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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America is my country and Paris is my hometown.
~Gertrude Stein

It may seem obvious from past ramblings that I am an unabashed francophile. So, given that yesterday was Bastille Day, allow me to regale some. Every year this month we should remember and embrace the many bonds between both the republics of America and France. (America should now be more accurately deemed an oligarchy.) Founded upon principles of liberty and equality and violent revolutions launched by a deep resentment and distrust of monarchies, these countries do have kindred origins. Unfortunately, in our age of microwave memory, bumper sticker rhetoric and historical ignorance, the shared admiration which should infuse our relationship is so often discarded. Rational discourse sometimes devolves into jingoist rant. Even given the many errors of both countries’ ways and the diplomatic tensions that have arisen, some mutual respect and affection should bathe both sides of the pond.

To some, France and America may seem improbable partners. But, before you go there consider:

French fur traders and explorers blazed territories on the continent never before seen by whites.

The Revolutionary War which granted sovereignty and independence to the colonies would have likely been lost if not for French financial support, military backing, and naval superiority at Yorktown.

Marquis de La Fayette, who served as major general in the Continental Army and negotiated an increase in French patronage, was considered the adoptive son of George Washington.

The first comprehensive sociological study of the American people was written by a French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville.

The French language, which was the tongue of the English court and the civilized world, has lent so many words and phrases to American English.

The states more than doubled in size with the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France.

The Statue of Liberty, other statues and urban design plans were courtesy of French artists and designers.

Millions of Americans are of French descent and many still embrace the culture and language.

Flocks of exuberant American writers, musicians, artists have studied and performed freely in France.

During both world wars, innumerable American and French soldiers and civilians perished side by side on French soil.

Each nation has brazenly borrowed, shared and mimicked the other’s cultures, cuisines, wines, music, art, architecture, styles, and clothing.

Far from a comprehensive list.

This is not to say that meaningful criticism is out of order. Face it—neither country has been beyond reproach. Over history, both France and America have engaged in rampant colonialism, have committed heinous judicial sins, have pursued political imperialism, and have displayed condescending and arrogant behavior. Both have invaded, dominated and subordinated, even enslaved, other peoples. Both have cruelly and shamefully imprisoned, tortured, maimed and killed in the vainglorious name of the state. Both have engaged in improvident, tragic wars. Neither have clean hands. France and America have shared in some disgraceful histories, and ordinary citizens have a duty to remind partisan politicians and biased press alike.

These are imperfect societies governed by imperfect, sometimes maladjusted, peoples. They are ongoing political and anthropological experiments. Our cultural similarities should be cherished and the dissimilarities should not just be accomodated, but nutured. Mutual respect and a sane, humble historical perspective should ever underly our differences…with ever vigilant eyes toward not repeating dark history.

Chauvinism under the guise of patrotism has no place at this table. Pots de crème, chilled champagne and good company do.

POTS DE CREME

3 ozs superior bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), cut into small pieces

2 C heavy cream
1/2 C whole milk

5 egg yolks
1/4 C granulated sugar
Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 325 F

Melt the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl set over a heavy sauce pan with gently simmering water. When the chocolate is close to being melted, turn off the heat and let stand until completely melted.

Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan, scald the cream and milk.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt until the sugar is completely dissolved. Very slowly whisk the hot cream mixture into the yolks so that the eggs do not cook.

Pour the hot cream mixture through a fine mesh strainer into the melted chocolate. Whisk until fully incorporated and smooth.

Divide chocolate custard among 6 small ramekins. Line the bottom of a baking pan with a folded kitchen towel and arrange filled ramekins on towel. Pour in hot water to the halfway level on the ramekins. Cover with foil and bake in the hot water bath (bain marie), until custards are set around edges but still slightly wobbly in the center, 30 to 35 minutes.

Carefully remove the ramekins from the bain marie, and allow to cool to room temperature. Then, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours. Serve with a dollop of hazelnut whipped cream and a glass of bubbly.

Crème de Noisettes (Hazelnut Whipped Cream)

3 T hazelnuts
2 C heavy whipping cream
1 vanilla bean split, seeds scraped out
2 T sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F

Toast hazelnuts until brown, about 20 minutes. When the nuts are cool, rub them in your hands to release the papery skins. Chop them in a cook’s knife or pulse in the food processor fitted with the steel knife until finely ground.

In a small saucepan, bring cream just to the boil. Turn off the heat and add the nuts. Cover, and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and chill overnight.

The next day, pour the cream through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk. Using the back of a wooden spoon, press on the nuts to push out the cream. Whip with vanilla and sugar until soft peaks form.

The bicycle is just as good company as most husbands and, when it gets old and shabby, a woman can dispose of it and get a new one without shocking the entire community.
~Ann Strong, Minneapolis Tribune, 1895

In honor of Bastille Day, le Tour ramblings roll on…but the sole focus here is food. This race is not just about wheels, legs and lungs. Food and water are just as crucial to a rider’s grit, often making the difference between a podium spot and an abysmally dismal welcome to the offseason.

