July 31, 2009

Julia, Julie, Michael and me. My un-review.

Food Guru Michael Pollan throws out some thought provoking words, a lot of the them, in his NY Times article dedicated to Julia & Julie, food TV and... why Americans in love with food don't really cook.

Meryl Streep, Julia Child and fellow food bloggers aside, I couldn't help but get caught on a few words that struck me so personally and timely that I had to jump ahead of the movie review (which doesn't come out until September here anyway, dubbed in French, of course) and get straight to the Pollan-ization.

Like preaching to the choir whose mouths are full, I was mumbling "Amen" and singing "Hallelujah!" until I got to the end of the article. Pollan uses food marketing researcher Harry Balzer for a bushel full of figures. But when Balzer announces that Americans will never go back to real cooking I took up arms. Balzer says “Why? Because we’re basically cheap and lazy. And besides, the skills are already lost. Who is going to teach the next generation to cook? I don’t see it."

Sorry Harry. WRONG! While many of you are going to sit in a darkened theatre for 123 minutes and watch mouth-watering food porn while munching junk food, I am going to be cooking. I am going to be cooking everyday because I eat everyday. I'll be cooking from my garden, the markets of Gascony, and even from supermarkets and the corner grocery store. If you all spend 123 minutes cooking dinner for yourself, family or a few friends, we could prove Mr. Balzer wrong.

Cheap? The average movie ticket price in 1963, the year that Julia Child appeared on PBS, was 86 cents. This year it is $7.18. I know I can cook my dinner for this much money even translated into Euros.

Lazy? I don't know about you, but even here in back-of-beyond southwest France, to go see 'Julia & Julie' when it comes to France I'll have to: a) drive into Agen b) find parking for the car c) walk to the cinema d) stand in line ( about 1 hour) e) walk up three flights of stairs to the salle de cinema, watch the movie f) chew the French version of Popcorn (yes, with sugar on it) g) have a drink at the cafe afterwards, and then repeat steps a-e before returning home to Camont. That's somewhere between 4 and 5 hours. Balzer, in way less than 123 minutes I can easily cook a a decent dinner. In 4-5 hours, I definitely can cook a bang-up not-so-lazy 4-course dinner for friends.

Lost Skills? Ok, I am not a X-generation (or any other letter that follows) but I have played host (or Auntie Kate) for 20 years to many cooks much younger than me. They can cook. They can cut, chop, saute and grill with the best of the old school cooks that I know. There is just one common flaw, even in those in-debt graduates of Prestigious Culinary Institutes, a serious flaw. They know little, very little about food. If it's not shrink wrapped, labeled or in a refrigerated walk-in these otherwise talented cooks are lost. They buy out of season fruit, immature and industrially raised poultry, and otherwise flounder on the shores of real food islands so close at hand. Thankfully Pollan touches on it's cure here "Cooking’s fate may be to join some of our other weekend exercises in recreational atavism: camping and gardening and hunting and riding on horseback."

I was no better then my students and interns when I came to this France of mine in 1988. But I learned. Not overnight, but slowly and at the hands of caring people- neighbors, farmers, and market vendors. A wildly fertile, diverse agricultural landscape fringed with wild as well as cultivated food surrounds the Kitchen-at-Camont. Buckets of pea-sized blackberries are ripening along the canal towpath. The neighbors are tending a lace-net draped apple orchard that will yield several tarte tatins this fall. Too many tomatoes are turning red, yellow and green in our own organic potager. Fresh eggs in the hen boxes appear with much clucking and boasting every afternoon as I check the growth of two new chicks and the swimming skills of ducklings #1,2 & 3. I must wait for the green gage plums- the real Reine-Claudes, to ripen more before the birds peck my share.

Planting the gardens at Camont taught me as much about waste as it did cooking. I cook more economically now that I grow, harvest and weed these abundant summer harvests. I learned to can and preserve this seasonal bounty. The piggery pantry is lined with this years glass-encased jewels already. And fortunately, our weekly farmers' markets are year-round all over France. After shopping at producers' markets for 20 years, I know my butchers, bakers, etc... I invite them home, sit down with them at my table , and serve them the good food that they have dug from the French dirt. We talk about how it all works- from the past to the future.

Who is going to teach the next generation to cook?

I am. And friends like me who love good food and are willing to share. For twenty years I have cooked, served, taught and written about the food I found in southwest France. There are people like me teaching cooking all over the globe. You can read about some of them here. My colleagues and friends are as passionate about cooking in Italy, Mexico, New Zealand and Thailand as I am about Gascony. But for everyone of these teachers there must be students. That is your job.

The Kitchen-at-Camont.com

Camont is the gift that fate gave me. A place to learn about food... in France. I share this gift with you- a place to learn about food, both in person here in Gascony and now at my new blog site- www.kitchen-at-camont.com.* Come discover, reconnect and learn to work with food in a creative rural setting in France. there are some new economic programs including residencies and fellowships beginning Fall '09 and next summer we set up Camp Camont under the singing trees.

And for those of you seeking much more than a 123 minutes of food inspiration, do what Julia did.. get off the couch and come to France!

