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.

 

To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.
~François de La Rochefoucauld

Yes, I have written about tuna more extensively in a post entitled Ahi “Nicoise” dated May 13, 2010 — look at the search box.  But, please abstain in devouring blue fin tuna as it appears low in numbers.

Then again, earlier (February 7, 2009) there existed here a post about ubiquitous steak tartare — although sublime, but with the firm texture of this finfish, tuna tartare is sapid, damn near nympholeptic.  This does not imply that steak tartare is equally divine, as both are toe curlers.  But, it is a cooling, light, dainty often app repast with tuna diced into chunks and fluidly soothed by Asian flavors (as below) in a chilled vessel, a dish which really did not emerge until recently about 3-4 or so decades ago…perhaps in Paris by a Japanese born, yet French trained, chef by the name of Tachibe — who knows?

A chilled dry white (preferably one that is French oriented or sauvignon blanc) or rosé is essential as quaff.

1/4 C canola oil
2 t grated fresh ginger, with some small chunks retained

1 – 1 1/3 lb sashimi (perhaps sushi) grade tuna, diced into 1/4″ pieces

1 t jalapeño, minced with seeds and veins removed
1 1/2 t wasabi powder
1/2 t mirin
1/2 t saké
1 t sesame seeds
1 T scallion, finely chopped
1 1/2 T lime juice
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Non-pareil capers, rinsed
Caviar

In a bowl, add the ginger and chunks for a few hours to allow to marinate some in the frig.

In a large glass chilled bowl, add tuna to ginger oil as well as small ginger chunks, the cilantro, jalapeño, wasabi, mirin, saké, sesame seeds, scallions, lime juice, then mix well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Using fingers, very slightly strew over the tuna tartare with capers and then caviar.

Serve on chilled shallow glass salad bowl(s) over some flared avocado slices or cilantro or watercress, something like that or those kith and kin.

The more you approach infinity, the deeper you penetrate terror.
~Gustave Flaubert

ParisLa Ville Lumière, le Paname…an eternal, perpetual place in many psyches (including mine).

A psychotically surreal Friday the 13th evening. I admit to feeling empty, melancholic, enraged, mournful, abhorrent, sorrowful all at the same time — no way to view a match at the Stade de France, savor a meal at lieux like Le Petit Cambodge, La Belle Équipe café, Le Carillon, Café Bonne Bière, Sushi Maki, La Cosa Nostra and La Petit Balona, or revel in a concert at the Théâtre de Bataclan.

Yet, I feel somehow staunch and resolute en même temps. A bewildering mélange of emotions…confused thoughts, but by no means nothing like the victims’ loved ones whose souls suffer and agonize. The outpouring of empathy has been overwhelming. My sincere condolences and thanks, that simple.

The etymology of the word “terror” is sadly and Frenchly ironic. Terror (n.): from the early 15 century late middle English “something that frightens, causes fear and dread” is derived directly from the Old French terreur (14 century), earlier from the Latin terrorem or “fear, fright, dread, alarm,” from the Latin verb terrere “to make fearful, frighten.”

The term “terrorism” itself was coined in Paris during the wake of the 1789 revolution as a term to describe the government’s bloody campaign against counter revolutionaries. The Reign of Terror also known as Le Régime de la Terreur, a ruthless movement begun after the execution of Robespierre by guillotine in the late 18th century, was meant to purge the country of enemies of the French Revolution. The Reign was incited by competing legislative bodies, the moderate Girondins, also called the Brissontins, and the militant Jacobins, and was marked by political repression and mass executions of purported rivals.

Now, one must perplex at what W (who held hands longingly with a theocratic “royal” Saudi prince), Cheney and Rumsfeld have recently wrought upon the world. Once a country piques or provokes a tribe what other tribes, caliphates or sub-tribes are created? There is little doubt that simple hypothesis was not lucidly thought through at high places.  If not or if so, for shame.

In any event, just wonder aloud, openly discuss, and consider the calamitous precedents before invading other countries with boots on the ground.  Forget not l’Arabie saoudite as have W and his friends, confidants so conveniently done.  Please do not overreact with bellicose language, saber rattling and hawkish behavior as was done after 9.11 and the “War(s) on Terror” which have destabilized the Middle East and have spawned the now thriving Daesh, Dai’sh, Islamic State, ISIS, and/or ISIL. Whatever their nomenclature du jour may be.

