Colette’s Summer Cocktail

I don’t know if Colette is still widely read in French schools or if the recent movies renewed interest in her novels in the English speaking world. She is one of those writers that people have heard about and think they should have read but when asked which books are never quite sure. Chances are that more Anglophones have seen Gigi the movie based on one of her books than actually cracked open the book itself. I say that not as a criticism as I have never turned a page of any of her 30-odd novels. I knew of her only from other books I had read about Paris during the first half of the 20th century. I’ve read pocket biographies that hailed her as a great writer and critiques that branded her immoral and degenerate. Those contrasting epithets have been voiced about her as a writer and a person since she first appeared on the literary scene in 1900.

Her first four novels were published under her husband’s nom-de-plume, Willy,and when they divorced she discovered that he held the sole rights to the considerable royalties. It was the last time she was to give any man that sort of control over her or her work. She was to marry two more times, have numerous affairs, one with her step-son, several women and a transgender artist. She was to appear on the stage, write novels, memories, newspaper articles, and essays. It was said that she only wrote about what she knew and many of her works are autobiographical and with a bold feminism that grew out of her own experiences. When she died in 1954 Colette was the first Frenchwoman ever given a State funeral. She had been refused burial by the Catholic church so the ceremonies were held in the Court of Honour of the Palais-Royal (just beneath the window of the apartment she had lived in for years).

A left click will take you to Yannis’s recipe for Colette’s Vin d’orange.

So why this sudden interest in a dead French author and what does it have to do with a summer cocktail? Well according to my dear friend and master chef Yannis she had a favourite summer drink that he featured on his website Bearfoot in the Park.

I tried it when he first published the recipe for Colette’s Vin d’orange in April and served it as an aperitif last Sunday at our iftar dinner* – it takes four weeks but as Yannis says other than patience requires little effort. It was a success – we served it with Prosseco though sparkling water would be a good mix also. A left click on the picture of the doubled batch jars (above) that I put in the pantry today will take you to the recipe.

A few things to note:
Yes the measure amount for the brandy is correct – many chefs are now given things by weight as there is difference between cup sizes and other types of cooking measurements depending on the country you live in.

We found the amount of sugar a bit too sweet for our tastes and are cutting back on this next batch to see. It may well depend on the sweetness of the oranges.

And yes that second jar in the picture contains lemons. My friend Jim has a batch in the works and wondered how it would work with lemon and brewed lavender or lime and Thai basil. I didn’t have any brewed lavender but thought I’d give the lemon a try. I reduced the number of lemons. I’ll let you know how it turned out.

*The more observant – in more ways than one – may question alcohol at an Iftar but we remember Ramadan from our days in Egypt of the late 1980s.

The word for May 7th is:
Sole /sōl/: [1. noun 2. verb 3. noun 4. adjective]
1.1 The undersurface of a person’s foot.
1.2 The section forming the underside of a piece of footwear (typically excluding the heel.
1.3 The undersurface of a tool or implement such as a plane or the head of a golf club.
2. Put a new undersurface on to a shoe.
Middle English: from Old French, from Latin solea ‘sandal, sill’, from solum ‘bottom, pavement, sole’.
3. A marine flatfish of almost worldwide distribution, important as a food fish.
Middle English: from Old French, from Provençal sola, from Latin solea, named from its shape.
4. Belonging or restricted to one person or group of people.
Late Middle English (also in the senses ‘secluded’ and ‘unrivaled’): from Old French soule, from Latin sola, feminine of solus ‘alone’.
Ain’t English a wonder?

Mac and Cheese

How I envied some of the kids in my neighbourhood as I was growing up! Their mothers prepared Macaroni and Cheese for dinner while mine turned her nose up at even the mention of it. “It’s what poor people eat” she would huff with that well known purse of the lips; though exactly what socio-economic group she thought we shoe-horned into I’m not really sure. So an invitation to join the Arsenaults across the road for mac and cheese was a special treat. And yes it was probably Kraft but to my mind it was exotic, I knew I wouldn’t get it at home, and it was a chance to enjoy what “poor people” ate.

Fast forward to our first house – a townhouse in darkest recesses of suburban Hunt Club. I had a Simac electric pasta maker — you put the flour, water and sometimes eggs into the bowl, it mixed and kneaded it, you opened the trap door to extrude the pasta through brass dies in the shape chosen and you cut it off at the length preferred. It was easy and quick, if a bit noisy. One of the more nosy kids in the neighbourhood, probably spurred on by an equally nosy mother, asked me what that noise was coming through our kitchen window. I said I was making my own macaroni – the eyes went wide. Wow that was pretty cool. So to ingratiate myself with the community I offered all the kids and non-working mothers in our walkway the chance to make their own.

One August lunch time mothers and kids gathered on our deck and we made macaroni. The kids had fun taking turns cutting the lengths and waited patiently as I turned their work into mac and cheese. When it was served with homemade lemonade there was a silence. Bites were taken, tastes were tried but noses were turned up! Something wasn’t right. Most of it was left unfinished! What was wrong – I had used homemade pasta, cream, and good quality aged cheddar. Then I realized it wasn’t Kraft dinner! First, it was the wrong colour – mac and cheese should be sort of a day-glo orangey-yellow. Second, it didn’t taste of whatever chemicals Mr Kraft puts into his processed cheese food powder. It just wasn’t Mac and Cheese the way mother made! I learned my lesson – no more pearls before swine! Little did those ungrateful piglets know that they were turning down a dish that later in life that trendy restaurants would be billing them $18-30 dollars for. Mac and Cheese is no longer for the “poor”.

I’m not sure when it all began but there are few places now that don’t offer Mac and Cheese as the ultimate comfort food. And often at an uncomfortable price. Of course it is no longer just pasta, milk and cheese – it’s now “gourmet” mac and cheese with all manner of fancy additions. I hear that there is now a “Hawaiian” mac and cheese with ham and pineapple. To that I say “NO! Just NO!” – pineapple does not belong on pizza or in mac and cheese. No discussion! The favourite here is Lobster Mac and Cheese with Mixed Seafood a close second. However last night we only had a bag of precooked shrimp on hand so …. Shrimp Mac and Cheese it was.

Two of the small Shrimp Mac and Cheese casseroles set aside for another day. A left click on the photo will take you to Chef Michael Smith’s recipe – a real winner in my opinion.

My friend Nora, no not that Nora the other Nora, mentioned she had used Michael Smith’s recipe for Lobster Mac and Cheese last week and substituted shrimp with success. Now Michael Smith is a force to be reckoned with here on the Island and Nora knows her food so …… A left click on the photo above will take you to the recipe.

And we have a winner! I’ve found my go-to recipe for Mac and Cheese. Creamy and cheesy but with a nice bite to it and it perfectly complimented the shrimp without overpowering it. Smith says it serves 6 but as we were only two I halved the recipe. Those six servings must be very large as even making the adjustments I ended with enough, to my mind at least, to feed six.

I just remembered that we have some frozen cooked lobster in the freezer so next week I’ll try the original. I have a feeling it will be just as delicious.

The word for July 31st is:
Macaroni /ˌmakəˈrōnē/: [noun]
1.1 A variety of pasta formed in narrow tubes often bent into elbows in North America.
1.2 An 18th-century British dandy affecting Continental fashions.
Late 17th century: from Italian maccaroni (now usually spelled maccheroni ), plural of maccarone, from late Greek makaria ‘food made from barley’.
Because it was an exotic dish in England in the 1700s when certain young men who had travelled the continent were affecting French and Italian fashions and accents it became a mocking term for these young blades amongst the older generation – sort of like millennial today?

Syllabub

Antique syllabub glasses – very like parfait or soda glasses – they were also used for jellies.

Some by the banks of Thames their pleasure taking,
Some sillibubs amongst the milkmaids making,
With music some upon the waters rowing,
Some to the next adjoining hamlets going:
And Hogsdone, Islington, and Thothnam Court
For cakes and cream, had there no small resort.

Britannia’s Remembrances – George Wither – 1628

Sillibub, Syllibub, Sullybub, Syllabub – choose your spelling but to me it always says “light, frothy, delicious, boozy goodness”. I honestly can’t recall when I first heard of this very old concoction – the earliest mention of it is by Thomas Heywood in 1537 and no I wasn’t around for that – but it is one that I’ve made frequently in the past. It has less than a handful of ingredients, can be made in minutes and ahead of time, is adaptable, and looks and tastes festive.

Syllabub and its warmer cousin Posset were a fine way of using up milk before it soured and to stretch the wine at hand. Sack, the name given to any wine from a Spanish source, was a sweet fortified wine that was the libation of choice for Posset while it is thought that sweet fortified “Sille” wine from the Champagne region of France was the beverage that curdled the milk in a Syllabub. Many recipes mixed wine with sack or even brandy – what ever drink was readily to hand.

“Syllabub straight from the cow” – The Russel and Rivett Families in a Landscape
Charles Phillips (1708-1747)
Photo: The Chequers Trust

As can be gathered from Wither’s description of leisure pastimes often a syllabub was made on the spot direct from the spout, as it were, of one of the cows tended by the milkmaids who peddled their wares in the streets of London. As strange as it may sound to us, women would bring their cows in from the country and provide milk to London households on the spot. The first recipes for syllabub call for warm milk “direct from the cow” with the pot held high over the goblet as it spurted into the wine. Initially cinnamon and nutmeg would be added to the pot to flavour the curdled milk and if a dry wine was used a portion of sugar would sweeten the mixture. Lemon juice was often added to aid the curdling. It was something to be drunk on the spot as a thirst quencher and a holiday treat.

Dr Hales’ invention rid milk of the taint of the wild garlic or turnips that cows had been fed. It was also good for whipping up syllabubs. A bellows would be inserted into the tube at top.

In 1747 Hannah Glasse included a recipe for “every lasting syllabub” in her The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Simple which including whipping the mixture with a birch whisk for “30 minutes”. The result was poured into special glasses (see photo at the top of the page) and allowed to separate. Less liquid than their predecessor they could be made ahead and enjoyed as a dessert or an afternoon treat. According to her recipe it “it will keep good nine or ten days, and is beßt three or four days old.” Syllabub became extremely popular in Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian England and several time saving kitchen “machines” were invented to aid in frothing and whipping the milk. A Dr Stephen Hales had invented an apparatus for blowing air into milk “thereby to cure the ill Taƒte which is occaƒioned by ƒome Kinds of Food of Cows” which was reputedly used at Kensington Palace to froth the milk for the Royal syllabub.

It seems to have fell out of favour after the First World War but was reintroduced in the 1950s as an elegant, light and easy to prepare end to a dinner party.

A satirical print on the army of the day recruiting candy, jellies and syllabubs and standing guard over a fashionable sweet shop.
James Gillray – 1797 – ©British Museum with permission.

There are as many versions of syllabub as there are cooks in the universe but here is a pretty basic recipe.

Syllubub – a simple recipe serving 8

3/4 cup baker’s or super fine sugar
2/3 cups dry white wine*
1/2 cup lemon juice**
1/3 cup Dry Sack or Sherry*
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
2 cups chilled whipping cream

In a medium bowl whisk sugar, wine, lemon juice, sack and lemon peel until sugar has dissolved. In a separate bowl beat whipping cream until it forms stiff peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the wine mixture. Divide the mixture between eight parfait or wine glasses. Cover and refrigerate overnight – during this time the mixture will separate. It can be garnished with lemon peel, berries, a slice of fruit or a sprig of mint.

*Other spirits may be used – dessert wines, Rieslings, liqueurs – an occasional favourite at our house was amaretto with slivered almonds scattered over as a garnish. Stay away from hard liquors such as vodka, gin or rum as they will give it a harsh taste.
**Some people prefer to use orange or a mixture of orange and lemon – Hannah Glasse used the juice of two Seville oranges and the zest of three lemons! The lemons can be omitted if something like amaretto or sweet liqueur is being used.

Now damsel young, that dwells in Cheap,
For very joy begins to leap;
Her elbow small she oft did rub,
Tickled with hope of syllabub.

The Long Vacation in London – Sir William D’Avenant – circa 1630

The word for June 26th is:
Milk /mɪlk/: [1. mass noun 2. verb]
1.1 An opaque white fluid rich in fat and protein, secreted by female mammals for the nourishment of their young.
1.2 The white juice of certain plants.
1.3 A creamy-textured liquid with a specific use or ingredient.
2.1 Draw the milk from a mammal for consumption.
2.2 Extract sap, venom or other substance from something.
2.3 Exploit or defraud over a long period of time.
2.4 Get all possible advantage from a situation.
2.5 Elicit and prolong a reaction from an audience.
And I’m still trying to figure out how you “milk” an almond????


One Ugly Looking Pie

Both Laurent and I have become addicted to fans of various online cooking sites and find ourselves making some interesting – yes that’s the word interesting – dishes. Some are keepers others weepers!

My attempt at a rhubarb butter tart pie – it won’t win any prizes for looks but taste!!!!!! A winner all the way.

One of the sites I visit fairly regularly is Glen & Friends Cooking which has been on LeGourmetTV for what I assume is a long time. I’ve tried a few of his recipes including a very intriguing Peanut Butter Bread; and I’ve found some winners including this really ugly looking pie.

Unfortunately my pastry was not my best effort – I overworked it and I never find that blind baking works out for me. However that filling more than made up for it. Glen warned us from the outset that it wasn’t going to win any prizes as best looking but that the combination of sour-sweet would be a winner. The only weeping that will be done around here is when it’s all gone.

The word for June 7th is:
Rhubarb /ˈruːbɑːb/: [mass noun]
1. The thick reddish or green leaf stalks of a cultivated plant of the dock family, which are eaten as a fruit after cooking.
2. The large-leaved Eurasian plant Rheum rhabarbarum which produces edible stocks. Originally used for medicinal purposes.
3. The noise made by a group of actors to give the impression of indistinct background conversation, especially by the random repetition of the word ‘rhubarb’.
Late Middle English (denoting the rootstock used medicinally): from Old French reubarbe, from a shortening of medieval Latin rheubarbarum, from Greek rha (also meaning ‘rhubarb’) + barbaros ‘foreign’.

Pâté for Children

Le beurre d’arachide est pâté pour les enfants!
(Peanut butter is pâté for children!)

Brigitte Bardot
A six-year-old Brigitte Bardot but I don’t think that’s the Kraft Peanut Butter Bear.
Uncredited – Elle Magazine

I have seen this sentiment attributed to a few people. However I like to think that as she lolled on the beach in Cannes Brigitte absently sucked on her thumb and forefinger entwined in a wild lock of blond hair and thought wistfully of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

In previous posts I have given laud and glory to the pleasures to be had from the simple turning of the seeds of Arachis hypogaea into a creamy or crunchy goodness that someone once likened unto being kissed by a goddess (the divine Mme Bardot?) under a rainbow. Until I did a bit of Googling I did not know that it was Marcellus Gilmore Edson, a Montréal chemist, who in 1884 patented a process of making a paste the “consistency like that of butter, lard, or ointment” from peanuts. Edson developed the idea of peanut paste as a delicious and nutritious foodstuff for people who had difficulty chewing solid food – an not uncommon complaint in those days. It went on to become a breakfast spread on toast with jam, a lunchtime standby, as a peanut sauce in Pseudo-Asian cooking*, a cookie favourite, a candy filling, and a bread.

The flower of the Ground nut – after it has been pollinated the petals fall off and the ovary or peg turns away from the plant and down into the soil. The embryo turns horizontal and forms into a peanut pod. Planting to harvest takes about four-five months.

Yes I did say “bread” in the previous paragraph. It seems bread making has become the work for idle hands these days. Always on the cutting edge I began making bread at the first sign of winter snow so the smell of a yeasty kitchen has been pretty standard around here at least once a week long before lock-down. Today I thought I’d take a break from my go-to white toast bread and try something that wasn’t quite as kneady and didn’t required three risings.

Here’s the result – Depression era peanut butter bread.

It is delicious – at least to me a peanut butter lover – and it matches perfectly with jam. And the aroma of it cooking filled the kitchen with a rich peanut butter smell sort of like when you open that first Reese’s.

It’s a recipe from a depression era cookbook published by Lake of the Woods Milling, a Canadian company that’s been around since 1888 and produces Five Roses Flour. They began publishing cookbooks in 1913 and it was updated at regular intervals, in both French and English, right up to the beginning of this century. Reading through them it would be possible to trace the baking trends in both English and French households (they were not always the same). This particular recipe from the 1932 edition doesn’t appear in a later English edition but does appear in a French version from roughly the same period.

“A Guide to Good Cooking” is entirely made and printed in Canada – by Canadian paper-makers and printers. Canadian housewives can also help their country by insisting on Canadian-made goods and Canadian-grown foodstuffs.
Written in 1932 but highly applicable today.
Photo by Caribou Collectibles

Being a recipe from the depression it contains very few ingredients and none that couldn’t be found in a ordinary pantry or that would have been costly. There are no eggs, butter or shortening which would have been expensive at the time. It takes 5 minutes to put together, 1 hour to cook, and a leisurely morning with coffee to enjoy.

Peanut Butter Bread

Preheat oven to 325º F
Lightly grease a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup peanut butter

Mix together dry ingredients (I use my mother’s old tin sifter).
Mix in the milk and then the peanut butter.
Scrap into the greased loaf pan.
Bake for 1 hour.
Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes than turn out onto a wire rack to cool further.

The next time I make it – and I will make it again – I may just add a few extra tablespoons of peanut butter. Keep in mind that the type of peanut butter you use will change the flavour. Unfortunately products such as Kraft have more sugar and corn syrup now than it did when this recipe was first published. I used Kirkland Smooth which is almost 100% peanuts but it would be interesting to try with crunchy. And I’m thinking this would make good French Toast.

*No respectable cook in Asia would use peanut butter in their sauce. Peanuts are ground by hand and then cooked with other ingredients to create the sauces for satay and other dishes.

The word for May 26th is:
Bread /bred/ /brɛd/: [1. noun 2. Intransitive verb]
1.1 Food made of a flour, water, and yeast or another leavening agent, mixed together and baked.
1.2 The bread or wafer used in the Eucharist.
1.3 The food that is required for daily life.
1.4 Money – informal use
2. To coat food in a crumbs before cooking
Middle English brēad, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch brood and German Brot.
Before the Norman Invasion the universal word for bread was hlaf, like our modern “loaf.” It is strange that Frenchified Middle English adapted a German word that originally meant morsel or a piece.