I'm only about a third of the way through Elizabeth Bard's LUNCH IN PARIS: A LOVE STORY, WITH RECIPES, but I'm already hooked.  I'm such a Francophile, even when it's of the rose-colored glasses, in-the-middle-of-a-love-affair sort of variety.  Bard has an approachable way of writing that makes me want to hang out with her.  And, luckily, the food writing is unpretentious and entertaining.

I was sitting at Guy and Gallard this morning, reading this book.  For those of you who don't know, Guy and Gallard is a small-ish chain here in NYC.  They definitely aren't the best quality, but the coffee isn't all that bad and I just can't resist the darling way they wrap my muffin in this parchment/tissue-type paper that crinkles.  Having the joy of unwrapping my lemon poppyseed muffin makes the muffin itself just a little more palatable.

It was while going through all this that I read this passage:

Where croissants are concerned, I've found two principal schools of thought.  Some prefer a brioche-like model, with a golden hue, a little spring, and an eggy chew.  Not I.  I like a flake, a croissant with an outer layer so fine and brittle that you get crumbs all over yourself from the very first bite. When you pull it apart there should be some empty space, pockets of air between the buttery layers of dough.  When you finally do rip off a hunk to dip in your coffee, it stretches a little before it breaks.  More crumbs, but utterly, completely worth the mess.

And then I giggled as it was followed by this passage:

My first trips to the boulangerie are not all ogling.  I have to keep my head about me as I place my order.  First there is the gender issue; every French noun is assigned a sex, masculine or feminine.  Personally, I think my croissant is a woman, as tender and fragile as a Brontë heroine.  But apparently, the Académie Française, the guys who make the dictionary, have decided that "croissant" is masculine, un croissant.  I have been outvoted.

The good news is that I just adored these passages.  The croissant just become a tangible thing for which I longed, and I loved the simile of a croissant being as feminine as a Brontë heroine.  Lastly, the idea of a flaky croissant being worth the mess is some sort of metaphor for life, peut-être?

The bad news?

All this talk about airy croissants put me off my leaden, dry lemon poppyseed muffin completely.

Eat, drink, and c'est la vie.


Meeting Gabrielle Hamilton

I shouldn't be allowed to meet anyone remotely well-known (or well-known to me, anyway).  I just shouldn't.  I get all flustered and dissolve into verbal diarrhea and spend the two weeks post-meeting dissecting every stupid, incoherent thing I said.  It happened when I met Eric Rohmann, Kenny Loggins, Armistead Maupin...and the list goes on.  That said, there are a number of times when I kept my cool.  For example, it didn't happen when I met Mireille Guiliano because I didn't speak a single word to her in an attempt to break my streak (to which Adam later said to me, "Why didn't you say anything?!  You seemed crazy!").  And it didn't happen when I met a very famous children's author/illustrator, but that's mostly thanks to him - he is one of the most disarming, down-to-earth, and kind authors I've met to date; it was impossible for me to screw it up.  But, mostly, I suck at meeting authors and other awesome people.

Meeting Gabrielle Hamilton was no exception.  Gabrielle Hamilton is a renowned chef (of Prune fame) and author of BLOOD, BONES, AND BUTTER (which I posted about here), and I had the good fortune to hear her speak recently at Little Red Schoolhouse/Elisabeth Irwin H.S. here in NYC (thanks to Jen for hooking me up with a ticket!).

Gabrielle Hamilton was lovely to listen to.  She was charming and gorgeous, and she read from her own work really well.  If all the dog-ears on my book's pages are any indication, Ms. Hamilton could have chosen any number of sections to read from and I would have been happy!  She read from the seventh chapter where she is accepted to University of Michigan's master's program for fiction writing.  The whole room laughed along with her, as we have all had that experience where we have chased dreams...only to realize that, once achieved, the dream isn't all it's cracked up to be.

For the book signing afterward, Ms. Hamilton was sitting next to Roseanne Cash, who read from her book COMPOSED: A MEMOIR during the evening.  What do I immediately say to Gabrielle Hamilton?  "I love the book so much.  I blogged it and I compared you to MFK Fisher.  It's that good."  And if you're thinking that all this came out in a mad torrent of jumbled words, then you're right. To which Ms. Hamilton archly raised an eyebrow and said, "MFK Fisher?  Really?"  This might have been that moment:

And this is the moment when I should have walked away, having already done some damage.  But, no.  I kept going...

