What do you do after you win a season of The Next Food Network Star and host your own TV show? Why, you leave it all behind and move your family to France to rediscover what's really important. Here's an excerpt of Amy Finley's new book, How to Eat a Small Country, out today.
Love books about food? Read The Sorcerer’s Apprentices by Lisa Abend.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
While Greg and Marc are in the house, fetching knives and Marc’s paddle, I am outside, gnawing my fingernails and pacing back and forth between the deck and the small stone shed where a black-and-white bunny perches in the window, oblivious. I’m a Catholic (though not a very good one since I believe a little bit in everything) and the symbolism of the weather isn’t lost on me: it is blustery and cold, with dark clouds racing across the sky, threatening rain. I have learned now firsthand that this kind of weather is typical of Burgundy in any season, and entirely reasonable for an early spring day just after Easter, but in my schoolgirl’s heart, fraught with catechisms and morality tales, I’ve always associated it with Good Friday and the murder of innocence. And so I squirm restlessly and try not to make eye contact with the rabbit.
On the one hand, I want dearly to eat the bunny: it was I who suggested that we have a bunny feast in the first place. And on the other, I want desperately not to have to kill the bunny. Every time the little creature in the window wiggles his nose at me my anguish rises afresh. It’s a terrible circular argument. A bunny has to die for me to eat it, but I know I can’t kill it myself—and I don’t want anyone else to kill it; yet I really do want to eat a bunny. Damn! Around and around, it’s a carnivorous quandary.
I am fantasizing about freeing all the rabbits from the shed, experiment in old-fashioned sustainable eating be damned—am envisioning myself striding purposefully (and rather heroically) toward the door to throw it open and chase the furry creatures toward the relative safety of the green, grassy fields—when Greg and Marc come out of the house. I slink behind them, nervously nibbling my fingers, as they approach the shed discussing which rabbit to dispatch for dinner.
I have set death into motion, and, apparently, there will be no zerohour reprieve.
I haven’t done so lightly. Greg and I and our two kids, Indiana and Scarlett, are in France specifically to eat. The rabbit, which was always intended to be eaten, is to be cooked in the classic Burgundy fashion—à la moutarde, coated in spicy mustard and then sautéed with onions and garlic, crisp white wine, and crème fraîche—and enjoyed with our neighbor Marc and his wife, Sophie, as a celebration of our eightieth day in France. For eighty days Greg and the kids and I have been driving into the nooks and crannies of a country the size of Texas, consuming ridiculous amounts of food—and certainly enough pig fat, goose fat, butter, and cheese to send certain cardiologists into shock. We’ve eaten bouillabaisse in Marseilles and choucroute in Strasbourg; fat, crimson sausages in Lyon and thick chops of lamb speckled with rosemary and lavender in Provence. We’ve eaten the head of a baby cow, the innards of a pig, the hearts and leathery combs of several unfortunate roosters, and now count among our friends a butcher, a baker, and a husband-and-wife team of fromagers who keep us in aged Brie and Morbier. The rabbit is just part of a growing record of consumables, but it is the first animal we have confronted in its living state. And that makes all the difference.
I am now, though, officially the only member of the butchering party with any lingering qualms as to the moral implications of our dinner. Even Indiana and Scarlett are unconcerned about the fate of the poor rabbit. Our days in Brianny—a small hamlet of less than a hundred souls where we live in a drafty farmhouse on Marc Verlez’s sprawling property—have a calm, pastoral rhythm. In the morning, Greg drives the kids to their respective schools. Indiana goes to kindergarten with Marc’s youngest child, Lulu, in Semur-en-Auxois, the medieval village five miles to our north; and Scarlett, who is two, is the newest member of the crèche—a state-sponsored preschool for which we pay all of sixty cents an hour—in Précy-sous-Thil, three miles to the south. While Greg drives the loop on the narrow country lanes, winding through fields and pasture land for the hundreds of lazily grazing white Charolais cattle, I clean up from breakfast, stoke the fire, do a little research on the computer, fetch wood from the wood pile, and start preparations for lunch.
The bulk of my day is devoted to food in one form or another: buying it, making it, eating it, planning a trip to eat it, cooking it, or cleaning up from cooking it. Mid-morning passes in companionable silence, me in the kitchen, Greg slouched over the computer in the office, working. He takes a break at noon, and lunch is a slow affair after he fetches the kids from school. Today, over a salad of endives, beets, and walnuts, with slices of toasted bread topped with Morvan ham and melted comté, we began in all earnestness to broach the subject of the bunny.
“How would you like to eat a rabbit?” I asked Indiana.
“But why not?”
“Because I don’t want to make anything die.” I’ll admit to a little glow of pride at my logical, sensitive son.
“But everything that we eat used to be alive, dude. This ham used to be alive when it was a pig,” Greg informed him. Indy eyeballed his ham thoughtfully. “Was pasta alive?” he asked me, avoiding looking at Greg.
I am considered the authority on all things food in the family, and besides, Greg has a reputation for straight-faced lying just to get a rise out of the kids, especially Indiana. “No,” I assured him. “Pasta was never alive. The wheat to make the fl our was alive, but it was a plant. And nobody knows if plants suffer or feel pain or anything like that.”
“Then I think I’ll just eat pasta,” Indy replied pragmatically.
“I’ll eat the bunny!” Scarlett announced. And this doesn’t surprise me at all. Scarlett is the gourmande of the family. Even though I serve her the exact same meals as the rest of us, she distrusts her tiny morsels of carefully cubed meat, preferring instead to crawl onto Greg’s lap and direct him with admonitions of “More sauce, Daddy,” as he cuts and feeds her little bites off his plate.
Without going into great detail, Greg described the way we intended to kill the rabbit by whacking it very hard in the head, which got Scarlett to giggling her great, burbly laugh. The dining table sits in a corner of the one warm downstairs room of the house, near the massive fireplace.
Scarlett rolled around on the rug, pretending to be a bunny that had been whacked hard in the head, sticking out her tongue and saying, “Bleah . . . and now I’m dead.” Soon Indy was joining in, pantomiming getting whacked in the head and sprawling on the floor dead, all concerns over killing abandoned.