Thursday, February 7, 2013

FRANCE! A Cold Winter's Day at the Hearth of a Gracious Family

While visiting friends in the Enclave des Papes in France recently, we had the good fortune to be invited with our hostess to a luncheon party to enjoy the local truffles on the day before the "Truffle Mass" that I described in this blog after we attended it last year. Click on "Truffles" in the column to the right to read that post if you like. 

The party was instigated by an energetic member of the circle of friends that included our hostess, and the venue was moved from one home to another as the group grew to twelve. We ended up at Domaine de Méas, a charming, charming country place that has been called home by many generations of the family who welcomed us with a warming fire and champagne and, of course, truffles on toast as hors d'oeuvres. 

An amazing stand of two-hundred year old trees line the approach to the house, and our host told me that the trees within the forecourt were three hundred years old.

After we parked along the drive and gathered our little contribution to the luncheon we were greeted by the friendly family dog as we passed through the arched entryway. The three-story house has a central block with a salon that is the full depth of it, and there are wings on each end where siblings of the "eldest son" and their families also live. Primogeniture is the law of the land in France.

The table was set and waiting for us in the dining room just off the foyer to the left, the kitchen being further to the left through the big arch, a clever architectural device that accommodated a door at each end, one to the kitchen, the other to parts unknown. 

The foyer is a big space and very welcoming. We doffed coats, scarves and hats there and were then drawn to the fire in the salon where we were offered champagne and hors d'oeuvres while we greeted friends we'd met last year and also got to know new friends and family of our host. 

Early-arriving guests are joined by a host as they warm themselves at the fire. Portraits of family members hang on all four walls of this room. 

One of the hostesses provided truffles that were sliced and served on small toast rounds that were lightly drizzled with good olive oil, the finishing touch being a dusting of sea salt "Fleur de Sel".  Radishes are the perfect accompaniment for all these tastes. The serving table in the photo to the left is ready for action as friends chat in the background in anticipation of the meal and lively conversation that will follow. 

Henry, our host and a charming and most entertaining friend, waits for a drop more champagne. Very soon we will all be called to table to tuck into the truffle dishes that some of the friends have been stirring up in the kitchen. 

Eggs were stirred slowly on the stove to a perfect consistency and were shot through with sliced truffles making a delicious first course that was accompanied by a modestly dressed green salad.

After the eggs came small potatoes that had been boiled and then dressed with truffles and butter. 

A red Bordeaux accompanied the meal, and we were fortunate to have a wine expert at table, several actually, so the conversation at times rose to the merits of one wine over the other. 

A cheese course followed the truffle dishes, and the Italian in the crowd served a light and fluffy "Pandoro Veronese" that looked a bit like the panettone that we buy around Christmastime. It was delicious. 

We returned to the salon and the fire for coffee, where Tinou, a charmer and intellectual delight and friend to all, regaled us with her evocation of the Muse of the Brotherhood of the Black Diamond (truffles). 

Shortly after we were entertained by Tinou, Henri appeared, dressed for the cold outdoors, and took us on a tour of the house and the property. We saw room after room after room upstairs and about and then headed to the former stables, where Maryvonne, a wonderfully talented and versatile artist, has her studio. 

The forecourt with one of the centuries-old trees on the right.

Henri leads the way and we follow to visit one of the family apartments.

On seeing the view, below right, from the kitchen window, I thought of the scores of times clients had told me when I practiced as an architect that they wanted to have the sink at a window. This view, if it were ours, would draw me to the sink time and time again. 

The house is wide but not very deep. I found it interesting from all perspectives, even from this relaxed and informal aspect. 

Maryvonne, an artist whose origins are in Britany (as is her name) in the studio with her paintings. More of her paintings can be seen on her blog: 

As we gathered our coats and scarves, we caught a view of the arched entry to the forecourt and the allée of trees beyond. We left with the fondest memories of a gray day that was brightened to the fullest by wonderful hospitality, interesting conversation and graciousness, and of course by good food and friends. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012



Quick, easy, and delicious

Recently on one of those evenings when the dinner hour approached and we'd still not decided what to have, I thought of a new recipe discovery that has been a hit with us and with friends and family - seared scallops. I like to serve them on pasta, and as with a lot of the one-dish meals that I prepare, I strew a few vegetables over the top. 

