I wasn’t really naked.  I simply didn’t have any clothes on…
~Joséphine Baker

Gotta love her guile — “I was not really nude, but was clad in nothing.”

Well, welcome to zany Bastille Day (July 14), and the chaos that ensued on le Tour de France on Mont Ventoux today — with the yellow jersey farcically running up the mountain on more than ludicrous shoes with rigid carbon fiber soles and underneath clips. Well done, childish and irresponsible spectators. Mayhem, where it should not be.

I deeply adore lamb shanks, as you might note from just perusing this site.

These opulent, yet bourgeois, lamb shanks somehow remind me of and even obsoletely yearn for  Joséphine Baker’s savory, almost sugary brown legs, loins, oh so fine buttocks and breasts, and my country’s (France’s) mutual passion with her.  I do have an American passport, but call France “home” especially during these baffling and bewildering Drumpfesque days.

Of humble beginnings in St. Louis (born Freda Josephine McDonald), she was a hit in New York City, but sailed to Paris and became a divine, silken, and often sensual even erotic, African American captivating dancer.  Mlle. ou Mme. Baker hit her apex, her pinnacle in Paris and perhaps was bisexual.  She also performed for troops and was even a spy for her adopted land, France, during World War II. She hid weapons and smuggled documents across the border, tucking them beneath gowns and other undergarmets.  After the war, she was bestowed upon with the Croix de Guerre, Rosette de la Resistance, and Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.

Before and after she also took Europe by storm, was adored by so many, often referred to as the Black Venus, Black Pearl and Creole Goddess.  Ernest Hemingway dubbed her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”  Who could forget the Danse Sauvage or the bananas and plumes she so scantily and exotically wore?  Due to rampant racism at home, Joséphine Baker became a legal denizen of France, speaking two tongues, and ultimately gave up her American citizenship. There, she became perhaps the most renowned ex-pats of France.

With so many children (she preceded and far exceeded Angelina Jolie — Joséphine had 12 children.  Baker raised two daughters, French born Marianne and Moroccan born Stellina, and 10 sons, Korean born Jeannot (or Janot), Japanese born Akio, Colombian born Luis, Finnish born Jari (now Jarry), French born Jean-Claude, and Noël, Israeli born Moïse, Algerian born Brahim, Ivorian born Koffi, and Venezuelan born Mara, the group of 12 that was called the Rainbow Tribe along with a harem of monkeys, a chimpanzee, a parrot, parakeets, a pig, a snake, a goat, several dogs and cats and a pet cheetah.  Mme. ou Mlle. Baker (depending on when and with whom you spoke) even benevolently employed some one half of the citizens of the nearby village and had a restaurant built in the neighboring countryside.

Even though Josephine Baker was believed to be then the richest woman in the world, she underwent the shame of bankruptcy at a later stage in life despite help from Princess Grace of Monaco and Bridgette Bardot.  This beloved and dazzling parisian artiste was rudely foreclosed upon at Château des Milandes near Dordogne in the Périgord region by creditors, and she was exploited by so many others.  She was literally locked out of her beloved home by the new owner, little doubt un nouveau riche. Soon afterwards, she died from a cerebral hemorrhage.  Alas, we all die — but, we commonly do not have statues, bas reliefs, sculptures, plaques, places, halls of fame, piscines, parcs, boutiques, hotels, photos, films, and are lavished with so many honors, commendation letters, medals, processions, parades in our honor, named and created for us, upon our demise.  Joséphine Baker did them all.

GRILLED LAMB SHANKS

2-3 lamb shanks, about 1 – 1 1/4 lb each
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C cognac or brandy
1 C port
1 C or so, chicken stock or broth
6-8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled & smashed

1 T balsamica di modena
1-2 dollops of whipping cream or crème fraîche

Combine lamb shanks, port, stock, salt and pepper and garlic in a Dutch oven with some olive oil. Turn heat to medium high or high and bring to a boil. Cover and adjust heat so that the mixture simmers gently. Cook placed downwards, turning about every 30 minutes, until shanks are tender, about 2 hours.

