The Right Thing To Do
This is my husband’s annual blogpost, enjoy!
On a typical night in our house, Mimi will leave the kitchen after dinner and not return. She will ask me when I’m coming to bed and though I have every intention of coming early I usually come late. My duties in this house start earlier, end later than everybody else’s in the family and while this sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. These extra hours are spent on a special duty, in the service of dogs. It’s tempting to paint a picture of myself as the lord of the dogs, a master of small things. In reality it is, at best, an entertaining circus of which I have limited control. We have dogs that can never meet, dogs that can sometimes meet but not when the females are in season (and someone is always in season) or not too many at once. That’s not even mentioning the puppies who need extra care and the eccentric gourmands that like to socialize, but just not when they eat. It’s complicated.
There are rules to follow, like not having too many terriers, or at least not too many males. But I don’t follow any of them. When I’m finally in bed Mimi will sometimes ask me why I give myself such chores to do. If it wouldn’t be simpler to have slightly fewer dogs. And it would, of course.
But why, why indeed …
Sometimes the best lines come from otherwise forgettable films. Like the Weatherman with Nicolas Cage. Not a bad movie, but hardly up there with the classics. It has Michael Caine in it which automatically makes it worth watching and one of the things his character says to his adult son is this:
“To get anything of value you have to sacrifice. The harder thing to do and the right thing to do are usually the same thing. Nothing that has meaning is easy. Easy doesn’t enter into grown-up life.”
I only saw that movie once but that stuck with me and I repeat it to my children all the time. Very young people tend to think that things should happen by themselves and often we don’t appreciate the value of what we’re doing until much later. When I was a young boy in Iceland I wanted to be a veterinarian and I thought the best way to achieve that would be to spend the summer on my uncle’s farm. Once there I quickly realized that my job had very little to do with nursing lambs and puppies and everything to do with boring chores. My days started with shoveling bullshit and ended with collecting rocks into piles in a place so vast that it would have taken me a hundred summers to finish the job. Still, I found a way to tolerate it, making the best possible piles of bullshit and rocks.
It wasn’t fun but it was the right thing to do.
The man who loved radishes
Our children are fortunate. They have a mother who is a fabulous cook and as a result they eat fabulous food every day. They may not realise how fortunate they are now but one day they will (actually I think they already do). I wasn’t that keen of vegetables as a kid, a few I loved, many I liked, others I loathed. One of my grandmothers let me skip all the vegetables if I wanted, the other one tried to force me to eat a suspicious blend from a can. I do remember that I loved the salad bar at Pizza Hut. Later, going to vegetarian restaurants only meant something ranging from totally fine to nothing special. Various stews in Indian disguise, all OK, none great.
When I moved to France vegetables to me were pleasant distractions, or preludes to the all important piece of protein that had to follow and dominate. In Paris we lived next door to a market and since fruits and vegetables look great on a table and I’ve always had a penchant for creating still lifes we bought more than we needed. Which also meant we ate more of them than I had planned. Slowly I fell in love with vegetables and while many chefs and many greens played a part I give credit mainly to two people. My wife (who you know intimately through this blog) and Alain Passard.
He is of course a 3-star chef and in my opinion, beyond his 3 stars, simply the finest chef in the world. The first dish I ever had at his restaurant Arpège, was a salad – with radishes. At the price they charged I was expecting a surprise and I got it. The salad was just a salad. But a glorious one. We went there every year for my birthday, Mimi even interviewed him once (the man is not short on confidence by the way) and I took his portrait. When she asked him why he didn’t have more restaurants than one he simply answered “I am one man, I can not be in several places at once”. Others could learn from that. Sacrifice.
The story of Alain Passard is something like this: He rose through the ranks at the restaurant of his mentor and finally bought it. When he had claimed 3 Michelin stars in his own right he announced that rather than resting on his laurels and churn out more of the same, he would now follow his heart and introduce a new menu dominated by vegetables. Critics were surprised, the competition laughed. He kept his three stars. With vegetables. Mind you, grands crus vegetables from his own orchards.
It can’t have been easy.
But it was the right thing to do.
Eat your vegetables
For the last two years my wife (and in a small way myself) has been hosting wonderful cooking workshops here in our home in Médoc. The first lunch is often vegetarian and always delicious. People don’t even notice that it’s vegetarian. When I bring up the fact they seem surprised. If someone told me tomorrow that I could never eat meat again that would be fine. 10 years ago I would have felt different. In reality I don’t think I’ll ever willingly give up meat but I find myself gravitating towards the greens. They’re just so damn good. Blanched asparagus with olive oil and lemon. Radishes and Champagne with butter (I didn’t say vegan). Mimi’s red salad. Endive tartlets. Mushroom carpaccio. Anything with fava beans. Anything with chard. Tomatoes, pumpkins, onions. Gazpacho, oh la la.
We have a puppy now who’s a special little bugger. He’s very energetic and very stubborn. And a little bit aggressive. He’s called John Ray after the Dunhill designer (long story). He’s on the cover of Mimi’s new book and he looks adorable there. I cook a lot for the dogs. Rice, liver, meat leftovers, carrots, green beans etc. I notice that out of all the pups he kept leaving out the vegetables and only eating the meat. So I stopped giving him meat and only coated the vegetables in broth. Now he loves vegetables.
