December 31, 2005
Un Bateau Ivre
Steady as she goes Master and Commander!
Champagne and cutlasses,
Howling poems shouted from the wheelhuizen roof,
Sails long turned into hammocks and aprons,
A crew of one-eyed cooks with a cartoon captain wielding a ladle,
Instead of hook.
Pirate dreams attack under cover of night.
Ivre is a state of delirious delight,
Ivre de joie—drunk on pleasure.
Many will be truly drunk tonight
As the last year turns to the new,
Even as I cut myself adrift
On this narrow inland sea and sail the sort of dreams
That have deliciously tainted twenty years afloat.
Sleeping on Boats continues the party as dreams collide between cabins—
proof that it is not only Cheese that provokes a wild night life.
Try living on the Julia Hoyt afloat on a river of wine, armagnac and champagne,
Running rapids of conversations inspired by this safe haven of a Long Village.
Toasts ring through the night,
To those who show up!
And those absent friends…
This Bateau Ivre dances solidly against inch-thick ropes tied to poplar stumps.
Unpromising weather turns to future dreams of long voyages
And friends who sail across the thin blue lines of a European Map,
Now colored with new names for old places.
Pirate-Whores clash pans in the bistro-galley.
Dashing First Mates pop the bilge’s treasures into old crystal still ringing with the vibration of an old diesel motor.
Aweigh the anchor –now planted in the garden.
As new journeys ring the New Year,
La Capitaine takes the wheel and gives
A spin to loosen dry throats and sober minds.
Aye, me hearties, I see no ships but
Hardships… and good times ahead.
Here’s to those who showed up since 1986-
Twenty years afloat and still- ‘I’ is for too much fun!
December 27, 2005
Time. Lots of time. Time to kill, to spend and to weave into a life—time.
When I first arrived in Southwest France, along the Canal de Garonne, in 1988, I heard over and over again “we take the time to take time… to cook, to walk, to rebuild…”
"Prenez le temps de chanter, De vivre joyeux et d'aimer. Tout l'monde sait bien qu'après tout en France Nous avons la chance De pouvoir dire en vérité Qu'il fait bon vivre à Paris Au Nord, au Centre, au Midi,A l'est, à l'ouest, printemps, hiver, été. Prenez le temps de le chanter. "
In this little verse by Charles Trenet he reminds us that "everyone knows that after all, here in France, we have the luck to truthfully say that we live well, in the North, the Center, the midi, the east, the west, springtime, winter, summer and above all take the time to sing of it." How often have I heard as a response to my curiosity about food, cooking, growing—whatever, that time was a key ingredient?
This morning I took the time between talking with that Diva in la toscane to put on a pork belly to cook. Judy Witts and I are planning a delicious and timely presentation for the IACP conference in March. Between e-flashing back and forth with ideas, websites and holy cards (Yes, Virginia there is a patron saint of pigs!) We are cooking up a celebration called “Saints Preserve Us!- a pig’s tale of three cultures”. Our VerySpecialGuest joining us in Seattle will be Fergus Henderson- UK food god and offal icon from St. John’s Restaurant in London. Sitting on my desk is copy of Fergus’ Nose to Tail Eating that I have been consulting. Sitting on my desk is a small, cheap fake watch pin that I have kept for years to remind myself that we have all the time it takes.
As Judy and I pinged back and forth, I put the fresh pork belly I had bought from the Chapolard brothers in a pot, covered it with good water, added a dozen pepper corns, 2 bay leaves, 6 large carrots peeled but left whole for sweetness (see Fergus’s instructions), onion, garlic and a shallot for luck, a half of hot pepper that was lying around, some salt, a pinch of Epice Rabelais, whacked the lid on, turned the fire down once it came to a boil and have been smelling the sweet fragrant pork cooking the whole time we have been talking about the way butchers are celebrated in Italy and France. That’s a nice way to spend some time.
One and one-half hours later. Time to eat—I snag two carrots and slice off an inch of pork belly to taste. I sip from a spoon the cooking liquor. I take another sip, then a third. This will be perfect with lentils- again FH’s advice. I’ll do that later for dinner. Now I am writing like a runaway horse and want to race the clock to send a Christmas greeting. Just two days late.
Tonight when this canal is hidden behind the dark—there is NO ambient light here miles from any cities, I will return to this slow simmering broth, add the lentils, tweak the seasoning and take the time to sit down to a simple supper. I cook for myself. DuPont will share in the goods, too, but I am better for it when I treat myself like an honored guest and make a nice meal. If friends were here, I would do no more or …less.
In my Gascon ABC ‘H’ words all have the article l’ before. That’s le français for you! Instead of a fast fix, a quick meal, an on-the-run snack- how about replacing that digital chronometer keeping track of the milli-seconds you are wasting with an old fashioned slow, ticking l’horloge. In Southwest France, ‘l’H’ stands for time... and plenty of it.
This clock stopped ticking years ago when it’s heart was broken on a wild ride across the IJsselmeer but it is still a good souvenir of friendship and twenty years afloat.
December 24, 2005
December 23, 2005
My tongue trips over the next few letters like a sing-song kindergarten rhyme… Armagnac, Boudin, Community, Daguin, Foie gras, then lands like a frozen snowball in La Gascogne Givrée. What began as a handful of cold and crisp clear days has turned my long village, the Garonne River Valley, into a 357 mile long frozen food section. In the potager, full-leafed Savoy cabbage are translucent with cold, asparagus fronds are ice shrouded, and last year’s fennel left standing are delicate ice sculptures and rosemary lollipops decorate the dormant patch.
The ups and downs of growing food reflect the weather—some years the Garonne jumps her bed a half-dozen times or more, flooding the valley and delivering precious fertile silt; this year we are still in drought conditions six months after summer’s too hot heat. Our normal ‘gloomy Gascony’ winter, mild daytime temperatures and year round natural watering, has given way to a dry and cold stranglehold. In the sixteen years of playing house at Camont, I have never seen the landscape painted hoar frost white.
My sweet Gascony lies cradled in the arms of the north-flowing Garonne River and spills down toward the Pyrenees and the Basque countries. This fabled land of milk and honey, fertile, abundant water threaded by many rivers and springs, and mild temperatures has gone into hiding. France’s year-round potager now lies hidden under a winter blanket of ice lace crystals. Whereas ‘G’ will always be for Gascony, today ‘G’ is for la Gascogne givrée, glacée and gelée.
