I’m so glad you came over the other night; it was so very nice being with you, and may I say you’ve never looked so pretty nor been more charming – which is saying a good deal! Best
It was the last day of my book tour in New York. I had some appointments in the morning but we were all packed for our return to France in the afternoon and the only thing remaining to find out, was how much time would we have for lunch and how would we use it. Oddur, always obsessed with finding the perfect “Italian joint” (which he will never find because it only exists in his mind à la “Vanilla Sky”), had this wild plan that we would somehow manage a sit down, three-course lunch, as if we hadn’t had so many of those already, as if we don’t eat like that all the time. I was more thinking some delicious street food, I was checking my sources in the taxi, doing logistics research on my phone. We do, I must admit, always fuss over lunch … and dinner. As I returned to the hotel Oddur confirmed to me what I had started to suspect when I left my men in the morning. Lucian was too sick to travel, he needed to see a doctor, it simply couldn’t wait. The first appointment I could get was in the afternoon which brought us back to lunch. I was feeling charitable so Oddur got to go and have his potential Italian dream lunch, but first he had to bring me a takeaway from Shake Shack. I had never tried it and as they say, when in Rome. It was good by the way. In the afternoon we took our boy to the Doctor who gave him what he needed and later we took turns staying with him in the hotel. From my hunt I brought back toys, Christmas decorations, turtlenecks and underwear for the kids. Oddur brought vintage Champagne and a second hand, out of print book by Irving Penn, his favorite photographer. The book is called “Moments Preserved” and he found it at the Strand bookstore in the Flatiron district. We couldn’t really go out to dinner with a sick little boy so ordering in was our best bet. Oddur went for Pizza and meatballs, I went for Korean. Sitting on a hotel bed, having his and hers takeaway, drinking fabulous Champagne was frankly pretty great.
Oddur was pouring over his new book, showing me something on every page when a unobtrusive, hardly noticable beige little postcard slipped out of the book and onto the bed. It’s a drawing of two men hugging and kissing, titled “Deux hommes s’embrassant“. On the backside there’s a touching little note. Once upon a time this note made a man called Carl happy, that night it made us happy. And whether you like to call it fate or chance – the note has no date, only Tues, P.M. That’s when we found it, Tuesday, November 15th 2016, sometime late in the P.M.
Look for the silver lining, and a Champagne toast to Carl and Maurice wherever they are.
CONFESSIONS OF A BAD BLOGGER
When I started this blog I did it out of love for food and cooking. Out of love for my new-found life in the countryside, love for my adopted home region, Médoc. I wasn’t very familiar with many other food bloggers but I noticed that some of them, particularly those who had written cookbooks or had enjoyed some measure of success, started posting infrequently. They starting apologising. Most of their blogposts began with the words “I’m sorry” or “I’ve been so busy”. I never thought it would happen to me. So I’m not really apologising, but instead I’d like to make a statement.
I believe that things can’t stand still, they need to evolve. I’ve loved every minute I’ve spent writing and cooking for this blog and I feel that we’ve reached crossroads. Do I give up or do I give everything. It’s been a very hectic, demanding year. The birth of a beautiful boy, so many trips, workshops, wonderful people, wonderful meals. A roller-coaster ride of a year. I did the best I could. And here’s the miracle of 2016 (which was a fantastic year for Médoc wines as well). My best was better than I thought. When I was young. Say 20, I thought I knew just about everything. We all do. I was, of course, wrong. All I’ve learnt is that I did not and I still don’t. But I’ve grown stronger. This year has had its enjoyable challenges, we’ve come through them all and learnt from them. Every night, as I look at Lucian sleeping I can’t help but feel “we did it”. Whatever that means. Here we are, still. He’s my lucky charm, my armour, my beacon. Life really is the greatest teacher and the greatest adventure.
This year will be different, it will be new. Last year I said we’d change the blog, but instead we’ve changed our minds. It will stay the same, no new designs, nothing new just same old. But, we’ll launch a new site in early spring (we’ve been working on this for a while) with many more contributors, new entries every few days. Manger will be a part of it, but only a small part.
If this was a trailer for a movie the voice would say:
“Food has a new home – 1 rue de Loudenne”
Stay tuned 🙂
THE CHRISTMAS MEAL BEFORE CHRISTMAS
How much poultry can you eat in a month? A lot it turns out, especially when you live near the most amazing chicken farm in France, La Ferme de Vertessec. Unfortunately other people know about it too so the queue, just before Christmas is … long. On our way to Bordeaux on the 22nd we stopped by to pick up our Christmas order, poultry sausages, pâtés, crépinettes (I’ll explain later what those are). A few chicken, some pigeons, some quails. The stuffed “chapons” of course are the stars of the show so we took 3 of those. The kids waited in the car but Oddur and I braved the crowds. It’s so popular that a local TV station was even on location filming the occasion. We were second last, 50 people ahead of us, behind us, one elderly man, with a red face, beret and a moustache. When it was finally our turn I asked if I could kindly take a photo with Madame Petit, the owner. It took maybe 30 seconds, but those 30 seconds were the final straw for the man behind us. “one and a half hour” he said. Ça suffit – that’s enough! Then he stormed out. I can’t help laughing when I think about him queueing again the next day – for his wife will surely have sent him back.
