Friday, December 18, 2009

Mary's Menagerie

It is Friday, December 18.  Most of the middle school mid-term exams have been taken and my French 7 and 8 ones are sitting in my bag ready to go home and be graded at some point during the break.  (I have actually started my 8th grade ones... go me!).   The kiddies are happy and the teachers are happier.  Breaks are good.  Snow is predicted for this afternoon.  The grocery stores are probably out of bread and milk by now.  My college-aged son arrived home yesterday, his truck loaded down with dirty laundry.  He is working today to earn some money for second semester.  I did indeed love waking him up at 6:45 am, in some sick mom kind of way.
I told my 6th graders all about the Christmas crèche or manger scene and santons figures.  A.C. Moore was generous enough to put a half-off coupon in the paper a couple of weeks ago so I went there to buy Sculpey clay for our project.  Everyone decided which animal they would make for the crèche.  I encouraged farm animals but didn't insist.  I tried to keep away from religious overtones, too, since we are an independent, non-religious school.  We kneaded, rolled, shaped, ate éclairs and listened to Yannick Noah while we worked.  For inspiration, you know.  I love his upbeat music!
So here is what we managed to come up with in about an hour's time--


One girl did fashion a Mary out of clay so I've titled our work "Mary's Menagerie."
We have a giraffe, a duck, a pig, a bunny, a snail, a rooster, a snake, a goat, a cat, two sheep, a jelly fish, a puppy, two Christmas-colored mice, Mary and a bearded dragon ("NOT a gila monster, madame," to quote the young man who made that one).
Up close views of a few of them--

Oui, my chèvre is pink... a lot of good things are, you know!

Les souris not yet being chased away by the cat...

Just wouldn't be French without an escargot, now would it?

And, bien sûr, the most Gallic of them all, le coq, symbol of France.

Once again, I thank my friend Daniela for her artistic help and input.  It pays to surround oneself with talented people.

Yolanda, of the infamous Arles 6, and I are heading off to lunch at Piedmont in downtown Durham in just a little bit.  Betty, also a member of my Arles gang, is coming to town and we are meeting her.  I've only been to Piedmont once and I can't wait.  I googled them, of course, and my tummy is growling as I salivate over the menu.  Take a look and you'll understand.
Sandwiches:  melted brie, beef meatballs with marinara and mozzarella, fried trout with caper aïoli (I LOVE this stuff), housemade pastrami with caramelized onions (if you know me or have read this blog before you KNOW how I feel about caramelized onions); other stuff: soup and pizza of the day, vegetable risotto, charcuterie (a recent French 8 vocab word) plate with pâté...  How on earth will I choose?  At a Wine Authorities Saturday tasting, Seth and Craig served up some of Piedmont's housemade sausages while we sampled wines.  The boudin blanc was far better than any I tasted in France.
J'ai faim, j'ai très faim...  je meurs de faim... j'ai une faim de loup.  Lovely sayings to express hunger.
I am hungry, I am very hungry (literally I have hunger)... I am dying of hunger... I am hungry as a wolf.  Sounds better in le français.

Chef Érick's Classic Aïoli

1 egg yolk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1 c. or so olive oil (preferably a fruity and not highly acidic oil)
2 garlic cloves, pureed

Prepare the garlic:
On a small plate, squeeze juice from half a lemon, take a sharp-pronged fork and place the prongs flat on the plate, take a peeled garlic clove (the larger the easier to handle) and scrape it back and forth on the tips of the prongs.  The puree will be fine and lightly cured by the acid of the lemon juice, making it more digestible and perfect for cold sauces and salad dressings.

Prepare the mayonnaise:
In a bowl, start stirring with a whisk or a fork the egg yolk, another squirt or two of lemon juice, the pinch of salt and the mustard; pour in olive oil in a steady, thin stream, carefully whisking it into the yolk mixture, stop when you reach a good and relatively solid texture (this takes a while-- it is nice to have a partner to help pour the olive oil for you and to take turns when your arm gets tired!).
Pour the pureed garlic into the mayonnaise, whip up stiff and put aside.   (Ok, you can use a blender, if you want!)

My friend Tammy in Arizona recently tried to whip some up and it never became mayonnaise consistency.  I hope she will try again sometime.  I met Tammy in Arles when she and her husband Chuck came for a cooking week.  We've stayed in touch and even saw each other last summer when she came to Raleigh to visit a friend.

This is pure gold... very good with steamed vegetables (carrots, potatoes , cauliflower, turnips), fresh vegetables (tomatoes, mushrooms, celery, carrots, etc), fish (salmon, shrimp, tuna, poached de-salted salt cod), hard-boiled eggs, crusty French bread to name a few of the ways I've eaten it.
In Provence, there are aïoli-making contests, much like we Southerners have BBQ sauce cook-offs.  I believe that generous amounts of rosé are necessary, however.  Keep that in mind and drink pink!

Bon appétit, mes animaux!

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