This is dire reality not a time for spewing knee jerk, xenophobic and visceral, wrong headed, rash polemic and panic.

You know the drill well, Parigots — stay steady, resolute and resilient, do not deny your lifestyle or rituals, embrace your senses and those about you, rebound however maimed, cherish the ephemeral nature of life, and remain quietly vigilant yet defiant of the malefactors.  No doubt it may prove cursive to feel vulnerable and doubtful, but please keep all in perspective. Please do not allow delirium to trump reason and forever remember those words:  liberté, égalité, et fraternité.

The word “terrorism” has a somehow slightly different, peculiar sense but still maintains the same hues, although the meaning stays insidious. It usually means the “use of violence to human life, fear, coercion or intimidation in pursuit of political or religious aims.” It often is an abhorrent, indiscriminate act of violence against innocent humankind, against society. But, the word still retains its blurred vernacular and semantic ambiguities — for instance, is it mere lunacy?  Who terrorizes, intimidates, displaces another? What constitutes such an act?  While no one definition of “terrorism” has gained universal acceptance or precise use, it does remain an emerging combined military and political-religious word and applies to varied circumstances.

But, the “definition” and “history” of terrorism aside, there remains zero doubt about who should take responsibility for the deaths of blameless victims this Parisian weekend.  The same arcane, cruel and oppressive jihadist bunch that has an apocalyptic black flag and severed head for emblems. Non-believers? Really?

And enough of your false and deceptive misnomer, allahu akbar, bros, as you ruthlessly carve off kidnapped heads with bound hands and fanatically kill and maim innocents with AK-47 assault rifles at close range.   In no way can this horrific carnage be affirmed by any contorted interpretation of the Holy Qur’an or any other known sacred scriptures.

Bistro fare often comforts on dark days. Please slowly dine on this sauté + ragoût with family and friends, preferably with bare feet.

CHICKEN FRICASSEE + LENTILS

2 lbs local chicken wings, legs, thighs (perhaps more goodies, like gizzards)
Some chicken stock, a couple tabs of unsalted butter & extra virgin olive oil

2 medium carrots, peeled and carved into 1″ pieces
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into thin disks
1 medium turnip, peeled and carved into 1″ pieces
4-5 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, and coarsely chopped
1 t dried herbes de provence
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 t dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves

1 lb dried lentilles du puy
3 C water and chicken stock, combined in equal parts (1 1/2 C each)

Splash of apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Grated parmiggiano-reggianno & tarragon

Put the wings, legs, thighs, etc. into a large, heavy, Dutch oven or sauté pan with some chicken stock, butter and olive oil. Cook over medium high heat for about 5 minutes per side, until the chicken is browned.

Add the carrots, onion, turnip, garlic, oregano, thyme sprigs, herbes de provence, and bay leaves to the Dutch oven or sauté pan and cook for about a minute or two.  Do not burn anything.

Then, add the lentils du puy, water, salt and pepper, apple cider vinegar, and reduce the heat but still boil gently, covered, for some 30 minutes. Assure that the lentils are quite tender and, of course, most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves.  Serve in shallow soup bowls with chicken atop, and finish with fresh tarragon leaves and a fresh grating of parmiggiano-reggiano.

I think men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They’ve experienced pain and bought jewelry.
~Rita Rudner

When walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with my youngest son this spring, we could not help but notice the slew of padlocks in varying shapes, sizes and hues each etched with initials, maybe an image and sometimes brief vows.  Apparently, the keys had been hurled into the East River while the padlocks remained hooked on the bridge as symbols of perpetual locked in love.  We even took pics of them.  At first, it seemed cute but in retrospect, it seemed a tad odd.  Then, when we celebrated my oldest son’s and fine woman’s nuptials last weekend, th0se images recurred yet hopes were revived and thoughts about love, like the wine, flowed freely.

Apparently across the pond, on Paris’ most iconic bridges, such as the Pont des Arts and the Pont de l’Archevêché, visitors have similarly affixed padlocks to the metal railings and fencing.   Once done discreetly by night, many began acting brazenly in broad daylight, two by two and sometimes more, filming faces in front of  colorful locks, and videoing the throwing of  keys into the Seine. Natives and local politicians alike expressed concerns about aesthetics and the architectural integrity of the festooned bridges.  Although many denizens consider the locks an eyesore, others find them charming. One night, someone actually cut through the wires and removed all the locks on one of the bridges and discarded them.  But in just a short while, the locks reappeared, this time more conspicuously than ever.  For many tourist couples, these locks and the keys tossed into the romantic river that courses the City of Light were symbols of that often elusive everlasting amour, of abiding adoration.  Pas là, pas de tout — as many French find such declarations less than amorous.  To use lock and key as a metaphor for eternal affection seems strangely antithetical there and bespeaks of confinement. 

