Monday, July 23, 2012

Laughter is the best medicine and it pairs well with Frog Legs

My last night in Belgium I was invited by Beverly Jo Scott and her husband Willie to a dinner party at some friends', Filip and Dominique, house. I love everything about Belgium, but one of my favorite parts is the fact I get to practice my elementary, out of practice French. I'm sure I bastardize their language pretty heinously every time I use it but they are always kind enough to let me try and help me rearrange my sentences when they need rearranging.

When we got to the party I met many wonderful people (another of Belgium's strengths). The owner of the house, Filip, was by the grill (aparently gravitating around a grill is a universal man thing. It knows no language barrier.) Being as I am a man, I too gravitated towards the grill and began chatting with Filip.

In addition to having wonderful people (who allow me to speak broken French to them) , Belgium also has incredible incredible cuisine. I ate marvelous food for breakfast lunch and dinner (and usually 3 other meals I didn't take the time to name which were interspersed throughtout the day). The Belgian folks make ordinary food spectacular and spectacular food even more so. To reach this result they have cultivated and crafted the "ordinary" foodstuffs (ham, bread, cheese, etc) but they also explore a little more than we do in the States and appreciate other flavors (i.e. escargot, boudin,...). Their level of culinary excellence has lured me into areas I would normally be afraid to go. And I have been pleasantly surprised when I tried these "less traditional"foods ("less traditional" relative to my tongue that is).

It is with this in mind that I stepped toward Filip and the grill. As I have stated I would have headed toward the grill anyway because that is what you inherently do as a man (if Filip had of been tinkering with something underneath the hood of a car I would have been equally compelled to walk over and see what was happening). But being as we were in the land of adventurous chefs,  I was extra excited to see WHAT was getting grilled.

I introduced myself to Filip and looked over into the grill. What did I see? Frog Legs!!!!!!

Filip (who speaks impeccable English as well as French and Flemmish) asked if I had ever eaten frog legs.

I said:

J'ai mangé des cuisses de grenouilles souvent. Je suis de Mobile, Alabama. Permettez-moi de vous dire .... si nous mangeons tous les cuisses de grenouilles que vous avez préparé je vais aller là-bas et attraper des grenouilles un peu plus.

(I have eaten frog legs often. I'm from Mobile, Alabama. Let me tell you....if we run out of frog legs that you've prepared, I'll go over there (pointing at a riverbed) and catch some more frogs.)

He laughed with me (and probably AT my French) and I knew Filip and I would be friends before the night was over.

There was already fruit, cheese and chips out on the table for munching, but the frog legs (which of course were delectable) were what I would call the first appetizer. Let me tell you....that was only the beginning. We ate and ate and ate. I'm not sure I can remember all the courses, but there was 3-4 different types of sausage, a couple types of salad, a traditional Belgian drink (similar to V-8 in that it is a cool tomato based vegetable drink), and more cheese, and more sausages, and I think 5-6 other courses served in a 5 hour culinary barrage the likes of which I have rarely seen (only times I've ever seen it were the other times I've been in Europe. These people eat for sport. And perfectly so). Also worth noting that some sort of alcoholic beverage accompanied each section of the meal. So after 5 hours everyone is completely sated. We all had a euphoric buzz from the belly full of delicious food and the gentle all night drinking.

For the entire party everyone was having a great fellowship. Filip and Domonique have an extremely nice but comfortable home and we all enjoyed being there.

Well by this time I was sitting next to Beverly Jo. I could see by the look on her face that we were both in a state of happiness, but we were also in the same state of sleepiness. The amazing food and drinks had had time to begin working into the bloodstream. Additionally adding to our sleepiness was the fact that we had been there since about 6:30 and it was midnight. Wow!

Like a symphony of cuisine and libation the Belgian meal is prepared with great attention to detail per course but also prepared with the overall pace and outcome in mind. This dinner party was a piece of work. Filip and Domonique were as much maestros as chefs.

We had begun with the frog leg sonata, lifted melifluously to the adagio wine/sausage course, etc........well at this point we were obviously nearing the grand finale. We had a full evening of experiences and we could sense the maestros were building to the final crescendo.

And of course they did not disappoint. Filip annouces that Domonique had prepared her famous Tarte au Sucre (Sugar Pie).

It's amazing that although if I had been asked at this point I would have said that there was no way I had room for dessert, upon reflection, I realized there was room for one slice of Tarte au Sucre.

This pie was phenomenal. It had a thin kind of flaky crust with a flavor something like pecan pie without the pecans , mixed with creme brûlée. However even that doesn't perfectly describe it. Just trust me, it was unique and tasty.

Beverly Jo and I both had a piece and looked at each other. Yep. That was it. Perfect ending to this symphony of a meal.

We were full, happy and sleepy. It was a wrap.

We took maybe 5-10 minutes to psychologically gather ourselves.

Just as we go to reach for our coats, Filip brings out some cheese...WAIT! What?

Now I didn't mean to break any NATO resolutions or cause any friction in the UN between the USA and Beligum, but I had to speak up.

I said, "MAN! Ya'll must be kidding. Ya'll breaking all the rules." (notice that 5 hours of eating and drink had turned my elementary French back into perfect redneck)

They looked at me confused (not because they didn't speak English. They were actually all very fluent. They knew what I had said just not exactly what I meant), so I explained myself.

I said, "Since man has begun to cook.....whether he is in an igloo or a hut, whether he lives in Russia or thing is certain........

After a 5 hour meal........when the Sugar Pie (or its equivalent) is brought out..... THE MEAL IS OVER! Sugar Pie is the culinary exclamation point. There is nothing else. Sugar Pie is the universal sign of "Thank you for coming, you now have about 15 minutes to head out". Sugar Pie is a food version of "You ain't gotta go home, but you can't stay here". I said, "The only way you can bring out more cheese is if it is the appetizer for tomorrow's meal and ya'll are about to fire that grill back up". If that's the case let me know so I can go hunt up some more frogs."

Everyone was laughing. Everyone was laughing hard (including me). I tried to continue but couldn't due to laughter.

I looked at BJ and she was laughing so hard she was turning purple. The more I thought about my Sugar Pie revelation and saw BJ laughing the harder I laughed. We spiralled into a side splitting laughter that had tears streaming down our faces. We were gasping for air. We cackled our way through the remainer of the evening and continued to laugh all the way to the car and still more as Willie drove us back to BJ and Willie's house. The laughter was so intense that both BJ and I were in pain. It took about an hour to wind down to a level we could even consider going to bed. I'm not sure about BJ but I was still chuckling when I went to sleep.

It had been a long long time (if ever) that I had laughed that hard.

That dinner party was remarkable and it will be one that I remember for a lifetime. But the laughter that randomly sprung from it is possibly even more remarkable. It is remarkable because that laughter made me feel better for days following that.

I have read that laughing triggers the release of adrenaline and dopamine (the body's version of morphine) and I believe it. I felt a "runner's high" type sensation. 

This natural boost couldn't have come at a better time for me. I had days and days of tribulations with the airlines and their inability to get me or my luggage back to Alabama without issue. Most people would have snapped at some point during the repeated let downs and struggles I faced during the trip home. I may have too, but I was simply too happy. 

In the most dire times of flight cancellations and luggage rerouting, I still had some of that laughter in my veins. That laughter greatly helped keep me smiling through it all.

And that is the story of how Belgian frog legs, Beverly Jo, and Sugar Pie kept me through my horrible trip home and kept a United Airlines employee unstrangled.

1 comment:

  1. Great Story! Food for your body and food for your soul! BTW the pics are fabulous!!
    Theresa Ford Wiggins