cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Turtle Biscuits - A little lime, a little Love

Welcome to the Turtle Shop Birthday, ça veut dire one thing: what cake shall i bake. But not this time, this time I must abide by that scandalous yet evidently pertinent beast of a rule: cater to the crowd.

The big 0 - 6, the cake is already planned and in production, so what then, no cake--no cake for mallory to bake. Flo, the little darling of finess, the firecracker in pink shoes and round purple specs who fills my wednesdays and fridays with coloring books, park games, and singing lessons, is turning 6 and therefore something must be made. For this baker/chef/caterer wanna-be always makes known your importance in her world with flour, sugar, and an egg. Yeah that's right grandma, back off.

For this joyous fête of fêtes, a 3 hour long scherade of around 15 bubbling bouncing 6 year old FRENCH children jacked to the glucose saturation point on candies, cakes, and sweets of every make, another sticky goodness must be added, naturally. Finding a treat for a child is not a difficult task as some may think, but if a cookie must be made, it cannot be just any cookie, oh no it can not.

Carolyn Dodo, la pauvre. Flo's gallantly patient (do turtles have a choice?) pet turtle whose popularity is strewn in motif-decor throughout the appartment. Effigies of glass, chrystal, wood, clay, fabric and tin from every corner of the globe fill the cubbords, bookshelves, tables, and walls. Plain said, the girl loves turtles. A turtle cookie it is then. Step one: find a cookie cutter (noble quest!) Step two: head to the factory production line, we are manufacturing turtles.

What type of cookie is best for a turtle; green, yes, perhaps lime then. A summer working at an ice cream shop taught me that no matter how brilliant and decadent the choices, the vast majority of children will still choose the lemon sorbet or the vanilla icecream. Vanilla then perhaps as well, the magical parfume that agrees well with every fruit nut and sweet sensation imaginable. The terrible, yet wonderous truth with children is that taste matters little for them, the sex appeal is in the wrapping. While they will not eat something that tastes like a shoe, they prefer the simple gouts; a noodle with butter, no spice but some salt, apples and bananas, vanilla and lemons. For the vast majority of children, if it looks good, perhaps has a little rabbit as a mascot, is pink, and maybe glitters, then they will eat it.

The moral here to be made is that the simpler is always the better when it comes to childrens palats. Remember that these are the little humans that find pleasure in meat and fish formed into "nuggets" and that putrid condiment from hell...ketchup. For the wee Americans, a day without peanut butter and jelly is unthinkable (my american darlings C&R i mean you), and for children the world around, no matter how unpleasant the taste, a gummy bonbon in any color shape or form is always number one. But do not despair my little friends, you'll grow out of it. Why, just ask my mum and you will hear that I too went through a stage of a days diet consisting singularly of koolaid. C'est vrai.

Turtle sugar cookies, sablés to the French, simple white dough to allow for the most important part, the icing. Flour, vanilla, butter, sugar, an egg, a bit of lime, c'est tout. Be warned though when creating an arsenal of cutout cookies--it is very time consuming.

75 cookies, turtles and hearts, mais attendez--qu'est ce que c'est? What's that little poulet doing swimming with the turtles? I think he is lost; was looking for the cabbage patch and ended up in the turtle pond. Silly poulet, I'll help him out.

Cutout cookies are perfect for personalization at an event with a big crowd. M, Flo's mother, and I, the only two adults trapped in the appartment with 15 darling little 6 year old demons were surprisingly enough to maintain a basal level of order and peace. Lock and Load. I know these kids, I know their playground clicks and games, and I know their soft spots, but then again, they know mine. We'll see how many times i can twirl you, but wiat stop jumping on the couch!

M prepared two flourless chocolqte tortes, chouette! A gesture that made me feel almost part of the family, either that or a stroke of luck for this cake deprived child (me). Along with the cake and cookies was more sugar, juice, and waffles. The French ever so much love their waffles, a common snack treat wheather packaged or homemade.

Recette: 300g flour ~ 120 g powdered sugar ~ 125g butter ~ 1 egg ~ vanilla & lime zest.

Preparation: mix, and refigerate for at least an hour, roll out dough SMALL portions at a time and leave the rest in the refrigerator, roll them thin, bake ~ 15 min depending on oven, cool completely before icing. The icing: powdered sugar, vanilla, and lime juice. That's it. The coloring? Anything you have--dyes, natural flavors, or in my case, colored sprinkles.