In Paris (and elsewhere), love is understood to be tinged with risk. That sounds a touch incongruous, as little in this world is more difficult yet more valuable than love…the very boon of humanity, and there can be nothing more bewitching or treasured.  At the same time though, love can be fragile and unsettling, and early romance can be clothed in uncertainty.  Love can be hazardous, sometimes on the brink of agony, and often vulnerable and insecure.  Even damned lonely.

So, the notion that love is locked up forever by tossing that key in the drink, is thought a vacuous rite, a childish fantasy that can even enslave.  Soulful love is not to be imprisoned or controlled, and the goal is not to entrap or ensnare one another.  Rather, love’s sublime fragility should be embraced with each urging the other to be free.  Love is to be shared simply and fervently, without pride — where each is gazed at head to toe often in poor lighting and yet somehow, despite conspicuous faults and frailties, each passionately embraces and patiently cherishes one other.  True lovers do not just appeal to the eye, they look beyond into mind and imagination.  Empathy, which derives from the Greek empatheia (“passion”), should reign and must be rekindled throughout the shared voyage. 

Above all, avoid getting too serious about things like love locks.  Mates must always laugh together, as when humor is lost, so is footing.

Ok, so enough sap and on to food.  For lovers should ever delight in the sensual and revel in lust.

SEARED FOIE GRAS WITH WHITE WINE REDUCTION & APPLES

3 T unsalted butter
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
3 T apple cider vinegar
1-2 T honey

4 – 6 oz slices of fine grade foie gras, about 3/4″ thick
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 C freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1/2 C good quality late harvest white (the rest chilled for a toast)
Equal parts of orange, lime and grapefruit zests
1/4 t fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1/4 t fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 T unsalted butter, cut into smaller pieces

4 slices brioche, 1/2″ thick

Melt the butter in a large non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the apples, apple cider vinegar, and drizzle with honey. Cook, stirring occasionally, turning once, until the apples are golden, soft and tender, about 5-8 minutes. Drain, arrange on a platter, tent with foil, and set aside.

Gently score the foie gras slices with a diagonal pattern on one side only. Season generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium high. In batches, place foie gras slices in the pan and sear until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside to rest.

Pour the excess pan drippings out of the pan, reserving about 3 tablespoons of drippings for the reduction. Deglaze the pan with the grapefruit juice over medium high heat, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon or spatula. Simmer until the juice is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, orange, lime and grapefruit zests, rosemary, thyme and simmer for about one minute or so. Add the butter, remove from the heat, and whisk until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat the broiler.

Using a 3″ round cookie cutter, cut the brioche into rounds and place them on a baking sheet. Toast under the broiler until golden brown on each side.

To assemble, place the brioche toasts in the center of serving plates. Lay the foie gras slices on top of the brioche. Arrange the golden, almost caramelized apples around the foie gras toasts, and drizzle the reduction sauce over the top of the foie gras.

Serve by candlelight, clothing optional, with a grand Bordeaux and loving partner.

Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
~Marcel Proust

Another remembrance rekindled.  This time from La Table de Fès, an inauspicious restaurant morocain on la rue Sainte-Beuve in Paris’ 6eme arrondissement, festooned with a painted teal & white facade and a curtained, rather dark interior with woodwork and simple white clothed tables.  A room teeming with the aromas of intoxicating Moroccan spices.  The chicken tajine with preserved lemons, braised vegetables, and couscous there were beyond superlative, nearly peerless.   In this quaint haunt, the quirky plump proprietress took us on an engaging imaginary voyage over Moroccan landscapes by way of our plates.  While the 20eme is home to many north African immigrants and chez Omar is considered quite branché (“in”), fond memories of sublime food were born at La Table de Fès.  Not just a place, but a new way of seeing.

