Burning Lamb & Bands : TreeFort 2016

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Dear Boise,

Are you for real? Or will I find out one day I was dreaming? Many things have charmed me about you & just to name a few: the kindness of your people, the basques, who have a special place in my heart, your dry & mild winter, your mountains, your deserts, the variety & quality of your state grown food — & I am not talking of the potatoes —,  your foodcoop, your restaurants, your cleanliness…& now your Treefort Festival!?

I love you, Boise!

NP

It’s spring break & I was looking forward to stay put here in Boise & catch up with my pile of to do’s. But the Treefort in in town! The five-day, indie rock festival started in 2012. Today the emphasis is still on the music with about 400 bands playing from Thursday through Sunday, while another full schedule of events organized in “Forts” happens simultaneously. I attended FilmFort, FoodFort & StoryFort. This is what Treefort says about itself & I witnessed it:

We see Treefort as a celebration what makes Boise great – whether it’s Boise’s local breweries, homegrown food, skatepark, lively downtown core or simply its strong spirit of collaboration and love of the outdoors. Boise has something for everyone, no matter their age, and we hope that Treefort is an example of that.
In 2015, Treefort was named the City of Boise’s Cultural Ambassador for being an event that genuinely reflects the energy across mediums that is happening in the Boise community and cultural scene, and for the vision of connecting Boise and its creatives with other communities around the region, the country and around the world. The Cultural Ambassador title runs through 2017.

Private venues take advantage of the Treefort momentum to organise events of their own. On Saturday afternoon, as I was heading to the Foodfort to taste some of the local chefs’ dishes, Basque friends tell me that whole lambs are being roasted outside The Modern Hotel. Not surprising, since the owner is Basque & her family owned a Basque boarding house accommodating shepherds in Nampa, ID. “The Modern” is one of Boise’s artsy cultural hubs where locals gather at the bar for cocktails & tasty morsels. I rushed to the Modern & there the scene was unreal. On both sides of Grove Street Band Dialogue III was rehearsing. This recurring event, led by Seth Olinsky, features a dozen bands with their respective instrumental kits lined up &  generating shifting walls of sound…& next to it a lamb was quietly being roasted, hand cranked by the helpers of the Ansotegui’s Family. Watch the video to get a sense of the scene & hear about the Ansotegui’s family history & recipes. I hope to visit them soon again at Epi’s Restaurant in Meridien.

 

& now for the sake of keeping record, this is the list of what I did:
Wednesday March 23 :
Filmfort
Idaho’s Forgotten War : great doc about the Kootenay people. In 1974, tribe leader Amy Trice declares & wins war on the United States government to save her people. Then stayed on for the screenings of FunnelSMOKE + Q&ACarbon + Q&A

Thursday March 24
Filmfort :

Outstanding  afternoon of screenings. Different genres but totally inspiring works & Q&A
A Band Called Death  Q&A + Skype discussion with filmmakers
Everyone in Between
Genderations
The last two docs must be shown widely to get great insights & understanding of the —hopefully soon to be dead— gender labelizations.
Music:
Wolvserpent, Mamiffer, Chelsea Wolve (the last one was my favorite)

Friday March 25
FoodFort:
Grains in the Gem State :  Panel about new grains being grown in Idaho, Teff being one of them (can’t wait to try KIBROM’S, the local Ethiopian & Eritrean restaurant.) 
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Music:

Naked Giants: Very talented & very young boys band from Seattle that really cracked me up —felt very nostalgic for the Skinnybones years! (Jake Williams & our son Miles Joris-Peyrafitte band from a few years back)

Filmfort:
Janis: Little Girl Blue (which Pierre, the old hippie, liked more than I did.)

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Saturday Mach 26

StoryFort:
Eileen Myles:  loved the activating & sharp reading & Q&A.
MixedFort: (I made that one up!)
Basque Lamb & Bands: see Burning Lamb & Bands
Music
Would have liked to hear CocoRosie but was sold out.
So back to more of the Naked Giants, followed by Dude York featuring — what I liked best about the band, bassist/vocalist Claire England.
Sunday March 27
StoryFort:
As soon as I post this I will be heading to Paige Ackerson-Keely, Kerri Webster & Janet Holmes readings & then back on track to teach tomorrow!

Merci Les Bois!

