"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: julia child

books . . .

bookcase 1Although I didn’t think ahead of time that I was going to do it, I am finding myself in the midst of my semi-annual (twice a year) bookcase clean-out. Or I could just say book clean-out because I seem to have them stacked in all sorts of places, waiting to go to the library as donations, or finding a place to remain. This time, I’m even donating some large format books. It’s an interesting exercise because it’s a little like looking at a mini-“this is your life” video as the books get sorted or discarded, noticing how my interests and tastes have evolved.

The first section of bookshelves nearest the kitchen is prime real estate for books I love and use the most: cookery books by hip, healthy cooks such as Andrea Reusing, Nigel Slater, Alice Waters, Deborah Madison, Holly Davis, Heidi Swanson. Bookending them are Julia Child, the Conrans, Ronald and Felicity Dahl, the River Cottage guy and the River Cafe in London cookbooks. A dozen each of Japanese and Chinese cookbooks, dim sum, bento box, asian grill, noodles galore, tofu and soba paperbacks are now grouped together on the third shelf down. This reorganizing and culling out has inspired me to look through some of my favorites (Holly Davis and Andrea Reusing) once again.

In the middle section are two shelves of Taoist and Zen poetry, writings, translations and books about the I-Ching, including half a dozen translations of that venerable book. There’s a mini-library of books about Cape Cod and the North Shore:  National Seashore volumes featuring towns of Eastham, Wellfleet and Truro; books about the stone quarries in Rockport. New England Transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings and Henry David Thoreau’s journal of his time on the Cape meet halfway on a shelf with Taoist poetry translations by Red Pine and Zen writings by Alan Watts.

I-Ching emerson bookshelf

Finally, there’s enough room without having to lay books flat onto vertically shelved books (except for my two-volume boxed set of the I-Ching at the ready whenever it’s needed.) Whenever that kind of cramming has overflowed, it’s time to cull them out. It happens often in August, for some reason: must be because it’s so hot and one of the most uncomfortable times to do it.

There are five cartons of books to load into the car and take down to the public library today. Wednesday is their donation day and I’d just as soon have them out of the house so that I can enjoy the books that now have more breathing room. I’ve been remonstrating with myself lately about continuing to buy books when there’s no more room, but am glad to see how much richer my library is now than it used to be.

At the library, I’ll have a chance to look up and borrow some of the books that were suggested at the memoir writing class last week. It’s an opportunity to broaden my reading without buying more volumes, at least not today.


tarte aux pommes . . .

. . . apple tart with preserve glaze on top (peach, cherry & apricot)

. . . apple tart with preserve glaze on top (peach, cherry & apricot)

I was knitting this morning when I remembered that game three of the Bruins/Blackhawk Stanley Cup Playoffs is on tonight at 8 pm. Since championship playoffs hold a heightened air of expectation, I usually like to have something to have on hand to munch on. If you’ve seen the movie, “Silver Linings Playbook,” you’ll remember the “homemades” and other snacks that were always prepared for each football game that Robert de Niro’s character would bet on to win.
apple tart 1
In any case, I wanted to make something with what I already had on hand: one Pillsbury pie crust in the fridge; three Granny Smith apples in the pantry and some peach/cherry/apricot preserves in the door of the fridge. I’m a fan of less crust, not more, so I’ve been making French tarts with thinly sliced apples, adapting Julia Child’s recipe but simplifying it with pre-made pie crust. These thin tarts are less mushy and require peeling only three rather than eight apples to fill a full apple pie. I butter the foil on the pan before unfolding the pie crust; then brush the crust with slightly warmed preserves on which to place the apples.
apple tart 2
After the apples are peeled and cored, they’re sliced really thin and placed in opposite facing rows, a small conceit that makes the tart look more fabulous than it deserves. Then I mix turbinado sugar (a heartier sugar) with ground cinnamon and nutmeg. Sprinkle the top of the tart, dot with unsalted butter, a squeeze of fresh lemon and then place into the middle of a 400 degree preheated oven for about 20 minutes.
apple tart 5
Not quite finished, I take the tart out of the oven and then gently brush the jam lightly over the top, covering the whole thing with a kind of fruit glaze. Back into the oven for about twelve more minutes.

And voila! as the French say–a nice apple tart from a mere handful of ingredients I didn’t even remember that I had on hand.

I think we’ll serve it plain in small wedges tonight but it’s also really good with Haagen Daz vanilla swiss almond ice cream. Or a small dab of creme fraiche, come to think of it. Fingers crossed for the Bruins to win tonight!
apple tart 6

oeufs en gelee. . .

Well, if you read about my Christmas meltdown earlier, here is a follow-up report on making oeufs en gelee. An etsy potter from Australia wrote to me at the time that she was interested enough to “google” it to see what this dish was all about.

Apparently, it’s a traditional first course dish served in France and England from what little is available online. A photograph of a big glass bowl filled with jellied consomme with eggs suspended in it, a pile of toast and butter beside it stayed in my memory from Roald and Liccy Dahl’s book called, “Memories of Food at Gipsy House.” I think it was Roald’s own words that imprinted it into my mind:

“R.D. To me this is the most beautiful and delicious dish, but it is difficult to make well. If you can succeed in having the eggs not only soft-boiled inside but also separately suspended in the jelly, and yet not having the jelly too firm, then you have achieved the miracle.”

Okay: achieving miracles. It sure didn’t feel like that when I attempted to peel eight small eggs after having boiled them the allotted time. The shells kept sticking even though I had plunged them into cold water after removing them from the boiling water. The insides were also too runny. So, there went the first batch of eggs! I had also taken out my old beat-up copy of Julia Child‘s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” volume one in which she very helpfully described on page 113 some aspects of the “mystery” that goes into making the consomme turn out just right: you have to chill and test small batches of your consomme cum gelatin mix to see if it jells up properly–not rubbery and not too soft. My little test plate wasn’t jelling as fast as I wanted it to. Meanwhile, the phone rang and a voice asked me where was I for a chiropractor adjustment?–which had somehow slipped my mind while peeling the first batch of eggs.

So, I layered the broth into a Tupperware jello mold (see photo above) and put it in the fridge while I boiled up a second batch of eggs, leaving them to boil for a minute longer this time, plunging them into cold water afterwards. Then we ate supper: carryout Chinese. Afterwards, I peeled the eggs carefully and they seemed okay this time. I dried them off and slipped them into the mold, and then put fresh springs of tarragon around them. Added more consomme mixture that had chilled in an ice filled pie pan and then put it back in the fridge. An hour later after the third batch of consomme had jelled (this time firmer than the rest for some reason), I broke it up and spooned it onto the remaining room left in the mold, hoping that this jelly on the bottom would hold the thing together. Put the lid on firmly and set it in the fridge.

It looks like this mysterious, luminous pale brown concoction with eggs suspended, tarragon leaves barely visible.

At this point, I’m just glad that oeufs en gelee are now in the fridge and ready to bring up to serve as a first course with toast, butter, a little fresh ham and cornichons. I’m not so naive as to think that it will actually taste that great–although I am still hopeful.

I think the important thing for me was doing it because I was enraptured by Roald Dahl‘s experience and description of this dish. And besides, who wouldn’t want to make a try at performing miracles during this time of year?

Here’s an update: a photo of a serving of oeufs en gelee on Christmas Day!