This pigeon didn't fly south.
December 21, 2005
As easy as it was to start this Gascon ABC with “A is for armagnac’, just imagine what happens when you get to ‘F’. Words jump out of my mouth, in French and English, but it doesn’t take long to get to the center of gravity here. In Gascony, ‘F’ is definitely for... foie gras.
Today is market day at Lavardac, a small town on the Baïse River, just a day’s cruise up my Long Village. Friends and I scour this weekly, year-round market stretched out under the plane trees, wrapped around the band pavilion, and scattered across the boulodrome for some winter solstice treats as this week ramps up for Christmas. The usual suspects take shelter on this unusually cold morning under their striped awnings, square umbrellas and pop-up trailers. Hats and scarfs, fingerless gloves and blankets to protect the fragile produce dress the frozen crowd of vendors.
The Chapolard brothers bring “l’Art du Cochon” from ear to tail from their family farm in Mezin. I buy a small slab of pork belly and some boudin noir. 5.04 Euros
Bernard offers artisan cheeses and tubs of thick crème fraiche from all across France and my favorite sharp manchego from Spain. I buy a modest Saint Marcelin. One buck fifty- euros that is.
The many orchards of Ste. Colombe-en-Bruilhois perfume this fog-frosty air with their applepear perfume. I weigh up a couple kilos of pears, pay 4 euros and pop them in my basket.
But the Frosty, Foggy, French morning keeps whispering with a hoarse Gascon lisp- fwa grrrah as I sidle into line under the yellow striped awning that protects Patricia Lamarouche and Guillaume Dilhan while they serve the poultry they raise on their Ferme de Puymartin at Vianne. The Christmas specials to order for Saturday’s market at Nerac are posted on a chalkboard: chapon, dinde, oie de guinea, poularde, pintade chaponnée et le foie gras frais. I worry through my order. The line diminishes as fast as the contents of the refrigerated case: a 7-kilo fatted duck wrapped in white paper departs with a petite mémé, a 2-kilo roasting chicken, some boudin blanc and all the crepinettes made with duck meat and prunes doused in floc disappear with an visiting Irish family, the last guinea hen tucked under the arms of a vieux garcon, beret and all. By the time it’s my turn, all the capons, turkeys, guinea hens and fatted hens are spoken for. What will I prepare for Christmas eve dinner, a very small affair for a few holiday orphans? Patricia widens her eyes and says "Beh, Kate, c’est très simple. Un petit roti de foie gras !"
On Christmas Eve, the tiny bistro-galley of the Julia Hoyt will be awash with cold glasses of Guy Arrouy’s Cote de Gascogne, a robust red Cote de Marmandais from Elian da Roz and the oaken-vanilla scent of a Dubordieu armagnac as I roast the f-word to a rosy glow. ‘F’ is for foie gras, of course.
P.S. 'F' is also for Friends, Family and Food Blogs. In just a couple days, when we raise glasses and toast the table, don't forget to toast Pim's giving raffle. It felt so good, you can give again!
December 19, 2005
Summer is half a year away or just gone to the other side of the world. On this crisp winter day, I remember that summer and spend the afternoon raking the gravel terrace and paths, pricking off the last lemon verveine, salvaging some fresh mint, pruning the bay tree for some holiday wreaths. There are still buds on the roses--frozen rose buds edged in frost beads.
The artichoke plants are the sole survivors in the potager. Blackened tomato vines beg to be cleaned up, but I walk to the piggery pantry and take a jar of tomatoes from the shelf. Two spoons of duck fat in the pan, two shallots chopped roughly, a couple garlic cloves smashed; joint the chicken, brown in the fat, add the bay leaves, salt and pepper and pour the bright red tomatoes over everything. Bang the lid on, start a fire, pour a glass of wine. Put on a cd of the Walter Harpman Blues Band playing. Eh voila- a French winter dinner.
I started this blog in the summer when artist/techie friend Elaine Tin Nyo came to help cook the 6-legged lamb at the solstice fete. Now, I am remembering that summer. E is for été.
December 15, 2005
Andre Daguin remains a towering figure in my Gascon universe. Although I am not a restaurant groupie, I remain an avowed fan. The Hotel de France in Auch is no longer under his ladle, but his legacy lives across Southwest France; at any given moment there must be thousands of duck breasts—magret de canard, grilling over open flames, sautéed or cooked in front of cheminées, in the manner Chef Daguin invented in the 60's. Take a perfect food, treat it simply, and transform it to a higher version of itself-eh voila! Now a restaurant standard inside and out of France, magret de canard or duck breast recalls other more daring dishes created under Andre Daguin’s watch- foie gras frais et langoustines served from their foil love nest, a silver salver of mauve goose fat colored by Madiran-infused shallots, and glace de haricots blancs--white bean ice cream shocking in its simplicity.
Daguin has many other words of wisdom when talking about Gascon food. From the forward of his classic 1981 cookbook “Le Nouveau Cuisinier Gascon,” found on a back shelf in a shop in Toulouse, these truly wise words-- translated very roughly from the French with apologies.
“To those intimidated by the clock: the longer a recipe cooks, the longer it gives you liberty; and the lower the heat, even though more time is needed, more energy is economized. The longer a preparation takes, the more your hands are occupied, the more it permits your spirit to be available.”
Although now Chef Daguin wields his power as the head of the UMIH hospitality federation in France, his good words still ring clear and memories of peerless foie gras presented at table come to mind. How many times did I drive the rolling singing hills of the Gers from Auch to Agen with a van full of happy campers? Too many to count, but enough to remember that ‘D’ is for…Daguin.
December 13, 2005
In the way this Long Village works, I had just finished writing my third installment in the Gascony ABC Primer when I managed to press a series of unpleasant keys and deleted the whole perfect story. Why? I wondered at the time, closed the lid to the laptop and started cleaning the captain's cabin.
Now, I know why. 'C' was going to be for Chateaux but after peeking at both David L.'s and the Tuscan Diva blogs, I understood that C was really for Community-- a loud strong, clear community of givers, people who cook and serve food. Thanks to Pim's call to this community of food bloggers to help create a Menu for Hope. Just donate $5- the cost of a fancy coffee or a bottle of designer hot sauce- to be eligible for winning some great raffle prizes. Donate by December 23rd- what a great Holiday present to the world and an outpouring of financial support for the earthquake victims of Kashmir.
