Imagine yourself in Paris on an early spring day, it’s drizzling and the streets are slick with a warm rain…the kind of rain that gentles spring flowers to pop into view. The trees are just greening, small leaves unfurling. You’re on the street, looking at maps with a few student/friends. You’re all seeking a culinary adventure. It’s mid-day and everyone’s hungry.
I was a culinary student at La Varenne in the early 1990’s, one of just a few women in the class. The women in training together became fiercely close as a way of combatting the overwhelmingly male atmosphere. We were hell bent on our success and on wringing the most out of our time in an eternal city. Especially in the realm of culinary experience.
Imagine that one of you has “heard of a place” …it’s been so many years that I now can’t recall the name of it. We strike out to find it. We arrive, the restaurant is gilded in a Belle Epoque way, yet seems acessable and full of diners. There are cute older couples intent on their meals and each other. Fancy ladies with their little dogs….formidable looking waiters who have made a career of this. We’re seated, it’s a miracle. Whoa, looks like we’re going to spend some money but it’s going to be memorable.
We ordered Cremant and a seafood tower, way before they were hip. One friend had a Salad Riche with foil gras and spring greens, heaven on a plate! Another, a lamb stew with spring onions, while a potted canard was another excellent choice. I had Lapin, or the rabbit, presented stewed in the style of a recipe I’ve shared, (See Seasonal Recipes – Lapin a la Moutarde) with turned vegetables (French kitchen “busy work”), young carrots and green chives. A perfect blend of warming and spring thinking.
Ah, April in Paris… a student then, and really, still a student of life.
It’s tradition to say Rabbit, Rabbit at the beginning of each month. I am not sure why.
But, truly in the springtime, a rabbit fricassee over wide noodles with a touch of woodland or garden herbs and grainy mustard transports me to in Paris in April.
Rabbit hasn’t caught on in popularity in America like in France. It tasted mild, much the same as poultry. Honestly, cutting up a rabbit is not harder than cutting up a chicken, once you get over the fact that it’s a rabbit. The technique is much the same: dredging in seasoned flour, a little sautéed shallot, turn once when brown, remove meat and deglaze with white wine, mustard and heavy cream or creme fraiche. Add in fresh chopped thyme, ramps or rosemary at the end to keep it bright.
Served over wide noodles with a big salad, one couldn’t ask for more on a blustery early spring day….for lunch, at a bistro in Paris!
Here is a recipe we prepared when I was a student at La Varenne, in Burgundy,France:
Lapin a la Moutarde
1 small, dressed rabbit, cut into 8 pieces.
Flour, salt and pepper…a little paprika for color
1/2 cup avocado oil
Combine the flour and seasonings, Dredge the rabbit in the flour and set aside. Heat the oil on a medium heat.
1 cup, chopped shallot
2 cups dry white wine, 2 cups rich chicken broth
1 TB whole grain mustard, 2 fresh thyme springs and fresh rosemary or chopped ramps or chives, added last..
1 pound of wide egg noodles, cooked al dente. Keep warm.
Fry the rabbit in medium hot oil, turning once until just cooked through, salt lightly, and set to drain on paper towels.
Pour off most of the oil, and sauté the shallot in the same pan, deglaze with wine and broth, check seasonings. Add the mustard and creme fraiche or heavy cream, and place rabbit back into the pan, cook covered over a low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. Stir occasionally and add more broth if it seems to need it.
When it’s time to serve, choose an impressive platter (make it warm). Add the noodles and top with the rabbit pieces. Taste the gravy and add more creme fraiche and the herbs… give it a stir and pour over the rabbit and noodles. I add even more spring chives and their deconstructed blossoms to the top, to garnish.
Choose a crisp, white Burgundy and enjoy a hearty lunch with friends. Is that the Eiffel Tower I see?
Many people in my midcoast town don ’t realize that many of their forebearers were of Finnish decent. There is a road in town called Finntown Road, so it seems pretty clear to me! Then consider the legacy of Wyeth paintings with interesting Finnish models, which are known and treasured worldwide!
It was pointed out to me by an elderly but still vibrant Finnish gentleman that, if you know what you’re looking for, you can see many old and sometimes repurposed saunas on farmsteads up and down Finntown Road. Thinking back, some of my first Waldoboro memories are of being offered Pulla, a Finnish egg and cardamon rich braided Christmas bread by my restaurant baker, who was born here.
In the past several years I have gotten to be friends with a wonderful Finnish couple, Leo and Erja. Leo was born in NYC and Erja was born in Finland. But they live and love life as if in the old country. Traditional cooking, building, decor language and lifestyle all inherent in the way they live life. Daily winter sauna, dips in an icy hole in the lake afterwards, fish for breakfast and love of a hearty lifestyle,camping and wood heat. Their home is bright, clean and simple. Also build by Leo, as is their camp and sauna, road….you name it!