Boisen Euskal Bizitza or Basque Life Style in Boise

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March 19th, 2016: St. Joseph’s day. I am not christian, but still a special day for me since it is was my beloved grand-father’s name after whom I named my older son.  On that day Pierre & I were very honored to be invited by Argia Beristain & Chef Jesus Alcelay to the monthly Basque dinner at the Boise Basque Center. Three hundred diners are scheduled to attend. We arrive a little early & wait at the bar before filing into the banquet room.  I look around &, without the sound track surrounding me I could be anywhere in the Pyrenees, with the sound track anywhere in the Basque country. The conversations are mostly in Basque & there is almost nothing to remind me that I am in Boise, Idaho. Not only are the conversations in Basque, but most of the faces look familiar. It is clear that Pyrenean people share the same ancestry. Native Pyreneans are Vascons, a people of ancient Iberia & undoubtedly facial as well as cultural features remain & I definitely belong to this tribe.  A few years back I had my DNA tested & besides having a high percentile of Neanderthal variants — I am not kidding: I am more Neanderthal than 89% of 23andMe customers, & have 307 variants when 400 is the max!  I am also 70% Southern European, with 60% Iberian…. Thus not so French, & it delights me to feel the cave ladies of the Pyrenees in me!

Even the aromas escaping from the downstairs kitchen are familiar. Argia invites me to sneak down to say hello to Chef Jesus Alcelay. We are just in time to capture Jesus in full action before the dishes are hoisted up to the dinning hall. We catch him putting the finishing touches to the Oriotorra, a technique I must say I have never done in this order, but will try soon. See Jesus demonstrating:

Here is the delicious, copious & generous menu, served buffet style:
Oriotarra — Cod the way they make it in the town of Orio — see video
Tripacallos — Honeycomb beef tripe in tomato sauce
Arroza Txirlekin — Clams & Rice (same as the one Jesus made for our class on Monday)
Txingarretan Saiheskiak — Slowly roasted garlicky ribs
Green Salad & Cake

So, yes! being in Boise is great on many accounts, but the history, gastronomy & solidarity of the Basque that impregnate the town helped me feel at home right away.
Both my Food & Culture classes celebrated Basque culture in Boise. Chef Jesus Alcelay hosted the Monday night class & on Friday basque scholar Argia Beristain shared her family recipe—see details here.

We sat we Argia & her husband Keenan. To my right, two families of first generation immigrants who both came as shepherds, & one told me that he was the last shepherd to have come from the Basque country. It was moving to hear their stories. As I said on this blog, I read John Bieter’s (B.S.U History Professor) & Mark Bieter’s excellent book :  An Enduring Legacy : The History of basque in Idaho, but hearing stories first hand is very special. I wish I had written down their names to thank them for their hospitality & sharing. Please contact to me if you read this blog so I can add your names.  (Addendum: Thank you Argia! to my right Miguel Angel Azpitarte)

. Voilà! meanwhile here is video to give you a taste & a sound bite of the evening. A happy Saint Joseph’s day & a heart felt eskerrik asko!

 

The Boise Report

Very much enjoying our stay in Boise, Idaho.
On Saturday I was invited to give a short performance at The Cabin, a Center for writers, readers — & performance, since the event was called: GHOSTS & PROJECTORS presents: The Poetry Speakeasy.

Otherwise, incredibly busy teaching / cooking / performing 3 classes to remarquable, attentive & generous students. My courses are 2 sections of a food & culture course for the Boise State Honors College: 

What Do We Eat? Why Do We Eat It? Where Does It Come From? How Do We Cook It?
While eating is the most common shared need of humankind, the great varieties of foods and cuisines serve not only our biological survival but also help to identify ourselves culturally. This course explores historical, economic, and ritual aspects of food, and looks at the role of cooking and eating in the context of the transformations of the world food system due to globalization, new technologies & migrations. Through lectures, demonstrations, films and hands-on preparation, students will learn to analyze their own food heritage while exploring local, national and international ingredients and their use. This very interactive —and tasty seminar— will also give you the basic skills to cook simple, healthy and affordable meals. You will learn knife skills, soup making, how to prepare party foods like crêpes or simple hors d’oeuvres, and how to plan menus for yourself and/or the family.

& one workshop for the English department —where Pierre is visiting writer in residence:

P P P : Practice Performance Poetry
As Jacques Roubaud writes: “Just about anything may be encountered in the guise of ‘performance poetry’: music, declamation, theatrical bits, acrobatics, ‘primal screams,’ and so on.” We will indeed explore the full range of poetry-in-action both theoretically & practically. Your active participation will be the key that will open the space for an experimental individual & collective heuristic practice. 
Our workshop type class emphasis is on practice. You will be making work in class & are expected to perform it. Be prepared to be immersed in the art of the act of doing from the moment you walk into class on day one. Practice will include working on skills that will help you connect with your voice & body as the instruments they are.
Through breathing techniques, voice warm-up, light stretches you will learn to develop & expand your creative & delivery powers, to trust & stretch your performative skills.
To substantiate this practice we will investigate a range of manifestos, movements and cultural contexts from paleolithic art to today’s performance art.

