Friday, November 9, 2012

Lost in Translation

Having spent six weeks in France, I wanted to take an entire meal “to-go,” but, alas, neither the French restaurants nor US customs supported this idea. While admiring the Creuset cookware at a boutique in Tours, France, I spied a thin book with the words Riz et Risotto elegantly inscribed on the cover. Herein lay my solution! With this cookbook, I could bring French food home; perhaps I could even become a renowned French chef-- Oh, the possibilities were endless! Sadly, such possibilities vanished as quickly as they had come. Back in the US and suffering from a bit of jet-lag, I mindlessly wrote down the ingredients for one enticing French risotto—“Gratiné au Beaufort”—and ventured to my grocery store, Publix. Once there, I realized that I had no idea what an ingredient, Beaufort, meant— besides that it’s a town in South Carolina. Lacking a Smart Phone and being in Publix, I thus had no way of translating the word with Google. Mon Dieu! I skimmed the remaining ingredients—white wine, shallots, Arborio, olive oil—what could be missing? Cheese! I rushed to Publix’s new fromagerie and asked the attendant if he carried Beaufort cheese. He quizzically replied, “beau-for?” emulating the French accent I had used, “I haven’t heard of it.” I tried again with a slight Southern accent, “Bow-fort? It’s French.” Nothing. So, I substituted Gruyere, another French cheese that I hoped would resemble Beaufort.

Having overcome the issues with translation, I now struggled to convert the measurements from metric units. While in elementary school, I decided that I had no use for the Metric system. You can thus imagine my struggle! Not only did some of my conversions seem rather outlandish (a result which I attributed to the decadence of French cuisine), but others didn’t convert evenly! The oven needed to be preheated to 180°C…356°F. My oven used increments of five. Quelle horreur! Should the temperature be too high? Too low? Anxiety began to overwhelm me, for I always follow directions exactly. The inexactitudes piled up with each step. Add a splash of salt! A dash of cheese when the moment strikes you! Did a splash of salt cause the boiling water to, in fact, splash? How would I know when I felt like adding cheese?! What if I changed my mind? I frantically flipped through the other recipes, but, they too, used this slapdash method! Sacré bleu! My dreams of becoming the next top French chef had been dashed, just like the cheese which I unenthusiastically scattered on the risotto. At least I tried, I thought, as I hesitantly tasted a spoonful. Yet, instead of swallowing something repulsive, my taste buds tingled, delighting in the potency of the cheese and the sweetness of the wine. I excitedly scanned the remaining recipes, happily appreciating their free-style method with every bite. So what if I remained lost in translation for these recipes? For, just as I was lost, the French, too, were lost in the precision of their measurements! Parfait!

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