December 31, 2005

I is for Ivre

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.
Arr-bee-dar, matey…

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

H is for l’horloge

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

Warm Wishes from My Long Village!
Kate & duPont

December 23, 2005

'G' is for very cold!

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

The F-word

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

E is for Summer

Cabin fever set in this winter week as gloomy Gascony returned. That thick grey sky fills the valley floor and keeps me inside- my floating shoebox of a captain's cabin. Yet these dark months are often brightened by the fire and fetes, indulgent morning reading sessions, the absolute quiet of no traffic on the closed canal. Visitors are non-verbal: a solitary moor hen, a fluster of blue tits devouring seed balls, two-hundred sheep scarring eight hundred cloven hoof prints into the muddy towpath.

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

D is for…. Daguin.

D is for…. Daguin. And duck, delicious… dare I say darling?

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

a menu for hope: 'C' is for....

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

B is for…Boudin.

If A is for armagnac, then in my Gascon alphabet, B must be for Boudin. Maybe it’s just that I am on just one cup of café au lait on a too early Sunday but it’s the word that springs to mind. Cold winter morning= Cold enough for killing Pigs= Porc, le prince de l’hiver- means it’s time to make Charcuterie = Charcuterie uses all the morsels of meat and in the scheme of things when the carcass hangs from my neighbor’s barn rafters, we first make the Boudin. So, B is for Boudin.

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.