Bits and pieces before I go full bore in the next few weeks on what's not healthy with the lunatic fringe of so called health and wellness (IMHO).
A new home page - a perfect lunch - July in Paris at John Baxter's flat, in a building where once lived Sylvia Beach of the legendary bookshop, Shakespeare & Co. A roast chicken & potatoes, mignonette salad, Roquefort and cherries. Simple, simple, simple and served on early Limoges plates. He bought a pile of them at a "brocante" (flea market/ junk shop) a few years ago.
John Baxter is Australian and married a French family. He is a writer on film and biographer of directors such as Federico Fellini, Luis Buñuel, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen. Other books immerse you in the history, lifestyle, food and cooking of his adopted country. He also takes personalised tours of the city. https://www.johnbaxterparis
If you love film, history, France or food, you'll want to spend months with these books. (They also kindle nicely.)
The new brutalism...
Ruggedness is the order of the day in restaurant tableware and drifting into homewares, if the style influencers have their way. Rarely plates but mostly bowls, these seem to be chiselled from igneous rock, drilled from reinforced concrete, hewn from granite or gouged from cold volcanic lava. They are heavy, chip easily and must be hell to stack. (Do they offer weight bearing exercise for the staff?)
How I long for a bit of porcelain – clean, bright, tough, fine, durable.
Bowls are for toddlers, not adults.
Food nestled at the bottom of a bowl can look adorable but let’s be honest. It’s awkward to eat, especially with the fork in left hand, knife in right hand method. No wonder we’re seeing some strange cutlery holdings. (Pasta is traditionally eaten with a fork only and the side of a bowl helps with the twirling action required.) In between mouthfuls or when you’ve finished, what happens? Your cutlery falls into the bowl. How I long for a flat plate, with an edge, an edge of at least 4 cm.
The dehydrated cocktail...
Sipping your Negroni, your nose deep in the glass, you appreciate the hint of orange peel from the generous slice of fresh garnish. You can go further and spritz out the oil from the skin. But what’s this? Jars of thinly sliced orange (preferably blood orange, for appearance) dried to a crisp, now decorate the bar and your cocktail. A modern fad but where’s the aroma? Cute but no subtle layering and interplay of scent and taste.
Let’s have some fresh slices of orange or lemon, cucumber for the Pimms and celery for the Bloody Mary. These dehydrated slices also come half dipped in chocolate and they're not bad - but in drinks? Is it a case of the fad being more important than the whole?
How I long for the breakdown of all those bloody dehydrators.
Not all fashion fads need more than Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
Help me out here. Tell me I'm dreaming, I can take it.
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A glam and modern plating of a traditional Persian / Iranian dish. Please don't call it healthy. (It is, by the way.) Just call it delicious.
There have been sad losses over the last few months. I begin to understand that one can be slim, trim, energetic, positive, clever and still get Parkinson’s, die of cancer or have a stroke. One can smoke heavily, drink cola, eat fast food, avoid fresh water, watch Channel 7, be a grumpy bugger and live well into your late eighties and beyond.
But what an incredible apparatus is the body! It continues to detox our system (with our wonderful liver) without any outside "juiced" intervention, keeps us laughing, moving, thinking.
Nonetheless, people continue to be obsessed by "health", filling their lives with fear, ritual and self-denial. I am involved in an on-line forum answering questions on food, cooking and ingredients, which is fuelling my cynicism. For some reason, I have been chosen and channelled over to the "nut-case" and lunatic fringe of so-called "health". Ah, how little they know me!
See below a random selection of questions. I am choosing to abandon my involvement rather than wait for them to ban me for my sarcastic responses.
They're selling Turmeric Lattes in Woolworths, for heaven's sake! Perhaps a mug might calm me down after my kale, kombuchu & chia smoothie.***
That said, you may be feeling a depletion of energy or health. You might need a genuine and massive ingestion of leaf greens. Try Kuku Sabzi, below.
(What is a bunch? A bunch of violets or a bunch of peonies? Impossible to measure recipe quantities like this. So I’ve done the hard work for you and weighed.)
200 gm silver beet, washed and trimmed of some part of stalk bottom.