Life is on a slower pace here. The weather mild & dry, people extremely kind —& surprisingly liberal, food exquisite & to give it the perfect flavor a huge Basque community —some say about 20 000! ( see pictures below) So chorizo, pimiento, lamb dishes permeate many restaurant menus!
We were graced by Jerome & Diane Rothenberg visit. They came to talk to our classes & Jerome gave a wonderful reading —Video to be uploaded soon!

Méchoui or Whole Lamb on a Spit

Cooking on a spit was the theme of Pierre’s 65th birthday. After the cake on the spit (see previous blog here),  voilà the lamb on the spit a.k.a méchoui! According to the Robert historique de la langue Française the origin of the word méchoui is: “Borrowed (1912) from the Arabic maghrebien mešwi “roasted, grilled; lamb roasted on a spit”, past participle of šawa (شوى ), to roast, to grill”.   This dish is very popular in North Africa where  Pierre lived several years.

As we still are in the village of Bourg d’Oueil, in the heart of the French Pyrenees, the lamb will be  provided by no one else than our neighbors & friends, the Jamme family.  The 17 kgs (37,5 lbs) lamb, fetched from the nearby mountains a few days before, is “un broutard” or a “grazer”; that is a lamb that had passed the nursing stage and is already grazing. And now the photo log of an another amazing communal food experience:


The day before our friend André brought very dry wood he had split for the occasion & the spit that Marc had fetched from Yves the butcher. In the late afternoon I went to the Jamme’s house to rub the lamb with a thick marinade of olive oil, garlic, wild thyme, salt & piment d’Espelette (chili pepper from the basque country); then we returned the lamb to rest overnight in the walk-in cooler.

Now we went to the village hall multipurpose room to set up the tables. The meal will be inside, since we knew the weather was not going to be warm enough. As no rain was forecast, so the aperitif will be served outside. With Sylvia Gorelick —who made all the bouquets with wild flowers she had gathered in the fields near by— Marie Jeanne Jamm, — who brought additional sheets to cover the tables— Maïté & Michou — Pierre’s sister — set up a beautiful banquet table for 50 people. The event was becoming more elaborate as I had planned.  As we got closer to the date the eating of the birthday lamb as a casual outdoor buffet turning into an elaborate banquet.

On d-day: I am up at 7:30 am to set up for the méchoui. My neighbors Robi & farmer Roland Jamme (remember him from the cake) arrived shortly thereafter. Together we start the fire, strategize and go get the lamb prepped as best as we can to avoid any complication during cooking.

That’s it! it is 9:45am the beast is on the spit, as we have a manual spit, it is going to be crucial to have someone monitoring, turning & basting —w/the same marinade as above— the lamb & adding coals to the fire. Robi & Roland have set up a second fire next to the méchoui were they burn logs to turn them into charcoal, which they add under our lamb in order to keep an even fire.


I had nothing to worry about as Robi, Roland & now Pierre were fully in charge of the lamb. Accompanied by the same crew as last night we are setting up for cocktail hour & hors d’oeuvres. Joseph Garcès, who was Maitre d’H at the family hôtel for 14 years, came right on time to slice the magnificent bellota ham —acorn fed pig—  shipped to us by my nephew Vincent from a small Spanish farm. I had also prepared salads of heirloom tomatoes and organic haricots-vert that we set up on the table along with the ham. The fragrant cantaloupe from the Gers will be passed around once people are seated.

 It is around 12pm and guests are filling in. They are “appetizing” on cherry tomatoes, patés, salamis, radishes —here my 89 year old father is particularly enjoying them— while sipping the pleasant Marquisette, a cocktail make by Maïté & Robi — wine, vanilla bean, lime & seltzer, served by Marie-Jeanne Peyroulan an old time friend who came from a near valley with her son Teo who played a lot of “Quiller” —an ancient version of bowling— with my adorable niece Lou.


It is now 1 pm and the lamb is cooked! My brother Jean-Louis will assist Roland, Robi & Marc for the carving while my nieces Mag & Isa will pass the cut meat to the guests. To serve with the lamb, my friend Paulette made the most tasty Pistache Luchonnaise ever—a white bean & lamb stew with pork rind — a specialty of the Comminges region— Paulette’s Pistache almost stole the show from the Méchoui and the cóca! Unfortunately no pictures were taken as every body was too busy eating. We had seconds & some had thirds. We took a little break and had a cheese course. Not any kind of cheese, no, a Poubeau cheese if you please! Read about it here. It was a perfectly aged one; Joseph Garcès is on a “cheese plan”; that is that he reserves a full wheel six months in advance and lets it age in the cheese maker’s cave. Joseph offered his reserved wheel to Pierre for his birthday party!


