Reluctant cook Ruth stresses over the potential pitfalls of hosting
My daughter told me today she was feeling “confuzzled” about her homework. I knew exactly what she meant, as I have been confused and puzzled about many things in my lifetime, such as how gravity works and why people love Strictly Come Dancing and what to offer French people for dinner.
Not long after we bought our holiday home in Brittany, our neighbour Virginie invited us round one night for an apéro. I was confuzzled. To me, an apéro was a wine-based drink first introduced to France to disguise the taste of anti-malaria medicine and used ever since by Brits to disguise their desire to start drinking as early as possible. But Virginie mentioned pizza and nibbles too.
We turned up at 7.30pm to find a table laid with three pizzas and a halo of dips, pistachios, and crisps of every kind, from crinkle-cut and cheesy to the crunchy bacon ones inexplicably shaped like bugles. It was a revelation! So this was when the French ate crisps! I knew they didn’t stuff their faces in between meals and yet the supermarket shelves spoke for themselves.
I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to discover there was a place in French culture for sloppy food, that there was hope for a hopeless host like myself, that I no longer had to fret about what sumptuous feast to rustle up for friends and visitors in our tiny holiday home oven (a combi convection microwave) or on our plug-in hob (only one ring works at a time). Boeuf bourguignon? Bof! We could just bung in a pizza and crack open the Breton cider. I no longer needed to be confuzzled, and that was a great relief because, between you and me, I don’t really like cooking. There. I said it. Can’t cook. Will cook. But begrudgingly.
Trusted family and friends know my terrible secret, but I had never dared admit it in France, despite France being named after tribes of people who were admired for being frank. How could I admit that I ate to live and didn’t live to eat? It would be like going in for a hug instead of a bise or asking for my steak to be well-done.
On our next visit that summer, we invited Virginie round for a barbecue. Genius, we thought.
“Actually, I’ve just turned vegetarian,” she said sweetly as we plonked a sausage in a processed bap on her plate. Oops! The next time, we stuck to pizza and nibbles. The cider flowed, the crisps were crunched, the pistachios were shelled and many a confession was shared.
“J’ai horreur de la cuisine,” mumbled Virginie after a few ciders. I burst out laughing. “Moi, aussi!” I confessed. “What did she say?” asked Jon. “She hates cooking,” I translated, and sighed with relief.
Frank goodness for that.