2 jours dans le 11éme Tuesday, Jan 19 2016 

2 days in the 11th

La cave de l’Insolite is a  small restaurant with a very decent list of organic free-thinking hippie wines, which can be taken off premises for 50% less, you don’t need a paper bag and there can be titties on the label. Hurah.  There was an unusual but pleasant red Arbois Pupillin Trousseau from Jura. Light, fruity, mineral and pleasant to drink with the richer cooked ham, duck and poularde du Gâtinais.  It has a farmhouse thing going on, with a cozy wood-burning stove in the corner, handsomely chiseled hutch keeping the stemware, communal tables and large zinc plated table that dominates the dining room.  The kitchen is smaller than a 1 car garage, but they are efficient and put out simple, elegant, well-seasoned food, though the chef has a bit of a light foot as some of the items (chicken, duck, pork, cabbage) would have benefited from being waved over stove for a minute or 2, though everything was exceedingly tender and nothing short of delicious.


There isn’t a wine list so much as there are 2 wine shelves to choose organic wines (no added sulfites) from and the shelves are well stocked by knowledgeable and hospitable sommelier/owner Axel.  Riding the coattails of Christmas enthusiasm and as a sign of good graces from the folks’ repeated visits which they disguise as forced solidarity for a bruised 11th neighborhood (Charlie Hebdo, Bataclan were within earshot), Axel treated us to a startlingly clean eau-de-vie de houx (holly berry) from an antique glass carboy, sucked up with an equally old glass thief, which went down exceedingly well at 120 proof.


Good memories of the fantastic immature English cheddar which had all the characteristics of similarly pressed Cantal/Salers style cheeses but less than 2 months old, sweeter, less salty, grassy and creamy.

Back-up wines are stored in the basement on the way to the boudoir, which has its own techno soundtrack piped in (they are still very into that, over there) complete with neon and disco ball.

Their sister restaurant/bar is the diminutive 20 seat L’Acolyte de L’insolite with a tinier kitchen but puts out a decent brandade de morue even if it has the superfluous potatoes and I would have discretely added chopped capers and lemon juice if I had them to the husky 130g portion of dry aged, lean Charolais beef tartar

La Bague de Kenza (3 locations I think) on Rue du Faubourg St. Antoine on the edge of the 11th is an Algerian pastry shop with a stunning collection of sweet almond-paste confections and a smattering of savory pâte feuilletée pastillas filled with either, anchovies, cheese, or leafy greens and such.

The level of craftsmanship and dedication to a single delicacy is comforting and a reminder of how such a store is like an American Sasquatch sighting.


Across the border in the 12th at 1, rue Théophile Rousseau (who stymied public drunkenness with a series of buzzkilling laws in 1873)  is Le Baron Rouge,  namesake of the pizza-peddling Tom Selleck impostor and extraordinary wine bar on the fringes of the bustling Marché D’Aligre which is kind of like outdoor market shopping if all the vendors on rue d’Aligre are fellow contestants and you’re the next one on the Price is Right.

Open since 1979, it hasn’t really changed much, or so we told by a veteran and somewhat withered waitress who must have been quite the boozy candy striper autrefois.  A little bit of everything reasonable from all over France,  satisfying plates of cheese and charcuterie, oysters on weekends and there is even a chalk-written sign to let you know what the jazz is all about (it was Sonny Simmons).  2 glasses of Sancerre, 1 Terre Grillée Roussillon, 1 petit Chablis and plate of aged sheep’s milk cheese for 20€ ($21.50) was fine by us.  Best yet, they sell table wines by the 5 and 10 liter jug from the barrel, like a growler for you to chug-a-lug shamefully at home.

The shittiest bar in the 11th, if not the upper half of France is Le Fanfaron, namesake of Dino Risi’s 1962 cult movie and slang for a bragger with swagger:  the perfect caption for the sole owner/employee/failed actor and dear friend of almost 20 years Xavier, who is not as sly as his “the fox” nom de plume would suggest.

He is functional, mostly, and on this visit he was playing mini ping-pong with 3 of his unemployable 40-ish sycophant friends in matching underwear, wearing sombreros.  Despite his crapulence (it was only Tuesday) he was able to play some records (the only form of music) save for the rare live gig, pour drinks (nothing more complicated than Pastis and a side of water) and tally tabs (cash only).  It is on a quiet cobblestones street, the bar is about 5 feet wide and don’t put your elbows on it.  You’ll know why when it happens. It is a tribute to Russ Meyer’s busty agenda, Iggy Poppish punk,  emphysemic French crooners and there is plenty of Day of the Dead bric-a-brac on the walls.  Most of the harmless drunks can say some English words and with enough pantomimes you can tell your life’s story or be left alone.

Morue à la Catalane. Monday, Aug 13 2012 

Catalan Saltcod.

Honk if dried, salted fish makes you horny.

