Jan 9, 2015

Dying (Eventually): Foissac St. Hilaire


I receive an e-mail to sign up for Mealtrain for my friend, Sarah, undergoing chemo in San Francisco. It's a website that lets you schedule a day when you can bring a meal. This is, it turns out, an extremely American way to help out a friend, and I'm not talking about the internet part of it. I learn that bringing a meal to a friend or neighbor with a newborn baby, or during an illness, or after a death is simply not a French thing, no matter how French the food.

It's true that when I was going into the hospital for my mastectomy, the three friends who offered to help out with meals ("Can we have Anthony and the girls over? Can we bring something to your house?") were all American expats. It's not to say that the French friends don't care. My French friends offer to help take care of the children while I'm in hospital. And my French friend Alexia was the one who came with me to my first oncology appointment, in case I needed an extra set of ears, somebody to take notes, or any help with translation. She would happily have taken care of our two girls along with her own three kids if it had been necessary, or helpful. But, she says, it never would've occurred to her to offer to bring me and my family meals. She suspects is has something to do with the French being more formal about having people over to their homes, and less likely to do so casually. Moreover, you would never invite yourself to somebody else's home, even, apparently, to do them the favor of bringing food.

The best part of the story, however, is that the woman who sent out the Mealtrain sign-up request on behalf of Sarah made a couple errors. Instead of sending it to the 300 people on the close friends and family list who were already in the loop, she accidentally sent it to all 1200 people in Sarah's contact list. Needless to say, the three month sign-up window was filled within minutes: I was lucky to nab March 3 (and ours will have to be take-out food delivered, because San Francisco's a bit far to bring a roast fish dinner).

Without knowing how many people received the message, I call Sarah because, to compound matters, the editor in me immediately notices that the way the Mealtrain message is written could be misconstrued: "With less than 6 months to go now," Sarah wants to spend more time with family and less time preparing food. I know the writer meant "with less than 6 months of chemo to go...," but I'm pretty sure some people will interpret it to mean that Sarah only has 6 months left to live, and I figure I should warn her.

Now she knows why a contractor she used 10 years ago and friends she hasn't heard from in 30 years are calling her all worried. Sarah and I realize this is morbid and probably cruel, but the absurdity of the entire situation (to top it off: while we are on the phone, her daughter is heading from school to hospital with a broken arm) brings it from the ridiculous to the sublime. When we piece it all together, we are absolutely dying -- of laughter, that is. And yes, we are both actually dying -- but since her breast cancer is responding incredibly well to treatment, and my breast cancer is, in theory, gone, we're probably not dying for another 50 years or so.

Sarah will really have it made if she can keep the Mealtrain going till she really does die (eventually, around the year 2065?), and with 1200 contacts on her mostly-American list, it's a distinct possibility.

THE CHEESE: Foissac St. Hilaire

The raw sheep's milk cheese Foissac Saint Hilaire is named after Saint-Hilaire-Foissac, the town in Corrèze, in the region of Limousin, in which it is made. It's a farmhouse cheese, made into a square that is covered with geotricum (wrinkly toad skin) and white bloom molds.

The inside is buttery, oozy, creamy, and salty, in the best sort of runny Brie tradition. It's the kind of cheese that, once warmed to room temperature, gets stuck messily all over the plate, but then when you go to clear the plate, you don't want to waste any of it, so you end up scraping off the blobs.


Why this cheese? Not just because Sarah would be lucky to have some of the salty, buttery, creamy delight delivered to her house for dinner, but because, like the mix-up of mistakenly notifying the 1200 people you've ever known the erroneous message that you're dying in 6 months, this cheese is F* Saint Hilaire-ious!



  1. The American way is also the Australian way in my experience. I have 2 friends one a close friend and another a mum fromschool who both lost their husbands suddenly to heart attacks and the emails went out for meals. Our close friend said she would be happy if she never saw another lasagne as this was on frequent rotation. The mum from school said she was overrun with food because having 2 boys, 12 & 7 people would give her an enormous tray of food! She ended up writing to all on the roster and deleting 2 nights of the week. Whilst very grateful she needed to reduce food coming in. We also delivered food to a particular person who would drop food around rather than having to deal with a revolving door of faces bringing food & reminding the boys they lost their dad.
    On a serious note, we have heard the news about the second siege and pray that you and your family are safe. Stay safe. Best wishes always Den xxx

    1. Funny: on the Mealtrain site they offer up the tidbit that the most commonly donated meal is ....lasagna. It doesn't surprise me the Aussies have this tradition, too. I think of them (you) as a pretty gregarious, outgoing, friendly, stop-by-your-friend's-house-uninvited kind of bunch. Perhaps it would've been fairer to call it an Anglophone tradition, but I can't really speak for all the Anglophone countries from experience. I'm so sorry for your friends; how sad and difficult for all, especially children that age. Well, any age, really.

      As for the news, the siege, the hostages, the terrorist attacks, and the rest, my family and friends are all safe and sound. But so disgusted and disheartened. Paris seems to be returning to normal, but slowly. Not quite there yet. Thanks for thinking of us.


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