It is now about 4pm and about time to present the birthday boy with his very special cake. After singing Happy Birthday, we serve the cake with crème anglaise, all the details about the incredible ancient cake are here. More singing was done by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Sylvia Gorelick, and a special tribute to Pierre by Joan-Francès Tisner & family who had come all the way from the Béarn. After coffee, Armagnac & Mirabelle —Thank you Michou & Julien for bringing the real stuff from Luxembourg! — it was about 6pm when the last guest left!

All of this could not have happend without the  amazing help of the family & a tight community of friends. Special thanks to the Jamme Family, Joseph Garcès & Paulette, Robi Castebrunet & Maïté, Conso, Michou, Marie-Jeanne, Domenja, Marie-Jo,  my parents Jean & Renée Peyrafitte, the Toucouère family, André, Marc & my brothers: Jean-Louis for his carving assistance and Pierre for the pix, Miles, Sylvia, all the wonderful guests & last but not least to Pierre whose birthday gave me a great opportunity to throw a party. MERCI!

Photo credit: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte & Nicole Peyrafitte

Coque or Gâteau à la Broche

This was a dream come true. Since I was a little girl I have admired & loved this cake.  It is made for very special occasions like weddings, christenings, special birthdays or anniversaries. I found an entry for “coque” in an old Gascon dictionary that says “qu’èm invitats a la còca” meaning “we are invited to the christening.”
It takes hours to complete this cake and needless to say it is a very special present to be given one. When I spoke about Pierre’s birthday menu to my friend & neighbor Roland Jamme I couldn’t believe he offered to make one with his wife Simone. Not only were they going to make it, but I could be there the whole time! This incredible ancient cake takes over 5 hours to make and requires the constant participation of 2 people who will endure intense heat. As you will see below, someone has to sit in front of the fire at all times.
After consulting with Simone, Roland they set up the cake making date for Saturday July 9 at 8:30 am., i.e. 6 days before the party,  which would be perfect as the cake needs to age before being served.
I was instructed to show up in Garin —where Simone’s family home is— on time and with all the ingredients .

Thus I showed up very excited and armed with 72 eggs, 3 kgs of flour, 3 kgs of sugar, 3kgs of butter, 15 packed of vanilla flavored sugar, 1/2 litre of rum Negrita & a roll of parchment paper. I was finally going to see the gâteau à la broche made from scratch like it as been done for hundreds of years! So, voilà le photo-reportage of the making –and do not miss the short video. I want to thank Simone & Roland from the bottom of my heart for this incredible day.

  

All the ingredients are placed on the table in order not to forget anything.
Then all the 72 super fresh eggs are carefully separated.

  

I was entrusted with slowly melting the butter in a pan while Roland started whipping the egg whites.

Simone hand mixes all the ingredients expertly; the rum is the last one to go in.

Roland had started the fire before I arrived. Once the batter is done, the ancient wooden mold is warmed up then wrapped in parchment paper.

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The wrapped mold is warmed up again and lathered with butter. Now the cooking part can begin. Simone takes her position in front of the hearth and starts pouring the batter while Roland turns the handle. Simone & Roland have mentioned several time that the starting of the cake is a crucial moment in order to make it sturdy. The main fear is always to break the cake and this fear is only lifted once it has been delivered to the party place!

Slowly but surely the pouring & cooking continue. Closely supervised, I anxiously got to relieve Simone at pouring a few times and Roland at turning. As the cake becomes heavier the turning/cooking  gets trickier. The conversations are continuously interrupted by comments or commands like: “Il faut mettre – put some on,” ” tourne plus vite – turn faster,”  “attention le pied – watch the bottom,” “attend!  les piques brillent encore – Wait, the peaks are still shining.”

Roland keeps feeding the fire with long logs that he and his nephew Fabrice have cut for the occasion. Each log is carefully picked as the fire needs to be highly controlled. Logs & embers are moved according to where most heat is needed.  Here we can see the cake shaping up. The “peaks” are starting to form. One of the conversation around the fire was about the length of the peaks, the pride of the cake makers, though Simone points out that she favors the taste over the shape and I agree.

As the batter in the basin diminishes slowly, Simone is wiping the sweat off her face more often. I try to relieve her as much as I can, but her expert hand is needed to “mettre” properly as it is getting more difficult; due to peak formation the batter sticks less and less so the spooning over has to be more frequent and the batter dripping in the pan needs to be quickly collected —that is before it cooks– and spooned back on too the cake (see video below).