*While we are still tweeking, adjusting and getting the photographs in place, please be patient. This blog will eventually transfer automatically to the kitchen-at-camont soon.

July 30, 2009

Piment d'Espelette- Potager Pinup #1

Piment d'Espelette

The first hot pepper from the
potager announces Summer
in the
at Camont

3 easy things to make with Piment d'Espelette
  1. Tomato chili jam- sweet, hot and great with anything.
  2. Pâté de Campagne- Basque style with a pinch of dried piment.
  3. Kate's grown-up hot chocolate- just add a sliver of pepper & a slug of armagnac.

July 27, 2009

First Honey Love

A pale blue beehive sits under the a William pear tree, a memorial to the May evening when a wild swarm arrived and asked to stay here at Camont, then surrounded by dozens of acacia trees in snowy bloom.
"Bien sur!" I responded (that means "right on!" in French) and so Marc and I moved the virgin hive under the swarm on the branch, a small pear dangling like an earring. After a glass of rosé wine and watching a few Google-driven You Tubes, especially by my newbee hero, Kirkobeeo, at Backwards Beekeeping, I clipped the branch, grabbed a stick and scraped the swarm into the waiting hive. I left the hive sitting under the pear tree in the orchard amongst the chickens and ducks.

Last week I found a smoker, un enfumoir, at my favorite brocante. Today I got up the courage to lift the lid on the hive and take a long careful smoky peek. Eureka!!!

Pure sweet gold.
Je vous aimez, mes amis les abeilles!

After a first finger licking taste, I was hooked. Captain Nick and I feasted on honey and bread for breakfast and the sweet knowledge that my bee longing had come to fruition. Sometimes, learning in the Kitchen at Camont takes place outside the building. Think outside that stone wall box and harvest your own food!

The next 'Charcuterie & Confit' sessions in the Kitchen at Camont begin in Mid-October. Write for further information.

July 21, 2009

it's a long process. one step at a time.
shelling peas.
planting beans.
harvesting ideas.
making changes.

day to day life in the Kitchen at Camont is like shelling those French peas.
one day at a time.
one thought.
one action.

This day, this very hot windy summer day in Gascony, we are planting a new garden of ideas for you. Here at the French Kitchen, the Kitchen at Camont, we are drinking iced l'O Rosey- rose syrup over crushed ice while

writing new programs for fall, and celebrating those long days when the tomatoes ripen redder, the peppers get hotter and the ideas flow faster.

Coming soon. The Kitchen at Camont- a center for creative culinary learning.
In France, of course.

Detroit Rose

A large bunch of fresh deep red rose petals (organically grown, of course)
500 grams of sugar
1 liter of water
1 large lemon- squeezed
a generous shot of eau de vie de armagnac

Heat the rose petals, sugar and water in a pan until just simmering and the sugar melts into a light syrup. Let sit while you read a book. (The Poisonwood Bible be Barbara Kingsolver is on the bed where I nap.)
Strain the petals from the liquid, add the lemon juice and eau-de-vie.
Pour into a carafe and store in the refrigerator until needed on a very sultry French day.
Pour over crushed ice, add a shot of water.
Drink and be grateful you planted those roses 4 years ago... and remembered to water them.

July 14, 2009

charcuterie news

Summer + pigs = too much fun.
Some people are wondering what I am doing. Too much.
Some people know that when it gets quiet here, I am busy making magic happen.
This summer the magic is happening with the help of a gang from Portland OR and Philly PA.
Call it summer school, call it Camp France. I am the Camp director, Bacon is the mascot.
The souvenirs will be stuffed into sausage casings, cured in salt and processed in a water bath. The larder is filling. The centuries old kitchen information is being passed butcher's hand to butcher's hand. Ask Jonathan, Camas and Bill.

The spring/summer '09 session of the Kitchen at Camont now winds down for a "too hot to cook break" after a last week of porkout extravaganza. I am working on the official charcuterie workbook for the new Kitchen at Camont fellowships. So for a look at what's been happening here I am sending you over to the Kitchen Camper blogs.

Camas Davis spent her 5 weeks studying at Camont working with the Chapolards in the butchery room on their farm and selling L'Art du Cochon products at the Nerac Saturday market. Her thoughts on living close to the blood & bone in Gascony are at http://ladebrouillard.com/.
There are more of her great photos at her facebook album...

Jonathan Kraska, resident chef and dog trainer, wielded knife and saw, pots, pans and garden tools for 12 weeks here at the Kitchen at Camont, at the Chapolard's pig farm and while wooing the French shoppers at the Lavardac market with his parlez-vous American...
Bill Reeves arrived last week for 4 weeks, a first week as we finished up the Charcuterie 101 weeks and the next three at the Ferme de Boue as their first American stagiere. Follow Bill's first look at Gascony through a bacon crusted lens...at http://cuttingboarder.blogspot.com/

As for me? The summer p'tanque parties keep popping up with delicious distraction and there will be more news to come while preparing the first fall/winter sessions of the Kitchen at Camont, a culinary retreat in Gascony.

Bonnes Vacances!