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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

French Travel Adventures: A Proustian Repast, Just Past the Cimetiere In Montparnasse


A few years ago, I studied Proust for 18 months with a wonderful group of friends who met in the Piedmont Biofuels Kitchen and was led by author and poet Judy Hogan. I longed to continue the ambiance of the novels after class, in Paris. Alas, even after our adieu's and speaking to my four-runner in French - my car took me back to Carrboro instead. 

My notes from reading recount the many culinary passages in his work. Proust is likely best known for his madeleine and lime-blossom tea scene, but there are others. Here is a wonderful passage from Swann’s Way.

Won't you join our C'est si Bon!'s trip to Paris and Gascony this fall?    

“And meanwhile, Francoise would be turning on the spit one of those chickens only she knew how to roast, which carried the fragrance of her merits through the far reaches of Combray and which, while she was serving them to us at the table, would cause the quality of gentleness to predominate in my particular conception of her character, the aroma of that flesh which she knew how to render so unctuous and so tender being for me only the specific perfume of one of her virtues.”

from Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust.



At Fauchon in Paris. Do you see what "eye" see?


And so it was that last night after I left our class I was joyous and satisfied, but for one thing. Overhead the blue black sky was just like the one over Paris, France, right? It seemed reasonable, then. 

C'est normal then, that the Paris of the Piedmont full moon could transport us, Midnight in Paris style, to the moon over Montparnasse. 

As we walk arm in arm – the Montparnasse blue black mist – becomes the scent of onions. Sweet globes, purple and swollen. They are simple eschallottes. Round. Rolling in the heat with rosemary, sautéing in butter, and splashed awake with a sincere Sancerre. This deep aroma traveled and meandered through my bones, looking for the root, the home of this memory. Had it begun as I walked up the hill from B dorm to Roth Hall during my two years at the Culinary Institute of America; when I was 25?  

Mon Dieu! C'est magique to be back, was Jacques de Chanteloupe still in Charcuterie, waiting while the aspic reached the right temperature? 

But. Non

Up ahead my little Proust Class had gotten deliciously lost on Boulevard Edgar Quinet, passing the creaky iron doors of le grand Cimetiere. They waved and I hurried. It was getting chilly and drizzly. They stopped at La Coupole. Just as I reached them, we looked in and shook our heads. Too much air, too much sky, and way way too many pillars; 33 to be exact. And that damn Art Deco. Not tonight. 

We continued on towards Chez Clement. Very blue decor, again. Top chien. And trop chere. Very expensive. 

La Cerisaie? Peutetre? Their cochon noir de Bigorre was legendary. 
But not tonight. 

We circled again, past Le Select, which was where plenty of the Lost Generation had found themselves. But now (it was still now, wasn't it? I was afraid to ask..) it was more of a tourist trap then anything. 

Ah! Here we are.. C'est parfait. Perfect. Shouting and singing. Swilling and swaying. 




Parnasse 138


As I squeezed in the booth, a carafe of vin rouge was winging its way to the table. We squinted to see the chalk board that le garcon stood on a chair. This was where the language of Proust had been born.

Escargot
Pate De Compagne
Rillettes De Porc
Huitre

And then, Poulet Francoise.  

Well, there it was. I was home. At least for the night. It was quite late, but no one cares in Paris – this is Paris. And it always would be.

Poulet Francoise
I love making this bistro dish with sliced local mushrooms. Sigh. Yes, I know. Its not made on the spit ala Francoise. Not tonight. Find your fork – and Francoise if you need to, and enjoy.

4-5 large chicken thighs, cut in 1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 quart chicken stock, or more
1/2 cup rough cut fennel
1/2 cup each roughly diced carrots and turnips
1/2 cup roughly diced onions
1 sprig thyme
1 stem fresh sage leaves
2 small bay leaves
3 1/2 ounces red or white wine

there is more than one way to do this, but let’s use this as our basic efficient method. first, mise it, which means get your mise en place in order.

chop your veg first, then your chicken and gather all remaining ingredients.

then and only then, place the butter in a large, wide pan (2 qt.) over medium heat. when the butter is melted, hot, add the chicken, a handful at a time.

brown the thighs on all sides (this li’ kitchen two step is called searing, and gives deep color and flavor to the finished dish) and you will need to work in batches till the chicken is browned.
remove the seared chicken to a bowl or platter till the rest is finished.

once the chicken is completed add in the vegetables and sauté till slightly brown, but not terribly.

add the flour to make a roux with the sautéed veggies, stirring well and frequently over low heat until an even light brown color is obtained. the roux (and the vegetables bien sur!) should have an even light brown color and give off the scent of roasted nuts.

deglaze the pan with a bit of wine. stirring up any browned bits. add the chicken, thyme, sage, and stock, continuing to stir well as the sauce thickens.

bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow it to gently simmer for about an hour.

serve with a wonderful pain Poilane, and our next adventure.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rhubarb Never Apologizes to Squash for Being Tart, Ça va?

I'm sure I'm not alone.

This April, there's a melodious and harmonious aroma in the air. I've always wanted to tell you how often I struggle between two worlds; one of being an out there and running C'est si Bon! kind of gal/chef/teacher/person and the other of being an introvert who loves quiet for days on end; watching the birds at the feeder, writing, thinking and perusing a story; how it ebbs and flows.

Understanding the journey.



I thought it takes two different people do both, and do them well. I thought about a lot of questions over the years. I thought and often felt like a fish out of water in both fields. Why didn't I ever write a cookbook, some would ask, almost indignant as if I was resisting for some reason to join their crowd. Simply, I wanted to give more than a recipe. I had not yet crafted out the story. I ask my students to listen to their intuition in the kitchen. Shouldn't I do the same?

And in the writing field; why hadn't I published this novel, or that? A book of short stories, poems; punny one liners, something? The expectations I had for myself were quite enough pressure believe me.

So, it nagged at me. Had I given either passion the proper attention, enough attention? And what would it look like if I had? Would I know? Wouldn't there always be more to do, and be? It bothered me not because I hadn't done what was expected of me - for I had made this choice. To be outside the norm. To choose to be off the beaten path. Maybe sitting in that tree where the paths divide. C'est si Bon! is not a drive by location. There's not a lot of walk-in traffic.

But upon further inspection, we are all outside the norm. And there we are all joined.

Hell, I am not perfect. First and foremost. :) But I am grateful for friends who have stuck by me, even if they might not have understood why I was silent for days. I hope I am as tolerant of them, and their struggles.

But this April, even after having a garden for years, I have found some renewed peace, nourishment, and common ground in the garden; among the shitakes, blooming lemon trees, coaxing seedlings of white pumpkin and the round zucchini from Provence still waiting and begging to grow, planting potatoes, rhubarb, and seeing last year's asparagus return.

In the garden there's plenty of room to grow and be who you are. Rhubarb never apologizes to squash for being tart, right?

I wish that strength for all of you, wherever you are in your journey!

Happy Easter, renewal and rebirth.
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