This dish was prepared just with what we had on hand (well, a red bell pepper was borrowed from a neighbor but it was nearby), and you can pretty much let whimsy be your guide here. I found the recipe on a site that I rarely visit, Here is the basic receipt:

1 Pound Sea Scallops (I buy them frozen at Costco)
Olive oil to coat the scallops as well as the saucepan
2/3 Cup vodka or to taste - (no need to overdo it, but I found you don't need to measure)
Heavy cream - 2 Tablespoons or more
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1 Teaspoon lemon zest or to taste (don't hold back)
2 Tablespoons fresh tarragon or half that amount dried 

Pat scallops dry and lightly coat with olive oil all over
Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the saucepan that you've also coated with oil until quite hot
Add scallops and sear on both sides for a total of about 4 minutes. Do not overcook!
Remove scallops to a plate to return them to the sauce later
Off the heat, add vodka and stir (I use a wooden implement) to gather the bits that have stuck to the pan. Return to moderate heat and add the cream, lemon juice & zest, stirring to combine
Return the scallops and their juices to the sauce and heat through. 
Stir in tarragon and serve with bread as an hors d'oeuvre or with pasta as a main course. 

  • For the meal in the photograph, I blanched zucchini strips (from just one zucchini) in the same water that the pasta was being cooked in. A red bell pepper was roasted in the oven, skinned, and then cut into strips. I added those vegetables over the pasta & scallops and snipped parsley with scissors over it all. 
  • I typically allow three scallops per person as an ample serving. That does not make a LARGE serving however, so suit yourself when choosing the amounts.
  • On the fly, while visiting family, I prepared the sauce and served it over broiled salmon on a bed of pasta, and that was a hit. 
  • Any pasta will pretty-much "do", but I like to use linguini - Fresh Market's own brand is a favorite. If on a splurge, I'd use Cipriani's, but as I said about the vodka, above, there's no need to overdo it. 
  • This is quick and easy! It's not as "gourmet/out-of-sight" as the other scallop recipe in this blog, but it's damned good. 
Photo credit: iPhone photography by Carolyn Bush

Sunday, June 17, 2012

JEAN PAUL GAULTIER!! Too Much is Not Enough!

A show entitled "The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk"

San Francisco's De Young Museum showcases the art and mind of the famous French fashion designer in a brilliant, clever, fun and stunning exhibit. 

Originally curated by the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Gaultier label, it began its run there.  It came to San Francisco after a visit to Dallas and will remain at the De Young until August 19th, 2012. It is said to be on an international tour, so perhaps it will make its way to Paris or Tokyo or Dubai or all of them in time.

An animated mannequin of M. Gaultier himself greets arriving visitors, and he is flanked by others who nod and look around to ogle the new arrivals, occasionally reciting poetry or singing - talking heads in effect but different from the television variety. 

These mannequins are fantastic  - mesmerizing in fact, and the fascination with them has a lasting effect that does not wear off.  What a very clever and splendid idea the creators from Montreal had!

My personal approach to visiting this exhibit was more visual than intellectual, as I don't follow the women's fashion world as a rule, and I don't feel qualified to comment intelligently on the images that will follow.  I copied some information provided here and there in the exhibit hall that gives a perspective into the man and his origins and the inspiration for his work. 
"Jean Paul Gaultier was born in the suburbs of Paris, but the heart of the city – its romantic mystique and its urban grit – has given him some of his finest inspiration. He has held a lifelong fascination with the city of the Belle Époque, Toulouse-Lautrec, the Moulin Rouge, and of course, the Eiffel Tower.  These many visions of Paris set the scene for the multifaceted character to whom Jean Paul Gaultier unflaggingly pays court: the Parisienne."