Little doubt that I will fail at replicating this enchanting dish, but here goes…

CHICKEN TAJINE WITH PRESERVED LEMONS & OLIVES

1 medium cinnamon stick, broken some
1 t whole black peppercorns
1 T cumin seeds
1 T coriander seeds
1 t whole cloves
4 cardamom pods
1 t red pepper flakes

1/2 T turmeric
1/2 T paprika dulce or agridulce

3 T+ extra virgin olive oil
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 t fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 C fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 large pinch saffron
4-6 chicken leg-thigh quarters, trimmed of excess fat

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 preserved lemons (see below)
3/4 C green and red olives, pitted and sliced
1/2 C currants, plumped in warm water, then drained
1 C chicken stock
1/2 C dry white wine

Toast cinnamon stick, peppercorns, cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom pods, and pepper flakes in a medium saucepan over low heat until fragrant. Allow to reach room temperature, then in a spice or coffee grinder since devoted to spices, blend until fine. Place in a small bowl and add turmeric and paprika and mix well.

In a large baking dish or casserole, mix the oil, spices, garlic, ginger, cilantro, bay leaves and saffron. Add chicken, rubbing, massaging the marinade over all the pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or preferably overnight.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and reserve marinade and bring to room temperature. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or tagine or large casserole over medium high heat add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Put in chicken pieces until lightly brown on both sides, about 5 minutes each. Add onions and cook until translucent and just starting to lightly brown, about 4 minutes. Scoop out flesh and discard and then rinse the preserved lemons. Cut peel into strips and add to pan. Add reserved marinade, olives, currants, chicken stock, and wine. Cover and cook over medium heat until chicken is done, about 30-35 minutes. Discard bay leaf and taste to adjust seasoning.

Place chicken on a platter or individual plates. Spoon juices with the preserved lemon, olives, and onions over chicken and serve accompanied by plain couscous or couscous with apricots (see below).

Preserved Lemons

6 lemons, scrubbed and cleaned
3 C+ sea salt
Cold water

Fill the bottom of a large, hinged glass jar with 1 cup of salt. Slice off the end of each lemon.  Cut the lemons into quarters lengthwise twice, but do not slice all the way through, so the lemon remains intact on one end. Open up the lemon and pack copious amounts of salt inside. Arrange three of the lemons on top of the first layer of salt and then add a second cup of salt. Add the last three lemons and then pour in the last cup of salt on top of the lemons. Press down the fruit so the juices release and then fill the rest of the jar with water just until it covers the lemons. Tightly close the jar and store in a cool, dark place for at least one month until the lemon peel has softened. Occasionally turn the jar upside down and gently shake so the salt redistributes.

When ready to use, just remove the pulp and use the peel only. Make sure to rinse off the almost translucent peel to remove excess salt before adding to the dish. Preserved lemons can be stored for up to 4 months in the refrigerator.

Couscous with Apricots

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 small or medium yellow onion, peeled and minced

1 T turmeric
1 t coriander, toasted & ground

1 cup couscous
1 1/2 C chicken stock, slightly simmering
1/2 t lemon zest

2 T green onions, sliced
1/4 C dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/4 C whole almonds, toasted & coarsely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a heavy medium saucepan add olive oil. Sauté onion in oil until soft and translucent. Add the turmeric and ground coriander and sauté gently over low heat until slightly fragrant. Add the couscous then the warm chicken broth. Stir with a fork to combine, add lemon zest and cover. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes, then uncover and add the green onions, almonds and apricots. Fluff again with a fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine.

Beloved Slaw(s)

February 10, 2012

Everybody knew what she was called, but nobody anywhere knew her name. Disremembered and unaccounted for, she cannot be lost because no one is looking for her, and even if they were, how can they call her if they don’t know her name? Although she has claim, she is not claimed.
~Toni Morrison, Beloved

February is African American History Month, and the theme this year is “Black Women in American Culture and History,” honoring women who shaped the nation. Where to begin and to end? Ella Fitzgerald, Marian Anderson, Josephine Baker, Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ruby Dee, Althea Gibson, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Rosa Parks, Leontyne Price, Angela Davis, Wilma Rudolph, Harriet Tubman, Alice Walker…and countless nameless, faceless sisters, mothers, cousins, daughters, aunts and grandmothers who steered, coddled and bettered their families and communities.

While all deserve deep praise, the eloquent and imaginative author, Toni Morrison, comes to my mind. The Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner’s spellbinding stories are crafted with evocative prose that soars with poetic hues. Each of her novels are rich in character and unearth dense imagery. She is a writer’s writer whose works teem with passionate insight and vitality. Sula, The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, Paradise, Love, A Mercy. And she reveres Paris, “a haven for the fastidious and ferocious and the smart,” and loves the “arrogance” of the city which also fostered a generation of post-colonial French-African thinkers.