Were the turtles a success? For the most part yes, particularly the eyeballs. Verse. Flo gasped and gave me a giggle, sign enough I had done well. The #1 turtle consumer, however, was C, Flo's 8 year old brother who in the following days managed to finish off the bucket of turtles handfuls at a time. Good boy.

The rule of the game: presentation. Come on, it shows you care, and as we eat first with our eyes and second with our tongues, food's first lesson like the potty or à dire "mama" is first and foremost in its look. Children are not so far removed from us we the garnish reveling glossy eyed patrons of well plated steaks and sauce covered cakes often times think, though taste, as a virtue, is aquired. Enjoyed in yesteryear were the fish nuggets; blue popsicles in tubes, and flavorless gumballs, but remember, everyonce in a while, it is ok to eat and enjoy a pink marshmallow, or perhaps just a little loving cookie.

A bientôt

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The French Say: Open!

Well, they actually just say, ROLAND-GARROS We're reverting back to Bourdain jumping off a cliff again, where's the food? T'ais tois, i'll find something to eat. Find something to eat where? The Stade Roland Garros on the opening day of the 2008 French Open that's where. On y va?

Yes it did start with just a jog past many months ago. Roland Garros; why does that sound familiar? Peddle up to the gate, 6h00 in the morning so no sane gate would be found open, read: Tennis. Ah! This is where the French Open is held, chouette! It's just down the street from me, my pretty little southern 16th at Auteuil has everything, horse tracks, Parc des Princes, and the Roland Garros, I must come back for a little grounds tour.

A few months later, after finally convincing a hesitant inmate to accompany me on one of my "I love my quartier" evening stoles, I take her past the Garros, "and this is the Roland Garros where the..." STOP. No. Shut Up. It's this close? I'm going to cry. Why didn't you tell me earlier! S, who in turn is one of the most fanatical professional tennis fans i've ever met (Katie and Petra excluding you) spent her summer in London at Wimbledon, and has made it her life goal to get to all 4 of the grand slams. We're getting ground passes, she says, period. And I want a grounds tour. Mallory, call, get it done. Yes master? Am I a secretary? Oh bother. hehe.

The month of May rolls into our court, still have not toured the grounds. Mallory, we are running out of time! S lectures, once Play starts at the end of the month there will be no time for grounds tours, what are you on about, get us there! I am starting to feel like one of those personal secretaries who cadies after someone and picks up the dry cleaning and calls to cancel nail appointments. Do it yourself, I'm not a slave. Maaaaallllooorrryyy I need you! Oh bother. Ring. Ring. Ring. Damn museum, why wont anyone answer the phone. Twice, a thrice, I'll send an email. Hmm, no response, let us walk down and see if we can schedule a tour in person.

M & S are along, S shreeks, oh my god that was Richard Gasquet who rust roller bladded by us! who? We arrive at the gate, pardon me, mr. gatekeeper, where can I go to find out about tours? (innadable French mumblings behind glass) he pops out to escort us about a kilometer. But 1 kilometer is never too short for me to ramble Mallory style, especially when faced by my most detested of all questions; are you on vacation? No. We're not on vacation, we live here, down the road actually, we've been here since September, we speak French, not tourists, did I say we speak French? We do, we just wanted to see the place before play starts. I am very, very sensitive to remarks of that sort.

Enter museum office. Bonjour! We want to go on the guided tour. Its done for today, but you can come back tomorrow for the English at 11h00 or the French at 14h00. Perfect, put my name down for 14h00. No. What was that? I turn and S is on the grumpy face, I don't want it in French. But we are in France, and why not, you speak French? No. I turn to the man as the look of murder on the face of S tells me I have lost. 11h00 monsieur.

We exit the museum and head to the gift shop. I tinker around, shuffling through over priced warm ups and sweat bands. Oh all right if you're going to be mopey brat go change it to French, but if there's anything I don't understand you're translating every damn word for me! Hooray! I skip back to the museum office. Bonjour, ah you, rebonjour! Yes hi, well, i'm a baby and got my wish, could you change us for the French tour? Of course, your friend doesn't speak French? Oh she does, she just doens't like it. Odd, to live in France then. Yes perhaps, but S is S, who could ever want to change her. Exactly.