60 gm spring onion, finely sliced, green included
20 gm dill, main stalks only removed
60 gm coriander, main stalks only removed
60 gm parsley, main stalks only removed
2 tsbp ground turmeric
teaspoon of salt
You are aiming finally for roughly 500 gm.
Purists may be horrified but I got help with the chopping – a bit of a short whiz in the Magimix, then finished by hand, chopped with a knife.
Mine were also cooked in 12 individual muffin tins and served on a creamy bed of walnut sauce and cucumber.
***Disclaimer - I never drink from a mug.
Traditional serving - cut into slices (note how a circle is cut in the centre).
Served at room temperature, perfect for a party or buffet.
Now, you know how Popeye got his strength.
Making canelés - Cadillac market, near Bordeaux. (Note silicon moulds.)
Bumped into a friend last night who told me her daughter had been "playing around" with using bees wax in her canelés moulds. Never again! She had blocked her drains! Use butter.
BUT, this story is too good not to share.
Adam Wynn sent this minutes after the post Sweet Mysteries of Life "went to air".
"Ah… Canelés plucked at my heart-strings.
I was introduced to them in Bordeaux 40 years ago. Once available only in Bordeaux, they’re now everywhere. They are super popular in Japan at the moment and even suburban and country bakers and cake shops carry them.
As for origins, I actually know the true history, away from the myths. The main ingredients are intricately tied to Bordeaux's history.
People think that the great wealth of Bordeaux and its merchants came from wine. True, Bordeaux has done rather well out of wine over the years, but the real solid, massive wealth of the Bordelais came from slavery. Its dirty little secret, brushed over now, trying to be forgotten, is that Bordeaux was the port négrier of France, its Liverpool.
The massive amount of valuable goods from France's slave colonies came in through Bordeaux. The huge wealth this generated allowed for the building of grand wine estates and the complete renovation of many a mouldy castle.
The main ingredients of canelés were goods from slave-labour, from overseas territories- and one from the wine industry.
The traditional way of fining or clarifying a red wine was to use eggs whites, about six per barrel. For a Château with perhaps 200 barrels, there would be 1,200 eggs yolks left over. This is still a problem and I can attest to the fact that the workers get fed a lot of quiche and omelettes, rather rich ones at that.
As to which nun or baker came up with the recipe we’ll never know. The murky history of the place is buried in that very recipe.
Perhaps now canelés are getting a little over exposed. I agree that copper moulds are best. I got a large bank loan and bought some. I have stainless steel ones as well but they are not as good."
Wine maker & Honorary Japanese Consul-General, Adelaide
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Someone was making muffins for a morning tea. To make them “healthy” she wondered about using alternatives to castor sugar such as agave, coconut sugar, honey or maple syrup. This got me thinking of our history with sugar.
Until very recently, sugar was scarce enough to be kept for very special occasions – feasts, galas, religious festivals. The same could be said also of deep-fried food. (Think sugar coated donuts filled with red jam.) On scanning my books, the very special foods for special occasions were sweet. The ingredients were saved up, stored, put away for a massive, often communal bake.
Now, we have desserts, cakes, pastries and donuts whenever we want and that means generally every day. How quickly did the very pretty, heavily iced, little cup-cakes take off! No wonder we look at sugary foods with trepidation.
If you’re having a morning tea or say, a dessert for a birthday celebration, you’re going to use sugar. Forget the alternatives. Sugar is sugar is sugar – forget the shape it takes, the mystery of coconut sugar, the romance of maple syrup, the longevity of honey, the fake “health" benefits of agave. It’s all sugar and that white stuff is the only one that really makes a good cake!
Now, treat yourself to a canelé. These appeared in Paris patisseries about 25 years ago and the story goes that they’ve come out of Bordeaux but with a confused and long history "dating back hundred of years". Stories range as far afield as artisan barrel makers and convent nuns to apiarists and Jewish bakers. My cynicism tells me it could be “fake news” but a fraternity of bakers in Bordeaux has been formed to safeguard the purity of the canelé.
They’re a seemingly plain little cake but totally irresistible. Baked in special copper, fluted moulds, they are crisp on the outside and chewy, custard-like inside. Dare I risk saying they’re a little bit like a sweet Yorkshire pudding!