While the term coleslaw derived from the Dutch koolsla, a shortening of koolsalade, which means “cabbage salad,” it has become a staple at barbeques and picnics across the states. Soulful slaw should be invited to the table more this month and later.

BEET & FENNEL SLAW

2 chioggia (candy-stripe) beets, peeled and julienned
2 yellow beets, peeled and julinned
1 medium carrot, peeled, julienned
1 small fennel bulb, cored and coarsely shredded
1 C napa cabbage, thinly sliced

Toss beets, carrot, fennel and cabbage in a large bowl. Add just enough dressing du jour to nicely coat, but not drench, the slaw. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

Dressing I
2 T sugar
Sesame seeds or sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 C canola oil
2 T fresh lemon juice
3 T seasoned rice vinegar
1 T soy sauce
3 t sesame oil
1 t fresh ginger, peeled and minced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, sesame seeds, canola oil, lemon juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and ginger. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Dressing II
1/2 C plain Greek yogurt
2 t finely grated orange zest
6 T fresh orange juice
2 t fresh lemon juice
2 T finely chopped fresh dill

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, zest, orange juice and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Dressing III
2/3 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
1/4 C yellow onion, peeled and minced
3 T dill pickle, minced
2 T pickle juice
2 T white wine vinegar
1 T horseradish
1 T sugar
1/2 t celery seeds
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, onion, pickle, pickle juice, wine vinegar, horseradish, sugar and celery seeds. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pourboire: it should go without saying that a mix of traditional white and red cabbages with carrots is supreme.

In Paris, they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language.
~Mark Twain

The peloton is now squarely in Bretagne. The narrow, winding 4th stage began in the sportive town of Lorient and finished on the summit of the Mûr-de-Bretagne, at the end of a challenging 2 km straightaway ascent. This so-called L’Alpe-d’Huez of Bretagne will sow the seeds of many helmeted doubts.

The Tour began with 198 riders on 22 teams. Unfortunately, some 20-25% of the riders are forced to abandon the race before the finish often due to injury or illness (and banned substances).

The three time defending Tour champion, and a narrow second in today’s stage, Alberto Contador, has been riding amid controversy. Apparently, he tested positive for the banned muscle enhancer clenbuterol during the Tour last year, but has denied any wrongdoing. Contador claims that the lab findings were miniscule, and that the clenbuterol found in his blood was the result of innocently ingesting tainted meat.Even though the Spanish cycling federation cleared Contador and allowed him to compete this year, he could still be stripped of his latest crown if the Court of Arbitration for Sport rules against him next month. So, even if Contador ascends the podium in Paris, he still may be ordered to disgorge his titles for the past two years.

Language and culture are so tightly interlaced. In the early 20th century, France remained a pastiche of isolated pays, autonomous tribes, clans and hamlets. Each valley was a little world which often differed from its neighbors by language, custom, governance and opinion. Cultures and dialects were distinctly separated by mountains, rivers, gorges, plateaus and forests. While French was the language of civilized Europe, it was spoken by a minority at home. When the Third Republic (1870-1940) was formed, Parisian politicians amassed legions to wage war against local languages, attempting to colonially eradicate those which least resembled the homeland tongue, e.g., Breton, Provençale, Flemish, Basque, Catalonian, Corsican. Linguisitic homogeneity was in full swing.

The Breton (Ar Brezhoneg) language, closely related to Irish and Welsh and reflecting the deep rooted Celtic heritage in Bretagne, was one such cultural target. Bretons were labelled as remote and romantic separatists, prone to cultural rebellion against the state. Patois was banned and standard French was strictly imposed in schools, railways, newspapers, magazines and even popular tunes. Children were force fed approved French and told to discard their cradle language under threat of punishment and humiliation. It was a complicated social conscription as are many drafts. But, some even assert that the life of this provincial dialect was prolonged by promoting “proper French”…and many now say that without Breton, the identity of Bretagne would be lost.

On to a Breton fave, pommes de terres primeurs. Symbolic of the vegetable rich coastal areas and gentle climate of Bretagne, these hand harvested new potatoes have thin, delicate skins. They owe their subtly sweet flavor and melt in your mouth texture to very early harvesting and immediate marketing. This preserves the sugars before they are converted into starch.