 

Here we go! many hours later finally the last spoon of batter! The cake is perfect, just a little more cooking to give it the final golden look.

The cake is brought inside to cool off while resting between two chairs. After lunch Roland, with the help of Simone’s brother Jean-Claude, the mold is removed with a mallet! That part is very scary and you can sense the how everyone is tense in order to execute the appropriate move in order not to break the cake.

The cake was delivered by Roland & Simone on the morning of the party on July 14. We served it for dessert accompanied by crème paysanne —aka crème anglaise— that my mother, Marie-Jeanne Jamme & Robi Castbrunet made.  What a gift! I am so thankful to Roland and Simone for their generosity, time, expertise & hospitality at her family home. Watch the video and stay tune for the rest of the menu!

For your information a very similar cake, called Šakotis, is make in Lithuania, another close cousin is the German Baumkuchen.

Photos Credit: Nicole Peyrafitte & Roland Jamme
Video: Nicole Peyrafitte
Flower arrangement on the cake: Sylvia Gorelick

In Pétéram We Trust!

In the county of Luchon (where I was born and raised) we are really serious about Pétéram. Pétéram is an ancient local dish made from a combination of tripe (intestine & pluck), lamb  & veal feet, ham, carrots & onions. During my last visit  home I had to have my fix of Pétéram; so one Sunday, part of the family took off to the village of Oô, where the restaurant “Les Spigeoles” serves one of the best Pétéram. Jean-Pierre Oustalet, a friend & the chef-0wner of the establishment, is a very creative man always up to something fun. Recently he printed a series of t-shirts  with  the motto he coined himself: “In Peteram We Trust!”.

peteram t-shirt

This summer a Flemish  TV from Belgium came to film Jean-Pierre’s Pétéram for one of their shows. Though the video is in Flemish & French I urge you to watch it: Touristique: de pétéram.
Tripe dishes are cooked around the world (list here), and as we know
these less desired cuts were left for the poor. It was the same for Pétéram, I don’t think it appeared on restaurant menus in Luchon until the 20th century and my family restaurant was certainly one of the first to offer it. Though I don’t know the exact etymology of the word, one can read its the humble origins through the Gascon language  : petar— French translation: “crever” or in English:”to die” or “to be famished” and hame— in French “faim” or in English “hungry” Thus Pétéram can be interpreted as “a dish for the famished” or as a dish that will kill hunger! Then again this may be an invented etymology (much work remains to be done on the Gascon language, and especially certain of its regional versions, such as that spoken in the Luchonais.) On the other hand, to quote my husband, the poet Pierre Joris, “are any etymologies really ‘false’?”
I used to make Pétéram when I was working at the family restaurant (other posts related to the family hotel here) and though we received “clean” tripe from the butcher, the smell was still strong and the tripe would require extensive blanching in order to get rid of the offensive smell. I got used to it and it didn’t bother me, except this one time. In the late fall of 1981, I had to cut a big pile of intestines and honeycomb for my Pétéram and  that time, for some reason I was to discover a few days later, I couldn’t bear the smell. T
wo days later I found out I was pregnant with my son Joseph. Throughout my pregnancy I had to stay away from tripes.

Jean Pierre Oustalet’s Pétéram is as good as it gets. He achieves the difficult task of making a tripe dish light. The texture of the tripe still firm but tender. The sauce, in which the tripe have cooked for over twelve hours, release the rich and comforting aromas of all the ingredients. The creamy potatoes that have been added late in the cooking provide the perfect starching effect. Some places serve it as a first course, though we had it as a main course. We had soup to start with, then a plate of artisan salamis & cured ham, followed by the Pétéram as the main course. Then we had a slice of delicious mountain cheese, a slice of apple pie and voilà! we sure were full and happy! Below are a few pictures of the fun outing where you can see my parents : Jean & Renée Peyrafitte ( 88 and 81 years old!) in the gorgeous village of Oô. This village is also very dear to me because I premiered my performance The Bi-Continental Chowder /La Garbure Transcontinentale there in 2005. One of the reason is that one of the main Romanesque female figures featured in the show is from the village;  you can hear the song related to it here.