"Among his icons are the elegant French actresses Micheline Presle and Arletty; the bohemian French singer Juliette Gréco; and the cancan dancer La Goulue.  In his fashions, he gives new twists to their classic accoutrements – berets, trench coats, cigarette holders, houndstooth checks, gingham prints, and baguettes.  He contrasts “The Uptight Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (fall/winter 1985-1986) with the sass of “The Concierge is in the Staircase” (spring/summer 1988).  His Parisienne morphs into a 1940s existentialist or a 1950s couture customer, nonchalantly moving between the Paris of the multiethnic suburbs and the glittering circle of high society.  By combining these opposite worlds, he ennobles mundane garments and derides the smugness of conventional good taste, all the while wittily toying with the Parisian cliché."
"Second to Paris, the streets of London are Jean Paul Gaultier’s most overriding influence.  Traveling to the United Kingdom in the early 1970s, he got his first look at punk – the alternative artistry that would stimulate new aesthetic codes.  He found inspiration in the energy of London’s streets, in Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s SEX boutique, and in the glam-rock style popularized by David Bowie and his alter ego Ziggy Stardust.  Punk’s anti-materialist principles influenced the designer, enabling him to explore a nonconformist fashion.  Gaultier adopted punk’s offbeat recycling.  The total rebellion, the trash, the “destroyed” look appealed to him.  “The raw side of punk, with its Mohawk haircuts, almost tribal makeup, allusions to sex, torn fishnet stockings, black, kilts, bondage straps, mixing of genders and materials – all that spoke to me, suiting me much better than some of the ossified conventions of the couture.” 

This mannequin recited a poem first in French and then in English - "Je suis que je suis" "I am what I am. I can be any kind of woman that I choose...." The effect of her lips saying the words and her eyes moving is remarkably effective. 

 An "embrace" of leopard over silk taffeta.

Belle Époque styling reinterpreted in ribbons.

Wearable couture! Described as: "Les Particules Élémentaire" dress, Parisiennes Collection, haute couture fall/winter 2010-2011I don't know if these are real feathers (also wondered about some of the furs, especially the leopard), but I liked the look of this one.

A closeup view of the material. 

Be tall or willing to wear stilts to wear this one!

Portrait of the designer on the Tee.  He didn't leave his ego at home that day. 

An outfit for that special occasion. 

Extracts follow from an article by Suzy Menkes, fashion editor, INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:

"When Jean Paul Gaultier sent a male model down the runway powdering his nose in the 1980s, the designer was doing more than larking with androgyny. That powder compact was holding up a mirror to society.  Like all the shows from the prolific French couturier, this one both anticipated and celebrated the sociological changes of his era."

"Equality, diversity, and perversity have been Gaultier's mantras for 35 years, making him - for all his fantastical couture flourishes - a champion of fashion and social democracy.  At the start of his career, Gaultier created catwalk shows that spelled out a message: the concept of male and female, dressed alike with joyful ease in 1985, made androgyny in dress less a feminist statement, more a natural embrace of what the designer called "a wardrobe for two."

"The previous year, Gaultier had explored an area that was literally and figuratively taboo to fashionable Parisians.The "Barbès" show of 1984, named for an immigrant suburb of the City of Light, celebrated multi-ethnicity and diversity with Moroccan fabrics and African head wraps."

"In the Madonna years - and especially with that conical-breast corset from the performer's 1990 Blonde Ambition tour - Gaultier began to further test the fashion boundaries of the acceptable.  Lascivious outfits for males and females, body tattoos printed on sheer fabrics, bondage straps, and X-rated effects all seemed more appropriate for a sex shop than a Parisian designer store.  They earned Gaultier his moniker of "enfant terrible."

"Then there is the other side of his work; the buoyant beauty of haute couture, a craft he embraced in the new millennium but which had been ingrained since he interned with Pierre Cardin at age 18.  The urban jungle of the streetwise collections was refashioned as a leopard pattern created with intricate embroidery in caviar-sized beading; or as a dress that took Gaultier's recurrent matelot stripe theme but re-created it in feathers.  The technique of his work in tailoring, fluid draping, and decoration sets Gaultier apart.  That was true also of the fine craftsmanship he brought to the collections of Hermès, where he was for seven years creative director, until 2010."

