I find myself trying ever more radical interpretations of traditional dishes, in an effort to somehow express the void I feel so acutely. Today I tried this recipe:
Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish
Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light.
While a void is expressed in this recipe, I am struck by its inapplicability to the bourgeois lifestyle. How can the eater recognize that the food denied him is a tuna casserole and not some other dish? I am becoming more and more frustrated.
It seems crazy indeed, but it is actually very easy to have trouble finding a good baguette in France. All you have to do is come in August in a non-touristic area, and you will notice that all the bakeries (and for that matter all independent stores and restaurants) have a sign saying that they are on holiday.
And holiday here really means leaving for at least 3 weeks it seems.
So in the meantime you have to walk much further away to get a baguette, but walking more than 15 minutes to get a proper baguette in France seems criminal to me. Alternatively you can starve, or be French and go on holiday yourself to a place where bakeries are open. I went through a mixture of all three solutions.
My local bakery opens again this week and I am very excited indeed. Finally my cheese will see its best friend again. Toast and biscotte are ok, but nothing beats a crispy baguette.
It seems only fair though that baguettes are not available due to nice labor laws allowing for long holidays, when you consider that according to legend labor laws made the creation of baguettes possible.
In 1920, a labor law forbade bakers to start working before 4am. Great for the bakery employees, but terrible for bread, as bakers now didn’t have time enough left to bake the classic round loaves in time for breakfast. So clever bakers started to bake baguettes, which take much less time to raise and bake.
Labor laws helped create a French cultural icon, and then took it away from me last month. Now that’s ironic.
Saint Lawrence was a Deacon of Rome in 258, a time when Christians were not really venerated in the eternal city. He made the mistake of distributing riches to the poor. This attracted the attention of the Roman emperor, who ordered him to hand over those riches to him. Lawrence, who was actively looking for martyrdom, presented some beggars, crippled, orphans etc., to the emperor, saying that these were the greatest treasures of the Church. This pissed off the emperor just a tiny bit, so he decided to kill Lawrence by grilling him above some nice hot charcoal. After being grilled for a while Saint Lawrence was nicely burned, but had one last witty remark in store: “This side is nicely burned, you can now turn me over and then eat.”
This judicious culinary remark makes him, ironically, the patron saint of cooks and broilers.
Saint Corentin of Quimper was one of the founding saints of Brittany. He used to live as a hermit, and while these days in France being a hermit makes you an antisocial freak, in those days it helped you become the first bishop of Quimper. While a hermit, he used to eat fish every day, thanks to a miraculously self-generating fish that appeared to him daily in a fountain. He used to cut off a small bit and then release the fish; it would regrow and come back the next day.
Obviously that makes him the patron saint of seafood.
Saint Fortunat and Sainte Radegonde. Fortunat was a poet and a bon vivant, who ended up becoming the chaplain of Radegonde’s monastery. She used to cook food for him, and he praised her cooking in his poems. He is known to have said, “There is no more sincere love, than the love of good food.” Now that remark is only a sin if stating the obvious is a sin.
Saint Fortunat and Sainte Radegonde are the patron saints of gastronomes, probably absolving them of their over-joyous love of good food and life.
The patron saint of cheesemongers is Saint Uguzon. He was a shepherd in Italy who used to happily give away his cheese to less fortunate people. Unfortunately his boss saw this as an annoying anti-capitalist habit and killed him. Bosses are harder to please than God sometimes.
My patron saint conclusion is that Our Lord Cheesus wants you to share, loves life and food, and has a sense of humour even in tough times!
Some cheeses are just too good to be true, and one of them is Maroilles. It’s a cow’s milk cheese, it has a washed rind, a nice gooey texture, and it smells… Oh yes, it smells…
Leave it for a couple of hours in your fridge. Wait until your wife/husband opens the fridge — and you will then realize it’s too late. Maroilles will be banned from the fridge, and you will be forced to eat it very quickly or else be banned from the house along with your stinky cheese. Saying it is not stinky but merely smelly won’t help you at that stage.