It was the right thing to do.
The one who got away
In February we had a litter (or rather Dick and Jeanie had) of 5 very beautiful Smooth Fox Terrier puppies. 2 girls, 3 boys. I meant to keep a girl but in the end we kept a boy, just because he reminded me of his grandfather Humfri. One girl, Willow, went to Switzerland to the kindest family imaginable. They proved themselves worthy in every way you could possibly hope. The father, a Sicilian, shook my hand almost with tears in his eyes when they left and said he hadn’t stopped crying since he lost his other dog in November. Willow, you lucked out!
Irving is going to NY in late May, John Ray is staying here but Helmut, the sweetest of all is still without a family.
Which leaves us with Arden. She was perhaps the prettiest of the litter, split face, black and white and the most outgoing character, everybody’s favorite little girl. Mimi and I had gone to Paris in January and upon the recommendation of a friend had decided to spend some of our precious, Parisian hours of liberty at Verjus, a restaurant in the Palais Royal. We had known about Verjus for some time, but never been. We used to go to the same spot when it was another restaurant, Alfred, but had never been back. Our friend, Sarah from Colette, practically made us go. We had the greatest evening. Starting with a Champagne from a small producer (I can’t remember which – it was that good) and simply enjoying every bite of every course and every wine pairing (and much of Mimi’s wine too, she is pregnant after all) it was the perfect date night, and we don’t have many of those.
Soon after we were contacted by Braden and Laura, the proprietors of Verjus who had just lost their dog and wanted to try to fill the void left by his departure. So we arranged a trip down to Médoc and in a very improvised manner I suggested they might cook something to share on the blog. Braden brought his own nettle and carefully sourced Reblochon and before Mimi’s crème fraîche chicken, treated us to a delicious potato salad (see recipe). It was one of those charmed days, warm, sunny, windy. Magical. Meeting old friends for the first time if that makes sense. I though they’d pick a boy, I thought I could keep Arden a bit longer. They sent pictures for the train ride to Paris. They send regular photos from her adventures as resident restaurant dog of Verjus. Tonight, as I was writing this post Hudson brought in the mail (his parents are very good at ignoring the mail box) and in tonight’s batch was a letter from Arden. 5 photos and essay in her own words. And very funny too.
Giving up Arden was hard.
It was the right thing to do.
The boy who wore a blazer
My son Hudson really likes dressing up. He tricked me into buying him a suit on a recent trip to NY and every chance he gets he puts on formal wear. He buttons every shirt up to the top. I don’t believe in spoiling children and I try hard to make them understand the value of things. One thing I believe in is buying better, often more expensive things, respecting them, maintaining them and preserving them. I like to tell him that someone made his jacket with pride so he should wear it with pride and treat it with care. The tweed he’s wearing used to belong to his older brother Þórir, he took good care of it and hopefully Hudson will too. I have, after all, another son coming.
I give the kids all sorts of chores, many to do with dogs but also other more unpleasant things. Kids need duties and they need to sometimes fail their duties. And I need to be angry with them when they do, even if I’m not.
It’s the right thing to do.
He who is coming
My wife and I are expecting a son.I don’t know how she does it. At 8 months she still does everything like she always does. With style and thoughtfulness. My son is lucky to have her as his mother. Lucian, that’s his name.. He will not have the same father as my first son who turns 19 this month. I will be older, greyer, slower when he’s a teenager. But maybe I’ll be, in some ways, better. You have to try to learn, to improve. And when that fails to try harder still. Every night I say to myself, tomorrow I’ll be a better man. And usually I’m not.
But I have to try.
It’s the right thing to do.
Back to the dogs
So why do I like to have so many dogs. What’s the real reason?
It’s called indulging, allowing yourself to make your dreams come true, even if it makes no sense to other people. Of course it’s all a little bit selfish. But at least I’m honest about it.
It’s the right thing to do.
… and besides, I think it’s more fun than playing golf.
Nettle Pesto Potato Salad
As I said earlier, Braden was a good sport and made us this wonderful potato salad with nettle and Reblochon cheese when he and Laura visited in April. He sourced his own cheese and nettle which wasn’t really necessary as we are up to our ankles in nettle here in St Yzans. In iceland we call this “fetching the water over the stream”.
Here’s Braden’s recipe.
200 g/ 7 ounces wild nettles
2 garlic cloves
200 ml/ 7 ounces good olive oil
100 g/ 1 cup grated parmesan
50 ml/ 3 tbsp lemon juice
50 g/ 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts/walnuts/or omit
Soak nettles in ice water.
With two layers of plastic gloves, remove the leaves from the nettles.
Blanche nettles for 1 minute and place into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
Squeeze out all the water and moisture from the nettles.
Using a mortar and pestle or a food processor mix the above ingredients to a fine paste.
