AUGUST IN PARIS . . . AND SWEET BASIL IS ON THE MENU

It is August and there are those Parisians who flee to damp, cold stone houses in Brittany, or gritty, sticky beaches in Cap Ferrat.  I have escaped to my little house in Paris ( une petite maison).  The ceilings soar to cool heights.  Linen curtains billow and dance at tall windows.  The floor in my kitchen is ancient stone pavers.  It is cool under my feet. And it keeps the baskets of vegetables and bottles of wine at just the right temperature.

I always spend August in Paris.  August is when friends, from distant cities and exotic climes, appear at my door.  The Tin Man and Augustine appear first.    The Tin Man’s birthday is Bastille Day, and after several weeks of trolling vine yards and forgotten villages they visit  Paris.    This evening my Paris friend Theadora  and Resa of Toronto’s  West Queen Street, will dine.

There is a market at the end of my street. I tuck a basket under my arm and  early so very early  I follow a truck washing the streets of night memories,  I shop for tonight’s dinner.  Looking for basil from Provence.  It’s highly perfumed, piquant, tiny-leaves are the best for a brilliantly flavoured sauce and for tucking into salads.

I am in my kitchen  pounding and turning basil with a pestle in a large marble mortar.   It’s for a light basil sauce.  In the heat of summer it is an answer to almost everything.  I use it as a sauce for pasta (tonight’s dinner).  I glaze it on pizza along with tomato sauce.  I’ve paired it with poached fish.    And lavished it the most traditional way as pistou in a Provençal vegetable soup known as  soupe au pistou.

The recipe is simple.  More so if your kitchen boasts a food process. Into your processor  you place four fat garlic cloves peeled and halved , a half teaspoon of fine sea salt, four cups  of loosely packed of fresh basil leaves and flowers and process it to a paste.  I sometimes include a generous handful of Italian parsley leaves.    Then with the machine running you slowly pour six tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil through the tube and process again.  Taste for seasoning and the transfer it to a small bowl.   Stir before serving.  You can store this covered and refrigerated for three days or frozen for up to six months.  Bring to room temperature and stir again before serving.  You will end up with two-thirds of a cup, or about twelve one-tablespoon servings.

Chilling in a well-used silver ice bucket are  several bottles of vin rosé from the south of France.  Edith Piaf sings about lost loves.  Theadora arrives arms loaded with treasures from the flea markets  –  vintage fashion magazines.   We hear the high heeled taping of  scarlet soled shoes on the stairs.  Resa has arrived.

The night sky has turned pink.  Candles gutter and sputter.  It has been an evening of companionship, deep discussions,  frivolous fanciful dreams, laughter and a few tears.  It has been an August night in  une petite maison (my little house in Paris)

 

 

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WHEN LIFE HANDS YOU A BOWL OF CHERRIES MAKE CLAFOUTI AUX CERISES (cherry clafouti)

One has a rather small window to make this classic French dessert.     It’s a bit of a waiting game.  First you wait patiently for the first of the dark, sweet cherries to make their grand appearance.    I shop almost daily in our lovely, quiet and delightfully old-fashioned village.  We have a wonderful locally owned  grocery store in Ladner.  JARRY’S feature local and regional products.       I have been buying shiny, ruby red cherries every day for a week or so, and today the cherries were deeply rich and sweetly ripe.   This is where the waiting and tasting game pays off.  The cherries are perfect for  clafouti.

Clafuti is a crepe like batter poured over cherries and baked in a very hot oven.  There are many recipes for this seasonal dessert and they are all variations of melted butter, flour (not much) a bit of sugar, several eggs , milk and ripe, plump cherries.   It is traditional to leave the pits in the cherries.  It adds to the flavour of the clafouti.    Just  remind your guests about the pits.

This very, very French dessert is easy to whip up and pop into the oven about two hours before you want to serve it.   At the last minute I dust it with a little icing sugar.  You can serve it warm or cool.

