Posts from the “Food” Category

Monday Reader: 4/21/14

Posted on April 21, 2014

france-flag

 

There are a lot of goofy quizzes on the Internet. Among other things you can find out which 1970s music star you are (I got Olivia Newton John) and where you’re really supposed to live (I got Paris, bien sur). My recent favorite is “How French Are You?” which features some of the worst stereotypes about the people, from how much you strike, to how much you complain or cut in line. Of the 90 questions on the quiz, I clicked 65, which apparently makes me:

as French as Jean Dujardin eating camembert on the Canal Saint Martin. You’re pretty French. You know good food and good wine and although you’re a pessimist who complains a lot, you always know how to enjoy life.

I can’t argue with this.

Some reads:

France Marks 70 Years of Women’s Voting Rights (France24.comToday marks the 70th anniversary of women’s suffrage in France, a measure signed into law by General Charles de Gaulle, who headed the provisional government at that time. Women cast their first ballots a year later, during the country’s first elections after German occupation. There’s a great video on the France 24 website of women casting those first votes, and a roundup of Western countries where women were already voting before les femmes joined the fray. The role of women in French politics has grown slowly. In 1993, only 5.7 percent of seats in France’s Parliament were occupied by women – barely more than that after the end of World War II. The lack of women in politics prompted France to pass a law in 2000 requiring political parties to present an equal number of men and women on voting lists, making it the first country to do so. But men still heavily dominate French politics. Seventy-three percent of the National Assembly is comprised of men, while the Senate is 78 percent men.

France’s Silent Tea Revolution (BBC NewsWhen I worked in Washington, D.C., I had a French roommate. When her mother came to visit, we used to make sure we were well-equipped with Lapsang Souchong tea, her morning drink of choice. Up until this particular point in time, I thought the French were more of a coffee-oriented people, but I learned that wasn’t the case. Ever-resourceful, my roommate would brew mint leaves from our backyard for a mid-afternoon restorative. And, we’d go tea-shopping in Chinatown even when her mother wasn’t coming to town. So I enjoyed this story about how tea culture is strengthening in the hexagon, between the delicate and refined French blends and wonderful tea salons that dot the City of Light. What you find is that tea has been in France longer than it has been in Great Britain. The reason why more people associate it with Brits is because it was a popular drink instead of a drink for a wealthy few, as it was in France. News that coffee was bad for you changed all that, and more of the French began looking for a replacement. They rediscovered tea and, as you might figure, began putting their own Gallic twist on it, pairing it with cheeses, among other things.

Paris’s Haut Marais: From Shabby to Chic (WSJ.comWhen I was in Paris finishing my thesis research a couple of years ago, I rented an apartment in the Marais. My first favorite memory of staying in that neighborhood was walking to picture-perfect Jacques Genin, buying a finger-sized eclair and almost weeping when I sunk my teeth into that first, perfectly creamy bite. My second favorite memory: Discovering the Repetto store on Rue des Francs Bourgeois. The Wall Street Journal looks at how real estate prices are skyrocketing in this part of town, once ground zero for the French nobility. “Five years ago nobody wanted to be here,” says Nicolas Wibaux, a Marais-based agent for Paris real-estate firm Daniel Féau. “Now everybody wants to be here.” In the past five years, the average Paris apartment has increased by about 25%, to $1,056 a square foot. In prime areas of Haut Marais, prices in the same period jumped by 35.2% to 41.2%, reaching as high as $1,535 a square foot.

French Village Fights for Right to Use Its Name (rfi.frThe Laguiole council is appealing to France’s 36,000 local councils to come to its aid, claiming that it is the victim of a “supernatural catastrophe” following a Paris court’s refusal to uphold its case against Gilbert Szajner, who lives in the Val de Marne département just outside Paris. Szajner patented the Laguiole brand in 1993 for 38 different types of products, among them knives, tableclothes and cigarette lighters. But Szajner has had his wares made in China and Pakistan, while the town itself has been making its own distinctively designed knife since 1829. In 1997 local officials took Szajner to court, accusing him of dishonest trading practices and carrying out “harming its name, its image and its reputation”. After a long legal wrangle, the court threw out the case a few weeks ago and ordered the village to pay 100,000 euros in costs to Szajner.

 

Things The French Do Right: Part One

Posted on April 10, 2014

Photo: The Guardian via Sipa Press/Rex Features

Photo: The Guardian via Sipa Press/Rex Features

I’m as guilty as the next person of sending work emails after hours so I can get one thing off of the following day’s to-do list. To wit: The email I sent LSU about the class I’d like to teach in Fall 2014 left my inbox at 9:20 p.m. Monday night. Yes, it probably could have waited until Tuesday morning, but I console myself thinking about how my husband was up far later than I was sending emails that probably could have waited too.

This sets up my latest argument for why our family needs to pack up and move to France.

