Raspberry-Fig TartIn the weeks leading up to our move, while I was practicing my French, I would often play out scenarios in my head of what it would be like to connect with locals in another language. In my imagination, I would walk through the outdoor markets, a scarf expertly draped over my shoulders, with a kind smile and a keen eye for the best products. I would share a joke with the cheesemonger, make a comment about the weather to the old woman selling root vegetables. I would appear to any and to all, a quick study–like someone who had been speaking French for years. And in reality, in those first few interactions upon our arrival, I still held firmly to this idea: that the best way to learn a language is to act like an expert.

Friends, I was wrong. In my first few interactions, I garbled my way through the simplest of sentences. And to make things worse, those listening couldn’t look upon me with pity. How could they? After all, despite my ineptitude, I was speaking to them as if it were easy for me, as if they should be capable of understanding the nuance of everything I said. So I have taken time to reconsider. And what I’ve decided is that a language learner is best off acting like a child: affable, curious, honest, and respectful. If I’m kind and respectful, even if someone doesn’t understand a lick of what I said, they’re much more likely to try to understand me, to give me a second chance, maybe. In the past few days, this new approach has served me well.raspberries These days, when I go to the market, I smile. I speak slowly. I say monsieur and madame. If I don’t know a word, I tell them so. I tell them I’m searching for something that’s kinda like this and a little like that. And more often than not, they give me a short French lesson, teach me a new word or two. So it’s working. I’m even getting to know some of the vendors at the market. There’s the older lady who sells all manner of produce and is always complaining about something. I ask her how she’s doing and she tells me that her foot hurts. Or that she’s tired. Or that’s she’s too hot. She’s a funny lady, and she’s the first vendor I seek out for tomatoes and figs. In a stall adjacent to hers is an older fellow, whom Raquelle and I affectionately call “The Berry Man.” The Berry Man is always impeccably dressed. He wears crisp trousers and pressed shirts. His white hair is always fixed with a neat part. He stands at attention, his hands folded in front of him, his kind eyes cast downward. His table is small and neatly arranged. Upon it, berries are displayed like jewels. And for good reason. It was their brilliance and luxury that led to a dessert like this.Raspberry-Fig Tarteraspberry-fig tarte

Raspberry-Fig Tart with Crème Fraîche (serves 6 human people; or 2 unreasonably gluttonous monsters)

Ingredients:

for the crust-

125 g white flour

two hearty pinches of salt

20 g sugar

70 g butter, cubed and well-chilled

1/2 egg, beaten (reserve the other half for an egg wash)

2 tsp ice water

for the filling-

1o oz figs, finely chopped(set aside 1 fig to be used later)

5 oz fresh raspberries

2 oz sugar

zest of 1 lemon

juice of 1/2 lemon

for serving-

4 oz Crème Fraîche

1 tbsp honey

Preparation:

Begin by cubing the butter, placing it in a bowl, and setting it in the freezer to chill for 10 minutes. Then beat the egg, separate it in half, and put it in the fridge. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, pour in the flour, sugar, and salt. When the butter is chilled, add it to the flour and, using a pastry cutter or your hands, quickly mix the butter into the dough. Be sure to do this quickly so that the butter does not melt into the dough. When you begin to see bits of butter and flour the size of a grain of rice, pour in the egg and the 2 tsps of ice water. Mix with your hands just until the dough comes together. Do not over-mix. Quickly form the dough into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and place it in the fridge for 1 hour.

While the dough chills, pour the finely chopped figs, lemon juice and zest, and the sugar into a small saucepan and turn the heat to medium. Stir regularly. Once the mixture begins to boil, lower the heat to just above a simmer and let it cook for half an hour. The mixture should condense over time. After half an hour, pour the fig mixture into a bowl and chill it for another half hour.

