Life is like riding a bicycle — in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.
~Albert Einstein

Never have these meant to be autobiographical musings, despite the medium. Hopefully it’s never read as self indulgent, indiscreet, insipid, smudge free, egocentric OMG! Zuckerbergish gibberish run amok. That social mediacrity with identity-indifferent-track-and-sell-persona greed as the true intent — razing individual privacy and autonomy with impunity.  Instead, these thoughts are meant as mere reflections, sometimes gentle and other times sharp edged, on food and culture.

Compared to previous years, I have been remiss with Tour de France coverage.   This year’s edition began in Liège, Belgium, swept toward northern Normandie then swung back to northeast region of Lorraine.  The peloton then  streaked southward down the eastern border of France through the Vosges, the Jura, the Alpes to the Mediterranean and then back westward toward the  Pyrénées when the riders finally turn north toward  Paris and the ChampsÉlysées.  Today was a relatively flat étape (stage), with one stage 3 and two stage 4 “little” climbs, that runs 158 km from Samatan to Pau in southwest France which just precedes a showdown in the Pyrénées.  In all, the riders cover 3,947 kilometers (2,452.55 miles) over three weeks this year — already 42 riders have retired.  Makes my lungs burn and my legs weary just typing.

While much of the Tour’s majesty and quirks have been noted in previous posts, a couple were brought to my attention from earlier stages.  Ahead of the riders on the course is a publicity caravan of advertising vehicles (le caravan publicitaire) while behind the peloton is a snarl of mulit-hued team little cars laden with components, parts, tools, equipment, bikes, spares, bottles, computers, radios, the directeur sportif (team manager), and the like.   Titanium, carbon fiber, and high tensile steel alloys galore.  Within this circus are officials’ vehicles, motorcycle cops, medical vans, and photographers hanging precariously off the back of even more motorcycles.  Ballet and mayhem meet.

A sticky bottle is when a cyclist receives a water bottle from inside the team car with both parties grasping the vessel as long as possible, towing the rider and giving a little pedal-less boost to launch his return to the peloton while saving precious energy.  A magic spanner usually occurs when a rider has just had a mechanical issue, a wheel change or outright crashed. Once again, while  being assisted, riders latch onto the mechanic or car which accelerates, slingshotting the rider back into the peloton.  Similarly, attending to minor medical needs like spraying a topical antibiotic on a rider while he  holds onto a speeding car is also rather common during races.

Article 7 of the Tour’s rules, entitled Race Offences sternly reads:  “(S)lipstreaming or being pulled along by a motor vehicle, whether from the front, back or side as well as any grasping-hold of the bicycle or vehicle is forbidden under all circumstances.”   As with most sports however, team tactics sometimes delve into gray to achieve those little boosts with an eye on that sometimes elusive, collective goal of victory.  Just a little help from their friends.

Other times though, the game is not worth the candle.  This year’s Giro d’Italia race jury pulled several sprinters from the race during its penultimate stage for holding onto team cars.   The incident happened on the 20th stage, the Giro’s  “queen stage,” which boasts five climbs, making it an exceptionally difficult stage for sprinters .   A jury communiqué called it a fatto grave or “serious fault.”

This distinctly French plate seemed à propos

POTATO, TURNIP & GREEN BEAN SALAD

1 lb medium Yukon Gold potatoes, washed
1 lb medium turnips, washed, with roots and tops trimmed
Sea salt
2 bay leaves
2 large thyme sprigs

3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed to a paste
1 T high quality anchovy filets, rinsed, dried and chopped
1 1/2 T fine capers, rinsed, dried and chopped
2 t Dijon mustard
4 T champagne or sherry vinegar
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb fresh green beans (preferably haricots verts), ends trimmed off
4 large eggs, room temperature
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 T parsley leaves, roughly chopped
2 T basil, roughly chopped

Bring a large pot of cold water with potatoes, bay leaf and thyme sprig to a boil and salt generously. Reduced heat and cook at a brisk simmer until the potatoes are firm but easily pierced with a paring knife, about 30 minutes. Remove, drain and let cool some.

Bring another large pot of cold water with turnips, bay leaf and thyme sprig to a boil and salt generously. Reduce heat and cook at a brisk simmer until the turnips are firm but easily pierced with a paring knife, about 15-20 minutes. Remove, drain and let cool some.

While the potatoes and turnips are cooking, prepare a vinaigrette. In a medium glass bowl, whisk together the garlic, anchovy, capers, mustard and wine vinegar. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking vigorously. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside and whisk again before dressing.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and gently slice into pieces about 1/3″ thick. Likewise, peel and gently cut the turnips into 1/3″ slices. Put the slices in a large glass bowl, season lightly with salt and pepper and add half the vinaigrette. Using your hands, gently coat the potatoes and turnips with the vinaigrette, taking care not to break them. Set aside.