Yesterday, French employers’ federations and labor unions signed a new, legally binding agreement that requires staffers to turn off their work phones after 6 p.m. The deal affects one million workers in the technology and consultancy sectors, and aims to keep workers from feeling pressured to look at or respond to job-related requests after hours. When I saw this story, I thought “Well, how about that? That’s more proof that the French have some shred of good sense about work-life balance. Vive la France! Let’s move!”

So I took this tale to the mister who said that it sounded really nice (in an exhausted sort of “Oh boy, here we go again. Another argument for moving to France.” way). But he added that he actually didn’t feel the pressure to respond to after-hours emails. He only felt the pressure to send the missives that happen to be the root of the problem. And before I could exclaim, “but we could move to France and reform ourselves (after we bang our heads on the wall sorting through all the requisite residency paperwork),” he actually found a way of tying up all his work-related loose ends by 6 p.m.

Husband: 1, Paige: 0

But the battle rages on…

*****

Photo:DavidLebovitz.com

Photo:DavidLebovitz.com

Blogger, cookbook author and former Chez Panisse pastry chef David Lebovitz has a new book of stories and recipes out called My Paris KitchenWhat I love about the book is that it puts a culinary twist on this centuries-old question the French like to ask themselves: What does it mean to be French? Lebovitz answers this in his own inimitable way, illustrating how global influences from India to North Africa and even his native United States have shaped classic French cuisine. Plus, you get a tantalizing taste of what he might serve with cocktails or for dinner on a given day.

And that’s what makes it so difficult to decide what to cook first. It all looks so good and, better yet, accessible for the average home cook.

Last night I chose to make his chicken with mustard sauce recipe, the dish featured on the cover. It was a tricky choice because my husband and daughter are not big fans of mustard and if I ever want to use it in a dish, I have to sneak it in and refuse to answer them if they ask me what’s in the chicken. When my daughter asked me what I was making last night, I replied “Chicken in Awesome Sauce” because by then I had dipped my spoon into the skillet enough to know that the sauce was, indeed, beyond awesome.

Sometimes I feel like this is my theme song when it comes to tricking those two into eating things that I like:

Anyway, yeah.

Here’s what you need to make this:

1/2 cup and 3 TBS of Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. of smoked paprika

4 chicken legs and 4 chicken thighs

1 cup diced bacon

1 diced small onion

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1 cup of white wine

1 TBS mustard seeds

2-3 TBS heavy cream

chopped fresh parsley to finish

Directions:

1. In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup of the mustard with paprika, pepper and salt. Put the chicken pieces in the mixture and cover them with it, rubbing some of the sauce underneath the skin.

2. Heat a skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the bacon, cooking it until brown. Remove the bacon and drain it.

bacon

Mmm…bacon.

3. Leave 1 TBS bacon fat in the pan, then add onion and cook for five minutes until translucent. Stir in thyme, cook for another few minutes and scrape into a bowl big enough to fit the chicken.

4. Put chicken in the pan (adding olive oil, if necessary) and brown it well on both sides on medium-high heat. As Lebovitz advises, good brown color makes for a great tasting sauce.

chickeninmustardsauce

 

Here’s the chicken when it first went into the pan. Please don’t deduct points because I used leg/thigh pieces.

5. When the chicken is well-browned, remove it from the pan and put it in the bowl with the onions. Then add wine to the hot pan and scrape up the fond (a.k.a. really tasty bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan).

scrapeupfond

Scraping up the fond. Loving the smell. Mmm…sauce.

6. Put the chicken, bacon and onions back into the pan, cover and cook on low to medium heat until the chicken is cooked through. This should take about 15 minutes.

7. Then, remove the pan from the stove, stir in the remaining Dijon mustard, mustard seeds and cream. Top with parsley and serve with linguine noodles (you gotta sop up that awesome sauce with something) and haricots verts.finalplatechickenmustardsauce

Et voila!

The husband usually hates mustard, but liked this tremendously. The child was a little less convinced (but she is a work in progress; I tend to take a Karen Le Billon approach to her eating habits, anyway…trying, trying, trying again). Me? I loved this and will absolutely make it again.

And so, the new score:

Husband: 1, Paige: 1

We shall see what the next inning brings…

*****

Lebovitz had a great behind-the-scenes post this week about what went into making his recent book. Aside from all the gorgeous photography and anecdotes about rose wine consumed, I really appreciated the look at the often-agonizing process of seeing a book into print. Few people know that the proposal stage alone can take almost a year in some cases, sometimes requiring total overhauls and reshapings along the way. He writes:

Writing a book is an all-consuming process, at least for me. My Paris Kitchen started out as a non-cookbook proposal that took me nearly eight months to write. People who want to write a book are always astonished when I tell them that it takes that long (at least it takes me that long), to write a proposal. But it’s the most important part of the cookbook process. It’s where you clarify and distill your ideas, and create your vision of the book. And in turn, it allows the publisher to grasp your idea of your book, who you are, and the intended audience…

After I sent the publisher at Ten Speed Press the proposal I had slaved over, he sent me a message: “You should do a book of recipes about how you cook. What is your Paris cooking?”