Besides donating for my own chance to win such heartfelt and delicious offerings listed here I also offer a good basket from my own French Kitchen Pantry- the things I love to cook with here in Southwest France including (but not limited to!): quatre epices, crepe arome, and epice Rableais, and from my own French Kitchen pantry cupboard- duck fat, a jar of confit de canard and a tin of foie gras! Of course, I'll throw in a copy of my book, A Culinary Journey in Gascony, to help use these Gascon essentials. I might add that anyone wishing to pick up this donation in person here at The French Kitchen in Southwest France, can stay to dinner!
Remember, C is for community.
December 04, 2005
The first time I assisted (with my camera only) at the Sabadini’s farm was a January morning nearly 10 years ago. I was too busy capturing the antique scenes on my brand new Nikon: heads bent over a steaming bath as many hands scraped off the hair; Denis’ sure hands as he gutted the hog; the freshly laundered white linen cloths that wrapped the carcass like a shroud; the well-used tools for making charcuterie on the farm laid out on the old farm table; grand-mère Yvette carrying the blue plastic basin of bright red blood to the makeshift butcher shop in the garage. The next year, I brought my camera again and my apron.
The first day of the Fête de St. Porc is a celebration of hard and careful work. The Sabadini’s like many small food producers here in Gascony, raise a cash crop, in this case the Blondes of Aquitaine beef cattle. But all the rest of the hard work on the farm revolves around the food they will eat and share with their lucky neighbors—from fresh eggs to grapes for wine to the annual pork production of hams, saucissons and pâtés.
My particular favorite, as much for the process as for the delicious results, is the making of the boudin. Let’s be frank, this is black pudding or blood sausage and it is indeed made from the blood of a freshly slaughtered pig. Denis plunges his hand in the warm slippery liquid and stirs vigorously gathering the small threads of fiber in his hands, a spongy mass. His maman, Yvette then whisks this basin of blood to the garage and keeps it warm while she begins the bouillon in which the meat will cook. By the time she has scraped the carrots, chopped the leeks, quartered the onions, salted, pepper and added her ‘secret’ spices, her son, husband and the uncles arrive with the pig’s head. Once chopped into pieces, the ears, meaty cheeks, jowls and couenne or skin is added to the pot. The brain is reserved for frying. This giant marmite steams away on a gas tripod by itself helping to warm the meat atelier as sausage cases are rinsed in vinegar and laid out for filling.
Once the meat is cooked to falling off the bone, the pieces are ladled out, cooled and chopped roughly with giant cleavers- meat, skin, and cartilage. At this house, just enough blood is added to bind the meat mixture before seasoning well with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Other friends add whole leeks and onions ground in the sausage grinder and four times as much black pepper. Each family has a master taster and here it is an aunty who arrives to taste the soupy mixture for enough salt.
Once consecrated by this expert palate, the sausage casings are carefully filled, tied and placed in an old gauze sack once used to cure a ham. Yvette adds a jug of cold water to break the boil in the now simmering bouillon that continues cooking over a wood fire in the tiny cheminée in the back room. Using a willow branch to hold the sack, she gently plunges it, two or three times in the hot broth before lowering it to simmer for an hour or so.
An hour or so is just enough time for us to take a break and head for the farm kitchen where Brigitte has laid the table for a casse-croute of saucissons, cornichons, black radish, baguettes, and some fried rounds of boudin from a neighbor’s pig. Boudin is the gift that you bring round during this time of year. There is enough to share. Boudin is the beginning of a year of eating high off the hog. Boudin is a love song to tradition. In Gascony, it’s safe to say B is for…Boudin.
November 29, 2005
November 25, 2005
As a 'Catherine' in more ways than one, I celebrate this remembrance day in a typically French way, by planting something. "Tout bois prend racine !" All wood takes root as I celebrate my name day by planting the seeds of a new project: a beginner's book of my France, an ABC of Gascony, and a primer for Terroir 101. A is for Armagnac. In these vanilla-scented old oak barrels, 400 liters of 15-35 year old eau-de-vie rests, evaporates, ages, colors and transform from a young virile hot brandy to a mature worldly bon vivant. This is part of the mythology of armagnac.
From grape juice to wine to brandy to nectar of the angels, it is in the cellar barns or chais of Gascony's modest farms that armagnac makes a slow transformation from a rustic Gascon moonshine to a world class liquor. This week, my good friend Tim Clinch, fab photographer and bon vivant himself, joined me for a romp across the Tenereze, the northern part of the Armagnac producing area and closest to home. We inhaled, tasted and swallowed, then tried to make little indulgent excuses to hide our delight in discovering that our favorite armagnac, hands down, was that of old Dubourdieu and his shambles of a farm.
Like the part des anges, the ephemeral alcohol evaporation that colors the stone walls, beams and even the roof tiles black with a drunken fungus, both Monsieur and Madame D. passed on this year. What they leave behind for their grown son to continue is as folkloric as the Dogpatch barnyard and kitchen at the end of a dirt road. Outside barrels rest against the barn, under a piece of galvanized tin, in the middle of the chicken run; Five-litre bottles with just a small tag reading 15 ans- 15 years, fill a wooden produce box next to the door; There are fifty bottles on the table of every size imaginable; more bottles are under the buffet, on the floor and climbing a staircase to heaven of old cardboard boxes. The fragrant chaos gets us giggling and we can barely nod oui as Pia serves us a generous pour of deep amber into simple brandy glasses. It was a cold late November day until the chill evaporated along with the part des anges. I learn the beginnings of terroir as I drink the earthy eau-de-vie and taste Gascony on my tongue. A is for Armagnac.
October 18, 2005
What do I say to 200 students who have diced and sautéed their way through hours of stainless steel kitchen classes? What do I say to the thousand family members who ponied up the funds, ate the homework and kissed the new burns better? “Where did you go to school?” they’ll ask. Knees knocking and mouth dry, I’ll have to confess that I learned to cook at my grandmother’s hand, scoop by scoop. First pasta and biscotti, then gnocchi as I adjusted my large palm size to her tiny one—a handful of flour, one egg and one tablespoon of water, the best pasta’ciutto dough is stiff. Long before I even had a passport, I learned how to find Italy as my Mom made anise cookies on Nona's flour-crusted waffle iron.