The recipe is a translation of the family recipe transmitted by my grandfather Joseph Peyrafitte & typed by my mother Renée Peyrafitte:

for 5/6 people:
1 lamb stomach & 6  feet 1 kg veal honeycomb & 2 feet
3 carrots whole
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1 ham bone
1 bouquet garnis of thym, laurel & parsley
1 cup of ham prosciutto like— diced
2 onions
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 quart chicken stock
1 kg potatoes
Hachis (50 gr garlic & 50 gr fatback grounded together)
1/3 cup Armagnac

Blanch and scrape the tripes thoroughly. Cut the stomach & honeycomb in trips of about 1 x 0.5 inches. Place is all in a stew-pot with a ham bone.
Add 3 whole carrots, the bouquet garnis, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, 1 cup of ham, 2 onions whole, salt, pepper & a touch of nutmeg. Add wine wine & chicken stock so tripes are immersed and “swimming”.
Bring it to a boil, cover the pot and let cook for 10 hours, one hour before serving add potatoes peeled and quartered.
When ready to serve add hachis and the Armagnac.



New-Orleans—Temps/Oralité #1


Gold Mine Saloon
getting a face lift before the All-Hands-On-Deck fund raiser

I got back Tuesday night from New Orleans. My mind still loops images, smells, tastes, & feelings. New Orleans is a place where present and past souls can mingle & converse  if one is attentive & tuned in:  a timeless, boundless & profound journey is all yours there!

First night out, my hosts, poets Megan Burns and Dave Brinks, took me to the launch of the anthology A Howling in the Wires. This collection of texts covers blogs, poems and stories in response to Hurricane Katrina and is edited by Sam Jasper and Mark Folse —see Megan Burn’s blog Solid Quarter for more details.
My last visit to Nola goes back to early November 2005, only a few months after the devastating hurricane Katrina. The French Quarter was slowly reopening for business, the rest of the city was still pretty empty, many areas were still without electricity, destruction was everywhere and people where still totally shell shocked. So, last Thursday’s reading brought me back five years later right into the midst of her/his-stories written back then — poignant offerings that touched & humbled me deeply. Despite the ordeal this community experienced having to go through the material and psychological reconstruction, their sense of dignity and humor, generosity and compassion is unaltered and contagious.
 The volume is available on line and I recommend getting it: http://gallatin-and-toulouse-press.com/shop.html.

Of course, compared to my 2005 visit I found the city beautiful and vibrant.  Sunday was the 5th anniversary of Katrina and though you can still see  feel the stigma, people have moved on, and New Orleans feels to be a culture of the now. So thank you, David Brinks, Megan Burns, for hosting me, and for giving me the opportunity to perform at the “All-Hands-on-Deck” event. Thank you, Gina Ferrara and Jonathan Kline for getting together the last night like we did 5 years ago, talking longly and fondly.

It might take me a few postings to recount most of the moments, places & tastes, I wish to share… Voilà for the the first one.


Live Oak -City Park- New Orleans

The centennial live oaks of City Park awed me as I reflected on the fact that they witnessed the Bayougoula, Mougoulacha, Chitimacha, Oumas, Tangipahoa, Colapissa, and Quinipissa native American tribes, along with many storms and hurricanes, as well as many duels. These evergreen oaks that have survived and outlived all kinds of weather, humans & other pests, for hundreds of years, induce a sense of temporal magnitude rarely experienced.


City Park also hosts the New Orleans Museum of Art. “Unframed but reflected by Michel Angelo Pistoletto” is the caption I posted when I uploaded the picture of this piece on my Facebook page. The mirror painting by Italian artist Michel Angelo Pistoletto raised another notion of temporality. Here, unlike the deep & linear temporality of the live oak, I faced and inscribed myself  as a non-chronological layer of time. You will notice the Philip Guston painting  reflected in the back.

Another painting that stood out for me and provided a not so linear experience was the piece by New Orleans artist George Rodrigue. He is famous for his blue dogs and his relief efforts for Katrina and the gulf. The Aioli Dinner was painted in 1971. Here is what the Museum has to say about the painting:


“The Aioli Dinner was Rodrigue’s first major painting with people. He designed the painting using combinations of photographs taken of the Aioli Gourmet Dinner Club, a group which met once a month on the lawn of a different plantation home in and around New Iberia, Louisiana.
Only men sat at the table, each with their own bottle of wine. The women standing in the back row cooked the food, and the young men around the table served dinner. One of the older men, however, made the aioli, a garlic-mayonnaise sauce. Rodrigue’s grandfather Jean Courrege sits on the left near the head of the table, and his uncle Emile is the third boy standing from the left, peaking his head in between the others. All of the figures are portraits of people who lived in and around New Iberia.
Rodrigue chose the lawn of the Darby House Plantation as the setting for his painting, because the house was still standing in 1970, when he began work on the piece (it has since been torn down). Today the paintings hangs at the New Orleans Museum of Art.”