Grrr, eight months down the drain. But as a writer, sometimes you write and write and write for hours, thinking you came up with something brilliant. Then you go back and reread it the next day, and delete the whole thing. And start all over again.

But the point is, he persevered and has a really gorgeous book to show for it. His account is inspiring to me at a time when I’ve just finished a total overhaul of my own book proposal. So he gave me faith…and great chicken. And sometimes that’s all a girl can ask for.

Merci, Daveed.

 

Monday Reader: 4/7/2014

Posted on April 7, 2014

Photo: The New York Times

Photo: The New York Times

Today marks the first Monday morning in a couple of months that I haven’t been teaching. I had gotten into the ritual of beginning each class with little weird and interesting tidbits about contemporary France, stories about everything from the decline of the noble snail to an experiment with social media among a select group of homeless Frenchmen. I found that these little tidbits got everyone (especially me) loosened up and ready to sit for a deeper dive into a topic like, oh, I don’t know…the French Second Empire. I also realized that by structuring the class this way, I was sort of thinking like a magazine geek — short departments in the front, long reads in the middle, a punchy closing note that set up for the next issue, er, I mean, class.

So I wanted to take a similar approach with my web site, at least for now. My picks won’t necessarily be France-related all the time, but there will be a decent diet of Franco-reads. You’ll also get a taste of the eclectic lifestyle pieces and features that tend to catch my eye. Here’s hoping they give you something fun or interesting to read while you sit with your morning cup of coffee or take a lunch break.

Here we go…

Rwanda: The Art of Remembering and Forgetting (nationalgeographic.com) This is the third story in a series about the Rwandan genocide, which happened 20 years ago today. About 1 million people were murdered by their neighbors over the course of 100 days, an outrage that the international community has struggled to process and respond to even today. Now, “Rwanda bears few obvious scars of its cataclysm. Its rapidly modernizing capital, Kigali, is one of the jewel cities of Africa. A lacework of tree-lined boulevards and greenswards rises and falls over a cradle of verdant hills and valleys. New construction is transforming the city center, with upscale hotels, a grand shopping mall, and a state-of-the-art convention center. The airport bustles with tour operators picking up clients arriving to visit Rwanda’s national parks, which hold the nation’s famous mountain gorillas. Add to that Rwanda’s rising standard of living, steady economic growth, and low incidence of corruption, and you have a country that in many ways is the envy of the continent.” Still, there are the less obvious scars. Rwanda has laid some of the blame for the massacre with France, which, in turn, scaled back its presence at the ceremonies today. And yet there is the French governmental agency which was formed to find perpetrators of the massacre living within France. “Since this group was created, things are moving much faster,” Rwandan activist Dafroza Gauthier told NPR. “They’re moving really quickly. And there’s a judge who is dedicated solely to the cases of the Rwandan genocide. … Prior to this there was no money, there were no resources to focus on this and now there are.”

The Found Art of Thank-You Notes (Nytimes.com) I used to hate writing thank you notes when I was a little kid, but my family stressed the importance of showing gratitude for gifts both large and small. Now I find that I’m trying to fight the ease of dashing off an email or text to show thanks, and instead buying nice stationery so I can stick with this old school — and much more personal — art. The New York Times published a feature recently about thank you notes, saying that “the boring stuff your parents made you do never actually goes out of fashion and that also inadvertently supports recent scientific findings linking gratitude to increased optimism, stress reduction and a better night’s sleep. Few who sit down to write a bread-and-butter note are likely to be aware that by doing so they are not only on trend but also on their way to becoming happier and more sociable people. Apparently, what Emily Post termed good manners (science prefers “gratitude intervention”) has all kinds of unexpected benefits. And as it happens, the handwritten gratitude intervention seems to be experiencing a moment of vogue.” Taking the time to find the special papers, and the right pen and best words shows “gives material evidence that the person really did appreciate something.” Are you a thank you note writer? If so, why do you choose this old school approach? If not, why do you think it’s fuddy-duddy? Do you prefer your thank yous digitally or by snail mail?

