Clean Your Plate

The phone is ringing off the hook with requests for room and dinner reservations. Danie must re-explain that this is not a restaurant, and guests do not get to choose their dinner. They will eat whatever Danie wants to make. If their kids don't like rabbit in mushroom sauce, or roasted goose drizzled with mustard glaze, there is a lovely restaurant in town they might enjoy.

I am notorious for leaving little bits of food on my plate, even if I enjoyed the meal. But that doesn’t fly in France, particularly chez Danie. The French eat every morsel on their plate, then sop up any leftover juices with a piece of bread. A clean white goose bone is all that remains. They also keep their bread on the table, not on the plate, so those leftover fatty pieces of pork have nowhere to hide. Even the dogs know it’s worthless to loiter under the table.

Since Danie also doesn’t like to have leftovers, she scoops extra food onto your plate if you’re not paying attention, or don’t have the willpower to say no. After a couple “Non merci”s, I give in and take one for the team: I’ll finish the green beans, but somebody else better step up to the plate for dessert. One crème brûlée is plenty. I’m beginning to wonder if they hope to make some foie gras à la Lindsay.

Tonight we’re having roast chicken stuffed with whole garlic cloves. Totally safe. With rose clippers, Danie hacks the entire chicken carcass into portion-size pieces and arranges them on a silver platter. The liver, the neck, and the stomach are all included. The only things remaining on the cutting board are two small round morsels. I nervously wait for Danie to hand me a toothpick. Then I discover the only cut of meat she won’t serve her guests: chicken testicles.

A few nights later, Danie is sautéing disks of goose meat, each shaped like a large piece of sushi, in a mix of peas and jambon. (A quick sidebar on the French lifestyle: nothing goes to waste. When in doubt, stuff it with foie gras.) Ce soir we dine on gooseneck stuffed with foie gras. I cautiously nibble around the outside before making my way into the livery center. It doesn’t help that the 15-month-old baby to my right has just wolfed down his second plate of gooseneck and peas. After a long mental pep talk, I dive in and clean my plate, too. The texture is like ground chicken with a sweet caramel flavor, and each piece is wrapped in a crispy layer of skin. Not bad.

The French eat salad at the end of their meal. It’s just a few pieces of lettuce and is more of a palate-cleanser than a tally toward your target of five veggies a day. In French, la salade translates to lettuce, not salad the way Americans are accustomed. I’ve been battling an oversized-California-salad hankering since I arrived.

You can imagine my excitement when a huge bowl of leafy greens circulates the lunch table a few days later at the start of our meal. I fill my plate with a generous helping, and then notice it’s studded with little morsels of dark, almost black, meat. Goose heart. But of course (in a French accent). The only hearts I’ve ever eaten have been wrapped in pink foil or stamped with “Be Mine.” I’m pleasantly surprised by the texture. Heart is almost entirely muscle, so it’s very lean and packed with protein. It’s been cooked in a bit of oil and herbs and tastes similar to medium-well steak. I’ll chalk this one up as a win for organ meats. For the first time, my membership in the Clean Plate Club has come easily.