Put the green beans in a pot of boiling, salted water and simmer until just tender and crisp, about 3-4 minutes. Drain in a colander, then cool under running cold water and pat dry. Promptly plunge into ice cold water for a brief moment to halt cooking and retain the green hue. Promptly drain and dry on cloth or paper towel or the beans will become soggy. Set aside.

Gently place the eggs in a saucepan and add enough cold water to liberally cover the eggs. Bring to a boil over high and then immediately remove from heat and cover until done, about 12 minutes. Uncover and flush with cool running water and then briefly place in an ice bath to cease cooking. Dry promptly on paper towels and peel. Set aside.

To assemble: season the beans with salt and pepper, then dress lightly with with vinaigrette. Combine the dressed beans, potatoes and turnips, using hands to toss, and arrange on a platter or large flat bowl. Cut the eggs lengthwise, drizzle lightly with vinaigrette, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange eggs over the top and sprinkle with chopped parsley and basil.

Serve standing alone or with grilled, sautéed, or roasted meat, poultry or fish.

Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization.
~George Bernard Shaw

Yesterday was somewhat of a Breton train wreck at the Tour…some ten crashes, two riders out, a half dozen injured, and egos bruised. The peloton snaked through stingy ancient roads, then formed eschelons to evade the ever changing Atlantic winds that buffeted the riders as they approached a perilous finish.

Today, the pack licked their wounds and began their invasion of Normandie—a rolling 226 km conquest from the architecturally awesome Dinan to the idyllically Norman Lisieux. One long day in the saddle. With the exception of sprinters, discretion seemed to form the better part of valor on this stage. While braving heavy rain showers and even some hail, riders appeared more cautious and teams seemed to be conserving energy for the decisive mountain stages. Yet the ride was not without breakaways, drama and a scintillating dash to the finish.

Tomorrow, the race begins to turn south in a transitional stage, one of the flattest of the Tour. After that, the climbs become more somber, with several less than leisurely rides in the lofty Massif Central, before more menacing stuff unfolds in the sheer Pyrénées and the Alpes. There, men will be separated from boys.

For now, the Tour is in Normandie, home of sublime cream, butter, cider, veal, duck, offal, sausages, Calvados, Camembert, Livarot, and Pont-l’Évêque.

Poule au pot has a tradition that harkens back to the Middle Ages. Then, cooks used heavy cauldrons placed directly on open fires, either on the hearth or in the farm yard. They would cover everything and anything in water and let the whole meat and vegetable mix simmer for a long time. While poule au pot may have originated in the Béarn region in southwest France, birthplace of the bon vivant king Henri IV, it is typical Sunday country fare across France.

There are as many variations as there are kitchens, some stuffed (often with chopped giblets, Bayonne ham, bread) and others not (as below).

LA POULE AU POT A LA NORMANDE

1 – 4 lb chicken
Chicken broth and water, in equal parts

Bouquet garni (bundled parsley, thyme and bay leaf)
3 carrots, peeled, and cut into thick juliennes 2″ in length
1/2 celeriac bulb, trimmed, peeled, and cut into thick juliennes 2″ in length
3 medium turnips, trimmed, peeled, and cut into thick juliennes 2″ in length
2 medium leeks, light green/whites, washed, cut into thick juliennes 2″ in length
1 fennel bulb, cored, and cut into thick juliennes 2″ in length
1/2 plump, fresh garlic head, separated into cloves with skins intact

1 C crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Fresh tarragon or sage leaves, chopped

Truss chicken and place into a Dutch oven. Cover with chicken broth and water and add bouquet garni, carrots, celeriac, turnips, leeks, fennel and garlic. Bring to a hearty boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 1 1/2 hours or so. Cook until chicken is tender and juices run pale yellow when pierced from the thigh. Transfer chicken to a cutting board, breast side down, and carefully transfer vegetables to a large bowl using a slotted spoon. Loosely tent both with aluminum foil. Discard bouquet garni.

Return pot to stove over medium high heat and bring stock to a vibrant boil. Cook until liquid has reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to low, vigorously whisk in crème fraîche and simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Season to taste.

Meanwhile, untruss chicken and cut into serving pieces. Ideally, the meat should almost fall from the bone but the pieces should remain firm, moist and tender.

Serve chicken over rice pilaf or couscous in shallow bowls with the vegetables…or with small new potatoes or noodles which have been simmered in the broth toward the end of the cooking cycle.

Spoon over crème fraîche sauce to your liking and garnish with fresh tarragon or sage.

Pourboire: Classic poule au pot is usually made without the addition of crème fraîche or cream. You be the boss.

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.