Preheat the oven 375 degrees. Once the dough has chilled, remove it from the fridge, flour it lightly, and roll it out to a circle that is 10″ in diameter. Place the dough on a parchment-lined sheet tray and put it back into the fridge for ten minutes. After ten minutes, place the sheet tray on the counter and fill the center with the cooled fig mixture. Leave about an inch of dough on the outsides of the circle to fold over as a crust. Take the remaining fig that was not used in the cooked mixture and slice it into 6 pieces. Place these sliced figs on top of the fig mixture. Next, place the raspberries on top of the figs. Gently fold over the outsides of the dough so that a crust is created. Gently pinch and crimp the wrinkles of the dough to ensure that the filling will not spill out during baking. Generously cover the outer crust with the reserved egg wash. Don’t be afraid to be liberal with it. Place the tarte into the oven and let it cook for 45 minutes. The filling should bubble and the crust should be deeply bronzed. Once baked, let the tarte cool for an hour or more. This will give the filling time to set up completely.

When you’re ready to serve the tarte, mix the Crème Fraîche and honey and spoon a large portion over each piece. Enjoy.raspberry-fig tarte

Bread SteakUntil now, I have never had the experience of living(really living) in a culture so vastly different from my own. I’ve travelled, sure. There were 5 weeks in Berlin on a Fulbright Scholarship some years back; there were a couple days in Paris. But for the first time, I’m beginning to see how an experience that once felt like a vacation, an unreal and hazy dream, can become a lifestyle.  And with any lifestyle comes the monotony of life, the day-to-day; there are dishes to be done, trash to be taken out, bills that need to be paid. And I’m sure that you’re thinking: yes, but your trash is filled with all manner of evidence that points to your charmed life–emptied bottles of Cotes du Rhone, the rind of perfectly ripe Tomme de Savoie. And if you made such a point, I wouldn’t argue with you. Well, maybe, just a little. I’ll save most of the philosophizing for another time, but for now I’ll just say this: when we hope to derive our happiness from the things we eat and drink, or from the way the light drips off the tops of buildings on quiet mornings, or from the prospect of a perfect peach, we will be let down every single time. Few could ever claim a life of complete peace and endless contentment. But I wouldn’t guess that those few, if you asked them for their secret, would tell you in a whisper that they attribute it all to plates of charcuterie and expensive chocolates.  I mean, haven’t you too ever been upset in a fine restaurant?  Or haven’t you ever happily sipped awful wine among good friends? At best, what we eat and drink is a sort of cherry on top of our cake of contentment.Bread Steak I hope I haven’t let you down, spoiled your dreams of spending ten months living vicariously in the south of France. We can still do that together–but I just had to be honest, had to say what I’d never read about in any guide book, or ever seen on any episodes of Bourdain.

It makes sense that, just around the time I was beginning to consider what it might mean to live here long-term, Raquelle and I would venture out of the city to have a 3-hour lunch with a 91-year-old Provencal man named “Lolo.” If anyone could show me how to find my way here in France, it would be a supra-octogenarian who had spent his life in the sun, tending to his olive groves, raising his chickens and geese, and cooking and serving perfect strangers for decades.LoloWe arrived in Les Baux de Provence in the afternoon. The sun was strong, but it was tempered by constant breeze. We took a bus as far as we could. But when the roads narrowed, we took to our feet, passing old vineyards and Greco-Roman ruins that appeared to have been built yesterday.  Along the way, just before we made it to Lolo’s house was the Saint Paul Asylum, the very place where Vincent Van Gogh painted the view of the night sky from his window. This real-life metaphor was not lost on me: that just a stone’s throw from an asylum was a little piece of heaven; that perhaps these two states of mind are not so far from one another. “Much madness is divinest sense,” Dickinson would say.Lolo's KitchenWhen we made it to Lolo’s place, we were welcomed with a spread of briny olives and cold Ricard. The geese craned their long necks, wondering what all the fuss was about. And for nearly three hours, we were served course after course of good simple food, glass after glass of local wine, followed by a dish of brightly colored plums. When it was all finished, Lolo retreated to the inside of his house, understandably tired from all his hard work. I poked around the rooms, admiring their character and age, the walls of cold smooth stone. It was more like a museum, this troglodytic house, built into the side of a mountain, with a deed so old it was signed with the stamp of Louis XIV. At just the moment when I seemed to forget that this place was someone’s sanctuary, someone’s home, I was startled by Lolo, sitting in a chair in the corner of a back room. I felt inclined to say something, maybe even apologize for invading his space. “Merci beaucoup, Monsieur,” I said. He didn’t look up and he didn’t answer. He was tired. Tired as a man should be after 91 years of hard work and toil. He rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair and he stared off blankly toward the wall. After some seconds passed, still without an answer, I left him there to be alone.

