Tag Archives: History

Frenchie and Julia Child

17 Jul

Would it be horribly uneducated of me, or perhaps just plain shamefully ignorant, to say that I had never heard of Julia Child until shortly after moving to the U.S. when someone looked at me with eyes the size of big round crêpes and guffawed You’re French and you don’t know who she is?

Phew! Glad we got this out of the way. More on that later…

For my fellow francophone readers – Julia Child is an American culinary icon and she would have turned 100 years-old this year on August 15.

For Julia, a simple lunch of sole meunière - her first meal in Paris – was life changing and inspired her 40-year love affair with food and the start of a cooking revolution in America.

This is why in her honor, YC Media and Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., launched the JC100 national campaign involving restaurants, chefs, bookstores, and bloggers, all celebrating Julia and her legacy.

Their goal is to raise one million voices in tribute to Julia, and I am extremely honored I was asked to participate.

A panel of culinary luminaries, including celebrity chef Thomas Keller and food writer Amanda Hesser, has selected their most beloved 100 Julia Child recipes and since May 7th, one of her many recipes is highlighted every Monday.

This week (Week 11), Julia Child’s ratatouille recipe was chosen.

A simple and delicious side dish.

And with the first fresh tomatoes, zucchini and herbs recently picked from the garden, what a wonderful way to cook with them and bring her culinary spirit into the kitchen with her ratatouille – or as she used to say “perfume the kitchen with the essence of Provence”.

Non, je ne connais pas Julia Child !

This was the sentence I never thought would create such bewilderment.

But if you think about it, why would an American chef with a TV show called The French Chef teaching Americans how to cook French with a goal to introduce the basics of French cooking to American homes as an option for home-cooking when it was still considered high-end cuisine be well-known in France?

I never grew up with Julia Child. And nor did my parents or my grand-parents.

Always a challenging realization for Americans when their cherished thoughts that the French also lived glued to their TV sets watching Julia cook with her energetic confidence got crushed.

All the more reasons for me to catch up with lost time and discover who Julia Child was.

Julia Child is the All-American French Chef.

She loved Paris. She loved France.

She had an extensive knowledge about French cooking and food that she shared with Americans on TV as early as 1962.

When I asked my friends about their memories of Julia Child, the recurrent answers were:

her legendary good humor and joie de vivre

an American icon

her low-key bloopers and delightful personality

her voice

Queen of the kitchen

French food made easy for everyone

family time learning how to cook French in front of the TV

a real person

Julia Child – still very much relevant today as people remember her and her tremendous achievement as she singlehandedly revolutionized Americans’ perception of what cooking, good food and French cuisine are all about.

What I find even more extraordinary is that her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking was and still is a staple item in American kitchens – including my foodie friends – who continuously refer to Julia’s recipes.

The Bible of all cookbooks.

A book made so easy and clear to follow, anyone can cook.

And everybody should cook.

Just follow Julia Child.

C’est simple !

So I would like to ask you, what is your fondest memory of Julia Child?

How has she changed your views on cooking, on using fresh ingredients, and on French cuisine?

Do you own her book? Do you still cook with it?

Feel free to comment about Julia Child and her life’s work in the comments section.

And for my francophone readers who never had the pleasure to watch her in action, this video should do the trick.

And since she lived 4.5 miles (7 km) away from me, I couldn’t not go take a walk in her neighborhood in Cambridge, MA near Harvard Square and take a picture of her old house.

I don’t know if I was still smelling her ratatouille from my kitchen but it almost felt like scents of Provence were still lingering around her old stomping ground.

The ratatouille is Julia Child’s recipe from her book.

I have added the converted measurements for those who do not cook with pounds and cups.

The ingredients and instructions in bold and italics are Frenchie and the Yankee’s own additions to her already fantastic recipe – to put a spin on it.

I like my ratatouille with a lemony spicy taste and the addition of the lavender sugar makes for a sweet floral kick reminiscing of the lavender of Provence floating in the air.

And as she would have said herself: Bon appétit !

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Julia Child’s Ratatouille

Excerpted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child.Copyright © 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf.

Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

For 6 to 8 people

1 lb. (0.4 kg) eggplant

1 lb. (0.4 kg) zucchini

A 3-quart (2.85 l), porcelain or stainless steel mixing bowl

1 teaspoon salt

Peel the eggplant and cut into lengthwise slices 3/8 inch (9.5 mm) thick, about 3 inches (7.62 cm) long, and 1 inch (2.54 cm) wide. Scrub the zucchini, slice off the two ends, and cut the zucchini into slices about the same size as the eggplant slices. Place the vegetables in a bowl and toss with salt. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain. Dry each slice in a towel.

A 10- to 12-inch (25.4 to 30.48 cm) enameled skillet

4 tablespoons olive oil, more if needed

One layer at a time, sauté the eggplant, and then the zucchini in hot olive oil for about a minute on each side to brown very lightly. Remove to a side dish.

1/2 lb. (226 g) – about 1.5 cup – thinly sliced yellow onions

remove some of the yellow onions to add thinly sliced half a red onion and 1 shallot

2 (about 1 cup) sliced green bell peppers

only 1 green pepper but add 1 orange pepper

2 to 3 Tablespoons olive oil, if necessary

2 cloves mashed garlic

salt and pepper to taste

In the same skillet, cook the onions and peppers slowly in olive oil for about 10 minutes, or until tender but not browned. Stir in the garlic and season to taste.

1 lb. (0.4 kg) firm, ripe, red tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and juiced (makes 1.5 cups pulp)

grated zest of 1 organic lemon

1 teaspoon of lavender sugar (or use regular blonde cane sugar or light brown sugar instead)

salt and pepper

Slice the tomato pulp into 3/8-inch (9.5 mm) strips. Lay them over the onions and peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the skillet and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until tomatoes have begun to render their juice. Uncover, baste the tomatoes with the juices, raise heat and boil for several minutes, until juice has almost entirely evaporated. Finely grate the lemon zest and sprinkle with the sugar over the tomatoes. Mix.

A 2.5 quart (2.37 l) fireproof casserole about 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) deep

3 tablespoons minced parsley

3 tablespoons minced basil

salt and pepper

3 tablespoons minced oregano

a pinch of hot red pepper flakes

Place a third of the tomato mixture in the bottom of the casserole and sprinkle over it 1 tablespoon of parsley. Add 1 tablespoon of basil as well. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, then half of the remaining tomatoes and parsley plus basil. Put in the rest of the eggplant and zucchini, and finish with the remaining tomatoes and parsley/basil.

Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover, tip casserole and baste with the rendered juices. Correct seasoning, if necessary. Raise heat slightly and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes more, basting several times, until juices have evaporated leaving a spoonful or two of flavored olive oil. Be careful of your heat; do not let the vegetables scorch in the bottom of the casserole.

Set aside uncovered. Reheat slowly at serving time, or serve cold.

I served my ratatouille in individual containers.

Sprinkle with oregano and red pepper flakes on top before serving.

Frenchie and The Fourth

5 Jul

The 4th of July is a birthday celebration where everyone is invited and no one has to give out any gifts. Sounds like fun? It is! No formal invitation needed either. To celebrate America’s birthday – this year 235 years-old – just show up with some food sprinkled with an infectious festive mood – this winning recipe will magically enliven all of your festivities while surrounded by friends and family. This year marks my twelfth 4th of July and after years of various observations, when it comes to the rituals of celebrating Independence Day I think I’ve learned my lesson well.

Ritual 1: As one of my friend says “It would be a crime not to grill out on the 4th of July.” Yes, you heard right… un crime!  The 4th wouldn’t be the 4th if it weren’t for outdoor cookouts or summer picnics at home, at the park or by the water. While I never experienced a rainy 4th, I am pretty sure that even with bad weather Americans would still be outside working the grill and holding a backyard party. Because that’s how it goes – no matter what happens on the 4th, you cannot rain on America’s birthday parade.