Wendy Rodrigue, the artist’s wife, keeps a  blog where she gives interesting details about the painting and the Rodrigues‘ family history.  I like the naive quality of the painting very much, but what piqued my attention was the fact that it was called “Aioli Dinner” A très typical dish of the Provence region.  According to Wendy Rodrigue’s blog, the family insisted on their French background, and though I am just assuming that this was a family tradition, they must have come from the Provence region. The name aioli (alhòli) comes from Provençal alh ‘garlic’ (< Latin allium) + òli ‘oil’ (< Latin oleum). Often referred to as a garlicky mayonnaise, real Aioli has only olive oil and garlic. It is made by pounding garlic with olive oil and salt in a mortar until a smooth texture is obtained. Now a “grand aïoli “, also called “l’aïoli monstre” or simply “l’aïoli” consists of platters of poached salt cod (bacalau) — sometimes bigorneaux (winkles) are added — and a variety of steamed or poached seasonal vegetables with ample bowls of the hand-made garlic mayonnaise served as a wonderfully pungent accompaniment. Le grand aïoli is especially popular for large village gatherings. I will be sure to investigate the “Aioli Gourmet Dinner Club” more closely as I deepen my research on Southern French immigration to New Orleans. But that will be the topic of another post.

Today I will close with the trade mark sandwich of New Orleans the Muffuletta. These sandwiches can be found in many places in the Big Easy. Of Sicilian origin, this sandwich consists of a round loaf of bread about 10 inches across, filled with Italian salami, olive salad, cheese, Italian ham, and freshly minced garlic. The key ingredient is the olive salad that gives the sandwich its special flavor and pleasant look.

The Italian Market, Central Grocery on Decatur Street, proudly claims to be the home of “The Original Muffuletta.” The sandwich was supposedly invented in 1906, when an Italian immigrant, Signor Lupo Salvatore, owner of the Central Grocery, started making the sandwiches for the men who worked the nearby wharves and produce stalls of the French Market. I visited the beautiful store right after my beignet breakfast at Café du Monde so I decided to return on Sunday… Unfortunately Central Grocery is closed Sundays & Mondays. Really craving to sink my teeth into a Muffuletta I decided to settle for “Frank’s” restaurant next door. Their sign advertised “World Famous Original Muffuletta”, and though I have nothing to compare it with, I found it most delicious — and that comes from someone who is not much of a sandwich fan. I will try to make it, and found this recipe (which makes sense) on the “Nola Cuisine Blog. Stay tune for more!


Cuke Salad

Do you like cucumbers? I do now, but it is a taste I acquired over the years. Cukes were popular in my family only in cornichons form (tiny cukes pickled in vinegar). I don’t remember if it is my father or my grandfather who used to say “les concombres, ils me reprochent,” meaning not he didn’t digest them well, but that he would hear from them under the form of burbs for hours after ingestion, hence the “reproach” to have eaten them! So, for years I was prejudiced against cucumbers and assimilated them to reproaches & English sandwiches — and thus they had no place in my cooking repertoire! But once I was able to look beyond my Pyrenean mountains for culinary inspiration, I realized how widespread cucumbers were in many Mediterranean cuisines and how delicious they are.
This summer I am eating a lot of them as I am trying to eat “cold” foods as recommended by my good friend, poet & artist Yuko Otomo. She gave me a few ideas on how to eat them with seaweed & tofu, which I liked very much, but my favorite version is the one I am featuring today. Most of you will recognize it’s direct source. Yes, it is a sort of Tzatziki, in Greek or Cacık
in Turkish, usually served as a mezze, appetizer or used as sauce for souvlaki & gyros. In order to make it more filling for my lunch I added some brown rice and gave it a twist with the addition of a touch of mustard. Another healthy, cheap, refreshing lunch brought to you by Voilà Nicole! By the way, do not miss Trialogues (Pierre Joris, Michael Bisio & moi) this coming Monday August 23rd 8PM, part of Evolving Voices Series, at Local 269 (269 East Houston NYC).

Recipe:
Peel, cut lenghtwise, then empty out seeds of 2 organic local cucumbers (avoid the ones individually wrapped in plastic)

Options:
1-soak cukes in salted ice water for 30 minutes. drain for 15 minutes
2-In a glass bowl sprinkle them with salt (coarse salt), cover , let drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.
3-Simply use them, right off the bat, skipping either of these options — that is what I do most of the time. They are a little more watery but I read that the juices are actually very good for you.

In a bowl mix:
1/2 tbs of mustard (Grey Poupon type)
1 cup of goat milk yogurt
Mix & add:
1 grated clove of garlic
1/4 cup of finely chopped onions
1/2 cup of chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup of cooked brown rice
Mix & add:
cucumbers
salt+pepper to taste & mix well

Voilà!