Some Thoughts on French Cuisine (DavidLebovitz.com) Lebovitz has a new cookbook that hits bookstores tomorrow. In the meantime, here are his thoughts on this talk about whether French cuisine is losing its je ne sais quoi. His view is neither gloom-and-doom, nor pie-in-the-sky. Rather it’s smart and even-handed, acknowledging globalization’s impact on the present-day attitudes and habits of French chefs and eaters. And yet, he writes “people in France are still making Coq au vin, omelets, crêpes, gratins, mousse au chocolat,tartes Tatin, and eating French cheeses. I think everyone can agree that those are, indeed, examples of French cuisine, with deep roots in the soul of the country. And while many restaurants have dropped the ball on some of those items, and you don’t find them very often on menus nowadays, quite a few people still prepare all those things at home and they’re still popular. There are a number of French restaurants whose food could certainly use rescuing, but no one could argue, after a walk through Paris, that the pastry shops, bakeries, butchers and charcuteries, aren’t doing a pretty good job upholding the standards of la cuisine française. Yes, the single-subject restaurants serving everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to meatballs are un peu trop (a little too much), but they are signaling a new way for a younger generation of cooks to present foods at a lower costs, as it’s cheaper to do one thing and do it well. True, many of these places were started by Americans or Australians, then adopted by the French, but if the result is better “fast” food than fast-food outlets, and better coffee, I’m for them.”

How To Dress Like a French It Girl (elle.com) Merci, Elle Magazine for breaking down French style for the rest of us. The magazine takes 11 icons, breaks down their style, piece by piece (and price by price), ultimately giving you an accessible way to look tres magnifique. Some of my favorite looks: Jean Seberg, Ines de la Fressange, Farida Kelfa and Lou Doillon.

Will Ortiz’s Selfie Be Obama’s Last (boston.com) Where to begin about the Red Sox? After the Orioles (my Orioles) beat them on Opening Day last week, the Bosox emerged true to form and began making mincemeat of the Birds’ pitching staff. In the midst of all this, they took the standard post-championship trip the White House and presented President Obama with a Red Sox jersey. Designated hitter David Ortiz took a selfie with the president, but that caused a stir because Ortiz is on Samsung’s payroll as a “social media insider.” Said White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer: “In general, whenever someone tries to use the president’s likeness to promote a product, that’s a problem with the White House Counsel.” Ortiz said the picture had nothing to do with any deals. He was just caught up in the moment and wanted to take a shot while he had the chance.

Paul Stanley dishes on KISS feuds and painful secrets (cbsnews.com) KISS guitarist Paul Stanley has a new memoir out and I think I need to get it for my hair band-loving sister. His band just got into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, which he feels is more of a slap in the face than an honor. “The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame is fluff,” he told CBS. “It’s a farce. It’s like an Addams Family bar mitzvah. I’m gonna go, but let’s not kid ourselves, you know. That’s not the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame is walking the streets…We are the bitter pill that they ultimately had to swallow. Because they don’t like us. And the only reason they’re inducting us is because they begin to look foolish at some point for not having us in.” Rock on, man. And read on, y’all.

 

Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes

Posted on April 3, 2014

snackcakes

 

I have a good friend who bakes Duff Goldman-style cakes. She does this for fun when she’s not teaching flamenco.

One year this friend made a hula monkey birthday cake for my daughter. I mean, this monkey had it all: a flower fondant lei, bold red lips and a sassy grass skirt. The detail was one thing. The flavor was out of this world. I have never been able to replicate the almond-flavored buttercream she made that day. Nor have I ever been able to bake a cake that moist and gently sweet. Kids fought over this cake in a way that was far beyond “I want the piece with balloons on it.”

So I bow down to anyone who can bake cakes with that level of artistry and flavor.

The one cake I can bake successfully (knock wood) is a yogurt cake. These cakes are a popular snack item in France for two reasons, a. because they’re really easy for kids to make (which means that even I can’t mess it up) and b. because the cakes turn out moist with a hint of sweetness. Everyone from Clotilde to Molly to Dorie has got a memory of or twist on this treat and it’s little wonder. There’s something about them that makes your household smell like comfort and warmth.

Although I like the classic recipe, there’s really nothing like goosing the simple batter with ribbons of melted dark chocolate, I’ve found. That’s what food blogger and cookbook author David Lebovitz did in his memoir The Sweet Life in ParisI used his recipe yesterday to bake an afterschool snack for my little one. It was such a hit that snack became dessert and breakfast too. When I asked my daughter which version of this cake she preferred, she got this dreamy look in her eye and said “I don’t know…they’re both pretty awesome.”

Indeed they are.

Lebovitz’s latest cookbook comes out next week and I’m looking forward to checking it out. I’m also looking forward to Alexander Lobrano‘s latest, Hungry for France, which came out Tuesday.

What cookbooks are you enjoying right now and why? Are there any recipes that bring back good memories for you? If so, what are they and what is the memory?

Tomorrow: I’ll be featuring an interview with Karen Pery, who has been featured in this space before. I’ll be catching up with her and sharing how she uses things like racecars and surfboards to help people tap into their hidden potential. It’s a pretty cool story and she’s a pretty cool lady, so I hope you’ll stop by tomorrow and see what she has to say!