I don’t know how long Lolo will keep this going. The fact that he is up and about in any capacity seems a miracle to me. I must say that I’m glad I got to have this experience–a chance to spend an afternoon with someone who has learned how to live gracefully, at ease, in a way that seems effortless and simple. The next day, my head buzzing with all of these thoughts, I went to the market with the goal of making something simple and effortless, something Lolo might appreciate.figsThis dish, much like the one I posted last week, is another celebration of place. It’s free of being fussy or technical. Instead, it’s a dish that’s all about the goodness of simple things. And it’s the kind of food that, if you’re not in the best of spirits or if you’ve lost your way, might guide you back into the light, might tell you that everything is gonna be ok.grilled vegetables

Bread Steak with Summer’s Last Crop (serves 2)

Ingredients:

1 large, very ripe tomato, chopped finely, juice reserved

1 small eggplant

1 red pepper

2 small zucchini (or 1 large)

Lemon

2 or 3 ripe figs

1 loaf of good crusty bread

4 large anchovies, packed in olive oil(sardine-style)

2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation:

To begin, fire up the grill or place a dry skillet on high heat. Meanwhile, coat the eggplant, zucchini, and red pepper with a little olive oil. Once the grill or pan is hot, place these vegetables down and let them char heavily on both sides. While they char, slice your tomato, making sure to keep all the juices that leak out. Place the tomato in a bowl, along with a squeeze of lemon juice, chopped garlic, some olive oil, black pepper, and a good bit of salt. Chop the parsley and add it to the tomato mixture. As the salt works on the tomatoes, it will begin to pull out more of the liquid, so that it becomes almost like a fresh, cold soup.

Once the vegetables have been well-charred on both sides, remove them from the heat to cool. Once cool, chop them finely and keep them separated. Additionally, prepare thin slices of the fig and set aside. Slice two 2-inch thick pieces of bread, drizzle them on both sides with olive oil, and place them under the broiler to toast up nice and dark.

Once the bread has been toasted, get two large bowls ready. Divide the tomato mixture into the two bowls. Place one slice of bread in the middle of each bowl, atop the tomato mixture. Surround the bread with the chopped, grilled zucchini, red pepper, eggplant, and the figs. Place the anchovies on top of the bread. Then, give the plate a final seasoning with more salt and pepper, another squeeze of fresh lemon, a good glug of olive oil, and perhaps a few drops of tabasco sauce. This dish, to me, is the best way to make the most of the last of what summer has to offer.

Enjoy.

 

Aioli

When you arrive in France, you will, no doubt, be very tired. You will not have slept a wink on the plane. You will wish for a hot shower, a chance to lie flat on your back, and 12-15 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Everything will feel like a strange dream. But your hosts will greet you with a kiss on both your cheeks and they will seat you on their terrace for a coffee and a croissant and they will introduce you to their handsome cat, Nikos. You will struggle desperately with the language. You will smile and laugh when you believe it is appropriate, and in the event that a comment is sent in your direction, you will hope and pray, first, that you understood it and, second, that you can formulate some response without sounding like a person who is either functionally delayed or whose mouth has been stuffed with gauze. You will be invited to dinner. Wine will be served outside, as the sun goes down and the air begins to cool. When the bottle is finished, there will be dinner–a steaming dish of pasta with stewed eggplant, tomato, pork, and herbs. More wine. Then dessert–a tender cake covered with all manner of the sweetest fruit, fruits you’ve never seen before. After dinner, you will be led to the den for another coffee (sans caffeine, s’il te plait). You will be handed an old guitar that once belonged to a greek poet and you will be asked to play and sing. You will play and you will sing. Your hosts will smile. You will then say goodbye. You will walk with your wife through cobblestone streets, flanked by 400-year old buildings and gothic cathedrals, in a darkness that is interrupted only by the soft glow of a few street lights. You will step into your well-appointed apartment and you will sleep a heavy sleep. When you wake in the morning, you will come to know that this is no dream. You will come to know that this is your reality: one year in Provence.