Le Tour & Turnip Soup

July 3, 2011

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.
~H.G. Wells

Please excuse my exuberance, but it’s that time of year again.

Yesterday was the grand départ of this year’s ever epic Tour de France —3,430.5 grueling kilometres (2,131.6 mi) over three weeks. Customarily, the Tour has begun with a prologue stage where riders raced solely against the clock. In a break with tradition, the organizers opened with a road stage on the Atlantic seaboard which proved fairly flat but closed with an undulating finish and a brief, yet deceptively arduous, climb. A route which favored riders who can unleash rapid, potent bursts of uphill acceleration.

The supple grace, suffering, precision and outright speed of the team trial was held today…a precise race against the clock, and a reminder to even the most casual observers that the Tour de France is a team sport. Sheer beauty on wheels.

The Tour’s field now heads into Bretagne (Brittany), an almost mystical region defined by the sea and perched on the northwest tip of France. Bretagne stands apart from the rest of France, its peninsular thumb jutting into the blue, separating the English Channel from the Bay of Biscay. The modern administrative region roughly silhouettes the historic province, and is now comprised of the départements of Côtes-d’Armor, Finistère, Ille-et-Vilaine and Morbihan.

Although inhabited by peoples as early as 8,000 BCE and conquered by Romans who occupied the region for several centuries, Brittany’s true birth was forged during the Dark Ages. Then, waves of Irish, Welsh and English immigrants (Bretons) “invaded” and profoundly altered the character of the peninsula, which became Bretagne. They spread their own brand of religion as well as a fiercely insular, sometimes resentful, spirit. A wary sensitivity about their environs. This ruggedly independent attitude is reinforced by landscape—a land which boasts a staggering 1,700 miles of contorted coastline characterized by windswept cliffs, capes, islands, and rocky ports, many with ominous sounding names. While the seascapes tend to be dramatic, the landscapes inland are more mellow. The interior lies on the Argoat plateau (wood country) where small farm plots are surrounded by hedgerows, a patchwork known as the bocage.

The sea’s and land’s bounties are jealously guarded yet so copiously displayed at local markets. A cornucopia of varied flat fish, oysters, sea urchins, scallops, mussels, whelks, langoustines, crevettes, lobsters and crabs rest on ice. Other stalls brim with produce grown on the Argoat farmlands: cauliflower, onions, peas, turnips, cabbages, white beans, and the omnipresent Breton artichokes. Also displayed are lamb raised on nearby salt marshes, along with prized chickens, geese, regional sausages and various offal. Farmers sell fresh milk and the region’s esteemed butter, apples from the Argoat orchards, strawberries from Plougastel, and famed new potatoes from the inland sandy flats.

POTAGE AUX NAVETS BLANCS (TURNIP SOUP)

3 T unsalted butter
2 leeks, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced

5 medium white turnips (about 2 1/2 lbs), peeled, cut into 1/2″ slices
1 medium russet potato, peeled, cut into 1/2″ slices
5 C+ chicken broth

1 3/4 C whole milk
1/4 C whipping cream
Grating of nutmeg

1 turnip, peeled, cut into small matchstick julienne

Fresh fennel fronds, chopped

Melt butter in heavy large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks and onion and sauté until onion is translucent, about 10-12 minutes. Add turnips and potato and sauté 2 minutes. Add broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Purée soup in processor or blender in batches until very smooth, then return to Dutch oven. Add milk and cream and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Cook julienned turnips in pot of boiling salted water until just tender yet crisp, about 2 minutes. Drain.

Bring soup to simmer, thinning with more broth if necessary. Ladle into bowls and garnish with turnip strips and chopped fresh fennel.

A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it’s better to be thoroughly sure.
~Czech proverb

The north to south plunge of the first stages of this year’s Tour de France bypassed the pastoral and gastronomically diverse region of Alsace-Lorraine nestled in the northeastern corner of France. Instead, the riders braved rain and then the harrowing, bone jarring rigors of 7 cobbled sectors in a more central route from Belgium south toward the steep mountain stages of the Alps. These are not those faux cobblestones seen in suburban malls, but are rather the old school, epic, rounded rocks with abysmal ruts and crevices that suddenly grab wheels with a Jaws-like vengeance. To cyclists perched atop two narrow high pressure tires in a frenetically paced and packed peleton, it is labyrinthine chaos. Seems a metaphor for modern life.

Home to handcrafted and hearty beers, Alsace-Lorraine is not to be forgotten though in this rustic chicken Ragout À l’Alsacienne. The braising beer should be darker with hefty yeast and malt tones. This is not fare for light lager. I might suggest your finest local microbrewery or a hearty bottled beer from the region.

