When I left home the winter of my junior year in college to study abroad, I don't think I could've been more ready. I had a yearning bordering on obsession to go beyond what I knew. And go I did. I lived with a French family in their attic apartment for six months. I went to classes with French students. I traveled around France and Germany and the Netherlands. I went to the boulangerie for bread; to the fromager for cheese; to the traiteur for my favorite grated carrot salad and leek tart.
But when I think back on that time, the memory that stands out is how lonely I was. At the risk of sounding ungrateful for the amazing experience I had, I can't deny that I had a severe case of le mal du pays--"homeland sickness," or homesickness. After waiting so long for the experience that was meant to be the high point of my college career, it was heartbreaking to be so blue.
Not that I didn't enjoy France. I still have daydreams about the incredible smell of the cheese vendor at the outdoor market, and I absolutely loved taking the high-speed train and walking down the narrow cobblestone streets. I loved how you could turn a random corner and without warning a magnificent cathedral would tower above you. I loved how there were chocolate scratch and sniff postage stamps (true story). I loved how you could go into a cafe and order a kir royale in the middle of the day and no one would bat an eye, and how old men would sit at the bar in the early morning sipping cognac. I loved how French dairy farmers went on strike and dumped thousands of gallons of milk on the steps of the capitol building in the town where I lived (now that's style).
But what I learned about myself in France was that I'm an American. I have American ideas and American sensibilities. Of course. And when I was abroad, I realized that I missed the country I had wanted to leave for so long. And really, for all our problems as a nation, there's a lot to love here. It just took looking from afar to realize it.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Combine in a cast iron skillet or 9-inch pie pan:
6 cups mixed berries (I used quartered strawberries, boysenberries, and red and yellow raspberries)
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (taste the fruit for sweetness and add sugar accordingly)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Zest of one lemon
Combine in a medium bowl:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 cup AP flour and 3/4 cup spelt)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Add and rub into the flour mixture with your fingers until the mixture is crumbly:
6 tablespoons butter
Add and stir just to combine:
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
Drop the dough by large spoonfuls over the fruit. Bake until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly, about 40 to 50 minutes.