CHRISTMAS GIFT WRAPPING . . . in the style of Coco Chanel

Logs in the ancient fireplace crackled .  Heavy faded velvet curtains shut out the cold and dark night.  On the old Victrola  Piaf warbled   Le Noël de la rue.  It was the top of the hour.  She opened the curtains.   The lights of the Eiffel tower filled the room.  Here in the magic of her little house in Paris she would wrap her gifts .

Plain brown paper unrolled.  Silver scissors cut.  A scattering of pearls.  An elegance of black ribbon.  A Coco Chanel wrapped Christmas gift.

Champagne chilled.   Cassoulet simmered on the ancient  La Cornue stove.   The room fragrant  with its rich welcoming aroma.  Footsteps whispered on the ancient stone stairs.  Her guests had arrived.  It was Christmas in une petite maison.   My little house in Paris is with me always.  To journey to it I have but to close my eyes and turn the key on the welcoming door.

(Dear Friends, This post of pearls and presents is a favourite.    I love the economy of wrapping with recyclable, inexpensive plain brown paper. Coloured tissue paper and metallic paper is not recyclable.  The pearls are easy stick-ons and the black ribbon is wireless.  Everything purchased in a quick trip to my favorite dollar store.  )

DINNER AT MY LITTLE HOUSE IN PARIS

THE BEAUTIFUL EYE

FALLS IN LOVE WITH PARIS ALL OVER AGAIN

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I have a little house in Paris.

The door opens onto a quiet street.

Around the corner an old bookstore.  A  thousand stories tumble from the shelves  into my waiting hands.

There’s a tiny bistro resplendent with a zinc bar.  And a blackboard chalked with splendid anticipation.

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I have a little house in Paris with a courtyard.

Fragrant thyme grows round my door.

Tall windows overlook the courtyard.

There’s rusty metal table and two battered chairs,

Nothing is perfect here.

Everything is perfect here.

 

 

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 Grinning wolves spill water into a stone trough.

 Romulus and Remus.

Guarding  my courtyard.  Guarding my dreams

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I have a house in Paris.

Where enfilade rooms lead quietly into each other.

And ancient wood floors whisper the passing of bygone footsteps.

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In the kitchen surrounded by gleaming pots

and ancient cutting boards

I sauté  lamb and sausages.

Simmer Tarbais beans to a silky softness.

Crisp the golden duck confit.

The cassoulet bakes.

I break the crust again and then again.

table set

I’ve shined the silver.

Ironed the linen.

Polished the floors.

Edith Piaf fills my little house with songs of love.

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I brush the silver dust of Paris from the balcony railing.

It is that suspended moment in time.

Not day.  Not night.

Twilight.

I lean out.

Far out.

I can see my Monsieur Tinny and beloved Theadora dancing down the tree-lined boulevard.

We will raise our glasses.

Tonight we celebrate our love of Paris.

CASSOULET … celebrates Bastille Day

I will never forget the first time I dined on cassoulet.    It influenced forever my passion for this sophisticated and humble French peasant dish that is a glorious version of pork and beans.  IMG_2443

The  handwritten invitation arrived in the mail.   The back of the envelop sealed with  red wax incised with the fleur- de- lys.     An invitation to dinner at the home of friends,  Dunc and June, to celebrate  the storming of the Bastille.   In the lower left hand corner the words “dress beautifully”.

In that magic time between dusk and twilight the “beautifully” dressed guests arrived.  The women wearing filmy, barely there summer dresses and shimmering  jewellery.   The men at once both elegantly and magnificently attired.  Dress military  uniforms had been resurrected from storage closets.   White dinner jackets dazzled.  One gentleman wore a fez and a richly embroidered caftan.      Another a romantic  poet’s shirt of finest white linen.

On a large round table  forty white pillar candles chased away the dark evening.  Champagne glasses sparkled.   Edith Piaf sang of love.   From the kitchen came the  enticing, earthy aroma of our very French meal – cassoulet  . .  my introduction to this glorious, rich slowly cooked dish of meat, pork and white beans.

There are as many versions of cassoulet as there are regions in France.    My adapted  recipe takes full advantage of our garden raised dried Heirloom French Tarbais white beans and our own milk fed pork.   Substituting  dried white  beans and having an understanding butcher you can easily create your version of this classic dish.

This is not a difficult dish to prepare but it is time-consuming.  This is not a recipe for “slow-cooker” aficionados.    The final two hours of cooking demand you stay close to your oven.  The recipe can be prepared over three days  and is then put together a   few hours before you plan to serve it.

