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.  )

ALWAYS WELCOME STRANGERS FOR THEY MAY BE ANGELS

A very, very long time ago, in a place far, far away I bought a cabin.  It was built of huge logs harvested on the property.   The road a faint path grown over with years of neglect.  It stood alone quietly  facing  a small lake in Northern Saskatchewan.     The windows obscured with the dust of many years.  Velvety moss covered the stone doorstep.    Over the  door a sign ALWAYS WELCOME STRANGERS THEY MAY BE ANGELS.  I bought my cabin never stepping inside.

Later when I picked up the key I learned the history of my cabin.  It had been built in the early Twenties.  When  World War Two was declared in September l939 the son  of the owners enlisted.  He never came home.  His parents never returned to their cabin.   Twenty-Two years later I walked into a time capsule.    It was as if they had simple closed the door and gone for a stroll.   I kept the iron beds.  The “crazy ” patchwork quilts.    The  kettle for heating water.    The Union Jack to hang on the flag pole.  The tiny child’s wooden boat.   I kept the sign over the door.

Thus began my fascination with angels.    I was fascinated with the concept of entertaining angels unaware.    Their wings.  What do angels do with their wings?  Tuck them under their coats?  Hang them at the door?   The Christmas issues of my French magazines always featured angel wings in their decor.  Hanging over mirrors.  On the backs of chairs.    Now I was obsessed with finding  angel wings.  Not flimsy cartoon versions of wings, but big, white wings with feathers.

It was in July of the past summer when I walked into our Ladner Thrift Shop and discovered my angel wings.  They were hanging with children’s costumes.     Teary eyed I stroked the feathers.  They were perfect .  They were my long sought after angel wings.

They hang surrounded  by all things French .    The setting is perfect.  My angel wings catch the early morning sun and in the evening tiny fairy lights light up the night.   I remember the sign from long ago.   I live in hope remembering the cabin sign.   Welcome strangers for some have entertained angels unawares.

 

 

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)

 

 

APRIL BIRTHDAY IN PARIS

It was  early when I returned from shopping the market at the end of my street.  My basket was filled with two day old eggs (the best for baking), cream, chocolate and flowers.  Purple irises with deep golden throats.  The colours of spring.
The note was hanging from a red ribbon fastened to the door of my little house in Paris.
Place Émile-Goudeau,  11:59 p.m.  April 10th.  Bring cake.   (The Tin Man)

Tinny knows I spend April in Paris.  And that on April l0th I will be in my kitchen baking layers of delicate almond meringue in the La Cornue stove.    Filling the layers with espresso flavoured custard and topping the creation with chocolate ganache and pillows of whipped cream.

This creation  – this Dacquoise cake  must be started early in the day.   I whip the egg whites and sugar into shiny peaks then gently, every so gently fold in the crushed almonds.    While the layers are baking I make the  custard cream and tuck it into the refrigerator to thicken.  I will spread the custard cream carefully on the delicate meringue  layers . Next the ganache.   I chop dark chocolate into fine pieces and stir in the boiling cream.    It will rest, too.  It must be just the right thickness to enrobe the cake in all its magnificent glory.      The cake will rest  – until midnight.

Place Émile-Goudeau.  Trust The Tin Man to plan a birthday celebration in this unusual setting.   On Theadora’s favorite park bench. With her favorite cake,  and of course with our favorite tipple –  champagne.

Happy Birthday  darling Theadora.

 

CHICKEN WITH MUSTARD AND RED PEPPER (a.k.a. Picnic Chicken) . . . a Paris classic . . . Poulet Grille a la Diable

 

The winter rain that falls in Paris comes down in silver threads,  and streets  glisten and reflect the light.   Moisture fogs the windows of cafés and bistros and turns them into welcoming beacons of comfort.

Down the street from my little house in Paris is a tiny bistro. The wooden chairs and the tiny black and white tiles on the floor show their age.    Decades of patrons have worn them to comfortable perfection The tables are close together. The menu is chalked on a blackboard.   It is where you want to be on a cold, damp, raining winter night.

The chilly night calls for something hot and fiery,  á la diable.   Diable is associated with anything hot and fiery. You will find various versions of this classic chicken in cafés and bistros all over Paris.   Chicken or meat seasoned with mustard and hot pepper then coated with bread-crumbs.

My recipe for CHICKEN WITH MUSTARD AND RED PEPPER is a riff on a recipe by Patricia Wells.  Her book, THE PARIS COOKBOOK.  To read or cook from it  is pure delight.   I use French Dijon and coarse-grain French Dijon, a whisper of cayenne pepper, a dusting of red pepper flakes .  It goes together quickly.  Almost before you finish singing La Marseillaise you  top it with a little butter and pop it in the oven and bake it (despite the name).     Pour yourself a glass of sauvignon blanc (it goes well with the chicken)  and voila!   That’s it.

Here’s the very, very best part of this recipe.  I think it tastes better the next day.    It is NOT left over chicken.    You can double or even triple the recipe.   Don’t be concerned about the amount of red pepper flakes and cayenne called for in the recipe.  For some wonderful and unexplained reason they become just a hint of spice.   This is the chicken recipe to serve again and again and call it your own.  Tweak the spices.  Add a little more of this.   A little less of that.  To go with the chicken I roast chunks of  Yukon Gold potatoes tossed in a glug of extra-virgin olive oil and a generous sprinkle of coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  This chicken recipe is known in our home as PICNIC CHICKEN because it is so delicious eaten cold the next day.  The flavours absolutely sing.

I always pack  Poulet GvillÉ a la Diable  in my big wicker basket  when Theadora, The Tin Man and myself head to the summer sandy Paris Beach.  We lounge on the beach next to Pont Neuf bridge.  Full size palm trees provide shade, and the passing parade of chic Parisians in beach attire provide the entertainment.

This no-fail chicken recipe that speaks of good things with a decided French accent awaits you in MRSBUTTERFINGERS kitchen.  Bon Appetit dear friends.

(Paris photo by Patrick Horpar)

 

 

 

 

 

 

OOH LA LA . . . COCO CHANEL INSPIRED CHRISTMAS GIFT WRAPPED PRESENTS

The logs in the great fireplace crackled and sang warmth into the room.  Heavy, faded green velvet curtains shut out the dark night.   Le Noël de la rue, warbled Edith Piaf, on the old Victrola.    It was the top of the hour.  She opened the curtains inviting  the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower to fill the room with light.

Honest, plain brown paper.

A scattering of pearls.

An elegance of black ribbon.

A Coco Chanel wrapped Christmas gift.

Brown paper unrolled.

Silver scissors cut.

Pearls adorned.

Ribbons tied.

Champagne chilled.

Cassoulet simmered on the old La Cornue stove and filled the rooms with its rich aroma.

Footsteps whispered on the ancient stone stairs.  Theadora and The Tin Man had arrived.

It was Christmas in her little house in Paris.

 

 

 

MADEMOISELLE . . . COCO CHANEL AND THE PULSE OF HISTORY

 

 

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In 1955 I discovered Vogue Magazine.   An elegant, exotic, exciting and completely new world spilled from the pages.

The one shoe store in our small town sold shoes in two colours – black and brown.  White shoes for nurses.  Clothing came in three styles – practical, matronly and Eaton’s catalog. I was young.  I wanted more.    I devoured Vogue.  I discovered Coco Chanel.

 

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My clothing budget was meager.

I raided Woolworth’s Five and Dime  for strands of pearls.

I bought men’s tortoise shell frames for my eye glasses

 

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I sewed white collars and cuffs onto my dark suits and black dresses.

And insanely and extravagantly  I spent a weeks salary on a bottle of Chanel No 5 perfume.

All because of Coco Chanel!

 

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MADEMOISELLE    COCO CHANEL  and the pulse of history  by Rhonda K. Garelick is a riveting biography of one of the most fascinating woman of the 20th century.

If you admire Chanel.  Love fashion.  Adore Paris – then dive into this book for interesting new information about this woman who created a global icon – CHANEL NO 5.

 

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This book is an intriguing  glimpse into the life of Chanel – warts and all.  If you find the tales of  Chanel reinventing herself repetitious – ignore them!   If the amount of words overwhelm you – skip a few pages.  If you feel the photographs are too small – be clever and Goggle image of some of the men in her life.  You’ll be rewarded with dozens of photographs  of Boy Capel, Igo Stravinsky, Grand Duke Dmitri, Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster and poet Pierre Reverdy.

 

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Chanel transformed forever the way we dress.   The little black dresses, flat shoes, elaborate costume jewelry, cardigan sweaters, jersey knits.    She took women out of strait jacket corsets and put them into everything from evening dresses and her classic boucle suits to “boyfriend’s” clothes, fisherman’s sweaters and sailor pants. Today you see these fashions on  women of every age and every background.

 

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I continue my ongoing and long love affair with all things Chanel.   Because of Chanel I fell in love with Paris and all things French.  In my garden  Camellias are blooming.   White Camellias  – Coco Chanel’s favorite flower.

 

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JANUARY’S SOUP . . . FRENCH ONION . . . SO VERY, VERY FRENCH!

THE BEAUTIFUL EYE

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It is my habit to create little  traditions to mark an important occasion or celebrate a new season.  I like to make the unpleasantly  cold days of January the month I serve FRENCH ONION SOUP.

The prices of vegetables are soaring sky high so the savvy cook looks to locally grown vegetables for the dinner table.  FRENCH ONION SOUP is a classic.    The ingredients are readily available.  The soup is easy to make.     Using chicken stock allows the sweet flavour of the onions to sing.   Gussied  up with rich, deeply flavoured  Gruyere cheese it warms the cockles of your heart and impresses guests and family alike.

We had a bumper crop of onions this past summer.  The bins in the cold room are filled with these golden darling and I have been using them lavishly.  Winter on the West Coast can be damp,  bone-chilling cold.  This is the soup I like simmering away  filling the kitchen with its gorgeous earthy flavour.  Then there’s delicious moment when your spoon breaks the cheesy crust and you sip your way into soup heaven.

Be prepared to shed a few mascara streaked tears when you are slicing the onions but it is definitely worth it.  The following recipe for FRENCH ONION SOUP  LES HALLES STYLE is so very, very French.  You’ll love it.

HOW TO EAT AN EGG

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M.F.K. Fisher’s book HOW TO COOK A WOLF pays homage to the philosophy of taking simple ingredients and transforming them into culinary splendor.  There is nothing simpler, and nothing  more delicate and delicious than a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg, accompanied by mouillettes, slender slivers of toasted, buttered bread.

First you must buy the your eggs.  In Paris when you shop for eggs they  ask, “what are you using them for ? “.  ” If you’re baking these  eggs, a  couple of days old would be perfect.  Soft boiled eggs?  Then only these will do, barely a day old.  Tres Bien.”

We are so fortunate living in the country.  Our eggs come from Home Farm down the road.   Early in the morning I walk down to Home Farm and pick up a dozen or more of eggs.  Those days the luncheon menu is  always soft-boiled eggs.  Eggs that are literally hours old are  delicate and  exquisite.  The flavour is just a whisper of egg and the whites are tender beyond belief.  Simple pleasures indeed.

This is how you cook a soft boiled egg.  Gently put your very fresh eggs into a saucepan and cover with cold water.   Use just enough water to cover your eggs.   Add a pinch of salt and a drop or two of vinegar to the water.  Bring the eggs to a boil, uncovered.   Remove the saucepan  from the heat, cover, and time for three minutes.  Four minutes if you want your eggs to be a less  runny.   Drain off the hot water and run cold water over the eggs for a few minutes.  This stops the cooking.   If you follow these instructions to the letter you will ALWAYS have perfect soft-boiled eggs.

Remove the egg from the water and place it in an egg cup.  Put the wider part of the egg facing up because there is a little pocket of air at that end which makes it easier to cut into.

To prepare the mouilettes, toast slabs of country bread, or heat a baguette.  When toasted, cut into spears about 4 to 6 inches long.  Butter the mouilettes.  Use salted butter.

Using a spoon, tap around a small circle on top of the egg to break the shell.  Lift off the cap to reveal the delicate golden yolk.  Using mouilettes, dip into the egg yolk and enjoy!  Finish off remainder of egg with a spoon if necessary.