The cost of the moulds is ruinous and the sort of thing you only buy with heady, devil-may-care abandon on holidays. Silicon moulds are now available at a fraction of the cost, standard size and mini. The “crust” is not as crisp but…
They do contain sugar (hence the crispy exterior) but just eat them now and again. As Michael Pollan (my food hero) reminds us, you can eat fast foods such as waffles, hamburgers and chips (French fries), just make them yourself. This will take time and prevent you from having them too often.
I haven't tried them in a plain mould e.g. muffin tin or dariole, but it's worth a go.
Like a pancake batter, this mix needs to rest overnight and can even go longer. You can make up a jug-full and cook them day after day. (But that defeats Michael Pollan's maxim.) The inside of the mould should be coated in bees' wax, helping the dark caramel-like exterior of the cake but this is cumbersome. I've tried it and now just butter them.
(This is easily done either by hand or with an electric mixer or Magimix.)
Let batter rest for 6 hours or better still, make it the day before.
2 eggs + 1 yolk
500 ml proper milk (not low-fat)
225 gm castor sugar
50 gm butter (+ extra for moulds)
100 gm plain flour
Vanilla (*real but your choice of medium)
2 tbsp dark rum
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Send me an image if yours are gorgeous.
Nibbles to be passed around to guests at an Art Gallery opening - tiny bocconcini sandwiched between cherry tomatoes, "drizzled" with basil oil.
Nice, but these are not canapés.
What do we call small, light morsels of food passed around to standing guests or to friends not yet seated, to entertain them possibly, while waiting for others to arrive?
Pre-dinner nibbles, appetisers, pre-prandial snacks, hors d'oeuvres, amuse-gueules, amuse-bouches, canapés?
In French, un canapé is a couch or a sofa, so a canapé acts as a little "couch" for a morsel of tasty food on which to nestle. It could be a round of rye bread topped with smoked salmon & sour cream, it could be a sliver of pineapple topped with spiced pork, it could even be a humble Jatz cracker with cheddar and a pickle.
We were always trying to find different "canapés" to build on - a round of cucumber, a small square of crisped polenta, a finger of toast, a blini, a ball of pressed rice - all to inspire us to match a topping.
So baby bocconcini and cherry tomatoes are nice, but they're not canapés. Canapés are pre-prandial snacks/appetisers but not all pre-prandial snacks are canapés.
L. to R.
Cocktail glass - prawns, mango, mayonnaise, whatever & perhaps with a prawn off the side. ("Vintage" dressing - equal parts ice-cream & tomato sauce.)
Ethnic - deep and moody, comfort food, any garnish will be "old school". (Jasmin restaurant.)
Stacked - layered, tall as possible (salad helps), generally circular, must be "deconstructed" to eat.
L. to R
Meat and Three Veg - homely, ticking off the five food groups.
Rustic - delicious gnocchi and mushrooms, artfully "plonked" on an earthy plate. (André's Cucina)
Verrine - Food piled in a glass (or even more on trend, in a preserving jar).
L. to R.
Zen - conscious simplicity and perfection - C.M.'s Peach Melba
Take-away - when the going gets tough. (Just a personal social experiment, of course.)
Geometric - Raspberries and Pistachio - Paris, Le Grand Véfour, my spiritual home.
L. to R.
Linear - a string of ingredients rather than a recipe!
Scatterings - bits of this and that, arranged...
Spoons - for tiny morsels of deliciousness - cocktail food, pre-prandial nibbles, canapés. (Never anywhere to put the empties.)
Do you remember any others?
What's trending now?
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Salamanca Market - Hobart.
Inspiring - but were these vegetables arranged, displayed or "curated"?
In these troubles times, hate is too strong a sword to use flippantly. But sitting around, as you do, we allowed ourselves to mull over clichéd and tired thinking.
Ah - what expressions we use to make our dreary lives more interesting?
We’d be really happy to see less of these in the area of food and hospitality. Indulge us here, share with us.
The worst, the top - the one that got us screaming...
Celebrity Chef (CC), followed by Chef Extraordinaire (CE).
I think a CE is lower than a CC. Perhaps a CE can give an opinion but is not as often on TV. I don’t know. Definition?
Cooking up a storm – as someone who believes in calm, quiet application, this sounds like a messy bench top and dishevelled “mis en place”.