Saltcod. Noblest of fish in the history of western civilization whose nutritional and physical properties coronated the once revered bottom feeder as the versatile backstroking emperor to the now obsessed-upon pig papacy. Cod’s fabled abundance and remarkably slim fat content allowed it to air-dry, providing perennial sustenance for seaborne contingents on the high seas and snowbound penitents during Lenten months. Bones, skin, collar, roe, milk, liver, oil, tongue, cheeks, feet and feathers; all of the slippery beast was, in some shape or form, edible. And yet cod tattoos are not likely to be impulsively exploited by insecure chefs as much as the cute piggy ones, or other tattoos that reaffirm ones accomplishment in the craft (if only frying ears or using bacon –gasp! in an unorthodox, downright wacky composition), like inefficient utility vehicles on unnecessarily knobby tires eliminate the anxieties of their genitally deficient drivers by suppressing whatever sexual suspicions  an economy car casts on gossipy passersby.

After being delicately poached in a lemon and garlic scented court bouillon the miracle fish was introduced to a summer stew of Carmen peppers  (peeled, naturally), plum tomatoes, dried chorizo, red onions and capers. All parties involved got along swimmingly, perfume of lightly roasted peppers and the thickening properties of their juices given some help to the otherwise boring tomato juices. Salty capers and saltcod were the torch bearers at opposite ends with sweet onion and peppers in the middle ground, some chorizo coins for spicy heat and sherry vinegar for the essential acidity. If ever there were a successful dish that had used regional salted mainstays and ingredients to accentuate and extol the produce of summer, while encouraging, even, inducing fertility, this was it.

L’indignité de Voyager en Avion Monday, Sep 12 2011 

The indignity of flying in a plane.


To borrow an observation from an astute friend who flew internationally more recently than I, there is a great indignity that comes with flying steerage class. I now share his contempt for the soul crushing shame of modern middle class aviation; somewhere between being grudgingly coddled with hallow, calloused, court-ordered hands at an institutional daycare and herded with cattle-shaped meat bags in some industrial feedlot, all for just under the insulting price of $1000. No amount of interactive television/movie selections can prepare, distract from or relieve the absolute humiliation of feeding time. Paltry, vapid rations befitting and possibly inspired by a refugee camp jail’s infirmary. Sinister airline numbers (space & price) are moving in opposite directions than passengers’ numbers (weight & salary) and we might all benefit from being anesthetized before takeoff and stored like lumber over bedpans. Airline hostesses will then have earned their “flight attendant” re-branding.

Last week’s Charlotte to Paris US Air flight presented the unsavory choice of pasta or chicken with rice. The decision was swift and deliberate: avoid any protein from the most soulless, mistreated, inferior, environmentally offending animal and any simple starch that even a revered Top Chef contestant with tattoos can’t get right. The only immediate regret however was not to have followed mother’s enlightened fuga modus operandi and ordered a special kosher/hindu/vegawhatever meal prior; some lesser of all evils sustenance that generally demands an underpaid laborer’s modest amount of special attention and perhaps respite from the drool inducing tedium of feeding us suckers.  The hopelessly naïve neighbor was appropriately and predictable disgusted  by her choice of “chicken”, though also confused by underwater cities named “Egypt”, “Bismark” and “Lusitania” on the interactive in-flight map.

Lunchthansa (don't mention the war).

The pasta was slightly better than the creepy manicotti impostor at Washington Medical Center though the accompanying salad with it’s single slice of cucumber and two currant sized tomatoes could have been squeezed into a thimble. The chewy (possibly undercooked) cookie bar with Lilliputian chocolate chip was alleged to have been “hand made” and the ingredients list went a step further by indicating that said 1oz. slice of dough was “made with love” as well. Cute. $7 for a shitty beer or plonk however is scandalous. I sincerely hope the executive fat cats from airlines who sanction such airway robbery get syphilis and that their internet stops working.

When patio class was fashionable.

“Breakfast” was an affront to the morning ritual, my Danish heritage and humanity. A limp, doughy something with some shitty pastry cream inside, sealed in a plastic back and tossed to me on a napkin like I was some fucking seal with opposable thumbs, manners and a sweet tooth. Coffee would come much, much later. Bewilderment. Like the traditional legacy or mandated nostalgia with “no smoking” signs. When was the last time someone fired up a Pall Mall on a plane?   I sincerely hope the executive fat cats from airlines who sanction such food practices get staph infections on their genitals and that their houses burn down.

Diety class on a mother-effin' plane.

I can recall a time when being a passenger commanded respect and dressing up to fly didn’t mean dressing down to something with an elastic waistband. I remember getting starched on free wine and booze, a suitable portion of stuffed breaded chicken breast for dinner, am inspired (by airport cafeteria standards) salad of sorts and a bona fide breakfast in the morning. On a tray. With simple bread. And butter. Or jam! With a cup of orange juice. And a small cup for my coffee. I am, however, grateful for the FAA mandated nostalgia of eternally lit “no smoking” sign which reminds me and other masochistic airborne ballast a not fire up a Pall Mall during the insufferable idle between repast and elixir.

I would also like to remind my fellow international seat warmers to leave with roomy collapsible luggage and check it like any other civilized passenger. The extra 15 minutes spent at the carousel  with smuggled sundries will not be in vain and others’ flight won’t start and end with an ass in their face while impatient rubes struggle to cram “object A” into smaller “space B”.

Tacksägelsedagen Thursday, Nov 25 2010 

Tacksägelsedagen 2010

Fancy pilgrim galleons no match for proper pillaging.