Southern Snow Days

Posted on January 31, 2014

snowday

 

As everyone knows by now, the South had a winter storm that, among other things, dumped a menacing (and I say that in the sarcasm font) 1-3 inches of snow on Atlanta and brought the city to its knees. Children were stranded at school, cars were abandoned on the interstate, commuters were forced to hole up in the aisles of pharmacies and supermarkets because they couldn’t make the soul-punishing commute home. By soul-punishing, I mean it took some people more than 24 hours to do what normally takes about 30 minutes. Much has been written and said this week about that brand of snowmageddon (and the lack of political accountability), so I’m afraid all I have to add is that I still can’t wrap my head around what happened in my old hometown.

My husband was in Atlanta for business, so unfortunately he got caught in the middle of that mess. We were grateful to have him back home yesterday afternoon, so he could enjoy the balmy 50 degree weather and some roast beef po-boys for dinner. Where he had ice and snow and mayhem, we had sleet and cold and dangerously icy streets. School was closed here for three days. Our Yellow Lab Murray didn’t want to be cooped up, but didn’t want to brave the 20-degree weather either. So there was a lot of indoor fetch this week, which was fine because our Murray still hasn’t grown into his meaty boy paws.

Granted, this week’s snow days were not at all like the ones I had when I grew up in the Greater Baltimore area. Those days off involved knee-high snow, epic snowball fights and piping-hot cocoa after hours of outdoor play. This week, the most precipitation I saw was yesterday, when my daughter and her best friend unleashed a blizzard of glitter on my kitchen countertops. Nevertheless, the spirit of snow days — and all days involving inclement weather — remained: You accept the situation and make the most of things until the sun comes out.

So…

The sun came out.

The roads are no longer slick.

Murray only has a little bit of glitter behind his ears now.

School is back in session.

This weekend, the weather should be spring-like, with temperatures in the 70s.

Go figure.

*****

Speaking of making the most of things: I roasted a chicken one night this week and turned the leftovers into a homemade chicken noodle soup, which was perfect for the weather. You’ll need:

* Roasted chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces

* Diced onions and sliced carrots and celery

* Two boxes of chicken stock

* Whatever small pasta noodles you have on hand. I used a mix of elbow macaroni and shells.

* salt and black pepper to taste.

* A few hits of parsley

* Red pepper and celery salt  (optional, but the celery salt really gives it a nice flavor)

Directions: Cook the pasta as directed on the package and drain it. Put the chicken, vegetables and stock together in a pan, before adding about three cups of pasta. Season to taste, then simmer for 30 minutes and serve.

Here is the end result:

chickensoup

Mastering the Art of French Eating

Posted on October 25, 2013

Photo: Amazon.com

Photo: Amazon.com

I just finished Ann Mah‘s recently published memoir Mastering the Art of French EatingIt’s a lovely account of the year that Mah, a food writer and diplomat’s wife, spent alone in Paris as her husband was called away to serve in Iraq for a year. Some may not view a year alone in the City of Light as some sort of punishment. There are pastel-hued sunsets, the city’s storied rooftops and Pierre Herme macarons, after all. But for all its beauty and luxury, for all its decadent pleasures in every patisserie and multi-starred restaurant, the French capital can be a lonely and confounding place, especially if you’re not from around there.

Like me, Mah is a Francophile and foodie, so when I read her book, I was immediately transported into a country and subjects that I love. In the year she spent apart from her husband, she sought ways to create a new life and friends for herself. One of the ways she did it was by traveling the country in search of the history, techniques and people behind some of France’s signature dishes, from boeuf bourguignon to delicate buckwheat crepes smeared with creamy Breton butter.

“I was intoxicated and my drug was Paris,” she writes. Quite frankly, I was intoxicated and my drug was Mah’s memoir, which made me crave steak frites, red wine and a cozy cafe from page one. If you love engaging memoirs, smart food writing and a dash of history, Mah’s book is just the recipe for your interests. I gave it five stars on Goodreads this week.

****

Speaking of steak frites…sometimes I dream about this dish, from the well-seared piece of meat that runs red when your knife slices into it, to the slightly tangy (and sort of buttery) shallot sauce that is served with it, to the crisp frites that soak up some of the juices on the plate. Let’s not forget the big glass (or glasses) of red wine to wash it down. You have to do this right, after all.

Last Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran a story about steak frites at Balthazar. The next day, I picked up Ann Mah’s book and went from thinking about steak frites to craving them. This meant I had to make them. So I did that last night, using Mah’s recipe for the steak and shallot sauce and my recipe for fresh, handcut frites. My wine choice: Chateau Coutet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It worked for me.

