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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Write With Me: Escoffier's Butter Maker

Read Part Two of Escoffier's Butter Maker. 

Do you like Paris? Well, I don't.

I LOVE Paris!

After watching Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris again the other night - I went on a delirious hunt - a rooting for truffles in the forest - for a hard drive and a novel I had begun some years ago called, ABOYER, that takes place around the turn of the century in Paris.

Ok. So just what the hey is an Aboyer?

In culinary terms, an Aboyer is the announcer or expediter in the French kitchen brigade, and is the person who shouts out to the Chef what dishes have been ordered. And to give you a brief overview the story,  ABOYER speaks to the life of Chef Auguste Escoffier's butter maker. How she came to Paris, and prefers making butter, protecting it from melting in the sun. And selling it in the great and famous old market, Les Halles.

So, here's the opening- the first chapter as it was published in Women Behaving Badly: Feisty Flash Fiction Stories that was edited by Wanda Wade Mukherjee, a fine award-winning journalist, and Sharlene Baker. I treasure, absolutely, the beginning writing memories made with Sharlene (she was my very first fiction instructor at Duke University and we formed a rambling but dedicated group that met for years at her kitchen table) But beyond that she did much more important work like penning the rambunctious novel, Finding Signs, and co-authoring the movie made of it called, Love Always, a quirky little road adventure film that starred Moon Unit Zappa and Beverly d'Angelo

I believe Sharlene is still out there, still having adventures, and if she should read this ---- thank you, Sharlene!

A Crumbling Wedge of Panforte...

Even on a soft spring morning in Paris, my first thoughts rest with my daughter, Cocotte.
She'll be twelve in a few weeks. And I know I will see her before that. Maybe soon.
Maybe even today. It's the ides of March, the lady in the pheasant hat, the coat of foxes, tells Guilard, my regular waiter. The mists are always thickest just before seven o'clock.
I pull back on the iron chair; it scrapes against the pavement and I face Montmarte and
the graves. For the last six weeks, the same iron table at Cafe Brulot waits every morning for me. But there is plenty of room for Cocotte at my table. She would like…. will like…. the tall vase, fluted lips, the water rising halfway up the stem of the yellow rose, even the bubbles along the stem, especially the bubbles of air, and me, waiting, waiting for her.
I'm so sorry, Cocotte. So very sorry.
"The usual," I nod to Guilard, and he returns with two silver plates of glistening oysters,
setting one in front of me and the other across the table. At her place.  I squeeze the lemon over Cocotte's curling oysters, and then my own. I notice, for the first time, that the café's chairs are forged in the same manner as the iron fence surrounding the graves.
The fork's tines curve against the plate, barely touching the tips to the ice, but the cold travels up the handle, almost burning my fingers. I cradle a rough oyster shell in my palm. The cool flesh of the sea slides down my throat.
Cocotte, I didn't know. I couldn't. Listen to me.
My face warms to the young sun as it circles the white blooming apple trees, giving me hope that I too could be released from the rages of winter. The delicate new leaves are the bright bright green of youth unfurling.
Dear Cocotte. I know she will still come. Come back. I've whispered to her in my dreams. At Notre Dame the bells begin; chiming seven.
The morning people move about, crossing paths with those still occupied with the night.
And it is as if neither one is aware, both oblivious to the other's existence, ignorant of each other's importance in the plan. For the hour when the two cross, the night people ending their time, and the day persons just beginning, that hour holds the danger. Even the slight woman in the pheasant-plumed hat is here again. Cutting her croissant in bits to feed her small curly dog. She remains asleep too it seems, unaware whether she is a person of the day or of the night.
I sigh and wave my hand at Guilard. He removes the plate of empty shells and my glass, empty of Sancerre. He reaches for Cocotte's oyster plate, but I pull it away from him. When he returns, he slides a white cup topped with froth before me, and at Cocotte's place, a blue plate with a sugar-dusted croissant amande.  Butter and almonds to tempt her to come out from hiding!
I pull the folded paper from my gold beaded bag, feeling the hard triangle inside. I fold back the paper and raise it to my lips and kiss the memory of the rich scent: the bitter almonds, butter and black spices, of the tiny, the smallest imaginable, a crumbling wedge of panforte.
Oh, Cocotte. Can you forgive me? For I've listened, and listened for your voice. At every stretch. Every turn of the road.
And so I will wait here at the cafe. For us. I will watch you open your eyes again. I will watch you swallow art, tasting the colors of the city: apricots and pears. Your mouth will open, pink as rosebuds again, and breathe around the buttery tastes.
Yes, Paris! I understand why we must meet in the city of light. No other collections of hard butter blocks laid out as bridges, small birds of bitter almonds resting on branches above us in the cemetery, singing our songs, songs of the dead, honey flowing against the black spices and into light, could be more, more than what I've wanted, to bring us both back to life, than Paris. 
Come back to me. SShhhh..Listen. 

And since who can read a story about a butter maker in Paris without a little buttery recipe?  I give you one to try now. Just run to your favorite fishmonger and beg for a filet. 

Madame de Poulet

Fishmonger, Fishmonger Find Me a Find, Catch Me a Catch

sole a la meuniere (say meen-yair)
this is an "escoffier classic" preparation of sole, an haute cuisine staple as it was very expensive. but don't scoff. please. most any flat filet of fish may be utilized, such as cod or red snapper. in this wintery time of year i really like to use the orange juice and grated orange peel in place of the lemon.

serves 2-3

3/4 pound sole or other similar fish
1/2 cup plus 2 t. fresh lemon or orange juice
1/2 cup flour, seasoned with salt, black and cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided in 2 tablespoon batches
1 tsp. fresh grated orange or lemon peel

dip the fish fillets in the orange juice, then in the seasoned flour mixture.  set aside. heat a large heavy skillet over high heat, then add the 2 tablespoons butter, melting it but not browning it. add the fillets and brown them carefully, turning them after 2-3 minutes.  remove to a heated platter. add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the citrus peel.  heat over high heat till the butter foams, remove from the heat, pour over the fish. serve at once.  

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