The next day 14h00. Bonjour! I wave to the security guard who embarrassingly remembers us. We get to the office. Bonjour! Ah you! Welcome back. If there is any consolation for being a ridiculous person, it is perhaps that people remember you. Let the tour begin. Walk about, talk about, I won't lie I do not know particularly much about tennis history, but i do recognize names, this statue is Lacoste, oooh, polos! We weave between the outer courts, make our way into the Suzanne Lenglen court, through the press building, the media stations and press room, locker rooms, and then out onto the center court. Don't touch the clay! Oops. Touch. End of the tour: we will come back for the open, Mallory, make it happen. This time, I just smile, I'm on it.

Tickets for the French Open at first look are very complicated. Draws, pools, pre sales, what are they talking about. But it matters very little all of that, unless you are looking to purchase a real ticket which is going to be quite pricey. There are a certain amount of way-in-the-back center court tickets left for people to buy day of in the morning, but youre still looking at around 50€ a piece. The rest of us? Grounds passes or evening passes. Grounds passes get you in the Garros for the whole day and access to any match on the outer courts--outer courts, meaning the big names are off limits. But what does that matter? Anyone able to make it to play during the French Open is good enough in my view to watch. So I don't get to view the big boys? Paleeeaase. I got my champs to view, and at 21€! It is a privelage to even be behind the gate. so neener neener.

25 Mai 2008: Opening day French Open, weather: no rain expected until 18h00, may be around 18-20°. Arrive at the ticket office to secure ground passes: 8h20 am. Let the games begin.

The ticket office doesn't open until 10h00. Line patience never killed anyone. Buy a program to pass the time, let us in let us in! We're in. First match: court 2, Josselin Ouanna of France (a Lucky Loser meaning he didn't qualify but got in grace à someone else not being able to) versus Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina. I know France is my country, but I was pulling for Argentina. And we won! In a three set match. Time for lunch. What does the Roland Garros have to eat? Myriad sandwiches, baguets, muffins, hotdogs. Pleasing to the eyes. But what does the Roland Garros have for ME to eat, tomatoes with mozerella and gezpacco in a juice box is about it. But everything is very cute with red and white stripes, and a little bottle of olive oil how classe!

The big matches on the center court are going on all day, we take lunch at the circle in front of the court to join the hundreds in viewing the "big screen" for matches such as Denis Gremelmayr (Deutschland) versus Novak Djokovic (Serbia) the later winning in 4 sets, and the big show of the day, Gustavo Kuerten (Brazeeel) versus Paul-Henri Mathieu, a Frenchie. Though Mathieu (three first names?) came out on top in three sets, Kuerten was the real crowd pleaser as it was his "Dernière Samba à Paris" as the cover page of the tournament program read. Three time past Roland Garros winner, but for today his final appearance, the crowd arrived like a sea of yellow and green to pay tribute to the man who charmed all with his "...magnifique sourire, cheveux longs et look de surfeur." Guga, as the center page reads, "le soleil de Roland-Garros." Au revoir.

My second match of the day: holy hell. Carlos Moya (Espagne) versus Eduardo Schwank (Argentina. again.) Moya is very famous, so I am told, but I find myself cheering for the Argentinian again. Vamos Eduardo! What a match! 4hours, two set tie breakers, and play until the 5th set! But in the end, my first day of viewing live professional tennis taught me this: Argentinians rule the clay. And the second is particularly very nice to look at, I suggest you look at his legs. look at them! He's a beast, and they become a dirty orange when the clay combines and clings to fresh sweat. Oh, sorry, I didn't get around to any lady matches today.

What have we learned about tennis? We know now that I've had it, I like it very much, enough to be there 11 hours practically unconcsious by a fever and swollen throat, but it was Roland Garros! We know that rookie Argentinians are killers. We know Mallory has her first favorite professional tennis player. We know that next time, bring your own lunch, and we know that Paris is made just all that much more perfect by the fact that I have been made a little tiny part today in something as grand as the Roland Garros. Now there are no strawberries & cream with a sip of Champange, Wimbledon monoploizes that beauty, but Roland Garros has somthing else just as tastey, whether edible or not, I'm not sure. I will follow Roland Garros through this year, will you follow along with me? Rookie fans all must start somewhere. It goes like this: quinze, trente, quarante, I win. Game, set, match.