Through frigid swells, Icelandic maelstroms and Faroese oe (nod to brevity Scrabble™ hotshots), on Bjarni Herjólfsson’s lapstrake constructed knar, a weathered crew of sea savvy slaves navigated by OG/P (original gangsta/pimpgrim) Leif Ericson  is alleged to have discovered North America.  Just a whiff of the dragon ship and/or its salty mariners would have curdled the prude migratory fantasies of the Mayflower’s prim & proper pansies. Decidedly and accordingly, a Nordic flavored feast would prevail over contemporary New Englandish mish-mashes of green beans, marshmallows and awfully starchy or achingly sweet varieties of potatoes in mashed form.  Antique French glasswares and Scandinavian flatwares befitting Babette’s table would be in order.

Glass class. Skøl.

The numbers: 1 millennia since the Norse discovery of North America, 1 month’s menu foresight,  1  fortnight’s worth of labor and a few days of anxiety over whether a proper bird would be attained and pledged guests in attendance.  A 25lb Pennsylvania raised heritage turkey was obtained and the guest list swelled from an anemic 7 to a gouty, tightly packed 11, consistent with the intrinsically Danish standard of life (Rick Harrison, grand wizard of historical bric-a-brac from Pawn Stars was high on the guest list but unavailable).

The fundamental cultural hallmark of Danish year’s end awesomeness vibe is “hygge” (h-ewe-guh), something candlelit and warm nestled somewhere comfortably within the realm of “cozy” and “tranquil”.   The mesmerizing absence of anything even slightly irritating, annoying, grating, overwhelming, i.e., greedy social conservatives, self-entitled diners, mouth breathers and urban residents unwilling to make even modest concessions for the sake of harmonious city living and/or humanity.


The evening began with a variation of glögg made with one of the guest’s seasonal, exceedingly artisanal pear wine crafted with cursory sanitation practice and flirting with  the zombie equivalent of wine: vinegar.  A healthy dose of vodka, toasted almonds, currants,  cranberries and some heat made it a potable social lubricant.  After polishing off the glögg any and all buzzed guests were seated to the carefully set table where traditional holiday starters were pleasantly passed around.

Before the devil knows your spread.

Gravad laks: 1 and 2 day salt/sugar cured sockeye salmon, mustard seed and caraway/juniper respectively, the former having benefited from an extra day of drying and produced a better pellicule than the later which was more moist.

Matjes: herring pickled in my red wine vinegar which was made possible with wine dumped from Halloween wine box bladders and some of Logan’s mother.  Fresh herring not being readily available, the salted variety was procured, degorged in cold water and then covered in the vinegar with shallot rings, bay leaf and peppercorns.  After a week in the pickle, the mackerel was drained and covered with a mixture of grapeseed and olive oil whose richness balanced the acidity.

Leverspostej: Danish liver and anchovy pâté made with pig liver and anchovies.  The forcemeat was puréed twice then introduced to the business end of a food processor with the addition of a béchamel panade.  The mixture was wrapped in bacon, baked in a waterbath and aside from being seasoned too timidly (not enough spice or anchovy), the final product was moist, properly cooked and offered an enjoyable texture.

Leverpostej was accompanied by cauliflower pickles: romanesco, cheddar and purple cauliflower with carrot, lemon zest, red onion, aromatics, 3% salt and a mixture of water, white wine vinegar and 24% ättiksprit (Swedish vinegar).  Delicious.  The romanesco fractals being delicate and visually stunning (pioneered in space by joint NASA/EU aerospace/agriculture scientists), the cheddar nicely crunchy while the purple’s staining properties encouraged guests not to be sloppy.  Olive oil glazed radishes finished with vinegar rounded out the accoutrements.

Nordic study on getting your pickle tickle.

3 loaves of rugbrød, traditional Danish rye bread were made though the results erred to the side of unconventional what with a much chewier crumb and hearth bread loaf shape.  Rye flour/buttermilk starter provided a portion of the leavening agent and was supplemented with yeast, twice the recommended amount since the beer (King Cobra malt liquor –softball leftover) was hastily added from the fridge at a frosty, possibly yeast killing temperature.  In addition to rye and higher gluten bread flour, a variety of grains and such were incorporated into the dough:  rye seeds, millet, oats, caraway, flax seed, ball bearings, woodchips and shrimp shells.  Aside from excessive coloration on the bottom of the bread from the oven stone –reminiscent of asphalt and embarrassingly cut away- the bread had respectable crust, crumb and chew.

Aquavit, in the rocks.

Shots of Krogstad aquavit,  captivatingly encased in ice and neighborhood shrubbery trimmings were offered between courses and kept the guests limber.

Torsksuppe: Cod’s head soup revisited.  Fish fumet from the collars with aromatics, thickened with a roux then finished by poaching the cheeks and tongues in the soup and rounding out the affair with lemon zest, celery, celeriac and potato.  Croutons with cod roe in a tube would have been rendered the soup unstoppable.

Gøbble, gøbble.