Secrets - “CC Mavis deLornay shares her secrets for the perfect cheese platter” or “This time, we’ll uncover the secret behind the perfect meat loaf.” Something easy made very mysterious? Whatever, there are no secrets, just discovery.
These expressions make us cringe...
Crusty bread - there's no need for an adjective before each and every noun.
Honest food– As CE Frank Mc. says "I hate it when my risotto lies to me."
Infused – mystical flavouring. Frank rocks the boat by "invading" his lamb with cumin. Love it. (And the flavour rocks.)
Healthy – any funny new vegetable, preferably difficult to love
Detox – Not physically possible. Just going without to assuage Catholic guilt.
Clean eating / authentic / integrity - please explain.
Local - How close is local?
Super foods – anything dark green, very bitter and hard to source.
Curated meats – a butcher now does more than just trim meat.
Infant carrots - larger than baby, smaller than adolescents. Adults are probably used for juicing. The big old codgers, I guess, are for horses.
A cooking demonstration recently...
“I’ve made it gluten free so it’s really good”. NO, it's good for ceoliacs and the non-coeliac gluten intolerants, but it's not necessarily better for most people, especially not with the bloody sugar you've added!
"Recent studies show" proves it’s correct.
"Laboratory tests prove" contradicts whatever “recent studies show”.
Think before you say this...
To die for / Simply divine - cute the first time we heard it. No longer.
"Don’t go to any trouble" - Passive aggressive.
"You must come to dinner" - Oh, so it's my fault I haven't turned up or are you indicating that you are lazy and haven't got around to it but mean to do it and in the mean time, you're covering for yourself, or thinking about it but want to look generous and gregarious? Or you just don't want to see me?
"Can I help?" as you walk in the door. If I needed that much help I wouldn't have asked you all over for my larks' tongue pâté en croûte, my roasted deboned pheasant galantine with turned baby vegetables and my new season chestnut and rum bavarois. (Could I send you down to the dressing room to iron a few napkins? I'll bring down a glass of bubbles.)
But especially for us secret, wanna-be or fledgling CCs and CEs, what gets us pulling out our hair (and hurts most)...
"I could never cook for you." - We're all allowed to be good at something. You have a better degree than I have, you have read Proust in French, Russian and English, you can sight read music, you have more jokes up your sleeve than I have, you have climbed Machu Pichu. Allow me to do this one thing without recrimination.
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Some things I've been thinking about...
Glasses - just a reminder of a great lunch, languid and generous - wine-maker Tim Knappstein - no more no less.
"Show me another pleasure like dinner which comes every day and lasts an hour." Charles Maurice de Talleyrand - 1754-1838 French philosopher and diplomat.
Some people are uncomfortable hearing swearwords. Some people get edgy and giggle when the word "butter" is mentioned.
What is it with the centre of the plate? It seems to terrify people when they serve themselves.
At my greengrocer's, saw infant carrots. Are they larger than baby carrots but not as big as adolescent carrots? Is this trying to scare vegans?
The "health" bandwagon is barreling its way through, not only the French language but also through traditional French flavours and la gourmandise.
In my latest ELLE à Table bi-monthly magazine, I read the following. Even non-French speakers should get the drift.
Went to the market. Cute young hipster at the organic stall (of course).
"I'd like a celery and two Grannie Smith apples. I've been watching Fawlty Towers."
"Ah ha! Waldorf Salad! My dad loves that show."
I felt very old.
Celery- too much left over after our Waldorf salad. Sliced on an angle, poached, white sauce, cheese & bread crumbs, baked, even better than cauliflower cheese.
Gratin - what's not to like?
Don't forget to check out comments - always a little extra, more stories or ideas for using peas (and pasta).
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The owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
In the second verse, they marry - a simple ceremony - (an early example of marriage equality?)
And hand in hand on the edge of the sand
They danced by the light of the moon.
They dined on mince and slices of quince
Which they ate with a runcible spoon.
(Edward Lear - 1910)
But what, you ask, is a runcible spoon and why am I quoting Edward Lear?
Lear loved nonsense verse and nonsense words. The idea may have come from his friend George Runcy who talked of designing a spoon for children with tines at the end. Some were in fact manufactured in the early 1900s and it's not known if the spoon or the invented word came first. Like Lear, I like a fanciful word. And anyway, how often does it arise that I can suggest eating with a runcible spoon, whether it be peas, mince or quinces?