Throughout the Tour, riders constantly strive to store and restore glycogen, a readily oxidized sugar, inside muscle cells. Muscle glycogen levels before and during a stage are a very good predictor of the day’s performance. So, a pivotal nutritional challenge of the Tour is not only eating to achieve full muscle glycogen recovery off the bike, but to also assuage the demands of glycogen depletion while humping—an uphill task given the intricacies of race dynamics, individual nutritional demands and tolerances, coupled with the enormous fuel demands and fluid losses that occur during just one single stage.

Those who fail to consistently replenish risk bonking.

To offset fuel depletion, Tour riders consume a stunning average of between 6,000 to 8,000 calories daily—sometimes even 10,000 calories on unusually grueling stages. Their carbohydrate intake averages about 6 grams per pound of body weight (155 lb rider = 930 grams per day). Riders conventionally attempt to get 70 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrate, 15 percent from fat, and 15 percent from protein.

(Teams even employ their own chefs to optimize their riders’ nutritional needs.)

A typical day begins with a hearty breakfast which not only raises liver glycogen stores and blood glucose levels, it can also top off soon-to-be-depleted muscle glycogen stores. The morning’s fodder can consist of cereal, dairy, rice, almond or soy milk, fruit juice, croissants or toast with plenty of carbohydrate rich jams. Riders often add protein from eggs and egg whites, protein powder, and even toss in a heaping bowl of rice or pasta. They keep nibbling and drinking up to start time.

On the bike, riders eat a mixture of energy bars, gels, pastries, sandwiches, and fruit. The soigneurs (personal assistants) prepare cotton musette bags with the rider’s fancied victuals, including energy bars and gels, rice cakes and sandwiches. Throughout the stage, riders are drinking about 2-3 bottles per hour with about half of that being sports drink—critical sources of carbohydrates and electrolytes.

After each stage, the riders immediately down a recovery drink of mainly carbohydrate and some protein. They then usually graze steadily until dinnertime on energy bars, sweets, fruits, and fluids, with a focus on constant refueling and muscle glycogen re-synthesis.

In the evening, riders dine on a full bore meal consisting of chicken and/or fish, mounds of pasta or rice, sandwiches, yogurt, vegetables, salad greens, bread and sweets. Their fat intake results from dish preparation.

Bedtime snacks may include energy bars, chocolate and more hydration. Save for sleep, the grazing rarely ceases.

POULET ROTI AUX AGRUMES (ROAST CHICKEN WITH CITRUS)

1 5 lb. whole roasting chicken, necks and giblets set aside
1 orange, halved
3 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 T dried thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 orange, quartered
1/2 lemon, quartered
1/2 lime, quartered

2 heads plump fresh garlic, halved crosswise, each studded with 2 cloves

1/4 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C fresh orange juice
1/4 C fresh lime juice
3 T Dijon mustard
3 T organic honey
1 T olive oil
1 T unsalted butter, melted
3 cloves fresh, plump garlic, peeled and finely minced

Chicken stock
Cognac or brandy
Fresh orange juice
Fresh lemon juice
Fresh lime juice

Preheat oven to 425 F

Allow the chicken to sit at room temperature for at least 1/2 hour. Rub the chicken inside and out with the halved orange. Thoroughly rub the chicken inside and out with butter and liberally season inside the cavity and outside with salt, pepper and dried thyme. Place 1 sprig of rosemary, 2 sprigs thyme, and the orange, lemon and lime quarters inside the cavity of the chicken. Truss the bird, securing the wings and legs of the chicken to the body with trussing string.

Whisk together the orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice, mustard, honey, olive oil, melted butter, minced garlic. Use this mixture to brush over the chicken along with roasting juices used for basting.

In the bottom of the roasting pan, lay out the neck and studded garlic heads with cut side up. Put the rack with the chicken on its side onto the roasting pan, and place into the center of the oven; roast for 20 minutes, uncovered, basting throughout the entire roasting process. Turn the chicken to the other side for 20 minutes, still basting. Then, turn the chicken breast side up and roast for 20 more minutes. During this last 20 minutes, drop in the remaining giblets.

Reduce the heat to 375 and continue roasting with breast side up for 15 minutes more, still occasionally basting, until done. The bird should have a robust golden tone, and juices should run clear, yellow (not pink) when the thigh is pierced with a carving fork. Remove the herb sprigs and citrus from the cavity. Remove the cloves, and set the roasted garlics aside to serve.

Place an overturned soup bowl under one end of a platter or cutting board so it is tilted at an angle. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and turn the chicken so that the juices in the cavity are emptied onto the pan. Then, transfer the chicken to the angulated platter or board, with breast side down and tail in the air. This allows gravity to do its job as the juices flow down into the breast meat. Cut the trussing string free and discard.

Loosely tent the chicken with foil and let rest on the incline at least 20 minutes—it will actually keep cooking some, and the juices will disperse evenly throughout the meat.

Place the roasting pan over moderate heat in order to heat the juices. With a wood spatula, scrape those bits stuck to the surface of the pan. If the pan is a lacking some liquid, just add some chicken broth. Then, when the pan is sufficiently hot, add some fresh citrus juice, several tablespoons of brandy to deglaze and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer several minutes until it coats the spatula.

While the sauce is reducing, carve the chicken. Strain the sauce, preferably through a fine chinois sieve, which will produce a velvety end product.