Remove shanks, tent them, and strain the sauce.  Skim fat from top of sauce and preheat a charcoal grill so it makes you restrain your hand from the grill at about 3 seconds: so, medium high.   Then, place the braised shanks on the grill, rolling and moving, until nicely browned and crusted, with a total cooking time of about 15 minutes.  While grilling, heat the sauce from the previous braising by simmering quietly with a dollop or two of whipping cream or crème fraîche, and add red vinegar (balsamica di modena).

Serve sauce with shanks, eat with risotto, egg noodles, smashed potatoes or polenta, and they all go swimmingly well with a fine French côtes du rhône, bourgogne, bandol or Oregon pinot noir.

Pourboire:  nor should callous carnage and chaos ever exist again on the Promenade des Anglais, a storied boulevard on Nice’s coast during France’s national holiday, Bastille night.  Une vraie honteun énorme calamité.   Tant d’enfants sont tués et estropiés.  Quel dommage, pour ne pas dire plus.  Je suis tellement attristé — mon coeur vous tend la main. Mon dieu!

Very much unlike Joséphine Baker, you will be remembered forever as nothing but a psychotic, murderous butcher, especially of children…whatever your name is or will be.

 

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Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken.
~M.F.K. Fisher

Vice unbound on a plate, again. My openly lascivious affairs with both Egg and Pig reappear. Is it coincidence that I lustily deify these worldly beings both of which irreverently boast three letter names? Egg and Pig are gluttonous, addictive, more than venial sins with no hint of repentant shame…maybe less like the Seven Deadly and more like food as Providence.

Essentials of this dish are handcrafted and dreamily aromatic artisanal bread, preferably a ciabatta loaf, and premium bacon. Think heirloom swine, too. Artisanal bread (or should I say authentic bread) simply means the loaves are traditionally handcrafted, rather than mechanically mass produced. Superior ingredients are blended, slowly fermented, hand shaped, and baked in small batches in masonry ovens with an acute eye on vivid flavors and textures. The core ingredients are fewer (organic flour, water, salt, fermentation agent) than the industrial variety, and the bread is crafted without enhancers or chemical additives—as bread has been artfully baked for centuries. Like finding trusted butchers and fishmongers, discovering a skilled baker is blissful.

Ciabatta is the Italian word for “slipper” which roughly depicts the shape of this loaf. With a light, airy structure this bread is ideal for bruschetta, crostini, and panini.

A protean dish, this serves well at any meal—day or night. Consider tabling it after that mayhem of unwrapping gifts ceases this month. In lieu of the parmiggiano-reggiano, a ladling of hollandaise or bearnaise or a light drizzle of white truffle oil (with the parmiggiano-reggiano) brings elegant touches. (See Sauces Mères, Hollandaise & Bearnaise, August 16, 2009).

POACHED EGG BRUSCHETTA WITH WILTED SPINACH & BACON

4 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 T fresh thyme, chopped
1 t dried crushed red pepper

4 1 1/2″ thick slices of ciabatta, cut on the bias

1 lb thick bacon

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T shallot, peeled and finely minced
1 lb fresh baby spinach
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 local, fresh, free range organic eggs,* room temperature

Parmiggiano-reggianno, freshly grated or shaven

For the bacon: cook in large skillet until crisp and transfer to paper towels to drain. Set aside.

For the bread: heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic, thyme and crushed pepper and cook until the garlic is light brown. Remove and discard garlics. Add bread slices to the skilled and cook until golden browned and well infused with the garlic oil. Set aside.

For the spinach, add olive oil over heavy skillet and heat over medium heat. Add shallot and sauté 2 minutes, then add spinach and stir until just wilted. Set aside.

Meanwhile, strew spinach over bread slices, top with bacon slices in half to fit. You may wish to place in oven until heated through before you drop the poached egg on top.

For the eggs: fill a large heavy based skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water; bring it to a boil, and add the white wine vinegar The vinegar helps to strengthen the albumin in the egg white which will help to retain shape. Reduce the heat until the water is at a simmer. If the water is too cool, the egg will separate before cooking; if the water is boiling too rapidly, the whites will be tough and the yolks over cooked.

Crack each egg into a shallow bowl to assure the yolks are not broken.

Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 3 minutes. They should goo out with a fork when served. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry them off.

To build: strew spinach over bread slices, top with bacon slices. (You may wish to place in oven under low heat) while the eggs are poaching. Place 2 poached egg atop each. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve topped with parmiggiano-reggiano.