I scoured the shelves on the door of the refrigerator. Dijon mustard! Score! I smiled as I squirted it into an empty salad bowl. I hate mustard. But I always have some in my fridge to make this very dressing – one that I loved from the moment I tasted it sitting in my host mother’s kitchen in Domdidier, Switzerland.
I had not seen Mrs. Rimaz make the salad dressing that afternoon, so had no way of knowing one of my most detested foods was a major ingredient. I was a notoriously picky eater, but something changed that summer in Switzerland. I was in a land where people ate a lot of things I didn’t like, but my mother taught me to be respectful, so I ate what was placed in front of me – even if I didn’t know what it was.
My first night there, having used most of the French I knew in a conversation with Pascal, my first host-brother, I was delighted when dinner was called. We filed out to the patio – which was completely bug-less on this June night. I looked at the plates in the center of the table and panicked. One held chunks of what looked like various cuts of raw bacon. The other held at least four different kinds of cheeses. I was sixteen. And I hated cheese. Well, not all cheese. Parmesan and mozzarella were fine on spaghetti and pizza respectively, but other than that this girl of half-Italian descent didn’t eat cheese. No lasagna. No manicotti. No macaroni and cheese. And raw meat? The only raw meat I’d ever eaten was swiped from the bowl when Mom made meatcakes – ground beef mixed with onion, pepper, Worcestershire, a slice of wet bread and raw egg. That was delicious. But raw bacon? Was it even bacon? I really didn’t know.
What I did know was that I was in a foreign country, a guest at someone’s table, and I was hungry. So I took a deep breath and did as the rest of my host family did. I placed pieces of the raw meat and cheeses on my plate – and ate them.
The meat wasn’t so bad. And the cheese? It was some of the best food I’d ever eaten. I reached for seconds. What was this stuff? Did we have cheese like this in the US? If we did, I’d never had it. Probably because I had no idea it could be this good. My mother would be so proud of me, I thought.
A week later I left that temporary host family and moved to the little town of Domdidier. To a farm. With 10,000 chickens. And two host parents, a host brother and sister, none of whom spoke English. But back to the food.
Our big meal was at lunch time. My host father came home from his job as one of the two men in charge of this province of Switzerland. My host brother came in from the fields, dressed and smelling like a farmer. My host mother had the table set and the meal ready to go. I sat quietly as they spoke in rapid-fire French, only understanding them if they spoke directly to me and five times slower than they spoke to each other.
It was at that table that I first tried Dijon mustard dressing. Of course, I didn’t know it was made with one of the foods I most hated. I hadn’t seen my host mother prepare it that day. All I knew was that this was one of the best salads I’d ever had.
The next day this budding chef got to the kitchen early enough to see how my host mother made her dressing. I brought my journal down with me, and flipped open the back cover to mark down the ingredients. There was no packet of Good Seasons Italian dressing mix. Instead, she squirted Dijon mustard into a salad bowl, then whisked in some red wine vinegar, then a little oil. Mustard? I thought. But I hate mustard!
Today finds me in a mountaintop home pet-sitting five animals – two of whom require twice daily insulin shots, one of whom also requires thrice daily eye drops. “Eat whatever you’d like,” my friends told me before they left. “There are two vines of grape tomatoes, and plenty of green beans in the garden.”
This afternoon I harvested just enough of both, delighted when I came in and found Dijon in their fridge. I whisked it together in a salad bowl with some red wine vinegar and a little olive oil, sprinkled in some fresh ground salt and pepper. I chopped up the beans, halved the grape tomatoes, and dumped them into the bowl. I still hate mustard. But Mrs. Rimaz’s dijon dressing? Absolutely delicious.
Five months ago I became a vegetarian, so raw meat is not something I’m into. But cheese? Love it. Goat cheese. Camembert. Gruyere. Manchego. And my Italian ancestors are smiling down on me: I now eat (vegetarian) lasagna and manicotti:)