à bientot

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

L'Aligot : How The French Mash A Potato

Before we begin our enthralling escapade into the spuds, there is a small announcement I wish to make to you my dear public: Hamilton, (named after Alexander himself) the brave ox of an HP notebook who has been my companion since my 18th year on this planet and who has produced each and every Salty Cod post, has finally lost his battle with the cancer known as age, his screen will light up no more. Let us remember our fallen friend with a moment of silence.

...the bastard. He took photoshop with him.

Cooking exposition cooking exposition yay! And a coupon for free entrance for two from the cooking magazines I spend all my money on, chouette! The Salon SAVEURS DES PLAISIRS gourmandes in its 20th year pulled me to l'espace Champerret for "la plus grande sélection de produits de gastronomie de luxe présentée à Paris." Chouette².

1) I have never sampled so muched cured meat and cheese in one sitting in my life. 2) Cheese meat, meat cheese. Am I in Germany? 3) The last time I felt this young in a crowd was at a Sting and Annie Lenox concert at Whiteriver. That was a good time. 4) Note to self: if dragging along a friend, keep better eye on said friend so as to avoid the unfortunate occurance of her sampling whole kernels of rose rock salt (pauvre Inmate #666, rose salt is still salt). And 5) At a French food fair the most sought after poppet is indeed not the exotic chocolates and fois gras, but the ever so simple elastic-stays in the bowl when flipped- French version of the mashed potato--l'aligot.

What is aligot? A visual allegory would not fall far from one of dried-out papier-maché goop. An olfactory allegory would offer something near almost to a macaroni and cheese dish, so let us rejoice and thank le Dieu here for the fact that the sense that matters here gives us a dip into familiarity yet something a little new, a little different, just a petit truc or a little pip that I can't quite put my tongue on.

L'aligot is a specialty from the Auvergne region of France, located literally in the centre of France; therefore no coasts, no beaches, no Paris--just rural, mountainous, kilometers of valleys and clear skies. One would think I've been there for my turn here of a travel advertisement. Aligot is this: mashed potatoes, Tomme cheese, crème fraiche, butter, and garlic slowly cooked (beaten with a long spoon) in a wok-like skillet until it is smooth, think, and takes on a taffy-like elasticity.

What is Tomme cheese you ask now--I splain. Tomme is a "leftover" cheese produced almost exclusively in the French Alps. It is made from the skim after the fat has been extracted from the cream to make butter and other cheeses that actually taste good (personal note: Tomme de chevre is not one of those you would want to spread on an apple) as a result, Tommes are very low in fat and are used primarily for cooking or as an accessory to a recipe.

L'aligot is therefore very rich, even when shared by two (clear out that rose salt still lingering) the little dish is far too much for one to handle. Help! Surrounded by meats, cheese, goose livers, chocolates, pastries, breads--the delicious paste is yet a lump in the stomach--ahhhh! But looked we are saved, and by the first smoothie I have seen in France. A table piled by tropical fruits pulls me like a fly to the light. Papaya, coconut, pineapple, mango, oranges, bananas, passion fruits...mine was mango passion with pinapple and orange juices. Saved by the smoothie!

We escaped the delicious yet badly lit madhouse of a convention with smoothies and aligot in hand to sit a while in the petit park across the street from the centre. Seated on a bench surrounded by a semi-circle of stone busts, I attempt to stir the now almost solid aligot (must be eaten hot it appears) when my friend muses, "three of these busts are named Jose." I look up at the statues to read their titles; they are all poets, writers, soldiers, heroes, yadda yadda from South America. Huh, that's odd.

I look at the 9 men present, all heads except one General Fransisco de Miranda from Venezuela who looms over the rest sword drawn and at the ready--a revolutionary in his time. I noticed however that not all South American countries were present, particularly one very large and important country. Hmmm. I look at the sign on the parc gate: Jardin d'Amerique Latine. Ah, les espanol-o-phones, ça va then. I look up wishing to offer a bite of aligot to General Miranda, but in the end c'était les oiseaux who shared in the mashed potato delight under the shade of the general, passing time with nothing-ness as the sun dipped over the corner of the 17th arrondissement that we found ourselves in on yet another beautiful afternoon in Paris , mango smoothies and all.