Or, at least, that has been my experience. aioli

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly three months since I last posted a recipe to Bread+Bourbon. Before summer began, I had made plans to post two times a week, to go on long walks, to play my guitar. But the days, instead, were spent moving out of our apartment, frantically trying to learn French, getting up at 4 in the morning to work at a bakery, and fighting for nearly two months with the French Consulate and other organizations to get our visas(I will spare you all the infuriating details). But we’re here now! I’d like to make a promise to each and every one of you that I will post, at least, one recipe each week. And if I break this promise, I will give you a full refund of the zero dollars you pay me each month to view this blog.

To get things started off, here’s a recipe for a uniquely Provençal dish. This is the kind of thing that good, country French people have been making for hundreds of years. Even in the worst of times, one could count on a few potatoes, a carrot, some green beans, and a piece of fish. And in an area where olive oil has always been cheap and abundant, it made sense to feature it prominently. In fact, the entire dish is named after the oil-based sauce that goes with it. It’s called aïoli. And you should make it.provence seafood

 

Aïoli (serves 2)

Ingredients

6-7 small potatoes(about the size of a ping-pong ball)

A handful of green beans(haricots verts, if you can find them)

2-3 medium carrots

2 eggs

a small piece of firm-fleshed fish(cod works perfectly)

lemon wedges

for the sauce:

1 egg yolk

a mild olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp dijon mustard

salt, to taste

Preparation:

To start, you’re gonna make an aioli. This is a rich, creamy, emulsified sauce–basically, the grandfather of mayonnaise. Start by pouring one egg yolk into a bowl. With a whisk in hand, pour in just a few drops of olive oil and stir gently, without ceasing. Once you see that there is no standing oil in the bowl, add in a few more drops of oil. Again, be sure that you do not stop stirring when you pour in more oil. As you continue, the sauce will begin to thicken. Continue this process until the sauce becomes so thick that it will adhere to the whisk without dripping off. Once you’ve reached this stage, add in the dijon, the garlic, and salt to taste. I must tell you that I also added two dashed of Tabasco sauce, which is, as I’m sure you would imagine, not in any way traditional. But you won’t regret it. Cover the sauce and place it into the refrigerator for later. aioli

To continue, fill two large pots with water, adding a generous amount of salt only to one of them, and letting the water come to a boil. While you wait, prep your vegetables. Snip the ends of the green beans, cut the potatoes in half, and cut the carrots length-wise into three or four pieces. When the water comes to a bowl, throw the potatoes into the salted water, and put two of the eggs into the non-salted water. Let the eggs cook for 7 and a half minutes. Once the time is up, remove them from the water and put them into a bowl of ice water.

Meanwhile, check the potatoes now and again. You want them to be pleasant to the tooth, but not mushy. Once cooked, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and set them aside to dry. Place the carrots into the pot that once held the potatoes. After two minutes of cooking, throw in the green beans. Be sure to check them for doneness. Once done, drain them.

Meanwhile,  heat a pan with oil on medium-high heat. Once hot, salt both sides of the fish and place it into the pan. Let it cook for about 5 minutes on each side. While you wait, peel the eggs. Once done, you’re ready to plate it. Arrange everything on a plate and put the sauce in the middle. Open a bottle of rose, cut some crusty bread, pretend you’re a French person. That’s what I always do.aioli on the terrace