Meet the meat of the matter.  25lb Confucius style Pennsylvania raised heritage turkey with a closer, natural breast to leg meat ratio.  Turkey leg tendons are an affront to any civilized “hygge” palate and are routinely, painstakingly, though expertly removed so that the dark meat can be manipulated in a fashion deemed worthy and reflective of the culinary theme.  Past leg up endeavors have seen the limb presented as succulent kofta (Turkish meatballs) with giblets and raisins or brilliant ballotines flaunting a fluted mushroom entourage.  Keeping in stride with Nordic elements, tendon-free meat-feet Frickadeller (Danish meatballs) were proposed.  Turkey meat, egg, parsley, clove, black pepper juniper, 20% pork, 10% fatback and 5% bread crumb and 1.3% salt by the weight of both meats were ground, shaped and roasted in a 450ºF oven.  Stock was made from the bones, neck, calf’s foot and aromatics in which the frickadeller were cooked until tender.  The cooking liquid was thickened with a roux then garnished with boiled golden beets, dried cranberries and eventually blanched Brussels sprouts.

Roasted with apples & prunes. Sleep inducing, but keeps you regular.

The breast of the beast was injected with and left to soak 2 days in a wintry spiced brine.  Once rinsed and patted dry, it rested on a comfortable bed of vegetables, some aromatics and roasted in a balmy oven for a couple hours, turning around every so often and getting a juicy basting.  Sleek, turned braeburn apple wedges and pitted prunes (typical Nordic roast accompaniments and beneficial for digestion)  flattered the roast like adulating geriatric fans. Though not much of a revelatory bird, it was sufficiently moist, well seasoned, photogenic and found harmony with the sweet-tart cranberry sauce detailed by clove, orange zest, honey, turbinado sugar, rosemary, cinnamon and salt.

Jansson’s temptation: delectable, traditional Swedish holiday potato gratin with a central layer of savory caramelized onions and salty sprat  infused cream (anchovies are suitable replacements); a  personal Thanksgiving/Christmas staple.

A traditional Swedish holiday thing aside from intensely repressed glögg inebriation: Scalloped potatoes baked in cream with a middle layer of caramelized onions and pickled sprats -bit smaller than a herring. Anchovies erroneously found their way into the American version since sprats are called ansjovis by Swedes, whereas anchovies fall under the sardeller appellation.

The three folkloric Norse origins of Jansson’s Temptation’s legend are inconclusive and subject to very little debate by neither mythological conspiracy enthusiasts nor epicurean historians.

*Some suspect the namesake of the dish to be Per Adolf “Pelle” Janzon, a gluttonous 19th century opera singer whose troubadour regimen allegedly consisted of beer, schnapps and the dish which won him marginal posthumous celebrity on the 40th anniversary of his expiration date.

*Gunnar Stigmark, author of the Gastronomisk Kalender hopelessly attributes the dish to the eponymous 1928 Swedish silent-movie box-office flop starring Edvin Adolphson.

*Hippie publishers of the 1967 American Heritage Cookbook believed that Erik Jansson, the really pious Swedish religious reformer who founded Bishop Hill, Ill in 1846 (2000 census pop. 125) was spied eating a decadent dish of anchovies and potatoes bound with rich, creamery butter and farm fresh milk. Janssonist zealots considered Jansson to be the second coming of Christ and cursed the dish as Jansson’s Temptation. He was murdered in 1850.

*Rumored inspiration for the Swedish Chef is also lukewarmly contested.

Conceptual stuffing was represented with pearl barley, handsomely manicured winter root vegetables (rutabaga, celery root, parsnips, carrots, turnips and red pearl onions) lathered in butter, dusted with bread crumbs then baked until chestnut brown and crispy.  The dish stretched the definition of stuffing, yet root vegetables glazed until tender in olive oil then finished in Swedish vinegar (to highlight the colors and interrupt the cooking process) dutifully showcased year’s end austere, often overlooked produce.

Alongside celebratory shots of akvavit, havarti and Saga Danish blue were passed around with one of the guest’s lovely challah bread while the æbleskiver cooked and a guest hid a prize winning almond in one of the bowls of his novel aerated rice pudding: classical rice pudding, puréed and ejected from an iSi dispenser.

deflætedskiver. Out of føcus too.

Æbleskiver batter (flour, butter, vanilla, egg yolks, sugar, milk, whipped egg whites, baking powder) was poured into a buttered monk’s pan, flipped and recommended that they be dipped in quince jelly or chestnut honey.  The batter required more leavening agents since they did not rise into the characteristic spheres.  Otherwise, they tasted good and went well with their sweet accompaniments and having never had æbleskiver before, there was no benchmark for objective grading.

Overall, the dinner guests made the evening a success, save for some unfortunate lapses in lexicon with an 11 year old at the table which would have promptly filled a swear jar.  All were well behaved, affable, indiscriminately hungry, courteous,  didn’t break anything and relieved the refrigerator from leftovers and subsequent 4am snacking potential.

Une soirée émouvante avec Valient Thorr Sunday, Sep 26 2010 

A whipper of an evening with Valient Thorr

Sat next to Valient Himself, himself at the Black Cat’s bar before his show last week.  An exceptionally affable Rasputin looking fellow and former teacher who, when Valient Thorr is not touring with Motörhead or playing Nordic metal festivals, is a benevolent son who donated a kidney to his ailing earth father “Pop”.

Lead hair guitar.