Is the runcible spoon the inspiration for the Splayd, (far superior to the Spork)? This multi-function utensil was the invention of Bill McArthur, of Potts Point, New South Wales in the late 1940s. It went viral, as they say in media-speak, - popular in Australia, America and GB particularly for the stand-up buffet. Boxed-sets are still available in our "better department stores", very reasonably priced. As their website tells us, "they are always in demand for gift giving". I have boxes of them, no longer required. I'll keep a dozen and perhaps start de-cluttering by giving them as birthday and holiday presents. https://www.splayd.com.au
Investigating on eBay, I'm SHOCKED to see that Sporks are being passed off as Splayds. Don't be fooled. Splayds have a distinctive mid-century modern simplicity and sophistication.
At left - Splayds
Our very own runcible spoons
I eat my peas with honey,
I've done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife.
(Anonymous - 1871)
In vintage etiquette manuals, peas are classed as a “difficult” food, along with artichokes, asparagus, sea urchins & rambutans as dessert. It is recommended they not be served at a formal event because they are awkward to eat when knife and fork are held correctly (see post HKLP 21 Nov. 2017). Scooping is definitely out. If served, it is suggested you mash them onto the top of your fork, or impale a few on the tines or better still, if mashed potato is also served, incorporate them into the mash. (We are told, “At all times, consider what the person opposite you is seeing”.)
Sod that for a lark! Squashing? Mashed potato? Because I love peas, I must confess that I’m guilty of the surreptitious scoop.
Friend A.W. and his father were fortunate to be included in a dinner where grouse was served. A delicate situation threatened as the game bird was tasteless, dry and stringy. After dinner A.W. asked his father how he had managed to keep accepting another helping so politely. He hadn’t noticed that each time his father accepted more grouse, he also took more mashed potato, which he used to cover and hide the inedible bird.
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What a retro image! So old-fashioned, so off-trend, so "vintage" it's nearly cool. Whatever, it's my favourite dish of vegetables. I made this with 500 gm of peas and I could have sat down on a muffet and eaten the whole lot with a runcible spoon.
They are peas, petits pois, done my mother's way where there's no such thing as crunchy, under-cooked vegetables. I never eat a plain, boiled, six-minute pea.
As a teenager, as you do, I looked into existentialism, positivism, rationalism, nihilism, humanism, atheism, anarchy and dialectics. At some stage, I was drawn to Charles Fourier (1772 - 1837 Paris), a Utopian Socialist. He believed the transformation of labour into pleasure would lead to harmony and mutual consideration. I particularly liked his ideas on children, (for whom he recommended a diet of preserved peaches and sweet white wine).
He saw children as naturally industrious and it was simply a matter of channelling their energy. (Their passion for filth made them perfect rubbish collectors.) The best occupation to utilise their love of activity and rummaging was the shelling and sorting of peas!
Shelling peas is calm and "mesmerising", perfect for watching Dr Phil. Sadly, whether from a farmers' market or a supermarket, whether organic, macrobiotic, biodynamic, bucolic or hydroponic, they are disappointing.
Fourier's peas would have been shelled and cooked within minutes of being picked from the vine. Our peas in the pod can be days before arriving at a greengrocer's shelf, then days before being sold, only to hang around a bit longer before being prepared in one's kitchen. As soon as pods are picked, the sugar in the peas begins converting to starch resulting eventually in "bullets". (Sorry, but...)
Are frozen peas better than fresh? IMO, yes, especially if you choose "baby" peas. There are no other vegetables that benefit as peas do from snap freezing.
Petit pois à la française (Peas in the French manner)
4 people - unless you want to eat them all yourself
500gm frozen "baby" peas
50 gm diced bacon (very, very optional)
50 gm -70gm sliced onion or spring onions, keeping some of the green
50 gm diced carrot (optional)
60-80 gm lettuce, either leaves or heart
A very flexible recipe, of course. If not using bacon, use the larger amount of onion, for the umami. If using spring onions, cut into 7 cm pieces, using the white and some of the green. It's nice to have a couple of small lettuce hearts but sliced outer leaves you don't know what to do with, work very well.
The question remains however. How does one eat peas? I'm researching the answer.
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