It is unlikely that you will find these Breton gems around town, so just forage for new potatoes from locals at farmers’ markets. While this presentation may seem overly primitive, fine new potatoes need little embellishing. Kalon digor!

NEW POTATOES & HERBS

25 or so smaller new potatoes
Cold water and whole milk, in equal parts
Sea salt

3-4 T unsalted butter
2 T combined fresh thyme, parsley and sage leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently wash, scrub potatoes so as not to mar the skins. Place in a heavy pot, add water and milk to cover and season generously with salt. Bring to boil, reduce heat to a gentle roll and cook, partially covered, until tender. Cooking time varies depending on potato diameter, so be poised with fork nearby to pierce for doneness.

Using the cover, carefully drain well and return pot to burner over low heat. Gently shake pot just until the remaining liquid has evaporated. Then add the butter to lightly coat potatoes, again swirling the pot some. In stages, add fresh herbs and salt and pepper to taste in so that the potatoes are nicely coated.

Tacos à Paris? Enfin

June 1, 2011

Paris is always a good idea.
~Audrey Hepburn

A dimunitive spot in the Marais—not really a resto yet almost a caféCandelaria is now the self-annointed first bona fide taqueria in Paris. No doubt that claim will provoke debate on both rives and beyond. With minimal décor, a small counter, one communal table and a bouncer to boot, this venue offers tacos and tostadas to locals and tourists alike. About damn time, but never too late.

I have often been baffled why this eclectic culinary capital or even its overseas territories had not earlier embraced this humble and sumptuous street food. Tacos, un pur délice.

So, given colonial France’s nexus to southeast Asian fare…

SOUTHEAST ASIAN FISH TACOS

1/2 C shoyu
1/4 C coconut milk
1/4 C fresh lime juice
1 T red chile paste
1 T honey
4 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 Thai bird chiles, stemmed and minced
2 lbs skinless halibut or mahi mahi filets

1/2 C coconut milk
1/2 C peanut butter
1/4 C fresh lime juice
1 T nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce)
2 t sesame oil
1 t red chile paste
Honey
Red pepper flakes, to taste

1 C red cabbage, very thinly sliced
1 C Napa cabbage, very thinly sliced
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 C pickled carrots and daikon radishes*

Fresh avocado slices
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Fresh mint, roughly chopped

Heated flour tortillas or steamed bao buns

Whisk together shoyu, coconut milk, lime juice, chile paste, honey, garlic and 1/4 cup water to make a marinade. Place fish in a ziploc bag, pour marinade over the top and gently toss to coat. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Meanwhile, stir together coconut milk, peanut butter, lime juice, fish sauce, sesame oil, and chile paste into a small saucepan over medium low heat. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add a drizzle or so of honey and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir dressing and set aside.

Put cabbage, onions, pickled carrots/daikon into a large bowl with half of the dressing or so and toss to coat. Set slaw aside. Reserve any remaining dressing.

Prepare grill to medium heat. Drain fish, discarding marinade, and cook on well cleaned and oiled grill until it flakes easily with a fork and is opaque, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer fish to a cutting board, allow to rest for a few minutes and then roughly chop. Serve fish in warm tortillas or steamed bao buns, topped with slaw, avocado slices, dressing, cilantro and mint.

*Pickled Carrots & Daikon
1 C carrots, peeled and julienned (matchstick size)
1 C daikon radish, peeled and julienned (matchstick size)

1/4 C warm water
3/4 C rice wine vinegar
5 T sugar
1 T sea salt

Mix warm water, vinegars, sugar and salt until all is dissolved. Mix carrots and daikon radishes in a tightly lidded glass jar. Pour vinegar mixture into carrots and daikon, stir, cover, and allow to marinade for 3 days or so. Drain off liquid when ready to use.

Pourboire: of course, there are many ways to skin this quasi cat, but consider adding some red curry paste in lieu of or in addition to the red chile pastes in both the fish marinade and the slaw; or drizzle with a mix of sriracha and/or red curry paste and crema.

