22 Dec Prêt a Manger
I’m writing this in the waiting room of a medical centre, where Hanan has just left me to get an MRI on her dislocated kneecap.
I watched her go, leaning in pain on her stick, my eyes moist.
‘Are you sure I can’t come in with you?’ I whispered, all but hanging on to her good leg.
She replied with all the romanticism I have come to know and love.
‘Waste of time,’ she said. ‘Make sure you’ve finished a blog by the time I’m out.’
Right then. I retreated to the waiting room, chastened, only to find she had pulled open the door for a last word before she was separated from me to be sucked into a dark machine.
‘What did you want to tell me?’ I asked softly, encouragingly.
‘You have an hour,’ she said. ‘I asked the nurse.’
So here I am blogging. How did this mishap occur, I hear you ask.
My wife wasn’t skiing, mountain biking or even chasing after me with a new To Do list, she was sitting on the Eurostar to Paris, where we were taking our now annual Christmas day trip with the boys, invited by our friend Kelly and her daughter Chatham (the boys’ cooking cohort in Kitchen Chaos).
As Hanan twisted to get out of her seat to look at something on Kelly’s iPad, her knee sort of stayed behind, and popped out. We all looked on aghast as she clutched her leg, eyes rolling in excruciating pain.
‘Pop it back in, mama!’ was Ethan’s practical advice, and she did. It took an hour of recovery, for she turned quite grey and short of breath in the aftermath. But, like the true brave spirit she is, she recovered in time to hobble off the train and insisted on continuing the day in Paris and refusing the train staff’s offer of a wheelchair.
Of course, we found out later she should have been splinted up and immobile for 72 hours, but instead we all drew on our medical training (which sadly ends at applying band aids) and bought Hanan a walking stick and decided that the best treatment would be a meal. We headed for a brasserie in Isle St Louis and ate copious amounts of steak, chicken, frites and cheese. As we limped out, some of us staggering from dislocated knees, the rest of us just overfull, Hanan suggested that while we walked off the meal she would wait for us in Berthillon, perhaps the best ice cream shop in the world.
Well, we took exercise for all of 15 minutes before we joined her for ice cream and a hot chocolate that came in 3 serving dishes (containing melted chocolate, steamed frothy milk and creme chantilly respectively) on a silver tray. We tried to tear ourselves away, but we were slack from overindulgence and the children had fallen into food comas.
‘We should go. I organized a surprise that starts in 10 minutes,’ Kelly said.
I put down my spoon, relieved. A museum, or a walking tour would be just the thing to stop us inhaling any more food.
‘What is it?’ I asked, eager for deliverance from chocolate.
‘I booked a lesson for you and kids to learn to make macaroons…’
Though I wanted to sleep off the 100 pounds of food I had already consumed, I channelled my inner Henry VIII and went to the class. It was an excellent class, though our meringues turned out a dodgy shade of grey.
‘They look very contemporary,’ commented the head of the cookery school. ‘Sort of like pebbles in a Zen garden.’
I was just grateful not to be tempted to add a grey, Zen macaroon to list of food I’d already consumed. But while we had been cooking, and undeterred by shifting kneecaps, my wife had been taking a cab across Paris to buy cheese.
‘But there’s a cheese shop right next door,’ I pointed out. ‘You should be resting your knee!’
‘Cheese has to be from Androuet,’ she said, as if that explained everything. ‘The man said this Camembert will be ready in 2 days.’
‘Really?’ I was slightly sceptical. ‘What time?’
‘In time for lunch,’ Hanan shot back. ‘I got a selection for all of us to take home,’ she said. ‘And on the way to the Eurostar we need to pick up the ice cream from Berthillon.’
‘Didn’t we just have ice cream?’ I asked.
‘I ordered it to take back,’ returned my wife. ‘I’ve done it for 25 years, they know how to pack it.’
Of course they do. I dragged myself back onto the Eurostar home laden down with cheeses in one hand and enough ice cream for a party at Versailles in the other.
We’d barely settled into our seats, when Kelly whipped out two baguettes.
‘Those won’t last till tomorrow,’ I told her sagely. ‘Baguettes need to be eaten the same day.’
‘We’re eating them now,’ Kelly confirmed. ‘Unpack that Camembert, will you?’
‘But it’s not ready for another 47 hours,’ I began. I was overruled and we opened the vacuum-packed cheese, filling the train carriage with a scent that made Luca weep (and not in a good way) and had the other passengers wonder if they had ever left Paris.
I was too full to eat a bite. But I did.
I could have written it off as a day of indulgence, but we’d just been to see ‘Meet Me in St Louis’ only a couple of days earlier, also with Kelly, at the British Film Institute, an afternoon that had started with a blowout meal at Royal China, where Hanan ordered enough crispy duck to fortify an entire Chinese province.
That sojourn had continued at the Christmas market outside the BFI, where hot waffles and Spanish churros were on offer.
‘I think we should get just a few,’ Hanan suggested.
‘I can’t eat a thing!’ I protested.
‘Just to change the taste from the Chinese food.’
How could one argue with such practicality? We tucked into hot churros, dipping them into chocolate sauce, while Kelly and her sister sipped at mulled wine and pancakes.
By the time we went back into the foyer of the BFI there was a mere 20 minutes till the movie.
‘You know what would be perfect now?’ Hanan asked. I hesitated. A lie down? A colonic irrigation?
‘A hot chocolate,’ Hanan said. I went to get hot drinks for everyone, coming back in time to find that Kelly and Hanan had comandeered the very table where I had signed books after ‘I Can’t Think Straight’ had played at the BFI.
‘Why do you need such a big table?’ I asked.
Kelly regarded me as if I had lost my brain cells back at the fair. ‘For snacks,’ she said.
A big biscuit tin lined with foil and filled with homemade cakes and biscuits was hefted onto the table, followed by bags of crisps and nuts. Luca knocked over a cup and a trail of crumbs marked the spot where we lingered. A security guard cast us an askance look but we were mid munch so he hesitated to interrupt us. The feast carried on inside the cinema, where Judy Garland sang to the gentle crackle of tin foil and sweet packets. Well, Christmas comes but once a year. And my arteries and Hanan’s kneecaps are glad of that. Happy Holidays to one and all…we wish you a wonderful holiday season, a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year, filled with old movies, good food and just a little healthy exercise…