Those grizzly cosmic minstrels hail from Burlatia on that planet Venus, packing their galactic luggage with scorching metal jams of salvation (no room for shaving kits) in an intrepid mission save our putrid souls; ravaged by desperate right-wing entitlement, duplicitous corporate greed and toxic sour grapes.  The teeth swelling licks and sweaty enthusiasm will have any budding Thorrior crapping sideways for a week through bleeding ears.

White people with beards and no shirts can dance.

First caught a hypnotic whiff of Valient Thorr over a few “Super Awesome’s” (bourbon rickey) when a raging band of unkempt troubadours thrashed about silently on FuelTV overhead but rattled my body down to its core.  The gnarly angels’ steel claw riffs can skewer marrow and it might as well have been Eidan Thorr scraping abscessed frets on my 6-string shinbones.

Barbasol Tour ’09

Difficult to make out any of the savory lyrics during the show despite being so close to the 4000 watt speakers, but the grinding  motivational gospel and headbanging fury of encouragement was frighteningly clear: “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, it’s where you’re at and what you’re gonna do.”

Ce serait le Centenaire de Pépé. Saturday, Aug 21 2010 

Pépé’s Would-be Century.

Louis Marceau Albert Fructidor Volat

Dimanche, 21 Août, 1910 à Molines, St.-Étienne-du-Valdonnez, Lozere, France
Mardi 6 Juillet, 1993 à la Salle Prunet, Lozere, France

Moi et mon Pépé bien aimé.

3 years past there was a dinner, coincidentally the anniversary of the day Louis Albert Marceau Fructidor broke his pipe.. In memory of a tripe enthusiast grandfather turning out his light, I ordered what was fit for… a discreet Communist, direct descendant of Charlemagne and Le Baron D’Apcher… an incorruptible school professor forced to flee Nice after turning over the smarmy portrait of Vichy’s Marshal Petain in his classroom…a Resistance fighter who rescued victims of bombardments and stashed his revolver in my mother’s crib…then a determined Rubik’s cube figure-outer… yet puzzled by bicycle locks: andouillettes, a charred tubesteak composed of innards which carry body badness outwards offering a texture and whiff of organic balloon ends last inflated by the dying breaths of death deities who subsisted on Maroilles and Vieux-Boulogne cheese hot pockets.

Extrême “Pittsburgh” or “European Brown”.

In the annals of comestible western civilization, many coprophagous analogies have been made . I have come closer to those than most (except puppies and surströmming consumers).

The definitive (buckled) can of whoop-ass.

I would gladly regale my own grandchildren with tales of ancestral courage if my proliferation were not sanctioned by the damned prophylactic tongue-wilting barnyard sausage which even copious mouthfuls of strong mustard could not assuage.


Pépé was an persistent proponent and exhaustive cheerleader for Synthol, a post WWI  antiseptic tonic which my sister and I were to believe as the be all, end all miracle analgesic for aches, pains, scrapes, bites, broken teeth, sore hearts, bruised egos, misery, gout, et al…

The Adventures of Pépé (and sister-in-law)”The Synthol of the Pharaoh”

Pépé was indeed a very brave man.

Papa est né le 21 août 1910 à Molines, St. Etienne du Valdonnez en Lozère. Son père, Garde-forestier au Mas de La Barque, de confession protestante, socialiste et admirateur de la Révolution Française lui avait donné comme prénoms Louis, Albert, Marceau, Fructidor. Quand il était enfant Papa parcourait le Mont Lozère avec son père et connaissait ainsi le nom des arbres et tous les sentiers de randonnée. Il fit ses études primaires, secondaires, puis à l’école Normale d’Instituteurs, à Mende.

Il poursuivit ses études à Paris à l’Ecole Normale Supérieure de l’Enseignement Technique (ENSET). A l’époque il vivait avec un minimum d’argent à la Cité Universitaire et ne mangeant pas toujours à sa faim s’endormait dans le métro ou le bus. Arrivé au terminus il devait alors payer un supplément. Il avait comme professeur de lettres Jean Guéhenno, écrivain connu et futur académicien qui lui demanda de faire le premier exposé de la classe, sur Marcel Proust. Cet exposé, resté célèbre dans la famille fut assez mal accueuilli par Géhenno qui se contenta apparemment de soupirer à la fin, avec pour seul commentaire un laconique : “Pauvre Proust.”

Papa garda pourtant un grand amour de la littérature et quand nous étions enfants ne manquait pas de nous lire les discours de réception du dernier immortel intronisé à l’Académie Française. Je me souviens ainsi du discours concernant Marcel Pagnol que Papa nous lu pendant un repas. Il nous avait annonçé au début que l’Evêque de Mende, un ancien camarade de classe avait été promu archevêque. Notre grand-mère (qui vivait avec nous) en était restée fort ébahie. Mais ce dont je me souviens particulièrement c’est la rigolade collective qui suivit. Papa, lisant dans le discours de réception que Pagnol avait “caracolé à cheval en tenue de gardian” à l’occasion de son élection, la grand-mère qui en était toujours restée à l’archevêque s’était écriée ” Mon Dieu, ce n’est pas possible, un archevêque à cheval en tenue de gardian.”

