March 25, 2007

Bacon...& eggs.

I would be lying if I told you I cook everyday.
Most everyday, but not everyday.
Some days we cook up a storm. Some days it’s too stormy.
Some days are too quiet for words. Some are too noisy.
Some days young dogs need too much attention.
So instead of baking that bacon and prune tart I promised I’d post to match Judy’s in Tuscany, I just ate the bacon, ate the prunes, ate a couple cookies and called it a wash.

Instead, I put on my hunter/dogwalking green slicker over my hoody, wrap a scarf around my neck and take my 50-pound slab of Bacon for a walk in the spring rain. He is all pup, bones, flop and fur and has a squeaky voice like his favorite toys- a pig and a hedgehog. And he has been patient with me and this rain.

We walk up the country lane that leads to the next village, past a jumble of houses and manicured lawns, an old lilac hedge ready to pop, a pear orchard edged in white lace, a giant gravel pit that keeps growing. This is not an idyll countryside but one where work continues to domesticate this fertile Garonne River valley. The French idyll isn’t far away-- over the hills and through the woods, but the everyday world here in my neighborhood is about the everyday work of making food.

If I could throw a rock as good as I throw a mooring line, I could hit a dozen farms and fruit orchards from my towpath vantage point. Directly across the canal is the Trois Couronnes (the three crowns) a vast riverside orchard growing pear, apple, kiwi, and nashi (Japanese pears). A much smaller grove by the bridge is planted with just a hundred chanteclar apples trees. The trees are semi-dwarfed and pruned into a French version of bonsai, their heads bent over to duck under the storm netting that protects bud, flower, and fruit from hail.

One neighbor near Camont has a strawberry field under tight plastic wrap waiting for sun and warmth to push the berries into our market baskets. Another tends an odd assortment of market vegetables including a patch of rhubarb that is just sprouting deep green leaves.
Bacon is as interested in the farm fields as I am, except that he is looking for moles, leftover sheep droppings, puddles and anything else gross and muddy that he can root in and eat. He lives up to his pig farm raising and his name.

At the end of the little road that is so narrow I call them “French driveways”, is a farm where chickens cross the road, geese squawk our approach and guinea hens run rampant.
Bacon and I have forgotten to bring a basket so I carry home, in a plastic bag, a dozen deep yellow egg yolks, firm fresh whites, thin brown shells with hope that they make it back to the boat intact.

Some days we don’t cook, but we still have Bacon... and eggs for dinner.

March 21, 2007

Spring fever

that day. balance. jour et nuit.
an equal distance of seasons.
an equinox of vernal inclinations.

Yes, Spring.

I don't need a calendar.
I open my ears to the early birdsong.
I open my eyes to-
the peach pink and plum white orchards,
chrome yellow forsythia and chinese roses,
the fat cocoon buds of wysteria ready to spill out lilac drops of scent.
I walk past the flowering cherry tree I planted-- how many years ago? and wonder why I didn't plant another- closer to the boat. This is my Japanese print view every time I return from the laundry room, the mailbox, the washing line.

Go plant another tree now; next vernal equinox you'll thank me.

March 16, 2007

Dialogos de Cocina- Kitchen Talk Quotes

and now as promised... For a full account of my impressions of the Dialogos de Cocina congress in San Sebastian/Donostia this week, click on the Global Blog of the IACP--International Association of Culinary Professionals. Below, I have plucked a few jewels from the many notes I took, bearing in mind that between listening to simultranslating and writing as fast as I could, I might have not quite captured the literal translation. However, the heart and soul of the speakers were laid out in such generousity, that I trust they will forgive any mistakes I have made. For a more direct account, you can now go to the congress website at to access the videos and their translations. They only thing missing will be a stop in a tapas bar afterwards for a glass of Txakoli and some anchovies.

On Farmers and Products

“Our work is the recovery of autochthonous breeds, to recover the flavor of our childhood and dignify the work of the farmers… farmers who have been brave enough to be fighters to battle…”
Marino Gomez Fernandez- Euskal Abereak

“ There is a belief, a utopia that cooks have to get close to nature, to help producers- but it is not necessary for every cook to be a farmer. There is a relationship based on trust that the quality will be there, a mutual relationship as educators for the consumers.