Ritual 2: This is the day where only 3 colors matter: red, white and blue. Decorations, props, star-shaped patterns, stripes – it’s a gigantic assortment of good and bad taste. Streets are filled with American flags and red-white-blue-banners. Homes get the Christmas treatment for a day and are decorated to proudly display the key colors. Sometimes it can be over-the-top-tacky your eyes will hurt and demand to see another color to rest for a bit. And sometimes it’s done very well. For the French, the display of flags and all-things-American on that day is an eye-popping surreal experience. Red and white flowers in a blue vase. Blue tablecloth, white plates and red napkins. Be as creative as you want.

Ritual 3: Food, food and more food. The more food the better. The bigger the party, the more variety of food you will find and get to taste. Burgers, ribs, steaks, grilled fish and shrimp, kebabs & skewers, salads, potato salads, pasta salads, side dishes – corn on the cob! – desserts and let’s not forget drinks and cocktails. When words such as grilled, meat, corn and pies are put together in the same sentence, I can only blurt out “fantastique“! I always say that the 4th of July is the one and only day when you will put on 5 lbs in a matter of hours without really knowing how it happened. Unlike Thanksgiving and Christmas, July 4th is not stretched out over a week/weekend. It’s one intense food day.

If lucky, slow-cooked messy and saucy ribs will be on the menu glazed in a sweet and spicy smoked BBQ sauce. Skewers will be full of colors with juicy veggies and marinated chicken. Corn cobs will be grilled and slathered in butter. The potato salad will be classic yet original with slightly undercooked potatoes. And pies and cobblers will end the meal with sweet and indulging pleasures. J’ai faim!

Ritual 4: Parades, concerts and fairs – the 4th is meant to be spent outside. Before eating dinner, social and festive activities are meant to bring people together in a joyous celebration of the country’s historical past mixing entertaining shows for kids with cultural events. So grab your colonial costume and your tiny American flags to go watch the parade and enjoy the momentum.

Ritual 5: Dear fellow French citizens, you have not experienced fireworks until you’ve seen one in the U.S. Vraiment. I am lucky to live in a city labeled #2 for the most extravagant fireworks displays on July 4th. Americans taught me that there’s no lazy way to watch a fireworks show. You don’t watch it from 2 miles away. You don’t watch it on TV either. It’s a once-a-year extravaganza and you want to be right in the middle of it – or in this case, right under it. And there’s no other feeling than walking to the fireworks launch with thousands of other cheering people, owning the streets that are now pedestrian and waiting for the start of the magical event with a pounding heart and the eyes of a 6-year-old discovering it for the first time. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the 4th of July is a birthday celebration. And what better way to end an evening than watching America blow its candles in the sky?

Our sunny rooftop-deck celebration amongst friends included some spicy smoked grilled ribs with Bobby Flay’s Carolina-style BBQ sauce, chicken kebabs, a blue cheese potato salad with a Sriracha sauce, corn on the cob and a chorizo-fig salad with a quince paste vinaigrette (recipe below).

Since I was in charge of dessert, I thought a French flair wouldn’t be bad and I opted for a tart instead of a pie. Béa from La Tartine Gourmande inspired me with her gluten-free strawberry mascarpone tartlet post and I adapted her recipe to make a strawberry-blueberry tart with a white mascarpone-lemon curd filling. Bleu, blanc, rouge… this tart could also work for Bastille Day. But yesterday, it was only red, white and blue.

I am sure there are many other rituals out there – family ones, regional ones. For some, July 4 is very important – it’s a historical date celebrating U.S. history. For others, it’s the symbol of a 3-day party weekend filled with noise, friends and family. What does July 4 mean to you?

Chorizo-Fig Salad with Quince Paste Vinaigrette

serves 4

lettuce

half of a big sweet red onion – if too bitter, use a quarter

8 Calimyrna dried figs

4.5 oz (125 g) of Manchego

4 oz (110 g) of chorizo

olive oil + balsamic vinegar

salt + pepper

1 to 2 Tbsps of quince paste – aka membrillo

Wash and slice the lettuce. I used lettuce from the garden and only needed 6-8 big leaves.

Peel and chop the red onion finely.

Cut the figs in 4 – if you have big figs, cut them in 6.

Cut the Manchego in small cubes

Slice the chorizo in small cubes as well.

