January 27, 2007
January 20, 2007
Every year is the 'Year of the Pig' in France. January's cold weather invites the traditional slaughter of family pigs all over rural France. Fugitive abattoirs transform barns, garages, and backyards into small pockets of illicit gastronomic rebellion. These quiet winter days gear up to an industrious pace: plumes of steam escape stock pots filled with leeks and carrots; spices and herbs flavor the whole head-- cheeks, ears and tongues, simmers in a giant marmite destined for boudin noir or blood sausage; iron cauldrons of water boil over open flames ready to bathe and shave the carcass; linen sheets are bleached, naturally heavy and stiff, to receive the innards—the hearts, lungs, and guts. This is the real deal where the whole beast, nose-to-tail, is transformed into a year’s worth of food. In a weekend, whole hogs are wrapped, stuffed, jarred, canned, salted, then aired, aged and smoked. Homemade 'chair cuit' (the root of charcuterie or cooked meat) fills the French larder and is deliciously devoured throughout the rest of the year.
Like in the Chinese calendar, 2007 is the year to celebrate the French pig in all her delicious forms. Learn to make your own fresh sausage, dried saucisson, bacon, ventrêche and boudin. ‘L’Art du Cochon’, as the farmer/butchers Brothers Chapolard proclaim, is the art of transforming the pig into food. We are doing just that all year long in my French Kitchen, this year and every year…in Gascony. Weekend workshops as well as longer programs are available for individuals and small groups. Oh, and there’ll be plenty of basic cooking classes as well! Come join me in France for this special year-long piggy event!
January 09, 2007
1. A myrrh-scented candle from Diptyque in Paris quivers on the sideboard—a tribute to Twelfth Night at the home of a friend in Martinez on the Carquinez Strait, a long way from la belle France.
2. A California perfume of berries, oak and alcohol rises while the kitchen crowds with new arrivals seeking glasses of wine—not the newborn babe. A merry gathering of old friends, almost all have sung, played or worked together all year. I arrive on shirttails to fete the renewal of old friendships and crown the king with a nasty little cake I made (even good cooks screw up from time to time) New Year’s resolution #1- must learn to read the recipes! Instead of a fève, it contained a ‘Panisse for Peace’ button that I received in 2003 when visiting the Bay area the last time.
3. A new bouquet escapes the oven door: warmth, comfort, my French Kitchen. DW has made Cassoulet; the tomato-colored Le Creuset steams all the beany, meaty, sausagey slow-baked goodness into the now packed kitchen. Full plates and full bellies celebrate an epiphanic evening.
Oh, Cassoulet! Winter’s gift to cold kitchens and full larders. A mystery to those frightened by a long list of instructions. A challenge to cooks to complicate it beyond its peasant raisin’.
My Cassoulet-making advice?
- Read six recipes and then distill them to your kitchen essence.
- Buy the best beans you can find and cook them in a homemade pot liquor flavored with pork belly and a ham hock or trotter.
- Would you really cook something 8 full hours in this day and age? Two hours in the oven once the beans are cooked to the tender stage in pork broth is enough.
- Don’t stir! Once you’ve layered the beans and meat in the pot, let it cook in tranquility. The beans should be creamy, not smashed, the meat left on the bone (duck legs) and sausages left whole to fish out. The crust can be 'broken' by pushing down into the beans.
- Serve with lots of red wine followed by a sharp green salad and a dose of armagnac.
New Year’s resolution #2: in this coming Year of the Pig stock the French Kitchen Larder fat with those dishes my friends like the most: tender pork roasts, summer tomato soup, duck rillettes, rose petal jam, figgy barbeque sauce, and jars and jars of homemade Cassoulet studded with duck confit and saucisse de Toulouse. There is no one recipe to print here; rather the invitation to slowly and carefully cook good ingredients until that magic moment when a golden crust announces: done!
January 03, 2007
It’s a very Full Ladle Moon tonight and I am missing France more than ever. At home along the winter towpath, I would know the moon phase without having to look it up on the farmer’s almanac; I could read every texture on the stone buildings of Camont by this celestial light. In San Francisco, she hides behind a scrim of well-lit buildings. I am night blind.
I have been traveling in the US for two moons now—teaching, cooking, speaking, and just reabsorbing my natal culture. So much has changed, as I have changed, since I moved to France two decades ago. Food is but one measure. Hundreds of jars of oils, vinegars and exotic condiments from around the world soldier the supermarket aisles; it is like a minefield. Dozens of colors of potatoes, cauliflowers, and carrots rainbow the farmers’ markets; I want regular carrots to sweeten a soup. Home-cooked food has become exorbitant take-out from restaurants cooked by white-aproned staff with culinary degrees; I must be worth a fortune.
When I enter the mega-gourmet marts here, where abundance is calculated in quantity as much as quality, I reel from the excess of non-food food. I cook in other people’s kitchens cluttered with unused jars and cans bought for the expensive logo or the glistening colors. I look in a cupboard for red wine vinegar; I find black rice, pomegranate, fig, vanilla, berry, and a dozen different balsamic vinegars but no plain red wine with which to dress a simple salad of great organic greens. The same is true for Salt, Oil (as long as it is Olive!), Chili Sauce, and a myriad of other condiments, spices and dried herbs. This is not food. It just gives the illusion that someone cooks here. I want to empty the pantry completely and just make good food.
Sigh. I miss France now. I long for my retro-simple pantry. The basics: salt, garlic, shallots, bay leaves, thyme, homemade vinegar-red and strong and smelling of just wine. I cook soup with water, not canned stock. I turn the fire down and let the vegetables infuse the broth. I add one bay leaf; it is enough. Like the Full Moon is enough. The other lights are in excess tonight.
In 2007 my Long Village has started to curve; I see an edge turning inward. I am writing a new book, at last. I have refocused the French Kitchen to the essential, elemental roots of this cuisine. I’ll be cooking and writing about it all year in Gascony and posting it here. A new website gets built; a new garden gets planted. This is the Year of the Pig. May it be as big, round, eternal and stable as this Full Ladle Moon.