I’m not sure why this is, but one of the secrets to making really good frites is soaking the Idaho potatoes you’ve cut in cold water. It has something to do with getting rid of some of the starches, but I’m not sure what that has to do with flavor or texture. All the same, I do it, and last night I was in such a manic must-have-frites state that I did it three times. When I was done, I put those babies in hot oil until they were golden brown:


Next, I took a skirt steak, patted it dry and then seasoned it with sea salt and freshly-ground pepper. I seared it for a couple of minutes on one side, then flipped it over to cook it for a few more minutes on the opposite side (the Mah recipe calls for about 50 seconds, but my husband doesn’t like his steak as red as I, or the French, do):

When the steak was done, I covered it in foil and then cooked some sliced shallots in the pan drippings with butter until they were tender. I added thyme, red wine vinegar and some beef stock and cooked it down until there was barely any liquid. Then I added more butter to the sauce. Here is the end result:

One of my Instagram followers said that I was “really killing it in the kitchen” last night. But honestly? I love cooking and do it frequently, even though I may not always post about it. This week I’m just feeling lonesome for Paris and wanted a way to connect myself with a food and a people that I adore. This got me there, if only for a moment. Judging from Ann Mah’s memoir, she probably understands the sentiment all too well.

Napoleon III and Other Stories

Posted on May 22, 2013

napoleon_iiiSee this guy and his well-waxed mustache? This is Napoleon III, emperor of the French Second Empire and I devoted a couple of years of my life to learning all about him, his era and a wild-haired architect whose life had a rags-to-riches narrative arc. You may find that wildly impractical, but to me, it made and continues to make good sense. Having spent so much time reading about this particular Napoleon, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he got a shout-out in “Mad Men” two weeks ago, when the creative team was brainstorming ideas for a new margarine account. I am probably one of the few people on the planet to realize that the shout-out was not quite right. In the show, Peggy said that margarine was invented by Napoleon III, who wanted to create a butter substitute for his army that wouldn’t spoil. What actually happened is that the price of butter skyrocketed and in 1869 Napoleon III offered a prize to anyone who could create a more affordable butter substitute.  A chemist by the name of Hippolyte Mege-Mouries created a process for churning beef tallow with milk to create what became known as oleomargarine. Although Mege-Mouries won the emperor’s prize, the French never took to the product and so in 1871, the inventor worked with a Dutch firm that bolstered the product’s appeal by dyeing it yellow. The rest, as they say, is history.

But I still prefer butter.

***

I moved across town recently and am slowly (but gratefully) digging out and trying to get a reliable wifi signal. I christened the new kitchen the other night by cooking a tasty, improvised (and fairly easy) tilapia dish. I don’t have pictures, but I can give you a rough idea of the recipe and promise you that it is good. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Coat a baking dish with olive oil and put four tilapia pieces in it. Season both sides with salt, freshly ground black pepper and parsley. Then, squirt the juice of one lemon over the fish and then pepper it with capers. Bake for 15 minutes and serve with a green salad. Next recipe I post will have pictures and specific steps and all the other things that make blog posts worth a damn. For now, just take my word on this, try it, and let me know what you think.

***

Two blogs I enjoy right now:

* Amy Haimerl’s The Detroit House: Amy is a business journalist. Her husband is a jazz pianist. They bought a big old house with a great history and are trying to renovate it without killing each other. She’s writing about the experience with great humor and transparency, all against the backdrop of a city that is undergoing a renovation of its own. Great story here. You should check it out.

* Katherine McCoy’s Paleo Living in the Crescent City: Katherine is a marketing professional in New Orleans and a former swimmer for Tulane. Part of the fun of her blog is watching how she tries to pursue this healthy, paleo lifestyle in a city where indulgence is always just around the corner. Her discipline is amazing and her dog Pearl is super-cute.

***

I’ll leave you with this view from my new backyard:

 IMG_20130520_191508

Mad Men: The Italian Dish

Posted on April 24, 2013

donandsylviaOh good grief, Don Draper. Not only do you head back down the philandering path, but you take up with your doctor buddy’s wife, an Italian dish who seems just as practiced at cheating as you are. She lives downstairs! She’s friends with your wife! You’re pulling the whole love-in-an-elevator thing waaay before the rock band Aerosmith made it cool in the 1980s. Yes, that makes you ahead of your time, but just how desperate are you to be caught and ruined?

After the season premiere, I thought you had turned a corner because of all your guilty pillow talk. Now? Two more episodes into the season and I just don’t know about you. Didn’t you go through enough personal hell in seasons 3 and 4 to learn your lesson? How many more layers of hell must you face in order to see the light and be redeemed? So far, you seem to be caught in limbo between lust and greed, although I have to say that tormenting Megan for having a love scene on her soap opera smacks of a hell of a lot of treachery.

You bastard.

Don Draper, as a woman, I should hate you. I really should, you insufferable lady killer, you. But honestly…you’re a handsome fella, who is self-made and smart. Sometimes, you even mean well. Given your rich story line and all the trouble you’ve seen, I’m pulling for you, in spite of you. But I think that maybe you and Roger Sterling need to trade places on a psychiatrist’s couch.

Which brings me to Roger: I’m not worried he’s going to kill himself anymore. He’s back to being the silver-haired fox with the screamingly hilarious one-liners. Maybe the therapy is working. Or maybe he’s doing LSD again. The tweeting masses made much of Don and Stan’s secret meeting about the ketchup account on Sunday night, but smug-faced Sterling’s line about firing Harry Crane before he could cash his commission check was comedic gold.

