La Corrida à Nîmes

May 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

La corrida. (Also, the toreros are unspeakably sexy.)

1. Of course I can see that it’s utterly savage and barbaric and a total PETA nightmare.  However dangerous or powerful the taureau, it’s not an equal competition between him and the taurero and his team equipped with various stabbing instruments.  It is utterly horrifying when the long dagger slides all the way into taureau between the shoulders and he collapses and rolls over in a puddle of blood and everyone erupts into cheers.  It’s also pretty horrifying when the taurero loses his footing for a split second and ends up tossed around between the taureau’s horns, falling to the ground face down, covering his head with his hands as a last, pathetic attempt to buy some time until ten people run out to try and get the taureau away from him.  But I would be lying if I didn’t say I saw the corrida in Nîmes not one, not two but four times, and on more than one occasion was roused to my feet in a standing ovation after a particularly graceful string of passes.  I know that the grace is false, and that it’s at the humiliation and frustration of the taureau (but also the grave risk of the taurero).  I can’t explain it.  The corridas were amazing and addictive, and I’d love to see one where it’s just the taureau and the torero, no picadors, and no savage murder at the end.  That would be an amazing battle and I would pay everyday to see it — in the late morning, getting super tanned, having a cold beer in the stands.  (The other subtle highlight for me, was being offered a hash cigarette by a certain publishing celebrity who shall remain nameless and who said, upon inquiring if I smoke, “Wow.  You are great woman.  You were before.  But more now.”  I never smoke anymore, but sharing a spliff with her during the corrida as she kept leaning in to wetly whisper stuff about tauromachie techniques was a memorable occasion.)

The view from the cheap seats of Les Arenes.

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Necessary Praise

May 21, 2010 § 2 Comments

Pasta is the prince of food.

In the days since my last post, I have done little else but drink lots of free wine, eaten little else but white bread and white pasta, and gone on long runs/bike rides in the gradually rising summer heat.  So most of the time I am exhausted and brain-fried, in the most sated way, and unable to get it together to make a post.

The other, very exciting deterring factor is the sudden discovery, a couple of nights ago, of the astonishing and totally underrated city of Nîmes.  It’s a small, very old city going back over 2000 years, with lots of Roman architecture from the 12th century, though I believe Romans were in Nîmes as early as Julius Caesar.

It could just be that there’s currently a city-wide, week-long semi-annual party, La Feria de Pentecote, with a much-ignored Catholic reason, but the vibe there is amazing, with lots of families out, mustachioed Franco-Spanish artist-uncles smiling at you in the street, and well-dressed hotties thronging in narrow alleys lined with tapas restaurants and discrete entrances into courtyard bars.

There’s also the bullfighting.  My bullfighting cherry has been popped as of last night, at the majestic coliseum-esque arena in the center of town, thanks to some amazing privileges afforded by the good and very hip folks at Au Diable, many of whom I have developed great warmth for now.  But I shall save all this and my animal rights musings and more about Nîmes for the weekend, when I’ve accrued some good photos to back it all up.

In the meantime, there’s much I want to say about my mounting appreciation for pasta — and my appreciation was already pretty mounted.  Due to the nature of the lodgings and my kitchen limitations, I’ve just been making so much of it, and far from getting fed up, I am more in love with pasta than ever.  It gives you so much energy (especially if you’re carbo-loading), it’s so versatile and vegetarian friendly, it lets the flavors of the preparation shine while contributing a powerful, totally satisfying texture, and most of all, if you know what you’re doing, with very few other ingredients, you can make an interesting, exciting, and princely meal for one instead of a plate of I-am-sad-and-foodless-in-France (which I am not, thanks only in part to pasta).
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“I wander’d lonely as a cloud”

May 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

Homemade tuna salad

As you can imagine, in my last relationship, I was the self-appointed chef.  This was mostly a good thing all around: I got the pleasure of spending time in the kitchen doing what I love doing, with the added treat of having in mind my beloved, a fond eater generous with compliments; and E. enjoyed breakfast, coffees, and Indian and pasta treats joyfully prepared for her every day.  Sometimes, though, it made me snobby and her self-conscious in the kitchen.  More than one tiff resulted from my peering over her shoulder to make “helpful suggestions.”  It’s a shame, because I adored almost every dish, few due to her fears, she ever made for us: wonton soup, salmon chowder, breads, cookies, and the simple but amazing breakfast concoction of fresh yogurt, whole dried figs, flax seeds, chopped fruit and agave.