The recipe for CASSOULET awaits you in my kitchen – MRS.BUTTERFINGERS.  Bon appetit!

 

 

CHEESE GOUGERES – the perfect appetizer to compliment a very French dinner.

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It was an important evening.  We were celebrating the joy of life with friends and family.  The dinner –  cassoulet ( three days in the creation of that rich French dish of beans, lamb and pork) with a green salad and for dessert crème brûlée.  The challenge  – the perfect appetizer to compliment this very French dinner.  It’s a fine balance.  I wanted to serve an appetizer that would not distract from the main course or heaven forbid – the dessert.

Gougères were the answer to this menu dilemma. My favorite way to serve gougères is adding cheese to the mixture.  You simply grate any hard or semi-hard cheese into your batter then spoon the mixture onto parchment lined baking sheets.  You can bake them immediately but a better choice  is freezing them.   Once frozen scoop them into freezer bags and store until needed.  No thawing necessary.  Simply follow the baking instructions and add a couple of minutes to the baking time. Then tumble these delectable morsels onto a gorgeous serving plate and watch them disappear.

You can bake the classic gougères and fill the delicate little darlings with a flavourful filling.  Think wild mushrooms in a creamy sauce.  Or finely chopped shrimp spiked with wasbi.   The choice is limitless.  Filled gougères freeze beautifully –  simply reheat in a 400F oven for about 15 minutes.

Join me MRS. BUTTERFINGERS in my kitchen and create magic with GOUGÈRES.

TARBAIS BEANS AND CASSOULET LANGUEDOC

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There is food I dream about.  And the classic French cassoulet is the top of my list.  This dense, rich, earthy casserole of beans, sausages and meats gently simmering – filling my kitchen with its mouth-watering aroma is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of.

Since we now raise our own pork I was even more determined this dish should be perfection itself.  I now have lean fresh pork fat,  fresh pork rinds and spare ribs.  All organic, all from milk fed pork.  What I did not have was Tarbais beans.   It is the these fat, white, meltingly smooth French beans that are the essential ingredients for authentic cassoulet.    The skin of the Tarbais beans is unusually thin and delicate.  The bean is low in starch and of remarkable tenderness.

I poured over my seed catalog and found the Heirloom Tarbais seeds.  We were a little late planting our garden this year but seven days ago we lovingly and tenderly patted the soil over the beans.  Almost like Jack’s magic beans they popped out of the ground four days later.  This summer promises to be incredibly hot.  Perfect weather for beans.   They will grow through the summer climbing up to six feet on supports and finally in the  fall we will pick, shell and store away our Tarbais beans.

Come the rainy, gray winter months Tarbais beans will find their way into a slow cooked cassoulet of incredible richness and flavour.  Over two days the ingredients will be off the stove and in and out of the oven several times.  Then when the breadcrumbs on the top of the cassoulet become a mahogany brown I will give it a  quick stir and return it to the oven one last time.   It will be the perfect dish to serve for Friday night supper with friends and family.  There will be lots of crusty home-made bread to sop up the juices.  I’ll provide extra large napkins to tuck under chins and we’ll  sit around the kitchen table and nibble and talk into the night.

(recipe to follow sometime in the winter months to come)

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY JUNE

This week-end our dear friend June celebrated one of those land-mark  birthdays.   Family and friends from as far away as Nova Scotia gathered  in Vancouver to toast the birthday girl. I was so excited.  Time and distance meant I hadn’t seen June in more than twenty years.  When we both lived in Regina June and her husband Duncan lived down the street from us.   We  shared a love of cooking and good food.  June was famous for her Sunday cassoulet dinners, with the table ablaze with dozens of ivory pillar candles.  Her sense of the occasion showed in the smallest details.  Dinner invitations indicated “dress elegantly”.   Guests would arrive in exotic and beautiful outfits.

June is at once

soignee and outrageous.

Elegant and bohemian.

Worldly and non-conforming.

Erudite and aeriodite.

Last night she walked into the room.  Her hair a tumble of auburn curls.  Cuffed, black leather knee high boots.  Gypsy coloured dress adorned at the neck-line with a  sparkling pin of  ruby-red  lips.

June is celebrating her 80th Birthday!

Now you understand this card I crafted for June.  It is all that is June.

HOW  THIS CARD WAS MADE

The wonderful French women graphics are found on THE GRAPHIC FAIRY.   I painted them with  waters colours  and adorned them with feathers, sparkles and jewels.  I sewed three layers of paper together for the background, then embellished the paper with lace.   To make the women stand out I glued the graphic to heavy cardboard and cut it out.  Then glued this  to my background paper.