Later, in my Southwest France 'school', I learned how to distinguish the flavors of Gascony at the kitchen tables on my neighbors’ farms—traditional charcuterie, potager ripe tomatoes and golden fresh eggs. I learned the color and smell of really fresh food in the weekly markets where I shop and gossip and flirt. Jean-Claude the cheesemonger with a blue-eyed twinkle likes to chat but I have tasted the high pastures of the Auvergne in the Salers, Cantal and Laguiole cheese he makes me sample. Coming homewith market baskets overflowing, I drive along the swooping curves of a two lane road and study the newly-turned fields of this summer’s sunflowers, corn, wheat: chalky on the ridge near Nerac; deep chocolate here in the Garonne River valley; russet and gold where they plant the Armagnac grapes near Eauze. This is Terroir 101.
What shall I tell these new graduates? tired and broke new line cooks? pastry slaves? aspiring chefs? Easy. Now, you can start learning, watching, tasting, smelling. Now, you can find your own France whether you live in Chicago, work in Las Vegas or shop at the neighborhood supermarket. Now, you are ready to earn your FF—Finding France, a degree that might just take a lifetime.
October 03, 2005
Since I wrote last, visitors have come and gone leaving their green thumb prints on the potager as cooking students have learned about October's pumpkin soup, fearless butter pastry, and tender rabbit drunk on wine and prunes.
Since I wrote last, the wild mushrooms growing on the towpath have been harvested, eaten and reharvested again. We have drunk the newest wine, le bourru, and tasted the first promise of armagnac's 2005 vintage- fruity sweet juice, clean dry wine, waiting barrels that will exhale alcohol into celestial parfume--la part des anges.
Since I wrote last, the moon has come and gone and freshly turned fields are being put to bed under a dark Gascon sky. The cheminee has been lit, one friend grows a year older, and another marries in a Gascon wedding celebration that lasts long into the same dark night.
Before I write again, there will be new stories to tell, old recipes to refine and winter bitter greens to plant alongside the grape-hung arbor. I hasten to slow the globe before November's dark days arrive so that I can remember these sweet fall moments.
September 20, 2005
September 12, 2005
A series of taps on the steel side of this old boat. The morning alarm clock on the Julia Hoyt floats by in the guise of a flotilla of ducks cleaning the moss off of the hull. September waits for no lazy bones and there is much to do here at Camont in Southwest France: mushrooms to gather, grapes to harvest and the last and sweetest tomatoes to gather in from the potager. All of Gascony buzzes around me, a hive of harvest activity this month in my Long Village.
I walk Dupont along the driveway wide road that leads to Camont and hail my neighbor working in his potager.
‘Bon Jour! Vous avez encore des haricots verts?’
‘Beh, oui et plus!’
My fast walk turns into a weight lifting session as I struggle home under a fruit box full of a lettuce, two giant beets, three eggplants, a red pepper and hand handful of fennel flower full of the fragrant Pollen that la Diva in Tuscany calls Magic. Oh… and a couple kilos of haricots verts.
It is easy to cook here in Gascony. Easy to celebrate our ‘daily bread’ and inspire a new generation to cook, really cook with what's at hand. Good food in the French kitchen.
September 03, 2005
Pilgrims on foot to Santiago de Compostello in western Spain stretch across many roads and paths here in southwest France. These are their last steps across gentle hills before arriving at the Pyrenees passes and the long stretch of one well-trodden route to the holy field of stars. I have longed planned to join their blistered ranks but the sacred daily living in my home sweet Gascon home keeps me focused on closer goals.
Just thirty minutes away from the French Kitchen a holy pilgrim site tumbles down an ancient river valley escarpment to a cluster of former fishermen houses called le port. This split-level village of Auvillar on the banks of the Garonne straddles the GR65 (Grande Randonnée soixante-cinq). Marked with the familiar red and white stripes, the walking trail follows medieval roads and tracks southwest across France—le chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle. Auvillar, one of the plus beaux villages de France, is indeed a lovely stop along the long trail. In the upper village or alta villa, a coin-shaped grain hall shelters a modest Sunday morning market. Careful brick architecture arcades around the market place as artists, antique shops, a modern calligrapher, a very good restaurant and several cafés, a pottery and a bargees museum crowd the panoramic site. I often come to eat Serge Francois’ very good cooking at L’Horloge, but find myself spending more and more time at the bottom of the very steep road that leads from le port.
It’s been more than a century since the Garonne was navigable here, but the memory of an active fishing fleet and cargo port lingers: A house perched just steps from the shallow banks of the Garonne is called La Crue, the Flood; A newly restored building housing the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts retreat studios is called the Moulin a Nef in honor of the floating mill once anchored in mid-river; and just next door is the object of my particular affection—a tumble of flat Roman bricks supporting a solitary bell, The Chapel of St. Catherine du Port.
Beginning with just one piece of fruit, Priscilla Randall intuitively lives up to her initials and has generated a public relations plan sweet enough to eat. An American friend and renowned landscape architect, Priscilla lives across from the sad little chapel. She invited me to lunch one day to discuss her summer plan for helping save the 14th-century frescos now hidden in the decaying brick building. Too unsafe to enter, she shows me photocopies of the faint frescoes, early heraldry of the village, and a cross and anchor insignia in a rose window. If ever I could adopt a cause, it was this one! A riverside church for ancient bargemen named after my patron saint!
As crafty as a Yankee Tom Sawyer, Priscilla enlisted my help I think as as much to white-wash my soul as to paint the holy fence. Over a glass of delicious melon soup she had made from cookbook, P.R. managed to enlist me in helping launch a grassroots campaign to focus attention on the frescoed chapel’s deplorable state. She took me out back to show me her opening gambit. A makeshift fruit stand, offering a delicious tongue in cheek pèche effacente pêche—‘sin erasing peaches’. As close to selling indulgences as she could get. Each perfect juicy height-of-the-summer season pale pink peach was 65 centimes- a bargain for the dozens of weary pilgrims stopping to admire the history of the way as they stayed at the nearby gite d’etape. A modest contribution to their soul saving as well as to new roof tiles.
