If you take a train 3 hours south of Paris, and then a bus 2 hours east of Aix en Provence, and then a twenty minute car ride with a friendly Frenchman named David to the village of Sisteron, then you will have made it to Jacques' house, and you would be in luck.
Jacques is a chef and doesn't speak much English. He lives on the side of a hill in a country home with a garden and olive trees alongside his extended family. The town over, a bustling metropolis of about 5,000 people, is hosting a pro squash event and I was the very lucky player to be paired with Jacques as my host.
When we met, he asked what I wanted for dinner and when I suggested something with salad, he whisked us to the garden, pulled out a knife and had me pick out what head of lettuce looked good.
Dinner wasn't just me and Jacques and it wasn't just salad. Around the table was Jacques' sister, father, aunt, uncle, cousins, sisters' coworker, sisters' coworkers' boyfriend, and an American squash player. My lettuce was mixed with more vegetables from the garden, olive oil from the backyard and some French prosciutto. Tasty, filling, more than enough for a big meal. Plate cleared, stomach full.
And that's when the blitz began. Baguettes on baguettes. Bowls of penne. Three types of cheeses: "Try! Try!" Well I couldn't be rude. More lettuce. Something called quenelle. I had avoided the Freshman 15 in college but this was the French 15 and there was no way to out of it. Oh well. More quenelle. "The goat who made this cheese lives just 2 kilometers away!" Lucky goat. More bread. Any more quenelle? I could feel six weeks of a paleo diet in February instantly reversed. Worth it. Then a shriek from Jacques' elderly father behind me: "ATTENTIONNE! ATTENIONNE!" Finally, a voice of reason. It's all over. Wrong. Out comes the father with bone-in pork tenderloin. Breathe, remember to breathe. By the time the fresh apricots and pudding came around, I had picked up some basic French vocabulary, described winter in Boston ("C-O-L-D"), diplomatically answered how Americans viewed the French (by holding up the cheese and bread) and found room for final bites. Smiles, expresso, bed time. Now this was family dinner. This was life in rural France.