So Roseanne Cash heard me babbling and interjected, "I love MFK Fisher!"  To which I replied by holding up BLOOD, BONES, AND BUTTER and saying, "But have you read this?!"  Roseanne Cash said that she had not read it yet.  I answered, "Well, you should!"  This is the moment when I'm saying that to her (Roseanne Cash is the redhead):

Good god.

And to complete the night, this is how Gabrielle Hamilton signed my dog-eared galley of her book:

I'm so happy to have had a moment with Gabrielle Hamilton, as I really was rocked by BLOOD, BONES, AND BUTTER.  I'm just not so sure this is the moment I had envisioned.  To her credit, Ms. Hamilton handled herself with endless grace and poise, even when presented with a ridiculous fan girl.

Eat, drink, and grab the words before they fall out of my mouth!


Pear Pork (and my 700th post!)

I haven't given proper attention to what has recently become one of my absolute favorite cookbooks: FRENCH FOOD AT HOME by Laura Calder.  I have tried twelve recipes so far and every one of them - I do not exaggerate - has been a smashing success.  Truly.  And shockingly simple to make.

Last night, I tried the Pear Pork for the first time.  It didn't sound difficult to make, and I'm just in love with all things pear-related right now, especially when they're paired with bacon, as in this recipe.  I just adore sweet and salty pairings, don't you?

As usual, I changed a few things about the recipe that appears in the cookbook.  The original recipe calls for 2 pork tenderloins, 3/4 lb each, but I substituted boneless pork chops, cut about 1/2-inch thick.  That cut the oven time by about 10 minutes (bonus!).  Calder says to use "white wine or apple juice"...but I happened to have some apple cider and decided to give that a go; to be frank, I don't know that I would have noticed the difference between any of the three options.  Use whatever you have handy.  Lastly, I love garlic.  So I amped it up to 5 cloves of garlic over the called-for 4 cloves.

Why do I tell you all this?  Because I just want to illustrate that it really can be quite easy to change around most recipes to suit your own tastes and preferences.  Laura Calder gave me the recipe created for her own tastes, I changed it to suit me, and I certainly expect that, should you try this, you'll change it up too.   Which is, among many reasons, why I love and adore cooking: the choices and opportunities for creativity are endless.

But enough of my babbling.  Let's get on with the recipe, shall we?

Inspired by Laura Calder's FRENCH FOOD AT HOME
Serves 3-4

4 boneless pork chops, each 1/2-inch thick
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound bacon, chopped
2 large pears, firm and ripe, of any variety, halved, cored, and thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 branches rosemary, finely chopped
1/4 cup white wine, apple juice, or apple cider
1/4 cup low-sodium beef stock

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Season pork with salt and pepper; set aside.

2. Preheat a skillet until very hot.  Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and fry the bacon until browned, about 3 minutes.  Remove, leaving the fat behind, and toss together with the pears, garlic, ginger, rosemary, and another tablespoon of oil in a baking dish.  Add the remaining oil to the skillet, if needed (note: I didn't need the extra oil - the bacon I used left behind quite a bit of fat).  When sizzling, brown the pork well on both sides, about 3 minutes each side.  Remove and nestle in the baking dish.

3. Deglaze the skillet with the wine (careful, it spatters!), scraping up the good bits on the bottom, and boil until only about 1 tablespoon remains.  Add the stock and boil to reduce to 3-4 tablespoons.  Pour over the meat in the baking dish.  Transfer to the oven and roast until the pears and garlic are soft and the meat cooked through, about 20 minutes.

A NOTE ON KID-FRIENDLINESS: This one wasn't too successful.  I tried scooping just the cooked pears and bacon onto Bug's plate.  Added some apple slices.  I also served sliced bread with honey butter, and Bug had two slices of that.  But she somehow managed to pick out all the bacon pieces, eating only one bite of the pear, declaring she didn't like cooked pears.  Le sigh.  So my kid had buttered bread, apples, and bacon pieces for dinner.  But...still...fruit, starch, protein in one meal?  Success!

NOTE ABOUT THE SIDE: I served this with endives that I sliced, sauteed with butter, then tossed with some honey and walnuts.  Add a little salt and pepper - done.  It worked...okay.  Adam liked it much better than I did.

This was a great weeknight option.  Other than the very short stove-cooking time, everything got put into the oven.  Which meant I had 20 free minutes to enjoy a glass of wine (Beaujolais) and help Bug with homework.  With Christmas carols playing in the background.  A great night.

Eat, drink, and give FRENCH FOOD AT HOME a try.