By nature, grassroots movements are slow but invasive. Priscilla’s personal efforts to engage the pilgrims in contributing, no matter how small the cost, has now led us to dedicate November 25th, St. Catherine of Alexandria’s feast day and the traditional time to plant fruit trees in France. I volunteer to cook a fundraising lunch when we a plant a tree to launch the serious "Several Thousand Euro Project" to restore the 10th-century building and it’s frescoes. From one peach to a one-hundred-Euro-a-plate lunch to the necessary paperwork and French grants is as simple a plan as putting one foot in front of the other to walk a thousand miles.
August 17, 2005
Cooks and their Kitchens marry in different ways just as basic ingredients do—sometimes with surprising results. Think of the magic combination of Prunes and Armagnac, Ripe Tomatoes and heady Red Wine Vinegar, Tart Lemons and Sweet Sweet Sugar. I am wed to my French Kitchen as a street puppeteer* is to her walking stage.
Last fall I invited England’s Rick Stein to step into my French Kitchen as he traveled down this Long Village of a canal. What started as a summer Gascon barbeque featuring enough Magret de Canard for a hungry group of Sur la Table travelers and friends turned into month-long cooking fest as Stein and Denham Productions put the finishing touches on their new fall series “Rick Stein’s French Odyssey.” This was more than a case of ménage-a-trois, it was an outright orgy as the 5-man/2-woman film crew moved into Camont’s 18th-century French Kitchen and I moved out. (The bistro-galley of the Julia Hoyt serves my daily needs anyway so no problem for morning coffee and I would spend the next three weeks eating leftovers, watching, learning and taking part in a real reality program I dubbed ‘TVdinners 101’) My cooking school setup magically transformed into the BBC TV set without moving as much as one confit pot out of place or changing the arrangement of whisks, graters and colanders that hang from the old iron butcher racks. I patted my back for having a theatrical eye and look for a new career as a set designer!
After three weeks of slicing, cooking, plating and filming, the crew celebrated a last evening’s dinner that I cooked over a glowing hearth as we toasted their success with a magnum of deep dark Madiran wine supplied by my wine expert friend, David Brown.
The next morning, the lights and equipment disappeared into the jam-packed Land Rover as my new TV buddies rode north to Normandy and awaiting ferries back home.
DuPont and I took an extra nap as the calm and quiet of Camont surfaced slowly and my French Kitchen returned to its usual cool and sturdy self. Just as DuPont marks his territory on every walk we take along the canal, I marked mine. I made a poule au pot, a pot of chicken soup, to reclaim the farmhouse cooktop, the battered cutting board, the brocante soup plates and scent the air with an authentic French perfume.
Tonight Rick Stein’s French Odyssey airs in the UK. I am sure there will be thousands of viewers watching as Rick helps them discover the secrets of good French cooking from the vantage point of our long and lovely canal while discussing the merits of vin ordinaire vs. Australian wines. Here at Camont, my friends and I will be filling our plates in the French Kitchen and discussing this years ripening vintage after a too hot summer, tasting lamb bought from a neighbor, eating tomatoes from the potager steeped in homemade vinegar and chin-dripping peaches plucked from the orchard for dessert. Reality or reality TV?
Camont- 1724- rental information
* My first metier was as a puppeteer and street performer!
August 04, 2005
August descends like a nap… even this quiet Gascon countryside feels sleepier. While most of France (and Europe) heads to the beaches leaving the inland open spaces nicely vacant, my good friends know that this is the time to leave the crowded beach cafes, overworked seaside restaurants and tourist shops and come for a visit to this rural French Kitchen.
‘Camont’ is in its glory—the canal flowing by the foot of the garden, running springs under towering Ash and Oak trees, a swinging hammock, a funny rowboat, a vine-covered terrace and a weed overgrown garden bursting with tomatoes. In August, I am more inclined to assemble then cook: pluck, pick and gather, sugar, salt or freeze, eat raw rather than stew and stir. Tim Clinch and family arrive for a few days fun as we work on a new summer story for a Catherine Bell’s beautiful Dish magazine. Photographs of simple food arranged on the oak vat table sing summer: tomatoes of every hue and shape, charcuterie and fresh plucked radishes, a Salade Parisienne made with a slab of beef from my neighbor’s Blondes of Aquitaine, and a breakfast of fat scones with summer blackberries. We go to the market at Lavardac to buy perfect nectarines, small aged goat’s cheeses, a round of sausage to grill. Camont’s potager carré supplies the rest.
In the afternoon, the rowboat is pressed into service as Marigold, Bella and Felix gather from vines overgrowing the canal. I turn my hand to finding an old jar big enough to hold the harvest. A few handfuls of sugar, a squeeze of lemon then leave the jar in the sun for a day. Eh voila! -blackberry jumble to put on those golden scones.
photos by Tim Clinch
July 22, 2005
Summer: This is a slow world where grapes ripen day by day in tidy vineyards, armagnac ages for decades in quiet chais and good food grows deliciously slow in market gardens under this slow French blue skies. Now imagine yourself in this edible landscape where cooks and country artisans continue delicious traditions that celebrate a joie de vivre of living... in Southwest France. Step out of your fast lane and into my slow world. Take the time to discover these old ways of growing and cooking with good friends. Return to the source of gastronomy and revelry, the French roots of the intoxicating countryside of Gascony. Here at my French Kitchen at Camont, I am conjuring up culinary memories of long tables and staightforward food cooked simply, carefully, deliciously. Like all good things, we, too, need the time to understand, prepare and above all--enjoy this slow, slow summer.
July 21, 2005
I always say “If weeding is gardening, then shopping is cooking.” So today I join the tomato blog wars and add my two summer cents to shopping in the garden.
Weather Report: It has been hot here, really hot. The boat bakes under a shadeless towpath and the wheelhouse begins to delaminate before my eyes. I throw an antique linen monogrammed sheet over it. I am taking this global warming seriously in my long village. My usually green park (summer storms keep it well watered as a rule) has turned brown except for the large patches of wild mint where yet another spring runs close to the river valley surface. The terracotta pots of sweet peas, petunias and marguerites are dying of thirst. DuPont hides under the terrace table on a damp rug seeking relief for his solar powered black fur. I take multiple naps, cool afternoon showers and cut my hair shorter still. Hot. Get it? Really hot.