In a bowl, all of the ingredients together.

In a smaller bowl, prepare your vinaigrette with the following ratio: 1/3 cup (80 ml) of olive oil for 1/2 teaspoon (up to a 1 teaspoon) of vinegar. Salt and pepper. Use 1 Tbsp of quince paste at first and whisk well. The paste will dissolve in the vinaigrette with the help of the vinegar. Taste and add vinegar if the paste is not yet mixed. If you prefer it on the sweeter side, add some more paste and vinegar.

Pour the vinaigrette over the salad. Mix well and serve.

Frenchie and the May Lilies

1 May

May 1 will always be a Holiday to me even though it’s not celebrated in the U.S.

And what comes to mind are my all-time favorite Holiday-related questions, which are without a doubt: “Do you have Labor Day in France?” and “Do you have 4th of July in France?”

When faced with the challenge of answering these questions, one can only hope for a glimmer of wit to magically appear from somewhere – hopefully somewhere not too far! Depending on who is asking these types of questions, the answers will obviously need to be customized and will vary greatly going from a degree of sweet yet informative explanation – aka Foreign Cultural Experiences 101 – to a degree of scathing remark – aka Sarcasm-Advanced Level.

It’d look something like this:

“Actually, Labor Day in France is celebrated on May 1 and not on the first Monday in September. May 1 only became the official day to celebrate Labor Day because of an American event – how about that?!?! – called the Haymarket Affair which started on May 1, 1886 when workers demonstrated and fought for an 8-hour work day. In 1889, the French decided that May 1 would be the day to demonstrate and protest for reducing work days to 8 hours. And in 1947-1948, May 1 was officially known as Fête du travail (Work Holiday), understand Labor Day.”

Nice and sweet.

But then, this happens:

“Do you have 4th of July in France?”

I’ve heard this one at least 50 times! What this truly means is “Do you celebrate 4th of July in France like we do here?” The best possible answer about whether “we have July 4th in France” can only and truly be: “No, in France, the calendar strangely skips July 4th, we don’t have that day. We go from July 3 directly to July 5.” [smirk]

So with May 1st also comes another sensory celebratory landmark: le muguet - lily of the valley.

Labor Day is not only fun because it’s a day off; offering and giving out lilies of the valley to friends and family is part of the French tradition. They are a symbol of Spring and are thought to be a lucky charm since King Charles IX of France supposedly gave the ladies of the Court a sprig of lily of the valley on May 1, 1561 to bring them good luck throughout the year and celebrate the joys of Spring.

Every year shortly before May 1, the May lilies pop out of nowhere in all flower shops and supermarkets. Even on street corners, it is not unusual to see independent street-hawker-florists trying to make some money by selling sprigs and planted pots of lilies. And seriously, isn’t there anything better than to get up early on a beautiful May Day morning in Paris, walk down the streets before anyone is out and about when the sun is still light and soft, breathe the air, hear the quietness around and spot the lilies at each street corner shinning in the sun with their tiny blinding white bells?

Special guest photographer: Roger Noiseau for the photo of the lily of the valley (above)

As the French saying goes: “in May, do as you please”.

So wear your lilies proudly and however you feel like.

Look, this young lady placed sprigs of lilies on her bike’s handlebars! I wonder if she is going to meet some friends for a picnic by the Seine. And this guy here is wearing a sprig as a boutonnière on his coat. He must be going to a Labor Day lunch with family.

As Parisians walk by with sprigs in their hands, the crisp, light and distinctive sweet smell of the lilies fill the streets of Paris wherever you walk. It’s a once-a-year treat allowing everyone to bask in their floating aroma and enjoy some well-deserved time out from the world.

Frenchie and the Easter Menagerie

22 Apr

Every year at this time, I go on this mad search across town covering every square inch, looking in every gourmet food stores for a chocolate hen. You can call this my very own Easter tradition. Alas, chocolate hens I never find because Americans only believe in the Easter bunny.

