Essays

The Music I Cook By

iPod Mini

All right, all right! Obviously, resistance is futile: I have been tappedtwice! — in the Music in My Kitchen game that’s been going around our little world of food blogs. I usually try to keep things more or less focused on the edible around here, but since my kitchen is a “cuisine à l’américaine” that opens onto the living-room where the hi-fi gear is, musical ambiance is an important aspect of my cooking life. So here goes.

What is the total amount of music files on your computer?

I have very few files directly on my iBook: most of my music lives on the mp3 server that Maxence has set up, from which our stereo reads via a cool wi-fi device. Um, wait: is this getting too geeky for the general public?

The CD you last bought?

Nolita, Keren Ann‘s latest album. The next one I will buy (I know you didn’t ask, but whose blog is this?) is likely to be Coralie Clément’s new album Bye Bye Beauté: it comes out on Monday and I’m going to her concert on Thursday night, so I’m going to have to act fast!

What was the last song you listened to before reading this message?

Over breakfast this morning, I had a sudden craving for Arte, a song by the Spanish group Nosoträsh (on the album Popemas). We discovered Nosoträsh a few summers ago, as our friends Nathalie and Damon were visiting from San Francisco. Nathalie, who works in the music industry and therefore has very sharp tastes, knew about this group and about the mini-concert they were giving that night on a péniche called Le Batofar, a bar/disco barge on the Seine. So we all went, and we spent the evening drinking mojitos and listening to the Spanish girls sing. A soft, slightly melancholy (although of course I speak no Spanish and have no idea what the lyrics say), beautiful song.

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Galette des Rois

Galette des rois

Are you looking for a homemade galette des rois recipe?

It is a typically French tradition to celebrate l’Epiphanie: this holiday celebrates the day on which the three kings Gaspard, Balthazar and Melchior came to pay their tribute to the world-famous baby born just a couple of weeks before. In French those wise men go by the cool name of Les Rois Mages (the Magi), and their first names are totally coming back in fashion these days, let me tell you. (Well, except maybe for Melchior, that’s a tough one.)

Like many a Christian holiday, this one has lost its religious significance in most French families, gaining a sweeter, much more buttery one in the bargain: on the day of the Epiphany, families share a Galette des Rois, a flaked pastry pie filled with frangipane, a butter-rich, smooth mixture of crème d’amande (almond cream) and crème pâtissière (pastry cream)*.

The actual date on which to have the galette has gotten fuzzier and fuzzier: some families celebrate on the 6th, some on the first Sunday in January, but it’s mostly considered fine to celebrate it all through the month of January. (I must however protest against the sale of galettes before the new year, and sometimes as soon as November. I mean, really.)

The fabulous thing about a Galette des Rois, apart from its deliciousness, is the family ritual that goes with it: the youngest child of the family hides under the table, an adult divides the galette in even slices, and the child calls out which slice goes to whom.

Why all the fuss you ask? Aah, it is just this small thing I haven’t yet mentioned: la fève is hidden in the galette. Historically a dry fava bean (hence the name), it is now a little porcelain figure. (That figure used to have some kind of religious meaning but that, too, has gone the way of the dodo.) Whoever gets the fève in his serving is named King (or Queen) for the day, gets to wear the golden paper crown that came with the galette, picks who the Queen (or King) will be, and glows with pride for weeks hence.

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The Joy of Room Service

Club Sandwich

On Sunday night, wanting to put the finishing touches on my talk, I decide to stay in and have dinner in my room, a small room with a view out onto the harbour, in the four-star Cannes hotel where the Gourmet Voice festival is taking place.

I order a club sandwich of course, not hesitating for one second : the first room service of my life, it has to be the epitomical sandwich, no? Besides, club sandwiches are one of the better inventions of mankind, and an opportunity to eat one should never be passed up.

The club sandwich arrives moments later, wheeled in on a tablecloth-clad table by a red-suit-wearing, white-haired, phonebook-serious majordomo. He maneuvers the table up between the bed and the television, and expertly hooks the collapsible sides back up so the table is, once again, nice and round, adorned as it is with a pink rose in a little vase and a brand new ketchup glass bottle.

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Mon Cahier de Recette

Mon Cahier de Recette

[My Recipe Book]

Six or seven years ago, I started a little recipe book. At that time, I still lived at my parents’ and hardly ever cooked, except when they were away, and then there would be the obligatory calls to my mother for the recipe to gratin de courgette or quiche lorraine, and how do you cook potatoes again?

I bought a spiral notebook with three sections, and neatly labeled them “Salé”, “Sucré” and “Divers” (savory, sweet and miscellaneous). I then proceeded to ask my mom, once and for all, about her oft-requested recipes and cooking tips. It took a few sessions in the kitchen, with her preparing dinner, and me sitting on a stool, asking questions and taking notes.

I hardly added any recipe to the notebook after that, new ones were filed on my computer or in a clippings file instead, but I always kept it with me, and it really helped when I started to cook in the US and couldn’t call my mother at the drop of a hat. After a while of course, I didn’t even need to open it anymore, because I knew most of those recipes by heart.

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Coffee and a Boggle

Coffee and a Boggle

Last Saturday, it was my great pleasure to have two American friends over for a late morning cup of coffee. Ruth, a coworker from my California days, was visiting Paris with her partner Pia, and she had contacted me to know if I’d like to meet up. We had the loveliest time chatting together and catching up.

It should be said that Ruth and I have been through special times together : she and a few other coworkers (namely Marni, Geoffrey and Marcia) had made it a habit to play Boggle in the office kitchen (roomy and warm, bright orange and blue, how I miss that kitchen) during lunchtime. You know, Boggle, where you shake sixteen dice in a plastic box (rattle rattle rattle) then let them settle to form a grid of letters, and try to find as many words as possible on the grid before the sand timer runs out.

I gradually joined in the fun, and became a real Boggle enthusiast. It was a fabulous way to learn a bunch of tiny improbable English words, which I can never get enough of, and I loved the mood we played in, cheerful and relaxed. People would walk in and out of the kitchen, hover over the game (hints were highly fordbidden of course, but they would make a big show of pretending to see 7-letter words), the wonderful Mark C. would unfailingly make his favorite “it boggles the mind” pun, and we would chew on our sandwiches between each game, comparing lists and counting points.

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