To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree has its own voice as well as its feature.
~Thomas Hardy

On July 29, 2016, it is National Gnarly Day, a term which seems to have accrued several meanings:  (1) of course, the natural knotty protuberance on a tree; (2) something that goes beyond radical, distasteful or extreme; and/or (3) something that meets perfection, skill or the ideal. Perhaps, “gnarly” is an admix of three nuances, who knows?  I certainly do not, but adore, am provoked and intrigued, how the word and day can transmute depending upon usages, verbal and otherwise.  As a neophyte language aficionado, “gnarly is sort of down my alley…and sometimes even gives pause.  No, no, not down the condiments aisle where Johnny first uttered “ketchup” in order to be posted on social media — not a true experience shared quietly, almost in a whisper with knowing smiles, between parents after hours.

So you know, National Gnarly Day happens to fall on the last Friday of each July. Here is something that fits the bill, but also has the green hues and sapidity that avocados bestow. Happy National Gnarly Day Eve !

SCRAMBLED EGGS + SLICED AVOCADOS

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2-3 T unsalted butter
3 T cream cheese
6 fresh, free range or pastured eggs
1 T heavy whipping cream or crème fraîche
1/8 T sea salt
1/4 T freshly ground pepper

Pinch of white pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Larger pinch of herbes de provence

1-2 avocados, sliced lengthwise & then halved

Melt the oil, butter and cream cheese in a heavy nonstick skillet.

Combine the eggs, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, herbes de provence and a dollop of cream and crème fraîche in a glass bowl and whisk briskly.

Pour into the skillet, with the heat on low. With a wooden spatula, gently stir the egg mixture, lifting it up and over from the bottom as it thickens. Stir away from the sides and bottom of the pan toward the middle. Continue to stir until the desired texture, a mass of soft curds, will be achieved.  In a quiet, gnarly fashion.

Slice and add the avocado slices and again cook slowly.

The eggs thicken, dry out and toughen very quickly toward the end, so if you like them soft, fluffy and moist, remove them from the heat a little before they reach the desired texture — please do not forget that the eggs will continue to cook after being removed from both the stove top and the pan (like many foodstuffs, including green beans, asparagus, broccoli, and most meats, etc).

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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.

 

Other than a scant syllabic kinship, I am befuddled why when hearing clafouti my mind’s ear always conjures up “Shipoopi”—a love song from the 1957 Meredith Willson musical, The Music Man, starring the virile Robert Preston. An endearing yet quirky Buddy Hackett was pegged as the song and dance star for this number, and even Peter Griffin from the Family Guy series has performed a rendition.

Recently, clafouti (apple and pear) has found new life and taken on a metaphorical bend in Yasmina Reza’s acclaimed nihilistic play, God of Carnage.

The classic clafouti is a rustic dish akin to a flan or sweet omelet, usually chocked with fruit…a dish from the Limousin region of central France in the northwestern part of the Massif Central. Limousin is derived from the Lemovices, a Gallic tribe native to the area during Roman rule which began around 50 BC. In the tenth century, Limousin became a fief of Aquitaine, and later during the Middle Ages it became well known for its troubadour poetry.

Limoges, the capital of this département, is not only the birthplace of artist Jean Auguste Renoir, it is the home of cherished Limoges porcelain which has been manufactured there since 1771.

The word “limousine”—those luxurious elongated sedans often housing self annointed VIPS—is derived from a cloaked cape worn by the shepherds of Limousin.

This enticing berry clafouti is a different spin for Mother’s Day.

SEASONAL BERRY CLAFOUTI

2 T kirsch or other eau-de-vie
2 T light brown sugar
1/3 C sugar (divided)
1/3 C raw sugar (divided)

3 T unsalted butter,softened
2 lbs mixed seasonal berries (e.g., cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries)

3 large eggs
2 T sugar
6 T heavy whipping cream
6 T whole milk
1/4 C cornstarch or all purpose flour

Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 425

Combine the kirsch and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a bowl to dissolve. Add the berries and butter, then toss to blend. Transfer to a baking dish and place in the oven. Bake until the fruit is hot, about 10 minutes, so they exude excess liquid. If necessary, drain the fruit in a colander, but reserve the juices for flavoring later. Set the berries aside to cool to room temperature.

Lower the oven to 375 F

Whisk the eggs until frothy with a mixer, adding the remaining sugar. Then add the cream, milk and cornstarch or flour and mix until well blended. You should have a smooth batter.

Place the fruits in a baking dish in a single layer. Slowly pour the batter over the fruit, filling just to the brim. Bake until until golden, some 35 to 40 minutes. Set aside to cool, and turn broiler to high.

Sprinkle the confectioners’ sugar on top evenly Place under the broiler until the sugar is caramelized. Cool to room temperature.

Serve the clafouti directly from the skillet in wedges or unmold. To unmold, make certain that the clafouti is free from the sides of the pan; if necessary, run a sharp knife around the edge to release it.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and champagne.