooperages in America are in Kentucky, where Aaron grew up and doesn’t care to return. Most also make guns, which is something he’s not keen on doing. In America our coopers tend to make barrels for bourbon, which legally requires new charred oak barrels for every batch. Sometimes these barrels are used to make beer or other spirits. Most cooperages, however, are based in France and make barrels for wine. And if he got an apprenticeship at a cooperage in France it would be a four year commitment, rather than the state standard two.
My desire to move to France is rooted less in an idea of what it would be like and more in a daydream. I have a vision of living in a beautiful, remote town. We would bicycle to the market every day and bringing back fresh tulips, which I would arrange in leftover wine bottles. I would work at a boulangerie, learning the secrets to perfect levains and baguettes. We would both quickly master the language and our inevitable accent would be declared charming by the friends we would quickly find. We would sit in cafes for hours and I would learn to like coffee. We could jet off to our beloved England during long weekends. We could explore Paris for my first time. We could return to America every August to see our families. And if we happened to start a family during this time, they would emerge well-behaved and multi-lingual, born with an appreciation for croissants and dark chocolate.
This is what I see when I envision a time spent living in France. Aaron likes to check my daydreams by pointing out how hard it would be to get a visa, how expensive it would be to move to France, and how we don’t speak the language. I sometimes remind him that I took three years of French in high school, but as all I can remember is names for food and the chorus to song Champs-Élysées, he’s basically right.
I have a secret weapon, though. I’ve been feeding him French food for the past few weeks, hoping to build up a positive association that I can parlay into a move (or at least a visit- I’m not that particular). I’m not sure yet if it’s working, but we’re certainly eating well.
Clafouits, according to Wikipedia, comes from the Limousin region of France, and is traditionally made with cherries. You make a thin batter, pour it into a buttered pan, and dot it with fruit. I chose rhubarb, the herald of spring, because I love its shocking pink color, its tart edge, and the way it collapses with heat. The whole thing puffs up to twice its original size, then collapses dramatically as soon as its removed from heat. You’re left with a cross between a dutch baby and a cake, custardy in texture but light on the tongue. I made and shot this at my friend Bailey’s loft (with my new camera! What up, dSLR!) and we devoured it on her roof along with brats, grilled asparagus, and jam jars of rosé.
Even if we don’t move to France I think I’ll keep up this campaign. It’s a delicious way to experience life.
butter and flour for pan
4 cups (about 6 stalks) thinly sliced rhubarb
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup flour
Preheat the oven to 425. Butter and flour an eight inch cake pan. Set aside.
In a large pan combine the rhubarb, the two tablespoons of sugar, and orange juice over medium heat. Stir well to combine, and then let cook for a bit, until the rhubarb is softened and is starting to give off juices. This should only take about five minutes. Set aside.
In a blender combine the milk, eggs, remainder of the sugar, vanilla, and salt and blend until smooth. Add the flour, and blend again until the batter is smooth. If you don’t have a blender, you could make do with a large bowl, a whisk, and some upper body strength. The flour should be completely incorporated when you’re done.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and strew the rhubarb and its juices across the top. Stir to evenly distribute the rhubarb as necessary, then place in the oven to bake.
Bake until clafouits is puffy and starting to take on a beautiful burnished color, about 25-35 minutes. The clafouits should puff dramatically above the cake pan, and will begin to fall as soon as its removed from the oven. Let cool and fall, and serve at room temperature.