Now, let me explain before you start snickering at the idea of a chocolate Easter chicken. It’s not just a chicken – way too trivial and unimaginative – it’s actually a hen, which is a lot more elegant. When you grow up in France, depending on the region, the focus during Easter is on the eggs as well as the hens. Not a bunny. The stores will feature plain as well as pastel colored decorated chocolate eggs and hens for kids and adults to enjoy… or pig out! Dark, milk or white chocolate, these big hollow hens are a delight for whomever has a sweet tooth. I have only found one chocolate hen once in my life in the U.S. and I should have kept it forever like a long lost treasure instead of eating it right away.

So bunny or hen? Actually, there are more animals involved in this zoological Easter tradition! In Switzerland, they talk about the Easter cuckoo. And in Australia, they have the Easter bilby – this tiny little endangered marsupial. It seems that in Eastern and Northern Europe, in Anglo-saxon as well as Germanic countries – including Alsace, the Eastern region of France - the chocolate eggs are brought by bunnies. Apparently, bunnies being the most prolific during the Spring season used to represent fertility and renewal. Now how can I explain to the bunny believers that rabbits are mammals so they do not lay eggs therefore cannot be responsible for bringing eggs?

In France, as well as Belgium, the hens lay the eggs for everyone to scavenger hunt in grandma’s backyard during Easter lunch. However, the other emblematic symbol of Easter, along with the hens, is the church bell. Being a Christian tradition, Easter places the church bells as an important part of the celebration and the story says that they took a trip to Rome and brought eggs on their way back dropping them in everyone’s gardens. Now if you’re not a Christian, you don’t really hear or talk about the bells traveling to Italy with a round-trip ticket and empty suitcases to bring back chocolate eggs for all kids. The funny part is that illustrated children’s stories and store signs will feature drawings of bells with wings flying away to Rome. Yes, wings – on each side!

The stores in the U.S. only carry chocolate eggs and bunnies, which is quite sad and dull. In France, the stores are much busier with all sort of chocolate symbols and animals. We have hens, we have bells (yes, they do make chocolate bells), we have eggs, and now that we live in a globalized world we also have bunnies. Oh and more oddly, we have chocolate Easter fish too… don’t ask, I have no clue.

Did somebody say chocolate?

Frenchie and the Dessert Spork

28 Feb It is not pie (FR) / It is not easy (ENG)

If you’re like me and you like eating desserts, it will come as no surprise that eating the last course of a meal in France and in the U.S. requires a mastery of kitchenware juggling in order to indulge. Yes, you have guessed correctly, the war has begun between the fork and the spoon.

Guests and friends who come to my house for dinner always experience dessert à la française, meaning with a spoon sitting above the plate. If they’re unaware of this dessert-eating difference, it can be quite challenging at first. Some people will hold their spoon in the air to clearly show that a mistake has been made, waiting for someone (me?) to say “Sorry, this was an oversight”, while others will carefully take a shameful quick peek at other guests, hoping for a courageous someone to dig first and all the while thinking “Are we really doing this with a spoon?” It’s another one of my little pleasurable dinner games. The more outspoken guests will raise their voice and request that a switch be made – this is how forks end up on my table at dessert time.

The table has turned on me many times and I found myself on many occasions asking a waiter for a spoon so I can “properly” enjoy my dessert. Disappointment can only follow wide-open eyes and transient lack of motor reactions from the wait staff as they bring me either a tiny teaspoon or a big spoon. This is dessert, not soup! Americans will need to continuously explain to me over the next decades to come as to why it seems logical to eat dessert with forks. My fellow Europeans will be scratching their heads to know that when you order cake or pie in this country, it comes with a fork – even if a scoop of ice cream is served with it! I am never sure if it means I’m allowed to lick my plate at the end to enjoy the last bit of ice cream or if I simply need to use my finger to be part of the Clean Plate Club. In any case, not very proper!

Both dessert fork and spoon are provided in upscale restaurants in France just like in the U.S. They are supposed to be used simultaneously as the fork pushes the food into the spoon for proper eating. But it looks like both sides of the pond dropped one of them for daily usage on modern kitchen tables therefore becoming complete opposites. Our ancestors probably knew that dessert eaters and lovers across Europe and the U.S. would be challenged in the future because patents for “spork” and “foon” designs were already created at the end of the 19th century. I don’t know if a “spork” is the answer to all our dessert prayers but it is an interesting concept and could mean a reconciliation to come.