"Food can not be too cheap- the producer is not paid enough, tor the consumer is harming his health, cheap products are dangerous. We must reach a minimum quality for everyone, leaving slow-scale producing for those who decide they wish to instead of spending money on a trip, or other goods, will choose good food.”
Cinzia Scaffidi- Slow Food

“ Cooking is an art, a search for invention, so led by that same frenzy we thought we could also create a new bouquet of ham- those fed on figs and cured like vintage wine.”
Carlos Tristancho- Pais Quercus- producer of Iberian ham

“Farmers are the first creators as cooks are…”
Jose Uranga- Basque organic farmer and spokesperson

“Products are the consequences of our eating. We have to consider the reality—I am young but have seen the disappearance of 5-6 species from the sea.”
Albert Adria-

“The biggest problem is the connection with the producer. The EU puts such pressure on the farmer; a revolution is needed if we can’t maintains this producers.”
Pedro Subijana

On Science and Cooking

“Science and cooking are old Friends. What science has to offer is a perspective, a point of view… Looking under the surface of contained, stable foods, we find a rich possibility for change.”

‘Trust your senses; let the food inform you.”

Harold MacGee-

“Science changes- it must! I insist on this dynamic quality of both science and cooking.”

“Cooking has to be an art to please us; science can be useful to achieve this goal.
Technique must not be used as an innovation. Technique is not apparent, it is under neath”

“How delicious!” is a better compliment then saying what great techniques are being used.”

David Cassi

On Inspiration and Creativity

“ An element of naïveté can be a beautiful thing.”

Heston Blumenthal

“Inspiration comes when you are working, not resting.”
Jose Luis Larrea

“History is a kind of great kitchen where we see the work of men…”

Santos Bergana

“French cuisine traveled the world but did not pose questions.”
“ We saw a rupture in a link between producer and cook; Now thanks to Michel Bras, we have a link.”

Luc Dubanchet

“I was captured like a child in the circus, by the Kitchen”

Juan-Mari Arzak

“Cooking… is an imperative to play. How to welcome the customer, how to take them to the table, to be playful with this. I am a child there.”

“We talk a lot about shadows and light. I wonder while walking under a blue sky, sometimes grayer. I try to translate my feelings of that sky into a dish. I make notes, small drawings of this play of shadow and light and how to transfer it into a dish.

“ My cuisine is more emotional, not technical. It is very personal; the producers, the waiters are people with names and surnames. The restaurant is my home, my house, an expression of myself.”

Michel Bras

“It is a wish to integrate the new within our comfort zone. The mixing and mingling of cuisine happens over time…. There is a big dispute about the introduction of new cuisine, a big fear for the traditional. We play on the near and the far, the micro local and the rest of the world.”

“ The cuisine of the individual is what is really being developed- to make ourselves understood and to understand the world.”

Benedict Beaugé

And in my haste, I scribbled the last of 96 pages of notes without noting this last speaker. My apologies and great appreciation to those who brought us together under one roof to talk about cooking-these Kitchen Talks.

“ There is no gastronomy without discourse. To find the best word, the least used word, we all have to write of it otherwise we risk losing the battle. “

March 15, 2007

Road trip souvenirs- calamar giant

I spent the morning and afternoon transcribing my notes from Dialogos de Cocina; I spent this evening dealing with my souvenirs of two days and two nights in San Sebastian cleaning those two large calamar at the bottom of the icy box above.

The notes needs another morning of work but the calamar and fresh anchovies wouldn't wait. I raided the French Kitchen pantry for some ventreche (bacon), 2 large spring onions, some sad garlic cloves, half a bottle of Cote de Gascgone white wine, one lemon and went to work. The anchovies are filleted and marinating in the lemon and oil waiting for a final touch of fresh pepper and bright olive oil. The calamar have been cleaned, chopped, and braised in a large pot with the bacon, onions and half of the wine (Of course, I drank the other half!).

