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

The miracle of the six-legged Lamb

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

My Long Village road...
pix and words by KH

June 21, 2005

From my French Kitchen window in Gascony, I see a small but beautiful world that meanders across a continent—a long village of canals and rivers that link cities and villages to my neighbors, the people who turn dirt into good food.

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!