RAGOUT OF CHICKEN IN BEER

6 thick slices high quality slab bacon, cut into 1″ x 1/4″ lardons

3 C fresh mushrooms, quartered
2 T butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 t dried thyme

3 T unsalted butter, softened
3 T all purpose flour

3 1/2 to 4 lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces and thoroughly dried
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T unsalted butter
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil

3 C yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed, finely minced and smashed again to a paste

4 C fine beer
1-2 C chicken broth
1-2 T Dijon mustard
5 sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
1-2 T brandy

Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped, for garnish

Bacon
In a large, heavy deep skillet or Dutch oven, fry the cut bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Set aside, reserving about 1-2 tablespoons fat in the pan.

Mushrooms
Place heavy skillet with butter and oil over medium high heat. When the butter is well heated, add the mushrooms and toss well so they absorb the butter. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme and continue tossing until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.

Beurre Manié
With your fingers, combine butter and flour. Set aside.

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy skillet with the bacon fat over medium-high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Add the chicken and cook on one side until the skin turns an even golden brown, about 5 minutes. Do not crowd the pan and even brown the chicken in batches if necessary. Then turn the pieces, and brown on that side, 5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside in a casserole dish, tented loosely with aluminum foil.

Reduce the heat to medium, and add the sliced onions and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Drain through a sieve to remove excess fat.

Return the chicken to the skillet, add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, and thyme. Pour in the beer, mustard and enough stock to barely cover the ingredients. Stir and bring to a simmer until the chicken is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the sauce and boil the sauce down rapidly. Raise heat, fortify sauce with brandy and boil down rapidly—-tasting and adding any necessary seasoning. Then, remove from heat and whisk in the beurre manié little by little to lightly thicken the sauce. (There is no need to use the entirety of the beurre manié—just enough to lightly thicken.) Bring briefly to a simmer so that the sauce just lightly coats a spoon.

Return the chicken to the sauce, and add the lardons and mushrooms to the sauce. Top with parsley and serve with buttery artisan noodles.

The struggle itself…is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
~Albert Camus

Yesterday, the Tour field opened up (perhaps hemorrhaged), with many of the men being separated from the boys on a steep finishing climb in Switzerland. Today is a no-rest-for-the-weary day which does not always translate into better performances tomorrow as riders can fall out of psychic and physical sync.

The next stage (numéro 16) mercilessly traverses 160km up and down the majestic Alps of Switzerland, Italy and France. After a precious few flat miles, riders will crawl up the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard (HC), the pinnacle of this year’s Alpine summits (8,114 feet). The final 5km is tortuous and never ending, with an average 6.2% grade, and some pitches as steep as 10%. Pains my quads to even tap, tap about it. After cresting the peak, the riders will descend into Italy at breakneck speed heading toward the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard (Cat 1—a smidgen less steep) for another punishing ascent. Really? Again?

A symmetrical, buxom, double breasted race profile—the myth of Sisyphus times two, except unlike the tale, there is a finish to the stage.

The brief run through Northern Italy in tomorrow’s stage warrants a risotto recipe…a dirty, rustic one to be savored with the lights on.

RISOTTO SPORCO

8 C chicken broth

1/4 lb pancetta, chopped
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
1 C porcini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 t dried thyme

1/3 lb chicken gizzards, chopped
1/2 lb chicken livers, patted dry and chopped
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3/4 C yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1/2 C poblano chili pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 C Arborio rice
3/4 C red wine
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
1 T Italian parsley leaves, chopped

In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer. Cover and keep warm over low heat.

In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until rendered, about 4-5 minutes. Pour out some, but not all, of the pancetta fat. Set aside and drain on paper towels.

Heat some more olive oil and butter in the same large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and thyme, and sauté until just browned and the juices begin to exude, around 2 to 4 minutes. Remove and set aside on paper towels.

Meanwhile, melt more butter and olive oil in the same large skillet over medium high heat. Season livers and gizzards with salt and pepper. Add gizzards then livers a little later to skillet and sauté until not quite cooked and still pink in the center, about 2 minutes. Remove and set aside on paper towels.

In a large heavy sauce pan or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium high heat, add the onion and poblanos, and sauté until tender, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Ladle in 1 cup of the already simmering stock and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice has absorbed most of the stock, about 1-2 minutes. Add another ladleful of stock, and stir regularly until all of the stock is absorbed. Let each ladleful of stock be almost absorbed before adding next, allowing the rice to be covered with a thin coating of stock. Continue adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring frequently until the rice is almost tender but firm to the bite, about 20 minutes. The risotto should be smooth and creamy.

Remove from the heat and stir in the mushrooms, pancetta, livers, gizzards and most of the parmigiano reggiano. Transfer the risotto to shallow serving bowls. Garnish with the remaining parmigiano reggiano and parsley and serve immediately.

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.