Garden Report: What I don’t like about the heat, the potager loves! Although the spring peas are well over and the roquette is bolting, the perpetual spinach is thriving, pumpkins and watermelons are reaching across the grass paths, aubergines and peppers plants are loaded and, of course, tomatoes, tomatoes & tomatoes are going wild. The heat and lack of water seems to excite the heavily laden plants more than my careful tending. I forego my usual weeding activities and let the purslane ground cover the bare patches while I limit my visits to early evening to gather the day’s ripest offering. Two aubergines, a handful of haricot verts, that too big courgette and a basket of various red ripe tomatoes that have ratatouille written all over it.
Here is my 'Basix' Ratatouille recipe:
2 peppers- red, green or yellow, trimmed and cut in thick slices
1 onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, left whole or minced as you like
2 courgettes cut into large chunks
1 aubergine cut into cubes
a handful of black olives
4 tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and cut into quarters
1 branch rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
Place a large shallow pan over medium heat. Add 2-3 soup spoons of good olive oil.
Place onion, garlic & peppers in hot pan and sizzle until they are slightly golden.
Add aubergine and courgettes, cook until barely soft . (These really fresh vegetables will weep their water and prevent everything from sticking)
Add tomatoes, rosemary, salt and pepper.
Cover and cook over low heat shaking the pan from time to time rather than stirring. just until all vegetables are soft and flavors have married (30-45 minutes). Each vegetable should be distinctive and not a mush of indeterminate origin. Remove from heat and let sit. Serve at room temperature. Serve as accompaniment to meat, fowl or game or top with a poached egg as a lunch or starter.
July 18, 2005
The Fairy Godmother in me rises to the challenge as my Catalan Adventure with my filleule Clotilde-Julia morphed into Camp Camont when we returned to the French Kitchen with 12-year-old Adele and 16-year-old Emily. Eating becomes a game like everything else they do; English lessons, swimming, watering the potager…
We talk about what to prepare for dinner (these too hot summer days beg off cooking) so the fifi’s and I go out to the garden to pick tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines for a feta cheese and olive Greek salad, Italian panzanella, a vegetable stir fry, an eggplant curry, a soirée Mexicaine with fresh salsa and guacamole. In the playful mood of Camp France, Adele announces, “Look, we can travel the world at the table!”
As we move the sprinkler around the potager, in swimsuit gardening clothes, Emily says, “Wow, Ka-ate, we should call you Harry Potager. Everything grows here!” The magic garden has lost it’s neat tic-tac-toe springtime design and is overrun with a wild exuberance that mixes red onions with watermelons, black eye peas (the bean not the group), artichokes, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, calendula flowers and a few self seeded tomatillos from two years ago! The delicious chaos is its own inspiration to be more playful in the summer kitchen. For the dessert main course, we decide to make JohnnyDeppDeliciousChocolateBrownies after an afternoon matinee with Charlie at the chocolate factory and an evening video of Chocolate. I love these three ‘tween French girl-stagiaires-- a welcome change from the usual too serious foodies that haunt the halles and white-tiled kitchens of three-starred restaurants looking for perfection. Food is Fun-- enjoy!
July 15, 2005
Early Morning Cadaqués belongs to a few old men who sit outside the closed Bar Meliton watching the beginnings of another day—small boats anchor on a very flat surface sea, there is barely a breath of southwind. I join them to take a coffee in the port at the towering white remnants of the turn of the century Casino, the only open door on the beachfront. I am not alone this early: a group of French tourists finish their ‘white night’ with café con leche and large glasses of zuma de Taranja- orange juice; a half-dozen men stand at the bar, their Catalan gossip competing with the clink of cups and spoons and the constant gurgle of the busy coffee machine; three green-clad guardia civil down glass shooters of café solo; a small white truck delivers bread for entrepans from Balthazar’s ubercool wood-fired oven. Day begins in Cadaqués with the smell of scooter exhaust mingling with sea salt and a sugar-scented wave from the pastry shop next door.
La Mallorquina’s window is full of soft sugar-powdered snails, cream-filled beignets and syrup-imbibed taps, a cork-shaped specialty to dip in coffee or soak in rum. Like most of Cadaqués, even the bakery has a sea view. Blanxart chocolate boxes line the back wall and refrigerator cases are already filled with cream cakes and fruit pastries. La Mallorquina is a sweet magnet these early hours and I buy a box of taps to take back to Camont today. This Catalan summer vacation is over but the French Kitchen version now begins back on the Gascon ranch. The potager will have run a little wild, the boat will smell faintly of diesel and dust and DuPont will need a little extra care as we slip back into our day to day adventures in the French Kitchen.
July 10, 2005
Some friends can’t imagine why I have never been to Ferran Adria’s El Bulli; it is, literally, just around this corner of Cap Creus at Rosas and I come here often. I will go someday. Perhaps. If I have nothing better to do. Today, I have something much better to do—lunch with friends at the end of the dock that serves the vanishing fishing fleet of Portlligat. Clotilde and I, en vacances in Cadaqués, are invited for a Sunday lunch of arroz de clavos- rice with shellfish. They’ll cook and I’ll watch, listen and… remember.
I remember nights when I listened to the hiss of gas lanterns from a couple dozen boats on this flat sea. Salvador Dali was still alive, the tourists had not yet arrived, and I had just bought the Julia Hoyt. Today there are only a couple active fishing boats but my dear friend Moises Tibau, Catalan artist, still fishes with his salty mentor, Benito, for escorpio, rape, calamar and langoustes. His paintings and ceramics grow like rampant sea fennel on this still wild rocky cape in a studio amid an olive grove overlooking the wide blue sea. I love his triptych of a knife, fork and spoon painted in squid ink and sardine oil on parchment paper. Moises paints like he cooks and fishes—with passion.
MT has prepared a box of Catalan ingredients to take to the port- onions, garlic, green peppers, homemade tomato sauce, rice, and two frozen bottles of fish stock. We jump in and on scooters, 4x4’s and shank’s pony to meet up just past the Dali House Museum and in front of Gala’s chrome yellow fishing boat. While Frederico takes a group of tourists for a boat ride along the rocks and coves, Moises and Isca prepare the Rice and Crab. As Quique chills the cava, Corrine, Adele, Clotilde and I, les filles, head for the beach across the bay.
