George is Belgian. He was in San Francisco for high school because his father was a diplomat, stationed in SF. He and Dan had many merry adventures together, and George returned to Belgium with his family. For many of us, that would have been the end of the story. But not for Dan. My husband is an inveterate letter writer. Even now, in the age of email and the internet, he writes letters. And cards. And postcards. When we were engaged (and living 1500 miles apart) I received something in the mail from him every day—a note, a cutting, a letter, a postcard. It was wonderful—I truly felt as if he were right there with me.
I digress. A few years after George had returned to Belgium, Dan wrote to him, and they kept in touch by letter for many years. George's oldest son came to stay with us in DC for a short time. When we moved here, George and his wife Jacqueline helped us to adjust to life here. They're very good friends, and we love to spend time with them.
George and Jacqueline have a second home at the coast. Last weekend we went there with them and had a wonderful time. We bicycled (it's Flanders after all, where it's practically required that you bicycle), we visited museums, we walked on the beach, we watched the sunset. We visited the Goddess of the Wind, who definitely makes her presence felt on the North Sea!
And of course we cooked. Jacqueline is a wonderful cook, and I love cooking with her. It's from her that I learned to make vinaigrette in the bottom of the salad bowl and then build the salad on top. That way the salad will keep for a long time without wilting. When you're ready to eat, you just toss it. Voila. It's also from Jacqueline that I learned to love salade de chevre chaud, or hot goat cheese salad. And crepes. I remember one meal at her house where we ate buckwheat crepes. With jam, with butter, with sugar and lemon. It was a wonderful meal! This weekend was no exception. Jacqueline served us a specialty of the North Sea: crevettes grises. Gray shrimp doesn't sound very appetising, but these little lovelies were delicious. I love their color.
Mostly, though, we talked. About growing up in San Francisco and Atlanta and Belgium. About living in Belgium. About their kids and grandkids, and about ours. We played games, we had lively discussions about the future of Belgium, and I forced them to listen to Jacques Brel in the car. We argued, we laughed, we solved the problems of the world. It was lovely.
Conversations with them are always in two languages. Sometimes it's easier to speak in English and sometimes it's easier in French. When I remember our conversations, I can't remember which language they were in—I only remember the ideas. When we first moved here, most of our discussions were held in English. I'm very pleased that our French is now good enough that we can hold our own in that language as well.
For dessert the first evening, Jacqueline had made a lemon cake. It was delicious. I asked for the recipe, of course, and she shared it with me. I can tell you that it's a family recipe—she got it from her daughter who had taken a cooking course in England. We can say that this recipe has been passed up in her family!
This is my favorite kind of cake—not fussy, not cheffy, but with a gorgeous texture and lots of lemon flavor. It's now on my 'must make' list. It should be on yours too!
Lemon Trickle Cake
from The River Cottage Cookbook
175 g / 6 oz unsalted butter, softened
175 g / ¾ cup sugar
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
175 g 1 cup self-rising flour
a pinch of salt
a splash of milk (optional)
200 g / 1 ½ cups icing sugar
75 ml / 1/3 cup lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 170 C / 350 F.
- Grease a loaf pan and line it with baking parchment.
- Beat the butter and sugar well until very pale and fluffy. This should take at least 5 minutes—10 is even better.
- Add the grated lemon zest and beat in the eggs one at a time. Along with each egg, you can add a spoonful of the flour to keep it from curdling.
- Sift the rest of the flour and salt into the beaten egg mixture and fold it in gently with a metal spoon (this will help to keep the air that you beat into it in there). If it's too stiff, you can add the splash of milk. It should drop easily from the spoon when you tap the spoon on the bowl.
- Put the mixture into the loaf pan, smooth the top and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- In a separate bowl, stir the icing sugar and the lemon juice until smooth. When the cake comes out of the oven, and while it's still hot, make holes all over it with a skewer. Poke the skewer into the cake deeply, but don't go all the way to the bottom (or all the lemon mixture will just run to the bottom of the pan). Spoon the lemon icing slowly over the cake, letting it soak in slowly. Leave the cake in the pan till it's completely cool.