The recipe  for  CHERRY CLAFOUTI  awaits you in MRS.BUTTERFINGER’S kitchen.  Bon Appetit dear friends.

 

 

 

SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN, AND FORBID THEM NOT, TO COME UNTO ME: FOR SUCH IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.

 

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to break free,

the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 

Send there, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

  I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

 

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

(The text of this sonnet by Emma Lazarus is mounted inside the  Statue of Liberty)

(The text  “suffer little children” from King James version of the bible  Matthew 19:14)

TAMING THE PRECOCIOUS AND RELUCTANT PEONY

 

They flounce in the garden.   Their ball gowns worn  with great aplomb.   Their glorious heads sway and dance to the slightest breeze.   They are the voluptuous, sumptuous darlings of the garden.

Peonies  beguile us with tiny, tight buds and  seduce us unfurling paper thin petals after petals to burst into blooms of staggering beauty.

 

Peonies are rather precocious and sometimes rather petulant when it comes to flower arrangements.  They like to be coaxed  and pampered to flaunt their full blown beauty.  The trick to encouraging these reluctant  little darlings to open faster is to cut their stems a little shorter.  Every time you snip the stem, a peony will open further.    But peonies, having a mind of their own, will also change their shape and colour each time you shorten them.  For example the deep pink may fade to a lighter shade.

So as that delicate light  of twilight  creeps into your home, the intoxicating perfume of peonies  surround you.  Their perfume whispers of romantic waltzes  and  past loves.  It spins a web that connects you to these treasured memories  from the past.    You smile.  You cup the fragrant blossoms in you hand and hold the most wondrous of thoughts close to your heart.

The most precocious of peonies with behave with decorum if you follow a few tips for a longer vase life.  Pick your flowers in the early morning and let them wile a way a few hours in a dark place deeply immersed in a bucket of warm water.

Make your own “plant food” .  To a quart of water add 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 3-4 drops household bleach.  Stir the water throughly before adding the flower.  The bleach and vinegar reduce the chance of bacteria multiplying.  Bacteria cause stems to become slimy and turn the water cloudy.  The sugar acts as food for the flowers.

P.S.

And when a few petals drift down to adorn your table – let them linger.  Perfection can be foring.

THE GREAT LOVER . . . and all the dear names men use, to cheat despair. Rupert Brooke 1887 – 1915

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These I have loved:

White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,

Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;

rooftops

Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light;

crusty-italian-bread31

The strong crust of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;

rainbow-blue-sky-nature

Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;

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And radiant raindrop couching in cool flowers;

And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours,

Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;

simple white linen sheets l Gardenista

Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon

Smooth away trouble;

silk-blanket

And the rough male kiss of blankets ;

grainy wood;

life hair that is shining and free;

blue-massing clouds;

the keen unpassioned beauty of a great machine;

the benison of hot water;

furs to touch;

the good smell of old clothes; and other such.

I have been so great a love: filled my days

So proudly with the splendour of love’s praise,

The pain, the calm, and the astonishment,

Desire illimitable, and still content,

And all dear names men use, to cheat despair.

These exquisite lines are from the poem THE GREAT LOVER by Rupert Brooke.   Rupert Brooke was a handsome, charming and talented English poet known for his idealistic war sonnets written during the First World War.   He was only 28 years old when he died.

 

I have been so great a lover: filled my days
So proudly with the splendour of Love’s praise,
The pain, the calm, and the astonishment,
Desire illimitable, and still content,
And all dear names men use, to cheat despair,
For the perplexed and viewless streams that bear
Our hearts at random down the dark of life.
Now, ere the unthinking silence on that strife
Steals down, I would cheat drowsy Death so far,
My night shall be remembered for a star
That outshone all the suns of all men’s days.
Shall I not crown them with immortal praise
Whom I have loved, who have given me, dared with me
High secrets, and in darkness knelt to see
The inenarrable godhead of delight?
Love is a flame:--we have beaconed the world’s night.
A city:--and we have built it, these and I.
An emperor:--we have taught the world to die.
So, for their sakes I loved, ere I go hence,
And the high cause of Love’s magnificence,
And to keep loyalties young, I’ll write those names
Golden for ever, eagles, crying flames,
And set them as a banner, that men may know,
To dare the generations, burn, and blow
Out on the wind of Time, shining and streaming . . . .