Like barbeques everywhere, this is man’s work in man’s sacred sanctuary. Fishing nets and traps form the edges of this Mediterranean Kitchen garden where squid baskets, lines, buoys and floats grow like colorful flowers. In the middle of this nautical chaos is a stone-lined cooking area with two orange propane bottles attached to two gas tripods. A pot steams on each tripod: the monkfish head bouillon simmers on one; a dozen deepwater crabs, chunks of calamari, mussels and one fat lobster joins the rice and onion, garlic and pepper—a classic sofregit on the other. The bouillon is ladled over, one cup at a time; think creamy risotto, not dried-out restaurant paella.
A table is set under a shady net awning, plastic tumblers of cava are poured and we sit to eat from the large cast iron cazuela brought to the table on a plank from an old boat. A jar of allioli is passed around, a pungent compliment to the intoxicating flavor of the sea that permeates the rice- each grain firm yet creamy at the same time. A luxury of crabs and seafood fill our plates. The noise of gossip and crab claws being broken and sucked upon interrupts even the gull’s cries as tales are told around this Sunday table of Dali days gone past. Everyone has their own memory of the great Mustaches; I remember my first sea urchin, eaten here at Portlligat even as his dog howled his passing in the winter of 1989. These food memories are strong. This Sunday, eating arroz de clavos with old friends as small boats bob on a flat dalibluesea, I celebrate one more of these ephemeral edible souvenirs.
July 09, 2005
The best thing about living in Southwest France is that Spain is at my doorstep. In four hours, I am smack in the middle of the Pays Basques eating pintxos and drinking sidra in San Sebastian or I am perched at a small table eating calamar and drinking cava by the Dalibluesea at Cadaqués. Summer strikes hard and hot this year and the cool eau-de-nile green canal isn’t enough to quench my thirst for salt water and all that swims therein. I long to see clear blue water.
The opportunity arises to take my 11-year-old goddaughter, Clotilde-Julia, to visit 12-year-old Adele on the Costa Brava. We jump in the car and drive southeast packing (along with our swimsuits) haricots verts, a half-dozen perfect courgettes and the first ripe tomatoes from the garden. Along the way we collect bottles of sweet Maury* wine driving through this little aperitif-producing valley that sweeps from the edge of the Pyrenees Orientals through Rivesaltes* and on to the Mediterranean at Banyuls*. Bright hot sunny days and long warm nights pump the grapes full of sugar here; some of these vins cuits age in barrels outside for years under a brutal orb—literally cooking the wine to a deep amber/ruby nectar.
*When to drink: The complex Banyuls is a perfect match for chocolate and rich desserts and turns up often on top restaurant menus accompanying these. Rivesaltes is a common bar aperitif and Maury, though less available, is worth the hunt to sweetly finish a summery meal instead of dessert.
Clotilde has never been to Spain. She sings ‘tween pop songs contentedly all the way. I love being the fairy godmother. As we swoop across the invisible border near La Jonquera, she sings, “Es-pagne!!! en fin…”. “At last,” I echo and we drop down the eastern edge of these great frontier mountains leaving the Midi, the Cathar castles and all things French behind. Next stop… vamos ala playa!
Eating Catalunya: I love the Catalan ‘jet-lag’—everything is an hour or two behind our usual French schedule, including eating. The famous late Spanish lunches and dinners are made up for by the abundance of small food one might eat when at a bar. Although tapas or pintxos reflect aperitif hour of the western Basques, it is not against culinary law here to eat a snack before a meal. Mid-morning, I walk down to the Bar Boia on the beach. I order a cortado*- a short coffee with a splash of milk and an enterpan* or bocadillo with thinly sliced jamon or my favorite filling, truitas*- a freshly made omelet. Of course, the bread is rubbed with tomato and drizzled with olive oil—the ubiquitous pa amb tomaqet*.
*things to order in a bar
Stayed tuned for eating Dali....
July 06, 2005
While mumbling over my garden harvest lunch and smuggly playing hooky plugged in from afar, a real life Tom and Huck- French style, pulled up in their canoe. Arnaud and Mathieu had set off from Agen along my long village for a three day paddle writing a short series of articles for the local SudOuest daily. I was the second 'river gypsy' they had met. I broke out the little 33cl beers we like and we 'talked story'. Before they left, we exchanged e-addresses and e-pictures.
Funny little world along this long winding canal.
This morning’s plucking from the potager is for a summer salad: a fist full of mange tout or snow peas to eat raw while making lunch; haricots verts to blanch and dress with a hazelnut oil vinaigrette; six gnarly tomatoes of the un-named variety that, once sliced, will melt into oil, chopped shallots, sea salt and freshly ground pepper for a French ‘salsa’; and a handful of my favorite greens- roquette perforated by hunger critters as a good organic garden should allow.
I watch that I leave the ladybugs behind as I close the garden gate.
Everyone is eating sugar sweet smooth-skinned melons in their own favorite way, with jambon, anchois or ‘en brochette’ with pruneaux and ventreche. A friend has adopted the melon soup recipe from ‘A Culinary Journey in Gascony’ as her Summer Scoop and yesterday we ate it for lunch and again for dinner! Talk about tasting life twice… The verveine (lemon verbena) infusion and splash of vanilla-perfumed vinegar balance the so sweet melon; a base of sweet onions or shallots gives it some guts and elevates it above a ‘fruit smoothy in a bowl’.
More than just a soup and salad pairing, this becomes the easy beginning to a French summer supper. Just add a duck breast or two and finish with a glass of sweet cherries and ice cream for dessert—eh voila!
July 01, 2005
Weather Report: Up early with the birds in this long village of canal and river on a cool start to July. June’s solstice flame already baked the wheat fields, spurred the sunflowers into yellow crowns and ripened the first coeur de boeuf tomatoes in the potager. Today’s respite from a too-strong sun prompts DuPont to take me for a walk along the towpath to survey our neighborhood- the farms and orchards of the Garonne River Valley.