Dear Matthew Weiner: More Roger, please.

Back to Italian Dishes: I made lasagna Sunday night. Part of the reason I did that was to honor Don’s Italian Dish, Sylvia. The other reason was to silence my seven-year-old, who has become as obsessed with lasagna as Garfield the cat. To make lasagna, you start with either marinara or bolognese sauce as the bottom layer. I chose bolognese…

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Top the layer of bolognese with a layer of cooked lasagna noodles. Then, top the noodles with a thin layer of ricotta cheese, followed by a layer of shredded mozzarella, followed by a layer of shredded parmesan. I added another layer of bolognese and noodles and wound up here:

IMAG1218I added ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan again, covered it with foil,  popped it in the oven for 50 minutes and then got this:

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Now that you’ve feasted on that, what about Don’s wife Megan? Now that her star is rising on daytime television, now that she’s being roped into these love scenes, now that Don is flipping out about it (all the while slipping downstairs for a quickie), what’s going to happen with her? Granted, Megan aggressively went after Don when she was his secretary, was promoted to copywriter (and the second Mrs. Draper) and then quit to pursue an acting career (helped along by Don, who cast her in a commercial). Let’s say she finds out about Don and Sylvia. Then what? When I ponder this question, I can’t help but think of the Gillian Flynn book Gone Girl, which involves a wife who vanishes on her fifth wedding anniversary. Megan might want to take a page from that book if things continue to go further south.

Although I’m wondering whether the secret ketchup account storyline could provide some clues about where this season is headed. Don and company were warned by their client Heinz Baked Beans not to go after the Heinz ketchup account, which they did anyway. They pitched ketchup, they lost ketchup, and then they lost baked beans too. Don said you have to dance with the girl who brung ya, but he didn’t in more ways than one. Since he can’t have it both ways at the office, is he about to find out he can’t have it both ways at home too?

Other notes:

* My inner Francophile loved that the show included “Bonnie and Clyde” by Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot. Here’s a clip.

* “Mad Men” has always gotten kudos for its costumes. New York Magazine has a great slideshow of some of this season’s late-1960s-inspired looks, from fringed suede jackets to white go-go boots.

New York Magazine also interviewed Matthew Weiner’s son, Marten, who plays creepy Glen on the show.

The Hollywood Reporter lists its five worries about the show.

Florida Today and Wired  report that the show’s creators are pitching a new show about the space program in the 1960s, as seen through the eyes of the journalists who covered it. 

Mad Men Season Six, Episodes One and Two: “People Will Do Anything to Alleviate Their Anxiety”

Posted on April 15, 2013

Matthew Weiner is good. I mean, he is really, really good. Not only did he torment “Mad Men” fans in the off-season with the idea that newly-remarried Don Draper just might backslide into his old Draper-y ways with the ladies, but he strung them along for nearly two hours in the season six premiere to show them just how bad it could get.

The show opens with Don Draper reading Dante’s “Inferno” on a Hawaiian beach. “Midway through our life’s journey I went astray from the straight road and awoke to find myself alone in a dark wood,” he reads as his wife Megan sips blue cocktails in the sand next to him and worries about getting too much sun. Megan’s commercial debut at the end of season five has led to work on a soap opera and within the first minutes of the show, viewers get the sense that although the Drapers are still together physically, emotionally they’re drifting apart.

Near the end of their trip, Don is alone in the hotel bar. He can’t sleep. A young private en route to Vietnam befriends him. The private, PFC Dinkins, is getting married the next day and asks Don to give away the bride. Don consents, but somehow in the midst of this exchange, he winds up with Dinkins’ lighter, which has “Sometimes we have to do things that are not our bag” engraved on it. Draper spends the rest of the show trying to get rid of that lighter, only to have it show up again when he least expects or wants it.

When the Drapers return to New York, we see that Don has befriended Dr. Arnold Rosen, a cardiac surgeon that lives in his building. Although Don is clearly very tormented about something in this episode, the friendship with Rosen is normal and sort of refreshing. Don Draper can make a friend! How nice! Rosen comes to visit him at the agency and Don gives him a Leica camera from the supply closet.

And then…the ending. Rosen is called in to the hospital to work on a snowy New Year’s Eve. Don goes downstairs, knocks on a door, and is let in by a woman who is…Rosen’s wife Sylvia, who gave Don the copy of “Inferno” to read on the beach. Don and Sylvia are having an affair and under the circumstances, you can’t help but wonder whether everyone’s favorite hard-drinking Creative Director is desperate to get caught. “What do you want this New Year?” Sylvia asks during their tryst. “I want to stop doing this,” Don says in a rare moment of guilt.

