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.