Papa s’est toujours intéressé à la politique. En 1917 la Révolution Russe avait étonné le monde et ouvert de grands espoirs (vite déçus, mais c’est mon opinion personnelle). Papa fut un des premiers adhérents du jeune Parti Communiste, au grand chagrin de son père qui voulait rester socialiste et restait soupçonneux de cette révolution.  Je me souviens qu’il m’avait emmené à la Fête de l’Huma

Clockwise, Left to Right: Young Evel Knievel/Capitalist, Elder Communist

quand j’avais une dizaine d’années et qu’il m’avait présenté à Marcel Cachin. C’est grâce à lui que j’ai entendu pour la première fois, toujours à la Fête de l’Huma, Paul Robeson.

Et puis bien sûr nous connaissons tous sa courageuse résistance au régime de Vichy et au Maréchal Pétain (dont il retournait le portrait en classe) et son rôle dans la résistance à Evreux après avoir été forcé de quitter Nice. Papa resta fidèle à ses convictions jusqu’à sa mort bien que lors de sa dernière visite à Wading River il m’ait confié qu’il trouvait que certains membres du Parti de St. Gratien étaient des “pieds nickelés”…

Papa était un enseignant hors normes. Dévoué entièrement à l’enseignement, il passait ses soirées et ses week-ends à corriger des copies, préparer des cours et l’emploi du temps du proviseur au grand désespoir de notre mère qui aurait préféré aller au cinéma. En 1949 peu après la naissance de Jean, il fut nommé professeur au Lycée d’Enghien qui venait d’ouvrir et la première collègue qu’il rencontra fut Lucie Aubrac, l’héroïne de la Résistance qui devint une proche amie. Pendant que nous étions à Evreux Papa habitait Deuil avec son beau-père, lequel aimait les grandes femmes (notre grand-mère maternelle faisant apparemment 1m78). Papa avait une année dans sa classe une Suédoise partiulièrement attrayante (qui finit sa scolarité au Crazy Horse). Papa avait pris note de l’heure du cours de gymnastique dans la cour et en avait informé a son beau-père lequel s’était déplacé un jour pour donner son avis (très positif) sur l’élève en petit short.

Pépé studies the Amazon.

Plus tard il fut promu inspecteur principal au Cabinet d’Olivier Guichard, le ministre de l’éducation de l’époque. Prendre sa retraite fut difficile car il ne pouvait concevoir de quitter un jour l’enseignement.

Marié le 30 décembre 1939 à Nice avec Andrée Aymard, jeune institutrice rencontrée à Concarneau pendant une colonie de vacances, il arbore sur une photo son uniforme d’officier de l’armée française. Il y aurait beaucoup à dire sur ses talents militaires, en particulier un bref et désastreux passage dans les tanks. Papa n’ayant jamais pu passer son permis de conduire il faut donner raison à la rumeur (venant de ma mère) qu’il avait failli écraser le colonel.

Papa avait tendance à suivre ses pensées et passer parfois du coq à l’âne. Je me souviens d’un épisode assez surréaliste à Wading River. Nous avions invité un collègue du département de français à diner. Durant la conversation à table qui roulait sur la politique en France, Papa qui depuis quelques jours s’était mis à relire Charles Péguy déclara soudain “Je ne savais pas que la mère de Peguy rempaillait les chaises.” Il y eut un silence étonné jusqu’à ce que Steve qui suivait la conversation en français avec une certaine difficulté s’écrit “Peggy who ?”.

Il était d’une grande gourmandise, adorait les éclairs au chocolat et le vin cuit comme Isa se souvient. Les pizzas aussi, qu’il offrait à Julien et Aurélie tous les mercredi en 1987 quand nous étions à Paris. Je suis sûre qu’ils se souviennent de leur journée avec Pépé qui leur faisait visiter tous les monuments, mais faisait aussi leur quatre volontés, les laissait manger des glaces après la pizza, boire du coca, et autorisait Aurélie à se faire percer les oreilles …

Papa adorait voyager et s’inscrivait chaque année au voyage de groupe des Anciens de St. Gratien. C’est ainsi qu’on le voit caracoler en Egypte, en keffieh, à dos de chameau.  Il m’avait d’ailleurs écrit qu’il méditait de revenir à St. Gratien revêtu d’une gandoura, histoire d’épater les pieds nickelés … Il aimait s’extasier sur les paysages de sa Lozère natale, particulièrement ceux où “on voit de loin”, mais il était aussi sujet au vertige. Adorant venir aux Etats-Unis (il s’était fait photographier avec une effigie en carton pâte grandeur nature de Reagan, ce qui montre son sens de l’humour) il insistait à chaque voyage pour monter au dernier étage du World Trade Center. Il devenait immédiatement blanc comme un linge, refusait de s’approcher de la paroi vitrée mais s’extasiait néanmoins sur la vue. C’est à lui bizarrement à qui j’ai tout de suite pensé le 11 septembre 2001.

Ma dernière conversation téléphonique avec Pépé eut lieu quelques heures avant son départ pour la Lozère le 6 juillet 1993. Il aurait eu 83 ans.

Hélène Volat.

Eldest daughter, then Òste e Còc’s cherished mother.

Immortal pleasures: kids’ funny faces, fried food and Fructidor.

Julbord. Monday, Jan 4 2010 

Swedish Christmas table

Amish dough table, actually.

