Today is a big day for Auréle, who at 3 pm will be taking his driving test. He is 23, so it is high time he terrorizes the neighborhood at the wheel of the vintage VW Bug (1970’s) he inherited from Yvette, which mopes in the garage for lack of use (the VW Bug, not Yvette). The whole family has been helping him practice, Lorique volunteered his VW Golf as the test vehicle, and I got to drive by his side (to make it legal) to the Department of Motor Vehicles. He is a fine driver, so we were all certain he would pass. Well, he didn’t. The examiner tagged him for four or five stupid little things (e.g., going at 20 kph in a zone of 30 kph, or putting the gear in neutral when he stopped at a stop sign) and very officiously flunked him. Not a big deal, since he can take the test again next week, but a major hearth break for him because the whole family was anxiously waiting for the result (so he had to make many phone calls to say “j’ai raté mon examen”), and there was a big party at home to celebrate his right of passage into manhood. Here is Tio Auréle later that afternoon, sharing his sorrows with baby Cloe.
Oh well, we were not going to let a simple thing like the end of his life ruin the fun, so I took the wheel and drove us to pick up Nura, and from there to buy the ingredients for a huge raclette feast. You may have or have not heard of raclette, so it is worth describing this Swiss party dish. When I have done it at home I use a hot plate and small individual pans, where each guest adds cheese and bits of mushroom, onion, chorizo (or whatever else I have in the pantry), and everything is then melted together. The Swiss version is a bigger and more “regulated” affair. First, the unvarying accompaniments are small boiled potatoes, small pickles (cornichons), small pickled onions, and thinly sliced lean meat (something like prosciutto, but made with beef or venison). Nobody would even think on using different accompaniments, such as mushroom, chorizo, tortillas, or salsa (but there is a special mix of paprika, nutmeg, and pepper that can be sprinkled unto the final product).
Second, we come to the real heart of the raclette experience. You start with two enormous half rounds of special raclette cheese (I think the special thing is that the crust is not waxed, so it can be eaten), and “the machine”. The machine has a gas burner, and supports for the two rounds of cheese that swivel around a post. This arrangement allows one of the rounds to be directly under the burner while the other is being skimmed. So, you try to convince people to sit at the table (there were 16 of us), which is of course like herding cats, and you start the fire. One of the rounds sits under the fire for a couple of minutes, until the exposed cheese starts to bubble. At this point the cook chants “Raclette!” and someone offers his/her empty plate (Auréle is in the back, doing the cook's job). The cook lifts the round with the bubbling layer, and skims it unto the proffered plate. Two minutes later the other round is ready, and the chant is repeated “Raclette!” And so it goes for the rest of the evening, always making sure that the sides of the cheese rounds are being folded into the exposed face, to make sure not a drop of melted cheese is wasted.
The guests receive their plate with a little pool of melted cheese, add pepper or the raclette paprika mix, crush a boiled potato, and happily munch on the combined potato-cheese mix, with intervening bites of cornichon, pearl onions, or lean meat. Everything is, of course, liberally irrigated with good Swiss white wine!
The merry company included Auréle (maybe not the merriest, as he was still wallowing in misery over the failed exam) and Nura, Nura’s sister and her boyfriend, Julie and Thierry with baby Cloe (in the first photo, while Tio Loïc holds Cloe in the second photo), Loïc and his girlfriend Tina, Yvette (behind Loïc in the second photo), Alexis, Scott and a couple of other friends whose names escape me now, and yours truly. Once again, I am happy to report that I was able to engage in conversation in French before and after the raclette, but was in lala land when all of them started to talk at the same time during the feast. As for me, I took my turn at being the cook and ate to my heart’s content :)
Random news are that Thierry has gotten a half-grant to go work in Canada next year, so the whole family is going to move to Montreal for one year. Thierry is interested on doing research on managing alcoholism (his current job as a doctor has a lot to do with addiction management and prevention). Julie would like to work on “art therapy”; she is a Special Ed teacher, and would like to further develop involvement in the arts as a way to help some of her Special Ed students. Cloe just plans to be the cutest baby around. She doesn’t mind being passed around from one pair of arms to the next, so everyone here dotes on her.
Tina, Loïc’s girlfriend (here holding the ever popular Cleo), comes from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland and is another of those amazing Swiss who can learn any language in a matter of weeks (on top of Italian, English, French, and German she is now starting to learn Russian and Spanish!). Next month she is starting a new job, as assistant to the Purchase Manager of one of Geneva’s nice hotels. She is very excited about the new job, and plans to make a career in the hospitality industry.
OK, enough gossip now, because there is a lot of cleaning to do!