This sad story is unfortunately true, as it happened to me.
But I still got to eat my Maroilles, so the story has a happy ending.
My wife is obviously not from the north of France, where this cheese was originally created by monks more than a thousand years ago. It is said that inhabitants of the north of France eat it for breakfast, spread on bread which they can dip in their coffee. Now that is hardcore cheese eating. I would drink it with some amber beer and eat it later in the day. That is, if it were allowed to stay with me for so long.
My wife was surprised the other day to see a sauce called American sauce. Now what would that be?
It’s a sauce used for lobsters or seafood, made with tomatoes, shallots, lobster stock, white wine and herbs.
But why is it called American?
It was invented in the 19th century by a French chef, Pierre Fraise, who had spent a long time in America. One day some customers came for a late dinner. As he didn’t have a lot left in the kitchen he drew up a quick recipe with some lobsters and a sauce. He called it Le Homard à L’Américaine (American Lobster), probably in memory of his time spent in America, but maybe also to explain to his customers why they’d never heard of such a sauce.
But it seems some chefs might have been a tad unhappy to cook lobster the American way, seeing that for most of them only France had a proper gastronomic culture. So some, either purposefully or not, misheard and started calling it sauce a l’Armoricaine. Armorique refers to the coastal region of Brittany, where you can indeed get a lot of good seafood.
So now you can find the same sauce, under two different names. To be accurate, in Brittany, you should be eating an Armoricaine Lobster a l’Americaine.
In England, people rarely feel free to approach and speak to strangers. One exception would be if you are walking a dog, or a baby, in which case strangers think it’s ok to tell you how cute/adorable/lovely etc. they are.
We had a baby — my wife still refers to him as “my baby”, but really he is not one anymore. So we had a baby and he had some plushed animals. One of those animals was a weird looking dog with a too-big eye, a mirror on the belly, hands full of stars, circles, squares, and holding various objects meant to develop the senses of a baby brain. Basically if it felt weird and made noises, our dog would have it.
We lived in Brixton, in London, when our baby was born. Brixton has a vibrant night-life, and if you decided to walk your baby at 6 AM because he wouldn’t sleep any more and you needed to re-energise yourself, you would meet all kinds of people dripping out of clubs, pubs or parties. Maybe it’s what politicians have in mind when they talk about social diversity.
On one of those walks that my wife did, my baby had taken his dog with him. And one of those partygoers, looking way too tired and drugged up, came up to the buggy, looked startled, and in true British fashion commented on… wait for it…. the dog. “Woooaawww that’s a cool dog, man!!!” He then walked away, happy to have met a dog friend. This dog became known to us as the crackhead dog.
I just went to the Limousin recently, and here are some pictures of that lovely area in France.
It’s known for its Limousin cows, apples, and a lot of meat-related products (sausages, Boudin, meat and potato bakes). Or so my brother-in-law, who is a butcher there, says…
I highly recommend the area if you like nature walks followed by good comfort food.
I just read the following in an article on Mental floss:
In 1981 the Reagan administration was searching for ways to cut school lunch costs while still providing students with the full nutritious lunch consisting of milk, meat, bread, and two servings of vegetables. USDA bureaucrats hit on the idea of counting ketchup as one of the servings of vegetables under the logic that ketchup was cheap and kid-friendly.
It might be a well-known story for Americans but to Europeans that is quite interesting.
Nantes is not a big beer-producing region, as it’s mainly known for its lovely crisp and earthy Muscadet white wine, which pairs well with the mussels and seafood they are so fond of here.
Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to discover a small micro brewery in Nantes called Charlotte’s beer (Les biéres de Charlotte).
Charlotte makes (last time I checked) 4 beers, which you can buy either on Saturday at the market “place de la Petite Hollande” or at the production site on some days (check Charlotte’s website for more information), and in some local shops.
My favorite of her beers is the “la Carlotta,” which is a strong and full of flavor beer, which you can also drink in some bars including one of our locals, “Fées maisons”.