And while I’m on the subject of our region and the incredible produce we have. What food we’ve had. What wine we’ve had. Sometimes I take it for granted but oh boy does Médoc have the best wine in the entire world. Christmas is the time for indulging and indulge we have. Where do I begin. I’m going to pretend that I remember all the great wines we’ve had this holiday but it’s actually my husband who is supplying the data. The 1981 Léoville las Cases, the 1990 Clos du Marquis, the 1989 Palmer. The 2000 Lafon-Rochet. The 2003 Larrivaux and the 2003 Tour Haut-Caussan (the best buys in the group). The 2000 Lynch Bages and Oddur’s all-time favorite the 1996. What else did we have? The amazing 2005 Calon Ségur, the 2000 Léoville Barton. The 2003 Ducru Beaucaillou. We had another bottle of the 1990 Léoville Las Cases which may be the finest wine we had all year.
On the 23rd of December our house was stocked to the rafters of the best food you could possibly dream up. Over a hundred bottles of Champagne, foie gras, tins of caviar lining my fridge. A huge ham waiting to be cut in the larder, bags and bags of home made stock in the freezer. Cases of wine, birds galore. A veritable vegetable and flower symphony in that fantasy room of my husband’s we call the “boucherie”. Gifts wrapped, dogs groomed, sheets ironed and washed. The house was clean, the weather was good. Even the seafood platter was waiting in the cellar perfectly ready at the perfect temperature. Let’s be clear – this sort of thing never ever happens in this house. We are, by definition, a chaotic bunch.
It’s a weird feeling, being ready long before you’re supposed to. It’s not really in our genes. So we did what we always do – we decided to mess it up a little and cook up a feast before the other, more formal feast. A bird it was, this time a big fat guinea fowl with the most alluring vegetables, a lot of oysters and crépinettes to start and to finish a divine vanilla chestnut cake that I fell in love this winter. A few times we cheated a little and served it with imported cherries which is usually a no no but when Santa Claus brings you some it would be impolite not to eat them. This lunch was so good, so improvised and so last minute and I’m happy to share it with you. Christmas may be over but good food is always in fashion and I dare you to resist that vanilla chestnut cake.
Christmas is all about family, coming together for a few days and enjoying each others company. Gifts are great, food and wine is even better but being with your loved ones tops everything. This Christmas we were united. Oddur and I and our 8 children. But Christmas does not last forever and early in January it was time for our eldest, Gunnhildur and Þórir to go back to school in Iceland. One last lunch was in the cards. Something simple, probably not poultry. We decided on a family favorite, a pasta with rosemary, radicchio and parma ham. I think I found it once upon a time in a River Café cookbook. Bags were packed, lunch was 10 minutes away, the kids were already getting late for the airport, and in storms my husband saying “the light is incredible in the staircase, let’s take everybody’s portraits”. So we did, and we hugged and posed and the little girls even sang. It felt almost silly taking these pictures but now they are …
Note: Audrey is wearing the prettiest dress by Amaia Kids.
Crépinettes are little sausage parcels wrapped in caul fat that people in our Bordelais region traditionally have for Christmas. They are always served with oysters and they make a perfect pair. I guess it’s the French version of “surf & turf“. Haha!
Roast guinea fowl with chestnuts, apples and red cabbage
1 large guinea fowl, approx. 3 to 4 pounds/ 1.5-1.8 kg (you can alternate and use a chicken instead)
1 medium-sized red cabbage
3 red onions, peeled and quartered
20 ounces/ 570 g peeled cooked chestnuts
8 small red apples, quartered
A glass or two of Bordeaux red wine (or any of your favourite cooking wine)
¼ cup/ 60 g unsalted butter, in small chunks
A small bunch of thyme, rosemary and a bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
Season the guinea fowl inside and out with salt and pepper.
Slice the cabbage into 1 inch/2.5 cm large strips. Slice the onions and apples into quarters, (leaving stems on).
In a medium-sized pan, heat olive oil and sauté one of the onions for 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Then add a handful of chestnuts and a handful of cabbage. You just want enough to insert into the bird’s cavity for the stuffing.
Drizzle the roasting pan with olive oil. Stuff the bird with the sautéed vegetables and the thyme, rosemary and bay leaf.
Place bird in the center of the pan and scatter the apples, onions, cabbage and chestnuts. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle the bird and vegetables with olive oil.
Transfer pan to the preheated oven and cook for 1 hour and 20 minutes. After 1 hour drizzle the pan with red wine and scatter small chunks of butter all over the vegetables.
Leave the bird to rest before carving and toss all the veggies together so they get coated with the sauce.
Vanilla Chestnut cake
18 ounces/ 500 g crème de marron (sweetened vanilla chestnut cream)
1/2 cup/55 g self-raising flour, sifted
4 eggs, separated
1/3 cup/80 g salted-butter + extra for the pan, softened at room temperature
4 Glazed chestnuts/ marrons glacés (optional)
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, softened salted-butter and chestnut cream until smooth. Fold in the flour. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and gently fold them into the mixture.
Generously butter a cake pan, approx 9 inches, or medium-sized bundt pan (like I did), and dust with a little flour. Shake off any excess flour, then pour the cake batter into the cake pan.
Bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden. (please note that a Bundt pan will take slightly longer because it is deeper).
You can decorate with glazed chestnuts (optional) for a more festive touch. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.