This week we’re in Boston, visiting my family. Last week we spent in the Midwest visiting his. The kids love family visits–cousins are a particular attraction, but so is the general mood of relaxation with lots of people who love you. Good for the grown ups too. And lots of good eating (special props to my bro-in-law Mark).

I’ve found that the new later motherhood has all sorts of ripple effects in the wider culture, many of them very positive. At a party on New Year’s day one new later mom (a lawyer and Francophile) mentioned that while waiting made sense for her, she had noticed one international drawback. In France, as women work more and start families later, the French culture of great cooking is degenerating! While the bar is still way higher than in the US, it’s not the case any more that every French housewife you run into is a fantasmic cook. That’s because they’re not really housewives so much. They one-stop-shop at supermarkets like the rest of us, instead of spending the day at a series of speciality stores (butcher, baker, patisserie, etc.), they don’t have hours to spend making the food and then sitting around the table savoring it, and they sometimes buy frozen dinners!

As the daughter of a Frenchwoman who lived and worked in the US, and who spent many an evening poring through cookbooks to plan the next week’s meals–she made great standards but also liked to innovate regularly–I know things have changed. Where my grandmama milled vegetables for the daily soup, my mother’s culinary efforts were much less time intensive, because they had to be. And mine are even more so. Frequently the meals I make involve three solo foods arranged on a plate — some meat (baked or grilled), a starch, and a veg. No recipes involved, no sauces. I consider it a time luxury to sauté onions, and I miss that luxury and some of the things that go with it. But I deeply value what I’ve gained in the work world as well. Luckily it needn’t be exclusively one way or the other.

My kids like the taste of pancakes on Sundays, but I think they also like the taste of the time it takes to make them, the group involvement (the 3 year old loves cracking the eggs, the 10 year old still likes making animal shapes), and the fact that we have to all sit down together to eat them while they’re hot off the stove. Though I don’t have time to make multi-course dinners, I do make those pancakes. Not every Sunday, but frequently. And then there’s the occasional soufflé — my elder daughter’s favorite meal. We do what we can! I imagine the French moms (and sometimes the dads) do too. Vive la (nouvelle) différence!


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