Each Wednesday, throughout the year, I would prepare a 4-course meal for the kids and their music teacher, before they had their music lessons from her and English lessons from me. This may sound difficult, but it was really easy--sectioned grapefruit or melon as an entrée, Lasagne from Picard comme plat (frozen--just nuke and bake for that crispy golden crust!) served with a baguette (warmed and toasted on top of the toaster), salad with vinaigrette, and yogurt for dessert. I worked to get the timing just right on each course, to make sure I had everything out and ready when I needed it, and listened to opinions on how my diners preferred their meal. I knew who liked which brand of yogurt, who wanted sugar with it and who didn't (me!), how much coffee to prepare for after the meal, and when to push the "on" button of the cafetière.
The one thing I actually did all by myself was make the vinaigrette. I knew that P preferred balsamic vinegar (a tip from her mom), and since I did, too, I used that each time. A bit of the "good" olive oil, some salt, freshly ground pepper, and a bit of mustard--quite standard, really. In the bottom of the bowl it goes, mix it with a fork, and toss the salad. Et puis, voilà! Easy peasy.
Everyone seemed to like it, and the music teacher even took to swiping the empty bowl with her remaining bits of baguette, enjoying every last drop. One week, I accidentally added too much salt. The teacher noticed my correction, which was to add a teeny bit of sugar to cancel it out. Another week, she commented on the fact that she couldn't get her vinaigrette to taste like mine, and asked the kids to bring out all the ingredients so she could compare them.
The next week, she said it still wasn't the same, and asked to see the items again. Noticing that the pepper was "Mélange 5 Baies" (mix of 5 types of peppercorns), she thought she had the solution. Even so, the next week after that she wanted to see what type of mustard we used, because it just didn't have "le même gout" (the same taste.)
This spring, P and I were working on a food lesson in English. I had made up worksheets, and one asked her to tell me her favorite food. "I don't have a favorite food, Ronica," she said. "None?" I asked, surprised, because she is usually quite clear about what she likes and doesn't like. She loves bread that is hard and crunchy with lots of grains, she loves mustard, and prefers Actimel yogurt drink to all others. "No, no favorite."
"OK," I said, "just tell me your favorite food from lunch today."
"Salad!" she squealed, a gleam in her eyes.
The final weeks of school saw a juggle of schedules, as the music teacher had some other appointments to keep. The girls mother, Isabelle, joined us for lunch that Wednesday, and she joined me in preparing the meal. She offered to make the salad while I warmed the lasagne and sliced the melon for our first course.
At the table, the girls asked what we were having for lunch."Comme d'habitude," (Just like usual,) their mother said, noting the melon, lasagne, and bread. C asked, "But, the salad?" She looked at the bowl, a different one than I usually use, sitting on the corner of the table. "Ronica serves it after the lasagne, not together." "Oh, well, I like salad with my lasagne," her mother answered. "But, who made the vinaigrette?" C asked, with a quick glance toward her sister.
"I did," her mother answered.
"Um, what did you put in it, Maman?" C asked.
"Olive oil, red wine vinegar, a little balsamic vinegar, salt. Just basic," she answered, a bit perplexed. "Why?"
"Oh. Well, when Ronica makes le vinaigrette, it's SO GOOD!"
"Yes! Yes!" P piped up. "TROP bon!"
"She uses balsamic vinegar, olive oil, the special mustard, salt and pepper. It's absolutely delicious!" Then, with another quick sidelong look to P, she added, "but this is fine, too."
Isabelle asked me, "do you always put mustard in your vinaigrette?"
I answered that I do, partly because I like the way it emulsifies, and partly just because I like the taste.
"Well, it sounds like they like it, too!"
- Vinaigrette Comme D'Habitude
(all measurements approximate)
*3 T. good extra virgin olive oil (the fruity stuff is my favorite--I get mine from Olivier et Cie in Paris.)
*1 T. balsamic vinegar
*about a forkful of Maille Fin Gourmet mustard (this has some visible seeds, and includes a little sunflower oil. I think that's why it blends so nicely!)
*Salt (shake over oil, when you've shaken over the whole blob, it's enough.)
*freshly ground pepper, 5 peppercorn blend (same instructions as salt)
Place all ingredients in the bottom of your salad bowl. Whip with fork until it is all emulsified, and the dressing is kind of like a dark brown gravy in appearance. Toss with fresh lettuce leaves.