I am officially only two days into my winter break, but it already seems longer. I have already Christmas shopped, baked, cleaned house, watched a couple of movies, stayed up late reading and slept in a little bit, still making sure the college-aged son gets up in time for work, though.
I am reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. The descriptions of food are amazing and the crazy stories of life on the edge are exhausting. He wants to hate the French but just can't. He owes the awakening of his food senses to a summer spent in France with his family as a young boy. As his last name implies, he is of French ancestry. To get back at his parents, who loved food and who, during their stay in France, left him and his brother in the car once while they had dinner at a well-known restaurant because the little rats bickered constantly about eating weird stuff, he decided to eat any and everything offered to him. Lo and behold, what started out as revenge took on new meaning as he found he actually loved the stuff he was eating. Knowing next to nothing about famous chefs and restaurants, I am not easily wowed by the names he throws out. But knowing just enough about the ingredients and dishes he serves up at Brasserie Les Halles in New York makes me keep reading. I, of course, googled the restaurant and found their official website www.leshalles.net and their slogan "American Beef French Style." Bourdain chronicles his crazy, drug and alcohol-filled lifestyle and if you find cursing offensive, this book is not for you.
Having spent summers working as a waitress (waitron in Bourdain's jargon) in a kitchen run by a Swiss chef, I experienced just the tiniest fraction of craziness in a kitchen. I clearly remember the one and only plate I ever dropped while waiting tables. It was fresh, pan-fried trout with the head still on. There was a lake on the golf resort property and the chef and some of his kitchen staff loved to fish. I took the trout out to my customer and somehow the plate crashed to the floor. The trout slid across the polished wood floor with me running after it to retrieve it, apologizing to my customer, grabbing the errant fish and heading back for another. After explaining to Chef Jean what had happened, I asked for another one only to be told that I was holding the last one. Chef dusted him off a bit, threw him back on the grill and replated. I dutifully took the plate to my customer and handed it over with a smile.
I enjoyed that job tremendously. It kept me from spending my college summers in Spruce Pine, the pay was decent with free room and board, I met lots of other college students from around the country, and we could go to Blowing Rock every night after work. We hosted our own parties, wearing formal clothes purchased at the local thrift shop (great stuff to be found with the summer residents casting off their hand-me-downs for the locals), with the "real" bartender mixing up drinks for us... my first daquiri, made with fresh peaches. My buddies threw a surprise party for me for my 21st birthday- my first real birthday party.
I also met sous-chefs who spoke French and were from New York. They actually wore white jackets and checkered pants. This was a big deal for a girl from the Appalachian Mountains who hadn't even been on an airplane until the first time she went to France, at the age of 20. The cooking part didn't really interest me, though, beyond eating good food. The maître d' was a jerk to us waitresses, in my youthful recollection. I doubt he really was- he just expected a level of service in his dining room that we didn't really appreciate. And then I, in turn, was a jerk to some of the busboys, expecting them to do my bidding as quickly as possible. I worked as a waitress from age 14 until I graduated from college to begin teaching. From time to time, I still think that I would love to do it again, in one of the really nice restaurants around here.
I talked the un-ex, the BFF and her husband into watching a French movie a couple of nights ago. Our two children were invited, but they declined with loud laughs and shakes of their heads as they headed out the door for a Wendy's or Burger King run (after having eaten lasagna just a couple of hours earlier). I endured the comments about how it is weird to invite people over only to sit in the dark and watch a movie and about needing reading glasses for this one (it's subtitled, not dubbed). I am a fan of Harlan Coben novels. The French are, too, it seems. Tell No One was made into a movie by the French becoming Ne le dis à personne. Kristen Scott Thomas stars in it and speaks French like a native (more than a little jealousy here on my part, I confess). It is a good movie, but the characters were a bit hard to follow by my fellow movie watchers since they had not read the book. Anyway, I do love Netflix and the great selection of French movies they offer. (I also convinced the un-ex to watch Ratatouille with me. He hadn't seen it before. His only comment was "I can see why you like that one..." and no, we were not joined by the sons for that one, either, in case you are wondering.)
Anyway, I did serve up a cheese spread, some rosemary pecans (a gift from a student-- I need to figure out how to do them myself) and some very tasty wine we bought at Wine Authorities. We chose, at Craig's suggestion, a 2008 Marcillac Rouge-- Lo Sang del Païs (blood of the country)-- "perfumed spice, herbal, very French" made from the Mansois grape in a region bordering Auvergne and the South West. Hopefully, that made reading the subtitles a little more enjoyable.
Oh, by the way, Les Halles is currently hiring waitrons... maybe in my next life?
Cheddar Cheese Spread
(recipe from A Southern Season)
1 lb. (2 pkg.) cream cheese, softened
1 lb. cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. seasoning salt
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/4 c. cream
Blend the cream cheese in a food processor (or beat, using a mixer) until light and fluffy. Add the cheddar cheese, spices and half of the cream. Beat until smooth. Add additional cream, if necessary. Put in serving container and cover. Refrigerate until serving. The mixture will tighten up in the refrigerator.
Note: I decided to use some couscous spice that I brought home from my last trip to France instead of the spices listed. As best I can tell, the package contains curry, coriander, cumin, salt, curcuma, caryl (?), cayenne and red pepper. It worked very well.