With the cabbage and threesome of potatoes, naturally, was meat. Stay tuned for my theory that Dr. Atkins is Alsatian...To open our appetites for this meal, Ben and I hiked up to Les Trois Chateaux, the ruins of three castles in various stages of preservation up in Les Vosges, just above Herrlisheim, his mother's village. Due to the recent snow melt, our ascent was quite squishy in places, as well as leaf-covered and mossy, and near the top, it began to get rocky, literally man-made rocky. Apparently, some villagers who foraged the castles for rocks to build their homes after the castles had been attacked or abandoned, bit off a bit more than they could chew, and left a few behind on the mountain. At the top, from the first castle, the view to our left was of The Black Forest and Germany. Eyeing the dilapidated state of Castle #1, Ben posed a challenge to New York City's finest real estate agent, and did s/he who accepted the favor of deciding on its selling point: its old, dungeon prison. Punishing room or playroom, fun for the whole family, the ad would declare! Ben finally managed a photo of me next to what looked like a really big chimney, I crawled into an opening in the back of Castle #2 and swore that I was not alone, and Ben decided we needed to be adventurous, so we found some wooden planks on which to play gymnast. Then, it got really windy, so we took an alternate route down to our little gray Peugeot.
With some time to spare before the arrival of Ben's brother, Herve, we decided to engage in that great Alsatian pastime, wind through the mountainside vineyards really fast, and visit where it all began, for Ben that is: his childhood home, the church of his baptism and First Communion, and the primary school where he skipped a grade, smart one. The house itself, now painted salmon, was, first of all huge---apparently, they used to rent the third story---with plenty of land behind it for a garden, a doghouse...even though they never had a dog, and lots of just general kid running space. The school looked like a school, white now, not the orange and brown of Ben's school days, with a large gymnasium, where Ben played basketball, admittedly not very well.
We returned to the sounds of Gislane and Julie, Jean-Paul's son and his girlfriend. Missing only Herve, who was stuck on the road, we popped the hors d'oeuvres and the Cremant d'Alsace---a bubbly wine that I find better tasting than some real Champagnes. Then, Herve descended, "A table" was declared and the feasting could really begin. First, came foie gras with pane grille and a tiny orange nestled in its leaves. Then, came dish that took all day, the meat with the red cabbage and three kinds of potatoes. Next, was the cheese, six different kinds, including my new favorite, a cow's milk from Corsica.
Finally, came the piece de resistance, a production that truly showed how Ben's family can pull together: Jean-Paul placed the fountain in the middle of the table, Ben found the nearest available outlet, Ben's Mother, Nicole, stirred the chocolate, the fruits were assembled, and Herve and Ben, the engineers of the family, ascertained how hot the device needed to be to spin enough to make the chocolate flow evenly. Somehow, nobody ever figured that out. But, it was fun to watch them try! In the end, we couldn't stop laughing---it was such a cool little thing and Nicole's heart was so into creating the perfect chocolate fondue fountain! More importantly, we all learned a very important life's lesson: no matter how clementines come to be smothered in the finest dark chocolate, rained on or poured on or dipped into a struggling chocolate fountain's pool, clementines and chocolate is one of THE yuuuummiest combinations!