Is this guilt progress? Will Draper get back on the straight road? It’s hard to know, especially since I haven’t seen last night’s episode and am trying (and occasionally failing) to ignore any and all “Mad Men” related tweets and recaps until I can. If Matthew Weiner sticks with this Dante construct, I’m guessing things will get worse before they get better. As Don told one of his clients “Something bad has to happen before you get to paradise.” How bad are things about to get? Where is Don’s jumping off point?

Speaking of jumping off points, last season “Mad Men” fans wondered whether smarmy bastard Pete Campbell would kill himself. He hasn’t, but now that suicide talk has shifted to Don Draper. I don’t believe Draper will end it all, but I’m terribly worried about Roger Sterling, one of my favorite characters. Now that Sterling’s in therapy, now that his mother died, now that his favorite shoe-shine guy has died too, I’m concerned that Roger’s sense of being old and expendable may be too much for him to bear.

In the meantime, let me offer this next installment of food-I-make-while-I’m-waiting-to-get-caught-up-on-Mad-Men. In honor of Don Draper’s inability to commit to one type of sugar, I offer a cafe gourmand. The cafe gourmand is a relatively new concept in French cafes that allows diners to have anywhere from three to five small portions of desserts instead of one normal portion. It is perfect for people who are tormented by decision, allowing them to have it both ways in a publicly acceptable fashion.

The three desserts I plated are a cocoa sable, a chocolate mousse and an ile flottante. The cocoa sable is from a Dorie Greenspan recipe in “Around My French Table.” I’ve put two and two together and realized that it is the same recipe she uses for the World Peace Cookies she sells at Beurre and Sel. The chocolate mousse recipe (sans Grand Marnier) was from Anthony Bourdain’s “Les Halles” cookbook. The ile flottante used Dorie Greenspan’s creme anglaise recipe and Rachel Khoo’s technique for the puffed meringues.

Here is the result:
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Mad Men Season Six, Episode One: A Meal Megan Draper Would Throw

Posted on April 8, 2013

Photo: AMC TV

Photo: AMC TV

This will not be a post about what happened on the much-anticipated two-hour season premiere of “Mad Men” last night because I haven’t seen it yet. I haven’t seen it yet, because in a high-minded effort to downsize, we ditched our unwieldy cable subscription for Apple TV.  No one really needs 5 bazillion television channels. And yet, now we’re paying a price for our practicality.

About an hour before “Mad Men” started, my husband learned that he would get an email from iTunes as soon as the episode was available. We waited for that email…and waited…and waited…and waited…and then re-watched the final episode of Season 5, which closes with Don alone in a bar. A pretty blonde approaches him and asks him if he’s alone. He gets that old look in his eye (you know the one) and immediately we sense that Season Six might be a doozy.

When it became clear that I would not see the premiere real time with the rest of the known universe, I began to feel like Megan Draper in the above photograph, who had been waiting and waiting and waiting for Don to come home from work one day. She had dinner waiting. He didn’t call to check in. When Don finally got home half-drunk after an afternoon in a Midtown bar with buxom redhead Joan Harris, Megan hurled a plate of spaghetti across the dining room.

While other “Mad Men” fans were nursing their Manhattans and wearing their sixties-inspired fashion last night, I was preparing a dinner that I now believe Megan (a French Canadian) would a. cook and b. throw at Don. The meal is adapted from Rachel Khoo’s relatively new cookbook “The Little Paris Kitchen.

Photo: Chronicle Books

Photo: Chronicle Books

The dish is chicken and mushrooms in white wine sauce. I served it with fettucine and French green beans.

A bit of backstory: I’ve been trying to recreate this dish since about 2009, after having it in a bistro just off the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. I never could get the consistency quite right. After picking up Khoo’s book, I realized what the problem was: All I had to do was make a golden roux.

Another adjustment I had to make: My daughter can be fairly picky, so I roasted the chicken instead of cooking it in the sauce. I know most French mamas would gently nudge their spawn to try the chicken in the sauce, but I feel we have to pick our battles wisely when it comes to the smaller set. Someday

At any rate, you make a golden roux with two tablespoons of butter and a 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour. When the roux is the desired color, take it off the heat and slowly add about 2 cups of chicken stock to the mixture, whisking it until it is smooth. Return the pan to the heat and simmer it for ten minutes, whisking constantly to make sure it doesn’t stick. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little bit of stock at a time. At the end of ten minutes, add 1/2 cup of white wine to the sauce before letting it simmer for ten minutes more. While the sauce is simmering, saute the mushrooms in butter. Then take the pan off the heat and whisk in 4 tablespoons of heavy cream, a teaspoon of lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Then mix in the sauteed mushrooms.

The end result should look like this:

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Plated with a side of linguine, roasted chicken and steamed green beans, here is the final result. It’s a creamy, decadent dish that’s easy to make and quick too, probably something Megan Draper could serve Don on her way out the door to an audition, if she didn’t fling it across the room at him in frustration first.

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