Hearty Finnish Breakfast Fare
If you’re fortunate enough to have Finnish friends, you’ll experience real hospitality. And good, clean fun! To take a Finnish style sauna, you begin in the morning, after a hearty breakfast of soft cooked duck eggs, sautéed greens and smoked salmon…. and build a wood fire, which must be looked after all day. When you’ve brought plenty off water to the sauna and all your bathing/scrubbing accouterments, you strip down and relax. When the heat and scrubbing become too much,the icy lake beckons. Erja once achieved her 15 minutes of fame in Yankee magazine, photographed smiling while sitting on the side of a hole in the ice, legs dangling into the frigid water. There’s nothing like it for a good night’s sleep.
Researching the Finnish food faves, I realized that their native Bilberry is very similar to Maine’s wild blueberry and is used interchangeably. Blue through and through unlike our Blueberry, the Bilberry has double the antioxidants. It’s wonderful for eyesight, they say. Also similar to Maine’s woods culture is their Reindeer stew, called Karelian Stew, similar to Leo’s favorite venison stew which Erja makes so well and is popular in Maine with anyone who hunts. Leo is well into his 90’s and presents as a 70 year old man.
Happy, healthy, traditional. It’s a great way to go!
The flavor profile in these is reminiscent of some of my favorite foods from China, although I am told by a close friend who lived for a time in China, Dr. Jane Liedtke, the Egg Roll is as American as it gets. More traditionally, Peking duck is wrapped in a “bing”, or wrapper with Hoisin sauce, scallion, etc. for a delicious part of the duck dinner. These egg rolls stand in for us home cooks in America.
Supposedly, making the wrappers is as easy as making pasta. Also, you can purchase perfectly good ones to produce these. The filling is open to inspiration, I like a bit of star anise in mine.
FILLING INGREDIENTS | Makes a dozen
Shredded cabbage and carrot, to equal 2 cups
Mung bean sprouts, minced celery and green onion to equal 2 cups
2 cups cooked, shredded duck meat, chopped fine
1 large beaten egg, cooked and chopped
Season with a bit of garlic, star anise, salt , pepper, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil & Asian chili sauce to taste.
Dust with cornstarch, 1 tb or a bit more if it seems wet . Mix all together and let rest.
BUILD THE ROLLS
Make a slurry of cornstarch and water for sealing the sides of rolls
Each egg roll gets 3 tb of meat, egg and vegetable mixture.
Roll tightly, sealing the sides with the cornstarch mixture. Set aside.
PREPARE TO FRY EGG ROLLS
You will need a heavy fry pan, with high sides …or a wok. You will also need some sesame or avocado oil, your egg roll wrappers and plenty of paper towels.
We’re shallow frying these, so we don’t need really deep oil, just about 3 inches in the pan.
Preheat oil and add a few rolls at a time, do not crowd. Flip once to get a golden brown all over.
Drain and sprinkle with flaky salt.
We enjoy these right out of the oil with a Hoisin or Duck Sauce and very hot mustard!
China is a place I’d always wanted to go. I am glad I visited, but would I want to return? Likely not, due in part to the level of pulmonary distress I experienced by the end of a month of travel there. And this was almost ten years ago. In places the coal soot covered everything and the day never really dawned. Not the best atmosphere to practice deep breathing and Qi Gong, which was part of my reason for being there.
I feel that I had the rare opportunity to view perhaps the last of the real remaining China, which required an entire two days train ride into the interior. Let me tell you, you don’t know “nasty” until you finally have to pee on a Chinese train, 17 hours in….
Traveling in the Chinese countryside was a gift and a conundrum at every turn. For instance, finally making it to the Great Wall at Badaling in the Yanqing District….and finding a brand new Starbucks right there. Then the further humiliation of making a beeline to it for a double Cappuccino because we were oh so tired of green tea. Finding out your Chinese Chi Gong master was a former Communist general and liked plum wine just a little too much! Or driving to see a Beijing Hutong district just as it was being torn down to make way for progress. The classic Peking duck dinner that followed, however, did not disappoint. Served on the traditional lazy Susan round table, it was everything I’d hoped it would be, with a million condiments and super crispy duck skin.
Sunday morning Dim Sum? Amazing. Chrysanthemums blooming in your teapot, of course! Seeing an enormous snake sunning on a rock way up in the mountains? I’ll never forget it’s majesty understanding what a rarity this was. Being in a truly remote place to forest bathe and meditate, by a waterfall? Picture perfect, unforgettable. How can I forget our stay at a Communist “Luxury” Hotel with a very funny buffet. The food in its chafing dishes had labels like, FRIES THE BEAN GREEN right next to the CHICKEN STOMACHS and STINKY TOFU.