I wasn’t kissing her, I was whispering in her mouth.
~Chico Marx

As a late teen first visiting Paris, I was struck (even smitten) by the provocative public displays of affection on the streets, in parks and cafés. Passionate and intimate — open mouthed, deep kisses, with cuddles and caresses. Face dwellers. Blissfully awesome came to mind then and now. In the puritanical States though, you are ridiculed, derided for such shameless ardor. Frowned upon here, public kissers are brusquely advised to “get a room.” I mean, God forbid you be so deeply enamored with each other that you really do not give a damn about those leering, envious “get a life” voyeurs. Just that kind of “refulgent” act that no doubt makes Sarah Palin feel “squirmish” (sp?). Maybe she should stick to more basic, monosyllabic words, like “dolt.”

Thankfully, face whiffing and canoodling in public venues have now become national pasttimes in Mexico. In 2009, nearly 40,000 people gathered at Zocalo Square in Mexico City to break the tally for the most people kissing at one moment. This Valentine’s Day simultaneous smooching was dubbed Besame Mucho or “Kiss Me A Lot”. The intense, overt sensuality of young and old has continued forward with lovers inveterately kissing and ardently embracing in and near squares and promenades in Mexico’s most populus city.

Ah, to create a culture of sweet, tender mercies with those ever expressive, soft yet hot kisses…panochitas.

While my preference would be fresh tomatoes or tomatillos or both, the earthy sundried ones are a luscious substitute in the off season. Then, fast forward to late summer and replace the sundried ones with home grown or farmers’ market beauties—even heirlooms. A third option is to boil about a half dozen fresh, husked and washed, medium tomatillos in salted water until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain well and zip in a blender or food processor.

GUACAMOLE & SUNDRIED TOMATOES

1/2 medium white onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/3 C sundried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 C loosely packed, chopped fresh cilantro leaves

4 medium large ripe avocados
Sea salt
Fresh lime juice

Queso fresco crumbled, for garnish
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Radishes, halved and thinly sliced, for garnish

In a medium bowl, mix the onion, garlic and chiles with the sundried tomatoes and cilantro.

Close to when you are going to serve, halve the avocados lengthwise by cutting from stem to stern and back again, then twist the two halves apart. Dislodge the pit with the blade and scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl with a spoon. Roughly mash the avocados into a coarsely textured, thick mash. You probably want some chunk.

Taste and season with salt and lime juice to suit your personal preferences.

Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole and refrigerate until ready to serve. Mound the guacamole in a serving dish, and serve with queso fresco, cilantro and radishes.

Corsica…an isolated and singular land, both island and mountain.
~Friedrich Ratzel, Anthropogeographie

Lamb is on my mind. Surprise, surprise.

Today my thoughts wandered to a quaint, dimly lit Corsican restaurant on a narrow cobblestone street in Paris’ 5ème. Through the wine haze of a late evening and time gone by, I recalled (with able help) scrumptious roast goat and lentil salad served by the beguiling and barefoot co-owner, manager, hostess, cashier, waitress and wife. A one woman band with the exception of her husband, the chef. The theory that food is better in bare feet was borne out again—even if they were her naked toes, and not ours.

Later, I meandered to a couple of visits years back to that magical French offshore région which is metaphorically shaped like a cluster of sun dappled, vine ripened grapes: Corsica.

La Corse, sometimes called L’Île de Beauté, has stunning palm fringed bays, daunting limestone cliffs, unspoiled beaches and intimate coves— nearby, Corsica’s landscapes open onto thickly shrubbed and flowered maquis—then the island rises up to the interior’s snow capped alpine peaks, plunging ravines, rushing torrents, lofty pine forests, glacial mountain lakes, high pastures, and red roofed villages perchés. An idyllic venue where, on the same day, a brisk morning alpine hike amidst fragrant evergreens and gurgling streams can morph into a tranquil afternoon by the beach, awash in the shimmering Mediterranean.

A fragrant, mystical mountain with rocky shores jutting from the sea.

The fiercely proud people of Corsica have endured a rather tumultuous past of invasion, occupation and also isolation. The Greeks had a brief foothold in Corsica with the foundation of Aleria in 566 BC until they were expelled by an alliance of the Etruscans and Carthaginians. In the 2nd century BC, it was taken over by the Roman Empire which had a profound influence, colonizing the entire coast, permeating inland and changing the indigenous language to Latin.

With the fall of Rome centuries later, the island passed through the hands of the Goths and Vandals until it assumed Byzantine rule in the the 5th century AD. After the Byzantine Empire’s collapse, Corsica found itself governed by the Moors and then by the Vatican. In 1282, it came under lengthy rule by the Doges of Genoa, with brief interruptions from Aragon and France, to whom the Mediterranean island was sold in 1768. Almost 500 years of Genoan reign along with the earlier Roman dominion has imparted a distinctly Italian flair to the island.