Inclement weather remnants, frantic holiday motorists, faulty zippers and not being able to remember a telephone number other than my own conspired to form a Mid-Atlantic maelstrom of some real F’ed-mas cheer.  Finding that my childhood 80 sq ft room’s dresser drawers were being used as a trash receptacle  for an unemployed 43 yr old hermit’s empty Kodiak dip cans, candy wrappers, loose change and food containers did little to liven the mood.  Even less after he threatened to place his fist in my old man’s face.  Some Nordic booze in ice provided a well deserved, albeit temporary analgesic distraction.

Linie Akvavit, chilling.  Up yours Martha Stewart.

Then saw an excellent movie about an emotionally vacant man, his accordingly suited job and his seminar schtick.  Such continuity in a story is what every menu should strive for. It left a remarkable  impression.  Anvil did the same in validating purpose and determination, albeit financially and professionally unsuccessful as is the case for most purist epicureans and craftsmen who do what they do for the self-rewarding passion.

7 Jews, 2 Swedish shiksa and the reclusive aforementioned temperamental groundhog descended upon a nicely set table on the Eve of Christmas day to feast on Sweden’s limited end of year bounty.  Swedish matron provided all the Swedish herring.  I provided the brined herring for the matjes which could have benefited from another fortnight’s worth of soaking to easy the stunningly salty brine.  Aunts Mimi, Bunny and Nan made the cookies.  91 year old Uncle Max brought the depraved teenage libido.

Hobo Jultomten.


Tre Sorters sill  – Three kinds of herring
Matjes sill  – Soused herring
Rökt lax – Smoked salmon
Sill salad –  Herring salad
Grav lax – Cured salmon
Jansons frestelse –  Janson’s temptation
Prins korv –   Prince sausage
Julskinka –  Christmas ham
Köttbullar –  Swedish meatballs
Rödkål –  Red cabbage
Rödbetor –  Pickled beets
Gurksallad –  Cumucber salad
Lingon  – Lingonberries
Ris a là Malta –  Rice porridge
Små kakor –   Small cookies

The 3 varieties of pickled herring were served in sauced of red wine vinegar, dill cream and mustard.  Matjes was another type of milder, smaller, immature herring and salt-brined rather than pickled.  The herring salad was assembled from mature herring in a very strong brine which were soaked in milk overnight in  a hasty attempt to degorge the salt.  It didn’t work too well as the dish was still considerably salty.  The grav lax was made at home, the smoked salmon was not.

Fish fit for Viking. Some by Abba (not the band).

Jansson’s Temptation is where it gets interesting, a less familiar dish but very representative of Nordic fare:  pickled sprats, potatoes, cream and onions.  The potatoes are cut into batons, smaller than the French Pont Neuf cut and randomly strew about a buttered baking dish with a layer of sprats and thinly sliced onion rings in the middle, covered with cream and finished with a top layer of onions cut in the same fashion.  It is essentially a gratin Dauphinois, augmented with the onions and sprats.  The sprats permeate the cream and give the otherwise rich and 2 dimensional dish notes of acidity and pleasant salty fishiness.  The Frenchified Thanksgiving version consisted of thinly sliced potatoes with a middle layer of caramelized onions deglazed with water and a lemon juice, thyme, dried chili and anchovies, then covered with nutmeg infused cream.

Anchovies erroneously found their way into international versions since sprats are called ansjovis by Swedes, whereas anchovies fall under the sardeller appellation.

The three folkloric Norse origins of Jansson’s Temptation’s legend are inconclusive and subject to very little debate by neither mythological conspiracy enthusiasts nor epicurean historians.

Some suspect the namesake of the dish to be Per Adolf “Pelle” Janzon, a gluttonous 19th century opera singer whose troubadour regimen allegedly consisted of beer, schnapps and the dish which won him marginal posthumous celebrity on the 40th anniversary of his expiration date.

Gunnar Stigmark, author of the Gastronomisk Kalender hopelessly attributes the dish to the eponymous 1928 Swedish silent-movie box-office flop starring Edvin Adolphson.

Hippie publishers of the 1967 American Heritage Cookbook believed that Erik Jansson, the really pious Swedish religious reformer who founded Bishop Hill, Ill in 1846 (2000 census pop. 125) was spied eating a decadent dish of anchovies and potatoes bound with rich, creamery butter and farm fresh milk. Janssonist zealots considered Jansson to be the second coming of Christ and cursed the dish as Jansson’s Temptation. He was murdered in 1850.

Blonde and blue dyed Nobel prize piece.

Yours truly brought the cooked ham from DC to Long Island where it was decorated.  The shank end of the picnic ham (minus the butt) was injected and brined for 5 days in a 5%/2.5% salt/turbinado sugar solution with #1, cinnamon, clove, allspice, rosemary, gumdrops, orange zest, garlic and chili after which it was left to dry and develop a pellicule.

The ham was then smoked in the faulty file-cabinet smoker which due to its placement in an alcove outside the back door manages to efficiently smoke the apartment when the door opens.  Hickory chips were burned on the electric hot plate at the bottom of the file-cabinet and the ham placed on a rack in what would be the second drawer whose base had been removed.  Once sufficient smokage was attained, the ham was cooked in seasoned “smiling” water for an internal temperature of 150F.  The resulting liquid was traditionally clarified  with egg whites,  gelled with additional gelatin and colored upon arrival at the holiday destination.

