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11 Jan 2014
I had to get a new computer last week, one of few life events with the power to make a person feel both elated and completely bankrupt. After I brought it home, while I waited for my blood pressure to stabilize, I combed through the files that had been on my old computer and happened to find a document that I had forgotten, a recipe for a brown sugar clafoutis with pears. BROWN SUGAR CLAFOUTIS! WITH PEARS! I made the clafoutis last week, and again yesterday, and then I hustled over here to tell you about it with an oddly colored iPhone photo of my leftovers.

I had clafoutis for the first time when I was 23. It came to the table in a skillet the size of a salad plate, and where it met the pan, it rose up like an aspiring souffle. It made an impression.

I was working in France that year, teaching English in a public school outside of Paris. It was a very part-time gig with very part-time pay, and most nights, I cooked at home, in the studio apartment I rented in the 11th arrondissement, on a two-burner stove in an alcove between my bed and the front door. My landlord and his wife, who lived next door, told me that they played a game of guessing what I was cooking each night (tomato soup? ratatouille? bizarrely spiced packaged tofu burgers from Naturalia, the health food store?), based on the smells that filtered through the wall between our apartments. But when I was out in the neighborhood, I liked to read the menus of restaurants I passed, and I kept a list of the ones that looked good, for when friends or family came to visit Italian landscapes.

My dad came in mid-May - this was 2002 - about two weeks before my work contract was up. Some days, we went to museums and walked around, but on the days when I was working, we would meet up later, for a drink and dinner. He was always waiting for me on the terrace of one of the cafes on Place de la Bastille, waving his book of crossword puzzles to catch my eye, wearing the khaki fly fisherman’s vest that he wore everywhere, even in Paris. We would order glasses of white wine and eat salted peanuts and try to eavesdrop on other patrons, and then we would go somewhere for dinner home improvement.

The clafoutis came midway through his stay, at a restaurant called Le Repaire de Cartouche. I had wanted to eat there for months. It was in my neighborhood, a small split-level bistro trimmed in dark wood and faded murals. I had made a reservation for eight o’clock, and we were seated in the upper room. By local standards, we were eating early, and the place was barely awake. The dining room was otherwise populated only by an elderly couple in the corner. The waiter set down a ceramic pot of rillettes and a basket of warm bread, and we ordered a carafe of wine. We both ordered fish, and then we decided to share a rhubarb clafoutis.

I had read about clafoutis in a cookbook, and I knew that it was from south-central France, a cross between a baked pancake, a flan, and a soufflé, usually dotted with cherries. It’s not fancy, and it’s not really restaurant food. It’s grandmother cooking, a dish you serve not to impress people, but to feed them. But here it was on the menu of a bistro in Paris, so we ordered it Funeral flowers.


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