Some have opined that some 10,000 — 12,000 Corsican stoic sons perished in WW I, much more disproportionate given the small population there.  In most villages, there is a stone monument to the fallen in The Great War.

In the last several decades, Corsica’s relationship with the mainland has been uneasy and problematic at times. The early 1970’s saw the rise of a nationalist movement in a reaction to years of cultural indifference and economic neglect, and separatists still wage a violent struggle against the central government. Successive French administrations have been unwilling to offer meaningful regional autonomy, including official status for the Corsican language and recognition of the Corsicans as a distinct nationality. In an effort to diminish tensions, the central Parisian government has created an elected local assembly to give voice to Corsican regional aspirations.

Corsica’s cuisine is as divinely robust as its citizens—smoked hams from chestnut fed pigs, wild boar sausage, pork cuts and charcuterie, fresh herbs, rustic red and white beans and the local goat’s milk cheese, called brocciu, both fresh and aged. Animals are butchered nose to tail, so offal abounds. Cafés teem with locals and tourists alike quaffing red wine and eating artisanal bread spread with slabs of pâté de grives (thrush) and briny green Corsican olives. The flowers of the aromatic Mediterranean scrubland there offer bees with countless nectars, producing brush, arbutus and chestnut flower honey. And the isle is Europe’s main producer of clementines.

As an island region, seafood is naturally a central part of Corsican life: red mullet, pandora, red scorpionfish, sea bream, monkfish, rock lobster, spider crab and squillfish. There is also mullet roe, cured and dried to make boutargue, known as “Corsican caviar.”

The maquis fed young lambs (abbacchios) and goats (cabris) are superlative—tender and succulent from their free range mountainside habitat.

CORSICAN ROAST LEG OF LAMB

8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
6 high quality anchovy fillets, chopped
1/2 C olive oil
1/2 C Lucques olives
Juice of 1-2 oranges
3 T Dijon mustard

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, stripped and leaves chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped and leaves chopped
2 T dried oregano
2 t red pepper flakes

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 6-7 lb leg of lamb, bone in
3 C Corsican or Bandol dry white wine
4 T unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pads

Place the garlic and anchovies into a food processor and pulse to a fine paste; add the olive oil in a narrow steady stream and while pulsing, add the olives, orange juice and mustard. Add the rosemary, thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes to the mixture, again pulsing to a paste.

Liberally season lamb with salt and pepper, cover well with marinade and place into a heavy plastic bag. Squeeze out as much of the air as possible from the bag and seal. Wrap again with another plastic bag to ensure that the marinating lamb does not leak. Marinate for overnight in the refrigerator. Remove the lamb, still in its marinade bag, from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before putting in the oven to bring the lamb close to room temperature before roasting.

Preheat oven to 450 F

Remove the lamb from the marinade bag and place on a rack in a roasting pan, fat side up. Roast for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 F and continue cooking for an additional 1-1 1/2 hours (10-12 minutes per lb). While cooking, periodically baste the lamb in the pan juices. However, remember every time the oven door is opened, you will need 10 minutes or so to bring the oven back up to temperature, thus slowing the cooking process.

(If you think the skin is becoming too dark but the internal temperature of the lamb is still too rare you can loosely cover the lamb in aluminum foil while the lamb continues to cook.)

Check with an internal thermometer and remove from the oven anywhere from 130-135 F for medium rare. Lamb should never be cooked until well done or it will be too dry.

Remove the lamb to a platter or board and let stand at least 15 minutes before carving. Retain the cooking juices in the roasting pan and spoon off some of the excess fat. Then, place the roasting pan on the stove top and heat to a boil. Add the wine, cook down rapidly and reduce the sauce by more than half. Thicken the sauce by vigorously whisking in butter just before serving.

Position the leg roast so that the meatier side faces down. Using a long, thin-bladed knife and holding the end of the shank bone, remove a few strips of meat from the top side, working parallel to the bone.  Rest the leg on the flat area you and cut slices to your liking perpendicular and all the way down to the bone, starting at the end farthest away.  Starting at the top, slide the knife underneath the slices just made. Remove in one long sawing motion.  Rotate the bone and repeat with the less meaty side; trim any remaining meat from the sides of the bone.

Serve slices over polenta, artisanal noodles or white beans, spooning sauce over.