Few, if any foods are blue in nature and food coloring sleight of hand was required.  Turmeric provided the yellow…and was boosted with some yellow from the food-coloring 4-pack for good measure.  A cross mold was cut into cardboard, lined with plastic wrap and filled with the yellow aspic.  The blue aspic was poured into a dish and cut to fit the flag design.  A clear coat of aspic was poured where the skin was removed and the flag elements were “glued” to the ham.  More clear aspic was applied to seal the pieces.  Romanesco, yellow and purple cauliflower were pickled (the purple separately) in 24% ättiksprit (Swedish vinegar) with carrots, carawy, lemon zest and chili.

An assortment of home made cookies and strong coffee trumpeted the finale.  The host chef got the almond in the porridge and modestly won the prize, which she instinctively shared with everyone.

Små kakor taste better than it reads.

Christ is Björn: Though Christmas is fundamentally a Christian holiday and I bear a Semitic surname, it has always been a secular feast day to enjoy with the Protestant French and something Swedish maternal sides of the family.  Oysters, shrimp, pork and many other not kosher items have graced the 10 Swedish versions which have all been attended by a Jewy majority with a supermarket style choice of faith.  The herring were all bought canned from Sweden with the exception of the heavily brined herring which I brought up as well and not much can be said for their taste other than the consistency with last years.  Grav lax was a little wet and could have been cured differently, but it was not my event.  The Nordic breads were immensely satisfying, particularly the dense home made multigrain loaf rägbröd.  The harder circular rye flatbread knäckebröd is a sturdy instrument for herding food items onto a fork and an important nod to the Viking heritage.

The ham was very well prepared and pleased all palates.  The aspic was a kitschy delight for the Swedes and Heb’s alike.  The generous holiday buffet was a delicious representation of  fundamental Nordic ingredients, traditional preparations and humble compositions.    Tack så mycket, or tak for mad as the beloved Danish ladies would garble.

Holiday bush with Nordic trim.

The Best of the Wurst. Sunday, Dec 13 2009 

The Great Extrusion.

3 efficiently calculated varieties of tübesteak inspired from the 600 or so Germanic forms of extrüded meat for the send off the dearest sibling ever  to the Bundesrepublik Deutschland’s capital after 8 years in this one.  Many of the 20th Century’s most sinister Aryans’ wieners were smoked, (on and off the battlefield) though Kitsch und Klassics’  smoking hardware is severely  crippled; a modified file cabinet (the Germans coincidentally kept very good files) which erroneously filled the basement apartment with more noxious hickory gas than it did onto the meats to be flavored.  Consequently, a triptych of non-smoked finger-shaped finger food was conjured, the specific proportions of which will remain appropriately Top Secret:

Clockenwise von der top swine: Bierschinken, Nürnbergen rostbratwurst, Fingürlicken rindswurst.

Bierschinken: a breathtakingly large emulsified cooked pork sausage served cold not unlike mortadella or cervelas with chunks of pork and pistachios in it.  Ground twice, seasoned with salt, #1, paprika and puréed with onions cooked in lard.  Should have added more raw pork chunks but forgot to put enough aside.  Poached for 3 hours until an internal temperature of 150F was reached.  Awesome on its own.  The additional dab of whole grain mustard made it more awesome with mustard.

Fingürlicken rindswurst: a plump emulsified beef sausage not unlike the venerable Frankfurter, poached then grilled.  Twice ground rib-eye (erroneously sold as chuck at the neighborhood bodega) and chuck blade were puréed with cooked onions and caraway.  The idea to include a coloring agent of tomato paste and paprika diluted in ice water to preserve the reddish beef flavor was shamefully forgotten.  Despite the use of sodium nitrite (in all 3 varieties), the color was closer to brown than a reddish ochre. The sausages were poached then grilled.  The casings were crisp and after a characteristic “snap” yielded a tender, moist, beefy texture with a hint of caraway that supplemented by repollo curtido (Salvadoran pickled cabbage)  almost conjured the elements of a Ruebenesque hotdog by way of Central America, save for the cheese.  The next aisle over from the pickled whathaveyous featured analgesic Pediatyle style hangover juices fit for a delicate baby , notable a Latino themed horchata version.

Nürnbergen rostbratwurst: a short, stubby, fresh,  ground pork sausage flavored with cardamom, mace, chili and marjoram.  A delectably savory grilled sausage.  Properly seasoned and moist, though perhaps a bit over cooked by our generous host bar’s cooks.

An accoutrement of cauliflower pickles.  Romanesco, yellow and purple cauliflower with red onion, carrots, chili and lemon zest  in a 3% salt, 1.5% sugar and 33% concentrated vinegar solution.  Swedish Ättiksprit (24% acetic acid) was used in lieu of decongesting German essig (25%).  Outside of pickling, such strong vinegars are excellent antiseptics, formidable showerhead cleaners and offer merciless self-defense fumes.

Power to the Pickle.

An excellent evening which brought together a cherished group of all sorts from  parts, albeit to say goodbye to a beloved sister, colleague, teammate and social fulcrum.  However, the sausage innuendo jokes were limp before they even started.