I’m thinking about this because yesterday, with some of that leftover homemade mayonnaise and a jar of pickled cornichons in the fridge, and a dusty can of tuna left behind in my studio by a previous resident, I decided to make, for the first time, a simple tuna salad — one of the last things E. made for us before I unexpectedly had to leave New York after the loveliest of summers.  Her parents were visiting us for the weekend, and I was trapped at the Park Slope Food Coop all morning, doing make-up shifts by hauling customer grocery carts to and from their cars, while E. and her family cavorted in the sunshine.  But when I was finally done, I joined them at Prospect Park, a short walk in from the beautiful Grand Army Plaza entrance, where the weekend farmers’ market was in full swing, and we lay in the grass, eating tuna salad with Wheat Thins.  It was so delicious — the dry, hard crack of the Thins, the cold mushiness of the tuna, the tangy crunch of the pickles, the company of some of my favorite people, in lovely, summertime Brooklyn, after a morning of manual labor for a good cause.

This is an awesome, filling, cooling, nutritious food, guys!  Summertime!  And not like you need a recipe for this, but here’s how I did it yesterday.

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Saturday Market Loot

May 17, 2010 § 2 Comments

Look at the beautiful artichoke!

I’d been planning to go to the Saturday market in Vauvert for a few days, so when I woke up yesterday, I put on my shoes and hoodie straightaway and got on my bicycle, with just a pear in my belly — no proper breakfast, and no coffee, for I was all out of the latter, making the ride into town pretty necessary.

Confident that the ride would be no more difficult than my test run a few days ago, I was surprised by how awful it really turned out to be.  Not only was I hungry and uncaffeinated, despite the clear blue sky and sparkling sun, the wind was blowing so strongly that I had to pedal twice as hard to keep moving, adjusting the handlebars every few seconds to keep myself in a straight line.  Even going downhill wasn’t the usual thrill — I actually had to pedal to do that as well.  But I steeled myself, and hummed “Good Intentions Paving Company” from Joanna Newsom’s new record to keep me going.

[Ecstatic side note: I opened another tab to find Joanna Newsom’s Drag City website URL to link here, and in so doing discovered that she’s playing PARIS on May 31st, my second last night there.  Ten minutes later, I have bought a ticket and will be there to hear the new album live!  Hooray — despite my tendency to weep through her shows.]

The Saturday market is even bigger than the Wednesday market, naturally, and even more packed with people.  Clothing and produce stalls start in a straight line, making a left down a narrow alley, and opening up into a full-on market square, flanked by boulangeries, chartucheries and one sole bar that’s always packed, even in the mornings, with dudes drinking beer and cassis, and some less raucous dudes having coffee — which I did, because I am a decent dude and hadn’t had any all morning.

Among the exciting sights at the market are the freshly in-season melons, asparagus of various girths, and beautiful artichokes of every size and color you could imagine.  There were also two makeshift shops selling nothing but whole poulets rotis (roast chickens) and one with a giant metal platter of the yellowest, most beautiful paella I had ever seen, for sale by the kilogram.  Unfortunately, because I was intimidated by the bike ride back to the residency (it ended up being a piece of cake) and because I was saving ample room in my backpack to safely carry back a half-dozen eggs (you know how I feel about them!), I passed on both the chicken and the paella.  But watch out Vauvert — I’m going to blast through town next Saturday!
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Fun With Eggs

May 15, 2010 § 2 Comments

Homemade carbonara

If I could go back and rename my blog, I would call it something like Eyeballing It.  Something about the way I first learned to cook — my mother giving vague directions over the phone: a pinch of this, a fistful of that, not too much of the other — makes me pretty comfortable with eyeballing ingredients, adding them gradually until what’s in the pan looks or smells or tastes right.  It isn’t always terribly successful, but I figure it’s only a matter of practice until I get it right and become an awesome grandmother advising on recipes off the top of my head.  Of course, I don’t dismiss the importance of precision in cooking, especially when baking, but a bit of loosening up when recreating recipes, I think, makes one confident with individual ingredients and so more inclined to invent.

Neither of the dishes below are all-new inventions exactly.  But I made them both on the same day, using only the ingredients I had lying around at my residency, namely salt, pepper, eggs, eggs, eggs, cheese, cheese, cheese, cream, onions, garlic, bacon, and a bit of dry pasta a previous resident left behind.  Necessity caused them to become two very satisfying and festive meals for one.  It’s kind of exciting to realise that, when left to my own culinary devices after many months of living at home, I am still attracted to certain basic ingredients, certain basic kinds of simple recipes — like there’s a personal cuisine somewhere in there, intact and retrievable.

