After a Saturday spent at the Chamonix market surrounded by French farmers and piles of strawberries and blueberries and peaches, I was dreaming of baking a pie in France.
There were a few things I splurged on completely while in Chamonix. One was getting my hair done for our reading. One was buying French versions (that I cannot read) of several books I already own. And one was buying pie supplies. I needed everything—fruit, premade pie crust, flour, vanilla, sugar—everything. Vanilla is expensive, y’all. I spent way too many euros (or “space dollars,” as we called them) on these little pies, but they were delicious.
I spent an entire afternoon in my kitchen, the door to the apartment flung open so the cool mountain air could get in and I could hear the tiny bit of shuffle that was normal for an afternoon in Chamonix. Mid-afternoon and all the stores would just now be opening back up after lunch. Mid-afternoon, and I was staring at my European stove, trying to make sense of Celsius.
I peeled the peaches by putting them in boiling water, then an ice bath, which made the peels slip off perfectly. I chopped and measured and mixed. I only had a muffin pan in the apartment, so I decided these would be mini-pies. I cut the dough carefully and made one lattice crust, but that took way, way too long. The rest were regular crusts.
I baked them for forever in the oven that I didn’t know how to work properly. I don’t truly know if they did finish cooking all the way—they were always only barely golden brown—but they were delicious and warm. And the peaches were perfect. Some of the best peaches I’ve ever had.
I ate one right out of the oven (to make sure they were good, of course) and took the rest to dinner later that night. I cooked lemon chicken pasta (my mom’s recipe) with good olive oil (a la Ina), fresh parsley and lemons, and fat cloves of garlic. My new poet-friends made a salad and vinaigrette for dressing, and my teacher Erin helped me chop parsley and mince garlic. Her son Jude juiced the lemons and stared longingly at the pies (okay, we all did that). We talked and cooked, opened drawers and the fridge over and over. Having four of my favorite people together in a kitchen made me happier than I had been in a while. We ate too much and drank too much white wine. We warmed up the pies after dinner, and they were a hit.
I didn’t expect to “cook” more than easy lunches at the apartment in France, but maybe it was the amount of incredible ingredients around me or the people who would join me at the table that brought me to the kitchen several times while there.
What I know is that once I made something from scratch, I felt like I lived there. As I’ve found, you’re not really home until you have dishes in the sink from using a skillet and wooden spoon to cook dinner. That’s why I’ve taken to baking something or even just helping to make dinner almost immediately when I get back to my parents’ house on breaks from Nashville.
Cooking, in that way, can make anywhere a home—even places that aren’t yet home. Cooking grounds us, settles us in, and invites us to attach ourselves to a place, even if we’re there only for a few weeks. Chamonix was so far from everywhere I knew, but once I pulled those pies from the oven, I had somehow made it home.