Oxtail Summer Stew: must eat it with your fingers!

Image from: Dictionnaire Universel de Cuisine et d’Hygiène Alimentaire
—Joseph Favre  1894—


In the the late 19th century French nomenclature for beef cut classification
(see picture above), beef tail ranked as PREMIÈRE CATÉGORIE (first category) — for the top of the tail— &  CINQUIÈME CATÉGORIE (fifth category) for the rest of it, which makes sense as the top of the tail is meatier than the  end.  Ox tail dishes can still be found on the menu of ethnic restaurants: Cuban, Chinese, Korean, but not so often in main stream place. To buy them your best choice will be  a supermarket with  any of the ethnic presences cited above, though personally I avoid any “industrial” meat and stick with grass fed. Yes, it is more expensive, but I rather eat less & avoid the hormones, antibiotics, and lousy treatment of the animal.

oxtail"

So I was thrilled to find some beautiful grass feed oxtail cuts at the Park Slope Food Coop,  not only because I love it, but also because it is cheaper than any other cut: $4.63lb. The farm provenance: McDonald Farm in the Finger lakes Region of Upstate NY.  I knew exactly how I was going to  cook them because I surveyed the fridge before going shopping & noticed that a few veggies required immediate use.  So below is my recipe with what was left over in the fridge and would make the dish great.

oxtail"

The only imperatives are:
1- Very long slow cooking
( 6/7 hours minimum)
2- Once fully cooked let the dish rest and eat it the next day, reheated.
3- Eat the tail bones with your fingers, other wise you will be missing all the best parts!

Recipe:
for 2 with a little left over:
2
lbs 1/2 of oxtail
1 onions
3 red pepper
1 green pepper

oxtail"1 zucchini
2 celery rib
3 cloves of garlic
1 cup of small porcini mushrooms
1 ripe seeded tomato
—all of the above chopped fine—
1/2 cup of Shitake tails
1 cup of white wine
1 cup of red wine
Salt & lots of freshly ground pepper

Warm 2 tablespoon of duck fat, back fat or olive oil in a skillet; when it is hot, brown the  pieces of tails thoroughly.
Set aside, keep the fat in the pan and sauté the onions, once melted add the red & green pepper, zucchini and celery. Sauté and let sweat for a few minutes. Then add the mushrooms, let them sweat a little ,then add the tomato and the garlic. Mix well, add the tail bones, mix well again, add wine, salt & pepper ,mix. Once the liquid boils, turn it down to a low flame and let simmer for 5/6 hours or more.
You know the meat is perfect when it comes undone easily and falls off the bone. If you can let is rest over night and eat it the next day it will taste even better. Look at Pierre above licking his fingers before he said: “This is absolutely delicious, and you can quote me!”



Grand Central Station Oyster Bar

I always look forward to go eat at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station (New York City). The  food, the decor, the dishes & even the waiters make you feel it could be 100 years earlier. You can always rely on the freshness and the great variety of the oysters, but what fascinates me the most is their signature dish: the Stew / Pan-Roast. I like to sit at the counter as near as possible to the fixed steam-sleeved swivel pots. There, a dexterous cook prepares your pan roast to order. The Ur dish is the Pan Roast made with oysters — though today also made with cherry clams, scallops, shrimp & even lobster— then butter, clam juice, Heinz Chile Sauce —spicy ketchup—, toast points, Worcestershire Sauce, celery salt & heavy cream are added to the pan. The mixture is brought to a boil, swirled onto your plate and once it has been generously sprinkled with paprika it is brought to you piping hot with a few packages of crackers. The Stew Roast is pretty similar minus the point toast and the Heinz Chili Sauce and I must say I prefer that version. I haven’t made it at home yet but below you will find one published in the New York Times in 1974. It is a really very easy and quick to make once you have the ingredients.  Anyhow as I said before a premium destination for Pierre and I and when we went last week I recorded our impressions:
Listen to our  live impressions at the Oyster Bar
!

1 August 1974, New York Times, pg. 32:
OYSTER PAN ROAST
8 freshly opened oysters
1 pat of butter
1 tablespoon chili sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
A few drops of lemon juice
1/4 cup oyster liquor
Celery salt, a dash
Paprika
4 ounces cream
1 piece of dry toast (if desired)

Place all but the cream in a deep pan and cook briskly for a minute, stirring constantly. Add cream. When it comes to boil, pour over toast in a soup plate and serve

ps: Before or after the Oyster Bar do not miss the “whispering gallery”.