These I have loved:
		White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,
Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust
Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;
Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;
And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;
And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours,
Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;
Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss
Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is
Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen
Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;
The benison of hot water; furs to touch;
The good smell of old clothes; and other such-- 
The comfortable smell of friendly fingers,
Hair’s fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers
About dead leaves and last year’s ferns. . . .
					                  Dear names,
And thousand other throng to me! Royal flames;
Sweet water’s dimpling laugh from tap or spring;
Holes in the ground; and voices that do sing;
Voices in laughter, too; and body’s pain,
Soon turned to peace; and the deep-panting train;
Firm sands; the little dulling edge of foam
That browns and dwindles as the wave goes home;
And washen stones, gay for an hour; the cold
Graveness of iron; moist black earthen mould;
Sleep; and high places; footprints in the dew;
And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new;
And new-peeled sticks; and shining pools on grass;-- 
All these have been my loves. And these shall pass,
Whatever passes not, in the great hour,
Nor all my passion, all my prayers, have power
To hold them with me through the gate of Death.
They’ll play deserter, turn with the traitor breath,
Break the high bond we made, and sell Love’s trust
And sacramented covenant to the dust.
----Oh, never a doubt but, somewhere, I shall wake,
And give what’s left of love again, and make
New friends, now strangers. . . . 
			            But the best I’ve known
Stays here, and changes, breaks, grows old, is blown
About the winds of the world, and fades from brains
Of living men, and dies.
			            Nothing remains.

O dear my loves, O faithless, once again
This one last gift I give: that after men
Shall know, and later lovers, far-removed,
Praise you, ‘All these were lovely’; say, ‘He loved.'

PURE ALCHEMY! MAKE YOUR OWN PURE VANILLA EXTRACT

A vicious cyclone hit Madagascar in March 2017. Cyclone Enawo brought bakers to their knees .  Vanilla  prices sky-rocked.  Merchants held their supply of vanilla under lock and key.  Vanilla beans were trading higher than silver.   Desperate bakers rediscovered alternatives. Lemon juice and zest.  Pure almond extract.  Rose water.  But nothing could replace the flavour of pure vanilla.

It is possible to make your own pure vanilla extract.  It’s very simple and you may discover you prefer your own bottled vanilla.  It is alchemy this creation of vanilla extract.    There is something wonderful , almost mystical, bottling your own vanilla.

All that is required is a glass bottle or jar.  Vanilla Beans and vodka (70 proof 35% alcohol).  Use one bean for every two ounces of alcohol (bourbon, rum, brandy or vodka).  One can find vanilla beans reasonably priced on line.

I used 1 1/2 cups (12 oz .375 ml) vodka and 6 beans.  Split the pods  leaving a small bit at one end still attached.

Tuck the beans in a clean jar or bottle.  If they are too long you can cut them to fit.   Pour the vodka over the beans making sure the beans are submerged.  Shake the bottle once or twice a week.  At 8 weeks(and up to 3-6 months)  you can start sampling for flavour.   It is your palate that will decide when your vanilla is ready.     After using all your vanilla extract you can replace the bottle with more vodka.  The same pods will continue to flavour the vodka for about a year.

Don’t discard your vodka soaked vanilla pods.  Pop them into your sugar container.  They give your sugar a delicate vanilla fragrance and seem to last for ever.

Store your precious personally made vanilla extract at room temperature and out of direct sunshine.

Small bottles of your own vanilla extract would make the “bees knees” gifts.  Search dollar stores and thrift shops for unusual containers.  Use corks to safely seal the bottles.

Bon Appetit and happy baking, dear friends.