"Is Gaultier more artist and showman than straightforward fashion designer?  Rather than focusing on outrageous, even shocking creative inspiration for his "gender bending" or for the much-vilified "chic Rabbis" collection of 1993, based on orthodox Jews, Gaultier looks at his work from a different perspective.  "I start each collection thinking how I can refresh my classics," he explains, referring to his signature pieces such as the trench coat, worn with such glamour by the actress Catherine Deneuve, or the pinstriped man-tailored pantsuit.  In his hands, these clothes become the ultimate examples of classic with a twist:  a chiffon trench that morphs into an evening gown, or a tailored jacket built into a streamline pair of overalls."
"Throughout his collections, Gaultier displays the art at the heart of couture.  Gaultier's shows have been peppered with performance artists from accordion player Yvette Horner to singer Beth Ditto.  They have also shown the influence of art, as in an homage to Frida Kahlo in a 1998 collection.  Then there is Gaultier's participation in theater, film and dance, including dressing 18 ballets choreographed by Régine Chopinot.

"The Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, a longtime Gaultier collaborator, sums up the spirit of the piquant designer, "The costumes Jean Paul Gaultier designs are wonderfully beautiful and absolutely 'conceptual' at the same time," says the cineaste.  "Almost no one else is able to combine both in the same genre."

Friday, April 6, 2012

PARIS! Tuesday Street Market on rue Saint Charles in the 15th arrondissement: it's not your momma's COSTCO.

On one of those early spring days when you tell yourself that it just can't get any better than this, we decided to kill a little extra time by taking a stroll down rue Saint Charles before meeting a friend for lunch and a visit to the Musée du Quai Branly.  The sky was crystal clear, and the air was just right!

With Easter and Passover ahead at the end of the week, Paris's cooks were on the prowl for the BEST provisions for their family feasts, and the chances are very good that they found everything on their list right there on rue Saint Charles. 

There are 20 arrondissements (in effect, little municipalities) in Paris, and the 15th is neither chic nor very special for tourists, but it's certainly not shabby. It abuts the chic 7th on the Left Bank and the chi-chi 16th across the Seine.  Regardless of its social standing, the market here is as good as the next one, and better than a lot of them.  We didn't buy a thing but were still delighted by the visit.
Everything is brought in for the market by local vendors in time for the opening of the market early in the morning.  By mid-afternoon all will have been cleared away; the streets and sidewalks will have been cleaned, and the neighborhood returned to normal.

An artful display of Bar (bass) that are shiny and fresh, as can be determined by their clear eyes and plump flesh.

 A wide variety of seafood is offered.  This is not a big season for oysters, that time having just passed although they are still served in the restaurants.  If this were end-of-year just before Christmas and New Year's, there would be mounds of oysters because they are ALWAYS served  with the hours-long meals celebrating those holidays.


I loved seeing the flounder (Carrelet) in the photo, right.  The red spots reminded me of a hand-colored 18th-Century engraving  of a flounder by Mark Catesby that we bought in Savannah several decades ago.

Stuffed pasta from a well-known shop are offered in many tempting variations.

Dressed rabbits are sold with certain organs intact - my guess would be the liver, perhaps the heart.  If you know, please make a comment at the bottom of this post.  I would like to be informed.

One thing that you don't see here is the furry foot attached.  That tradition was mandated by law after the Franco-Prussian War (1870/1871) when Paris was under siege and other animals when skinned and dressed could be passed off as rabbit.  The law by now has probably been changed, but I can recall seeing rabbit in France displayed with the foot intact. 
And then there were the vegetables!  Root vegetables of all sorts along with garlic and lemons.

I can assure you that the French cook knows exactly which kind of potato he/she wants for the chosen menu - and they all seem to be available.  Actually, I don't recall seeing any blue ones like those you see at Trader Joe's, but I prefer mine in the more "natural" shades anyway.  Actually, I did see some dark ones (not shown in this photo) that made me think of the blue ones, and I wondered what they were.

There were, of course, so many varieties of other vegetables to choose from.  I noticed a vendor showing a shopper a long piece of CARDOON that had been trimmed - it looks like an enormous celery but has spikes along the sides of the ribs.  I haven't tasted it yet but have been curious about it since discovering it at a street market in the south last January. 

Fava beans, shown below beside the tomatoes, are traditionally served with lamb, the also-traditional meat served this time of year. 

Beautiful bunches of white asparagus tempted this man whose chubby fingers I rushed my shutter to include in this photograph.  More on the asparagus in the TMI section at the bottom. 

Oh, my gosh - OLIVES! Cured in a myriad of ways, every single one of them so appealing to me.  I resisted buying this time, as I still have a small hoarding of those that I bought in January, but I'll remember the Tuesday market as a place to replenish the supply. 
Nuts and dried fruits in plenitude and, as expected, in a wide variety of types.

As the market takes place in a residential neighborhood, there are also many permanent food shops.  We visited a few, and I could not resist taking photographs there as well.  The displays are always artfully constructed, and the products are generally quite beautiful - worthy of being photographed in my opinion.  Right, boiled beets are displayed with rows of haricots verts (green beans) and a kind of courgette (zucchini) that was new to me - it reminds me of a small bomb.

Asparagus, both green and white, together with something that looks like miniature bananas in the plastic bags, are displayed next to beautiful strawberries, fraises gariguettes, from the southwest of France.

Pale green courgettes nestle between the dark zucchini that we see most often and beautiful red peppers along with some green ones.  The opportunity to make striking color contrasts is never ignored, and I never tire of seeing these displays, both in the outdoor markets as well as in the food shops.

Besides needing to fill some time before meeting our friend, Carolyn wanted to visit this cheese shop that she'd discovered on a recent Monday, the day that it is closed each week.  If you like cheeses, a visit is worth it just for the aromas, and the displays compete admirably with those of the vegetables elsewhere for thoughtful planning and marketing skills.

The last stop before going on to lunch was the MONOPRIX (pronounced mono-pree), a large department store that has a food store on the ground floor and dry goods on the second.  It is one of France's large chain stores, and its food offerings are top quality, which quite frankly is the least that most of the French will accept.

The tomatoes, reminding me of Heirloom ones by shape, are a little over $3/pound.

The displays continue to amaze the eye - the fishes turned in opposite directions give the impression of jumping from the sea.  I think back on the days when we lived in Savannah and shopped for fish at Mathews Seafood Market - the fish were fresh and wonderful, but the primary factor determining how they were displayed was economy of space.

After our visit to le Musée du Quai Branly not far from where we'd spent time at the market but on rue de l'Université in the 7th arrondissement, we dined outside at Les Deux Abeilles (The Two Bees).  I had a pumpkin gratin with a little salad that sated an appetite that was on red-alert after our visits to the market and food stores (left photo).  Our friend had a little chicken stuffed with avocado, wrapped in bacon and served with more avocado and sides.

TMI:  1. Paris and its arrondissements
Starting at the 1st, the arrondissements of Paris spiral outward like the cells of a nautilus shell.  The River Seine is the blue arc on the map, the area below it being known as the "Left Bank".  Besides Paris, Marseilles and Lyon are also divided into arrondissements.  Postal codes incorporate these numbers; thus, an address in the 15th would have 75015 as its "zip", the 75 designating Paris. Codes for suburbs of Paris start with 9; e.g., Neuilly-sur-Seine, just outside the 16th & 17th has the code 92200. 

 2.  White asparagus are not white as a genetic feature but rather because as they grow, the earth is mounded around the sprouts, depriving them of sunlight.  Where they are grown in the South, you can see long rows of earth mounds in the fields that identify them as asparagus farms.