It all started when I came back from a big run in the late morning.  I was desperately hungry and out of baguette (the horror!), and there was no chance of heading into town for ingredients, or taking the time to prepare the zucchini or eggplant I had in the back of the fridge.  So I fell back on the ever-convenient egg option–and I had only two left.  The absence of baguette and the presence of a couple of potatoes made me think of tortilla española (Spanish omelet). We made it once in Spanish class with Senor Douglas, circa 1996, in the sixth grade, and then I spotted them on a tapas menu in Bangkok a few weeks ago.  So, after a quick google search on how to flip an omelet easily by sliding a dinner plate over the frying pan, off I went.

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Janine Gdalia

May 15, 2010 § 3 Comments

Crazy beautiful tomatoes from Vauvert market

The residence I’m at is more isolated than most.  Where with others you can emerge from your hut for lunch with some twenty to fifty others, here, above the countryside offices of Au Diable Vauvert (who are extraordinarily cool, I’m discovering, and among other books, translate graphic novels and folks like David Foster Wallace into French), there are two studio apartments, one of them occupied by yours truly.

My urbanite anxieties have been abated by the company and friendship of my co-resident, Janine Gdalia.  I wish I had taken photos of her and the amazing dinner she made for us, but alas.  She’s a 66 year old lady, a poet living in Montpelier, and she had graciously undertaken the task of knocking on my door a couple of times a day to see how I was getting on.  Three days ago, she drove us into the nearby town of Vauvert, to check out the market.  We bought vegetables, baguette (which I carried under my arm like a proper Frenchie), veal and wine, which later that night, she turned into a feast, amazing given our studio-living limitations.  I really admired her quiet insistence of having several courses, even in the middle of nowheresville.  We dined for hours, even through a thunderstorm power outage, talking about religion and politics.  She also explained to me the basic courses of French dining.

1. The “entree” — in this case, steamed asparagus with a mustard-based sauce
2. The “plat” — in this case, a delicious and hearty veal stew with vegetables
3. The “salade” — some dark greens with aged chevre and aforementioned sauce
4. The dessert — a humble but wildly sweet, juicy, delicious and in-season melon

All accompanied by gallons of local wine.  Magnifique!  I took a little bougie to my dark room and fell straight to bed.

Fresh goat cheese with herbes de Provence, from Vauvert market

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La Belle France!

May 11, 2010 § 3 Comments

Fougasse d'olive, Aix-en-Provence.

After months of will-I-or-won’t-I, I have finally arrived in France for a super-isolated three week writers’ residency at Les Avocats du Diable, a few kilometers outside the town of Vauvert.  From my window, I see horses, cows, pine trees, and rows of grape vines. Yesterday, in order to conquer my urbanite anxiety, I went for a long, long walk among the trees, and eventually felt like if I took off my sweater, little birdies would be released and fly out into the sky.  I think this is going to be good for me.

Because of all the intra-national traveling I’ve been doing since I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, my biggest meals have been in the club cars of trains, which is a tremendous shame.  Still, there have been some marvelous exceptions.  In anticipation of my arrival to Aix-en-Provence, my friend Amitha went to the Saturday market and bought fresh goat cheese, aged goat cheese, and a crazily shaped olive bread, called fougasse d’olive (pictured above).  The dense, chewy bread was stuffed with olives, which were mysteriously so mellow they were practically sweet, yet somehow imparting their olive flavor evenly, like the whole thing had been dunked in the best possible olive oil.  Heaven!  We tore into it with our hands and demolished it without accompaniments within a few hours.

The next night, we wanted to make use of what was left in Amitha’s fridge, namely goat cheese, basil and pumpkin.  Despite the travails of cooking for oneself, it was wonderful to have culinary creative control once again.  We came back from our day trip to Marseille, bought a baguette and took it home for dinner as well.  Remembering an Indian recipe of my mother’s which combines pumpkin and garlic (a Kashmiri dish called “ambal” which also includes mustard oil, fenugreek seeds and tamarind paste), I put diced pumpkin and peeled garlic cloves in the oven for half an hour with some butter and salt.  When they came out smelling sweet and lovely, we mashed them up together with a fork and loaded them on some toasted baguette, topped with slivers of goat cheese and fresh basil.  The result was crunchy and mushy, sweet and spicy, warm and cool, fresh and pungent, and all around satisfying.

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