Whether you like to stab your dessert digging into it with a fork and ferocious appetite or prefer to romantically scoop and spoon your way till the end of a sweet indulgence, take the quick poll below. After all, we’re all here to eat dessert!

Frenchie and the Cultural Auction

18 Feb

A vintage wine bottle from 1773 sold in France for $77,000 (57,000 euros). The grapes are supposed to have been harvested under the reign of Louis XV before the 1789 French Revolution. The wine has been described as “yellow” and could be a sherry-like wine. This 237-year old bottle comes from France’s eastern Jura region.

Meanwhile, Americans think the French are crazy for spending so much money on a wine that might taste horrible.

In other related news, a 1963 Pontiac ambulance, which “supposedly” carried the body of President John F. Kennedy after his assassination in Dallas, TX, was sold for $132,000 (97,300 euros). While it has not been proven that this particular ambulance actually did carry the body of JFK, it still sold and the price could have been higher had there been proofs it carried the body.

To this the French reply: “Ils sont fous ces Américains!” (meaning: “What the… ??? !!!”)

Combien ?

Frenchie and Mr. Freeze – Part 1

12 Jan

“Robin, Freeze has taken the new telescope and turned it into a giant freezing-gun. He’s about to turn Gotham into an ice cube. He will blanket the city in endless winter. First Gotham, and then the world. To the Batmobile, Robin, let’s go!” – Batman, Superhero.

Just like any other foreigner visiting the U.S., we all need a Batman to save us from the American deep freeze, aka the Ice Cubegate. “Hi, my name is U.S. of A. and I have an ice cube problem!” – such are the words that should be displayed at the airport in gigantic blinking red letters with orange cones and police tape around them when landing on U.S. soil. Warnings should also be featured on customs forms: “Tourists, beware! Warning! Alert! You’re about to swallow ice during your entire trip! We hope you have a strong stomach, enjoy your stay!”

What did grandma teach us as kids way back in the days? “Don’t drink too cold, it will hurt your stomach”, “Ice cubes don’t quench one’s thirst”, “Don’t use ice cubes, it’ll hurt your teeth”… and guess what? Grandmas are always right! You haven’t experienced a cold drink until you have visited here. Every time I sit down at a restaurant, I am waiting for the waitress to ask me if I want some water with my ice. It’s that serious and unless you have other non-natives at your table, no one will understand your pain.

Ice cold milk, ice cold water, soda cups and water glasses filled with ice, ice cold white wine, iced coffee, iced tea – under the ice, no one can hear you scream! You can spot any non-American at a restaurant when you hear: “I’ll have water please… NO ICE!” It’s a code, some sort of trick we use to recognize one another and to survive in the arctic tundra because at this point, let’s be honest, it’s a matter of survival. Seriously, who wants ice or ice cold drinks when it’s in the 30s outside? Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t work as the waitress will carefully remove 1 or 2 ice cubes from an already ice cold water pitcher. What is wrong with room temperature water? Why does it have to be so cold? As a rule of thumb: if you can only lap up your water like a delicate small dog because it’s too cold to drink, that’s an issue!

Having dealt with the cold cheeses already (Frenchie and the Cheesy Serial Killer) in an earlier post, the logic and reasoning behind the fact that cold hinders flavors and taste are the same here. Ice cubes and cold in general numb taste buds and are inclined to ruin the flavors of a drink (or food). Room temperature sodas are horribly sickening but with ice, they “seem” drinkable. Ice cold white wine straight out of the fridge will not render all of its flavors, nuances and complex flavors like a white wine stored at an ideal temperature – usually 55 °F (13 °C) instead of the 35 °F (2 °C) fridge temperature. After some careful research, it looks like ice cubes became the latest fashion items in the U.S. during the Prohibition years (1919-1933) when bootleg whiskey was so disgusting to drink, ice cubes were the only way to disguise its taste. America, take back the control of your taste buds! Or is living a life without taste and flavors better after all?

"Ice to see you!"

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