180 g/ 6-7 ounces raw cream or heavy cream
180 g/ 6-7 ounces reblochon cheese cut into small pieces
1 sheet of gelatine
2 nitrous charger
1 isi Siphon
Warm cream in a pot over low heat.
Add piece of reblochon and stir until cheese is melted.
Pass mixture through a strainer to remove any clumps.
Add gelatine sheet and stir until melted.
Pour mixture into a siphon and charge with 2 nitrous chargers.
Keep siphon at or near 38ºC.
New potato/Leek sauce
500 ml/ 2 cups water
100 g new potatoes (peeled)
100 g leeks (green parts removed)
25 ml/ 1 &1/2 tbsp lemon juice
50 g/3-4 tbsp butter
Cook potatoes in water at simmer until potatoes are soft and cooked through.
Add leeks and continue to cook for another minute until leeks soften.
Blend potatoes, leeks and cooking liquid.
Season with lemon juice, butter, salt and pepper.
Roasted new potatoes
1 kilo/ a bit more than 2 pounds new potatoes
Gently scrub new potatoes with a vegetable brush.
Toss potatoes with a neutral oil like sunflower, salt and pepper.
Roast at 200ºc for 25 minutes or until coloured and cooked through.
250 g/ 1 & 1/2 cup shelled peas (blanched and iced)
Warm potatoes in a pan to color edges.
Warm potato and leek mixture in a small sauce pan.
Spoon nettle pesto into the base of the serving bowl.
Spoon roasted potatoes onto the nettle pesto.
Warm peas in the potato/leak sauce, then spoon onto the potatoes in the serving bowl.
Holding the siphon upright, squeeze reblochon espuma over everything.
If I was making this at home, I would leave the gelatine out of the reblochon espuma and rather than aerating it, I would just spoon the fondue over the potatoes.
Green and white asparagus has been a dominating influence in our lives and Mimi’s cooking for the better part of two months. I think (without exaggerating) that we’ve had asparagus every single day for two months. A lot of the time we just blanche the green asparagus and drizzle it with olive oil and lemon. Other times Mimi goes more elaborate. This time I told her I would mention Alain Passard and she decided to make a version of a recipe of his, albeit with an Asian twist. Her parents were visiting in April (see photos) and brought us a load of goodies from their visit to an Asian supermarket in Bordeaux . We’ve had them several times since and will continue to have them as long as there is green asparagus.
25 round ravioli sheets (I used wonton wrappers)
A bunch of asparagus, tips reserved
A large handful of fresh peas
1 glass of Jura wine
250 g/ 1&1/2 cup morel/ morilles mushrooms
A bunch of chopped fresh sorrel leaves
2 tablespoons unsalted buttter
grated zest of 1 lemon
Freshly grated Parmesan, for garnishing
Cut off asparagus tips, then halve each tip lengthwise and reserve.
Place a piece of asparagus, about an inch and a half/ 3cm in the center on each wonton sheet.
Brush pasta around mounds of filling lightly with water, then lift half of sheet and drape over mounds.
Press down firmly around each mound, forcing out air.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over a high heat, then reduce heat to a gentle boil.
Add the raviolis to gently boiling water, carefully stirring to separate, and cook for 2 minutes, keeping them al dente.
Lift raviolis with a slotted spoon, and transfer to a plate.
In a large pan, heat olive oil and butter until sizzling. Sauté the morel mushrooms and asparagus tips. Season with salt and pepper and add a dash of Jura wine. Add the fresh peas, the raviolis, lemon zest, and toss everything gently together.
Serve immediately with a drizzle of olive oil and grated parmesan.
T’is the season for strawberries and basically Mimi wanted to please the kids. I have been bringing home organic strawberries for weeks now and while we have most of them straight out of the box sometimes it’s nice to go a little more fancy. This is a recipe from one of Mimi’s episodes of ‘La Table de Mimi’ on Canal+.
For the sponge cakes
125 g flour/ 1 cup, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
125 g/ 2/3 cup caster sugar
A pinch of salt
For the cream
125 ml/ 1/2 cup mascarpone
125 ml heavy cream/ 1/2 cup
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.
Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Add a pinch of salt in the egg whites.
In another bowl, beat the sugar with the egg yolks, until light and fluffy.
Sift the baking powder and the flour together. Add to the egg yolk mixture.
Whisk the egg white until stiff peaks. Gently fold in the egg whites with a spatula.
Fill muffin tin two-thirds full and bake for 15 mins, until golden, risen and firm to the touch. Leave to cool for a few minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the cream
In a large bowl, whisk the heavy cream with the mascarpone until smooth and thick. Add a few tablespoons of icing sugar and vanilla seeds (according to your taste, I prefer not too sweet) .
Slice the strawberries, halve the little sponge cakes and assemble.
Hi it’s Mimi again, signing off after my husband’s (long) post. Which I loved by the way 🙂
I just wanted to share the cover of my new book, I’m so proud of it, so happy with it. When we started talking about it, even before the first one came out I dreamt it would end up in a certain way, and it did.
I’m usually a summer girl but this year October can’t come early enough.
French Country Cooking – in stores October 25th but available for preorder now on: