Celebrity Poker Showdown: Antoine Saint-Exupéry, Nicolas Sarkozy, Christophe Colombus, Samuel Beckett, and little miss Martha Stewart. Je me couche (I sleep), is how they play--folding with every non-advantageous hand---that is at least until a couple of drinks have been poured. The French play it safe, nous sommes serieux ici! cry the Las Vegas professionals as they sip pastis instead of Budweiser, snack on chévre and truffles instead of chips and pretzels, and kiss their lucky football (soccer) jerseys for luck: it's the southern Marseilles boys here versus the PSG groupies. As tough as they think they are playing an American game with five euro high stakes, playing poker with the French is, well, French. All the more to love. I am the the sole jouer who plays the bluff. Though caution is to a degree an excellent virtue in life to attend to, it is a plague in the poker game of the French, causing the smoky Sunday afternoon matches to endure indefinitely, scratching away at the evening hours until fatigue spurs on the impulse to "all in" on a 3 and a 6 off-suit. je me couche, je me couche already!
The eyebrows have, and will continue to be raised. I am not daunted by those that are raised on your own face, as akin to yours mine are as well piked. Sunday poker group? Yes, images can come to mind, perhaps mafia images with guns and prostitutes, or retired businessmen in velvet robes smoking cigars and sipping brandy, me; I think of Ricky, Ethel, Lucy, and Fred. I suppose I have some splaining to do.
I am not a poker addict, not in the least, but my friends are. And as they play poker every week, so be it--I play poker every week at Sarkozy's apartment just outside Paris to the northeast. Beautiful view of La Defense, I must say is the 7th floor. Yes it may be a boys game, ladies are in the minority, (count em: one) but I do it for the company, the conversation (no English, which is after all my reason for living in Paris) and of course, above all else, it's a reason to COOK! (Ma raison d'etre). It is an all-French evening, that is except for the American (me) and the music which has lately turned South to America, Portuguese flavor that is, thanks to Exupéry and moi as the unrelenting DJ duo. They smoke and drink an awful too much. Saint-Exupéry how many have you rolled now? You are going to make yourself ill. Oy, as my lungs are being indirectly blackened, there is a want for food, and this crowd being chefs, waiters, and restaurateurs (you see the sort I hang out with) it can not just be a bag of sheeps (chips). What to bake for a French poker game. What. Recalling the season finale challenge on Top Chef Season II--catering the poker match--one recalls that utensils are out, anything viscous is out (Beckett spills something every week without fail) and anything too sweet is out. As I am a snob, anything packaged is out as well. What is in then? Hmmmm Columbus has a fondness for his memories of his school exchange in Quebec. My family is French Canadian. The only real French Canadian recipe we claim is meat pie. Albeit Montreal mini pork pies it is then. Shuffle up and deal.
Montréal Meat Pie.
I've personally attempted this recipe at least twice on my own, both times while either on the phone or email with my aunt who owns the family recipe. This time--yes, I could send an email, but baking something twice, it sticks in your head. As such, a general idea is all thats needed to produce a shadow recipe, and as a shadow, therefore, it is not a blasphemy to personalize the recipe, just a bit. Shopping for specific ingredients: my favorite activity in Paris. Pre-made pie crust, easy, carrefour. Onions, garlic, spices, also easy, carrefour. Ground pork--damn you carrefour. Dear Salty Cod reader, I will now tell you of the story of the mademoiselle living in Paris for a near 7 months, who claiming to be a food connoisseur, had yet to purchase meat at a boucherie. What can I say, for there is nothing to be said. Not finding ground pork at the supermarkets (does it exist in France?) the fork was to either put the groceries back on the shelf and buy a pineapple as comfort food for defeat, or go to the butcher. What is there to be afraid of at a boucherie? Nothing. Exactly. I go. No pineapple.
Arrondissements in Paris are designed so technically one would never have to leave le sien (one's own). Little supermarkets, the post, the bank, the cheese shop, the wine shop, the meat shop, the flower shop, the foisgras shop; everything in walking distance from the back door. Mine, 16e Auteuil, is just that, the perfect upscale, quiet, and charming retiree-white-dog-owning community of that classic old Paris-snob stereotype. I will show you around personally when we are next in Paris together. On y va au Boucherie D'Auteuil--my virgin meat shop.
I am always nervous opening my mouth in the non-tourist areas, I am not ashamed at being a foreigner, but in Paris there is always that fear that they might not be happy that you are a foreigner. I am not sure where that irrational fear came from. But I get over it after the first 10 seconds. (Though buying a knee-brace for running at a pharmacie let me tell you...quel nightmare. I can speak French, but I do not know ev-er-y word in the damn language.)
Mademoiselle, je vous ecoute. Erm, oui, je cherche porc haché (where did that word come from! score one for my French!) Porc haché? Uh, (ok maybe that wasn't right afterall) oui, pork, comme hamburger, c'est... Oh non non je comprends. Vous voulez combien de kilos? Kilos? erm, (I am still an idiot with metric, how much is a kilo?) uh, comme-ci (make gestures with hands to show amount) je ferai un tarte, donc... d'accord. He measures and grinds it, Ca va? Comme-ci? Parfait! Mais, actuellement, un peu plus (and I pronounced the s, bravo me!) Plus? d'accord. He hacks off another chunk and grinds it. Merci! I pay the other man, and leave. Au revoir! Au revoir! he yells a couple times as I leave. Oh! Au revoir! He was cute, the butcher that is.
It is evident that the Salty Cod is not Kosher friendly, as there seems to be exuberant mentioning of pork, pig, ham, etc. I apologize to the readers of the Jewish faith. The boucherie experience placed me in an awfully good mood (now you know how to make me happy) racing home (not exactly, I have long legs so my walk just happens to be fast) I decided to cook the meat that night and construct the pies the following day, as they are better that way. But store in air tight container. Use packaging tape if necessary. This is where I would cough if we were sharing this story orally. Cook the pork, add spices and yadda yadda, there are Canadian meat pie recipes allover the internet. I added my secret ingredient--anise seeds. Anise is my Salty Cod signature épice. No baked good is complete without either anise or cloves. *note, don't over stuff the pies, they will burst at the seams. Also--for small pies one needs a lot less meat than would be needed for a big pie. As such there will be a larger amount left over than is actually in the pies. Freeze it. That is an order.
As slices from a large pie must be eaten with a fork, the traditional family method had to be vetoed and replaced by little pies akin to a pot-pocket, or individual mince meat pie. For one reason or another the word papillote repetitiously stirs in my thoughts, though it mean paper, or tinfoil, like a curler frill, something is pushing me to call them papillotes. Circles or squares both suffice, the use of a beer glass to roll the dough and cut pastry circles was my "learn to adapt" method. Again, microwave-size oven, only 4 may cook at a time. The result: small savory buttery pies that are easy to handle and eat.
These pies prompt me to memories of my family. Poker as well. Lucy attempts to join the "boys night" as always to Ricky's dismay, by getting in on the poker game (well wait, what was Ethel doing there then?) I've seen every Lucy episode. I love that Cuban. Yes, it was me who filled the tivo box last summer with Lucy recordings. My mum is the only one who will watch them with me. Here's to yee, and to the episode in the hotel next to the train tracks that made the beds fly accross the room. Here's to run-on sentences. And here's to me' dad, with whom my evenings in front of the tv watching Celebrity Poker Showdown instilled in me the only poker training and skills I have to this date. That episode with the cast from West Wing was quite a thriller. Here's to Texas Hold Em' and my French poker pals, as I did in fact win 10euros last week. Here's to Montréal Meat Pies, my friends, and here's to you, for as always I wish you could be here with me to have a taste.