Samantha David is a freelance journalist and writes for various publications including BBC Online, the Sunday Times, the FT, Living France, everything France, and France Magazine

Samantha David, writer

Le Dernier Mot - articles by Samantha David


DERNIER MOT - Brain Food 


      In the autumn, having spent the summer break collecting germs from all over France the kids get together in a warm stuffy classroom, mix their germs up and share them round.  The Junior Members come home from school with an endless succession of colds and stomach bugs, as they probably would anywhere in the world.

      But then they often do it again in the spring, which is more mysterious and this spring it's particularly violent.  The JMs seem to have been peely-wally since Christmas.    Marie-France blames it on the changing weather.  "One day fine, one day wet, that's what does it.  They should have only tisanes!" 

      Naturally this announcement produced panic in the ranks.  The JMs hate herbal tea and the SP refuses to admit the stuff is even potable. 

      "Weeds in hot water are not tea!  Out, I say!  Put those dried weeds on the compost where they belong!  Pass the fudge cake."

      If she gets a cold or even a "crise de nerfs" (a nerve attack, whatever that is)... Bernadette immediately huddles down on the sofa sipping an infusion of blackberry leaves and dill sprigs.  And unless she's better within a day, she won't even think of eating anything solid.  Meat is the first to go, being replaced by a thin broth made of vegetables boiled in plain water and blended.  If things are even more serious, she might just manage a teaspoonful of clear bouillon and of course there's the ever present threat of apple purée which Bernadette uses as a cure for everything, regarding it as the only thing an invalid can digest. 

      Personally, I think this overlooks the restorative properties of chocolate liqueurs.  I've also always been a believer in the Big Six: there's nothing more stomach-settling than egg, bacon, sausage, beans, mushrooms and fried bread.  And when lying prone and agony-wracked on the sofa with a severe chill, a little garlic paté on toast is after all, a comfort.  Sardines on toast also have remedial qualities.  With extra butter.  Just push those raspberry ruffles a little closer.

      I confess, in this house we have a dish for every twinge.  Steamed chicken breast and rice for a delicate stomach, live yoghurt for a headache and beef curry to scare off a really bad cold bug.  I wouldn't like to swear that any of them work, but they make being ill more worthwhile.  After all, it's nice to know that if your nose is dripping, the SP will present you with a large plate of goulash.  Little bit more sour cream.  Well, I might just manage another glass of that rather decent red.

      But according to Marie-France, it is traditional in  Moisson to starve ailments into submission rather than using them as an excuse to stuff yourself with boiled chicken, hot chocolate, honey and lemon with a clove in the bottom, poached eggs on toast and perhaps just a teeny weeny helping of left-over trifle.

      So I haven't mentioned to Marie-France that not only do I cure colds with food, but the JMs will be passing exams on it too.  This month they are sitting various mocks and the pressure is mounting.  One of them has finally ploughed all the way through Madame Bovary and they've even been spotted doing homework.

      "It's serious, Mum.  I have to study!  If ol' Cheekbones gets more marks then me, I'll die!"

      These academic ambitions notwithstanding, I'm confident about their results because I have a secret weapon.  There's no pre-exam brain-food like porridge, boiled eggs, toast soldiers and a large mug of Horlicks.

      Just don't tell Bernadette. 



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