Friday, December 25, 2009

M.F.K. Fisher


“People ask me: "Why do you write about food, and eating, and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way the others do?" . . . The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry.” 

“When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and it is all one.”
                                                                 --M.F.K. Fisher

Since it is vacation and I have quite a bit of time on my hands, I decided to leave Durham, drive a few miles up the road and revisit a secondhand bookstore I went into for the first time last summer.  The Bookshop is located at 400 West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.  While assisting Dorette Snover this past summer during her Carolina On My Plate teen chef course, we ate dinner at Crook's Corner and then wandered aimlessly up Franklin Street on a warm July evening.  Upon seeing the bookstore, the teens all wanted to go in and browse.  The first one in managed to quickly find the cookbook section and we all rummaged around, each finding a treasure.
This was a serious group of chefs-to-be... five boys and one girl, three of the boys enrolled in high schools with culinary programs in Florida.  I spotted an impossible-to-find copy of Even More Special, a cookbook produced by the Junior League of Durham and Orange Counties in the '80's.  I had a copy when it first came out and had given copies to my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for Christmas.  I gave away my own copy to a former student who came to have dinner with us each Christmas when he was home from college or from his stint in Japan.  I figured I would easily find another copy for myself.  Wrong.  That book is pure gold.  So, when I found it last summer, I snatched it right off the shelf.  Now I don't have to contemplate stealing my mother-in-law's copy of it anymore.  That thought has crossed my mind more times than I care to admit.

The Bookshop kind of reminds me of Shakespeare and Co. in Paris because it is filled, floor to ceiling, with all kinds of books, in little rooms off a narrow hallway.  It has the same smell.  This time, I checked out the cookbooks and then moved to what is really my favorite genre of books- travel writing.  This past summer, the BFF's brother told me about a food writer, M.F.K. Fisher.  I hadn't thought too much more about her until I entered the doors of The Bookshop.   I found three of her books (all for under $20, I might add), A Considerable Town:  MF.K. Fisher celebrates Marseille, published in 1964, Long Ago in France, The Years in Dijon, 1991, and the one I chose to read first, Map of Another Town, A Memoir of Provence, 1964.  The latter is about her time in Aix-en-Provence, a town I have visited three times, for only a couple of days or a couple of hours at a time.  Oui, I googled and read about her on wikipedia and on
No doubt about it-- the woman led a very interesting life.  She wrote many books, with France and food as the theme.  She moved to Dijon, after marrying in 1929, and stayed there for three years. Bourgogne, Burgundy, is very well-known for its food and wine and those were formative years for her.
Ms. Fisher's style is, of course, quite different from Anthony Bourdain's in Kitchen Confidential which I just finished.  It has taken me a while to adjust.  While engrossed in a book, I feel as if I am living it.  I do not know if others do this or if I am just a bit weird (I know what my children would say if I asked them that question-- they do not read for pleasure yet).  So, I have taken myself out of the hard-living kitchens of New York, packed my mental bags, and headed across the ocean to Aix-en-Provence, the Cours Mirabeau and Deux Garçons café.  This is what vacation is all about for me.

Tarragon Chicken
From Even More Special

"Tarragon has a mild anise flavor, and the French call it the King of Herbs.  This chicken is a favorite because it is easy to prepare and makes an excellent party dish."

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. flour, for dredging
1 chicken, cut into serving pieces
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/4 - 1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
Salt, to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. dried tarragon or 8-10 sprigs fresh tarragon
3 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
3/4 c. dry white wine

1.  Preheat skillet to medium-high and melt butter.
2.  Dust chicken lightly with flour and brown in butter.
3.  Add onions and mushrooms, and cook until vegetables are tender, but not browned.
4.  Add salt, pepper, tarragon, parsley, and wine.
5.  Cover and cook over medium heat 15-20 minutes or until chicken is tender.

4 servings

I love to serve this with rice and a salad.  And good French bread, of course.  Wonder what wine the guys at Wine Authorities would recommend?  Seth?  Craig?  Randy? Mic?  Got any suggestions?

Bon appétit, Mme Fisher!


Seth said...

Two suggestions: White Burgundy (France) such as our Rully from Eric Suremain or Strauss' Welschriesling from Austria. Both will highlight that sweet tarragon spice. Just had fresh tarragon last night with green beans and shallots. It's on the tip of my tongue.

dorette said...

merry day after! say you might really enjoy these two books "MFK Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters: Celebrating the Pleasures of the Table" by Joan Reardon AND "Appetite For Life: Biography of Julia Child" by Noel Riley Fitch.