After a week in Paris, we headed south for a week unlike any we’d ever experienced (or likely will again). To celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, my parents gathered our family on a barge that toured rivers and canals in the south of France. We were the only passengers, cared for by a crew of five including –most importantly, for this blog’s purposes–a chef named Charlie.

Charlie had his work cut out for him. Among the 13 of us are five vegetarians (two of whom sometimes, depending on the circumstances, eat fish), one vegan, two on low-salt diets, one who tries to avoid chocolate (quel dommage!). We had been in touch about our dietary preferences ahead of time, but in Charlie’s broken English and my faltering French, we spent an hour the first afternoon going over the details, a conversation that resulted in this list:

Later it was simplified to this:

Only Ben and Eli never learned how to eat Charlie’s cooking, and he never quite learned how plain they really wanted their food. By the end of the week, when even unsauced pasta didn’t appeal, I realized it wasn’t his food that they were objecting to; they just wanted home cooking. Failing that, we rationed our one precious jar of peanut butter, spreading it ever-more-thinly on each day’s crusty baguette. The rest of us learned to eat like royalty, trying unfamiliar flavors and combinations, indulging in rich sauces and a week’s supply of wine and cheese served at every meal; the boys stuck with the most prosaic meal of all: pb&j.