Then there was the pearl market, where I got conned into believing river pearls were deep sea pearls (Oh, you have such good taste Mrs. Cabot!) and the apothecaries that were truly varied and impressive. Ditto the spice markets. We took tea and had lessons in tea ceremony with Monks. Viewed ancient prayer trees covered in red ribbons and tree peonies the likes which I’d never imagined. We climbed a million steps to temples in the sky. And unforgettably were allowed access to a very rare, ancient monastery where I sat in meditation. No Westerner had ever been there. I made an offering, asked for illumination and heard all the sorrows of the world. This was an experience so moving, so real and so unexpected that I sat cross-legged in that cave in silence and cried for a long, long time. I emerged a wiser and more compassionate person. China was good to me.
I travelled in Chile in the winter, which is like Springtime there at the bottom of the world. Imagine fields full of lupine at Christmas!
Well, another harbinger of very early spring is the Black Hake that is well known and loved there. My experience of this delicious flaky white fish was at a street vendor.
I’d like to share a recipe similar to the one I tried and loved:
Pan Seared Black Hake with Pebre Sauce / Yield: 2 hearty servings
1 lb. hake filet
Salt & pepper to taste, avocado oil to fry in
Season with salt and fresh pepper, set aside.
Beforehand, prepare the pebre sauce (a chilean salsa), using a blender:
3 roma tomato
a bunch of stemmed, chopped cilantro
6 green onions
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup red wine vinegar, equal part olive oil
salt, pepper and hot red pepper flakes
Using a food processor, pulse all ingredients and season to taste.
Set aside in the refrigerator, covered, until use.
Meanwhile, get a heavy iron skillet hot and heat the oil.
Gently, add the seasoned fish to the hot oil and fry it uncovered, turning once.
Top with the freshly made pebre sauce and serve with fried potatoes and a green salad.
I had a rare opportunity to travel with a group of plant enthusiasts, botanists and herbalists about ten years ago. The destination was the Chilean Patagonia and our group was an active one. We trekked and foraged in the wilderness, sat in divine hot springs, forged fiords, fished and caught enormous brown trout, learning how to cook them in a pit fire the ground…and hugged ancient Alerces.
Alerces, or Fitzroya cupressoides, are a member of the Cypress family, and are phenomenally long lived and splendorous conifer trees, native to Chile. They grow in the cool rainforests, just west of the Andes mountains. On this tour, we expected to experience the oldest trees on the planet, one over 2600 years old. We were not disappointed.
We visited scientific research stations and compared types of tropical flowers seen on hikes. I was surprised by some of the advanced and modern facilities we came upon in the relative wilderness.
After a particularly grueling spell of “roughing it” about mid-adventure, we closed in on our accommodations for the next few days, an Eco Village that we knew nothing about. The tiny houses we stayed in and, in fact, the entire village was self sustaining and off the grid. The first thing this weary traveller noticed was that the coffee there was phenomenal. It was beyond the real deal, rare in the countryside of Chile, as was all the food we were served, complete with high end and delightful garnishes.
I’d noticed a fine looking potager style garden on our way into the great room where we dined.Clearly all the vegetables we were served came right from this source. Furthermore, I came to learn that the owner of this place and hundreds of thousands of acres in conservation surrounding us were owned by a man named Douglas Tompkins, owner of Patagonia and Esprit clothing brands. AND one of his best friends was ( my hero) Alice Waters. It was she who was responsible for the direction required to create and maintain the garden and train staff on her cooking techniques.
This was a place of hope, respite and renewal. And completely unexpected in the wilds of Chile.
2 lbs broccoli rabe, washed and tough stems removed, cut into 2 inch pieces
2 cups red cherry tomato, halved
1 pkg. sweet Italian sausage, sliced medium thick
1 lb cavatelli pasta
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
12 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
Salt, pepper ground, to taste
1/2 cup good shaved or grated Parmesan
Toss the tomatoes with oil and a bit of salt. On a sheet pan, in a hot oven, blister the tomatoes. Reserve the tomatoes, retaining as much pan juice as possible.
In a saute pan, cook the sausage over medium heat until well browned. Remove from pan, but save the pan drippings.
In a large covered saucepan of boiling salted water, blanch the rabe and garlic. Lift it from the water with a strainer and drain, but save that water for the pasta.
Combine tomato, garlic, rabe and sausage with salt and pepper and a little more of the olive oil, keep warm but not hot (to retain colors)
Bring the pot of vegetable water, covered, back to a boil. Add a teaspoon more salt and the pasta.
Cook pasta until al dente, drain (I always save a 1/4 cup for the sauce and the remainder for soup stock.)
While the pasta is cooking, use your 1/4 cup of pasta water to deglaze the sausage pan and add that flavor layer and any tomato drippings to your cooked ingredients.
Finally add the hot, drained pasta and the rest of the cooked, seasoned ingredients to a large bowl. Toss well and top with the Parmesan cheese.
This dish is good warm but don’t over do it. The beauty is the bright green rabe and bright tomato, equally good at room temperature or the following day.