Geography Lesson: The Garonne River Basin sprawls across southwestern France from the Pyrenees, north and west to Bordeaux and gathers in dozens of rivers such as the Tarn, Gers and Lot as well as numerous small but significant streams like the Ciron that feeds cold water through Sauternes to induce the noble rot-infused fog. Finally, the tidal Garonne disgorges herself (La Garonne) alongside the Dordogne into its estuary, the Gironde, and on to the Atlantic. Picture the palm of your hand threaded with lines and veins that water our potagers, gardens and farms. Your wrist is the muddy estuary ebb and flow where pibale (bébé eels) and sturgeon live. Your arm is the Gulf Stream that brings our predominate weather from the southwest and the Bay of Biscay or Golfe de Gascogne. The Garonne runs at a fast clip five-hundred meters from my French Kitchen; the Canal de Garonne flows just underneath me on the Julia Hoyt. I write with my feet rooted in water.
Farm Report: It’s pretty quiet out there this morning. Dupe and I walk the towpath that perches above the valley floor, a man-made dyke to keep canal in and river flooding out. We pass a wheat field flattened in its prime by an excitable summer storm. A lone deer nibble at the edges keeping one eye on DuPont as he runs ahead of me. The kiwi vines are flushed out and form a dark canopy punctuated every now and then by a male plant dominating over his fecund ‘harem’. Two orchard workers ‘summer prune’ the semi-dwarf apple trees—chanteclers, I think. Young friends, Penelope and Julia, gather a hand full of wheat from the field next to Camont. They thresh the golden kernels by hand, grind them in the mortar and pestle then use the coffee grinder to make 2 cups of fine fresh whole-wheat flour. We’ll make a buttery crust for an apricot tart later.
June 28, 2005
Bless these high wide clouds. It is cool enough at last to tend le potager²--the garden square on this hot ’05 summer. From April until the Solstice I have planted, watered, weeded, mown (the grassy paths) and watched… Now it’s time to eat.
Yesterday’s meal was plucked, rinsed, thrown in a bowl and dressed with good Catalan olive oil and strong home-made vinegar: a handful of roquette, 6 sugar snap peas and few pea tendrils, three cherry tomatoes, and a fat red onion. I am still enjoying the Spanish souvenirs from my trip to Catalunya with Catherine Bell of New Zealand’s ‘Dish’ magazine; a leftover baguette floated a slab of manchego cheese and a glass of sparkling cold cava completed the table. I ate under crossed branches that shade the center gravel square in the center of the tic-tac-toe garden: an X of perpetual spinach, an O of a round table, an X of red onions. I win.
June 24, 2005
This French Summer continues to heat up as the solstice keeps the sun high and hot over Gascony until nearly 10 o’clock. At the French Kitchen we celebrate the long day into night in our own mad fashion: a fete for friends, good food, strong drink, live music, a bonfire and a shadow show complete with a launch of a flotilla of small boats—alit like floating Chinese lanterns.
Like a fable, it started when my neighborhood shepherd, Yohan and his 200-strong troupeaux were munching the grass along the towpath. I asked how much it would cost for a lamb big enough to roast for a party. At 3.10€ a kilo, I couldn’t resist and the idea of inviting enough people to eat 30 kilos—15 kilos dressed out, was born.
Good Excuses for a big party: the summer solstice was fast approaching; the bonfires for St. Jean’s feast were waiting; friends where arriving from various global corners; Franny Golden was having an exposition of paintings in her French village- Francescas. Eh Voila! the Feu de Joie was born. By Thursday Elaine Tin Nyo had arrived from NYC via the Venice Biennale, Alvin and Renée returned to Ste. Colombe for the summer and Betsy Tobin and her 9 ¾ year old son Jessie TGVed in from Boulder Co via their Paris flat. Tony Coope of the Walter Harpman Band called and volunteered to be the bluesy soundtrack for the party. The bonfire had been ready for months.
I ordered the lamb, called in the troops, laid out the menu--lamb, lamb and more lamb: grill the racks; bone and butterfly the legs; rub with rosemary and garlic; save the neck and shanks for couscous. Assorted tapas from small tins that I brought back from Catalunya would be starters and flats of white peaches and kilos of fat cherries and ice cream cones (my newest fast dessert) would finish. Betsy’s arm was twisted to create a shadow puppet show on the barge (she performs as the ‘Now or Never Theatre’ out of Boulder,CO.) and with Jessie’s help began to assemble the props and make a fleet of paper boats. Elaine and I began shopping, shopping and shopping. We hit the Agen covered market, the village farmer’s market, the grand surface hypermarché, Carrefour, as well as the village 9-7, Shopi, before we were through. We bought everything but the lamb.
And just where was that lamb? And where was that shepherd? How do you hide a 800-hoof strong flock? Saturday passed without a bleat. By Sunday morning, the day of the fete, I had resigned myself to look for other sources. We lit out first thing before coffee for my favorite butchers, the Pineau Freres in les halles in Agen. The clan of butcher men had a great laugh at my expense “ah! Le berger disparu!” and choose two fat gigot d’agneau and several kilos of saucisses d’agenaise to replace the missing meat. E and I had a grande crème and chocolatine while waiting for the legs to be trimmed and butterflied (love those butchers!). By the time we returned to Camont with the boucherie's two legs, the first helpers had arrived as well as the missing shepherd with 4 other legs plus rack, ribs and tail.
Twelve hours later the moon rose, the bonfire was a memory of flame and ashes, little boats were burning their way to Bordeaux and we last stragglers ate lamb and garlic baquette sandwiches and the last bottle of Elian Da Ros's Cote de Marmandais. It was indeed a miracle that we lasted so long.
pix by Robert Lossen
June 23, 2005
June 21, 2005
I live on a big slow boat, the Julia Hoyt, moored to an 18th century canal-side farmhouse, the French Kitchen at Camont in southwest France. From this privileged setting, I witness the passing of hundreds of years of artisanal gastronomy and reach out to grasp some of these French moments before they become just a memory from another century.
The French Kitchen is my workshop/cooking school; the Julia Hoyt is my 85-foot floating home. It’s not all about food in the Long Village, but we don’t stray far from the everyday good cooking that my neighbors from Bordeaux to Toulouse teach in the markets, on the farms and in the home kitchens of Southwest France.
This is the longest day, an appropriate time to begin a meander through my Long Village as seen from my French Kitchen window. Welcome aboard!