The other day I spotted something on the website of the Wall Street Journal that hurtled me back in time. The headline read, “Eating Well in Historic Rouen” and all of a sudden it was July, 1981.
At 16 there seemed to be a collision in my cerebral cortex of two powerful and equally terrible forces: entitlement and ingratitude. I greeted the opportunity of spending the summer in France as part of The Experiment in International Living (sounds vaguely Dr. Mengele-esque, no?) with the eye-rolling/sneer combo that had become my go-to facial expression. Can you imagine being offered the chance now? I’d be thrilled. Well, not completely thrilled since for part of the trip I had to live with a French family and I hate being a house-guest. Anyway, our leader, a 30-something out-of-work actor, suffered through the lost passports, budding alcoholism and sexcapades specific to his 12 adolescent charges and led us on our invasion of Rouen. (I should mention that I did not lose my passport, drink to excess or engage in any questionable behavior. My loss.)
I was assigned to stay with a family who lived in an apartment above a furniture shop. There was Papa, a tailor, Maman, a saleswoman at the local branch of the Printemps department store, and Bertrand, their 16 year-old son. And because my life never looks like a movie Bertrand was not only not cute, but he also hated me. I would have hated me too since my presence forced him to relinquish his bedroom to the American girl while he slept on the living room couch. There were also a few other things working against poor Bertrand: he did not seem to enjoy bathing (which was not helped by the fact that he wore the same “Telephone” concert tee-shirt every day), he was remarkably rude to his mother, and due to an accident that was never discussed, he was missing the tip of his left index finger. I’ll never forget sitting in the back seat of their car when his mother had stopped at a red light. As soon as the light turned green Bertrand crooked his Jones Little Links breakfast sausage of a finger at her and screamed “Vas y!” (“GO!") My mother would have clocked me, but Maman just put the pedal to the metal. And did he really need to point with his left hand? If that was what my finger looked like I would have kept it in my pocket.
During the “homestay” portion of this program our American group would meet for the odd day trip but for the most part we were expected to sink our teeth into the French way of life. In my case I handled this by sleeping as late as possible to cut down on the quality time I had to spend with Bertrand. So at around 11:30am I’d emerge from my (his) room just as Maman et Papa came home for lunch. Waking up to the smell of seared beef is pretty disgusting but not as disgusting as having that be your first taste of the day. Red meat and warmed potato chips, the breakfast of champions. Again, if I hadn't been a sullen 16 year-old, I could have been enjoying pain au chocolat with the rest of France at a more reasonable breakfast hour. Because I felt about Bertrand the way he felt about me I’d usually spend the day with the girl in our group who had become my bff for those six weeks. She’d take the bus in from her “family” who lived outside of town in a cushy set-up of which I was jealous. Plus she had cool French “sisters” who each a complete set of 10 fingers.
Katy and I would hit the streets and wander around. After a tour of the Rouen cathedral, or the site where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake, we’d go to a patisserie and gossip about the other kids on our trip. There we would each get one pastry and more often than not, share a second. My favorite was the coffee flavored “religieuse,” so called because it resembles a nun’s habit. Imagine a medium sized cream puff with a smaller one sitting on top, all filled with coffee pastry cream and iced with a coffee glaze. Usually there is a ribbon of buttercream circling the seam between the two puffs, giving it the look of the nun’s collar. I haven’t thought of this in 30 years, but they were so good and should you go to France you must have one. I’m going to leave baking them to the professionals. Be warned however, by taking "sinking my teeth in" literally I gained five pounds in three weeks.
But despite my whining about my “family” there were some highlights that uncurled my top lip and put a big smile on my face: Bastille Day fireworks over the Seine that were, and still are, the best and most magical display I have ever seen, watching Prince Charles marry Lady Di on a small TV in the breakfast room of a hostel, Yeardley Smith (now better known as the voice of Lisa Simpson but then known as the girl with the funny voice who belted show tunes throughout our trip) singing “Tomorrow” as we marched around Quimper (yes, a little “look-at-me” at first but actually, she was really good), and discovering Peche Melba at a tiny beach-side ice cream kiosk in Brittany.
After reading the Journal piece I remembered the Peach Melba and realized I’ve never had it stateside. With peaches still at their peachiest I am disregarding the fact that last week’s recipe was also peach focused and am going to stay on topic. So, if you don’t like peaches, keep moving, there’s nothing to see here. This recipe calls for the peaches to be grilled but that could be accomplished by using a stove-top grill pan (which is what I would have done had I not been freeloading chez my own papa et maman who have a barbeque). The raspberry sauce couldn’t be easier and everything comes together over vanilla ice cream in a mess of sweet but tart, warm but cold. It’s delicious enough to wipe the sneer off the face of even the most ornery teenager. Bertrand included.
Sweet 16 Grilled Peach Melba
from The Food Network/Alton Brown, 2006
Printer friendly version
3/4 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
1 vanilla bean, scraped
4 medium peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut in half
8 ounces frozen raspberries, thawed
1 pint vanilla ice cream, for serving
Preheat a grill to medium-high heat. (Or heat a grill pan on the stove over medium-high heat)
Place 3/4 cup sugar, water, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, and the seeds from the vanilla bean into a small saucepan and set over high heat.
Bring the mixture to a boil and boil for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the peaches; spooning the sauce over them. Set aside.
Place the raspberries, the remaining 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon sugar into the bowl of a food processor and puree.
Pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl. Cover and set in the refrigerator.
Once the grill is hot, place the peaches over direct heat and grill on each side for 3 to 4 minutes or until they are tender. (Note: I grilled an extra to be on the safe side.)
Remove from the heat to a container with the syrup and cover with aluminum foil for 5 minutes.
To serve, place the ice cream into 4 bowls and top each bowl with 2 peach halves. Drizzle each bowl with the raspberry sauce and serve immediately.