The galley smells like the sea, the calamar is sweet and still firm. I cooked it for 30 minutes on a low flame. Tomorrow I will cook it again and play with the broth-now a slight rose pink tinted from the skin. Then Saturday, when friends come for dinner, I'll reheat it and add a touch of piment d'espelette and olive oil. these giant squid can handle the slow cooking with grace. The anchovies will be the aperitif with a glass of bone dry white wine, the dessert will be a arroz con leche (rice pudding) which I'll make before dinner and serve just warm.

The week began with Kitchen Talks, the sound of Michel Bras words ringing in my ears as I return home.

"I cook what I am.

I fill my space.

I try to create an atmosphere, to welcome my guests.

To be human."

So this is me, Kate de Gascogne, filling my space with the sound and smell of the Basque sea simmering in anticipation of my friends' arrival.

March 14, 2007

Road Trip- Destination South-Southwest

This is what I ate.

This is what I wore.

This is who was there.

Where was I?

March 08, 2007

Market=Table cooking classes: radish leaf soup to sabayon

What we bought:

Radishes and their tops
Tenderloin of pork
2 Apples
Little pears
a slice of creamy Vacherin- the last of the season.
from the French Kitchen Pantry-
Egg yolks
More eggs
White sugar
Sweet wine
Cream fraiche
Soft red wine from Elian Da Ros- cote de marmandais
Sweet Gascon white wine from Guy Arrouy 'gros manseng'

This is what we cooked:

Soupe Verte
A green spring version of a radish leaf and potato soup.

Pork tenderloin en croute (a fresh herb crust)
with a sauce vernal using aillets and poireaux de vigne
Galette de Pomme Squared
a potato & apple pancake cooked like a Spanish tortilla

Sabayon classique aux Poires et Noisettes-

the most delicious thing you can do with a dozen eggs !

In exactly the time it took to eat the soup, marvel at it's green-ness and sip some wine, the pork tenderloin was out of the oven, it's crispy herbed crust served with a gentle garlic sauce. The pears lay on a bed of Sabayon, their ginger and tea poaching syrup making an dark puddle around the golden custard. Then the Bad Boy puppies had a walk, exhausted themselves and fell asleep in our arms. Next Wednesday I'm in San Sebastian at the Dialogos de Cocino. We'll make Bacalao pil-pil when I return with salt cod in tow.

March 06, 2007

French market colors- Orange & Green

If I was quick enough, I could try and capture the sound-- long, plaintive and very high as Winter flies north. It is a bone chilling song that penetrates boat and brain as these Cranes head back north from their African winter vacation. This week, they gathered over the Garonne River in enough confusion before gathering their wits into a 'V' to leave me time to grab my camera . "Yes," Franny tells me she, too, heard the cranes flying north taking winter with them.

While winter lingers still in the markets- roots, cabbages and bulbs, this clash of orange and green met me at the entrance to the petit marche aux Chat' D'Oc. It lifted my spirits enough to make a simple salad with frisee served with artichauts dressed in an zesty orange vinaigrette.

Cranes. Colors. And Shapes. Kitchen inspiration comes in all forms. But most often I am drawn by the natural world outside my galley window. Like those wild cranes flying overhead, I now hunt for spring along the garden paths and plan a Spring Green Soup and Sauce Vernal for tomorrow's Market=Table cooking class. Although we use the French Kitchen at Camont for classes, I cook in this little floating test kitchen- just one of a barge queen's great delights.

"Arrrh, matey. Burnt the soup? Throw it overboard to the fishes

and walk the plank to the pantry!" Captain Kate.

March 03, 2007

Market Economics

I was in a one Euro mood.
My bag filled quickly, heavily with no recipe in mind.
No list.
Just what looked good… for a euro.

spring onions
swiss chard
kilo of potatoes
kilo of carrots
slice of pumpkin
bunch of watercress

Braised vegetables.
The end of winter; the beginning of spring.
Tonight’s lunar eclipse, covered under a heavy cloud blanket, calls for something to celebrate this invisible full moon.

Like beans and sausage.
Moon food should be fat and round, white, cheesy or sweet. But tonight, in the galley of the Julia Hoyt, it will be hot and spicy, white beans, duck chipolatas and Saucisse de Toulouse. NOT a cassoulet but a stove-top steaming pot to scent the air with cumin and chilies, fresh garlic, and a bobbing round onion as fat as a moon.